As most of us in the Magic community are likely familiar with by now, MTG Arena is the newest hotness to come out of the WotC HQ in some time, but little, if anything is known of this new Best of 1 (Bo1) format that is causing wholesale changes in the way that we view the game of Magic.
It’s with this new excitement, and of course, a pot of over 10 million dollars for the competitive scene this coming year, that I began to take the game seriously, finally this was something to play for.
And so after grinding for dozens upon dozens of hours, with a variety of decks (both brews and meta), and going from Bronze Tier 4 to Top 50 in the Mythic rankings, I can firmly tell you what I feel is the optimized road-map for achieving success in MTG Arena in its current best of 1 format.
As I was playing through the Magic Arena Bo1 ladder, (in beta through Mythic), I early on discovered that every unique tier had it’s own flavor to expect from it. Well, here’s your goblin, merfolk, vampire tier, this being Tiers Bronze through Silver. These are the parts of the MTG Arena ladder that would put any FNM to shame, it was also the most fun part of the ladder. Well, not technically actually. The MOST FUN TIER was definitely in Beta when people didn’t have all their cards because they were just gonna erase it anyway so everyone just came with what they came with, and THAT was fun. No, that Wild West was a once-in-a-lifetime sorry-ya-missed-it opportunity that I’m sure we’ll never behold again. I can’t knock Bronze through Slivers though, just for meme value alone that Magic was on-point. It was fun too ‘cause it was easy. And it wasn’t always easy ‘cause the Magic was bad. It was more just sort of like, well I’m on Teferi and you’re on Merfolk so what did you think was going to happen here? type situations. But I’m not cynical about the what’s going on, or jaded for that matter. There was a lesson to be learned when I desperately clang to UP GOBBO’s for 3 months of last Standard season.
But the road to Mythic is not paved with Tribal decks, it’s instead paved with Mono-red decks, Boros weenie decks, and a couple of fog decks. For me, it was all about a few fun brews on the way to the top, and I think for that reason, it was probably a bit more enjoyable then it could have been.
My earliest two brews in Magic Arena were pretty simple, a crappy Jeskai control Banefire deck and a pretty streamlined mono-red deck. The rationale for both was dissimilar. The Jeskai control deck was the kind of deck that was built on drawing the game out as long as possible, once causing a mono-red deck to play down to its last card (they won). It was built on solid principles, card draw, Ionize, 4 Deafening Clarion, Search for Azcanta, but it ended up being too reactive in a far too proactive Niz-Mizzett meta that it just couldn’t hold it’s weight with the big boys. Eli Kassis can win all the GP’s he wants in paper Magic and I commend him for it, Godspeed sir, but that shit just would never fly in the Bo1 format. There’s just something very sped up going on here that any Banefire deck, Revitalize and all, could never in a million years deal with. In MTG Arena Red Deck Wins, that’s for damn sure.
I didn’t know that’s how things would shake out, though, or that I had an idea that this was the best deck. I’ve been playing red decks because I’m an extremely impulsive player that doesn’t do well in long games and so red was just my winner’s circle deck. My last three standard decks were Hazoret Aggro and then Goblin Aggro and now Runaway Steam-Kin Aggro. On top of that red affords me smoke breaks and mental breaks and those are two things I enjoy, also bitching about other people nut-drawing, I can’t imagine not being able to spend 30 minutes bitching about people nut-drawing. So that’s why I was on red. I’m sure someone else was on red ‘cause they found it was the optimized deck for the format. That’s great. I was on red for my health.
But anyway. My original mono-red version did have Frenzy (a 1 of) but everything else about it in the early stages was much like the Goblins themselves- a diabolical trainwreck. It was like I sort of understood that there were these important things about Magic cards but I was just woefully wrong on which card was doing it the best. My initial build had mana-reduction (Goblin Warchief) but was doing so at a rate that was far less efficient then Steam-Kin. Moreover, I failed to see that cards like Experimental Frenzy were doing absolutely broken things that less broken cards like Rekindling Phoenix weren’t doing as well. I was at 4 Phoenix, 1 Frenzy and Now it’s 4 Frenzy 2 Phoenix and that’s the de facto, no one will do it better top end configuration of mono-red in the current Standard environment, don’t @ me.
So that’s where, if I’m just grinding away, that I’d start at, 4 Frenzy, 4 Steam-Kin, topping it off with two very beautiful Rekindling Phoenix.
The next step was deciding on the Wizard package. Once I knew that Gobbo’s just wasn’t very good and Steam Kin was just that much better the next question was determining whether or not I would include what I like to call the Wizard package. The mono-red player in me was like yes, yes, absolutely yes. As you’ll see in my 60 (and only 60 cards), there are zero Lava Coils, and zero Risk Factors. I never tried Lava Coil, it breaks Frenzy on an open board, and hurts you on a one-sided boarded where you have the advantage. Risk Factor follows similar logic. A good card in its own right and in certain decks, but completely incompatible with Frenzy- a wombo-non-combo the likes of which I’ve never seen before. I did try it though, this wasn’t based on theory crafting. I tried almost every red card imaginable (Fight With Fire, Warboss) but ultimately I concluded that it would be a mistake to include these cards or even a single Risk Factor in an Experimental Frenzy deck.
