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The Pillars of Zendikar Rising Standard

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Every format has its pillars. These are the cards or combinations of cards that form the backbone of what a format is about.

Mishra's Workshop
Bazaar of Baghdad
Force of Will

This is most apparent in older, non-rotating formats as these pillars rarely change. For example, in Vintage the majority of the decks are built around Mishra's Workshop, Bazaar of Bagdad, or Force of Will. These cards are just so powerful that it's hard to not play them, meaning everything falls into place around them.

This of course happens with Standard as well, but with an understandably much faster turnover rate. Usually this turnover is due to set rotations, but in the last few years we've also had to deal with turnover from bannings as well. So many bannings! It's silly to think that all of these cards should be legal in Standard right now:

Cauldron Familiar
Escape to the Wilds
Fires of Invention
Lucky Clover
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Omnath, Locus of Creation
Once Upon a Time
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

There's a number of would-be pillars here, as cards like Fires of Invention, Lucky Clover, and Omnath, Locus of Creation are decks in and of themselves.

But what about what we have left right now?

Making sense of this new and surprisingly fun Standard format means we need to realign our perceptions. When Omnath, Lucky Clover, and Escape to the Wilds left the format, everything changed. The games play out completely differently now, while we are left to figure out what the remaining pillars are.

Well today I'm going to lay it out for you!

The Yorion Pillar

Yorion, Sky Nomad
Omen of the Sea
Charming Prince

The current talk of Standard, Yorion, Sky Nomad is one of the most powerful things left to be doing. Without Growth Spiral, Omnath, Nissa, Who Shakes the World, or Lucky Clover to go way over the top of things, Standard has reverted back to being more about nickel and dime grinding. You want to make board positive plays while setting up to out-draw your opponent and win a resource war.

Yorion is one of the best cards at doing that, creating a slow but insurmountable advantage in a deck full of card resource gaining cards. Yorion allows you to play a bunch of cards that are already good like Omen of the Sea and Elspeth Conquers Death that leave behind a piece of material, and then turn that material into an overwhelming advantage. Just casting a Yorion with two Omen of the Sea in play is a super Mulldrifter, and the ceiling is astronomical with many decks playing Charming Prince to allow for repetitive loops.

There are numerous ways to play Yorion in Standard, with no clear consensus as to what is best. While most Yorion decks will be 80 cards with multiple Yorion in the maindeck, more synergistic or proactive decks may just forego the companion aspect and play Yorion in the 60 card maindeck. If your deck's power level is mostly flat then playing 80 isn't a problem, but if your deck wants to curve out or has specific cards it wants to draw 60 will work better.

Beating Yorion decks is a combination of not letting them get set up and/or just countering Yorion at the source. If you can keep their permanent count low or just not let them resolve Yorion, they will usually not be able to keep up with you.

Here are a few examples:



The Adventure Pillar

Edgewall Innkeeper
Lovestruck Beast
Bonecrusher Giant

It's amusing that even with Lucky Clover banned that "Adventures" as a deck type is still a thing, but Edgewall Innkeeper is a very good card that presents a very low investment cost. There aren't many good one-drops in the format anyway, and with many of the adventure cards already being great by themselves the opportunity cost of the adventure theme is very low.

Still, without Lucky Clover these decks aren't really going big over the top of anyone anymore. They're usually aggressively slanted midrange decks that look to Edgewall Innkeeper and the card advantage that adventures provide to give them an extra boost over the finish line. Killing Edgewall Innkeeper is important, but not essential. You can also make note of what adventure creatures they play and understand what turns they can actually draw a card off of Edgewall Innkeeper. If you are on the play and your Gruul opponent plays an Edgewall Innkeeper on turn one, you can usually develop your board on turn two rather than kill it because almost all the playable adventure cards in Gruul cost three.

These decks are usually very creature heavy, so removal is very good against them, but they also tend to grind well too so you will need to be building toward something. The Red versions with Embercleave are much more explosive but less resilient, while the Black versions with The Great Henge and Agadeem's Awakening won't kill you as fast but seemingly never run out of cards.

Some examples:



The Food Pillar

Trail of Crumbs
Gilded Goose
Wicked Wolf

Another pillar that was hit by bans but keeps on trucking, Food is as real as ever in Standard even without Oko, Thief of Crowns or Cauldon Familiar. Like most of the engines we've seen so far, the main core of the engine is small meaning it is extremely customizable as far as what cards you play around it.

In a lot of ways, Food is the full package. Gilded Goose is a very solid card that sees play in multiple formats, while Trail of Crumbs and Wicked Wolf both excel at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Trail of Crumbs sets up an unbeatable card draw engine that almost never runs out of gas, thereby giving Food a huge advantage in longer grindy games, while Wicked Wolf is amazingly good against any sort of aggressive creature deck. Some decks go deeper to things like Feasting Troll King or Witch's Oven, but these three cards are the core.

Beating the food engine is about getting around Wicked Wolf and keeping Trail of Crumbs offline. The former can be achieved with larger creatures or flying creatures, while cards like Skyclave Apparition excel at the latter. If you give the food deck time to get fully set up, they will bury you with their engine.

Some examples:



The Rogues Pillar

Soaring Thought-Thief
Drown in the Loch
Into the Story

While our first three pillars were all very value oriented, the Rogues pillar looks more like a Modern or even Legacy deck with its super low mana curve and almost Delver of Secrets-like gameplay.

Rogues is a true tempo deck, looking to make a few quick early plays to get ahead and ride them to victory. Soaring Thought-Thief and friends provide a quick clock as well as a mill side theme, which turns on the deck's many spells. Drown in the Loch is the ace here, providing a Counterspell / Terminate split card that gives the deck the ability to close the door once it is ahead, but even cards like Bloodchief's Thirst or Lofty Denial serve their purpose with great efficiency.

Like most tempo decks, you can't allow Rogues to get in ahead of you. If you can answer their threats at the same pace they play them their weaker cards start to fall apart, making removal very important. You can also make use of the graveyard against them with various escape cards to turn their mill from a detriment to a bonus. Draft chaff like Chainweb Arachnir and Glimpse of Freedom are excellent for this, and just having one or two copies in your sideboard can really swing things around in your favor as you are bound to mill one eventually.

There isn't a consensus best Rogues list yet, with some versions being more aggressive with Ruin Crab and some taking a more controlling approach with less creatures and more removal and counterspells, but the basic idea is the same.

Some examples:



The Outliers

At the moment, these are the primary pillars in the format. You need to find good reason to be doing something else, while most roads often lead back to them. However, the format seems very healthy at the moment so there are many other things to be doing. Here are a few:

Embercleave

As long as Embercleave is legal, playing a bunch of creatures and Embercleave will be a viable strategy. Whether it's Mono-Red, Gruul, or something else, Embercleave is a major consideration despite being weaker in a more removal-heavy and interactive environment.

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger

Early in this format I was enamored with Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and his graveyard buddies, but the prevalence of exiling removal from the Yorion decks, huge go over the top threats like Dream Trawler and The Great Henge, and Scavenging Ooze being very popular has taken a lot of the luster away. Still, Kroxa is an exceedingly powerful card and there's a lot going on here.

Winota, Joiner of Forces

While she doesn't currently have an obvious home, Winota, Joiner of Forces is still an absolutely absurd Magic card. You don't need to be putting in Agent of Treachery for Winota to be good, which makes her the perfect curve topper for any aggressive deck that can cast her and meet the deck-building requirements; but what deck can do that?

Mazemind Tome

Counterspells play very well against Yorion, and while control decks don't have an amazing array of tools Mazemind Tome is one of the best avenues to card advantage available. Still, it is slow and very vulnerable to Skyclave Apparition, which can be tough to overcome, but don't count control out yet once the format settles and they know what to fight against.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is phenomenal, especially while being good against the majority of the board-based strategies we've listed today, but the support has been decimated between rotation and bannings. No Growth Spiral, no Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, no Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and no Omnath, Locus of Creation is a tough pill to swallow, and eight mana is a lot. Lotus Cobra still exists alongside some meager ramp like Cultivate and Beanstalk Giant, but it's a much rougher road.

Standard In A Nutshell

That's the breakdown of what we're looking at in Standard.

With major events this weekend like the Mythic Invitational Qualifier and the Red Bull Untapped Qualifier (of which I'll be playing and streaming both!) we will likely see this very young and nascent Standard format start to coalesce into something a bit more concreate. But rest assured that it is very likely whatever ever comes out will be from one of the pillars outlined today. Reinventing the wheel is almost impossible, but there are great rewards for building the best sports car!

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