Making Mythic for June of 2022 was brutal. I whipped through platinum pretty easily in the best-of-three Standard queue using a blue, white, and black control deck that “went infinite” with Witness the Future. Once I reached Diamond, however, I couldn’t break past Diamond 3. I stuck with the control deck, and rotated between best-of-one and best-of-three, but every time I’d get to Diamond 3 I’d tumble backwards almost immediately.
On June 25th, with less than a week to go, I was where I had started: the very bottom of Diamond 4, with not a single game won. I was in the spiral portion of the Arena ladder cycle where I start throwing any boondoggle of a deck against the wall I can think of. I tried Splendid Reclamation-based combo, a deck I nicknamed “Steal Yo’ Stuff” that just attempted to use the opponent’s library of spells to win, and all manner of Witness the Future based control strategies. When I woke up on Saturday I felt pretty miserable about the state of my play and had pretty much given up on the idea of making mythic.
The day’s plans, however, had a different agenda. It happened to be my 11th wedding anniversary which meant the in-laws were taking the kiddos for the day and my wife and I had plans to do as little as possible and just relax together. That’s a change of pace from our normal lifestyle, as any household with two kids and full-time careers will tell you, so think what you may of vegging out in celebration of passing the decade of marriage mark, but for us it sounded like heaven. I had a single deck left that I hadn’t played much, a wonky five color Reanimator list I’ve used in several Standard cycles, but had never quite been able to get across the finish line.
Normally when a month has ended, I save the deck I used to complete Mythic and delete everything else. All the boondoggles get shredded, and the “decks” section of the client serves as a pseudo Trophy room. Deleting lists is a form of self-preservation: I love “doing a thing” with a deck, and oftentimes that “thing” is just not powerful enough. However, I can’t stop myself from continuing to try to do that thing and convincing myself if I just play tightly enough, this time the thing will work! So, deleting those ramblings forces me to re-focus on solving a different problem or doing something new. Like I said, self-preservation.
There was just something about that Reanimator list, however, that I couldn’t let go. So, it became the only deck I kept, despite failing to make mythic with it. I’ve tinkered with it, adding Titan of Industry, a near perfect reanimation target, when it was printed as well as the Kiki Jiki saga to help with the discard and blocking against aggro decks. After we got the kids off to Nana’s and grabbed some lunch we settled in for a lazy day. For Mrs. Stark that meant napping and Netflix, and for yours truly it meant tucking in to the ladder queue with the old standby for one last rodeo.
I threw a sideboard together haphazardly figuring I’d see what the best of three queue had to offer. With only a few days left, best of three seemed like the faster option for making Mythic as it allowed me to offset the occasional loss with a chance to “come back” in a game 3. Here’s the list I settled on, which didn’t change through the day:
4 Velomachus Lorehold
4 Titan of Industry
2 Jin Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant
4 Diregraf Rebirth
4 Return Upon the Tide
2 Graveyard Shift
4 Tormenting Voice
4 Seize the Spoils
4 Fable of the Mirror Breaker
4 Draconic Intervention
4 Darkbore Pathway
4 Blightstep Pathway
1 The World Tree
4 Cragcrown Pathway
2 Rockfall Vale
4 Haunted Ridge
4 Check for Traps
3 Burning-Rune Demon
4 Inferno of the Star Mounts
Like any Reanimator list, your goal is to dump a fatty in the graveyard, and cheat it into play using your reanimation spells. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is actually the worst one of these cards because you’re not guaranteed to get the discard as that’s the second phase of the Saga, and opponents tend to target it with removal immediately. You can get your “combo” off on turn 4 one of three ways:
-Using Foretell on Return Upon the Tide along with a discard outlet and a monster in hand
-Having any reanimation spell with Seize the Spoils as your discard outlet for your monster
-Having any reanimation spell with Saga that has survived, and you get an attack in with the treasure creating token (note: Velomachus is the worst target in this scenario as it doesn’t get an attack in before your opponent can blow it up)
The scenarios surrounding which monster you put into play commonly look like this:
-Velomachus to reanimate a second target or cast your wrath, Draconic Intervention, to stabilize the board. Note: Velomachus has protection from The Wandering Emperor and Vanishing Verse.
-Titan of Industry to stabilize the board and/or destroy an important permanent. You actually use the “shield” ability sparingly, and oftentimes target a different creature with that ability as Titan dying is generally a positive since you want to reanimate it again. It’s also the only real target if you actually get a Kiki-Jiki in play.
-Jin Gitaxias is the best of what’s left, and opponents forget about how its ability works all the time. It’s the weakest target in a vacuum, but better than the other creatures in the format and when brought back you’ll use it to get ahead playing your discard/draw spells to stick Titan or Velomachus. Be careful, though: if Draconic Intervention is your first spell in a turn, it will double and potentially blow up your own Jin.
Mana management is very important in this deck as you want access to the following colors:
-Game 1: RR (Draconic Intervention), GGG (hardcasting Titan), W (hardcasting Velomachus, only through Treasure and Tree), and B (your reanimation spells)
-Game 2/3: RR, GGG, W, BB (Demon), as much red as you can get for Mount
As a result, you want to manage your treasure usage very carefully. I had more Trees in the deck for a long time prior to playing the deck this month, but that was more “cute” than practical as I lost more games to having a critical land-drop ETB tapped than I won because I had perfectly colored mana. One is a hedge, and it’s been handy, but I do have a bit of a problem with being hooked on “cute” ideas so YMMV.
