People often ask me: "What does BBD really stand for?" While they believe they are simply making a joke, the truth is, they actually aren't that far off-base. I have been lying to everyone for years. BBD doesn't stand for Brian Braun-Duin, as many of you thought. BBD actually stands for Brian Braun-Damus. I am a direct descendant of the legendary Nostradamus, and I'm using the powers bestowed upon me through genetics to predict the results of the next Mythic Championship.
(Speaking of genetics, Nostradamus can go to Hades for passing on the bald gene. But that's neither here nor there. I'm also being informed that he was branded a heretic and thus is likely in Hades anyway. Serves him right for what was, of course, also genetically passed on to him through no choice of his own. I guess that's one accurate prediction for me so far. Scoreboard: BBD - 1. Nostradamnedus - 0.)
The next Mythic Championship is an Arena Mythic Championship. What that means is that it's a smaller, more intimate affair than a traditional MC/Pro Tour, with only 68 total competitors. For those who aren't aware, it is also taking place this weekend in Las Vegas starting on Friday, June 21st. As a direct result of the smaller field and decklists being due significantly earlier than in traditional Mythic Championships, we were granted a full metagame breakdown and decklists for all competitors well in advance of the event itself.
Armed with all this information, it's possible to analyze the data and make informed predictions about how the event will play out. I'm going to attempt to do that to the best of my abilities. I don't have a complete understanding of every single matchup breakdown between these decks, but I'll make do with what I've learned over the months I've grinded this format.
Important Note: The tournament structure is such that 64 of the 68 players compete on day one for 12 of the 16 slots for day two. The other four slots in day two (Top 16) are already filled by the four winners of the Weekly MPL league play, which are myself, Brad Nelson, Rei Sato, and Ken Yukihiro. Those players are piloting Esper Hero, Esper Hero, White Aggro (splash red), and Bant Ramp, respectively.
Having four players with a bye into day two will skew prediction data. For example, Esper Control is nearly 25% of the field, which means that an average finish for the deck would see four pilots in the Top 16. But with four automatic slots already being granted to players who aren't playing Esper Control, the deck is less likely to make up a huge chunk of the Top 16. Based on that information, an average finish actually means that three Esper Control players should make the Top 16. Likewise, Esper Hero, with two pilots automatically advanced to day two, is already at an average Top 16 conversion rate, even if none of the other seven pilots make it.
Esper Control is a shock to me. Decklists were due nearly ten days before the start of the event, and at the time decklists were due, these newer builds of Esper Control were just starting to take off in the format. Esper Control—which is really just a retooled version of Esper Planeswalkers—was the hot new deck at the time. I suspected it would see decent play at this event, but I never predicted there would be 17 pilots. Over 33% of the MPL is playing this deck. I'm not shocked that it is highly played, but I am shocked at how highly played it is. It's almost double the second highest deck in terms of pilots.
I have not tested extensively with this deck, although I did play some with it and felt that it was prone to flooding out and often lost due to having a lot of "action" but no real way to close a game. Command the Dreadhorde is a great way to close out a game, but it's ineffective against decks that pressure your life total or in games where you simply fall behind early and stabilize at a low life total. Cards like Narset, Parter of Veils and the two Teferis often provide an advantage, but ultimately, without a way to capitalize on it, they sometimes just create a game where you're caught spinning your wheels drawing extra cards but not actually pulling ahead. Against some decks you get caught in a holding pattern of deploying a planeswalker, gaining a card from it and then losing it to your opponent's creatures. You're churning through your deck but not actually pulling ahead. With Oath of Kaya, this can sometimes buffer your life total to facilitate a Command the Dreadhorde, but not always.
I'll admit that I might be underrating this deck and that my experiences might have been spoiled by piloting the deck inefficiently or having flawed sideboard plans or builds. That said, I do know that a number of my peers have shared the same experiences of often flooding out or spinning forever. It's anecdotal evidence, but Brad Nelson and I have both noticed a steep drop off in playing against this deck on the MTG Arena ranked Mythic ladder lately, which could mean it's underperforming against the field as a whole.
