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Eight Surprising Observations from Last Week's Standard Qualifier


1. What Might Not Be That Surprising at All... The Archetypes Were Skewed

The Standard Super Qualifier was played on 4/21 on Magic Online... Sadly, had the event been played just one or two days later, Gyruda, Doom of Depths might have made a showing (or eight).

2. Also Notable by Its Absence? That Hot New Cycling Deck

If you haven't seen it yet, the first second exciting new archetype to come out of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths made its debut last weekend... But, again, not in time for this particular Super Qualifier.

This Super Qualifier might be the last event for a while where that statement will remain true. The Jeskai Cycling deck seems just awesome to me. It has a feeling kind of like Extended Elves of LSV's era... All its cards are super cheap (especially when you consider spells like Frostveil Ambush and especially Footfall Crater - I mean ew - are really just there for their one mana-ness as far as Cycling goes), and while the deck feels super linear, it has some surprises once it hits a critical mass of resources.

Zenith Flare

Flourishing Fox is simply an incredible Magic: The Gathering card... Quirion Dryad was the centerpiece of multiple "best deck in the format" candidates in its heyday years ago; and anchored the transformative sideboard of the best deck ever to win a Grand Prix. Flourishing Fox is just... Better.

Drannith Healer is quietly an unbeatable threat in some matchups. Especially if you draw two copies! Imagine you're up against the Obosh, the Preypiercer version of Rakdos Sacrifice. Literally just having 2 toughness puts Drannith Healer in a position where it is unlikely to leave the battlefield before Obosh itself appears. It takes serious work from Mayhem Devil or a one-two punch with Claim the Firstborn to get rid of it... And we're talking about what should theoretically be the weakest creature on the Jeskai side. (And anyway, you can always buy your Healer back.) By the time Obosh is there to theoretically save the day, Jeskai will often have been able to cycle its way into 4+ mana of its own and a Zenith Flare to keep damage nice and how its printed on the cards.

Speaking of Zenith Flare, this card is generally going to be stronger than Warleader's Helix; and anyone who played Standard when Warleader's Helix was legal knows that if you ever drew two you usually just won.

Oh, and that darn cat!

3. Kind of Surprising... Lurrus versus Obosh in Rakdos Sacrifice

Even though we didn't see the Jeskai Cycling deck in this particular Top 32, that didn't mean that we didn't see Lurrus of the Dream-Den. [Probably] The strongest Companion in a vicious cycle of many strong Companions showed up in Rakdos Sacrifice... But had competition!

There were six Rakdos Sacrifice decks in the Top 32 of the Super Qualifier... Which might have been surprising itself, given the strength of that color combination out of the gate. I figured Rakdos Sacrifice would prove the top archetype given its pre-Ikoria status and clear upgrades, but produced "only" six of the Top 32.

Surprising to me was that it was the Obosh version that put up twice as many copies versus the Lurrus version's two. Obosh also put up the highest Rakdos Sacrifice finish (Top 8, 5th). Obosh put up an average of 17.25 points coming out of the Swiss; with Lurrus 15... Neither copy even cracking the Top 16.

The Obosh version actually plays more copies of Lurrus of the Dream-Den... They're just in the main deck!

The Lurrus version gets to play Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger (inconveniently even costed), and because of that, can get more excitement out of Call of the Death-Dweller than its Obosh cousin. Being able to run Lurrus so reliably (even with only one copy) makes Mire's Grasp everything you could ever dream of for two.

4. Not Surprising AT ALL - Even with no Gyruda, Companions Were Awesome Here

25 of the Top 32 decks played some Companion or other.

But it's worse than that... Two of the seven no-Companion decks? Literally 31 and 32.

The average number of Swiss points among Top 32 decks was a little over 17; but for the no-Companion decks? More than a full point less. What does that mean?

Decks without Companions represented about 22% of the decks, but only 20% of the game wins in the Swiss.

5. But Not Just ANY Companions... We're Talking Macrosage

Jeskai Fires was nearly half of the Top 32. 15/32 to be exact.

