Lessons From The Sidelines: The Kaldheim Championship

The Kaldheim Championship yielded a few predictable results and plenty of surprises. Ari Lax analyzes the Kaldheim Standard and Historic results.

Into the Story, illustrated by Jason Rainville

More than 200 of the best players in the world booted up their computers this weekend and battled Historic and Standard in the Kaldheim Championship. With a broader field than a League Weekend and a Swiss event structure to really sort out the great choices from the merely fine or even bad options, what do we now believe to be true about those two formats?

Standard — Nothing New to See Here

The last major Standard event prior to the Kaldheim Championship was the most recent SCG Tour Online $5K Strixhaven Championship Qualifier. Let’s compare some metagame percentages:

  • Sultai Ramp (Yorion): 22.3% this weekend, 23.4% two weeks ago
  • Temur Adventures: 17.5% this weekend, 14.7% two weeks ago (counting both Obosh and no-companion lists)
  • Mono-Red Aggro❄: 16.6% this weekend, 13.3% two weeks ago
  • Jeskai Cycling: 10.4% this weekend, 9.8% two weeks ago
  • Dimir Rogues (Lurrus): 8.1% this weekend, 9.1% two weeks ago
  • Mono-White Aggro❄: 7.1% this weekend, 4.5% two weeks ago
  • Naya Adventures: 5.2% this weekend, 5.9% two weeks ago
  • Gruul Adventures: 3.3% this weekend, 2.8% two weeks ago
  • Four-Color Blink (Yorion) – 2.4% this weekend, 2.8% two weeks ago
  • Other: 6.1% this weekend, 13.7% two weeks ago

Seriously, when I say nothing new to see here, I mean it. This is the same metagame we saw two weeks ago. There’s a small uptick in Mono-White Aggro❄ probably because it won that prior event, and there’s less Other because no one is messing around. There’s no Pro Tour surprise here, no big churn in archetypes to beat a rising threat.

But what about cool breakout archetypes from the Other section of the metagame?

Good joke. A 9-6 record was the “min cash” equivalent for this event, granting League Weekend points to Rivals and MPL members and offering a noticeable cash prize boost. There were 56 players who achieved this record, so it’s time to guess how many players in the top 25% of the field were playing decks that don’t fall into those nine archetypes I listed above.

Okay, let’s be a bit more fair. After the last Standard round, before four more rounds of Historic, 55 players had a 7-4 or better record. Same question: how many “Other” decks were in that group?

The actual answer is… one both times. But it Top 8’ed! What is this exciting new archetype?


Wicked Wolf Trail of Crumbs

It’s just Mono-Green Food, the Tier 1 deck from Zendikar Rising Standard that disappeared, splashing Bonecrusher Giant.

This isn’t necessarily a complaint. The Kaldheim metagame ended up in a fine spot despite being heavily skewed towards the same cards we have seen for a long time: Embercleave, Lovestruck Beast, and Yorion, Sky Nomad. The macro-archetypes are pretty varied, there are multiple decks for each of those broken card pillars, and Mono-White Aggro❄ meant Kaldheim brought new archetypes that feel at least a little outside those prior bounds.

But I think everyone is kinda done with it and ready for Strixhaven. The format is just fine, the gameplay is a bit too skewed towards unanswerable haymakers, and despite variation everyone is getting a bit sick of Throne of Eldraine and Ikoria. I’m really unsure Strixhaven can solve all that, but at least we can spin some wheels figuring out new cards.

Standard — How Good Is Temur Adventures (Obosh)?

The best-performing Standard deck was Temur Adventures (Obosh). It had a positive record against the other eight top archetypes and jumped from its initial 17.5% of the wider metagame to over 25% of that 9-6 or better winner’s bracket, with similar numbers even before the closing Historic rounds shuffled the results a bit.

Brazen Borrower The Great Henge Goldspan Dragon

But every game of it on camera looked so bad, even the many games it won. It’s so slow out of the gates, the mana (if you don’t draw Ketria Triome) is a mess thanks to your triple-double commitments, and The Great Henge is just so inconsistent with the reduced creature count relative to Gruul Adventures.

Lovestruck Beast Brazen Borrower Bonecrusher Giant

But it wins a lot because it has a bunch of really overpowered cards. All of the other top decks have inconsistent card quality due to Yorion or struggle against the Adventure creature trio. In Adventure semi-mirrors, Temur has the best bonus interactive card (Petty Theft) and a great selection of overpowering end game cards. Maybe you can build a Naya Adventures list that has an advantage in this mirror, but it costs too much against the Clearwater Pathway segment of the metagame to do so when you could just be playing Mystical Dispute.

