Adapting to the Metagame After the Pro Tour
We finally have a clearer picture of what the Standard metagame looks like with Magic Origins! How can we use our knowledge of the Pro Tour to find the right strategy for future events?
Pro Tour Magic Origins is behind us, and what an event it was! Plenty of new decks were showcased, interesting matches were had, and after the dust settled, we now have a clearer picture of what the best strategies in the format are. This weekend is GP San Diego, where Yours Truly will be in attendance looking to capitalize on this new information and attack the metagame from the proper angle.
Let’s start with the decks that did well at the event, and what we can do to combat them:
This was truly the best deck for the Pro Tour, putting three copies into the Top 8, many more into the Top 32, and winning the event, of course. Two new additions to the deck from Magic Origins – Abbot of Keral Keep and Exquisite Firecraft – put the deck over the top and gave it the raw power and resiliency needed to keep up with the top strategies of the format. I expect to see a lot of the deck this weekend in San Diego.
How to beat it: The reason the deck did so well is, in part, how well-positioned Searing Blood was as a removal/burn spell. The reduced use of cards like Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza and the like in favor of value creatures like Jace and Nissa may need to be reevaluated in the face of the new red menace. Decks like Abzan Aggro that can produce a high-toughness blocker every turn could make a return.
The breakout brew of the tournament. Several teams arrived at this deck independently, including Channel Fireball, and it was one of the most prominent decks among players who went 7-3 or better in Standard. No one was prepared for turn-2 indestructible 5/5’s, it seems, and while the core strategy is fairly consistent, the nut-draw potential of turn-2 Ensoul Artifact is what put the deck over the top last weekend.
How to beat it: It’s quite simple to combat the strategy as long as you know about it and are ready with the right hate. Cards like Dromoka’s Command, Silkwrap and even Revoke Existence could pop up again as ways to handle an early 5/5 or mow down the pesky threats that follow. I wouldn’t be surprised if this deck’s performance at the Pro Tour was just a flash in the pan.
As expected, Devotion had a good weekend, making up the largest percentage of the Day 1 metagame and placing well overall, including one copy in the top 8. It is a testament to the power of the core shell of the deck that, even though people knew about it and tuned their decks for it, it still performed well at the event. I suspect it will once again hold one of the largest shares of the metagame in San Diego.
How to beat it: Unfortunately for anti-devotion aficionados, the best way to “beat” it is to play a pure control deck, which isn’t in the best position right now considering all the Monored running around. In order to beat both devotion AND Monored, it is important to play deck with strong proactive as well as reactive elements, since it isn’t possible to hate both out of the format at the same time. Have a plan to win the game quickly as well as disrupt their plan.
Abzan had a relatively quiet weekend. It placed two copies into the top 8, but was mostly absent from the rest of the top tables. It is possibly no longer the top dog of the format, thanks to its bad devotion matchup and its sketchy monored matchup. The key cards of the deck, however, will always be solid in an open format…Thoughtseize, Courser, and Siege Rhino are pretty evergreen and will win games in any metagame. While it won’t be as dominant in the format as in months past, it will still be a major presence until the format rotates.
How to beat it: Abzan is an interesting beast to tackle because of how adaptable it is. It can shift from Control to Aggro to Megamorph as the metagame dictates, and I expect the decks that do well in San Diego will look much different from the lists that did well in Vancouver. As a cardinal rule, you either have to go completely under or over it with the fastest or most value/control-oriented strategy possible. Any dilution of your deck to beat the new aggro menaces will most certainly make you easy prey for the consistency of Abzan, so beware any heavy metagaming decisions you make with that in mind.
What other decks were present at the Pro Tour, but did not have a good weekend?
Jeskai benefits from a very positive matchup against G/R Devotion. Back when it was a major player in the format, people often referred to the rock-paper-scissors nature of Jeskai, Abzan and G/R, as each deck was favorable against one but unfavorable to the other. Unfortunately, the deck performed poorly because of the prominence of Monored, which is a horrible matchup, and as such, I doubt we’ll see much Jeskai until the red frenzy dies down.
