Standard Check-In: Pro Tour Ixalan

When last we checked-in with the Standard metagame for Ixalan, we saw that various stripes of Energy decks were running amok in the format, with an almost 50% share of the metagame that almost defied belief. Hailing from the Kaladesh block of last year, Energy is a parasitic mechanic since the cards come from just two sets worth of a pool and it doesn't work well with the mechanics of other sets that we have in Standard right now. We did have some Ramunap Red decks and UB Control decks that were  making their presence felt however, along with some support from various Tokens strategies as well as Mardu Vehicles from yesteryear and the more recent Approach decks. But, it was undeniable that Energy decks were supreme.

Going into the Pro Tour this past weekend, that was definitely in the minds of players everywhere. Would the Pro Tour be "ruined" by a field dominated by Energy decks? Would the Top 8 on day 3 be diverse at all? Would the various pro teams bring some sweet brews that could be contenders in this stale metagame?

I myself made a prediction that there would be at least three Energy decks represented in the Top 8, led by the Temur and Sultai variants. And I hoped that we might also get to see some Ramunap Red and Approach decks as well. I certainly did not expect it to be too diverse, because Temur Energy is just such a damn popular deck with game against almost every other deck in the format and is undeniably the king in the Ixalan metagame.

As it turns out, we got a little of everything. The published Top 8 for the event gave us five different strategies that I believe represent a very good cross-section for the current metagame:

·         Seth Manfield - Sultai Energy

·         Pascal Maynard - UW God-Pharaoh's Gift

·         Samuel Ihlenfeldt - Mardu Vehicles

·         John Rolf - Ramunap Red

·         Mike Sigrist - 4-color Energy

·         Guillaume Matignon - Jeskai Approach

·         Piotr Glogowski - 4-color Energy

·         Christian Hauck - Temur Energy

As we saw from the coverage of the Top 8, with the exception of the eventual winner Seth Manfield (also a former World Champion), the Energy decks did not do so well in the elimination rounds. They fell in quick succession to three other mainstays of the format and the finals was one of the most incredible games I've seen at a Pro Tour, and there have been a few of those in the last couple years.

As a small aside, I believe that despite the crowning deck of the event being Sultai Energy that the format is still not healthy enough for the deck to put up more consistent results. Switching out the red for the black cards, notably The Scarab God and Hostage Taker, definitely adds some power but it is more of a grindier version of what Temur is already doing, and better since in that deck, the key component is the card Harnessed Lightning which functions almost as a Terminate due to how fast the deck can build up its energy reserves. As such, I fully expect Temur to still be the top dog and popular enough, with minor corrections in the format in the coming month to fight the Energy decks in general.

Looking at the Standard rounds of the Pro To in their entirety, and the metagame of the Standard decks that all the players brought to the event, what we see is a mix of good and bad.

PTmetaDay1-1.jpg

On the whole, these numbers are not that different from what we saw in our last check-in. The Energy decks are entirely over-represented and as we go down the totem pole, we see some sharp drop-offs for the non-Energy decks. In a way, this is worrying to a degree since it doesn't indicate a healthy metagame but the problem is that while the Energy decks are indeed more dominant than they should be, there really is no consensus on what puts them over the top. Is it Attune With Aether? Longtusk Cub? Harnessed Lightning? Aether Hub? If you were to even seriously consider a ban to bring the down a few pegs, what would you even go for? The lack of any good interaction against these decksis a real issue.

Looking past that, we actually see that despite the consensus over the best "decks" in the format, the field was still rather diverse down the totem pole. Mono-black Aggro. Various God-Pharaoh's Gift decks. Some Tokens. Some Approach. Even  five Mono-White Vampires decks, which all made day 2 by the way, posting the best day 2 conversion of all the archetypes on day 1, and with good Booster Draft records to boot. Heck we even had a UW Cycling deck that attempted to benefit off the interactions between cards such as Abandoned Sarcophagus and Drake Haven. Now that's some real spice.

Oh and the Pummeler decks of yesteryear just refuse to die out in any way, and come in all sorts of different color combinations and what have you.

