by Adam StyborskiSunday, 3:18 p.m.Round 14 Metagame Breakdown
by Nate PriceSunday, 3:06p.m.Round 12 Roundup - Almost Mirrors
by Adam StyborskiSunday, 1:13 p.m.Round 12 Metagame Breakdown
by Nate PriceSunday, 12:38 p.m.Round 10 Roundup - The Big Five
by Adam StyborskiSunday, 12:12 p.m.Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
by Adam StyborskiSunday, 10:21 a.m.Day 1 Undefeated Decklists
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Blog
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Sunday, 10:21 a.m. – Day 1 Undefeated Decklists
The undefeated decklists from Day 1 look just like the top archetypes we've seen across the event, with one exception. There are two Esper Control decks, played by Brandon Burks and Jack Fogle, one Orzhov Midrange in the hands of Daryl Neiswenter, one Mono-Black Devotion championed by Brand Nelson, and the surprise undefeated White Aggro deck brought by Justin Herrell.
Sunday, 12:12 p.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
After looking across the top tables throughout Day 1, it was clear that several decks from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros were dominant here as well. The entire Day 2 field drove this home.
Yesterday's top tables showed Esper Control and Orzhov Midrange were the largest pieces, but the entire field is a different story. Mono-Blue Devotion is on top, followed by Colossal Gruul. What these decks have in common is devotion, and some copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. The ability to quickly power out an impressive Master of Waves or monstrous Polukranos, World Eater are devastating to opponents, and therefore appealing.
Both devotion decks present threats that have to be answered. Master of Waves is an army in a can backed up by the indestructible Thassa, God of the Sea and her ability to make creatures unblockable. Polukranos, World Eater is an efficient fatty that can remove an opposing army in an instant, and is surrounded by planeswalkers and smaller creatures. Colossal Gruul can both explode onto the battlefield with a strong Burning-Tree Emissary and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or Xenagos, The Reveler draw, but can also catch up with Domri Rade and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Quickly applying efficient pressure to opponents works, regardless of the colors used.
The other devotion deck hanging out in the field is the mono-black variety, headlined by Day 1 undefeated player Brad Nelson. Creating Pack Rat tokens and draining huge chunks of life with Gray Merchant of Asphodel is supported well with a suite of card draw, removal, and hand disruption.
It's the latter pieces that tie together with the other two well-represented decks: Esper Control and Orzhov Midrange. The ability to pick apart the creatures opponents play while simultaneously ripping key supporting cards from their hand is critical for all three decks. In fact, adding up all of these "black-based removal and hand disruption" decks revealed half the field is based around black.
While it looked like we would have a weekend of monoblue versus the world it became a monoblack versus the world run for Top 8. (Brad Nelson was still undefeated as of round eleven with his Mono-Black Devotion deck.)
Why did so many decks jump onto the black bandwagon? It really is all about the suite of disruption. Thoughtseize is a staple in Modern for the same reasons it's been effective here in Standard: It transforms opponents' great starting hands into much weaker starts. Even in matchups where the black player feels it's in the opponent's favor, Thoughtseize keeps them in the game. After that, black removal can handle just about every creature you can imagine.
All this didn't mean there wasn't room for other decks to succeed. Justin Herrell went undefeated on Day 1 with a Mono-White Aggro deck, and across the less represented decks were a slew of other options.
While the sheer number of decks based on the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros was expected, the performance of black-based decks was the bigger story today. Blue was the story in Dublin, but the Top 8 of Louisville is shaping up in a different direction.
Sunday, 12:35 p.m. – Round 10 Roundup, Looking at the Big Five
There are five decks that are running roughshod over the field here at Grand Prix Louisville: Monoblue Devotion, Monoblack Devotion, Orzhov Midrange, Colossal Gruul, and Esper Control. At one point yesterday, they made up over two-thirds of the decks represented on the top tables. Esper Control, Orzhov Midrange, and Colossal Gruul led the charge, forming the nucleus of decks at the top and never wavering over the course of the day. The two devotion decks seemed to flit in and out, though the Day 2 metagame numbers show that, while they may have dipped from the very top, they certainly didn't disappear.
