Another Pro Tour is in the books, and while I had a mediocre 9-7 finish, I couldn’t have been happier with TeamCFB Ice’s preparation for this Pro Tour.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was crowned champion, defeating Sam Pardee in the finals. Both of these players were playing different decks, and both of these players happen to be on my testing team.

Prior to the Pro Tour, I documented my plans for the testing process. I fell a little short of my goal for how many games I would play, but the plan I laid out never shifted.

Limited Prep

New to my preparation process for the last two Pro Tours was that almost all of my testing was done on Magic Online. With a new, early set release on Magic Online, I was able to do about 25 to 30 Drafts before arriving at the testing house. Interestingly enough, the whole team was well prepared for Limited when we arrived, and we ended up doing 0 house Drafts, which is a first. I was always of the opinion that house Drafts have diminishing returns, because as time goes on we discuss card evaluation and our Drafts become repetitive.

I dove head first into drafting with no prerelease under my belt, which I don’t typically do. I did have a better feel for the cards because I actually studied the set with Limited card evaluation in mind this time, where before I’d wait until the prerelease so I could make judgments when I see how the cards perform.

My first Draft deck was a 4-color green ramp deck, and I was really curious if it could be replicated. Sure enough, I went on to draft multicolor green ramp decks fairly often with a high success rate. I didn’t document exactly how many Drafts I did, but between 22 and 26, I drafted green ramp approximately a third of the time. I managed to get eleven trophies over this many Drafts.

If I open a card like Overwhelming Splendor, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Chaos Maw, or Sifter Wurm, I’m likely going to take those cards with a ramp strategy in mind. Sometimes you get cards like these later because they’re not nearly as good if you can’t ramp into them, and aggressive decks don’t take them at all.

Oasis Ritualist is one of the most powerful cards that enables this archetype, and perhaps the most powerful common in the set. Oasis Ritualist offers you a sizable body to block and the ability to ramp and color fix. I don’t often first pick the card, which may seem odd since I’m so high on it, but I basically want to make sure I have a powerful payoff before I go down the ramp path, rather than start taking ramp cards with nothing to actually ramp into. So if I open a pack with Ambuscade and Oasis Ritualist, and nothing else of note, I’m going to take Ambuscade first pick, but I’ll find myself taking Oasis Ritualist over Ambuscade once I have a payoff because of how irreplaceable the card is. You can get cards like Greater Sandwurm and Rampaging Hippo to give you some top-end redundancy, and these cards aren’t usually that hard to pick up.

Ramp was my favorite archetype to draft in Hour of Devastation, but I think the best and most reliable is U/R Aggro. Blue and red are the deepest and strongest colors in my opinion, and it was pretty easy to draft a deck with a great curve in this color combination, with a minor spells-matter synergy. Riddleform, Spellweaver Eternal, and Firebrand Archer are all solid 2-drops in this archetype, with Khenra Scrapper and Aerial Guide being the common 3-drops with evasion that can hit hard with their evasive abilities. Red has two great removal spells in Puncturing Blow and Open Fire, while blue provides Unquenchable Thirst for removal, and Unsummon for a huge tempo boost. I also drafted this archetype to a lot of success and thought it was the best or second-best archetype.

My final conclusion was that I really disliked both black and white, and found myself only ever splashing these colors in my ramp decks for the most part. White’s only common removal is Sandblast, a card that goes down in value in aggressive decks, and black has no strong commons outside of Torment of Venom.

My approach was to hedge between the two archetypes I thought were best, and my fail rate was extremely low so I continued to do that. Basically I would value the cards that went into both archetypes  highly, and prioritize those cards over equally powerful cards in other colors. I found myself never taking an Oketra’s Avenger, I’d always take Spellweaver Eternal or Rhonas’s Stalwart over it because I thought the decks they’d end up in were much better, despite me taking a card that was probably a little worse in a vacuum.

In my Magic Online Competitive League testing, I was able to convert close to half of my Drafts into trophies living the Temur life, so I encouraged my teammates to do the same. I executed this strategy at the Pro Tour, drafting both an R/G Beatdown deck in Draft 1, finishing with a 2-1 record; and a U/G-splash-white deck Day 2, which I took to 3-0.

Standard Prep

Early in testing we recognized that Mono-Red was the deck to beat. Ondrej Strasky tried it early in testing, and recommended it to all of us. Ondrej has a good eye, so we all took that into account and were all pretty impressed with it after a day or two of live testing. We continued to try some ideas, and they constantly fell short of beating Mono-Red consistently. My top stock deck in testing was Mono-Red.

We tested a lot of Champion of Wits decks, mostly with emerge strategies, but they all were terrible in the metagame we expected. Mono-Red was too fast, Selfless Spirit posed problems for Kozilek’s Return, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet has always been a nightmare for Elder Deep-Fiend decks.

Fast-forward to the start of Grand Prix Kyoto, and Mono-Red is the team’s top choice. Even Sam Pardee was willing to put down his Grim Flayers for the weekend and was ready to devote himself to Hazoret.

Something strange happened at the GP, though. We started to look at results from the Magic Online data and noticed that a U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck had popped up, and the deck looked very good. We soon learned that all the cards for the deck were bought out at the Grand Prix, and panic set in.

The combination of Cataclysmic Gearhulk and Angel of Invention to reanimate made it seem difficult to beat for Mono-Red. Also, knowing that Mono-Red was one of the most popular decks online, we assumed the deck was probably good against red if it managed to win a tournament likely flooded with Mono-Red.

I felt a little deflated after this because I felt like all of our testing had gone down the drain, and I was ready to lock in Mono-Red a week before the Pro Tour. After the GP, we got right to work on the U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck and realized how strong it was. We built a few different versions with cards like Glint-Nest Crane, Walking Ballista, and some with Thought-Knot Seer.

