So, we finally have it. The pros have weighed in on Standard now that M15 is among us, and we have some greater indication of what is good in Standard than we once did.
Some greater indication because, for the most part, the players at the Pro Tour are the best of the best. Yes, there are probably some incredible players who weren't fighting at the Pro Tour, and perhaps some players were less prepared than they could be, but overall, this was a damned skilled field. This matters a lot. Jeff Hoogland, for example, in talking about Legacy put it this way: yes, he was doing fine with his non-Brainstorm decks against most opponents, but once you had a very skilled opponent on the other side of the table, things just changed.
The Pro Tour is the place most likely to have those opponents which just make the results all the much more real.
So, What is Good in Standard?
Going into this Pro Tour, the general answer would be simple: the enemy is U/W Control and Mono-Black Devotion (and its cousin splash decks), and...well, at that point it would be a discussion or argument about what might be the next deck to consider as "the enemy".
At the end of the day, here was the Top 8:
1st: Ivan Floch, U/W Control
2nd: Jackson Cunningham, G/W Aggro
3rd: Pierre Mondon, Jund Planeswalkers
4th: Owen Turtenwald, B/W Devotion
5th: Patrick Cox, Brave Naya
6th: Yuuki Ichikawa, Jund Planeswalkers
7th: William Jensen, B/W Devotion
8th: Matt Sperling, Burn
Of course, this Top 8 is also very deceiving when it comes to actually weighing the decks. Ivan Floch, for example, went 7-2-1 in the swiss rounds, and while he perhaps could have done as well as 8-2 in Standard if he hadn't drawn for Top 8, he certainly didn't do as well as eight other players in Standard. In fact, his actual finish puts him outside of the Top 16 if we isolate for only Standard.
Even then, of course, there are still problems with this from a methodological standpoint. As has been the case for a long time, the mixed format Pro Tour does a very good job of helping to determine the top players in the world--it is hardly surprising, for example, to see William Jensen and Owen Turtenwald so high in the list, or Pro Tour Player of the Year Jeremy Dezani finishing in ninth. But when it comes to separating things out, by format, it is problematic. As I wrote after the last Pro Tour:
Of course, even isolating for any particular Constructed portion of an event is a difficult proposition. When you're dealing with mixed format events, you stop actually having the equivalent of "cream rising to the top" when it comes to successful decks. Mixed format events are better at discovering who the best players are in an event but less successful at helping to unravel what the best decks are. A big part of the reason for this is that even the best performing deck might not have been playing against other decks that were performing just as well.
If you're a whiz at Draft, you might end up 6-0 in Draft and find yourself paired in round 12 against an opponent who went 2-4 in Draft; you both may have a 7-4 record going into the round, but your opponent went 5-0 in Constructed, while you went 1-4. Even outside of that, if we compare two players with 7-2 records in Constructed after round 15, this topsy-turvy nature of one's opposition means that you really can't tell how strong their opposition was overall.
The best solution I have to this problem is to simply accept it, go through the hard work of figuring out the Constructed strength of the opposition, and use that to create the equivalent of a tiebreaker[...]
As before, Wizards of the Coast has listed all of the decks with an 18+ point record among their "Top Standard Decks"--in other words, every deck with a 6-4 record or better, or at least nearly every deck (several are missing). To me, this is a little too many decks to count among the "Top Standard Decks."
In Standard, there were a clean eight competitors with an 8-1-1 record or better. Giving them tiebreakers based on opponent's Standard strength, here is your "Standard Only" Top 8:
Makahito Mihara's Esper Control deck was the top performing Sphinx's Revelation-based deck in the Swiss, finishing 8-1-1. Ivan Floch, Adam Koska, and PVDDR followed up with pure U/W Control lists at 7-2-1, and, of course, Floch's list is likely to get the most attention (rightly so) as the Pro Tour winner. Mihara's list eschews the Elixir plan favored by Floch, and instead runs a full three finishers in the form of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, as well as having a ton of creatures in the board (thirteen more), though several of them are Nyx-Fleece Ram. This might be the radical other end of the Sphinx's Revelation Control spectrum from Floch; this build was chock-full of potential finishers as opposed to barely running any.
- 2 Desecration Demon
- 4 Pack Rat
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 1 Herald of Torment
- 4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
Gaudenis Vidugiris and Zvi Mowshowitz both did quite well with this deck, while Sam Black struggled near the bottom. You can read Sam's account of the deck, but my outside perspective on it is a bit like Matt Sperling's: the deck feels to me to be taking good elements from the B/W Midrange lists and the Stompy-like G/W Aggro lists - the end result is good, but I feel as though it simply isn't as good as either of those lists. That being said, if only the three of those players played the list, they did, overall, have a very good result. I'm always pleased when a Madison player, even a former Madison player, does well, so I'm happy to see his name on this list.
