The first Arena Championship was a showcase of the new Magic: The Gathering tournament system for the game’s rotating digital-only Alchemy format.
After the release of Dominaria United, black decks dominated Standard. Alchemy shares many of the same card pools with Standard, so it was only natural that Black lists would be heavily represented at Arena Championship.
The top two specs from the competition were variations of a medium shell. All but one of the top eight brackets featured primarily black cards.
Sam Rolf won the Arena Championship from the back, with a value-based Rakdos midrange full of stacked cards. Each card in the deck works towards a single goal. It’s not a deck that packs big punches, but one that slowly depletes the opponent’s life total.
Rolf finished first, earning $30,000 and an invitation to the 2023 Magic World Championship.
Regular players are familiar with most of the cards in Rolf’s list. Alchemy Rakdos Midrange is similar to its standard counterpart barring a few key differences. Due to the loss of the life-gaining ability in Alchemy’s Carnage of Meathok, the archetype is looking for a new long-game that can stabilize the battlefield and win the game on its own.
This is where the Sanguine Brushstroke comes in. Released in a wave of Alchemy cards released during the two Innistrad sets in 2021, Sanguine Brushstroke is a spell that brings a copy of Blood Artist onto the battlefield.
Blood Artist is an integral part of the elite strategies in various eternal formats of magic. This replaces Meathook Massacre as a continuous life loss effect that both damages opponents and helps you recover from an early game attack.
When combined with Blood Artist’s Oni-Cult Anvil, Rakdos Midrange can establish a value engine similar to the popular Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven in Historical and Pioneer. It’s a tough interaction to stop as it requires multiple removal techniques and can comfortably remove most board wipes.
Blood Artist was the star performer on Rolf’s roster and contributed to a 2-1 win over No. 2 Keisuke Sato in the final.
Rolf packs in other spells that can load early advantage. Ob-Nixilis, the opponent is a three-mana planeswalker that can attack the opponent’s resources, especially if he enters the battlefield on turn three and uses his damage ability.
Sato delivered a similar performance in his sophomore performance at the Arena Championship. His list is filled with more heavy hitters compared to Rolf’s more co-op oriented build. Sato was packing two copies of Invoke Despair and four copies of Mirror Breaker Tales. These cards gave the deck an effective edge, but took some consistency compared to Rolf’s build.
Despair is powerful, but in a two-color shell, the card can cause problems at 1BBBB mana cost. Sato was also running three copies of The Meathok Massacre; Two in the main ship and one in the sideboard. This card is still strong on creature details, but it loses a lot of its strength without being able to gain life. It’s an effective metagame call but a dead card in a mirror matchup.
Sato chose not to run any copies of Braids, Arisen Nightmare. This is in stark contrast to the four copies found in Rolfe’s list. The card is generally dead in the mirror, but Braids proves effective as an additional source of damage and board control. When combined with the consistent signals and sacrificial fodder that can be generated by Rakdos midrange, Breeds forces the opponent to make general and permanent tough decisions in their life.