Utter Beatings – Zendikar Inspirations

Josh Utter-Leyton

Zendikar Inspirations

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):

4 [card]Jackal Familiar[/card]
4 Goblin Guide
4 Plated Geopede
4 [card]Hellspark Elemental[/card]
4 [card]Ball Lightning[/card]
4 Elemental Appeal
4 [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]
4 [card]Earthquake[/card]
3 [card]Act of Treason[/card]

3 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
14 [card]Mountain[/card]

Plated Geopede is certainly the card that scares me the most in Zendikar. Red rarely gets more than slight upgrades on [card]Grizzly Bears[/card] at two mana, and now it has a two drop that rivals [card]Putrid Leech[/card]! 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 [card]Ball Lightning[/card]s 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 [card]Ball Lightning[/card]s, simply because the alternatives are terrible bodies like [card]Goblin Chieftain[/card] 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:

4 [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]
4 Scute Mob
4 Plated Geopede
4 [card]Wooly Thoctar[/card]
4 [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]
4 [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]
4 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card]
4 [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]
4 [card]Path to Exile[/card]

4 [card]Terramorphic Expanse[/card]
4 Arid Mesa
2 Misty Rainforest
4 [card]Rootbound Crag[/card]
4 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card]
2 [card]Plains[/card]
2 [card]Mountain[/card]
2 [card]Forest[/card]

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 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and you have one of the best decks in Extended, so the deck is obviously going to be nuts in Standard.

[card]Figure of Destiny[/card] 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 [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] insane, and the deck did get a nice new addition in Plated Geopede, helping fill out the curve. [card]Dauntless Escort[/card] 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:

4 Quest for the Gravelord
4 Scute Mob
4 [card]Putrid Leech[/card]
4 Plated Geopede
2 [card]Terminate[/card]
2 [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card]
4 [card]Blightning[/card]
4 [card]Sprouting Thrinax[/card]
4 [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]
4 [card]Bituminous Blast[/card]

4 [card]Terramorphic Expanse[/card]
4 Verdant Marsh
2 [card]Savage Lands[/card]
4 [card]Rootbound Crag[/card]
4 [card]Dragonskull Summit[/card]
2 [card]Mountain[/card]
2 [card]Swamp[/card]
2 [card]Forest[/card]

This looked to be the deck to beat going into PT Honolulu, and while ultimately it was the “bigger” cascade decks that basically swapped [card]Putrid Leech[/card] for [card]Enlisted Wurm[/card], 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:

4 [card]Path to Exile[/card]
4 [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]
4 Pitfall Trap
4 Luminarch Ascension
2 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
4 [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]
4 Day of Judgment
4 [card]Chandra Nalaar[/card]
4 [card]Earthquake[/card]

4 Arid Mesa
12 [card]Plains[/card]
10 [card]Mountain[/card]

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 [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]:

4 [card]Path to Exile[/card]
4 Pitfall Trap
4 [card]Wretched Banquet[/card]
4 Luminarch Ascension
4 [card]Sign in Blood[/card]
2 [card]Scepter of Fugue[/card]
2 [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card]
4 Day of Judgment
4 [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]
3 [card]Identity Crisis[/card]

4 Marsh Flats
11 [card]Plains[/card]
10 [card]Swamp[/card]

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. [card]Identity Crisis[/card] and [card]Scepter of Fugue[/card] also tag-team nicely with Baneslayer; [card]Identity Crisis[/card] especially is the card I would look at to fill the void left by [card]Glen Elendra Archmage[/card]. 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 [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card]s 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)

28 thoughts on “Utter Beatings – Zendikar Inspirations”

  1. I liked this article. It gives me some good ideas about the format post-rotation. I didn’t really think Plated Geopede would be playable, but I also only read him once and that was before I saw the fetchlands, so his value probably goes up tremendously. Do you think Geopede deserves a slot in any extended decks? A deck playing 12+ fetchlands with Geopede and Knight of Reliquary seems good.

  2. i imagine josh isn’t writing about extended for a reason…

    I think this article gave a couple very good starting points for post-rotation standard. The naya deck in particular looks pretty promising to me; perhaps it could use some planeswalkers to provide staying power against cruel ultimatum decks

  3. Teetering Peaks??? Don’t you want a free 4 damage with instigator? Hell spark wants to get in for 5 sometimes too. Don’t deny him his rightful firepower.

  4. Besides people actually playing at the pro tour, why does extended matter more now?

    It seems like for the majority of players, Standard is going to, as always, be the most commonly played format. I’m not saying that it is foolish to want extended articles, but if you want them because of the PT, then you should probably realize that articles aren’t going to be as useful as testing, and if you aren’t playing at the Pro Tour, than you will have plenty of info on Ext by the time Ptqs come around.

  5. Honestly? I was always planning on getting into Extended once the Onslaught fetchlands rotated.


    Seriously though, it’s much easier to get your hands on new product than cards that were out of print 4 years before you got into the game, and I have enough backlog of cards that have rotated out of Standard that I want to play with them. Sure, getting the fetches from Zendikar will be an investment, but they’re cards I’ll be able to use for the next seven years, and they won’t be as expensive as trying to get the Onslaught ones would be.

    So yes, I’m interested in Extended. My collection has finally aged into the format to where I won’t have to drop several hundred dollars into it anymore. Or, at least, several hundred dollars that I wasn’t already spending on Standard…

  6. Judy I Don't Know You

    “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.”

