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Do Week One Results Actually Matter?


This weekend marks the release of Kaladesh and, along with it, the first real tournament featuring the new post-rotation format with the SCG Open in Indianapolis. New formats are always one of the most exciting times of the year—cards like Collected Company that dominated the last format are now banished to Modern, and we have a ton of brand new cards and mechanics, giving us a sense of endless possibility. Players are itching to play with the new cards, and many are waiting to see how this weekend's tournament will shake out to know what cards, decks, and synergies they should buy and play. 

The problem is that a couple of weeks after a set releases, we have a Pro Tour, and Pro Tours are hugely important. All of the best players in the world spend weeks trying to "break the format" by building the best decks possible, and we get three days of high-level play and coverage. As a result, when it's all said and done, decks that perform well at the Pro Tour are usually what set the metagame for the next few months. 

That leaves us with this strange equation: do we buy our Standard deck based on what happened at the first big tournament (the SCG Open), or do we wait a couple of weeks to see what happens at the Pro Tour? The real question is: how similar are the two tournaments? Do decks that perform well on week one also perform well at the subsequent Pro Tour, or do the pros simply ignore the SCG results and do their own thing? Is there any correlation between being the "best deck" on week one and being a big deck at the Pro Tour? Basically, all of these questions can be summed up in one short question: do week-one results really matter? This is the question we are going to try to answer today by looking back at previous week-one tournaments and comparing them to the Pro Tour that happened a couple of weeks later. 

Theros

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Theros
SCG Theros Week One Place PT Theros 
Mono-Red Aggro 1 Mono-Blue Devotion
UW Control 2 Mono-Blue Devotion
GR Monsters 3 Mono-Blue Devotion
Esper Control 4 Mono-Green Devotion
Esper Control 5 Esper Control
Esper Control 6 Orzhov Midrange
Mono-Red Aggro 7 Mono-Black Control
Boros Aggro 8 Mono-Red Devotion

If you look at the week-one results for Theros Standard from SCG Worchester in 2013, it's pretty clear that two archetypes stood out as the best: red-based aggro (usually mono-red but occasionally Boros) and Esper Control. Odds are that if you purchased a Standard deck after week one, it would be one of those two archetypes. On the other hand, the story of Pro Tour Theros was Devotion, which managed to take six of the top eight slots. The pros realized that the best thing you could do in the format was make a ton of mana with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and use that mana to power out things like Master of Waves, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Polukranos, World Eater

While it is true that week-one results correctly pegged Esper Control as one of the best decks in the format (it proved to be tier one for all of Return to Ravnica / Theros Standard thanks to Sphinx's Revelation), maybe the most stunning thing is that the week-one results completely whiffed on Devotion. Even outside of the top eight, there wasn't a single devotion list that performed well enough to get its list published at SCG Worchester; as a result, the devotion mechanic wasn't a part of the narrative at all. While the Pro Tour showed that there was much disagreement about which devotion list was best, with every color except white making the Top 8, it is telling that the SCG event missed the mechanic altogether.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Theros Standard ended up being (primarily) about three decks: Esper Control featuring Sphinx's Revelation, Mono-Black Devotion, and Mono-Blue Devotion. All of those decks showed up in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros, but only Esper Control was present at all during the week-one event. As such, apart from correctly predicting the importance of Esper Control, the week-one results from Theros had very little bearing on what the format would look like moving forward. 

Khans of Tarkir

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Khans of Tarkir
SCG Khans Week One Place PT Khans of Tarkir
Abzan Midrange 1 Abzan
Abzan Midrange 2 Jeskai Wins
GR Monsters 3 Abzan Midrange
GR Devotion 4 Abzan Aggro
Mono-Green Devotion 5 UB Control
Naya Midrange 6 Jeskai Wins
Mono-Green Devotion 7 Jeskai Wins
Jund Monsters 8 Jeskai Ascendency

There were a few storylines during the first week of Khans of Tarkir Standard at the SCG Open in Indianapolis. First, Abzan Midrange featuring Siege Rhino took the top two slots and emerged as the deck to beat. Second, various green-based Monsters and Devotion decks were among the most played in the entire tournament and took up the most slots in the Top 8. Third, although it didn't manage to make the Top 8, the SCG Open harkened the return of combo to Standard with Jeskai Ascendancy. Meanwhile, a couple weeks later at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, we witnessed Jeskai Midrange featuring cards like Mantis Rider shoot to the top of the format and take up nearly half of the slots in the Top 8, while apart from Abzan decks, Gx Monsters and Devotion were afterthoughts. 

Much like during the first week of Theros, week one of Khans of Tarkir was characterized by two things. First, the tournament did correctly pick a tier one deck (in Abzan Midrange, which was the best deck in the format for most of Khans Standard), which means that if you were looking for a deck and simply bought the deck that won the week-one tournament, you actually would have done pretty well for yourself. Second, and more concerning, the week-one tournament again missed what was arguably the best deck at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Jeskai Midrange. Much like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in Theros, the week-one results for Khans of Tarkir completely missed the power of Dig Through Time, a card that would end up being among the most played and most powerful in Standard after the results of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir came in. 

Also troubling is the fact that the week-one event extremely overvalued Green Devotion and Monsters. If you look at the metagame breakdown from December 2014, a couple months after the release of Khans, you'll see that GR Monsters was the 12th-most-played deck in the format, and Green / x Devotion was nowhere to be found. As such, if you bought a deck after week one, you would have had a 25% chance of picking a tier-one deck and a 75% chance of picking a deck that wasn't very good. Meanwhile, if you waited until after Pro Tour Kahns of Tarkir to buy your deck, there was a 75% chance you would have picked a tier-one deck, a 12.5% chance you'd have purchased a tier-two deck (in UB Control), and a 12.5% chance you'd whiff with Jeskai Ascendency.

Battle for Zendikar

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Battle for Zendikar
SCG Battle for Zendkar Week One Place PT Battle for Zendikar 
Atarka Red 1 Abzan Aggro
GW Megamorph 2 Jeskai
Esper Dragons 3 Jeskai Black
Jeskai Black 4 Abzan Aggro
Five-Color Bring to Light 5 Jeskai Black
Jeskai Black 6 Bant Megamorph
Esper Dragons 7 Atarka Red
Abzan Control 8 Jeskai Tokens

In all honesty, the first week of Battle for Zendikar and Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar look pretty similar. Sure, a couple of random decks like Five-Color Bring to Light and Esper Dragons didn't transition to the Pro Tour stage, but Jeskai Black was the most important deck in each event, and Abzan was still trucking along in both Top Eights. Altogether, this suggests that the week-one SCG event actually predicted the Pro Tour event fairly well. While your odds of hitting a tier-one deck dropped slightly if you bought in at week one thanks to Five-Color Bring to Light and Esper Dragons, they were pretty close, which is interesting, considering this wasn't the case with Khans or Theros. The difference is so striking that we have to wonder if week one of Battle for Zendikar was simply an outlier.

So, what's the deal with Battle for Zendikar? We do know that the set itself was horrible and completely lacking in impact on Standard. In fact, it was barely played at either the Pro Tour or on week one. Actually, both events are filled with decks that were near the top of the previous Standard format. So, instead of suggesting that week-one players did an above-average job of picking the metagame, it might just be that Battle for Zendikar was so bad it doesn't really matter. The right choice here was to just keep playing your old Standard deck and update the mana base slightly. 

Shadows over Innistrad

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Shadows over Innistrad
SCG Shadows Week One Place PT Shadows over Innistrad
Bant Company 1 GW Tokens
Mono-White Humans 2 Bant Company
WB Eldrazi 3 Esper Control
UR Control 4 Esper Dragons
WB Midrange 5 Seasons Past Control
WU Humans 6 Goggles Ramp
WU Humans 7 Black-Green Aristocrats
GW Humans 8 RW Goggles

Shadows over Innistrad rotation has to be one of the strangest of all time. Somehow, only a single deck from week one managed to make the Top 8 of the Pro Tour a couple weeks later: Bant Company. Speaking of Bant Company, even though it did put up insane results in both tournaments, it's important to realize that it was one of the most played decks at both events, so even though it didn't have that many big finishes, it was there lurking under the surface. 

If you take the week-one results from the SCG Open, you would figure that Wx Humans was clearly the best deck in Standard, but then Wx Humans didn't even show up at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. Strangely, this might be a case where the week-one results actually got things right—if you fast forward a month or two, Mono-White or White-Red Humans was a tier-one deck, despite floundering at the Pro Tour. Making things even stranger, nearly all of the decks that managed to Top 8 the Pro Tour ended up being tier two or even tier three for most of their Standard life, including decks like Rx Goggles, GB Aristocrats, Seasons Past, and Esper Dragons. As a result, while the week-one results of Shadows over Innistrad Standard did a horrible job of predicting the top decks at the Pro Tour, it actually did a better job of predicting the tier-one decks of Shadows over Innistrad Standard because the Pro Tour decks didn't actually perform that well over the course of time. In fact, if you had bought a deck from the Top 8 on week one, you would have had a 62.5% chance of picking a long-term tier-one deck (although this was aided by the fact that W/x Humans made up half of the Top 8), while buying a deck from the Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Top 8 would have most likely left you with a tier two (or three) deck. 

