No other card was defining the format as much as Goblin Chainwhirler, setting the parameters of what's viable in Standard to such a degree. It was described as the card that you either must run yourself or that you must prepare against. More accurately of course, it's both.
In total, more than 170 players at Pro Tour Dominaria made plans to whirl some chains themselves, and Mountain was by far the most played card in Standard. I talked to Martin Jůza about his expectations for the metagame with regards to Chainwhirler and what it meant for creatures with 1 toughness.
"I think the format is more diverse now than it was at Grand Prix Birmingham three weeks ago," the Hall of Famer said. In Birmingham, Jůza had reached his record-tying 29th Grand Prix Top 8. Like a lot of people, and like five of his fellow quarterfinalists then, he had been playing Red-Black. However, he was one of the few who eschewed Bomat Courier to improve his matchup against other players' Chainwhirlers.
"There are a lot of viable decks in Standard right now. There's more White-Blue Control, there are the green decks, and The Scarab God is showing up again too," said Jůza. "I don't expect to see as many Chainwhirlers this weekend as we did in Birmingham."
Because of this and even in spite of Chainwhirler's certain presence, Jůza argued that running 1 toughness creatures was no longer a foolish enterprise. "In the case of Llanowar Elves, if you can get something into play a turn early, say Steel Leaf Champion, Aethersphere Harvester, or Rhonas, the Indomitable, then you're often okay with the Elves dying on turn three."
"Bomat Courier also seems better now. For one thing, there's a lot more control around, against which it's obviously super important," said Jůza. "You're still risking that one of your creatures dies for free when you come up against Mono-Red or Red-Black. Sometimes though, in the red mirror you can lead with Soul-Scar Mage and keep your Bomat Courier until after turn three, or after they've played Goblin Chainwhirler.
Pro Tour Hall of Famer Martin Jůza has had prior success with Goblin Chainwhirler, earning a Top 4 at the Standard main event of Grand Prix Birmingham last month.
"I can't wait to see how the metagame turns out," said Jůza. "But my one prediction for the tournament is that this weekend is that we're going to see the return of Bomat Courier!"
Pro Tour Eldritch Moon champion Lukas Blohon made a similar point about sequencing when I spoke with him: "Llanowar Elves at least comes down on turn one and you can do something with it before it dies. More interesting is the case of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It's very powerful and it was one of the best cards in the format before Dominaria. It's such a good card that some decks still want to play it, despite Chainwhirler. Sometimes you can even play Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on turn four and kind of force them to cast their Chainwhirler when they'd much rather be doing something else."
Blohon shrugged and admitted, "Sometimes, of course, you just have to run it out on turn two and hope they don't have it. But Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is not as bad as it would seem."
On the other hand, Blohon considered Goblin Chainwhirler to be just as good as everyone was saying. "It's oppressive, making any 1 toughness creatures a liability. It keeps the green decks in check and it pushes things like token strategies out of the metagame."
"Its synergy with Soul-Scar Mage means you don't even have to kill creatures outright. This one is especially important against all these board-centric green decks," Blohon pointed out. "The 3/3 first strike body is quite relevant too, which people often treat as more of an afterthought than they should."
Blohon considered Goblin Chainwhirler to be the biggest constraint put on deckbuilding in this format. "It certainly reduces the number of viable decks in Standard. I don't know how things will look here this weekend, but online it seems as if every other deck is either Red-Black or White-Blue."
Pro Tour Eldritch Moon champion Lukas Blohon respects the power of Chainwhirler, especially in the red-based aggro deck that can go slower after sideboarding.
He said that the creatureless White-Blue Teferi was great at beating the red-black decks. "At least in Game 1," he added. "Then Red-Black will transform, and it will keep you guessing where it's going. Maybe they'll have Karn, Scion of Urza or they'll have Angrath, the Flame-Chained. The deck is similar to the old Mardu Vehicles in that it goes bigger after sideboarding, but it needs to be aggressive in Game 1 to have chance against White-Blue. The problem with White-Blue is that it's very exploitable. You can't rely on Teferi after sideboarding and Settle the Wreckage is pretty bad when people have Duress."
Blohon wasn't happy about Chainwhirler's dominance so far, but he was optimistic regarding this event. "We got some very nice cards from Dominaria, so many build-arounds. Maybe someone will have found the way to make The Mirari Conjecture work, or the storm deck with Aetherflux Reservoir."
Then again, maybe someone just built a better Chainwhirler deck. Later in the day, you'll definitely be able to read about Chainwhirler dealing 3 damage to each opposing creature/player/planeswalker. Stay tuned!