Last weekend was the first Pro Tour I'd been to since Pro Tour Theros, but the first I'd been a spectator at since Jace, the Mind Sculptor was legal. The one before that Tinker was legal in Extended. It used to be tough for me, since being a spectator meant the work I'd done all season didn't pay off (or more likely, I made a bunch of mistakes), plus I failed to grind in through the LCQ.
This time was completely different.
Pro Tour Magic 2015 was one of the most fun weekends I've had in a long time. Since I couldn't play (despite being qualified), I was able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacle. Watching the Pro Tour was highly entertaining, especially considering it was the last tournament of the season and so much was on the line. The best play goes to Yuuki's Golgari Charm! More on him later.
With PTM15 in the books, we have the groundwork for Standard and it looks surprisingly awesome. I think most people were shocked by the diversity at the PT and hopefully that continues up to the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey. Thankfully, I learned a lot from the Pro Tour, so I'll be ready. Another token sure would be nice.
Standard Is Capable Of Shifting
Rabble Red, Jund Planeswalkers, and G/W Aggro were some of the decks that performed incredibly well given that most people expected we'd see more of the same Big Three at the Pro Tour and nothing else. In the end, an incredibly well-tuned version of U/W Control won in the hands of Ivan Floch. Perhaps that's not the ideal ending, but the rest of the tournament looked like a lot of fun and people who put in the work were rewarded.
The two black decks in Top 8 lost to Jund Planeswalkers and U/W Control, and it didn't look like a fun Top 8 for them to be in. Brave Naya, R/W Burn, and G/W Aggro aren't the greatest matchups either, even if Owen did dispatch Pat Cox in Top 8. When you take into consideration that Jeremy Dezani missed Top 8 on the smallest margin of tiebreakers, that's a lot of aggro in the Top 9!
We've been hearing about the effect of Mana Confluence and painlands in Standard for a while, but this was the first time I think all that really came to fruition. Perhaps it was a product of the metagame being 13.6% aggro decks (or 15.5% if you count Burn). While that percentage has typically been lower, aggro did very well even if it didn't win. Especially for a Pro Tour, that's a pretty hefty percentage and probably was one that not too many people were expecting.
Standard Is Fast And Is Getting Faster
One of the things I noticed from looking at the 6-4 or better decks is that most of them had lower mana curves than I was used to seeing. Many of the U/W decks cut their clunky win conditions, black decks were shaving Underworld Connections, and there were plenty of aggro decks running around. Keep that in mind when you're tweaking your deck.
Card Advantage Is Still Overrated
Despite decks drawing extra cards with Sphinx's Revelation, Underworld Connections, and Courser of Kruphix, those decks do not win strictly via card advantage. Instead, they use those cards to overpower their opponents, give them options, or give them velocity. At the end of the day, the games are not won because of those cards; they are simply tools to execute their game plan.
In Top 4, Owen chose to cast Lifebane Zombie followed by Desecration Demon against Floch's U/W Control deck, despite having Underworld Connections in hand. He knew that he needed to start pressuring Floch, lest he fall behind to Sphinx's Revelation or the singleton copy of Elspeth he boarded in. Drawing cards is great, but it's generally the thing you do once you've run out of other stuff to do.
If you decided that was the most important angle to fight U/W Control and black decks, you would almost certainly lose even if you were up on cards. There are more important battles to be fought and while card advantage is nice, it's not actually how those decks are winning.
Quicken Is Real
Did you see Owen's Obzedat, Ghost Council get blown up with an instant speed Supreme Verdict? Did you see later when Owen's Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Mutavaults got blown up? Did you see how Floch was able to tear through his deck with Quicken, Azorius Charm, Jace, and Divination in order to find what he needed? His hands were never clogged down with expensive stuff because he cut all the Aetherlings and Elspeths, leaving only room for velocity.
On top of that, Quicken lets you play the draw-go game, it gives you another answer to Mutavault, and most importantly, it puts the fear in them. End of turn pitch your hand to make some Pack Rats? Gotcha. Stormbreath Dragon? Gotcha. Nissa and Xenagos? Well, you probably got me, but at least I'm taking way less damage!
Aggro Is Good, Mono-Blue Devotion Is Weak
It seems strange that both of those are true, but that's the reality of the situation. The decks that Mono-Blue Devotion were supposed to prey on were ready for it. Check out Jackson Cunningham's sideboard if you don't believe me. He was willing to sacrifice nearly every other matchup just to have a shot against Mono-Blue Devotion. The funny thing is that I can't necessarily say that's wrong.