Simple and straightforward, Zachary Jesse's list splits the difference on Lifebane Zombie and Nightveil Specter, a choice that many people have taken in the past. The specific card choices have been varying in this list with regards to both the three-drop and removal. One interesting thing in this list is the choice to only have one Erebos, God of the Dead and zero Sign in Blood, a card that I think most people expected to be an auto-include in this archetype. Liliana Vess makes an appearance, and I'm starting to think that we'll be seeing a lot of her in the coming year.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 2 Precinct Captain
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
Patrick's list touches in red mana for five cards in the main and several more in the side, but the heart of this deck is G/W Aggro. One of the most potent things about this list are the incredible out-of-nowhere kills that it can produce thanks to Ajani, Caller of the Pride or Boros Charm combined with Ghor-Clan Rampager. I know I'd forgotten about this particular Ajani, and I definitely feel like that was an error on my part. Watching Patrick play, I was unsurprised to see him execute some incredible kills with these cards. A fabulous deck, one I'm sure will make beatdown players happy for some time.
I'm a bit biased about this deck since I helped Sperling work on it, so bear with me. The first thing to note about the deck, in my opinion, is the lack of Chained to the Rocks in the main. With twelve four-damage spells, a card like Chained to the Rocks just gets less important. No Magma Jet and the 24th land are also worth paying attention to. While I would have preferred Matt play a few more temples, the fact of the matter is that the damage is just much more efficient now than it used to be. I couldn't be more happy for Matt Sperling finishing so well. Kudos!
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
Jund Monsters lives! This deck does not run a card we've often seen in that archetype: Reaper of the Wilds. Instead, it runs a very simple Monsters shell with the major scary cards being Polukranos, World Eater, Stormbreath Dragon, Xenagos, the Reveler, and Domri Rade. Sometimes a game can get carried away by one of the other cards, but overall this deck is something we've grown used to for the last year, albeit with a little less popularity lately.
Mondon and Ichikawa have a lot in common in their lists. Ichikawa goes a little more intense with the Planeswalkers (eleven versus Mondon's nine), while Mondon, on the other hand, is actually incredibly serious about his card draw: he runs four Read the Bones. While I think Ichikawa's list will get more traction because it is simply a bit more exciting to be playing Nissa, Worldwaker in Standard, it is worth noting that Mondon went 9-0-1 in Standard and may well have gone 10-0 if he wasn't drawing.
Both decks made use of Rakdos's Returns, Mizzium Mortars, Golgari Charm, and Magma Spray as sideboard cards. Looking at this "virtual" Top 8, it is easy to see the utility of each of these cards. Magma Spray bears special note to me because of its power against Voice of Resurgence, which had quite a bit of play in this event.
A Bigger Picture
One thing to look at when trying to see which decks did well is to examine the field at large, and see what actually transpired when we follow the wins. The most popular decks of the tournament, perhaps unsurprisingly, were Mono-Black Devotion (and variants), Sphinx's Revelations decks (U/W Control, Esper Control, and Bant Control all collapsed together), and B/W Midrange, with Mono-Blue Devotion just behind them. In addition, each of these four archetypes also were the most represented archetypes in Day 2.
These days, making Day 2 is a bit easier than it once was. 228 players made Day 2 for a total of about 64% of the field continuing on. Clearly, a little more differentiation is needed to see how things break down. If we compare by record, the closest we can get to a meaningful "Top 64" is 7-3 or better, which gives us 53 players. Similarly, the closest we can get to a "Top 32" is 7-2-1 or better, which gives us 27 players.
Let's look at the total information of the metagame visually:
The reddened data shows when a deck outperforms the expected finish for any random deck in the tournament. In essence, if you are doing worse than the field (in yellow), it is better to swap places with a random player in the field than to be playing what you selected.
When I first did this kind of analysis for the Shards of Alara Block Pro Tour in Honolulu, 34% of people made Day 2. Now, with so many more making Day 2, there are a lot more potential archetypes to consider. Looking at the "Other" archetype, it's a big list made up of those few decks that Wizards either didn't have lists for, classified as "Other" themselves, or were played by less than five players (like the W/B Aggro list played by a portion of The Pantheon).
In a way, it isn't surprising that the top archetypes all had better results than the field at the very low bar of making Day 2. To me, this represents a large number of the best players simply choosing the most obvious archetypes, or practiced less-good players choosing the archetype they already know. What is more interesting is what happens when you begin to look at the top portions of the field once you've distilled the room down to those players who are able to go at least 50/50 on Day 1.
Perhaps the biggest shock is Mono-Blue Devotion, which got positively hammered, performing less than half as well as a random player in day 2. In part, this could be a function of the most popular Day 2 archetype, the various Sphinx's Revelation decks, which have had a notorious ability to beat up on Mono-Blue Devotion.
