It's time for the last metagame analysis before the Mythic Championship V Qualifier Weekend on MTG Arena. While the Magic Pro League splits are eight-player round-robin affairs playing for Top 4, the MCQW will have thousands of players competing for just 16 slots in MCV. Don't make the mistake of treating these eight-player fields like you usually would Grand Prix or MCQ decklists; the MPL is a much narrower field with very different incentives.
While there were no major events this past weekend, we've still been seeing a gradual shift online that reflects the adaptations people have made to approach the format. People turned to more attrition decks to get a leg up on Vampires; Feather had a small spike in popularity and Grixis briefly rose up before Esper Hero returned as king of midrange decks. Scapeshift strategies had dropped off briefly, but with a fresh influx of prey Field of the Dead is back in more flavors than ever. There's Four-Color Yarok Scapeshift, Sam Black has popularized a new Nexus/Scapeshift hybrid, and Sultai Scapeshift continues to be refined with Massacre Girl greatly improving the matchup against Vampires.
So with all that's happened in the past week, where does the metagame sit as we prepare for the MCQW and conduct any final testing in the last few days?
Vampires isn't going anywhere. This is the premier aggro deck in the format, and even its bad matchups have a difficult time answering the wide variety of threats it presents. A quick clock, low failrate and high power level make this deck the gatekeeper of the format. You simply should not bring a deck to the MCQW that doesn't have a good shot against Vampires. With as many as 11 rounds on day one you can certainly expect to play against Vampires more than once. And you're only allowed to lose once.
This is the other format-defining deck. Where Vampires is the litmus test for the early game, Scapeshift decks demand that your late-game plan is capable of answering an unending swarm of Zombie tokens. If you want to play a deck to go over the top of Vampires, you'll have to fight through Field of the Dead. There are a variety of solutions to this problem, but you must have a solution.
Bant and Esper decks are leaning on bouncing Deputy of Detention with Teferi, Time Raveler to exile the Zombies repeatedly. Vampire decks present a lethal board and then clear the would-be blockers with Legion's End. Just like Vampires, you can expect to be paired against Scapeshift strategies multiple times over the course of the MCQW. You're still only allowed to lose once on day one; plan accordingly.
While the Sultai versions of Scapeshift aren't as popular, they're still going to cause interactive decks the same headaches, and can still present absurd Zombie counts that you'll need to deal with. The biggest game-one cards that Sultai gains are Massacre Girl and Legion's End, giving the deck the ability to slow down Vampires and take out opposing waves of Zombies. Casualties of War gives the deck a lot of power against planeswalker decks, and Unmoored Ego is capable of completely dismantling any mirrors. This deck has some powerful upgrades, but most of them can be played around as long as you're capable of taking over the late-game against Field of the Dead. Vampires opponents especially can play around Massacre Girl if they know about it, and that will make or break people's games this weekend.
Many people will be surprised to see this deck still here, but I've come around on the Vampires matchup. MPL players are saying they chose it despite a bad Vampires matchup to beat the decks that beat Vampires. You can certainly put in the work to make the Vampires matchup serviceable, but realistically I think you're better served going all the way to Esper Control if you really want to target Vampires, and you can play Vampires if you want to target Scapeshift.
This is the Esper deck better suited to beating Vampires, and has a good matchup against Esper Hero. Maindeck Cry of the Carnarium has become a staple in control lists because it cleans up Adanto Vanguard, and both versions of Esper have started to lean on Bolas's Citadel to close out games against Scapeshift by just deploying resources at an incredible pace alongside the built-in reach. If you want to play Esper Control this weekend, you will want to tune your own list. Don't take last week's lists into this weekend's metagame; things look very different even if the top two decks are the same.
There are a variety of ways that these Elementals lists are built now, but the biggest deterrent to all of them is Vampires. I simply think the matchup against Vampires is too scary with any of these lists to want to play it in the MCQW. Risen Reef is a great card to grind out control opponents and other midrange players, people have developed sideboard plans for Scapeshift, but Vampires remains a constant thorn in the side for these decks that curve out slower and with smaller creatures.
Speaking of small creatures and a bad Vampires matchup, Mono-Blue and U/G Flash are both really bad at playing from behind. Vampires plays lots of cheap creatures and applies a ton of pressure, making 1:1 trades with countermagic incredibly unappealing. As if that wasn't bad enough, these decks also don't have a good Scapeshift matchup, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Arboreal Grazer just blocks super well and neither Mono-Blue nor U/G Flash can pressure Scapeshift fast enough to avoid the Zombie hordes.
