Challenger Gauntlet Report: Road to MPL

Arne Huschenbeth


Last weekend has completely changed my life. I played the Challenger Gauntlet with $600.000 on stake. We started with twenty-four qualified players, then eliminated twelve players (leaving them with qualification for an upcoming Set Championship), resulting in the top twelve players locking in their spot for the upcoming Rivals League. The top twelve players then battle for the four slots to achieve their dream of an invitation to the Magic Pro League and this year’s World Championship.

The players had to undergo six rounds of Standard and six rounds of Historic over the course of two days culminating in an Elimination Bracket for the best 12 after the Swiss rounds, where they were playing for Worlds and the MPL invite on Day Number Three.

I reached my goal of qualifying for the World Championship and the Magic Pro League.

How I Prepared

My success would not have happened without my team’s support along with the time and effort we put into the testing process.


David Inglis, Sam Rolph, Matti Kuisma

I prepared together with the talented group of David Inglis, Sam Rolph, and Matti Kuisma. We worked overtime to perfectionate our decks and figure out the best thing you could be doing in both metagames. It was a lot of fun, especially working on our brews trying to tackle the Standard metagame. As is common nowadays, we prepared via Discord.


Simon Nielsen, Karl Sarap

We were lucky enough to have additional sparring partners in the form of Simon Nielsen and Karl Sarap. There were some timezone differences between us. Neither of us was sharing the timezone, but Matti, Sam, and I were close to the same time, living all in different regions in Europe. On the other hand, David lives on the West-Coast of the United States.

Thankfully we worked around that by having most of our testing in the evening for the Europeans and the early morning for David.


Keisuke Sato, Noriyuki Mori

I want to take this moment to mention the challenge on top of the tournament for the Japanese players, who were starting the tournament past midnight Japanese time and still managed to put two players into the World Championship. Absolutely amazing, congratulations to Keisuke Sato and Noriyuki Mori!

Deck Selection

Magda, Brazen OutlawTeferi, Hero of DominariaDreadhorde Arcanist

Our preparation culminated in choosing Gruul Adventures for the Standard portion and Jeskai Control, without 《Magma Opus》, as well as Rakdos Arcanist for Historic. Sam Rolph was the outliner, choosing a different deck than the team in Historic.

Why did the others not go with Rakdos?

Dreadhorde ArcanistThoughtseize

We identified Rakdos to be very good versus Jeskai Control/Opus. Any slow deck is fearful of the combination of 《Dreadhorde Arcanist》 and a One-mana discard spell. The three of us who chose against playing the deck, We’re concerned about other archetypes showing up.

The Phoenix matchup felt difficult. Various fast aggressive decks could be problematic. Graveyard hate is an issue. Looking back at the metagame, Rakdos Arcanist was an excellent choice. Great decision by Sam.

Historic: Jeskai Control

Magma OpusMizzix's MasteryTorrential Gearhulk

Instead, David, Matti, and I chose a deck that lost some interest lately. Pure Jeskai Control without any 《Magma Opus》, 《Mizzix’s Mastery》 or 《Torrential Gearhulk》.


Click to Wide

Expressive Iteration

We wanted to optimize one of the stronger cards in Historic, 《Expressive Iteration》. The 《Magma Opus》 package is very powerful and can give you access to really powerful plays.

On the other hand, 《Magma Opus》 and 《Torrential Gearhulk》 are not the best cards on their own. And they are weak against Counterspells, Discard or Graveyard interaction. Jeskai Control already has access to some of the best tools to fight off any deck.

Search for AzcantaTeferi, Hero of Dominaria

You don’t need the power level of 《Torrential Gearhulk》 flashing back 《Magma Opus》 to win against most decks in the current metagame. You can answer your opponents game plan and then win over time with 《Search for Azcanta》 or 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》. In addition, we felt that in the match versus Jeskai Opus, the 《Magma Opus》 package could be a liability.

Mystical DisputeRelic of Progenitus

We built our deck with the Opus matchup in the forefront. 2 《Mystical Dispute》 in the main deck and 2 《Relic of Progenitus》 speak for that. We went 6-2 versus Jeskai Opus with our list. I would be happy registering something very close to this yet again.

I think it was a great choice and I was surprised nobody else was choosing the same strategy. For a different metagame, playing Jeskai Opus might be better, but I believe currently, Jeskai Control is the superior choice. We will see what Historic Horizons will bring in the future, very excited about that.

Standard: Gruul Adventure

Winota, Joiner of Forces

Gruul Adventures was our pick for Standard, mainly because we expected, on the one hand, a lot of 《Winota, Joiner of Forces》 decks and on the other interactive decks trying to prevent the Winota strategy from fulfilling its gameplan. I didn’t want to play Winota, cause in a metagame like we predicted with everyone prepared for or playing Winota themselves – I just wouldn’t want to be. We chose Gruul for the reason that it is less reliant on synergy and more resilient against interaction.

Gruul is extremely powerful itself, perhaps not as strong as putting 《Kenrith, the Returned King》 into play Turn 3, but it is more consistent and the cards have a greater individual power level.

Our version of Gruul felt even versus Winota with the addition of Black.


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Ray of Enfeeblement

《Ray of Enfeeblement》 is a nice tool to stop their most powerful draws. Very important that it costs a single black, because that allows you to still get your own game plan going while keeping up the interactive spell.

In the end, only four players registered Winota, which was very surprising to us. We expected players considering Gruul to decide that Winota would be the superior strategy as the available data was indicating. We were surprised to see other players choosing the same strategy. Our list was not very prepared for other 《Lovestruck Beast》 decks, we chose our slots wisely with Winota, Rogues and Control decks in mind.

