Now that the Pro Tour has come and gone we get to analyze the results coming from the Standard metagame. Just by looking at the Top 8 Decks, the format seems to be incredibly diverse. It’s probably been a while since we’ve last seen a Pro Tour Top 8 feature Aggro, Combo and Control in almost equal numbers. And it’s also been a while since the Pro Tour Finals last featured a full Control versus Control mirror with some epic counterspell wars.
This format is rather complicated, after this article I hope players understand the nuts and bolts of Kaladesh Standard and the best archetypes viables. A brief not before we start, here I won’t mention every deck, just the ones which made considerable impact.
So let’s start with the big picture.
These were probably the most obvious decks from where to start before the PT, mostly because Smuggler’s Copter is an absurd card that really likes to be attacking and in part because they put up some relevant results the weekend before.
The existence of vehicles generally pushes the format into a more aggressive direction. They need a ton of creatures to work; they make blocking difficult because most of them have haste or some form of evasion; and they make Sorcery-speed removal worse, which limits the card choices of prospective control decks.
An example of this strategy is the R/W Vehicles Deck. No fancy stuff, just a great curve, some removal and a medium amount of vehicles to go over the top of eventual blockers. Also decks like these are the best at making use of Smuggler’s Copter, which in itself might just be an adequate plan. One version of the deck, piloted by Lee Shi Tian, makes use of Aether Hub and Concealed Courtyard in order to employ a third color, in this case Black. Scrapheap Scrounger is an excellent two-drop that’s able to grind out games, and Unlicensed Disintegration gives the deck some much-needed reach against an opponent low on life, but with the upper hand on the board. The downside to this, obviously, is that the mana gets a little shakier. Especially Aggro decks require their manabases to function effortlessly, because they need it to work right away. To be fair, though, the activated ability of the Scrouger doesn’t come into effect until the midgame, and the Disintegration is also more of a curve topper than anything else. To compensate for the worse mana, Lee is running Cultivator’s Caravan which is just the worse card if you want to beat down. So there are certainly some costs involved, but a Black splash still might be worth it.
Another take on this archetype, is Makis Matsoukas’ Token build. This is probably the best version if you want to race Combo decks and aim at positioning yourself better against spot removal. The downside to this version is that it’s obviously terrible against Kozilek’s Return, the best mass removal spell in the format.
Another take on an Aggro strategy is the R/G Energy Deck. Those are a little slower than the R/W Vehicles decks, but their creatures hit so much harder thanks to all the Energy making that’s going on. It also makes excellent use of Aether Hub which might just be the best land in the format.
The representative of this category is Matt Nass’s Temur Aetherworks deck. It’s kind of self explaining how this deck works, but the simple rundown is this: First, we amass a sufficient amount of energy counters by playing cards like the Puzzleknots, then we play Aetherworks Marvel. After that giant Eldrazi will come to the battlefield. There’s a lot to like about this deck. First and foremost, the presence of Ulamog and Emrakul means that you can likely go over the top of whatever your opponents are trying to do. Second the mana in the deck is really smooth. And third, you get to play a really good Kozilek’s Return deck, which is able to beat certain archetypes almost on its own. However, decks like these have some issues that are pretty much typical for them. The biggest problem: You really need to have Marvel in play in order to win the game. That makes counterspells or discard effects a lot more effective against you. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that artifact destruction spells are not particularly good against this kind of deck. Since the deck generates so much energy, its pilot will basically always be able to activate Marvel ability right away before they even have to pass priority. It is also worth mentioning that discard and counterspells are only good as long as you’re also able to present some kind of significant clock. After sideboarding, the Aetherworks deck brings in its own couonterspells which allows them to sculpt a perfect hand before engaging in any kind of counter war. To cut off that avenue, you need a threat that limits the time they have to find all the pieces. This is one of the reasons a lot of control decks run Thing in the Ice, by the way. Another issue is that given the structure of the deck, its draws can be very inconsistent. This is not the type of deck where you can keep any old “Four lands, three spells” hand. Every Ulamog and Emrakul drawn is basically a blank, except for a very rare subset of games against control. Consequently, Aetherworks strategies have to mulligan a lot, since all those Eldrazi can really clog your opening hand.
Honestly, there is not a lot to say here. The two biggest control decks to come out of this PT are obviously the ones who met in the finals: Shota Yasooka’s Grixis Control and Carlos Romao’s Jeskai Control deck. I’m not going to pretend like I understand every card choices those guys made, so I’ll just point out some general points. First, Notice how the Jeskai manabase is much smoother than its Grixis counterpart, which is a direct function of the mana in this format leaning much more towards enemy-color wedges than allied-color shards. Another common theme of those decks is that while they’re chock-full of answers, they also feature cards that can turn the game around quickly. In a format where one half tries to be faster than you and the other half tries some over-the-top ridiculousness, gaining inevitability is simply unfeasible. Even as a control deck, you won’t be able to control the game forever, which is why you need to be able to close the door quickly. That’s why the Grixis list has Thing in the Ice, the Jeskai list Avacyn and both lists have the Blue Gearhulk, which may be the breakout card of this PT. With lots of practice from you, blue Control decks are a great choice moving forward, simply because blue spells are the best at dealing with all those Emrakuls and Marvels.