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Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar: By the Numbers


Another Pro Tour weekend has come and gone. While it wasn't the most innovative Pro Tour we've seen, there were a few spicy decks and the Top Eight was incredibly stacked with extremely talented players. When it was all said and done, Abzan took home the trophy, which is surprising. For the second Pro Tour in a row, Abzan was one of the worst performing decks overall, but just like last time, it left its mark on Sunday.

One of the most important aspects of every Pro Tour is that it sets the metagame moving forward. Decks that end up seeing play at SCG Opens, Grand Prix, and even Friday Night Magics are often heavily influenced by what the pros played last at the Pro Tour. Unfortunately, because Pro Tours are split formats with six rounds of limited and eight rounds of constructed, it isn't all that simple to figure out what decks performed the best. You can't just look at the Top Eight or Top Sixteen. It's very possible for good decks to miss the Top Eight because of poor draft performances, or for relatively under-performing decks to make the Top Eight because a player goes 6-0 in draft.

As a result, we need to dig into the numbers and look behind the curtain to figure out which decks performed well and which performed poorly. Today we'll start by breaking down the numbers on all the decks that had at least ten players on day one. Then we'll highlight a few unique and interesting decks that posted winning records, but didn't get much recognition because they missed out on feature matches and the Top Eight. Finally, we'll wrap up by breaking down the numbers on individual cards and figure out which performed and which faltered. If you haven't checked out all the decklists, you can peruse them here first. So let's get to the numbers!

Important Numbers

  • Number of players at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar: 367
  • Number of players who made day two: 230
  • Field wide conversion rate (percentage of players who made day two): 62.67%
  • Number of players who finished with 24-27 points: 19
  • Percentage of field that finished with 24-27 points: 5.17%
  • Number of players who finished with 21-23 points: 24
  • Percentage of the field who finished with 21-23 points: 6.54%
  • Number of players who finished with between 18-20 points: 50
  • Percent of players who finished with 18-20 points: 13.62%
  • Total number of players who finished with 6+ wins: 93
  • Percentage of player who finished with 6+ wins: 25.34%

Definitions

Here are the definitions of the table headings you'll see below:

  • Number of Day One Players: How many players showed up to Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar with a given deck.
  • Number of Day Two Players: The number of players on a given deck who managed to go 4-4 or better on day one and come back for day two.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of day one players who made day two (an incomplete statistic since this does not take into account limited records).
  • Number of Players 24-27 Points: How many players with a given deck managed between eight and nine match wins over the ten rounds of constructed.
  • Percentage: Percentage of day one players on a given deck who ended up winning eight or nine matches.
  • Number of Players 21-23 Points: How many players with a given deck managed seven match wins over the ten rounds of constructed.
  • Percentage: Percentage of day one players on a given deck who ended up winning seven matches.
  • Number of Players 18-20 Points: How many players with a given deck managed six match wins over the ten rounds of constructed.
  • Percentage: Percentage of day one players on a given deck who ended up winning six matches.
  • Total 6-4 or Better: How many player with a given deck managed six or more match wins over the ten rounds of constructed.
  • Percentage: Percentage of day one players on a given deck who ended up winning six or more matches.

Atarka Red

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
53 35 66.03% 1 1.88% 4 7.54% 10 18.87% 15 28.3%

First up we have Atarka Red, the most played deck on both day one and day two of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, beating out Jeskai Black by a handful of players each day. Overall, the deck put up a reasonable, but unsuperlative performance, coming in slightly above average on all metrics, with the exception of high-end finishes (24 points or more) where it was below average. Slightly is the key word here — in conversation rate, 21+ finishes, and 18+ finishes, Atarka Red pilots showed up at about three percent more often than the field at large. So while the deck was a fine choice for the tournament, it wasn't a great choice nor can it be considered a "breakout" deck. If you consider only the three “pillars” of the event (GW Megamorph, Jeskai Black, and Atarka Red), which made up between 40 and 55 percent of the field, there is little doubt Atarka Red was the worst of the lot.

Last Pro Tour we had a legitimate debate as to whether Atarka Red or Mono-Red was the better choice. In this new format, the argument has been settled. Mono Red wasn't even a deck at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. There simply wasn’t a compelling reason to stay mono-colored when the light green splash was basically free. It's unlikely we'll be seeing much Mono Red Aggro over the next few months. 

Jeskai Black

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
51 32 62.74% 2 3.92% 6 11.76% 11 21.57% 19 37.25%

The second pillar of the Pro Tour, Jeskai Black, has a fairly strong argument for being the best of the bunch. While it posted a pedestrian conversion rate and came in slightly below average on high-end finishes, by every other metric the deck performed well. It nearly doubled the average on 21+ and 18+ finishes. The fact that 19 Jeskai Black players finished with at least six wins in constructed is especially impressive considering only 32 of them made it to day two to begin with. A full 60 percent of players who made to day two with the deck ended up performing well enough to get their list published on the mothership.

