Breaking Down Pro Tour Magic Origins

Our illustrious CEDitor breaks down the top eight decks from #PTOrigins and analyzes just what this means for the format. How did we get here, and where are we going next?

With Pro Tour Magic Origins in the books and plenty of information to digest, the best place to start is by analyzing the Top Eight decks of the tournament, why they looked the way they did, and how to adjust to them moving forward. With so much Standard action on the horizon, headlined by GP San Diego and the 5K Standard Premier IQ in Washington DC, it’s as important as ever to be prepared.

What’s that? Am I writing again? Look I don’t know. It’s late, I’m bored, the rounds in between these Magic Origins 8-4s take forever to turn over, and a red deck won the tournament. Now is as good as time as any to dust off the old keyboard. Now let’s get to it.

There’s a lot to like about Joel’s hair. It’s long, flowing, and looks fantastic when he rubs his hands through it while tanking about what burn spell to kill you with. If we ever do make that Magic calendar, Joel is easily January’s planeswalker. You have to start off with a bang and why not with the most recent Pro Tour champion?

As for his deck choice, I had a feeling coming into the Pro Tour that most of the teams would figure out that red was busted. I played Atarka Red in a Select VS Video against Chris VanMeter last week, and while I didn’t fare particularly well, this old car has quite a bit of rust on it (which is why I’m doing an 8-4 while writing this article). The build of Atarka Red I played was outdated, but the sole reason for sleeving it up in the first place was because Wild Slash is completely b-b-b-b-b-busted right now:

Kindly leave.

Targets for Wild Slash are plentiful which makes Mono-Red a pretty good choice. However, there are two things that really put it over the top:

  • Everyone always skimps on hate for red decks. One of the things I love to do while covering the Open Series is to look over sideboards and see how many hate cards people have for red decks. I always do a Drown in Sorrow/Arashin Cleric/Feed the Clans check and those numbers are always comically low. It’s important to note that the current Mono-Red decks aren’t bad decks that need to get the right matchup (think Quenchable Fire Red when Jund was at the peak of its powers). Their card quality is actually very high (Monastery Swiftspear, Zurgo Bellstriker, Stoke the Flames, and Abbot of Keral Keep are really good cards) so you have to actually respect these decks as real decks and not look at them as matchup decks.
  • Curving out is just really good right now. When I made the Top Eight at SCG Portland earlier this year, I wasn’t in fighting shape. But fortunately when you play one-drop, two-drop and watch your opponent fumble and stumble with tri-lands and Temples, you don’t have to be. That aspect of the format didn’t change during the Open Series in Chicago or Richmond, so curving out was a really good place to be for the Pro Tour.

Two important things to note about Joel’s deck:

  • If Wild Slash is busted, Searing Blood is disgusting. He, and others, figured that out quickly. Again, this isn’t really a matchup Mono-Red deck. This is a Mono-Red deck with has really powerful cards that punishes people for even the slightest stumble. Red decks are known for punishing people who stumble but have to do it with garbage cards like Stigma Lasher and Boros Guildmage. This one does it with an uncounterable Char that doesn’t hurt you and a walking Pyrostatic Pillar.
  • Eidolon of the Great Revel is incredible in the maindeck right now. Typically relegated to the sideboard, Eidolon is a beautiful maindeck card because people are sort of lowering their curves but not enough just yet to interact with red, so in a weird way, it’s a perfect card for the metagame. These Mono-Red decks are built with a lot of burn and Eidolon forces their hand right away. If Eidolon deals four, I cannot imagine losing. If it deals more than that, call the authorities.


Ah yes. My foil Hangarback Walker. Guess what dlv1983. You can’t beat it and I’m rich. Life isn’t fair.

So here’s a fun game. I’ve got two transitions I can use to go to Mike Sigrist decklist. But since I’m a little indecisive this evening, I’ll let you choose your own adventure:

“Speaking of life not being fair, Mike Sigrist mulliganed to three in game five of the finals of Pro Tour Magic Origins. And yet I don’t feel sorry for him. Because he was playing. In the finals. Of the Pro Tour. And he just became Player of the Year. You think you just get to fly that close to the sun with no repercussions?”


“Speaking of Hangarback Walker, the powerful artifact creature took Mike Sigrist all the way to second place of the Pro Tour and took Player of the Year away from Eric Froeliech. Be careful EFro. It might be coming for your Hall of Fame status next.”

