The Pro Tour is behind us, and while it was rather unexciting, there were a couple of weird rules/organizational situations that happened during the last few weeks that caught my attention, as well as the attention of the community. I would like to address these things in the article, as well as talk about the future of Standard and my thought process while choosing a Standard deck, so scroll to the bottom if you are here just for that. ...I really hope no one actually scrolled to the bottom, you would be missing out.
Sealed Pool Registration at Limited GPs
Now, this was a very interesting situation that I first witnessed in Prague, but supposedly happened at some other European sealed GPs too, and maybe even some of the American ones. What happened is that the tournament organizers decided to split the deck registration into two, by separating people with byes from people without them. Everyone that had no byes had to check the seatings, and sit at the table they were assigned randomly, the usual process, nothing odd there. On the other hand, everyone who did have byes, just picked up the product by providing their name (no ID was necessary, so you could just walk in, point at a random name on the list they had there and pick up products if you wanted) and was free to sit anywhere in the designated area. Since people were coming in groups and pairs with friends, you could just sit opposite of your friend and easily exchange cards or manipulate the lists if you and the person sitting opposite of you were so inclined. It is not reasonable to expect no one took advantage of this rather safe cheating opportunity and many players were very mad because of the organization. Since I had a bye in Prague as well, I was seated in the area, and can say that there was only one judge per several dozen players and that surveillance was very weak if any. The judge did suggest that if you come with a friend you should not sit opposite of him, but since many people were in groups, that didn't really work out. I have talked to many friends who were there for the GP about this, and the general consensus was that this system was really bad for the tournament since it just promotes cheating. I have even heard a rumor about some players asking for a refund for the tournament entry because they didn't want to play against manipulated pools they believed to be numerous due to this flawed deck registration process.
While I don't believe that many people took advantage of this, there are certainly some who did, and this simply cannot be a good thing. I understand this speeds up the tournament somewhat, but the downside is just too huge for this system to stay in place. People with byes need to have randomized seatings as well as a couple of more judges in the area to scout for any kind of shenanigans people might try to pull off. You might trust people, but it is very indicative this is a deck from GP Prague:
Hopefully we won't get to see this in the future.
Combat and Vehicles - Understanding the Shortcut
There was only one controversy at the Pro Tour (at least that I'm aware of :D ) that happened in round eight in the feature match area in a match between Thien Nguyen and Cesar Segovia. The situation is best understood if you check the video of the incident.
The critical situation can be seen after five minutes of the video, where Cesar Segovia says 'Combat?' and after Nguyen confirms, Cesar crews Heart of Kiran with his freshly cast Weldfast Engineer. Nguyen calls a judge, who makes a ruling that Segovia missed his beginning of combat, thus cannot crew his Heart of Kiran, and he missed his Weldfast Engineer trigger. The spectator chat on Twitch exploded after this, claiming that Nguyen is 'rules lawyering' and abusing the fact that his opponent's English isn't very good. Even though Nguyen probably knew what his opponent had in mind, it is hardly his fault for calling a judge in this situation. As a judge, I had TONS of questions concerning this, especially lately with vehicles and tapping creatures down. Saying 'combat' is a known shortcut in Magic, where once you say it, it means you want to go to your declare attackers step. If your opponent says 'ok' this means you are in your declare attackers step, and the only thing you can do at that point in time is choose which creatures to attack with. If your vehicles aren't crewed at that point, they cannot attack.
What Segovia did here is he skipped his beginning of combat by using the shortcut word 'combat' which does that. This is rather counterintuitive, but let me try and explain why this is so. In the dark times of Magic, this was not so, and it was heavily abused. Saying 'combat' back then meant you wanted to go to the beginning of combat, which meant that if your opponent wants to do something before that, it is still your main phase when whatever he is doing resolves. The most common interaction was between Icy Manipulator and Ball Lightning, where you could ask 'combat?' and if your opponent decided to use his Icy Manipulator to tap one of your creatures, you would regain priority in your Main Phase and be able to cast Ball Lightning and attack with it. This was obviously a very cheeky move that was frowned upon, but during those times, the Magic community was far shadier than it is now. Because of this and other similar abuses, Wizards decided to change the ruling of the shortcut so it cannot be abused in this way anymore.
