Well that was quite the Pro Tour, huh?
I tend to watch each Pro Tour, even if I'm not actively playing the game. When I stepped away for a year recently, I still watched the Pro Tour, cheering for Josh Cho in Top 8 of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored and generally passing those weekends in front of my computer catching up on the game.
However, I've never actually been excited about a Pro Tour before. Interested? Intrigued? Entertained? Yes, yes, and yes. Excited? Not until this past weekend.
I cheered for Melissa DeTora. I cheered for Gerry Thompson. I watched as player after player from the US made their way into the Top 8. I knew who these players were and actively wanted some to win the tournament. So on Sunday, I made sure my schedule was clear and just sat and watched as Tom Martell took the tournament down with a deck no one saw coming. And then I did what I always do post-tournament nowadays.
I fired up trusty ol' Microsoft Excel on my laptop and went to work on some numbers.
Doing the math and scouring the lists so you don't have to!
I truly wish I had my hands on every decklist so I could do a statistical comparison of "what didn't work" when looking at the lists that gained eighteen points or more at the PT, but in lieu of that, I do have the numbers for each Standard deck that earned 18+ points (had six or more wins out of ten rounds) in addition to the Top 16 Standard decks for both SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati and the SCG Classic Series: Daytona Beach. We're going to look at what did well and why and then look into how we can use this data and information to our advantage.
First, let's look back at some of the points from last week. First, Boros Reckoner needed to be considered during deck construction for the week. You needed to either be able to remove it without burning it, go over the top of it, tap/bounce it, or play the Reckoner yourself. If you look at Tom Martell's winning list, he does three of those things, as with Orzhov Charm and Tragic Slip he can kill the Reckoner without activating its Terminator Mode. With Knight of Infamy, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Lingering Souls, Cartel Aristocrat, Skirsdag High Priest, and Doomed Traveler (its token), Tom could simply go over the top or through the Reckoner without having to worry about it blocking and/or dealing damage back. Plus, he also played Reckoner itself.
The deck is just good at so many different things. It has aggressive starts from Champion of the Parish, resilience with Cartel Aristocrat, Doomed Traveler, Lingering Souls, and Falkenrath Aristocrat, and a great late game between the Aristocrat and Skirsdag High Priest. When I first saw the list, nothing in particular jumped out at me saying this is why this deck is winning, but when you take a step back, look at the overall list, and see its positioning in the format, it's quite easy to see that Sam Black designed a great deck for this tournament. A big congratulations to him and the team!
On to this week!
Same deal, we're going to look into the numbers for spells and creatures. I'd go into the color pie again, but it's roughly the same as it has been recently, with everything except blue having significant showings at all three events. I was originally planning on splitting the numbers between the PT and SCG events, but since the PT decks were replicated at those events, I simply combined the numbers for easier viewing.
Here we notice that the "upper tier" of creatures now firmly contains Boros Reckoner in addition to Huntmaster of the Fells, Restoration Angel, and Thragtusk. We can look to the decklists to see why this is; almost every deck outside of Esper Control was running at least two of these cards, with the Naya decks running all of the above. They're good, but not in a "build around me" type of way; they're just good. They don't need any special considerations (like, say, Experiment One, Champion of the Parish, and Angel of Glory's Rise, all of which are quite powerful but not as flexible). You can take a shell of just those four creatures and build any number of strategies around just those cards.
You see Jund playing Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk. You see U/W/R Flash playing Restoration Angel and Boros Reckoner. You see The Aristocrats running Boros Reckoner and Restoration Angel, choosing black for the better spell selection over the blue in the Flash lists. Pretty much every list (barring Esper Control) ran at least one of these cards, thus the large showing in the numbers.
After the upper tier, we see the "blue tier" of Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas. These cards were ubiquitous in all the blue decks, of which there just weren't that many. But since every one of those decks ran both of these cards, they still occupied a rather large portion of the "creature pie." Not much to see because if you're playing blue, these two cards are probably the creatures you're going to look to run.
Then we start getting into the "Archetype-Specific Tier." We start seeing very specific strategic cards such as Flinthoof Boar and Champion of the Parish. This is where the lists start varying past the initial four cards. If you want your Naya deck to be more aggressive, you can look towards Burning Tree Emissary, Flinthoof Boar, and Ghor-Clan Rampager. If you want a better end game, you can look towards cards like Thundermaw Hellkite and Avacyn's Pilgrim. If you're looking into Jund instead of Naya, you can pair your Thragtusks and Huntmasters with Vampire Nighthawks and Olivia Voldaren.
