Pro Tour Ixalan is this weekend, and all eyes will be on the pros as they unleash their best Standard decks and tech on the opposition. Players have been working on figuring out this post-rotation format for weeks now, but the metagame will come to a head at the PT. We'll see if anything can unseat Temur and Ramunap Red from the top of the metagame, and it's time for rogue decks to prove themselves as competitive or be forgotten. I've been paying close attention to the trends on Magic Online to get an idea of what the metagame might look like this weekend, and I've found some very promising strategies that could have their big break at the Pro Tour.
God-Pharaoh's Gift decks survived rotation and gained great new tools, and were expected to be a player in the new metagame. While the strategy did put up some finishes in the early days of the format, the deck hasn't caught on widely. It is now beginning to prove itself as a top-tier competitive strategy online, with results including a finals and top four finish in the online Pro Tour Qualifier last weekend.
The most popular version recently has been a white-blue build centered around using Refurbish to reanimate a God-Pharaoh's Gift. The graveyard plan gained some excellent cards in Ixalan to support the graveyard plan, with Chart the Course acting as a Tormenting Voice with upside, and its raid-like ability is easy to enable in a deck full of creatures. Search of Azcanta is an effective graveyard enabler, and its ability to flip into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is perfect for digging for its key spells. Another major gain for the deck is Opt, which doesn't fill the graveyard but helps make the deck more consistent throughout the game.
The Esper version of God-Pharaoh's Gift is nearly entirely blue-black, with Concealed Courtyard included to help cast any Angel of Invention stuck in hand. Rather than reanimate God-Pharaoh's Gift, this version uses Gate to the Afterlife to search for it and put it into play at a discount. Kitesail Freebooter and Hostage Taker give this version some excellent disruptive elements, and it's perfectly capable of winning a fair game without relying on its namesake artifact. One of the biggest benefits of black is of course The Scarab God, which is one of the very best creatures in Standard, and works very well as a backup to God-Pharaoh's Gift as an alternative way to Eternalize creatures.
A novel approach to the Anointed Procession tokens strategy is to add Vizier of the Anointed, which gives the deck a card draw engine to support the many eternalize creatures it plays. This also opens up a small toolbox of creatures to search for, with Adorned Pouncer being a great threat and Sunscourge Champion working very well against Red. Vizier of the Anointed searching for a creature is card advantage in itself, so it's easy to see how it adds to the deck's ability to grind.
Craig Wescoe found the intersection between energy and improvise with this awesome deck. It takes advantage of the ability of Whirler Virtuoso to convert energy into Thopter Tokens, which in turn fuels improvise with free artifacts. Aether Chaser and Aether Swooper support the plan with their ability to efficiently convert energy into tokens, and along with Whirler Virtuoso can wield Inventor's Goggles. The payoffs for Improvise are Thopter Maverick, which is a very powerful card when cast for as low as two mana, and Freejam Regent as a big finisher.
Mono-Black Aggro briefly appeared after rotation, but it stayed off the map until very recently. Built in the same vein as the red aggro decks, it has a low curve and aggressive tendencies. It's actually more aggressive than Ramunap Red, with access to up to 12 one-drop threats. It also has more card advantage, with Scrapheap Scrounger adding the ability to grind and Ruin Raider providing fresh cards. This version goes further by adding Dunes of the Dead to gain extra value when sacrificed by Ifnir Deadlands, which is similar to how Red adds value to its lands with Sunscorched Desert.
Another approach to Mono-Black Aggro is to splash into red, and it has been doing well online, including a Top 8 in the MTGO PTQ. Bomat Courier is a great addition because it doesn't require red mana on turn one to function, and can accumulate cards before being sacrificed after drawing a red source later in the game. Hazoret, the Fervent is the best aggressive card in Standard and the main reason to be red, while Lightning Strike is the best aggressive spell and more flexible than Walk the Plank because it can damage the opponent.
The biggest rogue success story of the past few weeks has been the success of Mardu, which has seen massive growth and is rivaling the top decks in the metagame. It was widely claimed to be extinct after rotation, but it has reinvented itself. It owes some of its success to making use of new Ixalan cards, but this list is the first I've seen to use Legion's Landing, which gives the deck incredible ability to grind in the late game when it transforms into Adanto, the First Fort.
I'm also a big fan of the deck using Harsh Mentor and Rampaging Ferocidon in the sideboard as a package of hoser creatures to fight Temur and Tokens, just like Ramunap Red does.
