Welcome back, readers! I was listening to the finals of Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad as I began to write this and it's an exciting G/W Tokens vs. Bant Company finals. Editor's note: By the time you read this, you'll know Rubin's Tokens list defeated Mengucci's Bant list to win the Pro Tour.
Today I'm going to look at some of the exciting new decks to come out of the Pro Tour. I'll go over pros and cons and explain where I see them fitting in the metagame moving forward.
Thanks to Doug and Kelly's Insider alerts at this Pro Tour, I'm sure a lot of QSers made some good money with Seasons Past and Dark Petition. Ironically, I got it as I was getting my oil changed at a dealer and waited to buy. When I got home about 45 minutes later, my options were to buy single copies from three different sellers with inflated shipping.
Now they are sitting at around $5 (Dark Petition) and $9 (Seasons Past). While the deck didn't win the PT, it was piloted by Magic's greatest player, Jon Finkel. Despite not being heavily involved in the competitive scene Finkel still shows a mastery of the game, picking up right where he left off to make another PT Top 8. His name obviously carries a lot of weight and you can bet scores of fans will try to pick this deck up in the coming weeks.
- This deck has some really awesome synergy. I love the use of Dead Weight as a one-drop removal spell that can be rebought with Seasons Past. While this didn't matter in Finkel's deck, it also helps turn on delirium.
- It plays a decent "toolbox" package maindeck, which I personally have always been a fan of, as it allows you to play powerful answers to more specific problems rather than weaker answers to more general problems.
- It doesn't include white, so no Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier or Declaration in Stone, which at the time are big hold-ups for any less competitive/more casual player.
- It's actually not insanely expensive. The most expensive cards in it are Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet at around $25, followed by Nissa, Vastwood Seer // Nissa, Sage Animist at around $15.
- Toolbox decks can suffer from inconsistency issues (usually drawing the wrong answer at the wrong time, due to the answers being more specific).
- Because it's so new, it's unknown whether it was an amazing metagame call or a truly powerful deck. Only time will tell on this one.
- It honestly seems like it heavily relies on getting its engine going, so in a counterspell-heavy metagame I think this deck would flop pretty hard. It has a few key "must resolve" spells and a lot more situationally good cards.
Brad Nelson also took an interesting out-of-the-box approach to the PT and was rewarded with a Top 8 as well. He converted the U/R Goggles deck Todd Anderson has been successful with recently on the SCG circuit to a ramp shell, cutting the blue (which appears to be mainly for a few creatures and sideboard options) for green.
- The deck cut down its top end. By eliminating Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, the deck now tops out at 7, allowing it to start dropping decent threats faster. With Declaration in Stone being so prevalent in the format now, Ulamog's indestructibility is nowhere near as powerful. The re-addition of Dragonlord Atarka is likely another nod to Declaration, as thanks to Atarka's enters-the-battlefield ability you get a mini-wrath immediately regardless of whether your opponent can kill Atarka or not.
- The addition of the draw cards Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight not only help set up delirium for Traverse the Ulvenwald but can also filter out dead ramp spells late-game or large threats (when you need lands) early-game. The current ramp decks are already lacking solid two-drop ramp spells (Ruin in Their Wake is too situational), so taking a turn to filter your draw doesn't seem like a terrible idea.
- This deck can either play as a traditional ramp deck or start dropping large x-damage spells off of Pyromancer's Goggles, the power of which Todd Anderson showed us at SCG Columbus.
- As in Todd's list, we see the power level of Drownyard Temple which allows you to pitch a land that you then get back, at instant speed, whenever you have three mana and nothing to do with it. I expect we'll continue to see Temple find more and more homes.
- While the deck can do some powerful things, because it's a hybrid it tends to sacrifice power in order to accomplish either objective. On one hand, it only plays nine actual ramp spells so it doesn't get to drop threats as quickly as a dedicated ramp deck. On the other hand it plays fewer red spells to abuse with the Goggles to make room for the ramp spells and creatures.
- Even though the deck runs Traverse the Ulvenwald, I'm curious how often it actually achieves delirium. With only two planeswalkers, four creatures and five artifacts, it's not super efficient at getting that fourth card type in the bin unless it discards one using the draw spells. But doing so sacrifices one of the few win conditions. Now, I can easily see Brad using Traverse mainly to trigger the surge cost for Fall of the Titans as you could cast it for one green, go get your land for turn and end up with the same amount of overall mana for Fall.
