4 Lessons from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan

The Result

The long-awaited and much hyped Modern Pro Tour finally arrived this weekend, with the best players from around the globe all arriving in Spain to contest a relatively new Limited environment as well as the Wild West format that is Modern. With little consensus when it come to the “best deck” in Modern, almost all the pro teams were internally split on what to play—we saw a huge variety of strategies and archetypes across the weekend.

5-Color Humans was the most popular deck in Bilbao, and ultimately the only archetype to place in multiples in the Top 8, in the hands of Javier Dominguez and Andrea Mengucci. Mengucci’s third PT Top 8 comes before he’s made a single GP Top 8—Mengucci certainly knows how to pick his battles! Reid Duke also managed to secure his third PT Top 8 with his signature Black-Green Rock strategy—this time it was Abzan-flavored.

Death’s Shadow, for a long time the dominant strategy in Modern, wasn’t absent in the Top 8. Jean-Emmanuel Depraz played a 5-color Traverse list to the quarters. Two Young Pyromancer decks also made it to Sunday, although they took wildly different approaches—Gerry Thompson’s Mardu faced off against Pascal Vieren’s Blue-Red in the semifinals. We also had a completely off-the-wall deck make a surprising appearance in the hands of Ken Yukuhiro, whose splashy and exciting Black-Red Hollow One list took us all off-guard.

It was Argentina’s Luis Salvatto who prevailed, however, hoisting the trophy after a hard-fought tournament with Lantern Control. Lantern has to be one of the most polarizing decks in the history of the game, with equally noisy supporters and detractors, but any way you slice it, there’s no denying that Salvatto dominated the weekend with his prison strategy, and was overjoyed to be able to hoist the trophy on Sunday afternoon. Congratulations to Luis Salvatto, the champion of PT Rivals of Ixalan!

The Moment

Team Musashi won the inaugural Pro Tour Team Series last year, and the deck they brought to PT Rivals of Ixalan raised more than a few eyebrows. Black-Red Hollow One is scarcely considered a playable deck by much of the professional community, much less a good one, but Yukuhiro showed us why we may need to rethink things. The pure explosive power of the deck was demonstrated on camera not once, but twice, and both times Paul Cheon and I basically exploded.

Burning Inquiry leads to some pretty buck wild starts for Hollow One pilots, and as we saw this weekend, slamming multiple 4/4s on turn 1 happens a little more often than you’d think. Random effects are few and far between in Magic and even then tend not to see much play, but if you spin that wheel enough times you can be strongly rewarded!

Starts like these propelled Yukuhiro all the way to the Top 8, with his team cheering him from the sidelines. Team Coverage caught up with Team Musashi about the deck, leading to one of the funniest exchanges I’ve witnessed while tracking down information like this:

The Deck

Lantern Control will naturally be the talk of the town in the coming days and weeks after its victory. Its unique angle of attack and polarizing nature will fuel debate and discussion long after this Pro Tour, but another deck you would be remiss to forget about is the one Lantern beat out in the final. This weekend, Mardu Pyromancer went undefeated in the hands of Gerry Thompson, and proved that it has what it takes to run with the big dogs of the format.

Mardu Pyromancer

Mardu Pyromancer is an answer-filled, attrition-based deck that will doubtless become a mainstay of Modern after Thompson’s performance. It excels against creature-based midrange while still having enough disruption to tangle with linear decks, and it goes up strongly enough against big mana with main deck Blood Moons backed up with a good amount of pressure. The ability of this deck to disrupt, stabilize, and finally pull back ahead with Bedlam Reveler and Kolaghan’s Command is staggering. Several times on camera, we saw Thompson turn it around while on 1 life.

Its worst matchups are, of course, against decks like Lantern Control. I caught up with Thompson after the event and asked him how the deck could be reconfigured to to make things more favorable. “It’s tough, because the deck is basically just twenty removal spells,” he told me. “I even thought about splashing green for Ancient Grudge. Maybe that’s the way to do it.”

The Takeaway

Rivals of Ixalan Limited has steadied the ship and given us a robust, enjoyable format with a diversity of playable archetypes, solid interactive options, and a good old-fashioned “nuts-and-bolts Limited” feeling. Our second featured Draft evidenced this, although the first featured Draft was one of the weirdest you’ll ever see, thanks to a combination of strange pack makeup and odd signalling. Rivals is a moderately fast format with good removal and some exploitable synergies, and rewards fundamental Limited skills.

Leading up to the Pro Tour, many (myself included) mistakenly assumed the tournament would crystallize the wide-open nature of the format. With no entirely new breakout deck and no overwhelming agreement on the best archetype, Modern will remain a healthy and diverse format with a huge range of playable strategies. Notably, the dominance of Death’s Shadow seems to be waning—5-Color Humans, as the most played archetype in the tournament, is now set to become the next big thing.

The next Banned and Restricted Announcement is scheduled for the 12th of February, with R&D having highlighted that they will take into account data from PT Rivals. You can safely expect gallons of digital ink to be spilled over whether Lantern Control warrants a ban, and as a result there is not much of a spotlight on the dominance of 5-Color Humans. From a deck building perspective, this archetype is still in a developmental stage, and nevertheless had an insane win rate in Bilbao. Don’t let the hyperbole flying around on both sides of the Lantern debate distract you entirely from how powerful the Humans deck is!

This weekend we’re off to Canada! I can’t wait to get over to Toronto, where I will eat poutine, listen to the Barenaked Ladies, and help cover the first post-PT Modern GP. I can’t wait to see how things go in the wake of the Pro Tour. I’ll see you there!


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