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Pro Tour Amonkhet: By the Numbers


Pro Tour Amonkhet is in the books, which means it's time to break down the event by the numbers! Which cards and decks beat expectations? Which cards and decks underperformed? What cool under-the-radar decks showed up on Magic's biggest stage? Let's break it down!

Before getting to the decks, I should warn you that this edition of By the Numbers is going to be a little bit different. When we started the series, no one was really publishing data based on the Pro Tour; however, things have started to change. The metagame breakdown Wizards put out last night is amazingly in-depth and does a great job of breaking down the winners and losers at Pro Tour Amonkhet. As such, instead of spending a ton of time calculating numbers, we'll be focused more on interpreting the numbers that Wizards was nice enough to put out. So, if you haven't already, take a glance at the metagame breakdown because its numbers will be informing our discussion of the decks at Pro Tour Amonkhet. Then, take another minute to read the matchup breakdown of day two, which is equally amazing and also very important to our discussion. With this in mind, let's start by talking about the three decks that managed to make it all the way to the Top 8 at Pro Tour Amonkhet.

Top 8 Decks

Temur Marvel is clearly one of the breakout decks of Pro Tour Amonkhet—it seems that being able to play Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on Turn 4 is a good way to win games of Magic. Who knew? By just about any metric, the deck has to be considered a winner—63% of players made day two, while nearly 76% of Temur Marvel players made the second day. This is even more impressive when you consider that there were 70 Temur Marvel players on day one. Normally, conversion rates of 75% or more are reserved for decks with only a handful of players. Or we could put it this way: when I did the By the Numbers for Pro Tour Aether Revolt, I said that Mardu Vehicles had a claim to be the best Pro Tour deck of the mythic era, and while Mardu Vehicles managed to get more Top 8 slots than Temur Marvel (six to four), the Aetherworks Marvel deck actually beat Mardu Vehicles in terms of conversion rate—the deck was extremely good. 

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And this isn't even considering that most Temur Marvel players were on a less-than-optimal build of the deck. The "stock" (i.e., ripped from Magic Online results) build of Temur Marvel put 69% of players into day two, while the spell-heavy build from some of the Channel Fireball players (which Yuuya Watanabe and Eric Froehlich played in the Top 8) hit 85%, and builds with four Chandra, Flamecallers (which Martin Müller played in the Top 8) reached 100%. As such, there's a pretty good argument that Temur Marvel will be even better moving forward once the best builds of the deck become the default at FNMs, Grands Prix, and SCG Opens moving forward. 

As far as the matchups, both the Flamecaller and spell-heavy versions of Temur Marvel had a positive matchup against the field, with the main difference being that Flamecaller Temur Marvel is far better in the mirror, while spell-heavy Temur Marvel has a better matchup against Mardu Vehicles, and both decks have an equally good matchup against Zombies. As for stock Temur Marvel, it's bad in both the mirror and against Zombies but is one of the better builds against Mardu Vehicles specifically. Considering the results of Pro Tour Amonkhet, it seems exceedingly likely that Flamecaller Temur Marvel (posted above) becomes the default build moving forward. 

Zombies managed to almost match Temur Marvel as far as Top 8 berths and had a similarly good day one, with the Mono-Black Zombie deck converting 72% of its players and the WB Zombie build 69%, which is solid considering only 63% of players made day two. When we combine these two facts together, it's pretty easy to see Zombies as one of the big winners of Pro Tour Amonkhet, and while calling Zombies a winner is probably correct, there are also some signs of weakness we'll talk about in a minute. 

