Today, The Deck to Beat is looking a couple of weeks ahead to the release of Battle for Zendikar. While we have yet to see the full spoiler, we start to see the outline of what might serve as the pillars of new Standard.

I’ll lead off with what is likely the most obvious post-rotation deck, and what is almost definitely the fastest and most ruthless. Atarka Red is an extremely single-minded and redundant deck, so what it loses in Stoke the Flames and Goblin Rabblemaster, it can replace at minimal cost.

The new cycle of dual lands—in this case Cinder Glade—are at their very best in two-color decks, since two-color decks usually play a lot of basic lands.

Moreover, fast aggro decks tend to be a safe choice for the first week after rotation. Particularly with a set like Battle for Zendikar, where players will be tempted by the allure of 10-drop Eldrazi creatures, the aggro players have the opportunity to run everybody over.

Atarka Red

The plan is the same as it is with any red deck: deal 20 damage to your opponent as quickly as possible! Atarka Red has the slight sub-theme of tokens with Atarka’s Command (going wide). So leaning entirely on spot removal won’t be an effective plan.

What to Do

  • Protect yourself in the first three turns of the game. A turn-2 removal spell and a turn-3 blocker is a decent start. If your first play is on turn 3, then it’s probably Radiant Flames or bust. Remember, Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods will both be rotating out.
  • Have a way to lock up the game. This goes along with the fact that spot removal will not be enough. Some decks will be able to stop Atarka Red’s early rush, but will then wind up sitting there forever, waiting to get burned out. Include a fast clock, or at least some life gain in whatever deck you choose after rotation.
  • Sideboard a lot! Whatever deck or colors you’re playing, look for the most potent sideboard cards you can find against Atarka Red. Some good examples include Radiant Flames, Seismic Rupture, Duress, and Arashin Cleric.
  • Play Allies? We don’t yet know what an Allies deck might look like (or if there can be one at all), but Lantern Scout stands out to me as the perfect type of card to combat Mono-Red. It’s possible that Allies will be one of the few decks in the format with an inherent advantage over Atarka Red.

What Not to Do

  • Don’t play an excessive number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped. In decks of three or more colors, you should plan for your new dual lands to enter the battlefield tapped a great majority of the time (at least in the early game). You should also plan that you’re going to have to fetch for a new dual land quite often. These factors will have a virtual effect of inflating the number of tapped lands in your deck. Be careful and don’t overdo it!
  • Don’t lean too heavily on any one line of defense. If all you have is spot removal, Atarka Red will find a way to beat you. If all you can do is block, Atarka Red will find a way to beat you. The same goes if your defense is all board sweepers, or all life gain. Your best bet is going to be to diversify your defense, and make sure that you can fight on several fronts at the same time.

Conclusion

We’re still in the early stages of spoiler season. To think that anyone has an accurate view of what post-rotation Standard will look like would be silly. However, it’s never too early to start planning, or making general predictions. I predict that Atarka Red will be one major player out of the gates, and I don’t feel like I’m going too far out on a limb in saying so.