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The 7 Spiciest Explorer Decks at Magic World Championship XXVIII

October 28, 2022
Frank Karsten

The 32 Explorer decklists submitted for Magic World Championship XXVIII feature many archetypes that everyone was expecting, such as Abzan Greasefang, Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-Blue Spirits, Rakdos Midrange, and Azorius Control. Yet others were quite surprising—either because they use innovative combinations of cards or because they were not a major part of the recent competitive metagame previously.

Explorer is comprised of all Pioneer-legal cards on MTG Arena, and it's the format for the six World Championship rounds on Saturday October 29. In this article, I'll take a closer look at the seven spiciest Explorer decks submitted for the event.

Pro Tour champion and longtime commentator Simon Görtzen, who qualified for the World Championship by finishing in the Top 6 at the Innistrad Championship, brought a spicy brew with powerful synergies. Imagine the following start:

  • Turn 2: Cleansing Wildfire your own Darksteel Citadel or Cascading Cataracts. As the lands are indestructible, Cleansing Wildfire effectively becomes a red Rampant Growth that draws a card.
  • Turn 3: Fires of Invention, then Anger of the Gods to sweep the board.
  • Turn 4: Using Fires of Invention, cast Terror of the Peaks and Cavalier of Flames. Ping your opponent for six damage, activate Cavalier of Flames twice, and attack for lethal.

The deck also features Karn, the Great Creator. The planeswalker shuts down any opposing Parhelion II or Witch's Oven activations, and Karn's -2 ability can grab a variety of interactive or game-winning artifacts from the sideboard. For example, Weathered Runestone stops Transmogrify, while Skysovereign, Consul Flagship will crush opposing midrange players. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is also a sweet one. Even though this is a mono-color deck, Golos can be activated via Cascading Cataracts.

Although I had seen similar-looking Mono-Red Ramp decks before in the similar Pioneer format, Görtzen's embrace of Fires of Invention led to a more streamlined Explorer build. His sideboard is cleverly put together as well. Robber of the Rich could double as a proactive threat against Azorius Control and as a reach blocker against Mono-Blue Spirits, which is exactly the type of wide flexibility you need when most of your sideboard slots are already claimed by Karn.

Drew Baker, who qualified for the World Championship via the Challenger leaderboard, also brought a Karn deck. He and Görtzen are the only players to bring the planeswalker, and this may prove to be a good metagame choice. Abzan Greasefang is the most-played Explorer deck at the World Championship, and preventing Parhelion II activations stops their primary game plan. That said, Baker's deck is widely different from Görtzen's.

Baker's list is more of a midrange deck with cheap interaction and a lot of grinding potential. Nearly every creature has an enters-the-battlefield ability, and the only creature that doesn't—Serra Paragon—can recast dead ones from the graveyard. Indeed, thanks to Serra Paragon, Extraction Specialist, Phyrexian Missionary, and Elspeth Conquers Death, creatures won't stay dead for long. This means you won't run out of resources and you can overload the removal spells from opposing midrange decks.

The various enters-the-battlefield abilities can also be reused via Charming Prince from the main deck and Yorion, Sky Nomad from the companion zone. These two can even set up a once-per-turn loop where Charming Prince blinks Yorion, then Yorion blinks Charming Prince. Along with various other creatures for value, of course.

Although similar-looking Boros Mirange or Azorius Mirange decks lists have seen fringe play in Pioneer recently, Baker's card choices in Explorer and his preference for Orzhov are relatively novel. I like his inclusion of Sungold Sentinel to prevent graveyard shenanigans from Abzan Greasefang, and the black splash looks worthwhile. In particular, Fatal Push synergizes nicely with Charming Prince or Yorion. After all, to enable revolt, no deaths are necessary—leaving the battlefield temporarily suffices.

