The full spoiler for Battle for Zendikar has been posted, and that means it is time to get down to updating old archetypes, brewing new ideas, and trying to get an edge on everyone else in this new world. Just before I get into lists, I want to put something out there. I am not going to be posting sideboards with any of the decks in the article. All of these decks are works in progress and until there is a better idea of each deck's weaknesses and what is being played in the metagame, it's difficult to suggest any cards in particular for the sideboard.
But anyway, where is the best place to start? Well, Siege Rhino of Course!
I imagine a lot of decks in the coming weeks starting with a base of Knight of the White Orchid, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Wingmate Roc. The trifecta offers a head of card advantage and hard to deal with threats from a very simple base to build around. The easiest place to slot them in will be existing Abzan Aggro, as Abzan Charm looks to be one of the most powerful spells early in this format.
I've quickly been sold on the inclusion of Knight of the White Orchid in Abzan Aggro over the more traditional Rakshasa Deathdealer. Knight of the White Orchid was always awkwardly small in the previous Standard format, being held down by Fleecemane Lion, Sylvan Caryatid, and Courser of Kruphix. Now, with all of those cards rotating and the addition of dual lands with a land type, we get to fully experience the beauty that is this tempo creating machine.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a card that has been discussed at length since being spoiled, but it's pairing with Wingmate Roc in particular is something that has a lot of people excited. Previously, Sorin, Solemn Visitor was a deceivingly powerful play the turn before you planned on deploying the Roc, as dealing with the planeswalker felt more important than the 2/2 flier that it created. Often, this would allow you to allow Sorin to die, attack with the Vampire, and raid out an air force that was hard to deal with in grindy Abzan matchups. Gideon offers the same line, but can also trigger raid himself in the instance that the Ally token is destroyed. Also worth noting, Languish looks a lot worse when your Anafenzas and Wingmate Rocs start benefiting from Gideon's emblem.
Wingmate Roc is a card that we have seen a lot of previously, but it never felt like a dominating force in the format. Stormbreath Dragon was the five-drop that most people feared the most, even if Wingmate did match up incredibly well against Elspeth, Sun's Champion, one of the format's mainstays for its entire time in Standard. Wingmate was also viewed as slow and clunky in non-Abzan matchups, and something that forced you to overcommit to the board. As mentioned earlier, the emblem that Gideon creates is a powerful tool for this deck. Turn three Anafenza, turn four Gideon, make an Ally, into turn five emblem, attack, make a Wingmate Roc is a line of play that looks incredibly powerful early in this format, and it's only three cards!
Esper Dragons seems to be the second most obvious survivor of the rotation. While it seems like this deck gains more in the manabase than anywhere else, there are important changes in the format around it that make this a powerful option early on.
Hero's Downfall was a very popular card in Standard, and for good reason. The ability to kill a Creature at instant speed is especially relevant in context of Dragonlord Ojutai. While cards such as Abzan Charm, Crackling Doom, Utter End, Valorous Stance, and even Dromoka's Command with a fight target can still answer Ojutai, the heaviest played of the bunch has left, and its replacement, Ruinous Path, allows us to trigger Ojutai at least once. Playing games with this deck, you immediately notice the lack of Downfall in the format around you. Ruinous Path is still a powerful card, and in some situations will even be slightly better, but when your game plan involves attacking with Ojutai, you welcome the change in speed.
Fathom Feeder is a card that I honestly missed my first time going through the set. I saw the card, but missed the fact that it had deathtouch. To say that changes some things would be an understatement. In my article last week I discussed underrated cards that could be played in Esper Control, but felt especially weak to early aggression with every list that I wrote about. Fathom Feeder, paired with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Ojutai's Command, gives you the exact tool you need on the early turns to catch up against those pesky creature decks. While the card does compete with Silumgar's Scorn in the two-drop slot, it does allow you to play to the board when behind on the draw.
I was more impressed with Horribly Awry than I thought I would be. While the matchups that were tested were all favorable for the card, I rarely felt as though it was a bad card to draw or take from a Dig Through Time for safekeeping at a later point. One thing that will be interesting to see in the coming weeks is what side of the scale the threats in this format fall on. Mulldrifter and Baneslayer Angel are the comparisons I use; that is, creatures that generate card advantage when entering play and creatures that can be answered by a removal spell before any damage is done. If this format is more about Baneslayer Angels, additional Counterspells might not be necessary. But if Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, and Hangarback Walker continue to see extensive play, Horrible Awry is a solid option.
Utter End and Haven of the Spirit Dragon are both one-ofs that I've been happy with in testing. The pairing of Hero's Downfall and Stormbreath Dragon both rotating makes Utter End a very attractive catch-all option, so much so that I would consider a second copy in the 75. Haven of the Spirit Dragon isn't at its best in this deck, but the ability to rebuy a Dragonlord Ojutai or Silumgar that was discarded to a Despise is a good tool to have in grindy games. Silumgar, the Drifting Death has always been a very resilient threat, so I look for potential ways to rebuy it, if it is somehow answered with.