Look at this pile of garbage. Well it certainly looks that way on paper doesn’t it? But as many learned when playing against it this past weekend, this U/R deck is no joke. Is it sorta high variance? Sure. But that’s just a tribute to how good Ensoul Artifact is. Many have tried to make Ensoul Artifact work, but Magic Origins finally gave the card the little push over the finish line that it needed.

Hangarback Walker was a card that I horribly underestimated. Realistically, it just looks like a lot of bad deals on the surface. Two mana for a 1/1? No thanks. Four mana for a 2/2? You know Siege Rhino exists, right? Yet it has proven itself very quickly as one of the best cards in Magic Origins (which is why I am selling my foil one immediately after I win this 8-4 ha HA).

As for Chief of the Foundry and Whirler Rogue, they too are better than they appear. Neither card is going to light the world on fire – that’s what Shrapnel Blast is for – but they are curve-fillers with relevant text to fill out the deck. Not every card in this deck is going to be a ten out of ten. Because if they were, it would be called Affinity, the year would be 2004, and we’d be wondering who the hell green-lit Archbound Ravager, Skullclamp, and Aether Vial.

But seriously. Start packing answers to Ensoul Artifact immediately or you’re only going to get to play four turns of Magic. Which technically would mean I could cut to break earlier when doing a show for SCGLive and do nothing until that timer runs out.

So maybe you shouldn’t add answers your sideboard. Hmmm…

How incredibly boring. If I wanted to see a G/R Devotion deck, I would watch the past two months of the Open Series. Or watch Ross Merriam get humiliated by James Newman over and over again. But as a wise man once said,

You don’t get extra match win points for showing how smart or creative you are. A win is still three points no matter how you get it.

Jackson’s deck is boring, straightforward, and unfortunately for you brewers out there, it’s still really good. A lot of people played G/R Devotion at the Pro Tour, and while Jackson was the only one to make the Top Eight with it, it’s still a perfectly reasonable choice. I don’t think you have a great Mono-Red matchup, but I also watched GerryT get by Mike Flores and Sam Black deep into Day Two when his team (Team Stupid Name That I Refuse To Type On A Website That People Pay To Read) cut Courser of Kruphix from their deck entirely.

For the record, that wise man was Zac Hill. And he still isn’t wrong.

Oh man. I drew the foil Hangarback Walker again. Assuming it wouldn’t break the program entirely, there should be a command on Magic Online to flash a card from your hand just to try and tilt your opponent. Like a Street Fighter taunt, it is completely unnecessary unless you’re a lunatic like myself – but when used effectively, it enhances your entire experience. Oh right. Sperling’s decklist…

Look, it’s Abzan Control. What do you want from me here? Do you want me to tell you Siege Rhino is still really good? Do you want me to tell you that Den Protector returning removal spells or Siege Rhino is a path to victory? Would that make you feel like you got your money’s worth?

Actually, there is one thing to really like about Sperling’s decklist:

Remember when all the cool kids were sideboarding these in at a Grand Prix? Everyone would sideboard out some of their removal and then you’d take them by surprise with Fleecemane Lion! Well, then Languish got printed and everyone realized that Fleecemane Lion sucked.

But wait! Languish is the worst card in the Abzan mirror! It’s the first card that people sideboard out because it doesn’t kill Siege Rhino or Tasigur! So if they’re doing that, people have less ways to kill…

You know how that sentence ends. Sperling is super good at Magic. No surprise to see him level some people with those Fleecemane Lions in his sideboard. Let’s move on.

Abzan again? Really? I struggled through the last one and I even managed to avoid the incredibly obviously Sperling Is Sick of It joke because I have some amount of dignity. Oh but this one is sooooo different because it has Deathmist Raptor and Satyr Wayfinder. What major innovations! I can barely contain my excitement!

