Gideon, Ally of Zendikar had the highest expectations of any card in Battle for Zendikar going into Week 1 of Standard and it certainly did not disappoint, showing up in large quantities in several of the highest place finishing decks on the weekend. Today I will go over the five best decks that showcase the powerful new planeswalker.
Any of these five decks are strong choices for this weekend, but my pick for the best Gideon, Ally of Zendikar deck is G/W Aggro.
Deck #1: G/W Aggro
Similar to the GW Megamorph deck that Brian Kibler popularized pre-rotation, Michael Majors piloted a G/W Aggro deck with many of the best green and white cards in the format all jammed into one deck. It curves out with Warden of the First Tree, one of the only good first turn plays in Standard, and follows this up with a pump or a 1/1 Hangarback Walker. Then up the curve he has Deathmist Raptor and Nissa, Vastwood Seer or a morphed Den Protector or Hidden Dragonslayer. Then Gideon, Ally of Zendikar at four mana followed by Wingmate Roc at the top of the curve.
In addition to Hidden Dragonslayer, he also runs four Dromoka's Command and three Valorous Stance main. Stance is good at taking care of Siege Rhinos while also functioning as a counter to many removal spells against control decks where such a removal spell would have fewer targets. Dromoka's Command is a good way to kill smaller creatures or to have Deathmist Raptor fight larger creatures to Defeat them with deathtouch. It also kills key enchantments such as Outpost Siege or Stasis Snare.
The deck has lots of card advantage and Staying Power and also a fair bit of internal synergy. Deathmist Raptor can come back whenever Hidden Dragonslayer, Den Protector, or another Deathmist Raptor unmorphs. Den Protector can regrow cards. Hangarback Walker can leave behind an army of thopters. Nissa can flip and start drawing cards. Wingmate Roc can make a Larry Bird Token. Hidden Dragonslayer can kill something. Dromoka's Command can win a fight and kill an enchantment. Lastly, Gideon can pump out Ally tokens each turn. In addition to all these ways to gain card advantage, Gideon also works especially well with Wingmate Roc. You play Gideon and make a token. Then next turn you can attack with the expendable token, make another one, and then raid Wingmate Roc. Or if the token died (for instance, maybe it had to chump block to keep Gideon alive), then no problem; you just attack with Gideon for five and you still get to raid Wingmate Roc.
Overall the deck is very strong and Todd Stevens placed in the Top 16 with a similar deck.
Instead of a couple Hangarback Walkers Stevens has a pair of Knight of the White Orchids. And instead of Hidden Dragonslayer he has Stasis Snare. He also has Mastery of the Unseen over the fourth Dromoka's Command and the third Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Being able to search up Canopy Vista with Knight of the White Orchid is pretty sweet, but I'm not sure that is what this deck really wants to be doing. Maindeck Mastery of the Unseen is also a big question mark for me right now, depending on how many blue control decks are expected because that's where it's best.
Post-board Evolutionary Leap is the technology against slow, removal-heavy decks. Arashin Cleric is for red decks, though I'm not sure whether it or Surge of Righteousness is better against the current red decks.
Deck #2: Four-Color Midrange
Adam Varner finished in the Top 4 with a very different strategy involving Gideon, Ally of Zendikar that some are calling 'Jeskai Black' and others are calling 'Four-Color Midrange.' Instead of setting up raid for Wingmate Roc, he sets up delve for Dig Through Time. And instead of using Den Protector to replay spells from the graveyard, he uses Jace. And instead of casting and recurring Deathmist Raptor he attacks in the air with Mantis Rider.
One of the lines of play I really like from this deck is using Ojutai's Command on the opponent's turn, either to draw a card, gain four life, or to counter a creature, and then using the other mode to recur Dragonmaster Outcast from the graveyard and then immediately start making Dragons on your upkeep. Getting back a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is about as good too, so there is no shortage of good modes on Ojutai's Command in this deck. Gideon doesn't really serve any particularly synergistic role in the deck other than potentially making an emblem to pump a bunch of Thopter Tokens. It's mostly just a powerful Magic card jammed into a powerful deck that can support it. The splash of Crackling Doom and Butcher of the Horde helps the deck to win Gideon fights.
Post-board Radiant Flames is for all the aggro decks, including the red deck. Touch of the Void is presumably for Deathmist Raptor. Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness are for red. The Counterspells are good against control decks.
Conventional wisdom holds that once you go Jeskai Black, you never go back. But if slightly better mana is a concern, Gideon can also be played in a more traditional form of Jeskai.
Deck #3: Jeskai Tempo
Much like with the previous version of Jeskai, this one is primarily a Jace deck. It revolves around casting Jace on the second turn and then flipping it a couple turns later in order to start recasting spells from its graveyard. It doesn't run Crackling Doom but it has overall slightly better mana. The deck can play out like a control deck, utilizing removal spells to neutralize opposing threats before getting ahead in card advantage with Jace, Soulfire Grand Master, Dig Through Time, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Or it can play the tempo game by attacking with Mantis Riders before pointing Jeskai Charms and Exquisite Firecrafts at the opponent. It also can get back Jace with Ojutai's Command the same way Jeskai Black can and it could, in theory, also run Dragonmaster Outcast, though this version does not choose to run it.
