I’ve Got Opinions: Magic World Championship XXVI Edition

Brad Nelson saw big surprises at Magic World Championship XXVI! Get his take on the event’s best decks and the Standard metagame’s next steps!

Mystical Dispute, illustrated by Ekaterina Burmak

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What an unbelievable, exciting, memorable experience Magic World Championship XXVI was. I started the event still a little salty that I wasn’t there, but as the weekend went on I quickly realized history was being made right in front of my eyes. With each dropping player the atmosphere intensified, only breaking in the final moments of the fourth match of the grand finals. Also, the coverage team was on point, and they made every moment matter. I never really bought into this whole “Magic is an esport” thing, but I’m sold now! 

All right, I need to calm down just a little bit. The grand finals just wrapped up for me, and my heart’s still racing as fast as that Twitch chat was. Esports! Still, it’s my job to break down as much as can about what happened this weekend, and by golly that’s exactly what I’m going to do. There’s a lot to cover so let’s get into it. 

I feel very opinionated right now, so we’ll kick things off with a soapbox rant.

Temur Reclamation Is Not a Good Deck!

Yes, the deck can do exceptionally powerful things, and sure, it got a lot of upgrades from Theros Beyond Death, but none of that changes the fact that the core strategy is inherently flawed. It’s just a house of cards waiting to be toppled.  The truth is this entire strategy revolves around one or more of these three things happening: 

  1. Draw Growth Spiral.
  2. Draw Wilderness Reclamation.
  3. If neither of the first two happened, then I guess the third thing is the opponent stumbles?

I wasn’t always a hater of Temur Reclamation. I played the deck during the last Twitch Rivals Standard event, but I guess I did 0-2 drop the event and overall it underperformed. I guess I’m just saying my vitriol towards it isn’t seated in bias. It’s simply a perennially low-performing archetype, that’s all. 

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment here. Temur Reclamation did really well in both SCG Tour Team Opens and had respectable showings in the respective Classics. It was also highly promoted by some of our prestigious content creators, played by many to good results, and even made up 25% of this World Championship. In all honesty it feels a little foolish to risk my reputation on attacking a deck that’s garnered this much widespread appeal and racked up so many decent finishes. 

The Simpsons Adult GIF

The reason I have so much confidence in going against the grain here is that a consistent trend has emerged pertaining to this deck. I’ve noticed that Temur Reclamation usually pops up as a contender right after a set’s release, but then quickly loses its luster as the format develops. Now, that’s not a good enough justification on its own to make these bold claims, so I’ll break it down. 

My theory on why this happens starts with the new format. Players are trying out new cards in their beloved decks, and others are exploring completely new strategies. This is a perfect time to exploit people with a deck as inherently powerful as Temur Reclamation is, especially when all the new toys came out! 

If the opposing strategies aren’t well-tuned or don’t have a working plan for Temur Reclamation, then the deck’s going to crush. It won’t need Growth Spiral on Turn 2, as often as the opposition isn’t that “lean,” and the hate for the deck’s end-game isn’t even present. As time goes on the opposition slowly catches up in both these departments, and Temur Reclamation begins to struggle.

Mystical Dispute

Another common trend I’ve seen that goes beyond just Temur Reclamation is what I like to call the Control Skill Paradox. The general idea here is that for whatever reason people think control is the most difficult style of deck to pilot. From that baseline assumption it’s then believed that the win percentage of the control deck is heavily reliant on the skill of the pilot. In reality it’s just the opposite. The control deck’s opponent’s skill has by far the most influence on the win percentage range. 

I’ve seen this happen so many times over the years: control decks doing really well at lower-level events like Friday Night Magic or Magic Online Leagues, but then having very poor performances at the next Grand Prix or Pro Tour. It’s not easy to correctly tune a strategy and play against a control deck, so it’s more common for them to prey on weaker opponents. 

Do you believe me now?

If you do, great. If not, then prove me wrong. Like I said, Temur Reclamation did get some very impressive cards from Theros Beyond Death, so it might pass the test of time. The deck’s 7-11 record at the World Championships isn’t going to swing my vote, though. 

The Best Player Brought the Best Decklist to the World Championship

For a palate cleanser, we’ll just get this easy one out of the way. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, who is the best player in the world, worked with the Czechs, who are the best team in the world, and came up with what I believe is the best list for the World Championship. I honestly don’t know if there’s a better recipe for success than that. 

