Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland, Oregon marked the end of the 2013-2014 Pro Tour season with fascinating storylines weaved throughout. For a dedicated few players, their struggles and successes during the season culminated in this ultimate event, this Pro Tour that allowed them to flex their Magic might and prove their power to themselves and to the world. Today I'll share some of those players' storylines along with the decks that brought them to the top last weekend.Owen Turtenwald
Owen Turtenwald reached a fitting Top 8 with a variation on Black Devotion, the deck he has been championing since his Grand Prix Albuquerque win early in the season. He has shared a lot of knowledge with the community in his writings on ChannelFireball, which have helped develop my own understanding of the archetype. His Top 8 finish shows true mastery of the archetype and of this Standard format.
Owen played a BW Control deck, a black deck that actually does away with devotion and even Gray Merchant of Asphodel for powerful white cards like the Black Devotion-hating Blood Baron of Vizkopa and super-powerful Elspeth, Sun's Champion. White is no splash: the deck supports the double white planeswalker along with Obzedat, Ghost Council, while the heavy white count enabled by Caves of Koilos allows potent disruptive cards like Banishing Light and the sideboard Deicide to be cast in the early game with reliability.
The deck showcases Owen's knowledge of the format that he has cultivated over the last year. Owen decided to play ole' trusty Black Devotion, simply an extreme version of it that was carefully tuned to position itself within the expected Pro Tour metagame.
Primarily, the white splash positions the deck against the Black Devotion mirror: Blood Baron of Vizkopa is the most powerful card available and will steal games from a losing position. Elspeth, Sun's Champion is quite powerful against Black Devotion; it creates immediate value while demanding an answer, and it gives the BW deck more haymakers for the topdeck wars that define the mirror matchup. Banishing Light is quite important as an out to Underworld Connections, which along with Deicide gives the BW deck a distinct advantage in the battle over card advantage.
The white splash also gives the Black deck an even more favorable matchup against UWx control decks, which goes a long way at a Pro Tour where control pilots are skilled and unlikely to make many mistakes.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel was great against Gruul Monsters, but it started falling in value as players adopted black and started playing increasingly more removal. Blood Baron of Vizkopa and the other white cards are valuable here because they stand on their own in a war of attrition, and they match up well against the popular Dreadbore. BW maintains a strong matchup against a wide variety of midrange opponents.
On the other hand, moving towards white hurts the deck against Blue Devotion, where Gray Merchant of Asphodel is among the most important cards. The more painful and less consistent manabase also causes more stumbles, which extends into making aggressive matchups like R\red aggro and GW similarly less favorable.
Based on the metagame breakdowns on coverage, all Black Devotion variants made up over 25% of the day one metagame, combined with UWx variants to make up around 40% of the metagame. On day two this total number approached 50%. With rush aggro variants and Blue Devotion combining to make up only 20% of the metagame on day one, and around 25% on day two, it's safe to say Owen made a good choice in positioning himself against the field by choosing BW. The extra small edges he got throughout the weekend compounded into a Top 8 finish so congratulations to him. Going forward, BW Midrange is a very strong deck and will be a great choice in any metagame skewed towards black decks and Sphinx's Revelation, while I would stay away in overly aggressive metagames. William Jensen
Also piloting the BW deck was Owen's teammate William Jensen. This weekend was a huge one for William, as it marked his first Top 8 finish after coming back to the game nearly two years ago. It proves that great skill combined dedication, hard work, a strong support network, and a little luck can lead to huge results. This finish is also another great showing for the BW deck, proving it was great in the Pro Tour metagame and likely a great deck going forward until rotation.Jackson Cunningham
Jackson Cunningham reached Top 8 playing a GW aggro deck. The deck itself is nothing too special; it follows the GW Aggro model seen all year, though it does put the new Sunblade Elite to use.
Most impressive about Jackson is that it was his first Pro Tour event ever, and the first serious constructed tournament of his life. Jackson Cunningham has the distinction of being the young brother of Jeff Cunningham, a former mainstay of the Pro Tour regarded by many as the best Magic writer to grace the game. Highly visible in the Pro Tour coverage, Jeff took on the role of coaching Jackson through his entire preparation and all the way through the event to the finals of the Pro Tour. Jackson displayed an incredible amount of skill and poise, and through the Top 8 pushed his edges by sneaking in damage and generally making the opponent respect all of his options. It was fascinating to see him perform well against great players, and I look forward to seeing how his Magic career develops.Pat Cox
In another case of a player staying in their lane, Pat Cox reached Top 8 playing the Brave Naya Zoo deck he has been wielding and discussing for months. Pat Cox plays aggressive Zoo decks whenever possible, and by sticking to what he knows he maximized his own deck and left the hard decisions to his opponents.
With Ghor-Clan Rampage and Selesnya Charm as pump spells, and with Boros Charm and Ajani, Caller of Pride to give double strike, this Zoo deck has a combo component that is highly relevant because of its ability to pressure opponents and force their hands. Forcing an opponent to respect a combo is the strategy employed by Splinter Twin decks in Modern to great success and is just as useful in Standard.Pierre Mondon
I met Pierre "Chris" Mondon grinding the PTQ circuit in Ohio sometime in 2003, and after moving to Columbus a few years later he was among the usual crowd of quality players and helped bring my game to the next level. He's one of my oldest friends in the game. Pierre played in some Pro Tour in that previous era, but took time away from playing competitively. He came back with a vengeance last year by winning Grand Prix Oklahoma City, followed it up with a Top 8 at Grand Prix Philadelphia this April, then wrapped up the season by finishing third in the Pro Tour and reaching Gold level for the next season.