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So, which build of Zombies was better? That's a tough question to answer in a broad sense. WB Zombies has a significantly better matchup against Marvel decks, which was very important at the Pro Tour and will likely be important moving forward. On the other hand, WB Zombies is absolutely horrid against Mardu Vehicles. In fact, out of all the major decks at Pro Tour Amonkhet, WB Zombies versus Mardu Vehicles was the most lopsided matchup, with Zombies only winning 28% of the time. Mono-Black Zombies fixes this problem, with Mardu Vehicles going from a horrible matchup (28% MWP) to a solid matchup (58% MWP), but this improvement comes at a cost: the matchup against Marvel goes from very good to a toss-up, and Mono-Black Zombies is much worse in the mirror. 

The main reason to be worried about Zombies moving forward is that the matchups are so inconsistent. Most of the big decks at Pro Tour Amonkhet had slightly favorable (between 50% and 60% MWP) or slightly unfavorable (between 40% and 50% MWP) matchups against the other heavily played decks, while Zombies tended to have either slightly favorable matchups or really bad matchups. Moving forward, I'm not sure WB Zombies will be very playable—you simply can't have a 28% MWP against Mardu Vehicles (even with a positive Marvel matchup) and expect to have success, because even though Mardu wasn't great at the Pro Tour, people will still be playing it at lower-level events. On the other hand, Mono-Black Zombies is more likely to have staying power, but it still has a problem: while it managed to have a toss-up matchup against Marvel decks in general, it lost hard to both the Flamecaller and spell-heavy builds, which (as we talked about a moment ago) are likely to be the default builds moving forward. 

While Zombies and Marvel got all of the headlines, we do have one more deck in the Top 8: GB Energy. This is a bit surprising because GB Energy was average to slightly below by most metrics. Its conversion rate of 60% was a bit below the 63% that we'd expect, and generally speaking, its matchup data isn't all that exciting. While it did post a good record against Marvel in general, we don't have data on what versions of Marvel it beat, which means it's very possible that (much like Zombies) it was good against the stock builds but not as good against the spell-heavy and Chandra builds, which seem more committed to beating aggro. As for the other matchups, it was bad against Zombies and only average against Mardu. 

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Considering the data as a whole, this seems to be one of those instances where an average deck managed to have a very above-average performance, likely in part because of the pilot. We've seen this happen before—when Matt Sperling made the Top 8 with Abzan a few Pro Tours ago, the deck itself was one of the worst at the Pro Tour but still managed to make the Top 8 with a combination of skill and luck. This isn't to say that GB Energy is a bad choice moving forward—the sample size is fairly small—just that even with an all-important Top 8 berth, when you dig deeper into the numbers, it's hard to call the deck a winner in the same way as Marvel or Zombies. 

Other Heavily Played Decks

Perhaps the biggest question to come out of Pro Tour Amonkhet is: what happened to Mardu Vehicles? Heading into the Pro Tour, it was clearly the deck to beat in Standard, and it was even the most played archetype on day one of the event. Then, over the next two days of coverage, we saw it on camera a single time (in a backup feature match, no less), and it was essentially absent from the narrative and completely missing from the Top 8. 

So, what can the numbers tell us about Mardu's struggles? First, I should say this comes with a bit of an asterisk. Although a handful of high-level pros played the deck, most headed in a different direction (primarily to Marvel or Zombies), which means the average skill level of Mardu Vehicles players might have been lower than for some of the other decks. However, the problems for Mardu Vehicles started on day one with a below average conversion rate and continued to day two, when the deck posted a losing record against all the other big archetypes. While it beat up on WB Zombies and random control decks, it had poor matchups against pretty much all builds of Marvel and couldn't beat Mono-Black Zombies.

Even more problematic for Mardu Vehicles is that the "good build" (Mardu Vehicles Blue splashing for counters like Metallic Rebuke and Negate), which posted a strong record against Zombies and other builds of Mardu, was even worse against Marvel decks, only winning 31% of the time. While this doesn't mean the deck is dead (as I mentioned before, you'll still likely see a lot of it at your FNMs and other lower-level tournaments because changing decks isn't all that easy), it does suggest that fixing Mardu Vehicles' problems isn't as easy as running some counters in the sideboard. 

