Posted in PRO TOUR MAGIC 2015 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on August 3, 2014

By Josh Bennett

We're in that strange, heady time of the Magic year. It's the tail end of the Premier Play Season and the pros are relentlessly chasing that last big finish. It's also the dawn of a new Core Set, which means that Standard is the largest it ever gets. Until the next block, Khans of Tarkir, all of Return to Ravnica block, Theros block, Magic 2014 and Magic 2015 will be legal. As a result Standard is still working within essentially the same framework it has been for most of Theros block. It makes for something of a muted debut, but nonetheless shows us some of the power that Magic 2015 brings.

Coming into the Pro Tour, Standard was essentially built around five decks. You have Blue Devotion decks, Black Devotion decks (usually with white), Control decks that key off Sphinx's Revelation, Jund-colored Midrange decks, and a spectrum of Red aggressive decks that goes from near-creatureless in Red-White Burn, to the very creature-heavy Boss Sligh.

Blue Devotion decks changed very little. They operate on a critical mass of permanents with blue mana symbols, so it's difficult for new cards to find their way in. A couple of players found room for a single Military Intelligence in the main, but for the most part these decks are the same.

Black Devotion was very happy to see the return of Caves of Koilos, allowing it to play fewer tapped lands while keeping access to white mana for Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Hall of Famer William "Huey" Jensen (20th in the Top 25 Player Rankings) piloted this to a perfect 5-0 in Constructed on Day 1. "It's really all about the lands. Getting your land untapped is huge for this deck. You also get 1 Urborg for free. Some black decks are running Sign in Blood, but I don't know why. I think there's just better cards to play."

No. 20 Ranked Player William Jensen sang the praises for the pain-lands, a key addition from Magic 2015.

The enemy pain-lands were a boon to a lot of decks. Some players modified their White-Blue Control decks to include green for Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Red-White Burn was also happy to have its Battlefield Forges. Matt Sperling 5-0'd with it on Day 1 and said the difference was huge. "I'm only playing three Sacred Foundry and four Battlefield Forge. That should tell you something. You really want your lands untapped where you can, and before that meant Mana Confluence. Well, that could cost you upwards of 4 life over the course of a game. That could easily turn a win into a loss."

Sperling was eager to incorporate Battlefield Forge into his deck of choice for the weekend, as it gives his mana-base a lot more flexibility.

Sperling is also running the new star burn spell, Stoke the Flames. And he's not the only one. Player of the Year hopeful and No. 2 Ranked Player Jeremy Dezani is playing the full complement of them in his creature-based red deck, along with what he considers the centerpiece of the deck, Goblin Rabblemaster. "I'm not even a mono-red player, but I had to play this deck. The Rabblemaster is so incredibly powerful. It's basically the Thassa of the Red deck. It can win you a game on its own post-wrath, and it gives you such explosive draws. Stoke is huge also. 4 damage is a lot, and with convoke you can keep your Goblins from attacking to set up a bigger attack instead of just throwing them away. In my games it either cost four, or zero." Dezani went 4-1 with it on Day 1.

Dezani's team found a gem with Goblin Rabblemaster, the founding element of the team's aggressive "Rabble Red" deck.

Newly-inducted Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara was carrying the banner for Revelation decks, and says that the expected metagame is behind his decision to go full Esper. "Caves of Koilos means you can, and black gives you so many good sideboard options. Pack Rat, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, they're very good." I asked him about some players finding room in their sideboards for things like Jace's Ingenuity and Ætherspouts but he dismissed those as misguided. "Being aggro-control is the most powerful option." Mihara posted a perfect 5-0 on Day 1.

While newly-inducted Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara was also a pain-land advocate, the main advantage to those lands was the ability to play a more aggressive game plan out of the sideboard of Sphinx's Revelation decks.

Jund decks, split neatly between Jund Monsters and Jund Planeswalkers got a couple of new toys: Nissa, Worldwaker, and Genesis Hydra. However Tzu-Ching Kuo found that he'd rather have access to the power of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for those mighty spells. His Green-red Devotion deck, aptly named "Hail Hydra", tore it up on Day 1 (again, the perfect 5-0). "Nissa is such a great card against control. Even if they remove Nissa they have trouble getting at the animated land. Genesis Hydra is just insane. Easily the most powerful card. It even puts the revealed card into play, so it can get around counters. Often I'll play an early one for 3-4 just to up my devotion, but late game you can cast it for however much you like, basically." I asked him why he chose to leave out Chord of Calling, a much-touted Magic 2015 rare, but he explained that it was unnecessary. "It won't help you out if your creatures are dead because it's too expensive, and if you have creatures you were probably going to win anyways."

Tzu-Ching Kuo, and those that followed the call of Hail Hydra, may be showcasing some of the biggest and most explosive cards out of Magic 2015.

However, it was just the familiar decks that got upgrades. A few powerful cards have opened the door to spicy new brews. There's Conley Woods's new take on Black-Green featuring Necromancer's Stockpile, the Red-White Launch the Fleet / Obelisk of Urd deck, and (at least in Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif's eyes) the resurrection of Maze's End to viable deck status.

Even in such a large card pool, Magic 2015 is making its presence known, and there are a lot of hidden gems ready to step onto the stage come rotation time.