Is Gruul Adventures The Deck To Beat In This Weekend’s Zendikar Rising Standard Arena Open?

Is Gruul Adventures the deck to beat in Zendikar Rising Standard? Are you Team Lurrus or Team Shark? Sam Black, Ari Lax, and PVDDR weigh in.

Bonecrusher Giant, illustrated by Victor Adame Minguez

Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Sam Black, Ari Lax, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa are here to give their takes on five statements about Zendikar Rising Standard.

1. With Rei Sato’s 11-1 performance in the Zendikar Rising League Weekend, Gruul Adventures is now the deck to beat in Zendikar Rising Standard.

Sam Black: Fact. At this exact moment, I think Gruul Adventures is the deck to beat. It’s a straightforward deck that plays relatively quickly matches, so it’s easy to pick up after a successful weekend and it has game against everyone. I absolutely wouldn’t play a deck that had a horrible Gruul Adventures matchup, and would definitely make my card choices with Gruul Adventures at the forefront of my mind, which is really the best test for whether I actually treat something as a deck to beat. 

Ari Lax: Fiction. This is a classic “the deck to beat” versus “a deck to beat” differential. It’s weird to talk about multiple Tier 1 decks after the last seven months of Tier 0 decks and bans, but Dimir Rogues and Gruul Adventures are actually sharing a top spot and are closely followed by still evolving Yorion, Sky Nomad variants. I think playing a deck that’s exceptionally weak to Gruul Adventures is a large risk, but aiming to beat solely Gruul Adventures at the cost of broad-scope power is a clear mistake.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. I don’t think Gruul Adventures is the “deck to beat” in the same way that, say, Simic Food or Temur Reclamation were decks to beat, but it’s the deck to beat nonetheless; it’s likely the most popular deck right now and it’s quite good. It wasn’t really just Rei Sato’s performance, but the fact that the deck performed very well overall and that it wasn’t really on people’s radars before then, so it forced a change in the metagame. Now, when choosing a new deck, the first question I ask myself is how it does versus Gruul Adventures, which to me is the definition of “deck to beat.” 

The difference between Gruul Adventures and these other decks is the intensity of how much you care about beating it — with, say, Simic Food, if you had a deck that beat it, then that was good enough, no other questions asked. If you had a deck that lost badly to it, it was immediately discarded. This is not the case here; you can find a deck with a great Gruul Adventures win percentage, but if it’s bad versus the rest of the field then that’s not going to be enough, even if Gruul Adventures is the deck to beat. Similarly, if you have a deck that’s bad versus Gruul Adventures but good versus the rest, that’s just a good deck. I’d expect Gruul Adventures to be 20% of the field and not 70% like we’ve seen with these other decks. However, it’s still the first deck on my mind when I’m wondering who I have to beat, so I think the answer is fact. 

2. Dimir Rogues with Lurrus of the Dream-Den as its companion is better than Dimir Rogues with Shark Typhoon in Zendikar Rising Standard.

Sam Black: Too close to call. The results seem well within the margin of error. I think this has to be matchup/metagame-dependent, but may even come down more to individual play style differences as to which is a better choice for any given player. Lurrus and Shark Typhoon are both great cards and there’s a lot of room to tune the archetype beyond which of those cards you play. 

Ari Lax: Fact. Have you played with Lurrus? Actually, let’s not even go that far. Have you read Lurrus?

It was a light-hearted joke when the companion rule changed that Lurrus was still banned in Vintage and Legacy. After playing more with the card in Modern, Historic, and Standard, I’m glad it’s gone. I talked about this in my article this week, but just the existence of the future eighth card in a game is format-warping when it’s something that’s both assured value and threatens continuing value the way Lurrus does. Add in Agadeem’s Awakening, and you can start to see the layers of reliable, powerful plans that Lurrus adds to the Dimir Rogues deck.

If you don’t trust this macroanalysis, can I point you to the classic analysis of “ball don’t lie”?

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. I think both versions have their pros and cons — Shark Typhoon is better versus other blue decks and Lurrus is better versus everything else. When the expected metagame was Azorius Blink and Dimir Rogues, it made sense to gravitate towards Shark Typhoon over Lurrus. Now I don’t think this will be the case anymore, which to me makes Lurrus the better choice — Shark Typhoon is not good enough against a wide field to justify giving up a free card.

3. Given its performance in Zendikar Rising League Weekend, Selesnya Blink is a better Yorion, Sky Nomad deck than Azorius Blink.

Sam Black: Fact. Azorius Blink is at the far end of the do-nothing spectrum of blinking, where it just invests too much mana in building up its hand and not enough mana in impacting the battlefield. Selesnya is a step in the right direction because its mana creatures allow it to do a bit more and more of the cards it’s looking to blink have an immediate impact, though I still don’t think either is the best Yorion deck. 

Ari Lax: Fact, for now. It’s very clear that if you play last week’s versions of Azorius Blink, you’re doing something horribly wrong. A deck doesn’t just go from winning barely 25% of its matches one weekend to a good choice the next.

But that doesn’t mean Azorius Blink is completely out of it. Twenty extra cards in Azorius Blink won’t short you on playables, but instead just increases the combinations of cards available to register. If the issue with Yorion decks right now is that they tap out too much into Dimir Rogues’s interaction or Gruul Adventures’s Embercleave, they can retool to support more instant-speed interaction and fewer expensive sorcery-speed spells and just use Yorion as a value play with Omen of the Sea and the still-absurd Elspeth Conquers Death. They can even move towards Waker of Waves as another instant-speed card selection spell that solves the problem many Yorion decks have where the third chapter of Elspeth Conquers Death often has no target.

