Another Pro Tour has come and gone, and here we are in its wake, left to decipher what the results mean for Standard moving forward. Khans of Tarkir Standard has been historically dynamic, with the metagame shifting dramatically from week to week, so it is important to always reevaluate our understanding of the format, especially with the addition of a new set.
However, with a format in constant flux, it is more important to keep ourselves attuned to what the hive mind believes, lest we waste a week by being on the wrong level. There is little benefit in seeing that a certain deck overperformed the previous week if the rest of the field disagrees, and you end up ignoring a significant portion of the metagame.
It is very common for players nowadays to be wary of the results of split-format tournaments because a player in the top 8 may not have compensated for their poor performance in one format with a particularly strong performance in the other. Still, the players in the top 8 had to have achieved at least a good record, if not a great one, to be in contention at all, and the added notoriety of making top 8 is more than enough to sway some portion of the field in the coming weeks. The glory behind such a high finish is enough to create an impression that feeds ensuing tournaments.
Players who try to look past this perception are also important to keep track of since they tend to be influenced more by the decks that did best when isolating the desired format. And given how common that advice has become, this is also a significant portion of the metagame that you would do well to try and understand.
Whether by chance or some underlying cause, these two small slices of the metagame often differ in significant ways, creating two distinct factions of the hive mind for the following week: those that are drawn to the top 8 players (Perception), and those that are drawn to the best performing Constructed players (Reality). Of course, the true reality for the coming weeks is then determined by blending these two factions. In this article, I will be attempting to do just that, and I'll offer my thoughts on what each faction is thinking and what that means for any tournaments this weekend.
Team perception is all about excitement. They are looking to the Pro Tour for the spectacle of the event and what decks/players emerged with the most glory and the most hype. When evaluating the Pro Tour through their lens, we must be wary of not only which decks received the most time in the spotlight, but which decks performed the best in their time there.
There are three clear winners for those looking at the top 8 decks from Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir: U/B Control, G/R Devotion, and Red Aggro. Interestingly, these three decks form a classic rock-paper-scissors metagame with U/B Control beating G/R Devotion, which beats Red Aggro, which beats U/B Control. While the aggressive deck took the trophy, it was certainly the control decks that made the biggest impression, making use of the powerful new Dragons as finishers as well as enablers for Foul-Tongue Invocation and Silumgar's Scorn. There is little more exciting than new cards, so these players will be ready to build these decks and take them for a test drive, perhaps with a few minor tweaks. Moreover, control decks had the most star power behind them with high profile names like Shouta Yasooka and Adrian Sullivan piloting their own versions. I expect Team Perception to gravitate to control decks in large numbers this week.
If U/B Control was the giant of the weekend, then Red Aggro was the giant slayer, dispatching two of the three control decks on its way to the title. Similar to control, this deck received several new tools from Dragons of Tarkir, most notably Zurgo Bellstriker, Lightning Berserker, and Dragon Fodder. The added token generator also makes Atarka's Command an attractive option, which Martin Dang did opt to splash for. Atarka's Command garnered much attention during spoiler season, so Team Perception is going to jump at the chance to play it.
Lastly, we come to the deck from the top 8 I expect to be the least popular this weekend: G/R Devotion. A more nuanced analysis of the top 8 would note that Devotion was somewhat unlucky to be paired against U/B Control in each of its three matches, but the losses will still hurt its stock. The only significant addition to the deck is Dragonlord Atarka, which is certainly an attractive card, but it falls short when compared to what U/B Control and Red Aggro added.
This camp of the hive mind is trying to get ahead of the metagame. They are looking at the top 8 decks mostly to gain an idea of what Team Perception is doing while they place most of their attention on the top performing Standard decks from the tournament, listed here. A cursory breakdown of the decks listed yields the following:
4 U/B Control
3 Abzan Aggro
2 Abzan Control
1 G/W Devotion
1 G/R Devotion
1 G/R Bees
1 Red Aggro
1 G/R Dragons
1 G/W Aggro
1 Bant Midrange
The first thing I notice is that U/B Control once again comes out ahead with the most entries in the list. More than putting players in the top 8, U/B Control brought many players to solid finishes and very few to poor finishes; it was certainly among the best performing archetypes in the field. Team Reality will take notice. It is also important to note that three of the U/B Control decks listed are nearly identical, as they were piloted by members of Team Channel Fireball. Players looking for the "best" decks will weigh the results of this list in particular as more reliable since it put up more results overall and sees success in the hands of several different pilots, even if those pilots are among the best players in the room.
With only one list appearing and without the notoriety of the trophy, Red Aggro looks a bit worse from this perspective. Instead, Abzan Aggro appears to be the top performing aggressive strategy, with the notable addition of Surrak, the Hunt Caller in a list piloted by both Brad Nelson and Austin Bursavich to excellent records. As with U/B Control, the fact that two identical lists performed well will lend added credence to the deck's legitimacy, so I would expect the stock Abzan Aggro lists to take after that one for the time being.
The devotion decks (and strategically, I believe G/R Bees to be akin to a devotion deck) still exist, but once again, I believe they will be relegated beneath the other top decks. With three distinct lists it is easier to disregard the group as a whole, instead being drawn to the seemingly more tuned decks that did well for multiple pilots.
The G/W Aggro and Bant Midrange decks are both new and exciting, but that is not what Team Reality is looking for. They want something brutal and efficient that they can be confident will give them a great shot at winning this week's FNM or placing in the top 8 of this week's Open Series in Providence. For the most part, I expect these decks to be overlooked unless they emerge in the coming weeks with some strong results.
After analyzing each part of the hive mind separately, it is important to examine how these portions of the metagame will interact to form a more complete picture of what to expect this weekend.
Once again I am drawn first to U/B Control. I expect both factions to be drawn to the deck this weekend, making it my first priority in deck selection and tuning. The addition of the Dragonlords gave these decks a powerful new angle. Before DTK they would often lose games in which they were very far ahead because they lacked a good way of ending a game quickly, and maintaining complete control over a game is incredibly difficult. If you plan on playing an attrition game against U/B Control, you now have to have some answer to these Dragons, which makes you inherently weaker to their reactive spells and card draw. The biggest payoff for players this weekend will be finding the best way to attack the new versions of this deck.
If the best angle of attack is simply to rush them and hope they stumble, then Red Aggro becomes more attractive. Otherwise, I expect Abzan Aggro to remain the premiere aggressive strategy. Regardless, I am anticipating Abzan Aggro to be the most played aggro deck this weekend because of the weight the Nelson/Bursavich list carries. Sorin seems to be gaining stock, as it is the most important card against Red Aggro while remaining solid against control strategies. Red Aggro and U/B Control are the most polarized decks in the metagame, and as such, typically fighting both will pull you in two opposing directions. Finding cards that overlap in these two matchups will be invaluable.
The popularity of U/B Control combined with the factors discussed above should keep G/R Devotion from performing particularly well, but if the aggro decks do well as a result of U/B Control's rise, G/R Devotion should be well-positioned for the top 8 metagame, making it a weak choice to top 8, but a good choice if your goal is a trophy.
Of course, we are still early in Dragons of Tarkir, and if it is anything like its predecessors in Khans block, it will take a while for the hive mind to unpack everything this set has to offer. In the wake of the Pro Tour, the metagame will be a bit more settled, making it easier for players to tune their brews appropriately and gain a large advantage.