Part 1: The Metagame
Best-of-one & Competitive Ladder
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Part 2: Building Golgari for Arena
Hello everyone! My name is Jack, and this is the Arena Meta Mine, a new series of Magic Arena content I am working on to give all players a better chance to be competitive in Wizards of the Coast’s latest digital creation. In this series, we will be taking tournament-winning archetypes and adjusting them for the Magic Arena metagame. To do that we first have to study the meta which I will be doing more and more thoroughly with each edition. In part one, we will be breaking down the Arena meta in order to build G/B (Golgari) Midrange. Then, we’ll link a video of us demonstrating the finished deck in a Competitive Constructed event. Toward the end of the article, we’ll have links to part two where I break down the development of Golgari Midrange for Arena and to a complete sideboard guide of the top ten most played decks. This article may run a bit long, so please feel free to jump around, but don’t forget to vote for next edition’s topic in the poll at the end! Please enjoy and thank you so much for reading!
Arena Meta Mine
Players looking to get into Magic Arena competitively on a budget have a few options. They can pick a good starter deck such as U/G Merfolk, adding more powerful additions as they earn coins. With this option, players might end up with a fantastic Merfolk build, but that is not necessarily a tier-one choice. Instead, for this series, I’ve decided to take tier-one competitive archetypes that are winning major online and paper tournaments and rigorously tune them for the Arena environment. That way anyone looking to play a strong deck on Arena can find a deck they like to play and work toward the optimal build of it—no need to waste time and coins on cards that may never make it past match one of experimentation.
Magic Arena is not paper Magic; it isn’t Magic Online (with Digital Objects) either. The budget of Magic Arena is based almost entirely on cards’ rarities, which is a deckbuilding restriction unheard of by most players except those familiar with Wizards of the Coast’s last digital experiment, Magic Duels. The goals of players on Magic Arena are different as well, as are the player demographics. Are there more Timmies and Johnnies on Arena as compared to the Spikes of Magic Online? After playing over 100 competitive matches in dozens of competitive events on Magic Arena, I think I know the answer. And the first archetype we’re throwing at this unique metagame is Standard-staple Golgari Midrange.
I’ll admit, I’m not a professional Magic player, but I think that’s okay. Most Magic players aren’t, and I’m hoping that my experimentation and stress-testing of powerful archetypes can appeal to players at all levels, even those just jumping into Magic with Arena as the perfect beginner’s vessel.
I’m excited to go through my development of the deck and explain all my specific card choices, but I know not everyone is going to be interested in that part—you’re ready to play some Magic. So, without further ado, here is the final decklist for your enjoyment.
2 x Vivien Reid
4 x Llanowar Elves
4 x Merfolk Branchwalker
2 x Seekers' Squire
4 x Wildgrowth Walker
4 x Jadelight Ranger
2 x Midnight Reaper
2 x Ravenous Chupacabra
3 x Doom Whisperer
2 x Carnage Tyrant
1 x Assassin's Trophy
1 x Cast Down
1 x Ritual of Soot
2 x Vraska's Contempt
2 x Find // Finality
9 x Forest
1 x Memorial to Folly
4 x Overgrown Tomb
6 x Swamp
4 x Woodland Cemetery
4 x Duress
1 x Arguel's Blood Fast
2 x Kraul Harpooner
1 x Moment of Craving
1 x Deathgorge Scavenger
1 x Plague Mare
1 x Ritual of Soot
1 x Vraska's Contempt
2 x The Eldest Reborn
1 x Vivien Reid
So what are we up against? For simplicity’s sake, I recorded the last 100 matches that we played in Magic Arena’s best-of-three formats. That lets us easily estimate what percentage of the meta is made of each deck and archetype because one match equals one percent! For starters, here are the ten archetypes that made up 3% or more of the matches played:
Golgari Midrange, the very deck we’re playing is the dominant deck on Arena right now. This does include more graveyard-based versions of the deck such as Golgari Menagerie, but if you want to be competitive on Arena, you need to have a game-plan for this deck. Izzet Drakes and Jeskai Control are not far behind Golgari in popularity at around 10% of the meta each. These decks both rely on Crackling Drake and other powerful flying finishers such as Enigma Drake, Dream Eater, Arclight Phoenix, and Rekindling Phoenix to close out their games. Combined with other drake-based decks such as Grixis Midrange, drake decks make up about 25% of Arena decks. Golgari decks need to rely heavily on Black to contain these flying threats, but the drakes aren’t the only ones. As Mono-Blue Tempo and Boros Angels round out the top five, four of the top five most popular decks on Arena rely on these flying finishers to close out the game, with Golgari being the only one that doesn’t (although Doom Whisperer can certainly win games). Taken together, decks whose biggest threats are large flying creatures account for 48% of our matches played. Another thing to note is that while Boros Weenie is at the very bottom of our top ten list, it is very likely to explode in popularity with its recent success at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.
