Welcome back to the Strictly Standard Meta Report. This week we FINALLY get the Pro Tour to help solidify decklists and define the meta for the next two months of Standard play. With 510 competitors sleeving up decks to battle it out through 10 rounds of Standard and 6 rounds of Guilds of Ravnica draft, we were sure to see a diverse representation of decks battling it out to claim the crown of Tier 1 deck. Would it be the boogeyman Golgari midrange that defies the bulls-eye of sideboard, and sometimes even main-deck, hate that every other deck will be packing? Will it be a control shell that correctly calls the meta and locks down the competition? Or will an off-the-wall brew take the tournament by storm and attack from an angle that nobody was prepared to combat?
The Day-1 metagame breakdown gave us pretty much what we expected based on the major tournament and Magic Online 5-0 decklists that played out during the first 2 months of competition. There were 5 archetypes that made up more than 10% of the field going into the first day of competition. Golgari Midrange was at the top of the list, making up 22.2% of the field. That is nearly 1 in every 4 decks bringing a slew of graveyard-recurring value to the table. And who could argue with their decision? With creatures that act as dual threats like Ravenous Chupacabra, Jadelight Ranger, Golgari Findbroker, and Doom Whisperer followed up by game altering planeswalkers in Vraska, Relic Seeker and Vivien Reid, this deck does a good job of both stopping opponents’ gameplan while advancing their own. Here is one of the top-finishing Golgari decks according to the final outcome of just the standard matches. I really like the choices that Edward Vance made in diversifying his multi-purpose threat/answer cards. The inclusion of all 3 of the typical Golgari ‘walkers in the main deck makes for a good balance of ways to maneuver the game in your favor, and then you can close it out quickly with your big late game creatures.
As the dust settled and the day-2 rounds began, there were still 322 competitors vying to take the crown of Pro Tour Champion. Still top-dog in meta share, Golgari Midrange managed a 62.83% conversion rate, bringing 71 of the original 113 decks back for more. However, by the numbers, Golgari was not the top performing deck of day 1. Of the five archetypes that made up greater than 10% meta share on day 1, Boros Aggro at 69.14% conversion rate, Izzet Drakes at 68.18% conversion rate, and Mono-Red Aggro at 67.19% conversion rate all outshone the most populous deck in the field. However, if you extend the view to all archetypes that represented 5 or more copies on day 1 (for statistical significance) there are ANOTHER 5 archetypes that had a higher conversion rate. As we run down the best conversion rates, Esper Control would appear to be the top dog of day 1 with a full 80% conversion rate. Atsuki Kihara’s list is jam packed with the most powerful control spells in the format, and uses very minimal finishers. But finishers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Chromium, the Mutable are powerful enough to get the job done.
Because there were only 5 total Esper control decks on day 1 (4 of which made day 2), and because having the tournament results in hand means we get to “tell the future,” we know the unfortunate reality that Atsuki Kihara was the only pilot to score 21 or more points (winning 7 matches) on the weekend. I think it is much more important to focus on any of the next 6 archetypes on the list that brought more than 10 decks to the tournament, especially top-8 finishers Boros Aggro and Izzet Drakes. Andrew Elenbogen managed to parlay his stellar Boros Aggro performance (winning 8 of his 10 Standard matches) into the top-8, and eventually toppling Luis Scott-Vargas in a finals mirror to win the title of Pro Tour Champion.
Elenbogen’s take on this archetype is really more of a White Weenie deck splashing Red for powerful sideboard strategies like Experimental Frenzy to outrun the other aggro decks and to overwhelm the midrange decks, and a singleton Banefire to push through the last few points of damage against control. This deck leans on the power of History of Benalia spewing out tokens to get wide AND big early. If that doesn’t pan out, you couple it along with the many other cheap creatures to power out your Convoke spells.
There were only 2 other competitors to make the top-8 with 25 or more points (an 8-x performance) in the Standard rounds. Wilson Mok brought his Jeskai Control deck and put his fate in the hands of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Having access to several multi-purpose answers like Deafening Clarion, Expansion // Explosion, and Cleansing Nova along with a game swinging advantage engine like Teferi means this deck can be extremely resilient and stabilize at very low life totals to eek out wins where other decks would just fold.
Kasper Nielsen brought a more traditional Boros Aggro deck to the tournament. Leveraging early threats like Healer’s Hawk and Adanto Vanguard to chip in early damage, then leaning on a late game powerhouse like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice or a well timed Heroic Reinforcements mean that you can close things out in a hurry.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also talk about the two decks that turned in the best record of the tournament. Guillaume Gauthier took Mono-Blue Tempo and Pascal Vieren ran Izzet Drakes to an undefeated 10-0 record in the Standard rounds. The story here is that these decks couldn’t be more unalike, and still managed to each put up undefeated records. Mono-Blue Tempo acts a lot like the White Weenie decks with a constant stream of cheap aggressive threats, except that these guys have evasion. And the Blue deck gives it access to permission spells and card draw. Landing a turn-one Mist-Cloaked Herald and then enchanting it with a Curious Obsession can let this deck quickly outpace and out draw even the most pure control deck. Then dropping a Tempest Djinn with mana up for Dive Down, Spell Pierce, and/or Wizard’s Retort to protect him means a quick death for the opponent is imminent.
The Izzet Drakes deck, on the other hand, acts more like a cross between a Storm deck and a Tap-out Control deck. This deck is SUPER fun to play and can power out 12 or more damage in a turn to win out of nowhere. The basis of the deck is a Blue-Red tempo deck that wants to churn through it’s deck by drawing a bunch of cards. You want to be getting as many Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard as possible, using early Tormenting Voice and Chart a Course loot effects. Then you want to chain 3 of your cheap Instant and Sorcery spells to get those Phoenix back out and attacking with haste. The namesake of the deck, Crackling Drake, is a serious house. This thing’s power gets out of hand FAST. I prefer having access to a Maximize Velocity to sneak in a hasty 15 powered Drake out of nowhere to close out those long grindy games (but I also didn’t go 10 and 0 at the Pro Tour…).
It wouldn’t be a Pro Tour if someone didn’t show up with a crazy brew meant to attack the format from an angle that nobody saw coming. And leave it to Zac Elsik, the inventor of Modern’s Lantern Control deck, to play the Rainbow Lich Control deck that Ali Antrazzi debuted just two weeks prior with a win at SCG Charlotte.
Getting to land a Lich’s Mastery and draw tons of cards because of spells like Revitalize, Gift of Paradise, and Vraska’s Contempt which also help keep you in the game while you dig through your deck for a copy of Chance for Glory which lets you start looping free extra turns since you can’t lose the game. Then you get to a Mastermind’s Acquisition and tutor up exactly the win-con you need.
While Boros Aggro was the major player in the top 8, taking 6 of the 8 slots, there were 7 different archetypes that won 8 or more matches in the Standard rounds meaning that it can still be anyone’s guess as to which deck will match up right on any given week. The big takeaway is that you need to be packing 4 copies of Tocatli Honor Guard in your 75 to combat the slew of enter-the-battlefield abilities that the Golgari decks lean on. Or you can just Storm out for the win in one turn like I plan on doing!
Eric has been an avid Magic fan and player since re-discovering the game in 2012. He is a Red mage at heart but likes to confuse himself with the varying decision trees presented by mid-range and control decks from time to time.
Eric plays mostly casually with his 9-year-old daughter, but manages to get out for every prerelease and a few FNM’s and GP’s every year.
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