Pauper and Masters 25

Hello again friends, it’s time for Pauper. It doesn’t feel that long since Rivals of Ixalan, but the more commons the merrier.

While I wasn’t really paying attention for the last few Masters sets, they tend to bring along downshifted cards (commons that used to be uncommon or rare) and so they actually usually introduce some relevantly powerful cards. 20(!) cards are newly common, so heck, let’s just look at them all!

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Battle for Zendikar Constructed Predictions Finale! (Gold and Artifacts)

Welcome back for the last section of my set review! You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. The full spoiler is still here, and the official soundtrack for this section is here.

Let’s go!

Angelic Captain: I expect if you have enough Ally creatures to make this worthwhile, you’d be better off casting Overrun instead. Obviously this is a bit better if you end up just trying to get there with your one remaining creature, but I would prefer something with more immediate impact on the turn I play it in an all-Ally deck.

Bring to Light: Probably the most exciting card in the set from a deck building standpoint. It starts off as a powerful card and will only become more powerful over time as new cards are printed. Seems playable in both 4 or 5 colour decks, but you definitely don’t want it in a deck that can only cast it for 3 unless there’s some kind of cool combo that is printed later.

Bring to Light definitely seems best when you’re not the aggressor, since you can more easily tailor your deck to brutally punish most kinds of assault. Single Rhino attacking you? Find Gilt-Leaf Winnower. Bunch of Thopters and pals? Tragedy strikes. Just trying to play a single guy out to avoid you going those things? Trumping their guy with a Rhino will do as well. Maybe they are trying to get sneaky with a SiegeConclave their face in!

On the offence, well, Rhino for 5 mana is okay, but you’re less likely to threaten most opponents that’s on the same level of brutality as a Languish against an opponent that is weak to it, except maybe an Ojutai against decks that can’t kill it. Another typical weakness of a deck built to be flexible is that if your opponent is trying to go bigger than you, your deck is probably too reactive to stop them effectively with a cheap toolbox.

It isn’t trivial to play all 5 colours either, even with all the fetchlands and duals in the world. In addition, if you want enough good targets for this to find, you run the risk of having a deck that’s too filled with 4 and 5 mana cards to survive the early turns. It also doesn’t go well with other Converge cards, which you probably want to look into for your multi-coloured deck.

My opinion is that you’re more likely to want to cut down on the powerful one-of effects to only the absolute best, and be perhaps just play a couple of these. It is very powerful, but if you end up needing to cast this regularly for things like Ruinous Path, well, you probably just want more Ruinous Path in your deck and be more efficient.

Brutal Expulsion: I can dream of the double-use value, but being able to use both modes profitably isn’t going to come up that often. It doesn’t hit the enemy face, and doesn’t counter spells efficiently or permanently. Would be better if there were cards like Delver or Young Pyromancer to both kill and be supported by this, but there aren’t. I think this will be popular fine as a 1 or 2-of in decks that can cast it easily, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to put this in my deck.

Catacomb Sifter: I think this card is certain to break into constructed. It doesn’t depend on the ‘Green Black Sacrificial Stuff’ deck being playable at all, rather when being a 2/3 creature is in a fine spot in the metagame. Sometimes all the creatures in a format are too big for that to matter, in which case this won’t be a 2 for 1, and you don’t need it right then. If there are a lot of 2/2s, then you get a useful body and a Scion for a low-ish cost which can shut down the enemy very well.

The Scry effect is just a nice bonus, I don’t think anyone would play it for that ability if the body isn’t relevant. Against control it’ll often be a better threat than ludicrously powerful mythics like Drana and Undergrowth Champion just by virtue of leaving a 1/1 behind, which relates back to the point I made earlier about ‘big dumb monsters’ gradually getting replaced by value guys as removal improves. A prime example of this is in modern, with most 4 drops being essentially unplayable since they get removed easily and usually for less mana than you cast them for, but Chandra’s parents are actually quite playable there!

I’m willing to believe that other 3 drops will see more play, and maybe the format just end up a bunch of decks doing the most powerful things possible to each other all the time, leaving the Sifter outclassed. But I predict that by the end of BfZ standard, Sifter will have been one of the most quietly hard-working cards in the set.

Drana’s Emissary: I KNOW it’s a Wind Drake. But it’s also an Ally, and triggers all these random lifegain cards if that ever matters. I just like draining my opponent for one each turn, it makes me happy. Okaaaay, it is probably just outclassed by… nearly everything, but it’s probably surprisingly good if you’re playing a budget BW deck at FNM.

