Mythic Championship V: Twilight of the Dead
- Gianluca Aicardi
The penultimate Arena Mythic Championship was foremost a Golos affair, yet the wandering robot and its favorite Zombieland destination failed to reach the topmost place in their final Standard showcase. This ended up the privilege of the reigning, and fervent, world champion.
Let's start with this week's most crucial piece of news. As widely predicted, and mostly unrelated to the events of last weekend's Mythic Championship, Field of the Dead is now banned in Standard. The announcement came on Monday, after being expedited by almost a month, making it look like an emergency measure.
And one would be forgiven for thinking that what transpired in Long Beach from October 18 to October 20 was the last nail in the zombies' coffin. After all, Mythic Championship V featured a whopping 29 Golos-based decks out of the 68 lists in competition, amounting to 42.6% of the metagame. Furthermore, the other half of the tournament was populated for the most part by decks that tried to beat the predestined dominant force, thus resulting in a rather monothematic fight.
As noted, this scenario was largely anticipated, with the post-Throne of Eldraine meta increasingly coalescing into an environment subjugated by a single tier-one list and its direct enemies. We previously discussed the Golos/Field supremacy, and if Mythic Championship V reinforced that notion, it also clearly showed how easily those lists could be beaten. Ultimately, only one of them made it through the final day.
In fact, Golos's capital strength was its inescapable late game, and this caused a ripple effect where only decks with a fast game plan were allowed to thrive. True control builds and other combo decks were essentially driven to near extinction. The survivors largely sorted themselves into specific anti-Golos plans, which in the end gave them a fair chance to overcome the Zombie advance. This contributed to a surprisingly varied Top 8 cut that saw five different archetypes represented—or even six, if you don't consider Bant Ramp and Simic Food too heavily related.
One of those successful hate decks, namely a Gruul Aggro list featuring Embercleave, would end up being the one that eventually took home the first place of the tournament, as well as the $100,000 grand prize. It was piloted by current world champion Javier Dominguez. You know, this guy.
Dominguez had a very stressful ride throughout the three days of the event, with 4-3 finishes on both Swiss portions that nearly resulted in his elimination. He ranked last among the qualified players on Friday and Saturday. He enjoyed a cleaner path on Sunday that culminated in a final triple consecutive showdown with the one surviving Golos deck, left in the capable hands of fellow Magic Pro League member Jean-Emmanuel Depraz.
The Mythic Championship constitutes a very restricted sample with exceptionally high stakes, and as such it's too distorted a picture to be an exhaustive representation of Standard at large. Nevertheless the Top 8 lists that battled for the big prize can be used as a general illustration of the state of the competitive metagame, at least in its more extreme expressions, prior to the ban of Field of the Dead. And that meta is very green: there were only six decks in the entire tournament—1.1% of the total—that didn't run Forest.
We should start with a bit of a breakdown. The 68 lists that competed in the fifth Mythic Championship (32 MPL players, 36 Challengers) can be divided into four broad groups that encompass 94% of the field:
- 29 Golos decks (23 Bant, 6 Four-Color)
- 19 Food decks (11 Simic, 8 Bant)
- 9 Adventure decks (6 Golgari, 3 Selesnya)
- 7 Embercleave decks (3 Gruul, 3 Mardu, 1 Jund)
The remaining four players were running "rogue” lists represented singularly: Jeskai Fires (the only proper control deck in the event), Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-Red Cavalcade, and one Gruul Aggro without Embercleave. Find all lists here. Let's have a look at the best cream of each crop.
