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“I won’t let anyone on the team play Mono Blue”

That was me, the week before the Mythic Championship in Cleveland. I was quite committed to the idea that Mono Blue was completely overrated and the initial data I gathered with my testing team, Bolt the Bird, did nothing but strengthen that vision. Looking back, I should have said:

I won’t let anyone else on the team play Mono Blue

Because that is exactly what happened.

Data Gatherings

Mining the Magic Online Metagame

Mental Health Enhanced Surveillance by Grzegorz Rutkowski

Enhanced Surveillance by Grzegorz Rutkowski

In the first weeks after Ravnica Allegiance got spoiled, we got structured on Discord and planned how to approach the new Standard format. Most of the early time was spent on draft and we’d focus more on constructed once we had a clearer picture.

A couple weekends before the Mythic Championship, there was a big weekend of competitive Magic on MTGO. With an MCQ on Saturday and a MOCS Monthly on Sunday, these events would provide a lot of data on what did well and provide some solid groundwork for our continued preparation.

But we weren’t just satisfied with the published decklists, so we went and spent some time during the night after the event had resolved to watch replays of every player so that we’d know what everyone played and what their record was. With this data we could even figure out how the decks matched up against each other. With two very competitive events, it seemed like we had enough of a sample size to count on this data.

Analyzing the Results

An embarrassing performance by Mono Blue

Mono Red Crackling Drake by Victor Adame Minguez

Crackling Drake by Victor Adame Minguez

In the end, our results showed that White Weenie and UR Drakes crushed the events, partly due to their great matchup against Mono Blue which showed up as the 2nd most played deck after Sultai midrange. Sultai had as expected win rate slightly better than 50 %, but Mono Blue showed up with an embarrassing 43 % win rate.
We reasoned that this was partly due to a bunch of players who picked up the deck for the first time, as it isn’t easy to play and can vary wildly in power level if you don’t play it well. Also, it was hurt by the popularity of White Weenie and Drakes. So we concluded that it was probably better than a sub-50 % win rate, but not really the sort of highly competitive deck we were looking for. We decided to largely ignore it, also expecting its numbers to go down once we reached the Mythic Championship.

Winning with White Weenie

I still looooove Snubhorn Sentry

Snubhorn Sentry by Aaron Miller

Snubhorn Sentry by Aaron Miller

I played straight Mono White in both events and did fairly well. I was very pleased to see that my deck choice was also the one that performed best. So I continued to work on the archetype. I also experimented with different versions of GW Tokens, because they had a small but impressive showing at the online events which could have just been variance. While those decks did perform a lot better than White Weenie against Sultai, they seemed to be worse in every other matchup. Notably it wasn’t even favored against White Weenie because it’s all about who has more ways to buff their creatures, and White Weenie has more of those. March of the MultitudesMarch of the Multitudes doesn’t even do much unless you are already ahead.

Going with the Flow

I expected to play what the rest of the team was on

Hero of Precinct One History of Benalia by Noah Bradley

History of Benalia by Noah Bradley

So I left for Cleveland expecting to play Mono White or maybe one if the Nexus of FateNexus of Fate decks the rest of my team worked on. I was quite convinced that the strict mono colored version of White Weenie was better than the more popular one that splashes blue for sideboarded counterspells. Since the deck only has twenty lands, drawing an opening hand where your only lands are Glacial FortressGlacial Fortress is not unlikely and is often going to cost you mulligans. Also, sideboard cards that you don’t have enough sources to consistently cast is just not something I can advocate for. Even more so since DemystifyDemystify is almost better than NegateNegate against Wilderness ReclamationWilderness Reclamation. And you have no trouble filling up the sideboard slots even in just one color.

I was quite worried about the Sultai matchup. In the online events, White Weenie had a slightly bad matchup against Sultai. I personally went 5-2, but I think I got lucky and it seemed like with a tuned Sultai list I’d be in trouble. In-house testing confirmed this, as I just kept losing over and over again against Sultai. Even when I sideboard 13 cards I didn’t get much better than 50/50.
My Mono Blue matchup also seemed worse than I thought it was (though still favorable) and the same was true against Nexus. And once we got around to test the Esper Control matchup, one that used to be favorable, I lost so much postboard. Now that they have lots of Hostage TakerHostage Takers and Cry of the CarnariumCry of the Carnarium in the sideboard, we even started boarding in Tocatli Honor GuardTocatli Honor Guard.

What to do then?

The verdict on the white deck

MTG Arena Unbreakable Formation by Matt Stewart

Unbreakable Formation by Matt Stewart

All of this made me doubt my decision, but what I did have was a very well-tuned version of White Weenie and lots of experience and confidence playing it. This was developed mostly after conversations with Zen Takahashi, Fabrizio Anteri and especially Magnus Lantto who did grind the deck to dust on Magic Online.

This is what we came up with:

Mono White Weenie by Simon Nielsen

Creatures (22)
Snubhorn Sentry
Dauntless Bodyguard
Skymarcher Aspirant
Healer's Hawk
Tithe Taker
Benalish Marshal

Spells (14)
Legion's Landing
History of Benalia
Conclave Tribunal
Unbreakable Formation
Lands (20)
20 Plains

Sideboard (15)
Tocatli Honor Guard
Baffling End
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Demystify
Adanto Vanguard

I like how simple and clean this deck is. It has enough power to hang in the long game, and it’s explosive enough to grant free wins. But it just loses too much in my opinion. The deck mulligans a lot so your good matchups are rarely that good. And being a dog to the most played deck in the format is just not where I want to be.

