The Pro Tour Phyrexia is just days away. First, let that sink in.
It's been a while since the players, viewers (and commentators for that matter) have felt the pre-draft electricity in the room that happens as the head judge makes their final announcements before the start of Pro Tour Friday.
There is an incredible silence as the players wait, cards in hand, ready to take the first strategic step towards their ultimate goal of making the Top 8, or even winning the whole thing. Once the judge prompts the payers that they "may begin" the sound that follows is on my Mount Rushmore of all time sounds.
Mount Rushmore of Sounds:
- My cat purring.
- Players riffling through cards during pack one pick one of the first draft of a Pro Tour
- Popcorn popping.
- The sound of a basketball going through the net.
None of the hope in the room has left. It's simultaneously chaotic yet organized; an excited but concerted sound that can't be replicated any other way.
That is how the Pro Tour begins.
Beyond the emotional part, the first draft (and the second one which happens on Day Two) are crucial elements to a successful Pro Tour. For players who manage to 3-0 both of their pods, they will combine those six match wins with their Pioneer record to give them a shot at Top 8. Even a middling record in Constructed could suffice.
Draft is the backbone of a solid shot at a Pro Tour Top 8, and the players know it.
Most players these days get their experience primarily from the Arena Best of One Draft Leagues, but at the Pro Tour the players play in draft pods rather than league style.
What this means is that on Day One, the players will be randomly seated with seven other players to make a full eight-player Draft pod, just like how you are on MTG Arena. The difference is that once the draft is finished, those seven other players are the ones who make up your pool of potential opponents.
Strategically this introduces several significant wrinkles.
The first is that the players will have more information about what the other players are doing at the table, primarily their neighbors on their left, and especially the ones on their right. If you're playing league style, that information advantage disappears once you get paired against an opponent since it's extremely unlikely to be the person whom you sat next to in the draft.
But at the Pro Tour, you very well may face that person over the course of your three draft rounds. This is the second difference but one that's in your favor: You can make an educated guess as to what colors they are playing, which instant speed combat tricks and removal spells you passed them, and even which bombs they may have picked up.
This helps you make better in-game decisions and, just as importantly, change your game plan for the sideboarded games.
Which reminds me: These matches are best two-out-of-three games, not a best of one. All of those picks the players made that don't make it in the main deck? They can matter—a lot.
There are dedicated sideboard cards like
Players will also be able to make less obvious adjustments to their decks, by lowering or raising their curve based on the strategy the opponent is putting forth. Plus, at the pod level, there is a natural balancing of colors and archetypes that happens as well.
If I'm all in on Red-Green, it's difficult for someone else at the table to do the same, and a third drafter of that color pair could prove disastrous to all three of us.
Finding your "lane" of open colors and strategy is always something drafters will strive for, but in pod play at the Pro Tour it's imperative. If your Draft practice led you down a road that ended with you deciding to force a certain strategy, or a road where you only really understand how to draft one strategy, you're at high risk when you sit at the table.
The teams and players who looked at the format from the big picture and have all the angles covered are the ones who will not put their results at the altar of the luck gods come Friday morning.
That said, some archetypes are better than others. I've been doing extensive testing myself, and here's where the format sits right now in my mind.
Red-Green Beatdown is "The Best Deck"
It's been a while since Red-Green has been the top dog, but it is here. It's a little strange because it mostly eschews the set's mechanics in favor of good old power and toughness, though there are more than a few drops of oil flowing to keep this deck running in top condition.
When you combine that level of quick beatdown with efficient removal options like
There's also a hidden gem for this deck that is responsible for ending the most games on the spot:
We have seen variants of this kind of card before, but this is the best iteration of it. It's also somewhat hidden because it looks a bit more like a sideboard card than it is. The Falter effect is why you play the card, killing some 1/1s is a good backup plan and there many targets in this set. But really you play it to push through the last damage after a quick start with your haste creatures.
This is the premiere archetypes in the format, and it sets the tone: assertiveness.
I'm purposely not saying aggression here, because you don't necessarily have to be curving out with creatures and attacking (though honestly it is my recommendation) but you do have to do something early, every single game, or you'll fall too far behind to come back.
The next best decks have been the white-based decks for me. Red-White, Green-White, and White-Black have all performed well off the back of strong commons and mechanics that don't really ask you to do anything too cute.
Red-White leans on powerful commons in both red and white to carry it, and can get a bit of a boost from the For Mirrodin! mechanic which gives you a tradeoff of a medium strength creature up front, for the ability to move the equipment around after the opponent has stabilized.
My favorite of the white decks is White-Black—similar to its cousin Green-White—is a toxic deck looking to pile up poison counters on the opponent early and often.
Once you get a few poison counters going you can finish the job without even attacking thanks to the proliferate mechanic, and a few cards that give your opponent poison counters.
Every one of these represents an additional poison counter which could be the one that ends the game in your favor.
What Players May Avoid
I've outlined what I believe is the best deck in the format, Red-Green, and then a group of decks just under it centered around White that make up the second tier.
These may be some of the decks that the players will be looking for, but what will they be avoiding if possible?
It pains my heart, but basically any blue card. Blue has been by far the worst performer for me so far and believe me, I tried.
I really wanted the Blue-Red oil deck to be a thing, and kept trying to force it through in my testing. But every time I thought I had a good deck someone would play a turn one
As usual for Limited formats it's the commons that tell the story, and even the better blue commons just don't hold up to the good stuff from the other colors.
It's hard to look at cards like these blue commons and think they are just bad, but the truth is that they line up poorly with the rest of the format, you'd do better doing that than trying to justify playing them in your deck.
It's even a hostile world for cards like
When a solid removal option like
All of this being said, you honestly can draft any deck as long as you're in the right seat for it and the colors you're going for are open—after all, there can't be eight players in red and white at the pod.
You can practice all you want, but when the judge gives you the signal to draft sometimes you take what the table gives you and hang on for the ride.
And I hope you'll join me for that ride: I'll be doing commentary for Pro Tour Phyrexia from MagicCon: Philadelphia and I can't wait to see you there!