Pro Tour Amonkhet was full of storylines. One could focus on the apparent dominance of Aetherworks Marvel, which filled half of the Top 8, or on the rise of Zombies, which proved itself as a top deck in metagame and ultimately won the event in the hands of Gerry Thompson. From another perspective, the tournament represented a defeat for Mardu, which failed to reach the Top 8 and was left to lick its wounds and rebuild itself before the next event.
The reshuffling of the top-tier has opened up the metagame to new contenders, and looking deeper into the decks of the Pro Tour shows that many of the players and their teams brought novel strategies to battle. These decks leverage new Amonkhet cards in their attempt to take the established order by surprise with powerful new effects the opponent isn't prepared to beat. Today I'll cover the coolest decks from the Pro Tour that aren't being hyped like the Top 8 decks.
I was startled when Joel Larsson was shown in the feature match area piloting a Cryptolith Rite deck, but it was not surprising that his team was using the enchantment to fuel the awesome card advantage potential of new Amonkhet cards Vizier of the Menagerie and Bontu the Glorified.
Vizier of the Menagerie allows the deck to peel extra creatures off the top of the library, which is exactly what this deck needs to fuel its engines. Built entirely of creatures besides Cryptolith Rite, this high-creature density means Vizier of the Menagerie will consistently chain multiple creatures together and create the sort of advantage that opponents won't be able to defeat. When the top card isn't a creature, it can use Duskwatch Recruiter to get a fresh look, or use its other Amonkhet Mythic, Bontu the Glorified, to scry a card deeper.
Bontu the Glorified is an ideal way to put the extra creatures from Vizier of the Menagier to good use, whether it be turning itself on for an attack or sacrificing a stream of creatures to help Zulaport Cutthroat drain out the opponent. Plays like this are made possible by the mana production of Cryptolith Rite, but the deck does have cheaper sacrifice outlets, like Yahenni, Undying Partisan that doubles as a threat the opponent will have a hard time destroying.
As a four-of, Westvale Abbey is an important aspect of the deck, and it's an alternate win-condition that can convert a critical mass of creature into a threat that's very difficult to stop. It's also a clean way to sacrifice many creatures at once to trigger multiple Zulaport Cutthroat simultaneously, a play we saw Sam Pardee make to win his featured match with the deck.
Manglehorn is included in the main deck as a way to punish Mardu and its Heart of Kiran, but it's also a critical part of the puzzle for beating Aetherworks Marvel, which it can get off the table before it gets additional activations. This main deck inclusion opens up room in the sideboard for more new cards like Dispossess, which is a great pre-emptive answer to Aetherworks Marvel.
This deck is reported to have been designed very late in testing, and with beating Mardu decks in mind, so it didn't have a particularly great performance at the Pro Tour. Perhaps with some further development it could have what it takes to compete against the new metagame of Zombies and Aetherworks Marvel.
A very different approach to Cryptolith Rite is the Abzan Aristocrats deck played by none other than Sam Black. He has a storied history with these sort of creature-sacrifice decks, with accomplishments including winning an actual car at a World Championship side event with a Boggart Shenanigans deck early in his career and crafting the Mardu Aristocrats deck that won Tom Martell his Pro Tour trophy, so it's worth further attention when he puts his faith in this type of deck at such an important event.
The central card to this deck is Anointed Procession, which doubles the token output from everything including clue tokens from Thraben Inspector, embalm tokens from Sacred Cat and Anointer Priest, and Knight Ally Tokens from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The most impressive interaction is with Hidden Stockpile, which output it doubles to create a steady stream of value and gives the deck a great ability to grind the long game.
This deck is more focused on playing a long grindy game than the Black-Green Rites deck, and it's comfortable taking the defensive position behind its wall of expendable creatures before eventually overwhelming the opponent.
Viewers of the Pro Tour were treated to a great match between Craig Wescoe and his Red-White Humans deck against Patrick Dickmann and his brew dubbed "Jund Gods," which put both Rhonas the Indomitable and Hazoret the Fury into a Red-Green Energy shell splashing into black for disruption.
The support pieces were familiar, but they were elevated to a higher level by the large dose of power provided by these new cards that are a great fit into the aggressive strategy. Beyond their impact as efficient creatures that are very difficult to deal with, the activated abilities of the gods provide a sink to pour mana into for value and a source of reach that will help the deck close out games.
As expected, Craig Wescoe did show up to the Pro Tour wielding his trusty humans, and he took full advantage of Amonkhet with plenty of new cards. The most intriguing is Bloodlust Inciter, which excels in this Limited format as one of the most underappreciated cards, but might be even better in this Constructed deck where it can consistently give haste to creatures that really benefit from it.
Bloodlust Inciter gives haste to Glory-Bound Initiate to get a turn ahead on untapping after exert, and to Honored Crop-Captain as a hasted anthem effect. It's also quite strong with Hanweir Garrison, where haste provides two extra Human Tokens.
When played early in the game, it's overall impact is going to be a Bargain compared to its low cost. Giving haste to just a few creatures over the course of the game will add up to a ton of extra damage. Bloodlust Inciter can even attack, and is boosted by all of the anthems like Thalia's Lieutenant. I'm sure Craig will have some more to say about this deck in his article tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!
