The dust has settled and by now it's common knowledge that I sleeved up Foundry Street Denizen for Pro Tour Magic 2015. I had plans to breakdown the deck Team Revolution played for the event, but some jerk got to it before I did. It was his deck to be fair, so I will let this one go. What I am going to do today instead is go through the things I learned during testing and why I ended up calling Tom for a deck in the first place.
Testing started like it did for any other Pro Tour. The first couple days were filled with brews being jammed against stock decks from the days prior to get a feel for what the format is going to feel like. In this case, the stock decks were Mono-Black Devotion, Sphinx's Revelation-based control decks, Mono-Blue Devotion, Jund Monsters, R/W Burn, G/W Aggro, and B/W Midrange.
Wait a damn minute! This was nothing like any old Pro Tour!
The gauntlet for testing was already a metagame in itself. Things were going to have to be a little different this time around. The only problem was that I was the newest recruit on one of the strongest deckbuilding teams in the world. How am I supposed to tell them that we need to shake things up? Well, I guess asking wouldn't hurt!
My idea was to build a 75 for every deck and play four pre-boarded games and six post-board games in every matchup. We would add a couple brews so that each of our ten members would have a deck in their hands, and we would play nine matches each. This would not only give us a good feel for how each deck does against each other, but we would then have a good idea of what each deck should look like. Once the process was finally finished we would have ten reasonably updated decklists that would be ready to play against all of the brews we started creating.
I was so animate about this idea because one of the biggest flaws a team can face while testing for a Pro Tour is having their gauntlet decks become outdated. Sure the deck they want to play in the Pro Tour is constantly being updated, but the decks they are playing it against are not. This process spells disaster once the tournament gets underway since there will be a ton of variables that were not accounted for, and that could cost a team extra losses they were not expecting.
Surprisingly, the team was all for this idea. Of course, they thought it could be a very daunting task that could get us nowhere, but they trusted in my logic and we started getting to work. Once the process was complete we started comparing notes and we realized that Mono-Blue Devotion looked to be struggling more than usual.
If this was in fact true, it could change how this Pro Tour was going to play out. Prior to M15, the format looked to be controlled by Mono-Black Devotion and Mono-Blue Devotion. Both of these decks were roughly 50/50 against each other meaning they were both strong choices as long as they could beat most of the other decks in the field. Sphinx's Revelation was the only archetype that could consistently defeat both decks but failed to beat much of anything else in the metagame. All of the other decks could beat one, but not both of the devotion based menaces. That was our metagame.
That is how I always saw this format, making it rather easy to choose decks for Standard Grand Prix. I simply just chose one of the best decks when I thought its worst matchup was either going to underperform or be underplayed.
All hell was going to break loose if Mono-Blue Devotion started to lose to Mono-Black Devotion. First of all, that could mean that decks that beat Mono-Black, but not Mono-Blue might end up being stronger choices than usual. Decks filled with planeswalkers and Voice of Resurgence could end up being great deck choices since they were so good against Mono-Black Devotion and Revelation-based strategies.
The issue with this way of thinking is that the rabbit hole is never-ending. If enough people came to that same conclusion, Mono-Blue Devotion would become a fantastic choice because even though it lost to Mono-Black Devotion, it would beat all the decks designed to beat its equal.
"How about we just go play some games?" -Joel Larsson
Joel Larsson ended up building the first deck that caught our attention. It was a Bant Chord of Calling deck we dubbed "Bant Bullets".
- 1 Aetherling
- 1 Angel of Serenity
- 1 Banisher Priest
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Prophet of Kruphix
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 1 Lavinia of the Tenth
- 1 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
This deck was holding its own against the bigger archetypes except for the fact it couldn't beat any Sphinx's Revelation decks. It wasn't enough to get rid of the deck but was enough for us not to call the local card stores and start building countless copies of the deck. We wanted Joel to continue working on it but to not give up hope on finding anything else.
Personally, I was working on Jund Monsters. Outside of the Season Two Invitational, Jund Monsters is a deck I have never been thrilled to be sleeving up for an event, but it was almost always a dependable deck choice. The problem with Jund Monsters for me is that it's a ramp strategy. You always need your acceleration if you expect to win a game. Polukranos, World Eater, Xenagos, the Reveler, and Stormbreath Dragon are all reasonably impressive threats, but never when you're behind. At the time, I wasn't going to be sad about playing the deck, but I didn't expect the deck choice to give me the wins I needed to make Platinum.
