The Magic bazaar is an awesome sight to behold. Anyone who attends Grand Prix events, especially ones with constructed formats, knows the hallowed dealers' alley. Flanking both sides of the endless rows of tables, the vendors are there to help people with any last-minute sideboard changes—and sometimes, last-minute deck changes.
Because of this close connection with the competitors, the dealers are great people to talk to about what to expect from the day. We're less than a week since Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir helped shaped the high-level metagame; how has it changed the Grand Prix landscape? There are over 1,700 players here which is too many to truly grapple with; in the early rounds it's often the dealers who have the best read on the room. What are the rumors and whispers coming from the dealers?
"Everything Abzan," said Michael from Battle City Games, a local store out of Orange County, California (Yes, yes, that Orange County of "The O.C." fame). "And every land that Abzan plays: Llanowar Wastes, Temple of Malady, Temple of Silence, you name it." Michael was mirroring most of the room when he said this. Jameson over at MTG Card Market said he couldn't keep Sorin, Solemn Visitors and Wingmate Rocs in stock.
Though many top players are siding with the Jeskai clan this weekend, I will eat my hat if Abzan is not the most-played deck this weekend. It's a hard deck to deny—you've got everything you could ever want in a deck, from board sweepers, to flying creatures, to discard, to creature removal.
You can play the Midrange version, or the aggressive bent that Mike Sigrist took to the Top 8 last week. Dave and Kenny over at MTGDeals, out of the LA area as well, also mentioned that Herald of Torment was a hot topic. Like another three-mana flyer that found new life with a new block (I'm looking at you, Nightveil Specter), Herald of Torment has finally found a good home in Standard. And if you trust MTGDeals, you'll likely be facing it this weekend. The deck eschews Courser of Kruphix for Rakshasa Deathdealer, and Sylvan Caryatid for the Herald. And it's the real deal.
Whether it's Abzan Midrange or Aggro, this much was likely clear from the Pro Tour: If you don't have a plan to beat Siego Rhino, it will beat you.
Humorously enough, the dealers also have a good read on the crowd-sourced Rhino stopper—Hushwing Gryff. Few things feel better than blanking an opposing Siege Rhino or Wingmate Roc, or heck, what about Hornet Queen, quite like also getting a 2/1 flyer while you're doing it. Just follow up with some burn, and you're in like flint. That's what the Jeskai players will be hoping to do with the Gryff.
Some teams were so high on this guy at the Pro Tour, many decks were playing four of them in the main deck. Regardless of where you think it belongs in your Jeskai 75, it belongs there. Based on a preliminary read, the Gryffs might be the most-wanted non-land card at this event.
Mashi Scanlan, from Northern California–based ChannelFireball (perhaps you've heard of them), added to the Hushwing Gryff story, but had a couple more of his own to add. He started with Drown in Sorrow and End Hostilities. These are very important to know. Control had been declared "dead" before the Pro Tour, but after No. 5 Ivan Floch's Top 8 performance—among others like Greg Orange, Andrew Cuneo, No. 1 Owen Turtenwald, and No. 10 Stanislav Cifka—people believe they can tame the beasts. Beasts like mantises, goblins, and rhinos are hard to contain, but End Hostilities and Drown in Sorrow can go a long way to getting there.
But Scanlan didn't stop there. He mentioned one other card. "It's huge," he said. "It's everywhere," he said. The card? Magic 2015 draft stand-out, Jorubai Murk Lurker. If the End Hostilities and Drown in Sorrow weren't enough to prove that people are playing control, then this leech better be. Scanlan wasn't the only dealer to mention the card either. Paige over at AmazingMTG.com said that "spicy" leech was popular all day.
The card might just occupy a perfect place in the metagame against aggressive decks. Assuming you're playing Swamps (you are), Murk Lurker can't get hit by Magma Jet, blocks Goblin Rabblemaster and spawn all day long, and even gains life to help survive to the late game. If that weren't enough, it also survives Drown in Sorrow. Murk Lurker might be great in the control deck.
That is, if control is any good at all. Though it's easy to learn from the Pro Tour that "Blue-Black Control is good," but that might be misleading. Firstly, some of the best players in the world were piloting the deck. A control deck like that is notoriously difficult and arduous to play. It's possible the general Grand Prix–level players can't pilot it as well as, say Owen Turtenwald or Andrew Cuneo. Additionally, some of the pilots didn't even like the deck. Ivan Floch did nothing but trash the deck mercilessly to me all weekend—even after he had secured the Top 8!
It's clear that Jorubai Murk Lurker will be good in Blue-Black Control, I just don't think we know if that deck is good in the format yet.
So if the dealers' whisperings are to be trusted, it'll be Abzan decks, followed by teched-out Jeskai builds, and a continuing evolution of the big, possibly scary, control deck. Only the coming rounds will reveal the truth.