While I would be content to talk about playing Faeries in Extended till I am blue in the face another near-miss at a Top 8 cannot hardly compare to the Pro Tour this past weekend in Kyoto. Going into the event Luis Scott-Vargas was probably the favorite to win simply because it would make such a good story to see a player on a tear succeed yet again at the top tables now that he had broken through the threshold that previous to Pro Tour Berlin had held him back from the Top 8. That story was inches away from happening... but what did happen is perhaps an equally amazing story. With eight Pro Tour Top 8's to his name prior to this weekend Gabriel Nassif was perhaps the best player in the game to have never won a Pro Tour... and after this weekend that appellation belongs to someone else instead for Gabriel Nassif won Pro Tour: Kyoto with Cruel Control.
My explorations into Standard had suggested that Banefire as a control card was an interesting avenue to explore but my predilections have likewise suggested that I'm going to be harder to convince than average that Cruel Ultimatum is the 'right' card for a Five-Color Control build. I'm not quite as hard to convince as Gerry Thompson whose distrust of the card is perhaps epic in proportions but I built my version of Five-Color Control down very different lines of thought never starting with the assumption that Cruel Ultimatum was in my 60. Thanks to the collaboration between more Hall of Famers current and future than you can shake a stick at including not just the winner but Cruel Ultimatum's biggest advocate Patrick Chapin a solution to the metagame seems to have been reached in the design of their Five-Color Control deck balancing Walls and Pyroclasm effects against the metagame rather than the Wraths and War Monks I found myself experimenting with a few weeks ago.
The most interesting thing in this deck is the introduction of Wall of Reverence to the Standard scene going from laughed-at Limited junk rare to Constructed anti-creature powerhouse in one fell swoop alongside Broodmate Dragon and Plumeveil. Okay actually I'm lying... the most interesting thing to me here is the fact that Nassif shuffled up 61 cards and won the Pro Tour contrary to the popular opinions that anything other than 60 is as a rule "wrong". I tend towards that opinion myself but consider it not-unreasonable to be unable to correctly determine which the correct card to cut from such a list might be even from simple and straightforward decks that aren't full of complex balances of creature removal to be deployed on a tight mana curve but for included for different purposes. It's a refreshing reminder that happens to shoot holes in the "60 Or Go Home" argument because even if you have to assume that not playing 60 cards is "wrong" it may yet be more wrong to cut the wrong card and go with the wrong 60 in a subtle way when instead you can play 61 and only subtly decrease your chances of seeing any one individual card in a match by a minuscule fraction.
If Nassif had attempted his "called shot" in what is clearly the most exciting topdeck in Pro Tour memory since the $15000 Lightning Helix well I'm sure the argument would have been turned on its ear and all the pundits would feel vindicated with yet more proof: "Nassif needed that topdeck but played 61 so he didn't get it." Instead Nassif won the Pro Tour and proved that 60 may be right as a starting point but not a requirement as an absolute.
We have an awfully hard time data-mining this Pro Tour for meaningful information about the Standard metagame as Adrian Sullivan points out in greater detail here. Six rounds out of fourteen being Limited means that you have to be more than just good at Standard to get to the Top 8 and it also means that if you 6-0’d the Draft portion and carried your weight in Standard you too could be one of the luminaries in the Top 8 even if your deck wasn’t particularly good. While LSV’s teammates were tanking the first portion of Standard going 2-10 combined if I am told correctly Luis managed to go 4-0 6-0 the Draft portion and then frankly after that it shouldn’t take a lot of work to manage to make the Top 8. But likewise we can’t just discount the archetype as a fluke and say that LSV would have won with DanBock.dec because Matteo Orsini-Jones likewise took the deck into the Top 8. But much like Luis Matteo got the full eighteen points out of Limited and thus we don’t really know if Black-White Tokens is worth playing in Standard going forward from here.
One very key piece of information we do have however is a fun little curiosity that I found in the coverage. At every Pro Tour there is a Pro Tour Qualifier on Day 2 and this PTQ is always a monster full of excellent players and it’s usually larger in size than your average PTQ... not that I’m used to small PTQs nowadays mind you with the last two I’ve made it to both being above 220 players. This time around we had a smallish one with 121 players according to the deck archetype breakdown. This time however it was also the same format as the Pro Tour meaning that everyone who didn’t make Day 2 had the option of playing in the PTQ getting to express a second opinion on the format by their deck choices... which presumably any PTQ players who weren’t also playing the Pro Tour the day before also was paying attention to and making an informed decision about.
Going just from the Day 1 statistics to what did well in the Standard portion tells us a fair bit. Going from the Day 1 statistics to the independent choices made to try for success again on the second day in a separate event gives us a new opinion however... one that is better-informed by the PT metagame and the experience of having played Standard at the highest level for at least a few rounds even if it’s not as informed as we ourselves will be going to FNM this week since we have the benefit of knowing what deck won the event. I took the liberty of compiling all of the deck breakdowns into one spreadsheet and thought I’d look at all of the archetypes to see how well they did and if they appeared on the second day at the PTQ:
The following archetypes were statistical outliers that weren’t well-represented in the first place and were neither successful nor repeated on the Saturday PTQ.
BG Control (2 players)
Mono-White Tokens (2 players)
Naya Aggro (2 players)
4-Color No-Green Reveillark (2 players)
BR Tokens (1 player)
BW Control (1 player)
Grixis Howling Mine Control (1 player)
Naya Control (1 player)
Naya Elves (1 player)
RG Ramp (1 player)
RW Control (1 player)
The following archetypes were not statistical outliers both with five players playing the deck. No player reached 15 or more points with this archetype and neither archetype saw play in the PTQ on the second day:
WUR Reveillark (5 players)
Tezzerator (5 players)
Sorry Kyle Sanchez. You have an ugly baby. Or is it? At least one deck was successful and matches the Planeswalker-heavy archetype Kyle seems to be working on piloted by AJ Sacher to finish 55th. Less Tezz more Planeswalkers maybe?
The Neutral Zone:
Doran Control (2 players)
Elves! Combo (2 players)
GW Aggro (2 players)
None of these decks did well enough to deserve distinction when we look at just Standard and four of these six players played the same decks at the PTQ. I have a strong suspicion the other two were playing on Day 2 at the time and the remaining GW Aggro deck and Elf Combo deck still in play during Day 2 did not impress.
Jund Ramp began the Pro Tour with five players. One of those five excelled well enough to be ‘worthy of note’ being a statistical outlier that made it to 5-3 or higher going there from 1.53% of the initial Day 1 metagame to 1.11% of the 90 decks that were noted as successful in Standard. While this number did go down it was not by a greatly significant percentage thanks to the fact that we have a small number of results to work with. For the second day’s PTQ it was played by three players which meant it increased from 1.53% of the metagame on Day 1 to 2.48% of the metagame at the PTQ. The people who played it on Day 1 and did not make Day 2 with the deck were thus confident enough in it to continue playing it even as the metagame went from theoretical to known.
The Japanese presented a new deck of interest for this Pro Tour a Blue-Red Counter-Burn strategy that much like the Five-Color Control archetype that won the Pro Tour just happened to put Volcanic Fallout to heavy use not just sweeping the board with it but frequently drawing two cards while it did it. Shuhei Nakamura’s decklist for the archetype can be seen here after his 20th place finish in Standard.
