Pro Tour Ixalan posed an interesting puzzle for the wizards that converged in the New Mexico desert to tussle for fame and fortune. With the set having been released a month ago, and with a pretty well-understood metagame only further entrenched by the World Championships in Boston, discovery of new lists was a daunting task indeed in Albuquerque.
In the lead-up to this event, Team Coverage had set its sights on an important new factor that would be at play throughout the weekend. Usually, Pro Tours reward innovative deckbuilding and those who can design new, exciting, and powerful archetypes. Not so at Pro Tour Ixalan—instead, the established format would reward those players who could take existing decks and then twist, tweak, and twiddle them.
Developing the perfect deck to attack the weekend was the challenge that competitors faced throughout the weekend, and the Top 8 was full of those rewarded for their precise and judicious attacks on the metagame. Matignon’s Approach deck favored post-board creatures to fight Negate, Sigrist’s 4-Color Energy deck had a huge top end to go bigger than other energy list, and Pascal Maynard caught us by surprise with a supremely streamlined God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck.
But it was Sultai Energy, powered by Winding Constrictor, that slithered its way into the top spot. In his fourth Pro Tour Top 8, former World Champion Seth Manfield was given reason to call his carpenter to come around and put an extension on the old trophy cabinet—his increasingly insane resume means that next year’s Hall of Fame ballot has a resoundingly strong contender!
— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) November 6, 2017
Samuel Ihlenfeldt captured the hearts and minds of people around the world with his Top 8 finish. Ihlenfeldt was competing in his first ever Pro Tour, and a hard-fought victory against Reid Duke in round 15 finally locked up 8th place for the Minnesotan. The surprise, joy, and exaltation Ihlenfeldt demonstrated during the Top 8 announcement showed us all just how much the achievement meant to him.
Ihlenfeldt’s story resonated very strongly with so many of us around the world. At every Pro Tour, we see the very best players in the world demonstrate their expertise and skill, and we aspire to be like them—to succeed so strongly at this game we all love so much. Ihlenfeldt lived the dream we all secretly harbor—to turn up at your very first PT and run the tables.
It’s a remarkable achievement, but the Ihlenfeldt story has so much more to it. Throughout the weekend, Ihlenfeldt played with so much heart, often wearing his feelings on his sleeves. In the final minutes of round 15, as the cameras converged on his table, he didn’t conceal how the pressure got to him. When he made mistakes or missteps, he announced them unashamedly. When an opponent was gaining the upper hand, Ihlenfeldt often bordered on being congratulatory.
But it was the point at which he bowed out of the tournament that truly exemplified the demeanor with which this man approaches a game of Magic. As Seth Manfield put together the play that would knock his opponent out of their semifinal, Ihlenfeldt showed us how this game can bring out the very best in sportsmanship and humility. “Yeah! Way to go, man,” Ihlenfeldt said as he extended his hand. “Nice! Your deck is sweet!”
We can all take something away from the way Ihlenfeldt conducted himself. He demonstrated grace, poise, and a real respect for the game and the contest. Despite not winning the tournament, Ihlenfeldt has certainly won the respect and admiration of the Magic community.
With Temur Energy and its related permutations at the forefront of our collected consciousness heading into PT Ixalan, the choice for players looking to battle in Albuquerque seemed to be beat ’em or join ’em. Grouping all of the different Attune with Aether decks together yielded a pretty staggering result—almost half of the Pro Tour field was composed of energy decks. That sound bite, as fashionably derisive as it is, doesn’t tell the full story, and Seth Manfield showed us why.
Seth Manfield, 1st place at Pro Tour Ixalan
Manfield characterised this deck as a leaner and more aggressive take on the energy strategies we’ve seen so much of, foregoing red cards like Whirler Virtuoso to instead pursue the broken synergies offered by Winding Constrictor. The way the Snake interacts with cards like Longtusk Cub, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, and of course Walking Ballista, has seen Constrictor decks take down a whole stack of tournaments in the past. This time, Manfield gained further advantage from powerful blue value creatures like Rogue Refiner, The Scarab God, and new kid on the block, Hostage Taker.
All of the Top 8 decks are worth getting across, featuring everything from stock Temur and Red lists to innovative Approach decks—and of course, Pascal Maynard’s terrific God-Pharaoh’s Gift list. One thing that might have slipped under your radar, however, is the dramatic entrance that one of Ixalan’s tribes made to the top tables of Standard. Finally making landfall at the highest level, Mono-White Vampires made a deep run into Day 2, with Wilson Hunter at the helm.
Pro Tour Ixalan was bursting at the seams with important data, lessons, and stories. It would be impossible to cover them all here, but some certainly stood out more than others.
The Standard format, despite widely considered “solved,” nonetheless rewarded players ready to go up against the well-established metagame. Despite this, energy decks were the overwhelming favorite throughout the weekend. Their consistency, resilience, and power level are difficult to contend with. You should look to get under them with aggressive decks like Hunter’s Vampires, or conversely disallow them from enacting their game plan with Matignon’s Approach, where a sideboard creature package took the teeth out of post-board Negates.
The Pro Tour Team Series is off to a flyer, with last season’s runner-up Team Genesis locking up first position after Manfield’s victory. Despite this, Team ChannelFireball generated the most press throughout the weekend, after a remarkably consistent level of success from all 6 of these titans of the game. With LSV crashing back onto the tournament floor and Sigrist topping the Swiss, all eyes will be on Team CFB as the campaign for the Team Series continues.
The culture and community that surrounds this game continues to flourish as we celebrate the achievements of the very best players—Martin Juza and Josh Utter-Leyton were inducted into the Hall of Fame on Thursday night with an incredibly moving ceremony. Both Juza and Utter-Leyton wore their new hardware proudly as they contested the Pro Tour, worthy recipients of the highest honor in Magic.
With more than a few Premier-level events remaining before the end of the year, those looking to succeed in both Ixalan Standard and Limited will have to find new edges. This is a challenging task indeed, as between the Pro Tour, the World Championships, and the ongoing Grand Prix circuit, there is a danger of becoming stuck in the consensus on how things are “solved.”
Innovation and development were strongly rewarded in Albuquerque, and there remains a very clear target to take down in Standard. Get busy!
In the lead-up to the World Magic Cup, there are several Grand Prix on the horizon on both sides of the Atlantic. Next week it’s a double-header from Warsaw and Atlanta, where we’ll explore the post-Pro Tour Standard format and see if energy can be toppled from its lofty pedestal. I’ll see you there!