Five Predictions For This Weekend’s Zendikar Rising Championship

Ross Merriam calls his shots for the Zendikar Rising Championship. What will thrive in Historic? What will falter in Standard? How will Cedric finish?

Genesis Ultimatum, illustrated by Jason Rainville

This weekend is the Zendikar Rising Championship, the first large event in Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC’s) reshuffled Organized Play program, and I have to say that I’m excited. Watching the MPL and Rivals League is nice because you know that every match is going to contain Magic at the absolute highest level, but an event like this brings out the possibility for new players to emerge as a force in competitive Magic, and as someone who has been driven by that possibility for much of my life, I’m always rooting for it to happen to others when I’m on the sidelines.

On top of this, both Standard and Historic, the two formats being featured this weekend, are in interesting, dynamic places. Standard has stayed remarkably fresh after the recent bannings, and Historic is still settling after the introduction of Kaladesh Remastered to the format. So despite this being a late-in-the-year tournament, we’re not going to see the same three or four decks every round.

That said, I have some opinions on which decks are overrated and underrated right now, so here are my predictions for how things will shake out by Sunday.

1. Temur Adventures (Obosh) Will Overperform in Zendikar Rising Standard

A few weeks ago, Standard looked like it had finally settled down, with Gruul Adventures, Dimir Rogues, and Esper Doom Foretold (Yorion) at the top of the metagame, with various Tier 2 archetypes floating at the fringes. But since then, Mono-Green Food, Dimir Control (with and without Yorion), and Temur Adventures (Obosh) have all emerged as major players and the metagame has continued to evolve.

Given the hype I’m seeing on social media and recent tournament results, I’m expecting Mono-Green Food to be played about as much as Gruul Adventures, and perhaps even more. Mono-Green Food isn’t as aggressive as Gruul Adventures, but it has much more staying power with Trail of Crumbs and Feasting Troll King, as well as Wicked Wolf to dominate creature matchups. It can still get aggressive with Lovestruck Beast and Kazandu Mammoth, but it plays more of a midrange game.

That scares me if I’m a control deck relying on interaction, because it means I’m staring down a deck that can play into the long game more easily and has a greater variety of threats to answer. There’s the quick aggressive creatures that you want cheap removal for, the sticky creatures that you need exile-based removal for, and then the noncreature threats, ranging from Trail of Crumbs to The Great Henge to Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate. That’s a lot of questions you have to answer, and one misstep can snowball rather quickly.

Gruul Adventures has some of these elements but not all of them, and Mono-Green Food gets to play a much smoother manabase, which helps compensate them for the decrease in early aggression. I’d be much more comfortable attacking them with a strategy that goes over the top, and that means Genesis Ultimatum and Terror of the Peaks. Mono-Green Food is light on removal, so Terror of the Peaks often ends the game with any reasonable follow-up play, and with Genesis Ultimatum you often get immediate value off the card. 

Terror of the Peaks Genesis Ultimatum

This is the axis on which I want to fight these aggro decks. When it gets too hard to have all the answers, it’s time to flip the script and be the one asking the questions. The benefit here is that to fit all of those different threats, the aggro decks are light on interaction themselves. So this is the exact kind of strategy they have to leave themselves vulnerable to in order to match up against control decks.

And against those control decks, which are typically quite good against ramp strategies, you still have the Edgewall Innkeeper gameplan to grind value and apply pressure. I’d plan to sideboard out some ramp spells and act like a midrange deck with counterspells in the sideboard to protect my position, which historically has been an effective plan against control. The Adventures variant of Temur isn’t an all-in ramp deck, and it’s rare to find a deck with that combination of power and versatility. That would be my choice this weekend, and despite an impressive undefeated run through last weekend’s SCG Tour Online $5K Kaldheim Championship Qualifier, I don’t see the deck getting as much hype as the other top decks.

2. Gruul Adventures Will Underperform in Zendikar Rising Standard

Gruul Adventures has been the default best deck in Zendikar Rising Standard for quite some time now, and while its power and popularity will undoubtedly propel some pilots to the top of the standings, I expect it to fall well short of expectations.

At this point, every player in the field has a ton of experience in the matchup, and knows how to attack it. That means that Gruul Adventures players are either relying entirely on the raw power of their deck or adjusting their list to the evolving metagame. Obviously the latter is the preferable option here, but Gruul Adventures’s major weakness is its lack of malleability. 

Brushfire Elemental Bonecrusher Giant Lovestruck Beast

Gruul shows up, does Gruul things, and lives with the results. It doesn’t know how to do not-Gruul things, nor does it have much interest in them. And while I certainly appreciate Gruul things, I’m much less inclined towards them when the entire room knows they’re coming. You could potentially pivot into more of a midrange deck, but at that point you become a worse Mono-Green Food deck. 

There’s little reason to play red if you aren’t trying to Embercleave people, because the cost to your manabase is considerable. And once you commit to Embercleave, it’s hard to pivot away from being an aggro deck. Against Dimir Rogues you can manage it with a pile of escape cards, but the rest of the metagame isn’t enabling your graveyard.

