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By: Psychobabble, PB
May 23 2014 1:00pm
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Pro Tour Journey into Nyx happened in Atlanta last weekend, and I hope you were able to catch some of the coverage to see what the best players in the world were able to do with the brand new format. The block constructed pro tour usually gives a good insight into the future direction of the full block format, although that's not always the case as Pro Tour Avacyn Restored showed. As with my review of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze last year, I will not be focusing in this article on the top 8 decks or personalities. In general, I find that a detailed dissection of the top 8 lists in a particular event to be fairly unhelpful. Magic is a high variance game, the fact that a certain deck made the top 8 - or won it - doesn't necessarily mean that it is the best deck in the format. In that context, it's interesting to note that the deck which won it all was the only version of that deck to have a winning record - perhaps time will prove that it was indeed the best deck, but there have been multiple top 8 decks in the block constructed pro tour over the last couple of years that haven't done anything after that pro tour (miracles in AVR, 4-colour good stuff in RTR) which might just indicate their pilot went on a hot streak in one tournament. Luckily WoTC has provided a fantastic data source to analyze the best performing block constructed decks in a little more detail, with a full list of the 101 decks that went 6-4 or better. This article will begin with an overview of the pro tour metagame and then an analysis of some of the statistics coming out of the list of winning decks, as well as some speculation as to what the magic online metagame might look like going forward.

Pro Tour JOU metagame breakdown

WoTC published day 1 and day 2 metagame statistics. Comparing the figures between day one and day two starts to tell you a story about what decks worked and what didn't:

Junk constellation was the #1 deck on day one. This is quite similar to the list I speculated on last week, it's a synergy-based deck built around Eidolon of Blossoms and a bunch of other enchantments including Brain Maggot, Courser of Kruphix and one that I completely overlooked - Doomwake Giant. The latter is a great way to punch through Elspeth Tokens and helps turn your Eidolon card draw into board advantage later in the game. That deck lost quite a bit of ground on day two, being supplanted by our old friend Naya midrange (labelled R/G Elspeth by WoTC), which seems to have had a spectacular return to form following the release of JOU, despite not getting any new cards other than Banishing Light.

The comparison of performance becomes even more interesting when you look at those decks which went 6-4 or better. Just because a player made day 2 doesn't necessarily mean their constructed deck was all that good, they may have 3-0ed their draft pod and then split day 1 constructed games. I haven't gone through and individually characterised each of the 101 decks that went 6-4 or better across both days, but based on unique cards found in the various archetypes, here's an approximate breakdown of the block decks that went 6-4 or better:

The most notable point here is that BUG control really over performed over the course of the tournament, no doubt partially because it was being piloted by very good players from a couple of high profile teams but also because it was genuinely well positioned. The other notable point is the massive drop-off in black aggro, which only had nine decks among the winning lists. I also note the near-complete absence of junk reanimator in these lists (there were only four), despite a respectable number of players piloting it on day 1. Most Eidolon of blossom decks chose to run a more midrange/value game rather than go over the top with whip and big reanimation targets.

Pro Tour Journey into Nyx - Winners and Losers

The following section of this article analyses the individual cards which performed well and not so well at the pro tour, based on the prevalence of specific cards among the winning (i.e. 6-4 or better) decklists. After this I'll make some general comments about where I think the online metagame might head after this pro-tour, because while the results there are sure to have an influence, the online metagame does have some distinct trends which should be kept in mind. Note that the sample size here is 101 decks, so the number of decks a card appeared in is roughly equal to the percentage as well. Note that all of the numbers below are for maindeck only, I briefly discuss sideboard cards at the end.

The Winners

Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix (63 Decks, 4.0 copies per deck average)

Sylvan Caryatid Courser of Kruphix

These are staggering numbers. Almost two thirds of winning decks played both of these cards, and they always appeared as a full playset. These cards absolutely define the format. They are found in a variety of decks - naya midrange, BUG control, junk constellation - and serve a variety of roles, being relevant in both aggro and control matchups. In a format with no wrath and no cheap edict effect, Sylvan Caryatid is strictly better than Rampant Growth and helps to mitigate the speed disadvantage from playing with 12 scrylands in your deck. It's essentially impossible to run a three colour deck in this format without the acceleration from Caryatid, and it's hard to get enough power in a non-aggro deck without running three colours. Courser also helps mitigate the disadvantage of scrylands, letting you hit your later land drops quicker than you may otherwise do and giving you incremental cad advantage along the way, not to mention blocking well and gaining you life against aggro decks. Green was the dominant colour of the format at the pro tour, and these two cards are the main reason.

