26, Apr, 24

Thunder Junction Pro Tour Data Reveals Disturbing Lack of Innovation

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Article at a Glance

From April 26-28, many of the best players in the world will be battling for pride, glory, and money at Pro Tour Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Despite the new set having just recently released officially in paper, the Pro Tour is just around the corner. While many Pro Tours over the last few years have been held a few weeks after a set’s release, this time the Pro Tour is happening only one week after the release of Thunder Junction.

Many players were hopeful that this change would bring about some cool innovation. After all, holding the Pro Tour so close to a set’s release means that there’s less of a chance for the format to be “solved” and become stale. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, in practice, things didn’t quite turn out the way some players wanted.

The Pro Tour metagame breakdown is now available, and there’s a noticeable lack of exciting breakout archetypes. The bulk of the metagame is made up of tier one strategies that were well-established prior to the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some important metagame shifts and unique brews to make note of. However, if you were looking forward to a potential breakout strategy similar to Pioneer Rakdos Vampires at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, you may be disappointed.

Esper Midrange Domination

Raffine, Scheming Seer

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the Pro Tour metagame data is the fact that over 31% of the field is playing Esper midrange. It wasn’t entirely clear prior to Pro Tour decklist registration that Esper midrange was going to make up this much of the room. After all, other strategies such as Domain ramp and Temur Lands were immensely popular prior to Thunder Junction’s release and were still putting up great results afterwards.

As we will see later, these strategies are certainly still present, just in lower numbers. As it turns out, there’s nearly a 21% gap between Esper midrange and Boros Convoke, the second most played deck. Esper midrange may not be nearly as dominant as Simic Food or Temur Reclamation decks of Standard’s past, but 31% is still far from ideal. If you’re not a fan of Esper, the one saving grace is that Raffine, Scheming Seer will be rotating out of Standard in August. Notably, the different builds between this Esper Midrange representation are significant. More aggressive, midrange, and combo oriented builds are included in the larger percentage.

Interestingly, though, other Deep-Cavern Bat shells like Dimir midrange won’t lose much of anything. Before Thunder Junction cards were printed, there used to be more of an even split between Esper and Dimir midrange, with Golgari close behind. At the Pro Tour, though, other black-based midrange decks paled in comparison to Esper. Dimir and Golgari midrange made up under 7% of the field combined. So, what contributed to Esper’s surge?

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The Importance of White as a Support Color

Pest Control

The answer largely lies with how essential white has become as a support color. Even before Thunder Junction cards were made available, no one doubted the power of Raffine, Scheming Seer. However, outside of Raffine, white didn’t provide many potent upgrades.

Sure, Wedding Announcement and Dennick, Pious Apprentice are nice tools to have. But, Faerie Mastermind and Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor are more than serviceable in those slots. Some players deemed it better to give up Raffine and other white card to gain access to more consistent mana and strong utility Lands like Mirrex.

When looking at the most played Thunder Junction cards at the Pro Tour, it’s clear this thought process has changed for many players. The top three most played Thunder Junction cards are all Esper midrange staples. First, Concealed Courtyard provides the deck with cleaner mana. Next, Pest Control out of the sideboard improves the Boros Convoke matchup considerably. Lastly, Rest in Peace gives the deck a fighting chance against Temur Lands, which is another weak matchup.

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Other Strong Choices

Gleeful Demolition

Speaking of Boros Convoke and Temur Lands, these decks also have respectable representation at the Pro Tour. Boros Convoke was popular before Thunder Junction but has risen up the food chain over the last week. While it may seem like just a minor upgrade, the addition of Inspiring Vantage was a huge deal for this archetype. Sundown Pass simply doesn’t cut it for a deck that needs to curve out early. This deck also has tough color requirements given the mix of red and white one-drops, making Vantage’s role more crucial.

Temur Lands falls shortly behind Boros Convoke, with 19 of the 207 players registering this archetype. This deck is absurdly powerful but has fallen out of favor a bit with Thunder Junction cards in the mix. This deck received very little in the way of help, but now has to contend with hosers like Rest in Peace. Without graveyard synergies, Aftermath Analyst and Worldsoul’s Rage become rather mediocre. Still, some players feel graveyard strategies like this weren’t given proper respect and could flourish as a result.

The other two strategies to each represent at least 5% of the field are four-color legends and Domain ramp. The printing of Honest Rutstein has given four-color legends a neat combo kill thanks to the power of Relic of Legends and Rona, Herald of Invasion. We discussed this combo in more detail here, though it’s worth noting that Vial Smasher, Gleeful Grenadier and other cards can serve as kill conditions, not just Tinybones Joins Up.

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General Lack of Innovation

Bloodletter of Aclazotz

Overall, it’s a bit disappointing to see a minimal amount of exploration so soon after Thunder Junction’s release. The set clearly impacted the Standard metagame, as made indicative by Esper’s immense showing. Still, there aren’t many players that registered intriguing new ideas entirely.

For the few players that did choose an off-the-wall strategy, we salute you. Caustic Bronco and Bloodletter of Aclazotz drew a bit of attention, for instance. Using Insatiable Avarice to put Shadow of Mortality on top and doming the opponent for 15 damage is certainly an exciting kill condition, as is combining Bloodletter of Aclazotz with Rush of Dread to make the opponent lose all their life! One thing’s for sure: I’ll be rooting for these decks this weekend!

Still, these brews are few and far between. Even though the format is far from solved, some players had pointed out in advance that moving the Pro Tour so close to a set’s release could have negative consequences, not positive. Some argued that Pro Tour players now have less time to test new ideas, as well as less time to find and purchase the cards they would need. With this in mind, seeing more players take decks that have already proven their worth and just adding some upgrades does make sense.

Regardless, I’m still excited to see how things play out at Pro Tour Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Will some of these intriguing brews end up at the top tables, or will basic Esper emerge victorious? Only time will tell.

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