Playing in a big event like the World Championship takes a lot of preparation, and you don't have as many players working with you compared to a Pro Tour. For this weekends Magic World Championship, I worked with fellow Genesis teammates Brad Nelson and Martin Muller, as well as other Genesis teammates who helped with testing. Since I am qualified for both the team competition and the World Championship this weekend, it means there was even more work to do.
Leading up to Grand Prix Providence last weekend I was able to do a lot of drafting, enough to help me gain confidence in my abilities for Ixalan Limited. Since I will be drafting twice at Worlds, as well as playing Team Sealed, this was an extremely important step in my testing. Providence was the final piece of my preparation for Limited, as I was able to actually play Team Sealed, the format for the team competition. That helped give me a better idea of the differences between Team Sealed and draft decks in this format.
I tend to leave Constructed testing for last, even though it is the most important aspect of testing in many ways. The reason for this is that the Limited format isn't going to change from week to week, while Constructed metagames tend to shift pretty easily. By waiting until the final week to prepare for Constructed it gives you a better idea of the metagame, but it also means you have to make good use of your time. I started by looking at the decks that I already know are strong from the previous Standard format.
I will be referring to these decks as "The Big Three." These are the three decks that are on everyone's radar and should be heavily tested against, but also have proven to be strong enough to win tournaments.
At this point players who are familiar with Standard over the past couple months should know about Ramunap Red. It is not only one of the most popular decks in Standard, it is also a deck the competitors at the World Championship have had major success with. This is pretty important because if decks are close in power level, players are likely to select the deck that they have done well with previously. I expect to see Ramunap Red at the World Championship, though there isn't going to be a ton of innovation with the deck.
The main deck in most lists only differ by a card or two, though I will say I don't like Rigging Runner, which has popped up from time to time. The unfortunate part about Ramunap Red is the sideboard cards are well-known, and most of the other decks improve more after boarding than Ramunap Red. Glorybringer and additional copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance are about as good as it gets.
Even though there are other energy variants that have been doing well lately, the Four-Color Energy deck is the one I like the best right now. I'm guessing that other competitors at the World Championship will think similarly, though that is mere speculation at this point. The Sultai Energy deck is brand new, and now that it is well-known the surprise factor goes away. While Sultai Energy did win one tournament, the Temur Energy base is certainly more battle-tested. Four-Color Energy is essentially Temur Energy with two copies of The Scarab God.
This deck isn't doing anything crazy, but also didn't really lose anything from the rotation, and was already one of the top decks. Rootbound Crag is actually an upgrade to Game Trail. The Scarab God is mostly here because of its strength in mirror matchups where the board can stall out, and then the God can take over the game. However, a straight Temur build does have merit as well. This is a deck I expect to see a lot of, along with some of the other variants as well.
Before Ixalan, Approach decks didn't see a ton of play, but now it is in a much better spot. Not only is a metagame full of energy midrange strategies beneficial to Approach, this is a deck that got new tools from Ixalan, unlike the other two major decks.
Two copies of Approach made the Top 8 of the latest Open, and the deck has also been crushing online. Search for Azcanta is a good way to filter your draws and provide an overwhelming advantage once you are able to flip it. With all the cycling and cheap card draw, you can get cards into the graveyard quite quickly. Oftentimes flipping Search for Azcanta means giving you the seventh land for Approach of the Second Sun as well.
This deck did lose some removal spells, but it gained Settle the Wreckage. Since this is a deck that has a ton of card advantage and a great late game, letting the opponent search for lands after answering their creatures isn't a huge deal. Aether Meltdown and Farm // Market are fine at dealing with early creatures, but not perfect answers. White-Blue Approach loses games when it falls behind early and isn't able to find a card like Fumigate to stabilize the board.
These are the three big decks of the format, but I didn't want to simply play one of them. My goal going into the World Championship was to find a deck that could beat all three of these strategies, and could take opponents by surprise. This isn't easy, but I was able to play a deck that nobody else was playing at the last World Championship, and that felt really good.