Heading into the Pro Tour, there was a lot of hype for a control deck to emerge thanks to new Amonkhet additions like Commit // Memory and Pull from Tomorrow, but this potential didn't materialize. Let's not beat around the bush here: control at Pro Tour Amonkhet was horrible and maybe even a bit worse than that. It only converted 56% of its players and then went on to be miserable on day two, not just losing to both Mardu and Marvel but losing to them badly. It only managed to win against Marvel 36% of the time and only 32% of the time against Mardu, which means even a slightly positive (55%) matchup against Zombies wasn't enough to pull UR Control from the "worst of the worst" category. 

While UR Control was—by far—the most played control deck at Pro Tour Amonkhet, other blue-based control builds didn't perform much better. Jeskai Control posted a 38% match win percentage, tied for fourth-worst out of all the decks played on day two; Blue-Red Dynavolt Control only won 40% of the time; and UW Flash (which may or may not count as a control deck, depending on your definition) was the second-worst deck in the entire field, winning just 32% of the time, including a laughable 15% match win percentage against Mardu Vehicles and a 25% match win percentage against Marvel decks. 

Moving forward, the question is if control can adjust to the new meta. Because the deck performed so poorly, we don't have many lists to examine. Did control players miss on their metagame evaluations and not build to compete with Aetherworks Marvel or Zombies, or is it simply that the combination of recursive Zombies, hard-to-deal-with Vehicles, and Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungers is too much for a control deck to handle, no matter how it's built? Only time will tell, but until we get results from a few more Standard tournaments, I wouldn't expect to do much winning playing control on Magic Online or at my local FNM.

 

Sultai Marvel is one of the stranger stories at Pro Tour Amonkhet. It had a slightly above average day one and was super close to putting multiple players into the Top 8 (both Reid Duke and William Jensen had win-and-ins or pseudo win-and-ins in round 16 yesterday), which would suggest that perhaps the deck was really good but just couldn't quite break through for a Top 8 finish. 

Thankfully, the matchup data (which we haven't had for previous Pro Tours) helps to clarify the situation. Sultai Marvel wasn't unlucky; it was bad. Its best matchup out of the heavily played decks was Mardu Vehicles, and even here it was just breaking even. It wasn't very playable against Zombies and other Marvel decks, only winning 37% and 40% of the time, respectively. As such, it seems like this is a case of Reid and Huey being very good at Magic and putting up solid finishes despite playing what, by the numbers, is a sub-par deck. 

Since we're on the topic of other Aetherworks Marvel decks, it's worth mentioning that essentially all of the non-Temur builds of Aetherworks Marvel were not just bad but horrible at Pro Tour Amonkhet. Bant Marvel did reasonably well against Mardu and Zombies but got crushed by other Marvel decks (winning just 33% of the time), and Four-Color Marvel was was one of the absolute worst decks at the Pro Tour, putting just 33% of players into day two and following that up by losing to everything on the second day (its best matchups were Mardu and other Marvel decks, but we're using "best" loosely here—it only beat these decks 33% of the time).

New Perspectives Combo was another one of the least successful decks at Pro Tour Amonkhet. While it had a good matchup against Zombies, it posted a shockingly poor 12.5% match win percentage against Marvel decks. Despite the lacking performance, New Perspectives Combo is a winner in some sense, just because it showed up. Heading into the weekend, we knew that Mardu, Marvel, Zombies, and GB decks would see play, but New Perspective was very much a long shot to even end up at the tournament at all. With this in mind, it's pretty exciting that a team of pros found the deck good enough to play on Magic's biggest stage. Even though the numbers aren't good, this is still a vote of confidence in the archetype moving forward, and with another (hopefully) cycling-filled set yet to come in Hour of Devastation, the deck may still get another chance to shine in Standard. 

