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Pro Tour Thunder Junction Standard Metagame Breakdown

April 25, 2024
Frank Karsten

The decklists are in, the data is ready, and the second Pro Tour of 2024 begins tomorrow! At Pro Tour Thunder Junction, taking place April 26–28 in Seattle, 207 of the world's best Magic: The Gathering players will compete for $500,000 in prizes, several Magic World Championship invites, and a prestigious trophy. Standard now features more than 3,300 legal cards, so the competitors had to tackle the challenge of navigating some of the highest power levels we've ever seen in this format.

The field includes top players from Regional Championships, online qualifiers, and preceding Pro Tours, as well as Magic Hall of Famers and reigning World Champion Jean-Emmanuel Depraz. The formats are Outlaws of Thunder Junction Booster Draft in the morning of Friday and Saturday, followed by Standard for five rounds afterward each of those days. Standard is also the Top 8 format on Sunday.

To follow all the action, catch the stream at, which begins at 11 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday and Saturday and at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday. Take a look at the viewer's guide for more information.

Standard Metagame Breakdown

Standard is a 60-card format that rotates every fall. Currently, it allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. Standard is often dominated by midrange decks, and it's no different this time around. Yet the newly added cards from Outlaws of Thunder Junction have shaken things up. The metagame at the Pro Tour breaks down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
1. Esper Midrange 65 31.4%
2. Boros Convoke 22 10.6%
3. Temur Analyst 19 9.2%
4. Four-Color Legends 17 8.2%
5. Domain Ramp 14 6.8%
6. Azorius Control 10 4.8%
7. Dimir Midrange 9 4.3%
8. Rakdos Aggro 8 3.9%
9. Mono-Red Aggro 8 3.9%
10. Golgari Midrange 5 2.4%
11. Dimir Control 5 2.4%
12. Jund Analyst 2 1.0%
13. Gruul Aggro 2 1.0%
14. Orzhov Bronco 2 1.0%
15. Temur Prowess 2 1.0%
16. Azorius Artifacts 2 1.0%
17. Domain Control 1 0.5%
18. Bant Control 1 0.5%
19. Mono-Blue Cauldron 1 0.5%
20. Boros Prowess 1 0.5%
21. Sultai Midrange 1 0.5%
22. Temur Calamity 1 0.5%
23. Esper Reanimator 1 0.5%
24. Mono-Black Bloodletter 1 0.5%
25. Jeskai Artifacts 1 0.5%
26. Sultai Legends 1 0.5%
27. Dimir Reanimator 1 0.5%
28. Five-Color Legends 1 0.5%
29. Grixis Reanimator 1 0.5%
30. Rakdos Midrange 1 0.5%
31. Five-Color Analyst 1 0.5%

The metagame features a lot of Esper Midrange, but it looks quite diverse beyond that. There are dozens of different archetypes, including aggro, midrange, control, ramp, combo, and plenty of spice. All Standard Constructed decklists for the tournament will be published on the Pro Tour Thunder Junction event page on Friday April 26 at the beginning of Round 4 gameplay, approximately at 2 p.m. PT.

612498 574569 Deep-Cavern Bat

The most-played nonland cards across all main decks and sideboards were Go for the Throat, Cut Down, and Deep-Cavern Bat. These staples remain the pillars of the format, and they can be found in a variety of decks, most notably the black midrange strategies. Creatures that die easily to Go for the Throat, such as Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, are seeing comparatively little play.

Although the metagame bears many similarities to the one right before the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, which I covered in last week's Standard primer, the introduction of hundreds of new cards has shaken things up. Let's take a closer look at four of the most important takeaways, developments, and surprises from Pro Tour Thunder Junction.

The Dominance of Esper Midrange

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Over the past few months, black midrange strategies had typically formed 30–40% of the Standard metagame, but it was never clear what the best color combination was. Dimir Midrange was the most prominent right before the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, leveraging its smooth mana base, low curve, and efficient countermagic, but the new set has changed things. After the introduction of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, Esper Midrange decisively took back the crown.

With Concealed Courtyard to improve its mana base, as well as Rest in Peace and Pest Control to swing the previously difficult matchups against Temur Analyst and Boros Convoke after sideboard, it has become worthwhile to run white. Many Pro Tour competitors arrived at the same conclusion: Esper was now superior to Dimir. Indeed, nearly one-third of the field registered Esper Midrange, with Concealed Courtyard as an undisputed addition and Pest Control as a near-universal sideboard inclusion. There is some variations across the builds—for example, Esper Midrange players are split on whether or not to use cards like Wedding Announcement, Deep-Cavern Bat, or Duelist of the Mind—but everyone uses Raffine, Scheming Seer, arguably the best three-drop in the format.

The Resurgence of Four-Color Legends

Relic of Legends 655148

Over the past few months, Four-Color Legends had been a fringe player in Standard, typically claiming 1–2% of the metagame. Combining elements of midrange, combo, and ramp, the deck excelled at fueling mana from Relic of Legends into Slogurk, the Overslime loops. Slogurk grows whenever you discard a land to Rona, Herald of Invasion, discard a land to Inti, Seneschal of the Sun, or channel Otawara, Soaring City or Takenuma, Abandoned Mire. As it's so easy to bounce and reply, you can channel multiple lands every turn for value.

Outlaws of Thunder Junction offered a substantial boost to the deck in the form of Honest Rutstein. It shaves a mana off your key creatures, provides resiliency against spot removal, and even enables new infinite combos. If you control Relic of Legends and Rona, Herald of Invasion, then two copies of Honest Rutstein can be looped indefinitely. Tap Rona and Rutstein to untap Relic of Legends, cast Rutstein, lose one to the legend rule, return it, and repeat. This allows you to win the game with Vial Smasher, Gleeful Grenadier. Less common ways to exploit this loop include Tinybones Joins Up; Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim; Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines; or Annie Joins Up. For homogeneity, any base blue-black-red-green deck with a single white card is still labeled as Four-Color Legends at the Pro Tour.

The Disappearance of Bant Toxic

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While most of the attention will go to the decks on top of the metagame, it's also important to recognize what is not there: Bant Toxic. Over the past months, the archetype had fluctuated around 4-8% of the metagame, preying on the slow nature of Domain Ramp while sidestepping the life gain lands from Temur Analyst with its poison counters. At the Pro Tour, however, zero players registered Venerated Rotpriest or Skrelv's Hive.

The deck did not gain anything of note from the latest set, while its favorable matchups had dwindled and sweeper effects were ticking up. As a result, no one will be poisoned out of the game at Pro Tour Thunder Junction, barring a stray Mirrex.

A Plethora of Novel Strategies

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Between the main Outlaws of Thunder Junction (OTJ) set and The Big Score (BIG) bonus sheet, the latest set was one of the biggest Standard releases ever, introducing an abundance of new build-arounds. I will highlight the most exciting options in tommorow's article on the spiciest decklist from the Pro Tour, but one thing is for sure: the Standard rounds on the West Coast are going to be wild.

Some players may use Insatiable Avarice to put Shadow of Mortality on top of their library, allowing Caustic Bronco to hit the opponent for 15. Others aim to combine Bloodletter of Aclazotz with Rush of Dread, forcing the opponent to lose all of their life points. Meanwhile, a few tables over, a Slickshot Show-Off brew might face off against a dedicated Simulacrum Synthesizer deck. And perhaps in the feature match area, an Aftermath Analyst player might sacrifice dozens of lands to Pitiless Carnage, only to be defeated by their opponent's combination of Kellan, the Kid plus Djeru and Hazoret. Sure, the Standard metagame at the Pro Tour features a lot of Esper Midrange, but it also showcases a wide diversity of innovative competitive decks.

Most-Played Cards from Outlaws of Thunder Junction

Despite the high bar set by the existing Standard card pool, Outlaws of Thunder Junction had a considerable impact on the format. The following table breaks down all new-to-Standard cards among Pro Tour decklists. There's a lot.

