The Pro Tour for Dominaria took place quite some time after the release of the set and the metagame seemed to have become somewhat established during the weeks leading up to the event. As it stood, Black/Red (BR) Aggro, Blue/White (UW) Control and White/Black (WB) Vehicles seemed to lead the way in premier events. The Magic community was waiting to see if the Pro Tour would serve to solidify these metagame trends or if it would demonstrate to us that the Pros had better things to bring to the table. After the dust has settled it appears that Red aggressive decks were not only the most popular choice amongst the Pros but also were the most successful in the tournament. This article will attempt to break down the numbers from the Pro Tour to give a wider overview of the archetypes and their viability going forward.
What was good?
Simply put the answer to this question is as obvious as it appears at first glance: Goblin Chainwhirler. The Red aggressive decks, headlined by Dominaria’s Goblin Chainwhirler were staggeringly successful at this Pro Tour. They constituted approximately 35% of the field on the first day and increased this to 42% on the second day. Mono-Red Aggro put up close to an 80% conversion rate from day one to day two, which ranks it as one of the most successful constructed decks on day one of a Pro Tour ever. Mono-Red’s cousin, Black-Red, managed a conversion rate of close to 70%, which is well above the curve and for a deck with so many pilots is extremely impressive. They didn’t stop there though as Red based Aggro took seven of the Top 8 slots and 15 out of the 20 decks which finished with 24 match points or more in the Standard portion were Red Aggro; fully 75% of the most successful decks at the Pro Tour were Red Aggro. This trend continues down with the successful and positive scoring decks at each level showing that it was not a few pilots or based on variance, it was a show of absolute dominance. Oh and also it won the Pro Tour.
Red aggressive decks weren’t the only archetype to put up impressive numbers though; Blue/Black (UB) based Control decks also had an extremely good Pro Tour. Heading into this Pro Tour the UW Control decks were expected to be popular and provide the natural foil to the BR Aggro decks. However, the successful control decks were UB based with either a straight UB build or Esper to accommodate a small splash for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. These strategies weren’t that popular, comprising only 6.5% of the day one metagame. However, Esper had a 75% conversion rate and UB had a 70% conversion, both of which are very strong. Not only did they have a strong first day but crucially in the winner’s metagame of day two they continued to show good results with several pilots finishing at 21 points or more. Esper was slightly more successful than straight UB but even the UB pilots were mostly positive and moving forward this might be the approach taken by Control decks.
What was bad?
White/Black Vehicles or White/Black Benalia as it is termed by the Wizards coverage team was bad. It really was. No, actually it might be even worse than that. The conversion rate for WB was under 50% with a fairly large number of pilots, which is significantly below the average of about 63% conversion. In the second day it had a trio of pilots secure 21 or more points but typically the players who had managed to scrabble into the second day with WB did not fare well. The only data point where WB comes close to average is the number of pilots getting a positive record with exact 18 points. It had a truly awful Pro Tour and it will be interesting to see if it maintains a metagame percentage or simply disappears completely after these results.
Blue/White Control was hailed by some as the de facto best deck in the format in the weeks leading up to the Pro Tour; they were wrong. The power of Teferi is undeniably very high and this card alone has catapulted UW Control to the top tier of the Standard metagame. However, the time mage was unable to produce the same effect for the archetype this weekend. Most, if not all, testing teams assumed that UW would be one of the key players at the Pro Tour and it did make up about 10% of the day one metagame. Sadly for fans of UW Control it didn’t do much after that; the conversion rates for creatureless, hulky and Approach variants of the archetype were all sub-60% and the second day actually got worse for them. In a similar vein to the BW deck the main area where the successful UW players ended up was in the 6-4 bracket, with only a couple of pilots managing better than that. This is a serious concern for the archetype in general as the second day provides a much better reflection of the viability of the deck in a more condensed winner’s metagame.
Green/Black (GB) Constrictor, or Snake as it is often known, has been around the first or second tier of Standard for quite some time now and had had some high level success on Magic Online just prior to the Pro Tour. It looked like the deck might actually have a shot of cementing itself as a tier one strategy after the first day with excellent conversion rates for straight GB, at 67% with a large number of pilots, and for the version splashing blue a whopping 80% for the five players on it. Unfortunately for those players, a grand total of zero of the Sultai variant managed to have a positive record in Constructed and none of the GB pilots managed a high placing finish. There were a couple in the 21-23 point bracket but mostly the more successful Snake players were hanging out in the 6-4 bracket with their WB and UW friends.
Blue/Black Midrange appeared on camera a couple of times in the hands of Kevin Jones and looked impressive under his direction. The archetype had a perfectly average conversion rate into the second day but had a shockingly poor second day with only two players actually posting a positive record.
What was medium?
