I hope you all had a great time watching the Pro Tour! It was a great show, and as I had hoped, red came out on top. I feel obliged to issue a disclaimer before I can continue this article in good conscience: aggressive formats tend to stifle the ability of the crazy, four-color, top-end heavy deck that I tend to favor, as a general rule. I am happy about the rise of red mostly because the popularity brought my dear friend Earthshaker Khenra up with it.
No doubt, the deck was popular with the folks in the top eight, and they benefited from the fast pace of the deck, multiple efficient one-drops, tons of hasty creatures all along the curve, and in some cases, the best red planeswalker that's ever been printed: Chandra, Torch of Defiance. An overwhelming majority of the decks that had seven or more wins in the Standard portion were aggressive decks: Ramunap Red, GB Constrictor or Energy, and Mono-Black Zombies. However, if you scroll through the decklists with winning records, you will find some that give you a look at what people will be playing in the upcoming months in Standard.
While the format evolves and changes, the competitive community has been waiting with bated breath for the Pro Tour, so you have a great shot of seeing lots of these decks at an upcoming FNM or IQ. People will be using these decks as a reference point moving forward, and there are some key cards to watch in the upcoming months. I am going to take you through some of the decks that either underperformed at the Pro Tour or did not show up in the published decklists at all – but have been appearing elsewhere on Magic Online and in public events.
I have suggested in the past that Eldrazi are a valuable commodity in Magic: The Gathering; specifically, the undercosted, once busted-in-half models: Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher. These cards were featured in two versions of Standard Eldrazi this weekend. The first, Mono-Red Eldrazi, made use of hasty threats Glorybringer and Eldrazi Obligator to get a blisteringly fast start that could have the power to steamroll red decks, especially with the help of efficient spot removal like Abrade.
This deck has gotten far more aggressive than it was a year ago, back in the days of four Chandra, Flamecaller in the maindeck, and I think it stands a real chance of beating up on decks that have come prepared to face down 2/1s but nothing much bigger. There is also a black version, which basically swaps out Chandra, Torch of Defiance for Liliana, the Last Hope and Magma Spray for Fatal Push, that gets better the more the format is about midrange versus midrange. Heck, at this point you could put some Plains in there and play Gideon, Ally of Zendikar instead. It seems like a pretty versatile archetype.
Another reason to have confidence in the continued rise of Eldrazi (and their prices) is that Eldrazi Tron, and to an extent Bant Eldrazi, are still major players since the banning of Eye of Ugin. Considering Modern is getting a lot more spotlight now that it is a Pro Tour format again, there's going to be an increase in demand for cards from the best decks, including Eldrazi in all its varied iterations. While I would hesitate to suggest that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet will hold their values beyond the rotation of Battle for Zendikar block, I have no such qualms about Eldrazi.
Decks That Underperformed
Remember when we were all excited that a seven-mana artifact was seeing play? Surprised that you did not see God-Pharaoh's Gift do better? The deck seems crazy cool still, and there are certainly options in Standard that give it tools to fight back against red. Did you know that Angel of Invention has lifelink? Lucas Kiefer's build was also running Sunscourge Champion for an extra dose of life. The deck will take a little tweaking, especially as people continue to turn to Shatter-plus as a premium removal spell in the format, but it's far from out of the running. This deck, and any graveyard-centric cards printed in coming sets, are surely not far from anyone's mind.
Given Hour of Devastation's jump from sub-$2 preorder prices to $8 around the time of the set's release, it had some pretty high expectations attached to it. These expectations have largely gone unfulfilled, with a few high-profile finishes but no format-defining build. When I think of Standard, the decks I consider to be the mainstays are the ones that require attacking and blocking and so forth.
There is some hope in the 21-point decks from the Pro Tour, however. I am particularly excited about Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's build, which includes a copy of Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh. The deck can go shields-up with the right draws, preventing it from getting steamrolled by aggressive decks too quickly, so the right configuration could be the big break we value nuts have been hoping for.
In a natural evolution, now that everyone is sure red is the deck to beat next week, I assume some decks are going to adjust in response. One of the biggest players could be Aethersphere Harvester, which shines as a deck that can claw back some precious life against mono red. It goes into any deck, and its crew cost is low enough that even red can run it for the mirror. This is a pretty simple spec, and the card is still hovering around a dollar. My other choice for “most explosive card in Standard” is Insult // Injury. While Ramunap Red has enough velocity on its own to not need another finisher, the card adds explosiveness to UR Spells that the deck certainly wanted. Along with promoted draft archetype staple Riddleform, this card is currently a one-of and hovering around fifty cents. This card has the power to end games in relatively short order and could easily benefit from a high-profile win.
There are a lot of exciting prospects for Standard going forward, and Grand Prix Minneapolis will surely showcase some of those options, given how feverishly people have been waiting for some reprieve from the monotony of the post-Aetherworks Marvel format. I suspect that some of this excitement will result in brews that don't do great but have some staying power due to FNM-grinder appeal, and next week's results will not be the end-all be-all of the format.
However, prices are still high from buyouts and spikes that took place in the heightened volatility brought on by the Pro Tour. Prices are either unsustainably high or artificially inflated. Overall, there isn't a lot that I would want to buy this week, but there is a lot that I am keeping an eye on for when the hype dies down a bit. Aethersphere Harvester and especially Insult // Injury are cheap enough that if you want them, you can find them at low enough rates to pick up a playset or two if you want to anticipate changes in the format.