Another Pro Tour, another predictions article!
I’ve done well in previous predictions articles, most recently nailing four of my five predictions for Pro Tour Ixalan. However, this time all bets are off.
Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan will be the first Modern Pro Tour in quite a while, and while the Modern format is exciting to play and watch, it is also extremely volatile. This has many Pro Tour competitors unhappy, but it should make for great TV to watch at home.
So why are they unhappy?
Prediction One: My Predictions, And Pretty Much Everyone Else’s, Will Be Dead Wrong
I’m not going to lie: even the thought of writing this article is daunting.
Modern has been an exciting and healthy format recently, but it is also a wide-open and volatile world of dozens of playable decks, multitudes of different linear strategies, quick shifts week to week, and players who master decks that nobody else can seem to win with. Each event seems to take on a life of its own, and following metagame trends is almost impossible.
If writing this article is daunting, I can only imagine how the players getting ready to play this Pro Tour tomorrow are feeling.
One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve given in the last year about Modern is just to embrace it. There are many vastly different decks that can win at any one time, and any notion of metagaming is usually folly. The best thing to do is pick a powerful deck and learn it inside and out, because the most important aspect of Modern is understanding exactly what your deck wants to be doing in each and every matchup.
High-level players tend to hate this level of uncertainty, but the ones who embrace it will be the most likely to find success.
Prediction Two: There Will Be Zero Jeskai Control/Midrange Decks in the Top 8
The darling of SCG Tour Modern events, Jeskai will not fare well at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
The success of Jeskai Control/Midrange on the SCG Tour continues to befuddle.
Whether it’s the more midrange version of the deck with Geist of Saint Traft and Spell Quellers or the more hard control version recently seen in the finals of #SCGCOL, Jeskai decks have been fairly consistently outperforming expectations.
So why am I convinced the deck will fall short at the Pro Tour?
Quite frankly, because the deck just isn’t very good. The Geist of Saint Traft version of the deck is a bad Burn deck masquerading as a control deck, and the answer-based hard control versions are at the mercy of the wide variety of decks in the format. The reason for Jeskai’s success is much more a byproduct of the pilots than the deck itself, as highly interactive decks like Jeskai that seek to play long games give good players a sizable edge over lesser players in a wide field.
Look at the players who’ve succeeded with Jeskai over the last few months: Harlan Firer, Benjamin Nikolich, Jonathan Rosum, Kevin Jones… quite simply a murderer’s row of some of the best players on the SCG Tour.
However, the play skill discrepancy usually seen between these players and your average player playing in an SCG Tour event will not exist at the Pro Tour. At the Pro Tour, almost every player will be at least on this level or higher, meaning that taking an underpowered but high-skill-cap deck will likely backfire spectacularly. Outmaneuvering opponents will be much more difficult, and bad matchups are much more likely to be devastating.
Playing a solid but unexciting Jeskai Deck at the Pro Tour feels like stamping yourself a ticket to a 5-5 Constructed record and calling it a day.
Prediction Three: A Mardu Pyromancer Deck Will Make the Top 8 and Be the Surprise of the Pro Tour
So what deck takes up the midrange crown?
These sorts of Mardu decks have been floating around on Magic Online for a while now, but have never really translated that success to the offline world.
That will change at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
I fully expect the list to look significantly different, but the Bedlam Reveler plus Faithless Looting Engine is very appealing for a midrange interactive deck. It allows the deck to filter through cards that are useless in the given matchup (a major issue with midrange decks) without taking a loss on card advantage. While normally Faithless Looting puts you down a card, the fact that you’re setting up for an effective Treasure Cruise that’s also a huge threat is quite amazing.
With a bevy of discard spells to disrupt the unfair decks, great disruptive tools like Blood Moon, and the ultimate fair deck trump in Lingering Souls, Mardu Pyromancer has the tools to handle most things in the Modern format. Playing white also gives you access to all the amazing white sideboard cards, which is a huge draw in such a powerful linear format. Although this list is more midrange than most, it can also do so in a slightly more aggressive posture than most other midrange decks.