The Zoo is loose. I figured moving from the control deck that I'm excited about to the more aggressive decks to look forward to would be appreciated, because if you like attacking with cheap creatures, this is likely the deck for you. The landfall mechanic is a strange one as it rewards you for curving out with your cheap threats. Generally, games are lost with low to the ground creature decks when they flood out, but this deck mitigates that better than others.
Managorger Hydra is a card that started seeing some play towards the end of the last Standard format, and rightfully so. This card is very powerful and demands an answer within a turn or two of playing it or it will run away with the game. Pairing its trample with that on Mankindi Sliderunner, cards like Retreat to Valakut and Become Immense look a lot more attractive.
Retreat to Valakut is an interesting card that I was not incredibly found of at first glance. In my mind, the decks that wanted a card like this didn't want to hit many land drops after casting the three mana enchantment. After discussing the upside that the retreat offers, and considering how Landfall based decks will be built, I'm much more interested in the effects. Again, we look at pairing the +2/+0 ability with our creatures that have trample, but also having the ability to Remove blockers will give us more opportunities to Become Immense our opponents early on.
And just to remind everyone, Atarka's Command can put a land into play in addition to its other modes, so don't catch yourself sleeping to +1/+1 and your opponent putting a fetchland into play.
Be sure to check this deck out in the TCG Newsletter this week, which you can subscribe to at the top right of this article!
While Devoid seems like one of the more low key mechanics, there is certainly something going on with these cheap Eldrazi creatures. This deck takes advantage of the abundance of colorless creatures in the new Standard format, from giving them haste with Forerunner of Slaughter, to pumping them up with the almost forgotten Ghostfire Blade.
Drana, Liberator of Malakir has been showing up in a multitude of potential new decks, and for good reason. The ability to fly past blockers, while pumping your team in normal combat is nothing to scoff at, especially when the two most prevalent removal spells for three toughness creatures, Bile Blight and Lightning Strike, are no longer with us. I expect Drana to be one of the standout cards from this set and she is one of the first cards I'll be picking up a playset of.
Wasteland Strangler is one of my favorite cards in this deck. You have to give credit to the attempt to recreate Flametongue Kavu, even if it does fall short. Ingest and cards that take advantage of the exiled cards are using a new design space that most players aren't going to get used to quickly, myself included. Figuring out how many enablers vs. capitalizers to use is going to be a tricky balance. I included what I thought was one of the better options in Dominator Drone, as hitting the opponent for two when it comes into play is powerful as well, but I wouldn't be surprised if we had to go even deeper than that and include cards such as Complete Disregard, Touch of the Void, or Transgress the Mind.
This list is in the early stages of development, so I'm honestly not sure what the best option in the four-drop slot is. Pia and Kiran Nalaar work very well with Hangarback Walker, Drana, Ghostfire Blade, and Bone Splinters, but do not offer many synergies with the other creatures in the deck. Smothering Abomination is something that I have been trying out in a lot of different decks, as the effect is powerful if you build around it correctly. Dust Stalker is another incredibly powerful card if built around, as a 5/3 haste with no drawback can put your opponent under serious pressure.
I have to mention my excitement for seeing Bone Splinters being reprinted. The obvious synergy with Hangarback Walker is great, but there are a lot of decks or potential ideas that will strongly benefit from having the card in the format, and I for one am very excited to take full advantage of it.
And now, my personal favorite deck that I am working on, Bring to Light Control. For those of you that know me or have read previous posts by me, you should know I love me some two-for-ones, well this deck is no different.
Bring to Light is powerful effect that we have not had before. The ability to represent almost any card in our deck at any point is incredible, especially when paired with cards like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Den Protector to do them all again. While this is the least tested of the bunch, it does offer some of the toughest deckbuilding decisions, as your answers must line up with the format's presented questions.
Gideon's Reproach is another card that excited me in the spoiler. A cheap removal spell that can answer both Mantis Rider and Anafenza, the Foremost is nothing to scoff at. While it does have some obvious limitations (I'm looking mostly at Siege Rhino and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy), I believe I am in favor of it over a card like Reave Soul, which seems much better at clearing blockers out of the way.
It will be interesting to see if there is something here with Bring to Light, but I know it will be a pet deck of mine to work on throughout its time in Standard.
I hope you enjoyed my run down of potential decks for this upcoming Standard format. I'm going to continue to work on lists and try to see any edge that can be gained early on. When Origins was released, I had a few good finishes in the weeks before the Pro Tour which added Sultai Control to the list of decks to look out for at the big dance. Unfortunately, the matchup against the two breakout decks at the PT, Monored and UR Ensoul Artifact, was close to abysmal and friends of mine who sleeved up old faithful had a rough time. Hopefully this time we can recreate that early success and ship our buddies off with the proper tools this time.