I have read plenty of discussion on existing archetypes that survive Standard rotation, like Atarka Red, Goblins, Abzan Aggro, and even GW Hardened Scales. There are also lots of decks built around Dragons, specifically the Dragonlords, which have suddenly become a lot more attractive with Elspeth, Sun's Champion leaving the format. Esper Dragons is a sure winner, but RG, Jeskai, Mardu, and even Five-Color Dragons are also promising. The troubling thing is, all of these decks are focused on old cards that we have already been playing with, and they don't seek to make the most out of the tools Battle for Zendikar provides. Updating existing decks for the new card pool and testing and tuning them against each other is certainly an integral part of the discovery process of the new format, but it is only the beginning, and it just breaches the tip of the Iceberg. Battle for Zendikar has a lot of great cards, and there is no way to figure out how to best wield them without rigorously theorizing, trying, and testing them.
There is a Standard Pro Tour in a few weeks, and that means many of the best Magic writers and deckbuilders won't even discuss Standard in their articles; the most honest will tell you that upfront. Technology of the new set is especially valuable and guarded, so if someone has discovered that a card is broken, you can be sure you won't hear about it.
Rather than approach the format with a Khans of Tarkir-focused mindset, I have approached it with the aim of fully developing the flavors of Battle for Zendikar. I have constructed three decks that attempt to maximize some of the best that Battle for Zendikar has to offer. These decks are focused and aggressively pursue their own game plans, and they showcase a slice of the potential that Battle for Zendikar has in Standard.
Battle for Zendikar brings with it the 1/1 Eldrazi Scion, a more aggressive and valuable take on the 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn from Rise of the Eldrazi. Blisterpod is especially attractive as a sacrificial fodder creature that puts past cards like Tukatongue Thallid to shame. Carrier Thrall is also excellent and, as 2/1 creature, offers some real offensive power. Along with Hangarback Walker, these creatures form a great core to strategy based around the new Blood Artist Clone, Zulaport Cutthroat, with Nantuko Husk as a sacrifice outlet.
Bloodsoaked Champion fills in the bottom of the curve with an aggressive creature that's expendable and inexhaustible, and the perfect pairing with Nantuko Husk. Higher on the curve, Smothering Abomination is promising as a way to turn creatures into card advantage. It's an extremely efficient and aggressive body for the cost, and flying is great because this deck is otherwise all ground creatures. Typically Smothering Abomination will just sacrifice a creature every upkeep and act something like a Dark Confidant, but it's actually a card-generating engine when combined with Nantuko Husk and the cog creatures.
This deck is going to want some removal, and Ruinous Path is an excellent fit. There is some flexibility in the remaining slots in the deck. I dedicated four to Den Protector, which is a source of card advantage and a valuable late game tool. Returning one of the cog creatures is a great way to Rebuild a board, and Den Protector also provides some insurance on the key sacrifice outlets. Chaining Den Protector into Den Protector is also a very potent tool in long games, and this deck takes full advantage by playing sacrifice outlets to gain additional value from the play.
Finally, Drana, Liberator of Malakir is an excellent fit: it's a relatively strong creature even by itself, but it's incredible with the many creatures this deck plans on having in play. There is no way to figure out just how good the card is without playing it, so I included one copy of the legend.
The manabase is built simply and will cast Smothering Abomination on turn four with 90% reliability. Untapped green on turn one for Blisterpod is more difficult but still more likely than not, and the deck will reliably have an untapped green source by turn two 90% of the time. I have also included a Rogue's Passage, which is excellent for pushing Nantuko Husk past blockers.
I included Vampiric Rites in the sideboard as a way to combat control decks with card advantage. Rot Shambler attacks opponents without access to removal spells, or those who rely on burn. Bone Splinters is an efficient and powerful removal spell that is easily enabled in this deck, while Ultimate Price is great against decks with many targets. Thoughtseize is gone, so this deck has to make do with Duress and the new Transgress the Mind.
Exploring this deck further, the next step I would take is to explore Abzan Ascendancy.
Battle for Zendikar brings with it the return of landfall, which was previously a Constructed hit in aggressive creatures Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede. While weak on their own, with fetchlands these creatures could be supercharged into undercosted monsters that would quickly eat the opponent away. The Battle for Zendikar equivalents, Scythe Leopard and Makindi Sliderunner, do the originals justice and they bring with them other playable options in Valakut Predator and the powerful Undergrowth Champion. I combined these creature with the most efficient and powerful burn spells in Standard to create a Landfall Zoo deck:
I'm most excited about Atarka's Command, which has the long-forgotten ability to put an extra land into play. This is incredible with the landfall creatures, especially considering it can put a fetchland into play for massive damage.