The team of Simon Nielsen, Matti Kuisma, Karl Sarap, and Julian Wellman all brought Temur Transmogrify, an under-the-radar archetype. Their lists are nearly identical, with only minor disagreements regarding the exact numbers of Courier's Briefcase, Make Disappear, Voltage Surge, and Abrade in the main deck. Players with an additional Abrade in the main deck then got room for an additional Soul-Guide Lantern in the sideboard. But in essence, it's all the same deck.

The game plan can be described via a simple five-step process:

  1. Create a creature token via Careful Cultivation, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Shark Typhoon, or Esika's Chariot. Stealing a creature with The Akroan War also works.
  2. Target this creature with Transmogrify or Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast's -2 ability.
  3. Since the only creature card in this deck is Titan of Industry, you're guaranteed to put one onto the battlefield.
  4. If your opponent hasn't succumbed to the first 7/7 Elemental, then just make more! For the best results, copy your Titan with Reflection of Kiki-Jiki or blink it with your companion Yorion, Sky Nomad.
  5. Profit!

Theoretically, step 3 could go wrong if you drew all three copies of Titan of Industry, but that happens only about 0.2% of the time by turn four. Even then, Fire Prophecy allows you to put one on the bottom. Fire Prophecy also helps buy time to draw your key combo pieces, and other interactive spells like Spell Pierce fill a similar role.

The sideboard has some spice as well. For example, if Titan of Industry won't always cut it—say against Mono-Blue Spirits with Shacklegeist—then Hornet Queen can come in to save the day. Lazotep Plating is also a great find, as it serves the triple role of protecting you from Thoughtseize, guarding your Titan of Industry from removal, and putting a token onto the battlefield for Transmogrify.

Transmogrify decks are not a complete novelty, and I remember playing against them quite a bit when the Explorer format was brand new. However, they haven't been a big part of the competitive metagame in recent months, and this specific Yorion-infused Temur build is unique. I'm sure that most World Championship competitors were not expecting a large team to show up with it.

Hisamichi Yoshigoe, who qualified for the World Championship by finishing in the Top 6 at the New Capenna Championship, also plans for a turn-four Titan of Industry, yet his weapon of choice is Indomitable Creativity.

Compared to Transmogrify, the downside to using Indomitable Creativity is that it's more demanding on the mana base. In addition, you can't include Esika's Chariot in your deck because that would get in the way of a certain Titan of Industry hit.

The upside is that you can cast it for values of X larger than 1, thereby putting multiple Titans onto the battlefield in one go. To enable this, you need cards that create multiple tokens. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker; Big Score; and Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance are perfect for that purpose.

Yoshigoe's deck splashes black for Thoughtseize and a large number of spot removal spells, so it can play similar to a midrange deck with a combo finish. After buying time with these black spells, a turn-five Titan of Industry will often be good enough. Apart from Indomitable Creativity, Yoshigoe can also accomplish this by ramping to seven mana with Chandra, Torch of Defiance or by reanimating a discarded Titan with Diregraf Rebirth.

While Indomitable Creativity decks sometimes do well in Pioneer tournaments, they usually come in the form of an Izzet Creativity deck featuring either Worldspine Wurm and Xenagos, God of Revels (neither of which is available in Explorer) or Torrential Gearhulk. By comparison, Yoshigoe's build is innovative.

Yimin Zhi, who qualified for the World Championship via his Top 6 at the New Capenna Championship, brought an Enigmatic Incarnation deck that looks excellent against Rakdos Midrange and decent against the field as a whole. The dream with this deck is to cast Leyline Binding on turn two or turn three, follow up with Enigmatic Incarnation on turn four, and fetch Titan of Industry at the end of that turn.

