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Arena Championship 5 Explorer Metagame Breakdown

March 29, 2024
Frank Karsten

It's almost here: Arena Championship 5 runs this weekend, March 30–31! In this prestigious tournament, which will be streamed live starting at 9 a.m. PT each day on, 32 top MTG Arena players will battle it out for $200,000 in prizes and two Magic World Championship 30 invitations. The Constructed format is Explorer, and all Explorer decklists will be available on Melee after the event gets underway.

Who Is Competing?

The Arena Championship, a thrice-yearly event, is the pinnacle of competition on MTG Arena. Arena Championship 1 was won by Sam Rolph, Arena Championship 2 was won by Hiroshi Onizuka, Arena Championship 3 was won by Benjamin Broadstone, and Arena Championship 4 was won by Shinya Saito, who qualified once again. The upcoming fifth edition invites players who earned the most wins across Qualifier Weekend Day Twos held in September, October, November, and December of last year.

Earning an invitation is a big achievement; and from May 2024 onwards, the announced updated for MTG Arena Premier Play system will make it easier to do so. This will unlock exciting opportunities for an even larger group of skillful players.

For Arena Championship 5, there are 32 competitors, featuring numerous competitive Magic veterans. You can expect high-level gameplay featuring:

  • Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor Top 8 competitor Adam Edelson
  • Kaldheim Championship winner Arne Huschenbeth
  • Team Handshake captain David Inglis
  • "Lords of Limited" podcast co-host Ethan Saks
  • Arena Championship 2 and 3 competitor Jeff Lin
  • Three-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Jesse Hampton
  • Pro Tour Berlin 2008 Top 8 competitor Kenny Öberg
  • Reigning China Regional Champion Muhan Yu
  • Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Raphaël Lévy
  • Reigning Arena Champion Shinya Saito

This field is absolutely stacked with talent!

What Are They Playing?

Day One of Arena Championship 5 leads off with Murders at Karlov Manor Draft, followed by three rounds of Explorer. Day Two features three more rounds of Explorer, with a cut to a Top 8 Explorer playoff to determine the champion.

Explorer is a true-to-tabletop, non-rotating format featuring all cards legal in the Pioneer format that appear on MTG Arena. Although a few cards, such as Hidden Strings, are currently not available, most of the top-tier Pioneer archetypes can be played in Explorer. With this in mind, the metagame at Arena Championship 5 breaks down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Rakdos Vampires 15 46.9%
Amalia Combo 6 18.8%
Izzet Phoenix 4 12.5%
Quintorius Combo 3 9.4%
Jund Transmogrify 1 3.1%
Gruul Vehicles 1 3.1%
Rakdos Sacrifice 1 3.1%
Mono-Green Devotion 1 3.1%

Pioneer was recently showcased at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, where Rakdos Vampires was the breakout deck, and Amalia Combo and Izzet Phoenix had excellent win rates as well. Given the resemblance between Pioneer and Explorer, it does not come as a surprise that these three decks dominate the metagame at Arena Championship 5. The large percentage of Rakdos Vampire decks is startling, but it's important to remember that this is a small 32-player event, and the deck choice from a single testing team can single-handedly skew the numbers.

Coverage of this weekend's Explorer rounds should be interesting for both online and tabletop players. If you're primarily an MTG Arena player, then you could check out the livestream before taking your favorite Arena Championship deck into the Explorer Metagame Challenge, which also runs in-client this weekend. And if you're primarily a tabletop player, then the similarity between Explorer and Pioneer means that you could learn key matchup intricacies for the upcoming cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers!

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After Seth Manfield took the trophy at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, Rakdos Vampires has evolved further. For one, many lists have added Blot Out to the sideboard to answer Vein Ripper without actually targeting it. Moreover, many Rakdos Vampires players included main deck Archfiend of the Dross, which dominates the air and survives Lightning Axe. As one competitor told me: "with Vampires adopting Archfiend to gain more strength versus Phoenix, [it] turned the deck's hardest matchup into a positive one."

Even though Archfiend of the Dross shores up previous weaknesses against Izzet Phoenix, it also opens up new risks. Several Rakdos Vampires players opted to include Heartless Act, which can remove counters from an opposing Archfiend, causing the opponent to lose the game on their next upkeep. This constant danger will make mirror matches exciting to watch.

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With Rakdos Vampires making up nearly half of the field, the big question is whether it can withstand the target it has on its head. In particular, I'm enthralled by the deck choice of three players who registered Quintorius Combo with four copies of Gyruda, Doom of Depths.

