Last weekend was the much-anticipated Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, which took place over a month after the set's release compared to the couple weeks we've grown accustomed to. It was expected that the Pro would bring all sorts of new tech and solve the metagame, but the reality was that a month of play at premier events and online had already solved the metagame, or at least brought it to a head, and the results of the Pro Tour reflected that.
The Pro Tour was dominated by aggressive white decks, which the weekend prior revealed itself to be the deck-to-beat as it crushed the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) Qualifier event. The strategy first emerged a couple weeks prior as a way to beat the slower Golgari decks that had risen to prominence, and because Golgari was the most popular deck at the Pro Tour – holding 22% of the field – over the course of the weekend those players were eliminated by the white aggro players, making up 15% of the field, who eventually rose to the top of the standings. Given white's excellent performance at the Pro Tour it might seem that the metagame is solved, but more likely is that the metagame will remain in motion as the Balance of Power shifts and new contenders emerge.
There's already some strong evidence that the reign of white aggressive decks will be short-lived. A major Magic Online event foretold the results of the Pro Tour the following weekend, and because there has now already been another major Standard event online, a Pro Tour Qualifier with over 300 players, its results may be a look at the future and could tell us what will unfold at the next major paper event, perhaps Grand Prix Milwaukee this weekend.
With Boros and Mono-White filling most of the winning spots in the MOCS event, and then crushing on coverage all day Friday during the Pro Tour, it was certain to be heavily represented in the online PTQ on Saturday. Surprisingly, the results of the PTQ show a vastly different winner's metagame, one where white aggro was the prey, not the predator. Boros Aggro had just one representative in the Top 8, who exited in the quarterfinals.
Four more white aggro decks in the Top 16 shows the strategy was out in force, but it likely struggled in the final stretch against the deck that came out on top, Mono-Red Aggro, which won the event and put two more copies into the Top 8.
As it turns out, Goblin Chainwhirler is fantastic against a white aggro strategy that swarms with one-toughness creatures, and it means the red deck is ultimately favored against the white deck. During the Pro Tour this matchup appeared on coverage and the announcers discussed how it was difficult for the white deck, and the online results appear to reflect that.
Given the Pro Tour's wide exposure and the massive success of white strategies, I have to assume Boros Aggro will be the most popular deck this weekend in Milwaukee and at other paper events. The results of the PTQ show that playing Mono-Red would put you one step ahead of that metagame, which seems like a very good place to be, so I highly recommend the deck. Of course, Mono-Red isn't going to stay on top forever, as history shows.
Mono-Red was a big winner right after rotation but was immediately quelled by a rise of Golgari Midrange. Now it seems only natural that as Mono-Red becomes more popular online and pushes out white aggro, Golgari will begin to become a major player once again as its weak matchup declines and its prey increases. If Mono-Red decks do end up on top in Milwaukee, then Golgari could perform very well on Day 2 and into the Top 8 if it can weather the white aggro decks it faces while the red decks cut them from the field. Golgari proved competitive in the PTQ by making it to the Top 4, and the list clearly shows special considerations for the metagame.
A full main deck playset of Wildgrowth Walker means this list is pre-sideboarded against both Mono-Red, white aggro and Izzet Arclight Phoenix, so it's the perfect call for this metagame and a necessity this weekend. In the sideboard, the requisite two Golden Demise has been joined by a pair of Ritual of Soot, which is a very effective tool for fighting back against white aggro. Another piece of tech of note comes from Matt Nass's Pro Tour deck, which he took a to an 8-2 record.
Blood Operative is an effective sideboard card against aggressive decks because of lifelink, and it should also be strong against control. It has great synergy with Doom Whisperer, which is the deck's sole source of Surveil.
Golgari will have to contend with Arclight Phoenix if it maintains a foothold in the format, and the PTQ results seem to back up the Pro Tour in that the archetype will be a major factor. The deck made its way to the finals of the PTQ and put another copy in the top 8.
The Arclight Phoenix decklists from the PTQ are stock and don't seem to have any special considerations for white or red aggressive decks but succeeded in a field full of them. There's evidence that the strategy is competitive in any metagame, because it's simply one of the best things to be doing in the format, a powerful and consistent plan that is difficult to interact with. I'd want to be well-versed in the aggressive matchups, because otherwise it should relatively smooth sailing through the rest of the metagame, like Golgari and Jeskai, the other archetype to reach the Pro Tour top 8.
The best-finishing Jeskai deck in the PTQ was 17th place, with two more in the Top 32. This approximately matches the 11% of the metagame it held at the Pro Tour and is probably a reasonable expectation for its popularity going forward.
