There's been a lot of Magic played in the last week, so today I'll take a look at the major metagame trends in all of the formats.
● The Standard storyline that started at Pro Tour Amonkhet had another chapter written at Grand Prix Montreal and Santiago.
● Modern has felt the impact of Amonkhet, which has added a powerful new deck to the metagame that challenges the hegemony of Death's Shadow.
● It's a brand-new world in Legacy without Sensei's Divining Top, but Miracles has reinvented itself and won't go down without a fight.
● Casual formats have been given a new competitive element with the addition of Challenge premier events on Magic Online, which goes beyond Standard, Modern, and Legacy to include Vintage, Pauper, and even the 1 v 1 Commander format that was recently added to the program, and this means a wealth of decklists to share.
● There's an exciting strategy that's secretly taking over Amonkhet draft, and I'll fill you in on the details.
The banning of Felidar Guardian before Pro Tour Amonkhet put a tremendous amount of pressure on the event to show that Standard was again healthy, but it only revealed that a new and arguably even less fun card, Aetherworks Marvel, was just as big of a problem. The stage was set for a battle between that deck at the rest of the metagame this past weekend at Grand Prix Montreal and Santiago, but these events only further proved the dominance of Temur Aetherworks Marvel, which held both finals slots at both Grand Prix and another copy into each Top 8.
The biggest flop of the weekend was Zombies, which failed to live up to expectations as a top deck in the format after ultimately besting Temur Aetherworks Marvel and winning the Pro Tour. Instead the deck put just one copy into each Top 8, and further failed by not putting another player into the Top 32 of Montreal and just two more players into the Top 32 in Santiago. It's been a victim of Aetherworks Marvel decks that have evolved to Quash Zombies with inclusions like Chandra, Flamecaller as a sweeper and Sweltering Suns in the sideboard. A very powerful deck, it should bounce back in the future as players dial back their hosers.
Blue-Red Control had a decent weekend. It did not convincingly live up to the hype as the solution to Aetherworks Marvel, but it did manage to reach the Top 8 of each Grand Prix. It was also used by Chris Andersen to help his team win the SCG Team event in Louisville. More promising is its success in the MTGO MOCS playoffs event filled with pros, where skilled players with tuned control builds were reported to have had very strong records against the Marvel-heavy field, and placed two copies in the Top 4.
You can't keep a good Mardu deck down, and it has already bounced back towards its former top position by putting two players into the top 8 of each Grand Prix.
To paraphrase Max McVety, whose Top 4 finish in Montreal with Mardu was the deck's highest over the weekend, "There's no fail rate on 2/2s." It paints an illustrative look at how the deck offers a consistent aggressive alternative to the randomness of Aetherworks Marvel.
Last week White-Blue Flash came back from the dead with some online success and discussion, so the Grand Prix weekend was a big test of their viability. They saw only very minor play, but they did manage to put a player into the Top 32 of each Grand Prix.
The White-Blue Flash deck is designed to prey on Aetherworks Marvel with its main deck counters and Spell Queller, so it has become more appealing now that Temur Aetherworks Marvel is clearly the best deck, and also the most popular at a massive 30% of the metagame. My biggest concern with the Flash deck has bee that by design it struggles against Zombie decks, but their decline opens up the metagame to a more specialized deck like Flash to prey on Aetherworks Marvel without a foil like Zombies to keep it in check. The biggest challenge for the deck will be to solidify its game plan against the ever-evolving Aetherworks Marvel decks while maintaining a reasonable matchup against the rest of the metagame, specifically Mardu.
There has been significant action in Modern since the release of Amonkhet. The most significant impact has been the addition of Vizier of the Remedies to the format creating a new infinite-mana combo with Devoted Druid. This combo fits into the Abzan Company deck, and while there was some question whether it actually improved the deck, there is now sufficient evidence saying that the deck is not only better, it has been elevated to one of the best decks in the metagame and a potential rival to the dominance of Death's Shadow Aggro.
The new Counter Company deck had a huge weekend at the SCG, where it finished 2nd in the team Open and dominated the Classic event by taking three of the top four slots, including first in the hands of Brad Carpenter, who has a history of success with Abzan Company decks and has the list I'd recommend starting testing from.
Another great deck from the SCG was the Four-Color Shadow deck used by Clay Spicklemire to win the team event.