Card Name Total Number of Copies Main Deck Sideboard
Concealed Courtyard 197 197 0
Pest Control 163 6 157
Rest in Peace 154 0 154
Duelist of the Mind 97 97 0
Inspiring Vantage 94 94 0
Three Steps Ahead 61 60 1
Honest Rutstein 56 56 0
Slickshot Show-Off 45 45 0
Blooming Marsh 44 44 0
Bonny Pall, Clearcutter 35 1 34
Forsaken Miner 32 32 0
Tinybones, the Pickpocket 32 32 0
Caustic Bronco 28 28 0
Shoot the Sheriff 27 27 0
Nurturing Pixie 25 25 0
Demonic Ruckus 19 19 0
Hostile Investigator 19 8 11
Dust Animus 16 4 12
Harvester of Misery 16 7 9
Pillage the Bog 15 15 0
Scorching Shot 15 11 4
Make Your Own Luck 14 14 0
Spirebluff Canal 14 14 0
Vial Smasher, Gleeful Grenadier 13 13 0
Assimilation Aegis 12 9 3
Simulacrum Synthesizer 12 12 0
Botanical Sanctum 11 11 0
Insatiable Avarice 11 10 1
Aven Interrupter 10 0 10
Torpor Orb 9 0 9
Pitiless Carnage 8 8 0
Ancient Cornucopia 8 8 0
Kaervek, the Punisher 8 7 1
Phantom Interference 7 7 0
Tinybones Joins Up 7 7 0
Snakeskin Veil 6 6 0
Gisa, the Hellraiser 6 5 1
Rush of Dread 6 3 3
Fomori Vault 5 5 0
Bristly Bill, Spine Sower 4 0 4
Harrier Strix 4 4 0
Dance of the Tumbleweeds 4 4 0
Legion Extruder 3 3 0
Final Showdown 3 3 0
Roxanne, Starfall Savant 3 0 3
Kellan, the Kid 3 3 0
Vadmir, New Blood 3 3 0
Requisition Raid 3 0 3
Lively Dirge 3 3 0
Return the Favor 2 0 2
Stoic Sphinx 2 0 2
Binding Negotiation 2 0 2
Goldvein Hydra 1 1 0
The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride 1 0 1
Neutralize the Guards 1 0 1
Annie Flash, the Veteran 1 0 1
Arid Archway 1 1 0
Annie Joins Up 1 1 0
Bandit's Haul 1 1 0

The most-played new cards are Concealed Courtyard, Pest Control, Rest in Peace, Duelist of the Mind, all of which I had already mentioned while talking about the dominance of Esper Midrange. Duelist of the Mind is an exciting one because it's Nathan Steuer's card for winning the 2022 World Championship. It's easy to enable in a deck full of interactive, crime-committing cards, and its power-scaling ability synergizes particularly well with Raffine, Scheming Seer. Beyond these additions to Esper Midrange, various other cards for disparate archetypes stand out as well.

657178 Nurturing Pixie

The enemy-color fast lands make a huge difference for the early-game mana consistency of aggro decks. Previously, it could be difficult for Boros Convoke to cast Novice Inspector and Voldaren Epicure consistently on turn one. With Inspiring Vantage, the deck's mana consistency increases by a few percentage points, leading to fewer mulligans and bringing it even closer to its Pioneer counterpart. Several Boros Convoke players also included Nurturing Pixie, which can produce value by returning Knight-Errant of Eos or Case of the Gateway Express.

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Blue players gained several new tools as well. For control players, Three Steps Ahead is reminiscent of Cryptic Command due to its flexibility and potential for card advantage. It's arguably the best Cancel variant ever, and it has enabled an uptick in Azorius Control. Meanwhile, Bonny Pall, Clearcutter has been a popular choice for Temur Analyst players as a secondary game plan that dodges graveyard hate after sideboard.

655087 Demonic Ruckus

For red aggro players, Slickshot Show-Off has been one of the most exciting cards from the new set. It provides a fast clock, can be plotted to dodge removal and sweepers, and flies over most blockers. It's easy to fill your deck with a large number of noncreature spells to trigger it consistently. Twelve players (5.8% of the field) included at least one copy of Slickshot Show-Off: 7 Mono-Red Aggro, 2 Gruul Aggro, 2 Temur Prowess, and 1 Boros Aggro. Many of them also included Demonic Ruckus, which can boost Slickshot Show-Off or sometimes even target an opposing creature to draw a card after burning it.

