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Metagame Mentor: Predicting Standard at Pro Tour Thunder Junction

April 18, 2024
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. Standard has been great over the past month, featuring a wide diversity of archetypes, and the format will soon be refreshed with an exhilarating array of new cards and strategies. Besides the main Outlaws of Thunder Junction (OTJ) set, The Big Score (BIG) adds 30 more mythic rares into Standard to build and test with, resulting in one of the biggest Standard releases ever.

As a result, I'm hyped for next week's Pro Tour Thunder Junction, where the best players in the world will show off their Standard deckbuilding and gameplay skills. To give an early indication of the decks we can expect to see at the Pro Tour, today's article provides a Standard metagame snapshot right before the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, along with my first thoughts on promising cards from the new set release. Afterwards, I'll go back in time to highlight the winning deck from the 1998 Magic World Championship, showing how the Standard format has changed over time.

Standard Before Outlaws of Thunder Junction

Standard is a rotating 60-card format that currently allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. To grasp the state of the format right before the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, I analyzed over 1,100 successful decklists from competitive events held from March 20 through April 10. Specifically, I used all Standard tournaments on Magic Online, the Classic Qualifier at LMS Prague, Pizza Box Open, and RCQ at Cyphacon.

For each Standard decklist, I assigned an archetype label and awarded points equal to its rectified number of net wins (i.e., the deck's number of match wins minus losses if positive and zero otherwise). Each archetype's share of total rectified net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Dimir Midrange 17.5% ↑↑
2. Esper Midrange 13.3%
3. Temur Analyst 13.2% ↑↑
4. Boros Convoke 11.9%
5. Domain Ramp 7.6% ↓↓
6. Golgari Midrange 7.2% ↓↓
7. Mono-Red Aggro 6.8%
8. Bant Toxic 6.0%
9. Gruul Aggro 3.4%
10. Azorius Control 2.8% ↓↓
11. Dimir Control 2.3%
12. Rakdos Midrange 1.5%
13. Azorius Mentor 1.0%
14. Four-Color Legends 0.7%
15. Invasion of Alara 0.6%
16. Dimir Card Draw 0.6%
17. Other 3.6%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist. The "Other" category included Sultai Reanimator, Dimir Reanimator, Esper Legends, Esper Control, Azorius Soldiers, Rakdos Aggro, Soul Cauldron Combo, Golgari Mill, and various other archetypes.

The Standard format has been through considerable changes recently, including the release of Murders at Karlov Manor and the emergence of Aftermath Analyst decks. Compared to the metagame in the first half of March, Dimir Midrange has overtaken Esper Midrange as the black midrange deck of choice, leveraging its smoother mana base and lower curve, while the breakout Temur Analyst deck has further soared in popularity. Meanwhile, the number of Domain Ramp, Golgari Midrange, and Azorius Control decks at the top tables have dwindled somewhat.

Overall, Standard features a healthy mix of aggro, midrange, control, ramp, and control. There are novel developments, including a Dimir Card Draw deck featuring Proft's Eidetic Memory, as well as classic, time-honoured archetypes such as Mono-Red Aggro and Azorius Control. Basically, there's something for everyone. The field is currently wide open, and with the upcoming addition of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, it will soon turn into the Wild West.

The eight archetypes with the highest winner's metagame share over the past month represent the decks to defeat going into Thunder Junction Standard, and they all gain new cards. To take a closer look at these eight archetypes, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that considers the popularity, performance, and synergy of individual card choices. This should give us a rough idea of what to expect at the upcoming Pro Tour. Along the way, I'll add my first impressions on potential additions from Thunder Junction.

1. Dimir Midrange

Dimir Midrange, at 17.5% of the winner's metagame over the past few weeks, is the most prominent Standard deck right before the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction. The ideal start involves cheap fliers like Spyglass Siren and Deep-Cavern Bat, which will draw extra cards when Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor hits the table. After using cheap evasive threats to get ahead early, Dimir Midrange attempts to maintain the advantage with efficient removal and permission spells.

From Outlaws of Thunder Junction, there are numerous Constructed-worthy cards that could fit into a blue-black deck. For example, Phantom Interference might be an upgrade over Make Disappear due to its versatility. You could also add Forsaken Miner or Tinybones, the Pickpocket to reinforce a more aggressive plan, or go bigger with Hostile Investigator or Gisa, the Hellraiser.

