The Pro Tour Watch List

Pencils down, says Chris Lansdell! He’s putting the brews on pause as Pro Tour Aether Revolt approaches. What new Standard metagame could the big event in Dublin reveal?

We’re taking a break from brewing this week. I know, I know. It’s not exactly my favorite thing to have to do, but after fifteen decklists or so in the last week and with a Pro Tour on the (very near) horizon, it’s a good time to take a week to assess where we are and what could come next.

With two weeks of SCG Tour results behind us, we have the framework of an established metagame. Pro Tour Kaladesh did a formidable job of shaking up the pre-PT metagame (and of getting two cards banned), but there had only been one SCG Tour stop before it. The Pro Tour might not be a place where someone is likely to show up with one of my brews, but it can be very informative for us moving forward. The happenings in Dublin will shape our deckbuilding in the weeks that follow by providing building blocks and known adversaries. What I want to do today is get some ideas of things we might see in Dublin this weekend so that we can be ready. Any former Scout knows that the most important thing is to be prepared.

Known Quantities

Going into Richmond, Brennan DeCandio’s list was considered by many to be the best deck. It may in fact still be, as people scramble to find out what actually beats it and the speed with which it goes very, very big. The flexibility of G/B as a color combination allows for the sideboard to do a better job of adapting that most other decks in the format: more removal to slow down or beat combo, more aggression to go under people, more resilience to grind out a win. Were I working with a team for Dublin, this would be the first deck on my gauntlet list and the one I would have to be talked out of playing.

The “Day 0” bogey-deck of the format has instead turned out to be entirely fair. It’s almost like Wizards of the Coast did their homework and tested the combo before unleashing it on us. Imagine that. Fournier (and others like him) went with a more controlling approach to the deck, treating it like the old Modern Splinter Twin decks that had a plan of “we’ll combo you eventually, probably” instead of always going for it on turn 4. Others, like Todd Stevens, went with a more planeswalker-centric approach. There was even a four-color version that had some potential. I imagine a lot of people will register something close to this for the Pro Tour, as the “free win” quotient should not be underrated.

I think Jim Davis is on to something here and might have found the spoiler deck for the format. His U/B Control has great game against the previous two decks and is relatively well set up to beat any similar strategies. How it would fare against something that goes wide in a hurry remains to be seen, as it lacks sweeper-based card advantage, but if the metagame is mostly G/B and Saheeli decks, then I would want to be on some version of this.

That’s what we already know about, but the most exciting part of any Pro Tour is the stuff we weren’t expecting: the new stuff, the changes and the innovations. There are some things we have yet to see and some starts on which we can iterate that I expect we will see this weekend.

Where Is Tezzeret?

That’s not just a question I had been asking myself since New Phyrexia; it’s a question I have been asking since Columbus. Although Tezzeret the Schemer definitely requires you to make some deckbuilding commitments, he gives you a powerful payoff for so doing. We haven’t seen any sort of impact from Battle at the Bridge, Herald of Anguish, or Metallic Rebuke yet, and I expect all of those would see play in the kind of deck Tezzeret wants. We can still play the likes of Glimmer of Genius, Grasp of Darkness, Torrential Gearhulk, and Fatal Push, but we have the ability to get a huge leg up in the control mirrors with the additional planeswalker. Herald of Anguish is one of those cards that I think is just waiting to bust out. The text box is loaded with powerful abilities, each one relevant in a different matchup. Need to kill some weenies? We got you. Need to control your opponent’s hand size? We got you. Need to smash the opponent in the face? Yup, we got you.

The question with Tezzeret is what the deck does. Do we want to be a Metalwork Colossus deck? The synergies would certainly seem to be there. Is this a tap out deck that isn’t really trying to use countermagic, but instead just deploys threats and answer those of the opponent? Tezzeret wants artifacts, artifacts play to the battlefield, and artifacts are cast at sorcery speed. Perhaps the deck wants to do something with Scrap Trawler and Yahenni, Undying Partisan? Metalwork Colossus also likes sacrificing artifacts, which of course triggers the Trawler. Foundry Inspector and Chief of the Foundry could play into this idea.

Perhaps we instead want to take the black (and maybe even white) Servo-makers and combine them with Tezzeret and Marionette Master. Hidden Stockpile would fit perfectly into that type of deck, and sacrificing Etherium Cells would trigger the Marionette Master. Servos can also be used to Improvise and as sacrifice fodder for Herald of Anguish. I really want to see something like this.

Finally, we could look at a Grixis shell with both Tezzeret and Saheeli Rai. With both cards having great synergy with artifacts, the deck almost coalesces around them of its own accord. Maybe it plays Metalwork Colossus and a collection of Gearhulks along with removal and utility artifacts like Deadlock Trap. Maybe we can even squeeze the combo in there, using Etherium Cells, Spire of Industry, and Prophetic Prisms (and maybe Corrupted Grafstone) to make the white mana.

Can We Still Play Aetherworks Marvel?

A card this powerful should not simply be falling off the radar. Sure, we can’t spin an Emrakul, the Promised End anymore and just decimate our opponent’s entire game state, but it many ways, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is a harder threat to beat. With that and World Breaker available to us, can we not find a way to make Marvel decks still powerful?

Well, maybe not as we know them. It might work for one tournament (conveniently, the Pro Tour is one tournament…), but when two of the three best decks are packing counterspells, it is ludicrously easy to just sit back and counter the Marvel and then win on your own terms. The old G/R Marvel decks had so much filler that they could often lose to themselves as well, although the fact that they no longer need to set up delirium may mitigate that somewhat. Perhaps a Temur deck with Rogue Refiner, the blue and green Puzzleknots, and the two big-hitting Eldrazi could help?