Dust Stalker: 5 power of haste for 4 isn’t a bad deal. You don’t necessarily even need many if any other colourless creatures in your deck to play this! It would be very easy to splash with fetchlands, and this type of card has been playable before. Good in a world full of sorcery speed removal as a repeatable source of damage, and Zurgo has shown how this can be useful even on a tiny creature. You can’t play too many of these if that is your plan though, don’t want to get Dust-flooded, but I expect it to pop up now and then.

Fathom Feeder: I think this would be pretty great if instead of needing to tap 5 mana to draw a card, may it could be costed the same as Jushi Apprentice. But, instead, most of the time this will be a Typhoid Rat and outside of limited that seems like a low power level to be on. While it’ll rarely be absolutely dead, and once in a while a game will stall and it can take over the game with card drawing, I think the majority of the time you will be underwhelmed by this card.

Maybe if the UB Ingest/Processing deck gets more cards it’ll be a thing, but UB control won’t want to play this maindeck and give enemy removal spells targets, and once you’re a 3 colour deck this becomes a bit tricky to cast on time for in exchange for a low reward. Like the previously mentioned Apprentice, Fathom Feeder does join a long list of cards that control decks might want to sideboard in against each other.

Forerunner of Slaughter: A serviceable 2 (or 3!) drop for your Red/Black deck. The Haste ability makes it somewhat flexible for your mana curve by itself, and might occasionally give a Hangarback Walker, Nettle Drone, Endless One or even just some Thopters haste.

Grove Rumbler: Oh dear, another 3/3 for 4 mana. That probably dooms it, but it does at least trample in for 7 off of a fetchland! I could imagine a GR landfall deck being desperate for an explosive 4 drop that can defeat a Rhino in single combat.

Herald of Kozilek: A 2/4 for 3! That might make it situationally playable since Blue/Red tends to be a colour combination that wouldn’t mind a decent blocker. I’m not sure exactly what colourless cards U/R decks want to play though. While there’s the obvious ‘Devoid’ themed aggro deck to try out, playing a pair of Nettle Drones or something doesn’t seem too exciting, and UR doesn’t seem like it has the tools to be better at casting the big Eldrazi better than say, a green deck.

I guess maybe the flavour text is totally right on this one, what is the purpose of this thing? Maybe it’s a plant for next set where this will become amazing, but until then don’t think a Herald of Kozilek deck does anything special.

Kiora, Master of the Depths: Kiora comes with more loyalty than last time, but is a bit worse at defending herself to compensate. Sure, you can untap something to block, but it’s hard to block big trampling creatures and sometimes your creature will die with Kiora quickly following them to the grave. The -2 ability means you’ll rarely be down cards at least, and she does require an answer out of control decks fairly quickly lest she let you bury opponents in extra cards and mana.

One area that people have already picked up on is that she ramps very well. Much in the same way that an unchecked Xenagos could let you rocket-boost into brutal expensive cards, untapping a mana creature and land can lead to some disgusting plays, especially with Shaman of the Forgotten Way. Obviously, this requires your board to not get murdered while you set this up, which is somewhat unlikely, but it’s another sequence of cards that demands a removal spell from the opponent, unless they want to be buried by powerful plays.

I don’t think she will see as much play as the other Planeswalkers since she’s not as broadly applicable, but she’ll rarely be terrible either, since at her worst she’ll usually get you a couple of cards and gain you some life.

March from the Tomb: If you are planning to combo-kill people with a lot of dead Ally creatures, Rally the Ancestors will usually get the job done better. But it’s also possible that there’s not enough support to make it a good idea to go all-in on filling your graveyard, and that this will do the job most of the time. It’s also pretty good value to get a few guys back to keep battling with if you’re not quite ready to kill them, a task that Rally is generally terrible at doing, so even without combo-kills you can sideboard this against removal-laden decks to keep up the pressure.

By the nature of the card, it can’t be played by anything but Ally decks, and even within them it’ll be fairly fringe, but you’ll want to own a few in the event the next set has Ally dudes that made the deck superb somehow.

Munda, Ambush Leader: I don’t like that you have to put non-Ally cards to the bottom, since it means if you need to draw something like Rally or March from the Tomb, you have to elect not to use the ability since additional Ally things are not going to help you find them while replacing your draw for the turn. If you are at a stage in the game where all you need is to draw Ally-based gasoline, then Munda does that job very well. As I mentioned before, if you have a Munda or two in your deck, you can get away with playing something like one Warcaller or one Lantern Scout and have a reasonably good chance to dig desperately for one if you need it.

It is worth noting that you are ‘looking’ at the top 4, and you are not forced to reveal the Ally creatures you see there, since it’s hidden information from your opponent. This means if you are going to draw a bunch of weak creatures, you are actually able to ‘fail to find’ any allies, and then try again when you trigger him again.

Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper: While he looks like he seems like he goes straight in an Awaken theme deck, I’m not sure that’s actually the case. He doesn’t do anything for you your spells don’t already do, and is sort of expensive to play and protect with counterspells if you’re setting up for the long game.

Never fear though! I think Noyan has some potential, but it’s more like a weird combo card perhaps in a deck featuring Jeskai Ascendancy. If there are some more cheap cantrips available at some point, untapping with him in play lets you potentially chain together cards like Anticipate and Treasure Cruise, untapping your now-animated lands to deal tons of damage like a weird sort of Guttersnipe/Talrand. That doesn’t seem like a particularly flattering comparison since Guttersnipe wasn’t good, but this card is blue, making it naturally better at being in a deck that is playing a bunch of blue card drawing cards.

You know, if they print some cheap ones. Unlike right now, where he feels slightly clunky, but ‘make a creature upon playing a spell’ has a strong lineage of being playable text on magic cards.

Omnath, Locus of Rage: Dragonlord Atarka is still legal in standard. Omnath is very powerful, but I’m pretty sure Atarka is better in the majority of match ups for the foreseeable future due to the value of immediate removal. Against a deck like Esper where Atarka rarely kills anything, Omnath could come in and do some good work, but those are also the kinds of decks that are good at restricting your resources, making it very difficult to play Omnath and a land on the same turn for 5/5 goodness.

Omnath will enjoy being totally sweet in Commander though!

Resolute Blademaster: This better be the blade, or Riot! This is more of a finisher for a non-combo Ally deck since it doesn’t particularly work in any meaningful way with putting a bunch of allies into play at once.

Effects like this are a Savage Beating when they work, but they have never hit the big time, as they only work with a strong board presence, and don’t do anything while behind. The advantage of this over something like Berserkers’ Onslaught is that you can play exactly one of them in your deck and look for it with Munda when it’ll be useful, and brings an extra couple of power to the table itself. (mostly relevant with Chasm Guide)

Roil Spout: As annoying as Time Ebb is, it hasn’t made waves in constructed yet, maybe just a tiny little bit when it could also hit lands. Making Dismisser into a 4/4 is fairly appealing, but I think the non-Awaken mode will be too underwhelming, and even when Awakened, if your only targets are things like Den Protector or Rhino it’s not a wonderful situation.

Sire of Stagnation: A sideboard card for matchups where they want to make lots of land drops and are not also able to very easily counter/kill this and then untap and punish you. 5/7 is pretty big, and if they are forced to play even 1 land then you’re quite happy, but by the time you play this most opponents will either not need to play any more lands, or be able to handle it anyway. Hence, it’ll often basically seem to have no ability.

It will also make people hate you in Commander possibly as much as they would if you’d played Consecrated Sphinx!

Skyrider Elf: I just wanted feel nostalgic for Gaea’s Skyfolk, and they sort of mated it with a Manta! It is versatile, and not embarrassing at any price point, so maybe it’ll appear to fill up some curves and apply some pressure, and maybe it’ll be easy enough for an Ally deck to play for some evasion. It is also cheap to return with March from the Tomb and since it returns as a 0/0, it can enter play to trigger Kalastria Healer and leave play to trigger Zulaport Cutthroat without needing any sacrifice effects. You know, if you are looking for weird ways to maximise life-draining on your Marches.

Ulamog’s Nullifier: Same goes for this as I mentioned about a certain card that hates creatures being able to breathe. To go out of your way to exile a bunch of cards, you want a bigger payoff. This is nice, but probably not worth the effort yet.

Veteran Warleader: This card has seen many forms over the years, and it’s usually never worth it due to the requirement of you over-extending your cards into a board wipe. I think this will suffer the same fate, but at least with the March/Rally package, having all your creatures put into the graveyard isn’t the game ending scenario it usually is for creature swarm decks.
Okay, the gold cards are finished off.

No, not that kind of finished off! Gold cards will be back in Oath of the Gatewatch!

Time to look at all the undoubtedly numerous powerful artifacts!

Hedron Archive: Is… is that Jace there with the barrel-body? Was he always like that? I guess he was after he became a Planeswalker, since apparently wearing a barrel causes you to flip. Do the stars of Donkey Kong Country actually Planeswalk from barrel to barrel?

I wonder how this gear fits into the world of wizard fashion?

I really like this card. It lets you ramp into expensive things while still having a plan to solve the issue of having too many mana sources and not enough action. It is a high cost in terms of board position/tempo to play this on turn 4 and do nothing else if you’re on the draw, but hopefully the big spells you follow up with will compensate.

