Analyzing the Pro Tour and Team Unified Standard

Pro Tour Dominaria was dominated by red mages, as decks without Goblin Chainwhirler won a grand total of 0 games in the entire Top 8. The card is format-defining and oppressive for its Ferocidon-esque ability to push token strategies out of the metagame, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. Instead, I’ll go over estimated match win percentages for all archetypes, the last turns of the finals, and the Team Unified Standard format for the upcoming RPTQs.

Approximate Match Win Percentages

To see which decks overperformed and underperformed at the Pro Tour, the most insightful statistic is an archetype’s match win percentage. Given the available information (the Day 1 metagame breakdown, the Day 2 metagame breakdown, and the deck lists of all players with a 6-4 or better Standard record), this win percentage can be approximated closely. Love Janse did exactly that.

As I verified here, the math behind his methodology is sound. The resulting approximated match win percentages for all Standard archetypes with at least five pilots at the Pro Tour are copied below.

Archetype Day 1 Players Win Percentage
R/B Aggro 65 52.7%
R/B Midrange 57 51.5%
Mono-Red Aggro 48 54.1%
Steel Leaf Stompy 40 47.6%
Black-Green Constrictor 34 45.8%
W/B Benalia 29 46.4%
W/U Teferi 22 48.0%
Esper Control 20 52.3%
W/U Control 17 43.7%
U/B Midrange 14 44.5%
G/U Karn 11 47.5%
U/B Control 10 53.0%
Mono-Black Midrange 9 42.8%
U/W Approach 7 50.9%
Esper Benalia 7 47.6%
Esper Midrange 7 45.8%
B/G Ramp 6 52.6%
Sultai Constrictor 5 42.0%

Several insights can be gleaned from this table:

  • The more aggressive the Goblin Chainwhirler deck, the better. Mono-Red Aggro took the trophy and had the best win percentage overall. It’s the fastest deck around, which can be decisive in red mirrors. I saw many people board in a bunch of 5-drops only to die with multiples in hand, and I agree with Marc Tobiasch when he said “once people go too far over the top, the best way is to go under again.” If I had competed at the Pro Tour myself, I would probably have run Inventor’s Apprentice or The Flame of Keld. At the very least, I would have made sure to present an aggro plan in post-board games on the play. Mono-Red is best suited for that.
  • Steel Leaf Stompy did better than B/G Constrictor or Sultai Constrictor. This makes sense when a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or turn-2 Walking Ballista plays right into Goblin Chainwhirler.
  • The best-performing Disallow decks were U/B Control and Esper Control. These two decks look nearly identical, with the main point of contention being whether to splash Teferi. Speaking of Teferi: W/U Approach had the best performance among white-blue decks. But judging from the match win rate estimates, Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt did better than Seal Away and Settle the Wreckage. Vraska’s Contempt, in particular, performs better against the planeswalkers and Duresses that R/B Chainwhirler decks usually bring in.
  • Black midrange decks did poorly. Players planning to exploit Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt reached better win percentages with control decks than with midrange decks: U/B Midrange, Mono-Black Midrange, and Esper Midrange all performed poorly.
  • I’m chalking up the spicy G/U Karn deck as a failed experiment. Even though the deck had a 84% hit probability for Glint-Nest Crane, it wasn’t a hit for the pros who played it.

The Best Under-the-Radar Deck: B/G Ramp

Out of the archetypes with multiple pilots and an above-average estimated win percentage estimate, one stands out.

B/G Ramp

Corrado De Sio, 7-3 in Standard at Pro Tour Dominaria

Jacopo Bartollini went 6-4 with a nearly identical list, and fan favorite Ken Yukuhiro went 6-4 with his take on the archetype. Yukuhiro had Gift of Paradise, Duress, Karn, and Carnage Tyrant instead of Llanowar Elves, Servant of the Conduit, Thrashing Brontodon, and Josu Vess, but his card choices were similar beyond that.

The standout card in this archetype is Hour of Promise. Given that you’re approximately 80% to naturally draw one of your seven Deserts by turn 5, it usually produces value while ramping you to your finishers.

While Yukuhiro’s build may be a bit too slow against the Mono-Red Aggro deck that won the Pro Tour, the threats in De Sio’s build may be too easy to answer. The best list is probably somewhere in the middle. Either way, this archetype should be on your radar.

The Last Three Turns of the Finals

The last few turns of the finals were tense, tough, and ultimately decided by a bold decision and a game-winning topdeck.

Pinto had various paths to victory. In his last turn (pictured above) he could have, for instance, sacrificed his Aethersphere Harvester and Thopter token for Pia Nalaar‘s no-block ability and then attacked with four creatures. As this would leave Darby with only a single blocker, such an attack would secure a win even if Darby held an instant-speed removal spell. But Pinto must have missed this—mistakes understandably happen after so many tense matches under the lights—and instead he gave Darby a shot to topdeck Glorybringer for the win.

The main reason for bringing up this situation is that in the turn before, Darby attacked with Hazoret to put Pinto down to 11. Since I saw the Pia Nalaar possibilities when Darby went to combat, I was shouting “don’t attack—that leaves you dead on board!” at my TV screen. But Darby’s decision to attack was actually perfect, as he played to his outs in the best way possible.