Hitting Spark Double, Trumpeting Carnosaur, or even an opposing Vein Ripper can be a game-winning play, making Gyruda a potent tweak. Moreover, the larger quantity of six-mana spells adds resiliency against Thoughtseize, which could result in a favorable matchup against Rakdos Vampires. We'll discover how it plays out this weekend.

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Many other deck choices may also prove to be well-positioned in this metagame. Amalia Combo was favored against Rakdos Vampires based on Team CFB's internal Pro Tour testing, while Gruul Vehicles, Jund Transmogrify, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Mono-Green Devotion were traditionally strong against the strategically similar Rakdos Midrange deck back in 2023.

In particular, Mono-Green Devotion is as spicy as it is powerful. Seth Manfield was considering registering Leyline of the Guildpact and Archdruid's Charm right up to the Pro Tour decklist deadline, which should bolster the confidence of the lone Mono-Green Devotion player at Arena Championship 5. I'm excited to see the strategy in action this weekend!

Explorer Deck Summaries

While full decklists will become available after the event gets underway, the following summaries provide brief explanations of the Explorer archetypes at Arena Championship 5.

Rakdos Vampires (15 players): At its core, Rakdos Vampires is pretty similar to Rakdos Midrange, featuring the familiar disruption suite of Fatal Push and Thoughtseize. However, it gains access to Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, which is arguably the best three-mana planeswalker in Pioneer. The knock-out punch is when Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord puts Vein Ripper onto the battlefield on turn three.

Amalia Combo (6 players): If you curve Amalia into a turn-three Wildgrowth Walker and start the chain by gaining life, then Amalia explores, which triggers Wildgrowth Walker, which triggers Amalia, and so on. Eventually, Amalia reaches 20 power, all other creatures are destroyed, the loop ends, and she'll swing in for lethal. Most Amalia Combo builds at Arena Championship 5 favor Fauna Shaman or Knight-Errant of Eos over Collected Company.

Izzet Phoenix (4 players): Izzet Phoenix aims to put (multiple) Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard and then recur them by chaining together three cheap spells in a single turn. Treasure Cruise is amazing in this deck, and all of the card draw spells enable you to find sideboard cards with ease. Although Temporal Trespass is not on MTG Arena, consequently reducing the appeal of Galvanic Iteration, the decklists are otherwise strikingly similar to the Pioneer equivalent.

Quintorius Combo (3 players): This combo deck uses Quintorius Kand's -3 ability to discover Spark Double. By casting it from exile, you drain the opponent for two and create a new, nonlegendary Quintorius copy to keep the chain going. As you keep finding Spark Doubles, you'll drain your opponent for four, then six, then eight, stacking up a lethal amount of triggers.

Jund Transmogrify (1 player): Jund Transmogrify employs Transmogrify to turn a token from, say, Courier's Briefcase or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker into a game-winning Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Black unlocks discard and spot removal spells, resulting in a well-rounded strategy.

Gruul Vehicles (1 player): Gruul Vehicles is a midrange deck that uses Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic to ramp into Reckless Stormseeker on turn two. The Werewolf can grant haste to Esika's Chariot or Smuggler's Copter, setting up a fast clock. The Vehicles also allow you to tap a stolen creature in response to the third chapter of The Akroan War.

Rakdos Sacrifice (1 player): Rakdos Sacrifice is centered around Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, and Witch's Oven, which create a once-per-turn loop that drains your opponent, deals two damage, and allows you to block for free. Opposing creatures are never safe, as they could get stolen and subsequently sacrificed to Deadly Dispute.

Mono-Green Devotion (1 player): Mono-Green Devotion uses mana elves and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to add loads of mana, flooding the battlefield with permanents early on. Although Karn, the Great Creator is no longer an option for this deck, Murders at Karlov Manor has introduced exciting new tools. Leyline of the Guildpact supercharges Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; and Archdruid's Charm finds the legendary land more consistently.

Arena Championship 5 is the first Arena Championship to feature Explorer as its Constructed format, and the three most-played decks are effectively the same as in Pioneer right now. With many competitors hunting Rakdos Vampires, I'm looking forward to seeing whether the Pro Tour winning archetype can repeat its performance or whether it will crumble under pressure.

Don't miss the livestream, which begins 9 a.m. PT each day, March 30–31, at! More details can be found in the viewers guide.

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