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The Aftermath of Pro Tour: MKM

The Aftermath of Pro Tour: MKM (background: Vein Ripper)

This past weekend was the first Pro Tour in a long time. The large gap made this one extra exciting, at least from where I was sitting. We saw the world champion Jean-Emmanuel Depraz draft a tough seat, start 0-2, and finish in the Top 8. Former world champion Seth Manfield won the Pro Tour against current Player of the Year Simon Nielsen on an incredible run with his fourth Top 8 finish in a row.

If the star-studded cast of finalists wasn't enough, Seth and teammate Sam Pardee both made Top 8 with a new Pioneer archetype, BR Vampires featuring Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord cheating into play the exciting new mythic rare Vein Ripper.

This is the Pro Tour-winning deck, and while there were a couple of different choices with Seth's deck, all the decks were functionally the same with some small deviation.

The deck looks like a mess at first glance, and it might even be one. This was a testing team trying to iterate on a new archetype that was completely unknown or, at the very least, not taken seriously by other Pro Tour competitors. I can imagine it wasn't the only deck this team worked on. Having been part of that testing team for many years, I know how big of a time crunch you're under with multiple formats and a new archetype to work on while ironing out and getting reps with stock decks like Phoenix.

I had to cancel my trip to Chicago because of extenuating circumstances, but I watched every minute of the Pro Tour. There were things I loved about this deck and things I didn't like so much.

For one, Smuggler's Copter looked mediocre, especially in Seth's version of the deck with fewer Dusk Legion Zealots sitting around to crew it. Every creature wanted to spend the turn attacking, not crewing. While Smuggler's Copter is fine in games where you curve into creatures and put more of them on the battlefield, the creature count seemed too low in this version to make it work.

This Vampire deck looks like a typical Rakdos Midrange deck, except you can draw into a combo that can quickly kill and puts a ton of pressure on the opponent. I love that aspect of the deck. I've not been shy in voicing my disdain for Rakdos Midrange ever since I played Explorer at Worlds a couple of years ago. It contained a smaller card pool, was the same as the Rakdos deck, but it was unplayable. J-E-D, my pick for the best player and current world champion, played Rakdos and went 0-6 with the deck.

Rakdos is good at picking apart certain decks and can be tuned to beat a lot of stuff, but it can't beat everything. If you try, you'll be pulled in too many directions and suffer.

This Vampires deck has its own proactive game plan that is powerful and resilient. Will it stand the test of time? I usually have a good opinion about this, but I could see it going either way.

With the deck being new I don't know its entire Pioneer matchup chart, but from the looks of the games, it didn't seem particularly good against Lotus Field and was close with Phoenix. Now that the element of surprise is gone, I suspect those decks will react in kind and make it even tougher.

However, we haven't had the Magic community hive mind working on this archetype yet, and I'm sure there's tons of work to be done. Red may not even be the best splash. We could see white added with its many Vampire cards that may make the deck attack from a completely different angle.

This combination of Sorin into Vein Ripper is a nice game plan that will likely be around for a bit until we start seeing the game plan become weaker than the metagame. You can't just add a couple of clean answers to a Vein Ripper into your deck and think you're going to fair well against this archetype. This is a Thoughtseize and Duress deck, so you can't simply plan to answer their threat and go on with your life. You need a proactive game plan that punishes when they mulligan for a fast start, as they won't have all the pieces all the time.

We'll see tons of iterations of this Vein Ripper deck, and we'll see the usual suspects trying to react. If I were going to play a Pioneer event tomorrow, I'd likely register Izzet Phoenix and try to find a nice plan for this Rakdos deck since the post-board Leyline seemed like the biggest issue. Vein Ripper is a pain for Phoenix, but if you can get your game plan going, it should be easy enough to rip through your deck, get a Phoenix in play, and Lighting Axe the Vein Ripper.

Lastly, I'd like to talk about the deck that went under the radar and is registered by a long-time friend of mine, Ben Stark. Ben has a reputation as being a great Limited player, but his approach to Constructed is often overlooked. People meme about not "netdecking," but Ben takes that philosophy to another level. He's always looking for a new archetype and exploring a new idea. Here's Ben's Boros Burn deck that we'd be talking more about if BR Vampires didn't win the Pro Tour.

Ben saw that Lightning Helix is a strong Magic card and brought an old favorite archetype of many, Burn, to the Pro Tour. He may not think so, but he seems to have fallen in love with Burn over the past few years. It fits his strengths as a Limited player since games with Burn can get scrappy. They often involve setting yourself up to maximize damage and draw key cards according to your game plan. Combat plays a bigger role in a deck like this than it does in other archetypes, which Ben is world class at figuring out.

What I love about this archetype for this Pro Tour was that the top decks in the room, Lotus Field and Phoenix, had to have been strong matchups. Phoenix cannot gain life, so you can race them with creatures and Lightning Helix to swing races. This deck should often win on the play against Lotus and will almost always beat Lotus when it stumbles without a turn-four win.

I prefer this approach to a deck like Simon Nielsen's runner-up Boros Heroic. Heroic is the type of deck you need to play perfectly at all times. There is no room for error because timing a spell wrong is devastating. My advice is to not play that deck if you're not Simon. In his own words, it has all bad matchups, and he's playing too well and running too hot to lose.

Ben's deck will give you wiggle room. It's easy to play and attacks the metagame from a nice angle. Ben went 7-3 with the deck and, much like the BR Vampires deck, there may be some tuning to do here. However, a deck like this is easier to build than an optimized BR Vampire deck. I won't be surprised to see this deck do well in the coming weeks on MTGO.

While there were obvious cuts to the production quality of this Pro Tour, the players are what makes MagicSimon's friendly banter, J-E-D's calm composure, and Seth's nervousness, though he still plays as close to perfect Magic as you can expect out of a human being.

As long as we can, I'll watch and cheer for my friends and peers. For now, Pioneer got a whole lot more exciting, and I'm anxious to see where it goes from here.

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