Pilgrim’s Eye: Finally, a much desired reprint of this Modern powerhouse. Timely, as I’m sure the price was about to skyrocket.

Unfortunately for this fan-favourite card, I don’t really see anyone being desperate enough for mana fixing with now with all the good lands available, and you can play Nissa assuming you want to hit land drops while applying something to the board. I’d recommend you passover this pilgrim in favour of something else.

That’s it! That’s all the cards. I did skip over some cards like Dispel since I figured everyone has seen those enough times already to know if you want them in your sideboard or not. :3

A couple of people told me I was somewhat generous in my application of ‘possibly playable’, but I’m fine with that. For me, it’s valuable to consider what makes a card almost good instead of actually good, since it gives me something to work on for evaluating future cards too.

To provide a couple random examples off the top of my head, have you ever tried to play Dragon Appeasement? Probably not, since that card was Not Good Enough for constructed by a long way. But, having tried out the card casually, I know that the effect on the card is very strong. Appeasement cost way too much, and the drawback was far too steep, but if I consider what a playable version of that card might look like, well, maybe it will look more like Smothering Abomination, a card that is cheaper, has a drawback that is sometimes an upside, and can attack. Hooray!

Maybe a less wild example would be Utopia Tree. That card came out during Invasion, and was reprinted in 9th, and didn’t see a lot of play either time despite Invasion being multicoloured block. Why? Well, while it did have the same text as Birds of Paradise which is great, costing 2 turned out to be a huge downside, making it much easier for your opponents to kill it off before you got the mana boost. There weren’t a lot of 1 power creatures around either, so it couldn’t block most of the time. So what would it take to make the Tree playable? Perhaps you could make it harder to kill, or make it better at blocking? Turns out they did both with Sylvan Caryatid, which looked underwhelming at first due to memories of prior unplayable 2-mana ramp creatures and I encountered seemingly unfavourable comparisons to Birds, Hierarch, and Rampant Growth, but Caryatid quickly became popular.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my rambles. I expect to be writing more regularly again for now on, so I hope you’ll join me again, even when I talk about non-Magical things!

See you later!

Edit: I forgot to add in a link to my Twitter account again. I am not really big on this self-promotion thing. :3

Battle for Zendikar Constructed Review and Predictions! (Green and lands)

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 KazanduGrazing 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 ShamblerIt’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.

Sylvan Scrying: Though there are quite a few toolbox targets, it doesn’t feel worth your time unless you’re finding something as powerful as Cloudpost or Urza’s lands.

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~

The Blighted Lands:

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.

Battle for Zendikar Constructed Review! (Black and Red)

Picking up where I left off last time, I’m making predictions as to the playability and uses of Battle for Zendikar cards, or Zendikards if you will. Let’s get to it!

(just like last time, please follow along this spoiler right here so you can see all the cards I’m talking about, and see which ones aren’t really worth talking about)

Altar’s Reap: This wasn’t really playable last time it was around, and I don’t think it will be this time either. Sacrificing a guy is a high cost to pay even when you’re creature-rich, and it doesn’t even work to draw some gas if you get all your men swept away. Most importantly, I feel like this art looks like Ob Nixilis is transitioning to a Dragonball Z villain, with the horns and purple colour scheme, I approve.


Bloodbond Vampire: This is no Ajani’s Pridemate. This card costs twice as much and while it does have an Ally version of Soul Warden in Kalastria Healer, you don’t get the super-fast growth that threatens to make a 5/5 by turn 3. Without gaining life, a Hill Giant is what you get, and a 4 mana creature in contemporary standard can’t be that underpowered. With lifegain support, you still need to trigger it several times to be better than what other decks are casting on 4, and those cards are good on their own.

Good news though! While I don’t expect this to be tearing up any GPs, I am quite certain you can take a sweet deck with this guy to FNM as a budget/totally awesome fun option.

Bone Splinters: As with Altar’s Reap, the payoff isn’t that high that you’re really looking to build your deck around cards like this. It is possible to see fringe play if a critical mass of things that want to be sacrificed appear, but no one is pumping their fist in the air in triumph when they draw multiples of this in their opening hand. On the plus side, there are few better things to cast to follow up a Threaten effect if you want to get cute.

Carrier Thrall: This guy seems low on the power scale, but this type of card is always better than it looks. Works just fine as an aggressive card that lets you not worry too much about enemy removal spells, is a nice roadblock against opponents that are trying to beat you up, and has synergies with cards that want you to sacrifice things. Doomed Traveler’s main weakness was that it didn’t hit very hard by itself so you could just ignore it most of the time. In comparison, this having twice as much power means it’s harder to just ignore the Thrall if it’s hitting you.