So that’s where the Wizard package comes in. The Wizards all come with haste or burn, allowing you to one-shot kill an opponent in one turn. They give you access to Lightning Bolt (the perfect Frenzy card) as damage to the face and they do it all at an extremely efficient rate which is intrinsic towards making Frenzy steam along at it’s most action-packed pace. No to Risk Factor and The Flame of Keld. Yes to Wizard Tribal.
Beyond that things are about as stock as they go, and honestly, I’m sure this deck has 5-0’d hundreds of times before. Even still, this is bo1 meta which is definitely different, and as my pathway to Mythic shows you, not all great paper decks make great bo1 decks. The rest of the stock is pretty simple though. 4 Strike, 4 Shock, 22 Mountains, 4 Firebrand, anddd you’re done.
When I started the grind that deck got shelved for some time. It wasn’t until the going got rough that I switched off. My road to Mythic began in earnest about 3 weeks ago. For the longest time I had been grinding away events in order to earn the best cards so the ladder just wasn’t something I was even doing. As I mentioned before, there were two decks that I was looking to build when I started, some form of Jeskai control, and mono-red aggro. I finished mono-red probably a month and a half ago but was still building Jeskai (now at 19 shock lands) by the time I sleeved up for the Ladder Challenge at Bronze Tier 4 just a few short weeks ago. It was three weeks ago that I was Bronze Tier 4, and three weeks later I’m now in the top 50 with 60 cards I threw on a wall, it’s pretty cool what we can do with Magic cards.
My journey on the ladder probably began around the same time as many of yours began, when I finally heard the news that WotC shouted from on high about the future of competitive Magic. It was at this point in time that I went back to the ladder, having earned more than enough cards to find my way to the top.
Red deck shelved. Jeskai control, 13 of the 20 shock lands was back on the menu. It was a good deck, a little incomplete, but the top end 4 Teferi, 2-4 Niv Mizzet was well-rounded out. 4 Seal Aways and a few Settles were lifesavers too, particularly in a meta that was crawling with Carny Ts and Adanto Vanguards. It was for the first 2 rounds that I played Jeskai Control, and honestly, it was a total breeze.
I don’t want to talk at length about this brew. It ended up being pretty similar to what everyone else was running and even though I was playing Frenzy week 1 of the meta, I was assuredly not playing a Jeskai control deck that made much sense at that same. But the reason I did well at this point I felt was pretty simple. Clarion is a very good card against aggro decks (the bread and butter of Arena spikes), Teferi is Teferi, and Niv-Mizzet is Niv-Mizzet. It didn’t matter that the land count wasn’t perfect or even that I was a step behind at times. The board wipes would catch me up and the powerhouses would take over from there on out. In terms of the Arena meta compared to the paper Meta, however, I think for control players 5 things are for certain. Play Teferi, play 4 Clarion, play Niv-Mizzet, play Seal Away and play Revitalize. After that, I don’t know, find out what the French are doing.
It was around this time that I got to gold that I ended up going to a buddy’s house. I remember it distinctly because I remember bragging about it to him the entire duration of the time we played Arena. My friend was on Drakes, had played the version without Mystic and, after we 7-0’d a league with it, I became fairly convinced of Drakes as a deck.
So I went home, discovered that I basically had the full Drake package anyway, found out, once I cashed in a few wildcards, that I was one Steam Vents short of the full Drake package, and proceeded to queue up for the Gold portion of the ladder with Shahar Shenhar’s Drakes deck, seeing as how I now had a more competitive mindset towards the ladder anyway.
And boy was that some fun Magic. In the gold meta, it was pretty clear that Drakes was king. At that point in time, Aggro decks weren’t fast enough, and control decks didn’t seem to have enough Teferis. I wasn’t getting run out of the gym by the faster decks in these rounds. No, things were picture perfect for Spell Pierce to be the absolutely best bomb in the format.
I didn’t have the same successes when I reached platinum. At this point, the aggro decks were nearing top-speed (play Venerated Loxodon) and it was very likely that a deck with few creatures and one-for-one spells might run into issues with dealing with getting completely run over. But that kept happening. Literally, over, and over, and over. And some of it was misplays, that deck is the hardest deck in Standard to play per PV. I lost a lot because I made a lot of mistakes. But I was also losing because I was getting nutdrawed by Boros decks every game, I became frustrated, wanted to quit, didn’t want to get another deck and wanted to just be done with it all.