Regardless, Esper Control wins the arms race against other Esper decks, like Esper Hero. It also has a better Phoenix matchup than other Esper decks, as Hero of Precinct One is basically dead cardboard against all the Shocks, Lightning Strikes and Lava Coils. Kaya's Wrath is also quite good against the Bant decks.
While Esper Control may be falling out of favor in the format as a whole, it still appears well-positioned for this event.
It's favored against Esper Hero—at least my version of the deck—and Arclight Phoenix builds featuring Goblin Electromancer. Bant Ramp is also generally a favorable matchup, although games can be incredibly high variance and snowball quickly for either player, making the matchup still feel fairly random.
I think this build of Esper has sacrificed a lot of equity in other matchups and falls behind against White Aggro, Red, R/G, Simic Nexus and Sultai Dreadhorde. Cards like Lyra Dawnbringer, which are supposed to break open matchups like R/G and Mono-Red, are now weak to prepared opponents who have cards like Fight with Fire, Collision // Colossus and Vivien Reid to deal with it.
Prediction: Great deck early in the event, may struggle later in the tournament. Its size and early success will naturally invite predators to prey on it in later rounds.
This deck comprises a massive chunk of the field and is favored against other decks that are heavily played. It will thus perform well in the early rounds of the tournament. Lesser-played strategies like White Aggro and Augur of Bolas versions of Arclight Phoenix that are good against Esper will likely rise to the top by virtue of playing against Esper so often and could play spoiler by knocking out a lot of these players in elimination rounds.
Based on sheer numbers and the incredible skill of the people who are piloting it, the deck will put players into the Top 16, but I don't think it will advance more than an average amount relative to the number of pilots. The deck is played by high level MPL players and challengers with lots of Pro Tour experience. It's hard to imagine it not performing, even if it was bad, which it isn't.
Esper Hero is broken into two camps.
One version of the deck—the one that I registered and suckered three other members of my team into playing—features Elite Guardmage and Hostage Taker.
The other version features Basilica Bell-Haunt and more control elements. You can even split this further into the Piotr Głogowski/Alexander Hayne/Ondrej Straksy version with three Hero of Precinct One and two Basilica Bell-Haunt or the more traditional version played by Allen Wu and Janne Savjz Mikkonen with four Hero and four Bell-Haunt.
Zero players in this tournament registered maindeck Thief of Sanity and few even have the card in the sideboard. The unfortunate truth is that Thief of Sanity is no longer a viable threat in this format. Teferi, Time Raveler makes this card too much of a tempo liability and that card is nearly ubiquitous in the Standard format. Other decks are often playing cards like Shock that likewise embarrass it. Even against the ramp strategies, it often finds cards of questionable value, can be a liability against Trostani Discordant and is usually too slow on turns other than turn three.
I am a little surprised, honestly, that absolutely zero people in this event played Thief of Sanity, but I'm not surprised that it is so lowly regarded. It's just not good now.
In this field, the version of Esper Hero that Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, Kai Budde and myself registered is poorly positioned. We underestimated the amount of Esper that would be in the field and our deck is a dog against the other 22 Esper decks: 17 Esper Control and the five other versions of Esper Hero. I built the deck to be behind in the mirror game one, in order to be better positioned against the rest of the field, but I was not rewarded for this choice.
The version of Esper Hero that the likes of Piotr Głogowki registered appears significantly better positioned against Esper Control—it is possibly even or favored there—but with Basilica Bell-Haunt over cards like Hostage Taker and Elite Guardmage, it is going to perform worse against decks like Phoenix, R/G and White Aggro. With 17 copies of Esper Control in the field, this is still likely a better choice than the version we played.
The advantage of Esper Hero over Esper Control is that while it sacrifices equity in the mirror and against Phoenix (matchups where Hero of Precinct One is not good—at least for game one), it has increased equity against other decks. Hero of Precinct One is a beast in green matchups. It pressures planeswalkers, holds random explore and mana dork creatures at bay to protect your life total and planeswalkers and can run away with games, just clocking your opponent while you play interactive Magic. Hero of Precinct One also offers up a multi-dimensional game plan. Your opponent can't Overload on anti-planeswalker cards or on anti-creature cards, or they will just lose to the other half of your deck.
