Dissecting Regionals: 251 Decks in 4000 Words

Rick examines the results from Regionals, massaging the numbers and drawing some interesting conclusions regarding the Standard metagame. With extensive coverage of all the major archetypes, analysis of the stronger decklists, and a breakdown of thecards to fear in the coming months, this article is perfect for those attending the StarCityGames.com Amateur Challenge at Heroes Con!

A new expansion set. New decks. The uncertainty. I love Regionals. I’m the kind of person who can stare at decklists, analyzing them and trying to improve upon them for practically infinite amounts of time. Okay, “infinite” is a little strong. Infinite approaches its limit quickly when my fiancé catches me staring glassy-eyed at deck lists. Anyway, I’ve got to stay in the 4000-word limit as promise, so here goes…

The format here is simple:

Archetype — # of Top 8s — 1st Place and/or Comments

The comments field is very subjective. Basically, if I thought I wanted to remember a non-1st place deck list, I mentioned it. And of course I misclassified a few decklists and forgot a few entirely. When I started this column, there were 252 decks, but now somehow there are 251, so one of them disappeared in the creative process. These things happen when you’re dealing with such a staggering amount of numbers and cards.

I do need to provide a disclaimer about the overall numbers. I’ve included all the U.S. and Canadian tournaments that earned 4 invitations to U.S. Nationals or more. I don’t mean to disparage those who attended the smaller tournaments, but I’m lazy, my free time is limited, and I don’t want outliers from small tournaments penetrating my analysis. With that behind us, let’s begin with the biggest, most prolific color combination:

Ghost Husk
Orzhov Aggro Other
MN, WA, PA (Phil), CA (Alberta)
Orzhov Control (Beach)
Ghost Dad
Orzhov Aggro plus Helix

That’s right, if you were in the Top 8 there was a better than one-in-four chance that you’d run into an opponent running Plains and Swamps. Ghost Husk’s popularity and success were not much of a surprise.

The large number of decks falling in the Aggro Other category and the impressive number of builds that won the whole shebang, though, were unexpected. There really wasn’t a common build running rampant here. Some version emphasized running 8-12 Knights, while others tried to beat on control with Ravenous Rats and Shrieking Grotesque. Some builds even split the Knights and discard elements evenly down the middle. The only auto-include was Dark Confidant.

It’s interesting that this Other deck not only put up numbers almost as strong as Ghost Husk, but it also won four times as many tournaments. It’s very possible that Ghost Husk isn’t the best Orzhov deck out there.

Orzhov Control is still kicking around. Personally, I’m not a fan. It seems to live and die based on Phyrexian Arena and its win conditions are few and vulnerable. Nevertheless, it did pick up Condemn in Dissension and grab first at two events.

Ghost Dad diehards still managed to put up some numbers. I suspect that this deck is actually better than the meager 4 represents. This is an aggro-heavy format and Ghost Dad hates on aggro. I was disappointed to see that none of them adopted the excellent tech my buddy Mark showed me: Riot Spikes instead of Unholy Strength. A faster clock and removal in one sweet package.

U/R Vore
Tron U/R Wildfire
CAN (San Jose), CN
U/R Control (Some Niz)
Ohio, 4th PA (Phil)
Tron U/R/g Wildfire
Tron U/R Non-Wild Control
Owl Wildfire

Following the team season, Vore was another familiar face, and it makes a lot of sense. This is a deck with tons of card drawing (consistency), that punishes bad draws (bound to happen from time to time), gets better and better as decks continue to embrace the Karoo lands, and it flexible spells like Eye of Nowhere and Demolish, which are fantastic against a varied field like Regionals.

Next up, we have all the U/X/x Urzatron decks. This looks like the breakout deck of Regionals. I remember when I first saw this archetype on paper, in the form of Benjamin Lundquist’s deck that took 21st at PT Honolulu. The deck just looked terrible to me. Why are you running all of those colorless lands and then blowing up all your lands?

I’m still not 100% comfortable with my answer to that question, but I’m starting to gain some clarity at least. There are some big differences between this deck and the build Osyp Lebedowicz played to Top 8 at Honolulu. Extra Signets means that Wild Tron is flat out more consistent. Until you have that first Blue mana source you can’t do anything, and Wildfire means that you have a chance against decks that shamelessly over-commit to the board with creatures. It also doesn’t hurt that the archetype gained: Spell Snare, Demonfire, and even Simic Sky Swallower.

Some players even went so far as to drop the Tron into a more traditional U/R Control build that resembles what Guillaume Wafo-Tapa played in Honolulu. I guess this worked for at least two players, but I’m skeptical overall. As Mike Flores and Ozyp Lebedowicz pointed out, Tron isn’t about countering tons of spells and controlling the game, it’s about putting that huge mana engine to good use.

