Pro Tour Magic Origins has concluded, and with its conclusion we now have the results in from the most influential tournament during this Standard format. No other tournament has the metagame-shaping power that the Pro Tour does. The meta will, of course, continue to change and evolve from this point on until Battle for Zendikar hits, but the Pro Tour results will be at the center of that evolving metagame.
That's not to say that the Pro Tour winning list (I'm writing this Sunday morning, so I don't know yet what deck went undefeated throughout the Top 8) will be the best deck throughout this Standard season; variance exists, and even aside from that, the Pro Tour is split format anyway. The Top 8 players didn't get that far on Constructed prowess alone, with Constucted only records in the Top 8 ranging from 9-0-1 (Stephen Neal, Red Aggro) to 7-3 (Mike Sigrist, UR Ensoul Artifact). The metagame influence of the Pro Tour isn't due to the actual results, but the prestige. The best players in the world chose these decks to play at the most important tournament of the season. That means something.
No matter how you look at it, if you intend to play Standard competitively for the rest of this season, you need to be intimately familiar with the Pro Tour results. The most time consuming way to obtain that familiarity would be to watch the coverage from beginning to end, which is what I did. The least time consuming? Read this article, in which I aim to present a birds-eye view of the Pro Tour, with a focus on what you need to know to play Standard going forward.
UR Ensoul Artifact
Let's start by talking about an essentially brand new deck that managed the impressive feat of placing two copies into the Top 8: UR Ensoul Artifact. This deck is the product of the Face to Face / Channel Fireball collaboration team and piloted by member Mike Sigrist in the Top 8, but was also found by other competitors, notably Stephen Berrios who also Top 8ed with his take on the archetype. On Day 2, the deck made up 11.43% of the field. In his player profile, Berrios says about the deck that, "You get to play Modern while others play Standard." In his, Sigrist says that, "it's the most explosive and resilient deck."
Hyperbole aside, what is UR Ensoul Artifact? Well, as you may have guessed, it is a hyper aggressive artifact-based deck prominently featuring Ensoul Artifact. It plays Hangarback Walker, Chief of the Foundry, and Whirler Rogue from Magic Origins (Berrios also plays Pia and Kiran Nalaar). It feels like a Modern deck because of its ability to do super powerful things early -- 5/5 flying or indestructible artifacts swinging on turn two is a very real possibility out of this deck.
So, what do you need to know about this deck? First, don't count on blocking. The deck has access to plenty of flyers between Ornithopter and Thopter Tokens and can make them super relevant with Chief of the Foundry or Ensoul Artifact. If that doesn't work out for the deck, Whirler Rogue can let a pair of scissors sneak through with ease. The deck is very well rounded, with the ability to suit up a big threat and make it unblockable or just go wide with a lot of flying threats. If you think you've stabilized, watch out for Shrapnel Blast, a key four-of in the deck that represents a huge chunk of reach. The deck also has great disruption, with the F2F/CFB version playing Stubborn Denial in the main (they all have Disdainful Stroke in the board). With an artifact Ensouled, Stubborn Denial is always on. Great synergy. Speaking of disruption, the mainboard Phyrexian Revokers do great work against anyone hoping to leverage planeswalkers while giving the deck the ability to slow down Devotion by halting its creature mana.
To be honest, I'm not completely sure how to beat this deck yet -- it's too new. Anger of the Gods seems like a decent starting point, dealing with everything except an Ensouled threat (and not letting Hangarback Walker's death trigger happen). The sideboard of the Ensoul deck includes Thopter Spy Network, giving the deck the ability to compete in grindy, post-board games where opposing decks can deal with the aggressive plan. What I am sure of is that this deck will be something in the forefront of my mind as I think through my next moves in this Standard format, and I suggest you do the same.
For me, the next big story out of this Pro Tour was the success of Red Aggro. It put three copies (three!) into the Top 8, and was absolutely everywhere (14.29% of the Day 2 field) during the swiss rounds. In the two Opens since the release of Origins, red only Top 8ed once total. Why was red so much better at the Pro Tour then in the Opens?
There are potentially many reasons for this change, but my belief is that the population at large did not have the right list. The Red Aggro lists that Top 8ed the Pro Tour are actually really different from the red decks that were successful in Dragons of Tarkir Standard. The notable departure from the old lists is that these new lists have abandoned the 'go wide' plan. No Dragon Fodder, no Hordeling Outburst. No Goblin Rabblemaster in the collective 225 of the red players. With the abandonment of the token generators, Foundry Street Denizen was also left on the sidelines.
Instead, these decks play much more reach. All three played four copies of the four main Standard burn spells: Wild Slash, Lightning Strike, Stoke the Flames, and newcomer Exquisite Firecraft. They also all played a lot of Searing Blood -- 11 mainboard copies between the three decks. In his deck tech Sam Black (who did not Top 8, but who was on team UltraPro with Patrick Cox, who did) attributed much of the strength of red right now to the amazing positioning of Searing Blood. Searing Blood gets key blockers like Satyr Wayfinder out of the way while dealing a sizeable amount of face damage, and does enough to kill the powerful Jace, Vyrn's Prodigy. If the success of red pushes the cards weak to Searing Blood out of the meta, red will get much worse.