This round, we were able to find excellent matchups between these marquee decks in order to give a fairly good view of what has been happening around the upper half of the tournament all weekend long. Under the cameras, Brad Nelson's Monoblack Devotion deck fought desperately against Brandon Burks's Esper Control deck to determine who would remain undefeated in the tournament, while Andrew Cuneo's Orzhov Midrange deck fought against Jon Bolding's Colossal Gruul. Behind them, Gaudenis Vidugiris brought Monoblue Devotion to bear against Brian Braun-Duin's Monoblack Devotion deck, in a fight to see which God reigns supreme this week. The final match pitted Todd Anderson's Monoblack Devotion against Jon Stern's Gruul Beats.
Anderson and Stern were the first two to finish their match. Anderson managed to stick an Underworld Connections early and used the card advantage it provided to whittle away Stern's early forces, keeping him from getting too far ahead. Stern summed up the game nicely when he asked Anderson, "Are you just trying to decide which removal spell to use?" Anderson just smiled and replied, "Something like that." Eventually, with all of the time in the world, Anderson put enough devotion on the table to start casting two expensive spells a turn with his Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, taking the first game of his match.
That is exactly how Monoblack Devotion wants to approach the Gruul deck—take advantage of the massive amount of removal at its desposal to parry early offensive attempts before wresting control of the game through lifegain and card drawing. The one thing that usually stands in its way is the heavy influence of the Planeswalkers in the Gruul deck, which can be hard for Monoblack to deal with. Hero's Downfall often has to be used as creature removal, leaving Thoughtseize as the most reliable form of prevention against Planeswalkers. Even that is impingent upon them having the card at the right time. Stern didn't have them in his second game of the match, and that made it a relatively easy roll for Anderson.
Sitting alongside this match was another textbook example of how the removal suite in Monoblack Control is well-positioned against the creature decks of the format. Brian Braun-Duin was fighting against Gaudenis Vidugiris in the battle of Devotion decks. Braun-Duin took the first game of the match after a slow start from Vidugiris failed to put enough pressure on Braun-Duin before he was able to get Whip of Erebos and Gray Merchant of Asphodel online to keep his lifetotal safe. In the second game, Vidugiris was able to get a Master of Waves to stick, generating six Elementals, and killing Braun-Duin one turn later.
This highlighted how important the spot removal is in this matchup. Braun-Duin held the Doom Blade to kill off the Master of Waves in the first game of the match, but he didn't have one for the one he faced in the second. He blinked once, and the Vidugiris's Monoblue Devotion deck ran him over.
The final game was fairly impressive on both sides. Vidugiris opened with a pair of Frostburn Weirds, not the ideal start for the deck, though certainly not the worst. Braun-Duin once again found himself light on removal, allowing the Weirds to get in and deal damage every turn. Vidugiris had very little else to do and simply continued to sink mana into killing Braun-Duin, a mission he was rapidly accomplishing. Braun-Duin dug with an Underworld Connections, working to find himself a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, gaining him precious life and providing a blocker. A second followed a turn later, and by then, the game was out of reach. He had come one turn from dying to nothing more than a pair of Frostburn Weirds, an impressive accomplishment on Vidugiris's part, but the lifegain inherent to the Monoblack strategy had pulled him back from the brink and won him his match.
The first of the camera matches pitted Jon Bolding's Gruul deck against one of the other big black-based decks in the field: Andrew Cuneo's Orzhov Midrange deck. Piloted in Dublin by 9th place finisher Patrick Chapin and Quarterfinalist Paul Rietzl, the Orzhov Midrange deck posted one of the most impressive win percentages of any deck at the Pro Tour, though the sample size was rather small. Bridging the gap between Monoblack and Esper, the Orzhov deck has the ability to play the control game with Thoughtseizes and Doom Blades, or it can turn on the gas with Precinct Captain and Soldier of the Pantheon.
The first game of this match went undeniably in Bolding's favor.
"Basically, he just killed me with Polukranos," Cuneo said after the match.
Bolding had begun with an impressive mana draw, using his early mana creatures and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, to power out a monstrous Polukranos, World Eater, killing a Precinct Captain and a few of his troops. Cuneo didn't have the removal for the monstrous Hydra (a rare occurrence), and Cuneo fell. He got his revenge when Bolding mulliganed to five in the second game.
The final game was a lesson in the power of Colossal Gruul.
"Every hand...turn one Thoughtseize," Bolding sighed as Cuneo tapped a Swamp for the powerful sorcery. He managed break up a powerhouse hand, stripping one of Bolding's two Burning-Tree Emissaries from his hand. Combined with his Nykthos, it would have enabled a ridiculously fast start. Though he had been slowed, he certainly wasn't defeated, drawing a perfect combination of Planeswalkers and Stormbreath Dragons off the top of his deck to put a hasty end to Cuneo.
"I drew really well after the Thoughtseize," Bolding admitted.
The final match was a fairly one-sided affair between the two undefeated players in the Feature Match area. Brad Nelson's Monoblack Devotion deck squared off against the Esper Control of Brandon Burks. Nelson managed to land an Underworld Connections on turn three, and it drew him a steady stream of cards throughout the game. Even when Burks managed to cast a Merciless Eviction aimed at hitting the powerful engine, Nelson simply held another in his hand. At one point late in the game, Burks was playing off the top of the deck, while Nelson was sitting on a full hand of cards with a couple of creatures in play. Burks managed to resolve a Sphinx's Revelation for six, normally a death knell for opponents, but Nelson didn't even care. Even when a Supreme Verdict wiped his board on the following turn, he was so far ahead that he simply continued to grind Burks out. The second game was more of the same. An early Underworld Connections led to an advantage that Nelson refused to relinquish, and he took the match from Burks without really coming close to losing a game. After seeing its importance across all of the matches in the Feature Match area, it's easy to see why Nelson referred to Underworld Connections as "the essential engine of the deck."
Sunday, 1:13 p.m. – Round 12 Metagame Breakdown
We entered the day with Mono-Blue Devotion as the most represented deck across the field, followed closely by other popular decks from Pro Tour Theros. While Thassa, God of the Sea and her team were diminished among the topmost tables on Day 1, the forces of the ocean surged back. These were the decks across the Top 26 tables, all players with at least 27 points and therefore still prime for a possible Top 8.
Compared to the overall field for Day 2 the clear trend was favorable for Mono-Black Devotion. Todd Anderson and Brad Nelson were doing well, but plenty of others with only two losses had cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel as well. Similarly the No. 13-ranked player in the Top 25, Sam Black, was leading the Mono-Blue Devotion pack with just one loss going into the round.
Also clear was the erosion of Colossal Gruul's place among the top tables. Slipping from the second to the fourth most frequent deck can mean a lot of things, but based on Esper Control rising further alongside Mono-Black Devotion it was due to the disruption package seen all weekend. Orzhov Midrange settled down from its representation peak yesterday, but did yield it's space among the top table either.
The most interesting tidbit among the players with only two losses going into the round were the three Mono-White Aggro decks. Only four had entered Day 2. Justin Herrell was undefeated after nine rounds yesterday, so we checked with him to see why he brought the Plains to bear.
"I knew there's be a lot of slower decks, playing Temples and comes into play tapped lands," Herrell said. "Also, Brave the Elements is such an amazing card for ending games and stopping removal. I always love playing with little creatures so this deck is perfect fit for me."
What helped his deck remain so successful in Louisville? "It's Boros Charm against Supreme Verdict," Herrell said. "Being also to drop one or two creatures down then hold up Boros Charm lets me keep attacking for 4 or 5 each turn. In matchups against other creature decks, Spear of Heliod just gives my creatures the advantage over theirs and ends games even faster. If I can tap out for Spear on turn three very often I'm swinging for 6 that turn."
"Judge's Familiar has been a really great card for me," Herrell added. "It's great against removal and slows down other players even more."
Sunday, 3:06 p.m. – Round 12 Roundup, Almost Mirrors
With merely three rounds left in the tournament, the overwhelming majority of the players still live for the Top 8 are playing some version of the top five decks of this tournament: Esper Control, Orzhov Midrange, Monoblue Devotion, Monoblack Devotion, and Colossal Gruul. With so many of the same types of decks running around the top tables, it is increasingly likely that players hunting for the top spots are going to run into other players playing their decks. Here in Round 12, we saw that exact case happen, though with a twist.