Another white aggro deck was among the more surprising decks to appear at the Pro Tour. White-Blue Flash was once the top deck in Standard, but it died with the banning of Smuggler's Copter and Reflector Mage. This deck attempts to bring it back to life for a world with Aetherworks Marvel, the deck it formerly preyed on. There are no lists available from the Pro Tour, but it has been played online since the days before the event and it's growing in popularity.
This new deck still plays a similar curve to the old one, starting with Thraben Inspector for value and moving up to Selfless Spirit, which protects Spell Queller, its best card against Aetherworks Marvel, and which triggers Archangel Avacyn at the top-end. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, is still the cornerstone of the deck, which gains some strong new additions from Amonkhet.
Censor is an ideal fit into the strategy, and is the exact sort of counter the deck desired when it was previously forced to use less versatile options like Revolutionary Rebuff. The instant-speed Cast Out is also a perfect addition, and helps the deck play its midrange strategy with answers to everything. Glory-Bound Initiate doesn't have flash, and there are no Always Watching to keep it untapped, but it hits very hard for the cost and gives the deck some valuable lifegain to help stay alive against aggressive decks like Mardu Vehicles. Other versions of the deck online instead use Rattlechains as a flash threat that can protect Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit.
The printing of Channeler Initiate opened up the possibility of combining it with Servant of the Conduit to create a fantastic mana acceleration package that can power out almost anything in Standard. I was looking for these two cards to make an impact in the new metagame, and they served as a great foundation for multiple winning decks at the Pro Tour.
Whirler Virtuoso and Rogue Refiner are the gold-standard creatures in Energy decks, but instead of playing towards Aetherworks Marvel this deck plays fair with Tireless Tracker, which is great accelerated into on turn three before making a land drop, and Verdurous Gearhulk as a huge finisher. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is another fantastic tool, and it's great when rushed into play on turn three to kill a creature before the opponent has a second one to threaten it.
From there the deck gets a bit unconventional with Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, but it seems like a fantastic card against the Zombies deck that have overran the metagame because it's a huge threat they have no real removal for, and it works against their strategy of assembling a critical mass of threats.
Performing even better at the Pro Tour using the acceleration package was this deck. It fully embraced its energy role with full sets of Whirler Virtuoso and Rogue Refiner and then going further with a set of Bristling Hydra. From there, the deck includes a set of Glorybringer, which makes sense as one of the best cards to rush into play.
The deck goes even bigger with four Elder-Deep Fiend, which hasn't been seen much in Standard as of late, but looks great here for tapping down the opponent and pushing through the last points of damage with creatures like the Channeler Initiates and Servant of the Conduits that accelerated it into play.
I'm a big fan of Lifecrafter's Bestiary in the sideboard of a deck with so many mana acceleration creatures to fuel it, and it's a great way to convert those otherwise low-value accelerants into new cards when they are drawn later in the game.
A set of Negate goes a very long way in the sideboard, and does heavy lifting against Aetherworks Marvel decks where it can counter their namesake and planeswalkers like the increasingly popular Chandra, Flamecaller.
This deck has been widely copied, and has put up multiple posted 5-0 finishes in online leagues since the Pro Tour, so it's definitely a deck to have on your radar.
Black-red decks in Standard since Kaladesh and the last rotation have been quite aggressive, but new tools in Amonkhet have given them the ability to play a more midrange and even controlling game, where their disruption allows them to stop opposing cards while winning with their own powerful threats. This is the strategy put into action by Jund decks, which grinds out the opponent with attrition by playing a heavy assortment of disruption and pulling ahead with their own card advantage.
This deck finds its card advantage in planeswalkers like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Liliana, the Last Hope, but it goes even bigger by using the new Liliana, Death's Majesty. The reanimation ability is fantastic with Gonti, Lord of Luxury, which will generate more value with its trigger. Glorybringer is a huge pickup that gives the deck a top-end threat that also serves as disruption, the perfect card for a Jund-style strategy. That explains the inclusion of Walking Ballista, a creature-turned removal spell, and potential source of card advantage to boot.
Sweltering Suns provides the deck with a sweeper, which can be critical for stopping Zombies or a horde of Whirler Virtuoso and Thopter Tokens, and Never // Return is a big upgrade over Ruinous Path. Lay Bare the Heart is a new discard spell that's more versatile than Transgress the Mind and perhaps a more sensible main deck inclusion because it will rarely miss, but missing Aetherworks Marvel does leave something to be desired.
A subtle but major pickup for black-red playing the control game is Canyon Slough, which fixes the double black and double red mana requirements while cycling into action later, an ability which proves very strong in an attrition-oriented deck.
White-Black Control, which was one of the best decks in Standard last year before rotation, got a major gain in Amonkhet with Cast Out as a fantastic piece of disruption for a variety of problem permanents, and with cycling is never a dead draw. To help its attrition plan, it uses a set of Never // Return, which can be cast again from the graveyard to create a Zombie Token that will help grind out the opponent.
What are your favorite decks from the Pro Tour? Which ones have what it takes to live on and compete with the rest of the metagame? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.