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Instant Analysis: Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Day Two


Day two of a Pro Tour is typically the best day. During day one, information is limited and while there is a certain excitement in figuring out what decks top players are on, not a whole lot really happens. Going 8-0 isn't a guarantee of a strong finish, and going 5-3 isn't necessarily the end of the tournament; the stakes are comparatively low. Pro Tour Sundays, on the other hand, are very matchup and player dependent since there are only eight players left in the running. When the matchups are interesting and the players are well-known, Sundays are great, but when it's a bunch of people you've never heard of playing Mono-Red, Sundays can be a dull affair — definitely not the case this weekend, but it happens more often than not. 

Day two, on the other hand, is almost always exciting. There's still a diversity of decks at the top tables, well-known players are still in the running, and there's a ton on the line. You can't win a Pro Tour without making the top eight, so by the end of the day, each match, game, and individual play are extremely important. As a result, day two of a Pro Tour has pretty much everything you could want in a Magic tournament. Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar was no different, so let's take a few minutes to catch up on all the important happenings from Milwaukee. If you're looking for the Top 8 decklists, be sure to check out Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Top 8 Decklists.

The Day Two Meta/Conversion Rates

Conversion rate is a flawed metric thanks to the split format of the Pro Tour. The fact that day one is three rounds of limited and five rounds of constructed, combined with the fact that a player only needs to go 4-4 or better to advance to day two, means that someone could theoretically go 1-4 in constructed and their deck would still show up in the "plus" column of conversion rate. Even worse, since we don't know what decks individual players are playing, we don't have a way of digging through the standings to figure out which wins come from limited and which come from constructed. Having said that, some data is better than no data and we can still get a good sense of deck performance by looking at which decks did a good job at putting players into day two.

Looking at the day two meta, the first thing you'll notice is that it doesn't look all that difference from that day one meta. No one shows up to the Pro Tour playing a horrible deck, and when the best players in the room win 65 percent of the time, it's exceedingly unlikely that any one archetype will suddenly just drop off that map entirely. To get a better look at successes and failures, we need to look at the conversion rate, the percentage of players that made day two with a given deck. Here it's important to realize that overall, 63 percent of the players at the Pro Tour made day two, so conversion rates above 63 percent should be considered good, while rates below 63 percent are comparatively poor. 

Probably the most interesting aspect of the conversion rate is the revelation that splashing an additional color in an already good deck wasn't the way to go. For example, GW Megamorph put up a solid 70 percent conversion rate (a full seven percent above average); however, Naya and Bant Megamroph came in at 40 and 45 percent respectively, putting them among the worst performing decks. The same holds true for Abzan. While the old guard WBG deck didn't perform all that well putting only 55 percent of players into day two (8 percent below average), Abzan Blue was the singular worst deck on day one, with only about one out of every three making it to Saturday. On the other hand, straight two-color decks including UB Aristocrats, Atarka Red and GW Megamorph all rank in the top five, joined by the interesting Four-Color (Temurai) Dragons and the resurgent Esper Control. Of course, this is all preliminary and we'll have a much fuller picture of the best decks once all the lists are released tomorrow.

UB Aristocrats was the tease of day one. Coverage gave us some hints about the deck, people were talking about it on social media, and we even got to see it on camera — but only for a few seconds. Then we found out that the deck had one of the best conversion rates. Wizards finally remedied the situation and put an end to the great mystery by giving us not only a deck tech, but featuring Christian Calcano on camera during round 13. While the foundation of UB Aristocrats looks a lot like other Aristocrats builds we've seen since the release of Battle for Zendikar, going with blue over the more common red or green allows for some major innovations. 

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It's getting to the point where we can say, without irony, that Whirler Rogue has been one of the breakout cards two Pro Tours in a row. In hindsight, it's obvious that this card is insane in conjunction with Nantuko Husk in the sacrifice-themed Aristocrats. Not only does it provide ample fuel for Nantuko Husk, but it makes it unblockable along the way. Remember how the old Rally the Ancestors deck used Mogis's Marauder to make a lethal attack with Nantuko HuskWhirler Rogue does the same thing, but it's better in almost every possible way. A curve of Zulaport Cutthroat into Nantuko Husk into Whirler Rogue allows the deck to deal 14 unblockable damage (and gain four life) on turn four. This isn't even counting the possibility of Bloodsoaked Champion on turn one. However, there's not much financial relevance for an in-print uncommon, so let's talk about the card that stands to gain the most if UB Aristocrats takes off.

 

Liliana, Heretical Healer has a lot going for it moving forward. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see her shoot up to $25 or $30. Camera time at the Pro Tour is extremely valuable for a card. Having 30,000 or 40,000 Magic fans see a card on the big screen has been known to increase a card's value. In the case of Liliana, Heretical Healer in UB Aristocrats, these people aren't just seeing the card, they are seeing it perform insanely well. Second, people love Aristocrats. I learned this after I featured it on Budget Magic and spent the next three months answering tweets and emails requesting an update. As Tim Willoghby mentioned on coverage, the deck plays on an entirely different axis than most Standard decks, and this axis is extremely appealing to a wide swath of players. Third, people already like Liliana, Heretical Healer and are looking for an excuse to play with the card. Unlike some other breakout decks (*cough*Atarka Red*cough) that players will sleeve up begrudgingly because they want to win a tournament, people want to sleeve up UB Aristocrats because it looks so fun. Finally, it's pretty close to a budget deck, especially compared to the super expensive tier one of the format. If you swap out the fetches for Evolving Wilds and Dismal Backwater, you can play the exact same list for about $150. Almost all of that price is the four Liliana, Heretical Healers and four Hangarback Walkers. 