One idea that is really making me happy is playing Aetherworks Marvel in a U/B or Sultai Tezzeret shell. Glassblower’s Puzzleknot is better than Woodworker’s Puzzleknot in almost every way, but it does only give four energy. With Glimmer of Genius, easily sacrificed artifacts with Etherium Cells to make energy from Marvel, and the ability to cast a Demon of Dark Schemes as early as turn 4 (with an ideal draw) to make even more energy, there might be something here. We might even want to consider Tezzeret, Master of Metal in this deck, but I’ll agree that is a stretch.

I feel like Aetherworks Marvel is sitting in a similar place to where Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx found itself after Return to Ravnica block rotated. It’s still a very powerful card and has some excellent tools at its disposal, but nobody is really trying to put them together because they can play Splinter Twin. Pro testing teams won’t be constrained by that, and if there is a Aetherworks deck out there (and I strongly believe there is), then they will find it.

Maybe Not G/W Tokens, but G/W Aggro?

The lukewarm success of G/W Tokens builds after the death of Smuggler’s Copter suggests that the heralds of its return to relevance were premature. However, I think my friend Mike said it best: there are too many good white cards that aren’t currently being played for there not to be another deck out there.

Take Gisela, the Broken Blade as an example.

With Archangel Avacyn being virtually nonexistent right now, what reason do we have not to play her? A G/W aggressive deck has plenty of ways to get her through a Mindwrack Demon or Aethersphere Harvester without much worry, especially given the prevalence of +/1/+1 counter effects right now. Blossoming Defense is another very potent weapon in this fight.

Speaking of Blossoming Defense, it works very well with all the threats with vigilance we have and Rishkar, Peema Renegade. Cast Rishkar, attack with a Sylvan Advocate that now has a counter on it, and we’re stealth holding up protection. Rishkar is one of the best aggro tools in Aether Revolt, and with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar still being around, we have the potential to make a lot of many out of nowhere. I can foresee a deck that plays Verdurous Gearhulk, puts counters on four creatures, and then taps those and one other one to cast a second Gearhulk. Because that’s fair.

Aethergeode Miner and Solemn Recruit seem like a powerful two-card combination to be playing with. Although the Miner is rather susceptible to Walking Ballista, if we can protect it long enough to have an extra two energy lying around, we will have a reusable Revolt enabler that grows our Recruit while also possibly turning on Renegade Rallier, Hidden Herbalists, or anything else. The card just feels too good to ignore.

Archangel Avacyn herself is just being completely ignored right now, and she could easily top this curve…or at least she could if we decided we didn’t want Verdurous Gearhulk. With Fumigate looking really good right now, Avacyn starts to look a little better. She combos well with Walking Ballista, which is basically going to be everywhere this weekend, and although three damage isn’t great against the G/B Aggro decks, the 6/5 flyer is a fast clock.

Shouldn’t Planeswalkers Be Better Than This?

Having tested the Naya Blue Planeswalkers deck last week, I can tell you that there is something there. I erred in leaving out Nissa, Vital Force, as she can retrieve both halves of the combo, but otherwise the shell is extremely powerful. I was unimpressed by Nahiri, who should probably have been Fumigates, and Walking Ballista never did anything special. The rest of the deck felt great, and I was able to see enough potential in the plan to move forward with it. If I can see that, a Pro team somewhere can also find it.

Perhaps that plan needs more Oaths.

Oath of Gideon provides protection for our planeswalkers, which was something I really wished I had more of last week. Oath of Chandra is solid removal that really likes getting blinked by Felidar Guardian, as do the others. My only concern would be that to fit in Oaths, we would need to cut some creatures, which seems counterproductive.

Not every planeswalker deck needs to run Saheeli Rai, of course. I had seen some people toying with an Abzan Planeswalkers deck before Aether Revolt, and the addition of both Ajani Unyielding and Oath of Ajani to the top end of that deck (joining Sorin, Grim Nemesis) makes it even more appealing. With two six-drop planeswalkers at the top of the curve, Deploy the Gatewatch is an appealing prospect. Abzan’s removal suite is already impressive, and we would get all the strongest Oaths to boot. If the deck could find a way to make Corrupted Grafstone playable (perhaps with Unbridled Growth or early discard/removal) I would not be surprised to see it doing very well.

Expect Everything

Last Pro Tour, W/U Flash came out of almost nowhere to dominate the entire Standard season. There are cards for which I don’t see an obvious home that someone else may well have found. Can anyone make the Crackdown Construct deck work? Will Sram’s Expertise be part of a value deck or a Servo go-wide strategy? Is there a way to go infinite with Paradox Engine? Is there a U/R Improvise deck that touches black for Tezzeret? Could Midnight Entourage help create an even more aggressive black deck? Maybe Gifted Aetherborn and Yahenni, Undying Partisan join forces with Olivia, Mobilized for War to finally make B/R Vampires a thing. The only thing we can be sure of is that nothing is certain. It’s going to be an exciting time across the Atlantic!

That’s all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. I will be playing some Modern this weekend in between staring intently at Pro Tour coverage, but Standard will be at the forefront of the ol’ brewing brain. Until next time…Brew On!

Addendum: Magic in Tough Times

Friends, I won’t pretend it was easy to focus on writing this article today. Heck, it isn’t even easy to focus on Magic with everything that is happening in North America right now. Without wanting to preach to you about politics, I implore you to make time for things you love. Current events might be getting you down and drawing you into arguments, but self-care is still paramount. Magic has been my escape and my lifesaver before and I am trying to make it fill that role again now. Find your lifesaver, grab hold, and make sure you take deep breaths in between reading about the next tragedy. Your sanity will thank you. Be well, my friends.