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Insider: Analyzing the First Week of BFZ Standard

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Five out of eight Top 8 competitors at SCG Indianapolis agree: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is the most exciting card from Battle for Zendikar.

'Ol Gid is a punishing attacker, for sure. But ultimately what makes him good is the same thing that made Elspeth and Xenagos good--a stream of 2/2s. Magic loves its Bitterblossoms.

Red, Deep Red

As expected, red aggro made a big showing this weekend. It makes sense to try it in an open environment, and this was the correct call for our very own Brian DeMars.

Brian is a long-time player who referred to the combo of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage as "Blood Lust plus Berserk." His deck is simple, strong, and it's going to define what people play for the next few weeks, setting the tone for aggression. It will eventually be contained, but I'm expecting a lot of the cards will see a good price boost.

Actions: Atarka's Command has disappeared from the internet at $7, only to reappear at $14. This makes sense because the rest of the deck is just so cheap--something has to rise to match the popularity. Abbot of Keral Keep is $7 as well, which seems about right.

My favorite target here is Wooded Foothills. It has flattened out at $17 for the past month. That's pricey, but this is a good trade target. The deck relies on Become Immense and you'll need some cards in the yard to fuel it.

Rocs and Dinos Ride Again

In second place, G/W Megamorph reminded us that Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector still function well together. This deck is a natural home for Gideon.

It also hailed the reappearance of Wingmate Roc. Michael Majors ran three in his maindeck as a big dragon-like finisher. The lifegain can be significant against the base-red decks, if you can survive that long. The card is at $3.50 right now, and as a mythic from last year it has plenty of room to grow.

I have never liked Deathmist Raptor but it does decent enough work. The low impact of BFZ in the event means that we can rely on this block combo for awhile.

Jeskai Black, the Most Ambitious Manabase

Two players made Top 8 with Jeskai Black, a Mantis Rider deck splashing for Crackling Doom and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. If you can accept your lands coming into play tapped just about every turn, the deck will reward you with some big three-color spells. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is one of the most powerful elements here, both recycling kill spells and looting through the deck.

This is an ambitious manabase. I don't think it can stand the test of time, even though Crackling Doom is a pretty sweet card. Looping that thing through a Soulfire Grand Master seems even more potent.

Actions: I was most surprised to see people playing Dragonmaster Outcast. The reviled reprint has dropped the price of the card to about $4, an appealing spot. Outcast lets you play a much more controlling game because it's both a six-drop and a one-drop. You can cast it with countermagic up to ensure it resolves and survives.

Back in the original Zendikar, nobody but Brian Kibler ran the Dragonmaster. This time the landscape is different. Let these sink in price for another week or two and then scoop them up.

Nine Siege Rhinos

Gerry Thompson played Bring to Light this weekend to a Top 8 finish. Gerry goes a long way back with this sort of deck; he first gained prominence while slinging Gifts Ungiven in Kamigawa block.

It doesn't surprise me that he's drawn to a ponderous deck whose premise is to sneak out dragons or, in this case, rhinos. Gerry drew on four Rhinos, four Bring to Light and a Clever Impersonator to make sure he had a neverending stream of dumb rhinos, with the latter doubling as a planeswalker clone.

This is an expensive deck to put together. It draws on an expensive manabase and four copies of Jace. This alone will limit its appeal. The support pieces tend to be small commons and uncommons like Reave Soul and Sultai Charm. Even things like Clever Impersonator and Gilt-Leaf Winnower have a limited speculation window, since they could be cut from the list in a week or two.

Actions: I like Abzan Charm as a pickup. It's one of the few instant-speed removal pieces that exiles a card. It sits a little under $0.50 right now. We are awash in Khans cards, but that will dry up soon enough. People will put their draft boxes away, start new ones for BFZ and cease buylisting their draft piles. This card has looked strong for a while and I believe it's a good long-term spec.

Esper Dragons Is Back

Esper Dragons, the best contender for "alive or dead?" in Standard, is alive this week; I'm as surprised as you are. Two copies made it into the Top 8 on the back of a few new BFZ cards.

One copy had two Blighted Fens maindeck, a move that I like. The deck needs mana and spell lands are a good hedge against flooding out.

They also play well with Crux of Fate. Astute players will hold a monster or two back, and when you tap out for Crux they'll have the backup ready to go. Blighted Fen gives you a little more action to stop an opponent from slow-rolling you. I also like how well it plays with other instant-speed spells.

Foul-Tongue Invocation is another interesting element. It does obvious work against a red deck, but also punishes players intent on making the effort to fetch Siege Rhino with Bring to Light. It can clean up a Jace on an early board, too.

I thought this deck would die off after losing eight temples, but it remains. Dig Through Time is a heck of a card and so is Counterspell.

Quick Hits

  • Bradley Carpenter's Abzan Control deck has two Greenwarden of Murasa on the sideboard. Cool tech, and likely to become more common.
  • Abzan Aggro floods the 24th-48th ranked decks. Tournament grinders like Todd Anderson and BBD ran it, but fell a match or two short of the Top 8.
  • No ramp really at all.
  • It has to be a bummer for someone at WoTC to look at this event and see so few BFZ cards. I hope the Pro Tour doesn't have an "Eldrazi Counter" like the DTK "Dragon Counter" so we can save everyone some embarrassment.
  • Mantis Rider is also well represented in the Top 64. This next month will be a banner month for it.

If it happens this week, you'll read about it here!

-Doug

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