How to break a Meta (and sideboard to boot)
I didn’t have any real plans of testing for the Players Tour. The metagames tend to be really well defined and we had a well established best deck in Lukka Fires. Everything changed with the banning of Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention about a week before the first weekend of Players Tours. The nerfing of companions further shook things up.
The problem with these changes was that they completely shifted the ‘current’ metagame, but only really reverted it back to the prior metagame in many ways. Jeskai Fires was quite clearly no longer a deck, but the rest of the metagame shares would just go back to where they were. Ikoria is kind of a weird set in that there’s lots of powerful things, but most of those were centered around the Companions. Shark Typhoon was really the only other card to shake things up. Many of the mythics are centered around Mutate or just didn’t really fit into any of the Standard decks, so while the Mutate deck and Cycling decks that were almost entirely Ikoria Constructed were things, neither are tier 1.
So Temur Rec, Bant Ramp, and various Witch’s Oven decks were the metagame. Again. And Temur Rec was the best deck by a lot. Mono Red was still a thing, but pretty bad. The Mono Green Zvi deck is pretty sweet and boasts a great Rec matchup, but has a ton of weaknesses, as well.
Here we go again...
I really like the Witch’s Oven decks, but I honestly just don’t think they’re anywhere near as good as the others. I greatly dislike Temur Rec and had resigned myself to simply not playing the tournament at all rather than play Temur. So that left Ramp strategies or trying to find something new.
I’m always on the lookout for new decks. I scour every part of the internet, read everything, and my brain is always tinkering with ideas. If there was ever a list on MTGO top decks, Arena decklists, MTGMelee.gg, or countless other places, I’ve seen it and thought about it. I had been trying to work on lists that centered around 4 copies of Yorion, but I hadn’t really put it into practice. Part of the downside of brewing in an environment that has overpowered strategies that aren’t fun to play against is that it can be real challenging to make yourself hop online and spend a few hours jamming brews into them doing broken things.
Seeing a deck very similar to what I had been working on top 8ing an MTGO Challenge gave me some hope. _NOOB_ top 8’d with a BW midrange 4 Yorion deck and that was just the inspiration I needed to actually get my list rolling and tested. I hopped on the ladder and cruised from Diamond to Mythic without a loss. Things kept rolling and I found myself firmly in the top 50 ranked for the majority of my testing.
The key differences between the list I was testing and the MTGO Challenge list was having focused plans against namely Temur Rec. While I was continually beating the deck, the games I would lose would involve them being hellbent on turn ~5 but have 6+ lands in play. If one of those was a Castle, they would just have so many looks at powerful spells to get back into the game due to the slow closing speed of the Rat deck.
Moving the sideboard plan vs Rec to revolve around Regisaur plugged up a lot of those gaps. Making sure the removal spells actually impacted the format I cared about was next.
I initially had Pharika’s Libation in my brainstormed list and felt like a genius. This thing could still kill big creatures for me while being excellent against Rec in either killing their lone threat or their Rec...this was before I remembered Mortify was in the format. Yeah, that one is much better.
Heartless Act is nice in theory, but not in practice. It can be actively bad vs the green decks that have Pelt Collector, Stonecoil Serpent, Barkhide Troll, and potentially Yorvo. Not being able to kill their Runaway Steam-Kin was a tragedy. Instead I was just all-in on Mortify, but this was pretty punishing against aggressive decks, especially when you’re on the draw and can only add a Rat as a potential turn 2 play.
I had shared my list and findings with Brad Nelson and he was playing a bit with the deck to mixed results. He came over to have a testing day and found that you would get way ahead against a lot of the slower decks, but sometimes Uros and Hydroid Krasis would just let them come back when you didn’t close fast enough. I had been reluctant to add something like Glass Casket to the deck due to how historically bad cards like that are vs Control decks, but the slower decks in the format just all had Krasis, Uro, and Nissa lands to hit with Casket, not to mention flying Sharks, so it was actually just a great card in the format. Being able to hit a Stonecoil Serpent or Hydroid Krasis and blink it with Yorion just ended up being totally disgusting (and this also applies insanely well when they sac the creature you target with Casket to Witch’s Oven to give you a “free” blink later).