Over the next couple of days I kept exploring other Sylvan Caryatid archetypes to very poor results. I wasn't even beating Mono-Black Devotion enough of the time which was the reason I was building them in the first place. Every ten game set was either 6-4 in my favor or 5-5.
Something was happening and it was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn't articulate it. I knew I had stumbled upon one of the rules of the format, but I just didn't know how to explain it to the team.
I decided to watch some games for a while instead of playing them myself. Road blocks will always happen in testing, and it is crucial to spend some time absorbing information as opposed to continuing to bash your head against a brick wall. I sat behind Joel Larsson playing Bant Bullets and after only watching eight games I realized what the issue with Sylvan Caryatid decks was!
They can't break serve!
I watched Joel do some of the most powerful things while being on the play, but he was almost always behind the entire game while on the draw. It was like clockwork. He would crush his opponents when he made the first play but would lose to a variety of things when he was second to act.
I started to think back to what my major problems were when playing Jund Monsters and Naya Tokens and all of them were when I was on the draw. Everything my opponents were beating me with were non-issues when I was on the play but barely beatable on the draw.
Now every deck in the format has a higher win percentage when on the play. That isn't groundbreaking information. Wizards has started making cards so powerful that seven cards and twenty life points is just not enough to always turn the tide. The player with initiative will always have the option to play a potentially game winning threat if they have one. This puts a ton of strain on the opponent to make a decision of either dealing with the threat or deploy one of their own. It will sometimes be correct to dispatch the opposing threat and other times to try to trump it with their own. One wrong move from the player on the draw can spell game over.
Of course, this is not always the case due to the variance pumped into the game, but trends like this can been seen with a large enough sample size. Say, playing Magic for an entire week with some of the best players in the world for example.
I was on the verge of learning something pivotal about the format, but duty called and I had to turn my attention to something much more important.
"It's time for a Shampoo!"- Samuele Estratti
Grand Prix Boston was on the verge, and I tested exactly zero games for this event. I decided to get a couple games in with none other than "infinite faeries" himself, Samuele Estratti. He was playing Mono-Blue Tron at the event for some reason and thought it would be beneficial to remember just how powerful assembling Tron was. After being Mindslavered an ample amount of times, I was ready to actually play Modern. I finished 12-3, losing three times to myself, and I am still a firm believer that RUGTwin is the best deck in the format (Over/Under that 40% of the comments will be about this statement and this statement alone.) [Editor's Note: I'll take the under just barely Bradley.]
Sunday night after the Grand Prix was the first time the team didn't get together. All of us were flying out the next morning, meaning it was starting to become more important to just get ready for the trip at hand instead of worrying about Standard. I spent this time washing clothes, packing up, and trying to digest all of the information I had acquired over the past week.
"Jund Monsters is the slowest your deck can get without being dedicated to removal," was the only thing my mind kept saying. It wasn't even a voluntary thought, but it was just something my brain kept screaming to me. I decided to take this as gospel and formulate a strategy based on this assumption.
If Jund Monsters is the slowest a creature deck could get, then all of the Voice of Resurgence/Sylvan Caryatid decks would just be bad. Sure they can do something powerful on the play, but they constantly lost to cards like Pack Rat and Thassa, God of the Sea when on the draw. They just had to be thrown away. The only question was if other teams would come to the same conclusion.
So if Mono-Blue Devotion was getting worse and all Sylvan Caryatid decks had a tough time winning on the draw, what was the answer?
Red! Red was the answer!
Red-based aggression may have been the best deck to work on for this event. People would surely be playing a high percentage of Black-based control decks alongside Sphinx's Revelation strategies, but the metagame could end up being perfect for a Tom Ross-style Red deck.
The biggest advantage to playing a Red-based aggressive deck was that it didn't get punished for being on the draw as much as the Sylvan Caryatid style decks. Sure it was nice to be on the play, but it was still capable of running an opponent over if they stumbled, didn't have the correct removal spells, or were too slow to the board. The other advantage to playing a red deck was that the cards it was afraid of did not line up well with the concerns the other decks had. I was sold before I made the call to Tom Ross. He was going to be my savior for this event no matter what. I picked up my phone.
