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Caster Called Shots: Zendikar Rising Championship Edition

December 02, 2020
Adam Styborski

The Zendikar Rising Championship is almost here: the 72 players of the MPL and Rivals League, over 100 more of the best competitors across MTG Arena and Magic Online, plus $250,000 in prizes. The first split of the 2020-21 season concludes with the live broadcast kicking off at 9 a.m. PST December 4-6 at

From a Hall of Famer that refuses to "become washed up" to Portugal's finest on their path to the MPL, there's something at stake for every competitor making their stand in both Standard and Historic—and the broadcast team knows it.

After two League WeekendsMPL and Rivals League head-to-head, round-robin play across the 2020-21 season—the casters have had time to see what top-tier competitors are bringing as the world watches.

It's been a resounding success even as even more points will be earned at the Zendikar Rising Championship.

"For the first time since I've been involved with professional level Magic we get a no-excuses look at who performed the best for the entire season," Marshall Sutcliffe said. "The combination of round-robin play and a reasonably large sample gives us a look we haven't had before."

With five more League Weekends plus three Championship events with points up for grabs there's still a long season ahead of the MPL and Rivals League—and there are early favorites leading the points race out of the gates. While Luis Scott-Vargas is at the head of the Rivals League, the other side of the league coin features a new face quickly becoming familiar.

"Rei Sato's continued dominance has been really fun to see," said Paul Cheon. "He made it into the inaugural season of the MPL seemingly out of nowhere and has not slowed down at all winning a MPL split [in 2019] and is now sitting atop the standings in the MPL."

That spot atop the leaderboard was built on success in Standard, one half of the formats for the Zendikar Rising Championship.

Over both weekends, Sato proved Gruul Adventures was one of the best decks in the format establishing metagame stability that players both leaned into and took advantage. Dimir Rogues has been the go-to option for players who know what to expect.

"I loved Dimir Rogues, but the more it slips over to just Dimir Control, the more I like it," said Sutcliffe, noting how decks that started with Lurrus of the Dream-Den and a fleet of tiny Rogues can shift into Shark Typhoon Control decks taking aim at shutting Gruul Adventures down.

"I think Rogues is staging a comeback to the gold medal of Standard decks!" Corey Baumeister declared his call for the resurgent deck of choice, even if his heart lies elsewhere. "I am still 100% hooked on Yorion, Sky Nomad and I don’t see any end in sight for me and the beautiful Bird Serpent! I have been jamming a bit of a brew some Bant Yorion and have been loving it."

"I’ve been loving Esper Doom Foretold personally," said Mani Davoudi. "If Gruul Adventures continues to go down in popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rakdos Midrange make an appearance at the tournament to target Rogues, but even then I wouldn’t expect a large metagame share."

Maria Bartholdi agreed. "I was a big fan of Rakdos Midrange early on in the format, but I've got my eye on this Temur Ramp deck that plays Obosh, the Preypiercer as its companion. I used to play Obosh back when the Companion rule was different so I'm excited to see this bad bug back in the format!"

That's four different decks—all seeing play in both League Weekends—before getting into options such as Cycling, Temur Ramp and more. It's safe to say Standard may be stable but there's no agreement on which deck is truly the best.

Which is precisely where Historic, too, rests for different reasons.

Kaladesh Remastered released just a few weeks ago and opened the Historic doors to the best Kaladesh and Aether Revolt have to offer the format. Davoudi took an early look at what's possible now, and it's going to take an event like the Zendikar Rising Championship to set the new bar for the metagame.

"I have been jamming Historic non-stop. I love it," Bartholdi said. "My favorite deck is obviously the Sram, Senior Edificer deck, now possible thanks to Kaladesh Remastered. Who doesn't love beating down and drawing cards at the same time? I mean, it's literally everything you could want to do in Magic."

"It's just Bogles, everyone," she admitted, which is no surprise given it's her favorite Modern deck. "Thank you for letting me play with Kor Spiritdancer again!" It looks like "#boglewatch is back on track for the Zendikar Rising Championship.

