Ten Things I Like And Don’t Like, Including Zendikar Rising Standard

Far too many bannings later, Zendikar Rising Standard is…great? And Cedric Phillips likes Historic too? What’s gotten into him?

Gilded Goose, illustrated by Lindsey Look

Here are ten things I like and don’t like from this week in Magic: The Gathering:

1. Zendikar Rising Standard is Awesome

Over the past few years, there have been lots of miserable play patterns in Standard that I’ve been asked to commentate upon:

  • Cauldron Familiar + Witch’s Oven
  • Lucky Clover + Adventures
  • Wilderness Reclamation + Expansion // Explosion
  • Omnath, Locus of Creation + lands
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath + cards
  • Oko
  • Thief
  • Of
  • Crowns

How do I know they’re miserable? Well, mostly because I’ve been playing Magic for over twenty years so I think I have a pretty good barometer for what is and isn’t fun, but also because the majority of those cards have been banned in Standard. And while it took a bit longer than what I believe to be sufficient to defund each and every single one of those annoyances, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has done so and we are finally in a place that I am truly happy with.

Zendikar Rising Championship Standard Metagame

What you see before you is a healthy and diverse Standard metagame. One in which the decks play much differently from each other and one where any deck can win. Want to give beatdowns? Gruul Adventures and Mono-Green Food are excellent choices. Want to go over the top of your opponent? Say hello to Temur Adventures and various Doom Foretold strategies. Interested in sidestepping attacking altogether and want to control every aspect of the battlefield? Dimir Control with or without Yorion, Sky Nomad has got your back. And let’s not discount Dimir Rogues, which may be the hardest deck to play in the format, yet in the hands of a master feels unbeatable.

I have spent the last three weeks testing for the Zendikar Rising Championship because I have, once again, accidentally qualified for a high-level tournament on the last possible weekend to do so. And in that testing, the majority of my attention was spent on Historic, as I assumed that would be the more complicated of the two formats. But as it turns out, Uro and Nissa, Who Shakes the World have a habit of making things simpler than they may initially appear.

So that means that I should have spent more than four days on Zendikar Rising Standard, because the learning curve has been a steep one. But in my journey in learning the ins and outs of playing Mono-Green Food, I realized that I was having an absolute blast doing so and I didn’t want to stop (I’m typing this portion of this article in between matches of Mono-Green Food as opposed to during a match with Mono-Green Food because I am a responsible adult).

Did it take WotC a long time to get to this point? Absolutely. But if you’re going to give WotC shit about how bad their formats are or how poor their card design is (which, I will admit, is valid in many instances), you also have to give them dap when a format is this good.

And this Standard format is just that good.

2. Historic Is Awesome

What’s that? Back-to-back compliments from me to WotC?

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s Ced motive here? Is he trying to get a job at WotC? Play Design perhaps? This is very unlike him.” My answer, you undying cynic, is that I can be as harsh as anyone on the powers that be over in Renton and have been for years. The thing that separates me from the people on the ole Twittersphere is that I actually have interest in…

  1. Providing solutions
  2. Giving kudos when things are good

I just gave kudos to Standard and I’m here to do more of the same with Historic. I played a ton of Historic leading into the Zendikar Rising Championship before ultimately settling on Four-Color Midrange because the deck has incredible mana and Uro is LOLOLOL. But in order for me to actually be comfortable registering everyone’s least favorite Elder Giant, I had to play a lot of games.

And play a lot of games I did.

I tried as many Aetherworks Marvel decks as I could get my hands on. But as much fun as it was to activate Marvel, hit Yorion, blink out my Woodweaver Puzzleknots, Rogue Refiner, Wall of Blossoms, and aforementioned legendary artifact, just for them to return, refill my energy, and fire it off again, it didn’t lead to as many wins as I was looking for.

Yes, I dabbled in Mono-Red Aggro, considered the merits of Azorius VS Orzhov Auras, and debated if I really wanted to try to win the Muxus lottery. But in the end I settled on splashing Yasharn, Implacable Earth into Sultai Midrange because I am a genius and no one has ever thought of doing that before.

More importantly, I had a lot of fun playing the games to come to my final decision and I’m still having fun playing them while I write this article I can’t wait to play more of them once I’m done writing this article.

3. The Secret’s Out

No, not Buddy Murphy, though he is dope as hell (and has a better V-Trigger than Kenny Omega — yeah I sad it):

Secret Lair is here to stay and it’s only getting better with time. In this week’s episode of Weekly MTG (recapped by the incredibly talented and handsome Nick Miller here), Blake Rasmussen and Steven Sunu were joined by Mark Heggen of the Secret Lair team to review the first year of Secret Lairs and discuss the future of the products going forward, while also previewing art and themes for drops coming in 2021 and beyond.

Some people love the Secret Lair series. Others hate it. But I’ll say this — prepare to live with it because it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This series has been immensely successful for WotC and I believe it’s only going to get better with time. As for where I stand on it, I’m a huge fan of limited edition collectibles while also realizing that plenty of them are not going to be for me.

Seb McKinnon’s Damnation? Not my cup of tea. But if you like it? Cool and I hope you’re able to pick it up.

A common complaint of the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead was that the cards in that drop didn’t look like Magic cards (admittedly, not the only complaint). And then when WotC dropped their Secret Lair Secretversary Superdrop — Party Hard, Shred Harder! — everyone lost their mind in how cool it was.

Oh and these do?

The reality is this — some people are going to love some things and some people aren’t. Not every product is made with every single person in mind. But if a Secret Lair product resonates with you, I hope you pick it up and enjoy the hell out of it. Because that’s what I and a ton of other people did with the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead crossover and I couldn’t be happier with my decision (and they haven’t even shipped them yet!)