Notes on Lesser Decks

While Pro Tour Amonkhet was far from the picture of diversity, there are a handful of lesser-played decks that are worth talking about briefly. Just a warning: while we'll be talking about some interesting numbers, they should be taken with a grain of salt, since unlike the more heavily played decks, the sample size for most of these decks is quite small.

  • Best Decks against Marvel: White-Black Control (100% MWP), Jeskai Control (66.7% MWP), and UR Dynavolt Control (66.7%). While most of the fringe decks at Pro Tour Amonkhet really struggled against Aetherworks Marvel, there were a handful of control decks that actually performed very well against the new best deck in the format. The problem is that these decks generally struggled against Zombies and Mardu. If these builds can figure out a way to shore up their bad matchups without losing too much against Marvel, we might have a control deck in Amonkhet Standard after all.
  • Best Decks against Mardu Vehicles: RW Exert (100% MWP), Temur Elder Deep-Fiend Energy (80%), and Mardu Blue (66.7%). Here, I left off WB Control, which technically had a 100% MWP but in a sample of one, which doesn't actually mean anything. Meanwhile, Temur Elder Deep-Fiend Energy crushed Mardu, going 8-2 in 10 matches, but couldn't consistently beat the other two big decks.
  • Best Deck against Zombies: Temur Tower (100% MWP), Mardu Blue (64.3%), and GB Constrictor (64.3%). Here again, I dropped two decks that only played against Zombies a single time. Probably the biggest note here is that Mardu Blue has made a second appearance on our "best against" list. So, why isn't Mardu Blue one of our big winners, considering it is one of the best decks against not one but two of the big decks at the event? It can't beat Marvel, posting a dismal 30% MWP across a total of 13 matches. 
  • Marvel Is the New Copy Cat: I realize this is a loaded headline, so let me explain. Beyond everything else, Copy Cat was the Standard deck that most often made players say, "I have this super-sweet deck; unfortunately, I can't play it because I can't beat Copy Cat." Looking over the other fringe decks, it seems like the biggest problem for most of them is that they simple couldn't beat Aetherworks Marvel. Out of 24 "fringe" decks, only four (16.7%) boasted a winning record versus Marvel (in fact, a higher percentage of fringe decks actually had a 0% MWP against Marvel decks). When comparing this to Mardu Vehicles, against which eight "fringe" decks had a positive record and another four had a 50/50 shot in the matchup, it seems like a lot of players at Pro Tour Amonkhet build or brought decks designed to beat Mardu Vehicles (and succeeded) but didn't really stand a chance against Marvel. The only good news here is that, if lots of players underestimated Marvel at Pro Tour Amonkhet, the deck could be beatable once it has a target on its back, but for the time being, I expect Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to play the Turn 4 Copy Cat Combo role of fun police in Amonkhet Standard.

Five Sweetest Under-the-Radar Decks

While GB decks are fairly common in Standard, we did get a super-sweet new take on GB Cryptolith Rite, which is almost a GB Aristocrats-style deck. The plan is to flood the board with cheap creatures and make a ton of mana thanks to Cryptolith Rite, which we can use to activate Duskwatch Recruiter a bunch of times to find even more creatures and make even more mana. Eventually, we'll get a Zulaport Cutthroat or two on the battlefield and sacrifice our board to Yahenni, Undying Partisan or Bontu the Glorified to win the game with drain triggers.

Abzan Tokens is probably my favorite (non-New Perspectives Combo) deck to come out of Pro Tour Amonkhet, and it actually performed pretty well in non-Marvel matchups, posting a 6-2 record. The combination of Hidden Stockpile and Anointed Procession gives the deck a ton of grindy value and inevitability, flooding the board with tokens turn after turn, which gains us a ton of life with Anointer Priest. Eventually, we'll find a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to pump up all of our creatures and swing in for a huge lethal attack!

