This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of Magic players tuned into coverage for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. We quivered with anticipation over what new
strategies and decks would emerge. Our palms were sweaty. Excitement levels? Immeasurable. At least that’s how it was for me. I committed to spending the
bulk of my Friday, Saturday, and Sunday watching intently.
All of this new technology!
All of these new decks!
All of these new Siege Rhinos!
The eruption of innovation was more like a dull thud as many players turned to the pillars of early BFZ Standard: Atarka Red, Abzan, Jeskai Black, and G/W
Megamorph. The talk of the tournament was Christian Calcano’s U/B Aristocrats deck, which I believe may be far more real than some pundits give it credit
In life and Magic, there must be winners and losers. Some rise. Some fall. Today I want to talk about some of the ups and downs from the Pro Tour, and
maybe…just maybe we can help each other understand the bigger picture of what Standard is going to look like going forward.
Winner! Abzan and Siege Rhino
Reports of Siege Rhino’s demise were, to put it plainly, extremely shortsighted and wrong. The problem with how it was reported last week in the wake of
#SCGATL’s scarce showing of Abzan in the Top 32, to me, is more that players wanted to believe that Abzan was no longer a huge
threat rather than identifying that it still would be. The Pro Tour is a small-scale tournament in the sense that players are more easily able to metagame
for it from a level one perspective rather than a GP or Open Series event that brings a ton of players packing homebrews or that don’t compete regularly at
the same level.
In this sense, Abzan was one of the best things players at the Pro Tour could be doing. The loss of cards like Temples, Couser, and Elspeth was clearly a
massive blow, but the format has proven to be creature-driven and augmented by powerful sorceries and planeswalkers rather than the plethora of
instant-speed removal and burn people have been used to over the last few years. This gives Abzan a fantastic edge against plenty of decks out there, and
it still boasts 50/50 at worst against almost all of the field.
We were wrong.
Loser! G/W Megamorph
Perhaps calling G/W Megamorph a loser is a tad hyperbolic, but when checking out the lists of decks that were able to boast 24 points or better in the
Standard portion, only two lists (both with fair amounts of difference) made that distinction. Even more daunting is that a paltry three copies can be
found in the 21-23 point category, showing a massive drop-off in high-level performance.
At #SCGATL, it appeared that G/W Megamorph was poised to be the next King of the Hill for Standard: it’s extremely consistent, the mana is tremendous,
small splashes for blue or red are extremely simple and rewarding, and it has a very good gameplan. All of these things make for a serious contender. One
copy was able to crack the Top 8, but other than that, the deck fell to lots and lots of Jeskai and Abzan.
The saving grace of G/W Megamorph was that it placed number one and two in the best performing Standard decks category, but for the largely-touted “best
deck in the format” it left quite a bit to be desired by way of performance. This leads me to believe that decks like Abzan and Jeskai are able to evolve
at a more rapid pace in order to consistently compete, while G/W Megamorph may not have the extra tools to continuously get better every week.
Two of the best storylines from the PT were that Jon Finkel and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa were able to add another Pro Tour Top 8 to their resume. Finkel’s
15th appearance on Sunday only further extends his legend to heights that players never thought they would reach again. Making Top 4 seemed impossible, but
defeating PVDDR brought him one step closer to another unfathomable win before he lost, one match shy of making the finals.
For people like me who have been following Magic for over fifteen years, seeing a name like Jon Finkel producing another Top 8 is like when your favorite
band from your teenage years puts out another album and it’s a piece of art instead of a piece of…bad music. Jon Finkel is my Deftones.
A part of me felt extremely content to see him put on a performance like this, and my Facebook and Twitter erupted with praise and obligatory “How does he
still do it?” exclamations. Jon Finkel is an important pillar of Magic in the sense that players like Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady are integral to their
respective professional sport. Despite years and years of playing at the highest level they are still able to, for lack of a better word, show us that they
still have the magic.
