Silvestri Says – PT Post-Mortem

The results are in and Mono-Blue Devotion (hereby known as Waves) put up a dominating performance and a truly impressive Top 8. It hasn’t been that long since Caw Blade, and I already had flashbacks to that Pro Tour performance. Let’s jump right in and go deep into the strategies best represented this past weekend.

Making Waves

In case you’ve been out camping for the past week, here’s the deck that Jeremy Dezani won the Pro Tour with:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Judge’s Familiar
4 Master of Waves
4 Nightveil Specter
2 Omenspeaker
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
1 Bident of Thassa
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Disperse
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
21 Island
3 Mutavault
Sideboard:
2 AEtherling
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Mutavault
3 Negate
1 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Triton Tactics
3 Wall of Frost[/deck]

Now the Waves deck is actually closer to [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card] as far as spiritual successors go, and not so much the Caw menace. A big part of how it dominated was simply being the right deck for the right field and reading reports from the PT really makes this clear. I’m sure many more will come over the following weeks, but from the ones I’ve read so far, nearly every major team had a version of the Waves deck.

Even the general public had slightly rougher builds of it at least two weeks before the PT! To my knowledge, Mark Nestico was the first one to write about the deck, and the first place I saw it in a tournament setting was on Magic League by player Voltage. So why were so few teams on this deck? It wasn’t a difference in builds, there simply aren’t that many cards that can fit into the deck, so everyone’s build ended up 2-6 cards off from one another. It wasn’t lack of testing, because even the teams that immediately discarded the deck seemed to know what it was good against. So what gives?

From best I can tell, it was simple expectations. At it’s core, the Pro Tour is a guessing game—even if you’ve broken the format in half, there’s no guarantee another group of players hasn’t done the same. Worse still, you break the known format, and the unknown format that actually shows up to the tournament wrecks your deck. Everyone seemed to abandon the Mono-U Devotion deck simply because they expected a much heavier control presence. Even after many teams dismissed their own [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] decks, they assumed other people had real ones.

This isn’t to say everyone just missed it, some people knew of the Waves deck and simply brought decks they felt had good matchups against it. I’m sure the players on BW and other people with black resource denial decks felt like they went even or better against them.

As a result, we could’ve seen a vastly different metagame and who knows how the tournament plays out if two or three other teams had brought Waves to the table. Everyone had the best deck for the tournament, but only a handful actually ended up playing it. What gets me the most about this is that SCG Opens people were worried about really didn’t reflect any of the PT results. It really felt like the majority of decks simply were a cut above.

Devotion decks were all over the PT, and the massive Esper presence most players expected simply failed to materialize. Here’s a fun tidbit people kept repeating non-stop while Dublin was happening—Esper is the most played deck at the Pro Tour! Yeah, it was the most played deck, except only by a few people, and most importantly it only consisted of 10% of the field. Players had a very real chance of playing against Esper only once or twice during the 10 rounds of Standard.

Instead, people showed up with mostly midrange, devotion, and level-one GW, red, and Esper decks. Waves in particular has a very good match against most of these and goes about 50/50 with everything not running Verdict. All the devotion decks ended up in a very good spot for the metagame due to the move away from Esper.

Catching a Wave

Waves itself is an impressive strategy because it has two modes of attack—accumulating an overwhelming number of resources via [card]Bident of Thassa[/card], [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card], and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] or attacking with tons of evasion guys and occasionally out-muscling the opponent with [card]Master of Waves[/card]. Really, the key is that you aren’t guaranteed to play against either mode every game and that sometimes it can only take a single card ([card thassa, god of the sea]Thassa[/card] is especially good at this) for it to switch gears.

So you either want a deck with an overwhelming amount of removal—specifically sweepers—and a card advantage engine. Preferably one that doesn’t cost you life like [card]Underworld Connections[/card], since the blue deck can punish you even through blockers. The other common tack is going to be simply going way over-the-top and racing Waves or killing the opponent’s board. Mihara’s deck is good at this, and if you’ve tried [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card] you can see that it has great options against Waves.

One idea is to simply play a permanent that can immediately establish a dominating board position. [card]Polukranos, Master of Waves[/card] and [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] do this well. Another card that’s seen minimal prime-time play and may make an impact is [card]Prophet of Kruphix[/card] simply because it lets big decks cut the number of turns they need to go off in half. Playing Prophet is practically a free spell, and by giving your creatures flash, you’ve successfully set up the next three turns, two of which will be on your opponent’s turn!

Of course, the old-fashioned way is that you just blast [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] against the deck until it stops moving. [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card] is a very valid roadblock and win condition unless Thassa is on the table, and people will be better prepared against her. [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] does a surprisingly thorough job of slowing down Waves’ offense, as anyone who played the mirror can tell you.

