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Pro Tour Ixalan: Day One (Live Updates)


Pro Tour Ixalan is one of the strangest Pro Tours we've had in a while. Normally, outside of a couple of StarCityGames events, the Pro Tour is the first major Standard tournament after a set release, which makes the tournament exciting (and especially so for set releases that come along with a rotation, giving us a brand new Standard format). But for Ixalan, Wizards is trying something different, running the Pro Tour more than a month after the release of the namesake set. Instead of a Pro Tour, it was Worlds that was the torchbearer for the new Standard format, and while it's great to see high level Magic, the two-and-a-half deck meta from Worlds seems to have dampened the mood a bit for Pro Tour Ixalan

Rather than discussing the endless possibilities of a new, post-rotation Standard metagame, the biggest question heading into Pro Tour Ixalan is just how healthy is the Standard metagame actually is at the moment. The general feeling is that Temur Energy and Ramunap Red are the two best decks in the format, and it would be shocking if at least one (and probably both) are not at the top of the Pro Tour meta. This said, Magic formats almost always have a best deck, so simply having Temur Energy and Ramunap Red at the top of the format isn't necessarily a bad thing; the big question is whether any of the other decks in the format can compete with the big two. We've seen God-Pharaoh's Gift, various Anointed Procession tokens decks, Approach of the Second Suns, and various Torrential Gearhulk decks floating in the second tier of the meta, so there is hope. Is it possible that any of these decks can unseat Energy and Red Aggro on the Pro Tour stage? Will we see any super spicy, under the radar decks show up? The dream is that the pros have figured out a way to shake up the metagame, while the nightmare is that we'll be in for fifteen rounds of Temur Energy versus Ramunap Red, with a handful of control decks thrown in. This is what we'll be watching for today. 

Apart from analyzing metagame, like past Pro Tours, our plan for today is simple: we'll be breaking down the constructed rounds of Pro Tour Ixalan on a round-by-round basis, with a focus on the breakout decks and cards. We'll have Guestimate deck lists for any sweet new decks, along with general discussions of the tournament, the tournament coverage, and perhaps some finance tidbits and any anything else Pro Tour Ixalan related! 

Rounds 1 through 3 (Limited)

While we'll focus mostly on constructed, I did want to take a minute to talk about coverage. First (and most importantly), it seems that it seems like Wizards finally figured out the glare issue that have plagued the limited rounds of the last few Pro Tours. It was refreshing to be able to see all of the cards on the battlefield and in players hands as they were making their picks right from the start of the event, rather than halfway through.

It also appears that Wizards decided to drop the Advantage Bar, which had been at the bottom of the screen for the past year or so. While having a visual to show new players and viewers who is ahead seems like a good idea on paper, in practice it's hard to quantify who is winning a game of Magic. When you combine this with the fact that the advantage bar often updated pretty slowly, it was often a source for snarky comments more than it was a real help for new players. As such, dropping it is probably a good idea, although hopefully we can figure out another way to make the game more digestible for new viewers.

As for limited itself, Ixalan isn't an especially exciting format and seems to be pretty widely disliked by the pro community. This highlights one of the issues with having the Pro Tour midseason rather than close to when a set releases: While Ixalan limited wouldn't be any better a month ago, the format would have been fresh enough that public opinion probably wouldn't have solidified against it. Overall, I'm not a huge fan of the midseason Pro Tour plan. While it was a good experiment, moving forward, I hope we return to Pro Tours being the first major constructed tournament after a set releases.

Round 4

We kick off constructed with Josh Utter-Leyton with Four-Color Energy against Yuki Matsumoto of Final Last Samurai on Four-Color Tokens. The Energy deck appears to be fairly standard, with Vraska, Relic Seeker and The Scarab God filling out the typical Temur Energy shell. Meanwhile, the Four-Color Token deck is basically a hybrid of Abzan and Esper Tokens, built around the engine of Hidden Stockpile and Anointed Procession. The main innovation is zero creatures in the main deck, but Hostage Takers and The Scarab God in the sideboard to catch opponents by surprise. In game one Matsumoto gets a quick Anointed Procession, while Utter-Leyton floods out with three Harnessed Lightning in hand, giving the tokens deck a fairly easy win. 

