Critical Looks At The Control Decks Of The Pro Tour

Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin did some serious Standard battling at the PT! He’s laying out some crucial information about not falling behind the future of the format! Are the Boros decks too good for control to thrive at SCG Vegas? Patrick lays out the facts!

Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica had a lot of “deck of the weekend”s,
depending on who was asking and when.

Golgari was known to be a defining strategy, but it seemed a lot of people
were surprised by just how many Golgari decks there really were. While
Golgari seemed briefly like it might enjoy a return to glory, with its
ostensibly “good” matchup against fast white aggro; the numbers seem to
suggest that the new breed of fast white aggro decks popularized on MTGO
last weekend were more than cut out for the job.

For my part, it was during my first Constructed round that I was given an
immersive experience of what these new white aggro decks were really like.
My weapon of choice? Not surprisingly, Jeskai Control. I chatted with
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Guillaume Matignon in the weeks leading up to the
event and registered the same 75 as Wafo (who finished 8-2 in the
Constructed rounds).

I think they were expecting a lot of Golgari, Jeskai, and Arclight Phoenix
decks, and we didn’t give enough preparation time to the recent wave of
white aggro decks that were much, much faster than the white
midrange decks at the most recent Standard Grand Prix.

There wasn’t much “special” about this list, which definitely sat uneasily
with some of the Frenchies, used to always having at least some amount of
sweet new tech. For context, the highest finishing Jeskai deck was Wilson
Mok’s top 8 list, which wasn’t really all that different, even in detail.

While we had two Niv-Mizzet, Parun for additional game-winning advantage,
he had an extra Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and a Search for Azcanta.

Niv-Mizzet is just so good in the mirror and against Arclight decks, and
Search for Azcanta was slightly underwhelming us anyway on account of just
how effectively Chemister’s Insight served that role.

As a note, somehow, I think Chemister’s Insight is underrated. I would play
four in Jeskai, for sure, and Wafo said he would have played five.

We considered the Azor’s Gateway approach, which was absolutely excellent
in the mirror, but it was just a bit too slow against the fast decks. The
mana investment was surprisingly hard to accommodate, with how quickly we
were on the backfoot.

The biggest structural difference is the lack of Opt (along with two
Mountains instead of two extra Islands, which does actually kind of help
the Justice Strike). While I don’t love all these white cards with only
twelve white sources, I think we were actually too slow and probably
shouldn’t have been playing Opt. I don’t love relying on Cleansing Nova,
but I think Star of Extinction is just far too slow maindeck against all
these white decks.

Finally, the tenth counterspell being an Ionize or a Syncopate doesn’t
really matter much, but I still lean a little towards Syncopate for the
extra turn two interaction.

We, like Wilson, left Seal Away in the sideboard, which left us especially
vulnerable to Adanto Vanguard, as I was reminded of in four out of five of
my Constructed matches.

I started to suspect there was going to be trouble in game 1 of my first
Constructed match, when I kept the following hand on the draw:

Steam Vents Sulfur Falls Glacial Fortress

I think that’s reasonable, right? At least against unknown opponent…

My opponent’s first three turns were as follows:

I resolved to draw more Deafening Clarions next time and lamented our
relatively late cutting of Fiery Cannonade from the sideboard.

While I survived nearly twice as many turns next game, two Deafening
Clarions and a Cleansing Nova weren’t enough, as I just kept falling
further behind to Adanto Vanguard, I couldn’t catch up to Ajani, Adversary
of Tyrants, and Heroic Reinforcements was an extremely good follow-up to
the sweepers.

I was quickly eliminated from the tournament after being beaten up on by
several Boros decks and a Golgari deck but took solace in just how many of
my losses came in games in which I could have given myself meaningfully
better odds with proper preparation. There have been a few formats in the
past few years that did not feel as rewarding for prep time, but both Guilds of Ravnica Draft and Standard appeared to offer plenty of
reward, not only for deck-tuning but also for sequencing and

For instance, against Golgari, I didn’t really have a lot going on, but
wasn’t under pressure, and dropped a Crackling Drake.

