Fact Or Fiction: The Great Pro Tour Debate!

Five questions. Two authors. One winner, and you decide it! Fact or Fiction returns with Todd Stevens and Patrick Sullivan tackling questions on the Standard metagame going into Pro Tour Aether Revolt and how much impact the small set will have on the Modern-format SCG Regionals!

[Welcome to Fact or Fiction: Pro Tour Aether Revolt edition! Todd Stevens and Patrick Sullivan give their takes on five pressing questions going into PT Aether Revolt weekend. Read their responses and vote at the end for the writer who won this week’s Fact or Fiction!]

1. A Saheeli Rai deck will win Pro Tour Aether Revolt.

Todd Stevens: Fact. Now, it’s certainly easy to pick the entire field over a two-color planeswalker that saw virtually no play in Standard during its first three months of legality, but I’m not here for the easy pick and I’m going with Saheeli Rai to win the first Pro Tour of 2017.

I played against plenty of Splinter Twin in Modern and have now played with and against the Saheeli Rai combo, and the Saheeli Rai combo is better, especially regarding the format as a whole. Being able to tap out for something powerful such as Fumigate or Torrential Gearhulk and then untap and win on the spot is unbelievably difficult to deal with. With Splinter Twin, at least you knew you were safe if you made them tap out on their own turn, but that’s not the case in Standard now. Sure, something as small as Shock can answer the Saheeli Rai combo, but Splinter Twin had uncounterable answers like Abrupt Decay, Combust, and Rending Volley, and it was still too good for Modern. Saheeli Rai is better in Standard than Splinter Twin was in Modern, and it will win Pro Tour Aether Revolt.

Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. If you’re asking “What is the most likely deck to win Pro Tour Aether Revolt,” I would guess some variation of Saheeli Rai would be where the smart money went. But I believe there is enough depth and untapped potential in Aether Revolt that the metagame will be more robust than we saw at the first two SCG Tour events of the year. I think betting on any one particular deck to win, whether Saheeli Rai, B/G Delirium, or something else, over the field is a bad call.

2. The top tier of this Standard format has more than two archetypes.

Todd: Fact. There are too many good aggressive cards in the format for Walking Ballista to singlehandedly hold them all back, which looks to be the case right now. There is no shortage of slow blue control decks for aggro decks to prey upon, and I expect them to quickly make a comeback. Casting Anticipate into Oath of Jace into Glimmer of Genius is a great curve for some matchups but downright embarrassing against a deck such as Humans. I also fully expect the Improvise mechanic, mainly with Inspiring Statuary, to jump into the top tier of Standard once people have time to explore it more. While B/G Delirium was the most popular deck at #SCGRICH, I don’t expect it to be in Standard’s top tier in a month, which will help other decks rise into prominence.

Patrick: Fact. Setting aside how much I dislike the idea of “tiers” for describing decks and metagames, we already have a metagame more diverse than that. Even though the Top 8 of Columbus and Richmond looked rough, players have had reasonable success with various U/X builds, Vehicles, and attacking tribal decks. And, again, I think Aether Revolt is so powerful that several as-of-yet-undiscovered cards and decks will be considered legitimate contenders after the Pro Tour.

3. Standard can’t be healthy with cards like Felidar Guardian sneaking through Development.

Todd: Fact. Having a combo like Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian in a format is aberrantly format-warping. A healthy format has certain decks that are made to beat other decks and is cyclical, but right now every deck must be made with the ability to interact with two specific cards; not archetypes, but cards, and the available answers to these two cards aren’t as reliable as they need to be. Naturally, when two cards make up the largest pillar of the format, then cards that don’t interact favorably with them will be fatally pushed out of the metagame. Before, it was Emrakul, the Promised End holding back sorcery-speed threats costing four or more, and unfortunately now it’s Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian.

Patrick: Fiction. It certainly makes it harder, however. Felidar Guardian represents a failing of Development due diligence, which suggests other relatively obvious mistakes may have occurred. I think it puts pressure on Development to put more equity into “backstops” going forward — Lost Legacy is weaker than that genre of card typically is, Pithing Needle is nowhere to be found, etc. — and I would expect robust versions of those cards to be part of the “more power in reactive cards” philosophy Sam Stoddard articulated during the ban announcement.

4. The SCG Tour influence on Pro Tour Aether Revolt is being understated.

Todd: Fiction. The SCG Tour results build a foundation for Pro Tour Aether Revolt gauntlet testing, but with multiple weeks and a team of dedicated players to build the best deck they can, the decks at the Pro Tour can be vastly different from the decks seen on the SCG Tour the weekends before. There have been two defining decks in B/G Delirium and Jeskai Saheeli leading up to #PTAER, but I expect that to have changed this time next week. Some archetypes take longer to be able to tune, especially ones with synergistic cards that aren’t necessarily powerful on their own. There are a number of those potential synergies in Kaladesh block that aren’t easy to build around, and I expect some fascinating new ideas to come out of #PTAER.

Patrick: Fact. I mean, I don’t know who is saying what, exactly, but I believe the SCG Tour has highlighted respectable builds of expected archetypes, which will be the foundation of a lot of teams’ testing. For Pro Tour competitors without much of a team behind them, it could be their entire gauntlet. I expect the world’s best teams to bring innovative decks that we haven’t seen yet, but a lot of the testing grunt work is done via proxy on the SCG Tour.

5. The Modern-format SCG Regionals this weekend will put several new Modern archetypes on the map.

Todd: Fiction. Although the Modern metagame is adapting to the changes to the banned list and the new cards from Aether Revolt, I expect to see all of the same favorite decks from before at SCG Regionals this weekend. Sram, Senior Edificer has brought Puresteel Paladin into the limelight, but the deck still has much too high of a fail rate for me to put it into the top tier of Modern decks. Fatal Push has everyone trying new Sultai and Esper midrange and control decks, but I don’t think Fatal Push helps the matchups that those decks struggled with in the past. Renegade Rallier is proving to be the real deal in different G/W/X decks, but that’s just a new addition to an existing archetype. I expect plenty of Jund, Infect, Tron, Affinity, Dredge, Burn, and the like to do well at #SCGRegionals.

Patrick: Fiction. It may signal the beginning of the end for Mox Opal’s legality, though. Expecting several new decks in Modern out of one set is a big ask, but Sram, Senior Edificer might be busted, and the set is so synergistic with cheap artifacts that I believe many outcomes are possible. The fact that this question is worthy of debate says a lot about the overall power level of Aether Revolt, a recurring theme of mine in this set of answers.