How to adapt: Searing Blood is a helluva card against Jace, and while the flip walker adds a lot of power and consistency to the deck, it doesn’t seem like the place to be right now. Perhaps the two-drop slot is better suited for more defensive-minded bodies to buy time for the fliers and burn to get the job done, although that makes the deck much worse as a whole. This is coming from the guy who top 16’d a GP with Jeskai when Abzan was the best deck, so I’m aware of the ability for Mantis Rider to steal games in a wide-open metagame, regardless of the shell. I wouldn’t write it off completely, but the PT lists won’t cut it for San Diego.
Many members of CFB: Pantheon played control decks featuring Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Much like Jeskai, these decks were designed to prey on the expected glut of green decks, but succumbed to the overwhelming speed of Monored. If things shift back to an Abzan-versus-Devotion dynamic, this deck could see the light of day again, but it’s best to avoid this strategy when the format is this aggressive.
How to adapt: I find it humorous how bad this deck was as a metagame choice in Vancouver, considering that they not only played a deck with a bad red matchup, but they played 4 copies of a Searing Blood target! While the strategy blew up miserably in their faces, the innovations within still hold weight once red is no longer the most-played deck. This is especially true if green midrange decks emerge as the weapons of choice to fight aggro, which will be easy pickings for the Dig Through Time decks.
There were also some interesting outliers at the Pro Tour that had a few dedicated pilots fighting late into Day 2. Which ones could become better choices for the new meta?
This deck boasts a positive matchup against green decks like Abzan, and has a lot of incidental hate against Monored with lots of maindeck lifegain. The addition of Herald of the Pantheon gives the deck a new layer of consistency, and it boasts a positive matchup against both aggressive and attrition decks.
How to adapt: This deck seems very well-positioned to me for San Diego. The combination of Nyx-Fleece Ram and Eidolon of Blossoms creates multiple positive matchups, and the engine is solid and difficult to disrupt without the proper sideboard hate (specifically, Back to Nature). The only glaring weakness of the deck is its poor control matchup, but considering how poorly positioned control is at the moment, this is a rare chance for the deck to shine, if only for one weekend.
Temur has always been at the fringes of the format, but one copy of the deck did manage to go 9-1 at the Pro Tour, indicating that it has favorable matchups against much of the field. It seems particularly strong against the green decks of the format, with Thunderbreaks and Stormbreaths flying over ground defenses, but the painful manabase and slow development makes it weak to aggressive decks like Monored.
How to adapt: Temur has to find a way to shore up its aggro matchup somehow. It has the ability to play cards like Feed the Clan and Stubborn Denial to their maximum utility, but even that isn’t enough to necessarily overpower a fast deck. It’s possible that it needs to be much more heavily geared towards control with cards like Anger of the Gods and Seismic Rupture, which does sound great in theory with all the 4-toughness creatures, but also makes it weaker against the rest of the field by diluting its engine of cheap monsters. The tools are all there for this deck to be good again, but it will require heavy testing and the right combination of metagame shifts to happen.
A few Sultai decks popped up at the top tables, with the likes of Christian Calcano utilizing the new Jace alongside Satyr Wayfinder, Den Protector and Delve spells to gain its advantage through the graveyard. Calcano even geared his deck toward the red matchup with several Feed the Clans in his sideboard! Though the manabase is worse than straight U/B, there is a lot more utility and resiliency to this shell and could be the default control strategy moving forward.
How to adapt: The easy answer would be more hate cards like Drown in Sorrow, but that seems subpar in a Jace/morph shell. The idea of the deck is sound in the proper midrange metagame, but it seems pretty horrible in the face of Searing Blood and friends. I would steer clear of control decks in any capacity for now – but don’t forget about it as an option once green returns to power.