Bedlam Reveler may finally have its day in the spotlight!
Prediction Four: The Card As Foretold Will Be in the Top 8
One of the major byproducts of not having a Modern Pro Tour in years is that Modern hasn’t really been broken in years (aside from Eldrazi Summer). The Modern card pool is vast and the power level extremely high, which makes it feel like there are potential broken decks out there that just haven’t been discovered yet. When a weird but powerful new card comes out, it’s not always easy to know what to do with it, and Modern players, being creatures of habit, often just stick to the deck they know.
Take a card like As Foretold.
A weird Aether Vial for spells when played fairly, As Foretold allows for immediate free casting of the Time Spiral no-mana cost spells like Ancestral Vision and Living End, an avenue that has only been explored briefly.
- 3 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 2 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Deceiver Exarch
- 4 Griselbrand
- 2 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Early attempts at using As Foretold in Modern were essentially nothing more than putting it in control decks with four copies of Ancestral Vision.
While drawing three cards for three mana and getting an As Foretold out of the deal isn’t bad, it’s a two-card combo that just draws some cards in a world full of two-card combos that actively end the game on the spot. Deckbuilders are starting to realize that there’s much more potential in As Foretold than just drawing a few cards and starting to build their decks accordingly.
Living End is proving to be the most exciting payoff so far, with Tom Medvec’s deck from last weekend’s Modern Classic at #SCGPHILLY going deeper than we’ve ever seen As Foretold go, but the other options are also very intriguing. Of course Hypergenesis is banned, but Restore Balance has already seen some Modern success in the past. Hell, maybe some sort of Lotus Bloom / Wheel of Fate Storm deck is possible.
The truth is that I don’t really know what to do with the card. All I know is I see power there. I would be very surprised to not see some sort of new combo deck come out of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and if I had to make a bet on what card that deck is based around, I’m happy betting on As Foretold.
Prediction Five: A Notable SCG Tour Player Will Make the Top 8
While Modern is an extremely volatile and unpredictable format, there are two things that tend to be true about it:
1. Pro players hate Modern because it’s so volatile and unpredictable, and they are unable to utilize their ability to metagame with such wide-open fields. Modern is very hard to test for because there are so many different decks, and with many pros feeling their testing doesn’t matter anyway, they end up very inexperienced in the format.
2. Players who embrace Modern and commit to learning their decks inside and out tend to have a lot of success despite these difficulties; they keep playing the format week in and week out, understand how each deck works a fundamental level, and accept that it’s just going be swingy sometimes by finding the edges they can control.
With Modern being such a fixture on the SCG Tour for the last few years, while only being played sparingly on the Grand Prix circuit and not at all at Pro Tours, your average Grand Prix/Pro Tour player is going to be significantly behind on the format. A SCG grinder who’s been playing on the tour for the last year or so will have tons of rounds of high-level Modern under their belts, as well as the experience gained from practicing for all those events as well.
Modern is a format of oddities; you can’t just grab a deck you haven’t seen before and expect to play good fundamental Magic and do well. All of the decks do such weird things that having a deeper understanding of how they work is instrumental to success.
The big count against this, of course, is the six rounds of Draft that also have to be played, in which the tables are turned. However, many SCG grinders used to be PTQ grinders, and it’s not uncommon to see them at Limited Grand Prix, either.
Format experience is a huge edge, and just like the Legacy masters are going to be in high demand for the Team Pro Tour, I expect the Modern masters to do very well.
Expect the Unexpected
While the only prediction I’m super-confident about is my first one, that’s part of what makes Modern such an exciting format.
Merfolk wins a Grand Prix and it’s hard to be that surprised; Mono-White Death and Taxes wins an Invitational and it just feels like par for the course. There’s something riveting about a format where anything could happen, and I for one can’t wait to watch the Pro Tour this weekend and see how it all unfolds. There’s also the distinct possibility that a team just breaks it and we get to see domination on a level that doesn’t really happen in Standard.
In Modern, you have to expect the unexpected. Let’s see where it takes us!