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Challenger Gauntlet Metagame Overview

August 03, 2021
Mani Davoudi

Over the past year, players have competed across the three Championships in MTG Arena's premier competitive formats: Standard and Historic. We've seen these formats evolve with each release, building up to an epic postseason kicking off with the Challenger Gauntlet. To get ready, let's take a look at the latest news on each format, as well as some of the decks players may choose to bring.

Standard

Standard is always in an interesting place when the summer expansion rolls around. Sets from the previous year and half have had plenty of time to be explored, innovated on, and solved. There is a perpetual level of uncertainty regarding how much of an impact one expansion can have on a format like this, with the answer usually varying from year to year.

Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms upholds the tradition of the summer expansion. Despite not revolutionizing the format, it did reinvigorate some forgotten archetypes and boost existing ones.

Winota decks were not missing much to break back into Standard, always existing on the outside looking in. Adventures in the Forgotten Realms was kind to Winota, providing the deck with quite a few new tools and marking its return to the spotlight.

The most notable additions to the deck are Prosperous Innkeeper and Minsc, Beloved Ranger. The Innkeeper's unique creature types allow it to perfectly fit in this deck, giving you additional ramp and explosiveness as well as some sustainability. Minsc on the other hand is another excellent Human to find with your Winota triggers, allowing you to put on heavy pressure and further board dominance.

This deck is explosive, powerful, resilient, and not to be taken lightly. I expect Naya Winota played a heavy role in many players' preparation processes for the Challenger Gauntlet.

Mono-Green Aggro decks of old had a notable lack of exciting two mana plays, one of the primary weaknesses of the deck. Adventures in the Forgotten Realms does an excellent job of addressing that with newcomers Werewolf Pack Leader and Ranger Class. There isn't much more you can ask for of two drops – they provide early pressure, card advantage, and act as suitable mana sinks. These two drops combined with the new creature land Lair of the Hydra have done a great job of elevating Mono-Green Aggro back to top status.

Gruul Adventures has been a staple of the Standard metagame for quite a while now, but that hasn't stopped the deck from adapting with each new expansion. The latest version of the deck slots in the all-star Ranger Class alongside the Jaspera Sentinel/Magda, Brazen Outlaw package that picked up popularity in the previous format.

This deck also features both Lair of the Hydra and Den of the Bugbear, trying to make the most of its mana base by utilizing creature lands for additional pressure. Adventure decks will only be around for a few more months in Standard, but they are sure to make the most of that remaining time.

It's no surprise to see an expansion with heavy Dragon themes benefit the existing Dragon deck in nearly every category. One of the biggest changes to the deck from past iterations is the abandoning of the snow mechanic. The deck no longer has a need for Frost Bite or Faceless Haven, opting to go for the upgrades Adventures in the Forgotten Realms has provided.

In terms of interaction, Dragon's Fire is the perfect removal spell for this deck, allowing you to channel the power of your Dragons into dealing with more problematic creatures. 2 mana is the magic number when it comes to Goldspan Dragon decks, and between Dragon's Fire and the sideboard copies of the new Burning Hands, this deck will have no trouble trading 2 mana efficiently to deal with a large threat.

As for threats, Inferno of the Star Mounts gives the deck a tool to fight control decks and end the game quite quickly to boot. Combined with the new creature lands Hall of Storm Giants and Den of the Bugbear, that's a lot of uncounterable pressure being brought to the table.

Prismari Dragons has all the tools it needs to succeed in Standard but will need to find the right metagame to truly prosper.

The Importance of Choice

For the Challenger Gauntlet competitors, there is a higher emphasis put on Standard. Although Competitors will need success in both formats to make it through the Swiss portion of the tournament, they will need to rely on their Standard deck to get them through the Top 12 playoffs to secure that all-important World Championship invite. Weighing these deck options against format mainstays like Sultai Ultimatum, Dimir Rogues, and Jeskai Mutate will be critical as a good read of the Standard metagame could decide the fate of these players.

Historic

The story of Standard may be Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but in Historic that immediately became old news when the Brainstorm suspension was announced. What does Historic without Brainstorm look like? Challenger Gauntlet players had just under two weeks to answer that question and submit their deck choices. While nothing is certain, I expect to see some familiar weapons being brought to the battlefield.

The breakout Historic deck of the Kaldheim Championship, Orzhov Auras was in excellent shape to become a Historic mainstay before the release of the Mystical Archive. The heavy discard-based aggressive strategy suffered quite a bit due to Brainstorm and may be able to make a comeback in the new metagame.

Jund Food really fell out of favour post Strixhaven: School of Mages as it seemed like the rest of the format was just doing more powerful things. Although Brainstorm alone was not the cause of this, its departure leaves the format in flux. This can allow a stable and capable deck like Jund Food to swoop in and take advantage of the confusion.

No Brainstorm? No problem! Jeskai Control is still a force to be reckoned with thanks to a well-rounded suite of interactions, threats, and card advantage. This deck is extremely powerful, and I don't think players will shy away from bringing it when looking for a deck that can have a decent shot of getting wins against the field.

Another deck benefitting from the Brainstorm suspension is Five-Color Niv-Mizzet. The deck's discard spells go up greatly in value once Brainstorm is out of the format, and the rest of its disruption suite and card advantage can do a great job of burying any deck. This deck does struggle with its own mana at times, but I would not be surprised to see some players bringing the powerful midrange deck.

Tough Timing

It'll be very interesting to see how players decide to approach Historic for this event. The tight time frame to test and understand the new format may lead to some safe deck choices, but players who are able to quickly get a good read on the post-suspension metagame will likely be able to pick up some extra all-important Swiss wins and make the path to the Standard Top 12 playoff bracket a bit easier.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

For 24 hopefuls, the Challenger Gauntlet is their shot at qualifying for World Championship XXVII. To get there, they will have to once again prove their mastery of both the Standard and Historic formats. It won't be easy in a field this stacked, but it will certainly be exciting to watch. I can't wait to see who comes out on top as I help bring you all the action from the analyst desk on twitch.tv/magic!

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