A Pinch of Spice: Off-Meta Decks from the Strixhaven Championship
The Strixhaven Championship took place over the last weekend: an invitational event where the current top players in Magic fought it out for a $250k prize pool across both the Standard and Historic format. If you’d like to see what the top meta decks are in Standard, DoggertQBones has just updated his excellent Tier List for both best-of-one and best-of-three. For Historic, well…
Despite the recent banning of Thassa’s Oracle to rein in the Dimir Pact Combo decks, the Historic format seems like it hasn’t found a healthy place yet, with all eight of the players in the playoff tournament playing the Izzet colors. Jeskai Turns in consequence received the ban hammer, leaving Izzet Pheonix as the top deck. Yet in spite of the dominance of Steam Vents, there are always some players who will try to “break” the meta of any given tournament – searching for the perfect deck that has strong match-ups with the top archetypes in the meta and that nobody else is prepared for.
Today, we’re going to just ignore the potential additional changes coming to Historic and we’re going to look at some off-meta decks from both the Standard and Historic portions of the Strixhaven Championship, and see how well they managed to do. As always, a quick note that these decks are all built for best-of-three tournament play. If you’re looking to play any of them in best-of-one, you may find it beneficial to swap in cards from the sideboard or otherwise season to taste for the Bo1 meta. Let’s get started!
The Standard format is in a significantly better place than Historic, but it has largely settled into known archetypes and there aren’t too many decks at the competitive level that are completely unknown quantities. Azorius Blink is a deck that has been floating around in one form or another since Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths added Yorion, Sky Nomad to the format along with the other companions. The deck did get some new tools from Kaldheim in the form of Niko Aris and Doomskar, but it hasn’t had much representation in the meta for quite some time.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the archetype, the game plan revolves around casting permanents with enters-the-battlefield value such as Omen of the Sea and Elspeth Conquers Death and then staying alive long enough to blink everything with Yorion. This particular build also runs Archon of Sun's Grace, a card which can take over the game against aggro decks like Mono Red provided you have the enchantments to support it.
Autumn Burchett decided to sleeve up Azorius Blink for the Strixhaven Championship in spite of the continued popularity of decks like Sultai Ultimatum and Izzet Dragons. She only managed to go 3-5 with Blink, which admittedly isn’t stellar, but the fact that the deck was able to compete at the highest level proves it has some teeth. If this is your style of play, you should be able to do well enough with it on the ladder if you put in the work to master the deck.
Next up we have another twist on a relatively well-known archetype: Rakdos Sacrifice. Rakdos Sacrifice is a fairly well-known archetype, so this admittedly isn’t the spiciest list we’ve featured in this series. However, it does stand out as one of only a handful of its kind at the Strixhaven Championship, and this version of the deck looks a little bit different from both the Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger decks that were around at the height of Dimir Rogues’ popularity and also the decks that were popularized based on Plumb the Forbidden. The meta in Standard is healthy with no deck that’s clearly stronger than the rest of the field, but it has gotten a little stale in terms of new ideas
The way the deck plays out will still be familiar to fans of the Sacrifice archetype, however. The main plan of the deck is to get creatures under your control that you intend to sacrifice to powerful payoffs like Village Rites and Woe Strider. The creatures in the deck are mostly meant to be fodder for sacrifice, like Eyetwitch which generates a bit of value when it dies. The deck also means to capitalize on the opponent’s creatures using Claim the Firstborn and The Akroan War, dealing out some damage and then sacrificing them with other effects before they would return to their owner’s control. This version of the deck also adds white in order to run Extus, Oriq Overlord, a new card from Strixhaven that synergizes nicely with the existing shell.
This particular deck was entered to the Strixhaven Championship by Marcela Almeida, along with three similar Mardu sacrifice decks. Almeida was able to perform the best with the deck, with a record of 4-4 in the Standard portion of the tournament. All things considered, I think that’s a pretty good showing for a deck that typically struggles against Sultai Ultimatum, which is still one of the most popular decks in Standard everywhere, and often struggles against other control decks as well. Sacrifice decks are usually a good option in creature heavy metas, so if you’re facing creature match-ups more often than not on the ladder, it might well be worth a try.
