[Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Ari Lax, Todd Stevens, and Patrick Sullivan are here to render their verdicts on five statements about Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Don't forget to vote for the winner at the end!]
1. After Josh Utter-Leyton's impressive display at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, U/B Death's Shadow is now Legacy's deck to beat.
Ari Lax: Fact. Watching over the shoulder of Jarvis Yu this weekend, it struck me just how bad all the current Legacy decks are. Nimble Mongoose just isn't a threat built for 2018, there's a million great cheap answers for every combo deck, and the slower threats also look stupid in a Wasteland, Daze, combo format.
Death's Shadow is the only deck that looks like it tries to break this pattern. I'm especially enamored with Thoughtseize + Reanimate as a weapon for fair decks. Jarvis played R/B Reanimator and that combo was extremely potent against opposing Griselbrands and Reality Smashers.
Todd Stevens: Fact. Josh Utter-Leyton's U/B Death's Shadow deck was completely dominant all weekend, and I expect it to jump straight to the top of a Legacy metagame that was already in flux after the recent bannings of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. Players have been looking for the next best deck to play in Legacy and U/B Death's Shadow looks to be a perfect transition for previous Grixis Delver players to pick up and master. It brings together a unique combination of threats, removal, countermagic, and hand disruption that can cover any deck in the format, with every spell effectively costing zero or one mana.
I absolutely love the addition of Reanimate to the deck which allows it to have even more one-drops when paired with Street Wraith or even bring back an opponent's creature that was countered. The metagame will do its best to adapt to U/B Death's Shadow, with an uptick in cards like Swords to Plowshares, Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, and Trinisphere, but I still expect it to be the deck to beat in Legacy for the foreseeable future.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact. If you had to pick the best thing to do at nearly any point in Legacy's history, it would look something like this:
1. Load up on the best zero and one mana proactive plays plus a bunch of cantrips so your draws are consistent, you play well off of mulligans, and you manage screw/flood efficiently.
2. Play the best cards for leveraging games that are lean on total resources, which you're well-equipped to do but your opponent may not be. Wasteland and Daze are the best at this historically; Deathrite Shaman got banned for being too powerful a blend of both camps.
3. Play a crisp game of tapping out every turn, exchange resources efficiently, and bury your opponent with arbitrary threats because either they can't get off the ground, or they flood out of games that go long but you rarely do.
Death's Shadow is the most recent take on this playbook, and it approaches the format exactly how I like-nothing but the absolute cheapest threats (no Tarmogoyfs or Young Pyromancers clogging up your hand), cantrips, some free counterspells, a little removal, etc. Because Death's Shadow slots in for Deathrite Shaman, a lot of different cards fill out the edges (Watery Grave being the most obvious, the almost total lack of expensive cards being a bit more subtle), but at its core this is the current best version of the thing that's almost always the best thing to be doing, and I expect it to largely define the format for the foreseeable future.
2. With a 73% match win percentage, Bant Nexus is the best Standard deck coming out of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary
Ari Lax: Fiction. All this means is people forgot to sleeve up their Negates and Duresses.
We have seen the same thing over and over in testing garbage seven-drops over the last year. This is a better deck than the cool card trap that was U/W Approach, but it's still leaning on expensive non-creatures in a format full of ways to punish it. There are also lots of threats that ignore a Fog, first and foremost being Chandra, Torch of Defiance, or just bury people in cards anyways, like Champion of Wits.
Yeah, you beat anyone presenting Ghalta, Primal Hunger. Or anyone who got sucked into the illusion your deck doesn't exist. Congrats, after this weekend Turbo Fog beats third graders who need parental permission to view David Williams' tweets. That's the best deck as long as they don't spill a juice box on your cards.
Todd Stevens: Fiction. I expect Bant Nexus to become a flash of the pan and to never have the same success as it did at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary again. It benefited greatly from the amount of red decks in the field that didn't have another axis to deal significant damage on besides attacking as well as being a new deck that players may not have been as prepared for.
