Evolving The Pro Tour Decks

Everyone spends time focusing on the top 8, but what about the best of the rest? Lansdell is ready to spotlight the underrated builds approaching #SCGMKE’s Standard Classic!

Looking back at Pro Tour Kaladesh, I’m not sure whether to be excited or disappointed about the upcoming Standard environment. The lack of a second week of SCG Tour metagame development seems to have left people aiming at fewer decks in their gauntlets, and even that aim was not entirely on target. Many of you will see your FNM metagame in the next few weeks shaped by the decks we just saw in Hawaii, and as your friendly diligent neighborhood brewer I owe it to you to talk about them and how to attack or tweak them. After all, we can’t copy a straight 75, can we?

(Yes, I know we could. But we won’t, because brewing is more fun.)

A Note About Shota

It seems like every time I do a Pro Tour post mortem article, Shota Yasooka has a deck at the top of the Constructed point-earners. This time is no different, as Shota took his Grixis Control deck to the trophy with an 8-1-1 record in the Swiss:

I’m relatively sure I have said it before, but I have no problem saying it again: at least twelve of the 25 points earned by this deck were earned because Shota was playing it. If you want to play this deck, the first question you should ask yourself is, “Am I Shota Yasooka?” My guess is that you’re not, so be aware that this deck is probably not as good as it looked on camera.

With that caveat out of the way, I actually think this list is closer to being playable by mortals than most of Shota’s offerings. The mixture of instants for Torrential Gearhulk to flash back is solid, and the amount of both instant-speed removal and early interaction with aggressive decks puts him in a position to survive the first few turns. Maindeck Negate looks like it’s going to be a solid addition to most control strategies, so playing around that card will be key to beating any control deck.

Singleton copies of Essence Extraction and Ceremonious Rejection can easily be tinkered with as the metagame evolves. With Thing in the Ice being the finisher of choice (well, along with Torrential Gearhulk), I wouldn’t hate a couple more cheap instants to transform it a little earlier. If the R/G Energy deck is real, something like Select for Inspection could be a major player.

Public Enemy Number One: U/W Flash/Midrange

It might not have won the Pro Tour, and there might only have been one copy in the Top 8, but all four of the 27-point Constructed players, including Top 8 competitor Joey Manner, were on some form of U/W. Joey and Luxembourg’s Steve Hatto both went with a more midrange approach, with the full four Gideon, Ally of Zendikar:

Meanwhile, Luis Salvatto and his teammate Alvaro Sanchez Lopez registered this list:

Steve Hatto played no Rattlechains but added two Negate and two Skywhaler’s Shot (more instants!) in their stead. I was surprised to see so few Dovin Baan in any of these decklists, but I am sure he will show up later on.

These decks are updated versions of the U/W Spirits deck from last season. They have solid game on multiple fronts but are not really top-notch at any of them, making the deck hard to attack on any one axis. The Bant Company one-two punch of Reflector Mage and Spell Queller can dominate the early mid-game, but a deck that is heavy on spot removal can overwhelm the small amount of countermagic the archetype has. Well, maindeck, that is. After sideboard there is the potential to slow down and become a more traditional “no sir” control deck, but without a huge finisher like Torrential Gearhulk.

Thraben Inspector is not a card of which I am fond. I know that it both draws you a card and Crews Smuggler’s Copter, but I am similarly not a fan of that card in this deck. I’m aware it is a very powerful card, but that doesn’t mean it fits in every single deck. If I were to make changes, this would be where I started. Of course, Joey Manner called the card out specifically as being the best part of the deck, so it is possible I just don’t understand how it fits the strategy.

I love that Gisela, the Broken Blade is starting to see some play, but here’s something I don’t get: Steve Hatto found room in his sideboard for Bruna, the Fading Light in addition to a pair of Gisela. Luis, however, is not running any Bruna, cutting himself off from the potential of that game-winning meld play.

The U/W players may well have broken the format. When you consider that Carlos Romao also played a U/W shell to his finals appearance, the indications are clear that it might be the way to win at this point in the format. Every LGS I have ever visited has that one player who will always play the flash deck, and with it doing so well, I can all but guarantee you will be facing this on Friday.

Tokens from Left Field

Sometimes you go to your first-ever Pro Tour and make the Top 8 as the #1 overall seed. Not a bad little weekend for Makis Matsoukas, even more so when you consider that his deck was not on the radar of most people as we arrived in Hawaii.

It’s a trim, aggressive effort with a mere 22 lands and twelve solid one-drops to get an unassailable start on the opponent. Reckless Bushwhacker is an extremely powerful card when combined with a go-wide strategy like Servo Exhibition and Pia Nalaar, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar chips in both to make some tokens and pump them. The removal suite is interesting with four Outnumber joining only one Harnessed Lightning in the maindeck as instant-speed answers. I would be tempted to play with those numbers somewhat to allow for more removal that doesn’t rely on being ahead already. That said, this deck will almost always start ahead.

