This weekend is Pro Tour Amonkhet, and we'll be seeing just exactly what Standard will be looking like once it has been explored by people who have a lot on the line to figure it out. There are a lot of interesting things making this Pro Tour a little bit different than recent ones: It is our first "large" Standard in years, with seven sets worth of Magic legal for the event; it also follows a momentous banning, with the loss of Felidar Guardian making 'CopyCat' a thing of the past; and importantly, it comes without two weekends of SCG Tour® lead-in to define the metagame. This last point isn't entirely uncommon, but a great deal of the time, Pro Tours will have two full weekends of Magic introducing the format. While they often set the tone for the metagame, the pros nearly always find decks that succeed that haven't yet found success in the wider world.
One thing we did get this weekend to make up for it was the MOCS, which gave us eight rounds of Magic to look through for ideas and information on what Standard looks like now and what it might look like in the coming days.
Some people will be disappointed in the eventual victor:
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Pia Nalaar
Early on, decks like this are just good. Simple, aggressive, and even going so far as to fully embrace Vehicles.
The week before, Andrew Jessup won the SCG Tour®'s Standard Open in Atlanta with the same archetype, though with a slightly different take.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Where Jessup had things slightly more controlling, AlfredoTorres moved towards aggression, with Thalia, Heretic Cathar replaced by Pia Nalaar, and Walking Ballista, a few Fatal Push, and a Cut replaced by Cultivator's Caravan and Veteran Motorist. The biggest shock in this might be not running the full set of Fatal Push (not even in the full 75!), but also intriguing is AlfredoTorres making the decision to go to three Canyon Slough, preferring to mitigate the possibility of mana flood over the cost of mana efficiency in the early game.
I really love how the sideboard looks for AlfredoTorres. Versatile planeswalkers feels like a great call, and I love seeing things top off at Sorin, Grim Nemesis. Sorin has been seeing a bit more play lately, and it feels like a powerful card to blow open a depleted game state.
Multiple Nahiri, the Harbinger make sense to me right now. It feels like there is an uptick on Aetherworks Marvel, and that is simply a card that you want to get rid of as soon as possible or at least get rid of the alien entity spawned by it. Beyond that, though, Nahiri being able to knock out Cast Out matters. I'm willing to bet that a lot of the success of this build comes on the back of Nahiri, the Harbinger ironically backed up by Anguished Unmaking.
I'm sure some people will be disappointed to see this archetype win it all. I would say, however, that I find myself quite heartened by the general diversity that I see in the event's top tables. Let's take a look!
Mardu Vehicles: 9 in Top 32, 1 at 7-1+
Temur Aetherworks: 5 in Top 32, 1 at 7-1+
B/G Constrictor: 3 in Top 32, 1 at 7-1+
UR Control: 2 in Top 32, 1 at 7-1+
Below those top tables, these archetypes were also represented in the Top 32:
Sultai Aetherworks: 3
B/G Delirium: 2
Jund Energy: 1
Bant Aetherworks: 1
Abzan Control: 1
Eleven archetypes at the top of the brackets is pretty exciting to me. History tells us that several of these archetypes will likely shake out, but one thing that I feel pretty confident in saying is that I don't think that we'll be seeing the last of these less popular decks. Take, for example, the New Perspectives deck, a kind of neo-Zero Effect.
Having played against this deck with counter-based control and beatdown, I feel like this is a real potential threat. Most decks come at the game from a fairly straightforward perspective (har-dee-har), and that approach can leave one fairly vulnerable to just seeing a turn 5 or 6 win made possible by a Haze of Pollen or a Renewed Faith. For those decks that are more able to fight via Aetherworks Marvel or countermagic, now that it is more clear that Torrential Gearhulk and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are reasonable goals for a deck, this is something that can be more easily combated.
I'm definitely a little surprised not to see something like Dissenter's Deliverance in the mix, if only in the sideboard. Cast Out might be able to take care of anything, but it is still fairly expensive. While perhaps I am wrong in imagining the card in the 75, it does feel like the deck could be improved.
When I look at it from the perspective (yeeeeeeeeah!) of just those fifteen decks that went 6-2 or better, it seems even more likely that New Perspectives could make the jump to the next level. Furthermore, it seems to me that other more wild ideas might also be able to make the leap. Perhaps we'll discover a U/W or U/B control deck out there can target the metagame successfully.
Perhaps we'll see that Zombies just needs a slight tweak to hop up to the next level.
- 2 Binding Mummy
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Diregraf Colossus
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 2 Relentless Dead
- 4 Wayward Servant
There are some exciting cards in here that we haven't seen for a while, like Dark Salvation, for example. Most notably, for me, though, is Westvale Abbey, a card which only seems to feel like it makes sense if you are both in the business of token production and you can afford the colorless mana.
This deck is reminiscent of the break-out decks of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, where Zombies-based decks made a last-minute splash. They didn't land then, but there are a great many new weapons for the archetype.
There is a relentlessness to this archetype, and it can play for a shorter or a longer game. Those older archetypes ran more of a "from-the-grave" feel with Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead, but there is nothing saying that white is a requirement. Voldaren Pariah was another part of that equation, but the scary Vampire has a lot of competition in the top end by cards like Liliana's Mastery and Dark Salvation.
It's hard to imagine there isn't something possible here. It feels like there may finally be enough Zombies for some of the payoffs to really work out, especially with all of the new lords or semi-lords like Liliana's Mastery. Even the newest Liliana herself, Liliana, Death's Majesty, feels like it could be an option, though again, we're in a lot of competition for the top end here.
While much of my team for Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad played Zombies, I ended up on B/G. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that of all of the lists I saw, the one that actually most spoke to me came out of a fellow Madisonian Caleb Durward. Here's his G/B Constrictor list:
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
I like this deck because of how firmly it stands as a midrange-aggro deck. Tireless Tracker has long been one of my favorite cards. When you run four of the card, it almost feels impossible to lose long games. Add to that the real capability of a powerful aggressive start and the general "good"ness of all of the Winding Constrictor builds and you can sign me up.
There are practically no new cards in Caleb's deck, with only a single Never in the main deck. I've actually started to really appreciate this card the more that I've played it. I had not found that Ruinous Path was often accomplishing anything other than what a Never would accomplish, but the Return portion of the card would definitely come up far more often than awakening a Ruinous Path. These issues matter, because while a 2/2 isn't very exciting, in a protracted game, that extra body, whether it is an attacker, a defender, or even just a speed bump, can be precious and make the difference between a win and a loss.
The sideboard has a few more new cards. Manglehorn, even without a real need for it to nix Saheeli Rai decks, still gets a lot of work done and can be surprising in its affect on other games - a tapped Torrential Gearhulk can be the difference between life and death.
Lay Bare the Heart splits the difference with Transgress the Mind, in a choice I think might just actually be correct in a world where you will sometimes be stymied by a cheap card you need to get rid of and the reality of real threats that cannot be suffered to hit the battlefield. More Never feels like an easy call in a world where you might need to slip into a more controlling role, and extra ways to nuke a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar would be handy.
Rhonas the Indomitable is an interesting card to see in the sideboard. I like the thought of the card for long slogs where you expect attrition to hit both sides and you don't expect much in the way of easy removal for it. Versus various Torrential Gearhulk decks, one of the only ways to expect it to get knocked out would be Commit, but other than that, they might just be relegated to removing every single creature that hits the battlefield. That's no mean feat, especially if those sideboard Scrapheap Scroungers are in the mix.
I'm not hitting this Pro Tour, but I think if I were, I'd probably be playing a deck fairly close to Caleb's.
I know I'll be glued to my screen watching the Pro Tour, picking up what ideas I can for Standard going forward and looking to see what kind of inspiration will be spotlighted. Standard is only just getting going!