The sideboard looks a lot like that of Jeskai Black. You have Radiant Flames for the aggro decks, Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness for the red decks, and Counterspells for control decks. This version also has Mastery of the Unseen for control and a Roast for Siege Rhinos.
Green/White and Jeskai aren't the only ways to win with Gideon. You can also simply jam him into everyone's favorite Siege Rhino deck!
Deck #4: Abzan Control
Bradley Carpenter finished in the Top 8 with Abzan Control running the full four copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. This is telling because Gideon's abilities are much better suited for an aggressive deck. So the fact that a control deck runs the full playset and made Top 8 of the tournament is a testament to the power level of the planeswalker.
Instead of running aggressive creatures to support Gideon, this deck runs a variety of removal spells. It has Languish as a sweeper but also Ruinous Path and Despise to deal with larger threats, whether creature or planeswalker. Utter End is also interesting as it is arguably the most effective instant speed removal spell for a planeswalker in the format. Abzan Charm can also help answer large threats when needed.
Since this deck doesn't run Hangarback Walker or very many creatures at all, the emblem mode on Gideon will rarely be used. In most cases you will pump out tokens until you're able to turn the corner by attacking with a Siege Rhino, Gideon, and an army of Ally tokens. I suppose the scenario might come up where you need to make your Den Protectors into four-power to attack for eight points of unblockable damage, in which case you might make an emblem with Gideon. At least the threat of that play may be relevant at some point.
The sideboard has a lot of generically good trumps. For control matchups where discard is important, he has Duress and Transgress the Mind. For red he has Arashin Cleric. In matchups where he needs more removal he has Utter End and Hidden Dragonslayer. And in matchups that go long he has three Painful Truths and two Greenwarden of Murasa.
While Abzan Control was the only version of Abzan to crack the Top 8, two copies of Abzan Aggro made the Top 16, each of which were jam packed with our favorite planeswalker.
Deck #5: Abzan Aggro
Abzan Aggro can really take advantage of all three abilities of Gideon. Tom Ross chose to run the Hangarback Walker version of Abzan Aggro, which makes Gideon's emblem mode that much more powerful. With Bile Blight gone, it's hard to clean up a bunch of Thopter Tokens at instant speed. Making them 2/2 flyers only adds to the difficulty of this task. Siege Rhino and Gideon represent quite the top end of the curve since each can help on offense or on defense and they each also pose a threat in multiple directions (immediate life loss, trample, anthem emblem, stream of tokens, etc.).
Warden of the First Tree can apply a good amount of early pressure. It can also fight Jace on the second turn with Dromoka's Command. And when this happens, Jace will get a severe beating at the hands of Warden of the First Tree. The beating will be so bad that Child Protective Services will have to be called to protect the young blue prodigy from Papa Warden. There is a bit of a nombo between four Den Protector and three Murderous Cuts, but that's probably about as greedy as is allowable with trying to use the graveyard for multiple purposes. Getting back the lone Murderous Cut and then using it as a five-mana removal spell is not a bad use of Den Protector late in the game anyway, but be mindful that you can't also jam a pair of Tasigur, the Golden Fangs into this list without rethinking the graveyard as a finite resource.
Tom has a pair of blue dual lands main in order to splash blue sideboard cards. The main draw to blue is countermagic (two Dispel, two Disdainful Stroke) but also two copies of the new Control Magic ( Exert Influence). In addition to counters, he also has three Duress to be maximally disruptive. His package against red is varied but strong (one Sorin, Solemn Visitor, two Silkwrap, one Hidden Dragonslayer, three Duress, and two Arashin Cleric).
There was a bit different Abzan Aggro deck that also placed in the Top 16 this weekend that likewise ran Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
The biggest difference between this list and Tom Ross's is that Tom splash blue for sideboard cards. Instead Kyle runs more hand disruption (three Duress, two Despise) and additional removal (one Valorous Stance, two Utter End, two Reave Soul). He also has the breakout sideboard card from the G/W Aggro list ( Evolutionary Leap).
The thing I like most about Kyle's list is the fourth copy of Gideon. I also like Wingmate Roc as it is great in the mirror and against Jeskai's Mantis Riders. It also works exceptionally well with Gideon since you can either attack with Gideon (indestructible) or chump attack with the expendable token before simply replacing it. Hence triggering raid for Wingmate Roc is made trivially easy by Gideon. I am not convinced that Knight of the White Orchid over Warden of the First Tree is the correct call for this deck though. It's not easy by any stretch to get double white on the first two turns and the payoff simply isn't that great. And without the extra copies of Warden of the First Tree to go along with Dromoka's Command, that little brat Jace might never learn his lesson!
Craig WescoeFollow me on Twitter: @Nacatls4LifeFollow me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/craig.wescoe