As I watched the games unfold, I remembered back to the last few years and the major decks represented in the Standard portion of the event. Last year, you had a plethora of decks to choose from. Izzetron, Solar Flare, Snakes, Zoo, Heartbeat, and even Glare were all viable options for the Standard rounds. The previous year had Tooth and Nail, Jushi man, Red Deck Wins, Tron, and even White Weenie. Again, another wide open format.
And then there was 2004. Man, do I want to forget that year. One deck absolutely defined the metagame. You either played it or a deck designed to beat it. Everything else was chaff. Maybe you've heard of it. Affinity, anyone? True, Tooth and Nail was around then as well, but it honestly was only able to survive because it could play artifact removal for Affinity. Regardless of which road you chose, most players agree that the format just wasn't any fun because it was so one-sided.
Enter this year. Just like the previous two years, the format seems wide open. There are many different deck types that, when you lay them out look like a Venn diagram. Take Touch-Blink and replace the red with green and you get the blue-white-green Blink decks. Replace the Momentary Blink engine with a Chord of the Calling engine and you get Omnichord. The same is true for the aggro decks, as well. The difference between the Rakdos and Gruul decks is really only whether you run Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant.
It's kind of cool to think that despite the fact that these changes are very small, the effect is very profound. All of the decks, though similar, play very differently. This means that those players that truly tested well gain a tremendous advantage since the small changes have a large impact on how the games play. It also means that since most of the decks are tweaked very slightly from the rest of the similar decks, it's sometimes hard to know exactly what to expect from your opponent. This is where the strong testers again have an advantage. They know what to expect from decks, and are often able to figure out what the innovations in the opposing decks are.
This year, there are a bunch of high-quality, established players rising to the top tables. Right now, there are three former National champions, a Pro Tour champion, and a slew of other very good known commodities in striking distance of the Top 8. Not to be outdone, though, there are a few very strong performances by some relatively unknown players. If Magic history has taught us anything, it's to not discount a player at Nationals just because you don't recognize the name. They could be the next big thing.
Here's the breakdown of all the archetypes within striking distance of the final table: