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May Strixhaven League Weekend Highlights

May 18, 2021
Rich Hagon

(Editor's Note: League Weekend correspondents Meghan Wolff and Corbin Hosler contributed to this report.)

Welcome to our roundup of all the action from the May Strixhaven League Weekend. Reigning Magic World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa confirmed his status yet again as one of the true giants of the game by clinching the second place slot of the MPL season standings. Stanislav Cifka went to the wire to emerge triumphant with second place in the Rivals League. Both will take their place in World Championship XXVII and seats in the MPL for next season.

Here's how it went down.

Top of the MPL

Coming into the weekend, the race for the World Championship seat looked to be a straight fight between Gabriel Nassif and Da Rosa, with the French Hall of Famer holding a slender one-point lead over the Brazilian.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Gabriel Nassif

The Standard Metagame held few surprises:

Da Rosa opted for Sultai Ultimatum, while Nassif was on Gruul Adventures. Historic, meanwhile, was quite the story:

Da Rosa was on the breakout extraordinary deck in the format, Dimir Pact:

One of the strangest looking decklists we've ever seen registered for a major tournament, the litany of a nearly-singleton cards in the deck facilitates a combo win featuring a Mystical Archive standout (Tainted Pact) and a wordy Merfolk Wizard (Thassa's Oracle). Together, with a carefully constructed deck as you see above, they are game over, and, despite the inherent inconsistency of the one-ofs, the deck has enough disruption at the critical moment to get the job done.

Nassif, meanwhile, was in direct opposition to the new combo king with his Jeskai Control deck:

In theory, the deck would be extremely problematic for Pact players, of whom there were many. Of course, that wasn't the whole field, and one of Nassif's better moments on day one came in a full-in control mirror against Marcio Carvalho:

Unfortunately for Nassif, that was a rare highlight on a poor day one, which saw him cede ground to Da Rosa:

Spoiler alert: this did not happen. 2-4 overnight became 2-10, and it's a measure of how brilliant Nassif has been this season that he's still in the thick of the race for seats at the World Championship after Sunday:

As for Da Rosa, he just kept on trucking, racking up eight wins on the weekend to wrap up his MPL berth for next season. So, what did Paulo make of the new Historic hotness, the infamous Pact deck?

"I think the Pact deck is very good. It operates like a control deck with a random kill out of nowhere: if you can't interact with it, you basically have to race it, and then it can either race you back or try to play the control role and eventually kill you," he said. "Even in the control games having the one-turn-kill is appealing. Some other control decks might struggle with topdecks or Cauldron Familiar loops but in this deck when you win you just win."

MPL Movers and Shakers

As the defending Champion, Da Rosa was already locked for a seat at Worlds, which means a third slot will be added to the MPL Gauntlet on September 2–5. There are still two seats up for grabs at the final League Weekend, so this weekend was a chance for those starting off below Da Rosa and Nassif to make their move.

Seth Manfield

Someone who certainly stepped up was former World Champion Seth Manfield. He achieved the almost-mythical double figures on the weekend. His brilliant 10-2 run relied on the Dimir Pact deck in Historic, and this Izzet Midrange list in Standard:

As things stand, with up to four points available at the upcoming Strixhaven Championship before the final weekend of League play, Manfield holds a two-point edge over Nassif. Reid Duke also fought his way to an excellent record, and his 8-4 (from Gruul Adventure in Standard and Jeskai Control in Historic) saw him tie with Nassif on 43 points. With a three-point gap down to Javier Dominguez in 6th place, it's looking increasingly likely that our final League Weekend will see a 12 round slugfest between three Hall of Famers—Manfield, Nassif, and Duke—for the final two MPL season seats at the World Championship. Now that's must-see Magic.

From Top, to Bottom: MPL

It's a given that there are no easy wins in the MPL, and the quality of the three players relegated this weekend to Rivals showcases that perfectly.

Sharhar Shenhar

Brian Braun-Duin

Autumn Burchett

Double World Champion Shahar Shenhar will be invited to the Rivals League next season. So will former World Champion Brian Braun-Duin. So will Mythic Champion and Zendikar Rising Championship finalist Autumn Burchett. That's the caliber of opponent the rest had to beat just to stay afloat. Look for all three at the Strixhaven Championship and the Set Championships to come in the 2021-22 season.

Top of the Rivals

While the MPL head-to-head between Nassif and Da Rosa fizzled out, we got all the drama we could handle at the top of the Rivals in pursuit of a seat at Magic World Championship XXVII. At the start of play, Matt Sperling held a two-point lead over Stanislav Cifka.

