My Decks for the Mythic Invitational: Esper Acuity and Temur Reclamation

The first step of my Mythic Invitational preparation was to figure out who to test with. None of my Team Series teammates were invited or qualified, and while I have some good friends in the MPL, I figured they might not want big testing teams since the field was fairly small. At the time I received the incredible news that I had been invited by Wizards to play in the Mythic Invitational and compete for my share of the million dollars prize pool, everyone was focused on testing for Mythic Championship Cleveland and I knew it would be easier if I just talked to people there.

I figured Autumn Burchett and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz might be looking for a testing group and they both seemed open to the idea when I brought it up during Day 1 of the MC. I also talked to Huey to see if he had decided what his plans were, but he wasn’t sure yet. I decided to commit with Autumn and figure out later if we needed a slightly bigger team.

While I’m happy with how testing went—we ended up with good decks—it might have been better in hindsight to work with a couple extra people, even though we had access to the streams of all the MPL pros and some of the challengers for extra info and data.

I started jamming games in the best-of-one ranked ladder on MTG Arena as soon as I got home from a disappointing finish in Cleveland and stayed stuck at the bottom of platinum level for a couple of days trying to make Sultai and Golgari work. I just couldn’t win, despite the fact that Sjow was managing to stay at the top of the rankings with Sultai himself. I knew that not having access to a sideboard would hurt these decks but I was still curious to know if I could make it work. I couldn’t.

The biggest difference between BO3 and BO1 was the overwhelming presence of Mono-Red. To complete the metagame’s trifecta were Esper Control and Mono-White. We ended up playing 60% of our matches in the ladder against one of these three decks and a quarter of them against Mono-Red alone (20% versus Esper and 15% against White).

I spent most of my testing trying to break it or at least solve it, knowing I could always fall back on these known archetypes. I got my first bit of success with Karsten’s Warriors deck that I used to make most of my climb to Mythic. The deck seemed favored versus Red thanks to slightly bigger creatures and a fast enough clock to turn the corner before they could kill you via Experimental Frenzy, which could also be answered by Statue, and it was able to go toe-to-toe with Esper thanks to very few truly dead cards. I was even able to make decent use of Status // Statue to save Growth Chamber Guardian from a Moment of Craving or a Cry of the Carnarium, or destroy a Search for Azcanta.

It wasn’t as good against white, as you pretty much had to assemble the Goblin Chainwhirler + Status combo to have a shot. It was, however, quite good at punishing some of the midrange decks that gave you more time to assemble the “build your own Plague Wind.”

Jund Warrior

2 Mountain
4 Unclaimed Territory
4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Stomping Ground
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Overgrown Tomb
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
4 Pelt Collector
4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
4 Gruul Spellbreaker
4 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Rix Maadi Reveler
2 Gutterbones
2 Thorn Lieutenant
4 Status/Statue
1 Collision/Colossus
2 Lightning Strike
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained

Gruul was a similiar popular archetype. The deck was favored against Red, but you had to pick your poison when it came down to Esper and White. Play too few Shocks and Lightning Strikes, and you get run over by the weenies. Play too many and end up with tons of dead cards against control.

Gruul Whirler

8 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Unclaimed Territory
3 Gruul Guildgate
1 Forest
4 Zhur-Taa Goblin
4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
4 Dire Fleet Daredevil
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
4 Gruul Spellbreaker
4 Rekindling Phoenix
2 Skarrgan Hellkite
2 Thorn Lieutenant
2 Shock
4 Lightning Strike
2 Collision/Colossus

I also tried to make multiple Selesnya variants work. The stock tokens version seemed solid, but I also had decent success with the explore version centered around Path of Discovery that I had played at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, as well as an Angel-based version that included the Wildgrowth Walker package, very similar to what Mengucci played on his stream for a bit. All these Selesnya decks were very good against Mono-White and weren’t too pathetic against Esper Control even though you were still a solid dog, but unfortunately the Red deck is a very well-oiled machine and Frenzy is a hell of a card, which means that even with the Walker shenanigans, you aren’t really more than 50-50 vs. red. One of the big problems was that having little-to-no removal for Runaway Steam-Kin meant you could get nut drawn, and I ended up with some copies of Baffling End in most of my Selesnya decks despite the fact that I despised having a dead card against Esper.

Selesnya Tokens

4 Forest
9 Plains
4 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
3 Tithe Taker
3 Trostani Discordant
3 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
4 Venerated Loxodon
4 Thorn Lieutenant
4 Flower/Flourish
4 History of Benalia
2 Unbreakable Formation
3 Legion's Landing/Adanto, the First Fort
3 March of the Multitudes
2 Saproling Migration
4 Conclave Tribunal

Selesnya Path

2 Plains
12 Forest
4 Memorial to Glory
4 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Knight of Autumn
4 Wildgrowth Walker
4 Jadelight Ranger
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Trostani Discordant
4 Druid of the Cowl
1 The Immortal Sun
4 March of the Multitudes
4 Path of Discovery
2 Baffling End
1 Ixalan's Binding

Toward the end of my testing, I decided to play Druid of the Cowl over Llanowar Elves, but I’m not sure it was correct. I liked the Druid because of how relevant the body was, and I thought Llanowar was a bit awkward with so few 3-drops, as well as four Memorial to Glory.

Selesnya Angels

8 Plains
8 Forest
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Resplendent Angel
4 Lyra Dawnbringer
4 Wildgrowth Walker
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Jadelight Ranger
3 Knight of Autumn
3 Conclave Cavalier
4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
2 Baffling End
1 Vivien Reid

With Golgari decks being close to non-existent in best-of-one, Conclave Cavalier, which is usually not very exciting in a world with Vraska’s Contempt and Wildgrowth Walker, was a solid inclusion given how poor the 4-mana cards were in this color combo. In hindsight, Karn might have been worth a try.

About ten days before deck lists were due, a Mono-Red midrange deck splashing for Hydroid Krasis started showing up in the ladder. It was piloted by Kazuren the first time I played against it on Arena and I believe he is to credit for the original build. The deck was very similar to Jody Keith’s GP-winning Rakdos midrange deck, and it seemed interesting. Huey even went on a very good run during one of his streams, getting up all the way to rank #11. I played the deck a bunch as well, and while I was winning about half of my matches, I didn’t feel like the deck was anything special.

Red Krasis

8 Mountain
1 Arch of Orazca
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Field of Ruin
4 Dire Fleet Daredevil
4 Rekindling Phoenix
4 Hydroid Krasis
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
2 Skarrgan Hellkite
4 Treasure Map/Treasure Cove
4 Shock
4 Lava Coil
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
2 Banefire

Sideboard
1 Banefire
1 Sentinel Totem
1 Gaea's Blessing
1 Naturalize
1 Negate
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Clear the Mind
1 Fight with Fire
1 Unmoored Ego
1 Mass Manipulation
1 In Bolas's Clutches
1 The Immortal Sun
1 Nezahal, Primal Tide
1 The Mirari Conjecture

I’m sure most of you know why I’ve included a sideboard, but for those unfamiliar with the format, the reason is Mastermind’s Acquisition and the eventuality that you will cast it via Dire Fleet Daredevil.

Inspired by the popular Gruul deck, my diverse attempts at making Selesnya work, and Esper’s mana base, I decided to try building a Naya deck. The idea was to combine all the best and most annoying creatures in the format while having zero dead cards against Esper.

The deck had very promising results at first. So good, in fact, that Autumn and I decided we shouldn’t play the deck on the ladder even off stream. It seemed like it might be favored against all three pillars of the BO1 meta. After playing the deck some more, the original hype died down even though the deck still seemed solid. While Autumn and I decided not to play the deck, I believe Jessica Estephan, who Lily was in communication with, submitted Naya Angels as one of her two decks. If you follow Jess on social media, you might remember seeing this tweet and I’m pretty sure Naya Angels was the deck in question:

I’m excited to see how it performs and hope Jess does well with it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t also a little anxious to find out if we maybe passed on something incredible.

One of the most fun and exciting parts of the process was getting paired against the MPL players, especially when they were off-stream, to get a glimpse of where they were at with their testing. I got paired twice against Christian Hauck when he was in the top 100 and he beat me both times with Golgari midrange, which led me to give the deck another try. I tried to build a version close to his and went on a nice little 8-0 run, beating a bunch of “real” decks. In the end it was Huey, who was relaxing and taking a break from serious testing, with a Prime Speaker Vannifar Bant deck who broke my streak.

Golgari was yet another deck that seemed like it might have decent game against the top 3, but it didn’t end up standing the test of time. Hauck said he ended up submitting the two decks he had the highest win-rate with over the 1,000 games he played and I’m curious to find out if Golgari was one of them.

Golgari

5 Swamp
9 Forest
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Memorial to Folly
3 Carnage Tyrant
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Jadelight Ranger
4 Wildgrowth Walker
2 Ravenous Chupacabra
4 Thrashing Brontodon
4 Llanowar Elves
1 Vraska, Golgari Queen
3 Find/Finality
3 Vivien Reid
2 Vraska's Contempt
1 Assassin's Trophy
1 Cast Down

It kind of boggled my mind at first that a lot of great players seemed convinced that Golgari was superior to Sultai in BO1 given how good Hydroid Krasis and Hostage Taker wer,e but after playing with both, I think I have to agree. I’m not sure a full playset of Brontodon is correct, but the card is really well positioned in the format as it is strong against Red, White, and Esper, while being terrible in the mirror and against Mono-Blue.

While this tournament might not seem like the most intricate to test for given that you don’t have to worry about sideboards, the swingy nature of best-of-one and the relevance of the die roll meant that perhaps more than any other tournament, you needed to rely on data and results to pick a deck. Talking with Autumn, it seemed like they relied a decent bit on feel. I’m not known for tracking my results with precision either, and while we did keep a record of most of our results, I hope we didn’t miss the mark and I wish we had tested with a slightly bigger testing team. I think a group of four people would have been good for this event and being able to gather more data would have been useful.