Gets into all the nooks and crannies

From there we move to more normal Wafo-Tapa builds. All these decks seemed to run a typical suite of countermagic and Red creature removal, and the greatest variety seemed to be in win conditions, with some players focusing on Niv-Mizzet and others playing down the Dragon Wizard or avoiding it entirely.

Owl is still hanging around, even going all the way in Canada. Enough has been said about the classic Owl builds. What really struck me were the two versions that added Wildfire. For the same reasons that I like Wildfire in Tron, I like it a lot in Owl. Granted, it’s an expensive sorcery in a deck with a slim manabase, but with all that card drawing, finding the necessary lands is manageable, plus those slots represent huge outs in the almost unwinnable aggro match-ups—seems very wise in an aggro-heavy metagame, right?

Three Color Control
Angel Control
CAN (Ponoma), CAN (NS)
Ghazi Control (+B)
TX (Arl)
Ghazi Control (+U)
U/W/R Control
U/R/g Control
U/B/W Confidant Control
TX (Houston)
Ideal U/W/R
6th WA
Ideal Ghazi Control
3rd NJ
Ghazi Control (+W)
G/W/B Control
1 City-Tree

This group of decks is extremely broad. Basically, we’re talking about Angel Control, Ghazi Control, and everything else.

If you’re expecting lots of aggro and you’re a control freak, then Angel control is a great choice and it served numerous players very well. Simply put, all the life gain is very strong against aggro and uncounterable win conditions go a long way against control, too.

Interestingly, there was a tremendous variety in the Angel builds. Some decks depended solely on Firemane goodness while others turned to Meloku or Shard Phoenix for backup. Still others tapped the card drawing power of Jushi Apprentice to combat opposing combo and control. Most of them stuck with the Zur’s Weirding lock, but some ditched that combo entirely. Many builds ran Signets, but some did away with this acceleration as well. Here is one of the winning and more diverse builds:

I like the way this build takes advantage of the Karoo lands and Gifts Ungiven. With Firemane Angel you are obligated to play the bounce lands. You want to discard them early and you need a massive ten mana to recur them in the late game.

Gifts Ungiven gets broken in half because you can always search out Firemane Angel, Shard Phoenix, and two other ideal cards, effectively making it an instant three-for-one. The lack of Remand makes me feel a little uneasy, but this deck runs a pretty limited counter spell contingent and you do need to stop some spells for good.

The other major three-color control archetype was Ghazi Control, adding Black (disruption and removal) or Blue (counters). This deck really ends up looking like a good stuff build. Simply start with a base of Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Loxodon Hierarch; Wrath of God; Faith’s Fetters; Putrefy; Mortify; and sprinkle in other ingredients as necessary. The combination of flexible answers and card advantage is formidable even if the deck is a little lacking in focus and raw power.

Enduring Ideal was totally off everyone’s radar, but the deck that took 3rd in New Jersey deserves an applause for rogue quality:

G/W/U Ideal
Lawrence Watts Jr.
3rd at Edison, NJ Regionals

5 Forest
1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
4 Plains
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 Island
4 Temple Garden
4 Brushland
2 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Yosei, the Morning Star

4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Condemn
4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Wrath of God
3 Faith’s Fetters
2 Confiscate
3 Enduring Ideal

1 Ivory Mask
1 Privileged Position
1 Debtor’s Knell
1 Form of the Dragon

3 Pithing Needle
2 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
2 Jester’s Cap
2 Carven Caryatid
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Zur’s Weirding
1 Dosan, the Falling Leaf
1 Azorius Guildmage
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Unknown

What you’re looking at is Ghazi Control with the ability to accelerate into Hierarch and Yosei as game-winning threats, or go for a combo finish with Enduring Ideal. Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree pulls double duty functioning as a place to dump extra mana and a win condition that you can actually play while under Epic constraints. The only thing I’d change is that I’d want to find room for Dovescape, since it’s such a beating against opposing control and combo decks.

R/G Aggro
FL (Dania), NM, CAN (NB)

For a deck that looks kind of stupid and has extremely low sex appeal, particularly when everyone wants to harness the power of Dissension, the success of this archetype is all the more notable. Don’t get me wrong, though. These decks were all over the map, some appearing to be slightly “tuned” versions of Heezy and others looking like some genetic experiment gone wrong.

I was shocked that so many players eschewed Seal of Fire. Oh my God, is that spell amazing in Heezy or any G/R aggro deck! Let me count the ways:

Use your mana more efficiently in the early game
Keep those dreaded Birds and Elves off the table
Reliably crank out 3/3 Scab-Clan Maulers on turn 2
Make your burn spells bigger and better
Tap out safely in face of an opponent’s Jitte equip
Empty out your hand to avoid discard

Heezy was my backup deck for Regionals, and the Seals were simply phenomenal. I’ll go even further to make my point: Heezy uses the Seal better than any other deck in the history of Magic.

