Lessons from Pro Tour Hour of Devastation

Posted in Top Decks on August 4, 2017

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

It's always interesting to break down what happened at a Pro Tour, and we can learn a lot from this one. There were a few interesting variables coming in, making predicting the metagame difficult for those playing in the tournament. Here were some common assumptions coming in, from having talked to a ton of players who competed:

  • Mono-Red Aggro (Ramunap Red) was the default best deck.
  • Everyone playing at the Pro Tour knew that and would choose decks with that in mind.
  • White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift was the new and exciting deck in the format, having just put up multiple good results in Magic Online tournaments.
  • The field was largely wide-open past that.
  • Most of the best new cards were answers (Abrade chief among them).

Given these assumptions, what did players at the Pro Tour do?

  1. Overprepared for White-Blue

This deck looked like the real deal, but it was more hype than reality, and there were way too many Crooks of Condemnation in peoples' sideboards. This deck did look sweet, and it was definitely the flavor of the week.

White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift

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However, recency bias reared its ugly head, and the hot new deck was only 3.9% of the field on Day One. Players who made significant choices because this deck existed paid the price, and I know some chose not to play Ramunap Red out of fear of a bad Gift matchup.

  1. Assumed the Format Was More Wide-Open Than It Really Was

When looking at the Day One metagame breakdown, a few things stand out:

  • 24.8% of the field played Ramunap Red
  • 11.4% of the field played Zombies
  • 9.7% of the field played Black-Green Constrictor
  • 7.1% of the field played Mardu Vehicles

Not only is over 50% of the field these four decks, 25% of the field is Ramunap Red. That is way less wide a metagame than previously thought, and that means a more targeted strategy could have paid dividends.

Additionally, all of these decks are aggressive. Black-Green Constrictor is the least aggressive of the bunch, and it's still very much a beatdown deck. As it turns out, bringing a deck prepared for aggro would have been a solid choice.

  1. Underestimated Ramunap Red

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's Ramunap Red

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Here we see a pattern that's repeated itself a few times. Players see a deck, realize it's the best deck, and come to a few conclusions:

  • Everyone is going to try and beat this deck, so playing it is too risky.
  • Their deck beats the best deck, and therefore is a good choice.

Where these often go wrong is when the best deck is resilient, or too broken. This Ramunap Red deck doesn't fit the second category (any deck with Village Messenger probably isn't broken), but it is certainly resilient. Many of the best players played red because they tried to beat it and couldn't, which is a great way to come to that conclusion. If you tested less and theorized more, you could easily fall into the first trap, which is that the field being prepared for red meant it was a bad choice. It turns out that nobody really crushed red, and it was good enough to overcome the amount of hate it faced.

The second trap is similar, and more specifically refers to thinking you beat the best deck when you really don't. The easiest way to fall for this is not play enough sideboarded games. The red deck changes drastically post-board and often plays like a completely different deck. Out go the bad one-drops and burn spells, and in come more lands (which conveniently have abilities) and four- and five-drops. Suddenly, the Sweltering Suns you sided in is staring down a Chandra and a Glorybringer, and you don't feel so hot anymore (or maybe you feel too hot).

I don't believe anyone walked into the Pro Tour thinking that their deck would get crushed by Ramunap Red, and in fact many likely thought the opposite. The truth of the matter is that most of those people were wrong, and Ramunap Red ran rampant throughout the Standard rounds. The deck was better than it was given credit for and had much better sideboard options than mono-red has had in the past. Plus, Ramunap Ruins gave the deck an unprecedented amount of extra damage from its lands, making many close games into wins for the red deck.

Where Do We Go from Here?

First things first: red's not dead. Ramunap Red is still a great deck, and even as public enemy number one, it's still going to perform. Playing red is a fine choice, and I'd focus on tuning the sideboard most of all. The main deck slots have some flex, but the sideboard is where you can really pull ahead. I like Paulo and Seth's builds from the Top 8 and would stay away from Sam Black's list specifically (even he said he played way too few lands).

Secondly, I'd look at Zombies. Mono-Black Zombies does well enough against red and is a resilient and powerful deck in its own right. It has what it takes to compete with a deck full of one-drops and does so without sacrificing its other matchups.

Yusuke Sasabe's Mono-Black Zombies

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What About Control?

As much as I love casting Torrential Gearhulk, now seems like a bad time for it. The matchup against Ramunap Red is atrocious, and I'd stay away from control decks for the time being. Against Ramunap Ruins, you have to be proactive, and the current crop of control decks don't offer that.

Avoiding These Traps

Lastly, while you can't always avoid these traps (I've fallen for them many times), you can remember a few key things:

  • Decks that perform well right before a tournament are often overvalued; getting your own info/testing on these is often more reliable.
  • The best deck is the best for a reason; these decks often can stand up to being targeted.
  • Make sure you actually beat the decks you think you beat; testing sideboard plans is critical in verifying this.

Why not use the lessons we learned at this Pro Tour to inform your decisions? Whatever the outcome, we have all this data—and while hindsight may be 20/20, seeing what these players did can help us do better in the future.


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