The quality of the games, even high up on the ladder, weren’t always the best either, and we were hoping to make up for it with our one-on-one testing, which hopefully we did.

BBD’s Esper Acuity had been a small part of the metagame, but it seemed to become increasingly popular as we got closer to the deck list submission deadline. Autumn started jamming games with the deck and it seemed to be performing better than regular Esper Control, which was already considered one of the best decks in the format.

They were also liking Temur Reclamation, which wasn’t on my radar at all until I ran into Ondrej playing it, ranked #33 at the time. I just assumed the deck wasn’t a reasonable choice in a world dominated by red and white. Perhaps Ondrej ran into a field full of Esper on that specific day? We ended up playing an absurd game where he had to use a bunch of his Expansion // Explosions early on and I almost decked him piloting White Weenie, but he was able to finish me off with his second Niv. A few days later, Autumn told me they had been doing well with Temur Rec. The consensus was that it was horrendous versus White but their results had been okay, and when we played the matchup versus Red and White, we split both sets of games.

I wasn’t really convinced by any of the creature decks. I still thought Jund Warriors was okay and we had been putting up good results with Mono-Red Frenzy. White Weenie was mediocre for us and it was somewhat of a question mark for me. Were people going to bring a deck that loses to the other two most played decks, Esper Control and Red Frenzy? Or were we off in our estimation of the matchups? I think it’s also possible I was playing the White deck poorly as the Esper matchup in particular is very challenging, so maybe it was better then I gave it credit for.

Autumn was really liking both Temur Reclamation and Esper Acuity. They thought the Acuity version of Esper had overall better matchups and might even be favored in the mirror. I was somewhat skeptical, and our games confirmed it wasn’t that great for the Acuity side, but not horrendous either.

About two days before lists were due, I was watching Martin Juza stream. Someone asked him if he had locked decks in yet, and he answered that you can’t really do that because the metagame shifts fairly quickly and someone might just break it. While I didn’t run into anyone who had broken it, I felt like Nezahal was getting very popular. I decided to try it myself in the main deck, and was really impressed. I told Autumn to give it a shot, and Nezzie single-handedly carried them in a bunch of matches against other control decks. We were sold.

In the end, I went with a combination of results and trusting the gut of one of the best players in the world. Here are the two decks we submitted that will hopefully win one of us a quarter-million dollars:

Temur Reclamation

2 Island
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Breeding Pool
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Steam Vents
1 Mountain
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Stomping Ground
2 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
2 Opt
4 Wilderness Reclamation
4 Chemister's Insight
4 Expansion/Explosion
2 Fiery Cannonade
4 Growth Spiral
4 Shivan Fire
4 Sinister Sabotage
2 Syncopate
2 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin

Sideboard
1 The Immortal Sun
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Patient Rebuilding
1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy
1 Nezahal, Primal Tide
2 Negate
1 River's Rebuke
1 Clear the Mind
1 Naturalize
2 Devious Cover-Up
1 Spell Pierce
1 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
1 Vivid Revival

Esper Acuity

4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Godless Shrine
1 Swamp
4 Watery Grave
1 Nezahal, Primal Tide
3 Absorb
2 Chemister's Trick
2 Cry of the Carnarium
4 Dovin's Acuity
4 Kaya's Wrath
3 Mastermind's Acquisition
2 Moment of Craving
2 Mortify
4 Revitalize
4 Thought Erasure
3 Vraska's Contempt
1 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin

Sideboard
1 Cleansing Nova
1 Clear the Mind
1 Ethereal Absolution
1 Lyra Dawnbringer
1 Mass Manipulation
1 The Eldest Reborn
1 The Immortal Sun
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Profane Procession/Tomb of the Dusk Rose
1 Demystify
1 Unmoored Ego
1 Overflowing Insight
1 Healing Grace
1 The Mirari Conjecture
1 Sanguine Sacrament

I stayed up from 3 a.m. till 5 a.m. on the night deck lists had to be sent in. I was half delirious and agonizing over my last few Temur Rec sideboard cards in case I copied Mastermind’s Acquisition with Expansion.

While I feel good about the Acuity deck, I’m not as sure about Temur Rec, but the deck does well in BO3 and it had our best BO1 win-rate. It also did extremely well when we played against it on the ladder. Part of the reason I feel this way is how coin-flip dependent its aggro matchups are. For what it’s worth, Acuity had our third best win-rate, only bested by half a percent by Red Frenzy.

While our sample sizes aren’t nearly as big as I would have liked, I think Autumn and I did a good job, and are happy with our deck choices.

Having never played the modern version of Worlds, this is possibly the toughest lineup I’ve ever faced, and last I checked, they don’t let you rearrange your mana on Arena.

It would be amazing to do well, let alone win the Mythic Invitational, but I’ve been trying not to put too much pressure on myself as no one is even a favorite to get out of the group stages. I’m already incredibly grateful for the opportunity to compete and be a part of this event.

I just hope I can play my best, enjoy the moment, and that all 64 of us can put on a great show for the community.

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