Who am I?
My name is Mark Gabriele, and I am an SCG Tour Grinder and avid Arena player. My absolute favorite decks in Standard are all flavors of Mono Red aggro, and I recently took Aaron Barich’s list to #10 Mythic, and a top 16 finish at SCG Baltimore. If you have any questions about this article, feel free to email me at email@example.com or message me on Twitter at @gabriele_mark!
What is this article about?
This past weekend, the largest Magic tournament, in terms of viewership, of all time took place. Sixteen of the best players in the world competed for their share of a $1 Million prize pool, with Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa taking home first place and $300,000. It was also the most watched Magic event of all time, with a peak viewership of 118,000 Magic fans! This much attention all being placed on one event means that the best decks from the event will be ALL over Arena for the next couple of weeks. The goal of this article is to give you the tools to win all the common matchups you’ll face, while you play one of the best decks in standard!
Note: There were four different archetypes in the top 8, so we will be focusing on the decklist of the top finisher with each deck, shown below. If you would like sideboarding help, you can find it here: https://mtgazone.com/sideboard-guides-from-magic-world-championship-xxvi/
Mono Red vs UW:
The UW side: Favourable
This matchup is fairly good. A lot of the power of Azorius in standard is card advantage stapled onto incidental answers; Teferi is an unsummon that draws a card, Birth of Meletis draws a Plains and blocks like a champ, Elspeth Conquers Death exiles a threat and then returns one of its own, and Archon of Sun’s Grace stabilizes the board while providing 2/2 lifelinkers as a rebate for other modes of interaction. Bearing that in mind, the deck seems to never run out of answers to the threats that Red has to provide. This, in turn, forces Red to overextend in Shatter the Sky, as each passing turn provides Azorius more time to fully leverage their cards. The wrenches in the works are Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, which allow red to add significant pressure while safeguarding against Shatter the Sky; this means that decisions should be made with the goal of minimizing the impact of specifically Anax and Chandra, as they are really Red’s only ways to juke sweepers. Interact early and often, as just about every way your cards clash with theirs is favorable, it’s just about having the time to make it happen.
Cards you can add to make the matchup better: Devout Decree, Archon of Sun’s Grace, Cerulean Drake
Key Cards: Shatter the Sky, Cerulean Drake, Archon of Sun’s Grace, Birth of Meletis
The Mono Red side: Unfavourable
The best way to attack Azorius is with early pressure backed up by sticky or hasty threats. The difference between hands with a one drop and hands without one is massive. You can’t really lean on Embercleave in this matchup, because Teferi, Time Raveler puts a serious damper on its castability and the timing issues often force you to run face first into Absorb. You usually can’t afford to play around Shatter the Sky with your normal threats, as it only gets worse the longer the game goes. The lifegain stapled to many of their cards means that only providing moderate pressure is likely not enough, you want to avoid losing a game where you play around but they don’t have the Shatter. Be patient with Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, and hasty threats, because running those into countermagic leaves you completely exposed to wraths. With the addition of Archon of Sun’s Grace, bringing in some Lava Coils postboard is likely correct. Leave in a couple of Bonecrusher Giants to give yourself outs to Cerulean Drake.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Embereth Paladin, Phoenix of Ash, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
Key Cards: Anax, Hardened in the Forge, One Drops, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, Unchained Berserker
Mono Red vs Fires:
The Fires side: Very favourable
The plan is fairly simple; kill as many things as you can, stabilize with large threats, and end the game in a timely manner. Try to get at least a two for one out of Deafening Clarion; if they never extend enough to give you a two for one, you can give your creatures lifelink with it which is almost as good anyway. Bonecrusher Giant is everything you could want in this matchup; it kills something, provides a blocker, and switches into a fine attacker when it’s time to end the game! It’s usually not worth it to try to kill their one drop to keep them off of a turn two Light up the Stage with your Bonecrusher Giant, as it’s much more important to have an answer to their power two drops (Runaway Steam-Kin and Unchained Berserker). The Mono Red deck’s curve is high enough that taking full advantage of a Light Up is rare anyways, and if they’re willing to eat up a mana on the second turn to cast it, that’s good for you. Do everything you can to keep them off of a significant number of creatures, because once you have a Fires of Invention out, you are weak to Torbran and Embercleave. Resolving a Kenrith with a Fires of Invention will almost always win the game.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Chandra’s Pyrohelix, Flame Sweep, Scorching Dragonfire
