While I didn’t attend Pro Tour Dublin, I was still neck-deep in coverage. Rather than use my silver invite for a foreign Pro Tour I saved it for Nashville. A majority of team Ann Arbor is already qualified for Nashville so I feel good about that decision.
This Pro Tour actually shaped up pretty close to what I expected in both Limited and Constructed. I’m beginning to see some patterns emerge which I will share because you need to take the results with a grain of salt. I’m also going to go over the decks I’ll be looking into for Grand Prix Pittsburgh this weekend.
Thoughts on Pro Tour Dublin Metagaming
I heard some teams interviewed on how they approached Limited and it seemed to be familiar logic. You can take enablers or payoff cards first and everyone I heard was in favor of the setup spells. This applies to both the inspire and revolt mechanics. The pick orders in Pro Tour drafts are much different than a normal FNM because you need to anticipate how other teams evaluate certain cards to make sure your deck turns out balanced.
The 6-0 drafters had some things in common as well — they can’t seem to agree on the best colors. I had a similar experience being one of the three undefeated drafters at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. U/B was the clear choice for me, but interviews from Adrian Sullivan and Steve Rubin revealed that you could do other things to be successful. It can be dangerous to come into Limited thinking certain colors are significantly more powerful than others. The metagame of colors will adjust for power differentials making them all reasonable choices assuming they are open.
For Standard I thought the Aetherworks Marvel surprise from Pro Tour Kaladesh would play out similarly. There will be a deck that comes out of nowhere and has a huge hole, but can take the Pro Tour by storm. Mardu Vehicles ended up playing this role. It was previously viewed as the third best deck because B/G was favored. That’s not a big deal if you expect Jeskai Saheeli to be the big deck on campus.
The most played deck at recent Pro Tours are less about having staying power and more about the element of surprise. I don’t expect Grand Prix Pittsburgh to have many Mardu Vehicle decks at the top because B/G decks can be tuned to crush it with efficient removal spells and large threats.
The breakout deck is rarely the most powerful thing you can be doing because it would have been previously discovered. It’s not like the SCG Open didn’t have Mardu Vehicles in top 8s, but it was the third most powerful deck.
This is why playing control at the Pro Tour is so risky. There is a Pro Tour mainstay metagame and an RPTQ winner metagame. If you start your day off with a 3-0 in draft you have a better chance of playing against Pro Tour regulars that hate to play the best deck coming into the event. These players move metagames forward so your control deck tuned to interact with Saheeli and other expected strategies will be less effective. When you start out with a weak record you face less experienced players with other life commitments. This means you play against more tuned versions of the SCG gauntlet decks.
My focus at Pro Tours is to dominate Standard and often fall short in draft. This means the decks I build to beat the strategies with a target on their back, and I often succeed. Once I convert my weak draft results with a good Standard deck my last rounds are against the Pro Tour mainstays playing surprise strategies and lose. This puts me at a 10-6 record on average.
In my preparation for Grand Prix Pittsburgh I will shift gears to a new Standard gauntlet consisting of the top 8 decks. This weekend’s Grand Prix will weed out the successful decks from the Pro Tour that got there on the element of surprise and which ones are here to stay.
I expect Saheeli Combo to be successful now that the pilots know they will be facing hyper aggressive strategies. It’s not that a Jeskai Control shell can’t kill creatures, but they weren’t expecting the need to at the Pro Tour. I can load up on Shock and Blessed Alliance to keep up with aggro decks.
Top decks for Grand Prix Pittsburgh
I want to post a high finish at this Grand Prix to follow up my near miss for top 8 in Louisville. It would be great to add another Trophy to the RIW Hobbies mantle so I’m bringing my A game this weekend.
The entire top 8 consisted of aggressive strategies; this is very strange. It speaks to the resiliency of these strategies because typically an anti-aggro control deck slips into the top 8 based off of a great metagame call and good matchups. I imagine Grand Prix Pittsburgh will be extremely aggressive so I’m hesitant to play Scrapheap Scrounger unless I’m taking advantage of artifacts.