Another exciting angle is to add the new game-winning combo of Bloodletter of Aclazotz and Rush of Dread. Indeed, if you control Bloodletter of Aclazotz and then force your opponent to lose half their life, then they'll lose the game on the spot! Since both combo pieces are playable on their own, it offers yet another way to build the deck. With Thunder Junction in the mix, the possibilities are nearly endless. In any case, Dimir Midrange will surely remain a top-tier archetype.

2. Esper Midrange

Esper Midrange is not far behind Dimir Midrange in popularity. Compared to Dimir Midrange, Esper sacrifices a smooth mana base in exchange for powerful white cards. The individual card quality in the deck is amazing, as Wedding Announcement and Raffine, Scheming Seer are among the best three-drops in the format. Yet the mana is trickier to assemble, requiring more tapped lands. This, along with a top-heavier curve, makes the deck a bit slower than Dimir.

From Outlaws of Thunder Junction, I would be excited to try Duelist of the Mind. Esper Midrange easily commits crimes with its suite of interactive cards, and Duelist of the Mind's power scaling synergizes really well with Raffine, Scheming Seer. Besides Nathan Steuer's card (which could also slot into a Proft's Eidetic Memory deck) I see potential in Dust Animus, Final Showdown, and Gisa, the Hellraiser for Esper Midrange. All of them could add a powerful late game. Yet this is far from an exhaustive list; the new set provides a lot of different new cards and tweaks to explore.

3. Temur Analyst

Temur Analyst is capable of generating an enormous amount of mana. By taking New Capenna fetch lands from your graveyard, an Aftermath Analyst activation or a Worldsoul's Rage for X=2 will allow you to ramp ahead on turn four, enabling you to slam Virtue of Strength on turn five. After tripling your mana production, you can point a Worldsoul's Rage for X=20 at your opponent for the win. This innovative deck has quickly risen in popularity after appearing about a month ago, and the recent main deck addition of Vampires' Vengeance improves the matchup against aggro strategies.

Nevertheless, the strategy is somewhat vulnerable to graveyard hate, as Aftermath Analyst needs lands in the graveyard. This problem may be exacerbated by the reprint of Rest in Peace in The Big Score. Nevertheless, Outlaws of Thunder Junction could offer a transformational sideboard plan with Bristly Bill, Spine Sower and/or Bonny Pall, Clearcutter. These creatures synergize with the ramp strategy in normal games while providing a secondary game plan if the opponent draws their anti-graveyard cards. Such sideboard pivots are always fascinating.

4. Boros Convoke

Boros Convoke brings Pioneer power to Standard tournaments. You can curve Novice Inspector into Gleeful Demolition, which allows you to convoke Knight-Errant of Eos as early as turn two. A follow-up Imodane's Recruiter enables a massive burst of damage. Case of the Gateway Express has been another strong addition from Murders at Karlov Manor, answering Deep-Cavern Bat or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse while providing a +1/+0 boost for the go-wide strategy. All in all, this is the prime aggro deck in the format.

Outlaws of Thunder Junction introduces Inspiring Vantage to Standard, bringing the deck even closer to its Pioneer counterpart. The enemy-color fast land provides much-needed early-game mana consistency, alleviating the difficulty of trying to cast one-drops of different colors. Besides the mana base upgrade, I would also be interested in Aven Interrupter, which can hold off a sweeper effect for a full turn. In addition, Nurturing Pixie can return Case of the Gateway Express or Knight-Errant of Eos for value, so it may be worth testing. However, I believe that the addition of Inspiring Vantage is the biggest upgrade for Boros Convoke, and it should reinforce the aggro deck's power and popularity.

5. Domain Ramp

Domain Ramp uses Topiary Stomper and Invasion of Zendikar to ramp into a quick Atraxa, Grand Unifier or kicked Archangel of Wrath. A domain mana base heavy on tri-lands enables Herd Migration and Leyline Binding, allowing Domain Ramp to go over the top of opposing midrange decks. Recent main deck innovations include Spelunking as additional ramp and Imodane's Recruiter to set up a one-turn kill with Herd Migration. In the sideboard, Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines is a piece of tech that stops all the New Capenna fetch lands.