Of course, if you want a 2 drop that makes another creature when it dies, you might think ‘why don’t I just play Hangarback Walker?‘ Well, unfortunately, you can only play 4 of any given card in a deck, so you need more cards to fill up your quota of creatures to sacrifice. Or maybe you have a vampire theme deck, or don’t want to pay the cash for Hangarback right now. Whatever the reason, this guy is respectable, and maybe you’ll use the Scion to put out a surprise early Ob Nixilis or similar.

Complete Disregard: You can’t play too many 3 mana removal spells in your deck or your hand runs the risk of getting clogged up, but I think this is going to be totally fine moving forward. No, you can’t remove Anafenza, but you can remove most cards that cost less than 4 with no concerns about it being colourless or leaving Scions or Thopters behind. It even fuels the processor cards which is obviously very important if you are planning to get value from the Strangler and friends. Between this and Abzan Charm, how are anyone’s Deathmist Raptors ever mean to grind out a game? It’s almost as if Wizards knew there was going to be a multitude of answers to it when they printed it!

Culling Drone: No, no I don’t think so. Even if you’re in dire need of exiling effects, just play some spells instead that won’t be blocked or killed very easily.

Defiant Bloodlord: Save it for Commander.

Drana, Liberator of Malakir: It must have been in the design document for the set to make another 1BB unbeatable-in-limited Vampire. They definitely succeeded in that regard! The Nighthawk even was playable in constructed, letting control decks take over games where people boarded out their removal. This vampire however doesn’t want to work alone, (although it’s not like it’s terrible alone either!) instead getting much better with friends. This does mean that your opponents should be willing and able to remove it most of the time, but if they don’t, it snowballs out of control very quickly. This standard sees this and Managorger Hydra alongside Undergrowth Champion as 3 drops that really, really require killing, so build your decks with this in mind. If you can’t remove any of these creatures in a timely fashion, no matter what your sweet end-game is, it’s likely coming too late.

Long story short, very powerful, play it in your black aggressive decks, don’t be too upset when it dies, because if it doesn’t die you are probably crushing any people that don’t have board sweepers.

Grave Birthing: This is only playable if you can use the Scion productively, can use the exiled card effectively, AND your opponent is trying to do something with cards in their graveyard. If you ever get to counter a reanimation spell you will feel like the King of the World, but otherwise this is too much for too little.

Grip of Desolation: Previous Plague Spores variants have been hindered by targeting restrictions and sorcery speed, in addition to the land death part of the card often not being relevant. Now with utility lands like Shambling Vent and the Blighted cycle making an appearance, this will almost always be a no-questions-asked value 2-for-1. It gets even better if your opponent is planning to awaken some lands, you can occasionally blow your opponent out of the water by removing an Awaken target, countering a spell like Planar Outburst when they least expect it.

(If you didn’t know, a spell is countered on resolution if you remove all targets of that spell. Usually, Planar Outburst or Coastal Discovery don’t have targets, but when they are Awakening something they do. That’s one target, and if it vanishes, the whole spell is countered. This is different from say, Rush of Ice, because even if you remove their land, presumably the target of ‘your creature’ is still around to be targeted, and the spell does as much as it can.)

That said, you can’t play too many 6 mana spells no matter how much sweet instant-speed value you get, so it might well be relegated to sideboard use if cheap decks are too prevalent though. Which would be a shame, I really like the art, and I would feel absolutely radical casting it. :3

Kalastria Healer: A bit underpowered, but I’m sure it’s more annoying than it looks. If people are Rallying some allies in standard, I feel like this might be part of the reason why. It’s like the Ally version of Shaman of the Pack!

Ob Nixilis, Reignited: Ob Nixilis looks like he’s really enjoying being evil, I love it. There really isn’t too much to say about this card that isn’t immediately obvious. Yes, it’s great. It’s not going to win a game where you are light-years behind, no, but everything from ‘slightly behind’ to ‘favourable’ board positions are great for him. The more mid-rangey the format is, the better, and you’re almost always certain to get 2 cards out of the deal even if they answer him immediately.

Playing some kind of Abzan mirror on the draw seems terrifying now, since if you play duelling Rhinos on turn 4, and they blow up yours on turn 5 with this, you’re so far behind and there’s no easy way to reclaim your board position without losing a ton of life or letting them draw a bunch of cards.

I am slightly sad that the game didn’t cross over into Hearthstone territory and give the opponent ‘Fatigue‘ though, since that’s how I read the ultimate.

