Twenty Zendikar Decks

Posted in Reconstructed on September 29, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

You've read the story. You've seen the cards. You've played at the Prerelease.

Now it's time for the next step: Build some decks!

But perhaps you're not sure where to start, which Zendikar-fueled weapons to unleash. Well, that's where this article comes in!

Over the past week and a half, readers have sent in all sorts of decklists. Big and small, aggressive and defensive . . . you name it! Now it's time showcase a whopping 20 of them and see what exciting new decks have been brought to the table—plus offer some deck building advice along the way.

Ready to journey through Zendikar? Here we go!

Beatdown

Let's start with the fast and the brutal: beatdown decks!

Last week we looked at a quick black-red beatdown strategy. But what other new takes on aggression might we see now that Theros block is out of the picture and Battle for Zendikar is firmly in?

Well, here's one:

Aidan McManus's Red-Green Landfall

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Landfall was a backbone of many beatdown decks in original Zendikar—and it's back and ready to smash face this time around as well!

Scythe Leopard, Snapping Gnarlid, Makindi Sliderunner, and Undergrowth Champion all make up the core of a red-green landfall deck this go around. The key that I would really focus on is having a low curve and landfall creatures—it's easy to be tempted into cards such as Explosive Vegetation and Nissa's Renewal, but those cards are only good when you already have a board presence.

Instead, I'd double down on being aggressive and add Zurgo Bellstriker, twelve fetch lands, and—because it's one of this deck's biggest MVPs—more Atarka's Commands. This deck can come out to some truly blisteringly fast starts in a way Standard decks normally don't, and Atarka's Command fuels a lot of that.

Imagine this start:

Turn 1: Scythe Leopard

Turn 2: Makindi Sliderunner

Turn 3: Fetch land, cast Atarka's Command dealing 3 and playing a fetch land, use both fetch lands. That's 14 damage on turn three!

Yeah, that's powerful.

So that's what the forces of Zendikar have in store—but what about the Eldrazi? Last time around I looked at a black-red deck, and ReConstructed-stalwart Qoarl expands on that further by taking it into Grixis!

Qoarl's Colorless Grixis

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Dipping into blue allows Qoarl to pick up both Herald of Kozilek and Ruination Guide on the creature end, as well as Brutal Expulsion on the spell side. All are incredibly powerful cards!

Normally, dipping into a third color for a beatdown deck is something to shy away from—but with the "super mana" of fetch lands and the Zendikar dual lands, it's fairly painless! (Okay, well, 1 life's worth of pain.)

Ghostfire Blade is a key part of aggressive colorless decks, and it's used to good effect here. There's a wide range of Ghostfire Blade decks to play—and this is just the beginning.

Then, of course, there's just the plain wild:

Hiroya Kobayashi's Zada Combo

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This looks like a pretty typical "go-wide" red-white deck—it makes a lot of tokens, has some combat tricks, and attempts to slam the opponent's life total to 0.

Except for one twist: Zada, Hedron Grinder.

Your legion of 1/1 tokens suddenly becomes a tremendous death army with Zada out. On the heels of a Hordeling Outburst, a single Titan's Strength can translate into near-lethal damage!

In this version, I'd probably even play Dragon Fodder as well to help build up the board with tokens. You just want to flood the board to pack-attack your opponent—and ensure a single Zada is deadly.

So those are three different looks at aggressive decks—but what if you're not as into being the beatdown? Never fear; let's move onward!

Ramp

We're back on Zendikar, home of a litany of nonbasic lands, mana acceleration, and the titanic Eldrazi—so of course there are going to be ramp strategies!

There are definitely a few different tactics you can take. Perhaps most straightforward is a deck that looks something like this:

Shinichi Honma's Unforgiven Betrayal

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This decklist is very much a streamlined ramp strategy. Its plan is simple: Curve a two-drop accelerator (Rattleclaw or Whisperer) into a four-drop accelerator (Archive or Vegetation) and start unloading threats such as Dragonlord Atarka as early as turn four!

Hedron Archive ends up being a key card for this deck, both ramping it forward and allowing you to turn it into two fresh cards if you end up flooded. Nissa's Revelation, while not a creature, really shines here with both Desolation Twin and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as overwhelming cards to hit, and Dragonlord Atarka an entirely reasonable backup.

This deck is the new goldfish metric for whatever deck you build. Can you stand up to something like this? If not, you may want to make sure you have tools to fight it.

