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Metagame Mentor: Standard Wins and Lessons from Pro Tour Thunder Junction

May 02, 2024
Frank Karsten

It's always a great show when the best players in the world put Magic through its paces, and Pro Tour Thunder Junction showed the enormous depth of Standard. The Top 8 featured six different archetypes, while other innovative decks made a deep run in the Swiss portion of the tournament. With aggro, midrange, control, ramp, and combo all finding competitive success, Pro Tour Thunder Junction proved that there's a viable Standard deck for everyone.

Congratulations to Yoshihiko Ikawa, who won Pro Tour Thunder Junction with Domain Ramp!

While the Pro Tour rewarded performance in both Limited and Standard, today's article will consider the win rates and standout decks from the Standard rounds only. By removing the draft portion and looking beyond the Top 8, we'll get a better sense of the biggest Standard lessons from the event overall. This is particularly important because Standard is the designated Constructed format for upcoming cycle of Regional Championships, starting this very weekend. With that in mind, let's run the numbers on the Pro Tour!

The Standard Win Rates at the Pro Tour

According to the Pro Tour metagame breakdown, the most popular archetype by far was Esper Midrange, at 31% of the field. However, the remaining 69% was nice, featuring plenty of spice. In the table below, you can find the non-mirror, non-draw, non-bye match record and win rate of every archetype in the Standard Swiss rounds. Each archetype name hyperlinks to a representative decklist.

Archetype Number of Players Record and Win Rate
Jund Analyst 2 13-4 (76.5%)
Orzhov Bronco 2 12-7 (63.2%)
Azorius Artifacts 2 9-6 (60.0%)
Bant Control 1 6-4 (60.0%)
Azorius Control 10 42-29 (59.2%)
Four-Color Legends 17 71-51 (58.2%)
Golgari Midrange 5 18-13 (58.1%)
Temur Analyst 19 88-75 (54.0%)
Domain Ramp 14 48-48 (50.0%)
Domain Control 1 5-5 (50.0%)
Mono-Black Bloodletter 1 5-5 (50.0%)
Esper Midrange 65 165-169 (49.4%)
Dimir Control 5 16-17 (48.5%)
Boros Convoke 22 69-75 (47.9%)
Dimir Midrange 9 31-39 (44.3%)
Rakdos Aggro 8 24-31 (43.6%)
Mono-Red Aggro 8 29-39 (42.6%)
Boros Prowess 1 4-6 (40.0%)
Rakdos Midrange 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Five-Color Analyst 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Temur Calamity 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Jeskai Artifacts 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Esper Reanimator 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Gruul Aggro 2 5-9 (35.7%)
Temur Prowess 2 5-10 (33.3%)
Sultai Midrange 1 3-7 (30.0%)
Five-Color Legends 1 1-4 (20.0%)
Sultai Legends 1 1-4 (20.0%)
Grixis Reanimator 1 1-4 (20.0%)
Mono-Blue Cauldron 1 0-3 (0.0%)
Dimir Reanimator 1 0-2 (0.0%)

Competitors worked on a compressed timeline to try and break the format right after the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Trusty Esper Midrange with Raffine, Scheming Seer was a popular "safe" choice, but its winrate ended up slightly below 50%. Boros Convoke, the second-most played deck, didn't crack the 50% mark either. As a result, we can expect some churn and dynamics in the Standard metagame in the coming months.

The winning Domain Ramp archetype consistently defeated the popular Esper Midrange archetype. The deck did particularly well in the hands of Yoshihiko Ikawa, who was the only player at the tournament to use Glimpse the Core and Cartographer's Survey instead of Invasion of Zendikar. However, Domain Ramp's results against the rest of the field were relatively weak, so if Esper Midrange numbers dwindle after the Pro Tour, then Domain Ramp might not be able to keep winning events.

Many of the brews that were played by only one or two players faltered, but Jund Analyst, Orzhov Bronco, and Azorius Artifacts had excellent results. These decks were built around new cards from Outlaws of Thunder Junction and The Big Score, and I wouldn't be surprised if they get more widely adopted and become a sizable part of the Standard metagame going forward.

The Standard Decks and Players with 7+ Wins

As a reference, here are all decks with at least 7 Standard non-bye wins at Pro Tour Thunder Junction, along with their combined non-bye Swiss and Top 8 record, in descending order of their win rate:

Next, let's take a closer look at top-performing decks and the lessons to take away from this tournament.

Team Moriyama Japan Dominated

Team Moriyama Japan crushed the Pro Tour, with their well-respected team coordinator Yoshihiko Ikawa finishing first, 2021 World Champion Yuta Takahashi finishing second, and Pro Tour Phyrexia Top 8 competitor Takumi Matsuura finishing third. More impressively, they did so with three different Standard decks! Yoshihiko Ikawa took the trophy with Domain Ramp; Yuta Takahashi nearly got there with Azorius Control; and Takumi Matsuura relied on Boros Convoke. This 1-2-3 finish with three different decks, reminiscent of Team Your Move Games at Pro Tour Houston 2002, shows that any Standard deck can win in the hands of an experienced pilot.

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Out of these three, Azorius Control stands out because it had the best win rate (59.2%) out of all archetypes with at least 10 pilots. The deck had solid matchups across the board, and it was boosted by Three Steps Ahead from Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Some players even referred to it as "Cryptic Command".

Yuta Takahashi's main deck has even more countermagic (11 total, including two copies of Phantom Interference) and fewer sweepers (5 total, without Depopulate or Farewell) than most Azorius Control lists at the Pro Tour. Although he ultimately succumbed to Ikawa's Cavern of Souls, this counter-heavy control build worked very well for Takahashi.

Four-Color Legends Was the Breakout Deck

With a 58.2% win rate in the Standard Swiss rounds, Four-Color Legends had the second-best performance of all archetypes with at least 10 players. There were 17 Four-Color Legends decks at the Pro Tour, and a whopping 14 of them were fielded by Team Sanctum of All. Their team really knocked it out of the park. In addition to Top 8 finishes by Jason Ye and Rei Zhang, Etienne Eggenschwiler finished 9th and Nicole Tipple 11th. Zhang's decklist, shown above, stands out from the others by using two copies of The Goose Mother in the main deck. Honk!

655148 Relic of Legends

In my Standard preview article from two weeks ago, I already predicted that "Brewers like Rei Zhang will surely have recognized that if you control Relic of Legends and Rona, Herald of Invasion, then two copies of Honest Rutstein can be looped indefinitely." As Zhang goes by the moniker "cftsoc" (Combo for the Sake of Combo) and previously showed the potential of Slogurk, the Overslime loops and Aftermath Analyst recursion in Standard, I didn't expect anything less from them.

Four-Color Legends not only has a powerful combo finish but also exploits multiple value-generating engines, allowing it to go over the top of midrange strategies. You can loop multiple channel lands per turn with Slogurk, the Overslime; trigger Rona, Herald of Invasion when discarding to Inti, Seneschal of the Sun; and generate enormous amounts of mana with Relic of Legends. All of these synergistic lines resulted in a particularly strong matchup against Esper Midrange in particular.

Jund Analyst Broke Pitiless Carnage

With a combined 13-4-3 (76.5%) record, Canadia's David Olsen and Andrew Kidston showed that Worldsoul's Rage decks can set up incredible combo turns if they use black instead of blue. David Olsen finished in 77th place due to a middling draft record, and Andrew Kidston finished in 15th place due to a plethora of draws. But their non-draw Standard record was incredible, so they might have broken it.

655039 Splendid Reclamation

The main reason to play black is Pitiless Carnage, a new addition from Outlaws of Thunder Junction. You can sacrifice all your lands, draw a grip full of new cards, and then use Splendid Reclamation or Aftermath Analyst to return them all to the battlefield tapped, effectively negating the downside of Pitiless Carnage. If you control Spelunking while doing so, then all those lands would enter the battlefield untapped, resulting in a significant mana boost.

Afterwards, Pillage the Bog grabs another Pitiless Carnage, allowing you to repeat the process while building up your land count, and you can eventually win the game with Worldsoul's Rage for X=20. This deck may be the real deal, so don't leave your Rest in Peace at home!

Orzhov Bronco Kicks Out 15 Damage

Team Scoreboard not only introduced Jund Analyst but also gave us Orzhov Bronco. These two decks had the best results out of all Standard archetypes, so the Canadians absolutely nailed it. With a combined 12-7-1 (63.2%) record in Standard, Kevin Anctil finished in 18th place and Ulysse Gagnon Paradis finished 59th. They were the only two players to register Shadow of Mortality for the Pro Tour, which can be put on top with Insatiable Avarice before attacking with a saddled Caustic Bronco.

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This combination means that your opponent will immediately lose 15 life. The game-winning combo is wrapped up in an Orzhov Midrange shell featuring consistent mana, efficient removal spells, and formidable creatures. Steel Seraph can send Caustic Bronco into the air, and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse provides another way to make good use of Insatiable Avarice. You can target yourself and effectively gain 3 life, or you can target your opponent and force them to lose a total of 9 life.

I respect the creative deck building that went into this Orzhov Bronco deck, sometimes called "Snorse" after the eponymous Snake Horse. It's a blast to play, it impressed at the Pro Tour, and I expect you'll see it in Standard quite a bit more!

