A Pinch of Spice: Four Off-Meta Decks from the May Strixhaven League Weekend
This weekend, we got to watch some of the best Magic players in the world battle it out for standings and a shot at clinching their place in the upcoming World Championship XXVII at the May Strixhaven League Weekend. As with any high level tournament, the metagame gives us a nice look at what the pros think are the best decks in Standard and Historic.
Much of this weekend was focused around a few specific decks in each format. In particular, Historic revolved largely around Dimir and Grixis Tainted Pact combo decks, the combination of which made up 50% of the field in the MPL and 52.5% in the Rivals League. Standard was significantly more balanced at this event, with the largest metagame share being taken by Sultai Ultimatum at 25% and 30% of the field in the MPL and Rivals League respectively. Many of the other staple archetypes were represented as well, such as Jeskai Cycling, Izzet Dragons, and various Adventure decks. Yet in spite of the largely settled meta, there were a few unique and interesting decks that stood out.
If you’re looking for some interesting decks to play that are off-meta but still strong enough to compete at the highest level of Magic play, here are two decklists each from Standard and Historic to consider! Keep in mind that these decks are all built for best-of-three play, so if you want to play any of them in best-of-one you may want to swap out cards from the sideboard for the (generally faster) Bo1 meta.
A quick note about win rates: Many of these decks are meta calls, which means they aren’t always going to perform well at any given event. Most of them actually did post reasonably good results, but even those that didn’t are still well-constructed decks that were entered by pro players. It’s probably fair to say that you could play on the ranked ladder with any of them and find success if you invest the time to learn the deck and play it with skill. If you would like to watch the pros themselves playing these decks, the broadcast of the Strixhaven League Weekend is available as a video on demand at twitch.tv/magic.
This first deck really is a spicy brew, and it was surprising to see a deck like this show up in the Rivals League piloted by Matthieu Avignon. Labeled as Jeskai Midrange, an obscure enough archetype that we don’t even have other examples listed here on MTGA Zone, this deck looks to control the board in the early game long enough to stabilize and generate an insane amount of value by mutating Vadrok, Apex of Thunder and Lore Drakkis. The deck is loaded with tempo plays like four Unsubstantiate that can be recycled over and over again with the mutate creatures, keeping you alive long enough to win with Goldspan Dragon and Vadrok swinging in the air.
The sideboard includes tools to fight both fast aggro decks as well as slower control decks, especially Sultai. Redcap Melee is clearly targeted at the blisteringly fast mono red decks while being solid against Gruul as well, and Mystical Dispute with Test of Talents complete a suite of counterspells to make resolving Emergent Ultimatum as difficult as possible for Sultai.
Avignon managed to win an impressive five out of seven matches played with the deck, including 3-0 against mono red. If you’re looking for a deck to crush mono red on the ladder, it seems like this deck may be a good choice! Both losses were against Izzet Midrange, which might be a poor match-up due to the tempo advantage that the Izzet decks can leverage.
This list might be my personal favorite from the event. Four-color Yorion decks generated a bit of discussion when Kaldheim was released, as the powerful saga Binding the Old Gods seemed like a natural fit in existing Azorius blink decks. However, players quickly discovered that Sultai Ultimatum was a very powerful home for Binding, and 4c Yorion lists were largely forgotten.
Shintaro Ishimura brought the deck back into consideration this weekend with a list that is clearly tailored with a specific meta in mind. We see three Test of Talents and one Negate in the main board to shut down Ultimatum with even more counterspells in the sideboard. Meanwhile, a suite of removal spells including four of the new Vanishing Verse aim to stabilize you long enough to get to the late game. Archon of Sun's Grace makes it much more difficult for aggro decks to race- especially mono red which rarely has a clean answer to a 4 toughness creature. Four total copies of Yorion, the Sky Nomad blinking enchantments allows the deck to go way over the top of any aggro or midrange deck if the game goes long enough.