Kogla, The Titan Ape Soaring Thought-Thief

Three things keep me from calling this a true dominant archetype.

  1. The first thing is Gruul Food. Mono-Green Food was traditionally a tough matchup for Adventures decks, and even if Alrund’s Epiphany and Goldspan Dragon are the right style of card for the matchup, I think it is close at best.
  2. The second is Dimir Rogues (Lurrus). The numbers are clear here. Even with a bunch of Ox of Agonas and Klothys, God of Destiny on the Temur side, the matchup is dead even.
  3. The third is that Temur Adventures (Obosh) being a bit of a clunky good card pile means it’s exploiting the bad hands of other decks. It isn’t a lock to beat anything; it just consistently beats anything below the best draws and tries hard to keep up with those. This is always a sign of a midrange deck that has a tenuous grasp on a format. If you feel strongly about your quality of play with another one of the top decks and don’t hate your Temur Adventures (Obosh) matchup, you could do worse than trying to beat the margins there.

Brushfire Elemental

Before I leave the topic of Lovestruck Beast, it is worth a peek at the results of Gruul Adventures. It also put up really good numbers, but didn’t show up high in the standings. The answer there is really simple: haste-heavy Gruul is an Adventures deck aimed directly at the Clearwater Pathway decks at the cost of some percentage points in Adventures mirrors and against some of the aggro decks. It was a decent gamble this weekend, but I doubt its position improves from here.

Standard — Dimir Rogues Is Good?

Ruin Crab Soaring Thought-Thief

And at the end of the Swiss, Dimir Rogues (Lurrus) was over-represented at the top of the standings. Only one copy made the Top 8, but two more missed on tiebreakers.

Is Dimir Rogues (Lurrus) secretly the breakout star of the weekend? Sort of. A lot of it is second-order effects.

Dimir Rogues leverages a high skill ceiling because so much is happening at every point of the game. Not saying you, the reader of this article, can’t learn to play Dimir Rogues (Lurrus) really well, but it’d take real effort. What you saw this weekend is definitely the ceiling of the deck’s performance.

Dimir Rogues (Lurrus) was a good choice to exploit Temur Adventures (Obosh), Sultai Ramp (Yorion), and Four-Color Blink (Yorion) decks while suffering against Faceless Haven aggro and Gruul Adventures. Those decks ended up being a large chunk of the winners metagame, so Dimir Rogues players that started off well ended up in a good spot on the metagame.

Except that didn’t really have to do with Standard. I’ll get back to that in a second.

If you’re a Dimir Rogues (Lurrus) expert or want to become one, now is a fine time to play the deck. But you shouldn’t feel obligated to try switching to it.

Historic — Feeding Control and Midrange

Korvold, Fae-Cursed King

Jund Food (Jegantha) was the most popular deck in Historic at the Kaldheim Championship, and it was also the deck with the biggest target on its head in testing for the event. The biggest recent development for it was moving from the Collected Company lists to the Food and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King setup, giving it an edge in mirrors with more ways to play against opposing Mayhem Devil and letting it work around Grafdigger’s Cage and Yasharn, Implacable Earth.

This also put the deck solidly in the midrange camp, and that was ripe for exploitation.

Midrange and control decks were among the biggest winners this weekend. Andrew Cuneo had his moment to pop off, while Bant Control (Kaheera) and Abzan Midrange (Yorion) also put up great numbers. Splicing Yasharn into a deck with interaction for the Korvold and removal part of Jund Food (Jegantha) ended up being the solution.

Thoughtseize Alrund's Epiphany Thieves' Guild Enforcer

This success is what skewed the Standard results in favor of Dimir Rogues (Lurrus). Most of the players showing up with control or midrange in Historic biased towards Temur Adventures and Sultai Ramp (Yorion) in Standard, with a big contingent of Rivals and MPL players showing up with the Temur-Abzan duo. Even if the Standard-heavy results after Round 11 look like a solid spread of success for most decks, the players in Top 8 contention were playing against people whose Temur results were bolstered by Abzan wins, while Faceless Haven players were shuffled back towards the middle of the pack during Historic.

Oath of Kaya Growth Spiral

In the short term I like where Abzan Midrange (Yorion) sits a little better than where Bant Control (Kaheera) is, but I doubt Abzan survives a major metagame shift, while Bant can easily adapt. The blue interaction is more prone to having entire games fall apart on you and Bant lacks the pile-of-value finishes of Yorion if things bog down, but the blue interaction is also better against a wider field. As soon as Strixhaven dumps a bunch of broken spells into the format Abzan is going to need a complete overhaul if it even can survive, while Bant can easily change a few cards and truck along.