Eight players entered the arena with Swans representing 2.11% of the Day 1 metagame. One of those players went on to finish with fifteen points or better (Shuuhei) and his success was again 1.11% of the 90 successful decks... it cooled off a little but was not a dramatic failure again thanks to the fact that we’re working with small numbers still. Six players played it at the PTQ on Saturday making up just under 5% of the metagame suggesting that even if it didn’t have marked success in Standard it didn’t fall on its face: a fair number of people chose to repeat with the deck or still play it after its performance on Day 1 and knowing the deck breakdown of the Pro Tour. It cooled as far as records are concerned but came with significant confidence on the part of the players to say that at least on Japanese soil it was worth playing at the PTQ. Given that it was a Japanese deck played in a PTQ on Japanese soil there may be some bias on the part of the decision-makers who played it at the PTQ which we cannot note just from analyzing the numbers... maybe twenty PTQgoers wanted to play it but chose not to after seeing the Day 1 performance of the deck or maybe all six players who didn’t make Day 2 with the deck owned no other deck to play in Standard at the PTQ even if they wanted to change. We can’t know so we can’t ascribe too much weight to this decision (we don’t know its rationale) but there was at least some confidence in the deck... if not playing the PTQ with the deck was the smarter option than wasting their entry fee on a can’t-win deck in the metagame presumably they’d have just watched or played in side drafts.
Nineteen players chose to pack B/W Tokens at the PT on Day 1 for 5% of the metagame. 5.56% of the 90 successful decks were B/W Tokens which is right on the cusp of maintaining its level (one less success made for 4.44% so we’re right about 5% more-or-less). However even if it performed at par for the PT metagame confidence in it drooped for the second day as the metagame breakdown for Day 1 was more well-known... only five of the 121 players at the PTQ chose to play B/W Tokens or about 4%. Not a massive shrink in confidence but since we have larger numbers to start with than we did for the Swans deck and we don’t have a regional bias to the deck like we might have had for the Swans deck we can state more clearly that the players who chose to play Swans were either less confident in the deck’s performance after they failed to make the cut to Day 2 or they were already qualified for PT Honolulu and ineligible to play in the PTQ. Some of column A some of column B and we have a deck that didn’t impress anyone and didn’t truly let a whole bunch of people down either... two copies made Top 8 but people weren’t exactly thrilled to be playing it when there weren’t six rounds of draft in the middle.
Faeries was the third-most played archetype at the PT with 50 players choosing to sleeve up the little blue men and Bitterblossoms for 13.6% of the Day 1 metagame population. By the end of the event however that had decreased to 11.11% of the 90 decks we are calling "successful" as we data-mine the Pro Tour’s Standard portion which is to say that it failed to maintain its population share at the top tables or in a clinical trial we’d say it performed less well than a placebo. With all the Volcanic Fallouts we’re seeing that can’t be completely a surprise especially since we were starting to see some from Boat Brew decks while we were at it.
Going into the PTQ the next day we see 9 of the 121 players playing Faeries or just 7.44% of the metagame playing Faeries. Dropping in percentage-share by almost 50% this suggests that a good number of people who might have considered the deck took a rational look at the Standard format from the day before and chose a different deck instead. For once it seems Faeries may well and truly be on the decline though it is of course far too premature to call for "death" or any such nonsense.
Faeries didn’t do well at the Pro Tour even if one did in fact still make Top 8 (... like cockroaches it seems you just can’t get rid of Faeries they turn up regardless...). The metagame seemed unfriendly to them and while they still performed they didn’t thrive and people seemed averse to trying to thrive against the unfriendly climate the deck was facing.
B/R Aggro was the fourth most-played archetype at the Pro Tour with 37 players making for 9.74% of the metagame on Day 1. At the end of Day 2 only four of those 37 players had reached 5 wins out of 8 rounds of play with the other 33 presumably being at ‘break-even’ or ‘disappointment’ winning 50% or worse of their matches. Those four players made up 4.44% of the successful archetypes showing that Blightning decks didn’t pull their weight against the field which I think I had more-or-less described when I said that 33 of the 37 players managed to at best put up a 4-4 record.
For the PTQ presumably informed by the Day 1 metagame and some Day 1 play on the part of some of the competitors nine players of the 121 sleeved up with Blightning Beatdown the same number of players as brought Faeries to the table and thus again 7.44%. Confidence in the archetype’s success against the metagame wilted overnight even if it didn’t wilt quite as hard as confidence in playing Faeries did.
Here we see a deck that didn’t really fail on Day 1 starting with 11 players (2.89% of the Day 1 metagame) and still placing two players in the 5-3 or higher bracket (2.22%). Considering that one more person going from 4-4 to 5-3 changes our entirely-arbitrary and somewhat contrived label of ‘successful’ from 2.22% to 3.33% we again see the fact that it didn’t maintain its role within the metagame as due to variance and small numbers; the deck wasn’t an especially poor choice by the numbers as far as converting Day 1 attendance into a winning record.
However... and this is an important "however" to me... only one person sleeved up the deck for the PTQ dropping that confidence factor right into the toilet as far as I’m concerned. 2.89% to 2.22% doesn’t seem especially dramatic to me but 2.89% playing the deck on Day 1 turning into 0.83% playing the deck at the PTQ seems to me to be a clear indicator that going forward into the future Esper Lark will have to really evolve to deal with what I’m guessing is a weak Boat Brew matchup with the aggressive Reveillark trumping the less beatdown-oriented version. What confidence there was seems to have evaporated overnight... that or most of the failures came late in the event with more than the average percentage playing the deck doing well early in the tournament and making Day 2 hiding the losses till later in the event. I’m not concretely against the deck as a viable option but the Pro Tour results and the information that goes into it on the floor of the tournament suggests to me that Esper Lark didn’t have as successful of a time in Kyoto as it did in Richmond the week before.
Victory In Small Numbers:
The following decks were present in small numbers and beat the odds to see success going 5-3 in Standard with at least one copy:
UW Reveillark: 1 copy in attendance 1 copy at 5-3 or better. (Unplayed at the PTQ; presumably the decklist was in the hands of the person still playing on Day 2.) Finishing in 14th place this list is sure to get some attention in upcoming months as we look for interesting things to play with come Regionals.
Doran Rock: 1 copy in attendance 1 copy at 5-3 unplayed at the PTQ.
Five-Color Planeswalkers: 1 copy in attendance 1 copy at 5-3 (see the link above). One copy played at the PTQ though we have no idea how close to AJ Sacher’s decklist this copy was.
Four-Color Control: A heavily Grixis-focused version of Five-Color Control 2 copies in attendance 1 copy at 5-3 or above. Unplayed at the PTQ... but we can’t say whether the second copy made Day 2 but failed to perform well or failed to make the cut and then the pilot changed decks for the PTQ the next day. Easily lumped in with Five-Color Control if we wanted it to be.
Black/Red Aggro (Sans Blightning): If it had Blightning in the sideboard I counted it as part of the Blightning archetype which is possibly not how the coverage people did it. Three players entered the PT with the deck one did well; no one played the deck at the PTQ on Saturday.
Bant Lark: Three players played it at the PT and one did well enough to achieve distinction. Bloom Tender strikes again alongside Mistmeadow Witch and some interesting companions. Three people chose to play decks matching this archetype at the PTQ meaning its attendance went from "less than 1%" or barely a blip on the radar to 2.5% definitely a blip if still a small one.
Merfolk: Four players played it at the PT; one did well. One player played it on the PTQ a fact which may or may not mean anything for such a forgotten archetype coming into the PT.
Red Deck Wins: Four players played it at the PT; one did well. Six players played it at the PTQ the following day raising it from a 1% share of the metagame to a 5% share of the metagame suggesting that after a day of Standard at the PT people believed this would be an excellent method for attacking the format and thus putting the archetype on our internal radar in coming months.
Bant Aggro: Four players played it at the PT; one made Top 8 if I am correct in my guess that the ‘Dark Bant’ which is not listed in the archetypes so far was espoused here originally. It was not played at the PTQ.
