The 2015 TCGplayer Standard State Championships drew thousands of players from all across the United States to compete in the new Battle for Zendikar Standard format. There are hundreds of decklists available, and I have poured through them looking for ideas that stand out from the rest. All of these decks are unique in some way, and approach Standard in novel ways worth exploring further.
Retreat Control jams playsets of all three Abzan-colored Battle for Zendikar Retreat enchantments together in an attempt to realize economies of scale on landfall triggers. Every additional copy of a Retreat scales up and triggers from the same one land, so in theory the best way to take advantage of Landfall is to make the most from every land by triggering as many cards as possible with each one. Every trigger generates a small incremental value, whether it be two life gained from Retreat to Kazandu, a one life drain from Retreat to Hagra, or a 1/1 Kor Ally creature token from Retreat to Emeria. Stacked on top of each other, the triggers combine to generate very serious value, especially when Windswept Heath and Wooded Foothills generate two triggers and Blighted Woodland generates three!
The Retreats aren't expensive, but playing them each turn is time consuming and potentially deadly because they don't have an immediate impact on the game. Herald of the Pantheon makes the Retreats affordable, and it serves as a catalyst for the deck's plan of dumping all of its Retreats into play as soon as possible.
The Retreats are almost like planeswalkers in that they are hard to deal with, generate incremental value each turn, and will inevitably take over and win the game. On the other hand, they are individually very low-impact, and they require a constant source of fuel - a very serious downside. This deck plays a whopping 32 land to ensure it never misses a land drop. Oblivion Sower snags opponent's land and generates up to four Landfall triggers, though one or two is more likely. Nissa, Vastwood Seer makes a lot of sense, and if I were to play this deck I would want to include more at the expense of Oblivion Sower.
Siege Rhino and Abzan Charm hold all of the pieces together, and Shambling Vent does double duty as a threat that triggers Landfall.
Going forward, I'd want to explore the Landfall cards in the deck. Sideboarding Jaddi Offshoot could have a positive impact against Red decks, and turning the tables with a threat like Undergrowth Champion could be effective against all sorts of opponents. You could also explore an enchantment theme, maybe adding Sigil of the Empty Throne and Silkwrap,
Abzan Rally is an Aristocrats-style deck based around sacrificing creatures for value, and then reanimating them with Rally the Ancestors for another go around. There is plenty of value to be had, most of it from Battle for Zendikar: Blisterpod, Carrier Thrall, and Catacomb Sifter are each two creatures for the price of one, and together they form the basic core fuel of the strategy.
Zulaport Cutthroat is much of the reason why this sort of strategy is viable. Combined with Nantuko Husk it creates an easy mode combo-style kill reminiscent of Cartel Aristocrat and Blood Artist or Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault. Zulaport Cutthroat is also great when smashing an army into blockers, and Eldrazi Scion can even sacrifice themselves to trigger the ability.
What makes this deck exciting is the splash into white for Abzan Ascendancy and Rally the Ancestors. Abzan Ascendancy adds a whole new layer of value to creatures dying, which makes the deck's combo finish even more powerful, but it's also a nightmare for opponent's relying on creature removal. Abzan Ascendancy is also another way to keep creatures in play after a Rally the Ancestors. The +1/+1 counter one-shot anthem ability of Abzan Ascendancy ensures the card always has some immediate impact on the game, and is a great way to speed up a clock.
Rally the Ancestors can return creatures to play, but the only way to unlock all of the value from them is with Nantuko Husk as a sacrifice outlet, otherwise creatures like Blisterpod and Carrier Thrall will leave with no impact. Fleshbag Marauder does help, and will unlock one token and hopefully destroy an opposing creature in the process. An alternative method of gaining value is to cast Rally the Ancestors to create blockers to get in the way of an opposing attack.
Liliana, Heretical Healer is still relatively unexplored in Standard, and Mardu is an intriguing path to take it down:
Butcher of the Horde is the perfect sacrifice outlet, reminiscent of Falkenrath Aristocrat. Compared to Nantuko Husk, it lacks the same ability for a one-shot all-in kill, but it's a more reliable card capable of standing on its own. It's quite powerful in its own right, and is capable of winning a damage rage.
Forerunner of Slaughter pushes this deck into a more aggressive role than typical Aristocrats decks that play value cards like Sultai Emissary. Like Butcher of the Horde, Forerunner of Slaughter will often have haste, a theme pushed further by Dust Stalker. Hangarback Walker supports Dust Stalker as a colorless creature; it's also great when Forerunner of Slaughter gives it haste and lets it immediately tap to add a counter.
A real benefit of red is access to its incredible removal like Crackling Doom and sideboard Radiant Flames. Bone Splinters is powerful, but this deck doesn't have a ton of creatures to sacrifice, so I'd explore cheap removal like Wild Slash or Silkwrap as a reliable way to deal with creatures like Monastery Swiftspear and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.
An adaption of red aggro was victorious at the TCGplayer Standard State Championship in Florida:
This deck is highly aggressive and has full robust threats that aren't easily dealt with. Bloodsoaked Champion and Flamewake Phoenix aren't made for blocking and they will inevitably return from the graveyard in the face of removal or blockers. A low curve of aggressive red creatures is supported by Drana, Liberator of Malakir, and topped off by a playset of Thunderbreak Regent punishing targeted removal spells and ground blockers. The dragons also support the removal spell of choice, Draconic Roar.