Painful Truths: This card is fine, but don’t get carried away by the hype train. Ambition’s Cost was rarely playable, and while this is a mana cheaper, it’s still not THAT much better considering it’s essentially a gold card. If you are looking for silver bullets in a match up, Read the Bones is actually better since it digs deeper into your deck. If you’re just looking for a mass of cards to swamp your opponent with, this is slightly better if you can make use of the extra lands late game.

I really like it when Wizards print cards that are similar, but not strictly better than each other, since it gives you more options for deckbuilding. Good job, Wizards.

Retreat to Hagra: I don’t think this card would be playable if it just triggered every turn without landfall, and it seems unlikely that a deck can make great use out of both halves of the card. It does punish people if everyone starts playing 0-power walls though!

Rising Miasma: Too expensive for what it does. If you need to sweep small creatures in a black deck, Languish is in standard. If you have more colours in your deck, then red gives you Radiant Flames for less mana. The Awaken cost is also too much for too little. Drown in Sorrow was great, but this is no Drown.

Ruinous Path: My bet for best Awaken card of the lot. Sorcery speed Hero’s Downfall isn’t overpowered or anything, but there will be a lot of Planeswalkers from Origins running around and other large creatures to kill. The Awaken cost is coming in nicely at the top of a curve and provides midrange decks a way to pre-emptively threaten Ugin, what with making a creature that is immune to both of his removal abilities.

There really aren’t a lot of ways to just deal with Planeswalkers right now without attacking them, so Ruinous Path is a winner by default. There are a few other removal spells at 3 mana right now, and you can’t play too many of them, but I don’t think any black decks will be playing 0 of this moving forward. Even Downfall when it was at the worst it could be, it was still played as a 2-of in Abzan decks. This card IS worse in blue decks due to not being an instant, but you’ve got to answer a resolved Planeswalker somehow, and it’s cheap enough that you can feasibly cast it and leave up a counterspell at some point.

Smothering Abomination: Oh hey, a good sacrifice outlet. This gives you a real reason to play all those drones that die and give you little Scions, and if you can trigger it and draw cards on the turn you play it that’s sweet. The best possible outcome though is that you get to untap, and draw a million cards by making creatures that make Scions that make mana that makes creatures that make Scions that make… you get the idea.

The only downside is that this is the only card of this power level available to that kind of deck so far, leaving your deck of a thousand cuts looking a bit anaemic when the Abomination doesn’t show up.

I guess Smothering is not going to become a keyword any time soon. :3

Transgress the Mind: This makes people think about Appetite for Brains, and that’s going to make this seem very bad. I don’t think it’s terrible, despite how weak the Appetite was. The problem with that card is that it existed in a format with Delver of Secrets. That card being great meant nearly all the decks had to keep their mana costs really low to the ground, so you would miss with that card way, way too often.

So Transgress lives in a different standard, where there are lots of Dragons and Rhinos all over the place, but most importantly this hits 3 mana cards, so even the red decks will have their burn spells or whatever available to snatch out of their hand instead of hitting nothing.

I wouldn’t jam 4 of them in every deck or anything, it’s no Thoughtseize, just saying that if you want to play a couple of discard spells, this hits almost everything you’d want to take except Den Protector, and if you really want to make sure Captain Strangles is fully operational on turn 3, this is the best way to do it.

Vampiric Rites: Tempting, but 2 mana and a guy per card is a slightly steep cost, and this doesn’t do anything in multiples. Provides something reasonable to do in your Smothering Abomination deck if the Abomination itself isn’t around, and much like Evolutionary Leap you can board it in for value in a non-sacrifice themed deck just to make enemy removal spells much less effective.

Wasteland Strangler: Well, this is it, this is the reward for processor enablers. Are you impressed yet? No? Didn’t you want a weird slightly discounted slightly worse Skinrender? Well, that’s what we’ve got. Frankly I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to go out of your way to exile a bunch of cards to enable this, since you wouldn’t want to play this without the ability and quite often this just won’t kill anything. IF small creatures are everywhere, then yes, this is a fantastic value card. If your opponents are sticking to casting giant monsters then you are feeling pretty bad.

~An aside on this weird UB Ingest deck they seem to have set up~

It’s weird, in the other card sections I’d quote [Strangler] as a pay-off for exiling things, and now that I’m here, I’m down on the card, what gives? Well, if you make your deck contort itself to do some neat trick, you’d better hope that neat trick is good against most of the metagame, preferably being pro-actively powerful. Unfortunately this is narrowly powerful, so you don’t want to base your deck around it, in case your opponent doesn’t cooperate and give you nice targets to kill.