Rise and Fall of the Pilgrim
The majority of players belonging to this group chose to play Golos in its classic Bant guise. Most notably, that was the case for runner-up Jean-Emmanuel Depraz (the player with the best win/loss ratio during the weekend, an impressive 14-4 score), as well as MPL Core Split division winners Seth Manfield and Carlos Romão.
|Bant Golos by Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, 2nd place|
|4Field of the Dead||4Golos, Tireless Pilgrim||4Growth Spiral|
|2Fabled Passage||3Hydroid Krasis||4Circuitous Route|
|2Breeding Pool||3Arboreal Grazer||3Once Upon a Time|
|2Temple Garden||2Agent of Treachery||3Teferi, Time Raveler|
|2Hallowed Fountain||1Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps||3Time Wipe|
|1Azorius Guildgate||1Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off|
|1Plaza of Harmony|
|1Temple of Malady|
|1Temple of Mystery|
|3Aether Gust||2Disdainful Stroke||1Agent of Treachery|
|3Veil of Summer||1Mystical Dispute||1Hydroid Krasis|
|2Devout Decree||1Glass Casket||1Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off|
Depraz's version featured all the usual tools but no copies of reliable support player Kenrith, the Returned King, neither in the main nor in the sideboard. Daddy Kenrith was more of a fixture in the second most played Golos flavor …
While all Golos decks are actually able to activate their namesake, and are all technically five-color because of it, some builds expanded into red for Fires of Invention. This was a way to beat to the punch its own brethren.
|Golos Fires by Autumn Burchett, Top 16|
|4Field of the Dead||4Fae of Wishes // Granted||4Fires of Invention|
|3Fabled Passage||3Golos, Tireless Pilgrim||4Growth Spiral|
|2Breeding Pool||3Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps||4Circuitous Route|
|2Stomping Ground||3Hydroid Krasis||3Deafening Clarion|
|1Steam Vents||2Kenrith, the Returned King||1Time Wipe|
|1Temple Garden||1Agent of Treachery|
|1Temple of Epiphany|
|1Temple of Mystery|
|2Devout Decree||1Teferi, Time Raveler||1Planewide Celebration|
|2Time Wipe||1Casualties of War||1Prison Realm|
|1Agent of Treachery||1Chance for Glory||1Shared Summons|
|1Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God||1Planar Cleansing||1Unmoored Ego|
|1Oko, Thief of Crowns|
The blend with the Fires of Invention archetype allowed for a wishboard filled with plenty of versatile options to fetch during the game via Fae of Wishes // Granted, up to and including a copy of Chance for Glory for some surprise win.
One of the Golos lists, as envisioned by Kenji Egashira, didn't include any Fires, but still went with four colors to leverage Deafening Clarion against aggressive starts. On the other hand, the Sultai variant running Yarok, the Desecrated to double the zombie fun wasn't represented at all. Of course this is all pure archeology now that we can appropriately say: Rest in peace, Field of the Dead.
Under this label we can lump together the decks exploiting the food package—Gilded Goose, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Wicked Wolf—while also ramping toward Nissa, Who Shakes the World, then using her mana boost to fuel a gigantic Hydroid Krasis. These are the builds that cemented green's incredible prominence in the Mythic Championship's metagame, where Once Upon a Time was the most played card with 169 copies across 68 lists. Oko and Nissa emerged as two of the three most popular planeswalkers: 94 and 83 copies respectively—only Teferi, Time Raveler came between them with his 89 copies. Finally one could spot the Krasis as the most frequent creature on the battlefield that wasn't a Zombie token. There were 156 copies of the scary Jellyfish; Questing Beast clocking in at 98 was another green hit.
Food decks appeared in two main varieties, Simic and Bant, with the latter more frequently just the former with a white splash for Deputy of Detention as additional ammunition against the undead hordes. Many veteran players decided that turn-two Oko or turn-three Nissa were the most reliable ways to send Golos packing. A number of old pros started with this lineup—including living legend Kai Budde—and both Gabriel Nassif and William "Huey" Jensen took it all the way to the Top 8.
|Simic Food by Gabriel Nassif, 4th place|
|4Breeding Pool||4Gilded Goose||4Oko, Thief of Crowns|
|3Temple of Mystery||4Paradise Druid||4Nissa, Who Shakes the World|
|1Castle Garenbrig||4Questing Beast||4Once Upon a Time|
|11Forest||4Wicked Wolf||4Disdainful Stroke|
|4Voracious Hydra||3Aether Gust||2Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire|
|3Mystical Dispute||2Veil of Summer||1Ashiok, Dream Render|
Simic Food is a deck that manages to smoothly string together a quantity of very powerful cards, which include two of the most impactful planeswalkers and their payoffs; a tactical powerhouse like Questing Beast; and at the same time the only creature that can cleanly answer an opposing Beast, that is, Wicked Wolf. The full playset of maindecked Disdainful Stroke was evidently a meta-call against Golos, but it still has multiple high-profile targets in the post-ban environment: Fires of Invention, Embercleave, Doom Foretold, Nissa herself.
