Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! Zendikar Rising Standard is in full swing, presenting itself as one of the most amazing formats we’ve had in quite a while. The last balancing changes Wizards of the Coast made, banning the two most problematic cards (Omnath, Locus of Creation and Lucky Clover) left us with a card pool full of great options that can compete and be part of the best strategies, with none really threatening to break the format. Old strategies that used to auto-lose to a good Adventures start are playable again, and archetypes that might never been even considered as an option have a chance to put up a fight.
One of the main problems that prevent players from trying out all sorts of decks (specially when a new set has just come out) is that they don’t have the necessary dual lands yet. Let’s be honest, it is much more tempting to use our wildcards on those flashy and powerful rares that look like they can win the game on their own, rather than doing the “adult” thing: Saving until we can access the entire mana base of the format and therefore every color combination, and then only then starting to craft those flashier cards that we want to play with.
That is why today we will be looking at five mono-colored decks that can still compete against any top tier strategy nowadays. Decks that, with patience and practice, you can get to Mythic with. Without further ado, lets begin. You can click on the headings above each deck to visit the archetype page and view even more decks:
The “Food” mechanic featured in Throne of Eldraine, the oldest set in Standard, and that means it has been available to play with for quite a while now. The food cards present huge upside and power level, but they’ve only been able to really shine in Jund Sacrifice strategies, mostly thanks to the incredible synergy between Trail of Crumbs, Witch’s Oven, and Cauldron Familiar.
There has never been a competitive Food-centered deck that aims to exploit the concept to its full potential, or well not until now! This Mono Green midrange list makes use of all the most important pieces of the food puzzle: it presents a consistent curve, big creatures to attack and block with, and good pieces of removal and interaction, while having a fantastic value engine and card quality. Let’s break down the most important cards:
Trail of Crumbs
This enchantment has already proven itself in the past as a phenomenal source of card advantage, and it will work the same way in this list. For only two mana, you can abuse this card to make sure you never run out of resources to play. The fact that this deck can sacrifice Food tokens for free makes it so that you almost always have that extra one mana needed to draw a card (Wicked Wolf sacrifices the tokens without wasting any mana, Feasting Troll King can sacrifice three tokens at the same time, and even Gilded Goose can do it while adding the mana required to draw at the same time!). In a deck that is almost entirely composed by permanents, it’s almost imposible to miss with Trail of Crumbs. It’s a nightmare for control decks that are trying to trade with you efficiently, and it even gets better post board as games tend to slow down quite a bit.
Being the only Turn 1 play, beginning the game with Goose is the ideal start for this deck. Like any other mana dork, this bird will give us the chance to play our threats faster, opening the door for fast Viviens or Troll Kings: threats that can take over the game if not answered fast enough. At the same time, Goose will provide incredible value in the late game, something that most mana accelerant creatures can’t do. Having a permanent in play that generates extra food tokens for just two mana means that all our food synergies will be active all the time. This means more cards drawn with Trail of Crumbs, more +1+1 counters for Wicked Wolf, and more chances to come back from the graveyard for Feasting Troll King.
In the old days, when Throne of Eldraine made its debut in Standard, this card saw some competitive play and then ended up being forgotten, as the food mechanic wasn’t able to compete with the rest of the top tier strategies. That doesn’t mean the card isn’t powerful enough: now that the opportunity has arisen, it’s proving itself once again. Not only does it represent a potential automatic two for one, by fighting a smaller creature and leaving a body behind, but it also can be a difficult to deal with threat, as indestructibility is something many decks can’t deal with, especially Rakdos archetypes that rely on removal spells to progress their gameplan. The most important trick you need to keep in mind when playing Wicked Wolf is that you can respond to your own fight trigger by sacrificing a food token, making it indestructible and bigger before the fight resolves, meaning that you can take out huge creatures without a problem.
Feasting Troll King
A gigantic threat that can end the game in just a couple of swings, while also coming with a self-reanimation package. This deck can play the Troll King faster than any other, between Gilded Goose and four copies of Castle Garenbrig, a land that might have even been designed to turbo out this monster. Trample and Vigilance means it will dominate most combat phases, while presenting a very fast clock. Like most other six mana creatures, it can be weak to counterspells, exile effects, or even bounce, but if it manages to touch the board, it will at least leave three food tokens behind, and that is something this deck is built to abuse.
Overall, a powerful midrange deck that any Forest enthusiast will have a blast playing with. It has game against aggro decks, with good defensive options, life gain, and big sized creatures, while being able to present a problem for control decks, with great card advantage engines, good threats, and even some interesting sideboard options.
