Standard at Pro Tour Ixalan

Posted in Top Decks on November 1, 2017

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.

Traditionally, the Pro Tour has been the first high-level event to showcase the Standard format after a new set's release. Pro Tour Ixalan, however, takes place four weeks after the 2017 World Championship and three weeks after the third and final Nationals weekend. This means that the Standard metagame heading into the Pro Tour is more clearly defined than we have seen in years.

The 2017 World Championship showcased a rock-paper-scissors metagame of Temur Energy, Blue-Black Control, and Ramunap Red, with William Jensen (Temur Energy) winning his favorable matchup against Javier Dominguez (Ramunap Red) to become the World Champion. Since then, several new variants and archetypes have surfaced to attack these pillars of the format. Today we will take a look at the state of Standard heading into Pro Tour Ixalan.

Energy Midrange

Temur Energy won Worlds, got Gerry Thompson on the US World Magic Cup team, and was highly successful at Nationals around the globe. Based on sheer numbers, Temur Energy is the deck to beat in Standard.

William Jensen's Temur Energy

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Temur Energy uses the best energy-generating cards in the format to support its game plan of presenting hard-to-handle threats at each point in the curve. It threatens to quickly take over the game with an unanswered Longtusk Cub, but can just as easily play a long game with cheap removal and curve-topping Glorybringers.

  • Longtusk Cub
  • Rogue Refiner
  • Attune with Aether
  • Glorybringer

Until recently, splashing black for The Scarab God was the default mirror tech for Temur Energy players because of how difficult the card is to deal with. However, once everyone adopted this strategy, the playing field was level again. The innovation that William Jensen and his teammates came up with was to instead use those flex slots for Commit // Memory and Confiscation Coup. This allows the Temur Energy deck to punish players who rely too heavily on The Scarab God. At the same time, it improves the Blue-Black Control matchup, in which dealing with an opposing Scarab God is more critical than being able to present an additional threat of your own.

Since the World Championship, a second midrange deck has emerged, which tries to take energy and counter creation to another level.

Jeremy Sager's Sultai Energy

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Sultai Energy plays like a hybrid between Temur Energy and the Black-Green Constrictor decks that were popular before the rotation. Jeremy Sager reached the Top 8 of US Nationals with this list, but this archetype is much less refined than Temur Energy, and players are still experimenting with many different builds. Sultai Energy is highly favored in games with an early, unanswered Winding Constrictor. Without the support of the generous Snake, however, the deck's creatures have to pull a lot of weight to compete with the streamlined power of Temur Energy.

Blue Control

Control decks are the natural predators of midrange strategies, so it comes as no surprise that different control archetypes have gained in popularity. Blue-Black Control was piloted to a Top 4 Worlds finish by Josh Utter-Leyton, and Oliver Tomajko took down US Nationals with a slightly updated list.

Josh Utter-Leyton's Blue-Black Control

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Blue-Black Control tries to prolong games as much as possible, using cheap removal and countermagic to efficiently deal with opposing threats. The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk are the only creatures in the deck and the finishers of choice. To execute its strategy reliably, Blue-Black Control needs to find the right number of reactive cards and those that allow it to pull ahead in card advantage and mana.

I want to highlight how important Search for Azcanta is to achieve all this. It starts as a card-selection tool, which inevitably turns into an additional mana source and a repetitive source of card advantage. Heading into the Pro Tour, Search for Azcanta is on players' radars as one of the most powerful cards in Ixalan, and it is difficult to imagine a blue control deck without it.

A second blue control deck that is rising in popularity is White-Blue Approach.

Peter Villarrubia's White-Blue Approach

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The game plan of White-Blue Approach is similar to that of Blue-Black Control, but there are some key differences. Approach of the Second Sun means that this deck does not have to achieve full board control, but can focus solely on resolving the powerful sorcery twice to win the game on the spot. White-Blue Approach is completely immune to creature removal in Game 1, but threatens to take over sideboarded games with Regal Caracal.

Note how Ipnu Rivulet lets White-Blue Approach mill itself to dig four cards deeper toward a previously cast Approach. But that is not the only purpose of the Desert—permission-heavy control mirrors are often won by running your opponent's deck out of cards, and a playset of Ipnu Rivulets can put you sixteen cards ahead in a library-depletion race.

Red Aggro

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa won Pro Tour Hour of Devastation with Ramunap Red, and Javier Dominguez was one match win away from becoming the World Champion with the same strategy.

Javier Dominguez's Ramunap Red

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The game plan of bringing your opponent down to 0 as quickly as possible is not exactly new. The classic problem of red aggro players is that once an opponent stabilizes, drawing lands and low-impact creatures does very little to get you closer to winning. Ramunap Ruins is a literal game changer in that regard, as it gives Ramunap Red a way to convert excess lands into repeatable, virtually uncounterable damage (technically Disallow can still counter it). Thanks to Ramunap Ruins and Hazoret the Fervent, this incarnation of mono-red aggro can afford a high land count while being almost immune to flooding out.

Ramunap Red is not the only aggressive deck in Standard, but it is the most popular one by a wide margin. Mardu Vehicles remains a valid deck, and mono-black aggro decks splashing red for Lightning Strike and Hazoret the Fervent are gaining some popularity.

Token Combo

The final archetype I want to highlight is more of a synergistic over-the-top deck than a one-turn-kill combo deck. Abzan Tokens will overwhelm any battlefield given enough time, and preys on the creature-reliant decks of the format.

Drew Bates's Abzan Tokens

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Planeswalker (3)
3 Vraska, Relic Seeker
Creature (6)
2 Sacred Cat 4 Anointer Priest
Sorcery (4)
1 Start // Finish 3 Fumigate
Instant (4)
4 Fatal Push
Artifact (5)
3 Renegade Map 2 Treasure Map
60 Cards

Abzan Tokens is built around Anointed Procession with a plethora of token producers, and takes advantage of the lack of enchantment removal in the format. Once Anointed Procession is on the battlefield, Hidden Stockpile in particular will produce more blockers than most creature decks can overcome. Against the most aggressive decks, Anointer Priest serves as a blocker in the early game and a life gain engine later on (barring Rampaging Ferocidon).

This archetype is one of the less explored among the top decks in Standard. While the successful lists are relatively similar, it is not entirely clear how well positioned Abzan Tokens is in this metagame. On the one hand, it has not put up any high-profile finishes as of yet; on the other hand, it has not had the same amount of time to do so as other archetypes.

Abzan Tokens will be part of testing gauntlets for Pro Tour Ixalan, and we might even see some variants of it. Esper Tokens with The Scarab God is a possibility, and Esper Gift, built around God-Pharaoh's Gift, remains another viable combo deck (that makes slightly larger tokens).

This concludes my picks for the most relevant Standard decks before Pro Tour Ixalan. I expect the big three (Temur Energy, Blue-Black Control, and Ramunap Red) to put up strong numbers, but as we have seen, there is room to innovate. Some players will focus on mastering existing archetypes; others will try to outsmart the opposition with their deck choice or tech cards. Preparing for a known metagame is a skill that is rarely tested on the Pro Tour itself, and I can't wait to see who has really mastered Ixalan Standard come Pro Tour Friday.


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