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Pro Tour Kaladesh Recap


Aetherworks Marvel
Whew! What a week! The Pro Tour took a detour into paradise on earth, landing us for the fifth time (and my third time) in sunny Honolulu. Shota Yasooka showed us why he's one of the game's best, giving a master class on elite play in the finals. I urge everyone to re-watch his matches, and try to spot differences where you might not have seen the plays that he made. One of the best ways to get better is to recreate complex game states and evaluate the best play in a variety of positions, and nothing offers up opportunities for this like intricate, high-stakes Pro Tour matches.

The real story of the tournament, though, is not just Shota's mastery, but the metagame shifts that players brought to bear at the highest-level tournament of Kaladesh Standard, specifically the emergence of Aetherworks Marvel as a non-interactive combo deck that reminds me of Dragonstorm or Jeskai Ascendancy combo in previous Standard formats. Pretty clever, Wizards, taking away our Modern Pro Tour and turning Standard into Modern for the first PT of the new season! And just like turn-three Karns battle with Goblin Guide-Wild Nacatl starts in Modern, turn-four Ulamogs battle with Toolcraft Exemplar-Smuggler's Copter starts in Standard now. Even more telling, many of the pros I spoke to at the PT were complaining about the non-interactivity of the format and the stupidity of a top-tier gold-fishing archetype shaping the direction of Standard. If that isn't a sign of a Modern-lite format, I don't know what is.

Then Shota won the event with a Grixis Control deck with a bunch of maindeck Painful Truths. Good game, indeed.

What an interesting deck. Shota took advantage of the power of Torrential Gearhulk (who really had a coming-out party this past weekend) and benefitted from an amazing matchup against the popular Aetherworks Marvel combo deck. Leveraging a play skill advantage in the elimination rounds, Shota immediately tripled the Blue Gearhulk’s price and shook up Standard for the foreseeable weeks.

Yasooka’s mastery aside, the not-so-secret information that should really shock those of us who are preparing for more Standard evolution in the coming weeks is hidden in the four decklists of the players who went 9-1 in Constructed. All four were U/W Flash. All four! Now that tells a story quite different from the Standard metagame leading into the weekend. I’ll use my good friend Joey Manner’s eighth place list for reference, but all of the 9-1 lists demonstrate that Spell Queller was Standard’s actual biggest winner at this Pro Tour.

Spell Queller
Why did these decks succeed so much when they were relatively unknown quantities going into the PT? The answer is the prevalence of Aetherworks Marvel, which simultaneously pushed down the midrange-y B/G decks that would ordinarily prey on a deck like U/W Flash, while also being a dream matchup for the Spell Queller archetype. B/G decks with Liliana, the Last Hope, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Grasp of Darkness can never hope to beat a Marvel deck, but Delirium has a definite structural advantage over a deck playing Reflector Mage, Spell Queller, and a pile of 2/1 fliers. B/G Delirium also beats up on control pretty well by casting Emrakul early, backing it up with recursion and disruption, and presenting resilient threats that don’t die to the popular removal. Harnessed Lightning is a joke, as is Galvanic Bombardment. The combination of pressure and the threat of an Emrakul endgame is lights-out for both Carlos’ and Shota’s decks from the finals. Unfortunately, we can’t simply play B/G, as we’ll lose to Marvel! You almost have to play Blue in your deck in order to combat the threat of Aetherworks Marvel, but you want to have some of the best haymakers against decks like U/W flash. What to do?

Well, the answer may lie in the deck I was initially very excited to play at the Pro Tour. I’ve been talking about the power of Key to the City in its ability to smooth out draws and enable instant-speed Madness without relying on a fragile discard outlet. Rather than Cathartic Reunion forcing you to have a glut of unwanted cards to discard at sorcery speed, Key allows a subtle effect over the course of the game, that you can take advantage of whenever you don’t need the extra mana the next turn. Key to the City and Fiery Temper is my favorite interaction, but casting instant-speed Voldaren Pariah is a close second. You can play Grixis Zombies or just straight U/B Zombies, and you’d probably be a slight favorite against Spirits, Marvel, and control. Let’s explore those options, starting with a list very similar to the one my teammate Philippe Gareau took to a 6-4 record in Standard.

