A Rousing Review Of Rogues Lists From Zendikar Rising League Weekend

Dimir Rogues ruled Zendikar Rising League Weekend. Bryan Gottlieb dives into how card choices affected win percentages in Zendikar Rising Standard.

Shark Typhoon, illustrated by Caio Monteiro

Yorion, Sky Nomad’s fall from grace sure came quickly, didn’t it? In the October Zendikar Rising League Weekend, Yorion got absolutely blown up. The problems for Yorion came from a couple of different places. First, unlike you, wise reader, the majority of the MPL and Rivals League have obviously let their StarCityGames.com Premium subscriptions lapse, as they didn’t get the memo about 60-card Yorion decks being the way forward. Shout-outs to Jacob Wilson and Matt Nass for staying up to date, and for taking home winning records after registering the correct number of cards in their Magic: The Gathering decks.

Their list picked up some of the changes I suggested last week, including a swap to Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate over The Great Henge. They also got a little bigger, with the addition of Cultivate and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and a harder focus on Emeria’s Call. There’s no question they had the best Yorion deck in the field and moved the archetype forward. My own list looks a little different these days, and it was built to address the other issue that Yorion decks faced this weekend.

My big pickup comes in the form of sideboard Destiny Spinner, because it turns out people aren’t just going to let you take over a format just by casting a bunch of expensive creatures and enchantments. Countermagic showed up this weekend in force, and Dimir Rogues was the most-played deck in the October Zendikar Rising League Weekend. Despite huge representation, it still managed to post a sterling 160-123 record good for a 56.5% win-rate. That number includes mirror matches, so the real win percentage for Rogues against the field is even higher. I’d argue that qualifies as a dominant performance.

What’s interesting about Rogues is that even if there is a growing consensus that it is among, or even is the best deck, there’s virtually no agreement on how to build the archetype. Lists across the 24 Rogues pilots varied dramatically. As a backdrop for a discussion of my own preferences when building the deck, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the win-rates along deckbuilding lines.

Certainly, sample sizes here are too small to point us to the “correct” answers to these questions. The percentage spreads are tight, and well within any confidence intervals. Still, we can take the data we have and use it to spark discussion and our own experimentation. As long as we don’t regard these numbers as the de facto conclusion, all information is good information in my eyes.

Crab (83-57; 59.2%) VS No Crab (77-66; 53.8%)

Out of 24 players who registered Dimir Rogues, twelve had Ruin Crab and twelve did not. To me, this remains the biggest unanswered question when it comes to Dimir Rogues: to Crab or not to Crab? Statistically, we see an edge to the Crab-based builds, but as Rogues establishes itself at the top of the metagame, its tendency to place cards in the graveyard is most apt to be exploited.

Honestly, I had completely written off Rakdos Midrange in this format, but our own Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa proved the value of keeping an archetype in your pocket for the right metagame. PVDDR wasn’t the only player looking to exploit Rogues’s tendency to send cards to the bin. There were plenty of random Chainweb Aracnir and Ox of Agonas smattered throughout the field. Even Simon Gortzen’s Zenith Flares were pleased as punch to be powered up by Ruin Crab. While Rogues needs a number of cards in opposing graveyards to turn on its most powerful cards, it really would prefer to have what it needs and no more, and then, in rare instances, access a secondary win-condition when attacking is no longer an option.

All of this has me contemplating a concept known as minimum effective dose. I first encountered the term in relation to diet and exercise. In searching for a minimum effective dose, you’re trying to find the breakpoint where you start to see rapidly diminishing returns on your effort investment. Sure, we might benefit more from doing 1,000 pushups every day, but if you can get 80% of the benefit to your fitness and appearance by doing 100 pushups and you avoid injury and burnout, then all but the most dedicated athletes should just do 100 pushups.

It feels like almost no one is experimenting with the minimum effective dose of Ruin Crabs. The only player to register a number of Ruin Crabs other than four or zero was Yuta Takahashi.

My guess is that the minimum effective dose of Ruin Crabs is two. Due to the recursive abilities of Lurrus of the Dream-Den and your ability to effectively protect a single Crab in the late-game, you open up some paths to victory without loading your deck down with a card that occasionally works as hard against you as it does for you. Sure, you lose the absurd nut draws where you deck your opponent on Turn 7 and counter everything they do. Those games were a rarity anyway, and that will prove even more true as the format accounts for Rogues.

Lurrus (96-68; 58.5%) VS Shark Typhoon (64-55; 53.7%)

Shark Typhoon seemed to be the big “innovation” in Rogues lists for this week, but I think its timing was just off. While sample sizes should be remembered when considering the win percentage drop off, I do think there is merit to the position that Shark Typhoon is not worth the loss of Lurrus. Lurrus has an impact on games even when it doesn’t get cast. It looms over matchups, and in the late-game will punish a vulnerable opponent 100% of the time. Shark Typhoon garners some of the same praise for being difficult to interact with, but in most instances the payoff of a Shark token doesn’t match the payoff garnered from a Lurrus turn.