If we consolidate some of this information further, we get to some interesting results.

PTmetaDay1-2.jpg

Control decks are struggling uphill in this metagame. Like, it's not even a contest. Players such as Josh Utter-Leyton and Gerry Thompson fought the good fight at the World Champions a month back, but Worlds is just so unique that it doesn't even matter in the long run. The Pro Tour was the big test and it looks like Control decks are the worse for the wear. As someone who plays UB Control in Standard right now, it is definitely a disheartening result.

We had Pascal Maynard make it all the way to the finals with a GPG deck, but even that is just an outlier and owes a lot to Pascal's skills as a player as well as the glass-canon nature of his specific list which is all-in on the GPG plan and is thus very good in game 1s.

Tokens decks are still struggling to define themselves too. I expected them to do far better than they did and I was sorely disappointed since I recently picked up the Esper version and have had some success with it. It is also a very fun deck to play for me, so that might have something to do with it as well. One of the really neat things at the Pro Tour was that our very first match was between a 4-color Energy deck and a 4-color Tokens deck. That was one hell of a start to the Standard rounds on day 1 and certainly helped put the Tokens deck on the big map, no less for Vraska, the Relic Seeker which has been one of the winner cards of the weekend, having gained big in terms of its price value.

Energy and the common Aggro decks like Ramunap Red and Mardu Vehicles are still the big decks to beat if you intent to play in the format until Rivals of Ixalan at the least. This is not in question in any way. Sometimes the format corrects itself automatically after a Pro Tour, sometimes things get worse. We also have no bannings in the future that can address this because we've already seen how that happens this year with no less than three separate back-to-back bannings that saw a total of five cards removed from the Standard format. So the Energy decks are definitely not going anywhere and if you want to give them a fight for their money then you're kind of locked into going with the other big decks down the totem pole.

Tribal decks are mostly absent, owing a lot to not having either the proper lords or enough density of cheap creatures with a mix of necessary removal to compete. Thanks to some early previews for the next set, we do know that Silvergill Adept, a Modern and Legacy staple for the Merfolk decks, is being reprinted and should there be some kind of a 2 or 3 CMC lord in the set, then Merfolk in Standard are going to be very real. I certainly hope they are!

I intended to go deep into the data from the Pro Tour, but thankfully Seth (Better known as SaffronOlive) over at MTGGoldfish.com published his "Pro Tour Ixalan: By The Numbers" article yesterday and he does pretty much all that heavy-lifting, which is a big relief. He goes into some great details, so I definitely recommend reading what he has to say.

PTmetaDay2.jpg

And for those wanting to check out some lists and start fine-tuning and brewing, here's some additional data for you all, the top tiers of decks that performed well at the event:

·         18-20 pts (6-3-0 to 6-1-2 records in the Swiss rounds)

·         21-23 pts (7-3-0 to 7-1-2 records in the Swiss rounds)

·         24-27 pts (8-3-0 to 9-1-0 records in the Swiss rounds)

 

All in all, I do recommend watching the coverage for the event. Day 1 was pretty incredible as Wizards painted a picture of a diverse format that, under the hood, wasn't. But for the messaging and perception, it was still good. No one wants to see endless Energy mirrors or Energy vs Ramunap Red or what have you, the "staple and boring" matchups of the format. We got to see a lot of different decks on Day 1 and even Day 2 was fairly good in that regard. In particular, I'd recommend watching any of Pascal Maynard's games, or even Guillaume Matignon, both of whom made Top 8 eventually.

While the results aren't surprising or even unexpected as such, I do believe that Standard is in a decent enough place. Despite how good Energy and mono-red are, you do have some great options to take to your local FNM and perhaps even to other events that are more on the competitive side of things. As always, part of the struggle is knowing your own deck well enough, as well as your opponent's and having a clear strategy to fight that.

We'll check back with the format in another 2-3 weeks, and hopefully there have been some notable shifts to talk about by then. In the first weekend of December, we'll also be seeing the Magic World Cup as various national teams converge on Paris for some more competitive constructed Magic, so that's an event to look forward to as well.

Until next time.