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With all eyes on Paris, Magic Online tournaments continued as usual.

Comparing Real Life and Online Metagames

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The letter W!elcome back to Online Tech! Last week, Paris became the center of the Magic universe as the city served as the host for the 2006 World Championships. Players from around the world – including yours truly – flocked to the Louvre with dreams of being crowned World Champion, and in the end Makihito Mihara went home with the title. Congratulations! I personally scrubbed out with a disappointing 10-8 record, which I can mainly attribute to drafts gone awry. Constructed actually went pretty well for me. I was quite happy with my Standard and Extended decks and in fact, Tiago Chan piloted the exact same lists to a Top 8 finish! So I'll feature my decks later.

But first, let's return to the Magic Online metagame. Even though the eyes of the Magic community were on Paris, the Magic Online tournaments continued as usual. So as always I will report on what was going on in the digital landscape, but this week with an extra twist. I will research how similar the real life and online metagames are. I will compare the Magic Online results with the World Championships results side by side. Will they be in sync or wide apart?

The Standard metagame

On the previous Online Tech, we saw that the big online decks were Izzetron, Boros Deck Wins, Dragonstorm, and Solar Flare. Let's find out if the Worlds metagame has reflected that. I tallied the decks in the following table according to their popularity percentage, which ranks the deck on a combination of appearance frequency and performance. Simply put, I add up the earned match points of each deck rather than allocating points on a one-point-per-deck basis. Therefore, a high popularity percentage indicates a deck that many people play and win with. You can click on a deck name to go to the corresponding post in my deck-o-pedia forum thread, where you can find a decklist and short explanation of each deck archetype. The top percentage number in each row is the Magic Online popularity percentage averaged over the last two weeks, and the bottom percentage number is the World Championships popularity percentage as seen last week.

Deck name Popularity online
Popularity at Worlds
1. Boros Deck Wins ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)
■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)
2. Izzetron ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)
■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)
3. Dragonstorm ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)
■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)
4. U/G Scryb & Force ■■■■■ ■ (6%)
■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)
5. Mono Green Aggro ■■■■■ ■ (6%)
(0%)
6. Solar Flare ■■■■■ ■ (6%)
■■■■■ (5%)
7. Angelfire ■■■■■ (5%)
■■■■■ (5%)
8. Zoo ■■■■ (4%)
■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)
9. TriscuitTron ■■■■ (4%)
■■■■■ (5%)
10. Vore ■■■■ (4%)
■ (1%)
11. Blue/Red Snow ■■■ (3%)
■ (1%)
12. GhaziGlare ■■■ (3%)
■■■■■ (5%)
13. KarstenBotBabyKiller ■■■ (3%)
(0%)
14. MartyrTron ■■ (2%)
■■ (2%)
15. U/W CounterMesa ■■ (2%)
■■■ (3%)
16. G/W/B Control ■■ (2%)
(0%)
17. Empty the Storm ■■ (2%)
(0%)
18. Solar Pox ■■ (2%)
■ (1%)
19. Soggy Pickles ■ (1%)
(0%)
20. SnakeBlink ■ (1%)
■■■ (3%)

Interestingly, the Magic Online and World Championships lead to a similar observation: the big three decks in Standard were Boros Deck Wins, Izzetron, and Dragonstorm. Of course there were some differences. For example, U/G Scryb & Force and Zoo were much more popular at Worlds than online. Furthermore, decks such as Solar Fires, BlinkGlare, and Black/White Control, which were each played by about 2-3% of the World Championships competitors, didn't make a showing online. And on the other hand, we see that Mono Green Aggro and Vore are much more popular online than in real life. But I daresay that these dissimilarities are relatively small and that the big picture looks the same. It seems that the online and Worlds metagames were pretty much in sync! This observation lends credibility to the argument that the Magic Online metagame has to be taken seriously.

Now I have to make an annotation. The online popularity as presented in the above table is the average of the last two weeks, but this is not a completely accurately description, as there was a certain “breakpoint”. Before last Thursday, the decks which had their breakout performance at Worlds were almost non-existent in the online Premier Events. Then once the World Championships rolled in, boom! Players massively copied Worlds decklists and suddenly the Premier Events were full of TriscuitTron, MartyrTron, etcetera. Now, I won't go in depth on these decks, because I'm sure that Mike Flores will have plenty to say about the new innovative Worlds decks tomorrow.

