The big story of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica was the domination of Red-White Aggro. Six decks running mostly Plains made it to the Top 8, and not long after the other two contenders for the title were eliminated; Yuuya Watanabe and his Izzet Drakes and Wilson Mok with Jeskai Control both fell in the first two quarterfinals, leaving the field open for any of the six White Weenie decks to win the trophy.

How come, after not seeing a single copy of Red-White aggro in the two GP's leading to the Pro Tour (GP Lille and GP New Jersey), it became a consensus that it was the deck to play?

Here's how a big part of our testing team ended up on it.

Lee Shi Tian, Tomoharu Saito, Simon Nielsen, Andrea Mengucci, Javier Dominguez, Yam Wing Shun, Jason Chung, Zen Takahashi, Kevin Jones, Christian Calcano, Petr Sochurek, Kelvin Chew, Kenji Tsumura, Jérémy Dezani and myself, gathered in Atlanta a week prior the Pro Tour. Masterchef Eduardo Sajgalik would help us with the logistics, the cooking, and his knowledge of Izzet Drakes to improve our chances.

We started to form different groups to focus on different decks. Andrea and Javier had been working on Black-Green Midrange for about three or four weeks and would only try to figure out the last couple of cards to adapt their deck to the new metagame. Some on the team would throw Izzet Drakes against everything while Jérémy brought the Jeskai Control deck he x-3'd with in Lille.

For most of the time I spent at the house, I worked with Jérémy trying to improve his Jeskai list. It was clear from the get-go that the Jeskai stock list wasn't adapted to beat aggro. Most decks were adapting to face Deafening Clarion and Settle the Wreckage by either playing around them or adding cards to recover quickly. Adanto Vanguard was a huge problem that needed to be answered with Seal Away or Settle the Wreckage, so in theory they could always play around your removal.

So we looked for a solution. We wanted something that could hold the fort while not being a dead card against other decks. We found it in the form of Sailor of Means.

Sailor of Means is a 1/4 for three mana, the perfect size to deal with Adanto Vanguard and survive your own Clarions. It can even gain you life when it gains lifelink from the Boros spell. The treasure it provides allows a turn-four Teferi or an Explosion for one more. Overall, you'll easily make up a card for it.

Here's the list we had at some point:

While the deck was doing alright against aggro decks, it was having trouble against Izzet Drakes and the other deck we expected to show up: Black-Green Midrange.

Testing against Black-Green Midrange was a nightmare. When you're tuning your control deck, you need to know which threats you want to answer. There are so many different versions of this deck that it was hard to be ready for them all. Some of them we would beat easily, some others we wouldn't. Basically, we had to be ready to weather an aggressive start with Wildgrowth Walker followed by Jadelight Ranger and Midnight Reaper, while dealing with Vivien Reid or Carnage Tyrant on the following turns. Sure, that's not always how the games go, but there were draws you could just not beat. Carnage Tyrant requires a very specific answer ( Settle the Wreckage), while Vivien Reid requires another (Negate, a countermagic or a Teferi's -3 activation). And I'm not even mentioning the versions that run The Immortal Sun, a card that can't be answered by Teferi.

Despite having worked on Jeskai for countless hours, we decided to give it up. We just couldn't find the right mix to solve everything. In any case, if control decks want to beat aggro in this format, they have to seriously consider Sailor of Means in their build.

The options we had left were:

Mono-Red: With the resurgence of Izzet Drakes, Mono-Red sounded like a pretty poor choice. The deck isn't fast enough and doesn't interact well with the Izzet deck. You can't rely on your removal spells to take care of a flyer as Dive Down just ruins your day. You have to hope for them to fizzle (not find an Arclight Phoenix or a Drake) to win.

Izzet Drakes: Eduardo had just Top 8'd a GP with it so he could give us some advice. It had some very favourable matchups like Mono-Red, Black-Green Midrange and Jeskai in game ones), but we found the matchups against Boros Angels and Red-White Aggro almost unwinnable. Add to that the pretty frustrating feeling you have when going through your deck and not finding the specific cards you're looking for, and you realize it's not a deck to bring to the PT.

Boros Angels: While great against Black-Green Midrange thanks to Tocatli Honor Guard and its huge flyers, the high curve and instability made it a deck we didn't want to play. Its horrible matchup against Jeskai also cooled us down.

Black-Green Midrange: Andrea Mengucci, Javier Dominguez, Petr Sochurek and Kelvin Chew were pretty big on the deck and it worked out quite well for most of them at the PT. However, on the day of deck submission, they were far from a consensus, which was a little worrying. When we went to them to see what they were working with, they were still discussing how many Wildgrowth Walker they should play in the main. 0? 1? 3? 4? Something we'd have thought was settled long ago was still a matter of discussion only a couple of hours away from midnight, the deadline for deck submission.