Giant KillerElite SpellbinderShowdown of the Skalds

In addition, Naya Adventures making an appearance in this tournament was the opposite of good news for any Gruul player.

In the end, that all is out of your control and Gruul is still very powerful with some of the most powerful draws that you could have in the format.

Jaspera SentinelMagda, Brazen OutlawGoldspan DragonThe Akroan War

For example my final game where I went Turn 1 《Jaspera Sentinel》, Turn 2 《Magda, Brazen Outlaw》 making a Treasure end of turn and then Turn 3 cast 《Goldspan Dragon》, attack and cast 《The Akroan War》 stealing my opponents 《Lovestruck Beast》 with the two leftover treasures. I spent 9 mana worth of spells on Turn 3. Looking back, I would have probably just registered a Winota list resilient against control for this tournament. I think that was probably where you wanted to be.

Tournament Report

The tournament itself was something else. The amount of money and prestige that we were playing for was probably the highest for all competitors. Even household names like Sam Pardee, Logan Nettles and Jan-Moritz Merkel did not play for such high stakes before as far as I am aware.

Peer Pressure

The pressure on the players was enormous. I personally consider myself relatively good at coping with this sort of stress. But this time I was struggling to focus and ignore the outside factors. The emotions got the better of me on more than one occasion.

Going into the tournament, my expectations went down after seeing the metagame breakdown and the way the Standard metagame shaped out. I was hoping to perform in Historic and to sneak out some victories in Standard by winning die rolls and getting lucky.

Favorable Winds

Nonetheless, after Day1 I found myself to my own surprise at the top of the standings, at 5-1. Three wins in Standard and two wins in Historic. Everything was going well, I was very happy and excited for the next day of competition.

Unfortunately on Day2 I really struggled to concentrate in the first match of the day. I believe I made game-losing mistakes in both games I lost. I felt down on myself, knowing that it was a feature match and the viewers would even see my missteps.


It was difficult to get focus back on the things that matter, I had a helpful call with my very good friend Leo Cadoux to get back on track mentally. That was important. Luckily the match was not even featured because of time reasons. I dodged the public embarrassment. Next round I found myself back on track beating a Jeskai Opus player.

Then I had to play a mirror match versus my teammate Matti Kuisma, where he eaged out a win in three close games. 1-2 in Historic meant I was sitting at 6-3, still in good position for the Top4. But the Standard rounds looked to be difficult looking at the top of the standings.

Expressive IterationMidnight ClockKiora Bests the Sea God

Next up, I was facing Noriyuki Mori on Izzet Control in Standard. Mori beat me in three games. I felt defeated and I got anxious that I might not even achieve my goal of Rivals. I took some time to reflect, talk with my friends and try to get my focus back for the last two matches in the swiss. I succeeded, winning both of them and finding myself at 4th place after the conclusion of the swiss rounds.

What a rollercoaster on Day2, rough start nonetheless culminating in a great performance. I felt relieved, but it wasn’t quite over yet. Gavin Thompson clinged 5th place sharing the same amount of points with me, resulting in us playing a Best of Three Matches Tiebreaker decider for who ends up in the Top 4 on Sunday.

Apex of Power

Exhausted and stressed out after an emotional day, I played to the best of my ability. We both fought formidably, making mistakes on both sides. In the end I emerged victorious and could not believe my luck.

This meant that I just had to win one out of two matches to make the World Championship and the Magic Pro League, while Gavin and the other seven players placing 5th-12th had to win three consecutive matches to achieve their ultimate goal.

Coalition Victory

Noteworthy, I joined my teammate Matti Kuisma in the Top 4, while Sam and David both made the Top 12 reaching at the very least Rivals for next Season. Amazing to see the entire team convert our preparation into a huge success with perhaps even more to come.

Day Three is fairly well documented on Coverage for you to check out. My first match did not go well, Sam Pardee dismantled me with his Naya Adventures deck. Second match I won against David Inglis in the Gruul mirror with two very strong draws and the advantage of being on the play because of higher seeding.

Hereby I want to acknowledge David’s performance who had to win his tiebreaker match to get into the Top 12 and then proceeded to win the next two matches on Day3 while being the lowest seed, which meant he was on the draw all through Day3. Very impressive stuff, I am sure we will see a lot more of David in the future. And I can’t wait to work more with him, Matti and Sam.

Happily Ever After

The moment after I won the deciding qualifying match was like something out of a movie scene. I broke down in my hallway breathing heavily with the biggest smile on my face, my entire body shaking. After feeling sick of stress and pressure for the entirety of the day, I felt incredibly relieved.


Life Goes On

The end of the tournament meant not only life-changing success for me, but also the end of the most stressful tournaments I have ever played in. Still to this day, I have a hard time believing what actually happened. What I actually accomplished. It will probably still take some time until I fully realize.

If you would have told me that I would make the World Championship this year in January, I would have probably laughed at you. I was not even qualified for any Set Championship at the beginning of this year and now I am in the Magic Pro League and will play the World Championship in two months. Unbelievable.

In addition this victory will allow me to commit even more time to Magic. I am looking forward to helping other players realize their dreams and goals, the same way I did. I want to expand on my Coaching and Streaming to share my knowledge with the community that supported me so much through the last months and years. Thank you.

Arne Huschenbeth (Twitter / Twitch)

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Arne Huschenbeth Arne is an enthusiast for Standard and won GP Rimini which was held by exact his favorite format. He also achieved impressive 10-0 record at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. He has 3 more GP top 8s past seasons, and earned 41 Pro Points during 2017-2018 season which was good enough to become a Gold Level Pro. Read more articles by Arne Huschenbeth

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