I am a little surprised to see both Inventor’s Apprentice and Toolcraft Exemplar in the deck with no creatures with Fabricate to be found. The best of them for a go-wide strategy, Angel of Invention, is a little ambitious with 22 lands, but Glint-Sleeve Artisan is a card I might be tempted to try.

Carlos Romao showed us the path to beating this deck: Radiant Flames. Although R/W Tokens can be more explosive than the Vehicles decks, it lacks the resilience to sweepers that having Vehicles provides you. Make a Stand in the sideboard is an attempt to mitigate this weakness, but when the sweeper can be cast on turn 3, it is hard to rely on a three-drop to stop it while still developing your position. Gideon costs four, Needle Spires costs four to activate, and the deck likely cannot support Archangel Avacyn as currently constituted, making the second sweeper an even bigger punch in the face than the first.

The deck’s sideboard plan is a little hit-and-miss. I love the addition of Thalia, Heretic Cathar to help beat the flash decks, as a deck this aggressive often only needs one extra turn to get enough damage in. That said, the lack of a really good answer to control strategies is a worry. Lantern Scout can almost certainly be cut, as I cannot see many decks able to race this one. What’s the optimal replacement? Great question! I am not sure there is a good replacement that gives us game against control. We do have the extra land to bring in, so maybe Chandra, Torch of Defiance could do some work?

Insert Sparta Joke Here

Going 8-2 in Standard at the Pro Tour is no mean feat, and attempting to do so with a relatively new deck is even harder. Some might even say it is madness. Brandon Ayers proved them wrong with this spicy number:

Good grief, I love this deck. I am a little surprised to see no copies of Olivia, Mobilized for War in here as a way to go ever bigger while also applying pressure, but other than that, this looks like a beautifully tuned piece of aggressive machinery. Cathartic Reunion allows the deck to get some incredibly fast starts, adding six or more power to the battlefield as early as turn 3 by returning a Haunted Dead and at least one Prized Amalgam.

One of the hardest parts of building a synergistic deck like this one is to find the balance between enablers and pieces. This list feels a little heavy on the enabling side, with potentially one or two more payoff cards really being able to make the deck tick. Could we squeeze in a Westvale Abbey or two, both as a way to generate some tokens for Voldaren Pariah and as another way to make use of the recursive nature of our creatures? Maybe Distended Mindbender could see a singleton make its way into the main deck, or perhaps the underrated Abundant Maw?

For all the speed and “they keep coming” power of this deck, it is weak to both exile effects and creatures with four toughness. Olivia would definitely help with the latter, as would increasing the maindeck Lightning Axe count. The low artifact count and much higher black mana count make me wonder if we don’t want Murder over Unlicensed Disintegration here, but that’s largely cosmetic. The only other thing I would really like to see is a copy or two of Avacyn’s Judgment somewhere in the 75 as a way to go big on the removal front or to throw a hefty chunk of burn to the face.

Trading Red for White

The Temur Aetherworks deck was a known factor coming in to the weekend, a powerful if inconsistent combo deck that could land a powerful Eldrazi Titan on turn 4 without much difficulty. As Energy generation is at its most powerful in the Temur colors, the deck was usually built there. Harnessed Lightning and Kozilek’s Return were powerful draws to red, but Yuuya Watanabe decided that he would rather play white:

When it comes to sweepers, Descend upon the Sinful certainly does a more thorough job of cleaning up than Kozilek’s Return. Of course, it costs twice as much, but Yuuya’s hope is to stay alive with Spell Queller keeping key spells at bay and Servant of the Conduit also playing speed bump if needed. The lifegain from Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot is not inconsequential here either.

Possibly my favorite addition though is Tamiyo, Field Reseracher. Either you attack Tamiyo and let Yuuya draw into Aetherworks Marvel, or you attack Yuuya and let Tamiyo go ultimate and basically do an impression of Aetherworks Marvel. Her ability to draw cards or lock down permanents even when they aren’t creatures also plays into the deck’s play style, helping to find Aetherworks Marvel and keeping Yuuya alive, respectively.

While watching these Aetherworks Marvel decks in action this weekend, two things stuck out to me: getting to six Energy is trivial, while finding the Marvel to make the six Energy matter is anything but. Unlike the Temur versions which are basically all-in on that plan, Yuuya at least has a reliable sweeper and a planeswalker that can help mitigate the deck’s combo nature. Delirium seems relatively easy to obtain in the deck, too. Niels Noorlander had some success with Ishkanah, Grafwidow in his deck in a Temur version, but that also doesn’t do anything with Energy. I would love to find a home for Architect of the Untamed, Aethersquall Ancient, or Bristling Hydra to give us an extra place to spend all that Energy. Longtusk Cub in the sideboard is a great option for when people sideboard their removal out, and perhaps this is the place for the extra Energy outlets. Either way, this deck is a blast.

