This weekend was the Pro Tour and the results were quite different from what we’ve seen up to this point. Not only did we see a huge spike in the number of Dragons running around, but aggro was still well represented at the Pro Tour, rather than overshadowed by midrange and control, as is typically the case. Martin Dang took down the Pro Tour with a red aggro plus Atarka’s Command deck. On top of that, with all the decks that went 6-4 or better released, we have access to over 100 decks and a whole lot of information about which archetypes succeeded and failed.
For a very informative overview of the big picture, a gentlemen by the name of Saffron already has you covered. Since I plan on making references to some of the PT numbers and he’s already done all the work of processing the data, I highly recommend popping over and giving his article a once-through before continuing. Instead of the bird’s-eye perspective, this time I want to take a look at three of the stand-out decks from the Pro Tour.
For the past two weeks I’ve seen quite a debate over whether keeping Rg for the minor splash is worth it over playing straight mono-red. From what I’ve seen, there seems to be a slight inclination toward the mono-red version. To be honest, the red decks are great right now and whichever you choose has a lot of inherent power. So regardless of which version you pick, I think you’ll be making a reasonable call.
Now let me tell you why you should drop some cash on a playset of Mana Confluence and Atarka’s Command. Mono-red’s biggest upside is the consistency of the mana and well-preserved curve. Meanwhile, the Immense Red lists can suffer from drawing a Mountain and Forest early, leaving them unable to cast multiple creatures on turn two or potentially shutting off Hordeling Outburst. Mana Confluence pings can also easily add up in a close race when other decks are playing with burn, or even just make it that much easier for an Abzan or RG opponent to win a turn earlier. Meanwhile the normal red deck doesn’t have to concern itself with such trivialities and can never draw an uncastable card if a sufficient number of lands are in play.
On the flip-side, the Immense Red deck has far stronger topdecks and a faster average kill. There are multiple times where opponents gained 5 to 10 life and established a board presence, but were still completely dead to an Atarka’s Command or Become Immense and just a handful of 1/1s on the table. The low mana cost of these cards also means you can still take advantage of Frenzied Goblin or Goblin Heelcutter turns. It just makes a board full of 1/1s into a deadly threat, which the normal red build can’t really say.
The most damage you can get out of red is typically 4 damage off Stoke the Flames—meanwhile Immense Red can draw a spell that potentially does 6 or more. For an aggro deck, having access to this much reach is pretty surreal. Stoke the Flames, Become Immense, Atarka’s Command, and Lightning Berserker all create significant life swings.
At its core, this is one of the best red decks we’ve ever had in a Standard format. The creatures are easily among the best I’ve seen and you can pick and choose as fits the style of your deck. Your spells pump your creatures, make more creatures which makes your burn cheaper, and your spell-based pump spells deal 6+ damage.
Josh Utter-Leyton finished the Swiss with 9 Standard wins, making this one of the highest-finishing Standard decks. The overall record from the combined group of players battling with the Esper Dragons deck is pretty unbelievable. UB and Esper Control both finished with massively impressive records and was clearly the deck to play for the Pro Tour. While the three UBx Control pilots may have fallen in the Top 8, these decks had the highest win percentage by a wide margin.
As it turns out, giving the deck Impulse, Counterspell, and a good iteration of Prognostic Sphinx was enough to push the deck back to tier one status. Control decks gained a lot of tools from Dragons and by the Pro Tour a few teams figured out how how to take advantage of them. Silumgar’s Scorn in particular changes how every single green match plays out, because suddenly they can’t just jam all their spells on curve. There’s a very reasonable chance that even on the draw UB can take out multiple early plays between Scorn, Ultimate Price, and Hero’s Downfall.
The splash for Dragonlord Ojutai seems like a gimmie once you realize just how absurd Ojutai is. Not only is it one of the best finishers for the deck, but it also keeps the protection and removal flowing while it goes in for the kill. You could almost hear when the massive price spike on this card happened, as the groaning of a hundred people who speculated on Prognostic Sphinx but whiffed on Ojutai occurred all at once. In fact, Ojutai can be considered the good Prognostic Sphinx, you don’t need to commit resources to keeping it alive unless you decide to attack and the ability actually nets you cards. Every hit with an Ojutai is the equivalent of two mana, a card, and 5 damage. That’s huge.
I covered my thoughts on Dragonlord Silumgar when he was spoiled—I figured a bigger Sower of Temptation would see play and the only thing that was surprising was just how great he was when he did hit the battlefield. If you haven’t watched Shouta Yasooka’s semis match against Ondrei Strasky, here’s the Dragon-filled summary. Both iterations of Silumgar did work over the weekend for UB Control players and even Icefall Regent made its grand debut.
My recommendation is that this deck is the best choice in the format, if you can play it near optimally. I can’t stress how easy it is to make game-losing mistakes from an otherwise strong position, because you constantly reevaluate your position in the game. Really practice your countermagic/removal sequencing and make sure you ration your Dragons wisely. Be careful not to turn off Silumgar’s Scorn or Foul-Tongue Invocation at a key moment or swing with Ojutai directly into removal you know is there.
I could go on, but I want to hit on one last deck before leaving off today.
Deck of the Week
GW Aggro by Bram Snapvangers, 8-2 at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir
Of all the top lists, this and Craig Wescoe’s Bant deck interested me the most. I’m featuring this because it’s much more likely to be overlooked as it isn’t playing Ojutai or any of the other hype cards from the Pro Tour. Instead you get a reasonably streamlined aggro deck that takes advantage of devotion in multiple ways, making huge Reverent Hunters and occasionally just ending the game with Aspect of Hydra out of nowhere.
Still, that wouldn’t be worth spotlighting if that was all it did. What interests me most is that Collected Company and Den Protector give the deck a whole lot more reach than it had in the past. Den Protector shines with Aspect of Hydra and gives it a potential kill through blockers while doing a wonderful Eternal Witness cosplay. Meanwhile Collected Company actually makes sense here since every hit can be relevant, aside from Elvish Mystic. While Modern decks have toyed with the card, in Standard the pickings were pretty slim up until now.
This is one of those decks that is unlikely to catch on because it doesn’t do anything nearly as powerful as bigger devotion strategies or Immense Red. Still I’m interested in taking this deck around the block a few times, especially on Magic Online where the field is all red and UB Control at the moment.
There’s more to talk about from this Pro Tour and I’ll be covering more later this week. If you have any particular deck you saw that you’d like to see covered, let me know!