Team Trios Constructed at the Pro Tour – Standard

Posted in Top Decks on July 31, 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.

Tomorrow, I'll board a plane to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to cover Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. On Thursday, August 2, the $150,000 Silver Showcase kicks off the action with a once-in-a-lifetime Rochester draft. From Friday to Sunday, August 3–5, Pro Tour competitors will fight for their share of an $850,000 prize pool playing Team Trios Constructed. Or, to put it differently: Standard, Modern, and Legacy from Round 1 to the Pro Tour finals.

I decided to split up my preview for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary into two parts. Today, I'll cover Team Trios Constructed—just how special of a format it is and what it means for the pros—followed by an overview of what to expect in Standard. Part 2 will be published on Thursday, covering the metagame developments in Modern and Legacy.

The Format: Team Trios Constructed

So, what exactly is Team Trios Constructed? Three players, three Constructed formats. At PT 25A, Player A will play Standard, Player B Modern, and Player C Legacy, but other lineups have been played in the past, for example, with Block Constructed instead of Legacy or Extended before Modern was born. It is important to note that Team Trios Constructed is not a unified format, so teams can register a total of twelve Silvergill Adepts if they really want to.

I did a bit of research on the format and started by looking at three-person team Pro Tours held in the past. Team Limited PTs have a long history, and the dominance of the Phoenix Foundation somewhat overshadowing the fact that Team Limited PTs were won by some of Magic's finest. However, there has only been a single Team Constructed PT: Charleston 2006. I can't believe it's been twelve years since my teammates and I missed the Top 4 on tiebreakers in this Team Unified Ravnica Block Constructed event. This means Team Constructed is very rare at the PT level, and Team Trios Constructed has never been showcased at a team PT.

The first high-level event that included Team Trios Constructed was the 2008 World Championships in Memphis, Tennessee, with a Standard-Extended-Legacy lineup. You can imagine the Worlds of that era as a hybrid of a regular Pro Tour and today's World Magic Cup. National teams were collecting points in the individual Swiss portion of the tournament and then played Team Trios Constructed rounds at the end of each day for triple points.

There were four World Championships featuring Team Trios Constructed, with Extended being replaced with Modern in 2011. In 2012, Worlds were split up into the Magic Players Championship and the World Magic Cup, which featured Team Trios Constructed that year. After that, the World Magic Cup moved to Team Unified Standard and Modern, which means that Team Trios Constructed was featured at a total of five high-level events between 2008 and 2012. It only returned this year at the Grand Prix level: in anticipation of PT 25A, four Team Trios Constructed GPs were held. The events in Santa Clara, Madrid, Kyoto, and Toronto featured the same format lineup as Pro Tour 25th Anniversary.

To summarize, PT 25A is only the second team Constructed PT ever held. It marks the first time that Legacy will be played at a (non-Worlds) Pro Tour. It also marks the first time since Berlin 2008 that there is a PT without a Limited portion, a fact that some players will appreciate more than others.

Team Preparation

Pro Tour 25th Anniversary is a special event, and the teams' preparation is going to be somewhat special as well. No unified deck-building restrictions on the one hand means that everyone is free to do as they please within their format. On the other hand, if you value individuality too highly, you might end up with three players who are unable to support each other in crucial mulligan, gameplay, and sideboarding decisions. Team events are naturally variance-reducing because you play three times as many games, but when you talk to the elite teams, it's apparent how much it helps to have good friends and great minds on your side.

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The All-Hall-of-Fame team of Eric Froelich, Ben Stark, and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa faces off against opponents at Grand Prix Toronto.

Speaking of sides, Modern has a special importance at PT 25A as the format being played in the middle seat. Traditional strategic wisdom dictates that the middle seat is reserved for either the player requiring the most support or the player who can lend the most support. At this tournament, it's likely just going to be the best Modern player. This might be tricky for teams that have a long history of playing together, because their group dynamics and communication might work best with a certain player in the middle seat.

Another tricky aspect of preparation is the fact that three is an odd number. You can only test one third of all the relevant formats at one time, and one player is always forced to sit out. There are different solutions to this, but the one I like the most is to find another qualified team to test with. Suddenly you can test all three formats simultaneously, and everybody gets to play. If teams end up on similar configurations, you even get a bonus partner to discuss strategy with. For this reason alone, I expect that six-person teams from the Team Series will have a leg up on the competition.

Team Trios Metagame

What does the Team Trios format imply for the metagame? On the surface, the deck choices of each player will be heavily influenced by their expectations for the Standard, Modern, or Legacy metagame. In a sense, you can expect each seat to play within their own Constructed metagame.

However, team event metagames are a bit tricky. In individual tournaments, the self-correcting property of metagames allows you to bring the deck that beats the best deck to the tournament. If your assessment of the expected metagame is correct, you are rewarded with an over-proportional number of good matchups. But not only are you banking on the best deck showing up in high numbers, you also need it to keep beating whatever other decks are out there so that your good fortunes continue.

