February 5, 2016

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Oath of the Gatewatch Pro Tour Predictions

This weekend is Oath of the Gatewatch Pro Tour and it’s our chance to see how Modern is shaping up in the pro scene. Since the Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom bans, we’ve seen a few tournament results give us a preview of what to expect:

Based on those results and some not-so-far-fetched extrapolations, I’ll try to predict what we’ll be seeing this weekend.

Overall

Modern hasn’t exactly devolved into a red-green Tron-fest as some might have predicted. Yes, Twin is gone, but Tron doesn’t exactly excel versus aggro, one of its natural predators. With an almost non-existent presence of a viable combo deck, we can expect to see an uptick in aggro decks. This also means performance by aggro decks with an upper hand against other aggro decks.

Though there will always be a mild rock-paper-scissors effect, Modern decks don’t differ all that much in power level. Between that and variance in match-ups and draws (see Jund’s win over Grishoalbrand at SCG Charlotte), this means almost any (competitive) deck can excel. With that in mind, here’s what decks (I think) will put up numbers this weekend:

Strong showings

This should surprise no one. Expect strong showings from aggro decks going under RG Tron, Bx Eldrazi and (remaining) combo decks.

  • Zoo (Better)
    Fast decks just out of Pyroclasm range can expect to perform a little better than usual. Zoo also has the benefit of having some interaction using Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile to help keep other aggro decks at bay.
  • Merfolk (Better)
    With mainboard land-hate in the form of Spreading Seas, tempo plays like Harbinger of the Tides and Vapor Snag, and cheap interaction via Spell Pierce, fish players will see their decks perform a little better than usual against both the aggro field and the Tron/Eldrazi landscape.
  • Burn (Same)
    Burn is notorious for seeing more play after a meta shake-up. With the Naya variant confidently ironed out, the Pro Tour will be no exception.
  • Affinity (Same)
    Expecting Affinity to move anywhere from top eight decklists is unreasonable. It will continue to be explosive and continue to be fragile. It just doesn’t have to cross its fingers on a blue-red opponent’s fourth turn anymore.

Average showings

  • Infect (Same)
    Infect seems to always fall at the end of tier one or the beginning of tier two. Though it’s well-positioned as a deck, it’ll continue to be vulnerable to spot removal and its own deck’s inconsistency. Perhaps the black-green variant will try to fight its way through Naya Burn.
  • Jund (Worse)
    With a rough Burn match-up and even rougher red-green Tron match-up, Jund can expect to go a little lower in power rankings. I am expecting successful variants to have some number of Fulminator Mages and/or life gain in its main board flex spots to get through a tournament.
  • Red-Green Tron (Worse)
    It’s a well-positioned deck, but it drowns in a field of aggro. Over the course of a long tournament, Tron can expect to find itself facing more than enough aggro decks. While it can win versus aggro, it will be hard to stabilize two out of three games consistently.
  • Living End (Better)
    What should surprise no one is that a deck with four main deck Fulminator Mages can do well against low-land decks or land-dependent decks. If it can manage to live to turn three, Living End should be able to clear the field with ease and take over. The fact that there are a lot less pesky Remands helps, too.

Some showings

  • Jeskai Control (Better)
    With the abundance of aggro, I am expecting the deck to pull through with Snapcaster Mage, Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix in some way. As usual, the Tron match-up will be rough, but Crumble to Dusts and Negates may be able to keep the deck afloat. Tapping out for Geist of Saint Traft is no longer that frightening with Twin out and less Jund/Junk means less Liliana of the Veil. That said, control is a very difficult deck to push through a lot of rounds of Magic without mentally being worn down.
  • Junk (Worse)
    Junk usually prays on Jund and hopes to stabilize vs. aggro. Unfortunately, I just don’t think it can stabilize quite quick enough against the expected field. It certainly doesn’t help that – like Jund – Tron and Eldrazi are rough match-ups.
  • Grishoalbrand (Same)
    Grishoalbrand was never a tier one deck, not because of other decks on the field, but because its roughest opponent was itself and its inconsistency. No meta update will change this.
  • (Temur) Scapeshift (Same)
    Though Bring to Light added a significant amount of versatility, the deck still has a rough time vs. aggro. I am expecting to see the four Lightning Bolt, four Snapcaster Mage version to help those match-ups. In addition, Scapeshift players know the all-to-real scenario of never seeing Scapeshift. Over a lot of rounds of Magic, it’ll happen.
  • Grixis Control (Worse)
    Being able to out-grind Jund and Twin is no longer a badge of honour as Jund sees a tick down in play. It also doesn’t help that its red, Tron, and Eldrazi match-ups are terrible. What’s left for Grixis to out-grind?
  • Eldrazi (Same)
    Eldrazi gets caught in the same hate targeted at red-green Tron, such as Stony Silence and Land Destruction, and has similar, rough match-ups against aggro. It would normally do as well as Tron in this new meta, except for the fact that Tron mows it down. I would normally bump it up to average showings, but it just hasn’t been that successful on paper.
  • Ad Nauseam (Same)
    With continued presence from Infect and the deck still fighting with consistency, Ad Nauseam isn’t going anywhere.
  • URx Delver (Same)
    No Twin ban will suddenly make URx Delver a top deck. It’s set back by an inconsistent Delver of Secrets and a not-quite-as-good-as-zoo feeling. At this point, it’s better to play more threats than to interact on the stack.

Unpredictable

These decks don’t produce reliable results, but they should still be on players’ radars.

  • Chord/Collected Company
    A 2nd place finish at SCG Cincinnati and 9th place finish at SCG Columbus is nothing to ignore. The deck may have enough legs to push through a Pro Tour, but the deck’s intricacy and relatively recent inception would mean it likely won’t make an appearance. Also, the deck’s pioneer (sort of), Jeff Hoogland, will not be at the Pro Tour.
  • Titanshift
    Similar to the deck above, an out-of-nowhere top eight finish at GP Pittsburgh and 2nd place finish at SCG Columbus may convince people this is a real deck. At what point do enough people pick it up to get it through a Pro Tour? Probably not this weekend, but soon.

Summary

Generally, you can categorize successful decks as Aggro, Combo and Control. Combo has (mostly) been removed with bans and that leaves Aggro and Control. Unless we see otherwise, Control is mostly limited to RG Tron and Bx Eldrazi, two decks that struggle against aggro. Given this, we can expect a surge in aggro which potentially means a gap for a good control deck. We’ll have to see until this weekend to see if we were right!