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Pro Tour Ixalan: Day Two (Live Updates)


Heading into yesterday, the big question for Pro Tour Ixalan was just how much energy would dominate Standard, and the day one metagame breakdown held the answer. Energy variants combined made up just under 50% of the metagame at day one of Pro Tour Ixalan, with Temur/4C Energy coming in at over 43% by itself. Having one deck make up over 40% of the metagame is off-the-charts high (over the past year of Pro Tours, a 25% metagame share is the norm for the most played deck, with some diverse Pro Tours coming in under 20%), which means today's big question is a little bit different: can any of the lesser-played decks play the role of David to Temur Energy's Goliath and pull off the upset win on Magic's biggest stage? 

Discounting Ramunap Red, which made up nearly 20% of the day one meta itself, there are some possibilities. We know there's a Mono-White Vampire deck near the top tables and some very good players are using God-Pharaoh's Gift or Anointed Procession / Hidden Stockpile tokens in an effort to fight against the format's giants. The performance of these decks today leading into the top eight tomorrow, will go a long way towards determining the mood of the player base moving forward over the next couple of months. While we will know a lot more after the day two metagame breakdown comes out in a couple of rounds, the best case scenario would be that about half of the top eight is made up of non-Temur/4C Energy, non-Ramunap Red decks. This would likely leave players feeling that, while the big decks in Standard are very good and potentially too heavily played, they are at least beatable with careful deck building and play. On the other hand, if Temur/4C Energy manages to beats its day one metagame percentage and put four or more decks in the top eight, we might be in for a long holiday season as far as Standard is concerned. 

Unlike yesterday where our focus was guestimating new decks, today we'll focus more on the big picture since we've probably seen most of the spice at this point. Along with breaking down the gameplay, we'll keep an eye on the metagame and see what (if anything) is having success against the big decks. So get ready, it should be an interesting day two at Pro Tour Ixalan, with the short-term future of Standard likely hanging in the balance.

Round 12

We start round twelve with Jeskai Approach in the hands of Guillaume Matignon against Pascal Maynard with UW God-Pharaoh's Gift. Both decks were on camera yesterday, with the Approach deck being a fairly typical build except for the red splash (facilitated by Aether Hub and Spirebluff Canal for Harnessed Lightning) and some number of Torrential Gearhulks in the main deck, while the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck relies on Refurbish rather than Gate to the Afterlife to cheat its namesake artifact into play. Game one plays out as expected, with the Gift deck building up a board of janky creatures, while the Approach deck cantrips towards Approach of the Second Sun. Eventually it's two copies of the seven-mana sorcery that wins Jeskai Approach the game. 

In game two the Gift deck manages to discard a God-Pharaoh's Gift on turn two to Chart a Course, which creates an interesting subgame of Maynard trying to manipulate the game to a position where he can Refurbush the artifact through Matignon's counterspells. A sideboard copy of Baral, Chief of Compliance (a spicy new addition) helps the Approach deck not only leave up counter magic, but find more counterspells thanks to its loot ability, allowing Matignon to counter three consecutive copies of Refurbish and eventually slam down a Torrential Gearhulk to close out the game.

Approach of the Second Sun itself is likely near the top of the early losers list from Ixalan Standard, despite the fact it won its feature match this round at to go to 11-1. Only 3% of players at Pro Tour Ixalan showed up with Approach decks, which not only puts it in the second tier of decks overall, but behind UB Control in terms of control deck popularity. If Matignon manages to make the top eight, expect two things to happen. First, Approach will likely continue seeing a meaningful amount of play moving forward. One of the strange quirks of the Pro Tour is that making the top eight matters far more than things like metagame percentages and overall performance, because not everyone digs behind the numbers, while most players end up seeing the top eight decks on Monday morning. Second, more players will likely move away from straight UW Approach and towards Jeskai Approach. One of the worse kept secrets of Ixalan Standard is that the combination random energy production like Glimmer of Genius and Aether Hub make it almost free for two-color decks to splash a third color. So if Harnessed Lightning improves Approach decks even just a tiny bit, there's not much cost to splashing red off Aether Hub and a couple off-color dual lands. 

