Hello again! It’s time to crack on with my evaluation of Battle for Zendikar. You can find the first part here, the second part here, and the full spoiler to follow along with right here if you wish to check it all out and see what cards I skip right over.
Beastcaller Savant: I don’t understand all the buzz around this card. Yes, I am sure that this will be effective in the aggressive Ally decks, mostly because some of the best ones cost 4 mana, partly because the haste part might actually be useful for claiming use of various Ally bonuses right away. But I just don’t see this card being good outside of those. For the most part, the haste just won’t be that useful, and not tapping to cast spells is a massive drawback.
Even if you have *mostly* creatures in your deck, would you not rather play something like a Leaf Gilder to let you play a Gideon or Kiora on turn 3? Realistically Rattleclaw Mystic will be the 2-mana ramp creature of choice for multi-coloured decks for the time being. Even if you want to play Woodland Wanderer for maximum counters, I don’t think the times this card making all colours will be important enough compared to the times you can’t cast your non-creatures effectively.
You can certainly make a deck with all creatures, even non-Ally ones, and this will be a perfectly acceptable card in those decks. But you just have to be sure that the deck is really not improved by adding some Planeswalkers or Charms etc.
Blisterpod: Heeey, another Doomed Traveller. This will more or less only go into sacrifice themed decks with cards like Captain Smothersworth and friends. As a 1/1 for 1, you are very unlikely to be wanting to use it in a regular beatdown deck, and the Scion is not available reliably enough to ramp with.
It’s never going to be too flashy, but Blister will quite happily leap to your defence before you throw it into whatever engine you want to use, time and time again.
Call the Scions: This provides just too little for 3 mana in constructed. It *does* combine well with Smothering Abomination, becoming a weird Thoughtcast type of effect with it in play, and perhaps they just won’t print any better cards that make Scions and you need more producers in your deck. In that case… okay, I suppose this has a chance to see play in that particular niche. I have to imagine you will have 4 Catacomb Sifter in your deck before any of these though!
Earthen Arms: I don’t actually think this will ever be played, but then again, what if next set they print a bunch of Hexproof guys, and the next Daybreak Coronet that can only be cast on creatures with +1/+1 counters? What then?
Eyeless Watcher: Basically the same card as Call the Scions if all you want are the tokens, since for the extra mana you only get an additional 1/1 with no abilities. As loose-but-maybe-synergistic-enough as Call might be, this just feels too far down on the loose side of things considering all power in 4 drops right now.
From Beyond: As sweet and popular as Awakening Zone was, it never really made much of an impact on the big stages. This sort of effect is a bit slow to get going compared to say, just casting a giant monster on turn 4. You need time to make it work, and that’s not something you really want if you are just intending to use the Scions to ramp. For that kind of deck, you are more likely to want explosive mana growth to get you there as soon as possible, and not in a way that is relatively easily disrupted by having your Scions killed off. (though this WOULD be a resilient card in the sideboard for that strategy against very slow decks that are trying to limit your resources)
So, to take best advantage of this, you’re not REALLY looking to play it in a ramp deck, despite how it looks. With the Scions having power, this actually can be used as a way to gain incremental advantage through trading with a slow, grindy control deck. The more you can stall and remove threats while this builds up the better. since you can cash it in for Ulamog at any time, opponents will be forced into either dealing with this or trying to kill you, which is hopefully pretty difficult for them if your deck has the right answers.
I actually see this as sort of pseudo-Planeswalker that eschews loyalty. It’s main ability is to make a 1/1, but if you get to use that ability enough times, you get to ‘ultimate’ and bring in the titan, and even if you don’t get to ultimate, hopefully the 1/1s are doing work, trading for creatures and hassling the enemy.
Greenwarden of Murasa: I absolutely adore cards like this. I’m talking about big, expensive card advantage engines that you can’t play too many of, lest your hand be clogged with cards that aren’t overly impactful on their own but are very satisfying to resolve. Now that Elspeth has finally left standard, it’s now much safer to play a big guy without evasion and expect it to do something useful so the 5/4 body is not irrelevant. If you ever get to say, return a Ruinous Path, trade in combat with a Rhino, then return a Rhino of your own then I have to imagine you are winning this particular way of attrition.
It’s even worth noting that the ‘dies’ trigger is not mandatory. This means that if you have the time and the means, you can pass up some short-term value in order to return it later with another copy or Den Protector.
As with all these cards, this does get better with the more good cards you already have in your deck to return, and Abzan does tend to be a collection of the format’s best cards so I expect to see one in the more controlling versions of the deck at least.