I saw some aggressive 1-drops in flex slots of these Mardu Vehicles decklists and I think that’s something to avoid in the near future. You would expect aggressive mirrors to be about 1-drops, but it’s more important to go over the top of your opponent and killing early threats. It’s often the case the early spells trade off with each other while the haymakers will determine who wins when the dust settles. I also think Aethersphere Harvester is a strong option to recoup life and give Scrapheap Scrounger something to do on defense.. The flex spots will be best served as Shock and Fatal Push to avoid falling too far behind in the mirror.
After watching the top 8 it appears the Mardu mirror is very dynamic so you don’t want to skew your deck too far in a single direction. There will be some games that are over in 4 turns with an aggressive draw.
I have no intention of playing an aggressive deck when it’s public enemy number one. There are too many ways to blow up a creature with a single mana. For this reason Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will be great. When the opponent plans to blow up all of your creatures it’s correct to expand your threat vectors.
I split the top 4 of an SCG IQ a couple weeks ago with B/G losing only to a near replica piloted by Brian Demars in the first round. Since B/G has access to Grasp of Darkness, Natural State, and Fatal Push I can take down Mardu Vehicles. Overall I though the deck was powerful, but could use some upgrades:
B/G Midrange ? Aether Revolt Standard | Kyle Boggemes
- Creatures (25)
- 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 2 Mindwrack Demon
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- Planeswalkers (2)
- 2 Liliana, the Last Hope
I found Rishkar to be underwhelming as I rarely had the nut draw. It works best when you cast it on turn three after a Winding Constrictor, but the snake typically dies on sight. When your opponent can’t beat Winding Constrictor on turn two it’s often game over anyway. I would be more comfortable when my cards are more powerful in isolation. Rishkar also got weaker in the post-board games because my opponent would board in additional removal. Who wants to play a 3/3 for 3? I trimmed down to two and made them better by adding more 2-drops such as Gifted Aetherborn. One Rishkar is preferred, but I needed more payoff cards for Winding Constrictor.
I added Liliana, the Last Hope to add consistency. It feels great when you can -2 and return the Winding Constrictor or Walking Ballista that died and have a Planeswalker still on the battlefield. There aren’t any other Planeswalkers in the deck which makes delirium easier to achieve. Since Emrakul, the Promised End isn’t in the deck anymore I don’t need seven card types in the graveyard, but I want to consistently hit four. I like this grindy gal against Mardu Vehicles because she kills early creatures and shrinks Scrapheap Scrounger which screws up crewing scenarios.
The +1 ability is also very powerful with Walking Ballista. I can remove a +1+1 counter and then give the same creature -2-1 to kill plenty of threats. It also helps me grind harder in the mid game. It’s deadly to rebuy a Verdurous Gearhulk or Walking Ballista after the game slows.
I found the main creatures such as Mindwrack Demon and Verdurous Gearhulk to be weak in multiples, but the first one was powerful. For this reason I failed over to Ishkanah, Grafwidow to increase the utility of Traverse the Ulvenwald and Liliana. I cut down to two Mindwrack Demons to lower the curve.
Gifted Aetherborn is strong so I’m playing three copies in the main. I found the best draws involving a 2-drop creature instead of leaving up a removal spell. Many of the threats have an effect when leaving the battlefield so I don’t want to be defensive. Mindwrack Demon is great against Gideon out of Mardu Vehicles, but I want more cheap threats to soften the blow of Unlicensed Disintegration. It’s also terrifying to dump a bunch of +1+1 counters on the aetherborn from Verdurous Gearhulk so it has synergy with the primary threats.
The Game 1 matchup against Saheeli Rai is weak, but I feel great post-board. Transgress the Mind and To the Slaughter worked perfectly to disrupt the combo as well as the Torrential Gearhulk side plan.
Zero Saheeli in the Pro Tour top 8!?
I loaned my copy to Ann Arbor teammate, Stu Parnes, for a PPTQ where he lost to Mardu Vehicles twice. This deck clearly needs to adapt to the pressure.
