Standard Brews with Battle for Zendikar

Posted in Perilous Research on September 24, 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, DailyMTG's exclusive Magic Online column. Battle for Zendikar is fast approaching. In fact, Prerelease events are happening around the world this weekend! I'd like to have a discussion about the state of Standard after Battle for Zendikar becomes legal and all of Theros block has rotated out. We'll start by looking at an update to Abzan for the new Standard and move on to explore an exciting new archetype made possible by Battle for Zendikar.

When discussing the new Standard, a lot of the best deck builders and players in the world will be looking for the best new home for Siege Rhino. Abzan Strategies have experienced a lot of success over the last year, and it seems reasonable to believe that the deck's power level will still be tier-1 even after rotation.

A lot of players will be looking for analogs that support their current Abzan lists, but these players may run into one very large problem when it comes to proper deck construction: The lack of Temple of Malady drastically changes the deck's mana.

Hero's Downfall has always been a key card for Abzan decks. It may seem like Ruinous Path is an easy substitute. At first glance, we just lose instant-speed to gain the prospect of late-game awaken. Things aren't that simple, though; in fact, the new Abzan mana base, complete with cards like Canopy Vista, makes it very difficult for us to include enough black sources to reliably cast a card like Ruinous Path on our third turn. We can happily play many copies of Ruinous Path in Esper, Grixis, Mardu, or Sultai decks, but Abzan strategies—even those that play a ton of land—will have a lot of trouble playing the requisite eighteen black sources we'd need for consistent turn-three Ruinous Paths. Ruinous Path offers up a powerful enough effect that Abzan decks will still likely play some number of it, but it's not as easy a swap for Hero's Downfall as it may seem to be.

Thoughtseize is another card that Abzan will be forced to give up. Duress is too narrow to include in our main deck, and Abzan decks will now be looking for new things to do with early mana. While black sources have become scarcer, white sources of mana will be more abundant than ever with the inclusion of Canopy Vista and Shambling Vent, both of which produce white mana. Canopy Vista also happens to be a Plains, which means our mana is further improved by Windswept Heath. The most exciting part about Canopy Vista for Abzan is its interaction with Knight of the White Orchid. Knight of the White Orchid is a tremendously powerful card that becomes significantly more playable for two- and three-color decks thanks to the new lands in Battle for Zendikar. Knight of the White Orchid provides us with early card advantage, the ability to break serve (a tennis term for winning a game as the receiver, not the server) when we're on the draw, protection from early aggression, and a decent aggressive body.

Pouring over the Battle for Zendikar Card Image Gallery, we'll notice a lot of very powerful cards. Two of the absolute best cards are Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Ob Nixilis Reignited. Conveniently, both of these cards fit our Abzan shell quite nicely. We can play both of these tremendously powerful planeswalkers alongside Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor to dominate board positions with our planeswalking army.

Ob Nixilis Reignited | Art by Chris Rahn

Ob Nixilis has some serious mana requirements, but we only need sixteen sources of black mana to reliably cast him on turn five. Sixteen is much more attainable than the eighteen we'd need for a card like Ruinous Path on turn three.

In various Standard formats from the past, simply playing a lot of planeswalkers alongside the best non-planeswalker cards has been a recipe for tremendous success. It seems like Abzan strategies will be encouraged to go this route in the near future.

Conveniently, the best Abzan cards that we haven't talked about—Siege Rhino, Den Protector, Dromoka's Command, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Hangarback Walker—are all great in this strategy, even with all the changes we're proposing. Hangarback Walker gains a nice boost in power alongside Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and now has the ability to kill people out of nowhere when it pops and makes a bunch of Thopters. Think about it! We can minus our Gideon for an emblem, play another Gideon, minus that Gideon for another Emblem, and attack with an army of 3/3 Thopters.

Perhaps the biggest and most exciting improvement for Abzan decks is Shambling Vent. Shambling Vent single-handedly gives us a playable mana base while also providing us with a long-term threat, a powerful life gain engine, and a great way to take advantage of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's emblem.

Let's take a look at what I believe will be one of the absolute best strategies for Standard in the coming months: Abzan Super Friends!

JVL's Abzan Super Friends

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There's little doubt in my mind that Abzan decks like the one above will be a tier-1 strategy going into Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. There are a lot of cards in Battle for Zendikar that encourage us to build entirely new decks, too.

One card that immediately jumped out for me was Zulaport Cutthroat. Blood Artist has always been one of my favorite cards to play with, and Zulaport Cutthroat does a good enough Blood Artist impression to get my attention.

Over the last couple months, I've even explored the possibility of a Modern deck that uses Blood Artist and Evolutionary Leap to find more copies of Blood Artist, while using creatures that give me additional bodies when they die. With both Evolutionary Leap and Zulaport Cutthroat in Standard at the same time, it seems very possible for us to construct this strategy in Standard.

Here's what we're trying to do!

We want to be playing a lot of creatures that provide us with multiple bodies to sacrifice to our Evolutionary Leap. Eventually, we'll find ourselves with one or more Zulaport Cutthroats on the board and we can start chump-blocking our way to victory. Every time we have extra mana, we can simply sacrifice an inconsequential Eldrazi Scion or creature that makes Eldrazi Scion, drain our opponent for some life, and search our deck for more creatures that make more Scions or more actual copies of Zulaport Cutthroat. This process will create a surprisingly fast clock that's absurdly difficult to race because of the built-in life gain and the endless stream of chump blockers.

Let's put together a decklist!

JVL's Leaping Eldrazi

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Zulaport Cutthroat is an exciting card to build around, but the next deck I'd like to talk about seems like it has a ton of potential if we can make the mana work. There are a lot of powerful colorless creatures available in Battle for Zendikar, and it seems like we can take full advantage of their inexpensive costs and synergies by playing Collected Company!

The key here is that we want to be playing all the most synergistic Eldrazi cards and Collected Company to flood the board and overwhelm our opponent. We also get to play four copies of Ghostfire Blade here. Ghostfire Blade seems like one of the best sleeper cards from Khans of Tarkir to get a very big power boost with the release of Battle for Zendikar. The strategy seems very all-in, but it certainly has a very powerful game plan. Let's take a look at four-color Eldrazi Company.

JVL's Four-Color Eldrazi Company

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This deck will need a lot of work if we want to get the numbers looking perfect, but it's clear that there's something here if we're looking hard enough. The deck should be capable of explosive gear shifts where it catapults itself to victory, and Eldrazi Scions will do a good job of allowing us to tap all of our mana except a single green to continue applying hard pressure—while still being able to threaten Collected Company if we find ourselves playing against decks with sweepers.

It's clear that Battle for Zendikar will drastically change the landscape of the Standard metagame. In the coming weeks, more new and exciting decks will be found and the new Standard will start to take shape. This weekend, we'll all finally have the opportunity to actually play with the new cards at our local Prereleases. Don't miss your opportunity to be a part of Magic history! Space is limited and it's generally advised that you preregister with your local gaming store to secure a spot. I'll be making the rounds in Northern New Jersey at different Prerelease events this weekend, and I hope to see you there! What decks have you been working on with Battle for Zendikar?

Knowledge is power!

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