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Metagame Mentor: April 2023 Developments in Standard, Modern, and Pioneer

April 06, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. As last weekend featured major events in Standard, Modern, and Pioneer, I'll provide a metagame roundup and deck highlight for each of these formats. Let's dive right in!

Standard Trends Hold at the South American Regional Championship

This past weekend, Francisco Benitez from Uruguay won the South Amercia Regional Championship, earning an invitation to represent his region at World Championship XXIX. Congratulations! In addition, all top 4 players qualified for Pro Tour March of the Machine. You can catch Top 8 video coverage here, and you can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the South America Regional Championship coverage page.

Before highlighting the winning Domain Control deck, let's look at each archetype's metagame share and win rate (in non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw matches) for this tournament.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Grixis Midrange 18.5% ↓↓ 40.0%
2. Rakdos Midrange 18.5% ↑↑ 52.0%
3. Mono-White Midrange 16.2% ↑↑ 52.0%
4. Esper Legends 13.8% 47.7%
5. Mono-Red Aggro 6.2% 39.0%
6. Azorius Soldiers 4.6% 47.4%
7. Selesnya Toxic 3.8% ↓↓ 63.6%
8. Domain Control 3.1% 70.4% ✓✓
9. Grixis Reanimator 2.3% 52.6%
10. Mono-Blue Tempo 2.3% 50.0%
11. Boros Midrange 2.3% 65.0%
12. Other 8.5% 50.0%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to the previous weekend of Regional Championships. The "Other" category, continuing the descending order, contains Orzhov Midrange, Jund Midrange, Rakdos Reanimator, Rakdos Aggro, Mono-White Control, Mono-White Aggro, Golgari Fight, and Selesnya Enchantments.

Over the course of the current Regional Championship cycle, the Standard metagame has been developing constantly. We can expect to see a different distribution of decks at this weekend's Regional Championship in the U.S.A. than at the start of the cycle. As confirmed by the South American Regional Championship, the key Standard trends are are follows.

Rakdos Midrange is supplanting Grixis Midrange

At the South America Regional Championship, Grixis Midrange was on the decline with a poor win rate, while Rakdos Midrange was on a meteoric rise. Supported by a good win rate, I wouldn't be surprised if Rakdos Midrange takes over the crown at Dreamhack San Diego this weekend. Cards like Furnace Punisher, Field of Ruin, and Razorlash Transmogrant are on the upswing to punish three-color mana bases, while two-color mana bases with fewer tapped lands allow you to curve out more consistently. Sure, Make Disappear and Corpse Appraiser are excellent cards, but Duress and Graveyard Trespasser are reasonable replacements. As Grixis Midrange had a poor weekend, I expect many players to flock to Rakdos Midrange. This trend can also provide an opportunity for brewers—for example, Rakdos Midrange's lack of Make Disappear can be exploited by going over the top with expensive creature spells.

Selesnya Toxic Solidifies as a Top Aggro Deck

At the start of the Regional Championship season, it appeared that aggro players mainly had a choice between Azorius Soldiers and Mono-Red Aggro. Although these decks are still around, Selesnya Toxic has become a popular alternative, offering additional options and diversity in Standard. Selesnya Toxic had an excellent win rate at the South America Regional Championship, and it remains a serious contender. Based on the third-place finishing list, Ajani, Sleeper Agent should a good sideboard choice to keep in mind when Mono-White Midrange is ticking up.

Lay Down Arms Shows its Depth

The finals of the South America Regional Championships pitted together two Lay Down Arms decks, which is a big sign. Lay Down Arms deals with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse for a single mana and even denies the death trigger on Ao, the Dawn Sky, so it can reasonably be called the most efficient removal spell in Standard. However, to make the most of it, you need a lot of Plains. Although Mono-White Midrange remains the typical home, more and more players are finding success with the card in multicolor decks, using lands like Jetmir's Garden to splash off-color spells while retaining a sufficiently high Plains count. Indeed, that's exactly how Francisco Benitez took the trophy.

Leyline Binding and Lay Down Arms in one deck? No problem! With 12 tri-lands, 4 Plains, 3 Herd Migration, and 2 Contagious Vorrac, the mana actually works out and gets my stamp of approval. As a result, you get to combine the best interactive spells with the best win conditions across all the colors. I often say that the design of a deck starts with the mana base, and this is a beautiful example of that. At the South America Regional Championship, Francisco Benitez was the only player who had both Leyline Binding and Lay Down Arms in his main deck (there were three others Domain Control players, but their builds were different) and he emerged victorious.