Putting It All Together

First off, let talk about the percentage of decks that managed to Top 8 the week-one post-rotation tournament and then continued their success by also hitting the Top 8 of the Pro Tour a couple weeks later. These percentages are weighted (for example, 37.5% of decks that made the Top 8 the first week of Theros also made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros, but all three decks were Esper Control). As you can see, the record for week-one decks isn't really that great. The best performance was Battle for Zendikar (which may be an outlier because of the lack of impact that the namesake set had on Standard), where a full half of the week-one decks showed up at the Pro Tour. Meanwhile, Shadows over Innistrad was the worst, with a single deck (Bant Company) making the Top 8 of both the week-one tournament and the Pro Tour. Taking these numbers together, over the past four rotations, a mere 31.5% of week-one decks hit the Top 8 of the subsequent Pro Tour. The next question we need to answer is just how much the Pro Tour Top 8 predicts the future of Standard.

As you can see, Pro Tour Top 8 decks have a very good chance of being tier one in Standard moving forward. In fact, 59.4% of decks that Top 8 a Pro Tour end up tier one, and this is including Shadows over Innistrad, which had a horrible rate. If we toss out Shadows over Innistrad as an outlier, the percentage jumps all the way to 70.33%. Maybe more importantly, Pro Tour Top 8 decks very rarely miss. If you are looking to pick a deck for Standard, choosing a deck—any deck—that Top Eights a Pro Tour will only be a miss (tier 3 or lower) 15.63% of the time. To recap, so far we've seen that week-one decks aren't all that good at making Pro Tour Top Eights and that decks that Top 8 a Pro Tour are very likely to become tier one, but what about the week-one decks? How many of them end up tier one? We've already seen that it's possible, with W/x Humans from Shadows over Innistrad being the best deck on week one of the Standard format and a tier-one deck over the long haul, all while missing out on a Pro Tour top eight, but just how common is this?

While week-one decks have been doing better recently (mostly thanks to W/x Humans from Shadows over Innistrad skewing the numbers), all in all, they are significantly less likely to end up being tier one than Pro Tour decks and significantly more likely to end up falling off the map altogether. In total, 46.87% of week-one decks end up in the top tier of the format, which isn't horrible but is also meaningfully worse than Pro Tour decks, which hit just under 60% of the time. It's also worth mentioning that if we discount W/x Humans, which dominated week one of Shadows over Innistrad Standard by putting five decks in the Top 8, the percentage drops all the way down to 34.37%, which is more in line with the percentage of decks that make the Top 8 in both week one and at the Pro Tour. 

More problematic is the miss rate. While less than 15% of Pro Tour Top 8 decks end up unplayable (tier three or worse), this number nearly doubles when we look at week-one decks, with 28.15% of decks that Top 8 the week-one tournament ending up fringe or completely unplayable over the long haul. 

What This Means

One of the reasons I wanted to explore the performance of week-one decks is that it is extremely relevant to budget-conscious Magic players. Let's say you are on a limited budget and can only afford one deck for each Standard season—what should you do? Well, these numbers suggest that if you want a tier-one deck, the best thing to do is to ignore week-one results and then pick whatever Pro Tour Top 8 deck appeals to you the most. Not only does waiting until after the Pro Tour give cards from the newest set a chance to decrease in price as the set is opened and the supply increases, saving you money, but it also increases your odds of actually picking a tier-one deck. 

Even more importantly, waiting until the Pro Tour greatly decreases your chance of picking a completely unplayable deck, which is the worst-case scenario. Picking wrong with a Pro Tour deck means you'll likely end up with a tier-two deck rather than a tier-one deck, which isn't the end of the world for an FNM-level player. On the other hand, picking wrong with a week-one deck leaves you in a precarious situation where you could end up with a deck that simply isn't playable and has little chance of winning. 

As a result, as you are looking over the results of this weekend's SCG tournament—the first tournament of Kaladesh Standard—take a deep breath, keep your fingers away from the "buy this deck" button, and think twice before pulling out your credit card. Waiting just a couple of weeks until Pro Tour Kaladesh is likely to not only save you a lot of money over the long haul but also increase the amount of fun you have this Standard season by giving you a deck that actually has a chance to compete. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com. 


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