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Metagame Mentor: Two Weekends; Six Regional Championships

March 14, 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. Over the past two weekends, over 1000 players entered six different Modern Regional Championships across the globe, competing for 22 Pro Tour invitations in what would be the last weekend with Violent Outburst in the format. In this article, I'll take a closer look at the Modern metagame and the winning decks from these events, while sharing my early thoughts on adaptations after the ban.

As a quick summary: Four of these Regional Championships were won by cascade decks, which will have to be reworked, and the other two were won by Goryo's Vengeance decks, which had a breakout weekend. After first congratulating the winners and showing their decklists, I'll provide a combined metagame breakdown and spotlight the spiciest two decks that also earned a Pro Tour invite this past weekend. Let's dive in!

Dagoberto Silva Won in Mexico City with Living End

Dagoberto Silva, winner of The Gathering Final Showdown Mexico City

Congratulations to Dagoberto Silva, who won The Gathering Final Showdown (the Regional Championship for Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean) with Living End, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30. In addition, he and his opponent from the finals, Victor Pérez, earned an invite to Pro Tour Thunder Junction in Seattle.

Living End was one of the most popular and best-performing archetypes at the Regional Championships. Dagoberto Silva's list is a relatively stock version of the archetype, with Bonecrusher Giant and Mine Collapse as spicy inclusions in the sideboard. However, these red cards are unlikely to matter going forward. Due to the ban of Violent Outburst, announced this past Monday, Living End decks will have to change. One of the most likely outcomes is that they will cut red and add white for Ardent Plea. The deck could remain competitively viable, as it can still run the same total number of cascade spells, but it would be weaker.

The ban of Violent Outburst will force Living End to play on their own turn more often, making it easier to counter. In particular, Force of Negation cannot back up an instant-speed cascade spell anymore, and I wouldn't be surprised see lower numbers of that card. As an additional problem, if we have to change from red to white, then Eagles of the North seems a bit weaker than Oliphaunt. Nevertheless, if the weakening of Living End means that everyone cuts their anti-cascade and anti-graveyard cards from their sideboards, perhaps filling their slots with answers to Golgari Yawgmoth or Amulet Titan instead, then Living End could still be playable after the ban.

Guillermo Loli Won in Santiago de Chile with Living End

Guillermo Loli, winner of South America Magic Series Santiago

Congratulations to Guillermo Loli from Peru, who won the South America Magic Series (i.e., the Regional Championship for South America) with Living End, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30. In addition, he and his opponent from the finals, Daniel Lopez, earned an invite to Pro Tour Thunder Junction in Seattle.

There are no major surprises in Loli's decklist. Living End was well-positioned because it has an excellent matchup against Temur Rhinos and Domain Rhinos, which held a commanding metagame share. Going forward, however, the metagame might shift towards fewer Rhinos decks, which would mean that Living End will face its best matchup less often going forward.

For post-ban Modern, there are alternatives to adopting Ardent Plea. Living End players could also retain red and use Demonic Dread, Bloodbraid Elf, Electrodominance, and/or As Foretold. That's how the deck was typically built before Modern Horizons 2 introduced Shardless Agent in 2021. However, all of these alternatives have notable downsides. Demonic Dread requires a target, which cannot be guaranteed. Bloodbraid Elf is four mana, which comes with the risk of hitting Force of Negation or three-mana sideboard cards. Finally, Electrodominance and As Foretold requires you to draw Living End, which reduces consistency. As a result, my first impression is that Ardent Plea seems more appealing.

James Wilks Won in Australia with Living End

James Wilks, winner of ANZ Super Series Finals Melbourne

Congratulations to James Wilks, who won the ANZ Super Series Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand) with Living End, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30. In addition, the top 8 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Thunder Junction in Seattle earned an invitation to that tournament.

James Wilks was the third and final player to win a Regional Championship with Living End. With two main deck copies of Endurance, he was ready for the mirror match. Main deck Endurance was a great choice this past weekend when Living End was running the tables and you could pitch Violent Outburst to pay for its alternate cost.

After the ban, I expect that the popularity of Rhinos and Living End will go down, reducing the need for anti-graveyard and/or anti-cascade cards in the main deck. However, such cards may still be useful in sideboards; Cascade decks may be weakened now that they have to operate at sorcery speed, but I don't expect that they will disappear entirely. Indeed, the intent of the ban is to preserve cascade strategies as viable options in Modern, just without the ability to cascade into a payoff card at instant speed.

Yeh Yun-Chen Won in Taipei City with Temur Rhinos

Yeh Yun-Chen, winner of MIT Championship Finals Taipei City

Congratulations to Yeh Yun-Chen, who won the MIT Championship (the Regional Championship for Chinese Taipei) with Temur Rhinos, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30. In addition, he and his opponent from the finals earned an invite to Pro Tour Thunder Junction in Seattle.

Rhinos was most popular macro-archetype at last weekend's Regional Championships, roughly split between Domain and Temur builds. Yeh Yun-Chen stuck with the traditional Temur build, although his list has several unique choices. He cut down on Fire // Ice, Dead // Gone, and Murktide Regent, instead favoring three copies of Brazen Borrower, the full playset of Flame of Anor, and several spicy one-of creatures: Generous Ent; Bonecrusher Giant; and Kellan, Inquisitive Prodigy. These card choices could have infused new ideas, but the deck will likely have to be rebuilt from the ground up after the ban.

