A Brewer’s Look At Pro Tour Magic Origins

While #PTOrigins was all about red aggro and the breakout performance of U/R Thopters, there are some intriguing other decks to be found on the margins – and Chris Landsell pores over the top Standard decks from this weekend in search of brewers’ gold.

Every October, control players around here go into hiding. It’s not that they’re stocking up on acorns for the long, bitterly cold Newfoundland winter, oh no. Making things move at glacial pace and stopping things from happening is right up their alley. No, instead they are waiting out the typical Mono-Red surge that we get each year right after rotation. Rather than try to compete, they’ll either join them or just not play until burn is replaced by situational lifegain.

With Pro Tour Magic Origins now in the books, it seems our red hot Newfoundland fall has come a little early. Given our historically bad weather this summer (no really, we arrested our weathermen), some might be looking forward to a little heat from their Magic cards. Others are wondering which treasured Zimbabwean animal they hunted in a former life to deserve this pain. Me? I just want to beat them.

The Headliners

The first thing we learned is that aggro is really good right now. Almost 18% of the Day Two decks were red aggro variants, at varying points on the low-end spectrum. I feel pretty good about the deck I predicted in my last article actually showing up in some form, even if Ire Shaman didn’t make the cut. Not that it was especially hard to predict, but hey, we take what we can get. When you have two Mono-Red burn spells that deal four damage in Standard combined with aggressive creatures that actually draw you cards, the deck basically builds itself. Of course. there were some great metagame calls (those that cut Firedrinker Satyr, the maindeck copies of Eidolon of the Great Revel and Searing Blood, etc), but to me the question was not whether it would show up but whether it could beat Abzan.

Hoaen cut down to one Firedrinker Satyr and had that fun-of Titan’s Strength to get through a blocker or finish the game out of nowhere. I also love the Scab-Clan Berserkers in the sideboard to give you some game after a Drown in Sorrow against removal-heavy decks. In matches where you need a little more staying power, Rich has the ability to bring in three big four-drop card draw machines. I’d be a little concerned about doing that on only twenty lands, but if you do land one the other two are easier to find.

Both these players went 9-1 in Standard, but I like Neal’s deck a lot more from a brewing standpoint. The maindecks are mostly the same, Neal opting for one less Searing Blood, no Firedrinkers and no Titan’s Strength and instead running an extra land and two copies of Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. Much as I love the flame-haired Becky Lynch wannabe, this was likely not her tournament to shine. I absolutely love everything else about this 75, especially the sideboard. How do you beat a bunch of people playing Mono-Red? Play slightly bigger creatures that they can’t kill, and then do more with the cards you draw than they do. Outpost Siege was obvious for the sideboard in these decks, but Molten Vortex is genius and Thunderbreak Regent lets you go bigger without having to stretch your lands too far. You also have ways to overcome a Siege Rhino or Dragonlord Atarka with Harness by Force, although you’re unlikely to be able to Strive it.

If we’re going to say that the surfeit of red aggro was not a surprise, we’d have to consider the real surprise to be the 11.5% of the Day Two field that played U/R Thopters. Casting Ensoul Artifact on a Darksteel Citadel was a fringe strategy before Magic Origins came out, and with the last Core Set adding a bunch of tools to the deck it should have been more obvious that something was there. Several decks, in fact.

This is the Channel Fireball/Face to Face Games list that got three people at least 24 points and put a fourth in the Top Eight. Mike Sigrist had made a small change to his list, cutting a Stubborn Denial for a Collateral Damage, but essentially the whole team was on the same 75. Although everyone saw the power of Hangarback Walker, if you had told me last week that Whirler Rogue and Phyrexian Revoker would both be four-ofs in the Top Eight of a Standard Pro Tour maindeck, I’d have laughed myself silly. And yet… here we are.

Calling the deck ‘aggro’ feels a little disingenuous as Plan A is more of a combo of a cheap artifact and Ensoul Artifact. In the event that that doesn’t work, there’s the beatdown plan to fall back on. Unlike a lot of all-in combo decks, this one gets to sideboard into Thopter Spy Network to grind out wins in the long game, thriving on the inevitability provided by a free 1/1 every single turn. I’m not convinced about the four-pack of Stubborn Denials in the coming weeks, but the rest of this frame should be around at everything from FNMs to the Open Series for a while. Who doesn’t want to Ensoul Artifact a 3/3 Hangarback Walker?

The big differences in the maindeck here are in the four drops and the lack of countermagic. Berrios opted to go with Ma and Pa Nalaar in a three-two split with Whirler Rogue while running a full set of Thopter Engineers over Stubborn Denial. You lose some protection but you gain velocity and make Hangarback Walker a lot more dangerous when it can grow itself right away. Pia and Kiran present an interesting quandary in that it’s legendary but the effect is no doubt powerful. However at a cost of 2R to activate in an otherwise small-mana strategy and with 4 Shrapnel Blasts already in the deck, I don’t think I would be running this exact split. Maybe three Whirler Rogue and one or two copies of Ma and Pa at most.

The addition of Tomb of the Spirit Dragon in the sideboard is a great idea. I saw this card gaining four life a turn against multiple decks, something that Mono-Red will have a great deal of trouble overcoming. If they start burning out the creatures, you are essentially gaining that life anyway, and you can always make more.

