Magic’s most illustrious tournament is happening this weekend, and the competitors had an extremely tough tournament to prepare for. Not only are they fighting many of the best players in the world for the chance to immortalize their name amongst the pantheon of incredible players who are World Champions, but they had to focus on both Standard and Explorer! Preparing for one constructed format is difficult enough, but two takes a lot of time. To make matters even more complicated, The Meathook Massacre was banned just a few weeks ago in Standard, leaving the metagame in a bit of a flux.
So what did these incredible players decide to bring? Let’s dive in!
These results I would say are simultaneously surprising and not surprising. I think the biggest shock for this breakdown is that Rakdos Midrange had only one pilot on it, which is pretty much the opposite of most player’s experience on ladder. While I didn’t peg Rakdos as the best deck in Explorer, it was definitely the most popular which makes it really surprising that there’s a huge lack of representation for it. That being said, having a target on your back in a format as powerful as Explorer is not necessarily where you want to be. There’s a lot of powerful strategies in Explorer so opting for a deck that will be practiced against less or have fewer slots dedicated to it can be a very powerful advantage.
Now for the not so surprising part, this metagame is actually really reflective on resident Explorer expert, Altheriax’s view on the format.
Altheriax pegged Mono Blue Spirits, Abzan Greasefang, and Rakdos Sacrifice as the top decks of the format (in that order), and it seems the metagame mostly followed that expectation. Mono Blue Spirits, in particular, would be my pick for the deck to beat in this tournament as it’s such a powerful strategy between it’s speed and interactivity. If you are playing a deck that’s relying on marginally expensive cards to resolve or you don’t win particularly quickly, you’re going to have a tough time in a field of Mono Blue. That said, Mono Blue is far from safe in this field as well! Seven copies of Rakdos Sacrifice has to be pretty concerning for Mono Blue as cards like Claim the Firstborn and Mayhem Devil can be extremely problematic against their small fighting force. The one main advantage they have in the Sacrifice matchup is that Spirits aren’t stonewalled by the Cauldron Familiar / Witch's Oven loop, so at least it isn’t a hopeless matchup for Spirits.
Another deck I have my eye on for this event is Temur Transmogrify as it seems very well positioned in this metagame. The six Mono Blue Spirits pilots may give the deck trouble, but a deck that can go over the top of strategies like Abzan Greasefang and Rakdos Sacrifice seems like a strong choice in this field. Even in the face of Mono Blue, a big reason for the Blue splash is access to Shark Typhoon which is not only a great Transmogrify target, but also excellent at ambushing Spirits. While we don’t have the full lists, I imagine that going Blue for Shark Typhoon wasn’t the lone motivation, but they likely have a play set of Mystical Dispute in the board as well to help deal with Spirits. Considering Spirits is one of, if not the best deck, an overabundance of caution for it seems warranted.
For my sleeper pick for the Explorer portion, I’m interested in seeing how the Angels pilot performs this weekend. While I am very much not a believer in Angels in an open metagame, the deck can perform reasonably well in a field of mostly Spirits, Sacrifice, and Greasefang so perhaps their metagame call will pay off big.
I’m no Magic historian, but that is one of the most skewed metagames I’ve ever seen for a Worlds event. I’m not surprised to see Esper as the most represented deck as it was the clear base line coming out of The Meathook Massacre ban considering it was already one of the best decks and the least affected, but this is a little much.
For what it’s worth, as I say in all my metagame breakdowns, Esper is a deck that can pretty much do it all. It has no obvious holes as it can be fast, grindy, interactive, sometimes all at the same time! I figured that there would be more experimentation in the Standard portion of the event, but with Limited time from the ban, it’s not too shocking to see players just iterate on what seems like the best deck instead. That being said, I’m operating under the assumption that this representation of Esper is because it was an obvious good deck and time constraints rather than these teams trying other options and settling on Esper just being the best of them.
The only other decks of note are the Jund variants which have been performing really well on MTGO the past few weeks.
Jund has access to some incredible removal in the form of Riveteers Charm and Unleash the Inferno so on top of getting access to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, it’s no surprise to see that as the second most represented strategy. That said, I do believe Esper can have a slight advantage in the matchup do to a leaner build and slightly higher card quality, but unless they’re packing a lot of interaction, those two Jund Reanimator pilots may give those Esper players some trouble.
None the less, it seems that this Worlds event is going to come down to mostly the Explorer portion of the event as there’s very few ways to get an edge in the Esper mirror, making their Explorer preparation so much more important than initially thought.
Despite the skewed metagame in Standard, I’m extremely excited to see many of the world’s best players duking it out on Magic’s biggest stage as watching high level play is one of the best reasons to be a Magic player!
Thank you for reading!