Rather, I will give you my personal opinions and observations, combining my own thoughts and playtesting results, the Magic Online and World Championships results, and whatever I learned from talking with fellow players last weekend. I expect that in a few weeks, the Magic Online Standard Premier Events will be largely populated with Boros Deck Wins, Dragonstorm, and TriscuitTron. Boros is the best aggro deck. It keeps on winning online, and four out of the five Day 1 undefeated players at Worlds were running Boros. In the last couple days, I noticed that the online players have embraced the Brazilian version, sporting Scorched Rusalka and Giant Solifuge, so Paulo Vitor Dama Da Rosa's Worlds Top 8 deck is the one to look out for. Dragonstorm is the best combo deck. It's dominating the online tournaments and won the World Championships. TriscuitTron is the best control deck. It is the big Japanese deck coming out of the World Championships, and the online players have taken it up en masse already. If the Standard metagame will remain control heavy, I expect this deck will often rise to the top ranks of the online Premier Events.

Apart from those major archetypes, I expect that many other decks will stick around in smaller numbers. I'm hinting at U/G Scryb & Force, Izzetron, Mono Green Aggro, Solar Flare, Angelfire, and MartyrTron. U/G Scryb & Force is fine and solid. Izzetron is the #2 deck now, but I think it will go down in numbers, since the deck disappointed as a whole at Worlds (almost no one playing it went better than 4-2), and I already saw a downfall in the number of online Izzetron players last week. I suspect that most Tron players will pick up TriscuitTron instead. Mono Green Aggro is a strictly online phenomenon, mostly because it is a budget deck (it doesn't require a $200 mana base), not because Blanchwood Armor is so good. But since many players want to play competitively online without spending a lot of money, Mono Green Aggro will remain their deck of choice. Solar Flare and Angelfire are decent semi-controllish decks. MartyrTron is an interesting case. Gabriel Nassif's version looks spicy, but I have one major concern with this deck: the clock. The deck is very good at gaining hundreds of life and doing nothing. The deck is not very good at winning quickly. If you play this deck online, you might lose because you run out of time. If you play this deck in real life, you might end up with a lot of draws in real life tournaments. For instance, Jose Barbero ended up with three draws out of six rounds, playing MartyrTron at Worlds! However, if you know you are a fast player and do not care about boring your opponent to death, MartyrTron is an okay choice, since it certainly demolishes certain strategies.

How about the other decks that I haven't mentioned yet? I either don't think they are that good or inferior to a similar deck, or I expect them to die out. Lastly, I think there are two interesting decks coming out of Worlds that I expect (and urge) the online players to pick up: Øyvind Andersen's Panda Connection deck, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Dralnu du Louvre deck. Brian-David-Marshall featured those decks in his timeshifted column last week. We'll see if my predictions hold up. Now, I want to discuss my Angelfire deck, which I played at Worlds to a 4-2 record, and which Tiago Chan piloted to a top 8 finish.

This deck originated from the Blue/Red/White deck that Kenji Tsumura played at the Hiroshima Champs. His deck looked quite appealing, so I set out to tune it. I tweaked the numbers, and ended up cutting the Careful Consideration/Akroma, Angel of Wrath/Resurrection package for more efficient cards. Perhaps the most influential change was made by Quentin Martin, who added more Demonfires to the deck. I have tested over hundreds of matches with this deck, so I'm fairly confident this version is close to optimal. I also played the deck to a second place finish in an online 183-man Thanksgiving 4x Standard event online.

Against control decks such as Izzetron or Solar Flare, you are the beatdown. To your opponent, it might appear as if you are still aiming for a control game, as you run cards like Compulsive Research, Remand, and Wrath of God. But that's wrong. Your actual plan from the start is to lead into a hellbent ten-point Demonfire on turn nine. You play Court Hussar on turn 3 and attack for a couple points. Then you get in for three with a Lightning Angel before it gets killed and proceed to Lightning Helix your opponent for three damage. A Bogardan Hellkite nugs your opponent to an unsafe life total, after which you empty your hand and point a Demonfire at your opponent to finish it without fearing countermagic. It's surprising how often the games play out like that. After sideboard, you take out Wrath of God and Lightning Helix for Annex, Sacred Mesa, and Giant Solifuge, and solidify your aggressive stance.