The red decks in the Top 8 also all played four copies of Abbot of Keral Keep. That card is looking like a slam dunk include, providing a lot of raw power level at a low mana cost. There's very little to play around when it comes to that card, but make sure the red deck in your gauntlet is playing it or you will find yourself losing way more to red at tournaments than in testing. Eidolon of the Great Revel is also currently in vogue, with twelve copies among the three decks (two of the decks had their four main, the other had them all in the board). Know that if your deck is weak to Eidolon, your red opponent will 100% have them post-board, and might even have them before that.
How do we adapt to this new breed of red deck? They aren't going as wide and still play as much or more dash creatures, making sweeper effects much less well positioned against them. Spot removal, on the other hand, is much better than it previously was. You will never awkwardly kill one third of a Hordeling Outburst with your removal spell. Ultimate Price in particular is fantastic. But the real all-star against these red decks is Dromoka's Command. Not only is spot removal better, but the red deck also now relies more heavily on burn effects -- Dromoka's Command just does it all. It even successfully Fogs an uncounterable Exquisite Firecraft!
The Old Mainstays
Rounding out the Pro Tour Top 8 we saw two Abzan flavored decks as well as a copy of GR Devotion. These decks are both less different than their previous incarnations and at a level of success that I would expect, so I place less importance on this aspect of the Top 8 than on red's success. That being said, it is certainly important to note that these decks are still very good and we should examine any way that they changed with the release of Magic Origins.
Let's start by diving into the Devotion list. In reality, there's almost nothing to see here. Dragonlord Atarka over Hornet Queen as the seven-drop of choice, but we've seen that pretty commonly recently. Two copies of Nissa, Vastwood Seer is cool, but from the perspective of playing against GR Devotion, doesn't matter all that much. The full four copies of Xenagos, the Reveler is, to me, the capstone on that shift in the direction of GR Devotion and will probably be pretty universal from here on out in GR Devotion lists (if it wasn't already). In the board, Gaea's Revenge is the only Origins card, and is enough of a haymaker that it is certainly worth noting and playing around if you suspect they brought them in. GR Devotion was the most played deck in Day 2 (15.51%), but only one copy made Top 8. That says something.
The two Abzan lists to make the Top 8 were significantly different from each other, but not all that different from what has come before. Kentaro Yamamoto played a fairly standard looking version of Abzan Megamorph, utilizing the Satyr Wayfinder / Deathmist Raptor package to complement Den Protector. From Origins, he picked up two copies of Languish. The sideboard is where his deck gets interesting -- seven slots devoted to what is essentially a transformational sideboard to Abzan Aggro with Anafenza, the Foremost, Herald of Torment and Wingmate Roc. These aren't new cards per se, but this is a new take on the megamorph sideboard and something to absolutely be aware of if it catches on.
Matt Sperling played Abzan Control. His deck has more Origins cards with Nissa, Vastwood Seer seeing three copies worth of play alongside Languish, but is ultimately very similar to the Abzan Control lists we've seen before. The mainboard Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is worth noting, as are the three Fleecemane Lions in the sideboard. The main takeaway from both of these Abzan decks is just that they still exist and are still great. Just because there's exciting new decks and cards doesn't mean you can drop your Siege Rhino shield and expect to be successful.
Beyond the Top 8
Sadly, some of the coolest decks to be featured on coverage didn't manage to make the Top 8. For me, the decks I was most excited for were the ones featuring Demonic Pact. Two separate Demonic Pact decks saw enough success to be on coverage at some point during Day 2. The first was a Green/Black Pact deck piloted by Antonio Del Moral Leon. He ultimately finished 5-5 in Standard, so maybe the deck wasn't great for the field, but it wasn't terrible, and it was cool enough that I guarantee some people will pick it up. The method of not dying to its own Demonic Pact was a cute combination of Woodland Bellower finding Invasive Species to pick that Pact back up. The other Pact deck was a Sultai colored control concoction aiming to bounce its pact with a suite of spells including Disperse and Silumgar's Command or, worst case, destroy it with Sultai Charm or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (well, not worst case).
Rally the Ancestors also saw a decent amount of play (5.71% of the Day 2 field), although it ultimately was not all that successful. To me, the fact that it saw that much play really drives home the truth that this deck is for real. People were ready for it at the Pro Tour and it didn't manage a Top 8, but it saw a lot of play throughout the swiss. Some of the best players in the world pinned their Pro Tour chances to that deck. If the field is unprepared, I am now convinced this deck is good enough to compete. I will make sure to treat it as a serious contender for the rest of this Standard season.
Last but not least (in my heart), Jeskai saw play! It lost playing for Top 8 in the hands of Valentin Mackl (7-2-1 Constructed) to the red menace and was 4% of the Day 2 field. We would live in a brighter world right now if that bubble match played out differently, but alas. Jeskai's day in the sun will have to wait. Jace, Vyrn's Prodigy is the card that I believe has raised Jeskai's stock. I missed Jace's strength during spoiler season, but am now really excited to see how far he can take my beloved Jeskai.
That about does it for my takeaways from Pro Tour Magic Origins. Some sweet new decks to watch out for, new twists on old decks and the same old Rhinos and Atarkas as strong as ever. I'm certainly excited to get to battling some Standard.
Thanks for reading