Mono-Green Stompy had a below average conversion rate but in the winner’s metagame of the second day didn’t have that bad a time, posting average results on the second day. The only non-Red archetype to put more than one pilot into the 24 points+ category Mono-Green remained slightly under the radar during the tournament but is worth keeping an eye on moving forward as the numbers suggest it might fare well in the match-ups we’ll see more often in the coming weeks.
What was weird?
Every Pro Tour throws up some interesting decks which are trying to surprise their opponents and gain an edge through being unknown or under the radar. There were a few of these at Pro Tour Dominaria and these are my favourites:
I would not necessarily recommend any of these decks for those of you who are primarily interested in winning tournaments but they are certainly something which could be worth investigating a little further and might well be a lot of fun to play.
Play Red, Get ‘em Dead
The Wizards coverage team came under some fire for their naming conventions at Pro Tour Dominaria, labelling Black-Red Aggro and Black-Red Midrange as different archetypes. However, I think the distinction is actually quite important and that if we’re living in a Chainwhirler world then it is crucial to establish which configuration or shell is the best one for the ‘Whirly Boi’. The numbers suggest that if you want to be successful then the answer is raw, unbridled aggression. Mono-Red put up better numbers than either of the BR archetypes over the weekend and at all stages; conversion, top finishers, winning the event etc. Then the next most successful was the more aggressive build of BR, typically containing Bomat Courier and boasting a lower curve than its Midrange brother. The main advantages of playing a lower curve means you have a better game one against the Control decks and can more readily enable an early Hazoret; who remains one of the most critical cards in the Red mirrors. Not only does Mono-Red enable Hazoret better than its BR counterparts but it also plays more direct burn in order to close out games and doesn’t suffer from the ‘Scrapheap Scrounger’ can’t block structural issues which force BR into some awkward racing situations sometimes.
Kazuyuki Takimura took an interesting take on the BR archetype all the way to the Top 8, going so far as to play three copies of Cinder Barrens and a maindeck copy of a double-black spell, Vraska’s Contempt. He also sported a much larger number of planeswalkers than is typical for these lists and was clearly attempting to position himself as the deck with better late-game in the Red match-ups. This approach doesn’t seem to have worked out in the overall field and in fact nor does it appear to have worked out in the pseudo-mirror matches and I would expect this style to fade in favour of the lower to the ground versions.
One thing that is important to note about the dominance of the Red aggressive decks is the important role played by Hazoret the Fervent. It is near impossible to remove in these match-ups and if one player attacks first with their Hazoret then typically the race becomes impossible for the other player as they are forced to chump and inevitably lose to the activated ability on Hazoret. There are a few things that players can do to mitigate this and one critical card moving forward is likely to be Rekindling Phoenix: It can provide a resilient offense as well as the ability to block Hazoret indefinitely if the opponent is unable to find an additional removal spell or Chainwhirler. Thomas Hendriks brought the full playset of Phoenixes to the table, valuing them above additional copies of Chandra or Hazoret and his configuration suggests he expected a plenitude of Red mirrors as he also completely cut Heart of Kiran which can be a massive tempo liability in faster match-ups. I believe that Hendriks’ approach makes sense in the near future over the approach taken by Owen Turtenwald who stuck with a more normalised version of the BR Aggro archetype. I would strongly recommend looking to not play Heart of Kiran as much and favour playing Hazorets and Phoenixes in anticipation of the frequency of Red aggressive decks from opponents. Another card which has typically been a mainstay for decks looking to improve their Red match-up is Aethersphere Harvester and this card performed admirably on camera for Wyatt Darby in his Top 8 matches; I would expect to see an increase in the number of copies in sideboards and probably a move towards maindeck inclusion in several archetypes as well.
The expectation of omnipresent Chainwhirlers at the top tables from now on may discourage players from playing a straight Mono-Red build with both Bomat Couriers and Earthshaker Khenras. That was the case for Mono-Red expert and nearly Constructed Master John Rolf, who brought a Mono-Red deck which eschewed the Earthshakers in favour of Scrapheap Scrounger with just one Canyon Slough and four Dragonskull Summit to enable the ability. This approach might be an excellent progression for Mono-Red decks if you want the aggressiveness and consistency offered by the archetype whilst insulating yourself from the dangers of one-toughness creatures.
Grand Prix Copenhagen is this weekend and we’ll see if the Red aggressive decks continue their dominance or if other archetypes can adapt to beat them. I expect that the metagame will shake out to be more diverse than these numbers might suggest but it seems hard to predict anything other than Red-based aggro to continue to be the top performer in the format.
About George Channing:
George has been playing competitively since 2014 and is a true grinder; with a huge number of competitive events under his belt, his results have been improving year on year. With a Grand Prix Top 8 in Modern and a few Pro Tour appearances, he aspires to become a regular on the biggest stage. George’s role on Team Axion is frequently related to metagame and decklist analysis, whilst also providing a lot of raw testing data. He most enjoys Standard with the speed and frequency of the metagame developments keeping it interesting.