The decklist doesn't deviate very much from the traditional Jund Shadow deck, but it takes a page out the book of Grixis Shadow by splashing into blue for Stubborn Denial. This extra bit of disruption fills a hole in the gameplan and makes it a more well-rounded deck capable of disrupting the opponent on another axis. It's a powerful choice against a metagame shifting to beat Death's Shadow with combo and control decks, and it's evidence of the deck's ability to evolve and keep up with even the most hostile competition.
A fun impact of Amonkhet on Modern is Cartouche of Solidarity earning a place in Modern Bogles. I reported it immediately making its way into the Pauper version, but I didn't expect it would be even good enough in Modern. The token it creates is a fantastic way to counteract Liliana of the Veil, and it can wear auras if the opponent does deal with the hexproof creatures.
The death of Miracles has been overstated, and the best deck in Legacy lives on despite the massive trauma of the banning of Sensei's Divining Top. To survive, the deck has had to give up Counterbalance and reinvent itself as a more traditional control deck.
Not accustomed to playing fair, the deck has adopted a new sort of combo by taking advantage of Unexpectedly Absent. It's a versatile piece of disruption against a wide variety of problem permanents, but it's supercharged when combined with Predict, which it turns into an easy way to draw two cards. Predict ensures that Unexpectedly Absent's target is gone for good for as low as just two mana and no need for a large X cost. Furthering this end is Portent, which can keep the opponent from drawing the target or any other useful card, and combining very well with Predict. Portent essentially replaces Sensei's Divining Top as another card selection spell, and it's a new staple of the deck.
With Counterbalance gone, Blood Moon is now the most punishing and unfair enchantment in Legacy, and its ability to prevent the opponent from playing the game is unprecedented. Chalice of the Void is arguably the spiritual successor to Counterbalance and even more oppressive than Blood Moon, so combining them together creates the core of a Prison deck that is making an impact on the new metagame.
Last weekend marked the beginning of Challenge events online, which featured a large open-entry event with a significant prize pool for each Constructed format. They were relatively popular with good turnouts, and they are a step in the right direction for competitive Magic Online and hopefully a sign of more good things to come. These events also serve as the rare big event for some of the most obscure formats, so they are a great opportunity to take a look at their results and gauge what's going on in their metagame.
In the Vintage event, the top-performing player was wielding a Arcbound Ravager-centric deck with Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista. I'm tickled by Foundry Inspector making its way into Vintage – just imagine the possibilities after playing it on turn one with Mishra's Workshop!
In the Pauper event, the Blue-Red Delver of Secrets deck was dominant, winning the event and comprising the majority of the Top 8.
This sort of deck has been a top Pauper deck since the first time I played the format nearly a decade ago, but it has recently evolved to splash red for removal like Lightning Bolt and Skred to combat a metagame filled with creatures. This move allows it to play a more controlling game, which its comfortable doing with new card advantage sources like Augur of Bolas and Faerie Miscreant.
I was most eager to see the results of the 1 v 1 Commander event, the first large event in the format since it was formally brought to Magic Online this month. There was a healthy variety of decks in the event, with plenty of the expected Baral, Chief of Compliance and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but I was surprised by Drana, Liberator of Malakir posting a 5-1 finish.
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Thrasios, Triton Hero combined to create a fascinating Four-Color Chord of Calling deck loaded with tutoring and creature synergies and combos just like the Modern version, including Devoted Druid and Vizier of the Menagerie! It also gets access to more powerful cards, like Birthing Pod that made the deck broken in Modern before the card was banned.
In Amonkhet draft, the latest technology is to build a hyper-aggressive deck that Overloads on cheap creatures, focusing on two-mana plays but going deeper to further embrace one-mana plays like Slither Blade, Bloodlust Inciter, Sacred Cat, and even Festering Ghoul in an attempt to flood onto the battlefield and put the opponent under immense pressure. This allows their controller to take full advantage of anthem effects, the best being Trial of Solidarity, but also In Oketra's Name and Pursue Glory. Honored Khopesh becomes a star in this strategy, and playing four or even more copies is not undesirable. The same applies to the Cartouche auras, which are all fantastic in this strategy, especially the cheap Cartouche of Solidarity and Cartouche of Zeal.
The low curve, which typically doesn't want to play four or more mana cards at all, can go down to 15 lands and maintain a very high density of action. A great benefit of this strategy is that it relies on cards that are generally underappreciated and underdrafted, so there will generally be plenty of playables, and it offers the potential to turn around a mediocre draft into a winning one.
What formats and decks are you playing? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.