Matt Sperling

Stanislav Cifka

They would battle across Standard and Historic:

If anything, the perceived power of Tainted Pact decks in Historic was even more pronounced in the Rivals League, with 53% choosing either the Grixis or Dimir flavor. Would the Jeskai Control decks be able to stave off the new Number One?

After three rounds of Standard, and three more of Historic, Sperling's lead held overnight:

Spoiler alert: this, also, did not happen in part due to Limited all-star Pack Rat that played a big part down the stretch. Here's round 10, with Greg Kowalski taking on Sperling:

The following round, it was Cifka with the Rats:

Heading into the final round, Sperling and Cifka knew that a win for one, coupled with a loss for the other, would secure the World Championship seat, and a berth in the MPL. Sperling took his Jeskai Control list to battle Austin Bursavich on Dimir Pact and couldn't get it done. As he had noted earlier in the weekend:

Heightening tension in the final round was Cifka's opponent in the last round, one Luis Scott-Vargas, who was (a) a teammate and friend of Sperling, and (b) the player who had beaten Sperling twice already during the weekend.

Luis Scott-Vargas

The first two games were tense and dramatic, and well worth watching in full. Split at 1-1, Cifka was one game away from the World Championship. Game 3 was less dramatic:

It was time for bonus Magic, a Rivals League tiebreaker match between Cifka and Sperling in best two-out-of-three matches in Standard to definitively split them. Top players play top decks, and both were on Sultai Ultimatum for this ultimate showdown:

This was another set worth watching. Here's how it ended:

After a massively tough weekend of competition, Sperling was gracious in defeat:

As for Cifka, like his teammate Ondřej Stráský before him, he was quick to pay tribute to an unsung teammate of his own:

And so Cifka joins Da Rosa, Stráský, and Eli Kassis in the MPL, and at World Championship XXVII.

Rivals League Movers and Shakers

Despite that play-in loss, Sperling remains in excellent shape. Although LSV's results were pivotal for others this weekend, he's been on quite the journey himself:

Grzegorz Kowalski had a tremendous 9-3 weekend. Mike Sigrist helped his cause with an 8-4 finish. Austin Bursavich's win over Sperling in round 12 could yet be pivotal. and Zachary Kiihne remains firmly in the mix.

Grzegorz Kowalski

Mike Sigrist

Austin Bursavich

An already-tight race could tighten further during the Strixhaven Championship, before the final League Weekend produces two more World Championship competitors and MPL members. There could certainly be more playoffs coming our way.

From Top, to Bottom: Rivals League

Five Rivals saw their League season come to an end. Matt Nass, Ryuzo Fujie, Lucas Esper, Matias Leveratto, and Greg Orange all fell by the wayside, although all will have one more shot at glory in the Strixhaven Championship. Lucas put things into perspective:

The replies come from many countries, and in multiple languages. The reach of both the game itself, and the players within it, continues to amaze.

Win or lose, the competition continues at the July Strixhaven League Weekend as the Rivals League relegations are now complete, and all eyes look to see who can make it to the MPL Gauntlet and Magic World Championship XXVII.

The Takeaways

In both formats, there was one big question: could "the best deck" be toppled? In Standard, the answer seemed to be "no." Sultai Ultimatum continues to dominate Standard, and we saw it win again and again on camera. From aggro decks trying to get in under the Emergent Ultimatum wire, to Izzet Midrange decks trying to back up big threats with counterspells, nothing was able to consistently put a dent in the deck's record.

In Historic, the answer is a more murky "maybe." Tainted Pact decks are obviously the talk of Historic, with some players like Manfield considering it the best deck by a large margin. Other top players like Scott-Vargas came prepared to beat it. While Jeskai Control served Scott-Vargas well, that wasn't the case across the board: Nassif did terribly, Sperling did only okay. Old format staples like Jund Sacrifice were almost completely erased from the format as players moved all-in on the deck du jour. And so, we move onwards to our next event, the Strixhaven Championship taking place June 4–6, and one more League Weekend over July 3–4 to come before our postseason begins:

  • Challenger Gauntlet: August 6–8
  • MPL Gauntlet and Rivals Gauntlet: September 2–5
  • Magic World Championship XXVII: October 8–10

With each step, the competition gets fiercer, so join us on June 4-6 for all the Strixhaven Championship action!

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