In a wide open field, I think Esper Hero is just a better deck than Esper Control. It's just more well-rounded and has less holes. However, in a tight-knit metagame like this one, that isn't the case. It lost the arms race to the Esper Control builds. It's behind there and behind against Augur of Bolas Arclight Phoenix decks, leaving it in a rough spot overall. Hero of Precinct One is a good card against Bant Ramp—often whether you win or lose just comes down to whether you had that card in your opener—but the matchup is still very random and high variance.
Prediction: This is a bad deck early in the tournament, but if it can somehow survive, could possibly be a great deck later in the event.
Note: Brad Nelson and I are already in the Top 16 with this deck. Weirdly enough, while I think Brad and I made a mistake picking this deck when you look at the field, it's entirely possible that it could pay off favorably for us. I think decks like White Aggro are going to overperform in this field and if those decks make up a high percentage of the day two field by eliminating our nightmare Esper Control opponents, we are very well positioned against them.
If it turns out that this does happen, and Brad and I do well as a result, I would consider it to be an extremely lucky twist of fate for us, not something that we masterfully predicted. History is written by the victors, though. History may remember Brad Nelson once again as a master metagamer, not the lovable lucksack that I know.
U/R Phoenix is likewise broken into camps.
One camp, with two players, is playing a version featuring Augur of Bolas.
Another camp, with four players, is playing a build focused on Goblin Electromancer.
The final style, played by three players, is a hybrid of the two above builds, generally focused on Goblin Electromancer in the maindeck, with Augur of Bolas as a sideboard plan.
The advantage of the Goblin Electromancer build predominantly lies in its speed. It can turbo charge through the deck with Goblin Electromancer, drawing massive chunks of cards and easily returning Arclight Phoenix to play. The flaw is that this build can struggle without an Electromancer and can often be too clunky with too many two-mana draw effects in games where tempo matters or against cards like Narset, Parter of Veils.
The primary advantage of the Augur of Bolas version of the deck is its resiliency. It has fewer draw spells and no cost reduction effects. Instead, it relies on Finale of Promise to provide three spells to return Arclight Phoenix back to play. This version is a bit slower, but it has great grinding power, especially with threats like God-Eternal Kefnet that resist being permanently answered and keep coming back given enough time.
Generally speaking, the Goblin Electromancer build is favored in non-interactive matchups, like against Nexus or Ramp while the Augur of Bolas version is going to fare better in grindy matchups, such as against Esper Control.
The hybrid version intrigues me. On one hand, it might provide the upside that both versions can offer depending on the matchup. On the other hand, hybrid versions of decks often just end up being worse than either version. Hedging too much can often result in not beating anything, rather than beating everything. It's a thin line to walk.
One downside of the hybrid version is that it has to dedicate sideboard slots to Augur of Bolas, which is a great card to spearhead a transition in game plan, but is ultimately a weak and low-impact sideboard card. Typically you want sideboard cards to be matchup swingers, and it's hard to imagine Augur of Bolas doing that by itself. It's more of a role player to accompany an entire plan. When you think high-impact sideboard cards, you think of things like Negate, The Elderspell and Legion Warboss. These cards have blowout or game-win potential. Augur of Bolas can only offer marginal value. It's good, but not often worthy of a dedicated slot in the sideboard.
I think that Esper Control and Esper Hero are both favored against the Electromancer versions of the deck but behind against the Augur of Bolas versions. With these Esper decks representing about 40% of the field, I believe that Phoenix decks, especially the Augur of Bolas and Finale of Promise version of the deck played by Corey Burkhart and Wyatt Darby, are going to overperform.
The natural predators to Phoenix are decks like White Aggro. I played some with the Augur of Bolas version of Phoenix and could not figure out how to consistently win that matchup, although I liked the deck in general. With White Aggro only being six out of the 68 players, Phoenix is incredibly well positioned if they can dodge Adanto Vanguard.
Prediction: Augur of Bolas versions might be the best deck in the entire field and will go deep in the event. Goblin Electromancer versions will crash up against the wall of Esper and shatter upon its strength. They will underperform. Hybrid versions will depend entirely on how well-constructed the sideboard plans are for the people playing it and are thus impossible to predict.
