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Pro Tour Magic Origins: Decks and Cards to Watch, Questions to Answer

Pro Tour Magic Origins kicks off tomorrow in Vancouver. The format is Standard and Magic Origins draft, and I must admit that I haven't been this excited about a Standard Pro Tour in a long time. Part of the reason for my excitement is because Magic Origins just released some very interesting and potential powerful cards into the wild, and many of them don't slot easily into preexisting decks. Hopefully this will change once the best players in the world invest a couple weeks in trying to break the format and win the $40,000 grand prize. More importantly, we are currently at a point in Standard where the format is as big as it will ever be. Not only do we have Magic 2015 and all of Theros block, but all of Khans block and now Magic Origins as well. Having a comparatively large card pool means two things: first, there are more opportunities to build new, different, and exciting decks. Second, a big Standard means the power level of decks at this Pro Tour should be higher than most. All and all, we should be in for a great weekend of Magic!

Today I wanted to do a little Pro Tour preparation. Since I'm not a pro, I don't have any inside information on what people will be playing this weekend. This is all all speculation and deduction on my part, but here are some of the decks and cards I'm looking out for and the questions I'm hoping get answered at Pro Tour Magic Origins. 

Rally the Ancestors

The question isn't will Rally the Ancestors show up at Pro Tour Magic Origins (it will), but how well prepared will the all-pro field be for the strategy and is the current build of the Rally deck the best one available. In just the past week I've run into Abzan Rally, Constellation Rally, Bant Rally and Four/Five Color Rally. Even with the success of Tautic's deck, it seems that people are still trying out new things. 

I have a hard time imagining a pro team playing an all-in combo version of Rally the Ancestors since it loses to one well-timed sideboard card like Cranial Archive or Tormod's Crypt, but a value version that can grind out games while sometimes randomly winning with the combo could have an appeal. Actually, this plan sounds a lot like the current builds of Splinter Twin in Modern — sure, they can randomly turn four you with the combo, but they can also play a fair control game and grind down most decks in the format over the course of 10 or 15 turns. If there is a way to build a good Rally deck that could, in theory, sideboard out Rally the Ancestors (meaning the deck is that good without the combo), it could be a real player at the Pro Tour. 

If it hits the top eight, the cards to keep an eye on financially are Liliana, Heretical Healer, who could follow Jace, Vryn's Prodigy up to the $35-$40 range for a short time, Grim Haruspex, which could rally up from near-bulk to $2 or $3, and possibly Rally the Ancestors itself, even though it has already increased 1000 percent in the past two weeks. 

Demonic Pact

Demonic Pact might be the most hit or miss card heading into the Pro Tour. It has a mana cost and power-level to see play and potentially be super powerful; Ali Antrazi called it a three turn Cruel Ultimatum, but it also comes with a downside and severe deckbuilding restrictions. At the same time, the non-opportunity cost risk of buying a few copies is extremely low. If a pro team breaks it and it hits the Top Eight, we are looking at a $10+ card. On the other hand, Demonic Pact is so beloved (how often do you get a design that is almost unanimously heralded as one of the coolest/most flavorful cards ever printed) that I have to imagine fringe tournament play and Johnny casual hype will keep the card from falling to bulk status even if it flops in Vancouver. The equation I see is that you have the opportunity to bet $4 and you'll either win $6 or lose $2. If you think there is a greater than 33 percent chance Demonic Pact breaks out at Pro Tour Magic Origins, the math favors placing the bet. 

Something with Lots of Dragons (and Colors)

We've seen various iterations of the five-color dragons deck over the past few months, starting with mono-blue, then mono-black, then Golgari and now whatever we want to call the deck Magic Online user JediApocalypse used to 4-0 a daily event this week (which is sadly missing Crucible of the Spirit Dragon). Last Pro Tour we actually had several members of a pro team playing five-color Chromaticore, so seeing some five-color dragon action don't seem that far fetched. 

The problem is that deck is extremely linear. You play a bunch of mana dorks and a bunch of dragons and hope that it is good enough. Many pros prefer decks that allow for more play, which in turn allows for skill-level to be a determining factor in a greater percentage of matches. While I still think it is possible a five-color dragons list shows up (and even does well), I also believe that the deck will have to be very good for most pros to play it over something like Jeskai or Abzan. As far as individual cards, there is only one that really sticks out since all the dragonlords are one-ofs (which means having a big price spike is unlikely):

See the Unwritten

If I had to pick a card of the week, it would be See the Unwritten, and this has very little to do with the impending Pro Tour. The finance community has been talking about the card for months now, and it seems like the hype might finally be coming to fruition. A GR Ramp deck built around the card managed to Top 8 last weekend in Richmond and it put up solid performances this week on Magic Online; this is important because consistent finishes was the main thing See the Unwritten was missing. Then yesterday this thing was spoiled:

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I'll talk a bit about Oblivion Sower in a minute, but first let's discuss why this is a huge deal for See the Unwritten. Right now the best thing we can do with the Tooth and Nail-esque ability is to search up dragonlords, which, while very powerful, are far from unbeatable. Oblivion Sower not only confirms the presence of Eldrazi in Battle for Zendikar, but also suggest some of them will be massive and likely very difficult to beat (having the mana-ramp ability would be odd if there were not 10- through 15-drop Eldrazi in the set). If you have ever played Modern, Legacy or even Cube draft, you'll know that one of the most powerful things you can do in the entire game of Magic is to cheat an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play. I'm not expecting the second batch of Eldrazi to be quite as powerful, but they will likely be pretty damn strong. See the Unwritten is not a Show and Tell or Goryo's Vengeance, but it will likely be the best way to get an Eldrazi on the battlefield on turns four, five or six in Standard and could end up being tier one (and quite expensive) as a result. Seeing play this weekend would help the process along (and might make buying copies more prohibited), so buying in now just in case seems like a smart play. I wouldn't want to be without these when BFZ spoilers start in earnest a month from now. 

As for Oblivion Sower itself, I think the card is quite good. A colorless 5/8 is already huge, either offering a four-turn clock on offense or stonewalling every (non-Gaea's Revenge) ground creature in the format. Its ability, like other Eldrazi abilities, triggers when it is cast so a counterspell cannot stop the effect. It allows you to put into play the one or two lands you'll exile in the top four cards of your opponent library, and every other land exiled for any reason, which in a Standard dominated by delve cards, fetchlands and graveyard interactions is a pretty big deal. Plus the lands come into play untapped, so if you hit three land, you get a 5/8 for three mana. If you hit six lands, you get the huge body for free. In theory you could actually generate mana with Oblivion Sower if you manage to hit seven or more lands. While I'm not ready to call it a Standard staple, I do think it is one of the best Duel Deck mythics we've ever seen.

Something With Jace

Maybe the most interesting question of the entire Pro Tour is "what is the best Jace, Vryn's Prodigy deck?" There are ample possibilities and, given the love for the card from many prominent pros, I would be shocked if at least one of the big teams didn't come to Vancouver packing a Jace deck. Admittedly I missed on the card during spoiler season; apparently a Merfolk Looter that turns into a planeswalker is not only reasonable, but very good. Thus far most of the decks we've seen run Jace, Vryn's Prodigy are the "easy fit" decks like Jeskai Aggro/Tokens, and it seems like there are plenty of unexplored possibilities out there in such a graveyard-centric format. 

There is a fairly reasonable chance that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy comes out of this weekend as a $50 card. That's what happens when you are a Core Set mythic that sees play as a four-of in multiple archetypes. Unfortunately, buying in at $37 isn't all that exciting, especially considering the spike window will likely be short. The cards that have the real potential are the other rares and mythics from the still-to-be-determined best Jace deck. I'll be keeping my eyes open on Friday and Saturday to see which Jace decks emerge and may try to pick up some of the undervalued supplementary pieces if there is a reasonable chance of a Top 8 appearance. 

Starfield of Nyx

You didn't really expect me to go through an entire article without mentioning Starfield of Nyx now did you? In many ways, Starfield is similar to Demonic Pact — a card with obvious power but without an obvious 4x home. The equation is quite similar as well. In the worst case, Starfield of Nyx sees little play and drops down into the $2-$3 range over the next month or two. In the best case, it finds a spicy home, hits the Top 8, and shoots up to $10 or $15. To me, this is a gamble worth taking; the risk is relatively small and the rewards are high. But take my advice on Starfield of Nyx with a grain of salt, it's possible my vision is blurry because I love the card so much

Please God, No!

Here's my nightmare scenario for Pro Tour Magic Origins: the pros spend two weeks brewing sweet new decks (hopefully containing Starfield of Nyx) and then, at the last minute they decide that playing Abzan Control — among the top decks for over a year now since Patrick Chapin used it to win the block constructed Pro Tour Journey into Nyx — gives them the best chance of winning. We then get to watch 15 rounds of Siege Rhinos bouncing off of each other. During a break in the Top 8, it is announced that Worth is taking over for Maro, and Lee Sharpe will be the new Director of Organized Play. LSV chokes on his meal and Ochoa is too busy taking pictures of the food to post on his twitter to give LSV the Heimlich Maneuver. By Monday morning, MTG's 20+ year run is over and we are all Hearthstone-playing drones. 

While most of this is unlikely to happen, I am a bit worried that a lot of pros will default to Abzan Control and that Pro Tour Magic Origins goes from being potentially awesome to incredibly boring and predictable. Also, LSV needs to start teaching a pun class so his legacy will live on if he is ever involved in a tragic accident. 

Goblin Piledriver and Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen

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If Goblins and/or Elves are going to be competitive Standard archetypes over the next two months (pre-Battle for Zendikar), they really need to make a showing this weekend. For these decks, I don't even care if they make the Top 8. If a handful of pros actually bring either of these decks to Pro Tour Magic Origins, it will be a huge vote of confidence for tribal strategies. While I don't think it is all that likely to happen, I will be keeping an eye out just in case. 


Anyway, that's all for today. I hope to have an article or two up during the Pro Tour as well as the traditional "by the numbers" piece the beginning of the week. Until then, what cards and decks are you looking out for this weekend? Did in buy any cards in hopes of catching a Pro Tour spike? Over/under ten Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in the Top 8? Let me know in the comments and you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 

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