Days, weeks, months and years go by, but Mono Red Aggro is still playable in Magic. The idea of curving out with fast threats and trying to end the game as quickly as possible remains viable in Standard. There might be games where your opponent finds good removal and is able to raise a defense fast enough to prevent you from attacking, but between Embercleave trampling through everything and some burn spells to give us that needed reach, we can guarantee this deck can at least put up a good fight against any deck in the format. It might be one of the decks that needs to win the die roll the most, but if you are on the play and lead with mountain into one drop, your chances of winning skyrocket. Let’s break down the most important cards:
Javier Dominguez’s World Championship card from 2018 is still the real deal, being one the most impressive one mana attackers in recent times. It’s not a bad threat as a 1/1 first striker with haste, but its real potential comes when we find multiple copies, as a first striking Goblin Guide is no joke. Those openers with multiple Fervent Champions transform into some of the easiest wins for Mono Red, as our opponent just wont have enough time to stabilized, because profitable blocks are almost impossible, and removal spells will usually be too slow.
Anax, Hardened in the Forge
Surprising nobody, the red demigod still holds up incredibly well, and will without a doubt be the three drop of choice in every Mono Red list until it rotates out of Standard. Huge attacking potential, pseudo protection from opposing removal for himself and your whole team, and probably the greatest Emercleave carrier there will ever be. The fact that its legendary status is not a problem has always been an amazing bonus (as the second copy will grant you 4 1/1 tokens when dying, which is far more than enough to justify playing as many copies as you can).
The king of transforming combat phases into nightmares for your opponents, this piece of equipment is still one of the strongest cards in the entire Standard format, and a threat that can still end games out of nowhere. Even decks that are not specifically built to abuse the card can play and win plenty of games with it, and this Mono Red aggro deck is prepared to eke its full potential. There is a reason why Embercleave has been part of banning discussions many times, as its a card you sometimes cannot play around at all, and will steal games that looked otherwise lost.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
I doubt there’ll be a Mono Red deck that wants to leave this Dwarf out of the party, as it provides an incredible amount of power and reach that very few cards can match. Even the fastest and lowest curve lists should still use at least a couple of copies of him, as he will win games that would otherwise be impossible, and is a threat that has to be removed from the board as fast as possible. Another of these Throne of Eldraine powerhouses.
There is a reason why decks like Mono Red Aggro are a player’s favourite choice to rank up in Magic Arena, and that is because they come with a combo that few other decks can offer: consistent power level, quick games, and usually a win rate that will stay consistent if you learn to play the deck well enough. Sure, there will be times when decks are prepared for aggro matches, making some of their ideal starts less overwhelming, but there will be other times where you just stomp everyone in your way (especially now that everyone is so focused on winning those Yorion mirrors and aggro builds aren’t that popular!).
Swamp enthusiasts have had some problems in staying competitive for a while, as Mono Black decks haven’t been viable since early in the Theros: Beyond Death meta (and even then, they were more of a two-week wonder than anything with staying power!). Even with the decrease in power level that the last bannings generated in Standard, devotion decks with Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Erebos have not managed to make the cut. That is why I think the way to apporach swamps is with a low curve, trying to apply pressure early on, while still maintaining that resiliency that black always has, with creatures that come back to life, and using the graveyard as a source of card advantage. This particular list is built to have a decent curve of attackers, threats that are difficult to trade one for one with, and phenomenal reach power through the air. Let’s break down the most important cards:
Skyclave Shade is an amazing two drop from Zendikar Rising that is slowly seeing more play in decks, even some non-aggressive ones, as its recursive ability is so easy to abuse with any sacrifice outlet. In this aggresive shell every aspect of the cards works perfectly: it’s a 3/1 attacker for two mana that can comeback infinite times from the graveyard, and can even be a mana sink in the late game, being a five power creature that doesn’t cost you a card. The “can’t block” downside isn’t that big a deal, as you wont be interested in blocking in most of the games.
Rankle, Master of Pranks
Yes, Rankle is legendary but I think four copies is correct nonetheless. There will be plenty more games that are won by just how much power this flyer provides, compared to those games that will be lost because you couldn’t play the extra copy in hand (that you can even discard with its own ability!). Not only can it damage the opponent for four each attack, but it can do it with evasion, and can even help you control the board. This deck will have better sacrifice options than the opposing deck on average, as most of the creatures we are playing are disposable and can come back from the graveyard at some point.
I think this might easily be the most powerful modal double-faced card from Zendikar Rising, and that’s saying a lot. Most of these cards give you a land option, and a spell counterpart that is a bit overcosted to balance the fact that the card is already very flexible and can be played as a mana source. In this particular case, it doesn’t feel like we are paying that much more for the immensely powerful effect we get. This is a land when you need it to be, and a win condition in the late game that will let you rebuy your whole team at once. Definitely one of the main reasons to play an aggressive black deck right now.
Here’s a card that has not seen much love in competitive Standard, probably because it has always been under-appreciated, as I think it is a phenomenal tool for aggressive decks to close games out of nowhere. You see, you don’t really need a Rotting Regisaur for this to transform a creature into a real threat: any one drop that becomes a 4/2 flyer out of nowhere can be a problem for the opponent, especially when they dont see it coming! The fact that this can be replayed over and over again from the graveyard makes it so that your opponent will run out of removal spells to deal with all the flying nightmares you run out.
