Week one of Ravnica Allegiance is in the books, and SCG Indianapolis did not disappoint. The newest set to join the ranks of Standard had an enormous impact on decks both old and new, and the decks that composed the Day 2 metagame were both interesting and diverse.
As for myself, I played Bant Nexus, a deck I wrote about last week leading up to the event, as it has been an archetype I was very fond of all the way back last summer following the deck's breakout at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. I took this list to a top 64 finish:
After a solid Day 1 followed by a disastrous Day 2, I still walked away with what I think is a solid understanding of the beginnings of this format. Today, I'm here to share some anecdotes, as well as break down what worked and what didn't for the players of the main event in Indianapolis this past weekend.
- 2 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 2 Midnight Reaper
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
Anthony Devarti, as well as many others, took the path of least resistance this weekend by taking the best deck of Guilds of Ravnica Standard and tossing in some Breeding Pools, Hydroid Krasis, and some counterspells. The result was the definitively best performing deck of the weekend, as well as the winning one, and solidifies the argument that sticking with a known, working deck from the previous format is a solid plan. Let's look at the numbers:
- Copies in Day 2: 17
- Copies in Top 64: 17/17 (100%)
- Copies in Top 32: 8/17 (47%)
- Copies in Top 16: 5/17 (30%)
- Copies in Top 8: 2/17 (12%)
It's important to note that for the Top 64 conversion rate, only 68 players made Day 2 of the event, so this isn't unreasonable. However, moving up, almost half of the second day participants on the deck broke into the Top 32, over a quarter into the Top 16, and 12% of Sultai players turned a 7-2 or better record into a Top 8 berth. Out of those 17 players, 12 of them (70%) posted a 10-5 or better finishing record.
Now, lumped into this group are some unique takes on the deck. The most unique of all was Collins Mullen's list he took to a 24th place finish:
I played against Collins in Round 10, and have to say that I was very impressed with the deck's ability to disrupt using cards like Thought Erasure, as well as using Growth Spiral to push towards the endgame of Biogenic Ooze, Vraska, Relic Seeker, and Hydroid Krasis even sooner. Biogenic Ooze has struck me as the card players have been sleeping on the most-likely overshadowed by everyone's favorite Jellyfish Hydra Beast. I imagine that the Lotus Box group concluded that Ooze was one of the best threats they could have against the other green midrange decks, which made up the bulk of the Indianapolis metagame.
Other lists, dubbed Sultai Climb, made a bit more use of the namesake card, Hadana's Climb, to go, quite literally, over the top of their opponents' creatures:
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
While adding two copies of Hadana's Climb to the Golgari/Sultai explore shell and calling it a day doesn't strike me as a completely different archetype, I appreciate the different angle of attack the card uses. It makes one creature on its own much more powerful, as well as being excellent in the mirror, since short of Hydroid Krasis, neither deck does much flying (and since it only temporarily gives your creature flying, it doesn't get shot out of the air by Vivien Reid!).
One card I like in this deck that I believe Sultai Midrange players will want to move to is Incubation Druid.
I would favor the player with Incubation Druid in their deck in these green midrange mirrors over the one who doesn't, as the mana advantage quickly becomes too much to overcome; you'll deploy your threats faster, your Hydroid Krasises (Krasi?) will be bigger on average than theirs, and you'll be able to play a couple more expensive spells to make sure you'll always using all that mana (Biogenic Ooze, anyone?). I like Will's take on the deck, and I think this is where I'd like to tweak in an attempt to hedge in the mirror.
One of the more interesting data points to me was how poor, by comparison, Mono-Red Aggro performed in this tournament. It was the second most represented deck in the Day 2 metagame, which is significant, but typically, Mono-Red Aggro is the bogeyman of a week one Standard tournament, as we all know it preys on players trying out new and exciting decks that are, more than likely, not tuned. Let's break down the conversion rates for Mono Red Aggro as well:
- Copies in Day 2: 9
- Copies in Top 64: 9/9 (100%)
- Copies in Top 32: 5/9 (55%)
- Copies in Top 16: 2/9 (22%)
- Copies in Top 8: 0/9 (0%)
Right off the bat, we see that only half as many Mono-Red players even made it to the second day of competition compared to Sultai Midrange. Again, 100% of the pilots in the second day cashed the main event, and a comparable percentage of players made top 32 (slightly more at 55% versus Sultai's 47%), but that's where the joy ride seemed to almost end. The two players to crack top 16 in the event, Caleb Scherer and Julian John, are veterans of the SCG Tour® and players I would expect to perform well with almost anything you handed them, which leads me to argue that a hefty amount of the deck's performance had, at least in some part, to do with the pilots behind the deck. Of note, Caleb Scherer did finish with a 12-3 record, the same record as the fifth through eleventh place finishers, which means that tiebreaker math did potentially prevent a copy of Mono-Red from making the elimination rounds.
