Hello! Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal just occurred, creating huge waves in Standard and setting an interesting starting point for the format's further development. I still don't know the Top 8 results, but general conclusions can already be made.
The first note to make is that the role of the StarCityGames.com Open Series in metagame formation has increased. SCG held Opens before Standard Pro Tours in previous years, but Caw-Blade still emerged only at the PT and the two best decks of PT Dark Ascension were breakouts. This year, two SCG Standard Opens mostly revealed basic options and, alongside the inimitable Tomoharu Saito, created a solid base for PT players. It wasn't like PT Return to Ravnica, where everybody played Jund because they had no idea what to choose. Two SCG Opens established the initial metagame and predicted its shift, allowing PT players to build successful control decks, which is normally hard in an unknown metagame.
Esper Control was the second most popular deck choice for PT Gatecrash, and coverage showed some successful Bant Control decks featuring very old anti-mirror technology in the form of Nephalia Drownyard or Kessig Wolf Run. The SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati Top 8 also included two Esper Control decks and Bant Control, but the rest of the top lists were a little more aggressive than the ones at the Pro Tour, which may be indicative of the next metagame shift. Standard, despite being very diverse, is driving towards the classic "rock-paper-scissors" metagame, with Red Aggro, Jund Midrange, and Esper/Bant Control filling each role.
This is a fine build, well suited for an aggressive field and armed with an increased amount of sweepers compared to the typical one copy in U/W/R Flash decks (Ben Stark's Esper Control even has two Planar Cleansing). However, I expect Bant to evolve for a better mirror match performance (Alchemist's Refuge, less creatures, etc.) because control is on the rise. Another interesting note: Melissa's list contains zero basic lands, which makes Ghost Quarter even better in the control mirror (as it's often won by utility lands). The mana bases of Esper Control and midrange decks are better against Ghost Quarter but are still greedy, so you can easily create significant problems for your opponent with a well-timed Quarter.
#TeamSCG's Jund list includes Arbor Elf instead of the usual Vampire Nighthawk, which makes it weaker to fast aggro, but the full four Bonfire of the Damned compensates for it. I'm not sure if it's good with Boros Reckoner (another Top 8 Jund list has zero copies in its 75 and plays Mizzium Mortars instead).
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Hellrider
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 1 Thragtusk
- 3 Thundermaw Hellkite
This list is all about creatures. The best ones are here, including the fearsome Aurelia, the Warleader. Such a build isn't as fast as pure Mono Red but is much more capable of beating midrange and control after the first few turns. Also note the sideboarded Boros Charm and Nearheath Pilgrim to support Boros Reckoner for the occasional infinite life combo.
This week, Gruul/Naya/Jund Aggro were much better than Mono Red since they're better against Jund Midrange, whose power was confirmed by William Postlethwait in Edison and Owen Turtenwald and Stephen Mann at the Pro Tour Gatecrash. Jund Midrange (and, to a less degree, Naya) still beats most aggressive decks with its combination of removal and powerful creatures. So how do we beat paper? Bant and Esper Control are weak against fast aggression, which can win before control starts to get its game plan online, but control decks beat Jund Midrange very effectively. If more people play control (if Melissa DeTora wins the Pro Tour, for example), I expect Mono Red to come back in some form in the next week or two.
However, matchups between parts of the "rock-paper-scissors" model are nowhere near 100-0, and nearly all decks are tunable if you want to improve any particular matchup (this is especially true for Bant Control). Adding more variance to "rock-paper-scissors," there is much more than three decks in Standard, and even if others somehow fill one of three roles, there are many other details.
Jund Midrange is great against pure Mono Red, while another "paper" deck, U/W/R Flash, is awful against Mono Red but great against more powerful but slower aggro. At the very same time, a third potential midrange deck (Zombies) is extinct because the metagame is too aggressive for a heavier Geralf's Messenger deck (while aggressive Zombies is worse than the other aggro options). So the format is actually "two rocks, two paper, and two scissors," making matchups and the metagame less predictable and more interesting.