Key Cards: Deafening Clarion, Bonecrusher Giant, Kenrith, The Returned King
The Mono Red side: Very unfavourable
Preboard, you have to jam into a potential Deafening Clarion and pray. Embercleave and Torbran are the only cards in your deck that are doing things close to as powerful as the Fires deck, and they are only powerful if there are creatures on your board; attempting to slowroll your threats is a good way to lose to a single Bonecrusher Giant curved into a Fires of Invention and a couple of expensive threats. Anax is the most important way to play around this, being sweeper protection and a threat all in one. Postboard, you are afforded a little bit of leeway. Unchained Berserker has protection from Clarion and Teferi, but gets smoked by a Bonecrusher Giant all day, and Chandra, Acolyte of Flame dodges most forms of removal but gets attacked by their Big Boys™. This matchup is entirely about choosing which of their removal you can play around, and not worrying about it otherwise.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Phoenix of Ash, The Akroan War, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
Key Cards: Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Unchained Berserker, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, Embercleave
Mono Red vs Temur Reclamation:
The Temur side: Unfavourable in game one, favourable postboard
Preboard, you’re entirely leaning on Storm’s Wrath and Brazen Borrower to bridge the gap enough for you to either land a large Explosion, or return an Uro from your graveyard. Postboard, you become far less reliant on Storm’s Wrath, because you are able to board into a pile of two mana removal. This makes Uro much better, as it’s much more realistic to quickly return an Uro from your graveyard. An attack with an Uro is almost always game over, and Uro beats is how you win many postboard games. You can board down on Brazen Borrowers, since it doesn’t fill the graveyard for Uro and its body is a liability due to potential Claim the First Born as well as not blocking much. Game one this matchup is tough, but postboard it gets much, much easier.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Chandra’s Pyrohelix, Flame Sweep, Nightpack Ambusher, Redcap Melee
Key Cards: Storm’s Wrath, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Aether Gust/Scorching Dragonfire/Chandra’s Pyrohelix (!)
The Red side: Favourable game one, Unfavourable postboard
This is the sweeper matchup that gives you the most play, as they don’t jump ahead as effectively as Azorius and Jeskai Fires do on turns five and six. I like to get in as much damage with non-hasty threats as I can on turns one through four, then close with the hasters on turns five and six. Postboard it gets much harder, as they kill all of your things, and often leave you with exceptionally weak Embercleaves and Torbrans on turns five and six. You’re forced to overcommit into Storm’s Wrath, because lack of pressure provides your opponent the opportunity to snipe the creatures that matter and stick an Uro on the board. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame isn’t at its best in this matchup, because Storm’s Wrath hits planeswalkers as well as creatures.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Phoenix of Ash, Embereth Paladin, Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
Key Cards: Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Scorch Spitter/Fervent Champion, Torbran, Thane of Redfell
Mono Red Mirror:
This matchup has changed a lot since the last standard, where everything traded off and the person who topdecked better almost always won. Red decks play very little removal now, eschewing them for more powerful threats in the form of Anax, Embercleave, and Torbran. This means that cards that are ordinarily thought of as mirror breakers, like Experimental Frenzy, are no longer the trumps they once were. Spending an entire turn to not affect the board is often a death sentence, and the mirror now usually comes down to who lands the hardest punch first. As a result, this matchup plays out much more like a tempo mirror. Kill spells are used to keep your opponent off balance enough to allow you to leverage Torbran, Anax and Embercleave, rather than as a means to run your opponent out of resources. Bonecrusher Giant is the absolute best card, keeping them at bay while adding another body to your board. Fire off Bonecrusher early because it’s a great creature to play on turn three, but save Redcap Melee and Lava Coil for creatures that matter (Anax and Torbran) if you can.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Chandra’s Pyrohelix, Scorching Dragonfire, Shock, Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
Key Cards: Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Bonecrusher Giant, Torbran, Thane of Redfell, Redcap Melee/Lava Coil