BG Elves: Four players played it at the PT... and a whopping three of them went 5-3 or better achieving distinction where most archetypes were lucky to get a quarter of their players with the archetype into Day 2. Three players played it at the PTQ increasing its percentage from 1% to 2.5%... not a dramatic effect but there did seem to be some confidence and by the end of the tournament it seemed B/G was a reasonably good choice for the format.
Any of these archetypes would have done reasonably well as choices for the Pro Tour and if any of them were played in greater numbers we could look at the statistics and see where they succeeded on a broader scale. As-is they seemed to do fairly well at the Pro Tour by putting up a respectable number of good finishes in the Constructed rounds and some even gained confidence in the archetype after a day’s play was done showing up at the PTQ in larger numbers than before.
And now we have the four archetypes that truly impressed numbers that I hadn’t yet seen put to the format to note their success:
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner:
First up we have some good news. The deck that won the Pro Tour is good! This may seem like an obvious statement but especially with fewer rounds in the tournament actually playing out using the format in question (as we’d see at Worlds) a deck that makes Top 8 is not necessarily a great deck. Jamie Parke made the finals of Worlds after starting out 2-3-1 in Standard and the two Black-White Tokens decks that made the Top 8 here did so both off of 6-0 records in Draft.
Five-Color (Cruel) Control:
Five-Color Control was the second most-played archetype on Day 1 of the Pro Tour with 55 players (14.47%). By the end of the second day they comprised 11 of the 90 decks at 5-3 or better or 12.22% of the successful archetypes. We have nice large numbers to work with for this archetype so we can actually say that this is a little bit of a disappointment to be really happy with the results we’d have wanted Five-Color Control to stay around 15% within that cutoff or better yet increase to a larger share of the successful metagame if we wanted to say it was actually quite good.
An increase in share however is exactly what we see happen at the PTQ where 23 of the 121 players brought Five-Color Control to the tournament increasing the deck’s percentage to 19.01%. Among the players who didn’t make Day 2 or the players who used Day 1 information to help choose their deck for the PTQ it thus seems like there was some sort of consensus among the group that Five-Color Control was pretty good against the metagame that appeared or at least that there was a version of the deck that was good against the metagame as information became available. Without a Video Deck Tech on the Day 1 coverage for the archetype we can’t assume that everyone conformed to the winning archetype (Nassif’s Deck Tech video didn’t appear in the coverage until the second day of play well into the PTQ) so we can’t say that all of this enthusiasm came from playing Wall of Reverence in a Constructed format but we can say that what seems to be a reasonably knowledgeable group of people felt this to be an adequate decision either from playing it the day before playing against it the day before or watching it on the previous day. Good deck is good!
Ninety-eight players shuffled up Boat Brew for the PT a whopping 25.79% of the metagame. You couldn’t swing a dead cat in Kyoto without hitting a Boat Brew player but here we see something startling among the best-played archetype: at the end of Day 2 play 29 of the 90 ‘successful players’ were packing the Brew for 32.22% of the upper-echelon metagame. Boat Brew wasn’t just popular it thrived. The most-played deck is usually lucky just to break even simply due to the law of large numbers it’s harder to buck statistics without something exceptional happening for an archetype but over the course of eight rounds of play the R/W Reveillark decks succeeded admirably. We have pretty good numbers to back it and it was also plentiful in the Top 8 as well perhaps in spite of the fact that six of the rounds eschewed Standard (where the deck was advantaged) and asked the pilots "So Do You Know How To Draft?" Boat Brew creator Brian Kowal was also within striking distance of the Top 8 which would very nearly have been the story of the tournament up until that point as far as I’m concerned seeing the Boat Brew he created go from little-known archetype piloted by exactly one player at Worlds to a 6-0 finish in Standard to most-played and most successful archetype at the Standard Pro Tour three months later with its ‘creator’ playing it into the Top 8 as well.
More good things need to happen to Brian Kowal as I’m sure Adrian Sullivan would agree watching from home like I was.