Many players have written Mardu Vehicles off, but not me. This is a deck that I have been working on, and have gone 5-0 with in multiple leagues online as well. Here is my list:
With Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Thraben Inspector gone, there needed to be some replacements. Both of those cards were good in Mardu Vehicles, but the core of the deck remains intact after the rotation. The starts involving Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran or Scrapheap Scrounger is what has always made the deck so explosive, and Unlicensed Disintegration is also a removal spell that is quite underplayed at the moment.
Since Thraben Inspector left, the artifact count was too small, so I started searching for artifacts that could replace Thraben Inspector, which turned out to not be very hard. Bomat Courier is perfect for this deck, as it fills a very similar role here as in Ramunap Red. Mardu Vehicles has lots of cheap cards, and this is the perfect way to gas back up. With Bomat Courier, the deck can still afford to play four copies of Spire of Industry.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar leaving means Mardu Vehicles was missing some top end, so the replacement is Hazoret the Fervent. We have seen just how good Hazoret the Fervent is in Ramunap Red, and the story is no different here. This is the top of your curve, so a good draw can involve attacking with Hazoret the Fervent on turn four or five pretty consistently.
The new card from Ixalan here is Ruin Raider. A card advantage creature that can also crew Heart of Kiran on curve is exactly what the deck is looking for. Looking at the mana cost of the spells in the deck, it's clear that you won't be taking too much damage from the Standard version of Dark Confidant. Mardu Vehicles usually has the opponent on the defensive and is attacking each turn, and Ruin Raider means that you aren't going to run out of gas. Glory-Bound Initiate also provides a way to offset life lost from Ruin Raider.
The mana is skewed towards being base black and white, as there really aren't many red cards anymore. Mardu Vehicles is definitely a deck worth playing, even if ultimately it's not what I choose for my weapon of choice at the World Championship. Moving away from Mardu Vehicles, I also started trying fringe decks like God-Pharaoh's Gift shells, and token strategies built around Anointed Procession. However, I didn't fully explore these decks as another deck caught my attention, and I only had so much time to prepare.
Enter Grixis Improvise
Zac has clearly been working a lot on this deck, and the mana base seemed very polished. Zac is normally known for playing more obscure decks – and this fits in that category – but that doesn't make this deck bad. In fact, Grixis Improvise put up great results against both Four-Color Energy and Ramunap Red in testing, while you need to do some work after sideboard to try and turn around the matchup against Approach.
It is weird that cards like Tezzeret the Schemer and Herald of Anguish haven't seen much play, as they are very powerful mythics. This deck plays a lot of cards that don't see play in other strategies, which is what helps make it so interesting. While sometimes you have disjointed draws without enough early artifacts, or don't draw one of the big payoff cards, when the plan comes together the deck is a treat.
Herald of Anguish causes tons of problems against Energy decks, and Metallic Rebuke helps you set up big turns with counter back up, as having two untapped artifacts isn't difficult. Tezzeret the Schemer can answer Hazoret the Fervent, and after sideboard Battle at the Bridge is amazing against Ramunap Red as well. As a collective, we decided Grixis Improvise could be an excellent choice for the World Championship, but it does depend how the metagame shapes out.
Grixis Improvise passed the first two test's against Ramunap Red and Four-Color Energy, but then was alarmingly poor once we started playing it against other things. I was okay with not having a great matchup against White-Blue Approach, but the deck also really struggles against God-Pharaoh's Gift and some of the other Hostage Taker decks that have been popping up.
In the end, I wish I had more time to test, and decided to put trust in my teammates. Both Brad Nelson and Martin Muller have had lots of success in Standard, so knowing they are confident in the Standard deck we are playing gives me some reassurance. Many times testing a deck doesn't fully work out, and you have to be willing to let a deck go even though you really want to play it.
Thanks for reading,