For those who are not yet aware, I am playing a playoff against Luis Salvatto to determine who will become the Player of the Year at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. At the end of the last season of competitive play, Luis and I had the exact same number of Pro Points. The Player of the Year is one of the most prestigious titles and accomplishments you can earn in Magic. I have never had the honor of winning this title and I am very much hoping to do so. I'm writing this before the playoff, so for some of you reading this the event may have already happened and if that is the case, I hope I was the winner!
This is a very different tournament than any in the history of the game. Luis and I will be playing head-to-head and we will each be choosing four decks for the match. The format is Standard, which luckily has plenty of great options to choose from. Unlike a typical match of Magic, these are best-of-one games so we will not be using sideboards. Sideboarding is certainly an important aspect of the game, and taking that aspect away from a match should impact deck selection.
Given the nature of the format, I want to choose decks that are better game one and don't improve much after sideboards. This theory leads to linear aggressive decks, while midrange and control decks that have lots of good sideboard options and want to significantly change their deck after sideboarding are worse for this tournament. There is also the factor of how your deck choices may match up against what the opponent will bring to the table.
I am going to include each deck I have chosen to play and my thought process behind it. The first deck I want to talk about is one that I didn't have a chance to test much until directly before submitting my decklists. However, it put up very strong results in the last major Standard event on Magic Online, which led me to choose it.
White beatdown decks are back! I wouldn't be surprised if this is the most popular aggressive deck at the Pro Tour. The deck comes out of the gates extremely quickly and has perhaps the best two-mana creature in the format in Adanto Vanguard. This is a card that is very difficult to answer as blocking it or trying to kill it with something like a Shock doesn't work particularly well. There are a number of one-mana threats, which makes it easy to get early creatures on the board.
There is a bit of a Knight theme as well thanks to History of Benalia, which not only puts multiple creatures onto the battlefield but also plays well alongside Knight of Grace. Having large first-striking Knights works quite well against the Golgari deck as they will put black permanents onto the battlefield and their removal can't touch Knight of Grace. Having lots of creatures leads to payoff cards that pump up your team. Benalish Marshal is the primary incentive for playing so many Plains, and works great in conjunction with the small creatures.
The red is a splash for a single card, but it is a very good one: Heroic Reinforcements. Heroic Reinforcements is a card that often ends the game as soon as you cast it. Pumping up your creatures alongside the haste effect work very nicely alongside one another. It turns out that the mana bases do allow for small splashes while still having a triple-color creature like Benalish Marshal. I wouldn't be surprised if Luis had a deck similar to this one in his gauntlet. Remember I'm not including sideboards, because they are not a part of this tournament.
I have a lineup that features multiple mono-colored aggressive decks. The Dominaria triple-color creatures are so unbelievable that many of the best decks in the format feature them. Mono-Blue Aggro is another deck we have started to see popping up more and more. Some players see this as a budget deck, but it really is much more than that. Curious Obsession is a key card in this deck due to the fact you get a free mulligan in this tournament and it is possible to mulligan more aggressively to find one key card in your deck like Curious Obsession.
This deck wants to get an early threat with a Curious Obsession and snowball from there. Countermagic and Dive Down are both good ways to protect your creatures, and make it very difficult for the opponent to remove your creature with a Curious Obsession from play. Siren Stormtamer provides another way to protect your creature from removal or Settle the Wreckage. Tempest Djinn provides a big creature that smaller creature decks have a very tough time dealing with.
This is a classic tempo-based aggressive deck, though it isn't often we see a strategy like this be as competitive as it is. Mono-Blue Aggro loves to play against slower green decks like Golgari, and I believe it is a strong possibility Luis could have that as one of his choices. The slower decks with expensive removal spells can't keep up with a deck like this with cheap threats backed up by countermagic. While Mono-Blue does have some inconsistencies, for this particular format I like it as a choice quite a bit.
Since we are on the subject on mono-colored aggro decks, why stop? The other obvious one is Mono-Red. I don't think that Goblin Chainwhirler is as well-situated as it has been in the past since some of the more powerful cards from previous versions rotated. While Mono-Red may have lost a bit of its luster, it did gain new tools from Guilds of Ravnica, and Goblin Chainwhirler is still great, as there are plenty of one-toughness creatures in the format. My version is quite close to the one that won GP Lille:
I am confident that these are the best creatures the deck has access to. Rekindling Phoenix is also another option for the main deck, but I don't like having too many expensive cards in this format. The late-game is reliant almost exclusively on Experimental Frenzy. If you can keep it in play for a few turns, having lots of cheap cards ends up being really great as you can play a number of spells in a single turn. The deck has a lot of burn so it is able to either deal with an opponent's early threats or close out games by going to the opponent's face.
There is a small Wizards theme here because of Ghitu Lavarunner and Viashino Pyromancer. These Wizards make Wizard's Lightning the best burn spell in the deck. The nice thing about the strategy is that all the creatures are expendable, so expensive removal spells are quite ineffective. If your opponent is casting Vraska's Contempt on Viashino Pyromancer, for example, you have gained a huge advantage in mana efficiency.
Aggro decks are traditionally weak to lifegain and sweepers. Also, Mono-Red is vulnerable to sideboard artifact and enchantment hate out of the control decks. The fact that for this format there are no sideboards means that unless Luis brings decks that are pre-sideboarded against aggro then you get that traditional game one advantage of playing a more linear strategy.
The last deck I have chosen is also aggressively slanted and reliant on one specific card.
Izzet decks of different varieties have continued to put up strong results. There are different directions you can go, from aggressive to controlling. I based my list off a version of Pascal Maynard's. Some of the numbers are bit weird, but that's okay – the Izzet Arclight deck wants to draw exactly one of a lot of its combo pieces while digging through the deck as rapidly as possible to get those Arclight Phoenixes into the graveyard:
The creature base is one of the most debatable subjects when building this deck. To me, there are four different creatures worthy of main deck consideration, but you don't want to play four of all of them. You have a high enough density of spells in order to bring back Arclight Phoenixes. Goblin Electromancer can help fuel out some of your best draws, but on the other hand having two in play is ineffective.
Enigma Drake coming down one turn earlier than Crackling Drake is definitely a big deal, which is why we see a version like this that leans more on Enigma Drake. Having a large blocker on turn three can be a difference-maker against the aggressive decks. Crackling Drake has a lot of good qualities and while ultimately I went with this split I think that the decision is quite close.
The more reliant on Enigma Drake the deck is, the less Radical Ideas the deck wants to play. One is definitely a weird number but hey, whatever works! You want a critical amount of discard outlets to be able to pitch your Arclight Phoenix, and that is where Tormenting Voice comes in. There is also a good amount of cheap removal to answer early starts from the opponent. This is a deck I suspect to see in high numbers at the Pro Tour, as there really aren't too many holes in the strategy other than not drawing Arclight Phoenix.
The Player of the Year format definitely creates interesting deck and card choices. There is also a bit of metagaming involved with predicting what the opponent may play and choosing the best deck to combat what they are trying to do. This could go either way in terms of the outcome, but I like my deck choices and feel confident in them!
Thanks for reading,