Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Sam Black, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Dom Harvey are here to give their takes on five statements about Zendikar Rising Standard. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!
1. Four-Color Ramp is far and away the best deck in Zendikar Rising Standard.
Sam Black: Fact. Even if it’s not the deck I’d play, I can’t argue that it isn’t the best deck in an objective sense. I believe it’s possible to have game against it if you make every decision in building your deck with this deck in mind, but that’s not a meaningful indictment.
If you imagine playing this deck against decks from past Standard formats against people who hadn’t seen these cards yet, it’s just funny to imagine what their reaction might be when you put 30 permanents on the battlefield on Turn 4.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. It’s obviously early to call the entire format, but, for this moment in time, I think a version of Four-Color Ramp is going to be the best deck. If I had a tournament to play today, I would be focusing on finding the best version of it and figuring out my sideboard plans for the mirror. The deck just attacks on too many angles.
Lotus Cobra and Omnath, Locus of Creation both demand immediate removal (and sometimes different pieces of removal too!), and if you answer the creatures, then you still need to deal with all the powerful spells. Sometimes you will draw two removal spells and lose to Genesis Ultimatum, and sometimes you will draw two Negates and lose to Lotus Cobra. Sometimes you draw answers to everything and then just lose to Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath grinding you out. I don’t really know how we’re supposed to attack the deck.
This doesn’t mean I think all the other decks are bad, or that Four-Color Ramp is the best by a ridiculously large amount, but I think it’s clearly the top choice regardless of the metagame you expect, so I’m comfortable saying it’s far and away the best deck. Things might change as the format evolves, but as of right now, this is the Temur Reclamation of the format.
Dom Harvey: Fact. These questions carry an implicit disclaimer — maybe this or that is a fact right now but not after the invisible hand of R&D reaches down on Monday to rescue us from this misery! This time, I think that hurts more than helps. Four-Colour Ramp is far and away the best deck in Zendikar Rising Standard and I frankly don’t expect that to change unless Monday’s changes represent a bold rebuke to the whole modern design philosophy. If anything, I’m worried about a Hogaak situation where action is taken now and it isn’t enough because the deck survives in a form that’s even stronger in some ways.
It’s too early to say how Four-Colour Ramp compares to the overpowered ‘best decks’ of the last year of Standard — in part because the set hasn’t been officially released yet! — but it’s clear it belongs with them. The combination of Uro and Omnath alongside the modal double-faced cards (DFCs) removes the inconsistencies and fail rate that are necessary to make ramp a healthy and balanced strategy. Four-Colour Ramp embarrasses the competition on every axis: it gains life faster than you can deal damage, it presents threats more quickly and more often than you can deal with them, and it accumulates resources with an unmatched greed. Its trivial access to every colour gives it the best tools to fight any opponent.
Yes, your exciting new brew might be beating Four-Colour Ramp players on the ladder right now. Are you sure you can beat strong players who have chosen to prepare for your macro-archetype? I believe that you believe…
2. Aggro decks are unplayable in Zendikar Rising Standard.
Sam Black: Fiction. I’ve seen people I trust advocating for Mono-Red Aggro and Gruul Adventures, and I personally consider Dimir Rogues playable, though we could get into an interesting semantic debate about whether it’s an aggro deck.
Anyway, my bar for “playable” is pretty low. I’m not saying I’m confident that there’s an aggro deck that I’d necessarily expect to win more than 45% of its matches against a skilled field, but you won’t get laughed out of the room and you can probably play some competitive matches.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I think aggro decks have a tough time ahead of them because both Uro and Omnath incidentally gain so much life that they make trying to beat down feel futile, but there are many aggro decks that can attack in big chunks. Embercleave, for example, is still a very powerful card. Both Gruul Adventures and Mono-Red Aggro have put up reasonable results lately and if you’re a person who likes aggro decks I think they’re totally valid archetypes.
Dom Harvey: Fact. Our esteemed colleague Andrew Elenbogen may deserve more credit (or blame!) for the current state of aggro than anyone else. Ever set since his Pro Tour win, WotC seemed to be guided by the belief that Venerated Loxodon and friends must be stopped at all costs. With that dark cloud lifted from competitive Magic, we can finally draw cards and make land drops as Richard Garfield intended!
Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t any better now for players who just want to attack. The original Zendikar block opened up new frontiers for archetypes across the spectrum from midrange to control to combo but also gave aggro its best tools in a long time. The rising tide that engulfed every format in recent years has not lifted all boats equally — aggro is bringing a 2015-era knife to a gunfight. If that weren’t bad enough, the woefully imbalanced manafixing in Zendikar Rising Standard hurts aggro more than other archetypes. Which of these cards should be harder to cast?
Not only is Omnath easier to cast in Four-Colour Ramp than Questing Beast is in Gruul Aggro, Questing Beast is easier to cast in Four-Colour Ramp than in Gruul! It doesn’t matter how many lines of text you add to a card if the ramp deck can poach it for its own ends. And that’s a colour pair that actually has a Pathway. There may well be a Golgari Counters deck or a successor to Rakdos Sacrifice that withered on the vine because it simply can’t cast its spells.
3. Control decks are unplayable in Zendikar Rising Standard.
Sam Black: Fiction. My answer here is similar. I personally have struggled in my efforts to build a control deck that can compete with Omnath, but I’m not the best at building control decks, and on paper it absolutely feels like the tools should be there. Their spells are expensive and counterable. Uro is a hard problem to solve, but not impossible.
I genuinely believe that the bigger issue here is just how new the format is. Given time, I don’t think it would be the best deck, but I absolutely think a playable control deck would emerge.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. Control decks also have a tough time ahead of them, since it’s hard to build your decks to answer both the must-answer creatures and the must-answer spells, but control decks shine on predictable metagames and this one seems like it’s going to become predictable really quickly. I don’t really know what you can do to beat this many different threats, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t find the answer. I’ve seen variations of Dimir Control, Azorius Control and even Four-Color Yorion that have been successful at different levels, so I think if you want to play control you can definitely find success.
Dom Harvey: Fiction? I have more optimism for the Shaheen Sooranis among us to find a home in this young Standard format. A classic control deck with enough counters to contain Escape to the Wilds and Genesis Ultimatum is a promising recipe on paper and Corey Baumeister’s video series this week offers some examples. His use of Yorion, Sky Nomad alongside Skyclave Apparition and Elspeth Conquers Death (and his own copies of Omnath, Locus of Creation ) allows him to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the Four-Colour Ramp deck once its explosive potential is neutered. However, this Four-Colour Control deck takes the most obnoxious features of Four-Colour Ramp and grafts them into a different shell. If this emerges as the answer, is that really more encouraging?
Any aspiring control deck needs to compete with a Four-Colour Ramp deck built with the matchup in mind. Ramp can play with or against soft counters like Mystical Dispute more effectively than control and find windows to use cards like Negate to stick a threat. Cheaper finishers like Felidar Retreat or Kenrith, the Returned King can take over games by themselves while dodging answers aimed at the pre-sideboard configuration. Other threats like Shark Typhoon and Cragplate Baloth can sidestep most interaction altogether. A control deck that continues to perform consistently against this range of possible pivots will have earned its stripes.
4. Omnath, Locus of Creation will be banned in a competitive Constructed format at some point during its lifespan.
Sam Black: Fact. I mean, please?
We talked about banning Siege Rhino. It wasn’t close to happening, but it was discussed. For one more color of mana, this draws a card and generates a million mana. It doesn’t even feel like a similar card because combat with it is meaningless because it goes so far over the top before you can even consider attacking. This card is just too much, and I’m embarrassed that it wasn’t obvious to me before seeing it on the battlefield.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I think Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is very reluctant to ban cards from the new set (there’s almost no chance Omnath is banned in this next announcement), and by the time they would be willing to ban Omnath, it won’t need to be banned. It’s a very powerful card, but it’s not singularly powerful like Uro, which just works with anything — it requires specific support. I think they would consider banning Omnath only close to the next rotation, and then we’ll have lost the support cast of Fabled Passage, Evolving Wilds, Uro, Ugin, etc. at which point Omnath might not be that good anymore. Of course they could just print similar cards (or reprint some of those), but I have hope that at some point Ramp is not going to be a Tier 1 archetype anymore.
Dom Harvey: Fiction. I don’t know if the alarming frequency of bans in Standard should make me more or less confident in this answer. WotC isn’t any happier about the situation than we are and one response to ban fatigue is a stubborn refusal to address a growing problem. If Uro finally gets the axe on Monday, part of the player base will wonder why it didn’t happen sooner and the rest will bemoan their investment suddenly plummeting in value. If Omnath does get banned somewhere, I fear it will be after it killed players’ interest in a format and other cards died for its sins.
5. Something is going to be banned in Standard next week by Wizards of the Coast.
Sam Black: Fact. I mean, I guess they didn’t say as much, but like, didn’t they? I mean, you can’t just tease people by making an announcement like that and not touching anything. What good would that do them?
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. If you had asked me five hours ago I’d have said clearly fiction, since the set is so new and they usually like giving the metagame time to settle, but, given that WotC has literally said they are watching Standard and have an announcement to make, I expect they will ban something (there isn’t much more that can be in an announcement at this point). I suppose it’s in their range to just have an announcement about having more frequent announcements, but after what they wrote and the expectation it created, this would be more anti-climatic than the fourth Hunger Games movie and I don’t think they would be toying with our hearts right now when tensions are already so high.
Dom Harvey: Fact. The jokes about announcing announcements wore thin long ago, but calling your shot in advance after so little time only to give some fluffy answer about watching carefully and being prepared to take action next time would be a historic failure in expectations management. The interesting question isn’t whether something is getting banned, it’s what. I suspect Uro is returning to the underworld for good this time and can only any record of its existence is deleted from other formats too.
By now players understandably have so little confidence in the powers that be to manage formats effectively that there is no easy solution. This is a preemptive exercise in damage control more than anything else. It’s truly sad that we have cause to be so jaded about a new set that’s less than a week old! If the hive mind could break this format so quickly by putting all the best cards together in the obvious shell, how did the worst offenders make it through internal testing? As someone who was eagerly awaiting the conclusion of Season Two of the SCG Tour Online, I’m honestly angry that what should be a showcase for a fresh Standard is now burdened with an obsolete format instead.
It’s fun to be part of a piece of history – but not when it’s for all the wrong reasons.