The Pro Tour coverage team keeps getting better and better. At PT Battle for Zendikar, they had interesting and relevant deck techs, cool advertising, and showed tons of Magic. Everything was awesome--until the cut to the Top 8.
It was so disappointing to see none of the sweet decks they highlighted throughout the weekend make the cut. Today I'll focus on some interesting decks that ended up in the Top 16.
Typically, players only focus on the Top 8 at any given event, but the players in the next tier were a small amount of variance away from the Day 3 stage and should not be ignored. Let’s dive right in!
The first version of Aristocrats originated back in Innistrad-Return to Ravnica Standard. The goal was to use sacrifice engines like Cartel Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat to take advantage of cards with death triggers like Doomed Traveler and Xathrid Necromancer.
Aristocrats, named for the former two cards, is one of my favorite archetypes of all time. Many pro Magic players seemed to think the premise is solid in the new Standard, and there were some sweet variations on the concept.
First up, we have the least crazy of the three types. You may have seen this deck in coverage listed as G/B Aristocrats, but I've labeled it Jund due to the prominent red cards in the sideboard. This deck takes its base line from the Event Deck.
The most interesting aspect to me here is the integration of the full four Smothering Abominations. It's not often that a four-power, four-mana flyer is good enough for Standard, but this might be one of those times.
In these Aristocrats decks, I'm always skeptical to see Collected Company. The creatures are not individually powerful like in typical Company decks. It won’t ever be terrible as long as you hit two creatures, but hitting just one will be much worse than in other decks.
Additionally, I dislike running Company in decks with Hangarback Walker because you can never put that creature into play for a positive effect.
It might be that the deck simply needs the card advantage, and fetching two synergistic creatures off of one card does sound strong. To compare, I would think about playing something like Eyeless Watcher that puts multiple creatures into play immediately.
To sum up, Company is still good in this deck but not nearly as good as in other decks. As we'll see below, some versions didn't run it.
Another positive quality about this style of deck is that removal spells are mostly terrible at stopping the game plan. It’s great to remove Nantuko Husk from the battlefield, but many of the other creatures will simply generate more creatures when they die. You also have the amazing Zulaport Cutthroat to drain your opponent every time they try to deal with a threat.
When I heard someone was playing a blue-black Aristocrats shell, I had two simultaneous thoughts. One, they’re going to scrub out; or two, they’re a genius. As it turned out, the latter was closer to reality.
It’s not often that I am blown away when I see a deck, but this deck design is beautiful nearly to perfection.
The strength of Catacomb Sifter led many to believe green-black was the right shell for a new Aristocrats deck. I thought Mardu Hordechief was playable but Sifter is a strict upgrade if you’re in both green and black. This creature is half of Viscera Seer tacked onto a token maker. It's the type of card that makes me stay up late on a work night brewing decks.
Is it worth it to make your deck green just for this card and a few others? Calcano and his team didn’t think so, and they replaced it with blue mana instead.
Previously I stated that I wasn’t impressed with Collected Company and thought about replacing it with a card like Eyeless Watcher. The minds behind this deck’s design likely had similar thoughts because they ended up with Whirler Rogue in that spot.
Rogue gives you multiple bodies to swarm the battlefield with, as well as a game plan similar to the Knightfall deck in Modern. Both strategies make one gigantic monster and give it a way to deal the finishing blow. Retreat to Coralhelm allows you to tap all their creatures while Rogue makes your Nantuko Husk unblockable, but the concept is nearly the same.
One huge draw to this build is the strength of Liliana, Heretical Healer // Liliana, Defiant Necromancer in it. We’ve seen both Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound and Nissa, Vastwood Seer // Nissa, Sage Animist become major metagame players and it comes as no surprise that another planeswalker in this cycle is helping to mold the format.
While I don't think this version sacrifices much by removing green, there are several cards I'd like to fit in if possible. Carrier Thrall, Grim Haruspex and Smothering Abomination are all reasonable options.
One of the first things I would try is to squeeze in two Grim Haruspex. I would likely cut the Vampiric Rites because Haruspex is almost a creature version of the same card. Although Calcano said Sidisi's Faithful was extremely important to the deck, I would likely cut one of those as well.
It seems worthwhile to consider morphing this deck into a three- or four-color deck just to play all these cards together. Matt Nass took this concept to crazy heights by adding white for Rally the Ancestors.
While I have no idea how Matt arrived at this deck list, it seems likely he evolved it from a previous version of the Rally deck. One thing we do know is that this deck is not only crazy but also crazy fun.
This is the most combo-like version of the Aristocrats. I could see it needing more Whirler Rogues though, as a backup plan for when you can’t set up a backbreaking Rally.
The mana in this deck does look dodgy. Sequencing of land drops and fetch activations will be crucial. If you decide to play this deck, make sure to practice with the mana base to iron out all the creases.
I'm thrilled to see Nantuko Husk appear in multiple different decks. Writing about them has me reminiscing about the first Husk deck I brewed back in the day, an Elves deck featuring Caller of the Claw. As I played in a casual-competitive environment, I was able to do well with it while having insane amounts of fun.
