Pro Tour Predictions
Welcome to my bonus article for the week, on the cusp of Pro Tour Paris. By the time this goes up the Pro Tour will just be underway and we’ll start seeing what the pros have brewed up for Standard. However over the last week and a half I’ve gotten a lot of feedback requesting an overview of Standard. As a result this article includes my predictions for Paris and a tongue-in-cheek overview of Standard. With little time remaining, let’s jump right in!
Normally this is where I would try to guess the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, however that’s pretty much a fruitless endeavor considering how large the PTs are. In the past, Bill Stark wrote about predicting the Top 8 by nationality at the Starkington Post, which sounds far more reasonable, even though it does take some of the sleeper pick fun out of the whole thing. Still, I figure I’ll take a crack at it and see how close I can get.
1 .br (HI PV)
Honestly my faith in the American contingent is based largely on the emergence of Team Channelfireball, since in the past (post-Finkel) many of the best U.S. players just weren’t at the same level. There’s a reason the Japanese basically dominated world play for a good chunk of time. After Saito getting whacked and a downturn in Japan’s performances as of late, I’m not sold on what remains of their pro contingent. Maybe at this Pro Tour they’ll live back up to the lofty standards of everyone waiting on baited breath for the latest deck that broke it. Then there’s the Paulo Vitor DDR inclusion, who can seemingly Top 8 a PT at will now.
Now this is more my speed in terms of my predictive prowess. First things first, Valakut is definitely going to be the most popular deck in the field, if only because people give up on breaking the format. Others will play it because it’s the most powerful deck in the field without easy answers and others still will run it because it’s a ‘safe deck’. Barring large bouts of variance, Valakut plays out almost every match the same way, leading people to choose it out of sheer familiarity. Since the strategic game plan is consistent from match to match, it allows the pilot to focus on the sequencing involved and plotting ahead. The fewer technical aspects to be concerned with has to help when you play against rigorous competition for the entire day.
Even though I like Kuldotha Red, I doubt it’ll be the most popular aggro deck. It simply is too linear and open to disruption for most people to feel comfortable playing it over 10 rounds of Standard. The fact that it’s a known quantity after the SCG weekend reinforced the speed and power of red to everyone. I suspect a few brave pilots will still get there since the deck has a ton of power and has a great game one against most of the field. On the other hand I believe trusty Vampires will be the most played deck, since on paper it has nearly no awful matches. From what one Vamps aficionado has told me, the current metagame has only one poor match for Mono-Black Vampires and that would be the new U/W Squadron Hawk, Stoneforge Mystic builds. I wasn’t buying it at first, but the ability to fetch up Sword of Feast and Famine is an issue when combined with the usual PW hordes and Squadron Hawk. Boros will still be at Paris in the hands of diehards, especially those happy to see aggro gain a bigger share of the metagame.
I honestly really like WW or Tempered Steel in this format, if the right builds are found it can overpower the majority of decks in the format without being KO’d by sweepers. Unfortunately I think the inherent variance is going to stop people from playing either one, despite the sheer power of a curve-out draw. I hear a small group of Americans came up with a Steel build they’re thrilled with, but playing Vector Asp to help the curve… That just sounds weird.
Moving to control decks, expect a new version of Caw-Go to take center stage. With Stoneforge Mystic having a now complete toolbox, expect to see more aggressive UW Caw-Go decks that have Bonehoard and the Swords along with one or two new attachments (Sylvok Lifestaff and Mortarpod) depending on the player. This allows the deck to take Kibler’s usual path of aggression to the next level by packing even more threats in the deck and making Squadron Hawks into Angel-esque finishers. I’ve actually seen the lists and tested them out and can assure you, gentle reader, that they’re the real deal. Expect to see them as the new face of UW.
On the other side of the spectrum some UB players are fully embracing their draw-go heritage and following the quad Jaces Ingenuity line of deck construction. While I’m aware of multiple Tezzeret builds I’m yet to be privy to a version that actually worked. My own brews have ended up short and while I don’t doubt someone has a good version, nobody I’ve been in contact with has one. I look forward to Paris if only to see if this card has legs in Standard this second.
Summary: AKA – Five Fearless Predictions
1. Valakut will be the most played deck in the field by a notable margin (Yes, I’m hedging my bets so I get at least one right, sue me.)
2. Kuldotha Red will have multiple 8-2 or better players
3. UW will usurp UB control as the king of control
4. Tezzeret will fail to outperform traditional UB despite generating a lot of buzz
General Standard Breakdown
Heart of the cards, no gambol, no future:
Kuldotha Red – Pros: T3/4 kills out the wazoo, demolishes Valakut G1, best deck in the format on the play. Also underexplored capability for really obnoxious sideboard packages (requires boarding in land) because many of the cards good against the little donks suck against Jinxed Idol, Myr Sire, Tuktuk and even Zektar Shrine Expedition. Splashes may also exist since getting Green or Black isn’t exactly the toughest with existing duals.
In all seriousness, actually not a great deck against decks with actual plays in the early game. The deck exists primarily because aggro is such a dark void right now. Testing this against any other aggressive strategy with turn one plays and Squadron Hawk was a nice joke.
Normal RDW – Pros: A reasonable chance against decks Kuldotha sucks against and can actually beat cards like Perimeter Captain.
Cons: Worse deck for the expected field and straight life-gain is a far bigger concern to this deck than Kuldotha. Answers to a Kargan Dragonlord and Koth of the Hammer are a heck of a lot more forthcoming in the average deck than to four beaters on turn two.
Vampires – Pros: Beats most of the field pre-board and its Viscera Seer, Bloodghast, Kalastria Highborn draws are the stuff nightmares are made of. Valakut still has yet to have a reasonable answer to an early Demon of Deaths Gate. Better still you finally have a real removal spell in Go for the Throat so you don’t necessarily have to splash.
Cons: Pretty bad Valakut match other than the aforementioned Demon plan and doesn’t play well against new U/W featuring pro-Vampire Sword.
WW – Pros: Kills on turn 4 with the utmost consistency, ignores damage based sweepers with Brave the Elements and Hero. Stoneforge Mystic into Bonehoard let’s it survive against the rest. WW is also one of the few decks that can actually use Leonin Arbiter in a serious fashion post-board, though this doesn’t apply to builds with Steppe Lynx. Sideboard can be tuned to auto-win every single aggro mirror in a no-contest victory.
Won a Pro Tour once.
Cons: PV hates it. Must be bad.
G/W No-Quest – Pros: I’ve always maintained that G/W Quest is the nut against all non-UW Control and even that match is pretty good now with Thrun, the Last Troll and Bonehoard. This version takes the variance out of the question and effectively assures that all control decks can prepare to be curbstomped. Why? For having minimal answers to Vengevine and mostly bad answers to Thrun/Bonehoard/Swords in general, let alone in conjunction with each other. Pretty good against other aggro by default since you have tons of CA and can max out life-gain against Red easily with Kor Firewalker and Baloth.
Cons: You turn a 50/50 with Valakut into a miserable match. Pretty much no realistic shot once Pyroclasm/Slagstorm comes out and a tough G1. GW little kid aggro losing to what amounts to the only combo deck in the metagame? Shocking.
G/W Quest: Read above, apply here. UW got slightly more manageable and the Valakut match is still a coin flip. Vampires with a full removal suite are also probably slightly unfavorable, as much as it pains me to say that.
Boros – Pros: You are favored in all the aggro matches with your cunning use of Sparkmage, equipment and flying Ancestral Recall! Yay!
Cons: You still can’t beat a reasonable Valakut draw in a million years and I’d rather have straight Red against UB and RUG every day of the week. Too many sub-optimal cards G1 in a bunch of matches.
Infect – Pros: Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition! In all seriousness, the deck is somewhat ‘real’ now and can actually play a reasonable game of Magic. I haven’t seen a good version using [card]Groundswell[/card], but I have seen a mono-black build that actually stood a fair chance against Valakut and Vampires.
Cons: Really? I mean what if they just decide to block?
Control-ly Control Controllers of Fate and Destiny:
U/B – Pros: Has Grave Titan and Inquisition of Kozilek and still has everything that put 400 of its kind into the Top 8 of the World Championships. Can even run Abyssal Persecutor again as an early Titan since Jace, GFTT and Black Sun can all kill it off without running awkward cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir.
Cons: It lacks Lotus Cobra. Seriously, I want Lotus Cobra. RUG does everything in a straight control match, but usually just does it better. Not counting that quad Jaces Ingenuity build which I’m sure tap dances on the spines of any other Island deck. Red likely also eats you alive without making concessions.
Cons: Lack of very many impact spells in the control mirror, really feels like opponents can just hang around in games while being outclassed in board position. Luminarch Ascension also just keeps getting worse every set without help from Clasp. Maybe the extra aggressive elements will help give it a better role in the RUG and UB match.
RUG – Pros: Mana accel, good PW’s, finishers that can trump Titans and can even keep in an LD package against opposing man-lands. This is the one control deck in the format I worry about the very good draws from, because when it’s firing on all cylinders winning becomes very difficult. GSZ has helped the deck gain even better tools in just about every match (though it may not be correct, it feels like it’s strong enough).
Cons: Can’t beat a Goblin Guide or Vengevine and usually has mana issues without Preordain or Lotus Cobra. The deck really just falls apart if the early spells get countered or killed and the opponent decides to actually apply pressure.
The Front Runner:
Valakut – Pros: Even more consistent than previous versions and certainly has the most powerful draws and topdecks of any deck in the format. As far as I know, Valakut has almost no bad matches outside of game one against UW and Red. Better still it can finally not run 15 Summoning Trap in the maindeck while the opponent laughs at you when you whiff.
Cons: Variance. Nice mono-green deck with 16 Mountains. Little room to outplay anyone with a functioning brain. Example – Bluffs consist of looking grimaced when casting Lotus Cobra against Blue players while holding GSZ instead of Trap. The combo of Spreading Seas and well-timed Tectonic Edge makes people weep.
Enjoy the coverage of Paris!