13th ranked Sam Black has been parlaying his Pro Tour success into a very powerful run at the Top 8. He is running a modified version of the Monoblue Devotion deck he used to make it to the Semifinals of Pro Tour Theros last week. His opponent this round, Christopher O'Bryant, is running an even more modified version of the deck featuring a number of black spells to go along with his Monoblue core, resulting in a variant that we've been calling Dimir Devotion.
Recent Hall of Fame inductee William "Huey" Jensen is running Esper Control, having audibled to it from the Monoblue Devotion deck he played in Dublin. Across the table from him, Jack Fogle is playing a very similar Esper Control deck. Fogle's deck, however, is running the powerful Planar Cleansing, a staple of last Standard season's Esper deck aimed at clearing away the myriad of Planeswalkers and Underworld Connections leaving their mark on Standard.
While not a true mirror match, the match between Jerret Rocha's Esper Control deck and Joseph Eckert's BWR Control deck is similar in philosophy, yet different in execution. Both decks are rooted firmly in the Standard mantra of "Thoughtseize you, Doom Blade it." Rocha's Esper deck supplements this with a typical blue control shell, including more permission and card drawing, while Eckert's BWR deck goes for further disruption and removal. Both are very similar in play style, though their answers to certain threats can be polar opposites. Esper, for example, gets ahead by drawing cards with cards like Sphinx's Revelation, while BWR gets ahead by forcing discards with tools like Rakdos's Return.
The final match in the Feature Match area is about as true a mirror match as we are likely to see this weekend: Brad Nelson against Todd Anderson. Both playing Monoblack Devotion, it was actually Anderson who inspired Nelson to pick the deck up in the first place. These two players are frequently pitted against one another in their StarCity video series, where they battle the top decks in the field against one another. Those videos usually have them fighting with different weapons, however, as opposed to virtually identical decklists.
Starting with the true mirror, things began with a boom. Nelson had spoken earlier about how difficult the Monoblack Devotion deck can be to play, and how many players tend to overlook the offensive capabilities of the deck. In his match against Anderson, he demonstrated exactly what he meant by that. Both games were over in a flash, both with nearly identical draws. Nelson opened with a Thoughtseize and followed that up with a Pack Rat, immediately building his army. Anderson didn't have a way to remove the Rats before they multiplied, and the Return to Ravnica bomb carried Nelson one step closer to Top 8.
Next to them, Jerret Rocha leapt out to an early lead against Joseph Eckert's BWR Control deck. Things progressed fairly slowly in the early stages of the game, with both players landing creatures that were immediately removed by the other player. Things continued like this until well into the mid/late game, when Rocha managed to stick an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Elspeth avoided suffering a Hero's Downfall, and Rocha rode her to his first game win.
The next game was a perfect illustration of the first big difference between these two decks: the disruption. Eckert opened with a ridiculous Thoughtseize, triple Sin Collector draw that just left Rocha's hand devastated. It was then that the other big difference reared its head: Sphinx's Revelation. Rocha was able to fill his hand up, grabbing a Blood Baron of Vizkopa along the way. That put a temporary halt to Eckert's Obzedat, Ghost Council, attacking him. Just when it looked like he might turn the corner and take control of the game, a Debtor's Pulpit removed the Blood Baron from the equation, letting Eckert's Obzedat finish things off.
The final game was all about Rakdos's Return, as a pair of Returns again devastated Rocha's hand. Drawing off the top, Rocha was able to find a Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but Eckert peeled back himself, using Chandra, Pyromaster, to draw into an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, immediately destroying the large threat. From there, Eckert found his own Blood Baron and ended the match.
