Is there anything quite as fun and exhilarating as an unsolved metagame? Those first few weeks after a set release where Standard is ripe with opportunities and possibilities.
For the first time since the beta servers first opened; MTG: Arena is now both, aligned with Standard and unsolved.
With the addition of “Competitive Play”, which is essentially a Bo3 ladder, where not only one gets to sideboard according to his matchup, but is incentivized to experiment as there is no money on the line and games are played against more or less equal opponents, this game mode is turning out to be exactly what most of us have hoped it would.
In only 7 days, our itsy bitsy team managed to collect over a thousand Bo3 series, played at high gold and diamond level. While the data pool is too small to make any definitive tier or popularity lists as of yet, especially given the large meta shift from day one to day 7, there are some very interesting conclusion to share:
Mono-red aggro derives its power from an explosive and consistent early game that transitions seamlessly into mid and sometimes even late game. Currently, the two most popular lists on the ladder are
the original Hazored list and the, previously less popular,
Flame of Keld list. The Hazored version uses hasty, evasive creatures in the early game and
Rekindling Phoenix and
Chandra, Torch of Defiance to seal the game.
Currently, the more popular of the two now, Flame of Keld is a glass-cannon list that packs burn and small creatures to unload their hand as fast as possible and refill it using Bomat Courier and Flame of Keld, the latter doubling down as finisher.
Mono-red aggro seems to be losing some ground to other either red based aggro/midrange decks like Grixis and Rakdos, or the green-based decks revitalized by powerful Core Set 2019 additions.
Grixis has made quite an entrance with Core Set 2019. On the wings of
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, this tricolor combination is rising to be the most popular one in MTG: Arena, and it’s hardly surprising. Grixis has access to some of the best cards in the Standard pool as a whole, which allows its sideboard options to transition between aggressive midrange and grindy
control without breaking a sweat.
The archetype is extremely diverse as players created different variants (Rb aggro, UB Midrange, Grixis goodstuff...), but at its core are The Scarab God and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, aided by Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Vraska’s Contempt and a combination of removal/disruption spells. The main difference between archetypes seem to be their focus in game one, where it will target either control or aggro, and then sideboards for the opposite matchup.
A full blown dragon, control and even aggro variants of Grixis are showing on the ladder but various midrange lists are the most popular right now. It will be interesting to see how the archetype develops in the coming weeks.
Esper control remains largely unchanged. By far the most popular variants are essentially a Dimir control list splashing white for
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, with an occasional splash for another white card. There has been a slight increase in the popularity of a “full” esper control that commonly includes
Settle the Wreckage,
Fumigate and sometimes even
Approach of the Second Sun, but they are still vastly less popular than their alternatives.
Esper control relies on early 1-for-1 trades before stabilizing through the use of Teferi, Torrential Gearhulk and sometimes The Scarab God. Chromium, the Mutable provides the archetype with another excellent sideboard option against control mirrors, and some are even utilizing the somewhat controversial Nexus of Fate.
Stompy is probably the old archetype that has gained the most with Core Set 2019. Both directly through cards, and indirectly in terms of meta shift that allowed them to break back into it in full force.
Green or Green-black stompy aims to overwhelm the opponent quickly by deploying highly efficient creatures quickly, often breaking the mana curve and requiring an immediate answer from the opponent. Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Greenbelt Rampager and Steel Leaf Champion make up the core of the deck, assisted by Llanowar Elves, vehicles and insanely powerful green-black sideboard options.
Thorn Lieutenant and Vine Mare are both incredible Core Set 2019 additions to the deck. Each card in its own way extends a middle finger to the 1-for-1 trading control generally aims for, while simultaneously smoothing out the curve and increasing the speed and consistency of the archetype.
One could say there are as many GPG variants as there are colors of the pie, and they’d be quite on point. While each individual combination wouldn’t quite make the list, the most popular 3 combined (UBx, BGx and UW) compile a very significant portion of the
The best way to break down GPG lists however is not by color, but rather by the means of cheating this powerful reanimation engine into the game. Refurbish was by far the most common option, relying on a relatively small number of creatures and a ton of spells like Strategic Planning and Chart a Course to fill its graveyard. The list works as a pseudo-control list and hasn’t changed at all with the Core Set addition. You can find a guide and a deck list variant here.
A teeny weeny zombie called Stitcher’s Supplier has made it incredibly easy to cheat GPG into the game via Gate to the Afterlife and single handedly weaving a horde of different lists utilizing it to build a more aggro/midrange variant of the archetype. Golgari, Dimir, Sultai and even Abzan have all made quite an impression and will hopefully refine into beautiful new reanimation decks before the rotation.