Aggro decks such as Boros Deck Wins or Zoo are good matchups. You need to take the control role and preserve your life total as well as you can. You stall their development with Remand or a Lightning Helix, and then you clear the board with Wrath of God. You trade a Court Hussar or Lightning Angel for Giant Solifuge, and then put down a win condition (another Lightning Angel, Bogardan Hellkite, Sacred Mesa, or Urza's Factory). You then put try to kill them before they topdeck burn cards, perhaps using Compulsive Research along the way to draw into a Lightning Helix to stay at a healthy life total. After sideboard, you get to remove expensive/slow stuff such as Demonfire and Remand for Faith's Fetters and Condemn and improve even more.

Combo decks such as Dragonstorm or MartyrTron are tough, since you lack disruption and are not that fast. But fortunately, these decks can lose to themselves a reasonable amount of time. Your plan A is that they get mana screwed. You even have Annex after sideboard to capitalize on that. Plan B is that their deck fizzles. They might not draw any of their combo pieces, which will likely happen if they have to take multiple mulligans. It might seem stupid to put this down as game plans, but actually it is your main chance and it surprisingly tends to work more often than you might think. After that, the actual deck comes into play. Against MartyrTron, you can either go for a quick turn 3 Lightning Angel with Remand backup and hope it's fast enough, or you can abuse Sacred Mesa to make more Pegasus tokens than they can handle. Against Dragonstorm, you can Lightning Helix your way up to 23 life, then when they play Dragonstorm for five you allow their Bogardan Hellkites to take you down to 3 life and chumpblock their Hunted Dragon with Lightning Angel, untap and play Wrath of God. After sideboard you also have Ivory Mask protection against Bogardan Hellkite.

The deck is solid, it plays some of the best cards in the format, it is pretty consistent due to the blue card draw, Lightning Angel is pure gold, it can easily mulligan down to 4-5 cards and still win because of all the card advantage, and not many control decks are prepared for four Demonfires. It's definitely recommended.

The Extended metagame

This is going to be the first time I will cover the post-Time Spiral online Extended metagame, so the online popularity percentage I will present will be the average of the last three weeks. I will once again show the Magic Online results above to the World Championships results, in order to see what the similarities and dissimilarities are. I haven't had time to put up Extended decklists in deck-o-pedia entries yet, because I was busy in Paris last weekend. But I promise to work on that in the upcoming weeks. I will provide you with all the information and tech you need to compete in Extended PTQs soon enough.

Deck name Popularity online
Popularity at Worlds
1. Boros Deck Wins ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (19%)
■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (34%)
2. Blue/White Urzatron ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)
■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)
3. Gifts Rock ■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)
■■■■■ (4%)
4. Red/Green Beats ■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)
(0%)
5. Affinity ■■■■■ ■ (6%)
■■■ (3%)
6. Aggro Loam ■■■■■ ■ (6%)
■■ (2%)
7. Trinket Angel ■■■■■ (5%)
■■■■ (4%)
8. Goblin Storm ■■■■ (4%)
■■■■■■■ (7%)
9. Tooth and Nail ■■■■ (4%)
(0%)
10. Heartbeat combo ■■■ (3%)
■■■ (3%)
11. Ritual Desire ■■ (2%)
■■■ (3%)
12. Flow Rock ■■ (2%)
■■■■ (4%)
13. Aggro Rock ■■ (2%)
(0%)
14. Mono Green Aggro ■■ (2%)
(0%)
15. Green/Red/White Slide ■■ (2%)
(0%)
16. Izzetron ■■ (2%)
(0%)
17. Dragonstorm ■■ (2%)
(0%)
18. Green/White Aggro ■■ (2%)
(0%)
19. Friggorid ■■ (2%)
■■■ (3%)
20. Balancing Tings ■ (1%)
■■ (2%)

Both the Magic Online and World Championships tournaments dictate that Boros Deck Wins is the defining deck of the format. No matter whether you look at the 19% or the 34%, it is certain that Boros wins by a landslide. Blue/White Urzatron is the second most popular deck, both online and in real life.