With less than 24 hours before deck submission, the deck was feeling real, but Brad’s results weren’t mimicking mine. It felt like he was surely on Bant Control at this point while I was on this deck and it didn’t feel like jamming more games on the ladder was going to produce anything but diminishing returns. Not having many eyes on it felt like it was limiting, so we brought in Hall of Famers Seth Manfield and Ben Stark to confirm the results. Ben was crushing with it out the gates and seemed locked in almost immediately. I was shocked that Seth also joined the group in playing the deck as he’s one of the best Temur pilots in the world, but that deck sure does get miserable to keep playing!
I believe the only change that came in the final day was adding a couple copies of Elspeth to the deck and figuring out the number of Triomes to play. Tapped lands can be rough, but needing more B/W duals was important and these both turned on Castles and could be cycled when needed. Elspeth added a few nice functions. Closing a game out quickly was often important when talking about X-spells like Hydroid Krasis and Expansion//Explosion coming from the opponent’s deck. Providing chump blockers, life gain, and something powerful to bring back off of Elspeth Conquers Death (how flavorful) were big bonuses. This also gave your Rats the ability to really pressure planeswalkers which was important in several matchups.
Here’s the list I registered for PT3:
The metagame prediction was perfect. More Bant showed up than Temur, which is unbelievable (I believe in testing at this point, we still had a 100% win rate against Bant, which was further confirmed in testing amongst each other). Temur had a ~20% share of the tournament, and despite a win rate of ~70% on ladder vs the deck, I believe it to be somewhere in the 45%-50% range when they know what’s up.
Unfortunately, my tournament started with the ole 1%er of getting paired vs Temur the first 3 rounds. Game 1 of the event, I had my opponent literally hellbent on turn 5 with a Reclamation and 4 lands after exiling their final card (Expansion//Explosion), and set up to clean up the Rec the following turn. They had a 1 turn window to find 1 of the 3 remaining Explosions, did so, ripped great after that, and I bricked out. An ominous start!
I ended up going 1-2 in those 3 rounds, losing 2 other games where they were dead on board multiple ways with no cards in hand and needing to topdeck an Uro/Shark and then use that card draw to hit another spell to interact with the board or still be dead. “That’s Magic!”
I ended up finishing day 1 at 5-4. It wasn’t very exciting. Day 2 was more run bads and I top 64’d for a small pay jump to $500.
Ben took his 6-3 day 1 into an 11-3 record before drawing into top 8. Seth had an amazing 8-1 start that peaked into a 10-2 record, but he unfortunately lost 3 straight 3 game sets in win-and-ins to finish 10th.
Going forward, I would make some changes to the deck to try to further improve the Reclamation matchup. This deck is SO good against so many other things the format is doing that I think you can actually make a good number of concessions to make that matchup better should there not be a B&R soon. How to do so isn’t very easy, though. I would cut a couple copies of Burglar Rats going forward (they’re just bad draws late in the game) and a card like Despark is great against Rec (but again mostly after sideboard when you can hit Nightpack Ambushers and not just Wilderness Reclamations).
Cards worthy of consideration
The 4th Mortify or Casket - Probably makes sense to add the Casket for most open metagames. It’s good vs Bant/Sultai, serviceable vs Rec for Sharks/Uro, and insane vs Aggro. If you add some of the other cards on this list, I would be more inclined to go down on Mortify vs up to 4.
Despark - Decent everywhere except for decks with Lurrus and RB Sac, but very limited in applications vs aggro decks. Mostly kills Embercleave and Bolas’ Citadel, but those are by far the best cards in those matchups
Heliod’s Intervention - Insane vs Jund and would add to the 95 for sure if that deck picks up in popularity. Also kills Rec, Anax, Embercleave. Kills ECD vs Bant but real bad vs Sultai. Would also be good if the mirror becomes a thing.
4th ECD - Should probably be in, card is great, but better when you have more good targets to bring back
Previous versions had cards like Basilica Bell Haunt and Heartless Act. These cards are pretty terrible and I strongly recommend playing 0 copies.