The backlash against Waves will be immediate, simply because so many players will likely discard their week one decks. While many of the decks at the Pro Tour may not have been at their best against the deck, they certainly stand a far better shot than GW or mono-red.

Devotion to Ideas

Many flavors of devotion exist, and the most interesting ones to me outside of the Waves deck are Makihito Mihara’s GR combo version and Yamamoto’s mono-black. Let’s start with Mihara’s, because I love the idea of a cross between Elves and Valakut.

Makihito Mihara, Gruul Intentions (GR devotion)

[deck]Main Deck
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
3 Scavenging Ooze
2 Nylea, God of the Hunt
4 Polukranos, World Eater
3 Arbor Colossus
3 Domri Rade
4 Garruk, Caller of Beasts
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
9 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
Sideboard
2 Burning Earth
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Destructive Revelry
1 Mistcutter Hydra
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Nylea’s Disciple
1 Sylvan Primordial
2 Wasteland Viper
1 Xenagos, the Reveler[/deck]

This is a combo deck at heart that can play the beatdown game sometimes thanks to [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. It actually can be tuned a bit more beatdown-oriented by adding [card]Reverent Hunter[/card], [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card], or a handful of other threats—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The main goal of the deck is to reach one of two valid end-game scenarios:

1. Get to a point where you make 10-20 mana a turn, land a [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card], and flood the board with threats.

2. Make 10-30 mana, kill the entire board with [card]Polukranos, World Eater[/card] and then casually attack with a monstrous Hydra.

As I said, sometimes you get a great BTE draw and just win on the merits of swinging with [card]Grizzly Bears[/card]. Sometimes you win via grinding them out with [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card]. Most of the time, however, you’ll win because you did something ridiculous with [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card].

Kinda big

You need to aggressively mulligan with this deck since a lot of hands are borderline, usually lacking the gas or the speed needed to win. If you’re on the draw and have a close one, I recommend mulliganing the ones without a bunch of uncastable spells. You have a ton of ways to make mana and very few serious threats in most games, so better to rely on drawing the former than the latter.

That’s the biggest problem—it needs so many parts to function that there’s very little room left for threats. Polukranos and [card]Arbor Colossus[/card] both deliver real beatings, but in the end Arbor Colossus isn’t saving you from getting swarmed. Polukranos is the best card in the deck, but typically requires a turn to do its thing unless you’re going off with Nykthos. Even then, you’re open to getting blown out against decks with [card]Doom Blade[/card], bounce, or [card]Brave the Elements[/card].

Despite these misgivings, the deck fires off far more often than it fizzles and it has room to play around with how combo-oriented you want to be. You can get more aggressive without too many real changes, for example I tried a build on Magic Online involving Reverent Hunter to fill the empty three-slot. I cut Xenagos (Which is primarily only good against control), a [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card], both Nyela, and a Garruk for the 4th [card]Domri Rade[/card], a set of Hunters, and a [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card]. Against small-ball decks and decks with a lot of removal the extra threats immediately paid off, and frankly I like having the 4th Domri in the main deck even if you play Mihara’s other 74 straight up.

Kentarou Yamamoto’s build of black, on the other hand, is playing a much fairer game of Magic than Makihito decided to. Well, as much as running a repeating [card]Drain Life[/card] for 8 can be fair.

MBC Devotion by Kentarou Yamamoto

[deck]Main Deck
4 Desecration Demon
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pack Rat
2 Devour Flesh
4 Doom Blade
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
2 Whip of Erebos
4 Mutavault
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
16 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
Sideboard:
1 Devour Flesh
4 Duress
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Pharika’s Cure
1 Pithing Needle
4 Xathrid Necromancer[/deck]

Switching gears, we go from a deck that doesn’t play spells to a deck that jams four [card]Thoughtseize[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], and [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] to keep everyone else’s fun in line. Of course, that doesn’t mean he lacks a sense of humor, since [card]Pack Rat[/card] is good fun had by all. I actually love having [card]Pack Rat[/card] in this deck, since we need something to pitch extra cards to and people vastly underestimate how quickly it can get out of hand. Players online need to stop getting cute and just jam their [card]Pack Rat[/card] up to 5/5 size ASAP, because that’s near impossible for a fair deck to beat.

The key to this deck is that it’s very focused on restricting the opponent’s resources. Where Mihara’s deck and most of the other devotion plans simply wanted to make more than the opponent, this deck wants the opponent to have less. Eventually it leverages [card]Underworld Connections[/card] or [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] grinds the opponent out of the game. Sometimes you also get free wins by just jamming an early [card]Pack Rat[/card] or [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] and chaining [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card] to finish the opponent off.

While I had a similar build with blue for [card]Far // Away[/card] and [card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card], I plan on trying the mono-colored version for a bit. If you play online, I highly recommend keeping some number of [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] in the main deck for some additional life gain. Two cards I’ve tried in that build that I’ve been impressed by and would recommend are [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] and [card]Nighthowler[/card].

Nightveil is great if you expect a field of players that are on control or big resource decks, just like [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], it’s an evasive threat that can get you ahead quickly. Nighthowler is a very powerful clock when combined with all of the spot removal you bring in against devotion decks. Bestowing it onto a Lifebane Zombie and immediately attacking for 6-7 is strong, and the extra devotion makes a potential turn five or six visit from Gary that much scarier.

Of course there’s one more kind of devotion to talk about before we move on…

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Esper Control

[deck]Main Deck
1 AEtherling
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Azorius Charm
1 Detention Sphere
3 Dissolve
2 Divination
4 Doom Blade
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Thoughtseize
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Island
2 Plains
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Silence
4 Watery Grave
Sideboard:
1 AEtherling
2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Detention Sphere
1 Gainsay
2 Negate
2 Sin Collector
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
1 Thoughtseize[/deck]

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s devotion to playing multicolored glacial control decks is unparalleled. Most people thought he was the favorite to win the Pro Tour considering his Top 8 matches. Instead of just handing him the trophy though, they decided to actually play out the Top 8. And then… Well as they say, “That’s why they play the game.”

I suspect Esper will regain popularity despite a weak showing in Dublin, and aspects of Wafo’s deck will surely be emulated. Packing the maximum number of [card]Doom Blade[/card] and [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] certainly could be the correct call moving forward, though I suspect the [card]Detention Sphere[/card] number will be tweaked. [card]Azorius Charm[/card] and [card]Dissolve[/card] both look weaker than they did a week ago, and could be better off as either extra removal, blockers, or more [card]Thoughtseize[/card].

The New Metagame

My stats guy Rolle made a great point in one of our recent conversations about the upcoming metagame:

“I think there are essentially three types of matchups in Standard right now: Tempo v Tempo, Tempo v Resource, and Resource v Resource. The advantage of the Mono-U deck is that it can play both Tempo (Raptor/Master aggro) and Resource (Bident and Jace) games. Similar to UW Delver a year ago, very flexible. So I don’t think it’ll be going away as an archetype any time soon. I suspect it is the real deal or at least the beginnings of the real deal :)”

When you look at all the current decks, that’s pretty much what everyone wants to be doing. Either win on tempo by creating a better board state or gaining so many resources that the opponent can’t keep up. Only normal mono-red doesn’t really fit the criteria, since it’s just trading cards and board position for life directly and really isn’t trying to establish a strong board presence. Arguably you could shove it under tempo, but I feel like it fits better with it’s own match criteria. Of course, right now mono-red needs a major revamp to stay alive or to switch over the resource-focused bigger devotion red decks.

When making a new deck or modifying a shell you need to figure out if that fits the deck’s original goal. It’s silly to try and change a deck to fix a matchup by going against the deck’s plan. If you feel like it can help add an angle (like [card]Bident of Thassa[/card] or [card]Pack Rat[/card]) to a matchup you didn’t have before, great! If it forces your deck to take a role it’s unaccustomed to, then it probably isn’t what you want to be doing.

On a more direct level, the starting point of level zero is going to be Mono-Red Aggro, GW Aggro, Mono-U Devotion, and Esper. The first two simply because they’ve been around for a while and people are unlikely to switch from them. I think you’ll see less of them, but they won’t just disappear from the metagame overnight because Waves is a thing. The latter two are obvious since Waves won the Pro Tour and Esper is the perceived counter to that deck, even if Wafo-Tapa lost to it.

Level one will likely be all the other devotion decks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all sorts of Nykthos decks trying to go over the top of everything on level zero. Level two is playing a true board control deck (BR, BW, and UW come to mind) with a lot of removal to try to keep devotion in check. Other than Esper, I would also expect lots of board control decks to fall under this category.

What I’m Playing

Currently, I’m playing an offshoot of Mihara’s deck with the aforementioned [card]Reverent Hunters[/card] alongside [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] and [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card].

[deck]Main Deck
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
3 Voyaging Satyr
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Reverent Hunter
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
4 Polukranos, World Eater
2 Arbor Colossus
1 Miscutter Hydra
4 Domri Rade
3 Garruk, Caller of Beasts
8 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
Sideboard:
2 Mistcutter Hydra
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Nylea’s Disciple
2 Wasteland Viper
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed[/deck]

While I liked the deck, I was finding my opponents online were consistently able to interact with me. Additionally, black removal is more popular, which further hurt the monstrous aspect of the deck. So instead I bumped down the curve a bit and added some more threats to take the heat off my heavy-hitters. Adding [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card] to the main deck was an easy swap since it added to the threat density, took full advantage of the Nykthos mana ramp, and plowed through Waves blockers with nary a worry.

A nice curve

This improved my win percentage against red and black decks while only losing a few points in the actual devotion mirrors. Sure you can’t quite go as over-the-top with such reckless abandon, but your curve-out draws get a lot better and you’re less likely to draw too few threats. It also forces players to really think about if it’s worth casting a [card]Doom Blade[/card] or [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] on a 4/4 or 5/5 Hunter, or hold it for a monstrous creature.

The other deck I’ve been sticking with is, you guessed it, classic UW Control.

L1X0 (4-0), Standard Daily #6074478 on 10/15/2013

[deck]Main Deck
4 Azorius Guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
8 Island
2 Mutavault
8 Plains
1 Aetherling
3 Archangel of Thune
4 Azorius Charm
1 Cyclonic Rift
3 Detention Sphere
2 Dissolve
2 Divination
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Essence Scatter
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Last Breath
2 Ratchet Bomb
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Syncopate
Sideboard
2 Celestial Flare
1 Detention Sphere
3 Gainsay
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Last Breath
2 Negate
1 Pithing Needle[/deck]

To quote fellow UW player Stefan, ‘****’, and to quote a more useful set of words, “The perils of being too many steps ahead.” We had created an excellent deck against decks that flooded the board and didn’t have a great Esper match. For week one, the format had too much Esper for this to be a truly great choice for a tournament. Flash-forward and the Pro Tour metagame heavily featured resource decks based around a mechanic which turned on by flooding the battlefield with creatures. Jeez.

Obviously [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Thoughtseize[/card] are still very good cards against us, but I feel pretty comfortable against any non-black devotion deck, and even those I think can be moved to even-ish with a good sideboard. The big red deck can lean on [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] to “get us,” but between Verdict, Elspeth, and the occasional [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] or [card]Celestial Flare[/card] I feel good about my chances.

If you play UW, I would just write off Esper at this point. Bring in the usual counter suite and just try to overwhelm them with threats, trying to fight off [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] is a very uphill battle. Board another [card]Aetherling[/card] or two and just outmaneuver them.

Interesting Pro Tour Decks

Alexey Shashov

[deck]Main Deck
4 Azorius Guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
10 Island
4 Mutavault
3 Plains
3 Frostburn Weird
1 Lavinia of the Tenth
4 Lyev Skyknight
4 Master of Waves
3 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
4 Vaporkin
1 Bident of Thassa
2 Cyclonic Rift
4 Detention Sphere
1 Disperse
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
Sideboard
3 Dispel
2 Domestication
4 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Lavinia of the Tenth
1 Negate
4 Sensory Deprivation[/deck]

I have to imagine [card]Lavinia of the Tenth[/card] just takes other devotion decks plans and completely trashes them. For that alone, I salute this deck for just making supposed mono-blue mirrors funny when it slams a [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] and crushes hopes and dreams. Other than that, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is definitely an interesting addition. Not sure I’m a fan in this exact build, but Elspeth is such a powerful endgame card it could be worthwhile.

Shouta Yasooka

[deck]Main Deck
1 Dimir Guildgate
7 Island
4 Mutavault
5 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Watery Grave
4 Master of Waves
2 Prognostic Sphinx
3 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
2 Devour Flesh
2 Dissolve
2 Domestication
2 Doom Blade
2 Essence Scatter
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Opportunity
3 Ratchet Bomb
4 Syncopate
1 Ultimate Price
Sideboard
2 Pithing Needle
4 Tidebinder Mage
3 Wall of Frost
2 Negate
1 Jace, Memory Adept
3 Thoughtseize[/deck]

Freaking Yasooka, even when he doesn’t dominate, his decks are always incredibly interesting to look at. This deck looks like a build you might have after being told what general decks dominated in Dublin. Not only does he maindeck tech (maindeck [card]Domestication[/card], four Jace, and real removal spells!) to dominate other Waves decks, but he gets full use of Ashiok and Jace for longer games against Esper and black. This deck would’ve dominated the first two weeks of SCG Opens and it’ll be interesting to see how similar shells perform moving forward.

I’d like to max out on [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] simply due to the versatility, and I wonder how much he misses [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] against straight aggro. Otherwise I’d try the deck, play around with the numbers, and see what happens from there.

I know we had a lot to cover this week, so if you got this far without skimming, thanks for sticking with it! Next week we’ll take a break from Standard and talk about Theros Limited.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: josh.silvestri@gmail.com

Share this

Discussion

Scroll to Top