Paper Pro Tours are some of my favorite Magic events, and last weekend we were lucky enough to watch a fantastic event in Pro Tour: March of the Machine. It was an exciting tournament with all the hallmarks of a quality event: new cards making their big-stage debut, fringe decks making deep runs and a stacked top 8 field.
Before Region Championship San Diego, I wrote about the standard metagame being a midrange arms race. And while I’d normally throw out such a Standard article given March of the Machine released after the post’s publication, the set has only added fuel to the fire. Midrange decks got plenty of new tools to go over the top of each other, so let’s start by checking out the new cards that made an impact in their first.
Chandra, Hope’s Beacon
Chandra, Hope’s Beacon is the first of 10 MOM cards to make a top 8 appearance at Pro Tour: March of the Machine. Chandra fills a need in Rakdos Midrange shells: a powerful curve-topper against decks like Mono White.
Given how lean Rakdos decks tend to be, having a game ending planeswalker against other midrange decks that can (but often don’t) excel at getting a planeswalker off the battlefield is a powerful add. Chandra’s inclusion also prompted some Rakdos players to sleeve up a copy of Light up the Night to close the game should you untap with Chandra, thanks to her passive ability.
Breach the Multiverse
Breach the Multiverse is another Rakdos “go-over-the-top” kind of card, but more suited to the Reanimator style decks than the midrange versions. Because Standard is so dense with high cost, powerful, Midrange cards like Atraxa, Grand Unifier, Chandra, Hope’s Beacon and more, milling ten cards from each deck makes it incredibly likely you’ll hit a powerful threat or two to put into play.
Breach the Multiverse made appearances in not just Rakdos, but even got splashed in a Mono White deck that made a top 8 appearance.
Etali, Primal Conqueror // Etali, Primal Sickness
Etali, Primal Conqueror wears a couple of hats in the current Standard metagame. First, it teams up with Atraxa in the Rakdos Reanimator decks. It would seem that every deck with access to red that isn’t particularly aggressive at least considers Etali, as it has shown up in Rakdos Midrange and Domain Control as well.
Etali fills a similar position as Breach the Multiverse by being an expensive way to end the game quickly in midrange mirrors by generating a ton of value. The key difference between Etali and Breach is that well, one is a 7/7 and the other is a sorcery. However, Breach is a bit more powerful on its own since it can nab multiple heavy hitting cards — like Etali itself.
Should you have the ability to transform Etali into Etali, Primal Sickness, the card does a very convincing Blightsteel Colossus impression, which in most Standard formats is quite hard to beat.
Sunfall is the newest sweeper in standard and likely the best one. If you squint hard enough, Sunfall looks a lot like Phyrexian Rebirth… except Sunfall is better. The nice part about the token Sunfall makes is it isn’t a creature to start, which means it is safe from removal until you flip it — which can be on your opponent’s end step to dodge sorcery speed interaction.
Sunfall showed up in both Mono White and Domain Control, both of which are definitely in the market for a sweeper as they’re looking to go long.
Invasion of Zendikar
Invasion of Zendikar may seem like an odd inclusion because Standard is frequently too powerful for Explosive Vegetation, which is what the front side of this card does. However, the curve of Topiary Stomper into Invasion of Zendikar plus your land drop for that turn lets Topiary Stomper attack the battle right away. And chances are, most opposing creatures are smaller than Stomper on turn four, especially if you’re on the play.
That particular sequence is powerful, but Domain Control is secretly a ramp deck that also wants a bunch of different basic land to turn on Domain for Leyline Binding and Herd Migration, so Explosive Vegetation is right at home here.
Invasion of Gobakhan
Invasion of Gobakhan made a top 8 appearance in Azorius Soldiers. The front side Is a nice piece of disruption, similar to Thoughtseize. While it isn’t quite Thoughtseize, it is similar enough given how quickly Soldiers can end the game.
Only three defense counters also makes it fairly easy for Soldiers to flip Invasion of Gobakhan into Lightshield Array, which can protect against removal spells on key creatures while providing an anthem in the meantime.
Glistening Deluge, Lithomantic Barrage, Faerie Mastermind, and Surge of Salvation all made small appearances, mostly in sideboards. Glistening Deluge, Lithomantic Barrage and Surge of Salvation, funnily enough, all have primary uses of Rakdos and Mono White throwing yet more punches at each other in sideboard games.
Coming into the tournament, the frontrunners for the best decks were RBx midrange, usually Rakdos, and Mono White. These predictions held true given the metagame percentages are as follows:
Rakdos Midrange 18.7%
Grixis Midrange 15.5%
Esper Legends 11.9%
Rakdos Reanimator 9.1%
Grixis Reanimtor 7.1%
Domain Control 4.8%
Five Color Ramp 3.6%
Mono White Midrange 3.6%
Jeskai Control 2.8%
Rakdos Breach 2.8%
Rakdos based Midrange decks showed up big with a sizable lead, especially so once you consider that Grixis is the second most popular deck (a Rakdos base splashing for a couple blue cards in Corpse Appraiser and various counters).