Our inter-round deck tech is Four-Color Energy playing Skysovereign, Consul Flagship:

Round 13

Round 13 starts with the Jeskai Approach deck we watched last round against Four-Color Energy, which doesn't leave us much to talk about as far as decks are concerned. Temur Energy is the Goliath of the format and we've already talked about the Jeskai Approach deck multiple times. With a potential top eight berth on the line (both are at 11-1 and 12 wins is typically enough to lock in a top eight), the players split the first two games. In game three, the Energy deck has a timely Appetite for the Unnatural to answer a Torrential Gearhulk flashed in during combat, allowing the energy deck to force through enough damage to close out the game, likely locking Mike Sigrist into the top eight with this Four-Color Energy deck. While the matchup this round featured known decks, we have something else to talk about the day two metagame breakdown. 

At Pro Tour Ixalan a total of 63% of the players made it to day two, which gives us our baseline conversion rate. While these results are somewhat complicated by the mix-format of the Pro Tour (with three of the eight rounds on day one being limited), generally speaking, decks that put more than 63% of players into day two performed well, while decks with less performed worse than expected. 

Let's start with the elephant in the room: Temur/4C Energy performed almost perfectly average on day one. In some sense, this is a good thing: it means Temur Energy doesn't appear to be crushing the field, despite its huge metagame share. On the other hand, decks with lots of players are more likely to perform near average. It's almost impossible to see the crazy 80% or 100% conversion rates from a deck that makes up over 40% of the field, because someone has to win (and lose) each match. Along the same lines, performing well with a large metagame share makes the 71% conversion rate from Ramunap Red even more impressive, making it one of the clear winners from day one. 

While there is a bit of confusion over the numbers thanks to Wizards posting different metagame breakdowns on stream and on their website, perhaps the biggest winner of day one (albeit with a very small sample size) is the crazy Mono-White Vampire deck, which seems to have put 100% of its players into day two, (or maybe 80%, depending on which number you believe). Regardless, either performance is impressive, especially combined with the Vampire deck looking good against Temur Energy on one of our backup feature matches this round. When the Vampire players said they had a good matchup against both Temur Energy and Ramunap Red yesterday, I thought they were being a bit hyperbolic (and actually laughed out loud because it seemed so unlikely), but their performance at the tournament is making it seem like this is actually the case.

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Otherwise, results are a somewhat hard to parse based on small sample sizes, although some other observations include: Sultai Energy being the best of the energy decks, posting a conversion rate more than 10% above expectation. Whether this is because it's the better build of energy or because people were planning to fight Temur and not Sultai remains to be seen, but it looks like Winding Constrictor is still slithering around Standard. As for control, UB Control was awful while UW and Jeskai Approach performed well. Otherwise, it looks like Mono-Black Aggro and Mardu Vehicles performed pretty poorly and will likely fall out of favor in Standard moving forward. 

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I mentioned Mono-White Vampires a moment ago, and we got a pretty good look at the deck during one of our backup features this round against Temur Energy. While we missed the first two games, we got to see all of game three, and while many of the cards in the deck look pretty underpowered, apparently it plays much better than it looks. Dusk // Dawn gives it the ability to go long, while endless token production gives it the ability to go wide. The deck easily dispatches of Temur Energy in game three, thanks to the power, with Dusk // Dawn sweeping away the energy's deck board for a lethal attack. While it seems likely that the deck will miss out on the top eight, at least in part because of bad limited performances for its players, at the very least Mono-White Vampire Monument looks like a competitive, somewhat budget friendly option to explore moving forward.

Our inter-round deck tech is Grixis Control:

Round 14

Day two of Pro Tour Ixalan coverage has developed into Jeskai Approach's quest for a top eight berth. For the last couple of rounds, Guillume Matignon had been a win away from (likely) locking a spot in the top eight, but has stumbled. The good news is he gets another chance this round up against Seth Manfield on Sultai Energy. While not nearly as heavily played as its Temur counterpart, Sultai Energy was actually the best performing energy deck on day one. Probably the interesting part of the match is how impactful it could be to Standard moving forward. If either Sultai Energy or Jeskai Approach sneak onto the Sunday stage, they will likely be in line for a meaningful increase in play over the next couple of months.

In game one, Sultai Energy manages to assemble just enough damage to kill the Approach deck before it could win with Approach of the Second Sun. While we wait for game two, we get a quick peak at a backup feature match with a green-white aggro deck that looks a lot like the Cat Tribal deck we played for Budget Magic a few weeks ago (we later learn that the GW deck won, although at 9-4 making the top eight is very unlikely). Back to our main match, in game two, the Approach deck mulligans to six and proceeds to get run over by everyone's favorite Grizzly Bear, Longtusk Cub backed by a Winding Constrictor. Seth Manfield's win likely puts him into the top eight tomorrow, making the first two decks (likely) locked into the top eight Four-Color Energy and Sultai Energy.

