As I’m sitting at Modern States, awaiting the player meeting so I can claim the title I called last week (or claim defeat; same thing), I, like most players of
the competitive scene, had their eyes glued to the Standard portion of the Pro Tour. Ten rounds across two days of the stiffest competition in the world is
no easy thing to go through for Constructed, and certainly not an easy feat for Limited either. As I sit and watch, there are a lot of things that I felt
was spot on about my reservations about the format, as well as things I didn’t see coming. This was to be expected, as basically anything can happen, and
it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going to wind up doing well and what’s not.
The Pro Tour Takeaways
It can be very easy to look at the Pro Tour and say “Well, there were the same decks doing the same thing as the Open Series! This format sucks!” Those
claims are usually made by the uninspired and uninspiring, and we don’t uninspire here. We want to look closely and figure out at the nuances of each
archetype and what they’re doing differently within their respective spectrums. This leads us to the first thing I learned:
There are a ton of different things you can do within the best super-archetypes.
Jeskai Black has at least three different, yet distinct builds. G/W Megamorph can splash any other color and go from there. Even Atarka Red has the G/R
Landfall variant, and those decks can probably support more robust options that we haven’t seen yet. To me, this is a very healthy format, just in a
different way from what we’ve been used to the past year, or even the past few years. I mean, does it matter how many decks you can play in a format when
almost all of them are doing virtually the same thing? A good chunk of Thragtusk/Thundermaw Hellkite Standard sure played that way. Diversity is often
misinterpreted by players, and many fall into the illusionary trap of seeing ten decks with different cards, then claiming an open format. Because of all
this, when you see the big three decks of this Standard at a glance, it’ll seem like things are strained, when this is far from the case. If the big three
archetypes have subsets that all behave drastically differently, does that mean there are only three different decks?
Tri-lands aren’t as bad as we thought.
This is primarily geared toward Jeskai Black, but the notion that tri-lands are “unplayable,” “bad,” or “not as good as Battle Lands” is kind of skewed.
Firstly, why does it matter if something isn’t as good as something else if it fits what you want the job to do? Of course, you’re going to want to have
your fetchland + Battle land base, but what’s the next best thing after that? If it’s tri-Lands, you’ll play them, so who cares about how good they are in
comparison? That way of thinking is way too limiting, as is any sort of comparison that lacks any purpose, or doing it just for the sake of comparison.
Mystic Monastery has proven to be a crucial tool in a number of Jeskai decks, regardless of if they’re splashing black. The builds that feature
Thunderbreak Regent are especially in need of more multicolored sources because of how difficult it is to meet the requirement for all of their colors. The
other consideration to tri-lands is the advent of the red decks as well. While it’s not exactly a direct reason to play tri-lands as much as it is a
byproduct of choosing to play them, and while the red decks don’t exactly chip away at damage playing Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage, there will be
games where the lower fetchland count saving some life here and there could give you a percentage here and there. Again, not a big thing, but worth noting.
It’s a Jace and Atarka’s Command format, and we’re all living in it.
If it wasn’t obvious to you at this point…
If you don’t have a plan for dealing with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, then you best find one or lose to it. It’s the best card in the format, and it isn’t
particularly close. The amount of options he gives you, all of which are busted in half, are enormous. Similar to the last time we were on Zendikar, there
was one major equalizer in Standard that kept him from really busting loose, and that was Searing Blood (and to a lesser extent recently, Courser of
Kruphix and Lightning Strike had something to say too). Now, Jace has completely fleshed itself out and is warping the format in ways we haven’t seen in a
very long time. Ojutai’s Command going from “pretty good” to easily one of the best non-creature spells in the format is solely because of Jace, and that’s
just one example. You can play it in aggressive decks, control decks, midrange decks. Anything. It truly is the face of this Standard format.
That is…unless Atarka’s Command is going to fight back.
Now, I don’t think that Atarka’s Command is as strong as Jace in a vacuum, as vacuums are for dirty floors. I don’t even think that it’s the strongest card
in the deck. It is, however,without a doubt, the card that keeps everything together, and that’s exactly what Jace decks do as well. Atarka’s Command is
the grease on the wheels, even if those wheels don’t have as much torque as a Jace deck has.
Is there really just a “Big Three”?
Were the pros unable to “break it”? Is Siege Rhino no longer a force to be reckoned with? What remains of white midrange decks without Elspeth? Did the
Open Series finally break the hidden deck technology propaganda!?
We all know about G/W Megamorph, Atarka Red, and Jeskai Black. But does Esper Dragons have anything to say about it? What about U/B Aristocrats? We still
have Abzan floating around, and I would never count the Doctor of Siege-Rhinomics out. Sam Black’s Bant Tokens deck is something I have major stock in, but
I’m sure he’s going to go in depth with it later this week.
More importantly, how are these decks going to evolve moving forward? The easy answer is “wait until we see who wins the tournament,” but that’s way too
narrow for me. You don’t just walk into a tournament with 50% of players playing whatever won the Pro Tour. It just doesn’t work that way. Every single
deck that was highlighted, winning, or otherwise positioned in the first place is going to have to adjust to everything, and that leads to the final
We need to look much deeper than the winner, or even the top 8.
Remember when Mono-Blue Devotion won Pro Tour Theros, but Mono-Black Devotion was the winner for the majority of that set’s format? Part of that was
because of the massive overreaction of Master of Waves, specifically (and in part to the lack of highlighting of anything but Mono-Blue Devotion, but
that’s another story).
If you’re going to look at the top 8, understand that the Draft portion was a major contributor to everyone’s success, not just their Standard decks. Look
at the top 16 and top 32. Better yet, the absolute best thing you could do is look at the top Constructed decks of the entire ten rounds of Standard
(usually X-3 or better), then deduce and build a gauntlet from there. If you’re going to look at the actual scope of the metagame, do it fairly. It’s an
injustice to simply ignore the Standard decks that had a great record because of a player that bombed Draft.
We are in a time where our innovation will thoroughly be tested. I don’t know where the next step will be for the Standard format, but information should
be taken in more than ever. Read everything, and absorb it, even if you don’t agree with it. Look at everything, because the last thing you want to do is
Standard is great.