Results from this weekend’s Zendikar Rising League Weekend sent a clear message to Standard players: Gruul Adventures overperformed, Dimir Rogues was very strong, and Azorius Blink isn’t where you want to be. While Standard isn’t solved, and you’ll still play against a variety of opponents, if you can beat Rogues and Gruul, you’ll do pretty well in Zendikar Rising Standard. That seems like a reasonable challenge, so how can we beat those two decks?
The first thing I think when I’m trying to beat an aggro deck and a tempo-control deck is that I need to pay a lot of attention to my curve. Both of these strategies are great at punishing clunky draws, so I’ll want to focus on the early-game to avoid falling behind. Removal is good, but if you go too far against Dimir Rogues you’ll just lose to Into the Story. Between the mill aspect and the card draw aspect, it’s risky to sign up for playing a long game against Dimir Rogues. This means we definitely need a proactive element.
Most Yorion decks have focused on building up their hand. Cards like Omen of the Sea and Golden Egg are great with Yorion because they help find more cards like them to build up more objects for Yorion to blink. The problem is that this whole strategy artificially increases your curve, eating a lot of mana without impacting the battlefield, and then once you’ve assembled your engine, it just adds more cards to your hand, and you often don’t get a chance to use them.
To solve this problem, I turned to Mardu in an effort to blink cards that impact the battlefield rather than cards that build up my hand. This can lead to not having as many cards to use with my Yorion, but the smaller immediate impact is better than the larger, slower impact of blinking cards that draw more cards.
The “aha moment” when it really clicked for me came from playing Raphael Levy’s Jeskai Blink deck, where I was really impressed with the strength of blinking Omen of the Forge. I’d read criticism of the idea of playing Omen of the Forge in a format where Bonecrusher Giant is legal, but when paired with Yorion, Omen of the Forge felt a lot better than Bonecrusher Giant.
Bonecrusher Giant gives you a moderate rate creature you can invest three more mana in, whereas Omen of the Forge requires no additional mana for extra Shocks every time Yorion enters the battlefield. It turns out, it’s not hard to build your deck in a way where you can expect Yorion to enter the battlefield a lot of times, so the rate on Omen of the Forge greatly exceeds Bonecrusher Giant.
With fewer cards around for each Yorion trigger, I needed to build my deck to get more Yorion triggers. Enter Omen of the Dead.
I’ve been trying to find a way to use this card with Yorion for the last week. It bothered me that the cheapest Omen is somehow the only one I haven’t seen people playing. The problem with it is that it’s hard to cast it early because you need a creature in your graveyard for it to do anything, but it’s amazing with Yorion because it allows you to pick up Charming Prince or another Yorion to keep blinking your Yorion, and once your engine is going you just get all your creatures back, which builds bigger and bigger triggers. Omen of the Dead is a one-mana spell that gives you a much bigger end-game, which is exactly what I’m looking for.
The trick to enabling Omen of the Dead is to play some self-mill so that you can find targets early when you’re not playing against Dimir Rogues. Fortunately, these cards play well with Yorion and Elspeth Conquers Death anyway. Mire Triton and Tymaret Calls the Dead fill the graveyard while offering reasonable battlefield presence. This lets you get away with Omen of the Dead, makes Elspeth Conquers Death stronger, and perhaps most importantly lets you use Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, which is the most important card against Dimir Rogues.
The last key piece of this deck is Archon of Sun’s Grace. Archon of Sun’s Grace is an absolute must-answer threat that can quickly invalidate any aggressive opponent, so both Dimir Rogues and Gruul Adventures have to kill it, but you have Omen of the Dead and Elspeth Conquers Death to bring it back. Because the deck uses so many enchantments, if you cast Yorion while you have Archon of Sun’s Grace, you’ll generally create multiple Pegasuses, which generally end a game in a hurry.
Archon of Sun’s Grace is a liability against opposing white decks because it gets exiled by both Skyclave Apparition and Elspeth Conquers Death, but the beauty of the positioning of this deck is that those cards were mostly played in Azorius Blink, which has mostly been chased out of the metagame. While the top decks are Gruul Adventures and Dimir Rogues, your cards are much less likely to get exiled, which is why this recursion-based Mardu Blink deck is suddenly well-positioned.
So what’s in this deck exactly? Yeah, it’s probably time to get to a list:
- 3 Charming Prince
- 4 Mire Triton
- 4 Archon of Sun's Grace
- 3 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 3 Yorion, Sky Nomad
- 4 Acquisitions Expert
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
Notes on card choices:
I started with the Yorion-friendly removal — Omen of the Forge, Skyclave Apparition, and Elspeth Conquers Death — but I wanted more removal than that. Glass Casket would be reasonable, but I prefer Heartless Act because I want instant-speed removal, since it’s good against Embercleave and flash threats. At the same time, as mentioned, I’m concerned about my curve, so I wanted removal that costs one mana, since so many of my cards cost two, so I’m also playing Bloodchief’s Thirst. I’m not sure about the exact right split between these cards, so for the moment I have two of each in the maindeck with more in the sideboard.
With fewer opposing Yorion decks I thought the time might be right for Doom Foretold, but I don’t think it is. In my experience, Gruul Adventures goes under the card pretty well and it doesn’t catch up quickly enough, and it’s an expensive sorcery-speed card that’s bad against Lurrus of the Dream-Den against Dimir Rogues. More importantly, this deck really doesn’t want to sacrifice its Omens; it wants to blink them.
Charming Prince is important to this deck’s end-game, but Charming Prince isn’t a very strong card without a value creature to blink. Acquisitions Expert helps provide that early while also increasing your creature density to maximize the effectiveness of Omen of the Dead, and it pairs with Kroxa to offer a meaningful hard attrition angle to the deck.
The mana in this deck is hard. This is basically an Orzhov deck splashing red for Omen of the Forge and Kroxa, but Kroxa is a difficult splash, especially when most of the white cards cost WW. Thanks largely to Savai Triome, this isn’t impossible to navigate, but it requires a lot of tapped lands, which means there’s no room for DFCs here. This doesn’t mean we get no value out of our lands. The scrying offered by the Temples is important since our deck doesn’t really draw extra cards, and Castle Locthwain is very strong in this deck, since the curve is relatively low and it has a lot of ways to gain life.
VS Gruul Adventures
I’m really not sure which or how many sweepers are correct to play in the sideboard, but they should definitely all be cards that you want against Gruul. Realm-Cloaked Giant is a little awkward because it doesn’t kill opposing Bonecrusher Giants, but I like that you can pick it up with Omen of the Dead.
Acquisitions Expert and Kroxa play the wrong game against Gruul Adventures. You can’t spend time attacking their hand; you’re just trying to live until you take over the game with Archon of Sun’s Grace or Yorion, Sky Nomad. After sideboarding, you’re very focused on doing exactly that.
VS Dimir Rogues
Elspeth Conquers Death is a huge liability against Dimir Rogues that’s very good against everyone else. Mazemind Tome is fantastic against Dimir Rogues but embarrassing against Gruul Adventures, so swapping four Elspeth Conquers Death for four Mazemind Tomes is a huge upgrade. Kroxa is the center of our gameplan, but we’re counting on the opponent to enable it, so we don’t need Mire Triton, and Charming Prince doesn’t attack into Ruin Crab and generally doesn’t do enough.
Cling to Dust is mostly there to protect our Kroxa from their Cling to Dust and our removal is a lot better once we get to pair it with Mazemind Tome to have a way to get ahead, so we bring in more to draw out the game until we can grind them out with Kroxa and Mazemind Tome.
Those are the decks Mardu Blink (Yorion) is built to beat, but it has game against others. In general, against aggressive decks you’ll want to cut Kroxa, which is primarily included specifically because it’s so strong against Dimir Rogues, but it’s also fine any time you expect a long game. Acquisitions Expert is reasonably safe to cut against opposing aggro decks, so you’ll sideboard against most aggro decks very similarly to how you’d sideboard against Gruul Adventures.
Mazemind Tome comes in against anyone who will give you time to activate it. Against opposing Yorion decks, you’re probably just cutting Bloodchief’s Thirst and Heartless Act for Mazemind Tome, since those are your only true one-for-one cards, and you want to lean into playing all value cards in semi-mirror matches.
It feels great to have a Standard format with tools to adapt to the best decks rather than a format defined by cards that are too good not to play. This deck has a lot of internal synergy, but it’s specifically built to capitalize on a moment when people are playing fewer cards that exile opposing permanents. Even if this is a great choice at this exact moment, I’m sure Selesnya, Abzan, or Azorius Blink decks could go over the top of it if the metagame shifted to let those decks back in.
For now, though, this deck has been a blast.