Infuse with the Elements: I don’t have high hopes for this card at all, but if it so happens a bunch of powerful multi-coloured Hexproof creatures get printed then it has a certain amount of appeal. +4/+4 is no joke, and not being an enchantment reduces vulnerability to stray enchantment removal. Don’t get your hopes up through, Boggles players, I don’t anticipate any cards on the level of Saint Traft any time soon.
Jaddi Offshoot: When times are tough, and you need to defend yourself from 2/2 creatures, Jaddi Offshoot will do the job. It’s not fancy, but either a red deck removes this with a burn spell, or you’ll probably gain something like 7 life between blocking and landfall triggers. It does become less effective if people are playing many 1/1 Goblins to swarm around it, but I don’t see how much more you can want from one green mana!
Nissa’s Renewal: There is power here, but it’s not broadly playable. 7 life is a nice bonus, but for 6 mana you expect something of a hay-maker from a card, not simply more set up. This is fine in a turbo-ramp deck, but that deck might not be that strong, since it falls into the usual ramp-strategy trap being inconsistent with needed to draw just enough ramp or giant things or else the deck falls flat.
Where I think this deck might have most potential is in an Eldrazi deck with sweepers. Imagine playing a couple of ramp spells, with your opponent flooding the board to try to kill you off before you start casting monsters. Then you take a turn off developing your mana to blow up their creatures. But wait, you’re still in danger, what if they play Rhino into Rhino to finish you off? That’s where the lifegain on this comes in handy, putting you out of burn range while also getting you to the land count of 10/10 creatures. That’s where this is advantaged over Oblivion Sower, because while a 5/8 should help you stabilise, it doesn’t put the game away against an opponent with a few burn spells in hand in the times where this will.
On the other hand, if your opponents are slower than you, with the Sower you might be able to beat them up with your 5/8, so just use your judgement as to what’s happening in the metagame for what’s better positioned at the time.
Retreat to Kazandu: Grazing Gladeheart won players many, many races in Zendikar limited, but didn’t make much of a splash in constructed. While 2 life per land is a good rate, it just died a lot when you sideboarded it against red decks. This Retreat doesn’t have that issue, so it might have a chance. Gives you a nice life cushion against red decks when you’re under pressure, but if you are not, you get the added bonus to quickly increase your clock on the opponent.
I can’t imagine it being worth the card if your opponent is not actively trying to reduce your life-total as soon as possible AND you need to be playing a lot of lands, so sideboard material only. Unless mono-green landfall-and-+1/+1-counters is about 50 times better than I think it could be.
Rot Shambler: It’s another sacrifice theme deck synergy card. There are quite a lot of cards in this set like Blisterpod and Salvage Drone that really aren’t powerful at all… unless there are juuuust enough cards that care about their tiny abilities that suddenly turn them into playable. I think this is less likely to be good than the Zulaport Cutthroat since at least you are pretty certain to get the damage in from the sacrifices you make, but in certain matchups this might be surprisingly effective. If your opponent doesn’t have removal you can make this very large quite quickly if you want.
Scythe Leopard: Ah, the playable member of the Scythe family. Yes, people will play this in their decks and it will be regularly putting them in their aggressive decks that can make green mana on turn 1. It’s not nearly as punishing as the old landfall guys though, so even if you get through for the maximum a few times, you still need to do a fair amount of work to put your opponents away, and these guys are not very good at that when you reach the mid-game and beyond even if you are topdecking fetchlands.
You might say, ‘of course, it costs one mana, what do you expect it to do?’. But the best 1 drops historically are useful into the latter parts of the game, like Grim Lavamancer shooting things or Student of Warfare hitting the gym and getting beefy. In standard right now, you have Zurgo that can haste in later and evade sorcery kill spells and Lightning Berserker that is extremely threatening later as alternative options, and you can play Abbot at the 2 drop slot too which is a great topdeck.
This is why I predict that the landfall friends will be taking a back seat to the more universally powerful aggro cards until those rotate out of standard, or they give us more reasons to value a more explosive deck over a consistent one.
If you want to talk about say, a non-red landfall aggressive deck, then I don’t think that there are enough cards to support that strategy at the moment until they let you play 8 copies of this and Champion of the Undergrowth. And even then, many decks in the format would be excited to face generic slightly-above-average-size creature beatdown decks.
Snapping Gnarlid: Basically everything I said above relates to this guy. The payoff even when firing on all cylinders just isn’t high enough to compensate for the times when it’s not working out so great.
