Next Wave Naya In Zendikar Rising Standard

Patrick Chapin shows the long and winding road he took to Naya Ramp (Yorion) in Zendikar Rising Standard.

Felidar Retreat, illustrated by Ralph Horsley

This is really about two cards:

Felidar Retreat Yorion, Sky Nomad

However, before we can get there, we need to start somewhere a little different…

Embercleave Genesis Ultimatum


Omnath, Locus of Creation

So, Omnath, Locus of Creation tied a whole lot of really powerful things together. It was also the reason to play four colors. Without it, there’s a lot more incentive to stick to just three (or fewer) from a manabase perspective.

Lotus Cobra Bonecrusher Giant

For my buck, Lotus Cobra and Bonecrusher Giant are the strongest cards of their respective colors and two of the cards I’m most interested in playing. There are lots of ways to do this, of course, and one of the strongest elements of the latest Standard card pool is just how many different ways really compelling designs can fit together while still creating a diverse mix of tone, pace, and feel. Yeah, ramp has been overpowered lately, but they’ve also banned half a dozen ramp cards, so we’re definitely starting to get somewhere (and it’s not like all the ramp is the same now).

As mentioned above, however, I do want to start with Embercleave, the other most powerful red card in the format. While the easiest way to use it is in some kind of fast red aggro deck, it’s still a great tactical option for Gruul Monsters decks that go a bit bigger.

Ahh yes, the classic Storm’s Wrath / Embercleave strategy!

Storm's Wrath

All jokes aside – spoiler: you sideboard out the Embercleaves – this strategy is, in some ways, kind of the other side of the ramp coin. Instead of ramping out extremely strong threats, it plays the best threats it can at every spot on the curve. Packing nine five-drops is a little wild, but at least they are all unreal bangers.

Terror of the Peaks Elder Gargaroth Vivien, Monsters' Advocate

It seems like just earlier this year, most people thought Terror of the Peaks wasn’t a Constructed card. Of course, who even knows how time works anymore? I mean, it’s been six years since Underground Dojo Keyboard Cagefighters… Those were simpler times.

In some ways, this strategy isn’t all that different from a ramp deck anyway, even if it does come at it from the other side. It’s not really using much space for interaction, relying on incidental interaction from abilities on some of its creatures and modality of some of its lands. While I do appreciate the card quality being so high here, this strategy doesn’t really get to use Lotus Cobra. Well, I mean, it could (and it might even be right), but Lotus Cobra in this kind of a deck is nothing compared to how it performs in a three-color ramp deck, where you actually value the fixing; plus, you use the rebates it offers on ramp cards, and ramping out Ugin, Genesis Ultimatum, or other landfall cards is a bigger game than anything going on in this list.

Cultivate Migration Path Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

As an example, here’s a Temur Ramp deck that actually shares a little bit of common ground with the aforementioned Gruul Monsters list:

And the incentives are such with Genesis Ultimatum, you’re just gonna keep coming back to Terror of the Peaks (with the current card pool).

Here’s a list that’s a little more ramp-centric, but the similarity in its DNA is undeniable:

One notable piece of tech, here, by the way:

Ox of Agonas

It’s not that nobody plays Ox of Agonas; lots of people do. It’s that the Ox isn’t typical in these kinds of decks, and the first copy you play of this or any other escape threat gives you a powerful new dimension when you happen to face a Dimir Rogues deck. It’s easy when you can play Kroxa, sure, but I think more decks should have a random escape card or two in the maindeck. Yeah, you can sideboard more in, and that’s cool, but having one in your 60 can be disproportionately high-impact in that matchup.

Chainweb Aracnir Cling to Dust Phoenix of Ash

Woe Strider Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis Polukranos, Unchained

While Genesis Ultimatum-centric Temur Ramp decks have, at least so far, been the heir apparent to Four-Color Ramp, I’m not sure yet how to make more headway there, plus I’m not totally sure it’s necessarily the best compared to Naya. In particular, if we end up in a world where the top three decks are Dimir Rogues, Azorius/X Blink, and Temur Ramp, we might be talking about a format full of Mystical Disputes at some point. 