This is part of why I’m still skeptical Yorion makes it through the remainder of this Standard rotation. The effect is just too sweepingly powerful, too hard to answer, and too flexible in how it is utilized for something to not go horribly wrong with it. Add in the still-broken companion mechanic and the misery of Yorion loops, and anytime someone declares the card dead, I just assume they will learn they are wrong in in a week.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. The strength of Azorius Blink is its ability to play counterspells, but this just doesn’t seem that relevant in the current format. Selesnya Blink has more ways to kill creatures, more ways to pressure the opponent and better sideboard options versus both Dimir Rogues and Rakdos Midrange, since you can play better escape cards as well as Scavenging Ooze. The biggest weakness of Selesnya Blink, in my mind, was its poor matchup versus all the other Yorion decks — the Azorius version and the Jeskai version have Dream Trawler, the Esper version has Dance of the Manse, the Mardu version has Ruinous Ultimatum and the Abzan version has Eerie Ultimatum, not to mention the fact that 80 cards might actually be a benefit, so literally every other Yorion deck will go over the top of you. If we expect these decks to not be as popular as they were last weekend, then I think Selesnya Blink is a good choice. 

4. With Kenji Egashira’s 8-4 performance in the Zendikar Rising League Weekend, Selesnya Adventures is a Tier 1 deck in Zendikar Rising Standard.

Sam Black: Fiction. A single solid performance isn’t enough for me to categorize a deck as Tier 1 in a format that already has a reasonably robust top tier of decks that see a lot of play. I could believe that the deck might be roughly as good as the Tier 1 decks, but I think metagame share has to count for something, as Selesnya Adventures just doesn’t have that at the moment. Tier 1 is about more than how good a deck is; it’s about how it impacts a metagame. No matter how good a deck is, even if it’s the best deck, if it has no impact because no one plays it, it’s not a Tier 1 deck. 

Ari Lax: Fact*. I feel like I just don’t get Selesnya decks on first glance these days, but immediately see what’s going on when I play against them. First it was Selesnya Company in Modern, and more recently it was Selesnya Adventures in Standard.

I agree with basically everything Ross Merriam had to say about the deck, especially emphasizing the power of Shepherd of the Flock and more specifically Usher to Safety. It does a good enough Yorion impression on Elspeth Conquers Death or Skyclave Apparition when your plan is killing everything, and the existence of the card causes headaches for opponents forced to interact with your green threats.

The *? I would argue some semantics about how Tier 1 implies a deck is a defining thing you play against as well, but the spirit of the question is more about how good Selesnya Adventures is and it definitely passes on that metric.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I think Selesnya Adventures is a good deck, and a totally valid choice for anyone to play, but if we’re going to have tiers, then there must be a cut from one tier to the next, and I can’t imagine Selesnya Adventures is above that first cut. I actually like Selesnya Adventures over Golgari Adventures in a lot of spots — just the fact that you have an actual multcolored land helps you wonders — but the rise of Gruul Adventures might make the Golgari version better, as you want as much instant-speed removal as you can get to combat Embercleave (though Giant Killer is quite strong there). 

I also think the fact that Azorius Blink did so badly is sort of a double-edged sword when it comes to decks like Selesnya Adventures. Historically, Selesnya Adventures has been bad versus Yorion, so the fact that there will be fewer Yorion decks is good news, but at the same time the Yorion decks that did exist were super-tuned towards the mirror, with people playing upwards of ten counterspells, card drawing, etc. Now the people that do play Yorion will not tech towards the mirror as much, so your matchup against them will be worse. In fact, everyone (not just the Yorion decks) will tune their decks to beat Gruul Adventures, and all the anti-Gruul Adventures cards will happen to be good against you, so I’d say that Selesnya Adventures didn’t get as much of a bonus as it seems form the results from last week.

5. If you were playing in the Arena Open this weekend, you would play…

Sam Black: Mardu Blink (Yorion). This deck has really polarized matchups. I’ve never lost to anyone who was trying to go under me (Dimir Rogues, Gruul Adventures, Mono-Red Aggro), and I’ve never beaten anyone who went way over the top of me (Temur Ramp, Dimir Control), and while I don’t like the experience of having nearly unwinnable matchups, I think that’s a great place to be in the current metagame. 

Ari Lax: Mono-Red Aggro.

Cedric stated on his Top 5 Podcast on Wednesday that he would be covering this deck, but this is a classic intersection of Ari Lax maneuvers: getting dunked on by a deck you thought was stupid and immediately deciding you should be the person dunking on people with a good list of it, and the 50/50 Mono-Red Aggro deck. As in 50% of the time you’re sweating margins like who is on the play to topdecking a burn spell, and 50% of the time the game might as well have not started for your opponent before you check off a win. Mono-Red Aggro has a lot of the same upsides as Gruul Adventures, but more reliably outpaces interaction as opposed to getting stuck going midrange toe-to-toe against grindier decks.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Undecided. I most certainly am playing the Arena Open this weekend, but I don’t know what I’m playing yet. In fact, I don’t even know if I’m playing Best-of-One or Best-of-Three on Day 1. Best-of-One offers better value and is overall easier to qualify from (you need to 7-2 as opposed to 4-0 from Best-of-Three, plus I believe the opposition is overall a lot weaker), but I don’t have the faintest idea what’s good in Best-of-One (it really is a different format), so I might have to stick to Best-of-Three.

If I do play Best-of-Three, or if I make Day 2, I have a couple of options. The decks I’m considering are Gruul Adventures, Rakdos Midrange (tuned slightly towards beating aggressive decks), Dimir Rogues (Lurrus), or a Yorion deck (probably not the Azorius one, but any of the others is fair game). If I had to submit a deck immediately, I’d submit Rakdos Midrange since I know I have a good version of that and solid plans, but I still have two (or three) days to decide, and I’ll be using these two days to test and figure out what I think is best.