Red-White Aggro: Fortunately, one part of the team had been working on that deck the whole time. Simon Nielsen had played White Weenie at GP Lille and knew what he was doing. With Mayesta_93 8_0'ing the MOCS with the deck just a couple of days before, it needed to be respected and definitely didn't go under people's radars. It turned out that it's exactly the kind of deck you want to bring at the Pro Tour: it doesn't have a particularly bad matchup, has draws that can beat pretty much anything and has matchups that are hard to lose (Izzet Drakes). Even when we focused all our resources to beat it with Jeskai, it could get away with its blazing fast draws.

Jérémy and I trusted the rest of the team and went for Red-White:

I believe that if most of the teams ended up with a variant of Red-White Aggro or any kind of White Weenie deck, it's because they followed a similar thought process as we did. While Red-White was starting to make splashes on Magic Online, it was far from obvious that it would be the most dominant deck of the Pro Tour.

Usually, I'm able to get into too much detail about the deck I'm playing. It's going to be harder here as I wasn't involved in the deck building process and haven't had much success at the Pro Tour. However, Jérémy Top 4'd with the deck and I had access to a very detailed sideboard guide prepared for us by Zen Takahashi that will help you play the deck and sideboard correctly:

Sideboarding

Black-Green Midrange

-4 Hunted Witness
-4 Goblin Instigator
-2 Conqueror's Pride
-1 Legion's Landing

+4 Tocatli Honor Guard
+3 Lava Coil
+2 Experimental Frenzy
+1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Play around Find // Finality and Golden Demise post-board.
-Cast Experimental Frenzy on a turn where you can kill off Vivian Reid if they play it to kill it, so that you don't fall behind.
-If you have removal on top with Frenzy, you don't have to cast it on a bad creature. Just draw it and use it later on in the game after they killed your Frenzy or you sacrifice it and dump your hand.

Red-White Aggro

Game one notes:

-Flood the board. You're favoured in board stalls unless they have Benalish Marshal. Don't leave yourself dead to Reinforcements.
-The last part of History of Benalia is how either player often gets ahead on board. Be prepared to chump block the four-power Knights on that turn, as often 2/2 Knights won't matter the following turn.

On the play:

-4 Hunted Witness

+3 Lava Coil
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Be aggressive.
-Kill Benalish Marshal. Hold removal for Marshal.

On the draw:

-4 Heroic Reinforcements
-3 Adanto Vanguard

+3 Lava Coil
+2 Experimental Frenzy
+1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Survive and slam impactful four drop and win the game.
-Play defensively.

Against versions with Venerable Loxodon, same sideboard on the play and on the draw cut 4 Goblin Instigator for four Tocatli Honor Guard.

Jeskai Control

-4 Heroic Reinforcements
-2 Goblin Instigator
-2 Conqueror's Pride

+4 Legion Warboss
+2 Experimental Frenzy
+1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Try to figure out if they have Settle the Wreckage. If they play Plains, they are likely to have 3-4 Settle. If they have Sinister Sabotage/Opt/Drake, likely 0-1 Settle.

-Warboss is the key card to play around all their removal. Don't put more into play that die to Clarion after you have Warboss in play. Don't attack with Warboss into Seal Away and Settle. If you want to resolve key threats, attack into Settle so you can slam impactful four-drop in main phase two.

Izzet Drakes

-4 Heroic Reinforcements

+3 Lava Coil
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Play around Dive Down and Fiery Cannonade.

Boros Angels

-4 Goblin Instigator

+3 Lava Coil
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Play around Deafening Clarion.
-Hold Tribunal for Lyra.
-They stumble often and Pounce when they do.

Mono-Red

-4 Adanto Vanguard
-4 Goblin Instigator
-4 Heroic Reinforcements

+3 Lava Coil
+2 Experimental Frenzy
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
+1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
+4 Tocatli Honor Guard
+1 Legion Warboss

-Expect them to go Big Red after sideboard. More grindy and long game.

Selesnya Tokens

-4 Hunted Witness
-4 Goblin Instigator
-2 Heroic Reinforcements
-1 Legion's Landing

+4 Tocatli Honor Guard
+3 Lava Coil
+2 Experimental Frenzy
+1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
+1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice

-Similar to Goglari Midrange, you need to go big to beat them.
-Play around Settle.

Learning how to play a deck with notes like this is super helpful, and so is having a team like this one to support you.

Red-White Aggro is now officially on the map. Is it the best deck of the format? I'm not sure. It was a good choice for the Pro Tour, but the format will adapt quickly. Mono-Red isn't an easy matchup (Goblin Chainwhirler and Fiery Cannonade are both very good against Red-White), so the infamous Goblin might make a comeback. Izzet Drakes might lose out in popularity, so Black-Green Midrange might get even more popular and get tuned to beat Red-White Aggro.

It's a matter of weeks (or days?) until we see how the new metagame shapes up. In any case, PT Guilds of Ravnica was a case study for anyone trying to predict a specific tournament results.

- Raph