Our first few weeks of Battle for Zendikar are officially in the bag. How did everyone’s Pre-Releases go? I had a blast judging, and the turnout was insane, with my LGS Atomic Empire being forced to cap events so there was enough product for the whole weekend. It wasn’t all judge calls for me though. Sadly I didn’t hit the expedition lottery, but I made some successful runs with Red/White and Green/Blue, both decks splashed Black.
While it was nice to jump into some nearly regular sealed, the question on almost everyone’s mind is what cards are going to make an impact in Standard. Proxy testing and Pre-Releases might give you a little preview, but we finally got our first “in-the-wild” look at the format with the Star City Games Open in Indianapolis.
There’s a prevailing wisdom among Magic players that Red Deck, or otherwise fast aggro decks, do well in the first few weeks of the format. Instead of being reactive, you’re putting a clock on the game and can swiftly punish untuned brand new decks. Indianapolis didn’t buck from this trend, with a updated Atarka Red (similar to what won the last two Pro-Tours) [mtg_card=Become Immense]ing and [mtg_card=Temur Battle Rage]ing to victory. Ultimately this deck features only 3 cards from Battle for Zendikar, 2 of which were lands, but there were plenty of other cards across the top eight. Here are the cards to think about going forward. Here are the Battle for Zendikar inclustions by the numbers from the top sixteen decks.
Battle for Zendikar Dual Lands/Battle Lands/ Tango Lands [mtg_card=Cinder Glade] 5, [mtg_card=Prairie Stream] 16, [mtg_card=Canopy Vista] 18, [mtg_card=Sunken Hollow] 15, [mtg_card=Smoldering Marsh] 11
I decided to group these all together as a single entry rather than have them dominate the whole list. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that with the Theros block Scry Lands rotating out that players would need to turn elsewhere. Given the ease and consistency of splashing colors when combined with the Khan’s Fetchlands, you have to go all the way down to 38th place to even find the first mono-colored deck list. Along with actual dedicated five-color decks, many players were opting to splash a fourth color for key cards or to occasionally power-up a converge card. The other prevailing method was to have a smooth two color deck that could easily fetch up the second untapped color.
[mtg_card=Gideon, Ally of Zendikar] 26
I, like a lot of other players, had [mtg_card=Gideon, Ally of Zendikar] pegged as the best card in the set, and he did not disappoint in his first showing. Disregarding lands, [mtg_card=Gideon, Ally of Zendikar] was hands down the most played Battle for Zendikar card. A big factor of this is that [mtg_card=Gideon, Ally of Zendikar]’s abilities mitigate the downside of drawing multiple, letting decks more safely run three or the full four copies. Too many Gideons? Start making [mtg_card=Glorious Anthemn]s. Only a few lists had less than three copies, and that’s considering that at least some of them might not have been able to acquire a full playset a week after release. Whether it’s spitting out knights, emblems, or just getting in aggressively as a 5/5, expect to see a lot more [mtg_card=Gideon, Ally of Zendikar] going forward.
[mtg_card=Radiant Flames] 18
This number was driven almost exclusively in sideboards, though a few decks were opting to maindeck some copies. The rotation of card like [mtg_card=Anger of the Gods] and [mtg_card=Drown in Sorrow] left a hole in the card pool for a small sweeper, frequently used to combat little aggro decks. While it doesn’t let you exile problematic creature or set up your next draw step with a scry, one advantage that [mtg_card=Radiant Flames] offers is that you’re in control of the amount of damage. You can burn away all their smaller toughness creatures and still leave yours around. This will continue to see play from deck that can reliably create Red mana and another two colors, especially out of Jeskai that can gain a ton of life off a [mtg_card=Soulfire Grandmaster] on the field.
[mtg_card=Shambling Vent] 13
Manlands are kind of the hidden roleplayers of a format; quietly smoothing out your deck by letting you run these half land half spell cards. Maybe they’re not some splashy planeswalker or the latest counter spell, but manland will always be there for you. There’s been calls for quite some time to complete the Worldwake cycle with the enemy color pairings, and this block is finally delivering with two releasing this set and the rest the second. [mtg_card=Shambling Vent] and [mtg_card=Lumbering Falls] haven’t been as hugely impressive as some of the original cycle, but it’s something to put into context that the cost is still only a land coming into play tapped. Between the two [mtg_card=Shambling Vent] saw far more play, naturally slotting into existing Abzan deck archtypes, especially the more controlling ones.
[mtg_card=Bring to Light] 11
Of all the cards in Battle for Zendikar, [mtg_card=Bring to Light] has gotten the most deck brewing attention. What you lose in some inefficiency and needing to craft a five-color manabase you get to make up by playing with a toolbox of cards along with running the pseudo fifth through eighth copy of your best spells. What’s better than one [mtg_card=Siege Rhino]? Flashingback another [mtg_card=Siege Rhino] with [mtg_card=Jace, Telepath Unbound]! Better yet is getting to run a bunch of situationally powerful cards and still have essentially five of them in your deck. The tournament showed us two different takes on utilizing the card; one was more aggressive version playing basically all the good three color cards and there was a more controlling deck with sweepers in the main, which placed better.
[mtg_card=Ruinous Path] 7
Despite being a virtual copy of the popular rotating [mtg_card=Hero’s Downfall], [mtg_card=Ruinous Path] didn’t show up in much force. There are a few things at work here. While Awaken is certainly a nice upside, it just doesn’t hold up to the demotion from instant to sorcery speed. The other problem is that while the color fixing allows for pretty easy splashes, getting into double colors can be a bit trickier and there’s not a lot of other incentive to push your deck so heavily into Black man. All that said, having a spell that can say answer both sides of [mtg_card=Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy], which is quickly becoming the premiere card of the new format, and can get some extra two-for-one value in the late game by animating a land was worth it for at least a few decks showing up to Indianapolis.
Anyone’s that played Modern will know the power of this incredibly cheap counter spell. Granted it’s pretty narrow, but [mtg_card=Dispel] is an extremely efficient way to win counter spell fights or invalidate expensive spells like [mtg_card=Utter End]. This makes it a valuable card to have in the 75 for both controlling decks and pro-active decks that want to protect their win-conditions.
[mtg_card=Makindi Sliderunner] 5
None of the dedicated Red/Green Landfall decks ended up in the top sixteen, but a few decks still saw the power of this little trampler. Most of the aggressive decks were already building around ~12 fetchland which lets [mtg_card=Makindi Sliderunner] often attack as a three or four power creature, if not more. You can even make use that weird fourth mode on [mtg_card=Atarka’s Command] to instant speed play and crack a fetch to double grow your landfall creatures, though often it’s probably better to just three your opponent and +1/+1 your whole team.
All the remaining cards that cracked the top sixteen showed up in quantities fewer than four, which could just be a playset in a single deck, but here are a few remaining cards to think about.