From Outlaws of Thunder Junction, Arid Archway would synergize well with Spelunking, and the two-mana land would support Domain Ramp's mana-hungry nature. However, it doesn't count for domain, so its inclusion might require a retooling of the deck from the ground up. At the same time, the new set introduces various multicolor ramp payoffs that are brimming with potential, though perhaps for a different style of ramp deck. For example, Annie Flash, the Veteran provides an enormous amount of value in a deck that supports her, perhaps with Outcaster Trailblazer. All of these build-arounds offer exciting new opportunities.

6. Golgari Midrange

Golgari Midrange is basically a collection of the best individual cards in black and green. Although it has some overlap with Dimir Midrange and Esper Midrange, it trades permission spells for harder-hitting creatures. In particular, Mosswood Dreadknight, Glissa Sunslayer, and Restless Cottage provide a fast clock and formidable staying late-game power.

Outlaws of Thunder Junction introduces a lot of well-statted creatures. For example, I can see the potential in Bristly Bill, Spine Sower; Bristlebud Farmer; Goldvein Hydra; Railway Brawler; The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride; Gisa, the Hellraiser; and Harvester of Misery as powerful late-game threats in Golgari Midrange. Of course, you can only afford a few slots for expensive creatures, but it's awesome to get so many sweet new options. There may even be potential for a deck based around Fight Rigging, as the introduction of Colossal Rattlewurm makes it easier than ever to build a 7-power creature.

7. Mono-Red Aggro

Mono-Red Aggro is one of the most perennial archetypes in the history of Standard. The deck uses haste creatures and burn spells to take the opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible, and it threatens to do so as early as turn four. Fugitive Codebreaker has proven to be a useful addition from Murders at Karlov Manor, as it attacks early, grows in the mid-game, and turns into a card draw spell in a topdeck race.

From Outlaws of Thunder Junction, I would be interested in Scorching Shot and Stingerback Terror, but I'm even excited about Slickshot Show-Off. Given the large proportion of noncreature spells, which can be expanded by splashing Questing Druid, Slickshot Show-Off can attack for three or more damage in the air each turn. The plot mechanic, when timed prudently, also helps you dodge sweepers. And if you'd like to go for a combo route, you can boost Slickshot Show-Off with Monstrous Rage and Twinferno, potentially dealing 16 damage on turn three! One way or another, red aggro decks will surely remain part of the Standard metagame.

8. Bant Toxic

Bant Toxic combines cheap toxic creatures and proliferate spells to give the opponent 10 poison counters as quickly as possible. Green and white provides the core of the creature base, which has recently been filled out with Annex Sentry, Slaughter Singer, and Bloated Contaminator. Blue provides noncreature spells, including the powerful March of Swirling Mist. When combined with Venerated Rotpriest, it can dish out a poison counter for every creature you control, producing lethal out of nowhere.

From Outlaws of Thunder Junction, I would be interested in adding Three Steps Ahead. Arguably the best Cancel variant of all time, its natural home might be in control decks, but I like how it can a copy of Venerated Rotpriest. For the same reason, Fleeting Reflection and Trash the Town might overperform in Bant Toxic, as they could yield multiple Venerated Rotpriest triggers. All of these new tricks are worth considering.

Most-Played Cards From MTG Arena Streamer Event

Outlaws of Thunder Junction provides not only sweet new options for existing archetypes but also adds numerous build-arounds to enable brand new decks or revitalize forgotten ones. Partly due to The Big Score bonus sheet, the new set injects a gigantic number of powerful cards into Standard, and it's hard to know where to start.

For a more data-driven perspective, we can consider the most-played cards in the Standard games of MTG Arena's Streamer Event. This small-scope event gave content creators a first opportunity to play with the new set on April 10. So, the most-played cards are the ones that spurred the most initial excitement.

Mythic Rares

655050 655090 655030 655098 655116

Many mythic rare creatures in Outlaws of Thunder Junction provide excellent stats or sweet abilities for their mana cost. Tinybones, the Pickpocket and Gisa, the Hellraiser stand out because they have awesome synergy together and support a crime deck. Tinybones can commit a crime if it connects, while Gisa provides a steady flow of tokens while granting +1/+1 to Tinybones.

Overall, a brand-new crime deck, perhaps featuring Vadmir, New Blood and Marchesa, Dealer of Death, might appear as a powerful contender in Standard. Committing crimes is relatively easy if you build your deck around it, so it seems one of the most powerful new mechanics for competitive play.


