Hello everyone, I’m coming to you straight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport today. I’ve found a food court from which to write this dispatch, and I’m taking advantage of this beautiful country’s free refills policy by gorging myself on this bottomless cup of Coca-Cola. It’s emblazoned with an American flag and three separate troops, who I am, of course, respecting very aggressively. Is there any better way to honour those who defend our freedom than by giving myself Type 2 diabetes by desperately slurping corn syrup out of a mockery of consumer culture under capitalism and the imperialism that fuels it? I think not.
However much I love celebrating the institutions of empire, that is not what brings me back to this city for a second weekend in a row. You see, I’m waiting for Toronto’s golden boy, Chris Ha, to show up, at which point we’ll be heading over to register for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, a celebration of tournament Magic in its own right. Forgive the humblebrag of epic proportions, but I’m legitimately a little bit sad that I don’t get to watch the Pro Tour, given that I have to, you know, try and win matches at it. Ugh, I know, the horror. For those of you lucky enough to glue your eyes to Twitch all weekend, welcome to my viewer’s guide to Pro Tour Atlanta, where I regale you with tales of the top decks in Standard, give some insights as to what people will be doing in the Draft format and pick out some players who I expect to perform well in the tournament.
Boros Aggro by Bayesta_93 (MOCS 8-0)
Despite featuring unplayables like Healer’s Hawk, white aggro decks dominated last weekend’s Magic Online Championship Series, with 6/11 decks at 7-1 or better being some variant of a Legion’s Landing/Benalish Marshal aggro deck. Historically kept down by Goblin Chainwhirler, these strategies have made a resurgence thanks to their excellent Izzet and Jeskai matchups and explosive starts. The Boros version relies on strong mid-game punches from History of Benalia and Heroic Reinforcements to end the game, with powerful sideboard cards like Experimental Frenzy letting it grind. The mono-white version tends to play Venerated Loxodon instead, and commits its hand to the board as quickly as possible, hoping that it can push through quickly enough. Expect to see a lot of this deck at the Pro Tour this weekend, unless mono-red decks show up en masse as a reaction to this metagame.
Boros Angels by _goblinlackey (MOCS 7-1)
This — a variation on Brad Nelson’s list from Grand Prix New Jersey — remains popular for its excellent matchup against Izzet Drakes, thanks in part to a density of threats that can each win the game individually alongside a removal suite that lines up very well against the format. It is, however, saddled with a poor control matchup, unable to gain much traction againt the swath of answers Jeskai has access to. If red shows up in force to counter the white aggro decks, and players default to the Izzet Drakes deck, this deck will perform extremely well.
Izzet Drakes by PascalMaynard (MOCS 7-1)
Pascal’s list here looks like he fed every Izzet list from Magic Online into a machine learning algorithm and out popped this monstrosity of 2-ofs, unsure whether it wanted to be the Electromancer version or the Warlord’s Fury build. However, given that it looks like an aggregate list, it’s useful here! These decks seek to fill their graveyard and recur Arclight Phoenix to survive early, then swing through for monstrous amounts in the air with Crackling Drake. While many Electromancer versions don’t run the card, Maximize Velocity is heralded by many as this deck’s Splinter Twin, allowing it to win out of nowhere if the opponent slips up. This strategy is inherently very powerful, but has run afoul of the format as of late, with the new popular decks gunning for it and players learning how best to play around its Twin combo.
Jeskai Control by JoseCabezas (MOCS 7-1)
Teferi decks have evolved a bit lately, with these Crackling Drake builds becoming ever more popular. They play a lower land count and cantrips in the form of Opt and Revitalize, cleverly beating hate cards like Banefire without needing to dedicate specific answers (which don’t exist) to solving the problem. The increased velocity also helps the deck find its individual power cards like Teferi, though I’d like to see a bit more Search for Azcanta, especially with this many cantrips in the deck. These decks are powerful in a vacuum, featuring some of the best cards available to control in a long time, but outside of dedicated removal-heavy midrange decks like Boros Angels, somehow have no actual good matchups.
Golgari Midrange by misonikomi (MOCS 6-2)
Golgari decks have been priced into relying harder on Wildgrowth Walker than past builds thanks to the format’s greater shift away from midrange gameplay. These decks continue to perform adequately despite a poor metagame position, and are primed to have a bunch of medium finishes at this Pro Tour in the hands of players with good Draft records.
A few quick hits to cap off this introduction to this weekend’s Standard: Mono-Red will be around for sure thanks to its great white aggro matchup despite being a weak deck all-around. Some number of people, fueled by Gab Nassif’s finish in Lille, will insist on playing mono-blue for whatever reason, and Selesnya tokens decks will be pushed out by the staggering amounts of Pyroclasm effects people will be running this weekend to deal with the MOCS being dominated by white aggro.
We’re blessed with a pretty fun draft format here — granted, it’s no Dominaria — held back a little bit by some failures in the balance department. See, Selesnya is borderline unplayable, and only the best Golgari decks are competitive against the other three guilds. That said, the gameplay is otherwise excellent, and some quirky five-colour decks are always playable thanks to the Guildgate in every pack.
Dimir decks tend to be focused on Surveil synergies, hoping to get a few payoff cards like Thoughtbound Phantasm in addition to the premium commons that have Surveil tacked on, like Whisper Agent and Deadly Visit. This guild is overall extremely strong in this format, thanks in part to the Surveil mechanic ensuring that once you get started, you’re going to continue drawing gas with very few bricks in between.
Izzet drafts take two main forms: aggressive ones with cards like Wojek Bodyguard (secretly the best red common) and Sonic Assault, and more controlling decks, often with a black splash for more removal. All of these decks are a boatload of fun, as Izzet rewards you for finding clever ways to sneak through damage.
Last but not least in the top tier of draft archetypes, we have Boros, always trying to attack and grow their Healer’s Hawks with the Mentor mechanic. These decks are fast, evasive, and surprisingly resilient thanks to there being a lot of common and uncommon removal in these two colours.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
I’m pretty sure I say this every time, but Toronto all-star Edgar Magalhaes is playing out of his mind these days, making deep runs in every single tournament he attends. I’m not a particularly big fan of the deck he settled on for this event, but if anyone can pilot it to a top finish, it’s this absolute monster.
Edgar’s Face to Face Games teammate, Eli Kassis, is sure to make waves as well, fresh off his win at Grand Prix New Jersey. That team’s innovative Azor’s Gateway Jeskai Control deck dominated the tournament by hitting the metagame at a very particular angle — will they be able to do the same for this weekend?
Logan Nettles, perhaps better known as Jaberwocki of Magic Online fame, is one of the best players in the world right now. He’s in fourth place on the Elo leaderboard, and I have the utmost respect for his approach to the game, both materially and psychologically. I played him at GP Atlanta last weekend, and despite making correct plays on crucial turns, was highly critical of them, interested in discussing them with me after the match. This guy just learns with every single match and will just continue to get better and better.
To cap it off, if you’re reading this and not cheering for Chris Ha, do me a favour and change your mind. A seventeen-time Face to Face Games Open Top 8 competitor, coming fresh off an RPTQ win and a Grand Prix Top 8 in Montreal, Chris is just the absolute coolest and nicest guy around. Speaking of which, I think I see him coming, which means that’s all for today, folks! Wish us luck!