The Top 8 decks from the Pro Tour get tons of attention as the best performing decks of the event. While it’s true that all of the decks in the Top 8 of the event put up positive records, sometimes that doesn’t tell the entire story.
I’ve learned some lessons observing the performance of various teams and decks over the last couple years that I use to make my deck decisions for events on the weekend following the Pro Tour. It’s important to decipher exactly why or how a deck performed well at the Pro Tour, and how these decks will translate to the metagame after the Pro Tour.
Was it Overrepresented?
Matt Nass finished in Top 8 of Pro Tour Kaladesh with an Aetherworks Marvel deck, but no other competitors playing the deck managed to finish in the Top 8 with the deck. As the most popular deck in the room, Aetherworks Marvel represented a smaller percentage of the Top 8 than it did total decks in the tournament. This kind of statistic tells you that Aetherworks Marvel under-performed at the tournament, and was likely flawed in some way despite an initial buzz.
Basically, it was very likely that a copy of Aetherworks Marvel would slip into the Top 8, even if the deck didn’t have an outstanding win-rate, simply because of the percentage of the field the deck represented. This doesn’t mean a deck is necessarily great—just that someone will run above their expectation with a deck if enough copies are played. Pay attention to how popular decks are and realize that if a deck is highly represented in the field, you’re likely to see it in the Top 8 of the event as well.
Matt Nass, Pro Tour Kaladesh
Was it Metagame-Specific?
Sometimes decks from the Top 8 of the Pro Tour are designed for a specific metagame. Despite being dominant, Colorless Eldrazi fell off the map after Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Once the Eldrazi menace was revealed to the world, better versions of the deck were created, like U/W Eldrazi, to fight the mirrors. Chalice of the Void was meant to prey on decks like Infect, Burn, Living End, Zoo, etc. but was a complete blank in mirror matches. When I look back at that Pro Tour, I would have played the exact same Colorless Eldrazi deck with the information I have now just because it was simply dominant against other archetypes, and not enough players came up with good versions of Eldrazi to warrant building my deck in a different way. Colorless Eldrazi in my eyes was the best deck for that tournament. So when you analyze decks from the Pro Tour, keep in mind that the card choices and archetypes you see are considered with a specific metagame in mind, and may not make sense as early as the next weekend.
Ivan Floch, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch
Was it Better than it Performed?
Last Pro Tour, most of my team and I played a B/G Delirium deck. It ended up being a dominant archetype in the metagame following the Pro Tour, but was a truly awful choice for the Pro Tour. As I said before, Aetherworks Marvel decks showed up in huge numbers, making our deck choice extremely poor. We anticipated under 10% Aetherworks Marvel, and more than double the number we expected showed up. We tested Aetherworks Marvel and didn’t think the all-in version we had, similar to what other teams played, was consistent and resilient enough to withstand any amount of hate. This caused us to flat-out miss on the metagame, as we expected others to reach the same conclusion, and we got punished for it. Our deck was still functional and still a good deck—it just wasn’t right for that event. So when you see a deck at the Pro Tour that bombed out, you may want to consider what was going through the player’s minds before dismissing it as a bad deck and keep it in your arsenal for later weeks.
Ondrej Strasky, Pro Tour Kaladesh
Was it Easy to Hate Out?
There are also decks that show up to Pro Tours that are “one-tournament decks.” A perfect example of this is U/R Ensoul Artifact, a deck I piloted to the finals of Pro Tour Origins. This deck, while extremely powerful, was fragile to cards like Unravel the Aether, Dromoka’s Command, and Silkwrap. These were cards that weren’t heavily played prior to the Pro Tour, and as a team we knew this, and weren’t worried about people showing up to the event with these cards because of how defined the format was and how poorly the cards lined up against the rest of the expected decks. After the tournament, however, it was easy to adjust to beat U/R Ensoul Artifact, making it a much worse deck moving forward. Players would add cards like Unravel the Aether in heavy numbers to their decks and sideboards, and the U/R Ensoul Artifact deck just couldn’t stand up to that kind of hate.
If you see a deck that appears fragile at the Pro Tour, keep what I said above in mind if you plan to play that deck beyond the Pro Tour, or simply avoid it because it will likely be hated out of the format shortly after.
U/R Ensoul Artifact
Mike Sigrist, Pro Tour Origins
Was it Independently Powerful?
Some decks, however, are just bulletproof. G/W Tokens was the best deck I ever played at a Pro Tour, at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. Colorless Eldrazi may have put up the best individual finishes of any Constructed deck at the Pro Tour, but G/W Tokens had an even higher win percentage for our team. The deck attacked from different angles. Cheap creatures, followed by powerful planeswalkers and flash threats like Archangel Avacyn and Secure the Wastes. There weren’t 1 or 2 cards you could throw in your deck to make G/W Tokens a good matchup. You had to adjust your entire game plan to be able to combat it. G/W Tokens is an example of a deck that won the Pro Tour because it was simply a great deck that was difficult to attack. These dynamic decks with powerful proactive game plans are the best decks to play the weekend following a Pro Tour.
Steve Rubin, Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad
You should also note that the Pro Tour has 6 rounds of Booster Draft. Many of the Top 8 competitors have 5-1 or 6-0 records in the 6 rounds of Draft, which means that they only need a 6-3 record in Standard to be able to intentionally draw into Top 8. So when you see the Top 8 deck lists at the Pro Tour, occasionally the decks aren’t very good at all. It only takes a few draw steps in either direction to turn a 4-6 record into a 6-3-1 record, letting competitors with weaker decks squeak into the Top 8 on the back of incredible Draft records.
So when you look at the Pro Tour results, don’t simply look at the Top 8 decks and assume that those were the best decks in the tournament. You should also pick what fits your style and assume it will be a good choice for the following week. A lot of these decks are still flawed, and will soon fade out or need to evolve to remain competitive. Use your analytical skills to understand that the tournament was just a tournament and that some decks are only going to be good for one event. Some decks weren’t even that good for the tournament but managed to have a positive record through variance and under-prepared opponents. Decks that didn’t do well to begin with in the event may also have good matchups for how the metagame is going to shape up after the Pro Tour.
Keep these lessons in mind when you tune in to watch the Top 8 on Sunday.