Finding the Best Decks in the World (Magic Cup)

by Simon Nielsen on 31 December 2018, Monday

Simon Nielsen

Christmas is now in the rearview mirror, and so is the very last World Magic Cup. As a Scandinavian it was weird to sit outside at a café this far up in December, but that’s Barcelona for you.

The World Magic Cup is my absolute favorite tournament and I'm sad to see it discontinued. On the other hand, I am so grateful that I got to qualify for the very last one as the captain of Team Denmark. And knowing that I was live to be one of the few people who could potentially win the event twice means that I wanted to try my absolute best. While my teammates have been very busy, I decided to stay with the Finnish national team in Barcelona before the tournament. Since all of their members have top 8'ed a GP, I knew they were a strong squad to ally myself with.

An Overview of the Standard Metagame: Safe bets and educated guesses

Like everyone else, I knew that we would have a Golgari deck in our roster, especially since both of our teams had a good Golgari player. When we arrived in Barcelona I was very interested in trying out Selesnya Tokens. The deck had done well in big tournaments recently - such as putting two copies into the top 8 of GP Shizuoka as well as two copies in the top 8 of the latest SCG Invitational - and that playing Selesnya would allow us to run Jeskai Control, which I considered to be the best deck. We also liked Boros Weenie a lot, but Sacred Foundry overlapped with Jeskai in the Unified Standard rules from the WMC.

In the end we liked our version of Selesnya a lot but we couldn't quite get comfortable with Jeskai. I assumed that the new 4 Niv-Mizzet, Parun version of Jeskai would just be the best thing ever, but the deck seemed very clunky (even when we tried Sailor of Means), we didn't feel like we could play it well, and we didn't have access to a good list or sideboard guide.

The Izzet Drakes deck that has gained a lot of popularity recently also didn't sit well with us. It kept underperforming and just seemed very medium at best. Mostly, I was worried that now the deck was a known entity, it could easily be defeated by sideboard cards like Citywide Bust and Plaguecrafter.

On the other hand, we were quite impressed with Big Red, another deck that has put up lots of good results recently, and both the Finnish Captain, Matti Kuisma, and I felt much better playing this deck compared to our other options.

So after the few days we had to test, both teams locked it in: Selesnya Tokens with Song of Freyalise, Big Red and Golgari Midrange.

Both of our teams made Day 2, but sadly we were the first to be knocked out of the top 32 by going 0-2 in the pool of death. The Finns got very close to top 8, though they ended up losing two win-and-ins, unfortunately.

Here are our decks!

Golgari Midrange: Tuning the best deck

You most likely haven’t heard of Roope Metsä. He top 8’ed GP Prague in 2017 and is a beast at Limited. And he is the Finnish National Champion. He also impressed me with his approach to Golgari-based midrange decks. Most notably in this testing session in Barcelona, where he used Find // Finality on turn 3 just to retrieve a single Llanowar Elves multiple times. That’s a play I would have never considered. So once our National Champion, Rasmus Roth, arrived to the house, I put him with Roope to work out our Golgari list. 

This is the conclusion we came to. Note that Druid of the Cowl gets better in the expected environment of lots of mirror matches and White decks. And also note that Karn, Scion of Urza has already been snagged up by our Big Red deck, otherwise we would run 1-2 copies.

I think that because of how good the card is against Jeskai Control and Izzet Drakes, you can run a single Plaguecrafter maindeck, especially when we already have 3 Midnight Reaper.

I like this version, and this is also almost what I run on Arena. There I cut a Vraska, Golgari Queen for a Karn, Scion of Urzaand in the sideboard I have one fewer Assassin's Trophy and one fewer Ritual of Soot. I replaced them with a Vraska's Contempt and another Karn.

Big Red

Matti Kuisma is the best player in Finland currently. He continues to impress me and he missed Gold by the slimmest of margins in 2017 after the most ridiculous string of unlucky breaks I have ever witnessed in Magic. Now he is right on track for achieving it again. 

He put a lot of work into Ben Weitz’s Big Red deck from the last PT. The deck is somewhat unintuitive, because we used to think of Big Red decks as relying on Runaway Steam-Kin and Experimental Frenzy, but Weitz’s deck eschews both of those.

Experimental Frenzy just doesn’t perform with this high of a curve, and unlike Runaway Steam-KinDire Fleet Daredevil is actually both a good blocker on turn 2 and a good topdeck in the lategame.

When you combine these elements, you get a red deck that doesn’t kill particularly quickly, but instead thrives in the long games where both players have a bunch of mana in play. Big Red can easily leverage these spots with cards like Siege-Gang Commander, BanefireFight with Fire and Arch of Orazca.

A couple of weeks before the World Magic Cup, there was an online PTQ with two copies of this deck in the top 4. That was the final point which made us heavily consider this deck. And in the end, since the deck felt good to play and we had a well tuned version, I thought the best line of action was to just lock ourselves into it.

I particularly like Matti's version, as he moved Karn, Scion of Urza and Fight with Fire into the maindeck, which especially helps against Golgari. 

