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Choosing your Deck for Day 1 of The Arena Open: Our Recommendations

This is a compilation piece from three different authors – Terence, Drifter, and Red5ive were all ready and willing to put great time and effort into maximising your Arena Open experience; check our their many articles and contributions below!

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Picking the Right Best-of-One Tournament Deck by Red5ive

Introduction

We’re on the cusp of the first Arena Open and the question on everyone’s lips is what the heck should I play? The answer to that is complicated and involves a lot of factors, including some you might not consider that significant. Personal preference and practice can often be decisive: different people have different playstyles, are used to different kinds of game, and can have decks that are better suited to those playstyles. The metagame is complex and revolves around a group of the best cards that each provide insane value in multiple archetypes.

Best of One is not a format that has as much of a track record in competitive Magic as Traditional Standard, so it’s even less predictable. Last of all, we’re staring down the barrel of a ban announcement and changes to the Companion mechanic; will this cause people to wreak havoc with potential ban targets while they still can? We won’t know for sure until Saturday!

Understanding the Metagame

For a rundown of the major decks in the Bo1 metagame, check out the recently updated Bo1 metagame tier list. There will always be folks trying out off-meta decks in an event like this but between the cost and the power level of the Companions, alongside some of the more broken cards like Winota, Lukka, and Fires of Invention, those decks will probably be at a minimum.

Reading the metagame is something that could have entire books written about it. Doing so well takes a ton of experience and, as difficult as it is to learn, I think it’s even harder to teach.

Personally, I expect to see a lot of the Tier 1 decks from the list: Mono Red Obosh, Boros Lurrus Cycling, and Jeskai Yorion Lukka. In the last 24 hours I have seen a huge surge in Mono White Auras, so maybe folks are tuning that deck up? All told, while I thought the metagame was stable mid-week, the knowledge that a big tournament is coming is getting people to fiddle with decks that may be off-meta and that they hope their opponents will be unprepared for. What this really means is that while the metagame may be broken and we might have as many as four or five bans in Standard on Monday, there is still a lot of potential for shakeup, innovation and exploration.

Approaches to picking your deck

I’ll touch on four different approaches here:

“The Deck You Know” Approach

One of the more straightforward approaches to selecting a deck is to simply keep playing what you have been playing. There is a lot of value in being so familiar with a deck that you can play it on autopilot and can make decisions much more quickly and accurately than if you were playing something you’ve been testing for a few days.

That said, this approach gives no thought to what you might see in the event and instead leans into whatever strategy you’ve been following, which if that’s a really strong one then great, but it’s hit and miss. It’s not the worst approach; it’s probably the easiest, but it’s unlikely to take you far by itself.

“The Best Deck” Approach

One of the most common approaches to deck selection is to simply play what you, or the people you trust, believe is the Best Deck in the format. That is a little trickier in this format as competitive Magic tends towards the Best of Three format rather than Best of One if you’re looking at pooling data. In general, this approach is perfectly valid as long as you are familiar with the deck. However, if you show up to a tournament having decided the night before or even that morning that the best deck is “X”, and you haven’t put any time into playing it or strategies that are very similar, you’ve probably dug your own grave.

The downside to playing the Best Deck is that it can leave you a little bit blind to the metagame. This is an event with real money on the line and with what is likely to be tougher competition. What may have seemed like the Best Deck in climbing the ladder may not be up to the challenge when in a tournament. The Best Deck, whatever build that may be, is also something that other players are going to be most prepared to face, in their deck builds and choices.

If I were to go with the Best Deck approach, I would be looking at Jeskai Yorion Lukka. It has lots of tools for dealing with the other top tier decks and when you consider that it has two or three cards that are up for discussion to be banned, you know it has some serious potency. If JYL isn’t your style, then Boros Cycling is probably your next best option; it’s not quite as effective as JYL, but still very potent while being more aggressive.

