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A Brief Look at Every Competitive Format

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Over the last few weeks I've begun to stream full time, and with it I've begun playing a pretty healthy variety of formats. Up until now, I largely played Pauper in my downtime and every now and then dabbled into Standard on MTG Arena. Once in a blue moon I'd play a different format, now I've had the opportunity to really throw myself at some of them for a bit. Today I want to give my small thoughts on a few decks in each format as I'm re-engaging them. Let's check them out!

Pauper

Naturally, getting back into things I've been playing quite a bit of Pauper with a myriad of decks. I'll admit, of all the formats I've been playing lately, I think I'm enjoying Pauper the least of all. At this point I largely feel the format has become quite unfun, lending itself to a lot of prison-style decks thanks to flicker loops. But that's not all. Decks like Boros and Delver in all its forms also lend to a style of play that's all about stopping what the opponent does, or even locking them out as well in Delver's case, before going in for the kill. What's left is a bunch of ultra linear decks that struggle a lot more in the wake of the aforementioned decks and have largely fallen off the map as a result.

Ghostly Flicker
Prismatic Strands
Mystic Sanctuary

The format feels very lopsided and generally unenjoyable from a number of sides. Some players enjoy the high control and tempo aspects, but it's difficult for me to recommend it to someone looking to check it out. There is a glimmer of hope with some decks like the newest version of the Cycling Songs combo deck putting up some numbers as a new way to deal with a lot of decks dominating the meta. While it's a deck that can prove difficult to get past at times, there's plenty of ways to interact with it effectively and shut it down. This might cause a slight meta shift as the meta tries to adapt to this new deck, and hopefully it changes things enough to make it a little more fun once again.

Standard

Standard, on the other hand, has been nothing short of a blast. There's tons of different decks right now. Between how many decks have stuck around from the last few sets' Standard environments and new ones created by Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths there's tons of ways to be playing! Want to keep playing decks like Jeskai Fires, Azorius Control, Mono-Red Aggro, or Rakdos Sacrifice? You can! Each of these decks largely stayed the same in some capacity or another but in some cases got a few new toys from the recent set. I swear if you told me cards like Whisper Squad and Serrated Scorpion were seeing serious play, I'd have thought you were crazy!

Zenith Flare
Gyruda, Doom of Depths
Cruel Celebrant

Not only are we seeing a lot of the same decks as before, but we're also seeing some new spice popping up. Like Pauper, a brand new cycling deck has entered the mix and is making for some pretty wild times with a deck that kills with the likes of Drannith Stinger, Valiant Rescuer, and Zenith Flare. We also have the new Gyruda combo decks coming in and tearing things up utilizing cards like Spark Double, Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, and Charming Prince to create multiple clones quickly to crush unprepared opponents. Last but not least, a new take on the sacrifice archetype has sprung up thanks to the ever powerful companion Lurrus of the Dream-Den, featuring a more Orzhov flavor and utilizing cards like Cruel Celebrant to push through every drop of damage possible.

Pioneer

Of all the non-Pauper formats I've played, I've probably played the most Pioneer and have enjoyed it quite a bit. Companions are certainly notable now, but in a way that I kinda feel hasn't completely dominated the format just yet. These are two of the decks that I've been playing which currently sit around the top of the metagame and do feature companions in their lists.



Both decks feel like they play smoothly but also have their issues. For example, the Auras deck can just lose to itself like so many aura-style decks in the past and Gruul Stompy has such a weird curve it can, in fact, be quite weak to proper tempo hits. In addition, these archetypes are less all new powerful dominating lists and more decks that already existed and evolved a little to match their companions.

Similarly, there's actually a lot of the same decks from last season that are by and large unchanged. In this case, I'm looking at you Dimir Inverter, Lotus Breach, and Mono-White Devotion. The Devotion list may sometimes show up in more of an Azorius flavor featuring Yorion, but make no mistake: Mono-White Devotion is still solidly toward the top of the meta. I was also able to put up solid results with decks like Mono-Green Walkers and Elves as well, showing there's still some viability to the format outside of typical companion builds.

Of all the formats I've played so far, barring perhaps Standard, it's quickly becoming the one I'm enjoying the most.

Modern

Modern has been in this weird area for some time now. Tons of powerhouse printings have come and gone in the last year with new sets and just as many bannings hitting it hard. It has left things in a weird state and companions certainly aren't helping. As with Pioneer, though, many decks seem to have simply evolved to adapt the companions into their lists. Burn, for example, started running Lurrus (this is going to be a pretty common trend in all formats, to be honest) and even added Mishra's Baubles as well - just for the extra value. I tried it out myself to see what I thought of it.


I'd played Burn before in Modern and playing it here made me feel like "yup, that sure was a league with Burn all right." Three of my matches were Jund - another archetype that shifted ever so slightly to add a companion - as well as a Grixis Death's Shadow MU and a newer Four-Color Yorion build. Suffice it to say this probably doesn't make for a great sample size of the format, but it does make me feel like once again it's more an evolution of the same decks that were already doing well and that it's long-term not going to shake things up too badly.

If anything, much like what's happened with Pioneer, it may turn out that once the honeymoon period is over, some players will get rid of the companions in favor of other value options. For example, while Lurrus Burn doesn't require you to change really anything, Lurrus Jund requires you to give up longtime mainstays like Liliana of the Veil or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. I still think the format is going to have plenty of ways you can go about things and play the way you want.