+4 Rotting Regisaur
On the play
-3 Glass Casket
-4 Oath of Kaya
-2 Burglar Rats
-1 Yorion, Sky Nomad
On the Draw
-3 Glass Casket
-4 Oath of Kaya
-2 Yorion, Sky Nomad
-1 Elspeth Conquers Death
This matchup is about limiting their resources and then finding a way to close out the game. Curving Duress/Remorse into Regisaur will be enough to win some number of games, but if they have 4 Nightpack/4 Typhoon, they can get out of it. Despark for Nightpack/Reclamation is fantastic.
Making them discard a card with Rats when you’re on the play just isn’t great and can sometimes just hurt you by fueling Yorion. If they’re sideboarding correctly, they should be very heavy on countermagic and make all your expensive cards punish you quite a bit where you can’t double spell and empty your hand. The targeted discard and Regisaur/Blessing are your best cards. Doom Foretold can be proactively played on a turn they were going to play Nightpack to stop them from doing it on your end step and getting a token on their turn.
In testing, this matchup was very favorable on the ladder. I think people continue to board poorly vs this deck even with open decklists (one of my opponent’s in the PT brought in both Flame Sweep and Lava Coil against me which are both actively awful). In game 1s, you have a lot of ways to interact with their powerful cards and they often have a bunch of Aether Gusts that are dead (outside of discarding to Rats). I think this is probably closer to 40-45% against good players sideboarding correctly, as is, before we update our own list to make it better in the matchup.
How you sideboard is going to vary pretty big based on their list, but this deck is the reason to be playing Yorion Rats. This is Magic, so there’s no such thing as a bye, but this is as close to a bye as I’ve felt any matchup has been against a tier 1 deck in forever. Everything they’re doing lines up so poorly with everything you’re doing and they have no profitable ways to interact with Yorion loops (as the Prince even makes sure Yorion is exiled on their turn for ECD).
There are a number of cards you’re looking to cut/shave here:
Oath of Kaya
The Rats are good here since they don’t have good ways to interact with the loop and it makes sure that you’re still always keeping them under control when they Krasis you.
Oath of Kaya is usually one of your weakest cards, but it takes care of little Krasis and is important if they have a bunch of Teferis and Narsets in their deck.
Tamiyo is their best card against you. Some versions of Bant play 0 copies. I assume many will go up a lot of copies should this deck get popular. Despark is your best option there (outside of just Duress/Remorse taking it). Elspeth is also very good against the planeswalkers as a way to pressure them.
Doom Foretold tends to be very good in the matchup. It clears up their big creatures and is an excellent followup to Nissa since they can’t sacrifice the creature land. It’s much worse against a card like Brazen Borrower, which is generally pretty mediocre in the matchup, but good against specifically Doom.
Mortify is usually weaker than Casket. It can kill ECD and instant speed removal is nice, but Casket is cheaper and much better vs Krasis since you can blink it. Having the option to blink it after hitting a Nissa land or Uro is a nice bonus.
Kaya is great against Uro, helps vs Tamiyo, is solid vs ECD, but isn’t a powerhouse overall. If they have Sharks, it gets better there. It’s a card you want access to but don’t necessarily need all.
RB Knights (and Red and RB Sac)
+1 Glass Casket
+3 Kaya’s Wrath
-4 Agonizing Remorse
On the Play
+2 Rotting Regisaur
-2 Treacherous Blessing
On the Draw
+4 Rotting Regisaur
-4 Treacherous Blessing
Knights is another major reason to play this deck. The matchup is pretty phenomenal. Rats trade with a number of their creatures and you have lots of answers to everything they’re doing. If you’re on the draw and fall behind, you can always lose as they’re a powerful aggro deck, but you have the tools to catch up often.
Red is tougher. Anax is good. Castles can be real good with the tokens to finish you off, as can Torbran. While Knights is a matchup I’m winning almost every time, Red is definitely quite a bit lower (I still think it’s favorable but drawing Oath of Kaya can be really important as can being on the play). I would board in all 4 Regisaur for all 4 Blessing on the play or the draw.
RB Sac has been similar to RB Knights. I haven’t lost the matchup yet and the games haven’t been particularly close. They’re an aggro deck, so again they can certainly beat you, but everything they’re doing lines up so poorly against you. Rats take their value and also insulate you against Priest. Mayhem Devils can get out of hand, but Caskets, Mortify, Oaths, ECDs etc all take care of it.
