The Levels Of Pro Tour Ixalan Standard

Only the decklist-keepers at Pro Tour Ixalan know what the metagame will look like at first, but guessing at it is crucial for participants! Brad Nelson reveals his perceived levels for the event and predictions!

As you’re reading this, Pro Tour Ixalan is already underway. The players have drafted, hoping their 42 cards are good enough to get them to Standard with a respectable record. Ixalan Draft may have its frustrations, but they’re nothing compared to trying to figure out what’s best to play in Constructed this weekend. Standard has evolved quite a lot since Andrew Jessup won the first Open with Sultai Energy, but even those Week 1 decks have a spot in this whirlwind of a format. Today we break down each level, and predict what to expect this weekend from Ixalan Standard!

Level 1 Strategies

Ramunap Red isn’t anything new, but its place in the metagame may be. For months now there’s been a debate about who’s favored between Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. The World Championships this year ended the debate as Temur Energy absolutely demolished the deck. Since then Ramunap Red has been quiet, and many aggressive players have moved onto other variants. That’s until Brandon Burton showed up this past weekend and put the deck back on the map. So what’s the deal with Ramunap Red? Is the deck good or bad for this weekend?

Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out later in the article.

Level 2 Strategies

Temur Energy was more popular than “Temur Black” at the World Championships and performed just as well (clearly better), putting to rest the argument that a splash for The Scarab God puts one deck over the top. Not splashing also improves the aggressive matchups, which was one of the biggest reasons to ignore the fourth color. Due to so many players going down this path, we’ve seen Ramunap Red dwindle in numbers. This has allowed Temur Energy pilots to get more adventurous in their attempts to exploit the mirrors. From there we’ve seen some nice evolutions.

U/B Control has a very good midrange matchup, and those who played the deck leaned on that around the World Championships and US Nationals. Since then the deck has struggled some, as there’s been a huge evolution in aggressive decks. Mono-Black, R/B Aggro, and Mardu Vehicles have all started showing up, causing U/B Control to lower in numbers. As the deck started to do worse, another took its place, as it can defeat aggressive strategies.

Level 3 Strategies

U/W Approach has been picking up in popularity as of late due to what was just said. U/B Control is struggling due to rush-based strategies, which U/W Approach has the ability to defeat. Well, in theory. I personally don’t think U/W Approach beats decks like Mono-Black Aggro, but that might just be me. As you all know by now, I despise these types of strategies and am usually biased in my assessment.

Four-Color Energy is the next evolution of Temur Energy. It has slightly worse mana than Temur Energy but a much higher power level in the later turns against “mirrors.” The exclusion of Glorybringer isn’t universal when splashing black, but it is what I’ve found to be best. For whatever the reason, I’ve only liked either zero or four copies of Glorybringer in my Temur Energy decks. That’s because the best card to follow up a Glorybringer is another copy of it. Since I want to play The Scarab God, I’d rather supplement them with Skysovereign, Consul Flagship instead.

Esper Gift has been a popular deck on Magic Online but hasn’t yet had any breakout success. My personal reasoning for this is that the deck isn’t that good, but that doesn’t make it unplayable. Just like Abzan Tokens, if you want to beat this deck, you can. The only issue is, will people have enough hate for the matchup for this weekend? It’s not the most threatening deck, since it hasn’t had enough success to become too popularized, but it’s still championed by some respectable players on the SCG Tour. My gut tells me this deck will be underrepresented and do poorly, but I’ve been wrong before.

B/R Aggro has started to pop up from time to time on Magic Online, as its indestructible threats are difficult to deal with out of Temur Energy and Ramunap Red. This deck doubles down on that as it will sideboard in Bontu’s Last Reckoning against Temur Energy, which can be a total blowout at any stage of the game. The deck does suffer in the Ramunap Red matchup, given its inconsistency issues due to having more colors, but Aethersphere Harvester can help out from time to time.

Level 4 Strategies

Oh, look, another Energy variant! This time it cut Longtusk Cub to have a stronger Game 1 in the “mirror.” Longtusk Cub is a liability in the “mirrors,” as it doesn’t net any value when it’s interacted with, unlike even Servant of the Conduit. These matchups are a grindfest of value, making it crucial to hoard every energy counter.

Now, even though some do this, I for one don’t think Longtusk Cub-less versions will perform all too well at the tournament. The card is just too important against U/W Approach and hyper-aggressive strategies. Removing them from the deck only really improves one game in the midrange matchups, as everyone has the ability to sideboard them out after Game 1. This doesn’t seem advantageous enough for me to consider a winning strategy in deck construction. That said, Victor did win the PTQ in Phoenix, which makes me believe others may follow suit, right or wrong.

Mono-Black Aggro may very well be a deck you’re unaware even existed. It put up one result in a recent Magic Online Championship Qualifier, and since then it has been picking up steam in the Standard Leagues. One of the biggest benefits to playing this deck is its absurdly good control matchup, but it also can go toe-to-toe with Energy variants. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty favored against most versions of Temur. The only card that’s given this deck issues out of Temur Energy is Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Now, I’m unsure if this deck will be highly played this weekend, but I would expect it to have decent results in limited numbers.

Team MGG’s Sultai Energy deck was a breakout early in the season but eventually went under due to the deck’s issue with Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Glorybringer. It was sad for fans, as the deck was rather good against the rest of the metagame. The deck went silent for some time but has started to gain some popularity on Magic Online.

Curious as to why, I investigated. It seems that after the Temur Energy variants moved away from Glorybringer, their matchup against Sultai Energy went down significantly. Hostage Taker is a strong answer to opposing The Scarab Gods, and the mythic rare can sometimes be too slow against a battlefield of synergistic creatures even when unanswered. Picking apart the deck’s “combos” is how you beat Sultai Energy, and versions of Four-Color Energy that don’t play a high density of red cards suffer.