Hero's Downfall (54, 3.7) and Silence the Believers (46, 2.7)

Hero's Downfall Silence the Believers

These are clearly the best removal spells in the format, and the next two most commonly played cards after Caryatid/Courser. Hero's downfall is a known quantity, Silence the Believers is the new kid on the block and came out of the block very strongly. Gild had previously seen a decent amount of play, the ability to hit multiple targets and be played at instant speed saw Silence take over its role and more. Games in this format frequently go long enough to hit 7 mana (particularly when Caryatid and Courser are involved), and the card advantage generated from a strived Silence is very relevant in those type of games.

Elspeth, Sun's Champion (40, 3.3)

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

I could just take the easy route out here and channel Michael Jacobs:

While amusing, there is actually a bit more going on here than it seems at first. Elspeth is clearly and obviously one of, if not the, most objectively powerful card in the format, and has been since day one. That fact, though, has forced people to react heavily to her presence and that happened on the weekend in two main ways. One is that Prognostic Sphinx was by far the victory condition of choice (31, 3.8), as it matches up decently well against Elspeth, particularly when coupled with Bile Blight. The second was the inclusion of Doomwake Giant in the Constellation deck lists which proves an excellent way to punch through Elspeth tokens. So there are counter strategies, but in the end the objectively powerful card usually ends up being better than counter strategies, so Elspeth will continue to dominate the format in all likelihood.

Stormbreath Dragon (23, 4.0)

Stormbreath Dragon

As I noted a couple of columns ago, Stormbreath Dragon and red in general had fallen massively out of favour in the format over the past month. The combination of Esper control and black aggro attacked the old naya midrange deck from enough angles that it was unable to keep up. That seems to have changed with JOU, not necessarily because of new cards, but just because the value/midrange decks got a few new tools which has opened up the space for the king of THS block midrange decks to re-emerge and make a legitimate case for being best deck in the format again. For now.

Kiora, the Crashing Wave (22, 3.3)

Kiora, the Crashing Wave

Kiora had seen virtually no play in the format before the weekend. Apparently, giving the UG deck access to the black scryland, allowing it to play the best removal in the format, turns it into a real deck and one which Kiora is an integral part of. In grindy midrange battles, Kiora is a great way to get ahead, particularly when paired with any combination of Courser of Kruphix and Prognostic Sphinx - if you can use Sphinx to set up spell/land/land on top of your library, for example, then Kiora's -1 lets you draw 3 cards with Courser out for example, which is pretty sweet value. I think there's a few factors which may see Kiora's popularity decline over time - the number of good answers that the RG deck has to it being one (burn, stormbreath) - but right now she's doing better in the format than at any point previously.

Eidolon of Blossoms (16, 3.9)

Eidolon of Blossoms

While it featured in a much smaller proportion of winning than day 1 lists, the eidolon of blossoms constellation deck was the breakout deck of the tournament. This deck took the junk dredge/reanimation shell and pushed it further into the "value" rather than graveyard synergy territory. The deck has a number of ways to go off and draw through massive portions of its deck, and is a really fun one to play. Watch out for Drown in Sorrow though, especially if you have Brain Maggots out...

The Losers

Polukranos, World Eater (18, 2.5)

Polukranos, World Eater

WoTC have tried so hard to make a flagship constructed hydra to cement the creature type as green's signature fatty, they've almost got there with Polukranos but its popularity is waning and it's frequently the worst card in the decks that still play him. Polis Crusher (23, 3.1) is a far more relevant four drop most of the time, and even Xenagos, the Reveler (16, 3.2) actually had more copies played even though it appeared in fewer lists (and even more once sideboard is taken into account). With no protection (unlike Stormbreath/Polis Crusher) and no immediate card advantage (unlike Eidolon/Xenagos), Polukranos is just too un-threatening too much of the time unfortunately. It's still not a bad card, but it seems very likely to be replaced with some new green value/fatty in the next set.

