Playing Devils Advocate; Pro Tour Dominaria

Pro Tour Dominaria has come and gone, and it certainly was an interesting tournament. With red decks proving to be the dominant force in the Pro Tour meta game the top 8 was heavily skewed towards aggressive Rakdos builds, leading to a swathe of criticism from a vocal section of the community. Now while some people have already started to ask for the “ban-hammer” and are lamenting at yet another stagnant Standard meta, I’m here to play devil’s advocate and say that things might not be as bad as some of you may believe. You may disagree with me, but if you have an open mind and are willing to hear me out you might just be surprised.

Firstly we have to address the elephant in the room, or rather chain wielding maniac on the battlefield. Red was by far the most played and successful colour at the Pro Tour. Black/Red (which only really splashes for a few Black cards) and Mono-Red together made up around 36-37% of the day one meta game. It also had a very good conversion rate, putting seven players into the top 8. Most people believe this to be largely in part due to the power of Goblin Chainwhirler. 

‘Kratos’ does some serious work, functioning as a sweeper for your opponents X/1’s, crew for a Heart of Kiran, and an effective attacker or blocker thanks to first strike. With such value it wasn’t surprising to anyone the goblin saw high level play – but I don’t think anyone realised just how format wrapping it would become. If your one toughness creatures don’t immediately have an impacti on the board, then they aren’t really playable. However, this red-skewed meta-game isn’t a fair reflection of the Standard meta as a whole.

People view Pro Tours as a bastion of creativity, where the best players in the world forge new brews that will be the next big thing in Standard. Sadly, this is far from the truth. Since Wizards moved the Pro Tour to six weeks after a set releases, players have theoretically  had more time to ‘solve’ the format, eliminating the prospects of a open format. Additionally, this Standard season has been severely lacking in Standard Grand Prix’s, with GP Birmingham being the only outlier. Instead, this seasons GP’s have been focused on Limited and Team Events. As a result, players at the highest level of play may not have put that much thought into the Standard meta game.

This leads me to the another key point. Pro players are incentivised not to innovate. Think about it. If you where playing in a tournament with thousands of dollars on the line, would you take the risk of playing a fringe deck, or would you instead go with a deck that has already done well at a high level competition? Case in point, the top deck from GP Birmingham was R/B Aggro. So with few chances to test newer decks at a larger tournament, it wasn’t so surprising that nearly 40% of players sleeved up the deck. 

So why don’t I believe this is a problem? Well firstly, this doesn’t represent the larger meta as a whole. Since players at the local level and the online servers are typically playing for smaller prizes, there is a greater incentive to innovate, with people trying out new brews and off-the-wall decks. Additionally, many of these decks are great at combating top tier decks. This brings me to my second point. When players know what the top deck is, that build quickly finds a target on its back. I have been playing Mono-Red and Black/Red Aggro for over a year now, and every time the deck rises in popularity I find myself beset by brews purposely designed to ruin my day. I suspect the same will be true of this season.

Now I’m not going to say that Standard is the healthiest it has ever been. But rather than immediately wanting to call the format ‘broken’, we should look towards the future meta game and see how people react to the latest developments. Red decks are surprising easy to build against. In fact some players have already caught onto this and have begun formulating decks with solid game plans against aggressive red decks. 

Control decks (the natural enemy of the Aggro strategy) have already begun to evolve to battle the ‘Red Menace’. Builds like Pei Jin’s Esper Control (the only non-red deck in the top 8) has showed some promise. Using Black for Vraska’s Contempt and Fatal Push has proven to be more effective than the slower Enchantment based White removal in the format. Additionally since these decks run few to no creatures, spells like Abrade and Unlicensed Disintegration become dead cards in hand. Could this be the chance for Control to shine? We will have to wait to see.

Well that’s my two cents, but what do you think? Do you think Standard is going to be fine moving forward into the future of the metagame? Or do you think the format is stale? Why not let us know about it in the comments below, and while you’re there, please consider subscribing to the site to stay up to date with all the goings on here at Master of Magics. But until next time remember, Good Luck and Have Fun.

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