Loser! The People Who Thought Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy Would Suck
I’m a habitual Google’er. Like many other millennials, if I think of something and I want to learn more about it, I am quick to research it. That means
that before writing this section I typed in “Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy Magic Origin Reviews.”
What occurs from there is a hilarious comedy of misdiagnosis and the complete and utter failure to understand that this version of Jace would go on to
become arguably the second best iteration of the famous planeswalker. There were many, many of this Jace in the Top 8 along with the 21-27 point decks,
with sixteen copies waltzing into Sunday.
At almost $80 dollars (sold out for that matter) Jace has not only proved to be a staple, but to harken back to the previous Zendikar format in
the sense that sometimes, cards can get really expensive because they are that good. Continuing his trend upwards, Jeskai Black has proven that it has the
staying power and backing of a huge portion of the professional community to continue a meteoric rise Magic hasn’t seen in years.
Initially maligned as one of the worst flip planeswalkers of the cycle, this Jace now presents an entirely different problem for players: affordability. If
you didn’t pick these puppies up at $15, you regret it. When it jumped to $50 and folks held off because they believed it would drop, you kicked yourself.
Now that Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy could be seeing a $100 ceiling, the prospect of buying in is just too rich for some people’s blood.
Winner! Those Cards You Thought Were Dead Aren’t Dead
One of the more pleasing occurrences of the weekend was that, in multiple well-performing decklists there were sightings of cards we haven’t seen very much
of in a while! Owen Turtenwald and Jon Finkel’s team brought out Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker from his early retirement and showcased what the once powerful
planeswalker is capable of doing. One thing that held Sarkhan back in the previous Standard was the abundance of Hero’s Downfall. Without the ability to
respond to his +1 ability, Sarkhan can cleanly kill your opponent’s freshly cast Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as well as doubling as removal down the line
against almost all the four-power-or-less creatures out there. This may finally be the return of Sarkhan.
Martin Muller brought Jeskai Ascendancy back from obscurity with his explosive Jeskai Tokens deck, proving that pumping tokens and drawing insane amounts
of cards never really goes out of style. As I’ve talked about before, this format seems to be a lot of midrange and games going later than players are used
to outside of the Atarka Red matches. This gives Jeksai Ascendancy the time to get itself online as well as sculpt a perfect boardstate that can maximize
the namesake enchantment. Eventually Treasure Cruises bury your opponent and allow you to chain a gratuitous amount of spells to kill them.
Time will tell if these cards were brought back from the dead to be staples again or just replaying the hits.
The Grand Winner: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Without a shadow of a doubt, Gideon is the ultimate realization of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.
We all knew Gideon was powerful and that it would be good. That goes without being said. The last few weeks have reaffirmed that initial reviews were
correct and that we’ll be slinging the four mana planeswalker for the duration of its legality.
What no one could see ahead of time was how Gideon wouldn’t just be a big player, but instead one of the pillars of Standard. The abundance of Gideon in
the Top 8 and 21-27 point decks is staggering. This level of dominance has not been seen since Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Am I comparing the two? Of course
not, but it is a hell of a rare occurrence when 63 copies of a card appears in the best performing decks of the most difficult tournament of the year.
Currently sold out, it’s closing in on do-or-die time with Gideon to pull the trigger on getting your set or risk that it increases again. I can very
easily see a ceiling of $60 on this card in the near future.
The ubiquity of Gideon rests in the ease in which he is cast in his accompanying decks. With manabases becoming more and more understood, he’s appearing in
multiple places: Jeskai, G/W Megamorph, Abzan, Jeskai Tokens, and other decks.
This card is the real deal, and aside from Jace, will be a necessity for a lot of competitive players moving forward.
Your winner of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar?
Your loser for this weekend? Me. Not only did I skip SCG States to play in a GPT for Atlanta, but I was felled in the finals.
At least it feels like the format has opened up a little and the PT brought some new ideas and iterations of popular decks to the table. I think we can all
be thankful for that.