Approach of the Second Sun Control was another strategy that survived rotation, and it even looked to improve with new cards like Opt and Search for Azcanta. The deck definitely made an impact, but it is struggling to maintain its hold on the metagame as players have fought back with additional discard and countermagic in their aggressive decks or by wielding black control decks that have great matchups against the white-blue deck. To survive, some players have begun to dip into green, which speeds up the deck with mana acceleration including Gift of Paradise and even Hour of Promise, which gives the deck an additional threat.
This particular build goes far deeper into green by including three Sandwurm Convergence to ramp into. It's a huge payoff, and even more important to this deck than even Approach of the Second Sun, which it only plays two of. A steady stream of 5/5 tokens will be difficult for anyone to beat, so it gives this deck a late game finisher that can't really be stopped. Another great benefit of going deep into green is that it opens up the sideboard to Carnage Tyrant, which is the perfect way to fight back against other control decks that will be prepared for expensive sorceries but will be nearly helpless against an uncounterable hexproof threat.
Electrostatic Pummeler is the most broken energy card in Standard since Aetherworks Marvel is banned, and while decks built around it haven't proven themselves as consistent top-tier contenders, it's starting to see a lot more success online. The most popular versions now play blue, and Cartouche of Knowledge has caught on as technology for the archetype and seems to be one of the biggest reasons for its sudden upsurge. It's great on Electrostatic Pummeler to push it past blockers, but it's also quite good on the other energy creatures. It gets Longtusk Cub past blockers to generate energy, and it's amazing on Bristling Hydra to give the deck a flying hexproof threat reminiscent of the Jade Guardian-One with the Wind combo that dominates many Ixalan limited games.
A really cool adaptation to the Blue-Green Pummeler deck is to splash into black rather than red to gain access to Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which the deck supports with all of its energy production, and in turn provides the deck with a stream of cards. This card advantage is perfect for a combo-like deck that needs to dig for its key cards like Electrostatic Pummeler, and it helps bring the power level up. It's also a card that the opponent must respect and destroy, so it draws out removal and paves the way for Electrostatic Pummeler.
Black also gives the sideboard Duress, which is perfect for protecting Electrostatic Pummeler. Cartouche of Ambition works very well against Red, and The Scarab God is sure to catch control opponents off guard.
If the format has a best deck, it's Temur, which uses the best cards and the best mechanic and has been at the forefront of the metagame for months. The deck is still evolving, and one direction is to stretch deeper into black beyond The Scarab God to gain a bigger edge against the mirror and other opponents. By cutting Longtusk Cub, which is sided out in the mirror, the deck can gain a better game-one matchup against the mirror. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a potent energy card that is easily enabled in this deck and will provide a stream of cards. Vraska, the Relic Seeker is both threat and answer, and it's very difficult for Temur – or really any opponent – to beat, so adding it to the deck pushes the power to a new level.
Jaberwocki's list goes even deeper into black for an even bigger advantage in the mirror, with Gonti, Lord of Luxury giving the deck a source of card advantage that provides a great solution to Bristling Hydra and even Carnage Tyrant. Vraska's Contempt gives the deck a clean answer to The Scarab God, and it helps shore up the Red matchup as an answer to Hazoret, the Fervent.
A nice advantage of going heavily into black is the addition of Duress to the sideboard, which combines with Negate to give the deck an extremely efficient and powerful disruption package that will wreck any control opponent.
Ramunap Red is still the bogeyman of the format, and Temur Energy is still a very solid option that is likely to be the most-played deck in the room at the Pro Tour, so the question is what decks fill in the rest of the metagame. I expect control of all sorts to be popular, but it will have to be prepared for Carnage Tyrant, which has quickly risen to prevalence in response to the emergence of control. I expect the biggest winners at the Pro Tour to be the various flavors of aggressive decks that provide an alternative option to Ramunap Red, like the Mono-Black and Black-Red Aggro decks I shared today, along with Mardu and the Electrostatic Pummeler decks. I'll also have my eyes open for any God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, which combines a cast of some of the best creatures in the format with one of the most powerful cards in the format. It could break out if players take notice of its success online last weekend and realize how good it really is. Finally, it's going to be fun to see how Temur players tune their decks, and if any crazy builds with splashes end up on top and become the norm going forward, or if stock Temur remains the best.
Enjoy the Pro Tour!
- Adam Yurchick