Guilds of Ravnica Standard isn’t anywhere close to a clear solution. Nothing’s solved, and a lot remains unclear.
For instance: How big of a favorite is Golgari Midrange versus White Weenie, really? Golgari decks beat white-based weenie decks 17-11 on Day 2 of Grand Prix Lille. People pointed out that this wasn’t the way the matchup should go, and the 155 top Standard performers at the Pro Tour indeed put the car into reverse. In their encounters, Golgari lost 18 of 31 matches against white-based weenie decks.
Sure enough, people again came forward to say that this doesn’t reflect the true power balance. Only this time, actual pros chimed in. White Weenie player Martin Jůza called Golgari “one of your worst matchups,” and Mike Sigrist suggested that Golgari decks “prey on white aggro.” Magnus Lantto maintained that his Boros Weenie was at least “favored game 1 most of the time,” but he went 9-1 at the Pro Tour, so his perspective may be as special as his result. On the other side of the battle line, Andrea Mengucci claimed, “Our Golgari Midrange list had a good matchup against [White Weenie].”
The reality is that neither a 17-11 record nor a 13-18 provides credible evidence, one way or the other. Meta-analysis of the available literature does, in a way. All of the people quoted above have conducted their own studies, after all. Nonetheless, I’d like to see more raw data.
Another question: How much of a favorite is Izzet versus Golgari? For the Pro Tour, Martin Jůza expected Golgari “to get pushed out of the metagame by all the U/R Drakes players.” The available results didn’t quite match either his prediction or his underlying assumption, though. Among the 155 top Standard performers at the Pro Tour, Izzet Drakes only won 12 out of their 20 encounters with Golgari, and there were almost twice as many Golgari as there were Izzet players.
For another example see: The unfinished business between Mono-Red Aggro and Izzet Drakes.
See also: Mono-Red versus Golgari.
See: Jeskai Control versus everything.
Even among Standard’s most popular archetypes, the list of unanswered questions goes on and on. And so does the investigation. Our stop this week: Milwaukee!
I read and watched all of the Grand Prix coverage, but the biggest source of data was Twitter. Lots of people tweeted out what decks they ran and what decks they faced each round. Some failed to use either one of the two officially approved hashtags. Others were hard to identify from what they disclosed online. I had to do a little sleuthing. Then, after cross referencing interaction with other users, I was rather surprised with how much info came out of this. Be careful what you share on social media, kids! Unless it’s about Magic tournaments. Then, please, think of me and do share freely.
The extra data didn’t allow any inference with regard to the full field composition, so the official breakdown is all we got:
Standard definitely slowed down one weekend to the next, and I’m not even talking about the 70 unintentional draws in Milwaukee or the ten matches that ended 1-0.
White Weenie had been the second most popular deck at the Pro Tour, number two also among the top 155, and number one among the top 72. Mono-Red Aggro had exhibited one of the highest win rates against white-based weenie at the Pro Tour, but this didn’t lead to an increase of Goblin Chainwhirlers at Milwaukee’s top tables.
Instead, this Grand Prix became a showcase for Golgari Midrange and Jeskai Control, even though the Pro Tour had given no indication that this was going to happen. Let’s see if we can find out why it did…
The following matchup results from Milwaukee aren’t limited to a certain subset of players, but are taken from all over the field. They aren’t quite a random sample either, because they’re partly based on who decided to live-tweet their tournament progress. But, and this is important, the data is not marred by selective self-reporting. This is not another case where only the well-endowed submit their measurements. Multiple players who ended up in the Top 8 began tweeting immediately after completing their very first match on Saturday. Also included here are plenty of people who stopped tweeting after a disappointing Day 1 elimination, and all the opponents they were paired against randomly.
Below, I’ll list the results gathered in this way for all the matchups between the six most common decks. They generated the most, and thus the most meaningful, data. First in line is the popular-as-ever Golgari Swarm.
White Weenie never did as badly against Golgari as it did in this sample. It’s almost as if people had been waiting for the pro players’ blessing to curl up in defeat.
A less esoteric explanation: The Pro Tour left White Weenie in the crosshairs, and Golgari Midrange was among the best when it was time to train its guns. Over the course of the weekend, I saw more Golden Demise on camera than ever before, and if a solitary flyer finished the job, then it was usually Doom Whisperer.