I want to point out that while the new landfall creatures don't hit quite as hard as their Zendikar cousins, they are actually better without landfall. Steppe Lynx would often find itself out in the cold as a useless 0/1, but Scythe Leopard will never have that problem, and similarly a 2/1 Makindi Sliderunner deals more damage than a 1/1 Plated Geopede. Also, when just one land has been played, the new versions do the same amount of damage as the old versions. All of the Landfall creatures are undercosted when they have a landfall trigger, so sacrificing a bit of power when things are going perfectly by playing cards that still function when things aren't firing on all cylinders might be a fine tradeoff.
Undergrowth Champion and Valakut Predator are uncharted territory, but they offer a lot of power and are certainly worth exploring. Valakut Predator is massive with a fetchland, and Undergrowth Champion is interesting because it stocks up counters and is robust in combat.
Slab Hammer is destined for Limited format success, but in a dedicated landfall deck it could make the jump to Standard. Ideally, this deck never wants to run out of lands to play to trigger landfall, and Slab Hammer supplies a steady stream of triggers.
The metagame is not defined, so rather than target specific opponents, I built a sideboard to showcase a strategy that an aggressive deck like this one could employ after sideboard, when opponents bring in removal spells and games tend to slow down. A wealth of removal spells and card advantage allows this deck to play a slower and attrition-focused game. Outpost Siege is particularly great because this deck can actually take advantage of the often otherwise useless extra lands it yields.
Five summers ago, when the original Zendikar block was in Standard and Jace, the Mind Sculptor was reigning, a UG Time Warp Turboland deck burst into Standard and found success.
This deck used mana acceleration to ramp into Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Oracle of Mul Daya which generated card advantage, Time Warp to get even more value from these cards, and Avenger of Zendikar to lock up the battlefield and kill the opponent.
Part the Waterveil brings back memories of this long-forgotten archetype, and while Kiora, Master of the Depths is not Jace, the Mind Sculptor, this powerful planeswalker is excellent in a mana ramp strategy with its +1 ability, and its -2 ability could be a source of card advantage. Oracle of Mul Daya can't be easily replaced, but From Beyond does an interesting imitation of its mana-generating impact, and it is still strong with Time Walk effects. Update the old school mana ramp spells to the equivalent creatures currently available in Standard, add a sprinkle of card advantage and win conditions, and that leaves us with:
Avenger of Zendikar is without equal, so I mixed up the win condition options to try a variety. From Beyond is only excellent if there are Eldrazi in the deck, so an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is required. Oblivion Sower is right on the ramp plan, and a great middle of the road option to search for. To help reclaim some of the powerful board-controlling aspect of Avenger of Zendikar, I included two Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as the final win conditions. It's also possible that this deck has slightly less need for win conditions because Lumbering Falls is a potentially game-winning tool that the old version never had access to, and Part the Waterveil is part win-condition with its Awaken ability. It's also possible the deck just wants to play four Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as a direct replacement to Avenger of Zendikar.
The old version of the deck had Tectonic Edge to attack opposing lands, but this update gets Blighted Woodland to generate card advantage and advance the deck towards casting Part the Waterveil with Awaken. Blighted Cataract is an additional tool for the strategy.
Ivan Floch played three Mind Spring as massive card advantage, but the deck has to try harder these days. I included one copy each of the new Ugin's Insight, Nissa's Renewal, and Hedron Archive to try the various options. My first thought was Dig Through Time, but it may be too slow in a deck that isn't ever aiming to fill the graveyard.
I built the sideboard to resemble Ivan's as closely as possible, and most of the cards had some sort of Standard equivalent. Guardian of Tazeem is interesting as a way to control the board as an almost-Roil Elemental. Gaea's Revenge is great against control, Greenwarden of Murasa has potential, but there is no great life gain and value equivalent to Pelakka Wurm and Claustrophobia is much worse than Narcolepsy. I turned to four Hangarback Walker on the logic that it generates value against control and slows down aggro. Kiora , Master of the Depths and Part the Waterveil even allow Hangarback Walker to add extra counters.
I am hopeful Battle for Zendikar will meld with Khans of Tarkir block and Magic Origins and continue the tradition of a fun and diverse Standard metagame. Theros block and Magic 2015 leave a large void in the card pool, but Battle for Zendikar offers great new role players to replace those lost. Battle for Zendikar also brings with it some new spins on familiar favorites with promising futures in Standard. What decks are you working on?