Sram is just scratching the surface of what's unlocked for Historic with Kaladesh Remastered. "First of all, I am still pretty mad I didn’t get to play with Felidar Guardian even for a little bit, even though I agree with the decision to keep that pesky kitty out of the format," said Baumeister. While the infamous Cat of Modern's "Cat Combo" with Saheeli Rai won't be a Historic thing, energy decks certainly have a shot as he can attest. Cat Combo was part of Baumeister's competitive run across Grand Prix New Jersey, Minneapolis, and Denver in 2017, but it's Rogue Refiner, Aetherworks Marvel, Attune with Aether and more that return for Historic.

"Those cards brought me back to my favorite Grand Prix of all time where I got to go 1,2,3—technically I took 4th but that sounds way less cool—with Brad Nelson and Brian Braun-Duin," he said. "One of my favorite moments in my Magic career."

Corey Baumeister brings the same energy to the caster booth as he does winning Grand Prix New Jersey 2017.

Cheon plays any kind of deck, and cards that read powerful without an obvious home are ones he keeps an eye on. "Torrential Gearhulk is the card I’m most excited about. It was an extremely powerful win condition for control decks in the past and I’m curious to see if it would be a viable option in Historic," he said. "Six mana is a lot but its ability is undoubtedly very powerful."

While Torrential Gearhulk may not make the cut at the Zendikar Rising Championship, someone's picks for Standard and Historic decks will. Every player can win the event this weekend, but only one will—and there's always favorites to go around.

Autumn Burchett, winner Mythic Championship I

"I like Autumn Burchett here," Bartholdi said. "They're part of an awesome new testing team across MPL and Rivals League, and have managed to bring the 'right' deck a couple of times already this season. Add that to a recent amazing finish in the 2020 Season Grand Finals and I think you've got a recipe for a champion."

Of course, there's another champion in the driver's seat for this weekend—and a frequent pick by viewers and casters to win their matches: Luis Scott-Vargas.

"I gotta pick [Luis Scott-Vargas as] he really seems like he has the fire right now," said Baumeister. "Momentum is a real thing when you are travelling to events and Luis is no stranger from cranking up a heater from time to time."

Luis Scott-Vargas, Mythic Championship I

Likewise there's rarely a doubt who Cheon will pick to win a tournament, imagining a trophy in one hand and a burrito in the other. "Luis Scott-Vargas. Not only am I rooting for him as he’s one of my best friends but he seems to be extremely dialed in right now as he is currently on top of the Rivals League standings with a whopping 18 [points]."

Sutcliffe, too, can usually be counted on to pick the Hall of Famer as well—but not this weekend.

"I've been boring lately and chosen whom I felt was the best player in the field—Luis Scott-Vargas in this case—but not this time," he said. "This time I'm going to pick the other best player in the field: Allen Wu. Wu is an incredible talent and I believe has the makings of a Hall of Fame career." Wu was part of the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary winning team in 2018, alongside teammates Ben Hull and Greg Orange, and put up two more Top Finishes this year at Players Tour Phoenix and the Players Tour Finals.

[Left to Right] Ben Hull, Greg Orange, and Allen Wu, champions of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary.

Aside from Scott-Vargas and Seth Manfield, there's another league player on an incredible run over the last year—one Davoudi has his eye on tracking at the Championship. "Gabriel Nassif. He’s been putting up Top Finish after Top Finish this year with no signs of stopping until he finally picks up another win."

Nassif earned back-to-back Top Finishes at the 2020 Mythic Invitational and 2020 Season Grand Finals , after Top Finishes at Mythic Championship V, Magic World Championship XXVI, and Players Tour Online 4 all in the span of just 12 months. That's a Hall of Fame worthy run in just a year of play, adding to the two-decade long career he had in the books.

Gabriel Nassif, Mythic Championship V Top 8

There's only one way to know who will win the Zendikar Rising Championship: tune in to watch the battles across Standard and Historic all weekend, December 4-6, beginning at 9 a.m. each day at!

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