Mythic Championship VII: Cat Out of the Bag
- Gianluca Aicardi
The final entry in the Mythic Championship series, as well as the last big professional event of the year, presented a reasonably varied Standard metagame. Though there were more than a few twists as well as a couple notable absentees.
The last six months have been rough for Standard. The Field of the Dead meta segued into the Oko, Thief of Crowns meta, and in both cases the signature cards and their respective archetypes were too efficient to pass on. So a large share of the competitive scene either fully embraced them or directly tried to respond to the threat they posed. Such an inescapable dualism is never a good recipe for a healthy environment.
But those troublemakers are gone now, as well as a couple of other cards that had recently established green as the most oppressively dominant color in the format: Once Upon a Time for hand fixing and Veil of Summer for protection, two sources of insane tempo gain too attractive to forsake, almost impossible to counteract. Ultimately, they had to be excised from the format. But now that the banning dust has settled, what's left of Eldraine Standard?
Mythic Championship VII, the last event to bear this name before the introduction of the Players Tour next year, was the final chance for this meta to redeem itself—and it kind of succeeded at that. The 67 decklists of the 32 MPL members and the 35 Challengers who competed for the $750,000 prize pool translate into the following breakdown:
- 19 Sacrifice decks (9 Jund, 7 Golgari, 3 Rakdos)
- 16 Fires of Invention decks (12 Jeskai, 2 Five-Color, 1 Jund, 1 Rakdos)
- 10 Adventure decks (8 Golgari, 1 Gruul, 1 Temur)
- 10 Flash decks (6 Izzet, 4 Simic)
- 5 Ramp decks (3 Simic, 2 Sultai)
- 4 Control decks (3 Azorius, 1 Esper)
- 3 Wilderness Reclamation decks (all Temur)
So seven broad families of archetypes, five of which made it into the Top 8, and in some cases with conspicuous internal differences. For instance, Izzet Flash plays quite differently from Simic Flash. One could also notice the glaring absence of a few decks that are still extremely popular on the digital ladder—admittedly, more in the best-of-one variant—yet were nowhere to be found on the screens at Long Beach's Thunder Studios. That's right, this was the first tournament of its kind with not a single monored list in it. Pure aggro in general appears in steep decline, if not even temporarily extinct: no Knight decks, no Gruul Aggro, with Embercleave only found in Esther Trujillo's Gruul Adventure deck and as a spicy sideboard option in the identical Izzet Flash lists brought by William "Huey" Jensen and Gabriel Nassif. At the other end of the spectrum, completely missing was also any kind of Doom Foretold and Dance of the Manse brew.
To be fair, things haven't changed too radically. If you look closely, you'll find that all but three of the decks that concluded the event with at least eight wins included green. So Nissa is still an extremely happy Elf, and very much the queen of the format, while white in particular is relegated to the Cinderella role, with no emancipation in sight. So far seem the days of PAX East's Mythic Invitational with its monowhite aggro meta.
But enough with the general considerations, let's have a more specific look at the cream of the crop, the builds that'll likely prove the most influential during the two months that still separate us from the emergence of a next-level environment reshaped by Theros: Beyond Death's January 24 release.
We live in a cooked cat world. At least, that's what Mythic Championship VII wants us to believe, with the Food-based brand of the Aristocrats archetype taking almost 30% of the field. Even John Rolf's Rakdos Fires incorporated the "Cat in the Oven" combo! Only one Cat deck made it to Sunday, but it was the one piloted by the eventual champion, Piotr "kanister" Głogowski, who didn't lose a single match the entire weekend—though he was aided in that feat by getting to skip Friday entirely, a reward for being one of the four MPL Eldraine Split division winners.
|Jund Sacrifice by Piotr Glogowski, 1st place|
There are various builds that exploit Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven as both a constant source of life drain and of eternal chump blocks. The combo is self-sustaining in black, but red adds to the mixture the additional pinging from Mayhem Devil, while green gives Trail of Crumbs and its card advantage engine, as well as Gilded Goose for early acceleration and additional Food synergy.
In fact, Głogowski's deck is mostly Golgari-colored, employing black's superior removal suite, but also delving deeper than most other versions into green ramp. Three copies of Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps in turn allow for a full playset of a meta-call asset like Casualties of War, excellent both against Fires of Invention decks and in the mirror.
The spicier reason to go Jund, though, is a card that at first was believed to belong exclusively to the Brawl realm, where it indeed originates. You have to witness with your own eyes a Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in action within a sacrifice deck to fully understand the enormous power level of this hungry dragon. It proved more than capable of closing games with a single swing when left unchecked, especially when teaming up with the deck's only other red card, the mischievous Devil.
An intriguing and unexpected inclusion in kanister's sideboard, meanwhile, is Deathless Knight. A beater that so far was only spotted in Limited, it has obvious synergy with Cats and Food, and can pressure opposing planeswalkers and life totals out of nowhere, acting as the archetype's take on Questing Beast.