4. Surprise Surprise

Speaking of Secret Lair x The Walking Dead, this comes as no surprise whatsoever from this week’s episode of Weekly MTG:

Other topics discussed on the show include the packaging for Secret Lairs and the reception of the Walking Dead drop. Heggen said they are looking at new changes and improvements for the packaging, but they haven’t finalized anything quite yet. He also addressed concerns from the Walking Dead drop, saying that they are paying close attention to all feedback and that they are aware not everyone was happy with it. He also said that it was the best-selling Secret Lair to date, with it reaching the most unique consumers and it being the first Magic cards for many buyers.

Like I said in my Ten Things on September 4, these partnerships that WotC is making — K-Swiss Jace Beleren shoes, MTG being in The New York Times crossword, and cozying up with The Walking Dead for this Secret Lair promotion — are an attempt to take Magic into the mainstream in a way it never has been before. If this stuff goes well, it raises the floor on our favorite game in the world.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at what one little seven-episode series on Netflix has done to the world of chess.

5. Modern Is Awesome

So about Magic formats being awesome, here’s another one!

A few years ago, Modern was built around Mono-Green Tron, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Eldrazi Tron, and who knows what else because 2020 has been such a disaster that my brain is no longer incapable of going all the way back to 2017. Just trust me when I say that Modern looked a lot different from what it looks like now. And yet, even with Uro, Omnath, Field of the Dead, and a bevy of other busted cards being legal in the format, the gameplay is out of this world.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of covering Kazuya Takuwa’s victory at the Magic Online Champions Showcase alongside Emma Handy. But it wasn’t the Finals match that took me by surprise (though that one was quite good). It was every match involving this Selesnya deck:

On the surface, this deck should have no shot against these Four-Color Control decks since all their cards cantrip, they contain busted planeswalkers, and they even have the Cryptic Command + Mystic Sanctuary loop for good measure. Yet Newton Hang kept on coming and coming and coming on his way to one of the most impressive third-place finishes in an eight-person event I’ve ever witnessed. His mastery of the deck was undeniable but the deck itself looks like it has no business even being playable in Modern until you see it in action.

And this is how I feel about a lot of Modern’s decks right now. It would be very easy to assume that some version of this is the best deck given its card quality:

But the reality is that it’s one of many options to play. If you’re in search of decision intensive Magic from Turn 1 forward, where every single piece of maindeck and sideboard slot matters, look no further than Modern.

6. Why Bring This Back?

Many have mentioned their confusion on bringing Aetherworks Marvel back in Kaladesh Remastered and I’m right there with them. I don’t feel this way because I’m upset that I failed in building a good Aetherworks Marvel deck during my Historic testing for the Zendikar Rising Championship. I feel this way because I’m relieved that I failed in building a good Aetherworks Marvel deck during my Historic testing for the Zendikar Rising Championship.

Aetherworks Marvel

There’s very little that is fun about someone casting Aetherworks Marvel; hitting an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; and ending the game on the spot. Do you have to work for it a little bit with Aetherworks Marvel? Sure, I guess, but certainly not enough to warrant reprinting the card when we know what the upside and downside are already.

Best-case scenario, Aetherworks Marvel sees no play because the energy cards surrounding it aren’t good enough (since it is clearly the best energy payoff). Worst-case scenario, it is consistently putting Ulamog or Ugin onto the battlefield on Turn 4 and then it will get suspended/banned.

Zendikar Rising Championship Historic Metagame

This is the Zendikar Rising Championship Historic metagame and fortunately Aetherworks Marvel isn’t a relevant portion of it. But if it had been, I would have been rather upset because the tournament I’m playing in while you’re reading this would have been a whole lot less fun.

7. Let’s Rank ‘Em

Party Hard, Shred Harder

2/10. Not for me in any way (though they do stick out like a sore thumb for coverage so that’s nice). I’m sure Chris Pikula is the happiest human alive after seeing these.

Happy Little Gathering

9/10. If you don’t think Bob Ross is awesome, please click the back button on your browser and never come to these parts ever again.

Artist Series: Seb McKinnon

4/10. I fully appreciate Seb McKinnon’s mastery but it doesn’t resonate with me personally.

A Box of Rocks

3/10. These miss for me because I just don’t care about any of the cards. Now, you put all the Signets into one of these, and Cube connoisseurs like myself will click “Preorder Now” faster than one thought possible.

We Hope You Like Squirrels

7/10. Was and always will be a Squirrels stan.

8. No Seriously, Magic Is Actually Awesome Right Now

2020 has been awful. You’ll get no counterargument out of me. For someone who has traveled 35+ weekends a year since I was 18, being at home in Seattle since March has been the longest time I’ve been in the same place since I left high school. It is very unsettling for me and I cannot wait to get on a plane again for (almost) any reason. but ideally to see my parents, whom I haven’t seen since Thanksgiving of 2019.

And that’s just what’s going on in my little circle.

COVID-19 has been handled worse than a Level 1 judge making a ruling about Humility, the United States election was (still is?) a disaster, and don’t even get me started on the countless unnecessary lives we’ve lost over the course of this year. There haven’t been many bright spots in 2020, and for a good portion of this year, Magic was something I hated, not enjoyed.

But right now, Magic is one of the few things I’m turning to that is putting a smile on my face. And for that, I’m thankful.

(And before you ask, Pioneer and Legacy are both good too. I just haven’t touched either for a bit.)

9. Listen

10. Laugh