I will get to this one later, but Ulamog’s Nullifier is one that is basically never going to be a dead card, but it’s not incredibly powerful either, just a strong tool. If, in future sets, they print additional powerful processors, then Strangler gets way better as simply a powerful part of a deck, rather than a centrepiece.

Would a UB control deck randomly play some of these if they are exiling cards anyway? Sure, but those decks tend not to want to play that many creatures, so as to make enemy removal spells useless.

With the current available tools, playing a UB tempo-ish Ingest/Processor deck is just too underpowered for standard, but that might change, like how in base Lorwyn the Faeries deck was decent, but had to play a lot of underpowered cards to activate the good ones. Then they printed Bitterblossom, and everything fit together much better.

(not that I’m implying this deck is anywhere close to that, they still need to print a processing instant Time Walk or two first)

Now where was I?

Zulaport Cutthroat: This is way, way worse than Blood Artist was in many kinds of match ups due to it only counting your own creatures. In games where both players had a lot of creatures, Blood Artist let your opponent do much of the work for you. This card is still neat and synergistic and all that, but now you need to do all the heavy lifting in providing enough creatures to be actually important. On the plus side, against a creatureless opponent this guy can smash in for one, which totally matters when you’re trying to drain them out, and he triggers other Ally creatures. So yeah, synergy cards all up in here!

Akoum Firebird: When I first saw this card, I didn’t see that you needed to pay 6 mana to return it to play. At that point, I was thinking it would be pretty excellent, mostly as a really brutal Vengevine type creature. Then someone told me it cost RR to return, and I thought ‘oh, well, at least it might be fringe-playable as a resilient threat’ since nowadays a 3/3 flying haste creature isn’t impressing anyone, especially with all these exile effects running around.

Then I discovered it was 4RR to return, and all hope was lost. There have been a lot of failed Phoenixes around over the years at the 4 drop slot, and only Ashcloud Phoenix has seen a lot of play, and even now it’s struggling to compete with various Dragons for space. And part of that card’s success has been because it can block for days! This card can’t even do that.

Akoum Hellkite: Hey guys, I thought of this really neat combo with this. First, you cast this. Then you play Scapeshift! Dragon + Scapeshift on the same turn means you have 10 lands, which is the exact amount of mountains you need to find to kill your opponent!

I am sure that there is no way to improve on this combo.

Akoum Stonewaker: A 2/1 for 2 in red isn’t very impressive these days, but I think this has a chance. It’s pretty weak in multiples, but it lets you play around things against control pretty well. You can just convert land drops into 3 damage repeatedly and not play into board sweepers, and if they do sweep you, then you can at least get them again right away for 5 mana. Red sideboards are usually grasping for playables anyway, so I think this has a chance.

Boiling Earth: Well, if you need to kill a bunch of 1/1’s in order to attack your opponent, this card is serviceable. Unlike most Awaken cards, you’re unlikely to have a deck that can realistically play both modes. If you’re playing an aggro-red deck, 7 mana is too much. If you’re playing a deck with red mana that can reasonably reach 7 mana, then you can just play the Radiant Converge spell in your sideboard instead since it’s more flexible.

(watch as I immediately get nailed in my next standard event on turn 8 by a super cheap red deck Awakening this against me)

Chasm Guide: Hardly spectacular value for mana when you cast him, but haste is one of the best abilities you can give to a bunch of creatures, that may or may not be Rallying or Marching back into play. They were quite careful with this card to cost it quite highly to cut down on shenanigans, but if any of the ‘resurrection spell + Ally squad’ decks are viable, I think this is one of the best cards in the deck.

The presence of the mass resurrection cards means this will most likely be exiled on sight, lest he just come back later with the squad, so don’t be afraid to play the full 4 of this if you need the effect.

Crumble to Dust: Take that, Sowing Salt! Easier to cast and doesn’t get Flashfrozen (if anyone played that card) this can slot into Modern as a strict upgrade to the Salt. It’s never quite as good against Tron decks as you might think it is, but it does what it does fairly well.

As for standard, as I mentioned last time you can combine this with Oblivion Sower to ensure a bunch of lands, ramping you straight from 6 to the Danger Zone. In an Eldrazi ramp mirror match, you can almost always hit something, because if they are playing more than one colour, they have dual lands of some type. If they are not, then they have Shrines. Worst case scenario, you are simply casting a slightly expensive Stone Rain, and that’s not the end of the world as long as you take advantage of that before they just play more lands.

Against other decks, well, it’s probably not worth the mana, but if your opponent is Awakening up some nonbasics, it’s not totally dead!