“Outthinking the Metagame” Approach

The best example of this approach that I can think of recently is Piotr Glogowski showing up to Magic World Championship XXVI with Jund Sacrifice. He read the metagame beautifully, built a strong deck that was far enough off-meta that the other players weren’t really prepared for it, and then he proceeded to flex all over the best players in the world.

This is also basically what Littlebeep pulled at Dreamhack. Littlebeep reached back for a deck that hadn’t been meta relevant in a while, but which was still quite strong, particularly against what other players were bringing, and was able to take advantage of the element of surprise to put up dominant results.

Obviously, this is incredibly hard to do, it takes a lot of insight into the metagame, good deck-building skills, some luck, and the ability to follow all this through. It’s not something that can be taught, at least as far as I can tell; it’s something you figure out through lots of experience playing at tournaments.

“The Anti-Meta” Approach

This is an approach that you don’t see a ton of but which definitely has a place in the tournament scene. Basically the idea is to build a hate deck that is targeted at the major decks in the metagame. It’s different from the previous approach in that the deck itself probably isn’t as strong in a vacuum. One tricky point with going heavily anti-metagame, especially in Best of One, is that you don’t have a chance to adjust after game one if you face something off-meta or if you draw a lot of hate cards for a particular matchup. For instance if you load up too much on anti-enchantment cards to bust Fires and then face a ton of Lurrus decks, you’re going to have some dead cards in your deck or hand and be at a disadvantage. Same with having a ton of sweepers and facing off a deck with few if any creatures. It takes a strong reading of the metagame, a very careful balance in deckbuilding, and a higher reliance on luck than the prior approach – usually you just want to dip into this strategy a little e.g. to decide a few card inclusions, while focusing mainly on the others.

What I’m going to play

I can’t tell you what you should play: your own play style and comfort level are going to be important factors in deciding that. Arguably, the best deck right now is Rakdos Lurrus Sacrifice, with Monored Obosh or Jeskai Yorion Lukka being close behind, but if you’re not familiar with those decks or comfortable with those playstyles then your play is going to suffer.

Personally, I expect to enter at least twice and probably a lot more, if only because I spend a lot of time writing and thinking about Best of One, so this is a pretty exciting event for me. Also, I have the extra gold and gems so why not? First time through will be with an absurd (as in pretty silly, but I have some hopes for it anyways) off-meta deck to start the day. How absurd? Jund Lurrus Knight Adventures! If it gets to 4 wins, I’ll be happy. I’m entering it because it’s fun to play, period. After that will depend on my mood; I’ve been playing with and feeling good about a Mardu Knights (which I have seen less of in the metagame than I would expect) build and an Umori Winota deck, and I’ll likely play one of those. Both are towards the bottom of Tier 1.5, but comfort level with a deck counts for a lot in my book. And they’re fun to play; if there is one thing I remember from the period of Oko-madness, it was one prominent MTG player asking the question “Why would I ever want to play a deck that isn’t fun?”

Breaking Down the Decks by Drifter

Hi there! I’ll be going over some decks which I consider great choices for the tournament. They won’t be ordered scrupulously, but I’ll try to have the ones I most recommend nearer the top. I’ve linked to the version of each deck which I like the look of the most, but I would recommend you go to our Best-of-one decks page yourself, play spot the difference with the other versions, and tweak based on what you expect to face and the matchups you want to improve; that’s a great way to get a significant edge and potentially steal the whole tournament!

Jeskai Lukka

The premier deck in best-of-three is still great in best-of-one, after you’ve thrown no fewer than six wrath effects in there! This gives you good game against all the aggro decks, while preserving the best midgame turns in the format, where you can do complete nonsense like t4 Fires t5 Lukka -> Agent of Treachery into Yorion into another 5 drop by flickering out Fires. Since tons of people will be playing aggro, this list only runs 2 Elspeth Conquers Death (although Javier Dominguez’s list is still running the full 4, which I don’t personally like, but is reasonable if you’d rather tech more for Keruga Fires and Jund Food); when the only target for that is Lurrus, conquering sadness, let alone your death, will be easier said than done.