So what made R/G work at Regionals? Against opposing aggro it throws down the most efficient creatures in the format. The combination of creatures, burn, and a hasty 4/1 trampler is so fast and brutal that it’s also a great choice to punish experimental and less refined decklists, the sort of thing that appears in significant numbers at Regionals.

Zoo (G/R/W)
Zoo (G/R/W Ninja)
4th OR, Similar at 8th
Zoo (W/R/B)
3rd at NE
Zoo (G/U/B)
CA (Sacramento)
Zoo (G/R/U)
Zoo (G/B/U)

The classic archetype is G/R/W, but Regionals proved that Zoo is viable in myriad other flavors. For the sake of this analysis, I defined Zoo as any deck that skimped on the mana base (usually 21-22 lands), was three colors, and ran very cheap and efficient creatures complemented by burn and/or counter magic and/or hand disruption.

This archetype gained tremendously from Dissension. It’s all about the mana, baby. Check it out:



No matter what color combination you choose, if you take the most efficient creatures in three colors and back them up with burn, disruption, or counter magic you’ve got a force to be reckoned with. Just pray that you don’t run into Blood Moon.


The old clichéd expression Le roi est mort, vive le roi (The King is dead, long live the King) holds true. This deck is still very strong and capable. While it did not do as much damage as I expected at Regionals, it will be lurking in the shadows of the format, like Affinity in Extended, always ready to capitalize on opponents who let their guard down.

The versions of Heartbeat that cracked Top 8 all seem to take the “less is more” approach, adding very few, if any, cards from Dissension. Don’t mess with a good thing.

Mass or Simic
G/U Aggro (Some Graft)
Knut Graft + R
PA (Pitt)
Knut Graft G/U
Mass G/U/W
Mass Update
2nd CAN (Sas)

For a deck with a small presence in the Top 8, this one really delivered with two 1sts and a 2nd. Like a lot of the other categories, this one gets a little messy. Some of these pay true homage to the original Mike Flores list, while others have turned to the power of Graft, dropping counter magic almost entirely. Try to imagine a pithy analysis here, because all I’ve got is… well, efficient creatures backed up by counter magic and Jitte are rather formidable. Knut’s creation stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Congrats to Knut and his deckbuilding skills. Interestingly, the version that captured the title in New Jersey ditched red mana entirely.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Three Color Aggro
G/W/B Chord
CAN (Sas)
Ghazi Aggro (G/W/B)
G/R/U Ninja Heezy
Slower than Zoo
R/B/U Almost Zoo

Ghazi Glare
Ghazi Glare (U)
Eisel’s Deck
Ghazi Glare + Demonfire
Glare G/W Non-Ghazi

Greater Good
Greater Aggro (B)
Greater Aggro (B/r)
Greater Ghazi
Greater Ghazi (B)
Greater Gifts

U/W Control

U/W Counter Weenie
FL (Orlando)

Battle of Wits (B/U/W)
4th CAN (DIS)
Tron W/R Wayfarer
2nd NM
R/W Flores
Mono Green Aggro
5th at WA
CAN (Man)
B/W/R Aggro
Critical Snakes
5th at CA (Alberta)
G/B/W/u Aggro Control
R/W/G Godo Control

There are far too many decks to discuss in this section. Being a rogue at heart, my favorite is the Battle of Wits deck, but I’m not willing to type out that deck list and the deck’s pilot has already written a tournament report on it.

Then there’s Nick Eisel fabulous Supply / Demand deck that abuses both Glare of Subdual and Dovescape, but that’s also been covered already.

So, I’ll just regurgitate some of my favorite lists that I don’t think have been covered yet:

Pushing Frank Karsten’s classic deck in a more mana consistent, more aggressive direction seems like a great call. With Dark Confidant and Kird Ape running around, the Gifts Ungiven toolbox seems dangerously slow. The second Miren, the Moaning Well is a nice touch, since it makes the seven Dragons much more threatening. I wonder, though, if Dimir House Guard (tutor for Wrath and Good) or Protean Husk might make this deck even stronger.

We knew Tron was at large, but who expected it to appear in a non-Blue version? While the Wayfarer is fragile, all it takes is one activation to get this deck supercharged. The beauty of having Godo and the Equipment is that you’ll be able to make Wayfarers and Genjus count even in the late game. I particularly admire the sideboard, which is has a remarkably efficient selection of weapons focused against creatures, enchantments, and burn.

Three Genjus seems high when you only have ten lands to support them, and I’m not convinced that the 4th Ryusei gets the nod over Yosei, but this is a very innovative Tron build with tremendous potential.

