Thanks to the fantastic work of Isaac and many others an online 7 point highlander league was run on magic online during May and June 2021, with the prize being a paper “Mox”. Due to this outstanding prize and the fact that this was a free to enter event we smashed all records for a highlander event, with 204 people entering the event.
This event was run entirely online, so all of the deck lists and results for all 1588 matches played over the 5 weeks of the league are available to use. This provides the most detailed look into the highlander metagame that we’ve ever had.
Thanks to the fantastic work of Vance, Graham and Ben in the discord all the decks across all five rounds of the league were tagged with their deck name and archetype, allowing us to see how archetypes and even individual decks performed (or didn’t perform) across the whole league.
Colour Breakdown for the 7PH MTGO League
First up is a look at the colours that were played during the league:
The first thing that jumps out here is how white is lagging substantially behind the other colours in terms of play percentage, coming in at just under half of any other colour. Above that we have both black and green sitting at around 60% of decks, with blue at 70%, and surprisingly we have red leading the field at 75% of all decks.
The high prevalence of red is partially down to the popularity of the mono-red aggro deck which accounted for just over 9% of all decks played during the league. If mono-colour decks are excluded and we look at only the multicolour decks then we see black, red and green all being somewhere near equal, with blue having a slight lead.
Playstyle Breakdown for the 7PH MTGO League
The numbers of the various playstyles are shown below.
Here we can see that combo decks were by far the most played, coming in at nearly 30% of the metagame, followed by midrange and aggro at around 20% representation each. Ramp was by far the least played archetype with only 5.5% of players running it.
Compared to the previous metagame reports this represents a slight increase in the play of combo, aggro, and tempo archetypes with a drop in the play of control and midrange (however ramp stayed at a similar level to usual). With a large number of new players coming in to highlander for the first time this isn’t entirely surprising as several players mentioned that they wanted to come into a new format with a strong proactive strategy. This has been discussed by top 8 player Paul W in his fantastic article about the event, because a proactive strategy requires less tuning to the metagame than trying to bring a more reactive deck.
The high numbers of combo decks were driven primarily by decks playing Thassa’s Oracle, Underworld Breach or even both, with decks containing at least one of those cards accounting for 60% of the combo decks fielded.
Tempo saw a similar story with nearly 65% of all tempo decks played during the league being the ever popular RUG Tempo, which has seen continued success since its redevelopment and rise in highlander back in 2018.
The rest of the deck archetypes within the broad categorisation of playstyle saw much more varied play with no particular decks dominating the make-up of Midrange, Control, etc.
Playstyle Win Rates for the 7PH MTGO League
Now let’s focus on the Win Rate of each of the six broad playstyles:
Looking at the win rates we can see that tempo stands head and shoulders above the rest of the meta with an over 56% win rate with combo being the only other archetype to break 50%. Whilst higher than the others, this is still within normal tolerances for decks in other formats before WotC brings out the ‘ban hammer’, so 56% is hardly oppressive (note also that Tempo has a lower representation than, say, Combo, Aggro, or Midrange, so take extreme numbers with a grain of salt). Despite interpreting with caution, Tempo was still clearly a good choice for this tournament.
Ramp and Midrange both failed to perform well and didn’t even reach a 45% win rate. On the other hand, Control and Aggro were both hovering around a 50% win rate, which is essentially the ‘sweet spot’. Overall however, these broad classifications of playstyle miss some of the nuance of the specific combinations of cards played. If we dive down further and look at the win rates of individual deck archetypes we can see some truly impressive performances.
Archetype Win Rates for the 7PH MTGO League
Before leaping in to this, note that the data here is only looking at decks with more than 30 matches played.
|Deck Archetype||Playstyle||Total matches played||Win Rate|
The first thing we see is the absolute dominance of the Breach Thoracle deck with a whopping 75% win rate. This deck is a Grixis deck using Lurrus as a companion and running both the Thassa’s Oracle plus Tainted Pact combo alongside the combo of Underworld Breach, Lion’s Eye Diamond and Brain Freeze (check out this example list). This deck did extremely well and managed to put one pilot into the top 8 and multiple others into the top 16. It was also singlehandedly responsible for the positive win rate of the combo archetype as a whole with combo decks other than this one having only a 47.5% win rate! Lists with only one of the two combos both show up on this list but only manage a 47% win rate.
The next high performing list was Hogaak coming in with an impressive but much more reasonable 60% win rate. This was a graveyard based deck using Bazaar of Baghdad as well as Survival of the Fittest to power out cards like Hogaak and Vengevine (example list).
Next up is Omnath Pod, one of the few midrange decks to put up good results and the only one with any significant play numbers. This is a four colour midrange deck running birthing pod and trying to leverage the power of Time Walk, these decks also typically pack an infinite combo with Time Walk using Eternal Witness and Ephemerate (example list)
The last deck to have a win rate significantly above 50% was RUG Tempo coming in at 57%. While this is lower than the three decks previously discussed it was also played more than twice as much as any of those decks, showing its high win rate across significantly more players. RUG Tempo is a deck that has been around highlander for many years at this point and has always been a powerful choice, winning a slew of major events across the country (including the last two highlander nationals in the hands of Justin Cheung). It is a deck aiming to leverage the powerful cheap threats and cheap interaction available to present a quick clock and prevent an opponent from being able to establish their board (example list)
Down at the bottom of the list we can see Academy Ramp and Lands putting up poor results, both failing to reach even a 40% win rate. Notably both of these decks tend to be less favoured against combo especially which was a highly represented archetype that also did relatively well in the event.