Tajuru Stalwart: Ally decks don’t have a lot of 3 drop options, and you could do worse than a 3/4 for 3. Unfortunately for the Stalwart, it doesn’t combine that well with the various cards that return your creatures to play, even if a 0/1 will trigger Kalastria Healer just as well as any other creature. It doesn’t bring any special abilities to the Ally table, unless you count ‘being quite big for an Ally’ as an ability, so the best way to use this seems to be to play at against red, as a creature that can survive a turn before you play Lantern Scout for value.
Tajuru Warcaller: The best card to Rally back to life if you have a Chasm Guide handily lying around somewhere. It’s not as sure a thing as just draining them out with Kalastria Healer, but much more explosive since even a medium-sized Rally (in terms of creatures returned) should give you enough huge people to smash your opponent with, and a big Rally for 7+ creatures should be usually lethal even through the staunchest resistance. That does make Rally cost 7 mana in this scenario though, if only there was an Ally that tapped for spell mana. 😦
Undergrowth Champion: As mentioned before, this is one of many creatures in standard at the moment that really require answering. Landfall growing him permanently makes him very difficult to out-muscle with regular creatures and he naturally shrugs off red removal. Assuming you don’t just run him out nakedly on turn 3 that is. Against red, please make sure to play him on turn 4 with a fetchland, and he might as well be indestructible after that.
There are some really nice +1/+1 counter synergies from Khans block you can pair this with (Hardened Scales being the most obvious) but even ignoring those, this is the kind of card that is good alone anyway, even if your support cards don’t work as planned.
The catch is that this will die all the time. Green quite often has creatures that are very large for their cost, and no other abilities (assuming they aren’t trying to damage this) and they never become dominant. As formats progress and control decks become more refined at dealing with the format, big dumb monsters lose ground to creatures that always pass the Doom Blade test. Still, this is cheap enough that it’s not a disaster if it gets killed.
So like Drana in black decks, play it in your green aggressive strategies, don’t be too sad when it dies. Also, get used to leaving spare fetchlands in play and resist the urge to ‘thin your deck’ when you have the possibility of drawing one of these.
Woodland Wanderer: What was I saying about big dumb monsters? To be fair, this is smarter and bigger than most. Even if it’s just a 5/5, having trample to smoosh chump blockers into the dirt and vigilance to play defence makes this very powerful. Best if your opponents have to spend their removal on say, Undergrowth Champions or Dranas first, leaving Wandermania to run wild.
Destined to be overshadowed by Siege Rhino for popular use while you have a choice between the two because of that pesky life drain value Rhino gives you, this is still the kind of threat that will always be somewhat playable. Watch out for it occasionally coming out of sideboards of otherwise creature-light decks in the same way the ol’ sideboarded Brimaz plans used to go, since it’s not that hard to splash for cards in the new fetchland/dual land format.
On to the lands!
Ally Encampment: You will definitely play it in Ally decks. ~unique strategic insights~
There are a lot of good multi-coloured lands at the moment, so even a 3 colour deck might be able to afford one or two of these, but more likely we’re talking about 1 or 2 colour decks for the most part.
The black one: Great! An edict you get randomly in the late game is usually going to be relevant. While the impact of this effect goes way down against Hangarback Walker and so on, if your opponent is trying to kill you with Dragonlord Ojutai this is a huge obstacle to the usual gameplan of ‘play Ojutai, and never have it die’. Take that, Silumgar’s Scorn!
The red one: It’s not horrible, but one of the weakest in the cycle. I think in most mono red decks I’d be more tempted by Foundry of the Consuls since I expect it will usually also deal 2 damage and often more, so I think this will see the least play. Even without competition from that card, on turn 7 or so a sandbagged Looming Spires will probably let you get in more damage overall.
The white one: Wait, the red one will see the least play? Less than the lifegain one? Well, the thing with this one is while it will be relevant the least often, when it does matter, this will probably win the game on the spot. Gaining 6 life will put you out of reach of most burn decks, even just 4 essentially counters a Firecraft. You obviously have to be playing a white deck with a lot of creatures in it in order to use this, which aren’t that uncommonly occurring in competitive fields, and if you happen to be playing something like Secure the Wastes you can make 5 guys at the end of their turn, and gain 10 before they know what hit them. Obviously I’m not expecting playsets of this to be a regular occurrence, but I am sure this will be played less than it *should* be, even if that number is ‘1 or 2 occasionally’.
The green one: This is just a solid good-value land. The land which will be used as a 4-of the most often, you’ll see it in ramp decks and some multi-coloured decks and some decks that are really moving in on the landfall theme. Certain to be played forever, as it will also slot into every green Commander deck. Don’t lose yours!