UW vs. Fires:
The UW side: Slightly favoured preboard, slightly unfavoured postboard
Despite both decks playing Hallowed Fountain, this doesn’t play out like a control mirror. Fires tries to get its synergies up and running through Azorius’ disruption before Azorius stabilizes and completely takes over the game through incremental card advantage. The most powerful cards in the matchup are Teferi and Narset, which each shut down chunks of the opponent’s gameplan. As the Azorius player, you want the game to go as long as possible, because your cards provide card advantage, whereas the Jeskai player’s cards provide card quality (It’s the difference between Narset, which draws multiple cards, and Sphinx of Foresight, which improves draws but doesn’t create them). Jeskai’s card quality means that they are capable of setting up very powerful turns, but often run out of steam soon after that. The key to winning is to survive the couple of very powerful turns that Jeskai sets up through their card selection (Think double Cavalier turns) because after that, their cards don’t replace themselves as well as yours do.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Elspeth Conquers Death, Giant Killer, Cerulean Drake, The Wanderer
Key Cards: Mystical Dispute, Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler, Archon of Sun’s Grace, Elspeth Conquers Death
The Fires side: Slightly unfavoured preboard, slightly favoured postboard
You have to end the game in a timely manner, because you’ll get ground into dust if you let the game go on for too long. With that being said, you have some really solid tools to do so. Mystical Dispute is one of the most powerful cards in the format for decks looks to condense the game down to a few key early turns. Legion Warboss is an army in a can, and provides an excellent basis for aggression supplemented by the four and five mana threats. Fires of Invention is most important on turns four, five and six, where you can magnify the mana advantage it provides, and use it to play around opposing Mystical Disputes. In a similar vein, don’t give their Mystical Dispute text if you don’t have to, as it’s very bad once you have a Fires out. If they only have a single blue up, I’m playing Fires, but I’m probably holding my Sphinx of Foresight until the next turn. If they have three mana up, I’m playing a Sphinx on turn four over a Fires. This matchup is tough, as your deck isn’t really built to be low enough to the ground to get under UW’s answers, but it’s not insurmountable.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Chandra, Awakened Inferno, Tithe Taker, Robber of the Rich, Unchained Berserker
Key Cards: Mystical Dispute, Legion Warboss, Teferi, Time Raveler, Fires of Invention
UW vs. Temur Reclamation:
The UW side: Unfavourable
This matchup is difficult from both sides, and both decks are capable of winning long games. With that being said, you really, really want to end the game in a timely manner. While your incremental advantages are awesome, you don’t have any individual cards that are as powerful as an Explosion for twenty, and you need to play to end the game before that’s a possibility. If you have access to it, you’ll probably have to tap out to resolve a threat like Dream Trawler, and try to tempo them out with it. Teferi is insane in this matchup, but given enough time Temur will be able to get it off the table and bully you with mana advantage. Try to keep Teferi and Narset out of Storm’s Wrath range as long as possible game one; keep their loyalty as high as you can and don’t minus unless you have to.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Disenchant, Ashiok’s Erasure, Nadir Kraken, Cerulean Drake
Key Cards: Teferi, Time Raveler, Narset, Parter of Veils, Counterspells, Dream Trawler
The Temur side: Favourable
Try to spend the early game sculpting a good hand, and only fighting over the three mana planeswalkers. Both halves of Expansion/Explosion are excellent in this matchup; you just need to be careful to leave enough copies in your deck left to be able to kill your opponent. Niv-Mizzet, Parun is excellent, but don’t expose it to Elspeth Conquers Death. There’s no harm in holding it in your hand for a few extra turns so you can play it with counterspell backup. Then, even if you lose the fight over the Niv, you’ll likely have drawn plenty of cards in the process.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Robber of the Rich, Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Shifting Ceratops, Spectral Sailor
Key Cards: Expansion/Explosion, Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Mystical Dispute, Wilderness Reclamation
These game take a whiiiiile, so buckle in. The easiest way to get ahead and stay ahead is to blank swaths of your opponent’s cards by landing a three mana planeswalker and letting its static disrupt them for free. Because of their importance, try to only run them out when you can be reasonably certain you can protect them. Dream Trawler and Archon of Sun’s Grace aren’t great because they often run face first into a Shatter the Sky that’s been otherwise rotting in your opponent’s hand. Don’t bother protecting them in game one, because both decks play far too many answers to creatures for anybody to realistically stick a single threat and ride it to victory. When both players are playing the same cards and there’s far more answers than there are threats, value that can be gained through lands comes at a premium. Castle Vantress is awesome preboard, as in game one, you have a lot of dead cards, and it enables you to sift through them and keep only the ones you want (Narset is worth much, much more than, say, a Birth of Meletis on turn ten). Castle Ardenvale is awesome both pre and post-board, allowing you to make an army with all the extra mana you have and threaten opposing planeswalkers without investing cards.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Dawn of Hope, Commence the Endgame, Spectral Sailor
Key Cards: Castle Ardenvale, Castle Vantress, Teferi, Time Raveler, Narset, Parter of Veils, Counterspells
Fires vs. Temur Reclamation:
The Fires side: Unfavoured preboard, Favoured postboard
Get the game over with. Their mana-cheating enchantment scales far better than yours does, but you have the advantage turns four through six, and you have to capitalize. Fortunately, you get to play Teferi, Time Raveler and a pile of threats that are out of Storm’s Wrath range, so you’re well equipped to end the game early, if you catch them with mismatched answers. Much like against UW, you’re trying to tempo them out with heaps of pressure and well timed disruption. Legion Warboss isn’t at its best, because it gets hit by all of Temur’s Removal. Try your best to take advantage of the turns that Temur wants to spend developing its mana with Uro and Growth Spiral.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Disenchant, Dovin’s Veto, Elspeth Conquers Death
Key Cards: Teferi, Time Raveler, Narset, Parter of Veils, Mystical Dispute
The Temur side: Favoured preboard, Unfavoured postboard
Survive as long as you can. They often must have Fires of Invention to provide adequate early pressure, which locks them out of instant speed interaction later if you can fend off their aggression. An Uro out of the graveyard matches up well against their ground threats, and they don’t really want to be bouncing it with Teferi. Keep Aether Gust in mind at all times, as there are at least three copies in just about every Fires list. Even when they have a Teferi out, there is value in Wilderness Reclamation, because activating Castle Vantress is excellent in a matchup where the different situations you can be faced with vary so much. I’d mention Expansion + Storm’s Wrath as very important in answering Cavaliers or high loyalty Teferis.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Disdainful Stroke, Fry, Nightpack Ambusher
Key Cards: Expansion/Explosion, Wilderness Reclamation, Mystical Dispute
All the cards tend to trade off in this matchup. In this respect, it’s not particularly surprising that the player with the enchantment that doubles your mana usually wins. In games where both players or neither player stick a Fires of Invention, the winner is usually determined by combat math and who draws the better mix of threats. Elspeth Conquers Death works wonders, as it’s one of the few “two-for-ones” available in the matchup, and can get rid of their Fires trump card. As with most combat math matchups, the player who goes slightly bigger usually has the advantage, so Bonecrusher Giant and Legion Warboss aren’t really where you want to be.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Disenchant, Elspeth Conquers Death, Giant Killer, Haktos the Unscarred
Key Cards: Fires of Invention, Elspeth Conquers Death
This is a tempo mirror, and essentially a game of chicken; the person who blinks first will usually lose. Brazen Borrower is the most important card; it allows you to trade instant speed mana for sorcery speed mana, and also acts a threat you can stick early and ride to victory. The most reliable sign that someone is winning is resolving an Explosion for five or more, but that’s difficult to do unless you’re already winning. Expansion is super important as well, allowing you to copy important spells like Growth Spiral or to counter countermagic, if your opponent gives you the window to. In the same vein, try not to give your opponent the opportunity to copy important spells; if you know you’re going to cast Growth Spiral, cast it while your opponent is tapped out. Niv-Mizzet is a mirror breaker, but like against Azorius, try to cast it with some backup. Even if there’s a fight over the Niv, you’re probably coming out of it with enough cards to be just fine.
Cards you can add to improve the matchup: Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Robber of the Rich, Return to Nature, Disdainful Stroke
Key Cards: Wilderness Reclamation, Brazen Borrower, Expansion/Explosion, Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Counterspells
Huge shoutout to Teddy Gibbons and Ben Katz for their help with this article!