Maybe the most interesting part of Jeskai Black is how much disagreement there is about the right way to build the deck. While several major teams ended up playing Jeskai Black, each team had a slightly different take. This is in stark contrast in comparison to Atarka Red, which was pretty uniform across the teams. Some of the Japanese players were on a build featuring four copies of Thunderbreak Regent and a couple of Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury, making the deck a Jeskai Black/Four-Color Dragons Hybrid. Jon Finkel and the Pantheon crew were on a deck that looked very much like traditional Jeskai, but splashing black for Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Crackling Doom, and Kolaghan's Command. Yet a third build played Butcher of the Horde, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Silumgar's Command. Moving forward, it seems likely the build Finkel and Turtenwald used to Top Eight will become the default. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that there are at least a few flex slots in the deck that you can customize based on play style, preference, or local meta.

Green-White Megamorph

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
40 28 70.00% 3 7.5% 3 7.5% 7 17.5% 13 32.5%

GW Megamorph is the final pillar that has a legitimate argument for being the best deck at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Its 70% conversion rate is easily the best of the big three. It managed the most high end finishes in the group, putting three players at 8-2 or better — double the expected rate. What keeps GW Megamorph from being the best of the three is that its 18+ percentage lags behind Jeskai Black. If your plan is win or bust in constructed, GW Megamorph is tops. But if you're looking for a consistent, solid performance, Jeskai Black is the better choice.
 
Unlike Jeskai Black, most of the GW Megamorph decks at the Pro Tour were quite similar. The main decision seems to be whether or not to include Avatar of the Resolute or Hidden Dragonslayer in the two-drop slot. While more decks went the Hidden Dragonslayer route, there were actually more copies of Avatar of the Resolute in the top performing decks. When the Avatar was included, it was always as a four-of. 

It was the popularity of GW Megamorph that made Gideon, Ally of Zendikar the most played Battle for Zendikar card in the tournament and the third most played non-land card overall. While the White planeswalker did show up in other decks, GW Megamorph is the one deck where he was almost always a four-of. If the next few months of Standard look similar to the Pro Tour, it's safe to say that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is one of the best cards in the format, nearly on par with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Keep in mind that because of his inclusion in Battle for Zendikar, it will be impossible for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to command a similar price tag as Jace. 

One last note. While I didn't include Bant or Naya Megamorph in our breakdown, they were among the worst performing archetypes. If you are planning on playing Megamorph in the near future, straight Green-White appears to be the right choice, even with the easy mana in Battle for Zendikar Standard. 

Esper Dragons

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
23 13 60.86 0 0% 0 0% 2 8.69% 2 8.69%

While it's dangerous to read too much into the results of a single tournament, Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar suggests Esper Dragons is dead. It started off the weekend posting a below average conversion rate and backed it up by putting up putrid marks in every metric. By the numbers, Esper Dragons was very likely the worst deck in the Pro Tour field. When you combine this with the rise of non-dragon Esper Control (which we'll talk about in a minute), it seems that over the next few months, Esper players will leave their Dragonlord Ojutais at home and imitate the Esper Control deck Reid Duke piloted to a 7-3 finish.
 
Ojutai’s signature spell, Ojutai's Command, was not in this build but was a breakout card from the Pro Tour. Over 27% of decks that posted a winning record at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar were running the instant. It looked impressive on camera, putting games out of reach with its life gain with the help of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. There were a few on-camera games where an aggro opponent would get a control player down to only a few points of life. Then suddenly the control player would be at 20 or 30 life after chaining a couple Ojutai Commands — a chasm for GR Landfall or Atarka Red to overcome in the mid or late game. 

Abzan

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
18 10 55.55% 2 11.10% 1 5.55% 1 5.55% 4 22.22%

Abzan had a comparatively bad day one, only putting 56% of its player into day two, seven percent below the field's average. It rebounded on day two and ended up not only putting up average stats, but also winning the entire tournament. At the same time, we are getting far enough down the list that the decks don't have a very large sample size. If you look behind the numbers a little, you'll see Abzan had two players that put up great performances, and a bunch of others who scrubbed out. To me this suggest Abzan, the epitome of a 50/50 deck, might be something like a 47/53 deck... but 47/53 is still close enough that a skilled pilot running good can put up great — even Pro Tour winning — results. 