The token deck has to be one of the strangest decks in Standard. When it draws its engine, it's almost unbeatable, grinding out a ton of value for free everything turn. The problem is when it doesn't draw its engine, it looks like a really bad draft deck. In game two, Tokens goes into draft deck mode while Four-Color Energy sticks multiple copies of The Scarab God into Vraska, Relic Seeker (which is a nightmare for tokens since it blows up enchantments) and quickly takes over the game. In game three, Utter-Leyton gets stuck on two lands while the Token deck manages to resolve a Hidden Stockpile and flip a Legion's Landing. Eventually the game develops into The Scarab God versus Anointed Procession and Hidden Stockpile, but in the end it's sideboard Hostage Taker that ends up coming down to steal the match for Matsumoto.

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On the back tables we get some spice, with a Mono-Black Vehicles deck with Nightmarket Lookout and Ruin Raider against a Temur Energy deck that walks the line between Temur Energy and the Miracle Grow deck we played on Budget Magic a little while ago with Enigma Drake, Crash Through, and Riddleform along with more typical energy stuff. Unfortunately we only get a quick peek at the decks before jumping back to our main match. Later we find more spice with the Mono-White Vampire Monument that showed up at a StarCityGames events a couple of weeks ago, although it looks pretty bad on camera, getting crushed by Glorybringer from Temur Energy. Thankfully, this shows us that there are some interesting decks floating around at Pro Tour Ixalan, although whether or not they can keep up with Temur Energy remains to be seen. 

 

Our inter-round deck tech is Mono-White Vampires:

Round 5

The big news of Round 5 is that we get the day one metagame breakdown. A couple of days ago I put the over/under for energy decks at Pro Tour Ixalan at 50%, and it looks like this was a pretty good estimate: if you throw together all of the energy decks they make up 48.3% of the metagame. While this is a staggering metagame share for any one archetype, even more depressing is Temur Energy by itself. If you put Temur and Four-Color Energy (which is basically Temur splashing for The Scarab God), one deck makes up 43.2% of the day one metagame at Pro Tour Ixalan

Let's put this metagame share into a bit of historical context. At Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, the most played deck was Ramunap Red at 24.8% of the metagame. At Pro Tour Amonkhet, Mardu Vehicles took home the prize at 26.2%. Aether Revolt? Mardu Vehicles at 22.4%. At Pro Tour Kaladesh (the last rotational Pro Tour) it was Temur Aetherworks at 17.6%. 

While I don't have the data to dig too far into the past, what we can say for sure is that Pro Tour Ixalan is the least diverse Pro Tour metagame at least since Pro Tour Kaladesh a year ago (by a pretty wide margin). While the big story is Temur/4C Energy coming in at over 43% of the metagame, it's also worth pointing out that the combo of Ramunap Red/BR Aggro make up another 24% of the meta (with Ramunap Red coming in at just under 20% by itself). All things told, this means that just about three out of every four decks at Pro Tour Ixalan are Energy (mostly Temur, with a small splash of Sultai) or Red (mostly Ramunap, with a hint of RB), which is pretty close to the nightmare scenario we talked about earlier.

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Of course, day one metagame percentages are not destiny, so there is still hope that another deck will fight past Temur Energy and take the crown, but the metagame numbers are a big disappointment for us lovers of spice. 

If there's any good news in the day one metagame breakdown, it's that there are a few under the radar decks near the bottom of the metagame including Mono-White Vampire Monument, Mono-Black Aggro, and various flavors of the expected non-Temur/Ramunap decks in God-Pharaoh's Gift and Tokens. While it would have been nice if more players felt like they could beat Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, there is at least a small group of players taking the road less traveled and fighting the good fight.

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As for round five, our main feature match is Temur Energy in the hands of Paul Rietzl of Ultimate Guard versus a UW Approach from Guillaume Matignon deck splashing red for Harnessed Lightning. In game one, the UW Approach deck cruises to victory with a hand fueled by Pull from Tomorrow. In game two, the energy deck performs much better thanks to getting rid of dead removal and bringing in Spell Pierce and Negate, which powers their efficient threats to victory. In game three, Matignon flips a Search for Azcanta early in the game to ramp him and give him a steady source of card advantage. A few turns later, the Approach deck sticks The Locust God from the sideboard, allowing Matignon to chump block his way to victory against Temur Energy's big creatures, defeating the boogeyman of the format in Temur Energy. 

For our backup feature match, we have God-Pharaoh's Gift against Mono-White Vampires. While the Vampire decks looks a bit underpowered on paper, it looks pretty good during our brief look in, in part because the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck mulligans to five. The combination of Metallic Mimic and Angel of Invention as lords with endless tokens looked pretty scary. While I was skeptical of the claim that the deck had a good matchup against Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, it looked extremely impressive against a five-card God-Pharaoh's Gift hand.