All versions will rely on pilot skill, as the deck is tough to play optimally and can be incredibly unforgiving.
Bant Ramp is likely broken into two camps. One camp is the white-based version of the deck focusing on Finale of Glory as a finisher. This version is played by five of the eight pilots.
The other version of the deck is the blue-based version that focuses on Mass Manipulation as its big mana finisher of choice.
I think Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the best card in Standard and Bant is the first deck that is beginning to build around it correctly. I personally believe that the Finale of Glory version is better, as it is a more well-rounded version of the deck and I tend to value that kind of versatility.
I think the best way to construct a deck around Nissa, Who Shakes the World is to focus on cards that can be deployed early but scale late. Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a great example of this kind of card. It can come down before Nissa, Who Shakes the World is played and be a serviceable threat, but the activation can also get wildly out of control later in the game with massive amounts of Nissa mana and lots of 3/3 creatures. Finale of Glory is another card that offers this dynamic and along with the O.G. scaling card, Hydroid Krasis, might be enough to push the deck over the top. I like that Finale of Glory can be totally fine as a Call the Cavalry at four mana if need be, but it can also just be immediately game over at twelve mana, too.
While Mass Manipulation also scales well with Nissa, Who Shakes the World, the problem is that it's a much weaker card in games where you don't have a Nissa, Who Shakes the World or get disrupted. Mass Manipulation can also be incredibly difficult to cast with the UUUU in its mana cost in some games, making the card (and this version of the deck by extension) high variance and much less consistent.
Despite what I just said, I think the Mass Manipulation build might be better against Esper Control as Finale of Glory gets caught up by Kaya's Wrath and Cry of the Carnarium, while Mass Manipulation is an incredible threat against a deck whose Game Plan entirely revolves around planeswalkers.
So while I like the white version against a wide-open Standard metagame, I prefer the Mass Manipulation version specifically for this tournament.
Prediction: The deck will underperform overall, but a few will go deep with it out of nothing but the sheer power of the deck.
I think Bant Ramp is abstractly very powerful, I believe that Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the best card in Standard and I believe the deck can snowball out of control very quickly to where it is impossible for other decks to catch back up. Ultimately, however, my verdict is that it isn't one of the best decks in this field. When you boil it down, this tournament features some of the best players in the world playing Esper Control, a matchup that is high variance but slightly favors Esper Control. I trust those pilots will play well and have good sideboard plans. Given enough matches played in this tournament, I think Bant will lose this matchup enough times to not advance outside a player or two that run well.
Note: Ken Yukuhiro is already in the Top 16 with this deck.
White Aggro breaks down further into four pilots splashing red for Experimental Frenzy, Christian Hauck playing Mono-White, and Lee Shi Tian playing W/U.
White Aggro is probably the best deck in Standard at the moment. Right now, it's performing incredibly well on MTG Arena in Mythic. I think it is favored against both U/R Phoenix and Esper Control. Adanto Vanguard is a huge thorn in the side of Esper Control in particular. Esper Hero is probably its worst matchup, but a lot of the Esper Hero decks in this event aren't even maxing on Hero of Precinct One, the best card in the matchup.
I would guess the deck is behind against the white versions of Bant, and it's definitely behind against Esper Hero. Mono-Red has traditionally been tough for it, but I would guess it is favored against pretty much everything else in this field. That's good enough for me.
Prediction: This deck will overperform and put multiple pilots into the Top 16.
Note: Rei Sato is already in the top 16 with a W/R build of this deck. I think other White Aggro players will join him.
I simply think this is a weak deck in Standard. The cards in this deck are all incredibly underpowered, with the exception of Runaway Steam-Kin, Light Up the Stage and Experimental Frenzy. Since the deck is weak, it relies extremely heavily on Frenzy to win games that it would not otherwise be able to win.Savvy players this deep into this Standard format have realized by now that the way to beat Mono-Red isn't to just load up on lifelink or life gain and hope to get there that way, but rather to weather the early storm, realize they don't have that much reach, and be prepared always to deal with Experimental Frenzy. Experimental Frenzy is often their only way to beat the absurdly powerful interaction and advantage that decks like Esper offer, so if an Esper player is prepared to remove a Frenzy from the table, they are heavily favored.