Kaya is really good against all 3 of these decks, but even more so the Cat/Oven deck. It usually exiles a creature and makes them spend a turn attacking it vs Red/Knights, but sometimes you get to lead on other removal spells, have blockers, or have just already cleared the board and it’s unbeatable.
This is a tough matchup to sideboard and maybe the only matchup where you miss Basilica Bell-Haunt. The 3/4 body and life gain is real nice here. Heliod’s Intervention would also be great.
You want the 1 Glass Casket. This much I’m sure of. Whether you want any Desparks (for Citadel/Korvold) is debatable, but I think you do as it’s one of the very few ways you lose.
You can also lose to their nut draws. This usually involves Cat with multiple Ovens AND Priest. You can also get buried under multiple Trail of Crumbs to get to where they’ve assembled these combinations. All of this, plus Citadel, would make Heliod’s Intervention just insane in this matchup.
I would probably board as follows:
+1 Glass Casket
+1 Kaya’s Wrath
-1 Doom Foretold
-1 Burglar Rats
I could see shaving more Doom Foretold as it’s awful if they get Cat with a bunch of food (but it also can just clean up Ovens/Trails. Kaya is insanely good. Could also be less Agonizing Remorses, but taking their few power cards is great, especially if you find Oath of Kayas and Kayas to clean up the rest.
I think this matchup is truly great, but in practice a lot of games end up really close. Seth seems to keep losing this matchup, but several of the game losses are to Citadel coming down and him getting perfected for 10 spells off the top (and he wasn’t boarding Despark).
Again, if this deck gets more popular, Heliod’s Intervention (and potentially 4th Kaya) is where you want to be.
+1 Glass Casket
+3 Kaya’s Wrath
+4 Rotting Regisaur
-4 Burglar Rats
-2 Agonizing Remorse
I thought this deck would just farm Green as Kaya’s Wrath decks tend to do, but it isn’t the case, especially vs the Giant Growth version by Zvi. If you’re on the draw and they play Pelt Collector into anything that grows it, you better not be playing Rats on turn 2 or you’re basically already dead. It becomes so hard to come back on the draw vs haste creatures and Giant Growths that you really need a strong hand. The deck is certainly more than capable with Priests, Caskets, Oath of Kaya, Doom Foretolds, and ECDs, but you can’t be seeing large percentages of the low end of your deck.
Blessing is good in that the card advantage is massive in the matchup, but you need to have all the other stuff first. You can’t take turn 3 off to draw 3 cards unless you can stay at a somewhat reasonable life while casting Wrath next turn. Even then you often die to just Questing Beasts.
When you’re on the play, the game often feels easier, but you need to have your good cards in some quantity. The clock is too quick and punishing to stumble. I think this is your toughest matchup in the format.
-3 Glass Casket
Again, how you sideboard is going to depend on what they’re doing. If they’re a Yorion deck, Despark has more uses. Same with Nicol Bolas or Cavalier of Thorns. The cards you shave also depend on what you’re up against. Oath of Kaya is usually bad vs Control, but it’s a good card vs planeswalkers. This goes doubly so when they have less ways to interact with Yorion loops. Kaya’s Wrath is usually horrible against Control, but if their only real way to win is Dream Trawler, it also merits consideration.
Your discard is insane here. Your removal is insane here. You get so many advantages and so many ways to force your spells through while Rats are stopping their big stuff from happening. Doom Foretold is just another great way to start getting rid of planeswalkers before getting some crazy card advantage. These matchups have been absolute bloodbaths every time any of us have faced them. I haven’t played vs Nassif’s version of UW Control yet, but it’s another matchup that looks fantastic (would need a different sideboard plan when Despark and Mortify are both good because they’re on Archons).
And that’s Yorion Rats! Temur Reclamation is the best deck in the format, for sure, but this deck can be the best deck for a metagame. Add a few tweaks to slightly improve the Rec matchup further and get to have a bit more fun winning with the Rats!
Eric Froehlich is a Magic Hall of Fame member & current MPL/Rivals member. He has 5 Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, along with 2 World Series of Poker bracelets.