I don’t have a lot to talk about with this build except… Keeper of the Lens. In Constructed. Heck, it never even made a Limited deck of any power. I’m not sure why you go with Keeper over Bonded Construct, but perhaps Ray and his team were concerned about getting caught with only one Construct on the board? Either way, the inclusion of obvious draft chaff in a deck already made up of draft cards was something I couldn’t ignore.

Under The Radar

Somehow two people managed to go 9-1 in Constructed with little to no fanfare about their deck choices throughout the weekend. In fact, had it not been for the identity of the first pilot, I would not have heard about either deck before researching this article! Presumably neither player did well in draft, but as we’re focusing on Standard right now, I don’t need to worry about that.

So you’re saying Brian Kibler played a G/W creature-based strategy? I am shocked. I imagine the Dromoka’s Commands in the maindeck were MVPs all weekend, enabling him to de-soul some artifacts, revel in the destruction of Eidolons, and prevent Shrapnel Blasts, Stoke the Flames and the like from burning his face. The low-end G/W Aggro decks are also traditionally strong against red due to the fact that their creatures tend to be bigger at the same mana cost.

I am slightly surprised that this deck fared so well in a heavy aggro field because apart from the two copies of Courser of Kruphix, there is zero lifegain anywhere. I like the Unravel the Aether in the sideboard against the Thopter decks, and Hushwing Gryff helps protect against Dragonlord Atarka at a reasonable cost, but Tragic Arrogance is not only bad but dangerous against Thopters. The Hangarback Walker/Evolutionary Leap interaction in the sideboard feels so good that I think I want it in the maindeck, especially given what we know about the format now. I have not been a fan of Nissa at all, and have yet to see her cast and take over a game. She just seems completely average. I would point out thought that there are zero copies of Collected Company to be found here despite every creature being a hit.

The other ultra-successful constructed deck was Philip Arcuni’s Temur deck, but it’s largely the same G/R Dragons deck that’s been around for a while with a blue splash for Savage Knuckleblade and Stubborn Denial. Nothing terribly revolutionary to discuss there. Unlike this next list, which really has me itching to try it:

Kyle and his team were inspired by Pascal Maynard; I’m inspired by the presence of Starfield of Nyx. We all have our vices, and mine is recursion. And attacking with enchantments. I may have multiple vices, but I’m okay with that.

Starfield of Nyx is very powerful, there’s no question about that. Resolving it against most decks will give you inevitability even against Dromoka’s Command, and once the engine is online you can start beating down with 4/4 Eidolon of Blossoms. You know, just in case that card wasn’t good enough already.

This deck makes me so happy. With all the basics and the fact that Herald of the Pantheon might as well read “1G, Sorcery: Your red opponent discards a burn spell,” I really like trying a Font of Fertility or two in this list. It’s a low-priority hit on Insight but it does ramp you and can continue to do so under Starfield while putting itself back in the graveyard for continued card draw in combination with Eidolon. In a metagame expecting a lot of aggro, Silkwrap and the battlesheep make a lot of sense as four-ofs but they may need to change as the format matures.

But as fun as Kyle’s deck looks, it is not actually my favorite deck from the Pro Tour. No, that award goes to this beauty:

This deck, man. This deck. I legitimately do not know where to start. We have essentially a combo deck built around Hardened Scales that is also a low-to-the-ground G/W Aggro deck with Managorger Hydra. Managorger Hydra! God, it’s like Christmahannukwanzivus. And is that Abzan Falconer I see?

As much as I love the idea behind this list, I don’t understand some choices. I’d want at least one more Ajani Steadfast in the list, probably in the maindeck. The lifelink can be huge against aggro, and the minus ability with a Hardened Scales on the battlefield is a touch ludicrous. I understand why Gods Willing was picked over Feat of Resistance but there might be room for both. Finally, Citadel Siege just feels like overkill. I think I’d like at least a couple of Den Protectors in the list, given that the whole theme of the deck makes her basically unblockable. Maybe an Abzan Battle Priest in the sideboard to fight aggro?

Oh, who am I kidding? I would play this deck tomorrow, as-is, with no practice. I could go 0-5 and not care. This looks like an absolute riot.

So Now What?

I find myself in an unusual spot this season. With a whole bunch of real-life things getting in the way, I haven’t really had time to think about brews so I will likely be looking to one of these decks for my next couple of events. The ideas I do have (B/W Helm of the Gods, Izzet Control, a couple of Modern brews) are not really fleshed out to the point that I am able to give you a full list. One thing I will suggest is that you go prepared to face a whole lot of aggro decks at any FNM you visit in the next few weeks. Make sure your brews are prepared accordingly.

The thing that keeps me in love with this game is that there is always a surprise around the next corner. Going in to this Pro Tour, I don’t think many people predicted this sort of a metagame, and yet I somehow managed to find a bunch of decks to write about and drool over. Always something new just around the corner.

This past weekend was a true breakout for Hangarback Walker, Exquisite Firecraft, Abbott of Keral Keep and Whirler Rogue. What cards are you watching to break out next? Personally I still have my eye on Disciple of the Ring, but Kytheon, Hero of Akros has yet to truly make an impact. Collected Company, a card many people expected to shoot up in popularity with all the three-mana flip-Planeswalkers, has been invisible outside of Ray Tautic’s win in Richmond two weeks ago. Dragons have all but disappeared, with one notable Atarka-sized exception. Can we really be that far from someone breaking Evolutionary Leap? Is Demonic Pact, which seems right on the verge of being excellent, about to find the perfect shell? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Until next time… brew on!