War of the Spark Standard Mythic Championship Qualifier event review and Top 8 decklists

Last weekend I attended the Mythic Championship Qualifier (MCQ) event in Liverpool hosted by Justplaygames. The release of Ravnica Allegiance shook the Standard format up a little bit, but I expected War of the Spark (WAR) to cause a bigger shake up to the Standard metagame. In this article, I’ll provide some context for my deck choice, some commentary on how I prepared for the event, and a breakdown of how I performed at the event, including things I learnt while playing against some of the new cards. Hopefully this should set the stage for the changes the release of WAR will make in on the Standard format going forward.

Deck selection and MCQ preparation

‘Picking the right deck’ in the first few weeks of a new Standard format can be either an exciting or stressful process depending on how we want to approach it – in terms of both theory and practice. In the ideal scenario, we would have time to theorise and practice with a number of decks, but with WAR having only been legal for a couple of weeks, we’re compelled to make a much quicker decision than normal when it comes to deck choice. For the first tournament of a new format, I was pretty dead-set on running White Aggro without trying many other decks out.

While a purist might say we gave up some equity in sidestepping some of the stress that inevitably comes with a thorough search for the ‘right deck,’ we’ve chosen to reap the benefits of a stress-free ‘early lock-in’ in terms of our deck choice early, which will allow us to get more time in practising playing the new format. There’s always the risk that we’ll end up in a bit of an awkward spot if our practice games don’t go so well, as confidence is important for tournament performance. However, circumstances have swayed us to practice over theorising. Being uncertain about which deck to play too close to a tournament and leaving no time practice at all is something we want to avoid. Theories can be proven right or wrong with time. We can always try out and possibly play a different deck for the next tournament.

White Aggro was a little lacking in terms of tournament success in the previous week’s StarCityGames (SCG) Open, but it did feature as a popular choice in the Magic Pro League (MPL) Split Spark event. Decklists for both events can be viewed using the links provided immediately below:

The fact that White Aggro was popular in the MPL was a little reassuring to see, however this isn’t why I chose to play White Aggro.

  • Old faithful: Given the time constraints, improving a known deck with cards from a new format is much more straightforward than brewing up a new concept altogether that may or may not work in the end.
  • Metagame read: Simic Nexus was hyped as being the ‘deck to beat’ with the addition of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. Nexus of Fate was put in its place last week by Mono-red at the SCG Open, so I currently believe these two decks to be very much on people’s radar going into the MCQ. This probably makes Esper Control quite a good choice for the event as it has decent game against both. I therefore personally thought that transforming Legion’s Landing would be a good strategic option against all the Esper decks looking to seize the day. White isn’t the best against Red, but I do like it against Esper Control and any remaining Simic Nexus decks;
  • Deck familiarity: We’ve played this archetype before, so we’re confident with sequencing and with the main lines of play.

Our commitment to White has paid dividends with War of the Spark’s release, granting us some new toys to tune up the previous list with. Here’s a quick look at the additions from the new set that we considered in the run up to the MCQ.

  • Law-Rune Enforcer: This new one drop may not dish out the most damage, but we can really benefit from its activated ability, setting up effective attacks or keeping Lyra Dawnbringer at bay. In spite of the importance of 1-drops in the deck, we’ve made room for it by cutting Snubhorn Sentry. The dinosaur deals the least damage early on in the game which is particularly relevant in match-ups where applying as much early pressure as possible is an absolute must. Additionally when the opponent has a lot of removal, our chances of achieving the city’s blessing are reasonably slim. As an added bonus, Enforcer having two toughness allows it to survive Goblin Chainwhirler’s triggered ability.
  • Gideon Blackblade: I decided Gideon was going to be more of a sideboard card for match-ups where the opponent doesn’t present much of a board and needs to be pressured, such as Control and Nexus decks. Having the opportunity to drop a Planeswalker on turn three instead of a creature really complicates things for decks looking to play mass removal around turns three and four. It also has activated abilities which can make your combat steps better and it allows us to interact with the opponent’s board! The -6 ability is almost like having a ‘secret weapon’ to deal with troublesome permanents or blockers.
  • Blue cards: I spent a lot of time trying to give the blue splash a chance, including Teferi, Time Raveler as both a maindeck and sideboard card, and Dovin’s Veto as an ‘upgrade’ to Negate. Ultimately, I couldn’t restore my faith in the blue splash. If felt like most of the time all it was adding was ‘certainty’ as opposed to a mere ‘likelihood’ of victory against Simic Nexus, which I didn’t feel was worth the cost of splashing the extra colour. While it felt ‘safe’ to hold up countermagic in the face of mass removal, I felt that those cards could often be played around anyway, and the drawback of having dead cards rotting in your hand and slowing the deck down when you fail to draw a blue mana source (assuming we’re only running eight or nine) would be far more punishing.