Now that we have the numbers, it's important to talk about why Mono-Red, a deck that, again, typically performs above average in the early weeks of a Standard format, did much poorer than expected. Even aggro master Tom Ross made the claim that it would be the trophy winner this weekend! I have a pretty good guess that there's a bit of an inverse relationship between Mono-Red Aggro's performance and the exceptionally high presence of these cards in players' decks this weekend:
Mono-Red Aggro made playing Sultai Midrange even more of a "no-brainer" than it might already have been, as last format's Golgari Midrange deck was a big reason why the red decks fell flat on their face for a majority of Guilds of Ravnica Standard. While the new tools that red got, like Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics, did improve the power level of the deck and give it a combination of speed and consistency it didn't have last format, a single unchecked Wildgrowth Walker is an absolute nightmare for a deck full of two-power creatures and burn spells, as a single explore trigger going off essentially counters an entire burn spell aimed at the face. It also goes without saying that a red deck's least favorite toughness for their opponents' creatures is anything higher than three, something Wildgrowth Walker quickly outgrows if given even a single turn to survive.
Combined with the fact that some of the other expected decks in the format, like Esper Control, have moved to Absorb as their three-mana counterspell of choice, it seems reasonable to say that the tools to fight the red menace week one were there and easily slotted in without sacrificing too much in other matchups.
Again, Mono-Red was the second most represented deck in the second day of the Indianapolis Open. Its performance was by no means bad, but I think the biggest takeaway from this is that, as I've mentioned before, the early weeks of a format are typically the best time for lower powered red aggressive decks to thrive.
Basically, it likely only gets worse from here. There's no Glorybringer, Hazoret the Fervent, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance-style card to give the deck long-term staying power. The best red has is Experimental Frenzy, and at this point, players are prepared for it.
Another deck that followed up Mono-Red was Esper Control. While it wasn't as heavily represented in Day 2 of the event, it actually ended up boasting the highest Top 8 conversion rate, at 40%! Five pilots did battle on Sunday, and this was the quick breakdown:
- Copies in Day 2: 5
- Copies in Top 64: 4/5 (8%)
- Copies in Top 32: 3/5 (60%)
- Copies in Top 16: 2/5 (40%)
- Copies in Top 8: 2/5 (40%)
Esper Control ended up being the only other deck in the Top 8 of the Open besides Sultai Midrange to put in two copies. This is exceptionally impressive, given that, unlike Mono-Red Aggro, control decks typically are much less popular early on in a format because it's typically harder to pinpoint an expected metagame. Giving a quick look at Nick Cowden's decklist, we see that the deck had a lot of very general answers to problems. Absorb and Syncopate are non-conditional counterspells, and the addition of Mortify gives Esper an incredibly flexible maindeck answer to creatures that also has some utility in places like the mirror match or against the Wilderness Reclamation decks, to deal with problematic enchantments.
Additionally, the power level of some of the new cards from Ravnica Allegiance may have just been enough to give the deck enough power to stand on its own. Kaya's Wrath, Precognitive Perception, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are extremely strong spells, and I imagine the return of the four-mana sweeper allowing you to curve Kaya's Wrath into Teferi is incredibly difficult for some decks to overcome.
Perhaps this time around, the combination of the tools being there and an easier to expect metagame is what gave Esper Control a solid showing. I would imagine that the deck's Day 2 representation is due to less players playing it than actually making it to the second day of competition, so I expect this deck to be a contender moving forward.
I hate to say it, but this deck was one of the biggest busts in terms of performance in the Open.
