Another Pro Tour come and gone. Unfortunately, I finished with a lackluster 8-8 (scooping the last round). This is the second Pro Tour I’ve played since I
won in Valencia, and both times I’ve had underwhelming performances. This time, in Portland I felt the most prepared and confident I ever have for a Pro
Tour, but the things didn’t break my way. Here’s how it went down.
From the moment M15 was completely spoiled and looking at the format it was almost obvious and intuitive what the best way to tackle the new Standard would
Step 1: Find a deck that beats Mono-Black Devotion.
Step 2: Win the tournament.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration but not that far from the truth. It was clear you could try and go under Mono-Black, with burn spells or swarms of
efficient creatures; try to go over Mono-Black, with Sphinx’s Revelation or planeswalkers; or try to go through Mono-Black and beat them at their own game
by adding a second color (White, Green, or Red), and practice with the deck a ton. It was also fairly obvious that none of these approaches would be
particularly effective at besting an opposing player with Thoughtseize, Mutavault, and Pack Rat in tow.
It seemed like most of the edges for this Standard format came from knowing your deck and how it interacts with the format and making sure you had a solid
plan for every matchup. There was not a strategy that broke things, only fairly even matchups and experienced pilots winning with tuned decks.
I tried to go over them, because what am I gonna do, NOT play Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Jace, Architect of Thought before they rotate and
are gone forever? This is the list I ended up with:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will
I thought there was a quote about a lion and a lamb laying down together that would fit perfectly for a deck that has Nyx-Fleece Ram (The Lamb), Brimaz
(The Lion), and Keranos (God).
Unfortunately, this list turned out to be more of a Ram Sandwich than the One True God deck. Even the King of Oreos couldn’t sweeten things enough to
unlock the Magic.
The maindeck is constructed to beat Mono-Black. Keranos is the only god with a very powerful (pardon my pun) static ability that doesn’t require creatures.
Mono-Black has no way of dealing with it if he resolves, and the card and bolt advantage Keranos generates will quickly run away with a game.
If I had to do things over I would probably just cut the Keranos and a couple temples since it probably just wasn’t worth the hassle. With only six red
sources, Keranos isn’t entirely reliable to cast.
It’s possible my undoing was the fact that I was missing out on Archangel of Thune to thematically tie my deck together. That Archangel of Thune was a
sweet way for Ivan Floch to close out the finals. Floch’s winning list looks very good to me, but I still felt Detention Spheres were the way to go over
Planar Cleansing, especially when so many games are lost to Thoughtseize into Pack Rat and Cleansing is just too slow in that situation.
I also feel the Elixir of Immortality package has a lot of things going for it but was largely unnecessary for this tournament. It’s useless versus a bunch
of decks where it’s almost impossible to lose by chaining Revs and drawing most of your library. The shuffle effect just isn’t needed when Elspeth is
really good and more than sufficient in 95% of situations. Picking up unwanted draws was also a real concern.
Still the idea of Elixir is tempting. It’s good against R/W Burn and is the ultimate inevitability engine, even capable of going over the top of an
Aetherling (by getting enough lands to Rev for more than eight each turn. Then you keep recycling your deck).
One of the control lists I came up with was almost good enough and might be an indicator for the direction control lists of the future will move in (if
they survive the rotation of Ravnica).
Divination + Radiant Fountain is the cutest little baby Rev you’ll ever see. The deck suffered from having too many colorless sources, and the power of
Mutavault pushed Radiant Fountain straight out the door.
I was feeling good about draft, having done at least twenty online with very strong results. I felt like it was good to be in an archetype and have a
cohesive strategy. Being in one of the color pairs that had the powerful uncommons that got +1/+1 and had off-colored activations was especially nice.
My preferred archetypes were U/B Control, R/G Ramp/Beats, G/W Convoke, and G/B Dredge. I felt the speed of the format was slightly above average, but a
good control deck could easily fend off aggro decks. I also felt like White would be overdrafted due to the power of Triplicate Spirits, and I would avoid
it if it wasn’t clearly open.
My first draft started with an even assortment of Blue, Black, and Green cards. I solidified into B/U in pack 2 and was rewarded by being passed a Liliana
Vess and Ob Nixilis, Unshackled, aka The Big Ugly Demon.
The deck ended up a few cards short of being good, notably lacking in Jorubai Murk Lurkers and only one Stab Wound and a Festergloom for removal.
I lost round 1 to R/U artifacts, won round 2 vs R/B aggro, and lost round 3 to R/W Soul of Shandalar when he cast Shandalar all three games. That card is
really not beatable.