657179 657175 655121 655045 657176

The enemy-color fetch lands will have a massive impact on the format by improving the mana of enemy-color aggro decks. Boros Convoke is the prime benefactor, but Izzet Pirates or Simic Artifacts might also see a competitive breakthrough. Now that they finally have good mana with Spirebluff Canal and Botanical Sanctum, these aggro decks will be able to curve out more consistently in the early turns of the game.

Smuggler's Surprise is another stand-out rare. Just imagine putting Atraxa, Grand Unifier and Etali, Primal Conqueror onto the battlefield for six mana, at instant speed! While previous versions of such cards sometimes clogged up your hand if you drew the wrong part of your deck, Smuggler's Surprise is never dead because it can also be used as a card draw effect or protection spell. As a result, Smuggler's Surprise could enable a brand-new archetype or simply help reanimation strategies beat graveyard hate after sideboard.

Commons and Uncommons

Forsaken Miner Shoot the Sheriff Lush Oasis 655159 Jagged Barrens

Even the commons and uncommons of Outlaws of Thunder Junction provide sweet new tools. Although Honest Rutstein does not appear in this list of most-played cards, it deserves an honorable mention. Brewers like Rei "cftsoc" Zhang will surely have recognized that if you control Relic of Legends and Rona, Herald of Invasion, then two copies of Honest Rutstein can be looped indefinitely. This allows you to win the game with Tinybones Joins Up.

Honestly, the new set is overflowing with potential. Between powerful buffs for existing archetypes and an abundance of possibilities for new brews, the number of options is nearly endless. I can't wait to see what the Pro Tour metagame will look like!

It would be a crime to not tune in to Pro Tour Thunder Junction on April 26–28 to see some of the world's best Magic players competing for their share of $500,000. Pro Tour Thunder Junction will lay down the Standard metagame, so if you're looking for ideas on what to build for your upcoming Standard Showdown events, Store Championship, or Regional Championships, then don't miss the live video coverage!

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

At Pro Tour Thunder Junction, all competitors who clinch 36 match points and/or reach the Top 8 will receive an invitation to Magic World Championship 30—the crown jewel of Magic organized play. As we count down the weeks leading up to that tournament in late October, each week I'm taking a look at a great deck from a past Magic World Championship. After reviewing the World Championships from 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 in past installments, let's go back in time to 1998.

Like the upcoming Pro Tour, the 1998 Magic World Championship took place in Seattle, United States. There, 203 players from across the world gathered on August 12–16, 1998 to compete in Tempest Booster Draft, Standard, and Tempest Block Constructed. As usual, the Top 8 playoffs were Standard format. Brian Selden emerged victorious as one of the four players in the Top 8 who used the powerful combination of Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest—or "RecSur" for short.

The deck employed a toolbox of more than twenty creatures, most of which have an effect when they enter or perform some other useful function. For example, it has Nekrataal to deal with creatures, Cloudchaser Eagle to answer enchantments, and Spike Feeder when your life total is getting low. To finish off the opponent, Verdant Force was the go-to reanimation target in the early days of Magic.

With Survival of the Fittest on the battlefield, any creature in your hand could become anything you wanted. It's almost like having your entire deck in your hand. And once you got Recurring Nightmare going, you could recycle the creatures you discarded and reuse their effects multiple times. Or put Verdant Force onto the battlefield for the reduced cost of three mana.

Survival of the Fittest Recurring Nightmare

Together, the two enchantments produce a formidable engine. In fact, when the 34th volume of the 1999 Duelist magazine published a list of Top 25 Magic combos of all time, Survival of the Fittest with Recurring Nightmare made third place. It was beaten only by Balance with Zuran Orb and Channel with Fireball, which appeared in earlier World Championship finals.

Today, Survival of the Fittest is banned in Legacy; Recurring Nightmare is banned in Commander; and neither enchantment is legal in Modern, Pioneer, or Standard. However, their legacy endures. Toolbox and reanimation strategies have always played a big role in competitive Magic, dominating numerous formats over the years. Even at last year's Standard Pro Tour, the final match featured The Cruelty of Gix, which combines toolbox and reanimation in a single card.

Perhaps this year, with Outlaws of Thunder Junction in the mix, an enterprising player might entomb Yargle and Multani with Lively Dirge before reanimating it as a lethal threat with Rakdos Joins Up. The cards may be different from the ones that dominated the 1998 World Championship, but the fundamental ideas that make them powerful remain the same.

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