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Zendikar Rising Championship Metagame Breakdown

December 03, 2020
Frank Karsten

It's almost here: The Zendikar Rising Championship, featuring the 72 members of the Magic Pro League and the Magic Rivals League as well as top players from qualifying events held on MTG Arena and Magic Online, begins Friday, December 4 at 9 a.m. PST.

In total there are 184 competitors battling for $250,000 in prizes across Standard and Historic. In addition to monetary prizes, excellent finishes also contribute towards qualification for the 2020-21 postseason, which will determine the new invitees to next season's MPL and Rivals League.

Standard Metagame Breakdown

Friday and Saturday each feature four rounds of Standard. The metagame breaks downs as follows.



Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Gruul Adventures 44 23.9%
Mono-Green Food 32 17.4%
Dimir Rogues 31 16.8%
Temur Adventures 20 10.9%
Dimir Control 19 10.3%
Esper Doom Foretold 17 9.2%
Mardu Doom Foretold 4 2.2%
Selesnya Adventures 2 1.1%
Boros Cycling 2 1.1%
Temur Ramp 2 1.1%
Naya Winota 2 1.1%
Gruul Food 2 1.1%
Sultai Ramp 1 0.5%
Jeskai Blink 1 0.5%
Esper Control 1 0.5%
Mono-Red Aggro 1 0.5%
Rakdos Midrange 1 0.5%
Jeskai Control 1 0.5%
Orzhov Doom Foretold 1 0.5%

The key cards shown in the graphic for the top archetypes are included in all, or all but one, of the decklists belonging to that archetype, except for companion cards. A companion card was shown if at least three-quarters of the decklists belonging to that archetype set it as their companion. For reference, 24 of 31 Dimir Rogues players had Lurrus of the Dream-Den, 19 of 20 Temur Adventures players had Obosh, the Preypiercer, 15 of 19 Dimir Control players had Yorion, Sky Nomad, and all Doom Foretold players had Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Lovestruck Beast Kazandu Mammoth

Lovestruck Beast and Kazandu Mammoth, with 408 copies and 379 copies each respectively, are the most-played nonland cards across Standard decklists. If you had followed the October League Weekend and the November League Weekend, then the first deck that might spring to mind upon seeing these green three-drops is Gruul Adventures.

Indeed, that's the most popular Standard archetype at the Zendikar Rising Championship.



But there's more to Lovestruck Beast than Gruul Adventures. It's also played in two other green decks, and both saw a meteoric rise over the last three weeks.

Gilded Goose Wicked Wolf Feasting Troll King

The first is Mono-Green Food. After setting up with Gilded Goose and Trial of Crumbs, Wicked Wolf and Feasting Troll King will dominate the battlefield, resulting in a good matchup against Gruul Adventures—at least based on MTG Melee results over the past two weeks. So the rise of Mono-Green Food largely came as a way to prey upon the most popular deck in the metagame.

Edgewall Innkeeper Genesis Ultimatum Obosh, the Preypiercer

The second green deck that's risen in popularity over the past few weeks is Temur Adventures, gaining ground as an answer to Mono-Green Food. Even though Lucky Clover and Fae of Wishes are things of the past, Edgewall Innkeeper and Genesis Ultimatum can out-grind Trail of Crumbs, resulting in a favorable matchup against Mono-Green Food.

It is important to note that Temur Adventures is different from Temur Ramp. Temur Ramp uses ramp spells such as Migration Path or Lotus Cobra to quickly cast expensive game-winners like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Temur Adventures, by contrast, usually has Obosh, the Preypiercer as the companion, which means that it can't even run those even-costed spells if it wanted to. Instead, it's a midrange deck built to take advantage of Edgewall Innkeeper.

Heartless Act Neutralize Extinction Event

A final metagame development worth noting is the surge of Dimir Control. The perception is that this deck is strong against everything that tries to beat Gruul Adventures.

Dimir Control doesn't play Soaring Thought-Thief or Thieves' Guild Enforcer. Instead it's filled with reactive cards like Heartless Act, Neutralize, and Extinction Event. Mazemind Tome provides a steady flow of cards, and winning is an afterthought. Maybe you eventually close the game with Crawling Barrens; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; or Yorion, Sky Nomad—the typical companion—but this really is a control deck in its purest form. The number of main deck slots dedicated to win conditions is kept as low as possible to maximize the number of answers and card draw spells.

All in all, the continuous metagame shifts over the last month-and-a-half are a sign of a healthy format. Although hyper-aggressive decks such as Mono-Red Aggro are largely absent—they are in trouble as long as Lovestruck Beast remains the most-played card—there is a nice mix of strategies beyond that. The Zendikar Rising Championship Standard metagame even features some spice like Naya Winota—curving Lotus Cobra into a turn-three Winota, Joiner of Forces—and Jeskai Control, featuring Whirlwind of Thought and Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor. All Standard decklists will be published on the Zendikar Rising Championship event page at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, December 4.