Leading up to Indianapolis, many were talking about Wilderness Reclamation, its bustedness, and how it would push Nexus of Fate decks to an unbeatable force in the format. It's one tournament, and fifteen rounds in a tournament a final judgment on a deck does not make, but the various Nexus of Fate decks that made it to Day 2 failed to convert well. Here's the breakdown:
- Copies in Day 2: 6
- Copies in Top 64: 6/6 (100%)
- Copies in Top 32: 0/6 (0%)
- Copies in Top 16: 0/6 (0%)
- Copies in Top 8: 0/6 (0%)
The highest place finish was for the deck was right outside of top 32 at 33rd place, 30 point (10-5 record) by Cain Rianhard, and the rest of the pilots finished below that. Note, I did lump together the Bant versions of the deck with the two Nexus of Gates pilots that also finished in top 64. For reference, this was the highest placing Gates version of the deck:
It's possible that the best build of this deck has yet to be found. It's also possible that the deck fails to withstand the hate from players' sideboards after the conclusion of the first game. I think time will tell, but for the first week of the format, Nexus of Fate decks didn't come very close to dominating SCG Indianapolis. I do think that the deck is most certainly a contender, but I believe the deck's biggest goal will be finding a suitable sideboard plan to win. I employed Hydroid Krasis in my sideboard this weekend and found it to be quite good, but I don't think it's the best, or perhaps only, thing Nexus decks can do.
It would be not doing my due diligence in my analysis of the first Standard Open of Ravnica Allegiance without showcasing some of the other delights of this new format that graced the top tables. One such deck was quite the amalgamation of cards. Jonathan Hobbs ran all the way to the finals of this past weekend's main event with this masterpiece:
I took this deck for a spin myself earlier in the week after the youngster from Indiana posted on Twitter his decklist. I quickly found it difficult to think that his claim of putting in many hours working on and tuning this deck was not true, as the numbers of some of cards strikes me as extremely calculated. So far, this is the most successful list to utilize the Angel of Grace, one of the many powerful mythics printed in Ravnica Allegiance. Perhaps this is an archetype worth exploring in this format, as the spell suite is full of some of the best that the Bant colors have to offer. Perhaps this is a deck that could make use of some number of copies of Wilderness Reclamation...
One of the other more interesting decks of the weekend was Pro Tour Dominaria champion Wyatt Darby's Esper Midrange:
- 4 Basilica Bell-Haunt
- 4 Deputy of Detention
- 4 Hero of Precinct One
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 3 Seraph of the Scales
- 3 Thief of Sanity
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
I personally hadn't seen a ton of this deck myself, but I was aware that Wyatt had been streaming this deck some over the course of last couple weeks. The deck makes great use of a handful of new cards from Ravnica Allegiance and looks like it has all the tools to combat just about anything in the format. Hero of Precinct One gives the deck the ability to hit the ground running on the second turn of the game before employing a healthy mix of interaction and other multicolored creatures to grow an army of Human tokens.
From my scouring of decklists this weekend, it looks like Basilica Bell-Haunt was quite possibly the most popular of the new cycle of XXYY mana cost cards. The effect is very strong against Mono-Red Aggro by providing the one, two, three punch of a four toughness body, a few extra life points, and the discard effect. The maindeck Thief of Sanity and Thought Erasure give the deck a very solid avenue to victory against the slower decks of the format, especially Nexus of Fate style decks that have few ways to stop Thief of Sanity from stealing their cards. I expect a deck like this to be quite popular in the immediate future.
Finally, Mason Clark brought to the table a unique take of a Guildgate-centric deck. Of note, it was devoid of seven mana Time Walks, instead looking to win the game with Gateway Colossus, Hydroid Krasis, and Gatebreaker Rams.
I have been nothing but impressed with how powerful the "Gates matter" cards from Ravnica Allegiance are, even for Constructed level play. I plan to watch closely to see if these decks can reach an iteration capable of being a dominant force in Standard.
Ravnica Allegiance had one heck of a showing for the first week of Standard. A lot of the old mixed in with a lot of the new, but one thing was certain for every deck we saw; Ravnica Allegiance already has left an enormous mark on the format, and the base has been set for the arms race to find the most tuned version of what we saw this past weekend.
Before I wrap things up here, I just want to make a note about the data presented in this article today. It's important to not take information like this at face value when attempting to dissect what worked and what didn't this weekend. Beyond the numbers, there's a ton of missing context to each and every one of them. For example, it's reasonable to assume that Sultai Midrange and Mono-Red Aggro were the two most registered decks for the tournament of 691, which likely attributed to larger Day 2 representation.
What will the format look like after we leave SCG Baltimore and head into the Dallas Open in a couple weeks? Only time will tell.