After extensive testing, we concluded that while this deck was powerful, the element of surprise was too important. The fact that the deck already existed meant that the number of Abrades and Scavenger Grounds would instantly increase, and the deck simply wasn’t resilient enough once we adapted our decks to be able to beat U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift. If that deck never popped up online and someone showed up to the Pro Tour with it, they would have had a great shot at winning the tournament. A true one-tournament deck.

The next step was to figure out what decks were good against Mono-Red, and to see if any of these decks were actually good against the rest of the field. Sam Pardee and Steve Rubin both reported having great results with B/G Delirium against Mono-Red. This seemed like a natural trump, as it’s loaded with cards like Liliana, the Last Hope, Fatal Push, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and the combination of Winding Constrictor with Walking Ballista.

After that, the testing team started focusing on these two decks. We had to test every B/G Delirium matchup to see if it was good enough or if we were just going to make the same mistake we’ve made in the past playing a B/G Midrange deck at a tournament where we had mostly poor matchups or matchups that were worse than we thought.

Let me explain.

When we test B/G decks against each other, we often know what the opponent is playing. This means you take better mulligans, use your removal more efficiently, and just overall play the games better with your known information. In a tournament, you get an opening hand with 2 Fatal Push, a Grim Flayer, and 4 good lands, and with no knowledge of your opponent’s deck this could either be a solid hand or unplayable. You’d happily keep this against Mono-Red while it’s horrible against U/R Control. I call this “The B/G Effect.”

U/R Control was a huge problem for B/G Delirium in game 1, and with all the new tools the deck got, we thought some people might still play it despite a terrible Mono-Red matchup. We tested the matchup post-board and found that when we could bring in 12 or 13 cards, the matchup was quite favorable. Not all of these cards were specifically in the sideboard for U/R Control, but the overlap worked out nicely. So much so that we actually think it’s an overall favorable matchup. As B/G Delirium’s worst matchup in game 1, this was a huge selling point.

We didn’t think Zombies would be very popular, so we didn’t test much against it even though we knew that it wasn’t a particularly good matchup. Later in testing, both Oliver Tiu and Petr Sochurek were high on Zombies after taking it for a test drive and eventually ended up playing it themselves. I think this was also a good deck choice for the tournament, having a close and maybe favorable matchup against Mono-Red, and a definite advantage against B/G decks.

The U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck was a mediocre matchup in game 1 for B/G Delirium, but once we could bring in Dispossess and other disruption it became a favorable matchup.

So as of Wednesday before the Pro Tour, I had a tough decision to make. For the first time in my professional career I had to decide between what I thought were two great decks for the tournament.

Here is the list Sam Pardee settled on and that I was considering:

B/G Constrictor

In my head, I made a list of pros and cons for each deck.

Pros for B/G

  • Not a popular deck. Some people likely won’t test much against it, and they’ll test against energy versions instead.
  • Solid against Mono-Red
  • Got much better against a lot of decks after sideboarding

Cons for B/G

  • Gets worse against Mono-Red after board.
  • I felt like we needed more than a 15-card sideboard to make it good in all its bad matchups.
  • The “B/G Effect.”

Pros for Mono-Red

  • Proactive strategy that allowed us to beat decks we may have missed.
  • Even the bad matchups were close.
  • We had what we thought was a better version of the deck, capable of beating players prepared for more stock versions.

Cons for Mono-Red

  • Everyone knew it was the deck to beat, and others could play decks specifically to beat it.
  • Everyone would have a plan against it.
  • Playing a non-red deck gave you better matchups against people playing to beat Mono-Red.

Ultimately I decided to play Mono-Red, the same 75 that Paulo used to win the tournament:

Mono-Red

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, 1st Place at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation

When playing Mono-Red, I never felt like I had a truly bad matchup. Most of the games I played were close, and the only decks that blew me out were good Winding Constrictor and Walking Ballista draws out of B/G.

The fact that our version of the deck could beat even players who tested against it and thought they had a good matchup was what broke the tie for me.

When I tested matchups with B/G, I always had an extra card or two in my sideboard that would help that matchup, but when I had to narrow it down to only 15 cards, the sideboard games would get a small percentage worse against everything.

So that was what ran through my mind when making the decision of what to play. Having two good decks is a nice problem to have.

I ended up going 4-6 in Standard, which is obviously not what I wanted. I played against several decks that were obviously chosen with beating red in mind such as B/G Cryptolith Rite, I split in my mirror matches, and lost a match to Ari Lax on B/G Energy. I knew the risk I was taking, but I still think it was the right choice for the tournament.

I’m so proud of my teammates and what we were able to accomplish after having a tough time over the last two Pro Tours. Seeing both Sam and Paulo make it to the finals gave me and my teammates the confidence we all needed after a mediocre year. Our testing situation for next year may change a lot and we all knew that going into this Pro Tour. Knowing this, we were still able to come together and build two decks capable of making it to the finals.

As for Standard moving forward, I haven’t thought too much about it because I’m still vacationing in Japan, but I like the Zombies deck. It has solid matchups against both B/G Delirium and Mono-Red, which leads me to believe it will be a solid choice for tournaments in the next week or two. Control should be suppressed by a large number of Mono-Red decks, leaving space for Zombies.

Petr Sochurek’s Zombies

This is the list that Petr Sochurek played to a 7-3 finish. I’ll likely change a card or two and play this at the MOCS this week when I get home from Japan.

Standard is a healthy format right now despite the dominance of Mono-Red at the Pro Tour. There are a ton of viable choices and I actually enjoy playing both with and against Mono-Red. I’m looking forward to see how things shake out this weekend and how the format develops.

What do you think the best deck is for this weekend? Is it still Mono-Red? Let me know in the comments.