I was planning to do a finance update this round, but after checking prices, it doesn't seem that there's very much to talk about. Technically Vraska, Relic Seeker is the big winner, but she's only up 22%, which isn't much of a spike compared to some past Pro Tours where breakout cards double or triple in price. Apart from Vraska, Relic Seeker, there isn't much to talk about in terms of finance. This might be because there aren't really any breakout cards at Pro Tour Ixalan. While this is partly because of the prevalence of Ramunap Red and Temur Energy, it's also partly because Pro Tour Ixalan is so much later than usual and the metagame is much more solidified.  

The idea behind having the Pro Tour later was that it would keep the metagame from being solved too quickly, but based on Pro Tour Ixalan, things didn't really go according to plan. Instead of pushing back the solve date of the format, it just lead to a Pro Tour where everyone is playing Temur Energy and Ramunap Red. Would the metagame have looked the same if the Pro Tour was right after the Ixalan release like normal? Maybe. Temur Energy and Ramunap Red would likely still have been the top two decks, but it's possible that a larger number of non-team players would have shown up with other archetypes. I've mentioned this a couple of times over the past couple of days, but it's worth saying it one more time: while I'm glad Wizards tried the new, later Pro Tour schedule, I hope they return to normal. Having the Pro Tour as the first major tournament is much more exciting and it doesn't seem that pushing it back is really doing anything in terms of keeping the format fresh.

Our inter-round deck tech is a spicy Red-White Approach deck by Patrick Chapin:

Round 15

Round 15 kicks off with a win and in for top eight featuring two decks we're pretty familiar with at this point: Temur Energy from Owen Turtenwald and UW God-Pharaoh's Gift from Pascal Maynard. As a quick refresher from last round, at this point we are pretty sure that we have one 4C Energy deck and one Sultai Energy deck queued for the top eight tomorrow, which means this match will actually have a pretty huge impact on Standard moving forward. If Energy is more than half of the top eight, it might be pitchfork time come Monday. So if you're rooting for a peaceful couple of months in Standard, you're rooting for the Gift deck this round.

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In game one, the Energy deck starts off aggressive, but a God-Pharaoh's Gift hits the battlefield the turn before the game would end, keeping Pascal alive with a hasty Angel of Invention. Owen manages to steal it with Confiscation Coup, but eventually the value generated by God-Pharaoh's Gift manages to seal the game for Pascal. In game two Longtusk Cub looks like it might run away with the game, but God-Pharaoh's Gift comes down to eternalize Fairgrounds Warden from the graveyard and stabilize Pascal, but a timely Chandra, Torch of Defiance comes down to win Owen the game, setting us up for a dramatic finish. In game three the energy deck starts off with double Longtusk Cub while the Gift deck manages to get its namesake artifact in the graveyard but needs to find a Refurbish. The game is too close to really describe, involving Pascal making a controversial choice by casting a risky Angel of Invention over a life-saving Fumigate, but eventually draws the Refurbish he needs to get back God-Pharaoh's Gift, bringing with it a hasty Angel of Invention to take the game and lock our first non-energy deck into the top eight at Pro Tour Ixalan.

On the back table we get our first look at Mardu Vehicles for the weekend. Coming into the event there was some talk that the former best deck in Standard was back and ready to break into the top tier of the format, only to show up as one of the worst performing decks on day one at Pro Tour Ixalan. This said, Samuel Ihlenfeldt is 11-3 with the deck and poised to sneak into the top eight with a win this round over Ramunap Red. Unfortunately for the artifact aggro deck, it falls in two quick games likely ending the deck's chance at salvaging the weekend with a top eight berth.

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While it might be stating the obvious, it's worth mentioning that that constructed rounds of Pro Tour Ixalan have been a bit light on Ixalan, and by a bit light I mean the namesake set has basically been missing all together. While the Mono-White Vampire deck gave us just a touch of Ixalan flavor, we didn't have a single Pirate, Dinosaur, or Merfolk deck show up. While we'll have a full breakdown of the numbers tomorrow after the deck lists are published, it doesn't seem like many the heavily played decks are using a significant number of Ixalan cards. We have seen a Search for Azcanta here and a Hostage Taker there, but not all that often. While the situation will hopefully rectify itself with the release Rivals of Ixalan in a couple of months, the next Pro Tour is Modern. While I'm unreasonably excited for Modern to return to the Pro Tour stage, it's a bit sad that the combination of energy, incomplete tribal synergies, and the return of the Modern Pro Tour will likely mean that Ixalan will never really get a chance to shine at the Pro Tour level. 