If Mono-Blue Devotion is struggling even against its "good" matchups, where does that leave it? Well, judging from the obscene amounts of Setessan Tactics in people's decks, I'd say that Mono-Blue isn't in a great place right now.
Chances Are People Came To The Same Conclusions As You
Team Revolution, spearheaded by the influence of Tom Ross and Brad Nelson, ended up playing a Mono-Red Aggro deck featuring Goblin Rabblemaster. Team CFB came to a similar conclusion and ended up with a red deck splashing Chained to the Rocks and Boros Charm. Overall, I'd that Rabble Red is a slightly better deck, but the white splash is definitely appealing.
The real lesson here is that if you end up thinking Mono-Red is the best deck to play, chances are there's another team out there that's drawn a similar conclusion. Tomoharo Saito famously recognized this at Pro Tour Berlin and played an Elf deck that respected the mirror match while nobody else did. Perhaps paying attention to the mirror is valuable even if it's not on everyone's radar yet.
B/W Devotion Will Be More Popular Than Mono-Black Devotion
Matt Costa and Owen Turtenwald played hundreds of games in Pack Rat mirrors trying to find the optimal strategy. When it came time to test B/W against the most hateful Mono-Black Devotion deck for the mirror, the B/W deck was still winning convincingly. Moving forward, I'd expect nearly everyone to be on that train.
Additionally, white gives you some nice options for solving certain problems, such as Deicide against Thassa and Last Breath against Voice of Resurgence. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is overrated but Obzedat, Ghost Council isn't. The manabase might be the biggest strike against it, but I think it's fixable.
For example, Owen ran 1 Plains, 1 Urborg, and 4 Caves of Koilos, but maybe we can clean that up by running a second copy of Plains and Urborg and shave a Caves. I heard some horror stories about Urborg, such as Ivan Floch using Jace, Architect of Thought's ultimate to steal a Pack Rat from Ben Friedman and then using Friedman's Urborg to make an army of Rats.
I think those situations are few and far between, and I would be more concerned with making my own manabase stronger. There is a way to play Obzedat in your deck and be able to cast it on turn 5, I assure you.
Jund Planeswalkers Is Much Better Than Jund Monsters
Overall, they have a similar curve, but the planeswalker version has more resilient threats and more interaction. Granted, those threats don't hit quite as hard as Polukranos and Stormbreath Dragon, but it's a good way to blank the plethora of Doom Blades hiding out in people's sideboards.
Being able to play ten removal spells is really underrated. Jund Monsters had to get by with five or so, and it always felt light to me. Basically, I think removal is good and getting to play more removal makes your planeswalkers better, allowing them to further outclass Polukranos and Stormbreath Dragon. It's almost all upside.
Nissa, Worldwaker Is Not Just A Mono-Green Card
Obviously, we saw Nissa take a prominent role in Yuuki's Top 8 deck, but there were some interesting B/G Midrange decks along with Yuuya Watanabe splashing green in his black devotion deck for Nissas out of the sideboard. While Nissa might be more powerful when you're untapping four Forests, that isn't exactly something you need to be doing in order to make it a great addition to your deck.
The Pro Tour Is Filled With Awesome People
I met some great people and had a lot of really good conversations. On top of the weekend being a light, fun weekend, it also sparked some really important discussions, so thanks for that! Without the people, I wouldn't have even bothered going, but now I can't wait for the next one.
Some notes on technology:
-Jacob Wilson had a maindeck Jace's Ingenuity and sideboarded two others. That seems great against black decks who side up to eight discard spells. It's also pretty nice having those for the mirror match.
-Juza's G/W deck without Boon Satyr is likely the best version of the maindeck. Basically every G/W sideboard I see could use some work.
-Domestication is really, really good right now.
-Hornet Queen is pretty sweet right now. Green devotion is a good place for it and some of those decks did well at the Pro Tour. Perhaps there is somewhere else it could do work...
My picks for the best decks going forward:
-B/W Midrange, probably with Sign in Blood even if Huey says it's bad, is one of the best decks. Like I said earlier, Last Breath and Deicide cover you against some of the most prominent problems. B/W also performed the best out of the black "devotion" decks.
-Jund Planeswalkers is pretty easy to adapt in order to fix problems. I suspect many people will do just that.
-Rabble Red is not a flash in the pan. While the Anger of the Gods, Drown in Sorrows, and Pharika's Cures might be very popular right away, once those die down Rabblemaster will make a comeback.
I'm going to be working on Jund, B/X, and G/X devotion for the near future, but who knows what I might start championing. Those red decks actually look pretty powerful, so I'll be sure to keep those in mind. All I really want to be doing right now is attacking people (and occasionally planeswalkers) while having some removal for their important stuff.
I can't wait to start playing again.