Black opens up some very potent sideboard cards, including removal like Self-Inflicted Wound, Complete Disregard, Ultimate Price, discard like Duress and potentially Transgress the Mind, and a threat in Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury.
Five-Color Collected Company
This deck branches into all five colors to unlock the Cream of the Crop Standard creatures and make the most of Collected Company. This deck has it all, and it looks a lot like someone mashed all of their Khans of Tarkir wedge decks together. From Abzan we have Siege Rhino, Abzan Charm, Warden of the First Tree, and Anafenza, the Foremost. From Jeskai there is Mantis Rider, and Temur provides Savage Knuckleblade. Mardu adds a playset of Crackling Doom for good measure.
The deck looks like it is all over the place, but the cards are focused on an aggressive game plan, and fetch lands and battle lands make the mana possible. The deck is full of nothing but the most efficient and powerful cards in Standard, so when it functions it's likely to outclass the opposition.
Here's another take on Five-Color Collected Company:
This version of the deck takes advantage of its five colors of mana to fulfill the Converge cost of Bring to Light.
There is something to be said for playing only the best cards available, and Five-Color Collected Company makes a strong case for doing so.
Naya Ramp seeks to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It has plenty of cards to help reach that point, and has a wealth of quality cards to cast in the meantime along the way towards ten mana.
Leaf Gilder and Rattleclaw Mystic are the primary mana acceleration, while Explosive Vegetation, Nissa's Pilgrimage, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer fuel the critical mass of mana this deck requires. From Beyond serves as a way to store mana in Eldrazi Scion, and eventually it can tutor for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Before reaching ten mana, this deck makes due with Dragonlord Dromoka, Dragonlord Atarka, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, any of which may be game-winning themselves.
To help make the final push towards ten mana, the deck includes a set of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. Early in the game it's simply a colorless land, but once there are seven lands in play it doubles its mana production. It doesn't seem like a big boost, but every bit helps, and in multiples can be quite effective. In a deck that is primarily one color, the colorless land isn't a significant cost compared to the payoff, so I expect that Shrine of the Forsaken Gods will be a very important tool in any future decks seeking to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and other very expensive spells.
This deck combines all of the most efficient Allies in Abzan to create a coherent aggressive deck with some synergy. Playing Allies also opens up access to March from the Tomb as a Patriarch's Bidding-style card to Rebuild battlefield presence, and Ally Encampment as a mana-fixer and source of value.
This deck works because many of the Allies are reasonable creatures on their own; Drana, Liberator of Malakir is just a great card, Beastcaller Savant is decent mana acceleration, and Expedition Envoy is a fine aggressive creature. Veteran Warleader doesn't even require allies to reach a large size, but having them in hand for his activated ability comes in handy. Zulaport Cutthroat seems questionable without a sacrifice outlet, but it surely pulls some weight in attrition battles.
The real treat is, of course, Kalastria Healer, which is great in an aggressive deck as a source of extra damage, and against aggressive decks as a way to gain life. If you put a Kalastria Healer into play at the same time as any number of other Allies it will trigger for all of them, so the deck is capable of making powerful plays when multiple Kalastria Healer are involved with March from the Tomb or Collected Company.
Lantern Scout in the sideboard is an excellent Ally that many other non-Ally aggro decks have been sideboarding to combat other aggro decks, especially red aggro. I'd like to explore playing some of these maindeck going forward. If it's good enough as a one-shot life gain card in non-Ally decks, it's surely an incredible life gain engine in an Ally deck that can reliably trigger it each turn.
Another takes on Allies in Standard is this focused G/W build:
This deck playsvery much like a White Weenie aggro deck, and features a curve of Allies all the way up to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Expedition Envoy starts the aggression on turn one. Kor Bladewhirl provides first strike to push the team into small blockers. Lantern Scout provides a continuous Stream of Life gain, and helps support Serene Steward. Veteran Warleader is sure to be large here, especially with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar providing a steady stream of creatures.
Green provides access to some excellent tools. Collected Company generates card advantage and digs for Allies and Dromoka's Command is a critical piece of disruption.
Tandem Tactics seems underpowered, but it's a decent trick and does support Serene Steward. Ondu Rising doesn't seem necessary because it's poor with Collected Company and the deck already has a set of Lantern Scout for life gain, so I'd be interested in playing another creature or more removal like Silkwrap in that slot.
Bant Midrange was victorious in Kentucky.
This deck tweaks the G/W Megamorph formula by toning down the aggression and heavily splashing blue. Blue provides a lot to this deck, starting with a playset of Dragonlord Ojutai as a finisher. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy doesn't have a ton of cards to flashback, but it has great synergy in its ability to discard Deathmist Raptor for future reanimation. Kiora, Master of the Depths can untap Jace, Vryn's Prodigy for extra triggers, and it can untap and protect Dragonlord Ojutai after it attacks, but it's primarily a source of card advantage with its -2 ability. The biggest draw to blue is Counterspells, especially Ojutai's Command, which this deck takes full advantage of with Elvish Visionary to return for value.
What do you think of the decks I shared today?
All of the 2015 TCGplayer Standard States decklists can be found here.
What are your favorites?