For the full story of what we’re up against, we need to dissect the meta further. My initial thought was to start with three big bins, the most classic archetypes of Magic: Aggro, Midrange, and Control. I quickly found however, that while my sideboard for Aggro and Control was fairly consistent, the Midrange decks that we see in standard are too diverse for me to generalize a sideboard strategy against them. Splitting Midrange in half was the solution that worked best for me, and it actually made things even simpler—my strategy for side-boarding against aggressive Midrange decks wasn’t so different from my strategy for Aggro decks and likewise for Control versus controlling Midrange decks. Now I could really see how the meta was divided between very aggressive decks and more controlling ones. The results led to a bit of bewilderment:
The breakdown of aggressive decks and controlling decks is split almost perfectly down the middle. For a deck to be truly viable, it must be able to beat both strategies. As with most Standards, Midrange decks are the most common in the Arena format accounting for about two-thirds of decks played. This does put a lot of pressure on Aggro decks as they typically lose to Midrange decks in the classic “Rock-Paper-Scissors” analogy of Magic archetypes. The Aggro builds that thrive need to be very aggressive and powerful, and even Mono-Red is not quite cutting it at the moment. The deck to watch for, and the real reason to still be prepared for Aggro decks is White-based Aggro decks, the same ones that dominated the Pro Tour. Pride of Conquerors is a very explosive card that you always need to be ready for. Pure Control decks are just a fifth of the meta, and most run an ample number of threats so that creature removal is rarely useless. However, cards such as Cast Down and Moment of Craving are often useless, so we need to be careful about how many we have in our main board.
Providing few more notes on the Arena meta, tribal decks are likely more popular on Magic Arena than elsewhere owing perhaps to the free tribal base decks Wizards provides as part of the New Player Experience and to the popularity of tribal decks with new and casual players. These decks make up 12% of the meta. Token-based strategies also make up a formidable 12% of the Arena meta, which forced me to add a main-deck Ritual of Soot, an uncommon Golgari inclusion that I will discuss more on shortly. Finally, I want to mention one card that really works a bit outside of the other archetypes and can be quite hard to deal with, Divine Visitation. This is an enchantment found in 5% of decks with plenty of combo potential and the ability to turn a run-of-the-mill token deck into something much scarier.
From all of our matches playing Golgari (including many sub-optimal and experimental builds), our win percentage was 59%. Of the top ten popular decks, our best match-ups were with Izzet Drakes, Dimir Surveil, and Grixis Control. Our win rate was over 75% for each of these. Our deck deals with flyers really well typically except when they are backed up with heavy counterspells. Jeskai Control was our worst match-up at 30% win-rate. We never have enough Duresses to fight through the control, and Dream Eater is one of the strongest tempo engines in the game.
Boros Weenie is the other tough match-up from our games. As an Aggro deck, it feels like we should be favored against it, but it is just a very powerful deck. We haven’t faced the deck enough yet to say that we need to make big adjustments, however. Finally, a card that has been increasingly striking fear into my Golgari heart is Tocatli Honor Guard. It has started to see some maindeck play, and what felt like our most miserable match-up yet was an Azorius (W/U) Tempo Angels deck that ran both the Honor Guard and a million counterspells. Compared to most Golgari builds, however, I think our pile is better positioned against the Honor Guard as we rely less heavily on creatures than most other builds. One of the greatest strengths of our particular version of Golgari is its resistance to the Honor Guard, graveyard hate, and other hard counters to the traditional Golgari deck.