While this deck is the nuts, the main issue it has is that everyone and their cat (specifically Cauldron Familiar) will be teching against it; expect to see maindeck Hushbringers, Drannith Magistrates, some especially daring folk might even try Grafdigger’s Cage to hate on both Rakdos Sac and you (and be really far behind in every other matchup), and heck even the occasional Trostani Discordant (just don’t steal creatures if you’re fearing this; everything else is still fair game). Additionally, people are incentivised to play stuff like Rakdos Sac themselves, since your Agent of Treachery daylight robberies are much worse against Witch’s Oven, and you don’t have good answers to Cauldron Familiar.

Still, I suspect all of this won’t be nearly enough to keep Ikoria’s most despicable creation from being one of the best decks (though Cycling, Rakdos Sac, and Keruga Fires are stiff competition); buckle in for some truly miserable mirrors!

Lurrus Cycling

Cycling has the best 1-drop and the best burn spell in the format, and those two advantages are possibly the most important an aggressive deck can have! Turn one Flourishing Fox is a little less crushing in a metagame that, being best-of-one, is likely to be decided by aggro, since they’re more likely to have Shock, Stomp on the play, or Scorching Dragonfire post-board. Even so, if they don’t have one of those things, Fox is one of the easiest ways to steal a game – it can hit for as much as 6 on turn 3, and a lowered life total is perfect prey for Zenith Flare.

Most of Cycling’s creatures are must-answers, and then your opponents better have counterspells later on, so a lot has to go their way, all in all, and in best-of-one, they’re probably not going to be prepared for all that. This is perhaps the most resilient and powerful deck in best-of-one; even killing a creature with Flare will put you well out of range of any fellow aggro deck. I suspect some of the decks which can afford to and are especially weak to this strategy will play maindeck Soul-Guide Lantern, but honestly playing a solid beatdown game and hoping they don’t draw their 1-2 copies will still net you a lot of wins. You should be pretty good against Aggro and Control alike, although you want to run into Control less, since you can be quite weak to sweepers.

Rakdos Sacrifice

Claim the Firstborn is a truly messed up card in any sort of aggro mirror, and you should expect to run into a lot of those – stealing their best creature, bashing them with it, and then sacrificing it for only 1 mana is absolutely devastating, especially when you should expect to see a lot of Flourishing Foxes and Valiant Rescuers running around. Cat Oven and all the other drain make you ridiculously hard to race, and this coupled with the value from being the best Lurrus deck in the format and having 4 copies of Light Up the Stage all gives you the tool to play a grindy slow game long past the point where other aggro decks will have rolled over and conceded. I went over the advantages this deck has over Lukka Fires also (though Jeskai Keruga will be very tough to beat), and it’s all in all a great deck, competing with Cycling for best aggro choice – you should probably just pick between those based on experience and preference. The mana base can be very awkward for this style of deck, since you’re running 4 Fabled Passage in a deck that really wants to curve out and has many cheap spells of both its colours it wants to cast on the same turn; it’s less consistent than Cycling but more explosive.

Keruga Fires

After a spectacular showing in the first week, Keruga Fires has fallen off a lot, largely due to the fact that it gets slaughtered by Jeskai Lukka, Reclamation, and the other slower decks – but luckily, those last two are much rarer in best-of-one, and Keruga Fires is much better here! With access to tons of great blockers, a bunch of sweepers, the absurd finisher and lifegain tool wrapped into one that is Kenrith, and midgame turns second only to Lukka, this is the best anti-aggro deck in the entire format. You will struggle with Lukka, but if you can keep the board clear of tokens and/or have instant speed removal up to deny the Lukka activation (yes, delay Fires if you need to in this matchup!) while applying pressure of your own, then you should be golden; that’s a big ask but they can also just not draw Lukka, and then you just need to do your best to kill them before they reach 7 mana for Agent, while trying to prevent them from getting too much Yorion value.

