I used to think finishing second at the World Championships would be amazing.
Then I revised my position to “…is among the most painful experiences in Magic.”
However, being on this side, man? Not even getting to play? Well, it’s brutal. I gotta tell you, though, it’s hard to get too twisted up when your friends do so well.
I’m a lucky man.
This year’s World Championships were pretty intense, to say the least. There were so many great storylines, and so many great games, fully living up to the hype. This may be one of the last major Standard tournaments to use the old rotation schedule, but it certainly delivered in awesomeness.
The metagame was a bit distorted, as a result of just 24 players – all of whom are world class. Last week, we predicted a massive surge in popularity of Dig Through Time, which came to fruition; with a full half of the 24 competitors shuffling them up. These twelve Dig Through Time decks were split 7-5 in favor of Jeskai over Esper Dragons.
As if that wasn’t enough, Abzan (good ol’ Abzan…) was represented by a third of the field, with five players on “Abzan Control” and three on “Abzan Aggro.” These labels are a bit misleading, however, as even the “Aggro” builds adopted more controlling elements such as maindeck Elspeths and five or more cards that cost five or more.
Finally, rounding out the four oddballs we’ve got two Red Aggro decks with Atarka’s Command, a G/R Dragons deck, and a Mono-White Devotion deck piloted to an impressive final day appearance by Sam Black.
Let’s take a look at the champion, who had the undisputed best weekend by a large margin. Seth Manfield played masterfully all weekend, had great decks, drafted great, and closed it out with a final tally of 15-1. That’s good for seventeen Pro Points towards next year (which, of course, only matters a little, since he’s auto-invited on account of this year’s first-place Worlds finish).
Seth was obliterating everyone all weekend and I’m definitely a fan of his list:
Seth updated the list Matt Sperling and I played in Pro Tour Magic Origins, replacing a Nissa, Ugin, and an Ultimate Price with a Bile Blight, a Silence the Believers, and a Tragic Arrogance. The Ugin moved to the sideboard, but there were only minimal changes beyond that.
I love it!
Sometimes, you don’t mess with perfection. Ha!
The Bile Blight replaces an Ultimate Price to help combat Hangarback Walker, but it also helps give back some percentage against Mantis Rider and Fleecemane Lion, both of which were quite popular this weekend.
Silence the Believers is another concession to Hangarback Walker, but it also can help in just about any slow matchup with enough creatures to care about the two-for-one. We’re also going a little heavier on removal so it actually replaces a Nissa, trying to maximize the ability to interact with other mid-speed decks.
That Tragic Arrogance has been dominating the format these past few weeks is without question. However, now that we’re at a point where every Jeskai deck and every Abzan deck uses one or more, whether they are control or aggro, not to mention it appearing in Sam Black’s Mono-White Devotion deck, things are getting a little out of hand.
The key is how slot-efficient the card is. It’s most of an End Hostilities; though usually you get to keep something better than they do. Beyond that, it’s also some amount of Tranquility (for Constellations) and some amount of Shatterstorm (for U/R Thopters).
Runner-up Owen Turtenwald didn’t change much, either, although his list was more of a carbon copy of Paul Rietzl’s update to the Abzan deck from a week later.
I’m not a fan of the Dragonlord Dromoka, but it’s not the worst either. I just think most of its value comes against U/R Thopters and Mono-Red, which didn’t have the strongest presence this weekend. It is cute against all these Dig Through Times; however, it is also vulnerable to removal (even if slow).
I don’t love Elspeth against all these Jeskai decks, admittedly; but I do love, love, love, love, love her against Abzan decks. Besides, it’s such a powerful card, there’s a real floor to how bad she can ever be.
Owen went longer on Den Protector, and I don’t blame him. Den Protector helps grind out the midrange matchups, and it is particularly well-suited for combating Dig Through Time decks that might manage to counter your first threat or two.
Rounding out our top three is another Abzan deck piloted by Team UltraPro powerhouse, Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl.
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 2 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 2 Den Protector
- 4 Hangarback Walker
Paul’s build is clearly more in the space of Abzan Aggro (with Hangarback Walker), with the big twist being his addition of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The combination of Elspeths and Wingmate Rocs gives this version of Abzan a lot better tools for beating other Abzan decks than Abzan Aggro would normally have. You still don’t want to face Abzan Control, but this direction helps.
The only non-Abzan player on Sunday this time around was Paul’s fellow Team UltraPro member Sam Black:
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 1 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
- 2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
- 4 Archangel of Tithes
- 3 Hangarback Walker
Sam worked closely with Craig Wescoe, who knew the group who concocted this odd little number. It was a good metagame call in terms of having more favorable matchups than not; however, I just would not be able to handle having such a horrible matchup against Abzan. It’s not like people are ever going to stop playing Abzan (at least until the rotation).