If Darby had not attacked, in accordance with my first instinct, then he would have increased his chances of surviving for a few extra turns, but there was probably still no way to beat Pinto’s hand and board in a long game, even with a Glorybringer on top. Darby’s only out was to topdeck and have his opponent make some kind of misplay. Given that, the Hazoret attack was absolutely correct—he set himself up masterfully, and it’s decisions like these that make a champion. Congratulations to him!

Team Unified Standard

The format for the upcoming RPTQs, held on June 9-10 and June 23-24, is Team Unified Standard Constructed. In this format, any team of three players has to build three Standard-legal decks with the restriction that, except for basic lands, no two decks on a team can contain the same card. For example, if one player’s deck contains a single Abrade, then no other player on that team may use Abrade in their deck. So it’s all about minimizing overlap.

Colorless cards often lead to problematic overlap, but if you don’t have W/B Benalia in your line-up, then these cards are actually not all that restrictive for top-tier Standard decks:

  • Heart of Kiran is almost always included in W/B Benalia for its synergy with Toolcraft Exemplar and in Steel Leaf Stompy because of Rhonas the Indomitable. It is also played in most R/B Chainwhirler decks, but not all. Thomas Hendriks’ build from the Top 8, for example, doesn’t run it.
  • Karn is almost always included in W/B Benalia, but on the whole it has fallen out of favor. Chandra is the superior planeswalker in R/B Chainwhirler, and although Karn is sometimes included in B/G or U/B decks, it doesn’t seem to be an essential part of these archetypes in general. I guess there is still G/U Karn, but I’ve chalked that up as a failed experiment.
  • Scrapheap Scrounger is almost always included in R/B Chainwhirler and W/B Benalia, and it’s one of the premier threats in Standard. Some Steel Leaf Stompy decks splash Scrapheap Scrounger via Blooming Marsh, but I actually like the blue splash for Commit // Memory better.
  • Walking Ballista is essential in B/G Constrictor due to its synergy with the Snake, and it’s solid in W/B Benalia because it boosts Karn’s Constructs. Beyond that, you often see some copies of Walking Ballista in Mono-Black Midrange, U/B Midrange, or even the sideboard of W/U Control, but it doesn’t seem to be an essential part of these archetypes.

There are other colorless cards that you shouldn’t register twice, like Aether Hub and Aethersphere Harvester, but they are unlikely to drive deck decisions.

A lot of Standard decks lean into black, and I recommend restricting yourself to one black deck per team. The main reason is Duress. Pretty much every black deck has 3-4 copies in their sideboard, and there’s no obvious alternative. Kitesail Freebooter and Lay Bare the Heart are not as reliable, and going up to 3-4 Doomfall will hurt your curve.

Besides Duress, most non-Chainwhirler black decks have additional overlap in Fatal Push, Vraska’s Contempt, and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, often seen alongside Aether Hub, is included in many midrange mains and control boards. Fatal Push is, well, Fatal Push. And Vraska’s Contempt is so good that Kazuyuki Takimura even included it in R/B Chainwhirler, although I’d rather have Hour of Glory in that deck because it’s so much easier on the mana.

There are, of course, many other overlap considerations beyond these colorless and black cards, but most of them are obvious. My perspective on Team Unified Standard can be summarized as follows.

So the no-overlap starting point is the following three decks, based on the ones brought to the Pro Tour by Wyatt Darby, Immanuel Gerschenson, and Brad Nelson. I only made small sideboard tweaks (adding Unwind, Magma Spray, and Cut // Ribbons) to avoid overlap and to account for Darby’s post-event recommendations.

Mono-Red Aggro

Steel Leaf Stompy

W/U Approach

None of these lists run black, so you can substitute any one of them for a corresponding black variant as in the picture. If you can find a satisfactory alternative to Duress, then you could go for B/R Chainwhirler and another black deck, but I am skeptical about that. I think most teams will be better off with only one player in black.

As for who should turn to the dark side, I don’t have a clear recommendation—it mostly depends on the preferences of your Goblin Chainwhirler player, your Llanowar Elves player, and your Disallow player. Just trust your teammates, and note that if you switch to B/R Chainwhirler while keeping Steel Leaf Stompy, then you need to substitute into Thomas Hendriks’ build without Heart of Kiran.

There are other decks available, but all of them have issues. U/B Midrange and Mono-Black Midrange have little to no overlap with any of the three starting decks, but they had a poor performance at the Pro Tour. W/B Benalia creates too much overlap because it needs Heart of Kiran and History of Benalia. And G/U Karn and other spicy brews didn’t do well enough at the Pro Tour to earn an RPTQ recommendation from me either.

On the whole, I expect that the RPTQ metagame will look similar to the Pro Tour, where the metagame was about 38% Goblin Chainwhirler decks, 22% Llanowar Elves decks, 18% Disallow decks, and 22% other decks. At least, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goblin Chainwhirler decks turn out to be exactly 1/3rd of the Team Unified Standard metagame.

Grand Prix Copenhagen, also held next weekend, might play out differently, as I can see Goblin Chainwhirler decks breaking 40% or even 50% of the metagame, with everyone else trying to beat the red menace. I’ll be reporting and helping to pick feature matches from the text coverage desk this weekend, and one of my aims will be to discover the best ways to beat the red decks. If you think you have the answer, then don’t hesitate to let me know!

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