He countered by dropping Vivien Reid and killing my Drake. If I had waited
a turn before making this same play, I would have been able to untap and
use my Expansion//Explosion to finish Reid off. Instead, I was a damage
behind every turn, and the card advantage from Reid quickly buried me. It’s
not certain I would have won the other way, but I certainly would have
given myself much better chances. I love that this format has so much depth
that it felt like I was learning lots every round, and that what I was
learning was meaningful and useful going forward.

When I was initially obliterated by two fast Boros decks in a row, I asked
about the strategy and was gaining confidence we had missed something
important. Some players at the event explained to me that Golgari was
supposed to be keeping Boros in check and that was part of why Golgari was
so good.

Interestingly, while Golgari was the most popular day one archetype, by day
two, Boros Aggro had caught up with it nearly exactly. This was partly
Boros just doing exceptionally well (despite being the second most popular
archetype, it was also the second-winningest); however, it was also a
function of Golgari having a losing record. Some of the best teams in the
world played Golgari, and despite having some of the absolute best Draft
records in the event, ended with larger poor finishes, on account of their
worst Constructed group record in recent history.

Golgari continued to struggle on day two, and by the end of the event, only
a few Golgari decks were anywhere near the top tables. Here’s an example of
one of the few exceptions, Michael Jundergraber’s list that he piloted to
an 8-2 record:

Okay, if Golgari underperformed and Jeskai underperformed (which it did,
despite Wafo’s strong record), what was that major archetype ahead of Boros
in win rate?

Was it Arclight Phoenix?

While Arclight Phoenix decks did above average, they were just slightly
behind Boros.

That’s right, despite putting zero copies in the top 8 (thanks to a
shortage of good Draft records), Selesyna Tokens appeared to be the winning
strategy, among those with a double-digit sample size. Is it possible that
there’s a lot of opportunity this week playing Selesyna Tokens and
capitalizing on how much everyone is focused on the top 8 lists?

There’s a lot of similarities to the Boros decks, thanks to Adanto
Vanguard, Legion’s Landing, History of Benalia, Conclave Tribunal, and
Ajani; however, the heavy-token theme and Venerated Loxodon proved
especially strong in a world where Deafening Clarion decks fell by the
wayside, and instead, you face round after round of Dauntless Bodyguard and
Skymarcher Aspirant.

I love Kraul Harpooner right now, by the way. To start with, it’s
not like a 3/2 reach for two mana is that low of a floor. What’s more, it
provides great defense against Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet, without
leaving you with dead cards. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s just an
absolute beating, fighting a Healer’s Hawk or Rustwing Falcon.

I mean, if this is what’s poppin’ these days, Kraul Harpooner is
going to be absolutely savage.

When I look at the event and consider what deckbuilding moves could have
been different, one place I go to is the possibility of black instead of
red. Afterall, I got smoked by Dauntless Bodyguard and Adanto Vanguard
pretty hard. Could black removal have made the difference?

While only five players played Esper in the Pro Tour, four of them made day
two. That’s at least something. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a small
sample size, but also a case of good Draft records, as none of the Esper
decks ended up 8-2 or better.

Kihara’s list features some interesting choices worth taking a closer look
at. For starters, Golden Demise is certainly the better sweeper for
combating Dauntless Bodyguard and Adanto Vanguard.

I also like Seal Away here, and getting to make use of Vraska’s Contempt
and The Eldest Reborn is a huge draw to me.

I’m not sure this card will ever be fully appreciated in its Standard

The use of Karn, Scion of Urza instead of Chemister’s Insight is
interesting, but I guess I buy it, since The Eldest Reborn is already
taking us into a very “tap-out” direction, and it’s not like we have
Expansion//Explosion or anything anyway.

I’m not sure how to feel about a playset of Syncopates, and zero Essence
Scatters or Negates, but it might actually be really good, as these white
decks are so good at forking either Essence Scatter or Negate, thanks to
the token-making spells and Planeswalkers.

My recommendation for next week would be Selesyna Tokens, but if you
absolutely want to play control, I would at least consider taking Esper for
a spin. If you do want to play Jeskai (and I couldn’t blame you), I might
start with something like:

That said, I am kind of interested in exploring a little heavier use of
Shivan Fire. That card seems like it might be a good opportunity right now.
At the end of the day, however, I still think tokens or Boros is probably
the better next step, at least until the metagame adjusts a little.

While I may not be battling in the main event any longer, I am back in the
tank brewing. My format of choice?