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The MPL and Rivals Gauntlets Format Overview

August 31, 2021
Mani Davoudi

The event schedules for the Rivals Gauntlet and MPL Gauntlet have been updated. See this article for more details.

Magic World Championship XXVII is the culmination of the 2020-21 Magic competitive season. In years past, the last few competitor slots were decided by a points race resolved at the last major event of the year. For those of us watching at home, the excitement of that race could sometimes get lost among the focus on the primary event of the weekend.

This year was different. The MPL and Rivals Leagues competed for points across the season, all leading to the Strixhaven Split League Weekends where we saw 8 of the 16 World Championship Competitors be determined, bringing an end to the regular season. The remaining 8 spots would come down to the postseason, a series of Gauntlet tournaments that would decide the remaining competitors at the World Championships as well as the players' League status for next year.

We saw the Postseason kick off with the Challenger Gauntlet, where top performing non-league players throughout the season gave us our first exposure on the biggest stage to Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Standard and earned four spots to the World Championship. With only four seats remaining, all eyes turn to the upcoming MPL Gauntlet and Rivals Gauntlet final Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Standard format event.

Impact on the Challenger Gauntlet

To get a better idea of what effect Adventures in the Forgotten Reams had on Standard, we'll need to take a closer look at some of the notable cards being played and the decks were played in.

Cave of the Frost Dragon Hall of Storm Giants Hive of the Eye Tyrant Den of the Bugbear Lair of the Hydra

By now, it is undeniable that the most important cards to come from to Standard are the creature lands. The cycle headlined by Lair of the Hydra has made waves in nearly every deck in the metagame, making an appearance in a whopping 22 of the 24 Challenger Gauntlet decks. Given the reasonable activation costs and utility provided, it's no surprise to see decks make room for at least 1-2 copies in their manabase.

An interesting side effect of the new lands has been a slight decrease in popularity for Sultai Ultimatum decks, a powerhouse in the previous format. Sultai experienced a similar dip when the printing of Faceless Haven caused a rise in popularity of snow based aggressive decks. The powerful ramp deck relies on board wipe spells like Extinction Event and Shadow's Verdict to survive the early game assault of creature decks, leaving an opportunity for creature lands to finish the job before Sultai can stabilize.

Sideboard Cards

Cheap color-hosing spells are an evergreen mainstay in constructed sideboards. Following in the footsteps of recent all-stars Aether Gust and Mystical Dispute, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms brought us a new cycle led by Burning Hands.

Burning Hands

The two-mana removal spell served as a perfect answer for Lovestruck Beast while also being able to clear up cheaper creatures in a pinch, quickly becoming a staple in red decks.

Burning Hands isn't the only card in this cycle seeing play, as evident in one of the coolest innovations at the Challenger Gauntlet coming from Arne Huschenbeth and his team. In their efforts to bring a Gruul Adventures deck that was tuned for Naya Winota, they landed on splashing black mana, in part for Ray of Enfeeblement in the sideboard. Being able to have a one mana answer for Winota, Joiner of Forces while enacting their normal gameplan was important, and between Treasure tokens and Pathways, the strain on their manabase was almost non-existent.

The Winota Cards

Adevntures in the Forgotten Realms helped many existing decks in Standard, but no single deck gained more from the release than Naya Winota. The deck had been non-existent in the metagame for months, but the introduction of cards like Prosperous Innkeeper, Minsc Beloved Ranger, and Ranger Class added a level of consistency to the deck that it was sorely missing. The new and improved Winota, Joiner of Forces played a role in many players deck selection process and was the most hyped-up deck going into the tournament.

Ranger Class

Ranger Class is one of the most exciting cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, if for no reason other than showing off the new Class card type. This card is reminiscent of The Great Henge in some ways, putting counters on your creatures and giving you card advantage, but in a lot of ways it's better. Ranger Class is cheaper, comes with a creature body, and is not legendary. All of these factors have made Ranger Class a no brainer replacement for The Great Henge in most decks and an important part of the current and future Standard metagame.

Power Word Kill

The strength of a removal spell like Power Word Kill depends entirely on the metagame around it.

Power Word Kill

In the current field it's a potent answer for everything except Goldspan Dragon, which isn't a terrible place to be. Power Word Kill is slightly more restrictive than Heartless Act, which is why we see most decks currently playing it run no more than two copies, but that number will likely go up post rotation.

Lessons to Take Away

Competitors preparing for the MPL and Rivals Gauntlets will be looking at the results of the Challenger Gauntlet as part of their preparation process. What are some of the key lessons they can take away?

The Adventures Greed Cycle Begins Anew

In the past few months, Standard went through a transition. Players began on Gruul Adventures, and then innovated by getting greedier in order to get an edge in the Adventures mirrors. The metagame shifted from Gruul, to Naya, before finally settling on Temur Adventures. Each deck had a bit of an edge on the other Adventures decks, while having their own unique strengths and weaknesses in various matchups. With the popularity of Gruul Adventures at the Challenger Gauntlet, and the success of Naya Adventures in answering the matchup, it appears as if that cycle may be repeating itself.

Why Not Winota?

Naya Winota is a powerful and terrifying deck that demands players come ready for it, but as a known entity it can suffer. Winota was on everyone's mind going into the Challenger Gauntlet, and the result was a hostile field that was prepared for the Naya menace. Of the 4 players on Naya Winota, one still managed to make it to the last day of competition and ultimately earned the World Championship qualification. The risk of facing an overprepared field is something competitors will have to take into consideration when deciding to bring Naya Winota to the MPL/Rivals Gauntlet.

The Great Unknown

During the weeks before rotation, Standard can sometimes feel like a solved format. Noriyuki Mori's incredible run with his Izzet Control deck serves as a nice reminder that most formats are never truly solved, and there can still be room for a different angle of attack. His goal for the Challenger Gauntlet was to bring a deck that he felt had a good chance against any deck in the metagame, and he succeeded. Players looking to get an edge for the MPL and Rivals Gauntlets will need to consider these different angles to give themselves the best shot at winning.

The Last 4 Spots

Two events. 48 players. 4 spots. The final competitors for the World Championship all come down to this. Even at the end of the format, Standard is in an incredible place where the games are great and there's a long list of viable archetypes that could win it all on any given day—all that remains is to watch the action play out and see who comes out on top.

Join myself and the rest of the coverage team as we bring you all the coverage of the MPL and Rivals Gauntlets, September 2–5 on!

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