May 26, 2016

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Going Rogue: Bant Zendikar Superfriends

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyway.

Today, we have a deck that's a product of half Magic strategy, and half a tale of friendship.

As we recently saw at the Pro Tour Madrid, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are a match made in heaven. Left unanswered for any amount of time at all, the two generate a powerful board position, with a flexible arrangement of width and height.


If it's good enough to win a Standard Pro Tour, could it be good enough for Modern?

Usually, this is a silly question to ask. The formats are worlds apart in speed and overall card quality, so anything succeeding in Standard has a tough hill to climb when faced with this question.

On the other hand, a three-mana Planeswalker gets an awful lot better in the presence of one-mana mana dorks, especially with Glorious Anthem effects running around freely.


Turn one: Birds of Paradise.
Turn two: Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, make a Plant.
Turn three: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, make a Knight Ally, -2 Nissa.

You now have a 1/2 Flyer, a 1/2 blocker, a 3/3, and two Planeswalkers on turn three. A respectable board on its own, and one that is ready to spiral out of control very quickly. This ramp-into-width strategy allows our Dorks and Planeswalkers to form the core of the deck. Now we just need a supporting cast.

Not exactly innovative, but this host of beaters has some excellent synergies with what the deck has to offer. Tarmogoyf is, and probably always will be, the best turn-two answer to a Lightning Bolted Birds of Paradise. Hangarback Walker enjoys both wide and tall uses of our Planeswalkers, hedges further against sweepers, and is a great sink for excess mana capacity. Kitchen Finks loves being reset with +1/+1 counters, Voice of Resurgence pops into a devastating */*, Scavenging Ooze adds combo interaction to our emerging +1/+1 counter theme, and Knight of the Reliquary finds land-based synergies like Gavony Township and Westvale Abbey.

Given that we're playing a two-colour deck, however, our lean reliance on fetch lands makes Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary not look as good, so we're likely to run fewer quantities in favour of greater diversity in other synergistic elements. In other words, we get to keep brewing up spicy inclusions.


Since +1/+1 counters matter, let's make them really matter. Tezzeret's Gambit is one of the best payoff cards for a deck that requires lots of dice, boosting not only our creatures but our Planeswalkers too, and thanks to our dorks, we aren't necessarily paying life to cast it. Running Nissa's -2 into a Gambit feels really, really good.

Woodland Wanderer is a bit wonkier, I'll admit, but it can actually pose a tremendous threat in this deck. It's not at all difficult to get it to 6/6+ (or higher with Exalted triggers), and is going to be noticeably better than a Tarmogoyf anywhere past the third turn of the game. It's bolt-proof and Abrupt Decay-proof, and your opponents' spot removal is going to be already spread thin among our other big bodies. You might not want to run it out on turn three and expect to ride it to victory, but anywhere beyond that, this card is pretty golden. Besides, this is a somewhat big-mana deck that can afford the risk of playing a four-drop.

We wind up with a lot of different options that we'll often want the ability to choose between, so I'm also interested in running some number of Oath of Nissa.

On the interactive front, we can afford to ignore most early-game threats thanks to a parade of botanical blockers, as well as being able to fairly reliably outclass Goblin Guides with an Ooze, Goyf, or Wanderer not too far behind it.

So no surprise, Path to Exile looks great here as usual, and I want to use our access to blue just a little bit to utilize the flexibility of Bant Charm. We can afford to pay more mana than the average deck, so three to kill something is acceptable, and its other modes, though overcosted, help us deal with problematic Cranial Platings or Ad Nauseams.

Meanwhile, we don't have access to Maelstrom Pulse, so Declaration in Stone does a reasonable impersonation with the cute upside of targeting our own dorks in the late game, and Dromoka's Command is a nice flexible answer that protects us from Anger of the Gods, among other things, and Sundering Growth has a lot of different populate options, so the value is real.

The sideboard can offer some other interesting options as well. I want to sprinkle in a touch of Bant in order to double-up our access to hate artifacts like Relic of Progenitus via Trinket Mage. Blue already comes easily to us, so this shouldn't be a difficult splash to make. The great thing about Trinket Mage in this deck is that if you draw it when you don't need the hate card, there's always a Hangarback Walker waiting to be deployed.

Finally, I also want to add a single copy of Elspeth Tirel. Her +2 will save our bacon in a lot of situations, her -2 plays perfectly into our offense plan, and her ultimate being achievable only a turn after playing her means that she will very often be a must-answer, or the game is yours.

So at the end of the day, what does this pile of +1/+1 nonsense look like? Let's take a look.

We wind up with a deck that is fairly powerful against other fair strategies. We block well while stabilizing against aggro, we generally overwhelm midrange strategies, and we can even out-value control with a bit of finesse. In testing against Burn, Jund, and Control variants, I've achieved about a 50/50 record, while tweaking the list along the way.

Unfair match-ups can be a bit trickier. We don't have a ton of interaction for combo decks (although we can often just kill them outright before they assemble their plan), and finicky decks like Tron, Affinity, or Bogles can be very swingy depending on if we draw certain key cards like Mana Leak, Sundering Growth, or Fracturing Gust.

Apart from the Trinket Mage packages, and the hate cards listed above, our sideboard also holds an extra copy of Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, for red or blue match ups respectively.

It's a fun and flavourful deck, and is at the very least fringe competitive.

I hope you enjoyed this week's edition of Going Rogue. Until next week, have fun, and may the force be with brew.