Death's Shadow is a card that many players have had their eye on since it was first introduced into Historic, largely due to its pedigree in Modern where fetchlands help to decrease the lifetotal quickly. However, it has yet to really take off in Historic- partially because it’s not as well supported as it is in Modern, and partially because it’s been kept out of the format by combo decks like Tainted Pact and more recently, control heavy decks like Izzet and Jeskai. It has proven to be very difficult for non-blue, non-red decks to keep up with the velocity provided by Brainstorm and Faithless Looting.
Nevertheless, the promise of a very large creature for just one black mana has some players still trying to make the deck work, and Zack Witten thought the deck was strong enough to compete on Magic’s highest level. The deck plays out as an aggro deck in many ways, looking to get down efficient threats like Adanto Vanguard and Knight of the Ebon Legion, and of course Death’s Shadow itself. Meanwhile, Scourge of the Skyclaves offers a way to potentially make Death’s Shadow a large threat very quickly, especially when combined with incidental lifeloss from cards like Thoughtseize, Sign in Blood, and painlands including Agadeem, the Undercrypt.
Witten only played five rounds of Historic with the deck and went 2-3. It was the only deck of its kind in the event, so just five total rounds played doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on concerning the viability of the deck in the wider meta. He was 1-1 against Jeskai Turns, the current deck-to-beat, so it’s clearly not an impossible match-up- lots of hand disruption in the form of 4 Thoughtseize as well as 4 Inquisition of Kozilek can help to throw off their game plan long enough to get them dead with aggressive threats. Getting Death’s Shadow large enough to make proper use of it’s efficiency is already a challenge, but it’s also risky- espeically in a format that’s crowded with hasty fliers in the form of Arclight Phoenix It’s certainly an interesting deck, and it’s one I hope players continue to work on and improve. So if you’ve got the wildcards and you want to play with one of the most infamous cards in Modern, give this one a shot- but proceed with caution.
This time around, I’ve saved our best-performing deck for last, and it’s a bit of a wild one: Aetherworks Marvel. This is a deck that has existed in some form or another since the card was first printed into Standard back in Kaladesh. At the time, the deck was strong enough that it dominated the metagame to the point where it had to be banned. When Kaladesh Remastered came to Historic, many players tried to make Aetherworks Marvel work in the format, but it never really stuck around despite its early popularity.
Historic is a very different format now than what it was when Kaladesh Remastered first hit the scene, and the Aetherworks Marvel deck hasn’t been seen much in a post-Mystical Archive world. As a Temur deck, this list is able to run four copies of one of the most powerful cards from the Mystical Archive, Brainstorm. Beyond that, the deck actually doesn’t look too much different from what it was back in Standard. Many of the nonland cards in the deck generate Energy when they resolve, such as Harnessed Lightning, Rogue Refiner, and Attune with Aether– a card which was eventually also banned in Standard because the Energy generation was just too free. The idea is to create enough Energy that you can play Aetherworks Marvel and activate it right off the bat to hopefully cast a free Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which is usually enough to end the game quickly.
This particular list was brought to the Strixhaven Championship by Shintaro Ishimura, who managed an impressive 5-2 record in the Historic rounds. If there are any decks that we’ve looked at today that might be quite strong rather than just playable, this is probably the one. The rest of the field seemed to be very unprepared to face Aetherworks Marvel, and Ishimura did a great job of capitalizing on it. If this deck becomes more popular, the meta will surely adapt and will likely make the deck a lot worse by comparison. At least for now though, it seems like Marvel is probably a very solid deck to run on the ladder. Whether it will continue to be competitive going forward is an open question, particularly if Brainstorm might potentially be banned or suspended.
This time around, I had to dig pretty deep through the rankings to find archetypes that aren’t the usual from the championship, and not all of them performed particularly well as discussed. That being said, there were a handful of other, even wilder decks that I didn’t feature largely because they finished lower in the tournament than the ones I selected. If you’re a player who loves janky and off-meta decks, I’ve included a couple other ones here that I thought were pretty interesting: