Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Surprises

Posted in Event Coverage on October 17, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Everyone works hard to prepare for Pro Tours. Players and teams test, battling drafts and building decks in an effort to see into the future. Painting an accurate picture of the formats before heading into competition puts players into Top 8 contention.

Of course, there are always a few surprises. We checked in with some of the players to see what stood out to them as the biggest surprise on Day One of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.

Pro Tour Magic Origins finalist and 2015 Player of the Year Mike Sigrist felt the effects of a different vision for Standard.

"I was surprised by some of the Constructed decks and how good the Red-Green Landfall deck was," Sigrist said. "We tried it and dismissed it early, but it might be the better version of what I'm playing. With most of the removal—Radiant Flames and Surge of Righteousness—it's tough, but landfall gets to go with Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense. It can still combo opponents through those cards."

Nineteenth-ranked and Pro Tour Avacyn Restored winner Alexander Hayne surprised himself most of all.

"I was not expecting to do well [in Standard]," Hayne admitted. "Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was championing the deck we played and I ended up trusting him. I typically play blue-based decks and this is the first time I've played an aggressive red deck. My range is expanding: I went 4-1 with the deck."

"I was a little surprised by how underrepresented red seemed to be. The deck's really good. It's different from red decks of the past—you put a lot of tempo pressure on them and combo out to kill them with Become Immense or Temur Battle Rage. It's possible to do 30 damage in a turn through multiple blockers."

Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Raphaël Lévy had picked up his fifth Grand Prix win the previous weekend with Battle for Zendikar Limited at Grand Prix Madison. Standard was another story.

"There were a lot of decks we didn't play," Lévy said. "We didn't see the Aristrocrats deck and Collected Company decks, and for the landfall decks we didn't have the sideboarding tech with Hooting Mandrills and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. We expected red to be bad even though it felt good when we tested because we couldn't seem to win with it."

"[Standard] was hard to figure out. I chose my deck just two days before and didn't find something I really liked. It was tough to choose the right deck."

Reid Duke and his team had arrived to a vision of Standard that looked a little different from Pro Tour reality.

"I was generally surprised by the Esper decks with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Sorin, Solemn Visitor," said Duke. "I was surprised how many midrange Planeswalker decks there were. We had done all our testing with red as a pillar of the format. We didn't have this midrange arms race with cards like Painful Truths. Our decks were smoother and focused, geared for the early game."

2014 Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto earned a finalist finish at Grand Prix Madison the weekend prior, but had learned even more about Limited from the Pro Tour.

"I think we came in very well prepared. It turned out a bit like we expected, as the archetypes and synergies were important [in Draft]," Lantto said. "Green-black seemed to be better than we expected. Swarm Surge was a really underrated card in red-black and green-black decks. I saw it come around 12th, 13th, 1and 4th pick. You can also ramp Eldrazi Scions into Eldrazis, and it seemed to work."

Matej Zatlkaj was a Pro Tour Top 8 contender looking for another breakthrough, and found the Standard puzzle to be interesting.

"We were also surprised by how well we did in Limited," Zatlkaj said. "We did not expect black Liliana, Heretical Healer decks [in Standard]. We had them on our radar but didn't expect them to come to the Pro Tour, especially the Blue-Black Aristocrats. We were like, 'What does it play again?'"

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