Playing Llanowar Elves followed by Moldervine Cloak/Blanchwood Armor sets up a respectable clock. Without the Elf opening, settling for Dryad Sophisticate/Silhana Ledgewalker enhanced with Cloak/Armor seems pretty solid as well. It’s nothing fancy, but it seems to work.

Defining the Format

Aggro is hot. Control has many solid answers, but it’s very difficult to find a configuration that can prepare you for all the aggro variants. Combo struggled to crack the Top 8 at Regionals, but that doesn’t change the fact that Heartbeat is still an excellent deck, ready to dominate any opponent who doesn’t prepare for that match-up.

The format is diverse. Duh. But this isn’t quite as true when you look at closely. Some guilds are more endowed than others. Look at Orzhov, Izzet, and Gruul. They accounted for over 50% of the Top 8 decks. Orzhov and Izzet deserve a special mention. Not only did they put up impressive numbers, but each guild also represented four distinct archetypes. Gruul, on the other hand, only appeared in the form of creatures plus burn.

Abandoning the trap of looking at decks purely based on color combinations, it becomes patent that in this “balanced” format there are a few spells in particular that are appearing with incredible frequency.

Bob the Builder or one of the Village People?

Dark Confidant

Leading off at the top of the ludicrous list is the not-so-innocent Bob. Not only did this man appear in every Orzhov Aggro deck, he also splashed his way into Zoo, and even into a U/B/W Control build as well. This Wizard is easy to cast, has a perfect power to casting cost ratio, and acts as a personal Howling Mine. It’s no wonder that Orzhov proved to be the dominant guild. Indeed, I think that this is the best card in the format. Nothing else can compete in terms of efficiency, damage dealing, and card advantage.


Initially, everyone undervalued this card’s power. They wrote it off as a counterspell that doesn’t really stop the spell you’re “countering.” Only by playing with Remand can you understand its effect on games. When you’re behind it merely slows down opponents and helps you draw into answers. When you’re ahead on board development, it becomes an absolute blowout, playing the role of Time Walk, setting your opponent back a turn while also drawing you into more threats (or Remand). When you’re fighting counter wars, it allows you to reuses hard counters. In the late game, it merely cycles to dig you deeper into your deck. It’s no wonder that virtually every Blue deck runs this pseudo-counter.


While this card offers knockout power and flexibility, it isn’t a staple that can simply be thrown into any deck. You need to be able to break the land destruction parity. Nevertheless, this spell is currently finding its way into an astounding three out of four builds of the Izzet archetypes. Vore and Tron were nothing new, but now it appears that there’s a compelling case for Wildfire in Owl as well. Six mana is a lot and Blue decks generally don’t like sorceries, so the popularity of Wildfire in Blue decks is even a more powerful testament to the sweeping flame wave’s potency.

Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

This card is much more than a threat; it’s a staple. Near as I can figure, it makes it into just about any deck that runs Green and White. It looks innocuous on paper, but it is one of the most subtly powerful cards in the format. Your mana base remains robust, but you gain an uncounterable win condition that affords your inevitability against control decks and aggro decks that depend on groundpounders. You see this card in everything from G/W Aggro, to G/W Glare, to G/W/U and G/W/B Control. Like all the other cards on this list, it refuses to be confined by rigid archetypes.

Isamaru/Kird Ape

Swinging for two on turn 2 and not having to worry about losing your man to Sakura-Tribe Elder is still huge. These two spells enable virtually every aggro archetype in the format, from Orzhov to Gruul to Zoo. Nuff said.

Umezawa’s Jitte

Unlike the spells listed above, this card’s presence in decks is as powerful as its absence. If the Jitte isn’t in your deck, then you are definitely packing answers to it – probably at least four of them. This remains an annoying reality of the format.

That’s only seven cards and I’ve resisted the peer pressure to mention the likes of Sensei’s Divining Top, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Wrath of God. (Okay, now I have actually mentioned them… but…) Don’t get me wrong, these are great spells and they see tons of action, but they are a little too passive, a little too reactive, to make my greatest hits list. There’s a big difference between enablers and game winners. Game winners define a format.

All the tutors and card manipulation in the world won’t matter if you don’t have a game-breaker to access. Wrath of God is a great answer to aggro, but its existence isn’t what pushes control over the top. Hard-to-remove and/or recurring threats are the defining element of great control decks. Think back to Eternal Dragon and Decree of Justice in Onslaught era Standard.

With Regionals behind us, my advice to you Standard players is simple.

Dark Confidant
Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
Kird Ape
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
Umezawa’s Jitte

Either maximize the potential of these spells or have a plan against them. Your success depends on it.

Thanks for reading,

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