Considerations like this are diluted by the team nature of PT 25A. Imagine meeting a team at 4-0: you don't even know which matchups your opponent faced or how many of those they won. But exactly this lack of predictability should push players toward powerful tier 1 strategies that are good against the field; why gamble on a certain metagame when the team nature means that there is very little to reliably exploit? There is no single "best deck" in any of the formats, but if there were, playing those three decks would be a great level 0 strategy for PT 25A. If I were playing, I'd want to tune my sideboard to beat tier 1 strategies, and I can't wait to see how the competitors approach the PT 25A metagame.

All that said, most games will still be decided by tight technical play and strategic foresight. The most important part of preparation is to end up with a well-tuned, well-positioned list that you know how to pilot against all opposition. The more you know about the formats played by your teammates, the better, but mastering your own format is the priority.

What to Expect in Standard

As usual, I will highlight a few noteworthy Standard decks in this article, but it is far from all-encompassing. I'm trying something new this time, classifying decks by their key cards rather than color or archetype. I feel this is the most straightforward way to group decks in a format with monocolored, two-, and three-color decks, plus a variety of splash colors. There are also more and more archetypes that blur the line between aggro and midrange, or midrange and control, so I feel that this way of classifying decks is losing a lot of its appeal.

The following sections cover most of the tier 1 decks of the Standard metagame. For the decklists themselves, I picked the more unique or newer ones over traditional builds. Even though traditional lists like Red-Black Chainwhirler and White-Blue Control are still strong metagame contenders, there are some interesting new variants that I want to highlight.

Standard with Core Set 2019 is still a young format, but at first sight, the metagame has not shifted drastically from where it was at Pro Tour Dominaria. The most exciting addition out of M19 is Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, who has spawned an entirely new archetype in Grixis Midrange.

Expect Goblin Chainwhirler

Who would have thought, Goblin Chainwhirler got moving and has no plans to stop. The most popular build is black-red splashing for Scrapheap Scrounger activations, Unlicensed Disintegration, and a few sideboard cards. The black splash does not cost much consistency or speed, so it's no surprise that most players are preferring red-black over mono-red. However, a certain Elder Dragon has recently entered the party.

Trevor Mensinger's Bolas Red

Yes, that is Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in a Goblin Chainwhirler deck, and it's quickly gaining popularity on Magic Online. I like how Sarkhan, Fireblood provides the mana to cast Nicol Bolas, but is the Elder Dragon good enough to warrant such a greedy mana base? We will see if he and Goblin Chainwhirler show up together at PT 25A.

Expect Steel Leaf Champion

Another train that won't stop moving is Steel Leaf Champion. Perfectly supported by Llanowar Elves on one side of the curve and Ghalta, Primal Hunger on the other, this is the other triple-casting-cost card shaping Standard. The most popular lists are mono-green and black-green, for basically the same reasons as above: Scrapheap Scrounger and black sideboard cards. However, there is a bit more variety to be found here. We already saw players play blue for Commit // Memory at PT Dominaria, and now red is making a splash as well.

luobeiz's Red-Green Sarkhan's Unsealing

This is maybe not the subtlest deck of all time, but the synergy of Sarkhan's Unsealing in a deck full of green fatties is not to be underestimated. Steel Leaf Champion decks are doing very well right now, and I expect them to show up in high numbers and all kinds of variants at PT 25A.

Expect Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and The Scarab God

Magic lore is not my primary expertise, but those two legends seem like a good call when it comes to all matters of devastation. The fact that he spawned a new archetype in Standard speaks to the power level of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.

Immanuel Gerschenson's Grixis Midrange

This deck is a combination of old Grixis Energy concepts and more recent Blue-Black Midrange strategies. A bit slower to come out of the gates, this deck packs an incredible punch when it reaches four and five mana. I would mostly be concerned about running into too many decks against which the early red removal is difficult to use or straight-up dead.

Expect God-Pharaoh's Gift and Other Artifacts

It feels a little bit like there is a small portion of players who just can't stop playing God-Pharaoh's Gift. The newest iteration is removing white for black to utilize Stitcher's Supplier from Core Set 2019:

doves's Blue-Black Gift

Even combined, the white and the black versions of God-Pharaoh's Gift are not showing up in huge numbers, but you should be prepared to occasionally face the powerful seven-drop artifact. Another deck relying on artifacts, and many more of them, is Mono-Blue Storm, which Raymond Perez Jr. played to an 8-0 Magic Online PTQ finish:

RayFuturePro's Mono-Blue Storm

Depending on who you ask, this deck is either the most broken storm combo deck in Standard or completely inconsistent and unplayable. Given the high stakes at PT 25A, I do not expect many players willing to risk being on the wrong side of that debate.

This concludes my overview of Standard. I skipped over Teferi Control and Winding Constrictor decks this time, as they are known pillars of the format that will certainly show up next week. I'm less hopeful when it comes to tier 2 and 3 decks like Mono-Black Zombies, White-Black Knights, or Temur Ramp.

I'll be back on Thursday with Part 2, diving into Modern and Legacy!

—Simon

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