Rather than continue talking about how awesome all of the new cards are individually, I wanted to jump right into the upcoming Standard format and start brainstorming what we can do with some of the new toys. Don’t take these decklists as anything more than a way to get the juices flowing – they are completely untested and definitely suboptimal, but they will hopefully provide a good starting point for thinking about the format.
Starting off with some cards I am not excited about (not excited to be playing against, at any rate):
3 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
Plated Geopede is certainly the card that scares me the most in Zendikar. Red rarely gets more than slight upgrades on Grizzly Bears at two mana, and now it has a two drop that rivals Putrid Leech! Geopede is better than a 3/1 first striker for two, and will be bashing for five on turn three pretty regularly, which is patently absurd for any two drop, much less a Red one. Warren Instigator may be the red two drop receiving all of the hype, but Plated Geopede is going to be far more influential. I’m not saying that Geopede is straight up better, but Instigator fits into a pretty narrow set of decks, whereas Plated Geopede will be pretty universally adopted by aggressive decks. Even Green and White aggro decks are ecstatic to have him, so he is sure to be one of the defining threats of the format.
Goblin Guide does not compare favorably to Isamaru and his siblings. If you are expecting an average of about three attacks out of your Goblin Guides, then Goblin Guide basically draws your opponent slightly over one card a game. Granted, you get some bonus information, and Guide gets better in multiples, but you are still talking about giving your opponent an extra draw for two damage, relative to Isamaru. I don’t care how aggressive your deck is, you wouldn’t want your opponent to start at 18 and 8 cards, and you wouldn’t prefer Goblin Guide to Isamaru.
That said, Red decks are willing to dip far lower than Isamaru for one drops, and Goblin Guide is close enough to Isamaru that it is pretty nuts for burn-oriented decks. It does make for a bad creature – in a deck looking to swing for 20 with monsters, like say a typical Goblin deck, the drawback is probably too steep. How much extra damage on average will Goblin Guide get in over whatever the alternative is? 4? Is that much damage worth a full card in your deck? It certainly isn’t in something like Kithkin, or your equally board presence based traditional Goblin deck. As a burn spell, though, Goblin Guide is well above the curve, and is an automatic four-of in any deck interested in Hellsparks or Ball Lightnings or the like.
Red decks typically struggle against midrange creature decks, which this format promises to be full of, but the card quality might be here for Red to compete. Red creatures are typically immediately outclassed by Green and White bodies, but not so with Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede. The creature quality does start to drop off rather sharply after that, thus the 12 Ball Lightnings, simply because the alternatives are terrible bodies like Goblin Chieftain or horribly inefficient burn spells. Another good one or two drop could really push Red over the top, but given that Plated Geopede exists, I can only hope that he was given minimal support.
Speaking of midrange creature decks:
Another deck I don’t find especially exciting, if only because there is actually nothing new here – this list is essentially unchanged from the current Standard version. With every other deck in current Standard being pretty much killed by the rotation, and with this deck if anything improving, it is sure to be a powerhouse. I mean, toss in Tarmogoyf and you have one of the best decks in Extended, so the deck is obviously going to be nuts in Standard.
Figure of Destiny got swapped for Figure 2.0 in Scute Mob, which is an improvement for this deck I think. Figure makes the better turn one play, but off of a Bloodbraid or especially a Ranger, I would much prefer Scute Mob. Regardless, they mostly interchangeably play the role of “absolutely must eventually kill one drop”. The three drop slot got a pretty big upgrade thanks to the fetchlands making Knight of the Reliquary insane, and the deck did get a nice new addition in Plated Geopede, helping fill out the curve. Dauntless Escort may well deserve a slot, both to stop Day of Judgment and to combine with Judgments of your own out of the board.
While we are talking about old favorites:
This looked to be the deck to beat going into PT Honolulu, and while ultimately it was the “bigger” cascade decks that basically swapped Putrid Leech for Enlisted Wurm, and the even bigger Cruel cascade decks (and the even bigger Progenitus decks – LSV), that got the better of this deck, Zendikar may have something to say about that happening in Standard. The improved mana is a big part of that, as now the mana can actually support casting your spells, and do so without every land coming into play tapped. But even more important are the high-impact one drops, which may well provide a big enough tempo boost that skipping out on early plays to maximize cascade becomes an untenable strategy. A curve that starts at three probably isn’t going to be able to keep up with this deck curving out.
I talked about how much I like Luminarch Ascension last week, but showing off a home for it should help demonstrate the card’s potential:
Against aggressive decks, the idea is to keep pace with them trading one for one, pulling ahead by protecting an Ascension or a Planeswalker. Thanks to the plentiful cheap removal and sweepers, I don’t think that doing so is particularly ambitious. This deck plays a good Icy/Wrath game, where you force your opponent to overcommit to the board and punish him with a sweeper. If your opponent holds back, he risks getting destroyed by the cheap spot removal letting an Ascension or a Planeswalker build up, but exploding on the board is not an attractive option either thanks to the sweepers. I love how Planeswalkers (and now Ascension) create this tension, and force aggressive decks into making difficult decisions.
This list is not geared towards beating more controlling decks, but if they are not prepared to handle Ascension and Ajani, those will single-handedly win games.
Here’s an alternative take on the same concept, shifting the focus from protecting Planeswalkers to protecting Baneslayer Angel:
Ascension and Baneslayer could be quite the pair, with Ascension serving as your premiere threat in the matchups where Baneslayer is lackluster, and Baneslayer covering Ascension’s back where it is weak. Identity Crisis and Scepter of Fugue also tag-team nicely with Baneslayer; Identity Crisis especially is the card I would look at to fill the void left by Glen Elendra Archmage. It’s going to absolutely devastate control and slower midrange decks, as these decks are most likely going to be cascading, making countermagic unplayable. I imagine it’s going to be very sick against the more aggressive decks as well, as you can keep up pretty well up to Crisis, and following Crisis up with Day of Judgment or Baneslayer is sure to lock games up. Maybe Crisis isn’t the new Archmage, but instead the new Cruel, replacing the Ultimatum as the biggest and baddest thing you can do in the format. Day of Judgment and Baneslayer supporting Crisis make it much better than it was previously, and Crisis has always trumped Cruel head-to-head.
Just as Planeswalkers and Ascension made sweepers better in the previous deck, here the discard creates a similar tension in regards to Day of Judgment. Scepter and Crisis go a long way towards making holding back reserves worthless, since they ask your opponent to play right into your sweeper.
Board control decks like these last two, almost entirely focused on killing creatures, would normally never stand a chance against a real control deck packing Cruel Ultimatums or whatever, but the threats against such decks are just so good right now. Archmage Ascension, Scepter of Fugue, Planeswalkers, Identity Crisis – all are efficient, game-winning, and require very specific answers. How is a reactive deck supposed to deal?
That’s all I have for now, but Zendikar spoilers continue to surprise not just in how far the cards are getting pushed, but also the depth of constructed playables and options available to deck builders. There should be plenty to continue thinking about as we see the rest of Zendikar, and how Standard begins to develop.
(How lucky, I don’t have to write a conclusion this time! – LSV)