Well, Logan Nettles really shot the moon on this one. This deck is designed to wreak havoc in the Energy mirrors, as it’s a value-creating machine. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a Longtusk Cub that is good all game long but also has to be answered on Turn 2, plus you net an energy! After that, he’s got Gonti, Lord of Luxury as his four-drop. Now, this isn’t Bristling Hydra against Ramunap Red or even in the mirrors, as it’s important to not get attacked. Bristling Hydra can hold a battlefield back, while Gonti, Lord of Luxury can be killed by removal. All that said, it does dig for an opposing card, and whenever it hits a removal spell, you’re in business.

Decks like this are about as inbred as one could get to defeat other Energy-based midrange strategies. They are heavily favored against straight three-color Temur Energy and still do well against other versions with similar cards thanks to their density of high-impact spells. That does cause cards like Whirler Virtuoso to do extra-heavy lifting against aggressive strategies. Logan’s deck almost can’t even put up a fight against those decks without drawing this three-mana Thopter creator.

You can tell by the sideboard that Logan is well aware of how good his midrange matchups are, and also how bad his control/aggro matchups have become. Four Negates and Duress are there to help out against control while the rest is for the aggressive matchups. In fact, he doesn’t sideboard a single card against his “mirrors.”

This caps out the levels before they begin to get cyclical and convoluted. The extreme cases at Level 4 in fact start to have bad matchups against decks like Ramunap Red. That’s extremely important to understand, as it’s not out of the question that most players playing Temur Energy will splash. That’s due to how bad their mirrors get when their opponents have Vraska, Relic Seeker and The Scarab God. For example, I’m fairly certain that no major team will have the courage to show up with four-Glorybringer Temur, as they’ve found out how rough the “mirrors” would be. It’s difficult to know exactly how deep most will go down this rabbit hole, but if enough find themselves without Longtusk Cub, you could see Ramunap Red running rampant. That’s if anyone has the courage to play the deck in the first place.

What makes this process so fascinating is that every strategy on every level will be represented. There are even countless decks I excluded from today’s article, as I don’t believe they will do well or be played highly. Tokens, for example, is one of them.

It’s a fool’s errand to pinpoint the entire metagame, which is why most players pick a deck that facilitates their skillset and knowledge in the format. Those who test extensively will end up playing with what they’ve won the most with even, if that’s from Magic Online data, which I don’t put much stock in myself. This last reasoning is why I don’t believe Glorybringer will be as heavily played as it has been. That doesn’t mean the card won’t exist, obviously.

If I had to guess at a metagame, this would be it.

Ramunap Red: 14%

Like I said earlier, I predict Ramunap Red to be a decent choice for this weekend. There have been enough distractions, causing the majority to lose focus on this matchup. Cards like Chandra’s Defeat has been replaced with Magma Spray to deal with Scrapheap Scrounger. Even Longtusk Cub isn’t a for-sure four-of anymore. Anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the midrange mirrors could easily pick this deck up. Fourteen percent may very well be on the safe side, as it wouldn’t shock me if the number was closer to twenty percent.

Temur Energy (Glorybringer/Chandra): 10%

Temur Black: 15%

Four-Color Energy (No Longtusk Cub): 6%

Jaberwocki Style (Super-Inbred): 6%

Temur variants should come in at roughly 40%. It may well be the best deck in the format, but never in history has that made everyone want to play the deck. Since there are so many variations, due to cannibalization they start to feel like different decks, as many of the archetypes out there have good matchups against some versions and bad ones against the others. This will make it very interesting for those in the thick of it, but it’ll blend together into a boring mess for spectators at home.

Sultai Energy: 10%

Sultai Energy has a decent Ramunap Red matchup while also being able to defeat any Temur variant that doesn’t play Glorybringer. The deck’s also good against many of the other decks in the field. All that said, Glorybringer is a death sentence for this deck, and there should be enough in the room to keep the archetype as a whole from overperforming.

R/B Aggro: 8%

I don’t have much more to say about this archetype except that some people just want to play with hard-to-kill threats. This deck could also be much better than the masses know if a big team figured out how to build it. If that’s the case, then this deck could get as popular as 12%.

U/B Control: 5%

U/W Approach: 7%

I don’t see there being that much control at this event. I have learned time and time again that I’m usually wrong about this assessment. Players just love control, even if it’s not that good. I don’t even think these decks are good enough to deserve 12% of a metagame, but funny enough, these decks could make up as much as 25%. It just comes down to how many people want to sightsee on Saturday.

Mardu Vehicles: 8%

This may seem high, but I expect Heart of Kiran numbers to go up. The deck isn’t bad against Temur and is decent against other aggressive decks. It’s an all-around medium strategy with very few bad matchups, but the splash damage from artifact hate for Tokens is dwindling. Tokens just hasn’t put up good enough results for respect.

Esper Gift: 5%

This might be high or low. I really have no clue.

Mono-Black Aggro: 4%

I expect a very low showing for this deck but for its percentage to go up on Day 2. This will most likely be the breakout deck of the tournament if enough players show up with it.

As for what I’m playing, you’ll just have to wait and find out. As I’m writing this, Brian Braun-Duin and Paul Dean are grinding away at a very important matchup that will most likely decide what we play this weekend. I’m hoping it goes the way I want it to so I don’t have to register some variant of Temur. Like I said earlier, it’s frustrating trying to figure out what variant of Energy is appropriate to play this weekend. I’d much rather avoid it if I can.

Wish me luck, and make fun of my predictions after the actual data comes out! I hope you’ll be watching me on Sunday!