Zendikar Rising is releasing this week so it’s a perfect time to give you a glimpse into my brain and the decks I’ve been thinking about through the development of preview season (even I had a lot of “oh right” moments as cards were previewed in the set).
Some quick notes: we’re having a rotation. All celebrations aside, that means Standard powers down a bit, and typically interaction gets stronger as there are fewer synergies and situations where “best in slot” can exist in curves all the way throughout a deck.
You’ll see a lot of modal double-faced cards (DFCs) in these decklists. Magic has pretty firmly shaped up over the last five years to support higher and higher land counts as getting on the battlefield has become more important and ways to generate long-term card advantage became more prevalent.
These modal DFCs are pretty in-your-face about it – you can just get paid with spells later if you’re flooding, or just build your gameplan differently around always being able to hit land drops without flooding miserably. We’ll be seeing a lot of examples of supplementary spell DFCs alongside the more expensive mythic versions, three of which cost a whopping seven mana. In many cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m land-light in decks; this will be another macro-deckbuilding lesson that will take time to learn as the hive-mind figures it out.
Many of my decks are built around the Pathways. Mana has gotten weaker at a much greater proportion than card quality in this rotation. That said, Pathways are still really strong lands – but they ask a lot of you and we don’t have a full ten-land cycle as we did with shocklands. Notably, cards requiring multiples of a single color of mana will be a lot more difficult to cast early on in this format.
This list of decks isn’t exhaustive, of course. I’ve tried to focus primarily on exploring key Zendikar Rising cards, strategies, and building blocks that I believe do a lot to lift up the pre-existing cards in the format.
Scourge of the Skyclaves is one of my favorite cards in the set. This is a disruptive aggro deck that’s taking a lot out of Death’s Shadow’s playbook. Scourge of the Skyclaves has the added tricky element of also needing to hit your opponent to get online, so playing to the battlefield is important as initially you need to both hit your opponent and hurt yourself (which gets much easier with the mythic modal DFCs) to get going. From there ideally you’re staying on the battlefield, so the trouble is keeping up with hurting yourself to keep presenting a meaningful clock – but there are a lot of options here to do that, with Dire Tactics and Castle Locthwain being capable of large chunks especially.
Bloodchief’s Thirst is one of the most important cards in the new format. Previously it was a massive struggle to interact for a single mana, so decks like these that can be built around double- and triple-spelling in the early-game got a huge boon versus the format of pure haymakers that we just came from.
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
- 3 Coralhelm Chronicler
- 1 Sea Gate Stormcaller
- 3 Phylath, World Sculptor
- 1 Myriad Construct
This is sort of an evolution of Sultai Midrange, but I’m putting more emphasis on the kicker cards for better or worse. Coralhelm Chronicler digs deep and its ability to pick up Bloodchief’s Thirst and Into the Roil alongside the big cards like Inscriptions means that it has a lot of potential to reach Constructed viability.
Lotus Cobra + Uro is the boogeyman entering the format, and there’s no reason not to include it in a deck like this that’s interested in interacting and playing long games.
In some ways this is a Mono-Red Warriors deck, but despite playing Relic Axe and Kargan Intimidators for some synergies, there isn’t too much of a cost incurred. Fireblade Charger is the strong one-drop that red decks have been lacking for some time, and while it’s fine on base rate, it really gets amped up if you put a little effort into it.
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stonecoil Serpent
- 2 Basri's Lieutenant
- 4 Conclave Mentor
- 4 Swarm Shambler
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
- 4 Oran-Rief Ooze
The presence of Conclave Mentor and Scavenging Ooze in Core Set 2021 always made this deck feel close, but a healthy amount of supporting cast, headlined by the extremely strong Luminarch Aspirant, means that this deck has legs now. Notably, being able to play Stonecoil Serpent does a lot for alleviating the pressure of the Pathways and early creatures. This deck has a lot of synergy, some likely unbeatable draws in creature mirrors, and a healthy amount of resiliency.
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
- 3 Terror of the Peaks
- 4 Omnath, Locus of Creation
- 2 Phylath, World Sculptor
Another Lotus Cobra / Uro deck, but of a more combo-oriented variety than a traditional Sultai experience of grinding someone out with value. I expect that Omnath, Locus of Creation is going to show up somewhere, but nailing the build down is going to be difficult. Here, Genesis Ultimatum can build a lot of pseudo-combo kills with Terror of the Peaks or just generate too much life and value to be overcome. Turntimber Symbiosis is basically perfect in this deck as both a hard-hitting threat with your density, or being a land early on if needed.