Historic Metagame Breakdown

Friday and Saturday each also feature a combined seven rounds of Historic, and Sunday's Top 8 double-elimination playoff is exclusively Historic. The metagame breaks downs as follows.



Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Four-Color Midrange 37 20.1%
Jund Sacrifice 36 19.6%
Goblins 23 12.5%
Rakdos Sacrifice 20 10.9%
Sultai Midrange 15 8.2%
Azorius Auras 12 6.5%
Azorius Control 9 4.9%
Colorless Ramp 5 2.7%
Dimir Control 4 2.2%
Kethis Combo 2 1.1%
Sultai Paradox Engine 2 1.1%
Azorius Cycling 2 1.1%
Mono-Black Aggro 1 0.5%
Orzhov Auras 1 0.5%
Orzhov Yorion 1 0.5%
Mono-Red Planeswalkers 1 0.5%
Boros Burn 1 0.5%
Bant Control 1 0.5%
Esper Yorion 1 0.5%
Mono-Red Aggro 1 0.5%
Nine Lives 1 0.5%
Mardu Vehicles 1 0.5%
Esper Gift 1 0.5%
Rakdos Arcanist 1 0.5%
Four-Color Control 1 0.5%
Golgari Stompy 1 0.5%
Boros Knights 1 0.5%
Dimir Rogues 1 0.5%
Neostorm 1 0.5%

Nearly three months ago, the 2020 Mythic Invitational marked the debut of Historic on the Magic Esports stage. There, the three biggest archetypes were Goblins, Jund Sacrifice, and Sultai Midrange. With the understanding that Four-Color Midrange is essentially Sultai Midrange with a white splash for Yasharn, Implacable Earth, the three biggest Historic decks at the Zendikar Rising Championship are the same as at the Mythic Invitational.

Nevertheless, the card choices and the format have been shaken up by the release of Kaladesh Remastered. Let's break down the most-played cards—summing over all main decks and sideboards at the Zendikar Rising Championship—from this new set on MTG Arena.

Fatal Push

Fatal Push, with 255 copies in the Championship and one of the most efficient interactive spells of all time, was bound to have an impact. In other formats with overlapping sets, such as Modern and Pioneer, Fatal Push and Thoughtseize are consistently near the top of the most-played nonland cards—and they are number one and two among all submitted Historic lists here.

Fatal Push easily slots into most black decks, but it's been a particularly important addition for Sultai and Four-Color Midrange because Fabled Passage and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath turn on revolt with ease.

Blooming Marsh

Blooming Marsh, with 109 copies, may not fit the slower Sultai or Four-Color Midrange decks but it's widely adopted by decks like Jund Sacrifice that need enough early untapped lands to consistently cast one-mana creatures on turn one. The other lands in the cycle, such as Botanical Sanctum and Inspiring Vantage, have also been included by a variety of decks.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Chandra, Torch of Defiance—107 total copies, of which 74 among main decks—represents a boost for Goblins and Rakdos Sacrifice decks. Chandra ramps Goblin players into Muxus, Goblin Grandee; shrugs off Wrath of God; and kills Yasharn, Implacable Earth the turn she comes down. In Historic Chandra does it all, and she's one of the reasons why Goblins and Rakdos Sacrifice are still here.

Scrapheap Scrounger

Scrapheap Scrounger—94 copies played—is a resilient two-drop that provides plenty of synergy. Need a creature to sacrifice to Priest of Forgotten Gods or Witch's Oven without losing a card in the process? Need an artifact to enable Toolcraft Exemplar? Scrapheap Scrounger is what you want for both. The card is seeing the most play in Rakdos Sacrifice, which has turned out to be one of the main beneficiaries of Kaladesh Remastered. Jund Sacrifice is still more popular, but the cards from the new set seem to be a better fit for the leaner, more aggressive two-color variant.

Sram, Senior Edificer

Sram, Senior Edificer, at 51 copies, may be worse than Kor Spiritdancer but a secondary card draw engine has made Azorius Auras and Orzhov Auras much more consistent. Of these two, the Azorius variant is far more popular indicating that it's better to enchant your creatures with Curious Obsession, Arcane Flight, Staggering Insight than to eke out value with Hateful Eidolon and Dead Weight. But for both archetypes, Sram is a sweet addition.

Yahenni's Expertise

Yahenni's Expertise—33 copies, of which 21 among main decks—is an alternative to Extinction Event or Languish for midrange or control decks. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, but the ability to sweep your opponent's creatures while leaving your own Yasharn alive and playing Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath for free has convinced many Four-Color Midrange players to include Yahenni's Expertise.

Aether Hub

Aether Hub (27 copies) is the perfect land for decks with energy cards, and it's a great pickup for Colorless Ramp, which is a relatively new archetype based around Zendikar Rising's Forsaken Monument.

