Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir saw five different archetypes in the top eight, with three copies of Jeskai Wins, two copies of Abzan Midrange, one copy of Abzan Aggro, one copy of Blue-Black Control, and one copy of Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. We saw other decks throughout the day, but these seem to have been the dominant archetypes at the event, so let's get familiar with what you're likely to see at your upcoming tournaments, be they FNMs or GPs.
Pure and simple, this is a burn deck. The format has a lot of powerful cards in these colors, so decks can be tuned in a number of different ways depending on your playstyle and what you expect the metagame to look like. Despite this, there were some slots that were absolutely claimed:
If you're looking to play this archetype, this is where you should be starting the deckbuilding process. Only two other cards were four-ofs in all three versions:
Evidenced from this event, a Jeskai Wins deck starts with these 24 cards. Everything else is up to metagaming and personal taste. From planeswalkers (Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Chandra, Pyromaster) to gods (Keranos, God of Storms, to fatties (Stormbreath Dragon, Prognostic Sphinx), to midrange beaters (Goblin Rabblemaster, Brimaz, King of Oreskos), this archetype is wide open to go in a number of different directions.
If you're looking to play this deck, you should obtain the indisputable burn pieces and Mystic Monasterys first. Mantis Rider's current price is a bit unrealistic for a fall set rare, so if you want to play the deck right away, be aware that you are paying more for Mantis Rider than you would be in a couple months—this is fine if you're just anxious to get playing, but if you're looking to pick up cards at their lowest prices, now is not the time.
Also worth acquiring is the manabase. Each of the Jeskai Wins decks in the top eight contained some number of Temple of Epiphany, Temple of Triumph, Flooded Strand, Shivan Reef, and Battlefield Forge. Only one of those cards (Flooded Strand—the one from Khans of Tarkir) is likely to go down from here, so picking up your playsets should be a priority for the others.
Other than that, you can pick up the other pieces as the metagame evolves and as your preferences make themselves more evident. As always, keep in mind that last year's cards are likely to increase in price, while the new cards are likely to decrease over the next few months. Prioritize your pickups accordingly.
You can probably guess the four-ofs that the Abzan Midrange decks have in common, so let's just get them out of the way now:
Not at all a surprising list there, and when you start with 24 cards like that, you know the deck is going to be expensive. In addition to those choices, both decks utilized some number of planeswalkers, mixing up to good effect copies of Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Nissa, Worldwaker, and even a copy of Liliana Vess. Both decks played at least two copies of Wingmate Roc, and both played a total of seven copies of Abzan Charm and Hero's Downfall. The sideboard choices looked pretty different, but the main decks were very similar save for some different numbers of particular cards.
This is an expensive deck. If you're looking to play it, hopefully you have last year's cards ready to go and only need a few additions to make the deck work. Again, KTK cards will mostly only go down from here, so focus on picking up M15 and Theros block stuff for now. Many of these cards have already spiked and are unlikely to go down while in Standard (Caryatid, Courser, Downfall, etc.), so be sure you really want to pursue playing this deck before shelling out. This deck won the event and was a major part of the metagame, and it may very well be this year's Mono-Black Devotion moving forward.
Mike Sigrist piloted this list into the top eight:
This deck eschews Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix for a lower curve and more aggressive starts. Whether you want to be playing midrange or aggro, what is clear from comparing this list to the other Abzan decks in the top eight is that there are a few cards you really need if you want to be playing this color combination:
There are other cards in common between the aggro and midrange decks, but these seem to be the indisputable staples of the color combination, in addition to the uncommon Abzan Charm. My impression is that this build is just not as powerful as the midrange list, but with so many cards in common, if you want to try one build first, it shouldn't be too hard to switch over to the other.
Ivan Floch flocked into consecutive PT top eights, each time with a control list. Here's what he played this time:
Some big names played this deck last weekend, including Andrew Cuneo and Owen Turtenwald (who finished eleventh). This is a classic control list, with very few creatures or win conditions, lots of removal and disruption, and some selection and card draw. Control decks often take a while to emerge in a metagame, so it's cool to see one that did well this early in the format.
This is actually a fairly affordable deck. The cards that are most expensive—Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, Polluted Delta, and other lands—are playable in other archetypes as well as eternal formats (except for Downfall), so buying them to play this list is not likely to end up being a waste, either in the short- or long-run. You can count on the selection of cards to change and evolve as the metagame becomes more established, but picking up the obvious staples shouldn't be a bad play.
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
A combo deck in Standard is a beautiful thing, and Lee Shi Tian's top eight finish with the deck proves that it may just be a realistic strategy in competitive Standard. Here's the list he ran:
If you don't know how this combo works, here's a quick breakdown:
- Play at least one mana dork (preferably more) plus Jeskai Ascendancy.
- Play Retraction Helix on your mana dork (Sylvan Caryatid's hexproof makes it the best target).
- Play cantrips and selection spells to draw cards, net mana (with multiple dorks), loot, and make your dudes bigger.
- Eventually, play Briber's Purse for X=0, bounce it with your Helixed creature, and repeat as many times as necessary to set up a win.
- Attack your opponent with one or more gigantic dudes (who got that way from all the bonuses granted by Ascendancy).
I honestly didn't think this deck was powerful enough in Standard to be successful at the PT, but it seems I was wrong. The deck is generally inexpensive, which is great, but there are some outliers to the inexpensive claim like Sylvan Caryatid and Nissa.
Jeskai Ascendancy at around $8 is tough. On one hand, it's powerful, both in Modern and Standard. On the other hand, there's already rumblings of it being too powerful in Modern, meaning its future there is murky. On the third hand, it's a fall set rare and is only good in one very specific archetype, and is three colors to boot. On the fourth hand (this is a lot of hands), it appears to be good, and if it's not banned, it could very well be a metagame-defining card in Modern, if not Standard, and cards like that tend to be expensive.
I'm going to close today by giving a big, "I don't know," on Jeskai Ascendancy. There are plenty of people out there writing about this one, so feel free to read all the opinions and form your own hypothesis on this card's future. If you're looking to play the deck in either Modern or Standard, paying $30 for your playset is not unreasonable. If you're looking to make money, that may be possible, but this isn't exactly the type of card I like to buy and there are simply too many variables for me to feel good saying either to buy in or avoid. So I'm pleading the fifth here.
What do you think about Ascendancy, the decks in the top eight, and this format in general? It's nice to be out from under the thumb of Sphinx's Revelation and Mono-Black Devotion, right? Let us know what you thought of this weekend in the comments.