If you like intricate interactions like these, this might be the style of deck for you. Give it a try, and don't forget the backup plan of sending all the synergistic creatures into the red zone!
The Many Flavors of Mardu
Mardu has secured a place in my heart ever since the Khans of Tarkir prerelease. I love what the color combination is trying to do, but I haven’t been able to successfully brew my own version. Some Pro Tour competitors were able to do just that this past weekend.
My business partner has been working on a deck like this for a while now. The deck's goal is similar to Abzan Midrange. Both decks are trying to control the board and use their incremental card advantage to win a long game. Mardu Midrange does that with a suite of powerful planeswalkers and lots of removal to protect them.
The creatures are geared towards this plan as well. Hangarback Walker and Pia and Kiran Nalaar both make multiple creatures for your investment. Soulfire Grand Master allows you to replay removal spells once you generate enough mana and provides life gain to pull you out of even the most dire situations.
Tomoharu Saito opted for a more aggressive build of Mardu that eschewed the planeswalkers entirely.
When I think of Mardu, this is more the style of deck I am looking for.
If you read my articles, you know that I pride myself on rocking the aggressive decks to many victories and this deck is definitely my style. The structure and card choices in this deck remind me of the B/W Aggro deck that I’ve been working on.
There is definitely a place in the metagame for a deck like this. My deck is more streamlined, but it lacks the efficient removal and fliers that red provides. One advantage of my build is a lower curve, to get under opponents before they get their footing.
Speaking of similar yet streamlined, this red-black deck removes the white cards altogether in order to focus its game plan. It's basically a hybrid of the two decks above but definitely leans more towards the midrange deck.
Looking over the removal suite, it’s no surprise that this deck was successful. Answers to every deck in the format are available within the confines of red and black.
5-Color Whatever You Want
With access to fetchlands, the new tango duals, and Bring to Light, it’s no surprise to see decks like this. These two decks should be evidence enough that whatever cards you think are the best, you can jam them all into a similar shell and not worry too much about the mana.
Bring to Light reminds me of a one-shot Birthing Pod. It wouldn't surprise me to see a similar build with a laundry list of one-ofs to tutor for. We have seen this to a limited extent, but I think we can push the concept further.
My first thought when I saw a Bring to Light list was that we were heading back to Lorwyn Standard when 5-Color Control was tier one. Before its time is up, I imagine we will all be dreading the power of Bring to Light.
Here we are at the apex of the hidden gems. Sam Black does it again.
The brilliance of this deck design is in its straightforward synergies. Tokens provide you the ability to swarm your opponent with a wide array of creatures. Pump spells like Gideon’s emblem make those innocent 1/1’s into 2/2’s so you can double your on-board power from out of nowhere.
The core of the deck is Retreat to Emeria, which can play both roles. Not only does every fetchland bring two guys to battle with, but you can also add stacks of damage to your army once it’s assembled.
Sam recommended adding another Blighted Woodland and Evolutionary Leap. I would probably cut a Plains and a Quarantine Field to make room.
Sam's team posted three 8-2 records with this deck, and I'd be surprised if any other archetype was as successful. Since nobody on their team made the Top 8 though, this is the perfect deck to take to your next tournament. It's quite strong and players won’t be ready for it this weekend.
Financial Fallout from the Pro Tour
This week, I updated tons of prices in my inventory. I’m sure you noticed cards from successful decks trending upward, but I was surprised to see how all-encompassing that category turned out to be. Nearly every card in the successful decks increased in value.
I increased the price on all these cards:
Many of these cards have been mentioned by myself and other writers on this site as solid investments. The Pro Tour catapulted the process forward, as usual.
No one is shocked that the fetchlands are heading up, but the swiftness of their ascendancy was surprising to me. Fall is historically when the previous block’s lands increase in value. We were duped by the scry lands, but the fetches have fallen back in line with expectations.
Although many cards on this list come as no surprise, a couple stood out to me:
These three cards had minor increases of a dollar or two this past week, yet none of them seem to be connected with any winning strategies from the Pro Tour.
Similarly, as far as I’m aware, the two planeswalkers were absent from any successful decks at the PT.
Moving forward, I think these two Dragons of Tarkir planeswalkers are a good investment. They seem like the type of card that just needs the right cards surrounding them to become pillars of the format. They will be legal until next Fall so don’t worry about losing value too soon.
Although these two cards can't utilized as Bring to Light targets because they aren't creatures, instants, or sorceries, that doesn't mean they won't make the cut at some point over the next year. Even if these cards don't share the lime light in Standard, casual players will still love copying their sweet spells or making more dragons. Get in on these casual favorites now, rather than waiting too long.
That’s all for me this week. The Pro Tour provided us with some sweet new decks to work with and shifted prices as well. We had an unprecedented amount of financial coverage of this event, so if you missed out this time, make sure to get in on the action next time around.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force of Battle!
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