In Sam Black's Monoblue Devotion "mirror," he took Game 1 from Christopher O'Bryant's Dimir Devotion deck on the strength of a triple Master of Waves draw. O'Bryant only had removal for one of the trio, and he quickly drowned in the sea of Elementals. Game 2 was an incredibly interesting affair, with both players having very similar draws, but the edge going to O'Bryant. On the play, O'Bryant found himself slightly behind early against Black's Nightveil Specter. He had a Thassa, God of the Sea, in play before Black, but the Specter evened that up on its first attack, stealing a copy from O'Bryant's deck for Black. Then, Domestications fought for control of the Specter, puting both players into and out of devotion is rapid succession. Ultimately, it was the pair of Cyclonic Rifts held by O'Bryant that turned the tide for him, allowing him to negate one of Black's attacks and return the attack for the win. After such a riveting match, the final game was rather anticlimactic, as Black ran over O'Bryant, who sat on an Island and two Mutavaults, unable to cast any of the double-blue spells in his hand.
The final match was an Esper Control mirror match between Hall of Famer William Jensen and Jack Fogle. In true Esper mirror fashion, the first game of the match went long. Roughly forty minutes of the match were spent jockeying for position as libraries melted away. Jensen had managed to lock up Fogle's Planeswalkers in Detention Spheres, keeping him from being able to get too far ahead. Both players cast and resolved large Sphinx's Revelations over the course of the game, putting them both in reasonable danger of decking themselves. Fogle ultimately managed to cast a Planar Cleansing, freeing his Planeswalkers, but it wasn't until Jensen had already managed to land an Ætherling.
Still, even with the Ætherling in place, it didn't look clear cut for Jensen. He had virtually no cards left in his library, and Fogle had a hand full of spot removal, carefully using it to effectively Fog the Ætherling's attacks. With his library running out, Jensen managed to use Elspeth, Sun's Champion, to get an Emblem, making his Ætherling's toughness large enough to gain a few more activations, weathering the last of Fogle's removal, and becoming a lethal attacker with one card left in Jensen's library.
Down to the wire, Fogle managed to keep things interesting. In the second game of the match, he found himself an early Soldier of the Pantheon, providing him an unusually quick clock in a game where time was of the essence. To complicate matters, Jensen's deck refused to give him a monocolored removal spell, meaning that the Soldier had free reign. With his life total running low, Jensen managed to get a Blood Baron of Vizkopa into play, but it only threatened parity, as Fogle landed a second Soldier to offset the lifegain. As the two players traded blows, Jensen's life total remained static, while Fogle's fell away. On the last possible turn, Fogle managed to find an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, to kill the Blood Baron, but Jensen held a Dissolve to seal the match just as time was called.
These matches served as a good showcase for the slight variations available to players seeking them in Standard. We have made a big deal about the number of the top decks floating around the tables, but there is always some slight amount of variation that can be seen if you look closely enough.
Sunday, 3:18 p.m. – Round 14 Metagame Breakdown
Round 12 showed the return of Mono-Blue Devotion, rising up to meet the consistently well-represented Esper Control, as well as a surge by Mono-Black Devotion. This is how things looked two rounds later across every player with at least 30 points.
Orzhov Midrange and Esper Control have held steady throughout the day, and Colossal Gruul stabilized at its share of the metagame. The surprise here was twofold: Mono-Blue Devotion is back representing the largest share of the metagame, just as it did across the field coming into Day 2, and Mono-Black Devotion dropped significantly since we last looked.
Why did blue see such a resurgence compared to how everything looked throughout Day 1? We checked back with Sam Black, ranked 13th in the Top 25, to explain the shift.
"They didn't build a deck that beats the deck from last week," Black said, waving toward the rest of the room. "If they wanted to play one of the other decks [from Pro Tour Theros] they needed to change it to beat the deck they lost to. The Colossal Gruul decks could have more Mistcutter Hydras and Skylashers to commit to it, but they didn't."
"When you're playing against this field you can't warp your deck enough to beat blue. It's the best deck but it's not the deck to beat because there's not enough of it," Black said. "Last week jumped everyone ahead so much they need another week to catch up. They're stuck playing catch up because they've been learning the decks this whole time rather than building new ones."
So is Mono-Blue Devotion beatable? "I think blue is beatable," Black admits, "But I think it's the best deck until people really work to beat it. I group all of the Hero's Downfall decks together since I'm fine trading one-for-one my threats for removal. I have more threats than they have removal, and with Thassa, God of the Sea I draw better too."