Last weekend was Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, a celebration of Magic's history stretching back to its release in 1993. Of course, the game's origins go even farther back in time, and this edition of Enter the Battlefield released at the Pro Tour sheds some light on the very first days of Magic by interviewing its creator Richard Garfield and the first people who playtested the game – I really recommend watching it.
Rather than be called Pro Tour Core Set 2019 and featuring two drafts of the newest set like the typical Pro Tour, Pro Tour 25th Anniversarylived up to its name by including the Legacy format, which includes cards going all the way back to the beginning. Featuring Legacy along with Modern and Standard means the tournament was a major driver of these various metagames, because tasking so many skilled players with the problem of figuring out these formats with such high stakes on the line means they are going to show up with some very effective decks, and to no surprise there was major innovation in all formats. Playing any of these formats going forward means being acutely aware of what went down at the Pro Tour and what decks broke out, so you'll be prepared to take them on across the table or even wield them yourself.
The breakout deck in Standard was Bant Turbo Fog, which has become the talk of the internet because of its power, purportedly putting up the best results of any Standard deck in the event, and its controversial inclusion of Nexus of Fate. Its effect on the game isn't the center the debate, but rather high cost and rarity as a Buy-a-Box promo. Unavailable in normal boosters, it's less accessible to players, so if it's a high-demand staple integral to one of the format's key decks but a card that's difficult for the average player to acquire, that's a bad thing for the health of Standard and the game. It's a cautionary tale for Wizards for the future, but it's the reality we live in now and it's not going to stop competitive players from playing the deck.
The deck stops opposing aggression with a variety of Fog effects, gains massive card advantage with cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Karn, Scion of Urza, and Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, and takes extra turns with Nexus of Fate, which will eventually completely lock the opponent out of the game by taking every turn.
The deck's Fog strategy is naturally very strong against aggressive decks that rely on combat, which is why it was so successful in a field of Red-Black Aggro and Steel Leaf Stompy decks, and because these decks make up such a large portion of the metagame, nearly 50%, the Bant deck is going to continue to perform very well.
That said, the deck will have a more difficult time against disruptive controlling strategies, decks like White-Blue Control – which won the Pro Tour – that have counters and even more so against decks like Grixis and Esper Control that add discard and even cards like Lost Legacy.
Bant will also be forced to adapt to an evolving prey, as Red-Black Aggro will begin to turn to cards like Insult // Injury, which stops damage from being prevented as a Flaring Pain effect, and Banefire, which can't be prevented. A piece of sideboard tech is Angrath, the Flame-Chained, which I've never been a big fan of, but its ability to make the opponent discard a card and lose two life is perfect for fighting back against the Turbo Fog deck. Another useful tool is Sorcerous Spyglass, which can stop their main draw engine Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and I expect will be essential for Steel Leaf Stompy since it doesn't have better options.
Besides the Pro Tour, another event of note last weekend was the Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier, which had seven Red-Black decks reach the Top 8. What's interesting is that some of the most successful decks went beyond the black splash into the territory of a two-color deck and took on a more midrange role.
Going heavily into black opens up access to cards like Vraska's Contempt, which this deck uses as a full four-of, which theoretically gives the deck an edge against other red decks because it's such a strong answer to the usual mirror-breakers, Hazoret the Fervent and Rekindling Phoenix. Decks like this have been around before but have never been quite as successful as the more traditional versions, but changes in the metagame have made them more appealing. I expect a big reason for their success is the lack of the fastest red aggro decks, like the Wizards version or The Flame of Keld version, which give slower versions like this a hard time.
On the other hand, Vraska's Contempt seems extremely appealing now because it gives the red deck a reliable answer to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which I expect would help turn the Bant Turbo Fog matchup around in a big way. If going deep into black really does improve the Red-Black mirror, and helps against the Bant deck, then I don't see why it wouldn't be the best option in this metagame.
The theory that Vraska's Contempt is great in this metagame extends to control decks and explains why Esper Control was the only other deck to reach the PTQ top 8.
The PTQ was absolutely filled with Red-Black decks, so I assume this Esper deck did pretty well against them throughout the day. The PTQ was held before the Pro Tour was over and results were posted, so the Bant Turbo Fog deck was only a minor presence, but Esper looks to have all the tools needed to beat them.
The Modern portion of the Pro Tour did not disappoint, and saw the breakout of the Stitcher's Supplier-powered Black-Red Vengevine deck.