6. But That's Not Even the Surprising Part. Jeskai Fires was Exceptional in Performance

Jeskai Fires with Keruga, the Macrosage absolutely crushed this event.

There were 555 Swiss points acquired by all decks in the Top 32, but 270 of those belonged to Jeskai Fires. So 47% of decks were Jeskai Fires, but 49% of Swiss game wins belonged to Jeskai Fires. That 2% probably doesn't mean a lot to you... So how about these little nuggets?

Not only did Jeskai Fires finish first and second out of the Swiss; it finished first and second overall (ultimately winning the event). Slightly less than half of all decks were Jeskai Fires, but 5/8 of the Top 8 were!

But even that is nothing!

Think about this: There are seven extra wins available to the Top 8 in total:

  • Everyone who crosses Top 8 to Top 4 gets one win (4)
  • Each Finalist gets one more (2)
  • And the Champion gets the last one over the other Finalist (1; 4+2+1=7)

Six - six - of those seven wins belonged, in this tournament, to Jeskai Fires.

So... Simply incredible. It's not uncommon for a deck to be very popular. At different times in Standard both Jund and Faeries achieved representation near 50%... But both of those decks actually won fewer than half their matches on average; not so the Macrosage... At least not this week.

For those of you wondering who got that seventh non-Jeskai, it was this Companion:

Yorion, Sky Nomad

7. LOL

Now this is surprising to Yours Truly:

You have an 80 card deck. Literally 20 extra cards above and beyond the number that everyone else is playing. Your deck in fact has the theme of Blinking key permanents (especially ones that have cool 187 abilities). Yet you have room for only three copies of the best one.

Elspeth Conquers Death
Elspeth Conquers Death
Elspeth Conquers Death

Bobjackson's was not actually the copy of the Yorion deck that made Top 8 - sorry, Top 4 - but I'm sure you take my meaning. Three copies of The Birth of Meletis is also a little weird to me; both those enchantments were typically four-ofs in the pre-Ikoria / sixty-card version of Azorius Control. Since both living long enough to play Yorion - and having sufficient mana to play it - are central to why you'd want to play eighty cards to begin with, I don't know how The Birth of Meletis can really be a card you cut.

8. What's Really Surprising About Jeskai Fires

In my mind, the innovation that really cemented Jeskai Fires at Tier One pre-Ikoria was Robber of the Rich. Now obviously you can't run that card with the same level of strategic opportunity that you could before Keruga, the Macrosage, but the fact is... It's gone. That's not surprising at all.

What is a surprising disappearance?

Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Triumph

Check out the winning deck, the King of Kings among Jeskai Fires at the Super Qualifier:

This build cut all the Temples in order to play more Triomes! With a whopping twenty-nine lands, _goblinlackey didn't just cut each and every Temple, they added the off-color Savai Triome to Jeskai's mana mix. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about that just yet, or if it is going to prove Staple in Jeskai moving forward.

There are some strong reasons to play Triomes - even extra Triomes - in Jeskai. In the early game, a Savai Triome is a little worse than almost any Temple (it doesn't help set up your deck). But later in the game, especially if you already have Fires of Invention in play, Triomes can be much better. Drawing a card is generally better than a no-draw Scry 1. This is especially true when you have a ton of open mana that you aren't doing anything with. A supposedly off-color Triome can actually dig you to a threat that can help you win the game (and you probably aren't goiing to have to spend any mana on).

While _goblinlackey had the tech for this one, I'm not 100% it's going to catch on in general; and anyway, there was a pretty sizable range for performing Jeskai decks in this tournament.

  • Jeskai Fires players ran anywhere from 27 to 30 lands (the average being close to 29)
  • Two decks (including the winner) ran 8 Triomes; three total ran 3
  • The average Jeskai Fires deck ran 2.5 Temples of one sort or another, anywhere from 0 to 6... All three flavors were represented.

Did anything about all this surprise you?



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