The hallmark of the Standard format is change. New sets come out, new decks are created, and established decks receive major upgrades. Rotation happens once a year and everything changes. Cards that previously were looked at as interesting but not quite good enough have an opportunity to prove themselves again. Usually these changes are small and incremental, as decks will add a card or two, or a deck will come onto the fringes of the format.
Other times, that deck takes the Pro Tour by...storm.
Nearly a dozen teams showed up to the tournament piloting the quirky mono-blue combo deck, the likes of which are rarely seen in Standard. In a nutshell, the goal of the deck is to resolve an Aetherflux Reservoir and then cast a bunch of spells in a single turn to acquire the necessary 50 life to fire off a giant bolt at an opponent to end the game instantly. Alternatively, the deck can completely switch gears and go wide with Thopter tokens thanks to Sai, Master Thopterist, using the tokens to block and buy time or to get aggressive and end the game through combat damage.
It's a two-step attack that keeps opponents completely off guard. How do you sideboard against a deck that is just as likely to kill you with evasive Thopters—creatures made from a 1/4 that dodges several of the most common removal spells in the format—as it is to kill you with a combo finish that involves drawing the majority of its deck?
The answer? Well, it turns out players are still looking for that one.
"We chose it because it can be very fast and have a powerful early game, but it can also grind in the late game," explained Massdrop West team member Ben Weitz. "Also, Paulo [Vitor Dama da Rosa] beat me a lot with it in testing."
Let's break down the "combo." The deck spends the first few turns setting up with cards like Renegade Map, Prophetic Prism, and Metalspinner's Puzzleknot. From there, it aims to deploy Inspiring Statuary, which then allows all those early artifacts to turn into mana sources for cards like Karn, Scion of Urza, Commit // Memory, or Baral's Expertise, which can be used to buy time by bouncing opposing creatures or bouncing a player's own artifacts for value, while also putting a card into play for free. Oftentimes, it is Aetherflux Reservoir.
With Reservoir in play, the deck will play out its most potent spell: Paradoxical Outcome. It can bounce all the inexpensive (or free) cards back to the Storm player's hand while drawing a ton of cards. As Reservoir gains an ever-increasing amount of life, all those spells are then re-cast until the Reservoir pilot has enough the requisite 50 extra life to shoot the opponent.
But that's not all the deck can do, which brings us to the card that propelled it from fringe player to Pro Tour force.
"Sai, Master Thopterist is an extremely messed up Magic card," Weitz said. "It is extremely good, and made the deck what it is. I tested a lot of decks with Sai, and this is the best one. It is one of the biggest reasons I decided to play it at this event."
The Core Set 2019 standout fills many roles. It's a solid blocker early, and with four toughness and a converted mana cost of three, it dodges most of the format's inexpensive removal, including the majority of Fatal Pushes. Once its controller untaps with it, Sai will provide a steady stream of value, creating enough Thopters to stall the game long enough to combo or just take over on its own. While the Thopters are of course vulnerable to the ubiquitous Goblin Chainwhirler, the deck as a whole is strong against most versions of the Red-Black Aggro deck that was the most-played at the Pro Tour.
Alongside the Turbo Fog deck that is also finding success this weekend, the dominance of Chainwhirler may be in question moving forward. Meanwhile, Standard players should be prepared to weather the storm over the next few months.