This deck came and left rather fast. Unfortunately the Vampire decks are more than capable of answering the early threats from Jund Dinosaurs, and the rise of Esper decks makes this archetype even less appealing. Nexus has dropped off, and while the deck still has a reasonable Scapeshift matchup, that's not enough to warrant playing it. While I don't think Dinosaurs will make up a large percentage of the MCQW field, I do think you should be aware of it and prepared for how it operates. Good Jund Dinosaurs players will be mulliganing aggressively to set up a fast draw with a two-drop, and all of your plans should account for this.
The best time to play Nexus is when nobody is paying attention to Nexus. U/G Nexus has a favorable Scapeshift matchup, but the Vampires matchup still has some of the same problems as previous weeks due to high counts of Sanctum Seeker and Vicious Conquistador. The Vampires matchup is far from unwinnable, however, and some of the worst matchups for Nexus like Mono-Blue and U/G Flash are almost nonexistent. This sounds very appealing, but there are also high counts of Deputy of Detention, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Duress in the metagame. Ignore at your own peril, but previous builds of this archetype may not cut it.
Week after week I keep putting Mono-Red in this category, and nobody seems to get any wiser. It's finally time for Experimental Frenzy to shine with all these Vampires decks and the return of Esper. Scapeshift isn't a great matchup, but it's not a terrible one either. Multiple MPL players have now elected to play this list to beat Vampires, and default builds of this deck have started to include sideboard Blood Suns to bring the Scapeshift matchup back around. This is one of my sleeper picks for this weekend; don't be surprised to see a few copies in the day-two decklists.
Jeskai Walkers has risen up as a potential answer to both Scapeshift and Vampires, but the Vampires matchup isn't quite as good as I had hoped. Vampires is just so good at demanding a wide variety of answers, and cards like Vona, Butcher of Magan are absolutely terrifying. Still, the absence of Jund Dinosaurs, Mono-Blue and U/G Flash bodes well for Jeskai Walkers, and Esper decks aren't playing as many copies of The Elderspell as before. This deck looks set for success despite the lack of press, and is one of the few decks on my own list for the MCQW.
Now I don't feel comfortable telling people what to play for such an important event, especially because the metagame is likely to continue to evolve between now and Saturday. However, the people always demand a sideboard guide and while there are several already for decks like Scapeshift and Vampires, I have yet to see one for Jeskai Walkers.
This matchup is about containing them and then slowly taking away their outs. Baffling End and Settle the Wreckage help a lot to contain their aggression and we take out some of the planeswalkers that are clunkier against many small creatures. We keep Narset, Parter of Veils because digging to our sweepers is important and you can also shut off their ability to grind with Champion of Dusk later.
Set up to wipe their board two to three times and set up a Sarkhan kill. We can't grind them out indefinitely, but we don't have to either. Blood Sun gets the nod over Alpine Moon because of the cantrip, and shutting off Blast Zone and Field of the Dead simultaneously is also really important. The single most important thing here is to keep a Teferi, Time Raveler alive (and keep him off the other side of the field) because instant-speed Scapeshift plays are how we lose.
This matchup can be either favorable or miserable based on how many copies of The Elderspell they have. This is a very rough sideboard guideline—Esper Hero has too many builds to cookie-cutter this matchup. Pay attention to the sizing of their creatures: if they have a lot of Basilica Bell-Haunt and fewer Deputy of Detention you can keep in some number of Cleansing Nova to have a more clean board wipe.
We have a lot more dead cards here, but are also more free to play Ixalan's Binding. Ashiok, Dream Render isn't something they can attack, and control builds of Esper are more likely to play Command the Dreadhorde. It's possible we should be keeping some number of Shock in to contest their Narsets (along with Fry), and Cleansing Nova and Dovin, Hand of Control are the cards I'd consider taking out to leave Shocks in.
Thankfully this matchup is uncommon, as it's pretty terrible. They lean hard on their two-drops, so feel very free to fire off Deafening Clarion just to kill them. Their Dinosaurs are too large to clean up with it anyway, and it's all about slowing them down so that you can get to bigger board wipes and contest with Dragon tokens and race back.
This matchup is surprisingly reasonable because you have so much early interaction, but we still want to trim some of our more expensive cards for more interaction and Lyra Dawnbringer.
This matchup has more dead cards to take out than live cards to bring in, so Ashiok, Dream Render fills in as a way to cut down on recursion from Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and slow down Search for Azcanta. Blood Sun is actively good in this matchup because it shuts down Memorial to Genius, Azcanta the Sunken Ruin and (most importantly) Blast Zone. It also taxes their bounce effects, making it easier to keep a Teferi in play. This matchup is about trying to set up a kill while keeping them just off-balance enough that they can't outrace you.
Adam "yoman5" Hernandez is a streamer, brewer and competitive player with a keen sense for what makes a deck tick. He loves writing about changes in the Standard metagame and the art of deckbuilding.
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