Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. The 100th of its kind. And maybe the best one ever.
Bant Company and Mono-White Humans may have been the decks to beat going into the tournament, but as we analyze the Top 8 decks from the weekend, are they the decks to beat at the Standard Classic at SCG Milwaukee and Grand Prix Toronto?
Last time I did one of these articles, I wrote it in between rounds of a Magic Origins 8-4 where I opened a foil Hangarback Walker and beat all my opponents to death with it. Will I be as fortunate this time during my Shadows over Innistrad 8-4? I guess you'll have to read along and find out (or scroll down to the pictures of the draft, you lazy jerk).
Last time I did one of these, I got to start with the incredibly handsome Joel Larsson after he won Pro Tour Magic Origins with Mono-Red Aggro, a deck right in my wheelhouse. This time, I get to start with the equally handsome Steve Rubin and another deck that happens to be right in my wheelhouse with G/W Tokens.
G/W Tokens was originally put on the map by Chris Andersen and his eighteenth-place finish at #SCGBALT earlier this month. Chris lost playing for Top 8 that weekend, and while I was bit skeptical of some of his card choices then (hello there, Scion Summoner), it was the first week of a new format, so getting card choices correct is less relevant than having a solid idea. And after watching Chris in action, good creatures, good planeswalkers, access to Dromoka's Command, and being the best Westvale Abbey deck is clearly a very solid idea. So good, in fact, that it won the Pro Tour!
So what did Steve do differently? For starters, he just put better creatures in his deck. As good as Elvish Visionary is, Sylvan Advocate is just a better card in this Standard format, as you need to be able to block the Humans that are coming your way. And then there's the no-brainer addition of Archangel Avacyn to the maindeck.
During coverage of #SCGBALT, Columbus Invitational runner-up Craig Krempels (he makes me call him that) and I joked about how many Archangel Avacyns we saw in sideboards during that weekend because when, exactly, are you siding that card in? Oh, every matchup? Then perhaps it should be in your maindeck? Steve made that change and I have to imagine it worked out well for him because read the text on Archangel Avacyn. That card is completely absurd and should not be hiding out in sideboards! Again, I give Chris some leeway on having it in his sideboard, as the first week of a new format is always incredibly difficult, but I don't expect to see any more Avacyns in people's sideboards moving forward.
Other than those changes, it is worth noting that Declaration in Stone has been moved to the sideboard. I believe Declaration in Stone is a fantastic card, but G/W Tokens isn't fast enough to ignore the drawback of having the opponent draw a card. If G/W Tokens picks up after Steve's win, however, I can see moving Declaration in Stone back to the maindeck, as having a clean answer to Hangarback Walker will be pretty important.
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Ah yes. The boogeyman. It's back and
better than ever looks basically the same. Comparing this to Jim Davis' winning list from #SCGBALT, you'll find a few cosmetic changes – a different sideboard and a slightly different manabase – but the same gameplan is still intact here. Overwhelm your opponent with very good creatures and card advantage via Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Collected Company and you'll win eventually.
The only real change here worth noting outside of the cosmetic changes is the removal of Den Protector for Nissa, Vastwood Seer. To me, this change makes sense, as it's a solid hit off of Collected Company whereas Den Protector is not, and it does a nice job in all stages of the game while Den Protector is generally just a late-game card when things get fairly grindy.
Other than this, this deck is straightforward and still quite good, but as Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad demonstrated, very beatable.
The world champion strikes again, but this time he did it with something rather unexpected. For the past few months, when one thinks of Esper, they typically think of Esper Dragons. The problem with that right now is that Dragonlord Ojutai is so easy to deal with, having your entire deck revolve around it simply isn't going to work. So what's the next best way to play Esper?
Planeswalkers. Lots of them.
To me, this deck that Seth played just makes a lot of sense. It's a very good Languish deck and planeswalkers are harder to deal with than they have been in some time. Gone are the days of Hero's Downfall being cast with regularity. Now, we see players trying to beat swarms of Humans and backbreaking Collected Companies. And a lot of the cards that answer those two gameplans do not stop a control deck that is tapping out every turn like Esper Control does.
Seth's deck has just enough spot removal with Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price to bridge the gap to Languish. Once a Languish kills everything, it's time for the planeswalkers to take over, and take over they do. Narset, Jace, Ob Nixilis, and Sorin are quite the motley crew at cleaning up a game, and if they can't do it, the singleton Sphinx of the Final Word certainly will.
It's tough to say how good this build of Esper Control is moving forward, because it just feels like it was so unexpected for this tournament, but if you're looking to do your best Shaheen Soorani impersonation, this is the place to start.
So remember how I said Esper Dragons isn't particularly good right now because Dragonlord Ojutai is situated poorly? Well, I stand firmly behind that statement. It's just that none of my statements apply to Shota Yasooka because he's a cyborg built to play Magic quickly and perfectly and I'm a human born to write Magic articles and watch AJ Styles wrestle. We all have our places in life, ya know?
For me, I just don't get how this deck did well outside of Shota being absurd at Magic. Dragonlord Ojutai is seriously bad right now. Sylvan Advocate trades with it. Reflector Mage bounces it. A lot of Humans can either swarm it or sometimes just beat it in combat. Grasp of Darkness and Anguished Unmaking kill it when it's attacking. Clip Wings is an absurd sideboard card against it. I could go on and on and on.
Yet here we are…
He doesn't even play four Languishes?! I just don't understand! And I'm not going to try to. Because that would be like trying to understand another language. Just note that Shota is better than the person writing this article (me), better than the person reading this article (you), and if you want to play this deck, do so at your own risk.
