With Pro Tour Gatecrash in the books, we have a solid springboard to jump off of. My power rankings from last week largely reflected what I saw and what I expected next week’s meta to look like. I was happy with how my predictions landed, though I had a few major whiffs.

[card]Champion of the Parish[/card] was my number one card going in, as it was the core for a bunch of white aggressive strategies. While I didn't know about The Aristocrats, I’m not surprised even more shells are popping up with Champion. Surprisingly enough, he shares the spotlight with [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] quite nicely as a sacrificial tribute to [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card].

Let’s take a closer look at Sam Black’s Pro Tour winning brainchild:

The Aristocrats!

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Clifftop Retreat
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Knight of Infamy
1 Restoration Angel
2 Silverblade Paladin
2 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Zealous Conscripts
2 Lingering Souls
4 Orzhov Charm
Sideboard
2 Blasphemous Act
2 Lingering Souls
1 Mentor of the Meek
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Rest in Peace
1 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
3 Tragic Slip[/deck]

If anyone complained about only good stuff decks being successful in the format, take a gander at this shell. While there are potent cards in here, the deck would be worthless without all the synergies within. The Human theme works great with Champion and Falkenrath, while Doomed Traveler, [card]Knight of Infamy[/card], and Cartel Aristocrat allow you to play reasonable defense until the bigger creatures or [card skirsdag high priest]High Priest[/card] outlet kicks in.

Look at how it solves common format issues:

[card]Boros Reckoner[/card] - [card]Orzhov Charm[/card], [card]Knight of Infamy[/card], and both Aristocrats ignore it.

Mass removal - Aristocrat, [card]Lingering Souls[/card], and [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] mitigate a lot of risk. Damage-based sweepers have issues with [card boros reckoner]Reckoner[/card] and both Aristocrats.

Going bigger - Post-board, Obzedat, [card]Tragic Slip[/card], [card]Blasphemous Act[/card], and High Priest make it really hard to just go over the top with midrange unless you have a combo element.

While the deck doesn't do any one thing as efficiently as other decks, nor contain the most powerful cards, it has something almost every other deck doesn't: flexibility. That one key factor is often overlooked when determining deck strength unless it's taken to a complete extreme. The same feeling I got with decks like Birthing Pod, Caw Blade, and Faeries is present here—it can do different things when the situation demands. It can also assume different roles in matches and fall out of its comfort zone.

[draft]Boros reckoner[/draft]

Aside on [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]: The new [card]Thragtusk[/card], in terms of its impact and ubiquity. So where does this leave you in terms of deck selection? If your deck can ignore Boros Reckoner or minimize its strength, you’ll have already gained an edge on most of your opposition at a given tournament.

This is why Jund Midrange and Bant Control are such solid deck choices at the moment. They fare well against Reckoner decks, with not only the best removal, but also gameplans that subvert an extended ground fight. Of course, for everyone else, Reckoner is possibly the most important card to plan around, simply because of how much damage it does to the average creature strategy.

Look at how poorly many of the anticipated aggro archetypes fared in both popularity and success. Only Jund Aggro really surpassed expectations and put up great numbers. Few invested much time in RBW, and that deck can play at its own pace moreso than every other aggro deck in the format. Other anticipated archetypes such as Mono-Red, Boros, Gruul, and Saito's Zoo brew all fell short. Reckoner is the primary reason for this. Aggro decks need specialty answers to the problem, like [card]Bonds of Faith[/card], [card]Pacifism[/card], [card]Crippling Blight[/card], etc.