We mentioned WB Control as one of the decks that had a good record against Marvel (in a small sample size), and while I'm not completely sure why (other than a lot of good sideboard cards), the deck looks pretty sweet. It's overloaded with tons of good removal, some efficient deathtouch creatures like Gifted Aetherborn and Gonti, Lord of Luxury to stall out the board, and then powerful planeswalkers to finish the game.

While you're probably sick of hearing the word Temur by now, not all Temur builds are looking to use Aetherworks Marvel to cast an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on Turn 4. Instead, it's very possible to have success with a Temur Energy Monsters deck that looks to ramp into some power midrange threats like Glorybringer and Bristling Hydra before closing out the game with Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Elder Deep-Fiend!

Last but not least, we have RB Control, which is almost like a Standard version of Jund. Instead of relying on combos or synergies, RB Control is just looking to play the best removal and most powerful threats at every point on the curve, trusting that raw power can overcome whatever synergies the opponent's deck might be relying on. If you like having an answer for everyone, slamming powerful planeswalkers, and stealing your opponent's cards with Gonti, Lord of Luxury, this might be the Pro Tour Amonkhet deck for you!

Most Played Cards

Pro Tour Amonkhet: Overall Most Played Non-Land Cards
Card Copies in Day Two
Fatal Push 460
Scrapheap Scrounger 374
Attune with Aether 356
Transgress the Mind 324
Negate 316
Harnessed Lightning 308
Rogue Refiner 298
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 279
Aetherworks Marvel 276
Thraben Inspector 261
Tireless Tracker 256
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 254
Heart of Kiran 244
Woodweaver's Puzzleknot 244
Unlicensed Disintegration 241

There's not a whole lot to say about the most played cards overall at Pro Tour Amonkhet. Considering that Marvel, Mardu, and Zombies made up nearly 75% of the field to start with, it would be a surprise if cards from these decks did not dominate the list. At the very top of the list, we have cards that show up in more than one of the big archetypes like Fatal Push and Scrapheap Scrounger, which see play in both Mardu and Zombies, while further down the list, we see cards that are very heavily played but only in one of the big three decks. While in general this list isn't surprising, there's something missing: Amonkhet cards. Let's take a look at the list of the most played cards from Amonkhet.

Pro Tour Amonkhet: Ten Most Played Amonkhet Cards
Card Number in Day Two Decks
Dread Wanderer 224
Magma Spray  220
Lord of the Accursed 212
Liliana's Mastery 228
Dispossess 160
Canyon Slough 148
Censor 122
Glorybringer 116
Never // Return 96
Sweltering Suns 83

The good news for Amonkhet is that Zombies was one of the breakout decks of the tournament, which means that even though there weren't a ton of Amonkhet cards by the numbers, it felt like there were because the ones that did make an impact were on camera constantly. The bad news is that Magic's newest set didn't really have a major impact on its namesake Pro Tour because two of the three big decks (making up about half of the metagame) didn't really play many new cards. This is partly because energy is such a parasitic mechanic—decks like Aetherworks Marvel need a critical mass of energy cards to function, which means that outside of a handful of utility cards, most new cards don't even have a chance in the deck. 

It's also worth noting that, unlike some past sets, there wasn't really one breakout card. While the Zombies worked well as a team, there were no Heart of Kiran, Aetherworks Marvel, or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar-type cards from Amonkhet that took the Standard format by storm. But maybe that's a positive thing. All of the cards listed above are arguably too good, so perhaps having a more even power level with a bunch of solid, playable cards rather than one or two extremely pushed, broken cards will lead to a more fun Standard moving forward. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What did you think of Pro Tour Amonkhet? What deck from the tournament are you most excited to play? What do you expect in Amonkhet Standard moving forward? Can people figure out how to beat Aetherworks Marvel, or is it the new best deck in Standard? Do you like WB or Mono-Black Zombies better? Can Mardu Vehicles make a comeback now that we know what the format looks like? Do any of the under-the-radar decks have a shot at emerging as tier one archetypes in the coming weeks? Let me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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