First Takes On The Magic Online PTQ Results

Magic Online’s first Guilds of Ravnica Pro Tour Qualifier saw eight different archetypes reach the elimination rounds! Ari Lax offers his take on each of them!

This past weekend was the first Magic Online PTQ of the Guilds of Ravnica Standard season. While the metagame was a bit different from both the StarCityGames.com Columbus Open or Standard Classic, it’s the only one of those events without caveats. This wasn’t a metagame carried by teammates or scavenged from Day 1 dropouts. It was people showing up to battle Standard and crown a winner.

From that set we had eight unique decks:

  • Golgari Midrange
  • Grixis Midrange
  • Jeskai Control
  • Esper Control
  • Boros Dragons
  • Izzet Spells
  • Abzan Midrange
  • Boros Angels

No Mono-Red Aggro. Just midrange versus Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.

From such a wide spread of decks, there’s a lot of ideas to pick apart. What did I like or dislike from our first foray into the format?

Golgari Likes

It seems like midrange was the flavor of the week, making Plaguecrafter reasonable. If you trade for a planeswalker, that’s good. If you trade for a two-drop, that’s less good. Plaguecrafter in this deck ends up being flood insurance by cashing in Llanowar Elves.

I’m a huge fan of the “play lots of planeswalkers, use explore creatures to hit lands” plan, especially with a real winner like Vraska, Relic Seeker. Vraska, Golgari Queen is not a card that excites me, but I’m warmer on it now that it killing Sarkhan, Fireblood matters more.

Wildgrowth Walker is an unrespected sideboard gem, especially if people are showing up with Viashino Pyromancer.

One of these cards kills Experimental Frenzy. One doesn’t. One of these cards costs the same as Vraska, Golgari Queen and Golgari Findbroker. The other costs less.

Golgari Dislikes

What does District Guide even do? You have so many explore effects anyway.

Maybe this was good versus stupid Goblins aggro, but real Mono-Red has nothing this card covers well except Runaway Steam-Kin on the draw.

Grixis Likes

This format is rapidly moving towards higher-curve decks and the best midrange cards, making two-mana discard much more palatable. Also, I’m contractually obligated to like anything close to Thoughtseize.

If people must kill Thief of Sanity with Vraska’s Contempt or cast Experimental Frenzy and planeswalkers, your one Spell Pierce is going to get them. Negate may pan out better in other spots, but with Thief you want efficiency.

Grixis Dislikes

That’s a lot of four-mana spells with five-drops on top. I may be underestimating Thought Erasure and Notion Rain as card selection, but this feels like a deck that loses a little too much to missing a land drop.

There’s a lot of conditional one-for-one removal here. Grixis is cemented into the same role as B/U Midrange last year, where you have 54 mostly blank cards and maybe six hits to solo them with. A value pile like Golgari is going to bury you.

Maybe you just want to load up on Notion Rain to find your real cards a bit more, or at least draw enough mediocre cards to kinda matter.

Jeskai Likes

History of Benalia is the new Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Play control, sideboard battle their face. The only issue is that it doesn’t dodge Negate or Duress.

You put four Teferi in a deck. Then you cast it. Then you win. Congrats.

Jeskai Dislikes

I have no idea what else this deck is trying to do. Our mana is bad because we’re playing stupid Meandering River. We’re playing four of our worse legendary card engine maindeck and not splitting the difference. Explosion is just a weird way to spend a bunch of extra mana that does nothing if you’re losing.

I’m actively offended at cutting a Sacred Foundry for a Plains with four Sulfur Falls. Seriously, learn to cast spells on time.

The 20th-place list from this event is just pure Azorius using the “off color” land slots on Arch of Orazca, Field of Ruin, and Memorial to Genius. That honestly sounds better.

Esper Likes

I think this manabase actually makes sense for Esper. You get close to the right checkland threshold without too many tapped lands.

I’m really into a two-mana answer that handles planeswalkers. These aren’t Chandra, Torch of Defiance; most of the planeswalkers people field don’t generate massive immediate value against control. Resetting anything short of Vraska, Relic Seeker off ultimate is probably enough to make it irrelevant.

Esper can’t play Lyra Dawnbringer. There isn’t enough white mana. Vona, Butcher of Magan’s usual issue is dying to Lava Coil, but who has Lava Coil against Esper?

Esper Dislikes

I really like Ritual of Soot as a card, but it feels like four copies of your conditional sweeper is a lot. Can we split the sideboard one to a Golden Demise and make the curve line up better?

That’s it. This list just looks really polished. I believe this list is originally from a Nathan Steuer 5-0 list, so kudos to him. Possibly double kudos as he previously was the trophy leader with Mono-Red Aggro.

Dragons Likes

I really like the removal options chosen here. Red has issues with Doom Whisperer, but Justice Strike doesn’t. It also acts as a save for your Rekindling Phoenix in the face of exile removal, which Lava Coil doesn’t.

Spit Flame is just good clean card advantage in an archetype notoriously lacking it. It isn’t a pure answer to flood or screw, but it’s a start.

The best red cards in Standard are just great, and it feels like both finalists were short on answers to Rekindling Phoenix.

Dragons Dislikes

I’m not sure how good I think Demanding Dragon is, but it was bugged online to force a sacrifice last weekend. It’s hard to really get perfect context here when a punisher card turns into Shriekmaw plus.

Please don’t even try to tell me you need the extra Dragon of value when you untap with a six-drop in Standard and play another monster.

This is still a stupid red midrange deck with no draw fixing. Play at your own risk. You may draw eight lands and have minimal ways to stop it.

Izzet Likes

Fight with Fire is highly underplayed right now. The fifth damage isn’t super-relevant, but using Runaway Steam-Kin to kick it sounds nice. Sadly, this deck doesn’t play that card.

Izzet Dislikes

Friends don’t let friends play Guildgates. You certainly don’t need three of them.

There’s just a lot of stuff going on here that makes little sense. Randomly selected Izzet cards I own doesn’t seem powerful enough to stand up to a midrange fest, even if I love Crackling Drake. There might be a truth behind it all, but this list isn’t quite there.

Abzan Likes

I’m not even that excited about the Finality half. A sweeper is fine, but Find has such a good rate as a two-for-one. If you’re throwing answers and threats at opponents in midrange mirrors, it’s hard to ask for more.

I like value lands with explore as a way to end up ahead on relevant cardboard and not just your third Overgrown Tomb. Cycling lands last season just made it easy mode.

I could get behind more Golgari Findbroker for the value loop, though. Maybe I just like that card a bit too much.

Abzan Dislikes

I told you last week that you only want Memorials in two-color decks. This deck is breaking that rule for a three-drop which makes no sense to me. There is literally one white card.

I guess Knight of Autumn kills Experimental Frenzy. If only a Golgari card did that…

I’m unsure if Izoni, Thousand-Eyed is or isn’t great compared to Vraska, Relic Seeker, but without Llanowar Elves I have concerns about your mana density for these six-drops. The winning Golgari deck just does things right.

Angels Likes

I don’t know how half the format expects to kill an Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. It survives Lava Coil, Swift Justice, and Cast Down.

Black removal is the most effective answer to your Angels, so it makes sense to surprise people with something that dodges it. Knight of Grace is a bit of a freeroll here, as you just must play two-drops and are short on good ones. Compare to Vine Mare in green decks that often have too many four-drops.

Adanto Vanguard I can take or leave depending on Moment of Craving, but Knight of Grace battles hard.

Angels Dislikes

Boros Angels is just the classic red midrange deck like Dragons is, so it has the same lands-and-spells mixing issues. You can get one-for-one’d into the abyss by a Notion Rain deck, or one-shot buried by a larger effect, or just draw one too many lands and have no fix.

Resplendent Angel doesn’t seem like a good card. It dies to all the two-mana removal Aurelia survives, while all the other three-drops in the format provide value. All it has to its name is that it’s a cascading late-game topdeck, but I’ll worry about late-game value when my deck has ways to actually fight card advantage battles that late.

Oh, also it dies to Vraska, Golgari Queen. Not great.

You aren’t burning down any planeswalkers here. Play the removal spell that kills more stuff in your true midrange deck.

Lessons Learned

Midrange with solid, simple ways to select land drops or spells is much better than the alternative.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is dumb. Really dumb.

There aren’t many value engines left, but the ones that exist are critical components of their decks.

There’s a lot of good two-mana removal. Choose your threats wisely to trade well with it. Right now, I think that largely means all the red four-drops are good.

Mono-Green Aggro is nowhere to be seen. Does it just fold to Vraskas and Mono-Red Aggro?

We didn’t even see the Selesnya Tokens deck that faced off in the finals of the SCG Columbus, so the format is still wide open. The next weeks are going to be very interesting to follow.