I have always known Pierre as a limited specialist, proven by his two limited GP Top 8s this season, but he put up a massive undefeated record in the constructed portion of the Pro Tour. This makes me take special note of his deck, which is an innovative take on the Standard format that cut through the Pro Tour field. His deck is nothing like the Jund Monsters deck it resembles, but is firmly a Jund Planeswalker Control deck that leverages mana acceleration and efficient removal to support planeswalkers that are among the most powerful cards in the format.
It turns out that Pierre got his initial decklist from Bryan Upham, an old-school PTQ ringer from Michigan that's back to playing competitively and is already winning PTQs. Bryan had been playing the deck online since before the release of Magic 2015 and having good results, so good he intended t write a detailed article about it. He ran into Mondon online, recognized him and got to chatting. So it goes, he decided to stay Hush on the deck and continue to develop it for the Pro Tour, to which Pierre took the final list and sideboard guide and piloted the deck to a huge finish.
I really like how the Jund Planeswalkers deck is positioned, and it can be tuned to fight anything. Now, with the Standard format highly developed and likely stable until rotation, and thus predictable, a well-tuned Jund deck is capable of attacking any metagame accurately and effectively.Yuuki Ichikawa
Yuuki Ichikawa is the most popular Magic: The Gathering streamer in the world. His streams on the Japanese website niconico dwarf audiences Magic streamers get stateside and have made him a bonafide celebrity in the Japanese Magic community. As a full-time streamer Yuuki Ichikawa plays a lot of Magic, and with so many eyes on him, he surely does his best to play optimally. This sort of experience is unrivaled and leads to the technically proficient play necessary to consistently perform at the highest levels. Yuuki started 2-3 before winning out the rest of the way to the Top 8. Yuuki has now made Top 8 of two of his four Pro Tours and is a superstar in the making.
Yuuki played a unique Jund planeswalkers deck featuring a full playset of the new Nissa, Worldwalker. This planeswalker and a full set of Xenagos, the Reveler give this deck a very proactive gameplan capable of burying opponents, with fast and smooth openings enabled by eight ramp spells and a set of Courser of Kruphix. Without any card drawing in Read the Bones and less removal, this is much less control deck than Mondon's and considerably more aggressive.Ivan Floch
Ivan Floch has reached his first ever Pro Tour Top 8, allowing him to shed his membership in the group of players with the most Pro Tour points without said finish. His finish puts in the spotlight his incredible skill, which those in the know have respected for years; I played against Ivan frequently in Magic Online tournaments years ago. I congratulate him on his success, and I expect it will catapult him to greater things in the years to come.
The Azorius Control deck played by Ivan is the final evolution for an archetype that has been a Standard player since day one last September. This is a pure UW Control deck that has done away with splashes, playing just six scry lands to ensure a high basic count for smooth draws. This deck has done away with extraneous win conditions like AEtherling, and in a huge turn from the norm plays not a single Elspeth, Sun's Champion in the maindeck. It instead leans on Mutavault, the ultimate ability of Jace, Architect of Thought, and even decking inevitability with Elixir of Immortality. This is a true control deck that looks to establish a firm grasp on the game with Sphinx's Revelation before winning with an iron fist. The deck is simply packed with removal and card advantage filling the slots opened up by removing win conditions. A full set of Quicken enables the powerful board sweepers like Planar Cleansing to be cast at the most opportune time while also relieving some of the tension between Divination and Dissolve. Control is excellent in established metagames, making UW control a very potent deck for the final weeks of this season. Matt Sperling
One candidate for best player without a PT Top 8 was Matt Sperling, who crossed his name off the list last weekend. Matt has been around the highest levels of the game for a long time, and hopefully this finish will bring him to even bigger things to come. Matt publically shared that he had very little to no time to prepare for the event and was thus going in cold. He decided to play Boros Burn, a relatively rogue choice that took players by surprise, a deck that many had discounted or simply chose to ignore.
By playing a deck players were not prepared for Matt gave himself an edge. Boros Burn is also relatively straightforward compared to most decks in Standard, and while it can change roles between control and aggro, it's most often a combo deck assembling burn spells. By having a clear proactive plan that was easy to execute, Matt ensured he had less decisions per game and could focus more attention on making sure the plays he did make were correct. The deck is also a favorite against Black Devotion. Overall, Matt gave himself a good shot by positioning himself in the metagame and making a gambit, and it paid off for him big time.Looking Forward
While this Pro Tour season is officially over, the Standard season is relevant for nearly two more months. The Pro Tour is a major milestone in the evolution of any format, and I expect the Pro Tour results to color the Standard metagame until its conclusion. Many of the top decks at this Pro Tour are the product of nearly a year of archetype development, and now with Magic 2015 bringing the Standard cardpool to its zenith, these decks represent the pinnacle of Return to Ravnica-Theros Standard and the technology therein. All of these Top 8 are serious contenders for any Standard tournament, and I'd recommend all of them and I would be comfortable playing any of them myself. Share your thoughts on the Pro Tour and experiences with the decks in the comments!