Welcome back to the third and final installment of my crash course on MTGA best-of-one ladder play. In case you missed parts 1 & 2, you can find them here:
In the first part, I covered the mono-colored aggro decks, which are sort of the baseline of the format. They are easier to build, tend not to lose to their mana, and don’t get punished by dedicated sideboard plans.
In the second part, I covered dual-color aggro/midrange decks. These decks often look like versions of popular Standard decks but with some nuanced flex slots to reflect an aggro heavy metagame.
This last article will feature some of the control decks, as well as a few spicy brews.
We’ve actually seen a few blue decks pop up in the series already. Mono-Blue Tempo and U/G Merfolk are both strong options in Arena and tend to take advantage of the fact that these decks are best combated with excessive, cheap spot removal typically brought in from the sideboard.
Blue control decks are dramatically different from the tempo-based beatdown decks we’ve seen so far, but they are similar in the sense that they try to attack on an axis that is a little bit off the normal beaten path.
Instead of deploying creatures on curve and rumbling in the combat step like the majority of the decks we’ve seen so far, control decks tend to win by answering opposing threats, drawing extra cards, and then either coming over the top or by simply winning a war of attrition. It’s a slow death, but it is an effective one nonetheless!
The most popular control deck on MTGA is Jeskai Control:
MTGA BO1 Jeskai
The version of the deck I’ve been playing lately is based on this version I found. I shaved a few cards to make room for three copies of Seal Away, but I wanted to give the creator credit for coming up with a great shell.
There has been a lot of discussion about how the metagame changes depending upon the tier. I could see the above list being focused for a more control heavy meta, whereas I wanted a little bit of help against aggro as I grind my way through the top of gold tier.
Which brings me to my next point about playing control decks: They work best when they are tuned to beat the other decks that other people are playing! Again, we come back to my mantra: Context is everything.
If you are playing against a ton of aggro decks, swap out some of the high threats for more efficient removal to stave off those early beatdowns. If you are playing against a ton of blue control decks, up the number of Negates.
Another interesting trend is to move away from Niv-Mizzet and play more planeswalkers:
The biggest upside of Niv is that he is uncounterable in a control mirror match. But when an opponent taps out for Niv and it gets answered by a planeswalker for value… ouch.
Here’s a version that goes the other direction and plays Niv.
BO1 MTGA Jeskai
There’s a lot of overlap between the lists. One trend I’ve noticed with Arena Jeskai is that Revitalize is basically a staple among all variations.
When you need a flexible card that is good against mono-red and passable in the mirror, this card really shines.
One interesting aspect of BO1 ladder play is the variation between the lists, especially with the control decks. The metagame is different depending upon your tier. Lower tiers favor aggro (because of card availability), and higher tiers tend to prefer control. So depending on where you are playing, you’ll want to tune your deck and its flex spots accordingly to reflect what other people are playing.
Dimir and Grixis
Although U/B decks are not as popular as Jeskai, I’ve had a lot of success playing them on MTGA. They have some strong options and tend to have a lot of close matchups. I’ve found that Thought Erasure is one of the overall best cards in the format. It’s so flexible and actively great in basically every matchup.
Here’s my Dimir list:
The deck is efficient up and down the curve and has a lot of interaction. The other thing I really like about it is that it maximizes surveil. In part II, I talked about how good explore cards are in BO1 Golgari Midrange. Explore cards being good is not unique to BO1, as Golgari is the best deck in BO3. But I do think cards that maximize selection improve in value in BO1 since they allow you to essentially scry away bad cards and dig toward good draws.
The reason I say these effects gain value in BO1 is because we are incentivized to play some situational cards in the main deck (since we don’t get to play sideboarded games). The fact that surveil or explore help us control when we do or don’t draw situational or matchup dependent cards has a ton of upside!
I don’t play against a ton of Grixis on Arena but this looked like a pretty fun list. I love that the deck gets to play Thought Erasure and make use of Bolas. My biggest issue is whether it’s worth dipping into a third color for the powerful mythic.
The blue-black decks that I like to play have access to most of the same types of effects without having to take on more mana problems.
Summing It All Up
The series is meant to be an overview of the largest trends that I’ve been able to cobble together over the past few weeks. Obviously, MTGA is gigantic with a ton of players joining daily and the BO1 ladder format is still largely a mystery in terms of how the metagame works and how to maximize deck building slots.
With that being said, I do believe we can make some generalizations (which I’ve done in the series) and use those observations to help us build and play better decks. I think it is absolutely true that the baseline of the format (Level 1) is mono-color beatdown decks. These are the decks that drive the format and force everybody to build around them.
Beyond those decks, we have the 2-color decks that get to up their card quality by playing multicolor spells and gain access to a wider array of types of effects by adding a second color. Since we don’t use sideboards in BO1 the flexibility has a lot of advantages.
The last tier of the format is made up of control decks. Primarily Jeskai, but also with various Dimir-based control decks having carved out a nice niche for themselves.
It’s also important to note that the higher your tier in Arena the less pronounced mono-color aggro’s warping effect appears to be. I’ve noticed that the higher I climb on the ladder the more I tend to play against control decks. So it’s clear that card availability does play a role in the early phases, but much less so in the later stages.
Whatever your tier in Arena, I encourage you to have fun with it and experiment. The format is new and exciting, and nobody really knows exactly how to build the best possible decks yet. It’s a brewer’s paradise and I encourage you to get out there and tune some sweet decks!