Hitting Mythic with Temur Elementals
Standard rotation looms in the distance. For those who long for a meta devoid of Nexus loops, we still have the summer meta to journey through. Core Set 2020 is a stellar addition to Standard, shaking up the meta under the watchful eye of Chandra, the featured star of the new expansion. An abundance of new cards have been released that can anchor decks, as well as several supporting cards that boost existing, struggling archetypes. The meta has been in constant flux since M20 touched down.
One of the early MVP’s of the set has been Risen Reef. This seemingly non-threatening mass of aquatic nature has proven to be a beast of an engine for ramp and card draw. At a meager cost of 1UG, Green players have yet another tool to pressure the board with big threats, pairing Reef triggers with standard ramp elements like Leafkin Druid, Paradise Druid, or the faithful Llanowar Elf. Nissa has never had it so easy to be early to the party.
I attained Mythic rank on July 15 after a steady, methodical climb with variations of decks that rallied around the power of Risen Reef. At each echelon of the journey, I made the necessary tweaks and adjustments to exploit the weaknesses of the decks that were swimming in the meta at each stage.
Gold to Platinum
The early stages of the climb were quite successful. Early tests of deck lists yielded great results. I used a greedy build, taking an aggressive posture while facing my opponents. I banked on the fact that at these levels, players would likely devalue the impact that a measly 1/1 would have on the game state. I played fast and hot, often trying to go wider than my opponent, forcing them to take damage or make undesirable blocks to stop the bleeding. An onslaught of Elementals would give Risen Reef incredible value, all while increasing the sheer bomb that Omnath, Locus of the Roil can become when entering the battlefield.
Ultimately, the cruise to mid/high Gold was relatively smooth, as Reef wasn’t taken too seriously early in the M20 meta, and lower ranks players prioritized more immediate threats when trading damage or playing removal. Reef was the soul, but remained unassuming enough to eventually blow out your opponent on sheer card advantage and land access.
With enough creature threats to occupy your opponent’s attention, Risen Reef triggers would continue spewing out lands from your Scampering Scorchers, allowing you to surprise your opponent with the often disregarded Sylvan Awakening. This crushing final blow was the out-of-left-field win condition that control players were unsuspecting to, and often unprepared for. Peppering in strategic Shocks and Lightning Strikes, this deck managed to compete for the board early and cost effectively, while allowing you to dig for your win condition.
Platinum to Diamond
Though the quality of competitor rose with as your navigate the Platinum ranks, the secret was out about Risen Reef. The poor lumbering plant became persona non grata in the eyes of the opponents, and the Reef would often become a lightning rod for, well, Lightning Strikes and other quick and painful spells. With the aggressive approach sputtering out to decks that tech’d against ramp tools, a shift to a mid game strategy was needed to progress. Still, Reef was going to be my ride-or-die along the path.
Replacing Llanowar for the more resilient Leafkin Druid provided more durable ramp, as well as further triggers for the Reef. Gone were the Creeping Trailblazers that gave punch to the Elementals that roamedthe board, swapped out for Hydroid Krasis and Nissa, Who Shakes The World. Nissa would grant my lands some exceptional mileage, while Hydroid Krasis was a versatile tool to recover life, draw cards that Reef wasn’t reliably doing, and patrol the skies as a bonafide threat.
This deck throttled back, but still packed Sylvan Awakening, Scampering Scorcher, and Chandra to ensure that you had your foot on the throat of your opponent early, and had a viable win condition late. Able to deal with aggressive threats using abundant red burn spells, maintaining a reasonable board state wasn’t difficult. Nissa and Hydroid also took the pressure off Reef to provide a winnable game state.
Diamond to Mythic
The charge to Mythic took a few days of steady, careful gameplay. Rather than sit through hours of grind, I took the advice of Team Rankstar teammate NoControl (one of the most underrated deck builders in Magic), and went one step at a time. Every new step through Diamond achieved, I would revert to casual game play to unwind, de-stress, and not worry about losing. Diamond Tier 4 to Tier 3 reached, let’s play some Best of One mono red to knock out some daily quests and earn some in game cash. It took me two days – four sessions – to break into Mythic. Still, I rode that beautiful coral bastard the whole way.
Reef was now abundant on the ladder, and it became a game of who can nullify their opponent’s Reef early and often. The race to Nissa had plenty of faces, be it Bant, Temur, or straight up Simic. Nonetheless, the rockiest part of the journey was stubbornly believing that aggression was still going to carry. Ultimately, downshifting was again the answer as more and more decks preferred the long, grindy wins to the hot and heavy variations of Magic that I was facing through Gold and Platinum.
With the long game in mind, I front loaded some more ramp, and main boarded yet another Chandra. This time, Chandra, Awakened Inferno was added threat to force Nexus of Fate players onto a clock of their own, while giving Esper players something to worry about. Still, Risen Reef maintained its status as a pillar of value. When unanswered, it put you leaps and bounds of your opponent’s reach, giving you opportunity to cheat out Chandra, drop an intimidating Hydroid, or simply get access to a full-swing Mass Manipulation. The addition of Cavalier of Thorns supplemented the mana ramp, and provided protection for your Planeswalkers. Upon its untimely demise, it fixed your draw to assure you a tasty top-deck from your graveyard.
Out with Sylvan Awakening, as it no longer was a reliable win condition in the face of more versatile options like the Krasis and the Planeswalkers. Shock still was a main deck staple, providing cheap removal for aggro decks, or Feather decks looking to establish early Tenth District Legionnaires. Supported by a fine tuned sideboard that targeted colour match-ups nicely, this deck propelled me into Mythic rank, cruising from Diamond Tier 2 to Mythic without any losses.
Upon entering the hallowed grounds of Mythic rank, everything changed. Peaking at around #1100, Reef became a massive target, and succumbed to an onslaught of big dinosaurs, hungry vampires, and increasingly oppressive control decks. The meta seemed to reside at the extremes of the spectrum, leaving decks that looked to operate on curve at the mid-range in their dust.
As always, meta analysis and proper sideboarding is what can turn a painful grind into a breeze. I learned that while you may take joy in certain archetypes and styles, being married to certain specific cards or combos will never serve you well. Adapt and overcome, otherwise you’ll forever be treading water.
This deck seemed to be fairly strong against much of the meta. It didn’t struggle against the usual suspects, winning plenty of games against RDW, Esper and Gruul. Proper sideboarding and careful play against Simic Flash and Mono U were nothing to worry about, and it won its fair share of games against Nexus with a well timed Negate.
This deck did have immense trouble keeping up with Orzhov Vampire lists that seemed to sprout out of nowhere one day last week. Their aggressive nature on the back of the resilient Adanto keeps you on your toes, shedding life quickly. Their tremendous life gain also makes Chandra laughable in the long game.
The auto-loss match-up was Jund Dino. Marauding Raptor, Ripjaw Raptor, Regisaur Alpha, all ushering in an angry Ghalta, Primal Hunger, made for a swift and crushing loss. Without any reliable removal that can punch through the thick hides of these beasts, it is simply a matter of conceding and moving on to the next match.
Ultimately, as fun as it was to ladder up with Risen Reef, it was a labour of love. There are less painful ways to navigate the ranks of MTG Arena, and a lot of that has to do with meta analysis and understanding. If you can identify what is lurking out there before jumping in, you’ll be able to equip yourself with the tools to succeed. If Reef is getting squashed, move further down the control end of the spectrum, or quicken the pace and get aggressive. Make the swaps and changes that the meta demands. You’ve got this. Rise to the occasion, you beautiful reef.