The Magic World Championship has been the pinnacle of competitive Magic for almost 30 years, a year end celebration of the best players in the game playing for its most prestigious trophy. The format and structure has changed over the years, from a larger Pro Tour-style field to a small field event that players spend all year trying to qualify for, but there's no doubt that winning the World Championship is something on the top of every single competitive Magic player's wish list.
That being said, it's clear that players show up to the World Championship with their absolute best.
Today begins the 2021 World Championship, which is of course being held online due to the ongoing pandemic. Sixteen players will be doing battle in a small field event that will include one Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Draft as well as mostly Standard play. While there have been a few smaller events since the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, this will be the first time the format gets its full time in the spotlight.
As this stands to be the most exciting event on the 2021 Magic calendar, today I wanted to step into the armchair quarterback role and make some predictions as to how it's all going to go down.
So, let's get started!
1. An Unconventional Draft Strategy Will Be The Key To The Draft Portion
The story about Innistrad: Midnight Hunt draft has been all about Dimir.
Blue and Black are pretty clearly the best colors in Midnight Hunt Limited, providing a wide array of powerful commons that offer raw power, synergy, as well as lining up well against the rest of the format. With lots of powerful removal at common, as well as card advantage, solid recursive elements, and the best use of the decayed tokens, Dimir has done not only a good job of being the de facto best deck to draft, but also the job of embarrassing all of the gruul werewolves in the "werewolf set."
With most drafting happening on MTG Arena these days, it's not often to see a somewhat skewed proportion of Dimir decks at the higher Diamond and Mythic ranks because that is what the best players are playing. MTG Arena will place you in matches based on your rank, but the draft pods themselves are populated with random players across all ranks. With lower level players not placing the same value on the Dimir cards, it's easier for the higher ranked players to get a good Dimir deck more often, which is why it's more often seen at the higher ranks.
This will not happen at the World Championships.
The best thing about draft is that it is a fundamentally self-correcting format. If say Blue is the best color in the format and Red is the worst this may be true in the abstract, but if there are seven Blue drafters in a pod all fighting over cards and only one Red drafter getting literally everything they could ever want, my money is on the Red player.
As such, I expect the player who's best adopted some sort of outside the box strategy will be poised to run the tables in the draft portion. This is going to mean finding a way to take advantage of the fact the Green and Red are often underdrafted by finding the correct way to draft these colors while also getting fed the goods by the Dimir and Azorius players.
It's good to zag if everyone else is intent on zigging!
2. Noriyuki Mori's Azorius Tempo Deck Will Be The Surprise Of The Event
Speaking of taking the path less travelled, Japan's Noriyuju Mori has been zagging instead of zigging all year on his way to the World Championships in his first professional season. He made Top 8 of his first ever premier level event at the Kaldheim Championship with an unorthodox deck choice in Gruul Food over the more commonly played versions of the deck.
This followed with an impressive run in the Challenger Gauntlet with an off the wall Izzet Control deck featuring three copies of Kiora Bests the Sea God to punch his ticket onto Magic's biggest stage. To do so well in major events and qualify for Worlds so early in your professional career is an amazing accomplishment, but to do so with somewhat off the wall brews is even more impressive.
Well, the hits just keep coming!
Azorius Tempo | MID Standard | Noriyuki Mori, 2021 World Championship
- Creatures (25)
- 1 Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute
- 1 Loyal Warhound
- 2 Legion Angel
- 2 Malevolent Hermit // Benevolent Geist
- 3 Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield
- 4 Intrepid Adversary
- 4 Spectral Adversary
- 4 Elite Spellbinder
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
- Sorceries (1)
- 1 Alrund's Epiphany
- Lands (24)
- 5 Plains
- 9 Island
- 1 Hall of Storm Giants
- 2 Deserted Beach
- 3 Cave of the Frost Dragon
- 4 Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway
Noriyuki is at it again, bringing a very unique Azorius Tempo deck to an event where 14 of the 16 decks in the field are either mono colored aggro decks or Alrund's Epiphany decks. However, this may be a metagame call that works extremely well in his favor.
With over half the field on Alrund's Epiphany decks, most of those opting for the extremely spell heavy builds with no Goldspan Dragon, I would love to be the player casting Malevolent Hermit // Benevolent Geist and Reidane God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield. Reidane does get to play some double duty as well however, as both of the primary mono color aggro decks in the format are built on snow mana bases with Faceless Haven.
If the field had skewed more toward the aggressive decks this could have been a disaster for Noriyuki, but with such a favorable metagame ahead of him as well as presumably countless hours of preparation I expect him to put up a very good finish.
The only downside here is that the decklists were released much earlier than planned which hurts some of the surprise factor of his deck, but either way I'm predicting a top 4 finish.
However, in this feel-good story I'm pretty sure the bad guys are still going to win.
3. Grixis Epiphany Will Take Down The Event
Noriyuki's deck is awesome and he clearly puts in a ton of work into Magic, but there's no discounting experience in such a stressful and high stakes event. You have to give an edge to players like Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Seth Manfield, former World Champions and some of the most accomplished players the game has ever seen.
When you add this level of player quality to the time-tested strategy of playing the best deck tuned to beat the best deck however, I've got a few players I'm picking to win it all - and they're all playing the same deck.
Eli Kassis, Gabriel Nassif, Jan Merkel, and Matt Sperling have all come together to bring a new take on the "best" archetype in the format to Worlds, operating under the pretense of wanting to play the best deck but also have an edge in the mirror.
Grixis Epiphany | MID Standard | Gabriel Nassif, 2021 World Championship
- Instants (18)
- 1 Cathartic Pyre
- 1 Cinderclasm
- 1 Demon Bolt
- 1 Power Word Kill
- 1 Prismari Command
- 2 Galvanic Iteration
- 2 Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins
- 2 Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave
- 3 Memory Deluge
- 4 Fading Hope
- Sorceries (12)
- 1 Bloodchief's Thirst
- 1 Burn Down the House
- 2 Duress
- 4 Alrund's Epiphany
- 4 Expressive Iteration
- Artifacts (3)
- 3 The Celestus
- Lands (23)
- 1 Island
- 2 Mountain
- 2 Hall of Storm Giants
- 3 Clearwater Pathway // Murkwater Pathway
- 3 Shipwreck Marsh
- 4 Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway
- 4 Haunted Ridge
- 4 Riverglide Pathway // Lavaglide Pathway
Adding Black to the deck does a number of things.
Perhaps the most time-tested is just to add targeted discard to help with the mirror and other control decks. Duress is one of the most iconic Magic cards in history and it shows up here in both the maindeck and the sideboard. Black also provides more solid removal than Red can provide against larger creatures, helping deal with the large Green creatures that may be thrown at them. And lastly, it provides mirror breaker cards like Go Blank which help in matchups that are dominated by card quantity.
It's not just a few sideboard cards however that set this deck apart, as it has a number of other innovations as well.
This deck marks the coming out party of Lier, Disciple of the Drowned in Standard, as the card really is quite an unbelievable card advantage engine if you get to untap with it. Lier is everything that Dralnu, Lich Lord ever wanted to be. The deck also introduces the centerpiece of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt into Standard in The Celestus.
This deck looks superbly built for this event and is being played by some of the best players in the room. My prediction is that Eli Kassis or Gabriel Nassif take the whole event down with the deck.
2020 was the first year since 1993 where Magic didn't crown a World Champion due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it's very good to see the event return. Having a serious World Championship event be the pinnacle of the game is of major importance when it comes to legitimizing Magic: The Gathering as a competitive venture, while also giving players something to look up to and aspire to.
I'm super happy it's returned and can't wait to see if my predictions will hold true!