Moving forward, I expect there to be many more U/W Control decks in the field after Gregory Orange's victory where I don't like Bant Nexus' matchup in the slightest. U/W Control has too many counterspells and card advantage engines for Bant Nexus to fight through, even after sideboard where Bant Nexus can radically change its deck. Instead I was much more impressed with U/W Control both during the Pro Tour as well as testing online, and expect it to be the more popular deck leading up into as well as through rotation, and not Bant Nexus.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact, for now. I don't necessarily see this as sustainable now that the word is out, but a 73% win percentage puts Bant Nexus in rarified air among the most dominant decks to appear at the professional level. In retrospect, it's not hard to understand why. If you bundle Red Aggro and R/B Aggro together, that deck made up over half the room, and Mono-Green Aggro made up an appreciable percentage as well. These are strategies that have absolutely no recourse against a bunch of Fogs-David Williams's sideboarding guide against these decks is literally "same 60."
What happens to this deck if people start playing more control decks with some maindeck Negates? I'm not optimistic. But if red and green aggro still make up over half the room at future events, Bant Nexus should have a home. If nothing else, this deck was the talk of the Pro Tour and a much-needed jolt of innovation and disruption for a Standard format that had gotten a tad stale.
3. Given the dominance of Humans and Ironworks this summer, you were surprised to see Hollow One be the winning Modern deck at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary.
Ari Lax: Fact. Hollow One isn't a bad deck by any means. It's probably the fifth or sixth best deck in Modern. But the gap between it and the top four of Ironworks, Mono-Green Tron, Humans, and U/W Miracles is large. It doesn't have the broadscale power those decks do, just narrow aggressive power. The uptick in Leyline of the Void and Termimus does not bode well for it in the future.
But that's part of a Team Constructed tournament. There's even more external factors than usual obscuring how good an individual deck choice is. I likened it to the Dominaria card Two-Headed Giant. You get your match result, then flip two coins. If they match, the actual match result ignores what you did.
Todd Stevens: Fact. Even though Hollow One technically won Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, it lost to Humans convincingly in the semi-finals, but continued on in the tournament thanks to Ben Hull's teammates. I'm not big on Hollow One moving forward since I don't think its matchup with Humans is very good, and I think that will be increasingly important in Modern moving forward.
I also believe B/R Vengevine has the potential to be an even better version of Hollow One, but for this weekend the teams still didn't quite have the best tuned decklists yet of the emerging archetype. Only having to win two out of three matches means that team events can be won by anything, and Hollow One has some of the most powerful potential draws in the format, but I was still very surprised it won the event.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I'm not really surprised by anything in Modern anymore. Hollow One is not exactly my cup of tea-any game where it doesn't shoot the moon within the first two turns it looks like a deck working awfully hard to put Durkwood Boars onto the battlefield. It can get locked out of combat by some fairly innocuous cards and gamestates, and it has never struck me as durable against Path to Exiles, Snapcaster Mages, and sweepers.
The Pro Tour was pretty short on Path to Exile and Terminus. Decks like Humans, Tron, and Ironworks don't do a ton to disrupt the cheap spells the fuel the bursty openings, nor do they race those draws very well. With those three decks at or near top billing, Hollow One ended up being an excellent call. I will be interested to see if this carries over to the upcoming SCG Tour® events, which are known for having more Jeskai and U/W advocates than I typically see on the GP circuit.
4. B/R Vengevine is the real deal in Modern, not just a flash in the pan like many assume.
Ari Lax: Fact. My testing team spent a lot of time on the Vengevine decks. When it goes off, it just operates a level ahead of everything else in the format. That's even accounting for how much Modern deck power level has increased over the last two years.
Even if it fails to stick right now, the deck is at most barely off. It needs a little bit more in the discard outlet range. If there was literally a one mana 1/1 that let you discard a card for no reason, I think that would be enough. We tried Cryptbreaker, which was slow but okay, and Bomat Courier, which did nothing, but the best we found was Bloodrage Brawler. It's a creature, hits hard, and always bins the Vengevine.
Just promise me you won't play Corpse Churn. The card wasn't Limited playable, and adding an unreliable two-drop to your deck aiming to go off turn one-and-a-half is dumb. If it was literally Storm Crow, you might make better mulligan decisions.