Shoot the Sheriff Forsaken Miner

Black decks also gained several new tools. Shoot the Sheriff is not as popular as Go for the Throat because new outlaws like Honest Rutstein; Tinybones, the Pickpocket; or Forsaken Miner cannot be targeted. At the same time, it does deal with the Incubator token from Sunfall, so various players have embraced a mix of the two removal spells. Forsaken Miner, in the meantime, has enabled a new wave of Rakdos Aggro decks that can come out of the gates quickly and commit crimes to press their advantage.

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

At Pro Tour Thunder Junction, all competitors who clinch 36 match points and/or reach the Top 8 will receive 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, and 1998 in preceding weeks, let's go back in time to 1999.

At the 1999 Magic World Championship, which took place in Tokyo on August 26–28 of that year, 208 players from 32 countries competed across Rochester Draft, Standard, and Extended. In the Standard Top 8 playoffs on Sunday, Kai Budde from Germany emerged victorious in what would be the first of his seven career Pro Tour victories.

In the finals, Budde defeated Mark Le Pine 3-0 in about 20 minutes, the fastest World Championship finals in history. "The games in the finals were not close," Budde recalled. "I just had Voltaic Key / Grim Monolith / Thran Dynamo pretty much every game. He'd play a Fireslinger, and I'd play a Covetous Dragon."

Budde's deck contained more than 30 artifacts, which he used to generate huge amounts of mana and speed up the game. This allowed him to quickly deploy big creatures like Masticore or Covetous Dragon, which could live through Wildfire. A well-timed Wildfire could leave the opponent with zero permanents, locking them out of the game, while you could retain several mana rocks and a creature to finish them off. Enormous amounts of mana could also be sunk into Mishra's Helix or Temporal Aperture, allowing you to dominate the game. This archetype was 8% of the Standard metagame at 1999 World Championship, and Budde piloted it masterfully.

Grim Monolith Covetous Dragon 5566

There is quite a contrast between 2024 Standard and 1999 Standard. This year, the format has been in a good spot, with aggro, midrange, control, ramp, and combo all being viable as macro-strategies. Four cards are banned (Meathook Massacre, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Invoke Despair, and Reckoner Bankbuster) but the card designs from the past three years have largely been balanced, fair, and interactive.

By contrast, Standard in 1999 was not in a good spot. During the 98–99 "combo winter," which is when I started playing competitive Magic, everyone was using the overpowered cards from Urza block to go infinite or combo off. Urza block was one of the most broken of all time, as all of its free mana and incredible card draw led to busted decks. You could rip through your library, produce absurd amounts of mana in a single turn, and assemble degenerate combos as early as turn one.

The "combo winter" resulted in errata of free spells and an incredible number of Standard bans: Tolarian Academy, Windfall, Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Fluctuator, Lotus Petal, Recurring Nightmare, Time Spiral, Memory Jar, and Mind Over Matter. Nowadays, many of these cards are banned even in Legacy, so just imagine the Standard where they were all legal! The running joke was that shuffling was the early game, mulligans were the mid-game, and turn one was the late game.

By the time of the 1999 World Championship, these bans had restored the format to a more balanced state, and Magic R&D had learned valuable lessons for future card design. Yet despite these bans, Grim Monolith, Voltaic Key, Thran Dynamo, Ancient Tomb, and City of Traitors remained legal, so a turn-two Covetous Dragon or turn-three Wildfire was a common curve-out at the time. Dark Ritual, Yawgmoth's Will, and Vampiric Tutor were all Standard-legal as well at the time. Nowadays, the Standard format is much fairer, and ramping ahead requires far more deck construction effort.

Yet as Budde's victory shows, fast mana always has the potential to be broken. In today's Standard, Aftermath Analyst decks and Relic of Legends decks are built around the same principle. If you have access to far more mana than your opponent, then it's easy to overpower them. Esper Midrange players may have discard and countermagic as interaction, but it's still difficult to beat an opponent who has twice as much mana as you. To see which cards will come out on top at Pro Tour Thunder Junction and who will qualify for World Championship 30, don't miss the live action at, starting this Friday, April 26!

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