This is the tier where if we're looking at what direction we can customize our deck past the initial tier of cards, we can find the ways in which winning lists customized their decks.
Past this and even extending past where this graph ends, we can find the fringe cards that people chose to play for various reasons. They might have been pet cards or included to shore up a specific weakness, but they only showed up in a few lists rather than a large portion.
Here we see some more of the same at the top, with Searing Spear being spell numero uno, followed closely by Farseek. In fact, there were more Farseeks played than Spears total, but more decks wanted at least some number of Searing Spears since it's super versatile and fills a ton of roles. If you were playing red this past weekend, you were probably playing Searing Spear in some quantity.
Azorius Charm fits in the same spot that Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage did with creatures; if you were playing blue, you were playing this spell. If blue had been more popular than it was, this spell would have probably been the top spell because it's even more versatile than Searing Spear, but people opted for the other four colors over blue for the most part.
Next we see two spells which are going to shape how games are played out for the next couple of months. Abrupt Decay is going to see play in some number simply due to the presence of Boros Reckoner. You'll rarely (if ever) see the full set due to the fact that Standard isn't an Eternal format and doesn't contain enough sub-three converted mana cost spells to warrant it. Two or three will be in each deck containing Golgari colors, so expect it.
Sphinx's Revelation will see plenty of play during its time in Standard, so its inclusion in this list is no surprise. If you can't win before it becomes a problem, then you sure as heck better be doing something on par with the power level of a Revelation for three or four into another for six or seven on up.
Then we start seeing the removal suite of some of the top decks. Again, if you're playing U/W/x control, you're playing it for Supreme Verdict and Sphinx's Revelation, so the Verdict being here is no surprise. Ultimate Price is the closest thing we have to Doom Blade right now, so people are going to play it. My issue with that is that it only hits half of the top tier of creatures, and the two it does hit have either already done their damage or will do their damage when you cast Price. You'll definitely need to supplement your removal if you're running Ultimate Price.
Pillar of Flame has started falling off due to the push to three+ toughness with Boros Reckoner in the format. It is still a good removal spell for aggressive decks, clearing smaller creatures off the board in order to push through more damage in addition to having the option to go for the dome. Again, keep in mind that this only hits 1/4 of the top tier of creatures, and even then that one leaves back a 2/2 Wolf, so that's why you see decks playing it but not maxing out on it.
I want to make a couple points on some of the other spells. I'm not surprised to see more Dreadbores and Orzhov Charms, as I predicted last week. Both answer Reckoner cleanly and will see some amount of play moving forward. I think you should expect a decent increase in Orzhov Charm just due to the fact that people saw it do awesome things on camera in the Top 8of the Pro Tour. Additionally, since we can expect more copies of The Aristocrats in future tournaments, we need to be prepared for the "bounce my own Resto Angel, flash/Blink my guy" play in addition to the surprise Reanimation or removal.
We also see a decent number of Dissipates. It seems that the upswing in the number of Boros Reckoners has moved the aggressive and midrange decks away from tribal synergies (as Minotaur is a rather remote type and Wizard isn't a top tribe by any means). This means that the number of Cavern of Souls has dropped, with less than a fourth of the decks noted playing it. Countermagic may be ready for a comeback this week, as people are moving more towards "good stuff" decks over Cavernous synergistic decks. People are simply casting their spells into open mana with no respect these days, so it might be time to get people to respect open blue mana again.
On the same note, we're seeing a not insubstantial number of Nephalia Drownyards as well. If you can't beat Esper's heavy removal as a deck running blue, you should probably look into Psychic Spiral this week (I'm looking at you, Wolf Run Bant). Additionally, if you're playing Esper Control, you might want to look into some number of Ghost Quarters since it not only hits the Drownyards but also the Wolf Runs and Caverns and you run the small chance of finding out they have no basic lands and can Wasteland them!
Alright, enough of that jive, let's get to amalgamating! These are compiled versions of the decks you should be ready for in the upcoming weeks. These lists obviously aren't the result of focused testing, but rather looking over the numbers for which decks won and what number of cards they used to do so. These will give your gauntlet a good baseline for testing in the coming weeks.