But I did what all you fine folk do and I put my head in the sand and I innovated. I added a color. White for Deafening Clarion. Four-Color Drakes. I kept the deck itself almost completely intact. Once you see -50 on your opponent’s screen once it can be hard to put a deck down. The power level was real, but the speed was lacking. And Clarion, for a period was the answer that I needed. It got me to Tier 2 in Platinum almost immediately only to rapaciously come cascading back to earth against several fog decks immediately after. It was at this point in time that I learned the most important lesson that I’ve ever learned playing Magic. Sometimes good decks just don’t work. But everyone in Platinum seemed to think that their deck was king or queen. There were Ixalan’s Bindings in tokens decks and hard counters in Fog decks. Too many Golden Demises it’d make your eyes sore. Everyone at this stage seemed to be settled on what they were doing, and were now filling out very important flex spots with cards that were integral to one match-up and dead as a door-nail in others. Their decks weren’t making the cut and instead of innovating in proactive ways they receded into their shells and admitted defeat. I might not win but I definitely won’t lose, those decks were telling me.
Platinum was the hardest though. The best Magic I felt too, I don’t know why, maybe my deck just sucked. Platinum was where things ground to a halt though. I couldn’t break through. I thought I’d never make it past that point, and I was as defeated as I could get. That Drake deck wasn’t gonna get me there. My Drake deck wasn’t gonna get anyone anywhere. That was the best deck I had. Red wasn’t doing anything these days in the paper world. I was as dejected as I could get.
But as fate would have it, the place that I hate the most, Twitter, handed me a glorious bit of information from someone who had already gotten to Mythic in constructed Standard. In their post they outlined that they won with a Frenzy deck, and would you believe it, my faith in the deck was restored!
So I didn’t sleeve up their deck, it had a pump spell or something and I’m not about that life. I took the exact 60 I had shelved before this journey started and didn’t change a thing. From there the ride up was momentous. Where I was stuck in Platinum for weeks I was now spending a couple days in each tier.
I’ve been playing against Chainwhirler with Chainwhirler since there was a Chainwhirler. I’ve never not played with Goblin Chainwhirler when Goblin Chainwhirler was a card I could play with. So playing against it, and one-toughness creatures, that’s where you learn the basics, don’t dump your hand to Chainwhirler, and the more advanced, play a more control style where you wait for them to play their threats. Red’s weird, but it is basically everything about Frenzy but in reverse. They’ll definitely have a way to kill your Steam-Kin so unlike in every other match-up don’t run that out first, things like that.
My favorite play in the red mirror tells us a lot about the controlling nature of the match-up. Five mana, a Phoenix on their side, a Wizard’s Lightning and no Wizard on the field, so 3 mana to cast it off an active Frenzy. I knew I needed two spells, and with just two mana left, I didn’t want to risk having a spell that cost too much to finish it off (think Chainwhirler, Wizard’s Lightning) so I ended the Frenzy there with a full five mana open, holding up the Wizard’s Lightning till their turn. All they had was the bird, but like, that thing had to die. So I waited till their turn, their attack phase, bolted it. Then on my turn, with the very next spell bolted it again. 3 mana plus 3 mana is more than 5.
I ended up winning that match, and most of the mono-red mirrors I faced after that. You just have to be patient, go into that zen control mindset. Don’t be completely reactive, but don’t dump your hand and lose immediately either….
The other matchups have a bit less play to them. Play threats slowly against Clarion. Don’t run into an Azorius deck’s Settle the Wreckage. Anyone that plays a little bit of Magic will understand these things. The biggest advice I’d say though is to not give up. My win rate changed dramatically when my mindset towards winning changed (I’m ready to level up now). Frenzy is a broken card. As long as that’s a card you can draw, you can win the game. Even Teferi is no longer the death nail that he was six months ago. Red deck might have the worst creatures in Magic, but man does Red have late game.
I’m still not out of Platinum though. Turbo Fog. Let’s talk about Turbo Fog. What an awful bunch of Magic that is. Platinum is the land filled with Turbo Fog. I have no idea of the validity of it, never tested it, wouldn’t touch that shit with a ten-foot pole. Really haven’t seen much since getting to Mythic (edit: just played it) but I’m sure someones just having a bad day and is sleeving it up somewhere. But Platinum, turbo fog, as far as the eye can see. Understanding this match-up and how to level up fastest you basically need to know when they have the Lantern Control lock in place. One Teferi is almost always a lock. A Teferi and a Search is definitely a lock unless they’re in burn range. A Teferi, a cast Nexus, and another cast Nexus, also a lock.
This is where you cut your losses but play it out once just to find out where that loss is actually occurring. And to waste their time, given the opportunity always waste a Turbo Foggers time, just for wasting yours.
Once I got out of Mythic, I was off to the races. Diamond was filled with about 4 decks. Red, Boros, Selesyna, and Golgari. Drakes was out, control was present although falling off and no longer number 2 (presumably due to its speed in climbing the ladder) and things were just an aggro’d up nightmare. It was there that a lot of the good will for this game was lost. Where is anything but aggro I found myself asking?
But that’s how you get to the top. You Aggro out.
You can do it other ways.
But you wanna get to the top in a weekend, right?
Well. Then. Burn. Baby. Burn.
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