DAY ONE STANDARD METAGAME BREAKDOWN

Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 11, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

In the days of yore, Standard format rotations weren't always a big deal. Many of us surely remember the sad rotations when the top decks just remained the top decks, despite gaining a whole new, awesome block to play with. Those rotations shall remain nameless. But now, just looking back to Pro Tour Theros, a block rotating out can severely affect the climate of Standard.

From just the decks that have showed up today, Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir looks to be just as ground-breaking as that Pro Tour, if not more so. The top three played archetypes, comprising almost 50% of the field, are brand-spankin'-new, Khans-enabled archetypes. The Jeskai Wins deck, Abzan Midrange, and Mardu Midrange all top the list, while the top-played archetype returning from the last season is the Black-Green Devotion deck, sporting those weighty Doomwake Giants.

We'll play with the numbers further soon, but first, below is the list of all 357 Standard decks going into the first day.

Archetype # of players Percentage of the Field
Jeskai Wins 77 21.57%
Abzan Midrange 60 16.81%
Mardu Midrange 27 7.56%
Green-Black Devotion 23 6.44%
Jeskai Ascendancy 21 5.88%
Green Devotion 17 4.76%
Blue-Black Control 16 4.48%
Red-Green Monsters 10 2.80%
Sidisi Whip 8 2.24%
Mardu Planeswalkers 7 1.96%
Esper Control 6 1.68%
Mono-Red Aggro 6 1.68%
White-Blue Heroic 8 2.24%
Naya Walkers 5 1.40%
Unwritten Devotion 5 1.40%
White-Blue Control 5 1.40%
Abzan Aggro 4 1.12%
Mardu Aggro 4 1.12%
Mardu Control 4 1.12%
Naya Midrange 4 1.12%
Red-White Heroic 4 1.12%
4-Color Sidisi 3 0.84%
White-Black Control 3 0.84%
White-Red Aggro 3 0.84%
Abzan Constellation 2 0.56%
Jeskai Midrange 2 0.56%
Mono-Black Aggro 2 0.56%
Mono-Red Heroic 2 0.56%
White Blue SoulBlade 2 0.56%
Temur Aggro 2 0.56%
Four-Color Midrange 1 0.28%
Abzan Delve 1 0.28%
Green-Blue Midrange 1 0.28%
Blue-Red Heroic 1 0.28%
Jeskai Control 1 0.28%
Jeskai Tokens 1 0.28%
Mardu Heroic 1 0.28%
Mono-White Heroic 1 0.28%
Phenax Devotion 1 0.28%
Sultai Constellation 1 0.28%
Sultai Control 1 0.28%
Temur Midrange 1 0.28%
Temur Monsters 1 0.28%
Red-White Control 1 0.28%
Red-White Tokens 1 0.28%

Though some of the decks might not be perfectly tuned yet, and the archetypes might not end up being all top tier, as Brad Nelson said so well, "You might not have the right strategy, but you can be guaranteed your opponents don't either." It's a wide open field and people have been using that to their advantage, playing around 45 distinct archetypes.

The numbers near the top break up nicely. The clear top two bets on the day are Jeskai Wins and Abzan Midrange. The next glut includes the old favorites Black-Green Devotion and Green Devotion (which often splash for red, but sometimes blue or white) alongside newcomers Jeskai Ascendancy combo and Blue-Black Control. Everything else, including the former glorious Red-Green Monsters, represents individually less than 3% of the field (although these decks comprise 32.5% of the field put together).

Jeskai Wins is a broad umbrella for the varied clan-aligned decks that sport Mantis Rider, some tempo-ish cards, and generally a heaping helping of burn. Some decks skew bigger, even flirting with the "Midrange" distinction, packing a few top-end threats like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker while others play things like Welkin Tern and Vaporkin to really force through the early damage. More than one group of players seemed to feel Hushwing Gryff was quite good against the expected field, and played a full four copies in the main deck. We'll have to wait and see if that pans out for them, or if the less metagame-guessing strategy was indeed safer.

The second-place Abzan Midrange deck was the "Zoo" deck of the format coming into today. It's the deck everyone knew was good and was expecting to see. Zoo, in Modern, was often the "Your-deck-better-beat-this-or-don't-bother-playing" deck, and that's how most people saw Abzan. Siege Rhino's a house, apparently. It blanks aggro cold; it's a turn-three significant threat against control (thanks, Elvish Mystic and Rattleclaw Mystic); and backed up by things like Utter End, it can just end the game itself. This is, of course, side by side with some great pals. Some decks are lower-curved, playing Fleecemane Lion and the new Rakshasa Deathdealer. And others look a bit more like the traditional Sylvan Caryatid/Courser of Kruphix combo we all know and love.

The biggest question mark in everyone's mind is the fifth-most-played, Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. Sporting a four-card engine that usually makes any Spike cower in kitchen-table-induced fear, the redundancy of the pieces makes the deck just attractive enough to have grabbed over 20 pilots—some of them are even top pros. Costa Rican player Miguel Gatica said before the tournament that he couldn't quite trust it, but would've done so if he would be able to play four more copies of Sylvan Caryatid. It seems some people didn't need such an incentive to give it a try.

By the clan alignments, Jeskai has both the most players and most distinct archetypes. It has 102 players and five builds including one control player, one tokens player, and two midrange players in addition to the two mentioned before. The Mardu clan, though known for its aggressive nature has mostly midrange and control players. And if you put lump the Mardu Control with a fairly similar Mardu Planeswalkers deck, there are 11 players which puts it just shy of the top-played control deck, Blue-Black Control.

Before the tournament, people speculated on whether control could survive in this format, what with the super-fast aggressive decks coming out of the gates even fast enough to beat midrange. But there are about 40 players here going the long, drawn-out, just-down-die-until-you're-dead route. So the archetype hasn't died yet.

The clan least-represented is Sultai, barely appearing under its clan name, with one Control player and one Constellation player. The Sidisi Whip deck, however, uses the Sultai-aligned Sidisi, Brood Tyrant to fill up the yard with creatures (while netting some Zombies in the process), then using the Whip of Erebos to rock their opponents' worlds. Murderous Cut and Sagu Mauler haunt the yards, and even a Necropolis Fiend every once in a while. There are three players with a four-color build and eight on a three-color one, together putting it at around 3% of the field, just above Red-Green Monsters.

In the non-clan categories, Heroic decks seem to be the aggro variant of choice, though the colors are unsure. There's Mono-Red, Mono-White, White-Red, White-Blue, Blue-Red, and even a Mardu one. Seventeen decks in total are planning to play some dudes with Heroic, target them, and cause you to die from said targeting and probably subsequent attacking.

Most of the other decks have names that can provide you insight as to what they do—except of course for SoulBlade. All I'll say so far is that the deck contains four copies of Ensoul Artifact and Ghostfire Blade.

The first day is just over halfway done, so there's still tons more Magicup in here. It's possible all these new decks fail and we'll have a top eight of only cards we've already seen before. But just looking at the numbers, (a) it doesn't seem that many people here believe that, and (b) it's mathematically improbable on numbers alone.

We've come a long way from the days of inconsequential set rotations. As Return to Ravnica exited the stage, it took a lot of the mana-symbol-swamped permanents that made devotion so formidable. It looks like the clans have been more than happy to fill the void, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow night to really see what worked and what didn't.

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