 

Our inter-round deck is by Gerard Fabiano, playing Sultai Pummeler:

Round 6

In Round Six we start with BW Tokens in the hands of Pascal Vieren vs Pascal Maynard with UW God Pharaoh's Gift. Seeing straight WB Tokens is interesting, considering most of the newest builds are either Abzan or Esper, although cutting down on a color adds a bit more consistency to the mana. Meanwhile, the UW Gifts deck looks pretty normal, although it's relying on Refurbish to get God-Pharaoh's Gift on the battlefield quickly rather than Gate to the Afterlife. In game one, WB Tokens gets off to a pretty good start, but gets its Anointed Procession hit by Cast Out, keeping things from spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, God-Pharaoh's Gift has a similar problem, stocking the graveyard, but missing the namesake artifact. Eventually Vieren taps out to Cast Out the Cast Out to get back Anointed Procession, and God-Pharaoh's Gift comes down bringing with it a hasty Angel of Invention. While it looks like God-Pharaoh's Gift is in a commanding position, the combination of lifegain from Anointer Priest and Fumigate keep WB Tokens in the game and eventually the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck loses by milling itself out!

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In game two the token deck gets its Cast Out / Anointed Procession engine early in the game with Cast Out to protect the enchantments from Angel of Sanctions. This allows the token deck to go super wide while the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck spends it turns hardcasting Angel of Inventions (which are much scarier when they are coming back from the graveyard as 6/6's). The Angels allow Maynard to stabilize, and he eventually sticks two copies of God-Pharaoh's Gift. Before long things start to look a lot like the first game, where the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck deals a ton of damage, but WB Tokens gains even more life, and the race is the Gift deck finding a way to win before it decks itself, which it does by hitting a couple of huge fliers with Champion of Wits to fly over for the victory. Game three is a race against the clock, as both players only have about three minutes to close out the match after sideboarding. A fast Angel of Invention gives Maynard a chance to win the match in time, but Fumigate slows down the game. A one minute extension gives the players hope for a result, but the incredibly entertaining match ends in a draw.

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One of the upsides of having few rogue decks at Pro Tour Ixalan is that we aren't seeing much price movement in Standard today. In fact, we haven't really seen any Pro Tour related price spikes at all. If day two and eventually the top eight break down like the day one metagame with several Temur/4C Energy decks, a couple of Ramunap Red decks, and maybe a sleeper or two like Tokens, God-Pharaoh's Gift, or a control deck, it will be interesting to see if any of the cards from Temur Energy actually spike. Most of the big hitters like The Scarab God, Bristling Hydra, and Vraska, Relic Seeker have already been increasing, and while top eight appearances usually mean price increases, there might be some concern that energy is actually too good (and even ban worthy) which may keep some players from buying into the deck. While we might see some cards tick up a bit, it's very possible that we are in for a tame finance weekend, unless one of the lesser played decks has a breakout performance. 

 

Our inter-round deck tech is Temur Riddleform:

Round 7

Our main feature match for round seven is a doozy, featuring Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa on Four-Color Energy against Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif on Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift. PVDDR's build of energy seems similar to the one we saw in round four in the hands of Josh Utter-Leyton. The main difference between the Esper and UW builds of God-Pharaoh's Gift is how the decks go about getting the namesake artifact on the battlefield. As we talked about last round, the UW build is using Refurbish, while the Esper build is on the Gate to the Afterlife plan. While both cards play similarly, going on the Refurbush plan lets a deck play less creatures in general, while Gate to the Afterlife is similar to Collected Company in requiring a critical mass of creatures for the deck to function.

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As for the match, game one develops into a The Scarab God battle, with both players drawing the powerful mythic. Nassif sticks his copy first, giving him the advantage, but it's PVDDR that manages to get the first activation, getting back a copy of Champion of Wits, pulling ahead on cards. Nassif top decks his own Champion of Wits and plays it in hopes of getting a juicy The Scarab God target in the graveyard, but actually draws too well, getting an Angel of Invention to reanimate, but leaving behind another Champion of Wits for PVDDR. While the game is long and complicated, the eternalized Angel of Invention pulls Nassif ahead. Eventually PVDDR manages to get rid of Nassif's copy of The Scarab God and then exile it with his own copy of The Scarab God to deal with it permanently. With only 11 minutes left in the match, Nassif scoops it up to game two. In game two Nassif comes out attacking, aware of the small amount of time left in the match. In the end the game goes to turns, and while Nassif does his best to find the draw, he can't quite find enough damage to kill Paulo, giving PVDDR a 1-0 match win.