Divination (6, 3.2)

Divination

One of the most common cards in the online meta pre-JOU, being played as a four of in the esper control deck, this was virtually absent from the pro tour and it wasn't because it was replaced with (Font of Fortunes (2, 3) either. Interestingly enough, I'm not sure that this will be the case going forward on MTGO, but at the pro tour it seems that tapout/proactive BUG control is favoured over the reactive/counterspell esper control.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel (2, 4)

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

This card defined the format in its early days, and remained a major player throughout the BNG season. But no longer is a five drop that relies on you having a strong board state a reliable wincon, and nor is it a fast enough finisher in the black aggro decks. Barring a major change in direction, Gary's doesn't seem to have much of a future in a world of multi-colour midrange decks.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx (4, 1.8)

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Nykthos is still doing decent things in standard, but it's virtually absent from block which gives some clue that the reason for it being played has more to do with the various hybrid-colour creatures from RTR block than anything in THS block. Definitely one that seems likely to be on the way out post-rotation, unless there's some new enablers printed.

Pharika, God of Affliction (6, 1.8) Nylea, God of the Hunt (2, 2) and Xenagos, God of Revels (1, 2)

Pharika, God of Affliction Nylea, God of the Hunt Xenagos, God of Revels

These were the only gods to see ANY play in the winning main decks, and they were fringe players at best. Erebos and Purphoros did appear in a small number of sideboards in small numbers, but overall this is a very small showing I know development is inherently scared of the potential power level of these cards (being, at best, giant indestructible monsters with upside and all) but quite frankly I think their almost complete absence from the block constructed format is a failure somewhere. These should be the signature cards of the block. They should be format defining, not bit-players. But there have been too many strong answers printed, including the completely ridiculous Deicide which is playable maindeck due to the prevalence of other enchantments, and it's proved too hard to turn the gods into creatures (particularly the multi-coloured ones), and so that's where we are.

Temple of Malice and Temple of Epiphany (0, 0)

Temple of Malice Temple of Epiphany

Yup, there were exactly zero copies of these two scrylands among winning decks. While some people made day two with a jund monsters deck, UWR control has apparently turned out to be a flop and RBx in general isn't being played. The latter fact has to be recognised as another failure of design/development, as RB minotaurs should have been a flavourful aggro deck in the format, but hasn't been given the tools to make it as a constructed deck in any way.

Other statistics

For completeness, here's a full list of the top 20 non-land maindeck cards:

I colour-coded those by set, which I thought was interesting as it shows the continuing dominance of cards from the first set in the block. The next two cards on the list were Unravel the Aether (17, 1.6) and Eidolon of Blossoms (16, 3.9). Here's all ten of the non-basic lands:

Mana Confluence had a huge impact, generally appearing in less than four copies but being an important card in whatever deck ran it. The new GB temple also showed its large impact on the format, being the only land that was played as a full playset in every deck that it could appear in. Finally, here's the top 10 sideboard cards:

Unsurprisingly, Dark Betrayal tops the list as the perfect answer to mono black aggro, and a number of other anti-aggro options make an appearance. Thoughtseize has seen some of its maindeck slots replaced by Brain Maggot which accounts for the relatively high prevalence of it in sideboards here.

Conclusion

So what did we learn from PTJOU and where does the format go online from here? First of all, I would expect mono black aggro to remain a popular option online despite its relatively poor showing at the pro tour. It's the most obvious deck in the format and, most importantly, it's an extremely popular standard deck and you need to spend hardly any extra tix to build the block deck once you have the standard mono black deck. I've always felt that the deck was overrepresented relative to its performance, and I expect that to continue. Secondly, I expect esper control to make a resurgence. I'm not quite sure why the pros almost uniformly dismissed it (I saw LSV make some reference to its mana being bad, which doesn't mesh with my experience of the deck) but in my experience, counterspell/card draw control is fundamentally better than tap-out/grindy creature-control like BUG in the mirror. Esper still gets to play Prognostic Sphinx and it's got better control and card advantage options than BUG. Courser can be answered with maindeck enchantment removal, which is playable thanks to aggro decks also leaning on enchantments (plus an entire enchantment deck exists too). I could be wrong, but Kiora feels like a slow and expensive divination to me in that matchup, I really don't think she justifies the third colour on her own. Finally, it looks like we should all get ready for the return of the naya midrange menace, although I'm interested to see whether the expected popularity of black aggro online will keep a lid on it. Anyway, we'll see how all of that pans out over the coming weeks, in the mean time I hope you enjoyed my analysis of PT JOU!