(Editor's Note: League Weekend correspondents Meghan Wolff and Corbin Hosler contributed to this report.)
Magic Esports continued full speed ahead in 2021 as the January Kaldheim League Weekend the leaderboard for the 2020-21 postseason was shaken up yet again. From resurgent weekends for the game's greats to big moves for some at the back of pack, here's what you missed from the first League Weekend of the new year.
If you followed the Zendikar Rising Championship last month, the popularity of Historic decks around
Of course, interesting decks only stay that way if they can win—and the results made it clear that one deck will continue to be on top until Kaldheim hits later this month.
Of the Sultai and Sacrifice duo, the standout deck of the weekend was Sacrifice. Tuned up to face down midrange options and ready to grind out longer games against aggressive decks, it was more than enough to help players claim points—such as Seth Manfield and the 10-2 record he notched against a variety of Sultai, Gruul Aggro, and other Sacrifice decks.
While Manfield was among those that put Midrange onto the Historic map (in his case by winning the 2020 Mythic Invitational with it)and it evolved to add
Rivals League member Corey Burkhart explained that against "the Sacrifice decks, I think Sultai is already pretty close with. You can dilute your deck with the white cards, but they're not good against Gruul [Aggro] (you have to shock yourself more to get lands into play untapped for example) and it's not like you're adding something like
"So while you can play the white cards, I think Sultai is already well positioned in those matchups. It's weak in the mirror, and against things like Gruul Aggro, that I'd keep it simple and play three colors.
Yasharn is powerful, but it's also that people are prepared for it. I'd rather just have more good interaction that works well with
Both MPL player (and frequent Aggro player) Javier Dominguez and Rivals player Zachary Kiihne notched excellent weekends (going 8-4 and 9-3 respectively) with Sultai decks packing these effective, small-mana answers.
The third most popular deck, Gruul Aggro, had a solid weekend proving it could get in under the Sultai deck's answers and steal wins from the grindy Sacrifice decks.
Martin Jůza didn't just pick up the aggressive deck, but retooled it—which led him to finish with an excellent 9-3 record for the weekend.
"I was going to play Sultai Midrange because I genuinely think it is the best deck in the format, but the more I kept playing, the more I was tuning my list to beat the mirror with cards like Tales End, Narset,
"I thought I'd try to build Gruul Aggro in a way that should punish them for these changes and added four [copies of] Anh-Crop Crasher in my deck, which is absolutely amazing against cards like
Of course, for some to succeed others had to fall short of expectations.
Raphaël Lévy took aim at Midrange decks with an aggressive mono-black build to take advantage the speed and power cards like
However, it isn't a good fit against Sacrifice strategies, which led to a disappointing start for him on Saturday. "In a field of Sultai, Gruul, and Goblins, Mono-Black has a fair chance to do well since it has good matchups against all of them," he said. "When Jund or sac strategies show up, it's a different story. I'm playing 5 out of 6 Jund in the tournament."
A 2-10 January finish is a drag on his record he'll need to make up in February.
A fan-favorite for finding incredible, and unexpected, decks is Ken Yukuhiro who didn't disappoint with his take on the off-meta Temur Ramp.
But not was all as it seemed. His testing led to a tough call that, for once, didn't cut his way. "I couldn't find any other good decks, so I brushed up on the deck I used at the Japan Championship," Yukuhiro explained. "While Gruul Aggro is a little tougher because it's not a very good matchup, I was relieved to see that there were not many Goblins, my least favorite."
4-8 wasn't a standout performance, but it also didn't help him get out of the middle of the pack that lies on the relegation line halfway through the season.
Other players too had tough weekends:
- Even with one of the top decks, plans don't always work out. Rivals player Jacob Wilson was rocked by a 1-11 record with Sultai Midrange, fading from tied-for-third all the way down to tied-for-ninteenth in standings.
- MPL player Chris Kvartek always has a smile, even as he "recovered" from a 2-4 start to finish 5-7 as another player with a rough Sultai Midrange showing.
- Rivals player Ben Stark was reminded that even the best of the best need to test, playing a poorly-positioned Burn deck to a three-win record.
Went 3-8 in #MTGLeagueWeekend. Usually when I do bad with "a brew" I tested it alot and just ran bad that day as also happens to a lot of people who play the best deck. This wasn't the case. I didn't test for this, so played burn. The deck was horrible. Got the finish I deserved.— BenS_MTG (@BenS_MTG) January 17, 2021
The New Leaderboard
Claiming the top slot in the MPL standings was reigning World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, who brought the other solid deck of the weekend—Gruul Aggro—and earned 10 wins en route to his No. 1 slot.
"Coming into this tournament, everyone knew Sultai was going to be the most popular deck," Damo da Rosa explained. "I assumed most people would tune their Sultai decks to beat the mirror (
"I made a lot of changes to my list (such as only playing [one copy of]
Ended the week 10-2, which puts me in 1st place right now. There's a lot of Magic left to be played, but I'm particularly proud of myself this time around because I went against the wisdom of the crowds with many of my deck choices and I think I was mostly right in my changes. pic.twitter.com/Dhb7J5mk2J— [Tempo] PVDDR (@PVDDR) January 17, 2021
His lead in first place is narrow, just one point over fellow Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif who went 9-3 with a Jund Sacrifice deck. Off strong performances over the weekend, Nelson and Manfield wrapped up in the third and fourth slots, both just a few points behind the leaders and a narrow a point or two ahead of the closest competition for the top four slots. Nobody in the MPL is safe—at least not yet.
The Rivals League features a new undisputed No. 1 player in Cifka, but six players--including previous leaders and rising stars—are within two points: 9-3 finishers Kiihne and Eli Kassis; former leaders Luis Scott-Vargas, Matt Sperling, and Bernardo Santos; plus Christian Hauck who put together a respectable 7-5 record to continue his string of solid League Weekend performances.
While Jund Sacrifice and quiet consistency isn't flashy, it's effective. "Obviously I am very happy with my performance," Hauck said. "My opponents had some rough draws so I had that going for me but I am also very happy with how I played. I am always rewatching each game of mine and, so far, I'm happy with the decisions I made."
Brian Braun-Duin doubled up his 8-point start to the season with an 8-4 finish for January—making up significant lost ground. Alexander Hayne and Jakub Tóth were the big swings on the Rivals side, earning 9-3 and 8-4 finished respectively.
Run hotter than the sun today against everyone except @lsv and his 1of Threaten for 5-1 today, 8-4 overall!— Jakub Tóth (@Flashjack711) January 17, 2021
I got complimented by @OndrejStrasky for my plays and first time escaped Rivals week with positive record. If this isnt't a peak of my Magic career, I dont know what is :)
Check out the latest standings to see where your favorite players stand heading into the February Kaldheim League Weekend.
The Best Plays
If you missed watching the feature matches over the weekend, the VODs archive can catch you up completely—but some amazing moments are worth seeing now.
With 70 players battling and plenty of points left to earn anything can happen at the next Kaldheim League Weekend, broadcasting live February 27-28. Don't miss it!