Standard at Pro Tour Dominaria

Posted in Organized Play on May 29, 2018

By Simon Görtzen

Simon Görtzen ist begeisterter Magicspieler, wobei sein größter Erfolg der Sieg bei der Pro Tour San Diego 2010 ist. Neben eigenen Projekten ist er seit 2012 fester Bestandteil der offiziellen Magic-Berichterstattung in Europa.

Pro Tour Dominaria kicks off on June 1, a full five weeks after the set's release. Lots of time for a Standard metagame to form and evolve. A very long time if you want to keep your team's secret technology, well, secret. This presents unfamiliar challenges for today's players, at least at the Pro Tour level: where do you find your competitive edge when nobody will make truly bad deck choices and how do you break a format that has been played at multiple high-level events?

Two weeks ago, Birmingham hosted a double–Grand Prix weekend featuring Legacy and Standard events. The best-performing Standard player in the Swiss portion was Etienne Busson, piloting Black-Green Constrictor:

Etienne Busson's Black-Green Constrictor

Dominaria upgrades Black-Green Constrictor with two potent one-drops: the reprinting of Llanowar Elves enables more explosive starts, and Adventurous Impulse helps consistently find Winding Constrictor, the deck's namesake. Etienne's choice to play a full play set of Thrashing Brontodon seems excessive at first but turned out to be a good metagame call for a tournament in which Heart of Kiran was running rampant.

Nonetheless, Etienne's run ended abruptly when he lost to eventual winner Simon Nielsen in the quarterfinals. Simon had snuck into the Top 8 in 8th place, as one of the six Top 8 competitors on Black-Red Vehicles.

Simon Nielsen's Black-Red Vehicles

Black-Red Vehicles is a midrange deck with powerful threats across the curve. It aims to drop a Heart of Kiran on turn two, which can be crewed by most of the deck's creatures as well as Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Karn, Scion of Urza. Goblin Chainwhirler is the next most powerful card in the list and the reason for the deck's almost mono-red mana base. Not only does the triple-red three-drop punish early 1-toughness plays, it crews Heart of Kiran on curve and is extremely difficult to defeat in combat. As if that weren't enough, it also combos with Soul-Scar Mage to permanently shrink the opposing team.

Black-Red Vehicles was the standout deck of GP Birmingham, and there are a few lessons to take away from that weekend. If the Birmingham elimination rounds are any indication, the slightly higher curve black-red decks without Bomat Couriers prey on the lower-curve black-red lists that are more susceptible to Goblin Chainwhirler. And while it is still valid to play 1-toughness creatures if they are as powerful as Llanowar Elves and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, your matchup against red decks will suffer because of them.

The story of GP Birmingham would read quite a bit different had Lea Lahonen won the finals against Simon Nielsen. The Finn was the lone player on White-Blue Control, relying only on four copies of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as his win condition.

Leo Lahonen's White-Blue Control

This is a classic control list that slows down the game long enough to take over with Pull from Tomorrow; Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin; and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Teferi's -3 ability, activated on itself, is a neat way to prevent decking yourself. But it also helps against troublesome permanents, especially if you can force the opponent to shuffle their deck with Field of Ruin. The card that impressed me the most, however, is Blink of an Eye. Sometimes an answer, sometimes a tempo play, sometimes only a cycler, it offers just the right package to allow all the other cards in the deck to operate at maximum effectiveness.

As it turns out, one way to be safe from Goblin Chainwhirlers and accompanying removal spells is to not play any creatures at all—at least not in the main deck. But watch out for History of Benalia from the sideboard as a hard-hitting threat for the control mirror.

What I like most about the timing of Pro Tour Dominaria is that it tests slightly different deck building and playing skills than the Pro Tours immediately following a set release. One player to watch out for in that regard is Brad Nelson, with his exceptional ability to correctly anticipate Standard's development week after week. Last week, Brad teamed up with Magic World Champions Seth Manfield and Brian Braun-Duin for Grand Prix Toronto, and they secured themselves a 2nd-place finish. The format was Team Trios Constructed (Standard/Modern/Legacy), and Brad, maybe unsurprisingly, got to play Standard. His weapon of choice was White-Blue Control as well, very similar to Leo Lahonen's list, but with a few tweaks and updates:

Brad Nelson's White-Blue Control

On the surface, this is almost the list Leo Lahonen played in Birmingham. But when you dig deeper, you see that going from 3 Meandering River to zero is quite a significant change to the mana base. Even more subtle is the main deck inclusion of a single Negate by Brad. He improves his control matchup for game 1 and frees up a sideboard slot at the same time. The price he pays is a suboptimal main deck card in some other matchups, but even there it serves as a narrow but elegant answer to Heart of Kiran and planeswalkers, all difficult threats for White-Blue Control to handle.

Brad will be the first player to tell you that there is no best deck in Standard, only a best deck for the weekend. This means that come Pro Tour weekend, he might be playing a further-evolved version of White-Blue Control, but it could be another deck altogether.

The deck I want to close with is an aggressive deck without Goblin Chainwhirler. Unless you were closely following Magic Online's PTQ results, you might have missed it entirely in the first weeks of Standard. On May 12, Daniel Fournier went 12-0 with this White-Black Vehicles list:

Daniel Fournier's White-Black Vehicles

Planeswalker (2)
2 Gideon of the Trials
Instant (4)
4 Fatal Push
Artifact (4)
4 Heart of Kiran
Enchantment (6)
2 Cast Out 4 History of Benalia
Legendary planeswalker (4)
4 Karn, Scion of Urza
60 Cards

This deck packs a lot of power, with full play sets of Heart of Kiran, History of Benalia, and Karn, Scion of Urza. Knight of Malice shines in a white-black deck, and Ifnir Deadlands gives the deck a powerful spell-land that's worth taking the occasional damage from. The only blemish, if one can call it that, is that Toolcraft Exemplar dies to Goblin Chainwhirler in the pseudo-mirror of Vehicle decks.

White-Black Vehicles was a rather well-kept secret two weeks ago, not even showing up at GP Birmingham in noticeable numbers. For GP Toronto, however, the winning team of McLaughlin, Harabas, and Siow adapted the deck for Morgan McLaughlin to play in the Standard seat, cementing White-Black Vehicles as a tier 1 deck in Dominaria Standard.

I can't wait for the Constructed portion of Pro Tour Dominaria. Will it be an event that rewards your metagame prediction and fine-tuning, or did some creative mastermind secretly break the format after all? Only one way to find out!

—Simon

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