Thanks to the downturn of Abzan, [Siege Rhino]] is one of the biggest losers of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. It only appeared in 12% of the decks in our sample, below cards like Dragon Fodder, Outpost Siege, and Thunderbreak Regent

Esper Control

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
15 11 73.33% 1 6.67%% 2 13.33% 4 26.67% 7 46.67%

While it didn't manage to Top Eight, Esper Control was one of the best performing decks at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. It put 73% of its players into day two, more than 10% above the field's average. It beat the field in every metric and its 46.67% 6-4 or better rate is easily the best out of any heavily played deck. In fact, simply playing Esper Control doubled a player’s chance of posting a winning recording in Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar standard. 

As I mentioned earlier, these results are odd because Esper Dragons was pretty much the worst deck at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. So what makes Esper Control so much better? The decks share many of the same cards, so what is shifting the win percentage so dramatically? Let's compare a typical Esper Control deck to Esper Dragons and see if we can figure it out:

Esper Dragons: +4 Dragonlord Ojutai, +1 Dragonlord Silumgar, +2 Board Wipes, +1 Removal Spell. 
Esper Control: +4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, +4 Ojutai's Command

Considering the rest of the deck is more or less the same, it seems simply including Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Ojutai's Command increases your chances of posting a winning record by more than 500%. Moving forward, if you’re building control, every deck should start with a playset of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Ojutai's Command

Green-Red Landfall

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
14 11 78.57% 1 7.14% 2 14.28% 2   14.28% 35.71%

GR Landfall was so close to being one of the breakout decks of the Pro Tour. Its numbers are great, with the single best conversion rate and above-average percentages across the board. It missed out on the all Pro Tour hoopla for two reasons. First, I don't remember GR Landfall being featured on camera a single time, meaning the casual observer probably has no idea it was among the most successful decks at the event. Second, it didn't put up a marquee performance, which would have given it a boost of camera time — making a Top Eight is a huge deal for a deck’s long-term potential. 

I do expect GR Landfall to remain a player in the format moving forward. Those in the know will look at the numbers and realize it's a very good deck, on par with or better than its biggest competitor, Atarka Red. For me the reason to play GR Landfall over Atarka Red is simple: both decks play a bunch of similar one- and two-drops, both play the Become Immense / Temur Battle Rage combo, but only one plays Den Protector. In theory, having access to four copies of Den Protector gives GR Landfall an advantage in the mid and late game where aggro decks typically sputter out. While neither deck is favored in the long game, flipping a Den Protector to get back an Atarka's Command gives GR Landfall a path to victory when things don't go as planned. 

Five-Color Bring to Light

# Players Day One # Player Day Two Conversion Rate # 24-27 Points Percentage # 21-23 Points Percentage #18-20 Points Percentage Total 6-4 or Better Percentage
10 4 40.00% 0 0% 1 10% 1 10% 2 20%

Speaking of busts, Bring to Light has fallen precipitously from its perch of “most exciting card” from week one of Battle for Zendikar standard. At Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, Five-Color Bring to Light ranged from horrible (conversion rate and 24+ finishes) to below average (every other metric). It seems likely that people will still push the limits on mana; it's too tempting not to with fetchlands and battlelands. But it's quite possible Bring to Light won’t be a part of five-color decks moving forward. 

Under the Radar Decks to Watch

While not as extreme as last week's Budget Magic deck, Sam Black's Bant Tokens deck plays well with the exile theme. Four players were on the deck (Sam Black, Justin Cohen, Ben Stark, and Tom Martell) and they went a combined 24-8 during the constructed portion of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, good for a 68.57 match win percentage. I wish they had done better in limited. If one of them made the Top Eight, we would be talking about how Sam is a deck building genius and about how he broke the format (again). Instead, it remains a question as to whether or not this masterpiece will catch on or fade away. 

Certainly not your typical Mardu build, Kawaski's Mardu Super Friends packs four different planeswalkers backed up by Hangarback Walker and all the great removal Mardu has to offer. The idea of killing everything and finishing the game with planeswalkers sounds like fun. Definitely worth taking a spin at your next FNM. 

Considering Battle for Zendikar is a set about Eldrazi and that the tournament was called Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, it's a disappointing that Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger was not more represented. Thankfully, Lim's GB Eldrazi gives everyone an option for scratching the Eldrazi itch. The most interesting card in the deck is Catacomb Sifter, a super powerful creature, but not one normally associated with casting ten-drops. Catacomb Sifter doesn't even have any real synergy in the deck, it's just a value play that creates a couple of early game blockers. Maybe more surprising, the deck doesn't play that much ramp. Instead of turboing its way to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, it relies on six sweepers, discard, and spot removal to control the game before Oblivion Sower and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger can come online. 