Frequency of Pointed Cards in the 7PH MTGO League
The spread of 1 point cards seeing play in the league is fairly similar to what we typically see in the quarterly metagame reports, however we now have Force of Will as the most played card nearly 9% above Wasteland and Snapcaster Mage. The increase in play of Force of Will is likely due to a combination of the high amount of combo in the format as well as the number of new players coming from legacy and vintage where Force sees a very high level of play.
Lutri has risen to be in over 20% of the decks in this league compared to only 10% in previous metagame reports likely due to the high number of mono-red decks that were almost all playing it as a free threat. On the other hand, Dark Petition and Time Spiral both stand out as seeing zero play across the entire league.
In the two point cards we can see Oko and Strip Mine standing head and shoulders above the rest. Strip Mine is relatively unchanged from where it has been in previous quarterly reports whereas Oko has increased and is nearly back to the levels of play that it was seeing when it was 1 point.
Here again we have another card that saw zero play for the entire league in Flash. Interestingly Protean Hulk did see some limited play without being in a dedicated Flash Hulk list.
Looking at the 3+ point cards we can see Mox Ruby leading the way, following along with the trend of mono-red aggro being the most popular deck in the league.
Close behind we have both Ancestral Recall and Thassa’s Oracle both being above 10% play. Ancestral seeing a lot of play in tempo decks and Oracle being one of the driving forces behind the high amounts of combo decks in the league.
Most Played Cards in the 7PH MTGO League
One advantage of having full deck lists for every match of the event is that we are able to see what the most commonly played cards are outside of just those on the points list. Below is the 75 most played cards (both Pointed and Un-Pointed) across the entire league, along with the win rates of decks featuring those cards.
|Card||% of Decks||Card||% of Decks||Card||% of Decks|
|Misty Rainforest||77.71%||Veil of Summer||45.72%||Dreadhorde Arcanist||30.35%|
|Polluted Delta||75.82%||Force of Negation||45.97%||Nihil Spellbomb||28.84%|
|Scalding Tarn||75.31%||Collector Ouphe||40.05%||Ashiok, Dream Render||28.59%|
|Bloodstained Mire||73.93%||Fatal Push||39.42%||Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath||28.59%|
|Red Elemental Blast||73.17%||Inquisition of Kozilek||39.42%||Toxic Deluge||28.46%|
|Verdant catacombs||71.16%||Steam Vents||36.90%||Gush||27.83%|
|Wooded Foothills||71.28%||Spell Pierce||36.90%||Watery Grave||27.58%|
|Flooded Strand||68.26%||Bayou||36.65%||Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy||27.20%|
|Mental Misstep||65.99%||Spell Snare||35.39%||Mana Leak||25.94%|
|Brainstorm||65.37%||Force of Will||34.26%||Wasteland||25.82%|
|Deathrite Shaman||64.74%||Counterspell||33.50%||Bonecrusher Giant||25.82%|
|Ponder||60.83%||Null Rod||33.25%||Swords to Plowshares||25.57%|
|Gitaxian Probe||58.56%||Daze||33.00%||Thought Scour||25.19%|
|Preordain||57.05%||Breeding Pool||32.37%||Snapcaster Mage||25.06%|
|Volcanic Island||56.05%||Narset, Parter of Veils||32.37%||Carpet of Flowers||24.81%|
|Underground Sea||51.39%||Submerge||31.74%||Brazen Borrower||24.43%|
|Blue Elemental Blast||51.26%||Flusterstorm||31.49%||Baleful Strix||24.31%|
|Marsh Flats||50.76%||Duress||31.49%||Assassin’s Trophy||23.43%|
|Tropical Island||50.00%||Prismatic Vista||30.73%||Opposition Agent||23.30%|
|Windswept Heath||49.62%||Hullbreacher||30.73%||Oko, Thief of Crowns||23.05%|
|Thoughtseize||47.86%||Abrupt Decay||30.35%||Soul-Guide Lantern||23.05%|
|Arid Mesa||47.61%||Chain Lightning||30.60%||Dark Confidant||22.67%|
Unsurprisingly we see fetch lands occupying the very top spots, which is pretty much to be expected as they will appear in nearly every deck in some amount. Spells are lead off by Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast, ubiquitous sideboard cards for red as they provide a very efficient answer to anything blue does which is being played by most decks. Following those we have Lightning Bolt just ahead of Mental Misstep and Brainstorm as the two most played blue spells. Looking at the other colours we have Thoughtseize as the most played black card, Veil of Summer as the most played green card and Swords to Plowshares as the most played white card and indeed only white card in the top 75.
Deathrite Shaman is notable for being the most played non-land permanent and the sixth most played spell, showing up in 65% of all decks, well ahead of Collector Ouphe in the #2 slot which was in only 40% of decks. This means collector ouphe is in just over three quarters of all the decks that could potentially cast it. This may sound high but when compared to other highly played cards such as lightning bolt (just under 90% of red decks) and Brainstorm (nearly 95% of blue decks) it’s actually not as high as some may have thought.
Overall the league was fantastic and provides our first opportunity to get such a detailed look into the highlander metagame beyond just the Points Played submission form. MTGO offers us a whole load of in-depth data for every round of an event, which is unprecedented in paper play. Another huge thanks to everyone involved in organising and running the event!