In the end, 2 players from our team ended up with the deck anyway: Matti Kuisma and Hannes Kerem. I opted out in the very last hour.

Decision Paralysis

So many options for deck choice

Mono Blue Decision Paralysis by Vincent Proce

Decision Paralysis by Vincent Proce

We had a lot of decks in the running for our testing period. Even once we got to the house, the decks people were interested in shifted between Simic Nexus (which Kasper Nielsen, Emil Martiny and Leo Lahonen ended up playing and fellow Snapcardster Michael Bonde made Top8 with) and Sultai Nexus – a brew we had been working on that replaced the Root SnareRoot Snare and counterspells in Simic Nexus with more interaction like Thought ErasureThought Erasure, Cast DownCast Down and Ritual of SootRitual of Soot. This version is a lot better against Mono Blue because it gets to morph into a pseudo-control deck. It does also become more clunky because of the 3-colored mana base and because Wilderness ReclamationWilderness Reclamation doesn’t play that well with Ritual of SootRitual of Soot. This is the reason why in the end the majority of our Nexus players ended up on blue-green, but Karl Sarap had more experience with the Sultai version so he stuck with it.

Lauri Pispa had won his RPTQ a couple of weeks back with RB Midrange – similar to the deck that Jody Keith won GP Memphis with. He went back to the Jund version that combines StatusStatus // Statue with Goblin ChainwhirlerGoblin Chainwhirler. We considered it at some point, but it’s quite clunky and bad against Nexus. Lauri ended up playing it, along with Lauge dePlace.

Criteria for success

How the Mono Blue evaluation changed

Mono Blue Merfolk Trickster by Jesper Ejsing

Merfolk Trickster by Jesper Ejsing

Since Mono Blue continued to be a player in the metagame at GP Memphis, and even put two copies in the top 8, I changed my expectation that it would become less popular. Actually, the day 2 metagame almost exactly mirrors our metagame from the datamining, which suggests that the numbers might not change that much. I do expect more Nexus decks and less Esper Control, because Nexus lists are getting very refined at this point and Pro Tours have historically not had that many control decks.

This means that my expected top 3 decks in the metagame would be:

  1. Sultai
  2. Mono Blue
  3. Nexus-variants

My criteria during the testing process was that I’d like to find a deck that is even against one of these 3 decks and favored against the other two. At the same time it shouldn’t be completely useless against the rest of the metagame. None of our decks did this for me. We discussed that there might be a version of Mono Red that is even against Sultai while it has good match-ups against Blue and Nexus, but we figured that we wouldn’t have the time to find it.

As I played Mono Blue against our brews throughout the testing process I was surprised at how much I won. The deck just seemed fine, even in its bad match-ups. And it slowly occured to me, that this is actually the deck that is favored against two of the top 3 and even in the mirror match. But I didn’t think I could play it. After all I had very little experience and no good list or sideboard guide.
I consider these three factors when I choose my deck, in order:

  1. Position in metagame
  2. Experience and comfort
  3. Access to a good and tuned list

For White Weenie I had the latter two (and they usually go together), but I thought it lacked the first option because the Sultai and Esper matchups were so bad. For Mono Blue I thought the first option rang true, but not the other two which means I couldn’t really justify it.

Mattis Magic Murmurings

Switching to Autumn’s deck list

Mono Blue Tempest Djinn by Zezhou Chen

Tempest Djinn by Zezhou Chen

It was only slightly more than an hour before decklist submission, when Matti Kuisma came to me and said that if I thought Mono Blue would be the best I should just play it. Because having a good deck matters so much more if you are at a reasonable level already.

This was quite an eye-opener for me, as I realised how sick and tired I was of doing this so often. I frequently think that I have a good idea of what a good choice would be, but I let my lack of experience steer me away, just like how I didn’t run Jeskai at the World Magic Cup. But Matti was right, and I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
I remembered that Autumn Burchett had won their RPTQ a couple weeks earlier with Mono Blue and figured they would be testing with a small enough group that they could actually share their list with me. They did confirm that Mono Blue was indeed the best deck and kindly let me see their deck list and sideboard guide.
At this point I was so ecstatic. I felt like I was doing something utterly crazy, but now that I had a list, a guide that I trust is good, I fulfilled another criteria. With 20 minutes left of decklist submission, I entered the list I got from Autumn, almost without looking through it first.

Mono Blue Shitters by Autumn Burchett

Creatures (17)
Pteramander
Siren Stormtamer
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Merfolk Trickster
Tempest Djinn

Spells (24)
Curious Obsession
Opt
Dive Down
Spell Pierce
Wizard's Retort
Essence Capture
Negate
Entrancing Melody
Chart a Course
Lands (19)
19 Island

Sideboard (15)
Island
Entrancing Melody
Surge Mare
Deep Freeze
Negate
Disdainful Stroke
Essence Capture
Jace, Cunning Castaway

This is certainly the riskiest deck choice I’ve ever done for a Pro Tour-level event. I played brews before, but never changed my mind in the last hour before decklist submission. I’m the only one on my team on the deck, but after talking strategy with Autumn today (as I write this the evening before the event), I feel content and I am excited to see how this experiment will go.

You, dear reader, will have the advantage of hindsight as by the time you read this, you’ll know how well the event went for Autumn and me. You’ll see how my metagame read panned out and whether some of my expectations panned out. At this point, I don’t know, but I do know that will try to give it my best as I sit down at the draft table tomorrow morning and subsequently when I shuffle my 19 Time Spiral Islands.

 

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