Pro Tour Aether Revolt was expected to showcase the unstoppable power of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, but the combo had a very underwhelming performance and even failed to reach the Top 8, which revealed it is anything but unbeatable. The story of the weekend was of course Mardu Vehicles, which rode Heart of Kiran to take six of the eight spots in the elimination bracket and ultimately win the tournament. This dominant performance has made everyone take notice, and it's safe to assume that Mardu is currently the top deck in Standard and will be the deck to beat going forward. That's not the end of the story, because now the metagame will continue to develop with a new public enemy in mind, and players will find ways to fight back against the Mardu menace.
Part of the appeal of Mardu is its strength against the Copycat combo matchups, and its presence will relieve the immense pressure the combo once put on the metagame. The combo forced every deck to include ways to disrupt it, and their decline will free decks to shift their disruption suites towards beating the new threat of Mardu, which means moving towards Fatal Push and away from Grasp of Darkness. The failure of the combo also means the inevitable decline of Torrential Gearhulk, so decks no longer need to be as concerned about playing a long game and can shift towards a more streamlined game plan designed to go toe-to-toe with the fast Mardu deck. Every deck will change to confront the realities of the metagame, and there may be new competitors that emerge to contest the Mardu-driven metagame.
Players are already reacting to the post-Pro Tour metagame on Magic Online, where they have been playing by Mardu's rules for days. The differences in decks this week compared to last week is obvious, because lists from the Pro Tour have permeated the metagame. What's exciting is that players are tuning and improving these decks for the new metagame, so they provide a cutting-edge look at Standard as it now sits. There have been many competitive leagues played since the Pro Tour, so I'll share some notable 5-0 decklists. There was also a Pro Tour Qualifier Online over the weekend, where players had knowledge of the Pro Tour metagame, and this hyper-competitive event provided some excellent lists. Today I'll explore notable decks from the Pro Tour that did not reach the Top 8, and the most novel decks played on Magic Online since the event.
Two players earned a 7-3 record at the Pro Tour with variations of the four-color Saheeli Rai deck, and they are blueprints for approaching the deck after the Pro Tour. One version uses the technology of Eldritch Evolution to help find Felidar Guardian or a toolbox of creatures, which is a nice innovation for the deck.
The sideboard includes Woodland Wanderer, which seems like fantastic way to shift into a fair aggressive deck when people bring in answers to the combo.
Gerry Thompson used Elder Deep-Fiend in his four-color deck, but his big innovation was using an unconventional two Aetherworks Marvel as a card selection engine to help put the combo together.
Four-color Saheeli Rai decks use Rogue Refiner and Whirler Rogue as great cards to copy and blink for value, but they also produce quite a lot of energy, which combined with Harnessed Lightning and Attune with Aether creates a strong energy core. The typical four-color deck doesn't really use this energy beyond dumping it into Whirler Rogue or Harnessed Lightning, but Gerry added Aetherworks Marvel to convert energy into very real value. The deck doesn't rely on Aetherworks Marvel, and it contains no Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger that it can't otherwise cast, but sometimes the deck will draw one and use it very effectively. Having access to this artifact in the deck also makes Saheeli Rai's ultimate relevant as a tutor, because it doesn't have anything to find in the typical Four-Color build. Saheeli Rai decks will be forced to contend with a metagame saturated with Mardu, and four-color versions may have an edge compared to the Jeskai version that struggled at the Pro Tour.
The best performing decks of the Pro Tour that didn't reach the Top 8 were two Black-Green Energy decks that finished 9-1.
These decks abandon the delirium theme has been associated with to make room for an energy strategy powered by Winding Constrictor. They are more aggressive than the old Delirium decks and have more cheap threats, including the energy creatures Greenbelt Rampager, Longtusk Cub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Aethersphere Harvester is also especially attractive in a field of Mardu as a way to win damage races or hold their creatures at bay as a robust blocker.
This strategy also employs Lifecrafter's Bestiary to generate card advantage and selection almost insurmountable for decks hoping to win through attrition, making it a great sideboard card against control decks. It's best with Greenbelt Rampager, which can return to hand to generate extra value, potentially endless value with an energy sink like Longtusk Cub.
After Pro Tour Kaladesh, the biggest story was the multiple White-Blue Flash decks that finished 9-1, and they ultimately proved superior to the control decks that dominated the Top 8, so it's possible we will see the same thing prove true with the Black-Green Energy deck this Pro Tour. The strategy has been quickly gaining popularity online due to the fact that it can compete with Mardu, and may even be favored thanks to main deck Fatal Push, so it's a deck to watch and something I recommend to anyone looking for an aggressive green alternative to Mardu.
Another option is White-Green tokens, which Pascal Maynard streamlined into a more aggressive shell with Lambholt Pacifist, Thraben Inspector and even Toolcraft Exemplar to finish 8-2.
This deck's low curve allows it to make better use of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar than the typical build, and Rishkar, Peema Renegade excels here as an aggressive tool. Central to the deck's game plan is Heart of Kiran, which it supports with its many planeswalkers and three-powered creatures.
