Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Standard Primer

Posted in Perilous Research on October 15, 2015

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. Battle for Zendikar is finally live on Magic Online, and it's quickly jump-starting the Standard format with exciting new innovations. Now, with Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar just hours away, the best players in the world are grinding countless hours on Magic Online in hopes of finding the most powerful Standard strategy.

Pro Tours are the most exciting Magic tournaments. Some of the world's best players are given an opportunity to try their hand at entirely new formats that haven't been fully explored by the community at large. Every match we watch at the Pro Tour unlocks new and exciting information about the new Draft and Standard formats.

Standard recently changed quite a bit with the inclusion of Battle for Zendikar. What kinds of decks can we expect to see at the Pro Tour this weekend? The new cycle of "battle lands" allows players to get extremely creative with mana bases and encourages players to explore three-, four-, and even five-color Standard decks. Today, in preparation for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, we'll be examining the current state of Standard by analyzing the most successful decks from last weekend's live tournaments and Magic Online events.

Jacob Lively's Green-White Megamorph

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Green-White Megamorph put up a dominant performance last weekend at the Standard Open in Atlanta, Georgia. The deck took first and second, and made up half of the Top 8 if we include Tom Ross's list that splashed blue (mostly for Lumbering Falls). The deck offers up a great brick wall against the aggressive red decks that were dominating last weekend. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is at his absolute best here, often winning games out of nowhere with his minus ability and usually just creating an army of 2/2s while the opponent could never dream of attacking into a deathtouch dinosaur. This is going to be public enemy number one going into the Pro Tour. The deck will be played by a lot of people, and it's virtually guaranteed that it will be tested against the vast majority of Pro Tour competitors. The presence of four copies of Dromoka's Command in the format's most expected deck means that we're not likely to see a ton of enchantments at this weekend's Pro Tour. This deck applies pressure from a decent number of angles and uses Gideon, Ally of Zendikar beautifully.

Todd Anderson's Dark Jeskai

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Dark Jeskai was the other big winner at last weekend's live event in Atlanta. The deck applies a ton of early pressure and backs it up with the best removal available in Standard. Monastery Mentor is one of the best cards out of Khans of Tarkir block. We've already seen the card do a ton of heavy lifting in Vintage, Modern, and Legacy. Now that we're seeing more inexpensive spells like Treasure Cruise, Dispel, and Wild Slash getting picked up in Standard, it would make sense that Monastery Mentor would get even better. Mantis Rider does a very good job pressuring enemy planeswalkers and creates a super-fast clock that's often very difficult for decks to recover from. The deck also gets to play with the best two-drops in the format. It's pretty difficult to argue with Jeskai's positioning for this upcoming Pro Tour, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Gideon, Ally of Zendikar make an appearance in some lists.

Green-White Megamorph and Dark Jeskai may have dominated the live events last weekend, but there's been some interesting stuff going down on Magic Online, too. Let's take a look at the most successful decks from the early Standard daily events with Battle for Zendikar!

Kenxken's Abzan

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We all knew Abzan would be good post-rotation. Siege Rhino is a powerful enough card to carry the deck a bit. However, Abzan is one of the few decks whose mana has actually gotten quite a bit worse with Battle for Zendikar. Sure, it's easy to splash some blue for Disdainful Stroke and Exert Influence, but it's pretty difficult to muster double black for Ruinous Path. I expect a lot of the Abzan decks at the Pro Tour to play with Knight of the White Orchid. Again, we see Gideon, Ally of Zendikar make an appearance. I'm sure we'll see Abzan in numerous permutations this weekend, and this more aggressive build seems like a likely candidate for players looking to run over their opponents with Rhinos.

S4mmich's Red Atarka

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Red decks may have been matched up poorly in the live metagame this last weekend, but they're doing very well on Magic Online. The newest breed of red in Standard is resistant to life gain and a bit more vulnerable to instant-speed removal. The combination of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense usually just kills an opponent that doesn't have the requisite removal spell at the ready. This deck massively warped the landscape coming into last weekend, and things may come full circle this weekend. Red decks do nasty things at Pro Tours. The last two Standard Pro Tours were both won by red strategies. Will this mean that players will overcompensate to crush red decks this time around? Or are aggressively streamlined decks just that good in unexplored formats?

TravelingMage's Five-Color Midrange

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We've already seen a lot of five-color goodness after week one with Battle for Zendikar. Bring to Light was definitely the flavor of the week, but other versions of the five-color deck are starting to do well on Magic Online. Instead of getting cute with a toolbox, the best five-color decks from this week on Magic Online are simply playing the best cards in Standard. Siege Rhino, Mantis Rider, Crackling Doom, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Hangarback Walker, Den Protector, Charms, and Commands all make this likely the most powerful deck if we're looking at things punch for punch. The mana base here is ambitious, but from the looks of things right now in Standard, it seems like this is very attainable. We should probably remember this deck's presence in the Magic Online metagame. This one seems like a sleeper that could easily take the Pro Tour by storm.

JakefromStateFarm's Temur Dragons

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Sarkhan Unbroken is one of the most powerful cards in the current Standard canon. Unfortunately, the card's potential has never been realized because of difficult mana bases and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Now, with both of those obstacles removed, Sarkhan Unbroken can take his rightful place among Standard's tier 1 players. Here, it's especially good, as the Dragons it makes will combo nicely with Draconic Roar and Thunderbreak Regent. Previous iterations of Temur have attempted to win games quickly, but this version of the deck has no problem settling into a long game with planeswalkers, Hangarback Walker, and even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon at the top end. Whisperwood Elemental, Kiora, Master of the Depths, and Sarkhan Unbroken are all on my short list of cards that could have breakout weekends.

Manu S's Ingest

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The most exciting of the decks to do well on Magic Online in the early daily events is Blue-Black Ingest. The deck uses early aggression with Salvage Drone and Mist Intruder to turn on powerful cards such as Ulamog's Nullifier and Blight Herder, which seems like one of the better cards from the new set when we're actually making three Eldrazi. The deck is also specifically designed to take advantage of Ruination Guide with Hangarback Walker and a host of other colorless creatures. Ghostfire Blade is pretty absurd when we're playing it in a deck filled with colorless creatures. Brutal Expulsion does a lot of work against more expensive creatures like Dragons, and it does a good job of emptying the board against Green-White Megamorph, too. This list may not be perfect, but Blight Herder is powerful enough that it's at least worth thinking about in terms of the fact that everyone is delving. Perhaps it could be a one-of in a Bring to Light deck; it sure makes casting Ugin a breeze.

It's clear that Standard this weekend in Milwaukee will shed some light on some very exciting innovations. Don't miss your chance to be a part of the action. The live stream of the event can be found here. Buckle up and hold on tight! It's Pro Tour time!

Knowledge is power!

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