The video matches told a different story however, and are a good indication of how the final version of the deck is performing. Over the last four competitive constructed events, we have a 75% win rate against the field. In the video event, we took on the tough match-up, Jeskai Control, beating them not just once, but twice! Our updated deck also performed well against Boros Weenie, emerging victorious in both of those matches as well. The sole loss was to Izzet Drakes, but with our stellar history against that deck, making big changes may be premature. Golgari is in a strong place, and the only match-ups that feel helpless are ones designed to specifically hate out the Golgari archetype.
A Note About Best-of-One Matches and Competitive Constructed Ladder
While this deck is a viable competitive option in any form of Magic, it was designed specifically to defeat Competitive Constructed events. Players in best-of-one matches or the competitive ladder tend to be looking for faster gameplay and bring more aggressive decks to the table. Golgari Midrange is heavily favored against Aggro, but if you do feel you are getting run over by Aggro decks in the ladder, don’t be afraid to make a few changes. An easy option is to “pre-sideboard” in your cards for the Aggro match keeping the 75 the same. Also try adding early game removal such as Dead Weight, Moment of Craving, Cast Down, and Plaguecrafter cutting cards like Eldest Reborn, Vraska’s Contempt, or even a forest. As far as best-of-one matches are concerned, Golgari provides an excellent “tool box” deck that thrives in the format, but tweaking the deck toward beating Aggro may also be beneficial there.
We recently had Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, and Standard was one of the featured formats, meaning hundreds of incredible Magic players took powerful decks of both tested and fresh archetypes. In the end, Andrew Elenbogen was victorious piloting a Boros Weenie deck. Five other Boros Weenie decks were in the Top 8 including Luis Scott-Vargas’ runner-up build. Rounding out the Top 8 were Jeskai Control and Izzet Drakes, decks with many similarities, but as our results illustrate, the decks are certainly worthy of being considered distinct archetypes. Another deck of note that did not make the Top 8, but performed very well at the Pro Tour was Selesnya (G/W) Tokens with an almost 80% day-one conversion rate.
Golgari Midrange has been lovingly dubbed the “Golgari menace” by SaffronOlive and for good reason. It is an incredibly powerful and popular deck, and with Direct Challenge just arriving to the Magic Arena world, I do have to apologize. I do not condone anyone taking this deck to a casual game with their friend although that of course was the first thing I did. Sorry.
With Ravnica Allegiance, I do expect some major shake-ups to occur, but I am very excited for them. The introduction of Rakdos (B/R) and Gruul (R/G) could mean an extremely potent Jund (B/R/G) build could be on the horizon, and Simic (U/G) and Azorius could provide the final dual lands and Blue pieces to make a more controlling Sultai (U/B/G) build of our deck4 a top-tier choice. Regardless, three color decks are on their way with the new Shock lands, and I expect this version of Golgari to take a backseat. With a very favorable match against Boros Weenie, I do not think it is time to put the “menace” away. Golgari is a rock-solid and versatile deck that can dominate Competitive Constructed queues.
The results of recent tournaments will surely shape the future of the Standard format and the Arena metagame as they always do. Some of this information may even become outdated by the time the article is published. Such is the nature of the beast. However, I plan to keep chipping away at the Magic Arena meta, and the winning decks of the Pro Tour provide a great place to start. For future editions, I intend to add at least 100 of my own matches each time while also adding in data from popular Magic Arena YouTubers. I also plan to add deeper interpretations and visualizations of the data to provide the best view of the Magic Arena metagame possible for you all. While I know Golgari will continue to be a serious contender for the months to come, which Top-8 Pro Tour archetype should I investigate for next time’s article? I’ve consolidated White Weenie and Boros Aggro into Boros Weenie, and for the sake of variety added the popular and well-performing Selesnya (G/W) Tokens into the mix. Place your votes in the survey below!
I would love to hear your questions, comments, and suggestions about this article and the Magic Arena metagame! Please leave a comment below, or shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @mtg_jack!
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