My Predictions For Pro Tour Rivals Of Ixalan

Yesterday, Jim Davis gave his predictions for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Today, it’s Gerry Thompson’s turn! Writing before Round 1 kicks off, he calls his shots on the metagame, the surprises, and why he thinks he and his editor will take some cash home from Spain!

The last Modern Pro Tour was almost two years ago. Leading up to it, Modern looked like a fair format. Then two different teams worked hard to break it and found great Eldrazi decklists. Without that Pro Tour, who knows how long it would have taken for a great Eldrazi deck to show up and ruin the winter?

Historically, that’s how it’s been. Nearly each Modern Pro Tour has been followed by a ban. Without the Pro Tours, Modern would continue to be a healthy format for longer and people could play with their cards longer. It’s not a format that stands up well under scrutiny because there are too many cards.

So, what’s going to happen this time? Will history repeat itself? These are my predictions.

Death’s Shadow Will Underperform

Both Grixis– and Jund-based Death’s Shadow decks have been performing poorly as more decks crop up that are resilient to targeted discard. When Thoughtseize amounts to a Raven’s Crime, decks perform much better against black decks. U/R Gifts Storm, Tron, Valakut, Humans, Affinity, and Burn each shrug off Thoughtseizes with ease, so how will the supposed best deck adapt?

Despite all the naysaying, Grixis Death’s Shadow is obviously on my list of decks to play. It’s what I know the best, and depending on how things shake out, it could accidentally end up being well-positioned against the Day 2 metagame. It’s also possible that a build focused on killing creatures could do particularly well.

The most recent trend is for Grixis to play two copies of Temur Battle Rage, hoping to cheese out the bad matchups. I’m not a huge fan of that strategy, but it seems like a necessary evil. You could take it a step further and include the Kiln Fiend package, something I heavily considered for this Pro Tour.

Ultimately, it detracts from Grixis Death’s Shadow’s ability to shift roles and pigeonholes you into being the aggressor. Against decks like Affinity and Humans, that might not work out very well. If the field were all Storm and big mana, I’d be sleeving up Kiln Fiends again.

Overall, it’s possible that Death’s Shadow has spent enough time underperforming that maybe it’s under the radar. Pro Tour players notoriously underrate the SCG Tour results, and that could potentially punish them at this tournament.

Will players rely on their strong matchup against Death’s Shadow with decks like Affinity and Humans, only to slam head-first into a Death’s Shadow deck that’s tuned against aggressive decks, or will control rule the day?

Either way, Death’s Shadow has its work cut out for it.

Dredge Will Falter, but a Graveyard Deck Will Rise

I won’t necessarily play graveyard hate in this Pro Tour, but if I do, it will probably be something like Relic of Progenitus or Nihil Spellbomb to fight Tarmogoyf Snapcaster Mage and Gurmag Angler. Hopefully I either have a strategy that’s inherently good against Dredge or I manage to dodge it. Dredge is only scary if you let it be, and most of the top decks will have a good matchup against it.

Most people will have the same strategy, which should open the door for a real graveyard strategy to perform well. The trick is finding one that doesn’t implode on itself once per match.

Is this the future?

I doubt it, as a loss to Humans isn’t particularly inspiring. However, it’s early and there’s plenty of work to do in regards to tuning this deck. Even with Faithless Looting, nineteen lands seems like too few. The full Goryo’s Vengeance package is probably unnecessary as well.

Very little in the way of interaction is odd. Given that this deck has multiple combos, I would expect to play an interactive game while trying to set up what works best. With that in mind, I’d like to see something like Thoughtseize or Lightning Bolt in the deck.

Aggro Will Rule the Tournament

Humans and Affinity are both excellent decks that are fast enough to beat up on combo and big mana decks. They are basically the best combo decks in the format. Both also happen to mostly shrug off Thoughtseizes.

If Modern is a sea of Thoughtseizes, Burn, and big mana decks, aggro decks are going to smash people. Affinity is weak to artifact hate, but you really need to skew your midrange or big mana deck in order to have a good aggro matchup. Trying to clean them up in the sideboard games isn’t going to be enough.

Humans Will Be the Creature Deck of Choice

Humans is scary good. Sadly, it invalidates many other tribal or aggressive decks because it does what they do, except much better. Humans has a bunch of disruption and a blisteringly fast clock, whereas the other tribal decks have one or the other.

The five-color manabase plus Aether Vial makes the mana a non-issue, but there are limitations imposed by the Ancient Ziggurat manabase. Instead of being limited by what colors you can play, you’re limited to your tribe and creatures in general. Some cards like Dismember and Grafdigger’s Cage are easy enough to cast, but for the most part, you’re stuck with cards that say “Human” on them.

Given the options available for that creature type, that’s not necessarily the worst thing. Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben provide ample disruption to keep combo decks in check. Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant provide the fast clock. Mantis Rider has evasion in case the battlefield gets bogged down. Reflector Mage punishes Gurmag Angler. Additionally, Phantasmal Image allows you to double up on whatever your best card is at the moment.

