3 Stages of exploring new Magic formats

Stage 1

As soon as the new set comes out, I usually try to build proactive, linear strategies that only really care about their own game plan. Whether it’s a combo deck or aggro, you typically want the same kind of opening hand against every opponent and your game plan is always the same.

Aggressive decks want to curve out and then use a removal spell or two to clear the way for blockers. Combo is looking for two or three key pieces and the rest of the deck is usually card selection spells and support cards like Thoughtseize. The decks also usually build themselves.

Trying to build a control deck during week one of a new format is very hard because how are you supposed to know what kind of answers does your deck need if there’s no metagame yet? Do you want to overload on sweepers or should you instead run a bunch of counters like Negate?


Stage 2

This is usually around the second week of the new format and there has usually been one big tournament to draw some conclusions from. There is usually one or a couple of successful aggro or tribal decks that most people on the Arena ladder will now copy in the upcoming days.

This is where I usually build a midrange deck full of value cards. Think Jund “good cards” with stuff like Bonecrusher Giant and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. This type of deck usually preys on the aggressive decks like Mono-White or Mono-Red.

After enjoying a week on the ladder farming the low-to-the-ground strategies, it’s time to move to Stage 3.

Bonecrusher Giant  Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Stage 3

Stage 3 is usually around the third week when the metagame settles down a bit and everyone knows what the Tier 1 decks are. There are usually four to six of them, typically consisting of a few aggro and midrange decks.

This is the perfect time to finally build control, now that you know exactly what kind of answers you’re looking for and what type of finishers do you want to use.

If you take this Standard format for example, this was exactly the case in the first couple of weeks. Stage 1 was Runes and Mono-White winning the early tournaments because those decks were already proven to be well-oiled machines, while everyone else was just playing their brews and figuring stuff out.

Stage 2 was Esper Midrange being the most popular deck while Auras were slowly getting less and less popular.

Stage 3 was when the New Capenna Championship rolled around, where you could see decks like Grixis Midrange, but also combo/control decks like Jeskai Hinata or the Jeskai Goldspan Dragon combo.

Goldspan Dragon


Right now, we’re going through these early stages in Explorer, the new format on MTG Arena which is supposed to copy Pioneer. We’re somewhere between Stage 1 and Stage 2 at this moment, with decks like Greasefang Combo, Mono-Red and Izzet Phoenix being by far the most popular decks. There is almost no control to be seen.

As soon as one big tournament happens and sets the metagame, I fully expect decks like Azorius or Jeskai Control to start showing up and change the format.

But for now, I’m happy with Greasefang, which just feels a little bit ahead of everything else. Here is my deck list, for reference.


4 Voldaren Epicure
4 Stitcher's Supplier
2 Thrilling Discovery
4 Greasefang, Okiba Boss
4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
4 Parhelion II
4 Thoughtseize
2 Can't Stay Away
4 Lightning Axe
4 Deadly Dispute
4 Blood Crypt
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Concealed Courtyard
2 Godless Shrine
4 Blightstep Pathway
1 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
2 Brightclimb Pathway
1 Needleverge Pathway
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Bloodtithe Harvester


4 Duress
2 Soul-Guide Lantern
1 Go Blank
1 Unlicensed Hearse
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
4 Abrade

Author: Martin Juza

Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, Member of Team CFBUltimateGuard

Martin learned to play Magic at a young age after he saw some of his classmates playing it. Once he learned, he built a beginner deck and ever since then, he’s been hooked. Considered one of the top players in the world, his busy travel schedule made him become a real Magic Globetrotter, representing the game worldwide. Learn more about Martin.