Azorius Artifacts Powered by Simulacrum Synthesizer

Nils Gutiérrez von Porat and Josep Sanfeliu, both members of Team Coalition Victory from Barcelona, registered a spicy deck exploiting several artifact-based cards from The Big Score. Their drafts didn't go as well as they may have hoped, but together they went 9-6 (60.0%) in Standard, showing that Simulacrum Synthesizer is the real deal.

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In this deck with 31 artifacts, Simulacrum Synthesizer creates a steady flow of tokens that will quickly dwarf most things on the battlefield. Artifact-synergy decks with Fabrication Foundry, Thran Spider, and Unstable Glyphbridge had been around in Standard before, but the new set has supercharged the strategy. Assimilation Aegis and Three Steps Ahead reinforce a control plan, Fomori Vault keeps the gas flowing, and Rest in Peace and Torpor Orb improve matchups after sideboard.

The Pro Tour showed that with these new additions, Azorius Artifacts is a formidable contender, adding to the diversity of competitive Standard. If it rockets up in prominence going forward, then artifact sweepers like Brotherhood's End or Farewell might become more important as sideboard cards.

Golgari Was the Best Midrange Deck

Four members of team ChannelFireball Ultimate Guard—Reid Duke, Matt Sperling, Samuel Pardee, and Tommy Ashton—registered Golgari Midrange, and they went 18-13 (58.1%) in non-mirror Standard matches. Notably, they defeated Esper Midrange 6-1 along the way, as their use of Gix's Command and larger creatures protected by Duress gave them an edge in that crucial matchup.

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Golgari Midrange is basically a collection of the best individual cards in black and green. Although it has some overlap with Esper Midrange, it trades permission spells for harder-hitting creatures. In particular, Mosswood Dreadknight, Glissa Sunslayer, and Restless Cottage provide a fast clock and formidable staying late-game power. Golgari Midrange had a far better winrate than Esper Midrange at the Pro Tour.

The new Outlaws of Thunder Junction cards in this deck are Pillage the Bog, Shoot the Sheriff, Hostile Investigator, and Caustic Bronco. Although there's no Shadow of Mortality or Insatiable Avarice for a combo finish, Caustic Bronco is easily saddled by the various three-power creatures in the deck. And on its own, it's like a Dark Confidant. When Liliana of the Veil and the equivalent of Dark Confidant are legal, what else did you expect Golgari master Reid Duke to play? Sticking with what you know best is a sound strategy in Standard right now.

Mono-Red Aggro Surprised

By and large, red aggro decks underperformed at the Pro Tour. Slickshot Show-Off is undeniably a powerful card, but it was poorly positioned given that Cut Down and Go for the Throat were the most-played cards. Everyone was ready with the right interaction. Yet one Mono-Red Aggro player found success by bucking the trend. At the Pro Tour, Riki Kamo was the only Mono-Red Aggro player to not use Slickshot Show-Off or Monstrous Rage. As a result, they were the only Mono-Red Aggro player to clinch 7 wins out of the 10 rounds of Standard.

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Instead combat tricks and prowess-like creatures, Kamo uses 4 Scorching Shot, 4 Bloodthirsty Adversary, and 4 Urabrask's Forge. So, his deck has the potential for fast, speedy openings, but it can also take a control role by burning opposing creatures and winning the late game with Urabrask's Forge. Since this artifact creates a fresh attacker every turn, it dodges creature removal and sweepers. In the sideboard, the unique inclusions of Koth, Fire of Resistance and The Elder Dragon War support Kamo's control plan further. In a metagame dominated by high-toughness creatures and efficient interaction, this may be the best way to build Mono-Red Aggro.

What to Expect at the Next Regional Championship?

The upcoming round of Regional Championships, which feed Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 in Amsterdam, will be held in the Standard format. Depending on your region, these Regional Championships will take place on designated windows as noted below:

  • Brazil – City Class Games: May 3–5 in Sao Paulo
  • Canada – Face to Face Games: May 3–5 in Montreal, Quebec
  • Japan/Korea – Big Magic: May 24–26 in Aichi Prefecture
  • Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) – Legacy: May 24–26 in Naples, Italy
  • China – Kadou: May 24–26 in Beijing
  • Chinese Taipei – Game Square: May 25–26 in Taipei City
  • Australia/New Zealand – Good Games: May 24–26 in Melbourne
  • USA – Dreamhack: May 31 to June 2 in Dallas, Texas
  • Southeast Asia – Oracle Events: May 31 to June 2 in Manila, Philippines
  • Mexico/Central America/Caribbean – Yellow Rabbit: May 31 to June 2 in Mexico City
  • South America – Magicsur: May 31 to June 2 in Santiago, Chile

Regional Championship competitors will surely study the Pro Tour results and choose their Standard decks with last weekend's developments in mind. Popular choices like Esper Midrange, Boros Convoke, or Temur Analyst will remain fine, but many of the breakout brews that I've highlighted in this article might be even better choices.