Of course, that's just one take on ramping into Eldrazi. It's very streamlined and focused, but lacks options. You could also end up somewhere more like this:

Richard Wyatt's Temur Titans

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This version of a ramp deck still features plenty on the top end and Ulamog to curve into, but it uses a Conduit of Ruin package to help get there. By expanding into blue, it also picks up Herald of Kozilek, which is an excellent way to buy time and also makes your Eldrazi easier to cast. Four copies of Titan's Presence serve as a catch-all removal spell.

If I was looking to add to this deck, I would probably look into some copies of the new Kiora, Master of the Depths. She can both massively accelerate you and help dig you into additional creatures.

But maybe ramp isn't quite your thing and you just want to play something more in the middle. Well, brace yourself: Midrange is up next!

Midrange

Sitting somewhere between aggressive and controlling lies midrange, full of four- and five-mana creatures that are tremendous threats, and synergies that threaten to take over the game.

Like, for example, something like this:

Annis Nevers's Valar Morghulis

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Save for a bit of light mana ramp (which it probably should have in the form of Whisperer of the Wilds or Rattleclaw Mystic anyway) this is an extraordinarily traditional midrange deck with some new twists from Battle for Zendikar. You have some powerful individual cards in things such as Whisperwood Elemental and Hangarback Walker. You have synergy in Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder alongside Liliana, Heretical Healer and Blisterpod. You even have Smothering Abomination and Evolutionary Leap as a continual engine to draw you more cards!

I would probably play some mana ramp (as previously noted) and something like Catacomb Sifter potentially as well. If you end up with enough of a critical mass of cheap creatures in the deck, Collected Company becomes an option, in which case this deck really could pick up board presence quickly.

The other end of the green spectrum is a little more control-oriented—but still plenty midrange—in something like Andrew Weisel's take on Sultai:

Andrew Weisel's Kiora, Master of the Graves

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Kiora is a huge pick-up for Sultai strategies! Not only does she provide you with cards, not only does she accelerate you, but she can also dump cards into the graveyard to fuel delve! Flip past Deathmist Raptors, cast cheap Tasigurs, and set yourself up to win the long game with this kind of midrange deck.

Another good reason to play midrange is to stay one step ahead of the beatdown decks by using enough life gain and larger threats. Something like this, perhaps:

Frogue's Life Is Life

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Full of life gain, this deck is going to fend off a lot of the quick beatdown rushes and preserve its life total to stay out of burn range at the same time.

What makes this version particularly potent is its long game: Mastery of the Unseen ensures you can have gas going long, and Felidar Sovereign should be able to eventually seal the deal even if the board reaches a tremendous stall!

Like that version of the deck but want something that uses the life gain themes for a little more than just upping your life total? Well, here's another similar, yet different, take on it:

Itou Kazunari's Drain Train of Drana

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This version of the deck features a lower curve, and some cheaper life gain-matters with cards such as Serene Steward, which wants you to gain life in small bursts.

One card that could be fantastic in this version of the deck is Kalastria Healer. With March from the Tomb, the Healer can really go off too!

What would that kind of deck be? What if you smooshed the previous two decks together to form something entirely new and a little bit more Ally-focused? Well, you'd end up with something like this:

Tibalt Adson's Allies

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Allies return in Battle for Zendikar—and this deck takes advantage of their synergies by creating a beatdown package fueled with some of the life gain themes in black and white as well.

Kalastria Healer, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Drana's Emissary create lots of 1 life chunks for your Serene Steward to marvel at, and Drana herself grows your team even larger.

And then, of course, you have the endgame: March from the Tomb with Kalastria Healer. If you return two Healers plus any other Ally, you're draining your opponent for 6 on the spot—and it's not that hard to even work another Ally in there as well. It really gives you long-game inevitability.

That kind of combo aspect can be really fun. So what if you wanted to go in on that further? Well, why bother with March from the Tomb when Rally the Ancestors is ready to get everything back!

Youhei Miyasaka's Rally the Ally

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Now here's a combo-riffic version of Allies! Rally back your graveyard full of Allies, trigger a Chasm Guide to give them all haste, and swing for the fences! Oh—and did I mention the Kalastria Healer triggers on the front end, and then the Zulaport Cutthroat triggers on the back end when you sacrifice your board to Nantuko Husk? Bam!

The great thing about this kind of strategy is that you can just play like a beatdown deck until it's time to go off. Attack, trade your creatures, just survive—and then finish off your opponent in one fell swoop.