Zhi's build innovates on the more commonly seen builds in four ways:

  • Only four colors: Whereas stock builds would use Trial of Ambition as cheap interaction along with a handful of black creatures, the mana requirements to run all five colors were enormous. Zhi cut all the black spells from the main deck and instead uses Omen of the Forge as his two-mana interactive enchantment.
  • Additional ramp: Zhi uses Wolfwillow Haven and Jukai Naturalist to cast key enchantments, such as Fires of Invention and Engimatic Incarnation, as early as turn three. Both two-mana ramp cards are enchantments, so they can be sacrificed to Enigmatic Incarnation as well.
  • Omnath and fetch lands: Omnath, Locus of Creation is an extremely powerful card, especially when Fabled Passage enables multiple triggers per turn. Since the deck already has at least 22 sources of each color, counting Fabled Passage and Urban Utopia as full sources for expositional ease, it should be easy to cast Omnath consistently on curve. Omnath is also an excellent follow-up to Fires of Invention and can be blinked with the companion Yorion, Sky Nomad.
  • More Pathways than shock lands: I could spend an entire day on the mana base of this deck, but Zhi deviates from stock lists by playing a large number of Pathways and a small number of shock lands. This means that he'll take fewer damage from his lands than five-color builds, which improves his matchup against aggro decks.

While seeing Enigmatic Incarnation at the World Championship is not a major surprise, but Zhi's innovative build is.

Judai Miyano qualified for the World Championship by taking Righteous Valkyrie and Lunarch Veteran to a Top 6 finish at the Neon Dynasty Championship. For the World Championship, he stuck with the same cards, yet now in a Selesnya Angels shell.

I have faced Selesnya Angels a few times before in Explorer, so Miyano's deck is arguably the least “spicy” deck in this article. Still, as the only tribal player in the field, he deserves some recognition.

The game plan of Selesnya Angels is to use various life gain creatures to enable Righteous Valkyrie and to create additional board presence via Resplendent Angel. Giada, Font of Hope and Bishop of Wings are payoffs for focusing on the Angel tribe, and Collected Company ties it all together.

Collected Company even makes it possible for Resplendent Angel to create two Angel tokens per turn cycle. Since it triggers at the beginning of each end step, you could gain 5 life with Bishop of Wings and Lunarch Veteran in your turn and then do the same by casting Collected Company in your opponent's beginning, main, or combat phase.

Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka, who qualified for the World Championship via the League leaderboard, is one of the most renowned players and deck builders of all time. When I was playing Pro Tours, the first question on many players' minds as decklists were unveiled was: "What is Shota playing?” So when he effectively tells everyone that the stock build of the most-played archetype in Explorer is all wrong and that it doesn't even get the colors right, then we ought to pay attention.

Yasooka's tweak to Rakdos Midrange is to splash green for Esika's Chariot. He runs the vehicle instead of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or other four-drops that would die easily to a spot removal spell without leaving any value behind. By contrast, if Esika's Chariot dies to Fatal Push, then at least two Cats will linger around. Esika's Chariot also enables fun interactions available involving Reflection of Kiki-Jiki. For example, if the Goblin Shaman makes a token copy of Graveyard Trespasser, then Esika's Chariot could create a copy of that token as well.

Yasooka's sideboard has additional green cards in Tear Asunder and Culling Ritual, which provide more options in various matchups. For example, the instant can exile Enigmatic Incarnation, and the sweeper can destroy multiple Spirits.

The green splash comes at the cost of a slightly more painful mana base with slightly fewer untapped black sources for a turn-one Thoughtseize, but there are enough black and red sources to consistently cast all other spells, and 11 green sources is sufficient. There's also some loss in utility from Castle Locthwain; Takenuma, Abandoned Mire; and Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance. However, the power of the Chariot may make up for the slightly weaker mana base. Perhaps all Rakdos Midrange decks were built wrong and we should have been splashing for Esika's Chariot all along?

Magic World Championship XXVIII takes place October 28–30 and features Dominaria United Draft, Standard, and Explorer. The Explorer rounds are all played on Saturday October 29, and you can watch the impressive field duel it out beginning at 9 a.m. PT (6 p.m. CEST // 1 a.m. JST 10/29) live on!

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