Encroaching Seasons - April and May
Time passes, seasons change, and the format that we knew so well is gone before we even know it. Welcome everyone to Encroaching Seasons, a new column that aims to detail the major changes in MSEM2 from month to month.
We'll take a quick look at the major MSEM2 Changes that occured at the start of May, followed by a rundown of the biggest changes between MSEM2 decks from GP Ulaanbaatar (April) and GP Verona in May. Due to the chaotic nature of Skirmishes and the lack of deck visibility, we'll be sticking solely to the Grand Prixs as well as the buffs, nerfs, bans, and changes coming to us from the Council.
For this first entry, we'll be doing a double look into both the months of April and May, but future columns will stick solely to the current month.
As always, feel free to leave us your comments and opinions!
April & GP Ulaanbaatar
The month of April began with a few noteworthy nerfs to some tournament staples.
After the explosive start in GP Tokyo, Leyline Alignment Field from Storytime received a nerf, changing its activation cost from 1 to 2.
Peakpoint Presence, one of Red Aggro's premium creatures received a noteworthy change, forcing you to sacrifice a land rather than take 2 damage, making it much harder to chain them.
Rain Zai, Spiritscale's -1 ability changed to a -2.
With no new sets entering the format, nor any buffs or additions to the card pool, MSEM2 continued its trend of keeping the changes to a minimum to provide a more stable metagame.
Black and red decks saw the most play during Grand Prix U. Red removal was heavily played, with a staggering 20 copies of Scorch and 18 copies of Roggar's Frenzy being the top nonland cards of this month's Most Played Cards.
Powerful hand disruption in the form of Zetla, Stolen Secrets, and Unmasker also claimed high spots on our list.
FifthDragon's Loathing/Hate/Malice/Villainy (BR) took first place, winning all but one match without taking any losses. Leveraging Villainy's endless stream of value paired with the format's premium removal and hand disruption. This deck came as an upgrade to a previous iteration of the deck, and the addition of Villainy seems to have paid off.
JustNobody's Anarchist Thanksgiving (BR) deck took 2nd place, with quite a few similarities to FifthDragon's deck. Rather than use Villainy, JN's deck came packed with tons of recursion, cheap creatures, and sacrifice outlets.
Rounding out our Top 4 Podium, CyberChronometer's Grixis Deepwave and Herzi's Dark Canada showcased two more BR heavy decks, cementing that color pair's dominance in this month's metagame. Many of these decks used Zetla, Roggar's Frenzy, Blood Frenzy (albeit in sideboard), and the hand removal suite.
May & GP Verona
The month of May brought us MSEM2's two newest sets: CanterburyEgg/Marioware's Al-Tabaq and CyberChronometer's Rail Wars.
Al-Tabaq brought a great many additions to the format, including powerful high color density threats and answers as well unique build-arounds. A whopping 11 unique cards from Al-Tabaq were included in GP Verona, primarily new sideboard options.
Rail Wars brought two new major build around cards, one of which (Union Rail Strikebreaker) formed the basis of two GP decks. Though overall less cards from Rail Wars pierced the meta this month, there's still plenty of time for the more thought-provoking cards from RWR to enter the format.
On top of two new sets, some more major changes affected the format this month.
Halskrow Street Gallows and the remaining Sol Lands from The Unraveling were banned from the format. Though they didn't dominate the Most Played list of April, the Council felt they needed to deciding to forego making changes to the cards and preserving the cycle's identity, the Council added them to the steadily growing banlist. They now serve as a small reminder for future designers to be wary when designing lands that can produce sizable acceleration.
Ebb and Flow from Tales of Old Jiangshi also joins the banned list. Though it saw no play during the previous month's Grand Prix, it had been a contested card since its inclusion. The nerf from 3U to 2UU did little to undermine the advantage it provided. It was simply too easy for storm decks to break the symmetry and recur an absurd amount of spells at relatively minor cost. With very few ways to interact with it and the lack of contribution to a positive meta diversity, it was time for this card to join the banlist.
