Analysis of the NEO Champs

This week I played a lot of Magic in preparation for the upcoming Set Championship. It was a productive week. I tested with a new group of old friends and some crazy talented “zoomers”  that I’ve never had the pleasure of testing with, and I must say, it was a pleasant change of pace.


The tone was all business and a lot of work got done. While it’s still early to reveal my deck choices, I’m excited about our decks and think we did a fantastic job with deck choices this time. 


The formats in question are Alchemy and Historic. We decided to put a lot of our efforts into Alchemy, as that is both the least explored format, and most importantly, the format of the top eight. Reluctantly I have to say Alchemy was fun and reminded me of old Pro Tour testing. It’s yet to be solved since so few people play it and especially the change in dynamics due to the cards changing. 



Regarding the metagame in Alchemy, I can see it going a lot of different ways. Runes was the only real deck in the metagame, though. There wasn’t much data or much that beat Runes. Its incredible inertia going into the event made it the main target. Beat ‘em or join ‘em. Outside of Runes there were decks popular prior to Runes, like Izzet Control and BR Anvil decks that were simply outmatched. Decks like WW and UW Control started to show up as decks that were built to attack Runes. These decks made a lot of concessions in other match-ups, which may be fine if they do beat Runes or have game elsewhere.


Initially we thought Runes was beatable, but as time went on, it felt less beatable. The deck kind looks mopey and fringe on paper, but it’s so consistent and resilient in practice that it’s a tough nut to crack. Decks that focused on restricting the deck of resources always fell short against a timely Showdown of the Skalds. Decks too slow to interact on board would get beat up by the cheap and powerful threats the deck was able to deploy. Our deck lists changed some and Runes held it together. After a couple of days, Runes again felt beatable. I’ll omit details for now in the name of secrecy before the event, but I’ll elaborate next week with a guide on our Alchemy deck. It’s interesting, I’m excited to share it, and even if I do poorly I’m excited to watch it in action. 


I predict that Runes has a slightly below 50% win rate. When a deck is expected to be this popular, my personal expectation would be 33-35% give or take 5% either way. We found holes in this deck, and I believe others will make the same discovery. When this many talented deck-builders have time and only one real target, they’re going to find the solution if it exists


As far as Historic is concerned, it seemed like a rock, paper, scissors metagame. Phoenix beats Control, while Control beats Food, and Food eats Phoenix. It’s hard to get much edge in a metagame like this, and while I expect these to be the most played decks, there are other decks that exist. Historic is a wide open metagame, and it’s seen a dramatic decrease in play since Alchemy was included, so it’s hard to get a true read on the metagame. We can only focus on known factors, so the decision has to be made with two simple questions: Which of these three decks will be the most played? Which of these decks is best against the open metagame or “other” category?



I think both of these questions can be answered easily with Phoenix. Phoenix is a great deck with a proactive game plan against an open metagame. People also enjoy playing it, which makes it almost certainly the most popular deck in the field. If Phoenix is the most popular deck, and Food decks will be decent against the open metagame, then this is a big draw to Food. It has a great Phoenix match-up, and it performs well against the rest of the decks. If I was to pick a deck to win this weekend, it would be Food, much like last Set Championships. 


I expect Phoenix to hit around 20-25% of the field, Food to be 13-15% of the field, and Control in total to be about the same at 15%. Control could be UW, Jeskai, or UB or Grixis Control, so it accounts for a lot of potential archetypes. I’d suspect Phoenix has a close to 50% win rate, Food around 55%, and Control, as usual, will be sub-50%. Control always seems to underperform at major events in Historic. The other category will have winners and losers, but I think they’ll underperform as a group. 


As for Historic, I played a common archetype but won’t reveal which until next week. I’m hoping our game and sideboard plans and knowledge of the format will carry us through the Historic portion, and I think we did a good job giving ourselves the biggest edge in this format



Last thing I’ll talk about this week is the banning of Lurrus in both Pioneer and Modern. I haven’t registered Lurrus much, if at all, as a companion because I never played Rogues in Standard and haven’t played Modern or Pioneer since it was created. It’s a card that was too powerful from the start. Even after the change, it’s restriction was the equivalent to “if you built your deck well, you won’t really lose much.” Its banning was long overdue, and all of the stronger companions will and should follow suit. This includes Yorion and possibly Jegantha. Kaheera is fine to stay and could see tons of play as it has a high deck cost. I don’t like thinking about Jegantha and whether it’s free to include in my decks. It’s low impact as an eight mana 5/5, but its deck-building cost isn’t so much a cost as, if my deck can include this, should it. The answer is often yes, but sometimes the card may be so off plan that it’s not worth a sideboard slot. Either way, if they’re not going to rid the world of the companion mechanic, I think we’ll see Yorion gone at some point


I expect an adjustment period for Modern, especially where people will overcorrect for the opened spots on the mana curve, and we’ll see some decks that aren’t built optimally. If Lurrus brought us anything positive, it’s good deck building. Cheap spells are good, and you can play lots of them with or without Lurrus. I expect the first couple of weeks the Modern events will be softer with people trying to play too many Liliana of the Veil and other dated cards. 


That’s it for this week and while I was a bit vague, I’m excited to get more detailed next week. I think this will be a fun event to watch as it will have more underexplored formats than we’re used to and it was pretty fun to prepare for. Wish me luck, and this time I may actually need it because I really love my decks


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