Battle for Zendikar in Standard

Posted in Event Coverage on October 16, 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

Standard recently underwent some big changes. With Theros block and Magic 2014 rotating out and Battle for Zendikar entering the mix, we can expect the Standard landscape to look entirely different. Battle for Zendikar is already shaking up Standard. I tracked down some of the game's best players in hopes of identifying which cards from Battle for Zendikar we can expect to make a big impact this weekend at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar!

Martin Müller

Martin Müller has been most impressed with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. "It's just a crazy powerful card," he said. "The ability to make 2/2s presents a constant stream of threats. As a 5/5, it's bigger than Siege Rhino. 5/5s are very good right now, but people won't play them because they just die to all the removal. For its cost, even just a 2/2 and a 5/5 would be very strong, but it's much better than that. The minus ability can just win the game when it's played at times and, for some decks, creates a long term game plan alongside token generation. The card is so good that sometimes it's hard to play with because every option is amazing. It's so strong that people have started building their decks to beat it. Mantis Rider is obviously good against Planeswalkers, but Gideon is still one of the best cards in Standard even with so many of those around."

(19) Alexander Hayne

(19) Alexander Hayne talked about Ob Nixilis Reignited. "You can play Ob Nixilis onto an empty board and start drawing cards, or you can play it when the opponent has a single threat, kill it, and still have the option of picking up additional value," he said. "It's similar to Shriekmaw in that it kills something and leaves us with additional value, but it's also strong against control decks because we can play it on an empty board and just start drawing cards."

Gerry Thompson

I sought out deck building extraordinaire Gerry Thompson to talk about Bring to Light. "Understand that Siege Rhino is a very good card that gets better in multiples," Thompson explained. "Bring to Light effectively allows us to play eight copies of Siege Rhino. Bring to Light also interacts well with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy; With these two cards we can essentially flashback creatures with Jace's minus ability. The current Standard format has a very diverse suite of threats. Cards like Siege Rhino, Wingmate Roc, Hangarback Walker, and Gideon all present very different problems. Bring to Light lets us play a toolbox that gives us the ability to answer any threat with reasonable efficiency. Bring to Light also lets us play a dedicated control strategy that puts a lot of pressure on the opponent. Once the new Standard metagame has settled, we can probably build a version of the Bring to Light deck that punishes the top three decks in the format."

(22) Josh Utter-Leyton talked with me about Catacomb Sifter. "The card offers a really good rate of power and toughness for its casting cost," he explained. "As a 3-mana creature, it's good even when our opponent has a removal spell for it. It's obviously strong in decks with sacrifice themes because of the token. Catacomb Sifter's scry ability works especially well in combo strategies that use Rally the Ancestors because it helps the deck put its combo together. The card is powerful enough that it could easily be an inclusion in any deck that can cast it."

(12) Steve Rubin

(12) Steve Rubin was happy to explain why Dragonmaster Outcast has been seeing so much play. "Most of the removal that's being played right now in Standard is pretty expensive," he said. "Dragonmaster Outcast is effectively a six-drop that only costs one mana. The card has the ability to win the game by itself and you usually end up ahead on mana even when the opponent has the requisite removal spell. The most important thing that Dragonmaster Outcast has going for it is the presence of Ojutai's Command in Standard. With Dragonmaster Outcast, Ojutai's Command gets a lot better, often functioning as a win condition in the late game when a Dragonmaster Outcast had been previously dealt with or discarded to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy earlier in the game."

(6) Samuel Black

Mad Genius (6) Samuel Black was happy to discuss Retreat to Emeria. "Here's the thing," he explained. "When we have lots of tokens, Retreat to Emeria is an Overrun. When we don't have tokens, Retreat to Emeria makes a lot of tokens. Historically, Overrun effects have been great answers to formats involving large and complicated boards. The traditional problem of Overrun effects has been that they're bad when we don't have enough creatures, Retreat to Emeria essentially functions as a split card that either gives us the creatures to Overrun or is itself the Overrun."

Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas

Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas was happy to discuss Dispel's effect on the new Standard. "Dispel is the type of card whose presence in a metagame changes how people want to build their decks," he explained. "The card is very strong as a sideboard option and rewards people for playing well. Most importantly, when your opponent says 'Dispel' in testing it gives us the opportunity to ask them, 'which spell?'"

Chris Fennell was happy to explain why landfall creatures like Snapping Gnarlid, Makindi Sliderunner, and Scythe Leopard are so good in Standard. "In conjunction with fetch lands, the landfall creatures are bigger than anything else for their cost," he said. "By playing fetch lands in combination with the landfall creatures, we're able to get in for extra damage, fix our mana, and thin our deck, all the things we want to be doing in an aggressive strategy!"

I had the opportunity to watch Yuta Takahashi cast Painful Truths for three cards in a feature match against Antonio Del Moral León. Three cards for 3 mana is a deal that's very hard to come by, especially in a format like Standard. The card is tremendously powerful, especially against decks that aren't trying to pressure our life total.

Mike Sigrist

(4) Mike Sigrist spoke to me about the importance of Radiant Flames. "It's the only three mana sweeper in the current format, and that's a pretty important distinction in a format with aggressive red decks that are capable of killing people on the fourth and sometimes even third turn," he explained. "Radiant Flames also has the ability to scale, meaning that we can cast it for one or two when we want to and don't have to worry as much about playing it alongside creatures of our own."

Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin

I found Patrick Chapin, the innovator, and asked him how we can expect the lands from Battle for Zendikar (Prairie Stream, Sunken Hollow, Smoldering Marsh, Cinder Glade, and Canopy Vista, Shambling Vent, and Lumbering Falls) to change Standard. "It's big," he explained.

"In fact, mana is better and more reliable than it has been in Standard since the existence of vivid lands and Reflecting Pool. Now, decks can play three colors and rarely have a land come into play tapped, four colors with ease, and five without too much trouble. Everyone has the opportunity to play whatever cards they want at a very small price."

"For example, Abzan decks now have access to Negate and Dispel in their sideboard and it's essentially free because they'd want to be playing Sunken Hollow regardless because the fetch land/battle land mana base is better than attempting to play with tri-lands like Sandsteppe Citadel. The battle lands incentivize players wanting to play with three colors to stay in shards [like Jund] instead of in clans. However, the cards from Khans of Tarkir are powerful enough that players are usually dipping into a fourth color because of how small the price is."

"This is a very powerful Standard format because of the mana, and it becomes even more powerful when we consider that delve cards, which were already very powerful, become even stronger because everyone is encouraged to play so many fetch lands. Despite being a multicolor format, Standard is very aggressive right now. We can easily find the untapped mana to cast our 1 and 2 mana spells without having to worry about assembling our three color mana bases. The best strategies lands will likely consist of fetch lands, basics, battle lands, and lands with spell-like effects. The creature lands also change things quite a bit by pressuring Planeswalkers, changing the value of sorcery speed removal, and allowing us to simply play more lands. Additionally, Lumbering Falls encourages control players to find instant-speed answers to a creature with hexproof. We can expect players to start playing more lands in their decks simply because of how good the lands are."

Battle for Zendikar is drastically changing the Standard landscape and the deck building options available are seemingly endless. What other cards from Battle for Zendikar do you think could have a big impact on Standard?

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