Atraxa, Grand Unifier
11, Jan, 24

Wizards Baffles MTG Arena Players with Bizarre 2023 Roundup

Article at a Glance

Over the course of 2023, there were a ton of extremely powerful cards added to MTG Arena. For Standard, the addition of elite haymakers like Atraxa, Grand Unifier helped solidify an elite multi-color ramp shell for much of the year. For Explorer, cards like Knight-Errant of Eos helped establish new archetypes within the metagame. Perhaps no format changed more drastically, though, than Historic, thanks to the inclusion of Lord of the Rings cards on MTG Arena.

Unsurprisingly, the likes of Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring were immensely powerful, before ultimately being nerfed, of course. Collectively, the range of extremely strong cards added to MTG Arena throughout 2023 was quite large.

As a way to celebrate the culmination of 2023 and showcase what the year meant to MTG Arena, Wizards of the Coast sent players via Email a recap of the year, including a section with “2023 Community Stats.” Within this section, the “top cards of 2023” for Explorer, Standard, and Historic were discussed. Intriguingly, not everyone received information regarding all three formats, but thanks to social media, gathering this information as a community was relatively easy.

While some of these top cards make a lot of sense, a lot of players seem generally confused by specific inclusions and how Wizards of the Coast came to the conclusions that they did. This is especially true for a handful of top Standard and Historic cards. Let’s start by looking at one of the weirdest cards mentioned that barely sees any competitive play whatsoever.

Archangel Elspeth and Sheoldred in Historic?

Sheoldred | March of the Machine

Soon after players began getting their MTG Arena recap Emails, comments quickly emerged with regards to a couple strange card choices within the top cards lists for each format. Reddit posts showcasing the top card lists for Historic, Standard, and Explorer featured a great deal of discussion regarding exactly what “top cards” meant. While the Historic and Explorer posts were ultimately taken down by moderators, this wasn’t before Archangel Elspeth became the talk of the town.

See, each of these top cards lists features a select group of sets released on MTG Arena in 2023, then highlights two cards from each set. In the case of Historic, these sets were Phyrexia: All Will Be One, March of the Machine, Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, Wilds of Eldraine, and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan.

For Lord of the Rings, it’s no surprise that Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring were the cards that were highlighted. The same goes for Trumpeting Carnosaur and Geological Appraiser from Ixalan, given the nearly immediate impact that Discover combo had on the format.

The biggest anomaly absolutely lied with March of the Machine. The featured cards were Archangel Elspeth and Sheoldred, both of which have seen little to no Historic play throughout the year. In fact, according to MTGTop8’s top cards for Historic in 2023, neither Elspeth nor Sheoldred appear in even 1% of the decks from the year featured on the site.

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Potential Alternatives

Knight-Errant of Eos

In fairness, March of the Machine was not the most impressive set with regards to shaping the Historic metagame. Still, there were plenty of more deserving cards to take the slot. The most heavily played card in March of the Machine from MTGTop8’s culmination of Historic events in 2023 was none other than Change the Equation. Appearing in 5.2% of decks, Change the Equation saw play in a variety of different control decks, including a Dimir Control deck from top 8 of Arena Championship 4.

Another solid inclusion from March of the Machine would have been Polukranos Reborn. Polukranos, much like in Pioneer before the banning of Karn, the Great Creator, was an excellent three-drop for mono-green Devotion. Thanks to Delighted Halfling and Utopia Sprawl, casting Polukranos on turn 2 was as easy as ever.

The reality is, from Knight-Errant of Eos to Pile On and beyond, there were a ton of other worthy candidates. In fact, Polukranos and Knight-Errant of Eos were the two cards included among the top Explorer cards, which only makes the decision to put Elspeth and Sheoldred above them rather confusing.

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Phyrexia Further Heightens Befuddlement

Atraxa, Grand Unifier | Phyrexia: All Wi

Despite Elspeth being a rather baffling choice for a top Historic card of 2023, the decisions with regards to Phyrexia: All Will Be One were even more puzzling. At least in the case of March of the Machine, no card had an immense presence within the metagame. For Phyrexia, however, one card stands head and shoulders above the rest: Atraxa, Grand Unifier.

In Standard, Atraxa is an amazing finisher for the multi-color ramp decks that have been tier one for quite some time. This archetype only got more popular in recent weeks, thanks to the printing of Cavern of Souls in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. In Historic, Atraxa was utilized as a Reanimator target in conjunction with Unburial Rites, showing up in the second place decklist from Arena Championship 2.

In a shocking move, Atraxa was not among the top cards for Historic or Standard. Instead, Venerated Rotpriest and Sheoldred’s Edict were crowned the top cards in both formats. According to MTGTop8’s top cards for Standard in 2023, Ossification, Skrelv, Defector Mite, and Atraxa are the only cards to appear in at least 10% of tournament decks during the year. Even with poison-style decks picking up in Standard, Atraxa has been hands down a more important card from the set the Venerated Rotpriest as far as shaping the general metagame.

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How Were These Cards Calculated?

byu/Xsallaber from discussion

These decisions beg the question: how was the data utilized to decide what the top cards were? It would make sense that, for a section of an Email dedicated to showcasing information about the MTG Arena community as a whole, things may be a bit more skewed towards the casual side. Even if Atraxa was utilized more in Ranked queues on Arena, especially among players with higher rankings, perhaps Venerated Rotpriest appeared in a ton of more casual best-of-one settings.

Strangely, though, the Email also comes with a section that reveals the cards that were most heavily redeemed with Wildcards. Believe it or not, Atraxa is the first card shown in the graphic, which makes its omission as a top card even weirder.

byu/Xsallaber from discussion

One reasonable explanation could be that the data collected form Wizards of the Coast was much more heavily skewed towards the set’s initial release date. For instance, Venerated Rotpriest was one of the most hyped cards from Phyrexia during spoiler season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it was crafted at an incredibly high rate soon after the set became available.

Alternatively, this data could simply be showing off the two most played cards for each of the highlighted MTG sets overall, including in unranked que. If Archangel Elspeth were gifted to players in a preconstructed deck, this would explain a lot.

In fact, Venerated Rotpriest was among the 10 cards shown displaying the most heavily redeemed Wildcards. Still, this doesn’t fully explain Atraxa’s absence. It’s unclear exactly how these top cards were determined by Wizards of the Coast, but seeing cards like Elspeth make the cut while Atraxa misses is confusing, nonetheless.

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