Pro Tour Dublin is in the books and, although in terms of decks that we saw, the results might not have been what everyone was hoping for, we still have plenty of material to work with. Today, I'd like to share my view on why the PT turned out the way it did (the top six performing decks were all Mardu vehicles) and where do we go from there.
PT Aether Revolt was very unique in one aspect: it followed the biggest Standard ban we've seen in years and that, together with a brand new set, was supposed to shake things up considerably in terms of deck diversity. In the end, that didn't quite work out, and many are lamenting about Standard being a two-deck format yet again, only this time it seems to be B/G Constrictor vs. Mardu vehicles instead of U/W vs. B/G Delirium. I admit that I was disappointed when I was browsing the 6-4 or better decklists, but I don't think that Standard is going to look like this for the remainder of the season, which I'll try to explain today.
Before we look at what (possibly) will be, let's see how we got to the point that we're at now. After the ban of Smuggler's Copter, Emrakul the Promised End and Reflector Mage and the release of Aether Revolt, there seemed to be two "best things" you could be doing in Standard: 1) comboing Saheeli Rai with Felidar Guardian and 2) Putting +1/+1 counters on your creatures with Winding Constrictor or Walking Ballista in play. The first combination is the most efficient lategame combination and the second one the best way how to dominate the board. These two seemed to be the defining aspects of Standard: if you wanted to play a "fair game", you had to make sure to have answers to the Copycat combo and also a way how to deal with a board full of monstrous roadblocks that Winding Constrictor and Verdurous Gearhulk create.
This is a pretty high bar for any deck to succeed, for Standard's standards (no pun intended) and it eliminates a lot of possible competition. Tezzeret decks, for example, could also form a pillar of the format, but unfortunately, they just don't seem to be able to keep up with Saheeli or B/G. Initially, I was hopeful about the improvise mechanic and Tezz himself, but no matter how hard I tried, battling against B/G specifically was a nightmare. There were several players who tried to break this strategy at the PT, but none of them succeeded. Luis Salvatto, one of South America's most talented Magicians, put his PT hopes on a Standard improvise deck and after a 2-1 start in draft, he scored exactly zero wins with his Standard deck and didn't make it to day 2. Other fringe strategies met a similar fate.
However, one deck was able to flourish in this environment - Mardu vehicles. The one reason why Mardu vehicles had such a dominating performance is simple: it absolutely crushed the Copycat decks. While the old Splinter Twin combo, which Copycat decks were often likened to, were typically great against aggro / midrange decks, Copycat struggles against pressure backed up by removal. There's a big difference between trying to assemble the Saheeli Rai - Felidar Guardian combination and flashing a Deceiver Exarch into play at the end of turn when the opponent taps out and then killing them on the spot. First of all, if you play Saheeli on turn three, on curve for the turn four kill, the opponent can attack the planeswalker and kill her (a starting loyalty of 3 which goes to 4 isn't much). If you play Felidar Guardian first, you go off a turn later and also, you tap out and make the opponent's removal spells live. All in all, the blazing fast starts of Mardu Vehicles with removal backup like Unlicensed Disintegration or Shock to break up the combo are too much for Copycat decks to handle. As a result, although various Copycat variants had an almost 25% share of the day 1 metagame at PT Aether Revolt, in the end, Jeskai Copycat was the deck with the lowest conversion rate into day 2 (only 36%) and was a complete bust in Dublin.
Mardu Vehicles dominated the PT, but that doesn't mean it's going to be the best deck in Standard for the weeks to come. Sure, it's aggressive, fairly resilient and because it has access to all five colors thanks to Spire of Industry, Cultivator's Caravan and Aether Hub, it can maneuver around the metagame. But it's far from unbeatable. The Mardu - B/G matchup is close to 50/50, based on which versions of both decks are thrown against each other. Mardu Vehicles was the best deck for the PT weekend and multiple big teams figured that out, which is why we saw such incredible numbers of this deck at the top tables in Dublin.
As always after a Standard PT, the question is: what now? Which deck is going to profit from the state of the Standard metagame as it is now in the short term? How about the long run? Is it even possible to predict that now? I think that to some extent, it certainly is possible and in fact, that's what I'd like to do now.
Before the PT, the defining question for any brew was "how does it play against Copycat and B/G". Today, I think that the question has to be "how does it play against Mardu Vehicles and B/G". Mardu Vehicles had a major advantage at the Pro Tour due to the fact that it was good both against Jeskai Copycat and against the decks that were designed to beat Copycat by outcontrolling it. The next few weeks will show how resilient Mardu Vehicles is against the hate that people throw at it. Is there a way how to beat Mardu without conceding too much in other matchups? I'm pretty sure that the answer to that question is "yes" and probably even in several different ways. The key card to help solve this puzzle seems to be Fatal Push. While at the PT, many decks played Shocks as the "necessary evil" against Jeskai Copycat, in the post-PT metagame, Fatal Push will likely play this role.