Matti Kuisma's Big Red (Standard (Guilds of Ravnica) - Others)

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I decided to give the deck to Oscar Christensen, the promising Silver Pro on our team, as I knew he has the confidence to pick up anything without much practice. I had spent so much time playtesting Selesnya Tokens, and since he had access to a complete decklist and sideboard guide, it made sense that he would play this.

In the end, I think we overvalued this decks matchup against Golgari. In testing it always felt fine and mostly even, but when you think about it, it’s really hard to beat Carnage Tyrant in game 1. Postboard when they board out their mana dorks, they just have superior topdecks, even though Star of Extinction is a killer.

Also, we knew that the deck struggled a bit against Jeskai Control (as you can see, our sideboard tries to make up for it), but the tournament turned out to have more Jeskai than we expected. This also meant that there was more Selesnya Tokens than Boros Weenie, which is another bad spot for the deck.
So I think we got punished particularly hard for our bad metagame read by playing this deck.

Selesnya Tokens 

Lauri Pispa, winner of GP Prague earlier this year, was very adamant that some of his local players had found success with a version of this deck that eschewed Venerated Loxodonin favor of Song of Freyalise and Divine Visitation.

Though I was skeptical, Song of Freyalise resulted in some very impressive wins in most matchups, even when drawn in multiples. And while Divine Visitation sometimes won games no other card could have won, it definitely also lost us some games and was very vulnerable to cards like Reclamation Sage postboard (which was also the reason why our final list didn't include The Immortal Sun in the sideboard).

In the end we decided that since Song of Freyalise provided more White sources, it was actually reasonable to just play a couple of Benalish Marshal. Overloading on anthem effects is certainly a boon in the mirror, and in general the deck just wants as many as possible.

A couple Hunted Witness rounds out the list to have more earlier creatures that make Song of Freyalise better and this is our final product. The numbers are weird, but it's the result of a couple of days almost exclusively testing this version.

This version is positioned worse against Jeskai, which was a calculated decision as we were hoping for less Jeskai in a Team Unified Standard environment. Once again, we were caught off-guard by the amount of Jeskai Control that actually showed up. On the other hand, this also meant there were more mirror matches, where I do think Song of Freyalise helps at least to some degree.

The regular Selesnya Tokens deck usually runs a pseudo transformational sideboard plan, bringing in 10-11 cards such as Nullhide Ferox and taking out a lot of the token synergy stuff. Song of Freyalise does not work with this plan though, and we didn’t even realize that regular versions were doing this.

Anyway, since we didn't run Venerated Loxodon, our sideboard could instead more comfortably run Tocatli Honor Guardand Citywide Bust, some very key hate cards against certain decks. Citywide Bust especially ended up overperforming, and by the end of the testing process, we were using them in every matchup, except for the white ones.

We only ran one Huatli, Radiant Champion because we were somewhat concerned that while the card did perform in testing, we simply had too small a sample size. So we made a 1-1 split with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants.

At the tournament, Huatli overperformed so much. It’s very easy for it to just threaten to ultimate the turn after you play it (you only need 4 creatures in play for that, so Saproling Migration into History of Benalia does the trick) which means that it really punishes people for taking out cards like Vraska's Contempt] that are otherwise mediocre in the matchup and forces people to cast sweepers a turn earlier than they really want to, just because of the threat of Huatli coming down.

What this WMC taught me

Prioritize your tournaments.

My decision to playtest Modern in preparation for GP Liverpool in the weeks leading up to the WMC really came back to bite me. I think I would've been a lot more on top of Standard, if I had just accepted that I wouldn't do any practice for the Grand Prix and instead focus on the much more important tournament immediately after. This event sure taught me that it's not always the next chronological event I should be preparing for.

Instead, I should’ve just picked up a deck I know I can pilot without much practice for Liverpool. I could have used Tron because I’ve played it before and just used those weeks to get a better overview of Standard.

That way I wouldn’t have walked into the testing process not knowing exactly how good Jeskai would be for me and how the Selesnya Tokens deck usually sideboards, for instance. My time is limited, and sometimes it’s better to focus on the higher EV tournament at the cost of another one.

Also, I continue to learn this lesson, but we just have to accept that people are smart nowadays. If I come to some conclusion in theory, it’s likely that other people will come to the same conclusion. Such as Selesnya Tokens being a good pick-up because it lets you play Jeskai on the same team. We realised this early on, and we should’ve accepted that other teams would easily reach the same conclusion as well. As such we should have expected much more GW and Jeskai than we did.

No Future Daneblast? Thoughts on the end of National Tournaments

It breaks my heart that there won’t be another World Magic Cup. This is literally my favorite tournament, and I always said that I would trade a Pro Tour invite for a World Magic Cup invite. I get that I am somewhat biased though, because I live in a small country with lots of good players who mostly respect each other. In Denmark, it’s very unlikely that you feel forced to team with someone, which I could see be the case for other countries.

Anyway, I hope that lots of countries will still hold unofficial National Championships, and maybe even have multiple stores all over Europe work together to creature the European Championships where you qualify through Nationals?

A man can dream.

I’ve also always thought that the World Magic Cup awarded an unnecessarily high amount of prize money. I think they could easily bring back the tournament with half the prize pool without actually causing an uproar.

Anyway, that’s it for me now. Happy New Year to all of you, see you in 2019!

This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with Snapcardster.com.




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