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Zendikar Rising Championship Day One Highlights

December 04, 2020
Corbin Hosler

The 2020-21 Magic Esports season continued to heat up today at the Zendikar Rising Championship as nearly 184 players converged on MTG Arena to battle through seven rounds. With three rounds of Historic and four of Standard, we saw the first large-scale event of the new season season play out as Rivals League and MPL players jockeyed for position and dozens of Challengers sought to break through on the biggest stage.

It brought together the best players in the world, as a truly global tournament.

At the end of Day One, it was Autumn Burchett leading the way with Gruul Adventures that smashed their way to a perfect 7-0 record. Here's what stood out from the stories of the day.

Autumn Burchett

Early Season Races Taking Shape

For the MPL and Rivals League competitors, the Zendikar Rising Championship is a rewarding tournament—there's $250,000 on the line—that will impact on their season. Up to four points are available to each league player this weekend: one for reaching nine wins, a second for the 10th win, a third for the 11th, and the maximum of four points for making the Top 8.

That four point spread is all the difference across half of the MPL top to bottom at this stage, plus 15 Rivals League players were within four points of their leader Luis Scott-Vargas.

Play kicked off last month with a pair of League Weekends, and heading into this event precious points were up for grabs along with the cash prizes. In the MPL, it was Japan's Rei Sato who led the way followed by reigning World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, while the Rivals League were led by longtime pros Luis Scott-Vargas and Matt Sperling.

Of course no one can add to their point total directly on Day One. We'll revisit these league races after things sort themselves out with standings on Saturday, but it's clear Burchett is pacing the field right now. She brought Goblins for Historic, Gruul Adventures for Standard, and didn't look back as they cruised through the first seven rounds with thrilling victories along the way.

"I spent a few days messing around with Goblins as it's my comfort deck that makes me happy, and it ended up feeling pretty well-positioned," Burchett explained. "I played the team's Gruul list, which looked great. Playing four [copies of] Embercleave is extremely my jam. I find it pretty hard to quantify how much this tournament means to the rest of the season. I just figure I'll play my best and whatever happens, happens. There's no point worrying about stuff like that because it's not going to improve your performance at all. The worrying isn't going to help."

After the first day, Burchett is playing as though she doesn't have much to worry about. Eleven players including Hall of Famers Martin Jůza and Gabriel Nassif, along with Pro Tour champions Jan-Moritz Merkel and Ivan Floch, lurk just behind at 6-1.

Eight rounds of Constructed play tomorrow—split evenly between Historic and Standard—will lead us to the Top 8.

Historic Continues to Evolve

One of the high notes of a challenging year has undoubtedly been the success of the Historic format. Originally as a format to play rotated Standard cards on MTG Arena, adding to the format via "Remastered" sets such as Kaladesh Remastered—plus even more supplemental cards and sets like Jumpstart—have made Historic into a unique format that continues to evolve in front of our eyes.

That's how the day started. Here's what the 3-0 Historic metagame looked like:

Archetype 3-0 Record Count
Four-Color Midrange 8
Goblins 3
Sultai Midrange 3
Jund Sacrifice 3
Bant Control 1
Golgari Stompy 1
Rakdos Sacrifice 1
Azorius Control 1
Sultai Paradox Engine 1

Nature must be angry, because Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath was the dominant force in Historic on Friday, with quite a bit of help from its Zendikar Rising buddy Yasharn, Implacable Earth. The Four-Color variation on Sultai Midrange first appeared last month, and it became the go-to build of the format's protypical midrange deck.

Yasharn, Implacable Earth Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

Yasharn may not look like much in a vacuum but in practice it stops a number of decks in their tracks, notably the Rakdos and Jund flavors of Sacrifice decks that lean on Mayhem Devil. Stapled to a 4/4 creature that also ensures land drops, it's an effect that players were more than willing to sacrifice some mana consistency to access.

Beneath the surface, there's plenty going on in Historic. The legendary Kai Budde showed that even in an Uro shell there's room for innovation, and his Paradox Engine list showed off what's possible in Historic.

The other list that must be noted is Rivals League member Grzegorz Kowalski's Nine Lives deck or, rather, the Solemnity combo deck.

Solemnity Nine Lives Idyllic Tutor Overwhelming Splendor Ixalan's Binding Gideon's Intervention Rest in Peace

Not only are both halves of the lockdown combo useful at times on their own, but together they just end games on the spot—even against a fully loaded and powerful board. Kowalski just missed Day Two, but his 2-1 Historic performance put Nine Lives on the map.

A Snapshot of Standard

Standard hasn't seen an addition as recently as Historic, so the Zendikar Rising Championship was less about who could discover the best way to use "new" Zendikar Rising cards and more about how to maximize their decks in the existing metagame.

Of course, there have been some changes to Standard as we saw it through two League Weekends. Most notably has been the resurgence of the Mono-Green Food deck that leverages cards like Trail of Crumbs and The Great Henge to ensure card flow, while leaning on Wicked Wolf and Feasting Troll King to dominate the board.

Trail of Crumbs The Great Henge Wicked Wolf Feasting Troll King Castle Garenbrig

The deck first appeared when Throne of Eldraine was new and could use Oko, Thief of Crowns for food generation. With a new metagame today, the deck is back and carried Standard gurus like Brad Nelson (5-2 on Day One) and Challengers like Tomas Pokorny (6-1 on Day One) into Day Two.

"Mono-Green Food is just a very powerful deck with strong cards," Nelson explained. "It's been one of the more dominant decks on the Star City Games circuit. It's got a lot of different draws that can give you card advantage, and Castle Garenbrig means you can play your threats a turn faster. I built my list to focus on the mirror and the matchups against blue decks, but I was expecting a more blue metagame this weekend; I didn't account for how much Gruul showed up."

To Nelson's point, Gruul Adventures occupied both first and second in the swiss standings, with Burcehtt and Sebastián Pozzo believing in the 'Cleave.

With a diverse Standard field that featured a number of unique archetypes, from Ruin Crab decks that mill to 80-card Yorion, Sky Nomad concoctions to Doom Foretold prisons to Embercleave beats, endgame Gruul Adventures boss Burchett demonstrated her mastery of the archetype. Between fast starts made possible by Brushfire Elemental and the staying power of Edgewall Innkeeper and The Great Henge—with a heaping of Embercleave on top—Gruul smashed today.

Other established archetypes continued to adapt too. Magic World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa even found ways to subtly improve one of the format's first and most established decks.

"I think the two big new decks are Mono-Green and Temur Ramp, and I think Rogues has a favorable matchup against them, so it made sense to me to play it even though it's a bit unfavored against Gruul," Damo da Rosa explained. "We opted for the Lurrus version because the green decks can often have trouble killing a creature, so Lurrus of the Dream-Den can stay in play for a long time and give you an advantage. That felt more important than Zareth San, the Trickster or Shark Typhoon, especially since the Temur decks have access to Brazen Borrower so Zareth San can sometimes be a liability."

Looking Ahead

Competitors return tomorrow to eight more rounds of play—four each of Historic and Standard. By the end of that we'll know who has advanced in their league races and who gets to battle for the title in Sunday's double-elimination Top 8 bracket.

Live coverage of the Zendikar Rising Championship begins again Saturday, December 5, at 9 a.m. PST on!

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