- The sideboard looks very specific and has little in the way of dealing with a heavy control deck (though to be fair, I haven't really seen any pop up yet).
LSV took a Matt Nass creation to a Top 8 berth. This deck actually looks a lot like the Rally decks of old Standard without the recursion engine.
- This is another deck that came out of left field. Most thought with the loss of Rally the Ancestors the archetype was dead, so there was likely some surprise factor. It also looks like a lot of fun to play.
- The use of Cryptolith Rite to turn all those dinky 1/1's and tokens into mana producers is really clever. The use of Duskwatch Recruiter // Krallenhorde Howler as a card engine (putting all that mana to good use) is really powerful. We saw the Recruiter put in a lot of work all weekend and this is likely one of the most premier uncommons from Shadows. I can easily see this card finding a home in any green aggro or creature-heavy Commander decks, so foil copies will likely command a good price moving forward (the fact that it's a flip card also helps).
- The full playset of Ultimate Price in the sideboard goes to show how powerful the kill spell is in this much more monochromatic (creature) format.
- This deck abuses synergy and has some very explosive plays.
- This deck is still quite affordable and will likely draw the interest of casual/less competitive players.
- The power level of almost every creature individually is very low. The danger is that against midrange decks with good pinpoint removal, the opponent merely has to kill specific creatures to stop the G/B Aristocrat's player in their tracks. I can also see the G/B player getting some very unimpressive Collected Company hits.
- This deck seems like it could be very poorly situated against a timely Languish, which is sure to pick up after this PT.
- The deck seems to heavily rely on Zulaport Cutthroat or Westvale Abbey // Ormendahl, Profane Prince to actually win games.
Next up we have Shota Yasooka's Esper Dragons list.
- While an established archetype, this was one many pros pushed aside as a lower-tier deck. Thus there may have been a small surprise factor for his opponents, though there isn't a whole lot in the deck that's "new technology."
- The threats in the deck are very powerful and all provide some form of card advantage.
- The maindeck Ultimate Price is yet more indication that this may be one of our premier removal spells going forward.
- Shota was unable to find room for (or choose not to) add Always Watching which has proven to ratchet up Dragonlord Ojutai from powerful card to absolute beating.
- While it appears this deck is heavily blue-black, with the white more of a splash, only running two Shambling Vent to mitigate life loss is risky. This land has overperformed for me in many decks, and there's a good bit of life loss in the deck itself.
Seth Manfield brought the following Esper Control deck to his Top 8 performance.
- This is the only Top 8 deck that runs Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. While often overshadowed by his younger self, the new Jace provides continual filtered card advantage, protects himself, and has a decent ultimate against any deck playing "big" spells. In fact it's really interesting that Seth decided to maindeck this Jace and sideboard Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, despite having a decent number of maindeck spells worth flashing back.
- The one-of Sphinx of the Final Word serves as a trump card to any other control decks, doesn't die to his own Languishs and is extremely difficult to deal with. It also trades with Dragonlord Ojutai, whether they happen to have an Always Watching or not.
- This deck has card advantage all over the place and gets to really abuse Narset Transcendent.
- The choice of Spell Shrivel over its more powerful brother Void Shatter implies that double blue mana by turn three may be quite a bit more difficult in this new fetch-less Standard. The four maindeck Grasp of Darkness also puts a heavy emphasis on getting early black mana.
- Seth didn't feel that the new Shadows lands could really cut it and chose to run only one copy of Choked Estuary and zero copies of Port Town. These lands were designed to help smooth mana development in the early game at the cost of constantly coming in tapped in the mid/late game.
- The deck only runs seven Shadows over Innistrad cards, counting both maindeck and sideboard.
Next we have the deck that took it all down, piloted by Steve Rubin.
- The deck won the Pro Tour, so it's definitely strong.
- It runs the full four copies of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, which is really powerful in a token deck trying to gum up the board. She allows you to create continual blockers and eventually "pump up" the team to break stalemates.
- This was the only deck in the Top 8 to run the full four copies of Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier, arguably the most powerful card from SOI.
- It uses Evolutionary Leap to protect Hangarback Walkers from Declaration in Stone and nerf spot removal by replacing targeted creatures. There are 12 to 16 good "hits" for Leap.
- The deck relies heavily on Dromoka's Command as its removal of choice, which works well when you have slightly bigger creatures than your opponent, but becomes severely outclassed against any larger creatures.
