Innovations In Zendikar Rising Standard From The Return Of The SCG Tour Online

Zendikar Rising Standard has a churning, thriving metagame. Bryan Gottlieb dives into the new notable decks from the SCG Tour Online.

Enigmatic Incarnation, illustrated by PINDURSKI

If your goal is to reach your apex as a Magic competitor, you owe it to yourself to consider every archetype and make an unbiased assessment of what deck gives you the best chance to win on a week-to-week basis. Control or combo specialists might exist, but the players who rise to the top of our sport are the people who can acknowledge their biases and still jump ship on their preferred archetype when the moment is right.

After years as a control aficionado, I’m proud that I’ve gotten myself to a space where I will just as happily register aggro, midrange, and combo options. But I’m going to be honest with you. Deep down, beneath the façade of “the spike who just wants to win no matter what,” there’s an archetype I’m rooting for every single time I’m checking a metagame breakdown.

“Other” will always have my undying support. Other captures all of the decks so unexpected and underrepresented that they don’t even get a firm spot in the data. It’s been a tough year for Other. It feels like every time I check Other’s winning percentage it’s sitting somewhere around 40%.

I’ve often stated that one of the most painful consequences of the power outliers that have dominated Standard for the past year is the death of the rogue strategy that can come out of nowhere and steal a Top 8. These were the stories that would always set the Magic community aflutter and send people rushing to the queues. However, the good cards have been too far ahead of the pack to make eschewing them a winning strategy. Recently the big breakthroughs have been closer to “I added black to my list to play a sideboard card” or “I put these two decks that you already hated together and made a new deck you will hate.” Not exactly jaw-dropping stuff.

I’m happy to report that three things began to make a return over the past week. While the one I am most excited about — basic human decency — does and should steal the spotlight, the SCG Tour Online and a successful outing for Other are happily sharing second place. I want to review some of the more noteworthy Others to show up over the eight Satellites and main event of the SCG Tour Online, and let you know which lists among them are contenders, and which are pretenders.

Just a note: all these players deserve respect for leaving the beaten path and putting up a solid finish. Even if I don’t see a deck as a contender going forward, I’m not trying to take away anything from the pilot. You choose a deck to produce a solid result in an individual event, and all these players accomplished that goal. Props to each and every one of them.

Dimir Control is exactly the type of deck that can benefit from a predictable top tier of decks that aren’t leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the field. I’m not trying to take anything away from the Tier 1 decks (which I would define as Dimir Rogues, Gruul Aggro, and Esper Doom Foretold), but they all resemble something much closer to fair and attackable strategies than the broken nonsense of the past year.

Dimir Rogues has done a lot to prove the general viability of countermagic in the format. While I prefer the proactive approach of Dimir Rogues in a vacuum, there’s no question that there’s a portion of the metagame which is purposefully designed to prey on the deck’s proclivity for fueling the graveyard. Not only has Rakdos Midrange proven its worth against a field that leans too hard to Rogues, Mono-Green Food and its Feasting Troll Kings are rapidly gaining metagame share. Playing countermagic and instead relying on traditional control win conditions like Shark Typhoon and Ashiok, Nightmare Muse makes a lot of sense in that scenario. I’d award additional bonus points for this deck’s natural insulation against Doom Foretold.

There are a couple of individual card choices in Giuseppe’s list that really stand out as strong inclusions for the present metagame. Crawling Barrens is the type of creature-land true control mages have been waiting for. Using things like Creeping Tar Pit or Celestial Colonnade could often tax your mana in key spots and did little to leverage the advantage you would gain by forcing an opponent to decline casting a spell into open mana. Growing on your opponent’s end step and patiently waiting to end the game in only one or two swings is exactly the play pattern we’ve been longing for, and Crawling Barrens does a great job insulating itself from some widely played forms of removal.

Shadows’ Verdict is another card I’m quite fond of in the present metagame. Besides the obvious strength against Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, there’s just a lot of recursion floating around the format. Agadeem’s Awakening, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, Elspeth Conquers Death, and several other fringe playables abound. Getting a clean answer against Gruul Adventures’s early aggression mixed with a little graveyard hate goes a long way.

On the whole, I’m impressed with this particular build, and it wouldn’t shock me to see numbers for Dimir Control start to climb.

Verdict: Contender

I really like the alterations to the core Rakdos Midrange strategy found in this deck. The addition of Claim the Firstborn alongside sacrifice outlets like Woe Strider and Village Rites sets you up to play reasonably strongly against Gruul Adventures’s three-drops, and you still get to do all of the escape shenanigans that fueled positive win rates for Rakdos Midrange against Dimir Rogues. Where I start to lose interest is with the addition of a third color for a five-drop in your 25-land deck (four of which are Pathways).

In playing a similar version of this deck without Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, I’ve never found myself lacking for options in the mid-game. The issue is always surviving until that point and getting your engine online. Needlessly complicated mana (hope you didn’t mill your only Forest!) isn’t helping to achieve the core goal. If the green splash was enabling some additional sideboard pivots or being used to answer problematic enchantments maybe you could start to sell me, but a splash just for Korvold makes little sense.