So, you like combo-y midrange decks? Well, one final deck I want to take a gander at put a huge smile on my face. It's pretty goofy, but actually has some legs if you get it rolling.

It's time to retreat!

Dav's Retreat to Victory!

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Featuring three of the Retreats in conjunction with the enchantment-matters cards from Origins such as Sigil of the Empty Throne, Herald of the Pantheon, and Starfield of Nyx, when this deck gets rolling it is tremendously hard to fight back against.

Every draw, land or spell, provides the deck with an advantage. Eventually, you just finish them off with Angel tokens or swinging with all of your enchantments for lethal! This is a deck I definitely can't wait to try out in something like Friday Night Magic—it looks like a blast!

Okay—so enough midrange. Who's up for some control?

Control

If you want to control the game, dispatching threat after threat while slowly inching up to victory yourself, Battle for Zendikar certainly features some tools for you.

One of the marquee mechanics of the set is awaken, which features on spells and can turn your lands into creatures in the late game. This fits control perfectly: Early game you just have some efficient spells, and later on you can turn those spells into win conditions. For example, check this out:

Maigan Periot's Bant Awakening

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Not only do you have cards such as Planar Outburst to control the game and preserve your board, but you have some ways to turn the pace of the game around quickly. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper is a big one here—it's pretty easy to cast a flurry of spells and suddenly be attacking for 9 damage out of nowhere.

Also, note all the cards that refer to nonland. Planar Outburst is an obvious one, but how about Displacement Wave? That will often bounce your opponent's entire board—while keeping your creatures intact!

Okay, but how about something more traditionally "control"? Well, we've taken a look at a few blue and red decks already today, but nothing squarely in the sphere of control. Those are two good colors for it in this set—check out this build:

Magnetcrocodile's The Witch's Familiar

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Brutal Expulsion is an incredible card for both control and tempo decks, and I expect to be seeing plenty more of it in the months to come as a reason to play both blue and red. Here, it's certainly serving the control role well. (And I'd certainly play the full four.) Along with a host of other pieces of countermagic and removal, this deck wants to land a large Eldrazi.

A nice card for this strategy is Herald of Kozilek. Not only does it block well as a 2/4, but it makes many of your control pieces and finishers cost one less. Horribly Awry becomes just a single blue mana, and Titan's Presence just two colorless—all while Oblivion Sower and Blight Herder become threats you can land and still keep up mana for countermagic.

With Battle for Zendikar, there are newer takes on familiar favorites as well. For example, here's a three-color look on an updated Sphinx's Tutelage deck:

Brandon Edmonds' Grixis Tutelage-Tempo

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Ugin's Insight is a nice add for this deck, finding you exactly what you need to set up your Tutelage victory—or to save yourself from dying—and picking up three cards to trigger your Tutelage to boot. Once again, we see Brutal Expulsion here, and the exile is relevant thanks to the two-for-one Wasteland Strangler.

There's one more category of deck I'd like to take a look at with Battle for Zendikar—and it's a big one. This one has many different archetypes, but I wanted to take a look at them all in one section. It's time to take a look at something you're going to be seeing a lot of for the next while.

Super Mana

One of the craziest things Battle for Zendikar brings to the table is the new dual land cycle of Sunken Hollow and friends. Thanks to the basic land types on those dual lands, Standard finally features a fetch land and fetchable dual land mana base—and it's time for everything crazy to break loose.

Playing four or even five colors has become easier than ever. If you build your deck properly, any fetch land can find two of three colors of mana! Casting all the best cards is a legitimate strategy going forward. So let's look at several of the above archetypes through the lens of super mana.

First up: aggression!

Tyler Hill's Bring Company

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Tyler feels when it comes to the best multicolored cards, why choose? Your three-drops here could be any of Mantis Rider, Savage Knuckleblade, or Anafenza, the Foremost! And don't worry—you'll follow that overstatted creature up with a Siege Rhino and really put the hurt on.

Collected Company is especially brutal here. With so many powerful three-drops, you can easily add 8 power to the board!

And of course, this deck also features Bring to Light! It can find you a Rhino to put right into play—or just be an extra Collected Company when you need it. Regardless of the case, this deck has a ton of flexibility.

If you're interested in a more graveyard bent, here's a version of Sultai with new super mana power:

Sidney Rose's Sultai Super Mana

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