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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Feb 11 2016 1:00pm
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Hello!

Welcome to another Modern Musings!  My last article concerned the pre-Pro Tour bans in Modern.  In this article I am going to look at the results at the Pro Tour and try and assess the new format and the effect of the bans on the format.

THE PRO TOUR

The Top 8 of Pro Tour OGW featured a number of big names including Luis Scott-Vargas, Shuhei Nakamura, Patrick Dickmann and Ivan Floch.  Unfortunately it was probably also the least diverse Modern Pro Tour Top 8 we have ever seen.  The big story of the Pro Tour is the power of the Eldrazi decks with the boost of the new Oath of the Gatewatch cards.  Variations of the Eldrazi deck took up 6 of the 8 places in the Top 8, dominating the field, and the other two slots were taken up by Affinity decks.

The Eldrazi Decks
The Eldrazi decks, not to be confused with Tron decks, are filled with the new Eldrazi creatures from Battle for Zendikar Block which it rapidly powers out with Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin.  The deck only emerged relatively recently but made huge gains from Oath of the Gatewatch in the form of cards like Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher.  All 6 of the Eldrazi decks used this same base but there were three different variants of these decks that reached the Top 8.

Colourless Eldrazi
This was the most successful of the Eldrazi decks seeing LSV, Shuhei Nakamura and Ivan Floch into the Top 8.  All three men prepared together, in a teaming of Channel Fireball and Team Face-to-Face Games, and ran the exact same 75 so here it is:


The deck is incredibly powerful being able to churn out very powerful Eldrazi very quickly.  Simian Spirit Guide can accelerate the deck even further.  Apparently 50% of the Team ChannelFireball/Team Face-to-Face Games group running the deck made Top 25 of the Pro Tour and LSV likened the performance to that of Caw-Blade.  An incredibly dominant performance.

Blue-Red Eldrazi

Blue-Red (or Izzet) Eldrazi was the second most popular deck in the Top 8 being run by Andrew Brown and Jiachen Tao.  Both players teamed up as part of Team East West Bowl for the Pro Tour and both made their first Pro Tour Top 8 appearance with the deck.  The deck uses the same base of Eldrazi Temple, Eye of Ugin, Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher but adds a bit of colour to proceedings to gain access to cards such as Drowner of Hope, Vile Aggregate and Eldrazi Obligator.  This version of the deck seems to have a bit of an advantage against the other Eldrazi decks with Eldrazi Obligator and Drowner of Hope allowing the deck to steal and tap down opposing threats to swing games.  The deck also has a greater ability to generate Eldrazi Scions, which can help chump, generate extra mana or even attack depending on the circumstances.

Jiachen Tao ended up winning the tournament beating Shuhei Nakamura, LSV and Ivan Floch (all playing the Colourless Eldrazi deck) to take down the tournament. 

Both men used the same 60 but made slightly different choices when it came to sideboards.

 

Processor Eldrazi
Frank Lepore, former writer and content creator for TCGPlayer.com, was the lone representative of the Processor version of the Eldrazi deck.  This was also his first Pro Tour appearance so a great performance by him.  This deck more closely mimics the pre-OGW versions of the deck, which were more focused on the Processor creatures and used Relic of Progenitus and Scrabbling Claws to ensure there are cards in the exile pile to process.

I can't say for certain but I think in general we are going to see a move away from this style of Eldrazi deck.  The Blue-Red Eldrazi deck seems to have a better handle on the mirror match and the exile strategy actually isn't very effective against opposing Eldrazi decks; as they don't run fetchlands or put too much stuff in the graveyard naturally.

What might catch on is the use of World Breaker, which could be a powerful card in the mirror.  GoblinLackey played the following GR Eldrazi deck to a PTQ victory:

This is an interesting evolution of the Eldrazi deck.  World Breaker can blow up opposing Eldrazi Temples and Eye of Ugins and Kozilek's Return provides a powerful sweeper against Affinity and the other Aggro decks.

I'm not sure if World Breaker is the best mirror breaker in the Eldrazi match as at 7 mana even on a perfect draw you won't be playing it before Turn 4 (which might be a bit on the slow side). 

The Affinity Decks
The two Affinity pilots in the Top 8 were Pascal Maynard and Patrick Dickmann, who will both be familiar names for those who follow the Pro Tour. Affinity hasn't really gained anything from Oath of the Gatewatch, however, it seems to have benefited from the banning of Splinter Twin and the dominance of the Eldrazi decks.  It has a lot of game against Eldrazi and it is one of the few decks that can match its explosiveness.

More experienced Affinity players may be able to tell you why but I have noted that the successful version of the deck have more that the average number of Master of Etheriums in them.  Though I guess Etched Champion probably isn't as useful in a metagame filled with colourless creatures.

DIVERSITY AT THE PRO TOUR
Diversity is generally considered to be an important aspect to any healthy Magic format.  For all the 'best decks' and bannings that have taken place over the years the format has always remained a pretty diverse one with many options.  Is it fair to say that this Pro Tour was one of the least diverse?  Well let's take a look at the decks that made the Top 8 of all the previous Modern Pro Tours.