The Esper Control decks are actually fairly weak to Experimental Frenzy maindeck, which could actually make Mono-Red the favorite in game one. For selfish reasons, I hope that Mono-Red pilots can actually knock out Esper Control players for my own equity in the event, but I don't expect Mono-Red to go deep.
Prediction: This deck is underpowered in the format and won't perform well.
On the metagame breakdown this was listed as three copies, but the U/G Ramp deck played by Simon Gortzen is basically just a U/G Nexus deck with a creature package, so really it's four copies.
I think this deck is a great metagame choice. Esper Control, with no pressure and low levels of interaction for Wilderness Reclamation, seems like a pretty good matchup for U/G Nexus. Esper Hero should be tough, as it always has been, but that deck isn't nearly as highly played as its control counterpart, and it may struggle to go deep in the tournament.
U/R Phoenix has traditionally struggled against Nexus, and on paper I don't see Bant Ramp as being favored either. R/G decks that no longer have a reason for cards like Cindervines to take up four sideboard slots are likewise behind. Really, this deck is just a great metagame choice with the format shaking out how it did.
I also think this deck is just a low-power deck in the format. It's weird to say that as it was once considered the most abstractly powerful deck in Standard, but I just don't think, in general, that this deck is good. So many cards incidentally hamper its Game Plan, like Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils. I think it's a good metagame choice but not a good deck.
Prediction: U/G Nexus will somewhat over-perform, but has a ceiling because of its natural limitations. It will do well but it won't dominate.
There are three R/G decks in this event and one Jund deck that is basically just a version of R/G with Goblin Chainwhirler and splashing for Status // Statue.
I'm not really a fan of R/G, but I'm also incredibly biased because I smash it over and over again with Esper Hero, and a lot of my Standard experience is seen through the lens of that deck. I will say that I do think R/G has a better matchup against Esper Control than my versions of Hero, as the Esper Control deck is heavily metagamed against other midrange and control strategies. It has a bunch of low-impact maindeck cards like The Elderspell and Command the Dreadhorde that can and do cost games against R/G, as I have learned from experience. Lyra Dawnbringer is also a mediocre sideboard plan against these R/G decks that are prepared for it.
I suspect that R/G will overperform against Esper Control but will simply do fine or underperform against the rest of the field. I'll be honest, I don't know how the Phoenix vs. R/G matchup plays out but my intuition is that Phoenix is favored. I do know that White Aggro is incredibly favored against R/G, and I suspect that Nexus and Bant Ramp are also ahead.
Prediction: Someone could theoretically get there by hulk smashing up on Esper Control all day, but otherwise I don't think the deck will perform well.
This deck is very good against Esper. Nissa, Who Shakes the World is just a great card against Esper decks, which is what pushes this over the top against Esper compared to the Four-Color Dreadhorde lists, which are traditionally behind against Esper.
However, I think this deck is very awkwardly constructed. Command the Dreadhorde doesn't really work that well with Nissa, Who Shakes the World; the two cards have no synergy together. Hydroid Krasis is a great card with Nissa, Who Shakes the World, but also has no synergy with Command the Dreadhorde. It's basically a Command the Dreadhorde midrange deck smushed together with a Nissa Ramp deck into one shell, without the two parts really working together at all.
Despite that, it's impossible to ignore the power level of the deck, as it plays some of the highest impact cards in Standard right now with Command the Dreadhorde and Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Did I also mention that it's good against Esper? It is.
I honestly have no clue how this deck fares against the rest of the field, but I can say that I imagine Bant Ramp will probably smash this deck. It's not a perfect deck, but it's favored against the #1 and #2 most played decks and probably good against Arclight Phoenix, too.
Prediction: I'm picking it as a dark horse candidate to go deep in the event. I think it will overperform.
I also imagine this will be a heavily cheered-for deck by viewers. It's fun to watch it do cool things and it's also a break from the traditional and rather boring decks that otherwise make up most of the field.