There are just some players who like control decks, legendary control player Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, who brought it to an 8-2 record at the Pro Tour. Its ability to adapt to the metagame will allow it to endure, but at this point I'm not sure what exactly it's hoping to see across the table and doesn't seem to be convincingly favored anywhere. That said, Deafening Clarion is one of the best cards in the metagame, and Jeskai makes great use of it, especially when paired with Crackling Drake for lifelink. Jeskai can go even deeper into sweepers with Settle the Wreckage and Cleansing Nova, or even Fiery Cannonade to keep the cost low, along with plenty of great spot removal, so I do imagine that the aggressive decks are beatable. In theory, control always gets betters as the metagame becomes more defined, so it's always on the table if the build if right for a given weekend.
The most surprising result of the PTQ is the deck that finished in third place, Naya Dinosaurs.
This decklist is like the Dinosaur dream we all had when Ixalan was first released, basically a preconstructed deck straight from Wizards, with all of the awesome Dinosaur creatures backed up by their tribal spells. Beefy green creatures are typically pretty good against red creatures, which might explain why the deck was so successful in the PTQ field, but I'm sure some of the success can be attributed to a critical piece of tech, Deafening Clarion.
Splashing a color isn't something to do lightly, but it's a major addition to the deck. A main deck sweeper goes a long way in a field of white and red aggro, and Deafening Clarion's lifelink ability is highly effective in a deck filled with large creatures that will survive the three damage. Icing on the cake is that Deafening Clarion synergizes with enrage, so it's the card Ripjaw Raptor has always wanted to play with. Two more copies in the sideboard means the deck has a full set of sweepers against red and white aggro in the second two games, which should make the matchup their nightmare.
The white splash goes deeper with a set of Tocatli Honor Guard in the sideboard. Turning off Regisaur Alpha is a small price to pay for hosing Golgari, which struggles to win against Tocatli Honor Guard and has few efficient ways to get it off the table. With the aggressive part of the metagame covered, taking special considerations for the rest of the field is important, so dinosaur Deathforge Scavenger is a shoo-in a hoser for Arclight Phoenix.
Another unique deck to finish highly in the PTQ was the 11th-place Jeskai Midrange deck, which resembles a Boros Angels deck that splashes for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and countermagic.
Boros Angels is the midrange white deck of the format, so it's a good candidate for splashing one of the best midrange and control cards imaginable, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Planeswalkers are great addition to midrange strategies because they add a different element to the deck, a new angle of attack, so it makes the deck more versatile in what it can do, and certainly more powerful overall. Rounding out the deck is some countermagic and because it applies pressure with creatures the deck makes especially good use of Ionize, compared to a straight control deck where it's less valuable.
I'm not convinced that splashing for blue cards is a great idea in a metagame filled with red and white aggro, where they seem like steps in the wrong direction, but there's definitely something to the idea and to midrange white decks in general – a more stock version of Boros Angels finished in the Top 16 as well.
With Goblin Chainwhirler being so well-positioned, one option is to use it in an alternative Mono-Red deck, in a true Goblin tribal shell, like one player did to 22nd place in the PTQ.
Putting Goblin Chainwhirler alongside support cards like Goblin Warchief and Siege-Gang Commander makes it even better than normal, and I am sure there's no joy like squeezing even more value from the card with Vanquisher's Banner. The Goblin plan plays out a bit differently than the typical Mono-Red deck by foregoing burn for more threats, but does bring plenty of extra value to the table and has the tools to really grind. It's unlikely better than the typical red deck, and also doesn't seem ideal against a field of opposing Goblin Chainwhirler, but it's an option and a deck to look out for it does keep winning.
The only other archetype to break into the Top 32 of the PTQ was Selesnya Convoke, without anything remarkable in the decklist. It held less than 3% of the Pro Tour field, but two players with 8-2 records are indication the deck is competitive. It doesn't seem well-positioned in a field of Goblin Chainwhirler, but in theory should hold up decently against other white decks.
White Aggro does present a very fast clock, but ultimately can do nothing against Fog effects but sit back and hope the opponent runs out of action, which is usually futile against a resolved planeswalker. Two players did earn two wins with the deck, but that's a poor showing out of the nine copies in the event. What likely kept the deck down are decks like Golgari and Jeskai with disruption, while white aggro wasn't enough of the metagame. Bant could be a good choice this weekend if white is very heavily played. It will start to struggle if Mono-Red takes over, because burn spells can kill past Fogs.
At this point we'll have to see what happens, but I expect Mono-Red to thrive this weekend to counteract white aggro. At that point Golgari will have an opportunity to take over, which in theory would reset the metagame all over again as white aggro rises again. It's a classic rock-paper-scissors, so maybe the metagame will eventually find a balance somewhere in between. Arclight Phoenix adds a fourth element as a constant factor in the metagame because it's so objectively powerful, but I am not sure how it fits into the RPS paradigm, which there are a host of other strategies attempting to break.