Niv-Mizzet Reborn

Not all the midrange decks were good though. The Five-Color Niv-Mizzet deck played by Piotr Glogowski, Matt Nass, and Mike Sigrist looked terrible. Not only was the mana way more awkward than the other midrange decks, it was just losing midrange mirrors. The lack of bridging action in the mid-game meant it was always behind and a Thoughtseize away from doing nothing. Niv-Mizzet Reborn is a powerful card, but you probably want to rebuild that one from scratch.

Historic — Beatdown Goes Down

Gruul Spellbreaker Elvish Warmaster Righteous Valkyrie

Collected Company aggro was one of the more hyped metagame segments prior to the Kaldheim Championship. A bunch of people declared Elvish Warmaster or Righteous Valkyrie as among the most influential Kaldheim additions to Historic, and Gruul Aggro was a known stalwart of the format.

It was a really bad weekend to play any of those decks.

Mayhem Devil

First off, you were playing them into a metagame where you know 20-30% of the field would be on Mayhem Devil. This probably should have been enough to tell you it was a bad idea.

Wrath of God

And all the decks that are gunning for Mayhem Devil and succeeding showed up with sweepers and hedges against Collected Company. Bad times.

Elves and Gruul Aggro are powerful decks. Just keep them in your back pocket for now and wait for the metagame to swing around from how hostile it is right now.

Bant Angels though… You might be waiting quite a while for that favorable metagame shift.

Historic — Orzhov Auras Is Amazing

Kor Spiritdancer Sram, Senior Edificer

Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) was the other Historic deck with an amazing weekend. In a classic Pro Tour tale, it was behind against the most popular deck but crushed the spread and became a great choice.

Priest of Forgotten Gods Trail of Crumbs

A huge part of this was the distinction between Jund Company (Jegantha) and Jund Food (Jegantha). One of these decks often has full playsets of Priest of Forgotten Gods and Claim the Firstborn. The other has at most a couple of copies of each. That change gives Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) a lot of room to steal games from the more midrange Jund Food (Jegantha) deck, and it only ended up behind in the matchup by a few percent and not double digits. Even at 30% of the field playing that deck, you aren’t cutting that much out of your max metagame win rate.

Extinction Event Demonic Vigor Kaya's Ghostform

And outside of the black decks with tons of exile effects, you do crush the rest of the metagame. Even those matchups are pretty solid if you play for value and go back to Kaya’s Ghostform over Demonic Vigor.

Muxus, Goblin Grandee Mayhem Devil

Along with Goblins and the various Mayhem Devil decks, Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) is one of the few Historic decks that’s proactive, resilient, and has an overwhelming end-game. Even beyond the numbers, it’s a fundamentally good deck in a format with relatively few of those. It has eight copies of its best card, all its garbage cards end up cycling away, it has a ton of interaction with Thoughtseize and Dead Weight, and it has ways to recur the good cards if they’re answered. I expect Auras to remain a solid choice for a while to come.

Trial of Ambition Claim the Firstborn

Or at least a solid choice from time to time. There are a number of really, really annoying things people can move towards and push Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) out of the metagame.

If you’re looking for a strong linear deck to play in Historic, Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) is one of the best places to start. Just be aware there will be rough patches as the metagame shifts, and you either need a backup deck or just have to play through them until things get good again.

Historic — Some New Things to See Here

Unlike Standard, Historic did have a couple of surprises waiting for everyone. If you consider porting over good Standard decks a big surprise.

It’s weird to talk up a Hollow One deck before Strixhaven adds Faithless Looting to Historic, but three of the five Boros Cycling players ended up in that 9-6 or better bracket with Javier Dominguez making Top 8. The deck looked really bad against the top performers of Abzan Midrange (Yorion) and Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) but crushed the rest of the format. I wouldn’t play it in the near future, but it’s certainly in the right range of power and consistency to be a competitor.

My favorite though is Chris Botelho just rolling up with a duo of Temur Adventures decks and getting 14th place. I love that the Historic Temur Adventures deck is just the Standard one from a full year ago, splashing a white four-drop like the other Standard one from the two weeks of Omnath, Locus of Creation last September. There’s just a lot of good stuff going on here as long as you don’t have to battle against Muxus, Goblin Grandee, and if I were looking for something fresh for the next couple of weeks, I would immediately get Temur Adventures loaded up on my Arena account.

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Mind's Desire

Of course, you don’t have that much longer to play around here. The Strixhaven Mystical Archive is going to crash right into what looks like a finally acceptable Historic metagame post-Uro. I don’t know how crazy things are going to get with Brainstorm and Faithless Looting legal, but if you want to be doing anything close to fair in Historic, you should get those games in while you still can.