Simic Food is now the major candidate for tier-one status. We also saw a clever take on the archetype from Chris Kvartek, who lowered the curve by replacing Hydroid Krasis with tempo-gainer Brazen Borrower, added Vivien, Arkbow Ranger for more explosive attacks, and a full set of Maraleaf Pixie as a secondary mana dork that doubles as a source of pressure in the air, especially when boosted by Vivien. This innovative build was saluted by many as the most creative in the event, and gained Kvartek a 5-0 finish on Day 1, though he ultimately failed to qualify for the final day after a 3-4 run on Saturday.
The Bant-colored take on the Oko/Nissa partnership had itself two chief approaches. The first, taken by third place finisher Andrea Mengucci (as well as Márcio Carvalho), merely branched into white to secure access to token killer Deputy of Detention, taking over all four of the Disdainful Stroke slots in a similar role, albeit with different targets: the Zombies rather than the Golos that creates them. A more radical change was devised by Czech champion Stanislav Cifka, along with teammates Ondřej Stráský and Martin Jůza.
|Bant Ramp by Stanislav Cifka, Top 8|
|4Breeding Pool||4Gilded Goose||4Oko, Thief of Crowns|
|4Temple Garden||4Paradise Druid||4Nissa, Who Shakes the World|
|4Hallowed Fountain||2Arboreal Grazer||2Teferi, Time Raveler|
|2Fabled Passage||4Hydroid Krasis||4Once Upon a Time|
|2Temple of Mystery||3Deputy of Detention||2Growth Spiral|
|2Castle Vantress||1Agent of Treachery|
|3Disdainful Stroke||3Wicked Wolf||2Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves|
|2Veil of Summer||2Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire||1Mass Manipulation|
|2Ashiok, Dream Render|
Cifka's list, which was eliminated by Mengucci's on day three, is more reminiscent of pre-Eldraine Nissa decks, and ramps more aggressively to get to Agent of Treachery, yet another weapon in the war on the undead. Agent remains one of very few ways to deal directly with Field of the Dead—aside from Tectonic Rift which was also seen in a few lists and reeked more of desperation.
In following the ramp script, the deck gives up on Questing Beast entirely and relegates Wicked Wolf to game two duties. It makes better use of white, though, finding maindeck room for Teferi, and counting on Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves to counteract aggressive strategies when needed.
Adventure decks are even more of a product of Throne of Eldraine than Food decks, and fielded a sizable contingent at the Mythic Championship, adopted by renowned players such as Raphaël Lévy, Piotr Głogowski, and Luis Salvatto—as well as Salvatto's compatriot, fellow Argentinian Matias Leveratto, the surprise winner of the previous Mythic Championship held on the digital platform. They all went on an Adventure, and they were all mercilessly slaughtered. In the end, only one Adventure deck even reached Day 2: this Selesnya build brought by Christian Hauck, which ended its run with an underwhelming 6-7 score.
|Selesnya Adventure by Christian Hauck|
|4Temple Garden||4Edgewall Innkeeper||4Once Upon a Time|
|8Forest||4Faerie Guidemother // Gift of the Fae||3Flower // Flourish|
|8Plains||4Giant Killer // Chop Down||2Unbreakable Formation|
|1Castle Ardenvale||4Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire||1Gideon Blackblade|
|3Shepherd of the Flock // Usher to Safety|
|2Flaxen Intruder // Welcome Home|
|2Devout Decree||2Conclave Tribunal||2March of the Multitudes|
|2Veil of Summer||2Apostle of Purifying Light||1Gideon Blackblade|
|2Glass Casket||2Knight of Autumn|
Compared to the Golgari variants, this list more closely resembles old White Weenie or even Selesnya Go-Wide builds, with a high creature count, a low curve, anthem effects in Venerated Loxodon and Unbreakable Formation, and even March of the Multitudes lurking on the side. Sure, it has Edgewall Innkeeper to provide the card-drawing its progenitors sorely lacked, but it might have been too fair to succeed in last week's metagame.
