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Battle for Zendikar Limited Archetype Assessment

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This past weekend, I spent the better part of three days at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, where Grand Prix Seattle-Tacoma was taking place. Though I didn’t feel comfortable enough with my Legacy deck to play in the main event, I did have a wonderful opportunity to work on Wizards of the Coast’s coverage team as a text-coverage writer. Interviewing and writing about players occupied most of my time, but I also found that I had enough downtime to get in a couple side events. I’ve been enjoying drafting Battle for Zendikar on Magic Online, so I resolved to hit the on-demand Draft tables and win some real-life 8–4s.

Battle for Zendikar Drafts can be tricky to navigate, especially when you’re used to the straightforward Draft environments of Magic Origins and Dragons of Tarkir. The format emphasizes synergy, which means finding the most open archetype, not necessarily the most open color(s). A third-pick Rolling Thunder is a signal that there may be few red drafters at the table, but there isn’t much overlap between the red devoid decks, R/W Allies, and R/G landfall. In order to succeed in this Draft format, you’ll need to know which cards play the biggest role in your chosen strategy and stay in your lane. This week, I’d like to break down some of the most successful archetypes in BFZ Draft and how you can win with some of the fringier ones.

Grixis Devoid

Eldrazi Skyspawner
The title of this section is a bit of a misnomer, as three-color devoid decks are a rare sight in this format. Rather, the Devoid decks come in three two-color flavors: the aggressive B/R deck, the tempo-based U/R variant, or the grindy U/B version with a ton of ingesters and Processors. I’ve had the least experience drafting these decks—partly because they’re powerful and popular and partly because some of the best cards in these decks end up in the hands of other drafters. Any blue deck in this format could use an Eldrazi Skyspawner, and any black deck would love a Complete Disregard, which means fewer of those cards to go around.

The devoid decks in this format are well-rounded no matter how you build them. All three versions of the deck boast cheap, often evasive ingest creatures, efficient answers, and ways to generate card and tempo advantage into the midgame and late game. Benthic Infiltrator is the number-one role-player in blue—it brings your Processors online, blocks well, and breaks through stalled board states—but you’ll also want to keep your eye out for Mist Intruder, Spell Shrivel, Murk Strider, and Tide Drifter. The most valuable players in black include Complete Disregard and Sludge Crawler, the only 1-drop in the set that I wouldn’t mind top-decking while flooding out. Red devoid’s main ingredients include Nettle Drone, Vile Aggregate, and Touch of the Void, but be sure to think long and hard before you put Processor Assault in your deck. (Similarly, if you’re in U/B, be wary of Ulamog's Nullifier unless you can consistently feed it two cards.)

I’m a big fan of blue decks in this format, but I would also love to give the B/R Devoid deck a try someday. I’ve seen a lot of late copies of Forerunner of Slaughter, and curving into Dominator Drone and Vestige of Emrakul sounds appealing. For more on this deck, check out a Draft that Gathering Magic’s own Morgan Wentworth recorded recently:

W/B Life-Gain Allies

This deck’s secret may be out, but I make no secret of the fact that it’s among my favorites to draft in the format. Many of the creatures in the W/B Allies deck have useful abilities that trigger whenever you gain life, which makes this a good home for Courier Griffin, Stone Haven Medic, and Tandem Tactics. The real lynchpin of the deck, however, is Kalastria Healer. Unless you’re getting into shenanigans with Serene Steward, the ground creatures in this deck don’t attack particularly well, so slowly draining your opponent’s life will win you the game more often than not. You’ll know that this strategy is open if you pick up at least two Healers—or three, as I did in a side-event Draft this past weekend.

The W/B archetype’s cards are so narrow that it can only support about one player per Draft table—but if you are that one player, you may end up with a deck like this. After first-picking an Ondu Rising, I slowly found my way into the deck as it became apparent that no one else at the table wanted any of the pieces. I wheeled the Serene Steward and picked up a very late March from the Tomb, which allowed me to trade off my Nirkana Assassins and then bring them back to win the game with Healer triggers. By the end of pack two, I already had a deck, which meant I could afford to spend pack three, pick one on an Expedition land, but I’m pretty sure I still wheeled an important common out of the pack. It was a bizarre Draft.

This deck is very difficult to contend with when it’s firing on all cylinders, but I would be wary of aggressive decks as you’re crafting a winning board state. Your greatest challenge will be assembling enough Allies to have a dominant board presence while respecting mass-removal spells like Rolling Thunder. Be sure to pack plenty of removal (don’t worry, you have a lot to choose from) and perhaps a Fortified Rampart for your sideboard.

W/U Flyers and W/U Awaken

My most formative Limited experience came during Return to Ravnica, when I drafted Azorius flyers almost weekly, and I’m happy to go back to my bread and butter here on Zendikar. With a ton of Scion tokens gumming up the ground, flying has proved to be among the most important abilities in this Limited environment, so W/U flyers has become one of my go-to decks to draft. You’ll want to pick up a few Cloud Mantas, Courier Griffins, and Shadow Gliders, perhaps even a Ghostly Sentinel or Wave-Wing Elemental. Fortified Rampart is great at holding down the ground, meanwhile, and most of these decks will want one Dampening Pulse.

Some of these decks will lean heavier on awaken spells than others. In addition to Clutch of Currents and Sheer Drop, which are valuable in any deck, W/U awaken decks can make the best use of Roil Spout, Planar Outburst, and Halimar Tidecaller. Here’s what I ended up building after picking up a first-pick Planar Outburst in a recent Magic Online 8–4 Draft.

This deck followed the formula pretty closely and got me to the finals, where I lost to a U/R devoid deck. Multiple Nettle Drones can be difficult for this deck to deal with, especially if your opponent is wise enough never to attack with them. I maintain that this deck is excellent, however, and hope to draft it again sometime. For more W/U flyers goodness, check out some recent videos by Morgan and our other drafter-in-residence Kenji “Numot the Nummy” Egashira.

What about Green?

Many members of the pro Magic community have been critical of green in Battle for Zendikar, some of whom have gone so far as to say that the color is completely unplayable. One of the five colors has to be the worst in a given Limited format, but I’ve still managed to win Drafts with green decks like this one—though I freely admit that the most valuable card in my deck was Clutch of Currents.

The archetype that I’ve found most underwhelming is R/G landfall. I do love a Snapping Gnarlid, but many of his friends are significantly worse on defense than they are on offense, making it difficult to come back should you run out of steam and manage to fall behind. If you’re planning on crashing in with Valakut Predators and Grove Rumblers every turn, you may be disappointed when your opponent puts a Fortified Rampart in your way. I should note that I’ve won a Draft with this deck, but I attribute that win to two copies of Tajuru Warcaller that I was fortunate enough to pick up. I’ve also lost to a landfall deck that cleared the way with Rolling Thunder before “going off” with two copies of Retreat to Kazandu. I suppose it sometimes pays to be the one green drafter at the table.

I’ve been curious to try B/G ramp in this format since I’ve had so much fun playing with Catacomb Sifter and Brood Butcher in Sealed, but I haven’t found much incentive to draft it thus far. I imagine the main ingredients for the deck would be the aforementioned token-makers with Eyeless Watcher, Brood Monitor, Rot Shambler, Swarm Surge, and some creatures worth ramping into. I’m leery of Unnatural Aggression, which doesn’t boost creature stats, and Void Attendant, which rarely seems to find anything to process, but I might find my way into this deck if I first-picked a large Eldrazi. Kenji gave this deck a try after finding a foil Oblivion Sower in his first pack; find out how he fared here.

Conclusion

Battle for Zendikar Drafts can be difficult to navigate, but I hope this archetype assessment will give you a better idea of what’s open in your next Draft. Whether you find yourself choosing blue Eldrazi Drones or green Allies, try to stay the course and find the most synergistic cards for your deck. As always, be sure to check out the Draft videos here at Gathering Magic to see what our content creators come up with next. Happy drafting!


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