The Result

A momentous Pro Tour unfolded in Atlanta last weekend, with a revitalized Standard format, a rock-solid Draft format, and record-breaking viewership from around the world. We also witnessed the second-ever Player of the Year playoff, this time between Luis Salvatto and Seth Manfield. The format—four-deck lockout—was a cool and exciting twist on competitive Magic. Ultimately, Salvatto proved too much for Manfield, and was duly crowned the Player of the Year for 2017-2018.

An intricate and diverse Standard field was slightly undercut by the Top 8 results, which saw no fewer than six copies of Adanto Vanguard-based white aggro decks contesting Sunday. This did not reflect the field at large—only eight Boros decks went 8-2 or better, and six of them made the Top 8—and we saw incredible variations within archetypes themselves (which, in fairness, the Top 8 did clearly demonstrate).

All-time greats Yuuya Watanabe and Luis Scott-Vargas appeared in their fifth and ninth PT Top 8s respectively, while previous Pro Tour Champion Jeremy Dezani got as far as the semifinals before bowing out in what will become a truly iconic PT moment.

Outclassing the best in the world, however, was Andrew Elenbogen. His specific take on Boros Aggro was able to see off all challengers, and his cheerful and methodical play style served him very well throughout a confident conquest of the Top 8. Congratulations to Elenbogen—a worthy and deserving Pro Tour Champion.

The Moments

Facing down lethal, Jon Finkel strings together a last-minute sequence to steal a game from Makihito Mihara:

Luis Salvatto becomes Player of the Year, provoking a somewhat tepid reaction from his teammates and friends:

More Arclight Phoenix nonsense in the hands of Yuuya Watanabe and a 400 IQ play:

I had a great time hosting a little trivia show before the finals kicked off:

And, of course, Luis Scott-Vargas pulls off the “Sale of the Century” with a jaw-dropping Settle the Wreckage against Jeremy Dezani:

The Deck

All eyes were on Boros Aggro as the tournament wore on, and perhaps rightly so, given the dominance of Adanto Vanguard and friends in the Top 8. But Boros wasn’t even close to being the best-performing archetype in Standard. In fact, the two decks with perfect 10-0 Standard records were Mono-Blue Tempo in the hands of Guillaume Gauthier, and the exciting, up-and-coming Arclight Phoenix concoction: Pascal Vieren’s Izzet Drakes.

Izzet Drakes

Pascal Vieren, 10-0 at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica

I’ve written about Arclight Phoenix a fair bit in recent weeks, and for good reason—by now, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about the power offered by the hasty 3/2 flyer. Belgian powerhouse Pascal Vieren racked up an incredible undefeated run in Standard on the back of Arclight Phoenix and its partners in crime, both Crackling and Enigma Drake.

While there was a lack of real consensus on the best build of this deck heading into the Pro Tour, it’s a very different story now. Every Drakes deck at 8-2 or better—not forgetting Yuuya Watanabe’s Top 8 list—contained at least three copies of Goblin Electromancer, with most of them playing four. Further, broadly speaking, most PT lists had streamlined lists that were full of 4-ofs, which is why Vieren’s list is worth a second look.

Going undefeated at the Pro Tour is no joke. Even if his Draft rounds weren’t kind to him, 10-0 in Standard is a real achievement and it’s important to examine the reasons why Vieren was able to pull this off. As you can see, his list has a few important choices that differentiate it from the others.

Firstly, The Mirari Conjecture is a powerful value engine against control decks—almost like a planeswalker—and served Vieren well when he was up against slower decks. Murmuring Mystic is right down the other end of the spectrum, shining against aggro decks—it blocks everything from Adanto Vanguard to Venerated Loxodon, and creates an army to gum up the board. It’s a supremely well-chosen tech card.

Finally, Vieren’s inclusion of Beacon Bolt is a wise one in giving him better game against huge monsters that are often out of reach for this Izzet deck. Lyra Dawnbringer, Doom Whisperer, even Niv-Mizzet—Beacon Bolt is an efficient way to deal with cards like these, especially when priced to move with Goblin Electromancer.

All in all, Vieren put together something pretty special this weekend, so if you’re interested in playing Izzet Drakes, this is definitely where you’d want to start (although Star of Extinction might be better replaced by Fiery Cannonade!).

The Takeaway

In the wake of this event, there will be endless talk of the dominance of aggressive Boros decks. Newer players tend to converge on winning strategies and see them as the best deck no matter what, which even a cursory glance over the results of the weekend will disprove. Among the Standard decks with positive records, Golgari is still way out ahead in terms of sheer numbers, so don’t be fooled—Boros hasn’t eclipsed each and every other strategy.

Nonetheless, you should be ready for the surge in popularity that Boros will experience and adjust your deck accordingly. Just as it’s important not to fall into the trap of overestimating Boros moving forward, underestimating its power is potentially fatal. Fiery Cannonade, Deafening Clarion, Ritual of Soot, or any other cheap sweeper will put you in a good position, as will exile-based removal or -1/-1 effects to properly contest Adanto Vanguard.

While we’re definitely getting a clearer picture of what decks are “supposed” to look like in Standard right now, things are coming into focus much more slowly than we’re used to in this modern age of the Magic hivemind. For example, the Top 8 showed us the internal divergence among Boros decks. Do you play Benalish Marshal? Heroic Reinforcements? Ajani’s Pridemate? There are many different ways to configure virtually every archetype, so don’t assume that you know everything about an opponent’s list as you might have done before rotation.

Specifically, get ready to play around some weird and crazy cards. We’ve seen Draft chaff and intro deck superstars contest a Pro Tour Top 8 this weekend, so don’t get blown out when your opponent casts cards like Make a Stand. Look through the PT lists, identify the tech, and understand that others will do so and make adjustments accordingly. Be ready for post-board Legion Warboss out of Jeskai. Don’t lose to a surprise Golgari Raiders. Knowledge, as usual, is power.