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Battle for Zendikar Standard Overview

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The few weeks before Standard with the new set is always one of my favorite times of the year due to how open and fresh the format feels. There’re always a ton of cards from the old format that now have a better time to shine, while the new set brings completely new archetypes.

In particular, I think one of the most powerful cards that deserves major consideration is Jeskai Ascendancy since the effect it provides is unique.

There’s a lot of ways you can take the Jeskai Ascendancy deck. Hangarback Walker in particular is an extremely strong card with Ascendancy given how fast it spirals out of control.

I chose to focus on a mostly creatureless build because that helps maximize Narset Transcendent. Previously when I played Jeskai Tokens, Narset Transcendent was excellent, and it remains excellent with Magmatic Insight, Treasure Cruise, and even End Hostilities. The engine of Magmatic Insight and Treasure Cruise is one we’ve seen put to great effect in the Sphinx's Tutelage control deck, and I expect to see a lot of it in the upcoming Standard as well. Once the metagame is better defined, I would probably add some number of Tutelages to the sideboard of this deck due to its inherently strong synergy with Jeskai Ascendancy and the fact that it is an excellent way to defeat an opposing control deck.

Speaking of Sphinx's Tutelage, a local friend mentioned the idea of Grixis Tutelage being good. I agree with this assessment, and here’s how I’d go about building it:

The mana bases with the release of Battle for Zendikar are much better than in most Standard formats. In particular, it’s shockingly easy to splash Languish into this previously-two-colored deck.

Radiant Flames is a very reasonable replacement for Anger of the Gods. Dromoka's Command is annoying to play against, but not the end of the world. In particular, you can wait for a turn in which your opponent is tapped out so you can deploy Sphinx's Tutelage and then immediately cast Magmatic Insight into Treasure Cruise and hope to find another copy of Tutelage to continue the winning. Encase in Ice might look like an odd inclusion, but it serves as a third removal spell that functions at instant speed. If it turns out to be dead, you can discard it to Monastery Siege or Jace, similar to the way Roast is dead against control decks.

Another deck (which saw some, but not a large amount of play) is Naya Ramp:

Mastery of the Unseen is a natural fit into a ramp deck, especially one using Explosive Vegetation to ramp to Dragonlord Atarka. The turn after you cast Dragonlord Atarka, you should have enough mana to activate Mastery of the Unseen twice, letting you pull way ahead after the Dragonlord has stabilized the board. See the Unwritten is absurd alongside Greenwarden of Muramasa (to bring back the See the Unwritten). Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger also seems fantastic (since it is a cast trigger to exile two permanents).

Demonic Pact is yet another really strong card that really hasn’t had its time to shine. A conservative three-colored version could look something like this:

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with fewer than six ways to deal with Demonic Pact. Sultai Charm and Disperse are also passable removal spells. I think most decks can support two to three delve cards pretty easily, and you are a bit threat-light here. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is a cheap threat in the late game and also survives your own Languish. Getting the exact numbers right with this sort of deck is extremely difficult because it’s a lot more reliant on predicting the metagame correctly, as opposed to a traditional blue deck, which can just load up on generic counterspells as catch-alls. I would also not be surprised if there were a four- or five-colored version of this deck (splashing Siege Rhino and Bring to Light) that performs very well.

There is a lot of potential for an updated version of the Five-Color Mono-Blue Dragons deck that Michael Flores first popularized.

Here’s my take on it:

This deck is the natural predator of other control decks given its plan of charging up Crucible of the Spirit Dragon to unload a barrage of Dragons in one turn. It would rather not see an opposing fast deck. To combat those, I would suggest Fathom Feeder (a nice speedbump) and the third and fourth Foul-Tongue Invocations in the sideboard. The original version played main-decked Encase in Ice, but I no longer believe that is necessary given how easy it is to splash Foul-Tongue Invocation and Languish.

Besides these decks, there are a ton more options out there to investigate.

A list off the top of my head includes:

  • Mono-Red (with or without a green splash) Aggro
  • Jeskai Aggro
  • Five-Color Zoo / Aggro
  • Abzan Aggro or Control or Midrange
  • Temur Ramp

I certainly look forward to seeing what happens in the first few weeks of Standard, especially at the upcoming StarCityGames Opens in Indianapolis (October 3–4) and Atlanta (October 10–11). Those always help to define the metagame for the Pro Tour (which is October 16–18).

Thanks for reading, and I welcome any comments here or on Twitter @jkyu06.

Jarvis


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