But let’s bring the last statistic into play. 24 players shuffled up the Boat Brew for the PTQ a ‘mere’ 19.83% of the players present. ‘Confidence’ if that is what we are seeing out of things here seems to me then as if it was actually pretty low for the deck at the end of Day 1 with perhaps other archetypes catching the eye as the deck to play (Five-Color Control certainly did for the PTQ) or disgruntled players seeking to try and distinguish themselves from the masses after interminable rounds of mirror matches the day before. In the end these players were not vindicated in their loss of confidence at least as far as the Pro Tour results were concerned... repeat this PTQ one week later in the same format and I’d expect you find the number of players with Boat Brew remains comparable to its Day 1 attendance (25%) or even grows given the marked success of the archetype in this format.
This is not the archetype I expected to do well in this format especially with many people saying right off the bat that Kithkin is just a worse version of the BW Tokens or Boat Brew deck. Maybe it’s a worse Boat Brew deck but it certainly isn’t a worse Tokens deck it’s hard to be a worse Tokens deck in this format it appears... the two successful Tokens players were heavily bolstered by a 6-0 in Draft after all and one of them was LSV continuing on his hot streak. 26 players brought the mono-White beatdown deck to play for 6.84% of the metagame. Six players succeeded with the archetype at the end of Day 2 play comprising 6.67% of the 90 success stories. Again we see an archetype that played itself out in the format and saw a reasonable amount of success maintaining its proportion from the played group in the successful group of players. But the real story is "confidence" here.
For the Day 2 PTQ sixteen players brought Mono-White Kithkin to the table a mighty 13.22% of the PTQ archetypes doubling in strength from Day 1’s beginning to Day 2’s PTQ where again people were asked to make a new independent choice perhaps based on Day 1 play. By all appearances then it seems that a good number of people with some experience in the format felt that beating down with Kithkin was an excellently viable strategy in this format.
But you see... they didn’t know everything we get to know coming out of the tournament. They didn’t know... this.
Thirteen players shuffled up R/W Kithkin for Day 1 with two apparently competing lists. One was basically just Kithkin splash Red for burn spells or Ajani Vengeant (or both) and one was a mono-White Kithkin deck with eight Red lands and a sideboard package that included Ranger of Eos for multiple Mogg Fanatics. The latter innovation was unsurprisingly Japanese and can be seen here. This plan seems to trump the Stillmoon Cavalier sideboard plans that were in frequent employ for the White-on-White mirror matches having an easily tutorable way to handle even multiple of the problem creatures with just one Ranger of Eos. The Kithkin-splash-Red-stuff archetype can be seen as played by Cedric Phillips to a Top 8 where he basically just played Kithkin with Ajani Vengeant as his choice of Planeswalker due to its mix of disruptive power and potency as perhaps multiple copies of Lightning Helix to close the game out.
Nine of those thirteen players distinguished themselves with the archetype meaning nine of those thirteen players made Day 2 with the archetype if not more. This archetype then had an astonishing amount of conversion from Day 1 choice to Day 2 play and thus we cannot be surprised at the last statistic: only two players shuffled it up for the PTQ for a feeble 1.65% share of the metagame down from its 3.42% of the metagame on Day 1 play. It seems we have an excellent reason to see this effect: the rest of the players were all still playing the deck in the Pro Tour. R/W Kithkin saw astonishing success at the format claiming a full 10% of the "success stories" at the top of the standings after eight rounds of Standard play after starting with a meager 3.42% of the Day 1 presence in the metagame.
Red/White decks with Figure of Destiny then are the two most-successful strategies in the format be they with or without Reveillark. This is the final story that Pro Tour: Kyoto tells me regardless of the finals being Five-Color Control-versus-BW Tokens. R/W Kithkin and R/W Boat Brew were the two archetypes to clearly distinguish themselves at the end of eight rounds of Standard play but before the cut to the Top 8 and thus looking just at the Standard portion of the Pro Tour I would expect to see a heavy bias for Boat Brew and R/W Kithkin when played at the end of fourteen rounds of Standard.
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