Kytheon is largely just another two-power one-drop; however, it is worth remembering that the plus ability (which causes an opponent’s creature to attack) can serve as a great way to kill our own Hangarback Walker when we really need to go wide.
Archangel of Tithes is a hard card to find a good home for, as it’s tough on the mana and a diverse mix of power (a medium-big body that is unusually balanced, flying, a defensive ability, an attack trigger that makes it hard to block). It’s also the key selling point of this deck, not only giving you the raw power you’re looking for but also fueling Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx so that our Mastery of the Unseen can go hard.
Oh good! Another Hangarback Walker deck!
In all seriousness, Nykthos means we’re spending way more on those X’s than average, much more than a lot of other Hangarback decks. We can also curve nice and smooth with a turn-two Hangarback Walker and then a turn-three Knight of the White Orchid + activate Hangarback Walker even if we don’t have another land.
It’s only a minor feature, but Foundry of the Consuls replacing Plains gives us just a little extra power out of our manabase. Sam would have loved to play a lot more but placed a high value on reliably casting Knight of the White Orchid and Archangel of Tithes.
This was definitely a great Wingmate Roc weekend, ducking under Elspeth while also helping grind through removal-heavy Abzan and Jeskai decks. Notice just how many fliers this list can assemble (Archangel of Tithes and Thopters, in addition to the Rocs). Also, notice just how many midrange or expensive threats this list has without a single one that has to die to Elspeth’s minus ability.
Sam crushed the Swiss matches in Standard, but fell hard against Seth Manfield on Sunday. Personally I just think the Abzan Control matchup is too hard, particularly given Abzan’s showing this week being a possible contributor to a temporary increase in Abzan decks.
While the eight Abzan decks make Abzan the most popular color combination, you can argue a case that Jeskai was the most popular deck… and after all, all the Jeskai decks were relatively similar (more similar than the Abzan Control and Abzan Aggro decks).
- 2 Stormbreath Dragon
- 2 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Soulfire Grand Master
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Sigrist’s list is fairly representative of the field, and features just more slow defensive spells (subtracting a couple of the usual creatures). Like all of the recent Jeskai decks, it’s built around abusing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, particularly with Dig Through Time and cheap removal.
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to replace a Wild Slash with a Magma Spray. A lot of people would be afraid to make such a move, particularly with how good Wild Slash is against Dromoka’s Command. Of course, this list isn’t getting Ferocious all that often, and Magma Spray is fan-freaking-tastic against Hangarback Walker. It also gets extra value against Den Protector and any morphs that may just happen to be Deathmist Raptor.
In addition to Hangarbacks instead of Goblin Rabblemasters, this list also features a full playset of Ojutai’s Commands – much to the dismay of anyone trying to burn Yuuya out or even just trying to resolve Siege Rhinos against him.
While Jeskai isn’t really a “control deck,” per se, Esper Dragons was back in a big way. Let’s take a look at the list piloted by Esper Dragon pioneer and aficionado Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa.
PV’s list features only minor tweaks to his previous lists; however, the tuning he did was important.
I actually loved Silumgar this weekend, as it just matches up so awesomely in the format right now. It beats Elspeth, it beats Hangarback Walker, it beats removal, and it often forces opponents to overcommit.
It’s not just an anti-burn measure, it’s also a possible trump against Sphinx’s Tutelage!
Okay, you lost me…
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 1 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 3 Abbot of Keral Keep
Finishing just outside the Top Four, Magnus Lantto’s fifth place finish on tiebreakers was still an excellent showing by an excellent player that has only been big on the scene recently.
The green splash gets played less than half the time, but it can be extremely effective with Hordeling Outburst, often being worth six or more damage in one hit.
Now that is a lot of heart!
No offense, but don’t play three of this card in Standard…
Finally, we come to Kentaro Yamamoto with our final archetype of the event, G/R Dragons:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 3 Den Protector
- 3 Deathmist Raptor
Kentaro’s list favors a 3/3 split between Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor instead of 4/2. It also moves away from Wild Slash to incorporate Magma Sprays and Roasts, trying to get edge against the Hangarback Abzan decks that won last week.
It also has a few twists in the sideboard, such as the ability to max out on Magma Sprays as well as transitioning away from Arbor Colossus. Instead, the new focus is on defeating Abzan Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro (although I would personally have preferred a larger focusing on fighting Jeskai).
With this year’s World Championships in the book, we now turn forward, to the upcoming Battle for Zendikar expansion. The amazing exhibit at PAX previewed a ton of new cards, so I’m going to be back with a first look at the new set and what to look for when evaluating the new cards so that we can spot the Abbot of Keral Keeps and Nissa, Vastwood Seers while avoiding the Managorger Hydras and Alhammarret, High Arbiters.
Which Battle for Zendikar card should we cover first…?