Since the PT, I've been trying several decks that I think might be good choices in the new metagame. I've been pretty happy with Martin Juza's Jundicles deck from the PT - despite him losing 3-0 to Mardu Vehicles in the quarterfinals, I think it's actually a fairly reasonable matchup, especially post-board where you have access to a playset of Fatal Pushes and some Skysovereign, Consul Flagships. I've also added a pair of Release the Gremlins to the sideboard - a card that Martin didn't play but that I think is really good against Vehicles.
Another deck, this time even more specifically designed to beat Vehicles, is this B/W Midrange that I've been working on:
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In a vacuum, this is certainly not the most powerful deck in the format, but many of the cards and synergies it contains are very well positioned right now. The biggest pull towards this particular version is the fact that we play a deck that is capable of having early board presence while also running Fumigate, a card that is incredible against B/G, while being passable against Mardu Vehicles. Various control decks that could theoretically run Fumigate turned out not to be a great choice in the current metagame because of how poorly the answers stack against the threats in the format - even a "catch-all" card like Fumigate is mediocre when playing against vehicles and planeswalkers. However, this deck uses the sweeper in a different way: because you have four vehicles and nine planeswalkers, you can often play a "normal" game and curve out and then on turn five or six kill their creatures with Fumigate and also possibly finish their planeswalkers with an attack of Gideon. Fumigate is actually a proactive card and losing a Thraben Inspector or Scrapheap Scrounger is not a big deal.
The planeswalker package is another thing that I really like about this deck. In a metagame where the numbers of Toolcraft Exemplars and Veteran Motorists are high, Liliana, the Last Hope excels and the fact that she is a three mana planeswalker who can pilot Heart of Kiran right away is also a really nice bonus. But she is also pretty good against Heart of Kiran: if you manage to play her on a board where she doesn't lose to an attacking Heart, she can use her +1 ability to prevent opposing Scrapheap Scroungers from piloting the "crew 3" vehicle and generally relegate them to a useless piece of Scrap they should be anyway.
Aethergeode Miner, Thraben Inspector and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim are in the deck mostly so that you have something to do in the early turns and can crew Aethersphere Harvesters, but all three have one more function as well - being useful against Jeskai Copycat, as weird as that might sound. The reason is Fatal Push: without a reliable way how to turn on Revolt, Push is pretty weak against the Saheeli Rai - Felidar Guardian combo, but if you have a clue laying around, can blink Aethergeode Miner or sacrifice something to Ayli, you can easily enable Revolt at instant speed, making the playset of Fatal Pushes actually useful against anyone brave enough to play Jeskai Copycat in the current Standard.
There are several more cute interactions in the deck, like Scrapheap Scrounger + Ayli, which lets you turn any creature in your graveyard into two life for three mana, or Aethergeode Miner crewing a vehicle, then blinking herself and crewing something else (or crewing Heart of Kiran on your turn and then threatening to block with it as well). There are not that many cards that generate energy in the deck, but even attacking on turn three will sometimes do the trick.
The sideboard might still need some serious work, but the basic idea is simple. In most matchups, Mardu vehicles go for the sideboard plan of bringing in more planeswalkers to combat creature removal and sweepers - we have Ruinous Paths, Skysovereign and Quarantine Fields to fight this strategy. Thalia, Transgress the Mind and Authority of the Consuls is a concession to Jeskai Copycat, although I'm not even sure about the Authorities anymore, since many Copycat decks board out their combo and just become a dedicated control deck post-board. The third Fumigate is in the board against B/G and various aggro decks, but not necessarily Mardu Vehicles, where the sweeper isn't that great, especially in the post-board games.
I've heard quite a few people complaining about the state of the metagame when they saw the results of the Pro Tour, but I think things might actually turn out just fine. Heart of Kiran and Winding Constrictor are great cards, but they are by no means as oppressive as Emrakul was or as overpowered and universal as Smuggler's Copter turned out to be. Mardu Vehicles is a strong deck, but it certainly doesn't seem unbeatable. Despite the catastrophic performance of Jeskai Copycat at the Pro Tour, I don't even think this deck should be dismissed - once the numbers of Mardu Vehicles die down a bit, the Copycat combo should become playable again and forgetting about its existence in the format would certainly be a mistake. Next weekend will give us more data, but I think that seeing the format crystalize in its long-term form will take several weeks at least - and then we should be able to say more about how healthy it is (or isn't). Until then, brewing and trying to beat Mardu and G/B is certainly viable and is going to pay off in many cases.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!
About Adam Koska
Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:
- 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
- 9th at Worlds 2009
- 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
- 64 Lifetime Pro Points
- Three times Czech Nationals Top 8