If I were to play Jeskai Saheeli I would look at something like this:
Jeskai Saheeli ? Aether Revolt Standard | Kyle Boggemes
- Instants (20)
- 2 Immolating Glare
- 2 Negate
- 3 Anticipate
- 3 Disallow
- 3 Glimmer of Genius
- 3 Shock
- 4 Harnessed Lightning
- Lands (26)
- 2 Plains
- 6 Island
- 2 Needle Spires
- 2 Port Town
- 2 Wandering Fumarole
- 4 Aether Hub
- 4 Inspiring Vantage
- 4 Spirebluff Canal
It will be important to remember that the Saheeli combo will get an edge when it’s not the primary concern of the masses. Despite Saheeli not being represented in the top 8 the deck is still incredibly powerful. I think it’s foolish to disregard the strategy in the short run.
In light of the Pro Tour results I’m pressing the gas on removal spells. Shock is great against Mardu Vehicles and passable in the mirror. Immolating Glare is great against Heart of Kiran and I expect to see more of this removal spell in the coming weeks.
I didn’t see many Saheeli decks in the feature match, but I expect the Jeskai mirror to be defined by Dragonmaster Outcast. This sideboard transitions from the Copycat combo to spamming outcasts and Torrential Gearhulks. Both of these threats are mana-intensive so I’ve included a 27th land in the board. Dispel doesn’t counter either sides of the combo, but they are efficient and protect Dragonmaster Outcast.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance was a breakout card at the Pro Tour and I can’t say I’m surprised. If I cast her on turn four and kill a threat the opponent needs to respect the combo. I can use the +1 ability the following turn to make Red mana and combo out of nowhere.
Release the Gremlins is great against Mardu Vehicles. It’s a way to kill Cultivator's Caravan, Aethersphere Harvester, Heart of Kiran, and clues while leaving 2/2s to block. It could also be a backbreaking spell against the occasional Metalwork Colossus deck.
This is a control deck at the core so it will be more powerful as the metagame develops. It fits my playstyle so I have a chance of playing it at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, but B/G is my current favorite.
Is the Saheeli combo safe from the banhammer?
It’s clear the Saheeli combo can be contained with enough pressure. The real question is if these aggressive decks are actually good once players start packing the hate.
B/G Delirium was oppressive for a time because the decks that beat it weren’t consistent enough to win a tournament. When one deck becomes well-rounded and only loses to a single tier 2 strategy we have a problem. TIme will tell if Mardu Vehicles can keep Saheeli from winning every tournament once players adapt.
Verdict: The Saheeli combo is safe from the March banhammer.
Quick Legacy and Modern update
Before I go I will share my updated Jeskai Flash deck in Modern and Miracles list I used to recently win a Savannah tournament:
Miracles ? Legacy | Kyle Boggemes
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Counterbalance
- Lands (21)
- 2 Plains
- 4 Island
- 1 Karakas
- 2 Arid Mesa
- 2 Tundra
- 2 Volcanic Island
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 4 Scalding Tarn
Jeskai Flash ? Modern | Kyle Boggemes
- Creatures (14)
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 2 Vendilion Clique
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Spell Queller
- Instants (18)
- 2 Cryptic Command
- 2 Spell Snare
- 3 Lightning Helix
- 3 Logic Knot
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Path to Exile
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Serum Visions
- Lands (24)
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Plains
- 3 Island
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Sacred Foundry
- 2 Glacial Fortress
- 2 Steam Vents
- 4 Celestial Colonnade
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 4 Scalding Tarn
B/G seems very well-positioned to handle Mardu Vehicles assuming you want to beat them. Mardu looked great on camera so it will be very popular. Jeskai Saheeli will still be present, but took a huge hit last weekend. Control decks need to be able to beat all of Mardu’s various threats and efficient removal which will be a challenge. Gideon gives them a diverse threat base.
We have beaten Mardu Vehicles before and can do it again. I was surprised at the results from Pro Tour Aether Revolt. The next couple of weeks are going to be ripe with changes in the ranks.
Thanks for reading,