So, what to do to prevent ending up in a situation like Segovia did at the Pro Tour? First of all - crew your vehicles in the main phase - there is usually little reason not to do that, other than cards like Pacification Array. Secondly, if you have triggers that trigger at the beginning of combat, try to proceed to the combat step by announcing those triggers, and not by saying anything that might be misinterpreted. In the situation that Nguyen and Segovia had, Segovia should have crewed his Heart of Kiran in his Main Phase, and then asked his opponent if it is ok that he puts his Weldfast Engineer trigger onto the stack. This would clearly indicate he is proceeding to the beginning of combat, and not to declare attackers. Hypothetically, if he forgot to crew, but announced the Weldfast Engineer trigger, he would only be able to target one of the Scrapheap Scroungers with the trigger, but would be able to crew the Heart of Kiran after the trigger is resolved, at the end of the beginning of combat step. This situation sometimes comes up in draft, when you want to crew a vehicle with a servo or another smaller artifact creature, so you need to wait for the beginning of combat, to give +2+0 to the servo, and then use it to crew something that has crew 3. If you are on the other side of the table, having Pacification Array or some other way of tapping down creatures, it is usually best to make sure that you are tapping down things at the end of the beginning of combat if you don't want them to attack. This gets trickier with vehicles, but if you want to tap down a vehicle, just wait for the opponent to crew it and remember if he asks 'combat?', you can just respond with 'ok' and take his every chance of crewing and attacking with a vehicle.
I understand that this might be a bit confusing still, especially if you are a newer player, so I found this article that explains things in more detail.
While this might help you gain an edge over a less experienced player, I hope you will only use this to evade any tricks your opponents might want to try on you with announcing combat and beginning of combat. If you are ever in doubt - call a judge!
Standard and Choices
The Pro Tour is over and we have more questions than answers this time around. Usually, the Pro Tour would answer pretty much everything about the metagame - what decks are tier 1, what can we expect in the coming months and so on. This Pro Tour didn't really deliver on this due to the heavy domination of Mardu Vehicles. It isn't unusual for an aggro deck to win the PT, but it is very rare that it dominates as much as Mardu Vehicles did last weekend. Aggro decks are usually rather easy to adapt to, since their game plans are usually very linear and there are always good cards to 'turn off' aggressive linear strategies. There are such cards in this format as well, but the problem is that Mardu Vehicles isn't really a linear deck. Vehicles themselves are a big part of the problem, making sweepers and sorcery speed removal rather ineffectual against the deck, but there are other culprits like Scrapheap Scrounger who definitely might be looking at a ban if Wizards decide to continue with their trigger-happy ban announcements. Scrounger and Gideon are the main cards that give Mardu Vehicles gas, and a lot of it, so the deck is surprisingly resilient to the usual recipe - kill all your threats, take control of your game plan against aggro.
It might not be as easy as we are used to, but control decks can adapt to that as well, and already are (as I mentioned in my last article) with cards like To the Slaughter for Gideon or Brutal Expulsion for Scrapheap Scrounger. (I have seen people play Shamble Back, seriously) Once the right recipe for Aggro is found, we can expect the metagame to stabilize a bit more and remain in balance for a time, at least until the next set, or next banhammer from our dear Wizards.
The main question remains, though, what to play right now? There are tons of Standard GPs in the next month or so and I'm sure there are many of you who are still deciding on what to bring to the table. Heck, even I am in the same boat, still not sure what to sleeve up.
The first thing I crossed off the list were the top three most popular decks, since I never want to play the most popular deck and get hated out or playing mirrors all day. If the mirror is decided by the coin flip, as is often case with Mardu Vehicles, even worse. G/B constrictor and G/B delirium are in a similar situation, where they aren't really beating Mardu Vehicles consistently, especially on the draw. Constrictor is also a known quantity that gets punished by similar cards that bother Vehicles, so I crossed it from the list without giving it more than a few spins. I did give more credit to Delirium, since I believed that Ishkanah and other Delirium cards should be more than able to stop the Vehicles, but it turns out after some testing that the matchup isn't really that good, while the combo matchup is even worse. This left me with just a few other options - Control, Combo or something completely different. I have played combo in a recent PPTQ and made it to the semifinals, but really hated the deck all the while. It was very boring to play, always just hoping to draw exactly what you need to win, which pretty much determined every game. A rather disappointing experience I decided not to go through again. Control is where I'm at at the moment, trying out Grixis and Jeskai Improvise control lists, but I'm also rather interested in Emerge lists, since not only that Elder-Deep Fiend is amazing, but also Kozilek's Return is great in the current metagame. I really want to build a good Kozilek's Return deck before the next GP, and if I manage to, I will share it in the next Deck Spotlight! Stay tuned!
Good luck and have fun!
About Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.
During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.