Standard in the Wake of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar

Posted in Perilous Research on October 22, 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

Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar is in the books, and the new Standard format is finally starting to take a recognizable shape. Coming into the Pro Tour, it seemed that Green-White Megamorph, Dark Jeskai, and Red Atarka strategies had a leg up on the rest of the field. Once the dust settled, though, the format proved itself to be a wide-open space with a lot of room for innovation.

Today, we'll be taking a look at the best finishers' decklists with every archetype that went 8-2 or better at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. The new Standard format is still very far from "solved," but we should have a much better understanding of what's capable of winning once we delve into the best-performing decks from last weekend. In the coming weeks, we'll surely see these decklists start popping up on Magic Online, and the best of the bunch will be quickly adopted as the format's new tier 1.

Let's see some decklists!

Autumn Burchett's Green-White Megamorph

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Autumn Burchett's Green-White Megamorph put up the best Standard performance at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar with a 9-1 record. This means that Burchett is currently in the lead for the Constructed Master slot for the World Championship, and her eleventh-place finish in the event ensures that she'll be able to return to the next Pro Tour to continue destroying people in the Constructed rounds. Burchett's version of Green-White Megamorph breaks the mold of what we've come to expect from the archetype. Knight of the White Orchid provides a huge tempo advantage, essentially allowing Burchett to steal the play from opponents while generating card advantage. Archangel of Tithes is the biggest innovation here, matching up extraordinarily well against aggressive red strategies and trumping Mantis Rider in a way that no other card can. Archangel of Tithes becomes even better when we take into account the new prevalence of token-based strategies in Standard. I've already had a lot of success with this list on Magic Online, and I'm confident that Burchett and those she worked with have found what will likely be a tier 1 entity in the new Standard for the foreseeable future.

Jon Finkel's Dark Jeskai

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Dark Jeskai strategies continued to put up great numbers at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Jon Finkel did well enough with the deck to achieve his fifteenth Pro Tour Top 8, meaning that he's five lifetime Pro Tour Top 8s ahead of Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rose and Kai Budde—a staggering achievement. Finkel's team had an interesting take on the deck with the inclusion of three copies of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, a card that matches up very well against the current Standard metagame. Tasigur comes down for just a few mana and immediately pressures Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, fights with Siege Rhino, is a brick wall against red decks, and generates long-term card advantage when grinding one's way to victory. The deck is capable of outcarding most opponents, and against the most aggressive strategies, it uses the combination of Arashin Cleric and Ojutai's Command to gain huge amounts of life and get out of range from even the most absurd Become Immense/Temur Battle Rage shenanigans.

Martin Müller's Jeskai Tokens

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Jeskai Tokens wasn't thought to be a huge part of the Standard metagame coming into Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, but a portion of Team EUreka played the deck to very strong results. Most of the removal being played right now is targeted, and the ability to go wide with tokens that can get larger via Jeskai Charm, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or Jeskai Ascendancy produces a problem that most strategies will struggle to deal with, especially if they're removing Radiant Flames from their sideboard for other cards. The deck has a rough time combating Siege Rhino, whose swinging/trampling body is difficult to answer for this mix of cards. Still, Abzan decks could become less popular in the coming months, and the moment when Abzan leaves the metagame will be a perfect time to bring this weapon to war.

Shouta Yasooka's Esper Dragons

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Esper Dragons had mixed results at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, but consummate master Shota Yasooka still managed to put in a dominant 8-1-1 performance. Esper Dragons aims to slow down the game with removal and countermagic before taking over with one of its Dragonlords, which it can then protect with countermagic while it wins the game. The deck can struggle with red matchups due to its sorcery-speed removal and slower start, but the strength of versatile removal, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Dragonlord Ojutai is often enough to win even the hardest matchups. The deck matches up well against midrange strategies, and Dragonlord Silumgar finds itself in a place where a lot of the removal in Standard doesn't hit it. This deck will be around for the foreseeable future, but it's one of the few decks that can still suffer mana issues, and it often finds itself forced to mulligan aggressively.

Fabrizio Anteri's Esper Planeswalkers

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Esper Planeswalkers was the other deck that team EUreka brought to Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Fabrizio Anteri, "The best player in England" (—Neil Rigby, 2015), put up an impressive record with the strategy. The deck eschews countermagic in favor of spot removal and discard. One might be concerned with the lack of countermagic, but this deck wants to be tapping out for planeswalkers. The deck also takes advantage of Battle for Zendikar's best card-drawing tool, Painful Truths. Painful Truths allows the Esper Planeswalkers deck to draw three cards for just three mana, a rate that exceeds our wildest expectations in terms of new-era card-draw spells. Languish performs exceptionally well here, too, leaving all the planeswalkers on the table while nicely cleaning up the board.