Alright, these cards are actually relevant. Abzan Aggro is basically a dead deck now due to how badly G/R Devotion destroys it and how horribly the entire deck lines up against Languish. That said, other Abzan decks can certainly use some of the tools that made Abzan Aggro so successful and implement them accordingly. Sperling did that a bit with his Fleecemane Lions but Yamamoto took it a few steps further with Herald of Torment, Anafenza, and Wingmate Roc. For what it’s worth, some of these cards pull double duty:

  • Anafenza is a nice way to clock people in the Abzan mirror while also being a roadblock for Mono-Red decks and shutting down the Rally the Ancestors deck entirely.
  • Herald of Torment allows you to take people by surprise. It’s a solid threat on its own, but the ground is gummed up in the Abzan mirrors thanks to Elspeth. This is a way to get an advantage on that seemingly-inevitable board state.
  • Wingmate Roc is another trump to Elspeth and generally a trump in Abzan mirrors. Again, with the sharp decline in Abzan Aggro, people weren’t planning to have to play against this card and when forgotten about, it easily wins games.

My Hangarback Walker just got killed by a Conclave Naturalists. I didn’t know I was playing against Never Not Have It Guy.

I’m going to take this moment to talk about Abbot of Keral Keep and why Patrick Chapin is a genius. If you didn’t read Chapin’s breakdown of Magic Origins, first of all, you did yourself a pretty large disservice because Chapin’s accuracy on breaking down new cards is startling. But when I say he nailed it with Abbot, I mean he nailed it:

The red aggro card I am most excited about, however, is Abbot of Keral Keep. I am absolutely in love with this card, and the probability that I play red goes way up because of its printing. In some ways, it’s the red Snapcaster Mage.

A 2/1 Prowess creature for one mana would be fantastic. For two mana we need a little more, but not much. After all, it’s often going to be able to deal three or more damage. There’s also value to your opponent not knowing how big it will actually be. For instance, is it safe for a Courser of Kruphix to block the Abbot? Two instants and you’re chump blocking.

But if we have two instants, aren’t we going to be able to kill the Courser, anyway…?

Obviously some of the time it doesn’t matter. Some of the time you have two Wild Slashes and it was going to play out the same way regardless. However, some of the time, you have two Lightning Strikes. And some of the time, your opponent also has an Elvish Mystic. And sometimes you play a Dragon Fodder or Hordeling Outburst before combat, meaning it takes only a single Wild Slash for the blowout.

Under most circumstances, Abbot of Keral Keep is going to be a pretty respectable two-drop. However, we generally only want to play it as a two-drop if we don’t have any other plays to make. The better play is to save it as long as we can (though we usually would rather play it than do nothing).

The Abbot’s enters-the-battlefield trigger is actually extremely skill-testing, despite how much it can seem like luck. You get to decide when to cast it, which will affect whether or not you get a card you can cast. You have control over the probabilities, and your assessment of the board can allow you to manipulate how much you get out of the trigger.

He also had it as the best card in Magic Origins:

Top 10 Cards In Magic Origins!

10. Evolutionary Leap

9. Harbinger of the Tides

8. Exquisite Firecraft

7. Erebos’s Titan

6. Archangel of Tithes

5. Kytheon, Hero of Akros

4. Shaman of the Pack

3. Nissa, Vastwood Seer

2. Languish

1. Abbot of Keral Keep

Honorable Mentions: Consul’s Lieutenant, Thopter Spy Network, Despoiler of Souls, and Dwynen’s Elite!

Abbot is exactly what these decks have been looking for. It’s good early, good/great late, and has relevant text at all stages of the game. Red doesn’t often get cards like this.

The only real critique I have of Neal’s decklist is the addition of Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. If you believe that Mono-Red is going to see a lot of play at the Pro Tour, and you’re playing Mono-Red because you believe that Wild Slash and Searing Blood are very well-positioned, I don’t see a reason to be playing Chandra or Goblin Rabblemaster. Most identified that Rabblemaster was poorly positioned (there are zero copies in any of the Top Eight Mono-Red decks) so I can’t imagine Chandra was that great either for Neal.

And what Brian Braun-Duin said about Chandra really rang true to me when he wrote it a little while ago:

Despite that, I don’t think Chandra is good enough right now. For one, every time you cast Chandra, you could have cast a Goblin Rabblemaster. Usually, it should have been Goblin Rabblemaster. If they don’t kill Chandra, she turns into a planeswalker that slowly kills them. If they don’t kill Goblin Rabblemaster, it turns into a Goblin Rabblemaster that very quickly kills them.

Pat has a bunch of fun-ofs in his maindeck. I love fun-ofs. Let’s talk about ’em.

