The Pro Tour and the Impact on Standard

Fresh off a money finish at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, Shaheen discusses his deck of choice (Esper Control, what else?), the potential of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in post-rotation Standard, and more.

Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is now in the books, along with Theros Block Constructed, for this veteran mage. I didn’t really prepare as much as I wanted to,
or collaborate with the testing team as often as I would have liked, because of the busy schedule I’ve had these last few months; however, I learned quite
a few things about cards that I have written off as unplayable, as well as cards that I think will make an impact after rotation. The best part about this
trip, besides seeing my friends on the Pro Tour that I haven’t seen in so long, was definitely the ultra-competitive atmosphere that I thrived in many
years ago. Right after the Limited portion of Day 1, I was asked by Rich Hagon and Brian David Marshall to do a deck tech, which was always the highlight
of my prior Pro Tour trips. They knew I always come to Pro Tours packing technology that many other mages didn’t think about or have previously written
off, and fortunately they were not disappointed, because ever since I have played in high-level events I have always done the rogue thing. It’s not because
I’m at some high level that others aren’t. I play these fringe cards and archetypes because comfort level, play time, and card familiarity are always on my

There are some players out there that can pick up any Tier 1 deck and wreak havoc across the board, but I don’t have that luxury. If I were to playtest,
grind Magic Online more, or even do a bit more research on the major archetypes, then I am sure I’d do “all right” with them, but my experiences have shown
me that playing what you know is much more effective without a lot of hard work put into it. The beauty of control is that it’s malleable. You can change
the same list with a few modifications here and there to meet the metagame and shifts in the format.

There have been cards that have completely lifted me out of my comfort zone by their sheer power and the most recent one in memory was Talrand, Sky
Summoner. That card was so sweet that I abandoned Esper for a few tournaments and rode the drake summoner to an Open Series and Invitational Series Top 8.
To be fair, I was still running a lot of Islands, which can only expand my game so much. In Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, I decided to run Esper Control, but
not the traditional style that many have seen. I know a lot of you don’t care about Block (neither did I, really), but there are some parts of that Block
deck that I want to discuss for a future Standard. Rotation is far away, but even though we have many tournaments before that, it is never too early to
speculate on what will be powerful and what cards to hold on to. You all know that I’m not a huge tournament report guy, but I’d like to give you guys a
little rundown on my experiences through the tournament as well.

Deck Tech

Day 1

I came in with medium hopes instead of the usual high aspirations of finally Top 8’ing one of these things. The lack of preparation was definitely the
biggest factor in my lack of faith, but another large reason was the lack of Supreme Verdict! What kind of world would we live in without adequate board
sweepers? The answer is a terrible one. Block as a format spooked me even before I started playing an official round of it, but I had to go in with true
control as my weapon if I were to have a chance at success. I started off Day 1 with a smooth 2-1 record in Limited and was undefeated in Block up until
the last round. After finishing my deck tech with the crew, I was pushed into the feature match area on camera against Josh McClain, who was the victor of
Grand Prix Detroit. I have been pretty bad keeping up with who’s hot and who’s not these days, so I asked him who he was and what he has done. I had to ask
because I knew that my talents weren’t the reason why we were at the feature camera at the Pro Tour and he filled me in on the details.

Josh was one of the nicest opponents I’ve played in a long time and was as gracious as any champion I’ve seen, but I still had something to prove to the
world watching on camera and would allot no mercy. I won Game 1 off of the dominance of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Prognostic Sphinx, as many would
expect from my deck. An early Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver almost guarantees victory in Block if unchecked, and that will be the bulk of this article’s
discussion soon enough. Game 2 was quite different. The game was going fully in my favor as I ripped his hand apart with Thoughtseize and cast a Prognostic
Sphinx with only one of his cards unknown. The unknown card was Dissolve, and he quickly dispatched my win condition. He scryed the card to the top,
untapped and slammed his sixth land and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

I had no answer in hand to the Planeswalker and was quickly dying to a battalion of soldier tokens commanded by McClain. My life total was above the final
swing of soldiers unless Josh chose to ultimate his Planeswalker and go for the win. I’d boarded out three of my four Bile Blight, and during my final draw
step before his fated decision, I drew my only “out” against him. I begrudgingly passed the turn to Josh and waited for his decision to either put me to a
low, single-digit number or go for it. I was passing my cards from hand to hand, placing it down and selling the face of defeat. I knew if I were to just
sit there and not put on some kind of show I would have died, but my acting paid off as he shrugged and prepared to send the team in. When he saw me drop
the Bile Blight, his heart sank and I gradually clawed my way back to victory that game.

After the match Josh told me that he had never made a mistake like that as far back as he could remember and told me I did sell it pretty well. I usually
don’t dance around and try to snag a win with facial expressions, but for some reason I knew it would work.