When Azorius Control first hit the metagame, the deck was exceptionally enchantment-based with a whole slew of Archon of Sun’s Grace in the maindeck. It didn’t have that many counterspells, and really played out like a tap-out control deck. Shortly after that the constellation theme got removed from the strategy, and was replaced with some countermagic, Dream Trawlers, and Narset, Parter of Veils

Then Paulo and Ondrej Strasky rolled up to the World Championships with the “just right” mixture, allowing Paulo to run the tables against the competition. This list is a prime example of how you don’t always need to play four of a card, even if it’s great. It also showcases that you don’t need to go all-in on a theme even if your deck is well-equipped to do so. Subtlety goes a long way these days in Standard when there are so many great cards. 

Now I can’t say this is going to be the best version of Azorius Control moving forward, but I at least know it’s my jumping-off point in preparation for the first Mythic Point Challenge in a couple of weeks. 

Mono-Red Aggro Was the Best Archetype at the World Championship

While the sample size is low, Mono-Red Aggro did put up the best numbers in the event. Three out of the four pilots went deep in the event, and it looked great all weekend. Of course the margins are all really close between Azorius Control, Jeskai Fires, and Mono-Red Aggro, but I still have to give it to the four players who came to that conclusion.

What impressed me the most was that Sebastian Pozzo, Seth Manfield, and Andrea Mengucci all came to very similar conclusions. To be fair, Seth and Andrea did work together, but you get what I mean. It felt like the three of them knew decks like Azorius Control and Temur Reclamation would be highly represented, so they took drastic measures in the cards they decided to put in their decks. All three of these players cut Shock from their deck, and I just think that was an aggressive decision that paid off. 


Now I don’t think that’s going to be the best practice moving forward, as I predict Mono-Red Aggro will pick up in popularity thanks to the deck’s performance this past weekend. Still, I’d bet the best amount of removal of this nature will remain at a minimum. My starting place for a spell like this will be either one or two copies. 

Mono-Red Aggro might not be the flashiest deck out there, but it’s a real contender in this metagame. I was really impressed with how much it seemed to keep up with even Jeskai Fires. I believe the final score in that matchup was something like 4-3 in Jeskai Fires’s favor, which is pretty great given the fact that none of the Mono-Red players had sideboard cards for the matchup. 

This deck is real, and will be around for a while. 

Jeskai Fires Came Out of Left Field! 

Maybe it’s the fact that I’d been preparing for the first Regional Players Tour and so I wasn’t that focused on Standard, but it took me by surprise to see that 25% of the field brought Jeskai Fires to the battlefield. I just never really thought this deck was all that great. It felt flawed to me, much like Temur Reclamation does, and I never found the results others did. 

I’ve changed my tune, though, after watching the masterclass performance that both Nassif and Marcio put on with the deck. Their sequencing always felt beautiful, and the way they navigated through difficult games was a pleasure to watch. At this point I’m sold that I simply have not put in enough time with the deck to justify my opinions on it. I just had to have been making tiny mistakes with it in the past that got me to the opinions that I came into the weekend with. 

I’m pretty confident that Jeskai Fires will continue to see play in Standard as it competes with both Azorius Control and Mono-Red Aggro, and I guess is a pretty good deck. 

Moving Forward

From context you can probably already guess what I’m about to say, but moving forward I predict the top three decks will be Azorius Control, Mono-Red Aggro, and Jeskai Fires. They are all just complete strategies that have the firepower to force their way through any opposition. Temur Reclamation had its time in the sun, but I just don’t see how it’s going to continue putting up great results regularly. 

Now I can’t say anything with certainty right now, but what I can do is tell you what my personal road map is when it comes to my own preparation for the Mythic Point Challenge in two weeks. I’ll kick things off with playing some Azorius Control to get a feel for it, but then I’m going rogue. The first thing I’ll do is try out Simic Flash again, as I think it has a decent chance of being playable in the current conditions. 

After that, I’ll keep working on this pet deck of mine that I just can’t seem to put down. Not only is it fun, I’ve also been steadily climbing the ranks with it on Magic Arena. Thanks for the inspiration, Jeffrey White! 

It’s not tuned at all, as I’m still just trying out a bunch of unique one-ofs. I will say though it’s way better than it looks. The deck has the ability to just overwhelm opponents with so many powerful threats thanks to how quickly it can develop its real estate. There are a lot of games where I’m playing around Mystical Dispute as early as Turn 4 thanks to ramping twice, and also every once in a while I get that beloved Turn 3 Nissa. 

I sure do love Nissa, yes I do. 

Nissa, Who Shakes the World

If all else fails, I’ll attempt to master Jeskai Fires in a short amount of time. I don’t know if that’s the best course of action, but I’m motivated to try. I just don’t think I’ll be able to live with myself if history remembers Jeskai Fires being a good deck, and the only reason I didn’t play it was because I wasn’t a good enough pilot. 

That’s it for me. Tomorrow I start my first day working with Wizards of the Coast for a month as a contractor. I don’t know what I’ll be doing yet, but I bet it involves playing Magic! I’ll see you all next week! 

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