Mtg, Standard

How Magic: Arena is Changing Standard, and Taking Mono Blue to GP Denver

Since the beginning of the year, competitive Magic has been in an awkward place. From the removal of the PPTQ system and the Pro Players club, to the reintroduction of MCQs (previously known as PTQs) and the integration of Magic: Arena to the organized play, a lot has changed. Incentives for attending Grand Prixs at MagicFests aren’t the same as they used to be, but there is a real incentive for grinding Arena if you are able to. This paradigm shift has drastically affected how the Standard metagame changes day to day, week to week, and it has been something that I’ve really struggled to keep up with. 

Before Magic: Arena was as popular as it is today, the Standard metagame had the opportunity to meaningfully change with any given major tournament. Decks would float in and out of viability while other players worked on refining the top decks. It was a game to me, and many others, to track the number of decks played at any given event, how they were doing, what they were losing to, and to work on figuring out if there were any exploitable weaknesses of these top decks. I would work for the whole week leading up to an event on just the right sideboard configuration to be able to combat the expected metagame. 

These days, it seems like all of that work that I would put into that week needs to happen over the course of 36 hours or so. There are so many people iterating on decks and playing brand new decks that it isn’t uncommon for archetypes, and sometimes the meta as a whole, to change day to day. As somewhat of a brewer, it can feel almost impossible to keep up with sometimes. Spending a weekend away with my wife or friends leaves me at such a worse disadvantage than it used to. I’m still trying to figure out the best way for me to keep up with this rapidly evolving Arena meta, but luckily I had a great plan going into GP Denver.

Whenever a new set enters a format, the first few weeks of playing in queues online, or at papaer events, are people trying things. Players are trying to push their deck to the limit, to see if it has what it takes to succeed long term. In this time period, the best strategy to take on these powerful but untuned decks is usually to do play a deck with an extremely linear gameplan. Do something straightforward and powerful, and utilize sideboard slots as effectively as possible to stop the other linear decks. I love playing creature based decks, and was searching for the best aggro deck that I could play. I wanted something with a straightforward game plan, but one that was resilient to the rest of the format. About a week before the event, I locked into Mono Blue. The deck is powerful and fast, and had some interesting sideboard options. Autumn Burchett posted the following list: 

And I was hooked. I played it through a couple matches on Arena, made some tweaks, and didn’t look back. I registered this for the GP:

Brineborn Cutthroat

Illustrated by Caio Monteiro

Noxious Grasp means that we don’t just lose to Shifting Ceratops, which is very prevalent in almost every green deck. It also lets us combat Nissa Who Shakes the World, both Teferis, and Hydroid Krasis if need be. Losing Tempest Djinn may seem like a big deal, but Brineborn Cutthroat fills the role of huge beater quite nicely. Although he doesn’t fly, he does get huge enough to cause issues for our opponents. Spectral Sailor is another huge addition, which lets us max out on Lookout’s Dispersal instead of Wizard’s Retort, since our pirate count is at 12! Cerulean Drake means that the Mono Red matchup is closer than it has ever been – I would go as far to say that Mono Blue is favored now. Finally, Unsummon is just a great catch-all answer, letting us reset cards like Runaway Steam-Kin, or save our own creatures from removal spells.

I ended up 7-2 after Day 1, losing a very close topdeck battle in Round 9 against Nexus. I felt great going into Day 2, but ended up losing the first two matches. Once the pressure was off, I rallied, and rattled off four straight wins to close out the day. My 11-4 record was good for 20th place – a solid end to a very solid weekend.

This GP experience was really great – it was fun to get back out there and play in large competitive paper events again, and I’m so excited to battle in Minneapolis in two weeks!

Check back soon for a tournament report and sideboard guide!

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