You're going to see four decks in large numbers at Pro Tour Amonkhet -- Aetherworks Marvel, Mardu Vehicles, U/R Control, and Mono-Black Zombies, possibly in that order.
There are other decks in the format, but those are by far the best.
In a world without the Felidar Guardian / Saheeli Rai combo, four mana sorceries are a little more reasonable to put in your deck. Also, decks no longer need to have incredibly slim mana curves and can afford to play more powerful spells, which Aetherworks Marvel is great at preying on. As frustrating as the combo was to play against, Aetherworks Marvel isn't much better, especially with cards like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in the format. It's the new bogeyman.
Of the Marvel decks, Temur is likely the best, although some of the best performing decks at the Pro Tour might be Temur Energy decks without any Aetherworks Marvels. They resemble the old Four-Color Saheeli decks and rely on overwhelming their opponents with Planeswalkers. Obviously, it's subjective, but those decks are basically the most fun you can have in the format.
I can, have, and probably will write entire articles on the different versions of Aetherworks Marvel I've built before this Pro Tour. It's one of the most fascinating archetypes I've ever had the pleasure to work on. If I don't end up playing it at the Pro Tour, I have a feeling I'm going to be sad when I see someone crushing it with a configuration that I didn't consider.
Everyone is trying to nail you with Lost Legacy or Dispossess, and there numerous ways to try and combat that. I typically like shaving down on Aetherworks Marvel components and trying to win with something else, whether it's World Breaker (maybe with Kozilek's Return), Bristling Hydra, Elder Deep-Fiend, or Planeswalkers. Right now, I'm a pretty big fan of some Planeswalkers maindeck and Bristling Hydra in the sideboard.
Chandra, Flamecaller is going to make a small resurgence, both in decks with Aetherworks Marvel and without. She's a fine win condition for U/R Control and acts as a powerful secondary card to Aetherworks Marvel in that it conveniently sweeps the board of Zombies and can cycle through the Ulamogs that will inevitably clog your hand. There's a huge bonus to having a powerful card you want to Aetherworks Marvel into that's also castable. Ishkanah, Grafwidow mostly counts, although it's lackluster in this format, whereas something like World Breaker is also not great and costs a little too much. Chandra, Flamecaller is in the sweet spot.
Realistically, the Marvel deck will lose to Dragonmaster Outcast before Ulamog even comes online.
Marvel's best bet is something like Tireless Tracker that is cheap and easy to slip through countermagic. Gaining velocity, making your land drops, and eventually forcing a threat through is how you're going to win most games. Despite having Ulamog in your deck, you're not favored going long against U/R Control.
I also kind of like a singleton maindeck Dispel if you're worried about U/R Control, assuming you have good targets for Mardu's Unlicensed Disintegrations.
Verdict: I wouldn't be surprised if Marvel is the most played deck, and how well they perform is going to depend entirely on their plans against the other three best decks. If someone finds a way to perform well against all three, I wouldn't be surprised if that deck becomes the de facto best deck after the Pro Tour.
Of the four decks on my list, Mono-Black Zombies might be the most surprising. While it's had lukewarm results from the first couple weeks of the format, I think that's going to change at the Pro Tour. Zombies is one of the few proactive decks in the format, and its game plan is naturally good against Mardu, Marvel, and U/R Control.
Thanks to some help from Amonkhet, Mono-Black Zombies now has enough hits across the curve. Cards like Cryptbreaker and Relentless Dead have always been great, but they relied on synergy and needed the right support. They finally have it, and this deck is for real, even if it looks like a pre-constructed deck.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Diregraf Colossus
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 4 Relentless Dead
Mono-Black Zombies is greatly misunderstood, and that definitely plays to its strengths. This Zombies deck basically plays out like Merfolk in Modern or Legacy. Instead of trying to nickel and dime your opponent out (like in the Geralf's Messenger era), this one aims to continually grow its battlefield and pump its creatures with various lords. It creates spots where its opponents can't attack or block effectively, plus it's one of the few decks that can beat a resolved Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
One of the most underrated aspects of the deck is how well it can grind! Even B/G Delirium is going to have issues with cards like Liliana's Mastery. Relentless Dead is no slouch either. In case their position gets invalidated somehow, Westvale Abbey can still turn that into a victory.
The downside is that the matchups for Mono-Black Zombies are close. Games where you draw Cryptbreaker and games where you don't are much different. That said, it's mostly a consistent beatdown deck, and it's basically the version of those sorts of decks.
Splashing in Zombies is a consideration, but one that I don't think is worth it. If you wanted to splash, it would be to improve the weak sideboard of Mono-Black. Since you're mostly trying to curve up to five, playing lands that enter the battlefield tapped can be dangerous, but it could be worth it depending on what you pick up. Additionally, Zombies could use a creature-land to insulate themselves against sweepers, even if it's a small help.
I'm really not a fan of the B/W lists that have been running around, as nickel and diming people out with Wayward Servant isn't what the deck is about. Making them not be able to block with Binding Mummy is also kind of silly, as you mostly invalidate their blockers by pumping your team anyway.
Verdict: Mono-Black Zombies appears to be a slight favorite against the other three, although they are weak to hate cards. Sweltering Suns and the like will almost certainly be popular, so it needs a way around that.
We no longer live in a world where blue control decks are just good enough to get by. Thanks to Censor, Essence Scatter, and Magma Spray, the deck now has enough early, relevant interaction to stay on pace with each of the top decks in the format. Thanks to its high density of countermagic, U/R Control is the natural predator of Aetherworks Marvel.
To some degree, U/R Control has The Rock problem where it could draw the wrong part of its deck at the wrong time. A handful of spot removal isn't going to do anything against Aetherworks Marvel, and cards like Disallow aren't great against a horde of Zombies. That said, if it draws well and makes its land drops, U/R Control can look untouchable.
I would probably build the deck with a nod to Zombies with two Sweltering Suns maindeck and a Chandra, Flamecaller in the sideboard. The maindeck is mostly set in stone, although there are some choices between how many Essence Scatter, Negate, and Pull from Tomorrow to play. There's also the consideration between Disallow or Void Shatter.
While it's nothing new, I've been impressed by Dragonmaster Outcast out of the sideboard as a way to present a cheap threat in midrange and control matchups. Thing in the Ice has been somewhat disappointing, but mostly because there are better options. You no longer need to hope a high variance card can steal games for you and can instead rely on doing what your deck does.
Verdict: Aetherworks Marvel looks great; therefore, so does U/R Control. I don't think it will be the most popular deck, and surely people will try other flavors of control, but U/R will be the most popular.
That's right -- I have Gideon at the bottom!
Mardu will obviously be one of the most popular decks, if not the most popular. However, it's simply one deck in a sea of decks. It very well could still be the best deck as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is the most punishing card in the format, but I'm not nearly as afraid of the deck as I have been.
While Michael Majors briefly flirted with the idea of cutting Toolcraft Exemplar, I don't think that's something you can do anymore. With Aetherworks Marvel and counterspell-heavy U/R Control rising to prominence, the midrange plan isn't exactly where you'll be the most successful. You want to be midrange in more than a few matchups, but neither Marvel, U/R Control, nor Zombies are one of them. Instead of that becoming your main focus, you might want to return to what made Mardu good in the first place.
Glorybringer or Archangel Avacyn is probably the most interesting debate, at least in the maindeck. There are plenty of other slots up for debate though. If Glorybringer isn't well-positioned in a format of Essence Scatters and Ulamogs; Thalia, Heretic Cathar loses some of its luster. A return to Pia Nalaar may be in order. Either that, or you could skimp on three mana cards entirely.
Similarly, Walking Ballista underperforms against the majority of decks out there. Since that's the case, and it shows up in less spots, that means cards like Veteran Motorist or even Glory-Bound Initiate can come out to play. If those are playable, Cultivator's Caravan could be great. Even things like Release the Gremlins are dwindling in numbers, which makes keeping in your artifacts a reasonable plan.
It's possible to level people with Mardu again.
Verdict: Mardu is still great and potentially still the best. Since the midrange plan solved all of Mardu's issues, the format has evolved and I'm skeptical that it's the best plan for now.
G/B Energy is solid, mostly because of its strong U/R Control and Temur Aetherworks matchups, but it gets annihilated by Mono-Black Zombies. Walking Ballista into Verdurous Gearhulk can win them the game, but it's unlikely to come together due to how much removal is available to Mono-Black Zombies. If Zombies has any presence at the Pro Tour, G/B Energy probably won't do very well. For the most part, it's trying to do what Zombies is doing but is worse at it.
On the other side of the spectrum, B/G Delirium has a rough time against Mardu Vehicles, U/R Control, and Aetherworks Marvel. From testing Naya Aetherworks, you can build a midrange deck that has enough removal for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Aetherworks Marvel itself. If you have enough difficult-to-remove threats, then you actually have a reasonable shot at beating them. To that end, I like the idea of splashing white for Cast Out (and maybe Angel of Sanctions) and getting a little more aggressive with Sylvan Advocate.
Standard might look narrow, but it's a breath of fresh air compared to last season. Additionally, there could be something out there that completely crushes the Pro Tour. Given the late banning announcement, we didn't have enough time to explore everything we wanted to. It wouldn't surprise me if someone landed on something great from the get go.
Even if that doesn't happen, having what basically amounts to four and a half decks isn't bad. The fact that all major archetypes are represented should keep the tournament interesting.