    The cases where this is actually relevant seem few and far between. In the cases where you’re on the play, that extra land they draw ~40% of the time is just going to be discarded. On the draw, they just get the land ~40% of the time. The ability to play this guy with haste post-Wrath effect and to get information about what your opponent is drawing next turn definitely put this guy above Isamaru and brethren.

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  8. Thank you, not only for writing about standard, but for putting decklists out there. These look like a lot of great setups, and are as refreshing as I’d hoped after this past season’s 5c frankensteins and such.

  9. The Goblin Guide drawback is significant because one of the big reasons aggro decks do well (when they do well) is they punish inconsistency. To wrath you, for example, your opponent not only needs to draw wrath, he needs to draw the lands to play it. Mathematically, even if wrath beats your dudes, you have an edge because you are more likely to draw your dudes and the lands to play them when you need them than the other guys is to draw both his answer and his mana.

    Goblin Guide, even when it doesn’t allow your opponent card advantage because of eot discard, improves the consistency of your opponent’s deck and helps him draw out of mana-light hands and color screw for free. And that’s going to lead to the aggressive player losing games he would have otherwise won.

    That’s doesn’t make the guy goblin cohort or anything. The decks who want him still want him. But is is a real drawback and a good reason to test alternatives where they might exist.

  10. You realize that with landfall in the format, people are going to be playing >40% lands right? Control decks with 30 lands probably doesn’t seem impossible.

  11. great article.

    I really like the R/W deck list. I wrote up something extremely similar. What about a card like Intimidation Bolt for getting the Ascension there while also helping remove your opponents creatures?

  12. Hello
    quite interesting how some of you write= only extended Matters etc
    Really funny, ant do you not think a bit stupid?
    But not so important, your article is good, i also amde some thoughts about the format, and My version of the Luminarch Ascension Deck is 3 Colored (and my Naya Deck has fewer fetchies and some Dauntless escorts in it)
    but the B/W Baneslayer maybe the breaking point… we testetd a bit with Proxys and it seems this format there will be one question: How Fast You can Play the Angel and How fast yoou can Kill your opponents angel (while I think Spot removal seems to rukle this format I think amybe you should Give Uril the Miststalker at try)

    But back to the topic I played my Thoughts with a Bant-Like deck which seems to look like this:

    4xMysti Rainforest
    4xSunpetal grove
    2xGlacial Fortress

    4xNoble Hierarch
    2xBirds of Paradies
    4xKnotvien Paladin (this is a shifty slot not quite important)
    4xKnight of reliquary
    4xRhox War Monk
    3x Rafiq, of the Many
    3xDauntless Escort
    4xBaneslayer Angel

    4xPath to Exile
    4xBant Charm

    I know it´s not perfect but this deck has a good chance for a Baneslayer Turn 3 !!! Yes baneslayer is Only a creature but think… If your opponent hasn´t the doomblade or something else
    Seems Like win? Maybe…
    I like bant Charm in this format: Protects abit the slayer and jkills other angels NICE!

    ok I hop I could inspire you, nice article I like this Kind of Idea Flooding^^

    Sorry for my mistakes I´m no mothertongue in english^^

  13. @lsv

    I’m not flamming this article. Sorry if it has sounded otherwise. The thing is I am a little lost. PT is coming, I don’t have a starting point, etc.

  14. Knight of the Reliquary really looks like it’s going to get a lot better. Hadn’t thought about that card in a while, but now it’s definitely on my radar after reading this article!

  15. I meant limited is also a relevant format, but I totally forgot about the LCQ’s that are standard. I will be in Austin, not playing but I am getting ready to grinding out the Grand Prix circuit and q’ing for the tour. Figured 9 years of playing, I should have something to show for it besides knowledge.

    I would definately like to see a R/U deck with goblins and Time Warp…that would seem like some goodz

  16. Standard matters, obviously.

    Why Wretched Banquet? I get it’s cruel edictish in this environment, but it just doesn’t seem worth a slot. Has it been testing well in synergy with something?

    Is there an RG deck with Scute Mob and Geopede b/w Harrow? 12-16 fetchlands?

  17. Isamaru’s drawback is that he is legendary, so each one you draw beyond the first gets worse. Goblin Guide’s drawback is that he gives the opponents an extra card if the top card of their library is a land, so each one you draw beyond the first gets better (since the chances of the second Guide hitting is less than the first and hence its drawback is minimized). So if you play Goblin Guide, you ought to run 4 whereas running more than 1-2 Isamaru is probably too many (outside of Kamigawa block).

    So let’s say you want 12 1-drops in your extended zoo deck, and you already have 4 kird ape and 4 nacatls. Even if Isamaru is better than Guide (which I don’t believe he is anyway, but let’s assume you’re correct on this), it would still not make sense to run 2 Isamaru and 2 Goblin Guide. You would still want to run 4 Goblin Guides before any number of Isamaru since running the Guide is really a 0 or 4 decision whereas Isamaru is a 0, 1, or 2 decision.

    I guess the question for zoo decks then becomes, how many 1-drops do you want? If it is more than 10, then you are probably playing Goblin Guide… unless you are PV, in which case you run Figure of Destiny. :/

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  19. I’ll tell you I can’t stand Zendikar. It has some nice cards after all but you know what over all I think this set sucks.

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