"TOM! I NEED A SWEET MONO RED DECK FOR THE PRO TOUR!!!!!!"
Ten minutes later I was looking at the initial version of Rabble Red and was hooked from the beginning. I proxied it up and got in about thirty games before we had to leave for the airport. I couldn't wait to meet up with the rest of the team and show off this diamond in the rough!
"Your deck is crap." -Jeremy Dezani
From this moment on, all I did was work on Rabble Red. Even though I was crushing almost every deck they threw at me, the team did not have any interest in it. I guess there is a stigma attached to playing red decks at Pro Tours.
After the second day of working on the deck alone, I decided I needed to raise my voice and start a rabble-ution! Slowly teammates started to gain interest in the deck only to quickly lose it when a road block presented itself. Sure the deck had great numbers against Mono-Black Devotion and Sphinx's Revelation, but suffered against G/W Aggro and Mono-Blue Devotion. Luckily, I had the faith of one Raphael Levy to not only keep spirits high on the deck, but he was also able to help craft impressive sideboard strategies to help make our awful matchups feel relatively close.
I have always heard impressive things about Raph's deck building skills, but to witness firsthand how I was able to hand off my unpolished metagame prediction to him and see him turn it into a functioning deck was mind blowing. Working with him resembled an assembly line like process that I am elated to continue doing next year. Simply put, working with him was a pure delight.
And the rest is history. Seven of the nine of us finished in the money and Jeremy Dezani ended up taking ninth on breakers, but he locked Player of the Year with the deck. I didn't end up getting Platinum, but the blame for that would be my poor performance in Limited. This marks two Pro Tours in a row that I finished 7-2-1 in Constructed, 3-3 in Limited, and finished in 37th place. I have learned that I need to start working on my forty card playing abilities a little bit more if I expect to be playing Magic on Sunday at the Pro Tour. I now have a great team that I work well with and can't wait to continue working with them next year!
Looking forward, I expect Rabble Red to not be a flash in the pan. It might need to adapt to the hate, but the cards are there for this to happen. We just need to see how the metagame reacts to the Pro Tour.
The most important lesson I have learned from this event is that Sylvan Caryatid is a trap. Each and every deck that wants to play Sylvan Caryatid has a whole list of issues that other decks simply don't have. They flood more often, take too much damage from their lands, have issues with too many high costing cards stuck in their opening hands, and have an overall tough time on the draw against Mono-Black Devotion. The card is powerful, but what you can do with it is too high variance to consistently do well. Jund Planeswalkers is for sure a thing, but I'm not even sure if the deck should be playing the card. Anger of the Gods seems like a great thing for the deck to be playing which makes the Sylvan Caryatids even weaker.
Sylvan Caryatid has been a staple in decks like Mono-Green Devotion, but I'm confident in saying that the deck is just not good enough yet. Again, it can do very powerful things but not consistently enough to spike events. We rarely see it doing well even though it has been played in every event. It is just not what you need to be doing.
Sylvan Caryatid-based decks that are not dedicated to removal tend to be bad at breaking serve. Every Sylvan Caryatid deck wants to pair it alongside Courser of Kruphix, which is also slow on the draw. Now this duo is exceptional at gaining card advantage in the mid-game, but the start on the draw tends to not be good enough against all of the non hyper-aggressive matchups. This start will tend to leave them always playing from behind without enough removal in their deck to be sufficient enough at getting ahead on board. They will just play from behind until their opponent kills them or runs out of gas. I, for one, do not like my gameplan to be hoping my opponent floods out.
My prediction is that Jund Planeswalkers will be the only successful Sylvan Caryatid deck until rotation because of these reasons. Jund Monsters, Naya Planeswalkers, and Mono-Green Devotion will rarely show up in top 8s from here on out. I don't know what this means for the rest of the metagame, but we can only take it one step at a time.
There has been a ton of content lately on Rabble Red, but I will gladly answer any and all questions on the deck over the next weekend. My bed and I have been apart for far too long, and I intend on taking a relaxing weekend off trying to enjoy some time at home and learning how to use MTGO V4 since I want to do a Magic Online video on Rabble Red for next week.
By next week I should have had enough time to break down Standard as a whole and figure out what the best decks are to play and what tools you will want to equip yourself with in.
Don't miss it next Friday!