Reckoner completely changes the dynamic of say, UWR Flash against the average aggressive deck. No longer do they only rely on [card]Restoration Angel[/card] or 1-1 trades, instead they have a brick wall that doubles as a removal spell if the opponent tries to get rid of it with a burn spell. It also allows the beatdown plan to commence later in the game with relative safety. This isn't even going into the infinite-life or [card]Blasphemous Act[/card] combo kills the deck can pull off. Let's just delve straight into the UWR decks for a moment:

UWR Flash

Joel Larsson, 2nd:

[deck]Main Deck
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Clifftop Retreat
2 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
1 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
2 Blasphemous Act
4 Boros Charm
2 Izzet Charm
1 Moment of Heroism
2 Pillar of Flame
3 Searing Spear
3 Sphinx's Revelation
1 Unsummon
Sideboard
4 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Negate
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Psychic Spiral
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Tormod's Crypt[/deck]

Gerry Thompson, Top 8:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
2 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
1 Counterflux
1 Harvest Pyre
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Rewind
3 Searing Spear
3 Sphinx's Revelation
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
Sideboard
2 Dispel
2 Essence Scatter
2 Grafdigger's Cage
3 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Negate
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Planar Cleansing
1 Rhox Faithmender[/deck]

These two decks are similar, but Joel aims to get aggressive more often, with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] in the sideboard and [card]Boros Charm[/card] in the main deck. Most of his spells are tuned more toward letting him attack the opponent's life total, rather than stabilizing or drawing cards.

Meanwhile, Gerry's board-control-focused version still packs [card]Thought Scour[/card] and a handful of hard counters in the main deck. Of the cards that would be appealing to both strategies, I think [card]Izzet Charm[/card] could take the place of countermagic in some metagames. [card]Essence Scatter[/card] out of Gerry's board is an interesting throwback, and considering how many decks lack [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] or can only use it on half or less of their own creatures, it has to be respected by many decks.

All this goes back to flexibility—you can take the UWR shell and modify it to your liking. While I’d probably go with Joel’s more aggressive take, there’s no reason you can't indulge your own preference to tweak toward a more controlling version. In fact, post-board, the best plan against slower decks may still just be the [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card] + [card]Dispel[/card] + [card]Negate[/card] package, since they have a hard time competing in raw number of counters, and you can pressure their planeswalkers better.

My immediate questions going forward are about [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]. If Geist is largely supplanted by [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], then is it only an option to deal with possible opposing Geists? [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] looks a lot more interesting now that there are more creatures that can hold off ground forces, and fares well against the [card]Lingering Souls[/card]/[card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] brigade.

Jund Aggro

Jund still suffers from the [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] issue, and nothing changed that. Control decks using Revelations are heavily favored, and while strides can be made to improve it, [card]Witchbane Orb[/card] does an excellent job of sealing up sideboard games against potential issues like [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] and [card]Slaughter Games[/card]. What has changed is the sheer number of creature matchups to take advantage of. Of course, Jund Aggro doesn’t run into these issues against control, since it seeks to simply overwhelm early before Revelation ever factors into the equation. Emanuel Sutor and Ari Lax’ deck choice showcase this quality wonderfully:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
2 Woodland Cemetery
4 Experiment One
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Mogg Flunkies
3 Dreg Mangler
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Dreadbore
2 Searing Spear
Sideboard
1 Abrupt Decay
2 Domri Rade
3 Duress
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Olivia Voldaren
1 Searing Spear
3 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Wolfir Silverheart[/deck]

This type of deck does not care for your inclinations toward blocking, nor your ‘removal’ buffoonery. Nearly every creature in here is among the best at its P/T-to-mana ratio, with 11 haste creatures along and a handful of sweet removal spells to clear the way. I’m actually surprised that the deck even bothers with [card]Searing Spear[/card], since [card boros reckoner]Reckoner[/card] is so widely played. It's nice that your chances of having two or more creatures on turn two go through the roof with this set-up.

What gets me most about this build compared to similar decks is how many creatures have 3 toughness. Many aggro mirrors come down to being able to block every so often, since you can’t always be the aggressor, especially on the draw. This isn’t mono-red where you have 16-20 removal spells to blast creatures at will, there’s a very decent shot you only have one or two spells to selectively kill guys with. This build can get away with forcing the opposition to play defense, or simply shut down [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], [card]Experiment One[/card] (At 2/2) and [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] via bigger butts.