I was still feeling good about the Standard rounds but lost round 4 to Mono-Red Devotion when I couldn’t find a Supreme Verdict game 1 and died to Chandra,
Purphoros, and Burning Earth game 2. Round 5, 6, and 7 I beat R/W Burn and then Green Aggro before losing to a second Green Aggro deck. I capped off the
day by beating G/W Aggro and squeaking into Day 2 at 4-4. It was interesting that I faced five aggro decks, all of them “good” matchups but not by any
significant margin. It felt like I had spent the entire day just hoping my opponents didn’t have a nutty draw and sometimes they did.
In Day 2, I was lucky enough to be in a seven-person draft pod and started off by opening an Ob-Nixilis. I quickly settled on a G/B Dredge deck that was
once again very mediocre and just a few synergistic cards away from great.
Round 9, I lost to R/W Aggro when he curved out with Soulmender into Ajani’s Pridemate and my Perilous Vault attempted to save the day only to buy me a
turn before I died to Stoke the Flames. Round 10 I got the bye, which feels good even when you’re 4-5. Round 11 I barely beat a U/R artifact deck,
including a game where I milled myself to one card left in library with Roaring Primadox + Satyr Wayfinder recursion.
Back to Cconstructed where I beat B/W Midrange, lost to Mono-Black Devotion, beat Mono-Blue Devotion, and finally dropped out of contention for prize with
a loss to Mono-Black Aggro. Kind of disappointing to not cash, but I believe I managed to keep playing well even though I had no shot at making Top 8. This
is a very good skill to have since it’s very easy to get sloppy when you aren’t playing for the grand prize. It’s best to treat these times as a test and
an opportunity to level up your playing skills by playing as tight as you can, especially at competitive tournaments.
Portland had a very skilled Top 8 but a rather boring one decklist-wise. Every single deck was old news and compared to other Pro Tours, there was very
little innovation. It was still a skill-testing format and rewarded good players for tuning and practicing, it just wasn’t very interesting. Even looking
at lists from Pro Tour Theros at the beginning of the season, you’ll see not much has changed and most of the same archetypes are represented and few new
ones have cropped up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since you can’t have every Standard format be amazing with perfect mana or that would eventually
get boring, sometimes you need to let mono-colored decks shine.
The overall blandness of this Standard is a little bit extra worrisome since it was just announced that all Pro Tours would be Standard and Draft from now
on. Will things get stale too quickly when every Pro Tour features Standard now? I feel like for most pros that is certainly a concern. Block is always
interesting and unexplored, and Modern is at the very least a completely different style, power, and speed from Standard. Exploring new formats with new
cards is what keeps Magic fun! I don’t want to keep eating a cake after it has gone stale, even if you cover it with some new frosting. Standard has always
been at its most interesting when one block is rotating out and a fresh set is rotating in.
What happens if they accidentally end up with another oppressive Caw Blade-ish Standard format where one deck is clearly better than the others? Talk about
putting all your eggs in one basket and then encouraging 400 people to try and break the eggs. Would this sort of world reward the players willing to grind
out the mirror match thousands of times, searching for the perfect 75th card? The incentive to do so would certainly be there when you know every Pro Tour
is likely to feature this Uber Deck.
I’ve always felt like the Pro Tour was meant to highlight the best Wizards competing to come up with innovative strategies and decks and reward the ones
that do that the best. An endless chain of Standard Pro Tours just won’t do this very well without sprinkling in a few untapped formats.
On the other hand, Standard is the most well-known format so it might be easier for less experienced players to follow along the whole season. I would also
expect them to put extra effort into making sure Khans of Tarkir provides a diverse and interesting Standard.
Still it seems very odd to cut support for Modern when it is becoming skill testing, diverse, well-liked, and basically spawning a new market for older
cards. I’m all for playing more Standard, but did you have to take away Modern? As it stands, Block went from being an awesome treat of a format to explore
once a year to not mattering at all. At best, Block will likely be begging for Grand Prix on the street, at worst it will dead in a ditch, alone and
forgotten. Thinking about things from a spectator point of view, I know I would prefer to watch new formats featured regularly at the Pro Tour.
What is good for the game in the long run? Will Standard Pro Tours sell more cards, generate more interest in the game, and help it grow at the cost of
making a few pros get bored? Or will the game suffer from the same format being drilled over and over until many just lose interest? What was wrong with
the way things were? It seemed like the formats of the Pro Tour were great.
The new Magic season has begun, and I get to start grinding Pro Points for “real.” My grace period of freebie Platinum is over, and I’ll need to kick some
butt to earn my keep. I just might need to get really, really into Standard to do so.
On the plus side, none of the other excellent contenders competing for the spot of Captain of the Canadian team managed to surpass me, and I am stoked I
get to represent my country at the World Magic Cup in December. It is going to be one heckuva a week.
How do you feel about the Mono Standard Pro Tour announcement? Is this another obvious error from Wizards in the eyes of most or is demand for Standard
just high enough that it actually makes sense?