First up is Goblin Glory Chaser. There’s nothing impressive about the card, but sometimes you need another one-drop simply for curve considerations and I think it’s better than Foundry Street Denizen (horrible in a red-heavy format and terrible without the token generators) and Firedrinker Satyr (laughably bad in a red-heavy format) in the matchups Cox was expecting.

Next up is Goblin Heelcutter. Heelcutter is a perfect one-of in red decks, The main thing I always noticed with Heelcutter when I played in Portland was that I always wanted to draw one but I never wanted to draw a second. The diminishing returns on the second copy plummet so quickly (the red decks play twenty lands so being able to Dash multiples in a turn is rarely if ever happening) that drawing a second one oftentimes feels like a dead draw. That said, the first one is fantastic so starting one copy makes perfect sense.

Lastly is Titan’s Strength. I love a random Titan’s Strength more than most honestly. No one ever plays around it, the scry matters, and the +1 toughness comes up way more than you think. It’s not a card you should play a lot of, because if four became the industry standard people could react accordingly, but when there’s only one present and people don’t know about it, it causes some real blowouts.

Also, it’s super easy to sideboard out and that’s gotta account for something!

I’m in the finals. After taking care of Never Not Have It Guy (because he finally stopped having it), I’m ready to mangle the person who thinks they’re getting those eight packs of Magic Origins this evening. Ain’t happening friend-o.

The only real notable difference between what Berrios and Sigrist played is that Berrios had access to Pia and Kiran Nalaar. I’m actually a little surprised that Sigrist wasn’t playing Chandra’s parents because it seems like such a natural inclusion due to their ability to provide reach and close games out. That said, Whirler Rogue does that in a roundabout way with its activated ability as well.

There’s some spice in the sideboard with Profaner of the Dead and Tomb of the Spirit Dragon, but to me these decks aren’t ever going to be able to sideboard in very many cards because their maindeck doesn’t have a lot of flexibility. Both players had Roast, Thopter Spy Network and Disdainful Stroke, but where you go from there is anyone’s guess (and it probably doesn’t matter a ton).

So, which of these decks would I choose to play if I was playing in a tournament this weekend instead of hanging out in the booth with Matthias Hunt? That’s easy!

None of ’em.

Narratives in Magic are a funny thing. At the Open Series in Chicago, Logan Mize lost the finals of the tournament by mulliganning to three in game three against G/R Devotion – arguably his best matchup. If Logan went on to win that match, the story of Chicago wouldn’t have been that Tuan Nguyen won the first Open Series event he ever played in with G/R Devotion. The story would have been how W/U Heroic didn’t get anything from Magic Origins and how Mize was still able to get the job done.

In Richmond, if Ray Tautic fumbles in the same fashion that Mize did in the finals of Chicago, the story isn’t about how his Abzan Rally decimated all comers and was easily the deck to beat at Pro Tour Magic Origins. The story would have been that Todd Anderson overcame the odds with Bant Heroic and, for the second week in a row, no new cards from Magic Origins were necessary to get the job done.

I know these would have been the stories because it’s my job to tell the stories.

Instead, G/R Devotion and Abzan Rally were the decks to beat and red decks ran wild all over the competition. If these Heroic decks want to beat red, they can accomplish that very easily with the use of Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, Seeker of the Way, and Ordeal of Heliod. If they want to beat the crap out of G/R Devotion, all they need to do is get paired against it. As for Abzan? Well, Heroic has never been a matchup that Abzan actively wants to play against… and keep in mind that the cards that Abzan brings to the table that line up well against Mono-Red, a deck they have to respect now since it won the Pro Tour, don’t line up particularly well against Heroic.

I think Heroic probably has a tough time against U/R Thopters because Gods Willing is really bad in the matchup, but if you opt to play Bant Heroic, Dromoka’s Command is an answer to their best card (Ensoul Artifact), you’re playing four of them, and it’s a blowout two-for-one every time you draw it. If you want more hate for them, do a Gatherer search, I’m trying to finish my match here.

So this was fun. Maybe I’ll be back sometime. Who knows? (Well, technically I do since I run the website.) But for those of you who are playing in San Diego or Washington DC this coming weekend, that’s what some washed-up commentator would do.

He’d also shamelessly post his winning photo from the 8-4 too. All of your Magic Origins packs belong to me, Magic Online.

Chicken Dinner