Day Two

I started off strong again in Limited with a 2-1 record the next morning. After a great Constructed performance the day before, I felt that I had a real
shot for a Top 8 run but had to push through some killer competition. I lost two more rounds to a few gentlemen but slayed a few big names like Makihito
Mihara and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. Mihara was the guy I intentionally drew with at Worlds in 2006 to knock myself out of the Top 8, so that victory had added
importance for me. Defeating Wafo-Tapa was another milestone for me personally, because I’ve played all the big names around the world a few times and
beating the control master was definitely something on my Magic bucket list. He even chose to draw Game 3 against me and I gave him the crazy look as I
proceeded to ride Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to victory in the early turns.

Going into the final round, I was at a win-and-in for top 25 and getting to the next Pro Tour. I saw the pairings board and noticed I was playing with my
friend I rode up with, Zach Jesse. I heard him yell “Yessssssss!!!!!!!!!” when he saw who he was playing against, because we both knew the matchup was
unwinnable for me. To get so close and realize that there was no shot for the train was pretty devastating, and he proceeded to win and get 26th place. I
ended the tournament in 52nd place, and even though that’s not a bad finish, it just wasn’t good enough. This isn’t the last Pro Tour for this grizzled
veteran, but my dream at this point is to get a token,
moreso than a few thousand bucks with a couple of pro points. I’m preparing and getting my Season Two Invitational decks ready, because that is a
tournament format I know inside and out.

Cards for Standard’s Future

The three-mana Planeswalker was the brunt of my jokes from release to about a month ago. I criticized its inability to defend itself, produce card
advantage, or slow down an aggressive front, and I still believe it is too weak for current Standard. After playing it in Block and at the Pro Tour, I do
realize the power of this card in a format that is much slower. Once Standard rotates and the aggressive decks get their few months of weakness, this card
can really make an impact as a powerful early play. With Jace, Architect of Thought going the way of the dinosaur after the summer, we will need something
to soak up the damage and produce some kind of advantage in the meantime, and that card is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. There could be a fantastic
Planeswalker in M15 or in the next major set, but I think that history has shown us that dominant cards in Block can easily transition to major players in

So why was Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver so good, you ask? Let’s go over the reasons:

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver will produce card advantage in a slower format. It doesn’t produce card advantage as consistently in Standard as it does in
Block at the moment, but when that gap closes, the Dimir Planeswalker will deserve more game time. This slower world could also include a two-drop that can
protect Ashiok and give the necessary time to place creatures onto the battlefield. There were some games where a simple Thoughtseize bought enough time in
block for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to run amok, but in Standard I don’t think it’ll be that easy.

• Creatures placed on the battlefield absorb a ton of damage. Even against the most aggro of decks in Block, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver gave me a ton of
virtual life with the damage it absorbed. I would argue that this Planeswalker is better against the midrange and heavy-creature decks because of the
amount of life and protection that Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver hypothetically brings. The true weakness of this Planeswalker, even in a Block setting, is the
variance attached. There were times where I played it against an opponent, activated it a few times, and completely whiffed. The very next turn my opponent
(Josh Utter-Leyton) dropped the same Planeswalker and hit Prognostic Sphinx, which gave me a death sentence immediately. If the luck is on your side,
Ashiok can create a shield that is nearly impossible to get through.

• If your opponent isn’t playing white or black Planeswalker hate, Ashiok simply isn’t dying because the starting loyalty is an absurd five after the first
activation. That on Turn 3 is more than any creature deck can muster if you use your removal in the appropriate way. The problem is that some creature
decks will just ignore Ashiok and go straight to your face. The ultimate on Ashiok is pretty weak, all things considered, so that is a completely
acceptable strategy for your opponents. As a result, the loyalty from Ashiok should be used to place creatures on the battlefield nine times out of ten.

Ashiok is certainly a card to keep an eye on, but I wouldn’t play it now. The variance attached and the speed of the format make this a card for the future
or a metagame call where midrange is everywhere.

The other cards in my block deck that were great and will be even better as Standard moves forward are Deicide; Banishing Light; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion;
and Prognostic Sphinx. Prognostic Sphinx was fantastic, and if I were running a deck with blue and without Supreme Verdict, I would play multiple copies.
The card is nearly impossible to kill and the “scry 3” ability is nothing to scoff at. I could even see playing a spicy one- or two-of in some control
decks because it dodges Lifebane Zombie and is almost as good against Mono-Black Devotion as Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Sure, it can’t race Desecration Demon,
but the scry 3 allows you to dig to whatever juicy answers you have against the Tier 1 deck. I have a playset of the flyers along with both Planeswalkers I
battled with in block in case the format drastically changes, or if I’m feeling a little saucy before one of these tournaments coming up.

I want to leave you guys with a current list for Standard. I cut off the 61st card and I’m trying two Brimaz, King of Oreskos to help with the
super-aggressive decks. So far the legendary cat soldier has saved my life against a few Firedrinker Satyrs online, so I hope it’ll help you in a similar
fashion. With the Season Two Invitational only a few weeks away, this is my starting point. Any help you can provide will be very valuable in me working my
way towards my very own token!