Losing to This Might Make You Sultai

Coming in to Honolulu, all the talk was around R/W, G/R, Temur, and Jeskai. Leaving Honolulu, we added U/W to that. Nobody was or is talking about Sultai, despite being a color combination that gives you access to the three best Gearhulks. Shota Takao could not let this transgression slide.

What do you mean, he’s only playing one of the three Gearhulks? Come on, man! Okay, I guess I can see why you don’t play Torrential Gearhulk in this deck; there are only four maindeck instants. But no love for the Noxious one? With all the ramp, that seems like an easy inclusion.

Even without that inclusion, this deck looks like a lot of fun. We’ve seen the power of Catacomb Sifter with easily sacrificed creatures before, and here we also have the benefit of putting Verdurous Gearhulk counters on the Scion tokens we don’t sacrifice. Thought-Knot Seer is the forgotten bomb of current Standard, having been all over the place last season. If the format does start to turn toward a control metagame, this deck has a lot of tools to make me want to play it.

One glaring omission seems to be Panharmonicon. All of the creatures except Sylvan Advocate have an enters-the-battlefield trigger, as does Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. I can understand not wanting to go too deep into that strategy, as the deck is replete with powerful options, but one or two in the 75 could definitely give this deck an “I win” button.

Unlike most of the other decks in this article, I don’t expect you will see much of this deck at FNM. It may have gone 8-2, but it’s not as explosive or on-paper-powerful as the other contenders. Catacomb Sifter has fallen out of favor, Nissa has been all but ignored, and there’s little removal. I will probably give it a run, though.

And the Rest

I did not talk about U/R Dynavolt, Temur Aetherworks, or any of the Delirium decks here because they were known quantities going into the weekend. Be ready to see all of them at FNM and remember that the Dynavolt deck is basically a resilient burn deck that needs Dynavolt Tower (or Niblis of Frost) to win the long game, Aetherworks loses to well-timed countermagic in Game 1, and Delirium decks can often just mill themselves into no good cards. Any brew you put together should know these weaknesses and be able to exploit them as much as possible.

Comments from Last Week

I took last week off as I was helping some friends test for the Pro Tour, but there were a lot of comments on mylast article that I really want to address.

Absolutely in love with your changes on the G/W Blink deck. I’m going to pilot this at FNM this Friday. Thank you.

– Jason Mann

So how did it go? It was definitely the list I was most excited to try, but due to work and judging commitments, I have played precisely one draft since Kaladesh came out. It seems pretty well-positioned for a control metagame, having as it does a selection of game-winning creatures that demand answers on their own. If any of you gave it a go, let me know!

Any consideration to Rise from the Grave in the reanimator deck? It can get opposing Emrakuls/creatures against delirium decks.

– Aaron Fleisch

It’s worth a look, but there are a couple of things that worry me about it. At five mana it’s a bit slow, and the deck itself has morphed more into a midrange deck that happens to run Ever After as another way to get card advantage. I’d also be scared to target an opposing graveyard and get blown out by a Grapple with the Past in response.

I put together a U/W Panharmonicon deck and liked the options blue gave me over green. In U/W I can play Reflector Mage and Drowner of Hope, and it even makes Cloudblazer pretty good.

– Justin M. Cefalu

You are not the only person to suggest this, and I quite like it. However, we also had this comment later on:

Sweet decks!

Random idea: I think your G/W Blink could also be an Eldritch Evolution deck, letting you go a bit toolbox with what you fetch. Of course, it is difficult for EE to fetch your emerge creatures, but they are the top end of a more aggressive curve.

Also, Fairgrounds Warden seems busted in the deck. Early game, snag a Crew member…with Panharmicon, grab…two? Wild Wanderer is a great Evolution target (or Servant ramp) to further accelerate your team.

A singleton Brood Monitor plus Panharmonicon plus Eldrazi Displacer is an infinite combo unless I am missing something (probably am). My understanding, though, is making six creatures, netting three for the blink each rep, equalling a hopefully dead opponent at some point. Eye Watcher also gives a similar rate for cheaper initial cost.

Needless to say, this got me thinking! Thank you!

– Quinn Murphy

I really like the idea of going toolbox with Eldritch Evolution. Primal Druid and Wild Wanderer both ramp us and can be sacrificed to find a combo piece with Evolution. Blue adds plenty to the deck, not least of which is Drowner of Hope (strictly better than Brood Monitor) and Reflector Mage. I’m all about it.

Well, folks, that’s all we have this week. We went a little long, but there’s a lot to love in this Pro Tour! I will be in Providence this coming weekend getting my judge on, so please feel free to come up and say hi and show me your brews! As always, thanks for stopping by and until next time…Brew On!