I set to playing and was absolutely flabbergasted with what wound up happening. Over the course of the day I went on an absolute tear unlike anything I’ve experienced on Arena, winning all but two matches and making Mythic in an afternoon. One of the losses featured two games in which I mulliganed to five, and the matches felt…easy? I kept checking to see if I had inadvertently ended up in the “play” queue instead of the “ladder” queue, but that wasn’t the case!
The sideboard wound up being pretty great. I’d probably cut some number of Mounts, but I’m not sure for what. Here’s what my rough plan was:
- Against true control, board in more threats that are easy to cast and reduce the work you have to do to reanimate things. Demon and Mount are great, Demon because it represents card advantage and Mount because it’s hard for your opponent to stop it from hitting play. (Demon usually tutors for Diregraf Rebirth and a second reanimation spell or two fatties you can just cast, with honorable mention being lands and if I had it to do again I’d have a rainbow land to complement Tree so you can get a land that lets you cast anything).
- Against true beatdown, you swap Jin Gitaxias for Demons so you don’t have dead cards. My assumption was that I wouldn’t play against much beatdown in the best of three queue, which actually turned out to not quite be so true, but the maindeck was good enough that it was fine to make this swap and leave it at that.
Sideboarded games against control type strategies means a little slower tempo as you clear out their hand with discard spells before going for a big threat they can’t kill. I usually cut Fables, Inverventions, and some of the reanimation spells to fit pretty much all of the sideboard in against this style of deck. It’s really important to hit all of your land drops as you’re planning to cast your giant threats since they don’t pressure you, and you really just need to stick one threat through their efforts to stop you to pull the game out.
And that’s how I made Mythic this month! It was an absolutely crazy day of playing, and I really thought the wheels would come off at some point but they just didn’t. Maybe the deck is good? If you have the cards in your collection, give it a whirl. However, I wouldn’t recommend burning a bunch of wild cards to build the deck because that seems risky. Why? Great question.
The World of Magic with Arena
While working as #wotcstaff I served as a producer on Arena for a few months very early in the project, basically the very beginning, before the Magic Online team asked if I could help them get their numbers up. So, my stance/opinions on Arena and its impact on Magic are primarily from my experiences as a player, not a professional who worked on it simply because I didn't work on it for long.
That said, Arena’s influence on the tournament metagame space is absolutely wild. I don’t know what the official numbers are, but I would guess the number of games played on Arena in a month must be pretty comparable to the total games played in a year back in the ‘90s when I started playing. I’m making these numbers up, but I look at how much I could play then versus now and it’s unreal; extrapolate that out to a player base that must be significantly larger than thirty years ago and there has to be some shockingly small timeframe in which all that play happens now compared to then.
All that means there’s functionally an AI working to solve metagames 24/7 at a pace unprecedented in Magic history. Yes, Magic Online contributed to this, but at a much higher barrier to entry such that the two are barely comparable (MTGO is dope though for the great things it can do that Arena can’t, personal biases aside). We’ve seen that force changes in the understanding of what formats are as bannings become more necessary to keep things interesting, and I think players will, over time, recognize you simply can’t have a group of humans in a building in Renton mitigate every possible solution in Standard before The Borg gets their hands on things. Not relying on that tool will create dreadfully boring formats where you crash Rogues into Alrund’s Epiphany all day until people switch to competitive Wordle just to feel alive.
All that to say that my experience making Mythic in a month sees shifts in the metagame that appear to happen on an almost hourly basis, and thus risking wild cards on a wacky strategy like this one is risky. Raffine was everywhere in weeks 1 and 2 of June, but by the 25th I saw it one time total playing the Diamond queue in a day of running to Mythic. There’s some potential bias here as my human brain does what it’s trained to and recognizes a pattern that could just be elegant noise. That said, if you consider The Arena Borg is “solving” formats so aggressively, it would stand to reason that things have to shift that quickly to gain advantages and not be left behind.
I’m reminded of the Urza’s Block PTQ cycle from my youth. The world was different back then, and the “metagame” was crafted one tournament report at a time on The Dojo. However the Urza’s trilogy was filled with so many busted cards that each week a new busted deck was the deck to beat, and the following week that deck was dead from bannings or people figuring out how to beat it and a new busted combo was the big thing. (Side note: I will always rue the fact that the Replenish deck that dominated by the end of the season never got to meet my Destructive Urge Goblins list that could lock it off of 4 mana and I really, really believe could have Q’ed me for the PT save for the fact I was all of 14 and couldn’t get a ride to any PTQ in the region because of my mom’s incessant need to “not let me ride in cars with strangers to Chicago.”)
I guess the tl;dr here is that in the 1990s we saw in weeks or months what happens on an hourly basis on Arena, and that’s wild. It also means the work folks do at WotC HQ is unprecedented, so give ‘em a little slack on Twitter when you’re preparing to unload about something getting banned. There is some “victim of success” happening here; just be glad Magic is doing so awesomely.
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