The Pro Tour has come and gone and left Standard forever changed. We lived in fear of a Pro Tour that would serve as the coronation of Bant Company, but our fears were unfounded. No archetype had two copies make the top eight of the event, with the two most similar decks being two radically different takes on Esper Control, one with dragons and one without. Further, no Human-based strategies reached the elimination rounds, cementing the idea that the Standard we thought we lived in is not the one we actually inhabit.
There were a lot of sweeper effects in this Top 8. 11 copies of Languish, five Chandra, Flamecaller, and four Kozilek's Return, along with a single Planar Outburst to round things out. Five of the Top 8 decks came with a plan to beat Bant Company by keeping their board presence to a minimum. These decks fell into two broad categories: black-based and red-based. The black-based lists were diverse, including Finkel's Seasons Past deck, Manfield's Esper Control, and Yasooka's Esper Dragons. Access to Languish is what separates these strategies from the others, as Languish is vital to all three of these decks and easily the most powerful sweeper effect in Standard.
Without Languish, the red decks, Nelson's G/R Goggles and Salvatto's R/W Eldrazi, needed to come online faster than their black-based counterparts. Sweepers are good at setting Bant back, but they will never finish the job. The Bant Company deck (and the various Humans decks for that matter) are quite good at the grind game, and any deck seeking to control the board against them must be capable of making the game about something else in the time it takes Bant to rebuild. Since the sweepers the red-based decks have access to are less powerful, they have to implement their proactive plan on a faster timescale than the black-based decks do. Both of these Top 8 lists played Chandra, Flamecaller, and she is a great card that plays both ways here, able to sweep the board and then threaten to put the game away quickly. Ramp supplements this with World Breaker and reach from Fall of the Titan, and gets to this stage of the game in a timely fashion by, well, ramping. Eldrazi seeks to put roadblocks in the form of Thought Knot Seers up, hampering Bant's ability to rebuild. The lesson from both is clear: red needs to destabilize Bant's board and be able to quickly follow that up with sizeable pressure.
With Languish, the black-based decks do not need to implement their proactive plan as quickly as the red decks do. This is not a free pass to not have a proactive plan. The Bant deck is too good at grinding for an old-school pure control deck to give it a true run for its money, and these lists show that. The two Esper decks have different proactive plans—one based around Dragons and one based around Planeswalkers—but both know how they want to win the game and can make inroads towards doing so in any stage of the game. The Seasons Past deck, on the other hand, is committed to out grinding Bant. The Dark Petititon / Seasons Past engine makes this an attainable ideal.
Two other relatively novel decks made the top eight of the Pro Tour, Scott-Vargas's B/G Sacrifice and Rubin's W/G Tokens. These decks did not beat Bant by containing its threat. Instead they went toe to toe with it, investing their resources into building their own boards to absurd levels. Gumming up the ground with dorky little creatures is an effective strategy against the Bant deck and the Human decks. They don't have ways to break through a really clogged board forever, just reasonable tempo plays that look super silly when aimed at 1-2 mana creatures or even worse, tokens.
Clogging up the board is the only strategic similarity these two decks share, however. G/B Sacrifice utilizes synergy to overpower clogged board states — notably, Zulaport Cutthroat and Westvale Abbey. W/G Tokens wins the game by protecting its Planeswalkers long enough to go much wider than Bant Company. It doesn't hurt that both of its Planeswalkers also double as anthem effects, letting the G/W Tokens creatures grow to sufficient size to tangle with Bant's creatures. Neither deck plays much disruption — Bant Company is left alone to do what it does, but what it does just doesn't matter very much to the games these decks play.
It should come as no surprise that as a whole, strategies that sought to fight the Bant Company menace by expanding the board underperformed the strategies that tried to contain the board. In a real sense the decks trying to have a board presence positioned themselves as a strategic underdog to the decks trying to minimize the boards. By engaging Bant Company on its terms, these decks opened themselves up to the same weaknesses that Bant has. In fact, Languish is often more crippling to B/G Sacrifice or W/G Tokens than it is to Bant Company. On a strategic level, these decks beat Bant by being better with a clogged board. To accomplish that, they gave up some of the resiliency Bant has to that board being dealt with. To be sure, they have some play that Bant doesn't have that gives them different axes (Planeswalkers, death triggers) on which to fight the control decks, but all in all they are a tad bit worse at these fights.
But this is all so much window dressing. Winning the board stall game, controlling the size of the board — these are symptoms, not root causes. Fundamentally, all of these decks beat Bant Company by making Bant's best cards bad. Bounding Krasis and Reflector Mage are the root of all evil, if you define all evil as Bant Company winning matches. The decks in the Top 8 made these cards look awful. The control decks that swept the board beat Bounding Krasis and Reflector Mage by barely playing creatures. Reflector Mage can't bounce a creature that doesn't exist, nor can Bounding Krasis tap it. On the other end of the spectrum, the board clog decks made these cards bad by only playing cheap creatures. Oh no, you tapped my Blisterpod. Congratulations.
Pyromancer's Goggles showed up in two different decks in the Top 8, neither of which we had ever seen before. That brings the count to three decks in which Pyromancer's Goggles has seen competitive success in this Standard format, and I don't think we are done yet. The rotation of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged has lowered the power level of Standard, leaving card combinations that were previously unplayed due to being too slow perfectly viable in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. Pyromancer's Goggles plus Magmatic Insight / Tormenting Voice is one such combination.
The Pyromancer's Goggles engine has two strengths: point removal and card draw. Pyromancer's Goggles doubling a Fiery Impulse is a powerful midgame play, but the hidden strength is that playing Pyromancer's Goggles in your deck turns your Fiery Impulse into a split card. Early, they do exactly what you want them to do: kill something small. Historically, early creature removal spells fall off in value sharply in the late game, but with Pyromancer's Goggles, this is much less true. Now your lategame Fiery Impulse can kill one big thing or two small things. That's a lot of extra utility out of a card that is already best in class at its price point.
To gain this split card utility, all you have to do is draw your Pyromancer's Goggles. Incredibly, the engine feeds itself — Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight are cards that are great with Pyromancer's Goggles, and without Pyromancer's Goggles, they help you gain consistency and turn on your engine. To gain an idea of just how powerful this consistency is, go look at the decklists. Neither of the Pyromancer's Goggles decks were playing four copies, they both had three. Both lists were dependent on Pyromancer's Goggles, but didn't want to draw two copies, and found that with so many cheap card velocity effects, three copies was plenty. And these cards are also split cards with Pyomancer's Goggles: early game consistency-gaining cantrip, late game Ancestral Recall. That's power.
Even with a huge target on its head, Bant Company made the Top 8, and there were plenty of Humans decks floating around the top tables. These decks are far from done. Moving forward, they will definitely need to adapt, but I have no doubt that the tools are available for them to do so. Thankfully however, it's pretty clear that they will never again be as oppressive as they were at the beginning of this format. If you have a ton of play with these decks, you don't need to put them down yet and if you are looking to play something else, don't write them off as has-beens. They are here to stay.
This format looks like it's going to be amazing. I can't wait.
Thanks for reading,