At the moment, Standard is basically the Wild West. Team Moriyama Japan finished 1-2-3 with three different decks, and various offbeat decks found success as well. So, the Pro Tour proved that no matter which Standard strategy you prefer, you can pick up and play what you want. As many matchups require intricate sequencing and interactions, familiarity and experience with your deck will usually be the deciding factor.

No matter what you do, it would be wise to come prepared with the right answers to the top-performing decks from the Pro Tour. Don't leave home without Rest in Peace to handle Aftermath Analyst and Honest Rutstein. Make sure you bring some cheap removal to handle Caustic Bronco, Deep-Cavern Bat, and Raffine, Scheming Seer. And if it fits your deck, then Cavern of Souls is great against Azorius Control and other decks with No More Lies.

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

For Yoshihiko Ikawa, his Pro Tour victory was a "dream come true," but it doesn't stop there. As he said right after clinching the trophy: "My Magic is not finished. Next goal: World Championship win!"

Indeed, all Top 8 competitors from Pro Tour Thunder Junction have received an invitation to Magic World Championship 30—the crown jewel of organized play in 2024. As we count down the weeks leading up to that tournament in late October, each week I'm taking a look at a great deck from a past Magic World Championship. After reviewing the World Championships from 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 in preceding weeks, let's go back in time to 2000.

The seventh Magic World Championship was held in Brussels, Belgium on 2–6 August 2000, making it the first World Championship held in Europe. The tournament featured 273 players from 46 countries, including a 16-year old Frank Karsten, who finished 17th in his World Championship debut. It was an amazing experience to test my mettle against some of the best Magic players in the world back then, and my deep finish fueled my competitive drive to do even better.

The finals was a memorable one: It was Bob Maher, who had just become Player of the Year, against Jon Finkel, who many believe to be the best player ever. And it was a test of skill in a mirror match, as both players had nearly identical decks.

Finkel's deck contained more than 30 artifacts, which he used to generate huge amounts of mana with Metalworker. You could use Crystal Vein to ramp into Grim Monolith and Metalworker on turn one, reveal five artifacts on turn two, and use upwards of ten mana to dominate the battlefield.

Grim Monolith 12383 Phyrexian Processor

Blue provided two of the best cards in the history of the game: Brainstorm and Tinker. While Brainstorm was not yet flanked by a lot of shuffle effects—in fact, Bob Maher used Stroke of Genius instead—Tinker is undeniably one of the most broken cards of all time. It's currently banned in all formats except for Vintage! But in Standard at the time, you could run four copies. As a result, Finkel's deck is arguably the strongest Magic deck to ever win a World Championship.

One of the best artifacts to put onto the battlefield with Tinker was Phyrexian Colossus, which presented an evasive three-turn clock. It could even be untapped by Voltaic Key without paying the usually requisite 8 life. Another popular tutor target was Mishra's Helix, which could lock opponents out of casting expensive spells. Rishadan Port and Tangle Wire offered similar disruption, but Mishra's Helix would stick around forever, making it the bane of slower decks.

Another common strategy was to ramp into Phyrexian Processor, pay 19 life, and then Tinker for Crumbling Sanctuary. This would protect your own life total while a steady stream of 19/19 tokens would make short work of the opponent's library.

Jon Finkel, 2000 Magic World Championship Winner

As the finals of the 2000 World Championship proved, fast mana is one of the most powerful things in Magic. The Aftermath Analyst decks, Relic of Legends decks, and Topiary Stomper decks that dominated Pro Tour Thunder Junction showed that this principle still holds today. And there are many more Standard tournaments to look forward to. At your local store, you may find Standard Showdowns and Store Championships in the Standard format. At the regional level, the upcoming Regional Championships feature Standard, starting this coming weekend with championships in Brazil and Canada! And at the global level, we can look forward to post-rotation Standard at the World Championship.

At World Championship 30, some of the aforementioned mana ramp decks may have to be rebuilt because Kamigawa's legendary channel lands and New Capenna's fetch lands and tri-lands will no longer be legal. But this will only open up the opportunity to explore a fresh format. One thing is for sure: If there's anything that comes close to the power of Grim Monolith or Tinker, then the top players from the 2023–24 season will surely find it for World Championship 30. Save the date: October 25–27, 2024!

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