Notably absent from the online metagame were ScepterChant, Psychatog, and Zoo, which accounted for respectively 5%, 3%, and 3% of the Worlds metagame. Notably absent from the Worlds metagame were Red/Green beats (which has a good matchup against Boros Deck Wins, so it's definitely not a deck that should be dismissed) and Tooth and Nail (which many players I have spoken to consider to be a joke deck, but it is actually not all that bad, especially since you can search Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Sky Hussar out of your deck for an infinite damage combo).

Both Magic Online and the World Championships show that Gifts Rock and Affinity are relatively big decks as well (even though Affinity appears to be hated out and it might not be a smart choice). But after that it gets tricky. On Magic Online, Red/Green Beats and Aggro Loam are putting up good numbers. At the World Championships, Goblin Storm, ScepterChant were the quite popular. The online and real life Extended metagames were definitely not as well synched as the Standard metagames. In part, this might be because Orim's Chants cost about 70 tix online.

Now, I will show my version of Extended Boros Deck Wins, which Tiago Chan piloted to the top 8, and which Jeroen Remie and Wessel Oomens played to a 5-1 record. It is different from most Boros decks because it splashes green.

I want to say thanks to Wessel Oomens, Jeroen Remie, Quentin Martin, Billy Moreno, Tsuyoshi Fujita, and many others for their contributions. I like this Boros version, because:

(A) It plays eight pro-red creatures, which are huge in the mirror match. Soltari Priest is the bomb. It's much better than the other available two-drops. Goblin Legionnaire has gotten worse because of Sudden Shock. Kataki, War's Wage doesn't have enough Affinity decks to hate on.

(B) It has 14 one-drops, which improves the likelihood of getting the dream start of turn 1 one-drop, turn 2 double one-drop. Having a fast damage clock is invaluable against combo and control decks, and splashing green for Kird Ape makes that possible.

(C) It runs what I consider to be the best red spells. Sudden Shock is awesome, not only because it kills Psychatog on sight, but also because it is the perfect slowroll card. You can happily allow your opponent to go off with his Mind's Desire deck, and when he plays his kill spell you slide the Sudden Shock you were holding all along on the table. Note that you should only do this against friends who can appreciate such a well-executed slowroll, not against strangers who might consider it rather rude. I would have loved to include Lava Dart as well, but I couldn't cut any of the other spells for it. Char, by the way, is pretty bad in the mirror match and therefore shouldn't be considered.

(D) It has solid sideboard cards against the field. Pyrostatic Pillar is amazing against combo decks and Scepter/Chant. Ancient Grudge a reason to splash green on itself, as it is excellent against Scepter/Chant and Affinity. It's much better than Disenchant for sure and lessens the need for Kataki, War's Wage. Furthermore, Umezawa's Jitte or Armadillo Cloak (another good reason to splash green) on a protection from red creature spells game over against other Boros decks. In the mirror match, you board out Savannah Lions and Molten Rains for those creature enhancers. I am happy with this sideboard, but if graveyard-based decks such as Aggro Loam increase in popularity, I advocate including Jotun Grunt (which also happens to be quite good in the mirror match). Furthermore, Sulfuric Vortex is a viable option if Scepter/Chant or Blue/White Urzatron decide to pack more Exalted Angels. Dwarven Blastminer is a card that many people swear by, but I think it is too slow.

(E) The name says all…Boros Deck Wins! It just doesn't lose! I had actually tried a LOT of Extended decks for Worlds, but almost none of them could do better than 50-50 against Boros. The deck is just so ridiculously fast and consistent. Even hate decks with 4 Loxodon Hierarch and a maindeck Solitary Confinement lock couldn't walk over the deck. Eventually I just figured that the only sane deck choice was Boros Deck Wins tuned for the mirror match, and that's what I played. I really hope someone can figure out a way to stop this Boros menace, otherwise we will be looking forward to a sea of Sacred Foundries in the online tournaments and PTQs.

So there you have it – a comparison of the Magic Online and World Championships Standard and Extended metagames. Thanks for reading, and join me next week when I will continue my coverage of the Magic Online technology.

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