Gruul Adventures’s power will keep it around in some capacity, but gone are the days of it being the best deck in Zendikar Rising Standard, and I expect that to be proven this weekend.

3. Azorius God-Pharaoh’s Gift Will Overperform in Historic

Skyclave Apparition is the best white card printed since Path to Exile. It might even be better. Azorius God-Pharaoh’s Gift is the best home I’ve seen for the card in Historic, and that alone is enough to pique my interest.

Skyclave Apparition

But on top of that, this deck checks the same boxes that Temur Adventures does in Zendikar Rising Standard: it’s powerful, proactive, and versatile. Turn 4 God-Pharaoh’s Gift will win plenty of games, especially when you have a great removal spell to return with the card now. I don’t think this plan is quite as powerful as Neoform or Muxus, Goblin Grandee, but it’s not far behind and you more than make up for it with versatility. 

Those combo decks are almost entirely reliant on deploying their key cards early. God-Pharaoh’s Gift can tread water without its namesake for quite some time, again in large part due to the addition of Skyclave Apparition. Your creatures aren’t dominating the red zone against anyone, but they can pressure a control or combo opponent, or play defense against aggro decks. If your opponent goes too hard trying to stop the Gift plan, then they can lose to your creatures, and that’s a key dynamic, because it means that you’ll eventually be able to force a window open to land your Gift and start churning out value.

Skyclave Apparition is the best white card printed since Path to Exile.

Lastly, given how new this deck is, I think there’s room for improvement on the early lists. Ari Lax offered some great suggestions for this in his article yesterday and that’s where I’d start if you’re interested in this deck. A stronger beatdown plan would be my goal, since you’re already strong going long, and I want to exploit this deck’s versatility as much as possible.

There’s a ton of options here, and while I don’t expect this deck to be that popular this weekend, I’m betting on a few people figuring out a great list and surprising the rest of the metagame. With all the anticipation surrounding Aetherworks Marvel, it’s Refurbish that will be the biggest addition to Historic from Kaladesh Remastered.

4. Goblins Will Underperform in Historic

This deck gets a lot of press, and I’ve seen a few calls for Muxus, Goblin Grandee to get banned. Frankly, I don’t buy the hype. And if I’m being honest, I think Goblins is a bad deck. More specifically, Goblins is a bad deck that is held together by the power of Muxus.

Muxus, Goblin Grandee

There’s no doubt that Muxus is among the most powerful cards in all of Historic. But it’s not in a tier by itself, and among the top cards in the metagame, Muxus demands the most from you in terms of deckbuilding constraints. You have to play a pile of Goblins with an awkward curve in order to maximize its ability. So outside of the games where you draw and resolve an early Muxus, the deck is pedestrian at best. 

Obviously the goal is to be an aggro deck, but with few impactful plays before three mana, you don’t get off the ground very quickly. You’re mostly hoping to land multiple Goblin Chieftans or activate a Krenko to turn the corner. While you’re setting up these plays, you hardly interact with your opponent, and you don’t have many ways to set up your draws.

Goblins is a bad deck that is held together by the power of Muxus.

If I’m playing a deck that relies so heavily on a key card, I want two things to be true. First, I want to win every game where my plan comes together. And two, I want to walk into an unprepared metagame. Neither of those things is true right now in Historic. Everyone knows about Goblins and is prepared for the matchup. Muxus is even shut down by the most common sideboard card in the format in Grafdigger’s Cage. Outside of that, there are plenty of sweepers or cards like Mayhem Devil around which can mop up a battlefield of Goblins in short order.

Much like with Gruul Adventures in Zendikar Rising Standard, Goblins’s power level and popularity will carry it to some wins. If there’s a copy in the Top 8 I won’t be surprised. But I expect a lot of disappointed Muxusers after this weekend and I think there are plenty of better options.

5. Cedric Phillips Will Finish With a 10-5 Record

I had to check the exact format for the event before locking this one in, but there are seven rounds on Day 1 and eight on Day 2 —perfect. Cedric will have to order his wins and losses in such a way that he plays every round of Swiss, but I have the utmost confidence in him. By my meticulously researched and not-at-all-made-up count, he has finished 10-5 in his last 74 premier events, so who am I to argue with destiny? (CEDitor’s Note: I predict that I will go exactly 11-4 and my eleventh win will occur in the final round of the Swiss to avoid heartbreak.)

WotC hasn’t had much luck recently with events scheduled so late in the season, so it’s nice to see both formats in such an interesting place for this weekend. I’ll be watching out less for completely new archetypes and more for novel builds and sideboard strategies from existing archetypes that can take opponents by surprise. 

There’s plenty of opportunity for that kind of innovation, which is why I’m high on decks that are versatile and low on decks that aren’t, since that versatility makes finding new plans and tinkering with the build much easier. The additional optionality also plays well in an open-decklist tournament where the harder you can make it for your opponent to predict your plan, the better.

Kaldheim will be here soon, so enjoy these formats now before the next busted Simic card ruins everything for the three weeks until it’s banned.