Round 16

There's only one story for round 16: win and ins for the top eight. Heading into the round we have five players that are already locked thanks to a combination of good records and intentional draws, including Temur Energy, Sultai Energy, Jeskai Approach, Ramunap Red, and UW God-Pharaoh's Gift, a surprisingly diverse group considering what the metagame numbers looked like on days one and two. While we'll have to see how the last round shakes out, it seems likely that the worst case scenario has been avoided thanks to the variety of decks already locked into the top eight. As strange as it sounds, the story coming out of Pro Tour Ixalan will likely end up being the diversity of the top eight, rather than the dominance of Temur Energy. Depending on your feelings about energy, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. While I'm not a huge fan of the energy deck personally, I'm also super tired of endless conversations about bannings, so having a diverse top eight is a relief. It likely means the pitchforks will stay on the shelf for a while longer.

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Our main feature match for round 16 is a win and in between Owen Turtenwald on Temur Energy and Kentaro Yamamoto on Ramunap Red. If Owen wins he is locked into the top eight, while Kentaro will be sweating tiebreakers and watching other results. Game one goes quickly to Yamamoto as Hazoret the Fervent (who has been missing from coverage most of the weekend) comes down to deal a ton of damage and put the Energy deck on the back foot. While Commit // Memory buys Owen a few turns, Ramunap Ruins eventually closes out the game. In game two Ramunap Red gets the colorless land draw and can't cast its cards, allowing the energy deck to make a huge Bristling Hydra to take over the game. In game three Owen has Magma Spray for Earthshaker Khenra, but otherwise has a slow, land-heavy hand. Meanwhile Yamamoto has a hand overflowing with powerful cards, but once again has some mana trouble. As they say, mana screw beats mana flood, and before long Yamamoto hits his lands and wins the game with multiple copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hazoret the Fervent. The loss knocks Owen from contention while giving Yamamoto a chance for top eight.

Let's close out day two with a quick recap of Pro Tour Ixalan thus far:

  • Heading into day one, the question was how broken the Standard metagame would be. The initial information wasn't encouraging, with nearly 50% of the metagame being energy and another 20% being Ramunap Red. One thing we know for sure is that Temur Energy is still the best deck in Standard and Ramunap Red is second.
  • Heading into day two, our question was whether the David decks in the field could compete with (and maybe even beat) the Goliath of Temur Energy, and based on the diverse top eight, the answer is yes. While Temur Energy will likely continue to be the best deck of the format, Ramunap Red, God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, Energy, Approach, and maybe tokens can compete.
  • The finance world has been calm, but this might change tomorrow with the diverse top eight. If a deck like God-Pharaoh's Gift or Approach of the Second Suns can make a deep run, it wouldn't be a surprise to see some price movement. Keep an eye on the centerpiece cards of the non Energy/Ramunap Red decks. If they win, they could easily double in price as players look to beat the Golaiths at their local game stores.
  • While it didn't manage to top eight, Mono-White Vampires is probably the spiciest competitive deck in a tournament that was pretty lacking in spicy decks. Since it's not only unique but fairly budget friendly, I expect a lot of players to try it out moving forward.
  • All in all, despite a brief scare based on the metagame numbers and prevalence of Temur/4C Energy, Pro Tour Ixalan ended up being a great and very exciting event, with the promise of more to come tomorrow in the top eight (which you can watch at twitch.tv/magic, starting at 9am EST)!

Top Eight

  1. Mike Sigrist - Four-Color Energy
  2. Christian Hauck - Temur Energy
  3. Pascal Maynard - UW God-Pharaoh's Gift
  4. Seth Manfield - Sultai Energy
  5. Guillaume Matignon - Jeskai Approach
  6. Piotr Glogowski - 4C Energy
  7. John Rolf - Ramunap Red
  8. Samuel Ihlenfeldt - Mardu Vehicles

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Did you get a chance to watch any of the second day of Pro Tour Ixalan? What do you make of the metagame? What holds more weight with you, 50% of the general metagame being energy, or a diverse top eight featuring a bunch of different decks? What under-the-radar deck are you most excited to see when the lists are published tomorrow? Let me know in the comments, and as always leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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