Preparing for the event mainly involved playing on MTGArena. My friend Alfie Bennett also helped me bounce ideas around regarding sideboarding plans for different decks and options for balancing the numbers of cards between the maindeck and sideboard. He was also playing White aggro but favoured the blue splash. In the end, I settled on the following list:

Most of this is what is typically expected from a Mono-white deck. Removal against other creature decks, Planeswalkers to threaten control decks, and Demystify to help against Nexus decks. Unbreakable Formation is for when we want to stay as aggressive as possible when that’s our best path to victory. This is relevant against Mono-red, Bant, and Esper Hero (an Esper Midrange deck leveraging Hero of Precinct One). Maybe the Tocatli Honor Guard is there out of force of habit. Other than decks that use Wildgrowth Walker and explore creatures, it’s unclear where else we would want it, and, for now, such decks appear to have fallen out of favour (Sultai Midrange seems to have declined). We don’t particularly want the Honor Guard against Bant Midrange or Esper Hero, primarily because, while it’s nice to shut down Frilled Mystic or Deputy of Detention, deploying a Venerated Loxodon and pumping the team is a more reliable path to victory. Their more expensive cards like Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and God-Eternal Oketra beat us outright, so we want to try and put the game as far out of reach as possible before such things can assist our opponent.

The MCQ 

I travelled to the event with fellow Leeds players Rob Catton, Matt Duggan, and Callum Bousfield. Rob and Callum played Esper Control and Matt played Mono-red. With close to 100 players in attendance, the event was going to be seven rounds with a cut to Top 8. Here is how the swiss rounds played out:

• Round 1 vs UW Superfriends – 2-0 WIN
• Round 2 vs Esper Control – 2-0 WIN
• Round 3 vs Esper Hero – 1-2 LOSS
• Round 4 vs Esper Control – 2-0 WIN
• Round 5 vs Esper Control – 1-2 LOSS
• Round 6 vs UB Control – 1-2 LOSS
• Round 7 vs Esper Control 2-0 WIN

4-3 obviously wasn’t good enough for Top 8. However, here are the top 8 decklists from the event.

Congratulations to Francesco Giorgio for emerging victorious!

Reflections from the event

Here are my main thoughts following the MCQ.

  • In round three vs Esper Hero, I made the mistake by not diversifying my one-drops early in the game. This allowed my opponent to get better value with Deputy of Detention and slow me down more. Instead of playing a third Skymarcher Aspirant, I could have instead played a Dauntless Bodyguard. With my opponent stabilising that game at 2 life, it’s not unreasonable to think that that mistake cost me the game. I had a number of good attacks throughout the game after the Deputy arrived and having an extra 2/1 around could have been enough!
  • In round five against Esper Control, I pretty much gifted game three to my opponent. It’s unclear what possessed me to play out the rest of my creatures when the opponent was in a situation where they pretty much had to to sweep the board. They played Kaya’s Wrath and immediately followed up with Lyra Dawnbringer for maximum punishment! Ironically Lyra would have been kept at bay by a Law-Rune Enforcer had I not played it right into the sweeper.
  • I think I underestimated the Dimir control deck I played in round six slightly. Both of the games I lost were very winnable, however, after multiple copies of Enter the God-Eternals and Cry of the Carnarium were deployed they were comfortably out of my reach. After the match, my opponent confessed to preferring playing against creature decks because the deck is absolutely loaded with removal.
  • I can’t say I’m completely satisfied with the way I played on the day. The mistakes I made were fairly poor (especially the second one in round 5). However, I had to play to a decent standard to win the other matches, and I think I was rewarded in terms of metagame read.

Thoughts on WAR Standard

I think you should definitely have the following decks on your radar if you are going to any competitive Standard events in the near future.

Going forward, I personally like the look of the Superfriends decks and Esper Hero, and I’m quite keen to try them out if I can. This will require me to obtain a number of Planeswalkers very quickly if its to be in time for the next MCQ, but we’ll see if we can muster some Superfriends in time! The only thing making me doubt Esper Hero is that I’ve been told repeatedly that it has an awful Esper Control matchup, which, as you can probably tell from this article, I predict will be fairly common in the coming months. For those unfamiliar with Esper Hero, here’s the best performing list from SCG Richmond from the week before the MCQ.

I would still recommend White Aggro decks, in case you are wondering. Though I’ve only played a few matches against the Superfriends deck, my instinct is that it’s a favourable match-up, and I expect it to pick up in popularity. This is partly because we can very easily pressure both Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler with our one drops. Other decks will find themselves potentially quite far behind after a resolved turn three Teferi or Narset, but such an aggressive deck has a chance to stop the Planeswalkers from  snowballing and continually demands an answer to the board state.

What’s next?

I’m continuing my quest for MCQ glory in Sheffield this weekend coming! If you see me there, Feel free to hit me up with any of your thoughts! You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154. I can also be found at Mythic Championship Qualifiers, MagicFests, and other large competitive events like Axion Now’s Mega Modern and Legacy Masters events.

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