The Once and Future Smashing
And that's the one, the little aggro deck that could. It's the direct heir to Gruul Midrange lists from before Eldraine, with the same perfect curve of Pelt Collector into Zhur-Taa Goblin into Gruul Spellbreaker. But now the mighty Questing Beast is also there to crash past any crowd of puny two-powered blockers, and it can hold an Embercleave in its beastly pawns, thus turning into a trampling, deathtouching, first-striking, unstoppable, game-ending monstrosity.
|Gruul Aggro by Javier Dominguez, 1st place|
|4Stomping Ground||4Pelt Collector||4Once Upon a Time|
|10Forest||4Zhur-Taa Goblin||3Collision // Colossus|
|4Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp|
|3Domri's Ambush||2Veil of Summer||2Thrashing Brontodon|
|2Shock||3Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire||1Shifting Ceratops|
Embercleave proved to be the paramount way to beat both Golos and Oko by going for the kill faster than they can say, "Wait, is that lethal?" The other designated wielder of Magic's ersatz Excalibur happened to be a dead Dinosaur with very small hands.
|Mardu Knights by Ken Yukuhiro, Top 8|
|4Tournament Grounds||4Fervent Champion||4Embercleave|
|4Blood Crypt||4Knight of the Ebon Legion||4Steelclaw Lance|
|4Sacred Foundry||4Rimrock Knight // Boulder Rush|
|4Godless Shrine||4Blacklance Paragon|
|4Angrath's Rampage||4Noxious Grasp||3Chance for Glory|
Ken Yukuhiro deserves all the praises for reaching Top 8 with a deck that barely had functional mana, since Tournament Grounds doesn't help with casting Rotting Regisaur, or any of the sideboard spells. The triple-colored Knights, also played by Eric Froehlich and Ben Stark, were the only tribal strategy represented at the Mythic Championship. (Elementals were nowhere to be found; even Risen Reef only appeared in two of the less successful Golos lists.) But the secret weapon in Yukuhiro's list was definitely Syr Reggie the improbable Dino-Knight—swinging for sixteen out of nowhere has to count for some victories, and it did.
The Flame That Burns Eternal
Just when you were thinking this metagame was singularly lacking any mono-red deck. Well … almost, but not quite. There was one, and it went all the way to the end, despite everything else that was going on around it, despite all the chump-blocking Zombies and all the life-gaining Food. Red is still there, and proud Hong Kong national Lee Shi Tian proved to be a master smasher of faces.
|Mono-Red Cavalcade by Lee Shi Tian, Top 8|
|3Castle Embereth||4Fervent Champion||4Cavalcade of Calamity|
|18Mountain||4Scorch Spitter||4Light Up the Stage|
|4Tin Street Dodger||3Tibalt, Rakish Instigator|
|4Rimrock Knight // Boulder Rush|
|4Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp|
|4Torbran, Thane of Red Fell|
|4Shock||4Legion Warboss||3Experimental Frenzy|
And that's it. Mythic Championship V was simultaneously an event with too many mirror matches, as well as one with an unexpected, uncanny variety of different decks reaching the top. It was a fun tournament with great players and great plays.
Now we can look forward to the tabletop Mythic Championship VI in Richmond, Virginia on November 8–10 and then the final Mythic Championship VII, again at Thunder Studios in Long Beach, California, on December 6–8 for more MTG Arena action— all in a world where the dead won't rise so easily anymore.
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