This past weekend I played in the last MTG League Weekend ever. I practiced very little, which showed as I had my worst performance of the year with a 5-7 record. I’m proud that my worst run was only a match shy of .500 against the best of the best.
I only spent a single day preparing. In the past I’d spend one to two full weeks depending on stuff at home and my level of motivation. During the pandemic, there wasn’t much else to do but hop on Discord, hang with my homies, and test. Now that things are trending towards normal and the current OP system will be demised, my motivation went from full throttle to non-existent.
I knew I’d play Mono Red. Mono Red gets mostly ignored because it’s seen as overall not good enough, but it’s slightly favored against Sultai Ultimatum — my pick for clearcut best deck in the format. It shocked me seeing how many people showed up with various adventure shells this time, as I was expecting to play against Naya, Izzet Dragons or Jeskai mutate, and a lot more Sultai.
I expected my opponents Jakub Toth and Ivan Floch to have some Rogues in their range, and in league weekend we know our eight-person pods before playing. While I knew Chris Botehlo would show up with Temur Adventures again, he has demonstrated he’s willing to go the extra mile to beat up on the other decks in the format and relies on the strong Adventure shell to beat Red, which is usually enough but the Red deck can draw well and fight.
In an open-field tournament, I think Red is a poor choice. It’s underpowered and overrepresented, so other players can build their decks to be at an advantage. If it was an open-field tournament, playing anything other than Sultai would be a clear mistake. It’s the most powerful and adjustable deck in the format.
Here’s the Red list I registered:
I went harder against Lovestruck Beast and Goldspan Dragon adding a pair of Soul Sear to my sideboard and a second The Akroan War in the main deck. Other than that, it’s mostly what Sam Pardee and I played at the Strixhaven Championships, which he ultimately won.
I wish I had listened to my pal Martin Juza and played Sultai Ultimatum. I would have played his list. I didn’t think as many people would play Adventure decks and once-popular decks like Temur Lukka.
Here’s Martin’s list:
I think it’s possible a single copy of Soul Shatter is good in the 75 as it lines up well against decks like Temur Lukka and Goldspan Dragon. A lot of my teammates played a single copy and even won games by accessing it for Ultimatum piles against opposing Kraken tokens.
I was lucky to go 4-2 in Standard given my pairings, and it wouldn’t be fair to the process to only focus on results and not look at what would have put me in the best position. While Red was a solid choice for my opening pod, it turned out to be bad for my second pod as Temur Lukka was everywhere. This isn’t an easy match-up and is harder than the Naya decks I expected from Adventure players.
I spent most of my time and thought in Historic. I only tested a day, but it was two formats I knew well, and I spent about 15 hours playing and discussing with the team.
The three decks I considered outside of the nuclear “just play Phoenix” option were Temur Creativity, UW Auras, and the one I tried the most, 5c Niv-Mizzet.
I think Niv-Mizzet had and still has potential in the metagame, but it was outside my time frame since it required fine tuning for the card choices and each new card choice requires an entirely reworked manabase.
I was advised to start with a list posted on Twitter from a player and streamer. I took the shell, played a few games, and there was a lot I liked but also dead weight in the deck. I adjusted it to the following, which was my second choice for the event:
The biggest issues with this deck was the mana and consistency. I thought, “It’s a deck without Brainstorm, so I better be right in my decision of what to play.”
The deck was only winning about half the time against Phoenix, but a lot of that was being carried by Klothys, God of Destiny, which was an incredible main-deck card for that event. Many decks relied on cards like Mizzix’s Mastery and Arclight Phoenix, so Klothys, God of Destiny was a way to both close the game and gain life to prolong the game while disrupting graveyard synergies. It even produces mana in a pinch and reduces the cost of Mortality Spear.
Another reason to play this deck is Extinction Event — an amazing card in a format with numerous Aura and Phoenix decks.
I wish I had played this deck because it would have been fun, and it’s not like my 1-5 record in Historic could get much worse. However, I wasn’t confident enough in the mana base, which I never changed from the one James posted.
Instead, I registered boring, old Phoenix:
This was a list Austin Bursavich posted in our Discord then changed slightly to better combat Auras, so his registered list is different by a few cards.
Phoenix is a strong deck, but my biggest problem is it’s not a great deck with a target on its back. As the deck to beat, it can be beaten. Once people stop respecting it, it pops up again. It’s just another solid deck despite its closeness to being overpowered.
I didn’t want to play Phoenix or my other three choices based on my previously mentioned concerns. The only other thing I suggested building was UB Control aimed at beating Phoenix. Funnily enough, other teams did this, and I lost badly to LSV playing just that. None of us were motivated enough or had enough time to work on a bunch of decks, so we never got around to creating more decks.
In truthfulness, the incentive at this point just wasn’t there. With three wins I was locked in for the MPL gauntlet and, in retrospect, 12 wins would have gotten me a few hundred extra dollars. This was just another symptom of a horribly executed league system.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the leagues or the league weekends. I love competition and am drawn to the competition most of all. I had fun this past weekend, and despite trying not to care, I did. I wanted to win every round except the second time in two rounds where I defeated Jakub Toth. I felt guilty knowing I was comfortably past the threshold of points to make it into the MPL Gauntlets and he was on the verge. He lost the next two, had a tie breaker on the bubble, and placed in the Rivals Gauntlet. He’s an incredible player and a good guy, so it’s sad to see someone fall short of a goal when you’re not playing for anything yourself.
I achieved my goal to make it to the MPL Gauntlet. I’m looking forward to it because the caliber of players make it a Worlds-level competition, and the prize is big enough to motivate us all. I’m disappointed it will happen before rotation, but there’s something poetic about playing Bonecrusher Giant Standard a few days before it goes away for good. We played it for over a year, and may as well end on the same note of horribly timed events versus release dates.
Next week I’ll go over my favorite cards from Forgotten Realms. People are noticing the set is underpowered, but there are some winners, and of course, if you’re not playing the Gauntlets, rotation is just around the corner!