Once again, Jeskai Control didn’t win any matchup by a sizable margin. Once again though, Jeskai Control won almost all matchups by a small one. This wan’t true in Lille, but the Pro Tour had already painted a very similar picture.
It would take vast amounts of additional data to show that Jeskai is a slight favorite everywhere, but I do consider that a viable hypothesis. Thus, if any deck poses a threat to the health of Standard and could become an oppressive force, Jeskai Control is the most likely candidate.
Once again, I left out archetypes whose available results covered no more than three matches versus any other. I double-checked these for a possible savior, just in case anything stood out. Nothing did, at least not with a positive record against Jeskai. On the contrary, counting all available results from Lille, from the Pro Tour, and from Milwaukee, Big Red was now 0-13 in matches against Jeskai Control. I’m willing to call this one for Jeskai. What’s more, I don’t think Big Red remains a defensible deck choice going forward, not if Jeskai Control continues to rise in popularity.
The above falls within 4% each of what the available Pro Tour data had shown for Izzet Drakes’ win rate versus both Golgari and Jeskai Control.
Granted the match count, especially against Jeskai Control, remains too low to know for sure. But if the matchup is as bad for Drakes as these two samples suggest, then that’ll have major implications for future metagame developments. Just imagine what would happen if Jeskai Control overtook Golgari in popularity.
Milwaukee gave a much better idea than the Pro Tour of White Weenie’s true position within the metagame—within, not above and beyond. The same can’t be said for these match results. A weenie player’s chance to win versus Golgari may be below 50%, but 18% just isn’t credible.
Likewise, the percentage listed above for the matchup against Mono-Red Aggro is obviously off. At the Pro Tour, in a sample three times as large, that used to be 21%.
The Selesnya Conclave’s presence in Standard didn’t amount to one well-defined archetype so far. It’s more a communal family of vaguely like-minded creatures following largely different paths toward the opponent’s life total: tokens, beatdown, midrange, Angels, explore, and hybrids. At least, this used to be the case.
The two Selesnya decks that finished inside the Top 32 in Milwaukee looked very much alike.
Michael Simon’s list shared a total of 54 main deck and nine sideboard cards with John Holliday’s. The biggest difference was that Simon used four Adanto Vanguard where Holliday had four Thorn Lieutenant, so not a big difference at all.
As with Selesnya, these numbers here are too low to hold a lot of meaning. More so than Selesnya, today’s Mono-Red Aggro is a very well-defined archetype. Differences between main decks are typically limited to about three cards, which means that everyone knows what they’re up against as soon as they see a pair of Mountains. It also means that we can’t expect much development from Mono-Red anymore. Going bigger certainly looks to be a misguided idea.
Results haven’t shown yet that Golgari and Jeskai players have both learned how to beat Mono-Red Aggro. But if that were the case, then there’d really be no point in whirling chains anymore.
Conclusion // Control // Consensus
Next to Golgari, the deck to beat going forward is Jeskai Control. Let’s take a closer look!
Eight of the twelve Jeskai Control players in Milwaukee’s Top 32, all of whom went 12-3 or better, agreed on at least this many copies of the following cards:
Top 32 Players
Some additional stats:
Only three ran fewer Drakes, and three also ran four Crackling Drake. A close majority of seven opted for two or more Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Nine of the players had four copies of Opt, three had none. Only one player still operated with Revitalize in this slot. Everyone except Adrian Sullivan had at least two Chemister’s Insight in their main deck.
The average number of counterspells, including Negate, Essence Scatter, and a single Disdainful Stroke, but excluding Dive Down and Expansion // Explosion, came to 7.6 per deck. In particular, with the exception of Adrian Sullivan, all had at least three hard counters for 3 mana in their main deck—in one case, four Ionize.
Use of four each of the five available rare dual lands was universal. On the spell side, Deafening Clarion came closest to the maximum, with 47 out of a possible 48 copies. Once again, it was Adrian Sullivan who deviated from the norm all by himself.
While clearly a beautiful artwork created by a mad genius, it remains to be seen which of Sullivan’s innovations will be adopted by a wider community. His winning list will be all over the article sphere for a while, but at a tournament table I’d say you’re more likely to face something similar to the consensus above than Sullivan’s library.
This marks the end of the Standard season for now, at least as far as useful data generators are concerned. Jeskai Control goes into the next round as the frontrunner, but the race has barely just begun.
Until next time, I hope someone can tell me which deck actually beats Jeskai Control…