Last weekend featured a Standard Grand Prix triple-header with events being held across the world, in Shanghai, Warsaw and Atlanta. This was the perfect follow-up to Pro Tour Ixalan and the metagame that was established there, and looking at all three of these Grand Prix events together provides a comprehensive look at the metagame that greatly expands what we learned at the Pro Tour. These events allowed players to pick up the decks they saw at the Pro Tour and play them for themselves. With thousands of players playing at the Grand Prix compared to hundreds at the Pro Tour, there's much more data behind the results, so we can analyze and use it more reliably. If a deck from the Pro Tour did well at the Grand Prix, it's more likely to be strong and not just a fluke, so I'll be on the lookout for any rogue decks that are doing better than expected. These events also enabled the pros to reexamine their decks and retool them for the new metagame, so there is plenty of tech abound in these highly refined decks. If you want to netdeck a Temur or Ramunap Red list, these Grand Prix results are the place to look.
Looking through the Top 8 results of the Grand Prix, what stands out is the dominance of Temur strategies and Ramunap Red, as expected. Temur variants held nine of the 24 Top 8 slots, and Red held six. Six of the nine Temur decks splashed into black, with three playing just three colors. The splash is designed to give an edge against the three-color decks, but it comes at a cost against the Red decks, where the slower cards and Swamp are a liability. As far as Four-Color lists go, I'd look to the one played to the Top 8 of Shanghai by Yuuya Watanabe.
The deck includes Vizier of Many Faces as a main deck “sideboard” card for the mirror match, and the sideboard tech of Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh to go even bigger than Vraska, Relic Seeker in the mirror. The sideboard also contains some new tech with Treasure Map and Search for Azcanta as card advantage engines. These are fantastic against control decks, and I suspect they may even be used in the grindy mirror games.
For a Temur list, I'd look towards the one played by Corey Baumeister, a copy of which in the hands of Brad Nelson nearly made Top 8 too, and is the further-tuned list of the deck Brian Braun-Duin played at the Pro Tour and advocated in his article last week.
The deck's most important technology is playing three Abrade in the main deck, which is perfect for fighting back against God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, killing Winding Constrictor and Hostage Taker from Sultai and hosing Mardu with Heart of Kiran, while moving Magma Spray into the sideboard for aggressive decks. River's Rebuke in the sideboard is ideal in the mirror match and can even beat otherwise impossible board states created by The Scarab God and Vraska, the Relic Seeker.
The go-to Red deck of the weekend must be that played to the Top 8 of Shanghai by Yam Wing Chun, who reached the Top 8 of the Pro Tour with the deck, and nearly reached it again at Pro Tour Ixalan.
His tech card is Invigorated Rampage in the sideboard, which can push creatures through Temur's blockers and has once personally given me a sound beating in a game online when targeting a Hazoret the Fervent.
What's more exciting is some rather-teched out Red lists in the Top 8 of Atlanta.
Trey Van Cleave reached the Top 8 playing a full four main deck copies of Harsh Mentor and Rampaging Ferocidon, which gives the deck a huge game against Temur by punishing its key cards in the matchup.
A more extreme take on Red, played by Ben Stark all the way to the finals, is to trim down to just one Hazoret the Fervent in the main deck and fill the space with Sand Strangler, which trades aggression for value and the ability to grind. The deck is designed not as a hyper-aggressive deck but as a midrange deck, with three Chandra, Torch of Defiance and 11 burn spells to protect them, meaning three Glorybringer is perfect at the top of the curve.
A highlight of the deck is Treasure Map, which gives a color that otherwise lacks card draw a very potent way to generate card advantage, and gives away the fact that this deck is designed to win a long game. The mana base includes Dunes of the Dead, which helps support Sand Strangler, but also gives the deck even more fuel into the late game by providing a source of battlefield presence and pure value when sacrificed by Ramunap Ruins.
Sultai, which surprised everyone by winning the Pro Tour, has failed to gain any significant popularity, but a copy reaching the Top 4 in Warsaw is a sign the deck is very competitive and has the potential to perform at any event.
God-Pharaoh's Gift only earned one player a Top 8 last weekend, in Warsaw.
It appears that the deck will struggle to maintain a place in the metagame. This combo-style deck is disruptable, and with its presence known, players have reacted by playing more hosers like Abrade, Scavenger Grounds and Deathgorge Scavenger. It's tough to fight through prepared opponents like they were last weekend, and they are likely to be from here on out.
The deck will have to evolve, and the evolution is already occurring in the form of Blue-Black Midrange decks. These decks are an evolution of Esper God-Pharaoh's Gifts deck, which have moved beyond their sideboard plan of siding out God-Pharaoh's Gift and becoming a fair deck, to removing the card entirely and instead focusing on being a pure midrange deck. A Blue-Black Midrange reanimator-style deck reached the Top 16 in Shanghai.
A more streamlined version without the graveyard focus has been popularized online.
The biggest draw to the deck is its great mana base, which allows it to consistently cast double-black spells like Walk the Plank. With a playset, the deck is all about supporting The Scarab God with plenty of great creatures to eternalize for value, and Champion of Wits, Hostage Taker, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury are among the best of what Standard has to offer. Chart a Course is a standout and generates pure card advantage in a deck with plenty of creatures to enable raid.
|Chart a Course||
The most exciting part of the Grand Prix weekend were the various rogue decks that put up strong finishes.
Atlanta was won by an Esper Approach of the Second Sun deck. Approach of the Second Sun had a great run at the Pro Tour in Guillaume Matignon's Jeskai deck, and while it seemed more of a novelty than the future of the metagame, here is evidence the strategy has a place.
I like that the deck prioritizes sweepers, going deeper than set of Settle the Wreckage with a pair of Fumigate. Watching the Pro tour coverage, it seemed like Guillaume always needed a Settle Wreckage and he would win the game, so adding more main deck sweepers makes sense, particularly when it's great against the creature decks that make up the vast majority of the metagame. Black provides Fatal Push, which is even more efficient than the Harnessed Lightning that red provided Guillaume's deck, along with Vraska's Contempt in the sideboard to stop the most troubling cards for control, Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God.
The highest performing truly rogue deck is the Grixis Thopters deck played to the Top 4 of Shanghai.
Before the Pro Tour I came across a very similar deck played by Craig Wescoe to a 5-0 finish in an online league, and he shared a video of him playing the deck in an article, and this Grand Prix version is similar. The idea is that energy can be used to generate Thopters with Whirler Virtuoso and Aether Swooper, which in turn enable improvise from Maverick Thopterist and Reverse Engineer, which generate a lot of value. The biggest addition to this deck from Craig's list is a full set of Decoction Module, which generates an energy from each creature that enters play, which means it combines very well with all of the Thopter generators. It is also a very nice value engine in the late game when there is mana available to bounce creatures and replay them. The cards may seem underpowered on their own, but they come together into something greater, and after playing a ton of Affinity in Modern lately I have to give a deck like this respect.
An alternative take on the deck finished 5-0 in a league online.
The deck gives up the Artificer subtheme and takes a more aggressive approach, with its key card being Favorable Winds, which is excellent with Thopters. It's supported with a ton of other flyers, with Glorybringer at the top of the curve and giving the deck a Power Play capable of winning games on its own, something the previous version lacked. It also uses flying from Heart of Kiran and four Aethersphere Harvester, which are supported by Thopter Tokens and six Flying Men. Siren Stormtamer protects key creatures from removal, and Hope of Ghirapur can Time Walk an opponent on a key turn. Pia Nalaar helps hold the deck together by crewing vehicles and providing some excellent abilities to combine with Thopter Tokens. This sort of approach gives up some of the great synergistic draws of the Artificer version, but this more aggressive flying approach has merit.
The Top 8 in Warsaw was graced by a copy of Green-Blue Pummeler, complete with the newest tech of four Cartouche of Knowledge to push Electrostatic Pummeler and other Energy creatures through the red zone.
The flying effect is so good in this deck that it even includes a copy of One With the Wind as an additional copy. I've seen many versions of this deck that include Trophy Mage to find its namesake card, but this version instead focuses on consistency and maxes out on the other staple energy creatures so it can win plenty of games without comboing off with Electrostatic Pummeler.
A completely rogue Grixis Energy deck nearly cracked the Top 8 in Atlanta.
Last week I discussed how Seth's Sultai Energy deck was essentially just an alternative Temur, and I shared a Jund Energy deck I found online that gave up blue, but I had not considered giving up green and playing Grixis! The deck uses Whirler Virtuoso and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner as its payoffs, with Harnessed Lighting as support. Its black-based mana allows it to play Gifted Aetherborn – which is great against both Red and Temur – and Vraska's Contempt, one of the best removal spells in Standard and one of the advantages of Sultai compared to Temur. Blue opens up Champion of Wits as card selection and value, along with power cards like Hostage Taker and The Scarab God. The deck is full of nothing but some of the best cards in Standard, including a set of Glorybringer at the top of the curve, just like in Temur Energy. The only card that earns a second look is Doomfall, which gives the deck a nice flexible play to support its disruptive midrange plan.
What's your favorite deck from last weekend?