Without Violent Outburst, I reckon that Rhinos will also have to resort to Ardent Plea, much like Living End. Once it runs white, the domain build with Leyline Binding is probably superior, and at that point, Solitude becomes an appealing option to replace the red burn spells. Since Ardent Plea can be pitched to both Solitude and Subtlety, unlike Violent Outburst, it might not be all that much of a downgrade. Ardent Plea can even give exalted to a turn-two Scion of Draco or, if you want to consider a cross-over with Domain Zoo, Territorial Kavu. If you cut Force of Negation, which can no longer protect Violent Outburst on your opponent's turn, then a Domain Rhinos deck may also be able to exploit Bloodbraid Elf. There is an abundance of options, and I don't think we have seen the last of Crashing Footfalls.

Muhan Yu Won in China with Goryo's Blink

Muhan Yu, winner of MTG China Open Guangzhou

Congratulations to Muhan Yu, who won the MTG China Open (the Regional Championship for China) with Goryo's Blink, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30. In addition, the top 4 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Thunder Junction in Seattle earned an invitation to that tournament.

Goryo's Blink had already been on the rise in the past few weeks, and it truly broke out at last weekend's Regional Championships. Muhan Yu won with a "stock" version of the deck, featuring Goryo's Vengeance as the key card. After discarding Atraxa, Grand Unifier to Tainted Indulgence or Faithful Mending, Goryo's Vengeance can bring her back to the battlefield, providing a massive lifelink swing and a fresh grip of new cards. Pitch elementals like Solitude or Grief then allow you to transform card advantage into immediate interaction.

Another essential piece, which sets this deck apart from other Goryo's Vengeance strategies, is Ephemerate. When Ephemerate is cast on an Atraxa that was brought back to life with Goryo's Vengeance, she returns as a new card object, which not only yields another enters-the-battlefield trigger but also means that you won't have to exile her at end of turn. In addition, Ephemerate has excellent synergy with Fallaji Archaeologist and Grief. When targeting Grief, it's even more punishing than Not Dead After All, as rebound will force your opponent to discard yet another card on your next upkeep.

For over a year, the strategy had been on the fringes of Modern. Willioufouf used it to win a Modern Challenge in March 2023 and Marco Vassallo did the same at the 2023 Magic Online Champions Showcase Season 1, but it never became prominent until now. The surveil lands from Murders at Karlov Manor supercharged the archetype by increasing the deck's consistency and providing additional ways of putting Atraxa, Grand Unifier into the graveyard. Muhan Yu's winning list features as many as four different surveil lands! Moreover, Goryo's Blink has a powerful reanimation plan that can be executed at instant speed and is not vulnerable to Subtlety, so it matches up well against Domain Rhinos and Living End. This made it a well-positioned choice for the metagame.

Lucas Lim Won in Bangkok with Goryo's Blink

Lucas Lim, winner of MTG SEA Championship Bangkok

Congratulations to Lucas Lim, who won the MTG South East Asia Championship (the Regional Championship for South East Asia) with Goryo's Blink, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30. In addition, the top 4 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Thunder Junction in Seattle earned an invitation to that tournament.

With its second victory in the same weekend, Goryo's Blink truly cemented itself as a top-tier deck in Modern. Lucas Lim's version, however, was unusual. In contrast to most Goryo's Blink players, both him and fellow competitor Kelvin Chew used Fable of the Mirror-Breaker as a discard enabler, trimming down on Faithful Mending and Tainted Indulgence. The additional color in the mana base allowed them to incorporate Leyline Binding over Prismatic Ending. Moreover, their list did not include Grief, relying on Supreme Verdict, Reprieve, and Fatal Push as interaction instead.

As a result, this build is less combo-oriented, playing out more like a control deck with a fancy win condition. It reminds me of the Goryo's Vengeance deck with Wrath of God that I took it to the finals of the 2005 World Championship, so this approach certainly has my attention, and I love how two different takes on a previously underappreciated archetype both managed to find success this past weekend.

The Metagame and Win Rates

In total, 1,116 decklists were submitted across the six Regional Championships. After fixing mislabeled archetypes, I determined the combined metagame share and the match win rates (non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw) of every archetype this past weekend. In the following table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Domain Rhinos 10.3% ↑↑ 48.7%
2. Living End 9.0% ↑↑ 57.0% ✓✓
3. Golgari Yawgmoth 7.7% ↓↓ 52.8%
4. Temur Rhinos 7.3% ↓↓ 48.3%
5. Amulet Titan 7.2% 52.4%
6. Domain Zoo 6.5% 51.8%
7. Mono-Green Tron 5.5% 45.2%
8. Rakdos Grief 5.2% 50.7%
9. Goryo's Blink 4.6% ↑↑ 51.1%
10. Izzet Murktide 4.4% 45.8%
11. Azorius Control 3.5% 53.5%
12. Hammer Time 3.0% 50.0%
13. Boros Burn 2.5% 35.0%
14. Four-Color Omnath 2.3% 49.6%
15. Hardened Scales 2.3% 49.7%
16. Merfolk 2.0% 50.7%
17. Mono-Black Coffers 1.3% 50.0%
18. Dimir Mill 1.3% 45.7%
19. Five-Color Creativity 1.0% 48.3%
20. Four-Color Control 0.9% 68.8% ✓✓
21. Heliod Combo 0.7% 53.5%
22. Other 11.0% 44.5%