Andrea Mengucci brought the bogeyman of the format with some minor tweaks.
- The deck has shown it's consistantly powerful.
- Mengucci cut some of the cuter one-ofs that other versions had been trying out (at SCG Opens). No more Hidden Dragonslayer, no more Den Protector. By eliminating creatures whose biggest draw is an unmorph trigger, he gets more consistent Collected Companys.
- The three copies of Tragic Arrogance did a ton of work in the finals. Unfortunately for Andrea, Secure the Wastes is a card that can quickly counteract a sweeper. Still, Tragic Arrogance will likely see an uptick in play as it's good against heavy planeswalker and creature swarm decks alike. It can also get rid of pesky Stasis Snares and [card]Silk Wrap[card]s, providing an enormous swing on the board.
- It was not a deck people were surprised by.
- He kept the full four-of Jaces in the deck despite only having eight potential maindeck targets for it. Though this may honestly just say more about the power level of Collected Company than anything else.
- He plays a full seven BFZ duals and only nine basic lands to help them come into play untapped. This ratio seems a bit too close to 1:1 to allow for consistently untapped lands.
R/W Eldrazi Goggles
Last but not least, we have Luis Salvatto's R/W Brew.
- This deck takes two different archetypes, R/W Eldrazi and R/x Goggles, and combines them. This allows it to attack from two different angles.
- Every instant and sorcery in the maindeck can be doubled up with Pyromancer's Goggles.
- Every creature in the deck is fantastic with Eldrazi Displacer (save additional copies of itself).
- Thanks to the colorless Eldrazi, he effectively played a three-color deck, but only four of his lands always came into play tapped (unless you count cheating in Drownyard Temple).
- Because the deck attacks from two different angles each strategy is individually weaker.
- He lacked any early sweeper effects like Kozilek's Return and likely had to rely heavily on Chandra, Flamecaller and the one-of Planar Outburst. Hitting them on time is critical against fast aggro/weenie strategies like W/x Humans.
Many of us have viewed the Shadows over Innistrad dual lands (Choked Estuary, Port Town, Game Trail, Fortified Village and Foreboding Ruins) as "lesser" duals. Many mana bases I've seen previously would run a 4/2 split between a BFZ dual and the respective SOI dual.
The pros, however, typically ran either the full 4/4 split (or in Brad Nelson's case a 3/4 split) or avoided them altogether, like Manfield. This implies there are two distinct trains of thought on their power level and usefulness. I personally fall more into the 4/x split (where I'd rather max out on BFZ duals than SOI ones).
None of the decks covered today were heavily made up of any SOI cards. Though you could argue the Seasons Past deck obviously wouldn't exist without SOI, the implication is that the cards themselves are sub-par compared to previous blocks.
Only five copies of Declaration in Stone in all the Top 8 decks (and all in the sideboard) implies the pros didn't find this latest and greatest "all-inclusive" removal spell as impressive as many on the SCG circuit. Only three of the Top 8 decks weren't playing white, so the fact that three players chose not to run it was significant. This included the two controlling Esper decks. It would seem Declaration is more of an aggro-vs.-aggro removal spell, as giving your opponent a clue is not ideal when they have time to cash it in.
It's also important to note what marquee SOI cards didn't show up in the Top 8---these cards are likely to begin to trend downward:
Additionally, some major players from past sets were also no-shows. Some of these cards did appear on camera, but none made the Top 8:
Dromoka's Command and Sylvan Advocate were the only two cards to appear as four-ofs in both the winning and second place decks. Sylvan Advocate has already jumped by almost 25% since the PT (and over 40% in the past two weeks). Dromoka's Command has been on a steady climb the past few weeks, but is still sitting right under $4.50. There may be some concerns that DTK and ORI are the next sets to rotate, but Command has potential in Modern, so its current price seems underpriced by a bit.
With a heavy push towards Collected Company and/or Secure the Wastes, Hallowed Moonlight might see a bit of a resurgence in demand thanks to hosing both strategies. Note, however, that it does not work against Westvale Abbey // Ormendahl, Profane Prince.
No "delirium" style decks appeared to do well on camera at the PT. While I don't want to write off the mechanic as a whole, if the pros couldn't figure something out, I don't know if anyone else will anytime soon. If you spec'd on this mechanic, now might be the time to unload as prices are likely to continue to fall.