We’re at a point where Humans is pushing the envelope for what an aggressive deck is capable of. It also does so while being almost strictly better than every other aggressive deck out there. Not to alarm people, but Wild Nacatl was banned for diversity reasons, so seeing something get the axe from Humans wouldn’t be crazy to me. Aether Vial is the scary enabler that adds ten mana over the course of the game, but it’s also the card that helps the other tribal (and Death and Taxes) decks.

We’re going to see Kessig Malcontents melt faces on camera.

Big Mana Will Be Popular, But Will Struggle on Day 2

I can’t imagine many people are going to enter this tournament hoping to dodge big mana decks. Those decks have done well as of late on the Grand Prix and RPTQ circuits and will be a popular choice among players without pro levels. Will those players make it out of the draft rounds alive? Even if they do, I hope they’re prepared for the onslaught of aggression that they’ll face.

Piotr Glogowski (Kanister) Will Top 16 and Sam Black Will Top 50 with Lantern

Maybe there will be one other secret master who crushes it with Lantern, but these two will be leading the pack, mostly because they will wisely focus on their Draft preparation.

Ensnaring Bridge is in an excellent position. Lantern is also probably the best possible deck to play in the Pro Tour, if only because it will be the best deck that no one has practiced against. I can count how many matches I’ve played against Lantern lifetime on one hand, and while I think I understand the deck, I’ll be prone to making mistakes against more than any other deck in the field.

Despite being an artifact-based strategy, Lantern should be able to weather the storm.

Burn Will Be the Worst-Performing Deck

Affinity is a bad matchup for Burn. Death’s Shadow and Humans will be ready for it. Storm is going to smash it.

Burn might prey on Tron decks, but those won’t remain in the winner’s bracket for very long. Similarly to Dredge, there are several decks in the field that have a naturally solid matchup against Burn. You can fully expect the largest flop for Burn in Modern’s history, and it won’t even necessarily be on the back of hate cards.

Still, Burn will be a deck that players and even teams may choose to play because they don’t know what to play, don’t know Modern well, or come to some convoluted conclusion as to why it’s supposedly good.

There Will Be Zero Current Hall of Famers in the Top 8

Modern is a young person’s game. Despite it being Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, there will be zero Dinosaurs in the Top 8. However, three players in this Top 8 will be inducted into the Hall of Fame within the next five years.

Jeskai Control Will Lose in the Finals

Lightning Helix, Supreme Verdict, and Snapcaster Mage will slice through Humans, Burn, and Affinity, but will have to get lucky and dodge big mana and Storm.

If someone has a tuned list and gets some above-average pairings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a good showing from Jeskai. It’s easier said than done, and if you want to spike this Pro Tour, you are probably better off playing something like G/W Hexproof.

I Will Cash the Pro Tour

This might be a bold claim, considering I haven’t quite narrowed down my deck choice yet as I write this, but whatever. I finished 50th at Grand Prix London after going 5-1 in Draft and I’m really feeling it. I had some fight in me last weekend, and unless I continue waking up at 4 AM local time, I think I’ll be in fighting shape.

Despite not having a deck and not playing tournament Modern in quite a while, Modern has been my best format, even if it doesn’t exactly seem that way.

If I play traditional Grixis Death’s Shadow, I predict a 6-4 record. Eldrazi Tron would get me a 5-5 record. G/W Hexproof might secure me a 7-3 record, but I’d be absolutely miserable playing it. W/U Eldrazi and Taxes is rad, but doesn’t look good for this field, unfortunately.

I would pay a lot of money to whoever would ship me a decklist that would carry me to an 8-2 record. That just seems impossible to me.

Cedric Phillips Will Cash the Pro Tour

I’ll be honest. I’m just angling for a raise here. (CEDitor’s Note: Savvy veteran move here by Gerry T.)

Still, a format where the best strategy is to be attacking? Who else could you possibly want at the helm? Let’s hope Cedric doesn’t mess it up and play something dumb. (CEDitor’s Note: The Draft format is tribal-based and I’m playing Humans in Modern. If ever there was a time for me to win a string of matches!)

Something Will Be Banned After the Pro Tour

Oddly enough, it’s possible that my predictions are both at odds and will happen anyway. Even if Death’s Shadow underperforms, I wouldn’t be surprised if something like Street Wraith or even Death’s Shadow itself gets banned after the Pro Tour.

Street Wraith is already on my watch list, along with Simian Spirit Guide, Mox Opal, Faithless Looting, and Manamorphose. Even if these cards aren’t in dominant decks at the moment, they will likely be banned at some point. Each of those cards is a unique enabler for potentially broken interactions, even if the decks themselves aren’t inherently broken.

The splash damage from banning these cards would be very real, as there are some decks that use them as tools merely to compete with the other, more powerful decks in the format. Losing those decks from Modern would be truly unfortunate, but the games are drastically different when those cards are drawn early enough.


I’m actually kind of excited for this Pro Tour, although definitely more as a spectator. Will someone break it? I doubt it, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to try. As an outsider, I’ve enjoyed seeing Modern evolve over the last year and I don’t think we’re done. Maybe this is the solved version of the format at the moment, but I find that difficult to believe.

Who knows! Maybe the metagame will be completely different…