The richest Magic: The Gathering tournament ever held is underway in Boston at PAX East. Wizards of the Coast is running the Mythic Invitational with a cool $1,000,000 in prizes! First place is a quarter of that!
The format for the event is Duo Standard, which is a variant of best-of-one that tries to reduce some of the variance associated with the format. Today I’ll go through the expected decks, duos, and strategies that you may see in the event. Hopefully this article will help you follow along with all the action in a more informed way.
What Decks to Expect
Let’s start with the biggest question: What is Duo Standard? As WotC explains it:
In Duo Standard, players will submit two Standard–legal decks. Players will not sideboard between games, though they may submit a sideboard (for cards such as Mastermind’s Acquisition). Players can submit two different decks, two of the same archetype with different cards in both, or the exact same deck twice. Have at it!
Match play will take place using both submitted decks from each player. Matches will be conducted as follows:
- Which deck each player plays and who goes first will be determined randomly.
- In the second game, players will use the deck that they didn’t play in Game 1.
- The player who went second in Game 1 now goes first.
Game 3 (if necessary)
- Each player selects one of their two Standard decks to play for the third game.
- Then the player who goes first in this game is determined at random.
What this basically means is that Games 1 and 3 have a random die roll for who goes first, and also players will not know which deck the opponent is playing while making mulligan decisions (Game 1 is random, and Game 3 has a hidden decision). Both players will, however, know what possible strategies are being played, as both players will have decklists before the match begins, so they’ll always know it’s between one of two decks unless a player brings two identical decks.
This is a huge difference from the way we normally play Magic. Usually by Game 3 all the information is available. Both players know who will be first while sideboarding, and obviously they’ll know the matchup. Duo Standard turns everything upside down, as both players will select a deck for Game 3, yet will not know if they made the correct choice until mulligans are finalized and play begins.
This, along with other strategic reasons, means it’s important to play varying strategies, as it makes it more difficult for players to know if their opening hand will be good enough. For example, if I selected both Mono-White Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro, my opponent will know a removal-heavy hand likely will be good. If I switch my duo to Esper Control and Mono-Red Aggro, then it makes things more difficult.
There’s also strategy in picking two decks that don’t just lose to a certain strategy. That way you never “just lose” to something hateful for your entire duo. A good example of this is Selesnya Angels being good against most monocolored aggressive strategies. This, along with mulligan knowledge, makes it less likely that we’ll see players bring two of the same deck, or even two differing decks that are similar in strategy.
That doesn’t mean we won’t, though!
Before we get too far into the strategy of the format, let’s talk about the decks you’ll most likely see in the event.
The Big Three:
- Esper Control
- Mono-Red Aggro
- Mono-White Aggro
Esper Control was “the” best-of-one deck for the longest time, as it was a difficult strategy to hate out without sideboards. This deck and this deck alone killed many of the possible midrange strategies in the format. Teferi was just too good against slower decks, as every other midrange-to-control strategy needed to play actual win conditions, where Esper did not thanks to the power of Teferi. This meant Esper didn’t have as many dead cards against those strategies, whereas every removal spell opponents played to compete against aggressive decks would rot in their hand.
Since this was the case, most strategies needed to play cards that weren’t considered dead against Esper Control. We started to see Golgari Midrange run only Assassin’s Trophy and Vraska’s Contempt as removal, and weird decks like Jelly Red pop up only using cards like Shock and Lightning Strike as their removal.
Weird note: If your deck plays either Dire Fleet Daredevil or Expansion, you need to build a sideboard to combat opposing Mastermind’s Acquisitions.
The raw power of Esper Control was slowly being lost as the format corrected itself and starting finding unique ways to punish the deck’s linear way to actually win games. Decks like Esper Acuity started maindecking Unmoored Ego and The Immortal Sun to lock the strategy out. Other decks just played enough of a specific card that could effectively do the same thing, such as planeswalker removal, Banefire, and Carnage Tyrant. Unluckily, though, Esper Control starting playing a single copy of Mastermind’s Acquisition, which was the perfect card to help the deck out of any bind. With access to so many cards in the “sideboard,” Esper Control now had access to ways out of any predicament.
Take this Jelly Red deck, for example. This deck’s initial plan was to run Esper Control out of win conditions, as it was difficult to kill Esper but easy to Banefire out every Teferi. With access to Mastermind’s Acquisition, Esper Control could now find a single copy of Clear the Mind and shuffle everything back in for another go.
The versatility, backed up by the deck’s ability to beat many strategies, makes it a good choice for the Mythic Invitational. That is, as long as it’s built to have a chance in the mirror and against the aggressive decks in the format! Many challengers, however, have said publicly they are nervous to play mirrors against MPL members. That’s not going to stop everyone, though, as Sjow and TheAsianAvenger have both shown an affinity for Esper Control while streaming the format.
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 19 Mountain
Mono-Red Aggro will be one of the three most-played decks alongside Esper Control and Mono-White Aggro. Now, this information isn’t breaking news, but it does have to be said. Mono-Red Aggro is just a solid deck that can beat anything when it wins the die roll.
There aren’t many ways to build Mono-Red Aggro, but deciding which version to play is important. Some builds ignore Experimental Frenzy in favor of Risk Factor, as it’s slightly better against Esper Control, but the enchantment is crucial in the other creature matchups. This is especially true in the mirror! I expect most players to show up with Experimental Frenzy, as the most-played deck will most likely be Mono-White Aggro. I’m still very excited to see someone play both variants of this deck, even if it’s unlikely!