Corey Baumeister's Landfall

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Aggressive red decks made up a huge portion of the metagame at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. The most successful version of the deck was built by Gerry Thompson and played by many members of his team at the event. Corey Baumeister, Brad Nelson's younger brother, went undefeated with the deck on Day One and ended up 8-2 in the Standard rounds once the dust settled. Thompson's version of the deck plays a full four copies each of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage in an attempt to aggressively put the combo together, especially in Game 1 where most players don't have the requisite inexpensive and/or instant-speed spot removal to contend with it. The landfall theme requires the deck to play more land than most other red strategies, but the deck takes advantage of that by playing Den Protector and using it and Abbot of Keral keep to keep the gas flowing when it would otherwise be experiencing flood. Yasova Dragonclaw makes an appearance in the sideboard as one of the most potent weapons against Deathmist Raptor we've seen for a red strategy.

Samuel Black's Bant Tokens

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The most innovative and perhaps the most successful large-scale sample size deck from Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar was Sam Black's green-white token strategy that splashes blue for Dispel, mostly to help the deck combat Dromoka's Command, the strategy's worst enemy. I talked a bit with Sam Black about the deck and the thought process behind it. Historically, in formats that feature a lot of creatures and often cluttered boards, the best trump cards have been Overrun-like effects. The major problem with Overrun cards is that they end up stranded dead in our hand when we're drawing a lot of lands or don't have a creature-heavy draw. Retreat to Emeria, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, pumps our team as an Overrun effect when that's the best line of attack or creates an army of tokens by itself. The deck is very good at putting up shields against aggressive strategies, and the long game is absurdly difficult to contend with. Black wanted to play the deck in a control shell because the best place for Retreat to Emeria would obviously be in a deck that was good at hitting land drops. Black was unimpressed with a reactive version of the deck, though, and he instead decided to hit his land drops with Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Elvish Visionary. The deck put up a staggering 75% win rate against the field at large in the hands of four different players. Sam Black's creation led him, Ben Stark, and Justin Cohen to 8-2 Constructed records.

Paul Dean's Abzan

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As it turns out, Siege Rhino is a very good card—and Paul Dean's version of Abzan seems to be the best-tuned version of the deck immediately following Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. A number of players practiced in Lucas Siow's basement and came up with this version of Abzan, which does a very good job impersonating the Abzan Aggro decks that performed so well in Standard right before rotation. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is very strong here, often providing a nail in the coffin against control and aggro alike when played behind Anafenza, the Foremost, Hangarback Walker, and Siege Rhino. In post-sideboarded games against other creature-based strategies, the deck gets to largely take over games with Tragic Arrogance.

Hojae Han's Five-Color Abzan

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Hojae Han brought another version of Abzan that's splashing blue and red for a few copies of Bring to Light in an effort to bring his Siege Rhino count to six and his Wingmate Roc count to five. Rattleclaw Mystic enables a turn-three Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, an impressive feat that most Standard strategies aren't even trying to attain. Han only needs to use a single slot of his sideboard on Tragic Arrogance because the two Bring to Lights in the main give him extra space. This is a beautifully designed version of the Abzan deck, and it shouldn't be surprising if it becomes the new norm for players looking to cast Siege Rhino.

Hao-Shan Huang's Rakdos Dragons

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Hao-Shan Huang's Rakdos deck deals a lot of incidental damage to opponents with things such as Thunderbreak Regent and Draconic Roar before often closing the game with a huge surprise attack that involves Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury. I haven't even had the chance to see this deck in action yet, but the general strategy seems very well set up against Dark Jeskai, Abzan variants, and red decks, thanks to its high removal count and nice sideboard options.

Keita Kawasaki's Mardu Planeswalkers

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Pia and Kiran Nalaar seemed to put up some very good numbers last weekend, and that should give us an indication that it's a valuable tool for the new Standard. Keita Kawasaki's Mardu strategy plays a lot of planeswalkers and strong, versatile removal to dominate board states. Like Huang's deck, Kawasaki's gets to take advantage of the combination of Pia and Kiran Nalaar alongside Hangarback Walker. Mardu Charm, a card that seems to be largely forgotten, gets to be a major player here, killing the majority of the format's threats, completely destroying token-based strategies, and providing a unique form of disruption against control opponents.

Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar has forever changed the Standard format. The decks we explored today put up the most impressive numbers in the field. Magic Online is the perfect place to take one of these decks for a spin before bringing it to a large Standard event. Which of these decks are you most excited about?

Knowledge is power!

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