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More Best of One


I've been playing quite a bit of Best of One on Magic Arena lately.

Don't get me wrong: I love "traditional" Magic. I love sideboarding. I love the dance that comes from shifting back and forth in a matchup because you can't just think about the simplest and most straightforward elements of a matchup, but have to think about the anticipation of what they might do.

Sideboarding is great.

But, I also like new challenges. Best-of-one becomes much more interesting when viewed as a puzzle: what can you put forth to a metagame that might immediately lose a matchup, but will generally do well overall? With this puzzle in mind, if you like challenges, it is almost as though you have added an entirely "new Standard" into your mix of formats to solve!

Best of One isn't the same Standard for reasons even beyond metagame. We saw all of the many contortions that the players in the Mythic Invitational went into in building their many decks for the format, but one of the important things we saw was a large number of decks built for the potential metagame differences, including choices that we rarely if ever see in regular Magic.

For example, let's look at one of Ondrej Strasky's decks for the event:

The sideboard might be a surprise if you aren't paying attention to the Mastermind's Acquisition in the list. Ond?ej ran a single copy of the card, and if you look deep into the lists, you'll see some people went a little further: Matt Nass, for instance, ran two copies of the card.

The Mythic Invitational lists were all pre-War of the Spark, but despite their age you can see some simple truths: Ond?ej and most of the other Esper players chose to run that Mastermind's Acquisition precisely because the format is different than normal Standard. There is a real incentive to play very narrow, streamlined, powerful decks that push an opponent around on some vector; it's better to have a deck that might lose when responded to but do something absurd in the first game rather than be well-rounded.

Ond?ej paired his Esper deck with Mono-Red Aggro. This combination was incredibly popular, with Esper combined with Mono-White Aggro as another popular combination. All of these decks are very good at just producing a knock-out punch for a good portion of the field.

I have three decks that I've been playing in Best of One to some success: I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

3. George

Mono-Blue Aggro is one of my favorite decks in Standard - so much so that I even enjoy it without the sideboarding. Personally, I loved that Piotr Glogowski chose it for one of his decks for the Mythic Invitational, and I had him pegged to win it as the tournament began to wrap up. Though he was defeated, second place is no mean feat.

Here is my Best of One build:

My own build is not that far off from Piotr's build (his two Quench become another Island and an Essence Capture for me), and though it doesn't include any War of the Spark cards, it is very powerful at beating up on the shenanigans that can be brought by players attempting to get cute. It's also more solid than you'd think against aggressive decks, though it isn't perfect.

Against nearly every controlling deck (including the Planeswalker decks), this deck is a house. People have forgotten what it means to be on the receiving end of an aggro-control game, and if they aren't built for it, they get torn up.

For you War of the Spark fans, rest assured, if you build a three-game traditional version of this deck, it doesn't take much work and you get to add some new cards: I have Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor, Narset, Parter of Veils, and God-Eternal Kefnet all in my sideboard.

2. Abzan Queen

I started calling my Abzan deck "Abzan Queen" because it had a 'protect the queen' element to the deck that felt very compelling. Vraska, Relic Seeker and Vraska, Golgari Queen both often result in the death of an opponent when they click off the ultimate, as does Vivien Reid, so the title felt appropriate. Mana acceleration into cruel Planeswalkers was pretty common in the classic Golgari Midrange decks that have been out recently, though slowly lost favor, and then was completely overshadowed by more ponderous Sultai Midrange.

One element that is exciting about this deck is On Serra's Wings, which initially had two powerful targets to place it on: Carnage Tyrant and Underrealm Lich. Now, though less powerful, Paradise Druid is a great addition from War of the Spark, and Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord gets to show off as a cool analog to On Serra's Wings that won't fight it for legendary status.

Here is the current build of Abzan Queen:

I'm still trying to figure out what I like as my exact mix of Elves. The only count I'm certain of there is the four Llanowar Elves, though a small part of me is wondering if I'm missing out by not playing Arboreal Grazer. Paradise Druid would be a total slam-dunk as a four-of were it not for the ubiquitous Goblin Chainwhirler threat running around in Red Decks. Elvish Rejuvenator makes the cut as usually an extra mana source that sticks around even after death, while Druid of the Cowl has enough toughness that it interacts favorably with a great many removal spells, and is a mini-combo with Finality.

This is a deck that can often outgrind the more controlling classic Esper lists, but it will struggle more with the Planeswalker-heavy control lists that have started making the rounds. One of the cards that might help with that is Ugin, the Ineffable, which has been a card I've played in this deck, though I've tended to cut it more often than not, as I already have so many expensive spells in the deck. Liliana, Dreadhorde General has been in the deck too, but I'm pretty sure I don't want it in my On Serra's Wings deck. Nissa, Who Shakes the World has briefly been in my deck as well, but it doesn't actually seem to accomplish the tasks I'm looking to have solved: versus more controlling decks, it just means I also lose land, and versus more aggressive decks, it has seemed too slow; perhaps it might be the card to help shake lose the Planeswalker matchup, though.

Ajani, the Greathearted makes me want to try even more cards that go wide, like March of the Multitudes, for example. Most often, what I get out of Ajani is a surprise "you're dead" moment, when my Planeswalkers suddenly go ultimate unexpectedly.

I've tried to cut Treasure Map from this deck, but it does somehow manage to keep sneaking in. My suspicion is that in some ways, I'm building a little combo or two, and Treasure Map helps make that happen. I've had as many as four in the deck at times, but it is possible that one could go.

This deck is a lot of fun to play, but it still has a few uneven draws, and with so many interesting cards available for it, I'm still very much in the tinkering stage. Currently, I literally have no cards in the sideboard for this deck, but if I were to begin building one, I'd like start with several copies of The Elderspell, both to fight opposing Planeswalker decks, and also to make on of this deck's fabulous queens go ultimate.

1. Temur Reclamation

The first thing that ended up making the cut in this deck that wasn't in it before is Ral, Storm Conduit. The older version of the deck could take over games with the power of Niv-Mizzet, Parun. This version of the deck still has Niv-Mizzet, Parun, but it also adds in the power of being able to potentially get a combo kill in the form of infinite copies of Expansion.

Now, that element is fine and dandy, but it isn't the overarching reason to put Ral, Storm Conduit into the deck. One of the best things that Ral does is just copy some spell or other. There are a fair amount of times that you need to copy a Fiery Cannonade, and Ral, Storm Conduit acts as that extra few copies of Expansion you're looking for. It doesn't hurt that it is so effective at helping chop down Planeswalkers as well - something very important when you'd otherwise be stymied by a single Teferi, Time Raveler.

Here is where that list is at:

What on earth is a Best of One deck doing with a sideboard?

All of these cards are here in case of Mastermind's Acquisition. Should an opponent cast that card, I want the privilege of being able to copy it with Expansion for something cruel to do in return! Beware, friends: this is not a true sideboard, so if you're planning on making a sideboard for this deck, I recommend a few less singletons.

Why is this deck my current number one for Best of One Standard? It could be because I'm not playing enough Red (at least according to some people I know). But the big reason that I like it is that it feels like it goes over-the-top of everyone who isn't going very low under it. The very aggressive decks can beat this deck, but the rest of the decks I've faced just feel like they can't even begin to cut it.

For example, Grixis Control (one of my favorite archetypes to play right now) can drop Nicol Bolas, the Ravager or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God and even put it into play, but the very act of doing so puts them in terrible risk of facing down a Wilderness Reclamation. Ooooooh, scary, right? Well, since most of these decks aren't running countermagic and there isn't a sideboard, that usually means that Explosion will happen, which is an utter disaster. In my last game against Grixis Control, my opponent successfully resolved two Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and a Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, and even managed to flip one Ravager into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen which resurrected a Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. Despite all of that, I dealt with every card while pulling ahead in resources the whole while.

The deck isn't perfect, of course, but no Best of One deck can be. If you hit a long stretch of aggressive decks, you're likely in for a world of hurt.

I think all of these decks are a lot of fun, and any of them could also be turned into a Best-of-Three deck ("Traditional", if you like). The format - whether one-game or three-games - still feels incredibly new, and I think we haven't even fully begun to scratch the surface of what's possible. I'm excited to continue exploring it, as each new development emerges!

- Adrian Sullivan

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