This deck had been a fringe strategy for over a year, and existed in a similar realm as the Hollow One deck, which eventually saw its own breakout into the top-tier. Vengevine was left behind, but Core Set 2019 brought Stitcher's Supplier and has elevated the deck to the next level. It's the perfect card for the deck, where it fills the graveyard with fuel. Its synergies are numerous, including being a cheap creature to trigger Vengevine, a Zombie for enabling Gravecrawler, and being sacrificed to Greater Gargadon, which is new technology for the deck. It's really powerful in conjunction with Bridge from Below and cards like Bloodghast that can be repeatedly sacrificed. Other versions use Viscera Seer, another great sacrifice outlet that generates card selection value with its scry.
The deck is still a work in progress, but it's only going to get better from here now that it has been heavily publicized and will be played by players around the world. The prices of some of its cards have absolutely skyrocketed and it immediately picked up in popularity online, so it really does look like the next big thing. That said, it's just another one of the many great decks in Modern, and as a graveyard-centric deck it has a huge target on its head and will draw plenty of hosers. Cards like Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage are even more effective against this deck than they are against Hollow One, so the deck will need to adapt as the metagame fights back. If you're playing Modern soon you'll need to be prepared for this deck and might want to consider playing it yourself.
As far as the most established part of the metagame, there were plenty of new innovations and pieces of tech to be found. Humans was expectedly one of the post popular and successful decks and has fully adopted Core Set 2019's Militia Bugler as a new staple.
There has also been a return to Gut Shot in the sideboard, with some players including as many as three. It's effective in the mirror match for swinging tempo with many good targets, including Phantasmal Image, and helps against tougher matchups like Affinity and Infect.
Ben Stark made it to the finals with a typical Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo deck, but his sideboard had the spicy tech of three Sai, Master Thopterist.
The legend is primarily used to generate an army of Thopter Tokens, but its secondary card draw ability is also very relevant, especially in this deck full of artifacts that can be sacrificed for value. In this deck Sai, Master Thopterist is an engine and win condition in itself, so it allows the deck to win an entirely different fashion than normal, which can take opponents by surprise and help the deck fight through their disruption and sideboard hosers. It's at its best against decks like Jeskai, Mardu and Jund, which will be most vulnerable to the value it creates and the best at stopping the normal Ironworks combo.
It wasn't played at the Pro Tour, but another cool Modern deck to appear recently is Mono-Red Dragon Prison, which uses Core Set 2019's Sarkhan, the Fireblood as a card drawing engine and win condition that will occasionally add some mana towards Avaricious Dragon.
It's minor innovation to a deck, but it's these sorts of small improvements that add up and make a deck viable, so it's probably no fluke the deck keeps putting up results.
Legacy is the most established of the formats at the Pro Tour and the slowest to change, but the bannings of Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman right before the Pro Tour threw the old metagame out the window, which made it ripe for innovation. The biggest breakout was the Death's Shadow deck played to the finals by Josh Utter-Leyton.
The deck isn't new – and in fact Josh could be seen in a feature match playing it at Grand Prix Vegas last year – but he was able to see that the bannings were a positive for the deck, even with its staple Gitaxian Probe being banned.
The deck operates like a typical Delver of Secrets deck, including four of the creature along with a ton of blue card selection spells, mixed in with Daze and Force of Will as counters. Thoughtseize is extra disruption and a way to lose life, and the deck is rounded out by some creature removal including Snuff Out, which can be a great tempo play and a fantastic way to lose life, similar to Dismember. Josh also had the technology of Reanimate, which is another way to lose life and is surprisingly versatile. It can be used as early as turn one to Reanimate a cycled Street Wraith as a do-it-yourself Delver, or later in the game to return a dead Death's Shadow. It can also take cards from the opponent, which can lead to all sorts of fun plays, like reanimating a Snapcaster Mage for extra value.
There's been a lot of talk about this deck and I expect a bunch of people will start playing it, but it's just one deck of many in a massive metagame, so I don't expect it's going to take over in a big way. There were plenty of other decks excelling at the Pro Tour too, like the two copies of Death and Taxes in the top four, which at the end of the day probably has more impact on the metagame than Death's Shadow.
What are your favorite decks from the Pro Tour? Where do you these these metagames heading now? Share your thoughts in the comments.