Planeswalkers are not a tremendous part of the format right now, and they’ve always been Shark Typhoon’s primary prey. The ones that do see play tend to have immediate large impacts like Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate might be the one with the fairest play patterns, and that planeswalker is particularly good at creating reach creatures to protect itself from Shark pressure.

If there’s a point of interaction I like Shark Typhoon for, it’s controlling Dream Trawler. However, Azorius Blink (Yorion) is coming off one of the worst weekend performances in recent memory.

Of note, every player who registered Azorius Blink registered 80 cards. I continue to suspect that this is a mistake, and think the deck could potentially rebuild itself in the coming weeks. However, the immediate impact should be a dramatic decline in the amount of Azorius Blink (Yorion) that’s present in the metagame. It just doesn’t beat anything and its not all that close.

For purposes of this comparison, Seth Manfield’s and Gabriel Nassif’s lists, which have a Lurrus in the sideboard that is not active as a companion in Game 1, were included with the Shark Typhoon lists.

I think this approach deserves further consideration. Being able to return to a Lurrus-based plan in spots where Shark Typhoon is bad appeals to me, and I also think having sideboard Shark Typhoons and shutting off Lurrus in Games 2 and 3 can be totally acceptable as well. It’s easy to forget sometimes that companions are still very young cards, and the format uncertainty that has surrounded their time in Standard has probably prevented them from being explored to their absolute fullest. Plans that can sideboard to a companion still feel underused to me, as does maindeck Lurrus.

Zareth San (20-15; 57.1%) VS No Zareth San (140-108; 56.4%)

The smallest of our Rogues sample sizes comes from the brave souls who went back to Zareth San, the Trickster and I really like their decision.

Zareth San gets a lot of points for the same reason the Embercleave was able to produce such a dominant weekend. Removal right now tends to operate at sorcery speed, and for this weekend it was extremely focused on accounting for Azorius Blink. When early Rogues lists first appeared, Zareth San was one of the first cards I scrambled to take out of the deck because the punishment on turns where you’d attempt to connect with it was just so massive. As white became a larger part of the metagame, the color’s old weaknesses reared their head, and heavily investing in a mid-combat blowout became realistic again. I don’t love the card into a heavy Rogues metagame, but it really shines against any of the Yorion decks.

Add in the fact that the top decks are absolutely packed with solid permanents that can turn a game on its head like Elspeth Conquers Death; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; and The Great Henge, and you start to see how the Czech contingent came back around to Zareth San. Of course, this heading could have just as easily highlighted the role of Gadwick, the Wizened in these decks, and while I think that innovation is secondary, I do want to point out that its occupying some of the space that something like Ruin Crab fills in the Lurrus versions. It’s a legitimate plan going long and does a great job of forcing through wins on otherwise insurmountable battlefields. More great deckbuilding from Cifka, Floch, and company, as we’ve come to expect.

Lurrus w/ Crab (83-57; 59.3%) VS Lurrus w/o Crab (13-11; 54.1%)

This data set only considered the decks with an active Lurrus in Game 1, so Nassif and Manfield are excluded. While every Ruin Crab list played Lurrus, not every Lurrus list played Ruin Crab. It just shows that every approach has merit, so long as your deck is built with your plan in mind.

This point of divergence really informs my own Rogues preferences. My goal is to have a list that can realistically shift between as many of these configurations as possible. I think Nassif and Manfield did a great job building their decks in such a fashion, but I’m inclined to have Lurrus active in Game 1 and sideboard in Shark Typhoon when necessary. Eli Kassis mostly nailed it for this weekend, and my own lists will take plenty of cues from him going forward. He even had a nice hedge for the oncoming onslaught of Rakdos Midrange with plenty of maindeck Cling to Dust and sideboard Tormod’s Crypt.

Rogues is an archetype that reminds me of old Standard Faeries. The best players will be able to garner a tremendous amount of success with the archetype by adapting to beat whatever you need to on both a week-to-week and a game-by-game basis. Give yourself the broadest range of tools to do so by applying the minimum effective dose and looking for new ways to approach sideboarding with companions.

I think this week revealed we all have some adjusting to do as we get back in the swing of operating inside a metagame with a capacity for churn. For so long, the goal in Standard has been to identify the power outliers and maximize those cards. Yorion had a lot of the same feel to it as Omnath, Locus of Creation. Its best turns outscale everything, and it can grow its gameplan to a massive size. However, we’re learning that there are some tools in place to check its dominance. Advantages in the coming weeks should be about smart maindeck and sideboard configurations, and putting yourself one step ahead of the metagame, rather than just seeking out the best way to break the game in half.

Thank goodness.