On an unrelated note, it's worth mentioning that Wizards has done a really impressive job keeping the feature match area exciting. After seeing the metagame breakdown there was a real fear that we'd be in for endless Energy mirrors. While we've had Temur/4C Energy on camera a few times, we've seen a lot of different decks and had some really exciting matches. While tomorrow might be be an energy fest, day one of the Pro Tour Ixalan feature matches have been diverse and fun.

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Normally now is when we start talking about the winners and losers from day one, but it's really hard to parse out what is doing well at Pro Tour Ixalan. While both Temur/4C Energy and Ramunap Red feel like winners based on their metagame percentage, neither has looked overly dominant in the small sample on the feature matches (in fact, we haven't seen Ramunap Red a single time, which could mean the deck is performing poorly, or just that Wizards has done a good job of keeping the deck out of the feature match arena for the sake of viewers). On the other hand, we've seen Tokens and God-Pharaoh's Gift look good on camera, but it's hard to know if these decks are really competing with energy, or just getting lucky in the future match area. Plus, we don't really know what the narrative will be about Temur Energy moving into day two and the top eight. Will it have a solid conversion rate and put a bunch of players into the top eight, leading to calls for bannings? Will it fizzle while other decks take center stage? At this point, it's really hard to say much about what cards and decks are winners and which are losers, but we should have some amount of clarity after we get the day two metagame breakdown tomorrow. 

 

Our inter-round deck tech is Mono-Black Aggro:

Round 8

In round eight we get our first look at Ramunap Red in the hands of Yam Wing Chun against Four-Color Energy from Xiao Han, perhaps foreshadowing the constructed rounds coming tomorrow on day two. In game one the energy deck sticks a Britsling Hydra while the red deck goes aggro with Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and Soul-Scar Mage. Unfortunately the red deck gets stuck on two lands giving Han a chance to stick a Chandra, Torch of Defiance along with a massive Longtusk Cub to take over the game. In game two, Chun (who famously lost in the top eight of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation thanks to a Hazoret the Fervent punt) uses his hasty, indestructible God to eat away at Han's life total and force a decisive game three, with the winner moving to 8-0 on the day. Game three starts with a bit of suspense as Han keeps a hand without any green mana, but draws a Forest to stay in the game. The Ramunap Red deck starts off slowly, but eventually finds Hazoret the Fervent to pile on the damage and punish the Four-Color Energy deck for stumbling on its mana, pushing Yam Wing Chun to 8-0 on his quest for Ramunap Red redemption after his top eight punt a few months ago.

Since we've reached the end of day one, on the way out the door, let's take a minute to wrap our the first day of Pro Tour Ixalan. Heading into the event, our big question was the health of the Standard metagame. While Wizards has done a great job keeping the feature match area fresh, the numbers suggest that Temur Energy is seeing an off-the-charts amount of play, with Ramunap Red joining it to make up nearly three-fourths of the metagame. This isn't normal, and while we'll learn a lot more over the next couple of days, at first blush the meta doesn't appear especially healthy. The good news is that God-Pharaoh's Gift and Anointed Procession / Hidden Stockpile decks offer several different varieties have looked good on camera, and we've seen some glimpses of Mono-Black Aggro and Mono-White Vampires (finishing the day at 7-1!) as well, although neither deck has been given a proper feature match. 

In some ways, this sounds like the nightmare scenario, but in all honesty it hasn't felt that way. Day one at Pro Tour Ixalan featured some great Magic, a wide variety of decks and some really interesting matches. While coverage didn't make any huge changes, they did fix the glare issue (and the advantage bar made its return for the constructed rounds). All in all, despite the sketchy metagame numbers, day one of Pro Tour Ixalan was a lot of fun. Fingers crossed that this continues tomorrow as the field narrows. At this point, the story of Pro Tour Ixalan is yet untold. Come Sunday, the conversation could be about how energy (and Standard) is broken, or we could be talking about how one of the David decks was able to take down Goliath on Magic's biggest stage. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. If you're looking for something to do tomorrow, you can check out all the action from Pro Tour Ixalan live at http://twitch.tv/magic, but if you miss anything don't worry, I'll be back tomorrow to break down all of the action round-by-round!

Did you get to watch any of day one from Pro Tour Ixalan? What were your impressions? What do you make of the metagame breakdown? Which of the under-the-radar decks do you think has the best chance of breaking out and make its way to the top eight? Let's me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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