The blue one: There’s a sort of tension with this card, in that the type of deck that can play this card and get the mana to use it is the same type of deck that really doesn’t want to lose any lands since there are probably a few expensive Awaken costs you want to use or perhaps you want to cast Ugin and Scatter to the Winds on the same turn. Unlike the black one you probably won’t get a chance to safely use this until the extreme late game in or in a control mirror match, but when you do it’ll feel real nice.
Fertile Thicket: If you are playing a lot of basic lands, and definitely need to hit your first few lands in a game, this is like a land with Scry 5 for lands. I can totally see playing a couple of these if that is the case. The ability is not mandatory, so you can absolutely not use it if you don’t want to put a land on top of your deck later on.
Looming Spires and Sandstone Bridge: I’m lumping these together because they have more or less the same role in their decks. They’re meant to help your early guys get through, but you don’t want to play a lot of enter-the-battlefield-tapped lands in your aggro decks. I suppose the cost to playing a couple of these isn’t too high, assuming you get in an attack you otherwise wouldn’t. I’m just not sure the reverse wouldn’t also be equally true, that you’ll miss an attack you’d normally get because you couldn’t play a creature on curve due to one of these taking up your second or third land of the game, balancing out the benefits over time.
Mortuary Mire: A reverse of the Fertile Thicket, this is definitely best late game. Black decks tend to not rely on a smooth curve as much as red or white beatdown decks, so the cost of entering play tapped early isn’t as bad. I think this will see the most play out of this cycle, since it’s relevant for the largest amount of time in a game, and just gets better as it goes. You can play it in grindy decks (getting Rhino and Den Protector) and beatdown decks (getting Drana or Dust Stalker) and in the synergy decks to get an important piece of your puzzle like Smothering Abomination or Nantuko Husk.
Skyline Cascade: Perfect for decks with board sweepers. Freezing a Rhino for a turn while you build up your mana is exactly what you want, since if the opponent is too afraid to play more creatures into Planar Outburst you’ve taken a weird kind of Time Walk. I don’t think you can play this in many other decks, but fortunately blue decks tend to like being paired with cards that clear away all enemy creatures.
Lumbering Falls and Shambling Vent: The new manlands aren’t as good as the old manlands, but that’s fine. There’s a vast spectrum of power levels that a manland can exist in that is worse than an all-star like Celestial Colonnade. If you’re playing the appropriate colours and can afford to play them, you will quite happily. They might not be useful every game, but just having extra things to do with your mana is great and occasionally you will get to snipe a Planeswaker with one, or at least force the opponent to use a plus-loyalty ability instead of a minus-loyalty ability just to prevent them being assassinated by a walking piece of land. Both of these like to receive +1/+1 counters too, so bonus!
Sanctum of Ugin: This is a weird card. Doesn’t do anything until you’re casting a giant thing, at which point you can get more giant things? This would probably go in the same deck as the next colourless land, and seems fine. If you play a lot of these and Shrines you are probably stuck on mono-green or near to it, in order to fetch up enough lands to get everything running. If a deck exists where you can survive long enough to let you play multiple big spells in a row, this seems like exactly the type of lands you want lying around for use.
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods: I like these! If you have one of these in play, at the bare minimum you can cast an Ugin a turn earlier, and having multiples opens up the possibility for terrifyingly fast Ulamogs. Again, I think you’re locked out of playing anything but mono colour or at least base-green if you want to play the full package of these colourless lands, but it might be worth it. If such a deck can be made to survive all the different aggro decks, it seems like they would be really consistent against midrange and control.
Spawning Bed: Where are the Camarids, huh? I think the activation cost on this is a little pricey, especially if you wanted to use the Scions for sacrificial value or something along those lines, limiting this to those who want some extra mana. It does provide a significant boost to reaching the boss, but you also have to take pretty much a whole turn off doing other things to use it, making it generally worse than the Shrine for the purposes of land-based ramp.
The new dual lands:
They are all great in standard, of course. I also think some of them will see play in modern, since some decks usually fetch a bunch of basic lands anyway, and it would be nice to play one of the appropriate lands to find later in the game and not have to get shocked to do so like the older ones.
So, just the gold cards and artifacts to go. I hope you will join me again soon for those. If you want to leave some comments or feedback, feel free to do so below, (I will insert a more use-friendly comment system soon) or say something on Twitter @JechtMurray.
See you later alligators!
Scalding Tarn: Wait, what’s this? How did this get in here? Clearly, if you see any of these, it must be some kind of printing error. Send any you find to me, and I will take care of it for you…
I’m asking you, since I’m all out of wishes.