The only deck at the Pro Tour to play Drana, Liberator of Malakir was Saito's Red-Black Aggro. The deck walks a fine line between a dragons build (Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury and Thunderbreak Regent) and aggro (Bloodsoaked Champion and Zurgo Bellstriker). On paper, this deck looks odd — four main deck copies of Duress, only two Draconic Roars, and no Haven of the Spirit Dragons. It worked for Saito though. If you hoping to sleeve up your copies of Drana, Liberator of Malakir, this might be the place to start. 

If you're just browsing through deck lists, you'll find Mulcahy's deck labeled as "Bant Megamorph." You might skip over it assuming it's similar to the well know GW builds. Well, this deck is actually Mega Megamorph. When I first read over the list I thought Mulcahy had lost a bet. He's playing 24 creatures and every single one is a morph or megamorph. Along with staples like Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor, we get seldom used morphs like Silumgar Assassin and Icefeather Aven. But the morphs don't stop with the creatures. The deck plays the full four copies of Obscuring Aether, one Mastery of the Unseen, and even limited favorite Trail of Mystery. This is by far my favorite deck to come out of the Pro Tour, simply because of how insane it is. It's like Mulcahy was doing Against the Odds: Pro Tour Edition, except he actually put up a winning record. 

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 allowed for some major innovations in Whirler Rogue and Sidisi's Faithful.

25 Most Played Non-Land Cards

Card Num Decks Total Played
Hangarback Walker 52 198
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy 38 150
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 39 126
Wild Slash 46 126
Fiery Impulse 46 121
Surge of Righteousness 47 119
Crackling Doom 30 113
Silkwrap 39 107
Mantis Rider 25 100
Den Protector 26 99
Duress 38 98
Radiant Flames 36 97
Abbot of Keral Keep 21 84
Monastery Swiftspear 21 84
Disdainful Stroke 35 80
Atarka's Command 20 80
Dig Through Time 26 76
Arashin Cleric 30 74
Dispel 38 73
Wingmate Roc 27 71
Titan's Strength 18 69
Become Immense 20 67
Zurgo Bellstriker 22 66
Ojutai's Command 26 63
Dromoka's Command 17 61
  • Instead of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, can we call it Pro Tour Duel Deck Jace vs Gideon? 
  • Mantis Rider has come full circle. A year ago at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, it was one of the most played and important creatures. Over the past year, Mantis Rider faded away. Now it's back on top. The same goes for Wingmate Roc
  • If you see your opponent is playing a red aggro deck, expect the combo kill of Become Immense plus Temur Battle Rage. Pretty much every Atarka Red or GR Landfall deck is running it. Sometimes it's right to chump block at 14 life. 
  • Cards with only a single copy in the 94 winning decks include Fathom Feeder, Ire Shaman, Nissa's Renewal and this:

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

25 Most Played Battle for Zendikar Cards

Card Num Decks Total Played
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 39 126
Radiant Flames 36 97
Prairie Stream 46 89
Dispel 38 73
Sunken Hollow 43 70
Canopy Vista 34 68
Smoldering Marsh 42 64
Shambling Vent 22 59
Cinder Glade 35 57
Dragonmaster Outcast 23 36
Complete Disregard 13 30
Makindi Sliderunner 9 29
Exert Influence 17 25
Ob Nixilis Reignited 16 25
Ruinous Path 11 24
Scythe Leopard 5 20
Stasis Snare 12 20
Catacomb Sifter 4 16
Snapping Gnarlid 5 16
Evolving Wilds 10 15
Transgress the Mind 5 14
Bring to Light 4 14
Quarantine Field 13 13
Painful Truths 6 12
Retreat to Emeria 3 12
Zulaport Cutthroat 3 12

Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar confirms what we've feared about Battle for Zendikar constructed playability: outside of the lands, the set just isn't very good for tournament play. In fact, there are exactly two non-lands cards you could argue made a significant impact on Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which showed up in 41% of winning decks at an average of 3.2 copies each, and Radiant Flames, which appeared in 38.3% of decks at an average of 2.7 copies each. After these two stalwarts, the drop off is swift and sharp.
 
The third and fourth most played cards are reprints. Dispel was heavily played, but mainly as sideboard material. Dragonmaster Outcast showed up in 24% of decks, but only at a rate of 1.6 copies per. After that we're looking at things like Complete Disregard and Makindi Sliderunner, which only show up in 10-15% of decks.

This will change after Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotate this spring, but it's hard to imagine Battle for Zendikar making a significant impact before then. Our best hope is that Oath of the Gatewatch brings more support for Eldrazi or Allies. For now I'm disappointed Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar had very little to do with Battle for Zendikar.

Conclusion

Anyways, that's all for today. What do you make of these numbers? What were your observations from Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar? What do you think about Standard moving forward? Are you excited for the format? It is diverse enough? Is it too expensive? Leave your thoughts, ideas and opinions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 


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