Verdict: Pretender

Big Red started to generate some momentum at the end of last week, with our own Ari Lax and Todd Anderson using it to qualify for Sunday’s event. A good Ugin, the Spirit Dragon deck is exactly what the format needs to generate some massive churn, and while I think the Mono-Red lists were close, win rates suggest that there’s still some work to be done on the archetype. I absolutely love Riley Hicks’s decision to add a second color to account for problematic artifacts and enchantments. I’m just a little surprised he ended up on white as the color of choice.

The double- or triple-white requirement of every white card played in this deck is a lot, and certainly necessitates the two Plains being played. Can we just attempt a similar strategy with a green splash instead? I think Wilt is brilliant as a maindeck way to check Embercleave, The Great Henge, and Doom Foretold, and its cycling ability plays beautifully in a Ramp deck. You even get to play better Baneslayer Angel in the form of Elder Gargaroth if that’s what you are looking for. I really like Riley’s idea here; I just want to experiment with some other implementations.

Verdict: A Contending Idea, in a Pretending List

Once we head into to the Satellite events, the spice really starts to flow. As I said, the format is hungry for a strong Ugin deck, and I’ve been extremely impressed with Forsaken Monument as a self-contained ramp engine. It plays wonderfully with the aforementioned Crawling Barrens, and black gets all the best removal spells in the format. I’ve been messing with decks that leaned on this setup for a while now, and they’ve always felt extremely close.

What I certainly haven’t done is gone as far as adding a Clackbridge Troll / Massacre Wurm / Lithoform Engine package to my deck. I have no idea if it’s nonsense or brilliance, but it’s adding an interesting wrinkle to what I already believe is a completely acceptable core. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this package on the cutting room floor, but I bet it inspires a lot of people to give this archetype a second look, and there just might be something special here.

Verdict: Contender

Wow, where to even start? When you see an archetype built in such dramatically different ways that are all putting up solid finishes, it’s safe to assume there’s something worth paying attention to going on. These decks run the absolute gamut from tap-out control featuring Experimental Overload to only instants with four maindeck Rewinds. Again, pure control setups benefit from a settled metagame, and we’re quickly getting to that place.

Juan’s setup is my favorite here, and it’s clear they’ve given their list a lot of thought. You don’t arrive on two copies of Turn into a Pumpkin on accident. Using Blitz of the Thunder Raptor as the only answer to what is otherwise a very severe sizing problem against decks like Mono-Green Food and Gruul Adventures is dicey though. Their big bodies come online quickly, and Blitz is not always going to be up to the task. That’s what makes four copies of Essence Scatter non-negotiable to me, and I’m happy to see Juan make that dramatic move.

Even if I’d choose to play Juan’s list, I’ve got to give Simon a lot of credit for his Illuna, Apex of Wishes / Thassa’s Oracle kill. It’s such a tiny package to include, and it singlehandedly alleviates a lot of my concerns about winning games against decks like Selesnya Blink or Mono-Green Food that can make unmanageable battlefields but don’t interact all that well.

Verdict: Contender, But With a Lot to Figure Out

I’m not sure where these decks originated, but I first saw a similar list at last week’s Red Bull Untapped Finals. I just want to share some deckbuilding lessons I’ve picked up over the course of this format.

  • You need a very good reason not to play 60 cards in your Magic: The Gathering deck.
  • You need to be sure your Yorions are getting enough value that they snowball the game when cast.
  • If you don’t purposefully fuel Kroxa, it will usually be a blank.
  • Don’t play Elspeth Conquers Death in large numbers without adequate creatures and planeswalkers to return.
  • Manabases that look good on paper will not necessarily cast spells reliably if you’ve got a lot of double-pip cards in your deck, due to the way Pathways work.

To say I don’t get this one would be an understatement. I suspect Adam Ramsey must be very good at Magic to have piloted this deck to a nice finish.

Verdict: Pretender

Back to splashes that I just can’t wrap my head around, here we’re adding white to our ruthless aggressive deck so we can fit in some Fearless Fledglings and Giant Killers. Still found room for a Crawling Barrens though.

Verdict: Pretender

I was super-impressed with Setessan Champion early on in the format, and my first Yorion decks that would eventually transition to Selesnya Blink began their life with an enchantment focus.

I know the core trick works, but now Bill Comminos has taken it a step further and I’m starting to become a believer. This deck recognizes just how much overlap there is in these various packages and comes out with a deck that generates massive snowballs off only a single resource. If you resolve a Yorion or an Enigmatic Incarnation, it’s very easy for the game to pass your opponent by in a very short window.

I would love to see a few more defensive options here since Gruul Adventures strikes me as a huge problem, but if the metagame churns and it gets forced out, this might just big the biggest and most consistent engine available, and the blue splash means it can realistically challenge Ugin, unlike Selesnya Blink.

Verdict: Eventual Contender

There’s a lot to appreciate about the Zendikar Rising Standard format. Gameplay has been solid, and the metagame is evolving on a week-to-week basis. But for me, the biggest selling point is the fact that I can realistically write a column like this again. I used to love poring over the decklists of the SCG Tour and highlighting innovation. A shout-out to all the players who are out here helping make that part of my routine again, and I can’t wait to see what you’ve got on tap come November 20th’s next round of Satellites.