Hardcasting Atraxa, Grand Unifier is a good way to go over the top of Rakdos Midrange, so this Domain Control build may also be a force to be reckoned with at the United States' Dreamhack Regional Championship in San Diego this weekend. It seems well positioned in the metagame, was built with the help of veterans like Luis Salvatto and Sebastian Pozzo, and Nissa, Ascendant Animist is great sideboard tech against Mono-White Midrange. With so much turmoil in the metagame, I'm excited to see what Standard will look like over there. Check out Corbin Hosler's The Week That Was column on Friday to learn how various players are preparing for this Regional Championship, the last and biggest one of the cycle.

Modern Rallied Over 1,000 Players in Prague

Having seen the return of the Pro Tour and driven by the thrill of high-level tabletop competition, many players want to qualify for the next cycles of Regional Championships. Each regional organizer chooses their own qualifier structure, and Legacy Events in Europe regularly holds so-called Grand Open Qualifiers, which are open to anyone and award 32 Regional Championship slots. This past weekend in Prague, a whopping 1,055 players gathered for such a Grand Open Qualifier, marking the largest European Magic tournament in years!

There was a great buzz in the hall, and many players traveled halfway through Europe for the opportunity to test their mettle. Competition was fierce, with Hall of Famers and Pro Tour champions in attendance, and the large turnout indicates that competitive Magic is blooming. Andrea Mengucci summed it up well: "These events are the reason why I live for, traveling with friends in foreign countries to play Magic and meet the gathering." You may see interviews with a few people who made this event so special in a few weeks in The Week That Was, and the weekend belonged to Markus Leicht.

Before discussing the winning decklist, let's combine the data from the Grand Open Qualifier Prague with the data from two other huge Modern Regional Championship Qualifiers: past weekend's 386-player MXP Oakland Modern 20k RCQ and the preceding weekend's 281-player NRG Series $10K Trial Chicagoland. With over 1,600 available decklists and full round-by-round results, I determined the raw metagame share and win rates for these massive RCQs combined. My algorithms relabel all archetypes from scratch for accuracy.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Izzet Murktide 11.5% 49.5%
2. Hammer Time 8.5% 51.0%
3. Indomitable Creativity 8.0% 57.6% ✓✓
4. Rhinos 7.7% 53.0%
5. Rakdos Undying 7.0% 50.4%
6. Burn 4.5% 42.4%
7. Four-Color Omnath 3.9% 54.7%
8. Amulet Titan 3.9% 50.1%
9. Yawgmoth 3.5% 51.5%
10. Jeskai Breach 2.7% 53.3%
11. Jund Midrange 2.6% 47.0%
12. Azorius Control 2.4% 55.8% ✓✓
13. Living End 2.2% 55.1%
14. Domain Zoo 2.1% 47.5%
15. Mono-Green Tron 2.1% 42.9%
16. Mill 1.8% 44.5%
17. Merfolk 1.8% 48.8%
18. Hardened Scales 1.4% 51.0%
19. Izzet Prowess 1.4% 49.6%
20. Affinity 0.9% 47.1%
21. Other 20.0% 45.0%

The "Other" category includes such decks as Eldrazi Tron, Death & Taxes, Ponza, Mono-Red Obosh, Jund Reanimator, Grixis Shadow, Dredge, Devoted Druid, Infect, Shift to Light, and so on.

While the Modern metagame remains diverse, Indomitable Creativity is dominating the top tables. There were three copies of the deck in the Top 8 in Prague, and its win rate across the three RCQs combined was 57.6%, which is impressive given the large sample size. It's definitely worth having one or more copies of Orvar, the All-Form in your sideboard to punish Archon of Cruelty or to have access to Blood Moon in your 75 to stop Dwarven Mine.

Indeed, these cards were used by both finalists in Prague. In the end, Marco Cammilluzzi's Rhinos deck, with main deck Mystical Dispute and Murktide Regent, was felled by an unlikely alliance of Elementals, Praetors, and Goblins.

It was a well-deserved trophy for Markus "RespectTheCat" Leicht, a streamer and Youtuber from Austria, whose dedication paid off. After championing his innovative build on stream for weeks, he can now say that he has won the largest European tabletop Magic tournament since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I've referred to his deck as Four-Color Omnath for consistency, but his own descriptor of Five-Color Elements is also apt, given that he relies on Risen Reef and has several black cards in his sideboard. However, unlike almost all other Four-Color Omnath players, he used Keruga, the Macrosage as his companion, deciding that the free card was more valuable than access to Wrenn and Six or Prismatic Ending. It worked out perfectly for him: Using free cards from Keruga, along with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Fire//Ice as replacements for low-mana-value spells, he crushed the tournament.

Another standout in his deck are two copies of Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. Although The Mycosynth Gardens remains the most-played new card from Phyrexia: All Will Be One, Elesh Norn was a close second. I don't think many people saw that coming, as she's a five-mana creature who dies to Murderous Cut, but almost no one (with Markus Leicht as one of the few exceptions) plays a card like Murderous Cut in Modern. More popular removal spells like Unholy Heat, Fatal Push, Leyline Binding, and Solitude don't deal with Elesh Norn. While on the battlefield, she doubles all your enters-the-battlefield triggers (including the one on Keruga, the Macrosage) and disrupts opposing Dwarven Mine; Sigarda's Aid; Primeval Titan; Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle; Archon of Cruelty; Grinding Station, and other combo cards. If you are playing a Modern deck whose key cards are stopped by Elesh Norn, then you should consider adding suitable spot removal spells to your decklist.