Mystical Dispute

My guess is that there’s enough red, green, and Gruul aggro stuff going on to keep people honest, but there’s definitely a decent chunk of the range that spirals into a blue / anti-blue arms race. I think Temur Ramp is a sound strategy for the days ahead and would highly recommend what Autumn Burchett has to say about it.

My interest in Naya isn’t really about Genesis Ultimatum being blue, however.

Felidar Retreat

It’s kind of weird to describe Felidar Retreat as being underrated, since it’s already splashed in several highly successful decks, as well as showing up in more powered formats; but I really do think it is.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

While the superficial similarities are impossible to miss, I actually think Felidar Retreat is being underrated in a lot of the same ways Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was (even though he was successful right out the gate). A zero-mana 2/2 is a pretty good card to “draw” every turn, and that becomes especially true when you have the ability to pump your team (like Felidar Retreat literally also does). That the Retreat is harder to destroy, yet easier to cast, is just icing on the cake.

Here’s an example of Naya Ramp, built to splash Felidar Retreat instead of Genesis Ultimatum:

Obviously the presence of Felidar Retreat increases our interest in Cultivate, Solemn Simulacrum, and Evolving Wilds, just to trigger landfall more, but it goes further.

Cultivate Solemn Simulacrum Evolving Wilds

This list really is built around Felidar Retreat, making some little decisions because of it, like more cantrip creatures and little creatures in general.

Tangled Florahedron Llanowar Visionary

However, the loudest alternative element is the use of Phylath, World Sculptor as the “other” big ramp payoff besides Ugin, trying to be some of what Genesis Ultimatum offers, while Felidar Retreat is a little lower to the ground than Terror of the Peaks.

Phylath, World Sculptor

Phylath, World Sculptor can come down a turn faster than Genesis Ultimatum if you need it to (and is certainly easier to cast). Immediately, you fill the battlefield with potential blockers and can buy yourself a lot of time to make more big plays. If you can afford to play it without having yet made a land drop for the turn, it really makes Evolving Wilds look good. Suddenly, you’ve added thirteen power worth of threats across three bodies, plus have a huge army of chump blockers on top of that (and if they don’t deal with Phylath, it’ll generally get worse from there).

Where things get completely out of hand is when you combine Felidar Retreat with Phylath, World Sculptor. Building on that same example, having a Felidar Retreat on the battlefield means that same play can add 27 power worth of creatures (spread across seven actual threats). That’s an incredible power spike to an already powerful card, and it’s not even costing you anything. The Felidar Retreat pulls its weight on its own. 

The biggest “cost” to playing Phylath is that to really maximize it, you want to play with basically all basics or lands that fetch basics.

Wolfwillow Haven

I’m not sure how I feel about Wolfwillow Haven. On the one hand, I do like the prospect of getting Felidar Retreat down a turn early, and it will frequently cost us just one mana by getting to use it in the same turn we cast it. However, getting ramp that doesn’t actually put lands onto the battlefield for landfall, nor give us a body to put +1/+1 counters on (usually), seems at least worth questioning.

Jegantha, the Wellspring

Jegantha, the Wellspring is another really interesting card. Having an extra threat to spend mana on is already appealing – you just don’t have a companion when you sideboard in Elder Gargaroth – and this list can actually make pretty good use of the mana, letting you cast and use the World Sculptor ahead of schedule while also making another play in the same turn. It’s not actually “free,” however.

Shatterskull Smashing

Maybe we don’t care that much about not getting to play Shatterskull Smashing because of Phylath, and maybe we don’t care that much about the aforementioned Terror of the Peaks, but it’s not nothing. And while I do think Jegantha looks pretty good here; I want to at least consider one of the other best cards in the format…

Yorion, Sky Nomad

Making Yorion insane isn’t as simple as just playing 80 cards. Don’t get me wrong, a 4/5 flyer for five you didn’t have to put in your deck is pretty good, but that enters-the-battlefield trigger is where the real juice comes from, making it worth the 80-card squeeze.

Llanowar Visionary Solemn Simulacrum Phylath, World Sculptor

We’re already well on our way! You gotta admit, that’s a pretty good twelve-pack to start the party with.

In looking at options I checked out some other nonblue Yorion decks, like Darkiundsa’s Selesnya Blink deck:

While I don’t love how this list matches up against the Dimir/Azorius decks at the top, there’s some really smart deck design going on here.

Gilded Goose Trail of Crumbs Wicked Wolf

First of all, the Food package stacks great with Yorion, with lots of low-opportunity-cost triggers. What’s more, Yorion can retrigger Skyclave Apparition and Glass Casket

Skyclave Apparition Glass Casket

The Apparition leaving gives your opponent a vanilla X/X token, plus the Casket leaving gives them their cheap creature back… Of course, you get to retrigger both, so you can use the Casket to exile the token if you want (or upgrade to something better), and the Apparition can take down another planeswalker or some other difficult threat (or even just upgrade to hit a more dangerous target).

This combination is particularly nice for taking two anti-creature cards and making them doing more useful work against decks with few creatures. For instance, if you Apparitioned your opponent’s Teferi, Master of Time, you can now move on to their Mazemind Tome or one of their Glass Caskets. The X/X creature they are left with now gives them a vulnerability to your previously “dead” removal spell.

One other card I’m a big fan of blinking with Yorion is Elspeth Conquers Death. Sometimes I just can’t wait to get to Chapter III, but sometimes it’s just really nice to get Chapter I back-to-back.

Elspeth Conquers Death

Elspeth Conquers Death is also probably the only mono-white card in the format that can even compete with Felidar Retreat for best in the format. I guess Shatter the Sky is pretty good, but just on raw rate, I think the two enchantments are ahead of it. 

Shatter the Sky

Speaking of Shatter the Sky, here’s another list I considered for ideas, this one going far longer on white, eschewing red altogether:

Love that one-of Chainweb Aracnir! That’s exactly the kind of stuff I’m talking about.

Once you’re playing a Cultivate deck, you kind of get the third color splash for next to nothing, and here we see Garruk, Cursed Huntsman as the alternative ramp payoff instead of Phylath.

Garruk, Cursed Huntsman

This list isn’t really set up well for Felidar Retreat (which it’s obviously not playing), so I don’t think we’d end up too close to here if you’re as into Felidar Retreat as I am, but there are some good ideas here. I just wonder if it’s getting enough out of not being a Yorion deck. Maybe I’m twisted, but I kind of feel like the default assumption is that if you are playing blue or white, you play 80 cards and Yorion by default, and if you want, you can take a mulligan every game in order to increase the chances of drawing your other cards.

Okay, so what about something like:

Yeah, didn’t go ham on other enters-the-battlefield triggers or anything, but it’ll be interesting to see if The Birth of Meletis is actually okay here. It’s not “ramp” per se, but it stacks with the other stuff, gives us more defense, and makes Yorion better. I could also easily see playing Mazemind Tome maindeck, but I didn’t want to stray too far yet.

Ilysian Caryatid

Yeah, Bonecrusher Giant! Get that money!

Branchloft Pathway

Branchloft Pathway might be worse than more basics, but I’m not sure it’s actually that bad to get N-1 Plants, and double white is not the same as single. Besides, I kind of just want to try some things. Same with the Smashing.

Chainweb Aracnir

Yeah, maybe I’m a hypocrite, but I did consider Chainweb Aracnir. Besides, it’s a much bigger deal when your deck is 60 cards. Playing 80 already bakes in a lot more protection, there, ya know?

Conclave Mentor

Between Felidar Retreat and Phylath, I’m really not sure Conclave Mentor is off the table. That’s such a big game with the Retreat. It would not take much to sell me on this quasi-pivot.

Containment Priest

It’s a shame Containment Priest says “creature,” because ooh-wee, would this be a nice one against Yorion. That said, how sure are we that this card shouldn’t be seeing more play anyway…