While overshadowed by other topics (now resolved, thankfully), there was, in fact, quite a bit of Magic played this weekend. One of the big takeaways was that Bant Company wasn’t quite the end-game of the format. It did well and nearly won the Pro Tour, but when you go through the top end of the Constructed records, it didn’t dominate.
Instead of trying to unpack the entire Pro Tour, let’s hit a few of the key takeaways.
1) Going Wide Is Alive and Kicking
Luis Scott-Vargas, Top 8 at the PT Shadows over Innistrad
Steven Rubin, 1st place at the Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad
Both the GB Aristocrats deck and the WG Tokens deck take advantage of Bant Company’s limited angles of interaction. By pouring on the pressure by creating an army and having alternative ways to win via Westvale Abbey or a combo—Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat—it preyed on Bant’s reliance on Reflector Mage and Negate. It leans heavily on those two cards to keep the unfair decks in check or punish you for not committing a lot of resources to the board.
Both of these strategies have no problem flooding the board and there’s no single threat you aim at and disable the deck with. The Aristocrats deck can play a fair game of grindy Magic as well as anything in the format and the GW Tokens deck has all its best support tied up in planeswalkers.
These decks are going to force people to adapt to swarms and Nantuko Husk limits how good Declaration in Stone is against the Aristocrats deck. This means that good old mass removal like Radiant Flames, Languish and even Descend Upon the Sinful all look really interesting. We may now have a complete natural metagame circle with the Token/Swarm decks, Bant Company, and then Go Big/Grind Control decks.
2) Planeswalkers Had a Huge Presence
Whether they are the traditional kind or the flip planeswalkers from Origins, there’s no denying that they were the primary support and engines for many of the top decks. Outside of the BG decks from LSV and Finkel, nearly every other controlling deck had 6 or more planeswalkers in its 75. Even normal-looking midrange strategies, including Bant Company, hit this mark as well. Evasive creatures to pressure planeswalkers and direct removal like Fall of the Titans or Ruinous Path get a bump in stock.
3) Languish Came Up Huge
The 3 control decks in the Top 8 all ran Languish, though Shota is apparently so good at Magic he doesn’t need the full set. Instead of hedging with a pair and extras in the sideboard, every BX control deck made sure to include 4 (again, excluding Shota) to maximize their odds against Humans and Bant Company. While the first one may not be great against Bant, the 2nd and 3rd ones to clean up sure are. Having an engine that could potentially loop your sweepers is another nice throw-in.
And while the Top 8 featured a pair of Esper and a straight BG Control deck, there were a number of other decks that succeeded.
4) Control Isn’t Dead
Not only did control players not get smashed at the PT, a number of unique shells emerged with strong Standard records and provided a nice contrast to the mono-creature domination.
Oliver Tiu finished with an 8-2 record with a sweet value Grixis build, forgoing Languish but running a whopping 15 spot removal spells along with 3 Chandra, Flamecaller and both Jace and Goblin Dark-Dwellers for recursion. This is the kind of deck that wants every game to go to turn 20, and instead of turning the corner and burying the opponent like Pyromancer’s Goggles, runs the opponent out of cards and threats.
Rob Pisano had the same 8-2 Constructed record with Jeskai and avoided the Goggles engine other decks focused on. Instead, he went with the traditional Jeskai sweeper of Radiant Flames and backed it up with Nahiri and a handful of spot removal spells. He has the full Ojutai’s Command engine from the Dark Jeskai days with Jace, Dragonmaster Outcast, and Command in the same shell. He also chose to go heavier on the madness subtheme while avoiding the full set of Fiery Temper. Instead, Nagging Thoughts serves as a bad Sleight of Hand, which takes advantage of Nahiri and Jace, and utilizes Avacyn’s Judgment‘s versatility over the straight 3 damage of Temper.
Jeskai Madness Control
What interests me most is ignoring of the red cantrip engine despite the 4 Nahiri and I’m interested to try this deck. While I desperately want to adapt this plan to the Goggles and Insight plan, I respect that it takes up a ton of room and may be too clunky in this type of deck. Remember that this was built specifically for one expected field—don’t just assume this is going to work in any random FNM, PPTQ, or Open event.
5) Aggro Had a Rough Outing—But Not as Bad as You May Believe
On one hand, Humans didn’t have a player in the Top 8 despite successes in the first 2 weeks. On the other, there were a number of Mono-White, WU, and Bant Humans decks with 6+ wins. Pat Cox had the best finish at 8-2 with Mono-White Humans, so I’d start there with any Humans list.
Splashing blue to Negate Languish is always worth considering, but there are real tradeoffs and a massive hit to the curve if you go that route. Dodging what is likely to remain a small portion of the metagame while maximizing your curve against the rest of the field feels strong. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is a straight upgrade over Consul’s Lieutenant and I feel a bit silly for not cluing into that sooner. Gryff’s Boon continues to swing way above its weight class and lets the deck win in situations it shouldn’t. Bygone Bishop is also a hair away from being main deck worthy and worth considering if you raise the curve at all.
All of this and I haven’t even gone in-depth into the Esper builds or Brad Nelson’s awesome GR Goggles deck. There’s still a lot to cover and I’ll be dissecting the results for the next few weeks. For a tournament this week, though, you’ll see exact copies of these lists. For some of the straightforward decks this is a good strategy, but don’t try and tweak the GB Aristocrats or GW Tokens deck without a clear idea of what you want to do.
At this level there’s still going to be a heavy slant toward Bant Company and Humans. People aren’t going to throw these decks in the trash because they had a less than spectacular PT performance. If you want to load up quad-Languish, then that’s a valid option. If you want to prep against the variety of control lists, Aristocrats, GR Goggles and Bant, and Humans… well, then you’ve probably gone too deep. Either pick a powerful deck or one specifically metagamed against a portion of the field—you aren’t Shota. I look forward to playing a less white-dominated Standard field.