[Pioneer Building] Battle For Zendikar through Hour of Devastation

Hi everybody, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. We’re on day five of this review, and there are two more to go after this. I hope you all are enjoying what I have provided so far, and hopefully this has also sparked some ideas for decks.

Speaking of decks, we just left a Standard that rotated within six months of the fall set coming out, and honestly it would not be that long before there was a course correction in Standard play as well as design. Before we start let’s take a look at what we are working with.

How many sets again?

As a reminder, the sets I talk about today can be viewed here.

  • Battle For Zendikar
  • Oath of the Gatewatch
  • Shadows Over Innistrad
  • Eldritch Moon
  • Kaladesh
  • Aether Revolt
  • Amonkhet
  • Hour of Devastation

Yes. That’s eight sets. Yesterday’s article left off with Eldritch Moon, so why are there four more sets after that? Well in the middle of 2017 Wizards of the Coast (WotC), and Mark Rosewater, released a new article titled Metamorphosis 2.0. While I understood what WotC was doing when they made changes to the format, there was honestly too many changes. The Core Sets were key, as they gave players access to certain cards that were able to handle upcoming strategies, or be a key part in a new strategy for the upcoming Standard season. This article addresses that, and a lot of other concerns, and lays out how Standard was going to be going forward.

However something happened on the way there.

Drive fast, turn left…?

The fall set in 2016 brought us to Chandra Nalaar‘s home plane of Kaladesh. There we were presented with a colorful steampunk style world where a rebellion was about to break out, and we received a few new mechanics.

Mechanics that were going to be problems.

First there was Energy. A new resource that would allow us to power up some spells after paying their mana cost. This was to amplify spells or provide some new options for spells and permanents. However there was no way to remove the energy counters you accumulated, and things got out of hand quickly.

With this being an artifact-based plane there was a thought we would receive new versions of equipment, but instead we received vehicles.

Yes. Cars, helicopters, and more. Vehicles.

These were interesting because they worked backwards compared to equipment. With a sword (such as Sword of Feast and Famine) you can equip it to a creature, but if that creature has summoning sickness then you can’t do anything with it. If the creature is removed your equipment remains on the battlefield not used.

With vehicles if the creature dies the next creature you play can be assigned to crew the vehicle, and due to it already being on the battlefield you can attack once the crew ability resolves. This does make things more fun, and action packed, but when we were missing interaction (such as Lightning Strike, and Duress for example) vehicles such as Smuggler’s Copter warped the format, and we were at a place where we had cards banned in Standard.

During this era we saw five cards banned from Standard.

Right now only one of those cards are banned, allowing you to play these other cards in decks, and currently some are already making waves.

I’m going to review some decks without the banned cards, and some with the banned cards just to show the variety of the format.

Mardu Vehicles

Creature (20)
Scrapheap Scrounger
Thraben Inspector
Toolcraft Exemplar
Archangel Avacyn
Walking Ballista
Pia Nalaar

Artifact (6)
Heart of Kiran
Aethersphere Harvester

Instant (7)
Unlicensed Disintegration
Fatal Push

Planeswalker (3)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Land (24)
Aether Hub
Concealed Courtyard
Inspiring Vantage
Spire of Industry
Shambling Vent
Canyon Slough
Sideboard (15)
Painful Truths
Declaration in Stone
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Cut // Ribbons

How the deck works

Using Heart of Kiran you want to not only be on the attack, but also make sure you have enough left over for defense. This is why planeswalkers are really good here, as increasing their loyalty can allow you to block on your opponent’s turn. Outside of that you play a white-based aggro deck with splashes of red and black to remove creatures your opponents may control. Make sure to remember that your vehicle becomes a creature when it’s crewed, making it vulnerable to removal spells.

Pioneer Impact

One direction you can take is adding a bit more black to the deck. With Liliana, the Last Hope you can use her +1 ability to weaken an opposing creature, and then take that away by crewing Heart of Kiran making their blockers ineffective. You can also run better removal spells such as Dreadbore, Lightning Strike, or even Immolating Glare.  Keeping the removal spells at a lower casting cost can help fend off aggro. Thoughtseize is an obvious inclusion here.

Ramunap Red

Creature (26)
Hazoret the Fervent
Ahn-Crop Crasher
Earthshaker Khenra
Falkenrath Gorger
Bomat Courier
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Village Messenger

Instant (6)

Planeswalker (2)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Sorcery (2)
Incendiary Flow

Land (24)
15 Mountain
Ramunap Ruins
Sunscorched Desert
Scavenger Grounds
Sideboard (15)
Magma Spray
Sand Strangler
Pia Nalaar
Aethersphere Harvester
Harsh Mentor
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Chandra’s Defeat

How the deck works

You are the aggressor. Your top end of Hazoret the Fervent adds to that as you should be empty handed by then. Even if you’re not attacking, dealing some damage by pitching excess lands is also a good use of the creature. Make sure you curve out your creatures, and attack, attack, attack.

This deck stayed around the longest for the time it was legal in Standard, and mono red decks were relevant for a long time after that.

Pioneer Building

While this is fast, can you go faster? You sure can. Mono red aggro is already a deck in Pioneer, and it’s due to these cards. Don’t worry about taking damage from Eidolon of the Great Revel. If you can remove their blockers that’s extra damage for you. Monastery Swiftspear also helps get a lot of damage across due to Prowess, but you my dear reader are already aware of how great this card is.


Creature (21)
Diregraf Colossus
Lord of the Accursed
Relentless Dead
Dread Wanderer
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Enchantment (4)
Liliana’s Mastery

Instant (6)
Grasp of Darkness
Fatal Push

Sorcery (4)
Dark Salvation

Land (25)
19 Swamp
Ifnir Deadlands
Scavenger Grounds

Land (15)
Transgress the Mind
Fleetwheel Cruiser
Lost Legacy
Scrapheap Scrounger
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Never // Return
Crook of Condemnation

How the deck works

Zombies, Zombies, Zombies. A tribal deck with an aggro bend, zombies have been popular with many Magic: the Gathering players since the game began. With creatures that start out small and end up large, as well as removal spells, this deck has a lot to like.

Pioneer Impact

If you really want to play Zombies you’ll want to have the necromancer herself somewhere in the deck, along with Thoughtseize. Keep in mind that Mutavault is also a zombie when it becomes a creature.

(Bonus) Decks with banned cards

Now let’s talk about a few decks in this era that had cards banned from it.

Azorius Midrange

Creature (20)
Archangel Avacyn
Reflector Mage
Spell Queller
Selfless Spirit
Thraben Inspector

Artifact (4)
Smuggler’s Copter

Enchantment (4)
Stasis Snare

Instant (2)
Revolutionary Rebuff

Planeswalker (4)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Sorcery (1)
Declaration in Stone

Land (25)
10 Plains
Port Town
Prairie Stream
Sideboard (15)
Linvala, the Preserver
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Spell Shrivel
Void Shatter
Declaration in Stone
Westvale Abbey

How the deck works

Honestly while this may be a midrange deck this truly is an aggressive one. You try to keep your hand full by playing a few threats, and attack with them until they are removed, or your opponent is defeated. Smuggler’s Copter helps filter your cards into and out of your hand making sure that the cards in your hand are the best for the situation. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar provides creatures as you already know, and you can flash in Archangel Avacyn in response to a board wipe.

Pioneer Impact

Even though this deck is more midrange you can add to cards that provide you tempo with Teferi, Time Raveler (shutting down instant speed answers), Brazen Borrower to bounce problem permanents, and Dovin’s Veto to counter them on the way back into play.

Honestly if you had this deck built for Standard, and kept the cards, all the while staying up to date on Standard cards then you already have this deck in full. It’s probably the best deck in these colors currently in the format.

Aetherworks Marvel

Creature (8)
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Rogue Refiner

Artifact (8)
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot

Instant (15)
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Dissenter’s Deliverance

Planeswalker (2)
Chandra, Flamecaller

Sorcery (4)
Attune With Aether

Land (23)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Lumbering Falls
Sideboard (15)
Tireless Tracker
Aether Meltdown
Ulvenwald Hydra
Radiant Flames
Confiscation Coup
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

How the deck works

This was the boogeyman of the format. Wizards of the Coast kept banning cards to reduce the impact of Energy, but the card they kept missing until the end was Attune With Aether. Building up all of your energy counters until you can activate Aetherworks Marvel and cast (not play, it is actually cast) an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Really anything cast off of Marvel was good, but Ulamog was the main target.

Pioneer Impact

You can gain more energy counters after Aetherworks Marvel is out by having permanents leave the battlefield, and this is one of the best ways for this to happen. This may seem like they should be an auto include, but you need your mana on time in a three color deck. You also need to fight against creature lands as well as Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. This is where Field of Ruin can help.

In Conclusion

This was a wild time in Magic as we were going back to one rotation per year right after we just had a rotation after six months. Not that I mind but due to that change it did make some cards that should have left (Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) be a part of the format longer than they needed to be.

Even with all of the problems one could tell that Standard was slowly becoming fun again, and we were all interested in how vehicles would be designed going forward.

Your Thoughts

I am sure you played during this era of Standard. What’s your favorite deck of the ones posted above? What do you remember most about this era? Leave a comment below and make sure to follow me on Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next Time

Tomorrow we move forward another Standard rotation as we search for something callrd Azconta

Until then…


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