By the way, despite being ignored by Pro Tour players, B/W Zombies did very well at SCG Open Cincinnati since the top tables of the tournament included mostly control and midrange decks, which are better matchups for Zombies than aggro decks. It's a little bit strange, but the Pro Tour showed us only one completely new deck—Sam Black's The Aristocrats—while some interesting ideas didn't find support among PT players (booo, I still like B/G Aggro). Remembering how late Delver of Secrets was discovered, I hope that new decks will emerge later because many other interesting old and new cards are waiting for their time when Conley Woods gets 14th at the Pro Tour with Crypt Ghast based Mono-Black Control.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
This deck's first version was presented by Craig Wescoe and, after some significant updates (one can't simply avoid Boros Reckoner in a white/red deck), found popularity among SCG Open players, but hardly anyone outside #TeamSCG decided to try it at the Pro Tour. The Aristocrats, while being interesting and attractive, doesn't look like a breakout deck; it's still a good and interesting deck, being versatile and powerful. However, I'm afraid it's weak to Olivia Voldaren and as such isn't good against Jund, but I'm going to test it out since it looks complicated enough to not be snap-judged.
Nevertheless, the list looks fine, tunable for the metagame, and probably better than two-colored Geralf's Messenger analogues, even though I don't really understand some card choices, like just two Lingering Souls and Restoration Angel (I'm looking forward for Sam Black's article). I also dislike sideboarding cards like Tragic Slip, but Boros Reckoner is a power that should be recognized; the fearsome Minotaur requires an instant speed answer if you want to beat "true" or "fake" Reckoner-based combo.
Boros Reckoner is probably the most powerful and influential card from Gatecrash. Its price has already skyrocketed, and four playsets in the Pro Tour Top 8 are good reason for it. Hate for Reckoner was one of the key components of Pro Tour decks. We see Orzhov Charm instead of Ultimate Price in black decks, Bant Control splashing Black for Nephalia Drownyard and Abrupt Decay (I'm sure that Decay was a significant factor in the Drownyard vs. Wolf Run choice in Bant Control), Jund playing maindeck Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore, etc.
By the way, it's funny how Gerry Thompson promoted Boros Charm in U/W/R and ended cutting it in the favor of better cards (I'm not trying to call him out but am just commenting on how he was one step ahead again). Will Boros Reckoner continue to influence Standard? Definitely! The card is great, and it seems the format is more "beat 'em or join 'em" about Reckoner than about Thragtusk or Sphinx's Revelation, which were also in four decks of the PT Top 8. Is there a deck that can include all three cards? Bant Control! Okay, there is no reason to do so, and Jund colors are better for "all good cards together" decks. Nevertheless, when building your deck, remember all three of these cards and be wary if your deck contains less than two of them.
What if you dislike these cards? Seven of the eight PT Top 8 decks contained Mountains, so Volcanic Strength is definitely a maindeckable card right now. Tomoharu Saito included it into R/G Aggro, but how about Geist of Saint Traft? One of the most powerful creatures of recent times is criminally underplayed now, but with it you can say in the U/W/R mirror, "Nice Boros Reckoner, dear opponent! Now you have two turns to draw one of your two sweepers." This pair is definitely not for the sideboard since eight slots are too much, but a lone Geist is suboptimal maindeck. I'm not sure that it's possible to build a U/W/R version, which will be the beatdown in mirror-like matchups and still capable of controlling fast aggressive decks, but this idea may be worth trying.
Summing up my impressions of this big weekend, Standard has become more predictable and fits the "double rock, double paper, double scissors" model, shifting from one to the other half of each object. So a new equilibrium is potentially achievable each week, and it's important to predict which half will be popular next weekend. For example, Mono Red decks were poorly positioned at the Pro Tour, but I expect them to be very good next weekend, with control on the rise and U/W/R becoming the main midrange over Jund. If Owen Turtenwald wins the Pro Tour with Jund, I'd settle on The Aristocrats or Naya Aggro instead.
Next week will feature a Limited Grand Prix Charlotte organized by StarCityGames.com (don't miss it, as it will surely be a great experience!). But there are more SCG Open Series (namely Las Vegas and Indianapolis at the beginning of March) on the horizon, alongside two Standard Grand Prix in Italy and Brazil, one of which I'm going to attend (guess which one). Pro Tour Gatecrash set a very interesting starting point and gives us enough time to brew and test something interesting in the upcoming weeks. And you don't have to be restricted to existing decks; there's still a lot to discover in this format!