Catching up with various pros in the leadup to any Pro Tour is always a very interesting and extremely entertaining process. Invariably, testing teams cast an absurdly wide net on potential decks they might end up playing at the PT, and seeing some of the wilder concepts that get pulled together is usually quite thought-provoking (or, alternatively, embarrassingly funny – either is fine).
Testing for Pro Tour Dominaria was no exception. Every team I caught up with had some real clunkers condemned to eternity on the baked hell of the cutting room floor, but amongst the rough, there were a few diamonds. Admittedly, these diamonds were rough and uncut, and in many situations fairly flawed and lacking in sparkle.
Still, some of the best of these rough drafts are definitely worth sharing. Even if these lists don't have what it takes to crush a Pro Tour, they're well-poised to take down local events against unsuspecting opponents – I just don't think they're ready for this jelly.
Usually consigned to a strong 13th-pick Draft card, The Flame of Keld hasn't exactly made waves in Constructed (or Limited, or anywhere, really) – but is there a way to exploit its abilities and harness its power to crush your foes in Standard?
Well, no. Probably not, to be honest. But this early sketch of a decklist was something that caught my eye as being particularly sweet, and even if it's not a playable list, it still demonstrates the extremely wide range of decks the pros test during their preparations.
This deck hinges on the interaction between The Flame of Keld and Ghirapur Orrery (I'll give you a second to scroll up and remind yourself of what both cards do). Ghirapur Orrery is a terrific engine if you can reliably empty your hand and The Flame of Keld does exactly that for you, no questions asked. Additionally, the low casting cost of everything else in this deck means it's very easy to get hellbent.
The payoff for The Flame of Keld can be very real. Suddenly your Lightning Strikes are dinging them for five, your Ahn-Crop Crashers are getting in for six and Kari Zev is attacking for seven – that's quite a bit of heat!
Unfortunately, however, the deck has very few impactful cards and basically folds to Abrade thanks to its reliance on Orrery. This deck would be a lot better with more cheap and efficient burn spells, because right now this list is just a worse iteration of Mono-Red Aggro.
If you've played with The Eldest Reborn in Limited, you'll know how devastating it can be when the stars align – and it gets even better when you actually read the card properly and realize you can take your opponent's creatures and planeswalkers. We haven't seen it make its case in Constructed just yet, but one testing team was putting the card through its paces.
The core gameplan of this list is very simple – jam cheap removal spells to keep the board clear, slam The Eldest Reborn on turn five and then enjoy reanimating the best threat available and riding it to victory. More often than not, you actually beat your opponent with their own cards between this and Gonti, Lord of Luxury.
This deck is light on threats of its own as a result, as it relies on the opponent to bring game-winning cards to the table. It has an incredibly strong lategame, with multiple value engines (both Liliana and The Eldest Reborn can bring back Gonti to keep the fuel flowing) – if you can navigate the first five turns and sequence removal correctly, the deck's expensive cards will eventually take over.
It's not all upside, however. This list absolutely must hit its first four land drops to even have a sniff of a chance and can end up with some very clunky draws. Additionally, sticky threats like Rekindling Phoenixes are almost impossible to beat. The Eldest Reborn needs an empty battlefield to do its best work, and even then some of the removal spells (Magma Spray, Doomfall, Vraska's Contempt) are anti-synergistic with the saga.
There is work still to be done here, and we may not have seen the last of The Eldest Reborn. For example, the addition of blue cards like Champion of Wits would help smooth out awkward draws and improve the sideboard with countermagic. For now, however, we're keeping this one on the bench.
New Perspectives strategies have floated on the periphery of Standard playability ever since the card was printed in Amonkhet, but the decks it spawned never really broke through in a meaningful way. Dominaria didn't really bring any new technology to the deck itself, but it did create a metagame wherein a deck like New Perspectives could shine.
If you're not familiar with this list, it is all-in on resolving a New Perspectives, from which point you are highly favored to win the game on the spot. You do this by cycling through the entire deck, generating mana by using Vizier of Tumbling Sands to untap a land with Gift of Paradise. From there, Shadow of the Grave returns these cycled cards until you reach a point where you can land Faith of the Devoted with enough mana floating to burn your opponent out with more cycling cards.
Again, Dominaria didn't bring anything new to this list, excepting the singleton Teferi in the board. It did, however, give rise to decks against which this deck is very good - slower lists that don't pile on early pressure (BG Snake, various Vehicle lists, etc). Against these decks, it's very possible to resolve a New Perspectives on turn five or six, and from there victory is overwhelmingly likely.
The pitfalls of these deck mainly crop up post-board. Discard spells are excellent in this matchup, as they prevent you from holding the critical seven cards in hand to cycle cards for free. Additionally, as much as this deck preys on midrange, White-Blue Control is a very difficult matchup if they understand the only card they need to beat is Faith of the Devoted – they can sandbag counters and make it impossible to properly go off.
It's not often we see a bona fide combo deck rear its head in Standard, let alone two – but after Magic Online player daibloXSC piloted a Paradoxical Outcome strategy to a respectable finish in a recent MOCS event, people sat up and took notice. Since then, it has performed strongly in the leagues – so strongly, in fact, I've seen at least one team do the old 4-0 drop to hide the tech.
The core of this deck, obviously, is sticking an early Aetherflux Reservoir and then "storming" off with cheap artifacts, using Paradoxical Outcome to draw more cards and dump more cheap spells out of your hand. An uncontested Reservoir makes this deck nigh-impossible to race, giving you a lot of time to continue to chain together massive turns and eventually get above 50 life.
There are two issues at work here. The first is the traditional weakness of any "glass cannon" deck like this – fast starts fueled by raw aggression can and often will be too much for this list to deal with. An early curve-out against a deck that needs to tap out on turn four can be very difficult to Overcome. The second issue takes a whole one word to explain: Abrade. Red decks have an efficient, main deck Shatter effect, making any gameplan that hinges on a four-drop artifact a nightmare to properly enact.
Having said that, opposing disruption is next to useless due to the high number of card draw spells (hello there, Reverse Engineer) and low creature count (hello there, Glint-Nest Crane). Counters tend to be better than discard spells when fighting this strategy, which is important to keep in mind for post-board matches.
Speaking of sideboards, you'll notice the legendary creatures in the 15 – once your opponent boards out all their removal, these creatures make Mox Amber an absolutely busted card. Paradoxical Outcome plus Moxen is a Vintage-level Power Play, and it's now fuelling degeneracy in Standard.
Of all the decks we've discussed today, this list has the highest chance of actually making an impact at the Pro Tour. Ordinarily, professional players like to keep this sort of thing close to the chest, but as the secret is out and the list is already public, it's not coming completely out of left field. Keep an eye on Paradoxical Outcome this weekend!
- Riley Knight