Legacy

Legacy on the other hand is where things get a little wackier. You see, I didn't touch on it too much in the Pioneer and Modern sections, but as it turns out the companions have one real weakness: the fact that they tend to get removed as soon as they hit the board. This made it hard to gain a ton of value off of them before they were sent to the bin where I couldn't retrieve them to keep the ball rolling. As it turns out, Legacy doesn't really focus too strongly on the actual removal. It certainly exists, but not quite to the same degree that you might see it in the other formats, and instead relying more on value plays or combo kills.

Because of this, as well as having a much wider card pool of powerful cards to work with, the companions seem to spell a bit more trouble in Legacy than any of the other formats I've mentioned thus far. It feels much more easy to run the Lurrus and Mishra's Bauble value engine in this format, especially when you have way more good countermagic. It even pushes Storm a little more over the edge by effectively providing two extra easy storm count pips by casting it and then casting a Lion's Eye Diamond off of it. And speaking of dumb, silly ways companion interacts with LED, don't get me started on how easy it is to combo off with Gyruda, Doom of Depths and two LEDs.

While these all seem to be ravaging the format, I took my all-time favorite deck Maverick for a fresh spin in Legacy to see how well it fares in today's meta.


What I got when I dove into the leagues was some truly rewarding gameplay. Every single match featured companions in one way or another, but a lot of times it felt very much like the same old grindy matches I'd been used to for years. Storm still kicked my ass to the curb, but that's how it usually goes when the deck goes up against Maverick, and Lurrus certainly didn't help things there.

There were even some inventive fresh brews going around as well. In the last week, you may have seen some sweet new decks centered on Yorion, Sky Nomad. As it turns out, it's not really that hard to make an extra 20 cards work for you when you get an extra big critter like Yorion. Run tons of cards with ETB effects like Ice-Fang Coatl, Arcum's Astrolabe, and even Abundant Growth and you've got a stew cooking.

Even with all the new decks coming into the meta, however, once again we're still able to run a lot of the same ol' long-time favorites. You'll still see the usual Delver decks, Storm decks, Reanimator decks, Death and Taxes, and more that you've come to know over the years, but there's just a lot more in the mix as well. With just how much the format has been shifting over the last year, it's made a lot of people worry that Legacy is starting to feel a lot more like a rotating format as opposed to one that could naturally evolve slowly over time.

I feel like that idea is largely exacerbated as of late by the big Legacy shift to a more digital platform as opposed to paper events being held regularly - something that was happening long before the current global crisis. You see, when people play paper Legacy, a lot of times players only have one or maybe two decks. There's obviously some players who have numerous decks or a card pool that can allow them to play different things, but by and large you'll often see a player get a deck and stick with that deck for a very long period of time.

On Magic Online, however, it's much easier to swap decks and cards with ease. Cards and decks are significantly cheaper and whole decks can be borrowed through loan programs, allowing for a lot more players trying out new things to see what works. Between both the powering up of cards across the board and this big shift online, it's not a huge wonder as to why the format might be feeling the way it is.

Despite a few of the clear troublemakers (looking at you Lurrus) I think the mechanic will end up okay, provided of course that they don't make as many of these cards going forward. As it stands right now, though, barring the glaring exceptions that have reared their heads, I still feel like we're by and large able to experience the same rewarding gameplay Legacy has long been known for. As long as we have that, then that's what matters most to me.

As a slight aside I also want to shout out my opponent who played an Obosh Burn deck that went turn one Dark Ritual, Underworld Dreams into turn two Winds of Change. You're the real MVP for rocking something completely different like that!

Vintage

Last but not least is the format I'm honestly the least experienced in: Vintage. Truth be told, when I jumped into a Vintage league for the first time on stream, I had no idea what to expect. I knew there's some ridiculous things in the format and have both watched others stream in the past and reviewed a lot of lists over the last year or so. As such, I figured I'd take one of the more affordable and possibly easier to run decks: Ravager Shops.


When you look at Ravager Shops, it seems pretty simple enough to run. Just play out a bunch of big artifacts and go. I'd played a lot of Affinity in the past and felt like this would be pretty easy going. As I played my games, however, I realized that couldn't be further from the truth. What's more, Lurrus was utterly dominant in this format. Going Black Lotus, Lurrus, Black Lotus is just such a huge level of advantage it can't really be overstated. The format's been getting rocked pretty hard ever since War of the Spark landed and there's a lot of talk that this could be the first non-Conspiracy bannings the format gets since Shahrazad back in 2007. It's no surprise given the unreal guaranteed value these cards provide either.

That having been said, I still ran into a number of different decks and had some wild experiences along the way. It won't be so often, but it's only a matter of time until I dip my feet back into Vintage and try it out some more. That having been said, I wish it would get pummeled a lot less by the newer sets coming out on the regular as of late.


To wrap things up, I think that while companions have people pretty worried about the state of things, the overall experiences I've been getting make me feel there's still tons of fun to be had in these formats. A lot of them still have a lot of the same rewarding gameplay, even if it's meant some changes along the way. There's a few glaring problems in a few places, but by and large it seems like something new that's experiencing some growing pains, much like planeswalkers when they first showed up in Lorwyn.

I've been enjoying my time with each of these major formats and can't wait to play them even more in the coming days. The joys of Magic are still there, even if we can't play in paper right now. No matter what happens, there's always going to be a way to experience things in a new, fun, and inventive way. That's what makes the game so damn great.

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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