Esper Legends was easily the most represented aggro deck, but given the density of the more interactive decks, it didn’t have a great weekend.
Mono White fell off between RC San Diego and the Pro Tour, likely because Rakdos gained some top end power and Lithomantic Barrage to make that once bad matchup arguably good. We know what decks showed up, but let’s find out what did well enough to earn a coveted top 8 spot.
The Top 8
Earning a Pro Tour top 8 is one of the most difficult and prestigious accomplishments one can have in competitive Magic, and for years the primary barometer to decide who was good enough to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame. Pro Tour March of the Machine was stacked with great players and some fresh faces who had strong breakout performances, looking to carve a name for themselves in Magic history.
The top 8 players were as follows:
Congratulations to everyone in the top 8, especially Team Handshake (Javier Dominguez, Simon Neilsen, Karl Sarap, and Nathan Steuer) for putting four members into the top 8 — an incredible feat. Let’s take a look at the weapons these talented players chose to bring for this Pro Tour!
Orzhov Midrange: Autumn Burchett
Burchett chose to bring an old favorite with a new twist. Mono White was a popular choice during the Regional Championships but has struggled with the reanimator decks. Since they are the only thing that goes bigger than Mono White, Burchett’s approach was to add a black splash.
Adding black gives Burchett access to Breach the Multiverse, an incredibly powerful tool against Reanimator, letting Burchett use their threats against them. The sideboard also contains four copies of Duress, another strong option against the powerful, expensive threats in Rakdos — regardless of whether they are midrange or Reanimator.
Cut Down, Go for the Throat and Sheoldred’s Edict also make appearances in the sideboard so Burchett could bring in additional removal when needed.
Azorius Soldiers: Yiwen Chen
Azorius Soldiers was Chen’s deck of choice, which finished in the top 8 despite a low metagame percentage.
The Soldiers shell has been around for a bit and has put up a lot of results on the Regional Championship level. The aggressive clock backed up by light disruption makes it well suited to handle the reanimator matchups, which turned out to be a solid call for the weekend.
Soldiers do tend to struggle with the more removal dense versions of Rakdos Midrange, though, especially if they’re heavy on Cut Down. Unfortunately for Yiwen, that was half of the top 8.
Rakdos Midrange: Javier Dominguez, Simon Neilsen, Karl Sarap, Nathan Steuer
Dominguez, Neilsen, Sarap and Steuer, four of the members of Team Handshake, dominated this tournament with Rakdos Midrange. While their lists are slightly different, it is only by a couple cards here and there.
Team Handshake opted for a pair for Duress in the main deck, which was a good call given the reanimator and Mono White. Chandra, Hope’s Beacon was their game ender of choice over Etali or Breach. Good players playing a good version of a front runner deck led to good results for Team Handshake.
Five Color Ramp: David Olsen
Olsen was the lone Five Color Ramp pilot to make the top 8.
Historically, big ramp decks are a favorite against decks like Rakdos Midrange simply because the ramp deck has way more raw power in cards like Atraxa and Herd Migration than the Rakdos deck has. The Rakdos Reanimator decks can keep up on power, but lack the ability to aggro out the ramp deck, which is certainly a vulnerability of the strategy.
Fortunately for Olsen, Rakdos was everywhere, meaning they likely had plenty of good matchups throughout the event.
Rakdos Reanimator: Cain Rianhard
Rianhard brought Rakdos Reanimtor aiming to beat up the Rakdos Midrange and Mono White decks, and they did show up in top 8.
Traditionally, Reanimator decks were all in on putting Atraxa in play, however Rianhard opted to go with just one Atraxa and a core or Etali plus Phyrexian Fleshgorger. The rest of the supporting cast is the greatest hits of Rakdos Midrange in Bloodtithe Harvester, Reckoner Bankbuster, Invoke Despair and Fable of the Mirror Breaker
Now we know who chose to battle with what, we just need to find out the results of the matches!
Olsen def Dominguez 3-1
Steuer def Chen 3-1
Burchett def Neilsen 3-2
Rianhard def Sarap 3-2
Rianhard def Burchett 3-2
Steuer def Olsen 3-1
Congratulations to Steuer, who has been on an absolutely monster run with their second PT top 8 in a row — this time taking home the hardware! His recent accomplishments also include a Magic Online Championship Series win and a World Championship, just proving that Steuer is one of Magic’s most formidable competitors.
The Pro Tour is what many competitive players aspire to reach. The best people playing the best Magic in one of the best tournaments adds up to an amazing experience for everyone involved. The coverage and the matches were interesting, and it made Standard look good for the first time in a while. And now I can’t wait for Modern in Barcelona.
As always, you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne for questions, comments and feedback. Until next week, may all your hands be snap keeps!
Jason Krell is the content manager at Card Kingdom, meaning he helps make all of this possible. He is also an unabashed Esper control player, and he hopes the two things at least cancel each other out. He loves when everyone gets to do their thing in a game of Commander and spends way too much thinking about game design. Jason also comes from an esports journalism background, which probably explains a lot about his work.