Pro Tour Fate Reforged Top 8
3 Abzan
2 Splinter Twin (Izzet)
2 Burn
1 Amulet Bloom

Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 8
3 Splinter Twin (Jeskai, Temur & Izzet variants)
1 Melira Pod
1 Blue Moon
1 Jeskai Control
1 Affinity
Storm

Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Top 8
3 Jund
1 Eggs
1 Affinity
1 Scapeshift
1 UG Infect
1 UW Control

Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011 Top 8
2 Splinter Twin
2 Storm
1 Mono-Blue Infect
1 Zoo
1 Affinity
1 Cloudpost

Broadly grouped the last Pro Tour had the least diverse Top 8 but still had 4 different archetypes on display.  Never has a single archetype proved so powerful in Modern, which frankly is bad news for the format.  The Pro Tour tends to dictate the trajectory for a format and if the Pro Tour is anything to go by then Eldrazi is far and away the best deck in the format and will continue to dominate until something is banned from the deck.

THE POST-PRO TOUR METAGAME
I foresee that the post-Pro Tour metagame will be dominated by Eldrazi, which is the logical conclusion of the results of the Pro Tour.  I'm sure things will develop from the Pro Tour metagame but probably largely to tackle an Eldrazi dominated metagame.

The other decks that seemed to have a good amount of success at the Pro Tour were the hyper aggro decks that could successfully race the Eldrazi.  We have already discussed Affinity which was the most represented deck in Day Two of the PT.  Infect, Burn, Death's Shadow Aggro and some Zoo list also performed pretty well as they have the potential to race the Eldrazi and take advantage of the fact that the deck is fairly removal light. This seems like the best avenue of attack against the Eldrazi decks.


The midrange decks, such as Jund and Abzan, seem to be poorly positioned in this new field as they struggle to answer the threats of the Eldrazi decks.  Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt are not the best answers to the Eldrazi menace.  An interesting new midrange deck was run by some prominent pros, such as Paul Rietzl and Ben Stark, in the form of Mardu:

I'm still not sure it is exactly where you want to be but Fulminator Mages and Ajani Vengeant could potentially be successful ways of subduing Eldrazi.

Combo was substantially neutered by the bannings of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom and also finds itself in a difficult place. A powerful combo that goes over the top of the Eldrazi could work but the bans have only left the slower decks. Thought-Knot Seer is also a creature that does a good job of combatting Combo decks on behalf of the Eldrazi.  One new (or somewhat new) Combo deck coming out of the Pro Tour is Chord Combo which Matthew Rogers played to 9-1:


I had predicted Tron might do well in the post-ban format but that does not seem to have played out, seemingly because the Eldrazi deck achieves a similar goal on a much faster clock.  Also, again Thought-Knot Seer and quickly dropped Reality Smashers are not something Tron will relish dealing with as it is a slow starter.

As I feared, Control appears to have died a serious death.  The best performing Control deck appears to have been Jeskai Control which put five players into Day Two but there is very little to shout out about for the Control players of the world.  I suppose a more strongly defined metagame in the form of an Eldrazi dominated field might allow Control decks to be more focused and powerful (though maybe that's hoping for too much).

CONCLUSIONS
The results of the Pro Tour are quite sad from my perspective.  I had hoped the banning of Splinter Twin would be an interesting shake up for the format and was excited for what the new format could bring.  Unfortunately, the Pro Tour has confirmed my worst fears about the banning and the arrival of Oath of the Gatewatch by pushing the Eldrazi deck into an extremely dominating position.  The format looks like it will be devolving into Eldrazi vs decks that are fast enough to give it a run for its money (e.g. Affinity & Burn).  I'm not sure that having access to Twin would have evened up the playing field necessarily but I cannot see how it could have hurt.  I think that a pre-emptive ban was probably needed to avoid the Eldrazi onslaught.  We are now in a position where it looks like Eye of Ugin, Eldrazi Temple or both need to be banned to even out the format.

I think it may also be possible that we see something banned from Affinity in the next round of bannings.  In a recent article by Saffron Olive on mtggoldfish, he noted how Affinity is one of the few major players in the format to avoid ever seeing any of its cards banned.  If Wizards were to take that approach I would probably suggest we would be seeing Blinkmoth Nexus and/or Inkmoth Nexus getting the ban.  I think banning one or the other weakens the deck but hopefully not to the point of unplayability.  I'm not sure if they would hold off on an Inkmoth Nexus ban to avoid inadvertently nerfing Infect decks.  All that said I'm not sure that Affinity is truly the problem and the format has lived fairly harmoniously with Affinity in existence for a long time.

It is a sad state of affairs when I am looking forward to the next set of bannings in a fledgling version of a format, however, that appears to be what is needed to balance things out.  There is some interesting innovation if you dig deeper into the Pro Tour decklists, however, I think it is unlikely these will shine in a format that is going to be warped by Eldrazi.  For now I hope you like Eldrazi because I think it will be very difficult to avoid.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)

2 Comments

I appreciate the lists you by JXClaytor at Thu, 02/11/2016 - 18:24
JXClaytor's picture

I appreciate the lists you highlighted outside of the top 8!

Thanks! There were some by olaw at Fri, 02/12/2016 - 09:38
olaw's picture

Thanks!

There were some interesting decklist deeper in the tournament information.