I want to say that I don't think Grixis is very good, but on the other hand, half of the Grixis pilots in this tournament are Reid Duke. Who am I to question "The (one sideboard copy of Ugin, the) Ineffable Plan?"
Ultimately, though, I just think of Grixis as "worse Esper." Grixis is better than Esper against Phoenix, I believe, but generally worse elsewhere.
I also think Grixis, which is supposed to be an Esper-killer, is actually just behind against Esper. Grixis is typically a no-countermagic deck without creature pressure. One could say it's vulnerable to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Command the Dreadhorde. One could reiterate that again to drive the point home. It almost feels like it can't beat those cards in normal games of Magic. The first copy sure, but the second one? We've had one Teferi, yes, but what about second Teferi? I don't think they know about second Teferi, Pippin.
With that being said, Reid is rocking three maindeck copies of Negate, which is a lot, but it also shows that Reid is aware of the aforementioned problem and has addressed it.
Betting against Reid Duke ain't smart, but I'm sticking to my guns and saying that Grixis won't put up numbers.
Prediction: This deck will not perform well.
I hate how reliant Ramp decks are on having to develop successfully in the early turns and hoping your opponent doesn't blast your Llanowar Elves into oblivion with a Shock, because you probably aren't getting there if they do.
As a result, I like that this deck is going way back to the once-heavily played Bant midrange style and therefore doesn't have that same flaw of needing mana creatures to function. It instead relies on more reliable fare. Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger do the trick a bit more consistently, albeit slower.
With that said, this deck feels incredibly unfocused in that there are very few sinks for the extra mana that Nissa, Who Shakes the World provides and likewise there are a lot of misses for the -2 ability of Vivien, Champion of the Wilds. Although I generally like the card choices, which seem to be mostly the cards that are good in the format right now, I'm not sure they all fit together that well.
Much like I talked about hedging in the Phoenix section and how it can just as easily result in your deck just being bad against everything instead of fixing your decks flaws against everything, this deck feels like it hedges a lot and that's an incredibly tough line to toe.
Prediction: I would guess this deck puts up an average performance. With only one pilot, that is unlikely to mean Top 16.
I just want to say that I've become a fan of Amy (Amazonian). I thought her trash-talk upon eliminating an opponent from the Mythic Invitational in March was both hilarious and exactly the kind of thing that the tournament needed to spice up the entertainment level. For reference, she was playing this same strategy, a Selesnya Tokens deck, and her motto was "go wide or go home." After eliminating her opponent to make Top 16 she told coverage, "I went wide, and he went home," which was simply incredible.
That kind of good-natured trash-talk is missing from Magic and we are worse off for it. The kind of stoic "never celebrate your wins" mentality isn't great for the game. I don't advocate for rubbing a win in your opponent's face, but Magic is a game that creates far more losers than winners in each event and I think the rare times we do win should be celebrated and cherished.
I also think her stream is really good and was surprised to learn that she has a similar sense of humor to me (only her jokes are actually funny, a surprising departure from my methodology).
What is the point of me saying all this? If you surmised it is to soften the blow of what I'm going to say next, you're absolutely correct. Unfortunately for Amy, I don't think that W/G Tokens is very good against Esper, either version, which comprises nearly 40% of the field. I'll be rooting for her, but I don't have high hopes. I do respect her sticking to her guns and playing the deck she likes. I've done the same thing all season. It's great.
Prediction: I think this deck will underperform and is unlikely to make the Top 16.
68 decks and 68 hours later, I've finished my exhaustive and exhausting tournament predictions.
To summarize: Esper Control is by far the most played deck and is also good against other top decks, but it sacrifices its game against the lesser-played strategies by doing so. Those smaller strategies are in a position to do really well in this event. My personal deck choice, Esper Hero, is great against those decks, but weak against top decks, leaving it in a poor place early in the event but potentially very well positioned later. Other highly played decks like Bant Ramp will likely go deep but only by raw power. U/R Phoenix has potential to be the deck of the tournament but will rely heavily on build, sideboard plans and in-game execution. White Aggro will probably be the best performing deck by the numbers and Simic Nexus and Sultai Dreadhorde have the potential to be sleeper threats.
Oh, and Brian Braun-Duin will win the tournament. You heard it here first.
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