Todd Stevens: Fact. This deck is not only the real deal right now, but it's only getting better as more and more players continue to tune it. Unlike Humans and Hollow One, which you generally see the same decklist from each pilot, the B/R Vengevine decks from this weekend were all over the place. This is evidence that the deck has room to grow and mature, and I expect the final form to be a contender for the best deck in the format.
It's incredibly fast with only graveyard hate being the main way to interact profitably with it. The more this deck puts up numbers, the more graveyard hate we will see other decks start to play, but even still I think B/R Vengevine has plenty of potential moving forward and I'm excited to see where the deck goes from here.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact. I mean sure, why not? Vengevine probably makes the Top 10 Most Busted Cards No One Plays In Modern For Whatever Reason (#1 spot previously occupied by Krak-Clan Ironworks), and you can collapse Vegevine into a number of strategies-variations of Hollow One, Dredge, Reckless Bushwacker, hybridizations of two or more decks, and so on. You can toggle for speed or durability depending on what you value. Like most Modern decks I like, it can run you over if you show up with the wrong interaction, and its best draws overpower even the right interaction.
That isn't to say I would play the deck at the next Modern tournament. It's just safe to throw this in the pile with all the other decks that can kill on Turn 3.5 and fold to a range of hate cards + mulligans into oblivion + drawing too many cards that suck. A fine choice if you're into that sort of thing.
5. Now that we've seen what can happen with Nexus of Fate, the buy-a-box promo by Wizards of the Coast needs a serious retooling
Ari Lax: Fact, Fact, Fact. I'm over making coherent arguments about Nexus of Fate, so I'm resorting to random yelling.
Why is it foil? Judges have better things to do than write on the back of basic lands in Sharpie.
In order to think Nexus of Fate isn't rarer than Nicol Bolas, the Ravager you need to think that about 30% of the packs a store sells are boxes with a promo and that no packs are sold or distributed at any Grand Prixs, Walmarts, or Magic Online redemptions, or just sprout out of previous loose packs. I haven't crunched numbers, but if you told me there were ten times the amount of Nicol Bolas as there were Nexus of Fate I would consider that within the realm of possibility.
It isn't even good game play. What is this card promoting besides one player drawing their whole deck and taking every turn? Or no one spending mana ever because a seven-mana instant threat exists that kills them if they don't counter it.
Todd Stevens: Fiction. I'm expecting Ari and Patrick to say Fact with this one, and I can understand what the goal of Wizards of the Coast was with Nexus of Fate so I'll go with Fiction even though the buy-a-box promo idea needs some adjusting.
The goal of the buy-a-box promo, obviously, is to help stores sell more booster boxes. I like the sentiment, but a problem arises when this promo is necessary for Constructed play, can't be acquired by any other means, and the number of copies sent to stores is limited regardless of the amount of boxes they ordered. I like the idea behind the buy-a-box promo and hope it's continued, but not with a card that can't be acquired through any other means.
Instead I hope it's changed back to the model they had with Ixalan , with the unique promos of the transform cards, such as Search for Azcanta. Having Nexus of Fate as a buy-a-box only promo was certainly a mistake, but the buy-a-box promo idea doesn't need serious retooling, it just needs to revert back to Ixalan where they had special promos of cards that were in the set.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction, for now. I've worked on games that released cards through channels like Buy-A-Box. The decree you get from some marketing nitwit goes something like "Make the card attractive enough that people want to own it, but not so attractive that people feel sad if they can't own it," or something. It's impossible to have full certainty about how good cards are going to be except in the most obvious of cases, and Nexus of Fate isn't busted in absolute terms-it happens to be a good moment to be casting Fog in Standard, and Nexus of Fate happens to play well with Fogs. Still, I am positive Nexus of Fate has come in higher than WotC would like or expected prior to releasing the card.
Now it is a question of due diligence. If they can announce a reprint in an upcoming release or somehow get a bunch of additional copies into the distribution channels, great. An ugly error, but one that's easy to correct and probably does little long-term harm to the promotion. If they aren't prepared and can't make an announcement as the card climbs to $100 and beyond, that could significantly dampen enthusiasm for Standard in general and especially for the Buy-A-Box program. Even if WotC thought the odds were low that a Buy-A-Box card came in this high, it's sloppy to round that down to zero.
We'll see how well-prepared they were for this outcome soon, I'm sure.