Is Gruul Adventures Still The Deck To Beat In Zendikar Rising Standard?

Gruul Adventures has had smashing success lately, but is it still the deck to play in Zendikar Rising Standard? Five SCG creators say what they’d play.

Embercleave, illustrated by Joe Slucher

Welcome to What We’d Play! With Zendikar Rising Standard shifting so quickly, many are unsure what they’d play in the format. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Zendikar Rising Standard event!

Ari Lax — Mono-Red Aggro

I recommended Mono-Red Aggro in last week’s Fact or Fiction and I still haven’t seen anything that makes me change my mind. Dunking on people with Embercleave has been the only thing I have felt is reliable good across all matchups in this format. I don’t think Gruul Adventures is a bad choice for all the same reasons; I just prefer my non-Embercleave hands to be more aggressive and less trying to play one-for-one threats at a midrange clip into bigger decks.

The main things to resolve are the last four sideboard slots for Embercleave mirrors. Claim the Firstborn and Redcap Melee are probably the best options for the true mirrors, and The Akroan War and Brash Taunter are trying to steal games from the green-inclusive variants. Honestly, the fastest way to find the answer is watch some of Cedric’s stream VODs or maybe even Tweet at him a bit. If he lets that last bit through editing, that’s just him asking you to ask him!

Dom Harvey — Esper Doom Foretold (Yorion)

After the resounding failure of Azorius Blink in the first stage of MPL/Rivals play, Yorion decks are off the radar in a format seeing a dramatic shift towards Gruul Aggro and still defined by Dimir Rogues. As a result, the Yorion arms race that we seemed destined for a week ago has reached a truce. The natural victors in that war and the scariest predators for Esper Doom Foretold (Yorion) are counter-heavy Azorius Blink builds and Ramp decks headlined by Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, both poorly equipped to handle the Brushfire Elementals consuming the format.

This creates an opening for an anti-aggro build of Yorion to step up and reclaim some dignity for the Sky Nomad. The combination of targeted removal with Skyclave Apparition and Doom Foretold to deal with a steady stream of individual threats and a full four copies of Extinction Event to punish going wide is a potent recipe against Gruul.

Meanwhile, most of the card choices are made with Dimir Rogues in mind. Elspeth’s Nightmare is an all-star against Dimir Rogues; it deals with the first threat, hits the Into the Story that would put them ahead or the Drown in the Loch earmarked for your best threat, and then eats their graveyard to weaken Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Agadeem’s Awakening. Maindeck Cling to Dust allows you to manage the size of your graveyard without wasting time spinning your wheels. Mazemind Tome and Shark Typhoon are excellent grindy cards that play well with Mystical Dispute in sideboard games, while Archon of Sun’s Grace is a scary transformational threat that demands otherwise dead removal.

Autumn Burchett — Gruul Adventures

Gruul Adventures is the closest thing to a default deck at the moment until people figure out exactly the best way to beat it. If you have a deck you’re confident in, then go ahead and play it and you’re set up to do well as Standard is more open than that leading comment suggests, but if you’re in doubt like I am, then just register Gruul Adventures. It can only go so badly as the deck seems to have good game in most matchups and has a lot of customisation available as well.

I’m a big fan of the look of Simon Nielsen’s list personally, which he crushed The Arena Open with this last weekend, but most notably I love the sideboard. Klothys, God of Destiny is an incredible card against the Rakdos Midrange decks that have been picking up popularity in an effort to fight Gruul Adventures, and also does some solid work against Dimir Rogues either trimming your graveyard against cards like Into the Story or removing creatures from your opponent’s graveyard to make Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Agadeem’s Awakening worse.

I’m also love the inclusion of Wilt and Thrashing Brontodon, which seem like exciting tools to have in mirror-matches where games often come down to powerful artifacts and enchantments like The Great Henge, Embercleave, and The Akroan War. These cards are defined by being hard to interact with and packing these Disenchant effects goes a long way towards helping solve that problem.

Sam Black — Mardu Blink (Yorion)

Gruul Adventures is the best deck in the format, and if that’s your style, you should absolutely play it.  Personally, it very much isn’t my style.  I love a random permanent-based value engine, and I love a nice home brew, and this deck is both of those things.  I’ve put a lot of work into different builds of Mardu Blink and I’ve reached a point I’m really happy with.  This deck is very different from the more controlling Doom Foretold builds.

The goal in this deck is generally to establish a loop with two Yorions and an Omen of the Dead so that you can blink all your permanents at the end of every turn or win trying.  The philosophy behind the card choices is that you need all the mana you invest to impact the battlefield, and it’s important to minimize tapped lands, so the mana requirements in the deck are very conservative. Fortunately, it doesn’t waste any time drawing cards, since you can generate plenty of value without that.

Recent changes have greatly improved the deck.  The Birth of Meletis plays really well with Skyclave Apparition, because the Wall token can hold off the Illusion token given by the Apparition if it dies.  For awhile I struggled with not having enough answers to legendary artifacts with just Elspeth Conquers Death, but Banishing Light offers a lot of extra coverage there.  Finally, Weaponize the Monsters plays really well with all the tokens and it’s a cheap enchantment to trigger Archon of Sun’s Grace (repeatedly once you’re looping Yorion).

Cedric Phillips — Gruul Adventures

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to Ari but my Mono-Red Aggro days in Zendikar Rising Standard are officially over. While I did find some success streaming the deck for a few days last week, people adjusted quickly to what I was doing and that made life incredibly difficult in short order. And when I say “what I was doing,” I mean what Gruul Adventures was doing and that was the real problem.

After Rei Sato went 11-1 in the October Zendikar Rising League Weekend with Gruul Adventures, many people not only gravitated towards his list as the best version of Gruul Adventures but they also quickly realized that his 11-1 was no accident and that he had the best deck in the format. That meant two things:

  1. People were going to play it a lot.
  2. People were going to tune their decks to beat it.

Mono-Red Aggro was suffering a ton of splash damage because of this and it’s not like Gruul Adventures is a particularly good matchup for Mono-Red Aggro in the first place. So, if you want to be attacking and casting Embercleave, the natural place to go is Gruul Adventures with a way to trump the mirror.

And that, as Simon’s list demonstrates and Autumn explained above, is why I would play this deck in any Zendikar Rising Standard event I had coming up. In this exact moment in time, I find it to be the best build of the best deck in the format and until Yorion players figure out the best build of their deck to trump Gruul Adventures (and trust me, they will), this is the deck to beat.