- 4 Skymarcher Aspirant
- 4 Snubhorn Sentry
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Rustwing Falcon
- 2 Leonin Vanguard
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 4 Hunted Witness
- 18 Plains
- 2 Adanto Vanguard
- 3 Skymarcher Aspirant
- 3 Snubhorn Sentry
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 4 Hunted Witness
- 3 Tithe Taker
- 20 Plains
Just like with Red, Mono-White Aggro can be built in different ways depending on what players expect. The mirror revolves around Venerated Loxodon, Unbreakable Formation, and Benalish Marshal. Against Esper Control, though, Tithe Taker and Adanto Vanguard can be great creatures to play, given their resiliency to Kaya’s Wrath, Cast Down, and other cards in the deck. I’d expect more deviation in Mono-White builds than Mono-Red, as there are more potential cards to be played.
I’d bet most players show up with either Esper + Red or Esper + White for the reasons previously discussed. Not only do these pairings mean any one deck shouldn’t just beat them, but also mulligan decisions in Games 1 and 3 are more difficult.
That doesn’t mean we won’t see innovation, though. Several decks could see play, as they can compete with one or two of the top strategies. That’s coming from me, though, and there’s a chance someone “broke” the format by finding a deck that beats all three. I tried for a long time to find that deck, but couldn’t do so. Since I’m working with the knowledge I have, I’m going to say that strategy doesn’t exist. If it does, it’s probably an Esper Acuity deck, but I could never find a build that beats more than two consistently.
The “holy grail” for this event would be to have one deck that beats both control and aggro, and another that beats control and midrange. If this were possible, then it would be very difficult to ever beat this duo consistently, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, especially since the matchups are randomized. If you’re still having a tough time visualizing Duo Standard, we’ll set up a matchup to explain how it plays out.
Deck A: Esper Control
Deck B: Mono-Red Aggro
Deck A: Selesnya Angels
Deck B: Temur Reclamation
In this scenario, Player 2 brought a deck to beat control and midrange, and a deck that beats aggro. If randomization for Game 1 is in Player 2’s favor, Player 2 will have two good matchups, but if it goes the other way, Player 2 will have a tough matchup against Player 1. Strategies like Player 2’s in this example would be theoretically decent if Player 2 both expected Esper Control + Monocolored Aggro to be the most common pairing and self-assessed as one of the weaker competitors in the event. Both would need to be true to make this a good selection for Player 2.
Temur Reclamation is a very interesting deck for this tournament, though. It’s great against Esper Control but struggles against the aggressive decks in the format. Sure, it can win games, but to be safe, it should be paired with something that has a good chance to beating aggressive decks. A good pairing for Temur Reclamation could be Esper Acuity.
There are tons of different ways to build these decks as you dial them to be better or worse against Esper Control and Monocolored Aggro decks. Esper Acuity can be built to beat both Esper Control and Mono-Red, but almost will never beat Mono-White. The same is true for focusing the deck to beat most aggro and midrange decks. Personally I found this deck to be great when designing it to scoop to Esper Control, and found it possible to build it to beat nothing when trying to also care about control mirrors. In all honesty, I’m very excited to see who brings this duo to see how great their lists are!
Green won’t just be a splash color for Temur Reclamation, either. I expect almost every color pairing to show up alongside green: Gruul Aggro, Golgari, Sultai, Selesnya, and even Mono-Green itself should be in attendance this weekend. I just expect them all to be in low numbers individually, but a sizeable force combined.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
- 4 Thrashing Brontodon
- 4 Steel Leaf Champion
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
- 4 Nullhide Ferox
- 4 Kraul Harpooner
- 4 Pelt Collector
- 2 Biogenic Ooze
- 22 Forest
The last deck to talk about is Mono-Blue Aggro. Initially this deck was in contention as an option for this tournament, but it just can’t cut it against Mono-White or Mono-Red Aggro. I’d be surprised if many players show up with this deck, but one or two brave souls could end up doing so.
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 1 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 4 Tempest Djinn
- 2 Sphinx of Foresight
- 4 Pteramander
- 1 Faerie Duelist
- 19 Island
What Action to Expect
Make no mistake: the Mythic Invitational has the potential to be the most intense Magic: The Gathering tournament of all time. $1,000,000 is up for grabs, and the double-elimination structure will make every match matter. The fireworks will be flying as emotions run high while the 64 of us try our hardest to etch our names into the history books. This tournament is going to mean something, and it will have titans of the game playing elimination match after elimination match. I can’t wait to play it, and also watch the action unfold when I’m not playing my bracket!
Some games are going to be over before they even start. I’ve played games practicing for this event that didn’t last more than four turns. I’ve also played marathon sets of control mirrors that involved graveyards being shuffled in as victory conditions. You’ll see fast games, slow games, and intense games as Legion’s Landing turned Adanto, the First Fort is the only thing keeping players in the game. Luckily for those players, the card is pretty gosh-darn good!
Sometimes the random pairing of the duo decks will decide the match. Other times, great decisions on deck selection in Game 3 will decide winners. Look, it’s going to be a random tournament with unlimited possibilities! Part of me loves that, part of me hates it, but everything points towards an intense experience!
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
Oh yeah, and root for me to smash Marcio Carvalho, who happens to be my first opponent. They never said it was going to be easy!