The deck derives its name from the colorless theme with Forsaken Monument; Karn, the Great Creator; and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. But it's not a strictly colorless deck, as it tends to include Extinction Event as removal. As such it's interested in any land that can tap for both colorless (for Forsaken Monument) and black (for Extinction Event), which is exactly what Aether Hub provides.

Authority of the Consuls Skysovereign, Consul Flagship Torrential Gearhulk Bomat Courier

The next-most-played Kaladesh Remastered cards are Authority of the Consuls, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, Torrential Gearhulk, and Bomat Courier—the list goes on. One thing is for sure, though: Kaladesh Remastered has had a major effect on Historic.

This becomes even more clear when looking at the archetypes with four of fewer players. To highlight this diversity of Historic, here's a quick one-sentence introductions for all of them.

Dimir Control (4 players): Answers threats with Fatal Push and Censor, pulls ahead with Narset, Parter of Veils, and takes over the game with Torrential Gearhulk—a Kaladesh Remastered reprint—which ideally targets Commit//Memory during the opponent's draw step while controlling Narset.

Kethis Combo (2 players): This intricate combo deck fills the graveyard with Diligent Excavator, activates Kethis, the Hidden Hand, recasts a bunch of Mox Ambers, does it all over again, puts most of their deck into their graveyard, recasts all legendary cards, and then wins somehow.

Sultai Paradox Engine (2 players): More Mox Amber fun can be had by combining it with Paradox Engine—a Kaladesh Remastered reprint—and Emry, Lurker of the Loch.

Azorius Cycling (2 players): It may look like a typical Azorius Control deck at first, but the large number of cycling cards to fuel Drake Haven and Abandoned Sarcophagus indicate otherwise.

Mono-Black Aggro (1 player): The plan is to curve Knight of the Ebon Legion into Scrapheap Scrounger, Spawn of Mayhem, and Phyrexian Obliterator.

Orzhov Auras (1 player): Kor Spiritdancer and Sram, Senior Edificer unite again, this time joined by Dead Weight and Hateful Eidolon.

Orzhov Yorion (1 player): Demonic Pact is the driving force, as blinking it with Yorion, Sky Nomad or sacrificing it to Doom Foretold provides a lot of value.

Mono-Red Planeswalkers (1 player): Sarkhan the Masterless turns Karn, the Great Creator and Chandra, Torch of Defiance into Dragons while Heart of Kiran—a Kaladesh Remastered reprint—holds the fort.

Boros Burn (1 player): Wizard's Lightning and Thermo-Alchemist set things on fire quickly, while Lurrus of the Dream-Den from the sideboard can recur Bomat Courier—another Kaladesh Remastered reprint—if the game goes long.

Bant Control (1 player): Come for Growth Spiral and Wrath of God, stay to see how Tale's End synergizes with Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Pact of Negation, and Lotus Field.

Esper Yorion (1 player): Reminiscent of Esper Doom Foretold from Standard, this Historic version adds 4 main deck Grafdigger's Cage to limit the effectiveness of any opposing Uro, Cauldron Familiar, or Muxus, Goblin Grandee.

Mono-Red Aggro (1 player): There's Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Embercleave like in Standard, but Bomat Courier and Burning-Tree Emissary remind us that the early drops are far better in Historic.

Nine Lives (1 player): More like Infinite Lives when you've locked out your opponent with Solemnity and Nine Lives.

Mardu Vehicles (1 player): Toolcraft Exemplar, Heart of Kiran, and Unlicensed Disintegration—all of which stem from Kaladesh Remastered—take us back to 2017.

Esper Gift (1 player): Thanks to Minister of Inquiries—another Kaladesh Remastered reprint—there is now a critical mass of cheap mill effects to put the trio of Scholar of the Lost Trove, Unburial Rites, and God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard.

Rakdos Arcanist (1 player): Stitcher's Supplier sets up Dreadhorde Arcanist; Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger; and Lurrus of the Dream-Den.

Four-Color Control (1 player): It's similar to Four-Color Midrange, but this is a more controlling build without Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Hydroid Krasis.

Golgari Stompy (1 player): The plan is to curve Pelt Collector into Scrapheap Scrounger, Steel Leaf Champion, and Collected Company.

Boros Knights (1 player): Curving Fervent Champion into Inspiring Veteran and Acclaimed Contender is also possible in Standard, but Benalish Marshal and History of Benalia are unique to Historic.

Dimir Rogues (1 player): You might think that someone misclicked and submitted their Standard deck for Historic, but this list is actually supercharged with Thoughtseize and Fatal Push.

Neostorm (1 player): The goal is to cast Sea Gate Stormcaller, sacrifice it to Neoform, and put all Dualcaster Mages and Glasspool Mimics from the library onto the battlefield.

All Historic decklists will be published on the Zendikar Rising Championship event page at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, December 4.

Conclusion

Competitors have been enjoying both Standard and Historic while preparing for the Zendikar Rising Championship, and I personally can't wait to see which decks will perform the best.



Don't miss the live broadcast, December 4-6 beginning at 9 a.m. PST each day at twitch.tv/magic!

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