Make note of the excellent sideboard, which contains removal like Declaration in Stone, Fumigate, Ajani Unyielding, and even a Westvale Abbey to help support the six-mana planeswalker, which allows the deck to take on a more controlling game plan against other creature decks.
Control decks didn't fall completely flat the Pro Tour, and a few decks proved they had what it takes to compete. Last week I shared a Sultai Control deck that combined delirium cards with Torrential Gearhulk, and a similar deck earned an 8-2 record at the Pro Tour.
Another control shell, two Blue-Red Dynavolt Tower control decks finished with 7-3 records at the Pro Tour.
Now with the metagame picture clear, there is an opportunity for control decks to move in and attack them with a perfectly crafted suite of disruption and threats, so tuning one of these decks from the Pro Tour might be the best plan for anyone looking to play the control role.
Two Black-Red aggressive decks finished 8-2 in the Pro Tour, and they offer an alternative to Mardu.
I'm a huge fan of Tharmaratnam's approach to the deck, which looks to be designed with beating Mardu in mind. A full set of Heart of Kiran means the deck will see its fastest openings more often, and it's great with Forerunner of Slaughter giving it haste! Weldfast Engineer is fantastic in racing situations against other aggressive decks, where it adds extra damage and pushes small attackers into larger blockers.
Incendiary Flow helped Tharmaratnam's deck stay aggressive against Jeskai Saheeli, but I'm interested in moving Fatal Push to the main deck in a Mardu world, like this decklist that finished 5-0 in a league.
Another approach to the archetype is to incorporate a heavier artifact theme built around Scrapheap Trawler to generate value.
The biggest feature of this deck is its amazing use of Walking Ballista with many ways to return it to hand with Scrap Trawler. The deck also includes a pair of Syndicate Trafficker to combine with Scrap Trawler as a card advantage engine.
Another cool deck that is artifact-centric is this deck built to abuse improvise and the powerful Herald of Anguish, which finished a league undefeated.
This is the first deck that I've seen make use of Tezzeret's Touch, which is fantastic on cards like Servo Schematic and Cogworker's Puzzleknot. Going forward, I'd look to move some number of Fatal Push to the main deck to combat Mardu and Black-Green Constrictor decks.
There was a Pro Tour Qualifier on Magic Online this past Saturday, and while decklists from the Pro Tour were not released at that time, there were some lists available on deck techs on the coverage, and surely many of the players in the event were friends with players at the Pro Tour and had access to their lists. At the very least, the metagame was somewhat clear, and players had an idea of what to expect. The metagame was more advanced than any tournament yet online, and the results provide great insight into what the future might look like. The event was won by Black-Green Delirium, and Mardu finished in second, but what stood out to me was the Black Eldrazi deck that finished in the top four!
With four of both Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness, this deck doesn't mess around when it comes to removal to stop Mardu and black-green variants. Bearer of Silence adds even more removal, which is great for removing big threats while Walking Ballista helps to clear out small creatures. Transgress the Mind gives the deck even more disruption on top of Thought-Knot Seer, which comes with the usual Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher. The deck also makes use of Scrapheap Scrounger, which at the Pro Tour proved it's among the best creatures in Standard. This Eldrazi deck also gets access to the potent Ruins of Oran-Rief and the value-generating Sea Gate Wreckage, which no other deck in the metagame can claim. This is the biggest impact I've seen Eldrazi make in Standard that I can remember, so take notice.
One of the most interesting decks I have seen online since the Pro Tour is Four-Color Flash deck that is best seen to be understood.
This is essentially a post-ban White-Blue Flash deck with Heart of Kiran instead of Smuggler's Copter, and it splashes into black for Scrapheap Scrounger and Fatal Push, and green for Blossoming Defense and Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Without Reflector Mage, the blue splash is minor, with Spell Queller and Metallic Rebuke providing disruption. There's a lot going on here, but the fast lands, Aether Hub, and Spire of Industry sufficiently support the splashes.
While it's currently suppressed in a sea of Mardu decks, the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo will get better as people begin to lose respect, so it always has the potential to rear its head and Take Down a tournament. What's particularly dangerous about these decks now is they no longer have to be concerned with the mirror match, so they can shift towards beating Mardu and the rest of the developing metagame. Mardu will continue to develop against a metagame of players that are taking drastic action to beat it. There were many different variations on Mardu in the Top 8, and different players and teams tuned it to their own preferences. It's not clear what build is ideal, so it will be interesting to see what develops as players test all of the lists and start to hone in on the ideal one. The slimmed-down, three-color builds without Spirebluff Canal and blue sideboard cards, like the finalist's builds, are advantaged in the mirror match, and blue isn't necessary without many Saheeli Rai decks to beat, so no blue splash is probably the best approach going forward.
The metagame will come together this weekend at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. I expect we'll see a push back against Mardu, and a rise of Black-Green Constrictor decks, but it's possible well-crafted control decks will go a step farther and beat everyone.
What do you make of the Pro Tour results? Where is the metagame headed? What are you playing? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions!