The Best Decks from Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar

This is a recap of the Standard decks that looked the best at the Pro Tour. This means I won’t cover the entire Top 8, as the PT is a split-format event and so many times the best Standard decks actually miss Top 8 or only put up a single entry. I’ll also be focusing more on decks that I think are going to shift the metagame, which means GW Megamorph and Abzan aren’t here. Finally, I’m writing this while the Top 8 is going on, which means I may not explicitly cover the winner. With that out of the way, let’s begin!

Day Two Conversion Rates

While not a foolproof stat by any means, looking at the overall conversion rate from Day 1 to Day 2 of the Pro Tour is always an interesting big-picture look at the field. You can check out the full breakdown here.

The primary takeaway is that while the established decks put up fine numbers, Esper Control had the best mainstream deck conversion by a fair margin. In fact, it was significantly better than Esper Dragons and it’ll be interesting to see if everyone moves toward that iteration of the deck instead. Also notable is that the two-color decks generally dominated the numbers game, Atarka Red was huge and GW Megamorph crushed the tri-color variants people thought were the obvious evolution. Both Naya and Bant had a sub-50% conversion rate and ranked as some of the worst decks you could’ve brought to the Pro Tour (Sorry Paul!).

Dark Jeskai

Jon Finkel and Owen Turtenwald both cruised their way to the Top 8 of the Pro Tour with a Dark Jeskai build more closely resembling a Modern deck than something you’d find in Standard:

The Pantheon moved away from early pressure via small creatures toward a board control deck with some incremental damage until Mantis Rider and Tasigur, the Golden Fang take the game over. Personally I’m all for this advancement. Jace may earn his weight, but given the number of Silkwraps and Complete Disregards, Hangarback is no longer worthwhile. Seeker would play better in this build with the lower curve, but just isn’t high enough impact. If you had to play a 2-drop, then Soulfire makes sense as an additional way to regain some life other than Ojutai’s Command and gives the deck another way to lock up a late game.

The second big shift is the change of support cards to impact cards. Between Kolaghan’s Command and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, the deck is much better at holding onto the initiative and forcing opponents to have multiple answers. Buying back Mantis Rider multiple times or going Mantis Rider, Tasigur with Dispel backup is a big game.

Finally, I just want to note Mystic Monastery in the mana base as a hedge for certain basics and battleland draws. There’s been considerable debate whether or not tri-lands are playable, even going so far as to say that Evolving Wilds is the place to be. Quickly looking over the top Standard deck lists I would say there’s still no consensus, at least for Dark Jeskai. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an optimal mana base by the end of the format.


Nope, that’s not a typo. Ryoichi Tamada brought plain Jane Jeskai to the table and beat a whole lot of amazing Magic players on the way to his PT finals.

Tamada cleverly avoided the 2-drop pitfall by just running all of them except Soulfire. He runs enough cheap spells for Seeker of the Way to matter and the quad-Jeskai Charm emphasizes the aggressive role this deck can play. This is what I was talking about last week in regards to optimizing the use of Gideon. Notably his sideboard allows him to either keep with the aggressive role by bringing in a few ways to counter removal and a few heavier threats or simply side out his aggressive creatures and take on a controlling role.

One of the biggest strengths of Jeskai is this duality it can bring to the table post-board. Tamada took full advantage of it in his sideboarding against Jon Finkel in a Jeskai vs. Dark Jeskai mirror and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was one of his biggest advantages this weekend. If decks shift toward making Crackling Doom a non-factor and sideboarding into a controlling role becomes the norm then we could see normal Jeskai potentially make a reappearance. Take note of Mastery and Wingmate Roc, because I’d be shocked if we didn’t see more of those inserted into Jeskai builds as the format progresses. I wouldn’t mind a Felidar Cub or two here though.

UB Aristocrats

While the wheels fell off for Christian Calcano on Day 2, a number of pros I spoke with after Saturday said that the deck was actually very well positioned for the Pro Tour and it was surprisingly good for being made up of all draft uncommons. To me this is one of the ideal Aristocrats decks, you get to run countermagic to protect yourself and Whirler Rogue gives you a solid token generator that can potentially just end the game with Nantuko Husk. It also gains a ton of cheap interaction with quad-Murderous Cut and Sidisi’s Faithful!?! Yes, Faithful gives you a cheap sacrifice outlet to flip Liliana and interact with the opponent’s board, something many Aristocrats decks lack.

While it may not have the raw power of multi-colored Aristocrats builds, this is one of the most interesting builds I’ve seen so far. It keeps all the important elements of the Aristocrats deck, but instead of building on top of the natural resiliency in the deck, it chooses more interactive elements. Of course you could hedge and just play Matt Nass’s Rally version, which gives you some interactive elements and the ability to just end the game out of nowhere.

Bant Tokens

Sam Black broke it. He had the best deck for the Pro Tour and because it didn’t Top 8 there’s a decent chance it continues to fly under the radar. Among the four who played the deck, Bant Tokens had a 75% win rate and Ben Stark called it the best Standard deck he’s played since Caw Blade.

In much the same way I felt about Dark Jeskai week one, Sam’s deck demolishes the common angles of attack in this format. Crackling Doom? OK, you get to eat… Nissa? An Ally token? Please do go on. There’s no Jace to kill, so Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse aren’t doing much. OK, so what about Radiant Flames to just wipe the board? Secure the Wastes can repopulate the board immediately and then Sam can just kill you in a turn with Retreat to Emeria. If your plan is to jam a bunch of creatures early and race, well the deck can flood the board easily, has a bunch of cheap exile removal, and can win races out of nowhere with Gideon or Retreat. Maybe he just decides to clear the board out first with Planar Outburst!

In fact the only mainstream deck I think the deck has a bad matchup against is Esper Dragons, simply because 4s and 5s don’t match up well against countermagic and Duress. Otherwise it seems favored against everything in the field, especially if they don’t know the composition of the deck. I had one game on Magic Online where I thought I had lethal with Dragons, was at 16 life, and my opponent only had a 2/2 Knight Ally and GGWWW up. My opponent simply cast Secure the Wastes for 4, untapped, played Retreat to Emeria, Windswept Heath to pump the team twice and attacked for 16. Having to respect an empty board from a GW deck is a scary proposition.

What’s particularly odd for this archetype is that none of the Glorious Anthem effects are narrow or particularly vulnerable. Retreat can be played and immediately trigger before being destroyed and the same goes for Gideon. Both of them fill the board when there aren’t creatures around to pump.

The key to fighting this deck will be to retool your interaction. Enchantment hate gets a lot stronger to keep Retreat in line and for destroying all the Silkwrap and Stasis Snare nonsense Bant can throw at you. Duress hits the majority of key spells in the deck and the information can be huge. Specialized cards like Virulent Plague can be used to disrupt the deck and force it to rely on enchantment destruction or Quarantine Field. Many of the current decks aren’t well configured to make this swap though, so we could see a rather significant metagame shift if the deck does catch on.

That’s all for now, next article we’ll go over some of the fallout from the Pro Tour and take a closer look at the Esper control shells that couldn’t make it over the hump Day 2.

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