Zendikar Rising has been one of the most exciting preview seasons that I have covered in a very long time. Even with tabletop play suspended, Magic’s newest set ignited the spark in this old planeswalker. The Dungeons & Dragons-esque theme; land drops that can be used as spells later; the powerful cycle of mana fixing; and a great planeswalker in Jace, Mirror Mage all have me brimming with excitement.
Standard is the format that I spend most of my energy on and it is where most of my love for the game rests. The ever-changing aspect of it, prompted by yearly rotations, keeps it fresh when times are good. Unfortunately, we have had too many grenades tossed into Standard by R&D in recent years. Most of these problematic cards have been removed, but the biggest elephant in the room remains.
There is no defense, from a gameplay perspective, to keep Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath legal in Standard. The economics behind banning a flagship mythic rare are not pretty; however, the card is too powerfully designed and will prevent the format from ever being healthy. I have had general success against the card with my control concoctions, but this is not about me. Public support for Uro has been waning and for all the right reasons.
Uro has somehow invalidated aggro, midrange (without Uro of course), and control as options in competitive play. Even though other decks have had success on the fringe, Sultai Ramp exposed the uncomfortable truth that the bannings did not solve anything. Growth Spiral had to go, but then the remaining members of the Simic Combine easily rose to display their dominance without it. Uro is too strong of a card to bring down, even after removing its supporting cast through bannings or the upcoming rotation.
A brand-new format is on the rise, and with that, the decks of old Standard will have to adapt or become obsolete. This has been the way for as long as I have played, but Uro is an anomaly. It does not operate in the traditional way and will have decks built around it, even if the payoffs are significantly weaker. In this scenario, there is not a diverse, healthy future in Standard while it remains legal. I have already planned on building decks with the absence of Uro in mind, but it is always best practice to develop a strong backup plan. If Uro remains legal through the early stages of the new Standard, Team Control must come prepared.
Confounding Conundrum is one of those cards that looks rough on the surface, but it turns out to be an effective hate card with low downside. Anytime card draw is tacked onto a desired effect, my interest gets piqued. Spreading Seas is a perfect example of a card I would not have considered using without card draw attached. Even in a world rich with evil Urzatron threats, Spreading Seas would never have seen use without providing an additional form of advantage. Confounding Conundrum, although not as applicable as Spreading Seas, is the best shot control has to combat Uro.
Due to the unquestionable power level of ramp cards, even with a pile of them rotating, Confounding Conundrum could be called into action on a regular basis. The cheap mana cost is the biggest pro, coming down a turn earlier than the most problematic ramp spell. This still does not solve the card advantage gained on the large late-game threat, but it is a start. The game begins to slip away when advantage is gained early, through the boost in mana capabilities. If this is taken away, the sorcery-speed cycling of Uro is one of the least threatening plays that can occur on Turn 3.
One of the problematic aspects of Confounding Conundrum is that it hits opponents only, meaning decks featuring Uro can use it as well. This could lead to additional uninteresting gameplay, especially if Confounding Conundrum turns out to be a strong hate card in the new format. These types of cards should have a universal impact, even though you see that less these days. A card like Mayhem Devil triggers when any player sacrifices something, Hushbringer prevents everyone from having sweet enters-the-battlefield triggers, and Confounding Conundrum had development room to expand its impact. I am disappointed by this decision, but it still has a solid role in the tap-out control decks I plan on developing once Zendikar Rising is fully previewed.
The best part about Confounding Conundrum is its card draw, as discussed. The effect preventing additional lands from being played is going to deliver a blow to ramp decks; however, it is more important to ensure the card’s usefulness in other matchups. Even though Simic Ramp is likely going to dominate if Uro remains legal, your day-to-day play will have a healthy variety of decks to compete against in the beginning. A two-mana enchantment that just draws a card will not make or break you most of the time, especially with a little help from our friend Yorion, Sky Nomad.
Yorion will make its triumphant return in Zendikar Rising Standard, swooping into blink Omen of the Sea and Confounding Conundrum. Without the threat of Narset, Parter of Veils, control decks can draw as many cards as they want on each turn. Omen of the Sea has much more upside than Confounding Conundrum in most cases, but both are fantastic when playing a deck centered around our companion friend. Yorion will be in both the companion zone and maindeck of the first deck I craft with Zendikar Rising.
It was tricky to build a deck with twenty more cards in it without incorporating additional card draw. Hitting a Shatter the Sky on Turn 4 is mandatory against certain matchups, making the additional cards a dangerous gamble. This is offset some when, of the twenty cards added, a good portion are cheap card draw spells that help you get going in the early-game. Confounding Conundrum is a perfect pair with Yorion, rewarding players for playing additional permanents that draw cards when they blink back to the battlefield.
Confounding Conundrum would likely take the spot of Omen of the Sun, a card I have tried to ditch on multiple occasions. Drawing a card is a superior mode compared to making a couple of 1/1s in most control scenarios. Control decks, with Azorius Control at the forefront, lean heavily on sweepers to keep the battlefield clean. This discourages the inclusion of creatures, even token producers, due to the volatility of the battlefield. Blocking to save a few life points is a weak play when the alternative is producing more cards to hit lands, or action, when needed.
With the preview of Confounding Conundrum and Jace, Mirror Mage, I am confident that Yorion is the initial centerpiece to build around after Zendikar Rising is released. Having the ability to blink the early card draw enchantments for later value is tough to beat. With Jace, Mirror Mage here, another cheap permanent that loves to get blinked, control stock is on the rise. Teferi, Master of Time and Elspeth Conquers Death are waiting patiently to be included to this plan, painting a clear picture on what the first Standard control decks should look like.
Azorius Control is where I am leaning, even with the release of decent color fixing across the board. This two-color control deck is losing very little because the entire deck popped up with the release of Shatter the Sky. Sets since then have only added fuel to the fire, making Azorius Control the framework on which to build. The next piece of the puzzle is an on-color land that operates as a usable spell, even though I was just officially informed that it is not happening by a former teammate, now employee of Wizards of the Coast, Donald Smith.
Even the former Platinum Pro cannot bring me down from my Zendikar Rising high. An Uro hate card like Confounding Conundrum, to give us a fighting chance before they ban the problem for good, is exactly what the doctor ordered. The rest of the set continues to show us promise and I look forward to seeing the actual control-centered cards soon. With the release of Valakut Awakening, I am confident, regardless of what my buddies say, that control has some powerful tools arriving soon. At least at this point, we have enough to work with to produce a powerful competitor after rotation. Those existing control powerhouses, with some Zendikar Rising spice, can be enough to compete with Uro while we must.