I'm going to look to include more late game cards rather than the ones that focus on aggression. We can run the entire top tier of creatures and spells, and we're going to include Avacyn's Pilgrim to supplement our Farseeks.
Here's the compiled list:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
Another "good stuff" deck, we can add two of the top three creatures from the top tier to this list. You also get access to some of the best removal and Olivia Voldaren.
This is probably the safest bet if you want to play a deck that can win pretty much every match. You're never going to dominate anything, but you're not a dog to any deck either. You have answers to pretty much everything and have a really powerful late game between Kessig Wolf Run, Thragtusk, Olivia Voldaren, Garruk, Primal Hunter, and Rakdos's Return.
The numbers here aren't cut and dry. There are plenty of varying builds, from "Lucky Charms" to the Harvest Pyre version that Gerry Thompson took to a Top 8 finish in Montreal. You'll note the full playset of Thought Scours in Gerry's list, but the numbers don't support their inclusion, with just three decks noted as including Thought Scour across all 129 decks examined (thus why the amalgamated decklist doesn't include them). If you like the Thought Scours (and I personally am a fan), you'll need to shift some numbers around to fit them. For instance, Gerry ran zero Boros Charms in his deck, so you could start the cuts there for Thought Scours.
An amalgamated list isn't necessary here, as the only team that ran the deck played pretty much the same list with minor shifts in numbers here and there. You should stick to testing against Tom Martell's winning list for now until something drastic changes the way we view the deck.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
Wolf Run Bant
Another list that is self-contained due to it being the result of a team playing one deck, this is the list that Melissa DeTora took to the Top 8. It was also played by Raphael Levy and took first at SCG Classic Series: Daytona Beach. The deck is powerful, and you'll definitely need to be prepared for it in the coming weeks. I'll be at Grand Prix Charlotte this weekend, but I won't be gaming in the main event; rather, I'll show up Sunday for the Win a Trip to GP Miami Standard tournament, and there's a good chance I'll be playing either this deck or Esper Control. I really like this list.
These lists are quite varied to say the least. While the list that made Top 8 in Montreal played Planar Cleansing, it was far from the default. I'd attempt to compile a list of the cards commonly played, but even the spell selection is quite varied. The lists all contain Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage along with Azorius Charm, Supreme Verdict, Ultimate Price, and Nephalia Drownyard, but their pilots tuned each list differently, so it would be difficult to come up with good numbers for a compiled list. Not to mention that success with Esper is going to be closely tied to your ability to metagame properly, so testing is needed if you're going to run this type of deck this week.
Know your list and why you included certain cards and it'll become much easier to not only plan for matchups but also to sideboard correctly.
The last type of deck you'll need to be ready for is fast aggressive decks running Burning-Tree Emissary. I finally got to cast this guy in Limited this past weekend, and every time I did, I felt like I couldn't lose. I wasn't even running Gruul (I was in Boros) and he was still insane. You'll need to be ready for free Grizzly Bears this weekend for sure, especially ones that pair with Lightning Mauler on turn 2 after a turn 1 Champion of the Parish to attack for seven.
Check out the Versus video between Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson for a great list. I think they're on to something, and it's the distant third option for me this weekend in Charlotte.
Before I go for this week, I want to spotlight some interesting lists I found while looking through the coverage. I can't really comment on specific card choices, as I have no experience with any of these decks, but they sure look interesting. Since I'm sure that not all of you are quite the maniac I am when it comes to browsing lists, I'm listing them for your enjoyment; perhaps you'll find something you can run that's slightly different this Friday night!
Anyone who knows me knows that I love me some RUG. I've also wanted to play Yeva, Nature's Herald since she was spoiled but had yet to find a list I like. This one looks quite interesting, and I'm glad someone is sticking to my favorite color combination!
- 2 Azorius Arrester
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Frontline Medic
- 4 Lyev Skyknight
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 1 Riders of Gavony
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Wingcrafter
- 1 Odric, Master Tactician
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 2 Hellrider
- 4 Knight of Glory
- 4 Knight of Infamy
- 3 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
I only spotlight this deck to point out that Matthew came up with a very similar list to the winning deck run by Tom Martell. I'm sure somewhere he was going "I came up with that deck too!" when Tom was busy winning. More confirmation that the deck was well-positioned last weekend since even though it was a strategy no one really saw coming, at least two different teams came up with similar successful lists.
That's all I have for this installment. Hopefully, I'll see you all in Charlotte!
Thanks for reading!