It’s hard to believe that the first-ever CSL season of Magic: the Gathering Arena has come to a close and our Grand Finals champion has been crowned. It’s been an amazing year, from Okos to Fires of Inventions to Nissas, Who Shake the World; the meta has evolved constantly throughout the season. Without further ado, let’s recap what went down in the MTGA Grand Finals between the University Of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
It comes as no surprise that Jeskai Fires Lukka Yorion made up UCSD’s entire lineup. The deck is an absolute powerhouse already, and thanks to the recent updates to the banned and restricted list, we won’t have to worry about Fires of Invention, Agent of Treachery, or companions anymore. This deck build was by far the strongest option to bring to the table. I expected it to be all 6 decks, but WPI had a different plan.
If there’s one strategy that can always beat any deck, it’s decks that are extremely aggressive. WPI’s Coinman understood this and brought to the table a very aggressive Mardu Knights list that features two copies of Chance for Glory. This is the very definition of an all-out aggressive build, as the card gives you one extra turn but you lose the game immediately at the end of it. Coinman also chose Lurrus over the more aggressive Embercleave, and the rest of the deck featured some interesting additions to help fit Lurrus into the list, including Smitten Swordmaster and Venerable Knight. The deck was clearly made to go all-out aggro, use Lurrus to rebuild board states, and help shore up the deck’s late-game.
Jund food has increased in popularity as one of the few good deck options out there that doesn’t run a companion as part of the list. The new iterations of the deck take elements of the sacrifice package in Witch’s Oven, Cauldron Familiar, Mayhem Devil, and others, aiming to resolve a Bolas’s Citadel as fast as possible.They also use their life total as a resource to achieve massive board states or kill their opponents, and they have plenty of permanents or sacrifices with Mayhem Devil on the board.
Running this deck was definitely an interesting choice by KitsuneKeira, but since they were going into a field of what was likely going to be Jeskai Lukka players, I see their reasoning. The deck seems super tuned for that matchup, featuring a suite of counterspells in 3 Dovin’s Veto, 4 Mystical Dispute, and 4 Neutralize, which can all stop Fires of Invention from hitting the field whether they start on the play or on the draw. The deck wants to interact with Jeskai Lukka players who’d rather be left alone to cheat Agent of Treacheries into play instead.
Those three decks of WPI’s had to prove whether they were up to actually beating the deck they were likely preparing for in Jeskai Fires Lukka. UCSD ran a pretty stock list for the deck, featuring all 4s (except for the 3s in Solar Blaze) over the much more popular Shatter the Sky. Solar Blaze has some benefits and downsides to being played: it kills the tokens from Omen of the Sun, Shark Typhoon, and Castle Ardenvale, but spares Agent of Treachery, Yorion, and the Wall token from Birth of Meletis (which is very relevant). It also removes most other small creatures in the format (which usually have the same power and toughness) and denies the card draw for creatures with power 4 or above, which Shatter the Sky usually provides to just the opponent. However, the deck’s ability to power out value and steal permanents with the help of Lukka, Agent of Treachery, and Yorion working together means that the power of the deck is absolutely unrivaled in the current state of standard today and was by far the most obvious and powerful choice going into this year’s Grand Finals.
Game one saw WPI’s Mardu Knights and UCSD’s Jeskai Fires Lukka Yorion face off. Through an interesting interaction between Solar Blaze and Inspiring Veteran, WPI kept losing their Knight of the Ebon Legions because of how anthem effects work in magic. Knight of the Ebon Legion would take damage equal to its power, but since Inspiring Veteran was the reason the Knight of the Ebon Legion had one more power and one more toughness, it died to state-based effects because the anthem from Inspiring Veteran was the reason it had its last point of toughness remaining. This was costly to WPI’s efforts, and they lost the game to Solar Blazes.
They bounced back in the next game, where UCSD couldn’t reclaim the board in game two as double Worthy Knight went wide for WPI. A convenient mana flood from UCSD made the match an even 1-1 going into game 3. In game 3, a turn-5 Lukka into an Agent of Treachery for UCSD let them hang on to topdeck. A game-securing Solar Blaze, along with the combination of Yorion and Agent of Treachery to buy them a turn, let UCSD stabilize at just 4 life and put them one match closer to becoming Grand Champions.
Game two featured WPI’s Jund Food against UCSD’s Jeskai Fires Lukka Yorion. This match wasn’t kind to WPI, as a pair of Teferi, Time Ravelers set them back enough to allow a pair of Lukkas and some amazing sequencing by UCSD to generate two Agent of Treacheries and keep WPI off lands and the board itself. The game quickly fell out of WPI’s control when a third and fourth Agent of Treachery followed over the next two turns. With no lands and no way out, WPI's backs were against the wall: they had to win not only the next two games but another match after this, knowing that if they could survive UCSD’s pressure, they would be favorites to win the third match.
UCSD had a lackluster start to game 2, with no real payoff. With only two lands, Dovin’s Veto, two Fires of Invention, and a Shark Typhoon, it’s a wonder they didn’t mulligan to five. WPI’s early aggression with a turn-2 Mayhem Devil and a turn-3 Woe Strider was enough pressure against a do-nothing hand from UCSD that the game went to a decisive game 3 with UCSD on the draw.
In game 3, both teams had a fine hand, with UCSD claiming both Omen of the Sun and Lukka while WPI had the objective of a Bolas’s Citadel in their hand. UCSD was on the draw, and Lukka was cast on 5 with the help of a topdecked Fires of Invention. With no mana acceleration from WPI, UCSD smelled blood in the water. The first Agent of Treachery went straight for a land, keeping WPI off of a much-needed Bolas’s Citadel. The game quickly devolved from there, as the Yorion and Agent of Treachery on the field denied WPI much-needed mana. In the end, UCSD secured their spot as our 2019-2020 Grand Finals Champions.
Congrats to the University Of California, San Diego on becoming our champions. They brought the strongest deck and knew the ins and outs of not just the game, but the deck itself. Solar Blaze was a calculated move that paid off big time in the Mardu Knights matchup, and the deck was expertly piloted by the entire team along the way. Unfortunately for WPI, their first two decks just couldn’t match the power of the best deck in standard (that now no longer exists). This concludes our inaugural season for Magic: the Gathering Arena. Stay tuned for more in the future, and from everyone here at CSL, stay magical, my friends!