Maybe we should just start calling him The Phenomenal Shota Yasooka. That's got a nice ring to it.
Speaking of people who are so good at Magic that it is beyond my comprehension, here's another Top 8 for Jonny Magic himself. But this time, he does it with probably the most interesting and innovative deck in the tournament. And it all revolves around…
Of course it does!
Truthfully, what you have here is a control deck that will eventually answer everything the opponent is trying to do. Being beaten down by Humans? Languish them away, pick off the remaining few with spot removal spells, and let Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet handle cleanup duty. Paired up against an Esper Control deck? Attack their hand with Transgress the Mind, pick off their planeswalkers with Ruinous Path, and Dark Petition for whatever you need to finish them off. Run into something more midrange? Exchange resources with them as often as possible and bury them in cards by resolving a Seasons Past.
This deck can do it all if it draws the right half of its cards in the appropriate matchups. It's the times when it draws a lot of Dark Petitions, Read the Bones, and Seasons Pasts against Humans that I'm worried about. Or when it draws Languish, Grasp of Darkness, and Ultimate Price against Seth's Esper Control deck. If those things don't happen, you're likely good to go, but you don't have a ton of control over that aspect of things.
When this deck looks good, I expect it to look great. And when it looks bad, I expect it to look very bad. But when you're Jonny Magic, it always looks unbeatable.
As you know, Todd Anderson spent the last two weeks demonstrating the power of Pyromancer's Goggles on the SCG Tour® with his U/R Control deck. But the blue cards always felt a bit lacking, as Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a lot worse now with the removal of fetchlands and Thing in the Ice varies from completely insane to completely terrible depending on your draw. Brad Nelson opted to remove the blue cards for green ones and got a lot off the exchange during his time in Madrid.
The first card worth mentioning is Traverse the Ulvenwald. Turning on delirium for Brad's deck is trivial, given the access to Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight, so more often than not, Traverse will be "G – Search for Dragonlord Atarka and destroy your opponent's battlefield." What's nice about this, beyond the fact that you basically have a Dragonlord Atarka at will, is that you don't have to play a ton of them. As good as Dragonlord Atarka is, it's not a card you want to draw a ton of. Additionally, you get to play some sweet sideboard cards like Tireless Tracker and Goblin Dark-Dwellers when you think things may go longer than normal.
But the true power of this deck lies in Pyromancer's Goggles. We've seen just how powerful the combination of Goggles plus Fall of the Titans can be, and this deck brings it to the table as well. You won't find Fiery Temper here, but Fiery Impulse plays the role of removal spell adequately enough to buy you time to get all set up and let your expensive spells seize the day.
I wasn't much of a fan of the G/R Eldrazi decks that have been showing up lately, as resolving an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is rarely game over nowadays, so to see this innovative take on the archetype is a breath of fresh air and one I expect to see a lot of moving forward.
- 4 Blisterpod
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Loam Dryad
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 2 Liliana, Heretical Healer
I'm not good at puns or I'd make a few. But all I can say is that Luis brought the rite deck to Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad.
Before I apologize for that, which I'm not actually going to do, I must say that I like this deck as well. It wasn't a matter of if, but more of a matter of when, people were going to find the right home for Cryptolith Rite. The enchantment from Shadows over Innistrad is obscenely powerful in the right shell, and who better to find it than the king of Luck Skill Victory just in time for another Pro Tour Top 8.
This isn't exactly Four-Color Rally (thankfully) but it will play out somewhat similarly at times thanks to Nantuko Husk, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Liliana, Heretical Healer. The thing I like most about this deck, however, is that, just like Four-Color Rally before it, B/G Aristocrats isn't reliant on its big splashy card. Four-Color Rally was such a devastating deck because Rally the Ancestors was a card that it got to play, but didn't have to resolve, to win the game. The same is true here of Cryptolith Rite. Is the deck insane when it draws the card? Absolutely. But does it need it to function? Not at all. And that's the sign of good deckbuilding.
I'll be interested to see how much this one catches on, as there are a lot cooler decks that made the Top 8. The trick now will be to see which of the cool decks is actually a really good deck. I hope that the answer is all three!
You won't find a Hall of Fame name associated with this brew, but Luis Salvatto may have found a better use for Pryomancer's Goggles than even Brad Nelson did!
This R/W Eldrazi Goggles deck takes the best parts of the Pyromancer's Goggles package (Fall of the Titans, Tormenting Voice, Magmatic Insight, and red removal) and pairs it up with the Eldrazi to just try to overpower its opponent into submission. An opponent can only handle so many rares and mythics before they wave the white flag and concede, right?
One thing I will say about this deck. I've already mentioned my hatred of Dragonlord Ojutai in the format. I think Thought-Knot Seer is even worse. It is hampered by much of the same stuff that Dragonlord Ojutai is (Grasp of Darkness, Anguished Unmaking, Languish, an attacking Sylvan Advocate, Reflector Mage) but it gives the opponent a card back for dealing with it.
You have to remember that Standard is a format based mostly around creatures. As a result, creature removal is just going to be more prevalent. The reason Thought-Knot Seer was insane is Modern is twofold:
1. Creature removal is less prevalent because the format is based around insane spells, combos, and just all-around degeneracy.
2. You could cast it on turn 2.
I'm happy for Luis Salvatto and his deck looks unique, but Thought-Knot Seer is not a card you could pay me to play right now.
Oh. Were you looking for pictures of my draft? Tough luck…