The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Temur Murktide, Grixis Wizards, Temur Prowess, Four-Color Rhinos, Dimir Control, Asmo Food, Dimir Shadow, Eldrazi Tron, Domain Grief, Mono-Blue Tron, Jund Sagavan, Urza ThopterSword, Esper Grief, 8-Rack, Twiddle Breach, CopyCat, Bogles, Gruul Scapeshift, Timeless Amulet, Temur Breach, Orzhov Grief, Four-Color Shadow, Naya Scapeshift, Infect, Asmo Reanimator, Domain Valakut, Domain Omnath, and more.

Compared to the metagame at the previous Regional Championships in the United States, Canada, and Japan, Living End rose further in popularity, as it thrives in a metagame dominated by Crashing Footfalls. The overall share of Rhinos decks stayed roughly the same, although the new Domain version with Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco became the most popular. In post-ban Modern, I anticipate that Golgari Yawgmoth, Amulet Titan, and Rakdos Grief will become the premier decks to defeat, especially considering that they previously used to struggle against cascade decks.

In terms of win rates, Living End had an excellent performance across the last six Regional Championships, winning 57.0% of its matches. It crushed Rhinos in particular.

Another standout result was the 68.8% winrate of Four-Color Control, which is a deck that generally leans on Teferi, Time Raveler; Solitude; The One Ring; Leyline Binding; Supreme Verdict; and Counterspell. Four-Color Control differs from Four-Color Omnath with a heavier reliance on sweepers and countermagic and because it runs fewer than three Omnath, Locus of Creation. It also differs from Azorius Control because it uses at least two castable non-split red and green cards. This results in a well-rounded list with impressive results, and the best-performing versions exploited main deck Chalice of the Void to answer the cascade-heavy metagame.

Indeed, players who prepared for cascade decks were rewarded. A Domain Zoo deck with main deck Lavinia, Azorius Renegade went 6-2 in South America; and a Rakdos Grief list with main deck Legion's End clinched a Pro Tour qualification. Due to these metagame adaptations, the winrate of Rhinos dipped below 50% at the final Regional Championships of the cycle, but such main deck card choices will probably no longer be necessary in the post-ban environment. Analogously, Four-Color Control with main deck Chalice of the Void is unlikely to repeat its performance in the weeks to come.

Spice Corner

With or without Violent Outburst, Modern's 20-year card pool always results in unexpected combinations. I want to highlight two innovative off-meta decks that earned a Pro Tour invite this past weekend.

James Arthur finished in second place at the Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand, earning a Pro Tour invite with Naya Scapeshift. A throwback to the old Temur Scapeshift lists from ten years ago, with interactive cards like Leyline Binding and Reprieve instead of Cryptic Command and Remand, it was not the first time James Arthur brought such a deck to a high-level event. Previously, he took this Naya Scapeshift version to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, where he went 2-3 in the Modern rounds. Since then, he stayed the course, tweaked numerous card choices, and proved his mastery at last weekend's Regional Championship.

The core of the strategy centers around Scapeshift, which can search for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains, roasting the opponent for 18 damage. But the white splash is what makes this approach unique. Leyline Binding can be cast for a single mana when you control Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, and Reprieve disrupts the opponent while bridging you closer to your win condition. Compared to his list from last year's Pro Tour, James Arthur also made an important update: He shaved Sakura-Tribe Elder and Search for Tomorrow, which can only fetch basic lands, and added Commercial District, Elegant Parlor, and Farseek, which can put a surveil land onto the battlefield. This free card selection increases the consistency of the deck, making it a formidable contender.

Jin Kim was the one of the very few players to integrate Scion of Draco into an Omnath, Locus of Creation shell, and he was the only Regional Championship competitor to do so with Keruga, the Macrosage as his companion. According to the New Zealander, the best card in his deck was Leyline of the Guildpact: "No life loss from fetches, turn one Leyline Binding, and no color screw!"

His innovative deck design could be seen as a natural evolution of Markus Leicht's list from the European Championships, as Scion of Draco and Leyline of the Guildpact fit a Keruga shell perfectly. They are additional permanents with mana value 3 or greater to boost Keruga's card draw trigger, and Scion of Draco is an excellent turn-two play that satisfies the companion restriction. This outstanding combination of cards propelled Jin Kim to the Top 8 of the ANZ Super Series Final and rewarded him with a Pro Tour invitation.

Looking Ahead

Modern remains one of the most popular ways to play Magic: The Gathering, and there are numerous destination events coming up that award Regional Championship invites. Notable ones include:

I'm excited to see how the post-ban metagame will develop!

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