Liliana, Heretical Healer is trending up, even though UB Aristocrats missed out on the top 8. $20 is a given, $25 seems quite likely, and $30 isn't out of the question. In fact, people I know are already selling copies for $24 with some success. If you want to play UB Aristocrats in the near future, pick up your copies now, or plan on waiting until the Pro Tour hype dies down in a few weeks. 

The other impressive rogue deck of day one was Temurai (listed as Four-Color Dragons on the metagame breakdown), which is basically a Temur Midrange deck that takes advantage of Standard's easy mana to splash for Mantis Rider, Jeskai Charm and Woodland Wanderer. This one is a little hard to break down, mostly because it hasn't been featured much on camera, so let's talk about two non-land Battle for Zendikar creatures that are actually seeing play.

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When Battle for Zendikar was spoiled, I immediately wrote off both Woodland Wanderer and Beastcaller Savant. They looked so much worse than other options in (or recently out) of the format. Woodland Wanderer seemed like a card that would be overshadowed by Siege Rhino, at least while Khans of Tarkir is in the format. They are both three (or four) color green four-drops, so I figured that the "drain" trigger on Siege Rhino would make it a better card. While this is generally true, I hadn't considered that there might be a four-color deck that couldn't cast Siege Rhino, which is the perfect storm we find ourselves in with Temurai. Beastcaller Savant, on the other hand, felt so much worse than the rotating Elvish Mystic and mostly worse than the still-in-the-format Rattleclaw Mystic — it didn't seem likely to see heavy play. Being unable to cast non-creatures is a significant draw back, but here again Temurai is the perfect deck to minimize this downside, running 27 creatures and only 8 spells. 

Financially, I don't think this performance is enough to move the needle. The spread is still amazingly weak on both of these cards with Woodland Wandered having a best buylist price of $0.25 despite a retail price of $2.44, and Beastcaller Savant has a best buylist of $0.67 with a retail tag of $2.27. Unlike other winner of the week, we need to remember that both of these cards are restricted to a single deck that, despite it's strong performance, was only played by a handful of players. So while the deck looks pretty interesting, I don't think it will end up being all that important financially. 

Impressive Cards

  • Ojutai's Command: Owen Turtenwald spoke glowingly about the UW instant during an interview and on camera feature matches backed up his attitude. A staple in not only all Jeskai variants, much like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Ojutai's Command benefits from the resurgence of Esper Control as well. It's a great weapon against Red decks and getting back a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Arashin Cleric (which is showing up in some main decks) is often a game winning play. Already creeping up towards $4.50 from as low as $2.20 only a few weeks ago, the best time to get your copies has come and gone. Hitting $6-$8 isn't unreasonably if this level of play continues, especially considering that Dragons of Tarkir survives a second rotation this spring. 
  • Bloodsoaked Champion: While missing out on the top eight hurts, I still expect players to experiment with Aristocrats builds over the coming weeks. The archetype is so much fun to play that it's hard to resist. The little black Warrior saw a big bump on Magic Online this weekend, shooting up 66 percent in the past day alone, so it's possible it creeps up in paper as well with the $4-$5 range probably being the absolute best case scenario. 
  • Crackling Doom: Although looking extremely impressive in Jeskai Black (one of the most played decks in the field), the financial upside of Crackling Doom is limited. It rotates this spring so we are at a time when, under the old rotation schedule, soon-to-be-rotating cards would be hitting their peaks. Plus Crackling Doom has already tripled up in price over the past week. It will likely see heavy play all winter, but won't necessarily increase too much more in price. 
  • Avatar of the Resolute: Adopted into one of the pillars of the format (GW Megamorph), Avatar of the Resolute is doing its best to overcome the increased supply from its recent reprinting in the Magic Origins Clash Pack. While it's not the type of card that will explode in value, it's still close to its floor, sees some amount of play in Modern (mostly in Mono-Green Aggro), and has an ability dealing with counters giving it some long-term casual appeal. It's not a bad idea to have a few in your binder.

  • Secure the Wastes: Sam Black compared it to Elspeth, Sun's Champion with the straight face of a guy whose deck is killing a Pro Tour but not getting any recognition thanks to a poor limited record. As of round 14, his Bant Tokens deck was 21-4 in constructed in the hands of Sam Black, Justin Cohen and Ben Stark. Secure the Wastes also pops up in the Jeskai Tokens deck played by some of the Europeans to great success. Boasting a solid spread of 31 percent and coming from the not-soon-rotating Dragons of Tarkir, I wouldn't be surprised to see Secure the Wastes creep near $5 at some point over the next six months. 
  • Icefall Regent: Another Magic Online winner which hasn't moved in paper, Icefall Regent is another Dragons of Tarkir card that has potential to jump at some point in its Standard life. Being a key piece of the Temurai deck — which passes on Dragonlord Ojutai for the Dungeon Geist / Frost Titan hybrid — and currently living in a format friendly towards three toughness creatures (with no Lightning Strike), the blue dragon may yet get a chance to shine.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What were your observations from day two of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar? What cards and decks over performed? What under performed? Leave your thoughts, ideas and opinions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 

 


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