B/W Midrange and Mono-Black Devotion, similar in many ways that they are, both lost a lot of numbers in Day Two, with Mono-Black Devotion being nearly completely crushed out of the top of the field, and B/W Midrange managing to have only three of their 31 Day 2 players crack 7-3 or better--the same three who also got 7-2-1. To my mind, this means that only the best of the best were able to do well with this archetype in the current field. These two decks are certainly good decks, but they absolutely had the biggest target on them of any archetype, and this may have punished them. In contrast, Mono-Blue Devotion didn't have nearly the same kind of target on it, and it just crumpled, which certainly speaks to a clear hierarchy in the choice of decks between these two.
Actual "Monsters", seems to have been overshadowed by "Planeswalkers," though this might just be biased by the incredible finishes of Ichikawa and Mondon. If you take those two players out of the equation, Jund Planeswalkers would be considered a big bust. However, a large part of this kind of result comes from exploration of a format, and while most players may have failed to succeed with Monsters or Planeswalkers strategies, it could well be that their problem was simply not playing the correct versions of those decks. Now we have two decks to look to between those two players, and the future will certainly show whether one or the other has the legs to continue to be a deck to emulate.
R/W Burn and Sphinx's Revelation decks both managed to slightly overperform or be very near an even EV performance at the top levels of the field. To my mind, this just speaks to both of these decks being a solid choice for anyone who is good with the deck. Neither deck wildly overperformed the field in a way that screams "This is the new enemy!", so continue to look to see these decks in events. Of course, Floch's win will likely draw more people to U/W Control in general, but in events with only 50 minute rounds, I expect a lot of people will not succeed with his deck.
In terms of overperforming, there is a deck to take note of: Red Aggro. In this case, the success of this archetype can nearly all be placed on Rabble Red. Only one of the top red decks in the field was not Rabble Red, the Team Channel Fireball Red Aggro (splashing white), piloted by Eric Froehlich. While not all of Team Channel Fireball played this deck, it does look like it underperformed, especially when compared to Revolution's Rabble Red. For now, Rabblemaster looks like the way to go if you like attacking with little red guys.
G/W Aggro (with a splash of red or not) was the other deck that had a strong performance. While the world looked at Patrick Cox and Jackson Cunningham (noskcaJ, if you prefer), Martin Juza also had a commanding 8-2 performance with the deck. Like many decks in current Standard, it doesn't have a long shelf life, but it does seem as though G/W Aggro is particularly going to take a hit when it loses so many of its gold cards. For now though, it joins Rabble Red as another archetype worthy of consideration from aggro players.
At this point, you really start looking at decks only played by the barest handful of players. B/G Midrange (exemplified by Kazuaki Fujimura) and Naya Hexproof (exemplified by Rob Hunsaker - winner of the Standard Open in Portland a few weeks back) had barely more players playing them than the B/W Aggro list played by Gaudenis Vidugiris. At this low number of players, it is really hard to make any specific claims about the performance of the archetype at large. "Other" is already a top performing archetype, and if you wrap those two archetypes into "Other", "Other" is in fact the top performing archetype.
At the same time, "Other" unsurprisingly underperformed expectation in terms of conversion to Day 2. To me, this means that it is likely that most people's random rogue decks were simply not good enough. On the other hand, there are a few players who might have either gotten a little lucky, or maybe they are sitting on gold, and all that we need is a few more tournaments with a few more people going off the beaten path, and we'll discover that Five-Color Slivers is really the best deck. (Though I bet it isn't.)
In my overall analysis, there are several simple conclusions I draw.
The decks that you can confidently call "good" are:
Sphinx's Revelations Control decks
The decks that you need a great deal of skill to achieve good results are:
The underperforming decks are:
Of course, there are a ton of decks that aren't listed here. I still think, as I mentioned above, that the current Standard isn't fully explored, and so if you're like me, in the lead up to SCG events and the WMCQ, there is a lot to continue to look at to figure out. I expect to spend most of my time with Burn and U/W Control, but I also know that I'm planning on going through all of the miscellaneous decks that only had one or two people playing them at the top tables--decks like Naya Midrange, White Weenie splashing red, and others.
I expect, in the end, I'll just end up casting Sphinx's Revelation until Khans of Tarkir comes out. There is a Modern PTQ in Madison at Misty Mountain Games this weekend, and I'll show up to watch, but my first real event I expect to be playing at is the WMCQ in Chicago the last weekend of the month.
There are plenty of Standard events upcoming this month, so if you want to get fully prepared, make sure you're testing against the actual Top 8 Standard decks from the Pro Tour and not just the Standard decks played in the Top 8 of the mixed Pro Tour Portland. Study and grow strong. And if you plan on trying to win that WMCQ in a few weeks, I expect to try to stand in your way.