Pioneer is the Format for the Next RCQ Season

The Regional Championship Qualifier season for the third cycle of Regional Championships, which offered stores a choice between Limited, Standard, Pioneer, and Modern, ended last weekend. The next RCQ season, which will take place from April 22 through August 20, introduces format matching. That is, in this soon-to-start season, in-store RCQs are required to be either Pioneer or Limited, and they will qualify for a Pioneer Regional Championship later in the year.

As Pioneer will become the most important format for aspiring competitive players in the coming months, let's set the stage by looking at the data from the three largest RCQs over the past three weekends: the Hunter Burton Memorial Open, NRG Series $5K Trial Chicagoland, and MXP Oakland Pioneer $5K RCQ. The last-mentioned one was held at the inaugural show for a new West Coast Magic Series, which drew large crowds.

With over 470 available decklists and full round-by-round results, I determined the raw metagame share and win rates for these three RCQs combined. It's not the biggest sample size, but it provides a useful glimpse.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Rakdos Midrange 11.6% ↓↓ 56.1% ✓✓
2. Abzan Greasefang 7.4% ↑↑ 51.3%
3. Azorius Control 7.0% 58.0% ✓✓
4. Izzet Creativity 6.1% 47.7%
5. Mono-Green Devotion 5.5% ↓↓ 52.0%
6. Lotus Field Combo 5.5% ↑↑ 45.7%
7. Mono-White Humans 4.9% 46.7%
8. Izzet Phoenix 4.7% 44.3%
9. Atraxa Neoform 3.6% ↑↑ 52.5%
10. Enigmatic Fires 3.4% 50.6%
11. Omnath to Light 3.4% 55.1%
12. Selesnya Angels 3.0% 53.2%
13. Gruul Vehicles 3.0% ↓↓ 46.2%
14. Rakdos Sacrifice 2.5% 50.0%
15. Mono-Blue Spirits 2.3% 55.7%
16. Selesnya Auras 2.1% 32.7%
17. Elves 1.5% 51.4%
18. Other 22.6% 45.7%

The "Other" category includes such decks as Dimir Control, Azorius Spirits, Esper Greasefang, Mono-Red Aggro, Mono-Black Midrange, Jund Transmogrify, and so on.

As indicated by the arrows in the table, this Pioneer metagame is different from the the metagame at Pro Tour Phyrexia. While well-performing combo decks like Abzan Greasefang, Izzet Creativity, and Lotus Field Combo have established a strong foothold, archetypes like Rakdos Midrange, Mono-Green Devotion, and Gruul Vehicles have dropped. Nevertheless, Rakdos Midrange posted solid win rates in the RCQs I analyzed, indicating that it remains a solid choice.

Yet the biggest development since the Pro Tour was the emergence of a brand new archetype, as brewers found a way to break Atraxa, Grand Unifier.

The plan with this hot new Pioneer deck is to fill your graveyard, delve out a six-cost creature, sacrifice it to Neoform, and put Atraxa onto the battlefield. You can do this as early as turn three! Even if Atraxa dies, she will grant 4.2 cards in expectation, and your follow-up creatures and efficient interactive spells can close out the game.

A key card in the deck is Founding the Third Path, which sets up delve, casts Neoform from your graveyard, and makes the whole strategy more consistent. That said, there are various takes on the archetype—roughly a third of the decks exploit Soulflayer, for example—and there is no consensus yet on the optimal build for the current metagame. But one thing is for sure: turn-three Atraxa is well worth crafting your deck around in Pioneer. And when this deck is on the rise and Abzan Greasefang is putting up good results as well, it may be wise to add Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, or Weathered Runestone to the sideboard of the deck you intend to bring to the coming RCQs. Find events around you by using the Store & Event Locator!

Looking Ahead

To put all the tournaments into perspective, the following infographic provides a visual overview of all Regional Championships and their qualifying seasons in 2023.

Next weekend, April 8-9, the current Regional Championship cycle concludes with the one in U.S.A. There will be live coverage on the DreamHackMagic Twitch channel, scheduled to start at noon PST on Saturday and at 10:30 a.m. PST on Sunday.

The top 48 competitors earn an invitation to Pro Tour March of the Machine at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7, with slots of already qualified players passing down. But there's plenty to do at the MagicCon besides the Pro Tour. The tournament schedule is up, featuring Pro Tour Qualifiers and the Secret Lair Showdown. and pre-registration is open!

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