Gurug Scavenger received a nerf and now triggers on combat damage rather than on entering the battlefield.
Staff of Equilibrium received a nerf to its casting cost, going from 1 to 2.
After having proved itself time and time again, three out of the ten decks this month were Villainy decks, albeit relatively different builds. As Rock//Roll did in the past, Villainy was now generating new unique builds and should definitely be considered a format mainstay and prominent archetype to watch out for.
While I usually cut the Most Played list at the last basic land, I wanted to indicate just how far down the list red fell this GP. From a staggering two top spots last month, the first two red cards we see are beneath Forest; at a very low 4 copies each. Both of these cards were from the same deck which unfortunately claimed last place during GP Verona.
While red sunk like a stone, black claimed that podium like never before. The amount of basic Swamps doubled from the previous month and it takes a whopping five nonland black cards and even more black mana producing lands before we see a nonland card of another color. Check down below in the Sideboard section for more on why.
While players have grumbled in the past about Villainy perhaps being too strong, only a single Villainy deck made it to the top 4.
Coming out of essentially nowhere, Herzi's Sultai Chart Control claimed top spot among the heavily black dominated decks. Blending the line between the Rock//Roll decks of the past and leveraging Chart the Vast's enormous card advantage possibilities, creature removal simply did not affect this deck in the slightest.
With tons of recursion, mainboard answers to many of the format's threats, and resilient/sticky threats, CyberChronometer's Business Professional Ardy (Abzan Midrange) claimed 2nd place. Having adequately predicted the meta, the deck's mainboard came stocked full of solid answers and the sideboard provided even more of them.
Rounding out our Top4, monger's Delta Airlines (UB Villainy) and ThatDamnPipsqueak's Do You Believe in Miracles (UW Control) both gave solid performances. Delta Airlines showcased an entirely new build of Villainy, one that paired tremendously with the new Union Rail Strikebreaker to provide an endless stream of value. Do You Believe in Miracles instead chose to showcase Al-Tabaq's Iekin's Portal/Iekin, God of Wisdom alongside ever popular control pieces (Seek Prophecy, Unraveling, Arcane Genesis, Setting Sun) and less popular ones (Sea Cache and Mari, Dawn Resurgent).
Our final topic for the day brings us to vastly different sideboards seen during these past two months. As always, remember that MSEM employs a unique Post-Decklist Sideboard rule that allows sideboards to always remain relevant to the metagame. Players get 24 hours to review every decklist and adjust sideboards to fit the current month.
As you can tell from both this picture and the ones above, sweepers such as Wicked Weaving and Wave 0f Decay decreased in value during Verona's creature light metagame. Though Union Rail Strikebreaker made its debut into the format, Antithesis was more than enough to handle the job.
As black's dominance rose, hand attack such as Duress climbed to the top spot in sideboards as did Thought Blossom. Seal the Tomb returned to sideboards to fight the key pieces and April's Most Played contender Zetla moved over to a primarily sideboard inclusion.
With more decks running a higher basic land count, Civilization's Cost fell completely out of the sideboard.
We've been waiting all article to finally talk about it but it's time. Guiding Light from Al-Tabaq was a massive game changer and in my opinion is one of the prime reasons red dropped so low in visibility. From 20 mainboard Sorch and 18 mainboard Roggar's Frenzy in Ulaanbaatar we found ourselves with a mere 4 Scorch and 2 Roggar's Frenzy respectively.
When faced with an incredibly powerful answer to all your burn spells, especially one that red cannot interact with, the right choice is to not play it. I suspect Villainy's lifegain capabilities also may have played a small part in the drop in red burn spells.
With a new patch imminent and GP Wollongong just around the corner, I'm curious to see how the format will adapt to last month's dominating black decks and new sideboard tech.
Stay tuned and we'll see each other at the end of the month for another edition of Encroaching Seasons.