This might not be the fastest aggresive deck of the format, but it is definitely one of the more resilient ones, and can still curve out incredible well while generating value and card advantage at the same time. Between cards that can be played again from the graveyard, creatures that generate card advantage, and lands that provide great value in the late game, I think mono black players have what it takes to get to mythic while staying loyal to their color!
This, my personal creation, was an attempt to make blue players able to compete with their very own mono-colored build this Standard, as Islands are the only basic land that does not have a deck for itself right now, and I have to say I have been very impressed with the results. As with most mono blue archetypes throughout history, it will suffer from the fast starts of hyper-aggresive decks, especially when on the draw, but I’ve tested it significantly and it has the ability to compete well in every other situation (even having a high win rate against every type of Yorion build). With a wide range of counters and card draw options, this deck functions as a classic control deck from Magic’s history, and one must be ready to play long games. Let’s break down the most important cards:
This might look like a regular mana rock with situational upside, but I assure you it is not. Getting to 12 o’clock is absolutely real, meaning this will grant you an extra blue mana for many turns and refill your entire hand after a while. The fact that it shuffles your entire graveyard into your library is specially huge against Dimir Rogues, negating one of its main ways of winning the game and forcing it to built up to eight cards again for its payoffs. Of course, in some fast match-ups, you may not have a good opportunity to play it and not fall behind (in this case, the idea is to try and play it so that it costs you only two mana, by tapping it the same turn to play something else). Other than that, it’s a great tool for this deck which is totally capable of using the extra mana it provides, and its card advantage.
As with any other strategy that passes the turn with mana open most of the time, this uncounterable shark is one of your main win conditions. It is still a card worth including in many blue decks, as it presents an immediate two for one, and the possibility to hard cast it to win long games and generate many sharks is also real. It might be a bit slow against aggressive decks, but it’s an absolute star in control mirrors or against other blue decks.
A card that doesn’t need too much explanation at this point in time, but I’ll go over it anyway! It’s a good interactive tool, with a Vendilion Clique attached to it, which can be used to attack our opponent’s life total, defend against flyers, or pressure planeswalkers. Overall, an important part of this blue puzzle: since most of our interaction comes in the form of counterspells, being able to bounce permanents back to our opponent’s hand and get to counter them when they recast them is a good way to stop them from going underneath your counter-magic.
Gadwick, the Wizened
Gadwick is yet another Throne of Eldraine powerhouse.
The last Mono Blue deck that saw success in competitive play had a tempo-aggressive oriented game plan, with one drops, cheap interaction, and even big threats in the form of Tempest Djinn, like the decklist Autumn Burchett used to win the first Mythic Championship last year. Those tools are not available in Standard right now, and blue mages need to go back to their core nature and plan: Longer games of attrition. This might not be the most comfortable deck to rank up on ladder in Arena (especially if you dont have enough time to play many games) but it will surely provide fun and interesting games, and with practice and time, can also have a good win percentage (I am 6-3 with it in Mythic right now!).
Plains is usually the basic land type that most Magic players tend to underrate. For some reason, most people think that white always ends up being a support color, and that it does not have protagonism in competitive archetypes. I always try to convince everyone of the exact opposite – just look at the history of banned cards in Standard, and you will see how many white bombs there are! White Weenie variants always tend to have their spot in competitive environments, and I think this Standard format is no exception. This mono white list has a decent curve, good attackers, and solid interaction. Let’s break down the most important cards:
Maul of the Skyclaves
The maul is a fantastic tool that Zendikar Rising brought to Standard for aggresive decks that is not being given much attention, partially because white aggro decks aren’t that popular, and also because there is another piece of equipment in the format that’s a little bit stronger (we might even have covered it already, spooky!). Regardless, two extra power and flying out of nowhere can be more than enough to close out some games, especially if the creature getting the bonus has some protection built in, like Seasoned Hallowblade.
I remember the first time I saw this two drop, and thought of it only as a “worse Adanto Vanguard”. Its actually much better than that. Turns out that, even though it has to tap himself for indestructibility, self-protection as an activated ability that doesn’t require mana to use is still very good. Curving out Turn 2 Seasoned Hallowblade into Turn 3 Maul of the Skyclaves sometimes is enough to win by itself against certain strategies.
During Zendikar Rising spoiler season, I thought this three drop was going to be great in many constructed strategies, and turns out I was underestimating it. It is absolutely fantastic. There is a reason why it is being so heavily played in aggressive shells, as a body that removes blockers, and in Yorion control builds, as a great board control tool that can be flickered for massive value. In this Weenie list, it is a removal spell with legs that can carry a Maul of the Skyclaves just as well as any other creature.
What I like the most about this archetype is its flexibility, since there are many cards and numbers that could be replaced here, and the deck could still function properly. It can crush games on the play where it curves out aggressively, while still fighting against an opponent that stabilizes, especially after sideboard.