You might think that this doesn’t look interesting enough to show off, but I really wanted to highlight how much cards like Silundi Vision and Valakut Awakening can help these niche linear strategies. Cycling in particular actually really wants to hit its first four or five land drops; many games it loses are by choking and being unable to get off the ground, but it also poses a huge risk of flooding games out. Silundi Vision and Valakut Awakening are absolutely perfect for finding the deck’s key card, Zenith Flare, and in the case of Awakening especially mitigating flood, but also artificially increase this deck’s land count.
- 3 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 2 Brazen Borrower
- 4 Thieves' Guild Enforcer
- 4 Merfolk Windrobber
- 1 Zareth San, the Trickster
- 4 Nighthawk Scavenger
- 2 Sea Gate Stormcaller
- 2 Glasspool Mimic
- 4 Soaring Thought-Thief
Rogues, to me, are certainly the most unique linear tribe that’s supported in Zendikar Rising. It’s kind of been a long time coming with seeds like Thieves’ Guild Enforcer and even Drown in the Loch in some sense, but “half mill, but mostly attack you” might finally come together. These types of decks are going to work based on the effectiveness of their cheap interaction. If Bloodchief’s Thirst turns out to indeed be an early all-star in this Standard format, then there will be a lot of ways to build black decks.
Rankle, Master of Pranks is still one of my picks for the most powerful cards in the format, and I expect him to find a home.
I’ll also note that despite not being a control deck or even a deck with a ton of spells, I’ve included a few copies of Sea Gate Stormcaller, which is just so powerful with the card I keep bringing up – Bloodchief’s Thirst.
So that was my segue into the Sea Gate Stormcaller control deck. Really there’s nothing off-the-wall going on here, but all these cards are really strong – at least assuming that removal spells are playable. Throne of Makindi is a card that folks definitely shouldn’t sleep on, even in non-dedicated Kicker decks – Turn 4 Jace, Mirror Mage is a huge hill to climb if your battlefield is clear.
While the previous control deck was pretty vanilla, this is anything but. We’re kind of a surface-level beatdown deck, the expected landfall fare, but Nahiri’s Lithoforming offers a lot of one-turn kill potential, not only in generating a lethal number of landfall triggers but also the potential with Lotus Cobra to go completely wild and/or combine with Valakut Exploration for even more nonsensical triggers.
If this deck does turn out to be viable, I suspect that building it 100% properly with its tension of an extremely high land count will be really difficult to get right.
This is another Silundi Vision deck, but this time we’re trying to cast massive spells, most of which have been subsidized heavily by also being lands. Narset is the star of the show in this deck as there are a lot of “lands” that also happen to deal damage in conjunction with her -2 ability, and happen to also be able to kill high-value targets to boot. The amount of sweepers, refills, and closing cards that this Jeskai Control deck can play with minimal risk of missing their early land drops is one of the powerful implications of the modal DFCs and I suspect there will be a lot of incentive for decks to be able to close games quickly, which in my mind is a good dynamic.
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Polukranos, Unchained
- 1 Chevill, Bane of Monsters
- 2 Llanowar Visionary
- 3 Elder Gargaroth
- 2 Tangled Florahedron
- 4 Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager
- 2 Nullpriest of Oblivion
This is another honest Pathway-inspired deck that is hoping we’re returning to a world where interacting and playing some big creatures is a viable strategy. Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager is an excellent rate card and could also be incorporated into dedicated +1/+1 counter strategies, but here it’s just something good to put on the curve with some light synergy surrounding it. Nissa of Shadowed Boughs is another high-profile card in Zendikar Rising that can generate enough pressure to leverage the other two-power bodies you have lying around in addition to being representative of a large threat with her reanimation ability.
We’ve entered the final fun part of the article. This is another thing we can do with Sea Gate Stormcaller – doing something silly with Fireblade Charger. Pump your stuff, throw it at your opponent, it’s all pretty simple on the surface, but generating a second copy of Fling with Sea Gate Stormcaller is a floor of two damage (by just throwing itself), which sounds innocuous but actually represents a package with a ton of reach. I’ve always been interested in mopey Izzet Sprite Dragon decks, but just getting up a card here and there or being reliant on a 4/4 flyer to get over the finish line hasn’t been a reliable strategy in a while. Maybe now with the Charger and Stormcaller, we can just kill people.
Okay, sure, this one is pretty close to a joke. Maybe? It all really depends on how mana bases evolve in coming weeks. Maybe going as far as to pair Cleansing Wildfire and Field of Ruin with Confounding Conundrum is a little silly (although I still think this could be pretty powerful), but the former two cards have really strong floors if folks happen to be skimming on basics due to the modal DFCs.
Time will tell… but in the meantime, enjoy Zendikar Rising this week!