Reanimator

I posted on Facebook earlier this week that I felt everyone forgot about Dre ([card]Angel of Serenity[/card]), since everyone was flooded with creatures. Removal is dropping from the main, so it seemed like a good time to have acceleration and giant Angels around. While my list had [card]Gyre Sage[/card] and [card]Somberwald Sage[/card] trying to power out [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card], and Angel, Caleb had a different take on it.

Caleb Durward, 13th place at SCG Cincinnati:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Angel of Serenity
4 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
1 Geist-Honored Monk
3 Loxodon Smiter
3 Thragtusk
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Farseek
3 Lingering Souls
4 Mulch
3 Unburial Rites
1 Ultimate Price
6 Forest
3 Gavony Township
2 Godless Shrine
1 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
2 Woodland Cemetery
Sideboard:
1 Staff of Nin
1 Craterhoof Behemoth
2 Deathrite Shaman
2 Rhox Faithmender
1 Curse of Death's Hold
3 Nevermore
1 Purify the Grave
1 Ultimate Price
2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter[/deck]

Caleb went with the less explosive and more convenient set of [card]Arbor Elf[/card] and [card avacyn's pilgrim]Pilgrim[/card] over more expensive accelerators. While I’d like a 4th [card]Thragtusk[/card] in the deck and [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], I like a lot of the choices here, and am looking forward to playing this version over the next few days. I show off his build, since my take still needs more tuning and it may end up here at the end of my testing anyway. I’d love to play some [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] in here against Esper and potentially another [card]Staff of Nin[/card], but quad-[card garruk, primal hunter]Garruk[/card] can make up a lot of ground, even if your graveyard is inaccessible.

One card I’ve really liked for the control matches is Obzedat, since they have to go out of their way to beat it and almost all their removal is dead. I know that sounds obvious, but when you look at Ben Stark’s Esper deck, you see two [card]Devour Flesh[/card] as the only way to interact unless you attack into [card]Azorius Charm[/card]. Melissa De Tora is an even worse spot with only Charm to interact. While both players have a small number of counters, it isn’t hard to work around those or simply play [card]Duress[/card] or [card cavern of souls]Cavern[/card] in the sideboard.

Against the average aggressive deck, this list is pretty well set up with the [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card]/[card trostani, selesnya's voice]Trostani[/card] duo. While some may argue that [card]Centaur Healer[/card] is a better maindeck inclusion over [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card], considering the average size of aggressive creatures running around, I can get behind upgrading to a 4/4. Right now the metagame seems primed for a Reanimator-style deck of this nature, or the Human Reanimator build that saw extensive success in Montreal.

Speaking of Human Reanimator, let’s take a look at the most intriguing build of Human Reanimator, by Tsu Teung Lam:

[deck]Main Deck
1 Blood Crypt
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Clifftop Retreat
1 Godless Shrine
1 Isolated Chapel
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
2 Sunpetal Grove
3 Temple Garden
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Angel of Glory's Rise
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
2 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Fiend Hunter
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Undercity Informer
4 Faithless Looting
3 Grisly Salvage
4 Mulch
4 Unburial Rites
Sideboard
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Armada Wurm
2 Cathedral Sanctifier
1 Collective Blessing
1 Gavony Township
3 Slaughter Games
4 Thragtusk[/deck]

Adding [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] gives the deck an early play while still getting to [card]Mulch[/card] or [card]Faithless Looting[/card] early. With [card]Undercity Informer[/card], it creates something to do with your infinite mana in the loop by allowing you to mill the opponent out. Meanwhile, you can use Undercity Informer much earlier in the game to set yourself up for the combo turn. While there’s no incredible tech here, this variation is far more potent against the aggressive decks than the other durdle-y builds are.

With most of the major players broken down, join me next week when we take a closer look at some of their Island-playing brethren. Until then.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom