While I didn't get to compete in Pro Tour Ixalan, it went about as well as possible for me from a spectator's point of view. Friend and all-around great guy in Seth Manfield took the whole thing down, there were some sweet new decks I can't wait to try on stream, Team MGG debuted its two Pro Tour Team Series teams to great success, and four of my five predictions came true!
John Rolf was kind enough to check off two of my five predictions by himself, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The most important of the predictions going forward was the first, and despite the overabundance of Attune with Aether we still had a pretty healthy format and top 8.
Prediction One: There will be at least five different archetypes in the Top 8.
We even did one better, with six different archetypes competing on Sunday!
Yes, there were three copies of Temur Energy in Top 8. And yes, Temur/Four-Color Energy was an astoundingly large portion of the Pro Tour field. There's usually going to be a "best deck" in a format, which is going to be the deck that many players are going to feel safe bringing to the Pro Tour. It's hard to be that wrong with your Temur decklist, so it's an excellent deck for the risk-averse. It's also a deck that's just playing fair, honest Magic for the most part – a much better scenario than Turn 4 Felidar Guardian kills or Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
So get over Attune with Aether and recognize there were a lot of very cool decks that did well at Pro Tour Ixalan!
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 3 Angel of Invention
- 4 Aviary Mechanic
- 2 Duskborne Skymarcher
- 4 Legion Conquistador
- 3 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Hostage Taker
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 3 Minister of Inquiries
- 1 Trophy Mage
- 3 The Scarab God
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Adorned Pouncer
- 2 Kinjalli's Sunwing
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Resilient Khenra
- 3 Sacred Cat
- 2 Oketra the True
- 2 Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter
- 1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
That's some pretty serious innovation going 7-3 or better at a Pro Tour. Are these decks going to stick around? Were they just good metagame calls? Should I go buy as many copies of Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle I can get my hands on? We'll just have to find out!
If a Pro Tour ends and there's a handful of exciting new decks that did well, I'd consider that a successful Pro Tour.
Prediction Two: Hazoret the Fervent will make Top 8 in a non-Ramunap Red deck.
We are just scratching the surface on Hazoret the Fervent.
Going into Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, people were just starting to realize how powerful Hazoret really was. Most gods have not been able to overcome their restrictions, but Hazoret was worth the effort and totally fine in multiples as well. With Ramunap Red taking center stage, it became clear that Hazoret was not a supporting character but actually the protagonist.
However, don't just typecast Hazoret as a Mono-Red Aggro card...
- 2 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 3 Veteran Motorist
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Pia Nalaar
The truth is that five hasted and difficult-to-kill power for only four mana is quite the deal, leaving any aggressive deck in Standard having to answer the question, "Why am I not playing Hazoret?"
Samuel Ihlenfeldt's Mardu Vehicles deck featured three copies of Hazoret the Fervent, which pushed him all the way into the semifinals of the Pro Tour. Hazoret was also seen in various black aggressive decks as well and has proven itself to be one of the premier threats and pillars of the Standard format. If your deck can't deal with Hazoret the Fervent, it is probably not a viable choice in Standard.
Prediction Three: There will be at least eight copies of Essence Scatter in the Top 8.
Close, but no cigar.
With Temur Energy being the baseline of the Standard format going into Pro Tour Ixalan, it was clear players were going to have to be prepared. Essence Scatter is a great tool against the deck, because dealing with creatures before they enter the battlefield mitigates your opponent gaining energy or being able to use their creatures' abilities in a way that normal removal does not. It also is a very clean answer to The Scarab God.
With Energy decks making up over half the field as predicted, the big question becomes, "What happened?"
The answer is that players decided to just splash colors into their decks for better answers.
Many of the top finishing Temur Energy decks added a black splash for The Scarab God and Vraska, Relic Seeker, which added to the overall power level of their decks while also providing them cleaner answers. Rather than try to use a situational answer like Essence Scatter to deal with their opponent's bombs, players like Mike Sigrist chose to just scale up the arms race with even more powerful ammunition that was immune to anti-creature effects.
I had figured that there would be probably one control deck in the Top 8, which would make up for three or four copies of Essence Scatter, with the remaining four or five copies spread out among other decks. Unfortunately, the lone control deck in the Top 8 chose to splash red to flesh out its removal suite, also reducing the need for Essence Scatter.
There ended up being a total of three copies of Essence Scatter in the Top 8, which of course is not eight, but the card is still a reasonable tool in the format.
Prediction Four: The top finishing Mono-Red Aggro deck will have at least two copies of Harsh Mentor.
Ramunap Red may have decimated Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, but formats shift and decks must adapt. With Temur Energy taking up the mantle of top deck in the format, life became significantly more difficult for Ramunap Red. Cards like Whirler Virtuoso and Longtusk Cub were very difficult to deal with, making Ramunap Red even more reliant on having a fast start and then enough burn spells to end the game once the battlefield got clogged up.
So adapt they did.
Harsh Mentor and Ramunap Red rookie standout Rampaging Ferocidon do an excellent job of making Whirler Virtuoso look very silly. By placing a serious tax on the various abilities that make the Temur Energy engine run, Ramunap Red is able to lower their life total enough for various Lightning Strike effects to finish them off. The deck is also happy to welcome another two drop into the fold.
Harsh Mentor isn't the second coming, but it's a solid tool for Ramunap Red decks going forward.
Prediction Five: A member of Team MGG will make the Top 8.
John Rolf comes through again!
When Team MGG owners Frank Pendl and Rick Meditz told me they wanted expand Team MGG to include two Pro Tour Team Series teams, I was skeptical. However, after watching both the team's performance and the excellent coverage done by Sam Tang and TJ Rogers, I am a believer.
Sam and TJ did a phenomenal job with their boots-on-the-ground coverage, providing an awesome insight into the Pro Tour event itself as well as the players on the teams. Magic has always been dragging behind other eSports in this sort of content and I look forward to what the future brings.
All in all, four out of five ain't bad! Someone more generous than I would likely even give me partial credit for the Essence Scatter prediction, but either way I'll take it.
I had a great time thinking about and watching this Pro Tour, but there was one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way.
Let's do a quick exercise.
Imagine you are driving your car down a one-lane road. It's pretty simple, and honestly you'll probably spend most of your time listening to the radio or thinking about what you have to do when you get home. Going off of the road isn't a thought or concern, making for a very simple and uneventful drive.
Now let's change the scenario a little. Instead of a nice, calm drive through the woods, you're now driving on the edge of a cliff. Any driver error too far in the wrong direction will send you and your car crashing down thousands of feet to a likely brutal death.
Imagine you're in high school and need to ask your teacher if your math homework is due on Thursday or Friday. Mr. Dorfman has always been your favorite teacher and you've always done very well in his class. You stop by at the end of class to ask him quickly when your homework is due.
Now let's change the scenario a little. You're still in high school in the middle of your day, but prom is in three days and you still haven't asked that cute guy/girl from your math class out yet. While not important in the grand scheme of things, it is very important to your underdeveloped seventeen-year-old mind.
Imagine that it's a calm autumn Sunday and you're enjoying a nice round of golf with your longtime friend. You're both having a few beers and catching up after a busy few weeks at work. You've chipped up on to the green, and now have a three-foot putt for bogey. Your friend says it's a gimmie, but you tap it in anyway with no issue.
Now let's change the scenario a little. It's a calm autumn Sunday, and you are tied for the lead at a major golf tournament against one of your fiercest rivals. He has just sunk a twenty-foot putt for par, putting the pressure on you to make a short three-foot putt to remain tied for the lead. As you step up to the putt, you remember your old golf coach telling you "a three-foot putt counts the same as a 300-yard drive."
I hope we can see where we're going with this.
Pro Tour Punts
There were a number of big mistakes made in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Ixalan.
Pro Tour finalist Pascal Maynard actually forgot to play a land on Turn 4 of Game 4 of the finals of the Pro Tour.
First-time Pro Tour Top 8er John Rolf made a critical error in Game 4 of the semifinals against Pascal Maynard when he declined to Lightning Strike a double-blocking Servo and save his Rampaging Ferocidon, which likely cost him the game.
To the people watching at home, and especially those speaking their mind on Twitch chat or social media, these plays seem outrageous.
"These guys are supposed to be pros?!"
"How could they miss that!?!"
"This guy sucks!"
To them I say:
Would you be able to effortlessly drive around that cliff like it was a calm road through the woods?
Would you be able to overcome your hormones and adolescent lack of experience to ask that guy/girl out as easily as asking about homework?
Would you be able to hold your putter with a relaxed grip and tap in that three-footer with thousands of people watching and large amounts of money and prestige on the line no problem?
I Doubt It
Competition is amazing because the more you want something, the more difficult it is to achieve. We not only have to deal with the difficulties of whatever we are competing in and the challenge of the person we are competing against, but also against ourselves in an attempt to maintain control as we come closer and closer to our goals.
The more important something is, the harder it gets.
Magic is already an extremely difficult game, even under the best of circumstances. Often we will get into long discussions about what play is correct and even after an hour of debate in a completely relaxed setting still not come up with the correct answer. Having to come up with correct answer after correct answer in an extremely high-pressure situation for hours on end is so difficult that there's a reason only a few people really succeed at it consistently.
In the end, Magic is a game of mistakes. You can never hope to play perfectly; your goal is to simply try to make fewer mistakes than your opponent and hope to come out on top. And pressure doesn't always need to be a Pro Tour Top 8. Your first PPTQ Top 8 or even your first FNM can bring the weight of competition down on you. As a player, it's your goal to push through the pressure as best you can.
And to anyone spectating, take a moment to empathize with whoever you are watching. Talking about games afterward is fine, but be constructive rather than destructive. A useful conversation can come from "I think John could have played that game better by casting Lightning Strike on a Servo," but nothing helpful can come from "What an idiot!"
Sometimes great players make mistakes, but a Top 8 finish in a Pro Tour should be defined by the accomplishment, not the mistake that ended the run.