I suspect people will be running extra maindeck Enchantment removal in their attempts to overload on hate for Jeskai Lukka, which isn’t a good strategy since that deck is playing 80 cards and won’t even draw Fires that often, but it is good against you unfortunately since your gameplan revolves a great deal more around the card. A major advantage of playing this deck over Lukka is that you should be much better against Rakdos Sacrifice – they won’t be able to pressure you through all your midrange creatures, and Kenrith goes absurdly over the top of that matchup.

4C Neoform Winota

Emma Handy took their build of Neoform Winota to a 2nd place finish at the recent Eleague Tournament, and I suspect that was no fluke – Winota is just that busted a card that tutoring her up with Neoform is a sacrifice you’re more than willing to make. Winota has an even better nut draw than Yorion Lukka, being capable of t3 Agent of Treachery, and does so surprisingly consistently with 4 Adventurous Impulse, 4 Neoform, 4 Winota; I suspect the Yorion build is better for best-of-one since it’s more resilient, but adapting Emma Handy’s version is a great way to go over the top of the field too. I would recommend a version with Neoform – I think the deck is too inconsistent without it, as the gulf between your Winota and Non-Winota draws is so gigantic.

That being said, I suspect that there are better choices for this event, since the Winota deck is very weak to sweepers and people will be playing far more than average in this event – even the Yorion Lukka decks are running as many as six, and so will be able to keep the board clear of creatures before turn 4 fairly consistently.

Jund Food

Another Claim the Firstborn deck, but fit into a midrange strategy, Jund Food takes the strengths of the Rakdos Sacrifice decks, puts Mayhem Devil, an exceptionally powerful anti-aggro tool, back in since Rakdos Sacrifice can’t play that and Lurrus, and combines all this with the ability to go way over the top with Bolas’s Citadel and Trail of Crumbs. This means that Jund Food can basically outgrind anything if given enough time, while having a solid anti-aggro game. As I result, I suspect this is probably the best midrange deck in best-of-one, but I’m a bit sceptical of it being better than the good aggro decks since Bolas’s Citadel is naturally a lot worse in best-of-one, taking into account that you’re likely to be pressured a lot more, and the deck has some slow low-tempo starts, while being in itself pretty susceptible to sweepers.

Mardu Lurrus Knights

Check out Red5ive’s guide to this deck! While it hasn’t gained much traction in best-of-three, it is much better in best-of-one, and is specifically teched to beat the many sweepers all the Control decks are sure to be running, and gain massive tempo with Fight as One against the Aggro decks.

Mono Red Obosh

Mono Red Obosh remains a fantastic choice in best-of-one, combining a huge number of buffs and 1 drops. The deck still has a poor matchup against Rakdos Sacrifice, and I suspect Cycling will be able to go over the top of it with Zenith Flare mostly, but it’s possible that its nut draws are so much better than those decks that it’s slightly better on average. Still, I think if t4 or 5 Obosh fails to kill, and Obosh is removed then the deck really struggles to come back, whereas those decks have a lot more resiliency and late game presence.

Selesnya Auras

This deck’s plan is to suit up one of its creatures, especially one of those with lifelink against Aggro, draw a stream of cards off Season of Growth, and kill both rapidly with All that Glitters and in a fashion that is incredibly hard to disrupt using Karametra’s Blessing/Alseid/Gods Willing to protect the creature from removal and sweepers for only 1 mana. This plan tends to be much more disrupt-able in best-of-three with access to cards like Heliod’s Intervention, but it’s very hard to hate in best-of-one.

That being said, the deck can be quite weak to Teferi, Time Raveler (which prevents your protection spells so you have to use them in response to Teferi being cast, in which case Teferi can still just bounce an aura instead or plus) and is one of the most play-draw dependent decks there is, with it being hard to recover if your opponent just immediately starts removing your stuff and strands your auras in hand on the draw – having to hold up 1 mana per turn can be next to impossible in any reasonable time frame on the draw, but it has a powerful focused gameplan, and one that should handily beat aggro decks if it works. I consider it a more out-there choice, but a decent one.

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