This deck performed very respectably over the weekend, with Ishimura winning four out of seven matches. The deck lost twice against Izzet Midrange and once against mono red. As we saw with the Jeskai Midrange deck, the tempo advantage that Izzet is able to produce is difficult for slow control decks to keep up with. Most players who have experience with Yorion control decks are familiar with their weakness to the speed and resiliency of mono red and mono white decks, but this four-color Yorion pile managed to do well overall regardless. If Yorion blink shenanigans are your style as they are mine, I definitely recommend trying it out!
Back when Agent of Treachery was still a legal card on MTGA, Jeskai Lukka decks showed us the power of cards like Transmogrify and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast when the payoffs are good. Since then, the shell has remained in the back of many players’ minds, waiting for a sufficiently powerful payoff to make it competitive again. With the release of Strixhaven, some players were wondering if Velomachus Lorehold might be exactly that. However, the catch with Velomachus is that it needs payoffs of its own to function at a high level. While it’s still unclear if any spells exist in Standard to make the Lorehold dragon strong enough to build around, Historic just received a wide range of powerful spells from the Mystical Archive.
Matias Leveratto clearly thinks Velomachus is strong enough to compete in Historic, as he brought his Transmogrify deck to an event where nearly everyone is either running Tainted Pact Combo or a deck specifically meant to beat it. The main plan of this deck is to set up for Transmogrify into Velomachus by creating a token with Dwarven Mine or Shark Typhoon. Meanwhile, the deck stabilizes and digs for the combo by casting a ton of spells which are already good on their own. Once Velomachus comes out, payoffs include Time Warp as well as the insanely powerful Mizzix's Mastery. One upside to Velomachus is that since it normally only hits spells with mana value five or less, all of the best payoffs in the deck are still reasonable to cast even if the Transmogrify plan isn’t working. Interestingly, Leveratto’s deck skips out entirely on Lukka for the slightly more efficient (and far more obscure) Indomitable Creativity.
Leveratto came out even with this deck over the weekend with three match wins and three losses. The competition in Historic is fierce right now, so breaking even with an off-meta deck is not embarrassing even though Leveratto was likely hoping for a better result. Two of the match losses were to Dimir Pact, which should come as no surprise given how strongly Pact Combo performed overall. The other loss was to Dimir Rogues, which has turned out to be about as strong in Historic as it is in Standard. If this deck looks interesting to you and you’re looking for something to play other than Tainted Pact, I think you can do well with this deck if you put the time in.
Bant decks featuring Yasharn, Implacable Earth and Nissa, Who Shakes the World are hardly new to the Historic format, but one of the main draws to the deck was shutting down Rakdos and Jund Sacrifice decks which were running rampant. But with Sacrifice being lower in the meta than it has been in a long time thanks to the Mystical Archive, it’s interesting to see this deck adapting and still finding a home in the pro scene with Andrea Mengucci at the helm.
Bant Midrange and control decks do have some pedigree in Historic, so maybe calling this deck a “brew” isn’t entirely fair. That being said, the deck has received some significant upgrades from the Mystical Archive and it stands out as the only deck of its kind in a meta that is rampant with Tainted Pact. The core of the deck is largely unchanged: four Nissa, Who Shakes the World, two Narset, Parter of Veils, and Mengucci has chosen to keep two copies of Yasharn, Implacable Earth in the main deck. The deck essentially aims to ramp into early Nissa or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which are still powerful enough cards to take over the game all on their own. Shark Typhoon also serves as a powerful wincon, with the rest of the deck functioning as a controlling tempo deck. Note that this deck does not include any over the top nonsense like Time Warp as it is laser-focused on executing its plan.
Unfortunately, Mengucci was only able to win one out of six matches played with the deck, so it’s possible that the Bant ramp archetype has truly been outclassed by other decks in Historic for the time being. With that being said, there has been much discussion both before and after the League Weekend about a possible Tainted Pact ban. Tainted Pact is a card that was largely ignored by many when looking over all of the flashy and powerful cards from the Mystical Archive, and few if any predicted how dominant it would be in Historic. If Pact does receive a ban, perhaps Bant might be more competitive against the top tier decks in the format again- particularly if the death of Pact means the return of Sacrifice.
There were a handful of other interesting decks from the League Weekend that I didn’t want to detail for the sake of keeping this article relatively brief. If none of these other decks have piqued your interest, here are a few other decks that were off-meta choices: