Our first few weeks of Battle for Zendikar are officially in the bag. How did everyone's Pre-Releases go? I had a blast judging, and the turnout was insane, with my LGS Atomic Empire being forced to cap events so there was enough product for the whole weekend. It wasn't all judge calls for me though. Sadly I didn't hit the expedition lottery, but I made some successful runs with Red/White and Green/Blue, both decks splashed Black.
While it was nice to jump into some nearly regular sealed, the question on almost everyone's mind is what cards are going to make an impact in Standard. Proxy testing and Pre-Releases might give you a little preview, but we finally got our first "in-the-wild" look at the format with the Star City Games Open in Indianapolis.
There's a prevailing wisdom among Magic players that Red Deck, or otherwise fast aggro decks, do well in the first few weeks of the format. Instead of being reactive, you're putting a clock on the game and can swiftly punish untuned brand new decks. Indianapolis didn't buck from this trend, with a updated Atarka Red (similar to what won the last two Pro-Tours) Become Immenseing and Temur Battle Rageing to victory. Ultimately this deck features only 3 cards from Battle for Zendikar, 2 of which were lands, but there were plenty of other cards across the top eight. Here are the cards to think about going forward. Here are the Battle for Zendikar inclustions by the numbers from the top sixteen decks.
Battle for Zendikar Dual Lands/Battle Lands/ Tango Lands
I decided to group these all together as a single entry rather than have them dominate the whole list. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that with the Theros block Scry Lands rotating out that players would need to turn elsewhere. Given the ease and consistency of splashing colors when combined with the Khan's Fetchlands, you have to go all the way down to 38th place to even find the first mono-colored deck list. Along with actual dedicated five-color decks, many players were opting to splash a fourth color for key cards or to occasionally power-up a converge card. The other prevailing method was to have a smooth two color deck that could easily fetch up the second untapped color.
I, like a lot of other players, had Gideon, Ally of Zendikar pegged as the best card in the set, and he did not disappoint in his first showing. Disregarding lands, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was hands down the most played Battle for Zendikar card. A big factor of this is that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's abilities mitigate the downside of drawing multiple, letting decks more safely run three or the full four copies. Too many Gideons? Start making Glorious Anthemns. Only a few lists had less than three copies, and that's considering that at least some of them might not have been able to acquire a full playset a week after release. Whether it's spitting out knights, emblems, or just getting in aggressively as a 5/5, expect to see a lot more Gideon, Ally of Zendikar going forward.
This number was driven almost exclusively in sideboards, though a few decks were opting to maindeck some copies. The rotation of card like Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow left a hole in the card pool for a small sweeper, frequently used to combat little aggro decks. While it doesn't let you exile problematic creature or set up your next draw step with a scry, one advantage that Radiant Flames offers is that you're in control of the amount of damage. You can burn away all their smaller toughness creatures and still leave yours around. This will continue to see play from deck that can reliably create Red mana and another two colors, especially out of Jeskai that can gain a ton of life off a Soulfire Grandmaster on the field.