One of the oldest archetypes in the event, dating back to the printing of Nightpack Ambusher in Core Set 2020, is also the only one that doesn't make much use of Throne of Eldraine cards. It started the MC weekend as a sort of known quantity nobody really placed much thought on, while its cousin Izzet Flash attracted much more attention. But now that all has been said and done and countered, we can comfortably name Simic Flash the true moral winner of the tournament. Three out of the four registered decks achieved Top 8 status, thanks to a trio of assorted Players of the Year, Hall of Famers, and World Champions who entered the exact same pile and piloted it to within one inch of overall victory.
|Simic Flash by Brad Nelson, 2nd place|
Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, and Javier Domínguez tested together a version of Simic Flash that appears to have been merged with snippets of Simic Ramp. Notably, flash players' favorite Brineborn Cutthroat was dropped in favor of non-instant-friendly ramp elements like Paradise Druid.
A full playset of Nissa, Who Shakes the World acts as a very effective plan B, complete with a couple of Hydroid Krasis. A turn-four or -five Nissa untapping Breeding Pool guarantees open mana for Quench, Negate, or Aether Gust, in a way that makes her play like fellow 5-drop planeswalker Teferi, Hero of Dominaria used to in Esper Control—a finisher that's able to cover its own back.
An interesting piece of sideboard technology is Kenrith's Transformation, of which Domínguez even brought two copies over an extra Gust. The only surviving Elk-inator in the Standard pool makes for a fine way to get rid of problems posed by creatures. It won't work on the Cat, though; for that, there's Sorcerous Spyglass.
The Land Still Fights for Us
Nissa did shake the Long Beach world in more than one way, as demonstrated by Andrea Mengucci's list, which was singled out by many commentators as the most fun-looking on the scene.
|Simic Ramp by Andrea Mengucci, Top 4|
A few Castles aside, this is another deck that tries to go back to how things were before Throne of Eldraine changed the face of Standard. It's an Elemental ramp build featuring Risen Reef, Leafkin Druid, and Cavalier of Thorns, enhanced by Quasiduplicate—a card that not many observers before the event expceted to play a key role—en route to a gigantic Finale of Devastation fetching none other than Tammy and Timmy's favorite monstrous piggy, End-Raze Forerunners. If that sounds like a casual deck, be assured, it actually works, and at the highest levels.
Down in the sideboard, Shifting Ceratops is the terror of Flash, and possibly of Azorius Control, even if that one wasn't really a factor in the end. Return to Nature is there for the Fires and Ovens.
The Call to Adventure
There was a general expectation for Adventure builds, and especially Golgari Adventures, to come off the Mythic Championship solidified as the decks to beat, but they all sort of underperformed instead. Ultimately none were able to outvalue their more combo- and control-oriented competitors in the battle for midrange mastery. One of them still managed to reach Sunday's playoffs, in the hands of one of the breakout players of the year.
|Golgari Adventures by Chris Kvartek, Top 8|
Always the innovator, Chris Kvartek injected Golgari Adventures with extraneous yet very powerful midrange beatdown strategies, namely the trifecta of interrelated powerhouses Rotting Regisaur, Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, and The Great Henge. The legendary artifact's cost gets chopped down to 2 mana by the big Dino, which Vivien sends trampling over the infinitely recursive cats. "Tear it all down!" indeed.
A more traditional take on Golgari Adventures came from Ally Warfield, the highest-ranked female player in the championship, who got very close to earn a place in the Top 8 herself. Hers featured Lucky Clover and a renewed focus on Knight synergies with more Order of Midnight // Alter Fate and also Smitten Swordmaster // Curry Favor.
|Golgari Adventures by Ally Warfield, Top 16|
In these adventurous sideboards we can recognize more cards that cut their teeth in Limited: Epic Downfall as a trusty exiler of all things large, albeit with Hydroid Krasis as its sworn enemy; Reaper of Night // Harvest Fear as a way for Ally to leave her opponents empty-handed on turn four, with the help of a timely Clover.
Arguably the most sorely defeated archetype at the Mythic Championship, Fires of Invention had so much riding on it coming into the event, but didn't properly deliver. The five-color lists with Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Golos, Tireless Pilgrim make for the most exciting incarnation, while the tried-and-tested Jeskai flavor remains the most reliable. Sphinx of Foresight acts as a surrogate Once Upon a Time, and most drop the slower Fae of Wishes // Granted plan to fully operate at Cavalier speed.
|Jeskai Fires by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Top 8|
All of the above must come with a big caveat, though: it's the result of one high-stakes event, not necessarily reflecting the new Standard metagame at large, or at least not entirely. On the day of the Mythic Championship finals, Grand Prix Brisbane gave us a Top 8 without any Cats or Adventure decks at all; it was dominated by five Fires lists and even included one copy of Mardu Knights. So don't sell your Embercleaves just yet, you might still need them.
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