Rakdos aggro lost some of its presence in the last week, not because the deck would be any weaker, but simply due to novelty of the very similar Grixis Midrange, and I fully expect it to return back to the head of the pack.
The deck itself remains more or less exactly what it was before the Core Set. A somewhat slower Hazored trading a bit of its speed and consistency for the incredible black sideboard options and Scrapheap Scrounger.
The little snake that could,
Winding Constrictor, has had some good times but has really suffered in Dominaria meta. It’s strategy built around counters has a significant counter-synergy with the oh-so-popular
Soul-Scar Mage and
Goblin Chainwhirler combination and is rather sensitive to board wipes.
With the decline in the popularity of the latter and the board-wipe packed UW control, Winding Constrictor, Verdurous Gearhulk and their explorer friends can finally catch a break and face the metagame with their explosive starts and significant midgame potential.
Dimir midrange is probably the most surprising list that made the top 12 to me personally. It’s popularity fluctuated in the Dominaria standard and the deck really only made it top in Arena towards the end, its popularity prompted by its success in
paper GPs. Nevertheless, UB Midrange lists are quite popular, and albeit some of them splash red for the baby Nicol, their core remains unchanged.
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Champion of Wits, The Scarab God and premium black removal are the bread and butter of UB Midrange lists, sometimes complemented with an odd counter spell here and there. The real power of the list (as with most black ones) comes from the hand disruption and reactive options available in games 2 and 3.
UW control is based around stalling the opponent through use of counterspells and removal, eventually stabilizing with a board wipe (either
Settle the Wreckage) and locking the opponent down with
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The deck’s win condition is generally
Approach of the Second Sun or some form of beatdown (
History of Benalia or
If Stompy was the biggest winner of the meta-shift, UW was undoubtedly the biggest loser. With 7/10 most popular lists running black, post-sideboard game can get tricky for this deck that doesn’t really provide any pressure of its own and often has difficulties keeping up with the plethora of recursive, protective and/or card draw options available to the most popular aggressive decks
GR Midrange is a list we haven’t seen in a while. Gruul midrange lists comes in a variety of flavors; Sarkhan Stompy that utilizes
Sarkhan’s Unsealing to lock up the game, Dinosaur Tribal and of course, the good-old Monsters.
The latter has been making quite some waves in Bo3 competitive, reinforced by Core Set 2019’s Thorn Lieutenant and Vine Mare that allow them to stick a resilient threat fairly early on. Between them and Rekindling Phoenix, Gruul midrange has enough staying power to break back into the metagame.
Historically a mono-white strategy revolving around a flood of low cost, small bodied creatures, anthem effects and synergies revolving around those. The strategy’s been more or less soft-banned from Dominaria Standard due to prevalence of
Goblin Chainwhirler, but is slowly making a come back with Core 2019.
The few Weenie decks we’ve met on the ladder seem to focus on either humans (knights) or cats, with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants running the show. The deck feels like a direct successor and an improvement on the now long forgotten vampire tribal of pre-Kaladesh Arena.
Zombies as a tribe don’t seem to be quite strong enough, but mono black aggro in general appears to be quite strong. Fast, efficient and hard to stop, this archetype combines resilient early game creatures with premium removal and amazing sideboard
options to threaten the opponent in early and mid stages of the game.
Unlike red-based aggro, Mono-black trades some reach for better control options. The deck got somewhat of an enabler with Core Set 2019 in Graveyard Marshal. This two mana 3/2 can recycles the graveyard into a horde of zombies to throw at the opponent
|Meta Snapshot: Core Set 2019||Meta Snapshot II||August 05, 2018||v786_640159|
|Meta Snapshot: Core Set 2019||Meta Snapshot||July 22, 2018||v786_640159|
|Preliminary Meta Snapshot: Core Set 19||Preliminary Snapshot||July 12, 2018||v786_640159|
|Meta Snapshot: Kaladesh||Snapshot II||July 01, 2018||v744_635428|
|Meta Snapshot: Kaladesh||Snapshot I||June 17, 2018||v727_633495|
|Preliminary Snapshot: Kaladesh||Preliminary Snapshot||June 07, 2018||v727_633495|
|Snapshot - Dominaria III||Snapshot III||June 03, 2018||v667_618725|
|Snapshot - Dominaria II||Snapshot II||May 20, 2018||v667_618725|
|Snapshot - Dominaria I||Snapshot I||May 06, 2018||v667_618725|
|Preliminary Snapshot - Dominaria||Preliminary Snapshot||April 26, 2018||v667_618725|
|Meta-Snapshot II||Snapshot II||April 16, 2018||v607_607936|
|Preliminary Meta-Snapshot||Preliminary/Snapshot||April 01, 2018||v607_604597|
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