Origins of a New Standard

Posted in Top Decks on August 7, 2015

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).

The Pro Tour displayed an interesting mix of old and new last week, some of which was borrowed and a few decks of which were blue. There were some definite winners and losers, with the decks that gained the most from Origins unsurprisingly coming out on top.

Here's the archetype breakdown for the Top 8:

  • 3 Mono-Red (winner)
  • 2 Ensoul Artifact
  • 2 Abzan (1 Megamorph and 1 Control)
  • 1 Green-Red Devotion

Apparently Mono-Red is the rock to Ensoul Artifact's scissors—though to be fair, it ran over everything else as well. With three copies in the Top 8 and a successful weekend overall, this is clearly a deck to beat going forward.

Joel Larsson's Mono-Red—1st place, Pro Tour Magic Origins

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The strategy here is as old as Magic itself; cast cheap creatures, attack, and use burn to either clear the path or finish the opponent off. It's a simple strategy, but clearly an effective one.

By far the biggest gain from Origins, and the biggest reason for the resurgence of Mono-Red, is Abbot of Keral Keep. Abbot is a two-drop creature that attacks for 3 or even 4 damage the following turn, all while drawing you a card much of the time. Sometimes you do run Abbot out on turn two and eschew the extra card, but most of the time you will at least get a shot at drawing a land (remember to cast Abbot before playing one), and the cards in this deck are cheap enough that finding something to play is not very difficult. Exquisite Firecraft is a nice pickup, to be sure, but is not nearly as much of a draw as the Abbot. It is good that Firecraft can finish off blue players with no fear of counterspells, and adding that amount of reach surely contributed to the relative lack of blue mages at the top tables.

There are a couple of other reasons for this deck's success:

1) Aggro decks tend to be better than control decks in the beginning of the format.

Being proactive is a great strategy in an unknown field, and right when a set comes out is when the field is the most uncertain. If you build your control deck and have Bile Blight in a field that rewards Ultimate Price, you could be in huge trouble. On the other hand, your red deck can't easily play the "wrong" one-drop, as they all pretty much do the same thing. Even though decks like Mono-Red and Ensoul Artifact saw a lot of success this weekend, I expect the numbers on control decks to increase as the format solidifies.

2) The Vancouver Mulligan rule rewards aggro/synergy decks.

The new mulligan rule was used in force throughout the Pro Tour. I'm ready to call it an unqualified success for Limited, though I'd like more information about its effect in Constructed. In particular, I think it is better for decks that are trying to assemble specific resources—searching perhaps for an Ensoul Artifact, or a Mountain to go with a hand of red cards. Compare that to an Abzan Control that sees a Hero's Downfall on top on turn one, a card that is much less easy to evaluate at the start of the game. The decks I mentioned also only need two lands to function, which lets them keep one-landers, dig to those lands, or confidently put any lands past two on the bottom. That is an advantage these decks always have, but I do believe it is accurate that scrying exacerbates it.

3) Searing Blood is incredibly well-positioned right now.

This is the most card-specific point, but I do think that part of the reason red was awesome last weekend is that Searing Blood is incredible in a field of small creatures. It's basically a two-for-one for two mana, and that added to the other efficient things this deck is doing goes a long way.

4) The red decks that succeeded weren't vulnerable to many of the common sideboard plans.

When people are boarding in Arashin Cleric and Seismic Rupture against your Abbots, Chandras, and Outpost Sieges, you are in a good spot. Goblins did poorly at the Pro Tour compared to this more traditional red aggro list, and the vulnerability of Goblins to these sideboard cards is a big reason why. This red deck is more resilient than most people think, and I expect that to continue. The deck is quite capable of grinding people out, which is a very good thing given that it still can kill quite rapidly.

Red was a great choice last weekend, and even though the secret is out, I still think it's going to continue to be both popular and good. The deck is one of the major players, and unless the metagame shifts drastically, it will continue to be viable.

I was lucky enough to play the deck that made the finals of the Pro Tour, though sadly it was not me piloting it. It's still awesome that Mike Sigrist was able to rack up a second Top 8 this season, and it capped an impressive year (the most impressive, by definition, given that he won Player of the Year).

This deck is the newest on the scene, and it put up impressive numbers at the Pro Tour. Here's the list Mike Sigrist used:

Mike Sigrist's Ensoul Artifact—2nd place, Pro Tour Magic Origins

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For a more in-depth look, Josh Mcclain, the creator of the deck, wrote a good primer.

Complicated cards aside, this deck's plan is incredibly focused: Cast Ensoul Artifact early and often. The deck is built to maximize those draws, with Ornithopters and Thopter tokens as fliers, Darksteel Citadel for indestructibility, and a ton of cheap artifacts for raw speed. As backup, Stubborn Denial helps protect your 5/5s and Shrapnel Blast cuts one or two turns off the clock.

Of course, you can't always draw Ensoul, and the deck plays surprisingly well when you don't get that card. Hangarback Walker is an exceedingly powerful card, and Ghostfire Blade makes even the most modest creature into a very real threat.

The combination of speed and disruption that this deck provides is much deadlier than it might seem at first glance, but this deck is certainly susceptible to artifact hate now that the cat is out of the bag. (Or maybe the scissors are out of the bag, presumably because they cut their way out.) I do think this deck is powerful enough to be a player post-PT, but the surprise factor was a real part of its success, and I expect it to lose a little bit of its edge.

The other three decks in the Top 8 (Abzan Control, Abzan Megamorph, and Green-Red Devotion) are not significantly different than what we've seen before. Cards like Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Languish did give them some powerful new tools, but these aren't new strategies. I do want to mention how well-placed Dromoka's Command is right now, as it has a ton of utility against both Mono-Red and Ensoul Artifact. A deck that can play main deck Commands seems like a good choice, and one such deck went 9-1 at the Pro Tour (though the Draft rounds didn't go quite as well).

Brian Kibler's Abzan Megamorph—9-1 Pro Tour Magic Origins

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Hall of Famer Brian Kibler ventured into new territory with a Green-White creature deck, though his unfamiliarity with the archetype certainly didn't appear to cost him (and by that I mean he's played this deck in every tournament for five years).

The combination of quick pressure, resilient threats, and good answers is apparently a recipe for success. Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector give this deck enough card advantage to win a long game, and every other creature in the deck contributes to its short game. I thought about calling this deck Green-White Aggro, but I can't in good conscience call a deck that plays Courser of Kruphix an aggro deck—and this plays a lot more like aggressive midrange anyway.

Grand Prix San Diego is coming up this weekend, and I'll be surveying it from the coverage booth (along with Marshall Sutcliffe and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa). If I see anything sweet, I'll be sure to write about it next week. Until then, I hope everyone has a deck they like. There are so many to choose from—and every major archetype is viable, which is an awesome feature of Standard this year.


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