Whelp [mtg_card=Siege Rhino] has won another Pro Tour. It seems almost laughable in hindsight, but everyone’s favorite three-color rhino didn’t seem terribly well positioned coming into the event. The past couple weeks of Standard had solidified the front runners as Atarka Red, Selesyna Megamorph, and Dark Jeskai. Going in these were the decks to beat or join, which was mostly mirrored in Top 8 and the event as a whole. These three decks represented roughly half of the field and after slogging through it all we ended up with two Abzan Aggro decks, two Dark Jeskai, a Jeskai Tokens, a more aggressive Jeskai list, along with one of each of Selesnya Megamorph and Atarka Red in Top 8.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Pro Tours split between constructed and draft does obfuscate the format a bit. A bad draft run can kill an otherwise strong constructed deck. While the Top 8 decks tend to get a lot of attention, here are a few of the Standard brews just below the radar.
If you don’t follow the larger Magic community, this would have been an easy deck to miss, but it’s generally accepted to be one of the breakout decks of the event. Any deck that’s capable of a turn three kill requires at least some attention and it posted some of the best records among players, albeit falling a little short. In essence while the Atraka Red decks have trimmed the [mtg_card=Become Immense] + [mtg_card=Temur Battle Rage] package, Atarka Landfall doubles down on it. You play much the same game, but with slightly beefier and more resilient creatures. Having both [mtg_card=Den Protector] and [mtg_card=Abbot of Keral Keep] gives the deck a less all-in style compared to the Atarka Red decks that looks to go wider to the board. For those curious the turn three kill is turn one fetchland and one of your one drops, turn two fetchland and a [mtg_card=Titan’s Strength] or [mtg_card=Atarka’s Command], and then turn three a third fetch land. This means you’ve got three fetchlands and another spell in the graveyard. You can cast [mtg_card=Temur Battle Rage] first, let it resolve, and then delve all five cards to cast [mtg_card=Become Immense]. What crazy is there will be times when you’re on the play and your opponent taps out on turn two for something like [mtg_card=Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy] and they just die.
Despite some good initial results, [mtg_card=Bring to Light] has been on a bit of a downward spiral and the deck had a pretty abysmal showing at the Pro Tour. As the other decks have gotten increasingly tuned, it’s not as simple to bash them over the head with raw card quality, especially when the Atarka decks are threatening to [mtg_card=Become Immense] + [mtg_card=Temur Battle Rage] when you tap out. That said, there’s still something worthwhile in jamming 75 of the best cards together. Mana is so ridiculously good right now that playing four or five colors is not a huge stretch. A single [mtg_card=Flooded Strand] can get Blue, White, Green, and Black between Basic and Battle Lands. Cause why not play [mtg_card=Siege Rhino] and [mtg_card=Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy] in the same list? It’s possible we’ll see a departure from [mtg_card=Bring to Light] and just see four or five color control. Removing [mtg_card=Bring to Light] does limit some of the versatility and redundancy, but it opens up the deck to a bunch of powerful, more expensive, spells like [mtg_card=Dig Through Time] and [mtg_card=Ugin, the Spirit Dragon].
Esper Dragons is dead, long live Esper Control! While it had a few high profile finishes, the Esper Dragons deck has mostly fallen by the wayside with only a few players piloting it at the Pro Tour. A smaller number of dedicated players opted to ditch the dragon aspect and play just straight grindy Esper, with a much better percentage of them making Day 2 of the event. By dropping [mtg_card=Dragonlord Ojutai] the deck can focus more on irking advantage with cards like [mtg_card=Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy] and [mtg_card=Ojutai’s Command]. It just looks to play a more typical control game of counterspells, spot removal, sweepers, card advantage, and a smattering of win conditions. The win conditions are pretty much just awaken cards, some [mtg_card=Ugin, the Spirit Dragon]s and your opponent giving up. The deck had some respectable finishes in the hands of some very talented players, so the verdict is still out on whether it’s all that good or the likes of Reid Duke could win games with 60 [mtg_card=Island]s sleeved up. There was also a more planeswalker heavy version in the mix as well.
A bunch of players keyed into the fact that [mtg_card=Zulaport Cutthroat] is almost [mtg_card=Blood Artist] and almost [mtg_card=Blood Artist] is a compelling enough reason for a bunch of different brews of Aristocrats-style decks. The basic idea behind these is to leverage creatures, often through sacrifice and recursion, into incremental advantage until you can pseudo-combo them out. For instance, casting a [mtg_card=Whirler Rogue] to make [mtg_card=Nantuko Husk] unblockable then eating up the board for massive damage, as well as draining with the [mtg_card=Zulaport Cutthroat] around. Sometimes you just [mtg_card=Fireball] them out by eating your board up. The deck takes advantage of a lot of sticky creatures that either create multiple bodies when they enter play or replace themselves when they die. It was especially exciting to see a number of different builds. They were certainly all Black, but we saw them commonly hitting Green, Blue, or both along with [mtg_card=Rally the Ancients] still being a strong reason to go White. So the verdict is still out on what the best version is, though these decks do sort of live and die based on the number of [mtg_card=Anafenza, the Foremost] seeing play.
We came very close to saying “Sam Black cracked Standard again”. The Bant tokens list he designed and played was uniquely targeted at attacking specific aspects of the current metagame. It goes wide against Red decks and spot removal, nice [mtg_card=Wild Slash] bro. Along with being grindy and resilient against the controlling decks, and it doesn’t hurt that you can end of turn a [mtg_card=Secure the Wastes] and untap into a number of [mtg_card=Glorious Anthemn] effects to just kill and unprepared opponent from seemingly nowhere. Along with the Bant Tokens, there were some Jeskai Tokens list making the rounds as well, with one of them Top 8-ing. While you lose some of the options Green affords you, like [mtg_card=Den Protector], [mtg_card=Jeskai Ascendancy] continues to be an excellent card if you’re given the time to set-up. Not only is it buffing your team, but it’s smoothing out your draws and fueling up [mtg_card=Treasure Cruise]!
The last deck that stood out to me on the bubble was Mardu Superfriends. This particular list jammed four different planeswalkers, [mtg_card=Gideon, Ally of Zendikar], [mtg_card=Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker], [mtg_card=Sorin, Solemn Visitor], [mtg_card=Ob Nixilis Reignited], for a total of eight in the deck. While this isn’t the most super of superfriends build, this Mardu build forgoes counterspells for discard and a ton of removal. It wants to grind advantage by having multiple planeswalkers slowly take over the game. I’m not sure how I feel about having a bunch of planeswalkers against a field of [mtg_card=Mantis Rider]s, [mtg_card=Den Protector], and [mtg_card=Wingmate Roc]s, but clearly a few folks were able to make it work.