Now, obviously the two-color deck has a better mana base than the three-color one, and a smooth path to beating up on Aetherworks Marvel. The biggest appeal to me is that Liliana is actually quite good against Vehicles, U/W Flash, and control! That ultimate on Liliana is generally pretty tough to beat for a deck like Shota’s, so slamming it on turn three seems like exactly where I want to be. Killing Veteran Motorist or Selfless Spirit for value is just good clean fun, as well! Part of my discomfort with recommending the three-color deck is that it needs to play Cultivator's Caravan in order to support its tough mana requirements, and Liliana fights with Caravan for the 3-drop slot. Thus, I will most likely be registering U/B Key for the Grand Prix and hope that my familiarity with the archetype and its newfound positioning in the metagame can bring me some sweet, sweet Top 8 glory!

U/B Zombies isn’t the only way to go, though. Makihito Mihara played an awesome-looking four-color Emerge deck that might be able to cover all of the relevant bases in Standard. If you think you can draw the Kozilek’s Returns early and the chain of Elder Deep-Fiends late, you should strongly consider a stint with this beauty:

I’m not a huge fan of Perpetual Timepiece over another Grapple or two, and I’d like a main-deck Ishkanah as a bullet for Traverse the Ulvenwald to find against Spirits decks, but the fact that you get to play Ceremonious Rejection for beating Marvel, Elder Deep-Fiend, and Kozilek's Return for aggro, and the consistency offered by Traverse the Ulvenwald, Smuggler's Copter, and Oath of Jace means that this is a sweet deck for anyone who wants to try to re-live the glory days of Sultai Emerge from last Standard.

In case you want to go off on your own and would rather have a set of guidelines than a list of potential decks to play, here are Ben’s Golden Rules for Standard Success as of the first week of the post-PT format.

  1. You must be able to beat Aetherworks Marvel, including addressing the sideboard juke of Tireless Tracker, Longtusk Cub, or Bristling Hydra. This means that if you aren’t playing blue, you’d better be very, very fast, or have Pick the Brain and a bunch of other discard to try to beat it. Even then, you probably need to play blue to have an advantage in the matchup.
  2. You must be ready to beat Flash. U/W is real, it just crushed the PT, and it’s the kind of deck that strong players gravitate towards. This means cards like Ishkanah, Kozilek's Return, or Liliana, the Last Hope are going to be valuable this weekend.
  3. Control is rearing its head in this format, and that means you need to have a plan to attack the matchup. For a couple seasons now, we haven’t had a very grindy control deck in Standard, but Torrential Gearhulk is changing that the same way Snapcaster Mage brought new life to control during its tenure. Whether it’s Planeswalkers, Negates, a recursion engine, or an endgame that involves throwing Emrakul at your opponent a few times, control decks in this format are eminently beatable from multiple angles. It’s just on us players to pack the tools we need!

Now, there is one deck that I have seen in the format that I would like to discuss as an option for players who want to play a midrange deck with an infinite combo. The deck covers a lot of the bases previously discussed, but with Drowner of Hope and Eldrazi Displacer, a single Panharmonicon lets us go crazy. The nice thing is, with some counterspells, some removal, and an engine to beat control, this deck actually encompasses the three rules for success in Standard. Let’s dive right into it!

Displacer/Thought-Knot is the kind of lock that Aetherworks Marvel can’t hope to beat, and Spell Queller puts the nail in the coffin. With combo covered, we just have to ensure that we’re not going to get run over by Vehicles and that a sideboard full of counterspells puts us in the driver’s seat against control. I suspect that the latter is true, but only testing will bear out the former.

That said, I can’t be sure that this is the most fun deck in Standard. It sure does look like a blast to play, though. A lot of the individual card choices are up in the air, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up piloting this at the Grand Prix this weekend if the Zombie horde doesn’t work out. Worst case scenario, I blow out some people with an infinite combo and have a great time doing it. If you want a similar tournament experience, I can’t recommend this archetype enough. Whatever you choose, remember that Standard has a lot of room for innovation, as long as you adhere to a few simple guidelines. Good luck!

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