Dragonmaster Outcast: Hey, ya, I’ve already seen as much as I want to of this guy in sealed deck, thankfully I don’t think we’ll see that much of him in constructed. Or will we? It is a really nice card to return with Ojutai’s Command so it might feature as a 1 or 2 of in Jeskai style decks.

It’s the kind of cheap card that slides underneath counterspells in a matchup where creatures don’t usually exist, if opponents have taken out removal. Since cards like Nissa and Jace exist, we’re unlikely to get matchups where people will board out ALL their removal, since even the controlling decks have creatures now.

Where this card might actually shine is, again, in ramp mirror matches. (wow, I hope you guys all go out there and build the many varieties of ramp deck after this) If both players are just racing to put lands into play, this can be played cheaply at some point without disrupting your ramp spells, and single-handedly put someone away before they actually get to cast their biggest spells.

The Outcast does get totally dominated by Ugin, but might actually work because while those decks likely maindeck Ugin, they probably don’t have them post-sideboard, (Ugin is not actually very good at fighting Eldrazi, despite what the lore might imply) and green ramp isn’t well known for it’s 1/1 killing abilities.

Goblin War Paint: What if you need your tiny Goblins to smash through 0/3 walls? And it makes 2/2 creatures survive Radiant Flames! This effect has been very occasionally good before, don’t count it out.

Kozilek’s Sentinel: It’s like a Frostburn Weird, if Frostburn Weird could never smash them for 4. It seems mostly terrible, but if they make enough cards where being colourless and aggressive matters, you might want to keep these handy for begrudgingly filling up your curve with them. We’re not there yet though.

On the other hand, if you’re playing a sort of big red deck, a 1/4 blocker might be what you need, especially since you can follow it up by dealing 3 to everything after they deploy additional forces.

Mankindi Sliderunner: It’s… serviceable I suppose. It’s nowhere near Plated Geopede obviously, but you can’t have everything. At least this hits harder when you fail to hit your land for the turn!

Molten Nursery: In standard, I think making this a ‘cast’ trigger rather than ‘enter the battlefield’ kills this card. If you could’ve machine gunned down things with spawns, we would be talking some real potential to dominate enemy tokens. As is, I think this is basically mostly worse than a Honden would be, and even that wouldn’t be great. Of course, maybe you play multiples of this, and THEN you are in business? Well, no, not really, because you just spent turns 3 and 4 doing next to nothing, and your opponents have either beaten you up already, or established a late game that won’t care about these anyways.

In modern, it might’ve had niche applications if it hadn’t just been shown up by the mighty Grid. This card is like turning up at an inventor’s conference to unveil your invention of the penny-farthing bicycle, when the person just before you demonstrated a modern day mountain bike with all the neat accessories.

Nettle Drone: As much as I loved Lobber Crew, the effect isn’t that strong, and a 3/1 for 3 isn’t too exciting either. If the colourless-red deck comes together, maybe, but unlikely. Leave it in your draft decks.

Processor Assault: Can’t even hit players? Oh dear. I guess if you have red in your exiling-control deck for some reason, it might be passable.

Radiant Flames: Likely to be the best cheap sweeper for a long time, since they probably won’t reprint Pyroclasm again any time soon. You really want to be at least 3 colours to use it, but then again those decks are probably the ones that need this the most. Being variable lets you set up one-sided board clearing if you have guys of reasonable toughness, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Slightly too narrow to play 4 in your maindecks I would imagine, but if you’re playing Elves or something, be expecting a lot of these out of sideboards. Even in decks where you might not expect it, since all the fetchlands and dual lands make it trivially easy to play.

Touch of the Void: Did they reprint Kor Firewalker or Silver Knight? No? Well then, you probably don’t want to play this.

And this is coming from someone that once took Yamabushi’s Flame to a Worlds qualification. This cost-to-damage ratio is just so low in a world where creatures are all just generally larger than they used to be, and it’s not even an instant. 😥

Valakut Predator: Well, this is about as cheap as you get for +2/+2 on landfall now, so it’s not that far away for being a 4/4 or 6/6 for 3. I don’t think there’s enough payoff at the moment to be playing a bunch of lands in your aggro decks yet, since there are so many cheap efficient cards you could be playing instead, and flooding out is bad if this gets killed off because the other landfall guys are mostly just giving +1/+1 or one damage or similar.

Vile Aggregate: Hmm, another red creature with a lot of junk in the trunk, so to speak. Except this one actually hits really hard! Like the processor cards, I think this is a powerful card in need of support. I don’t think a mono-red aggressive deck has enough good cards that you’d want in your deck to enable this. But where this might be nice is in a sort of bigger red/green deck, where you make spawns to threaten giant monsters, while also harassing their defences with this guy.

This card even survives Languish, so you can keep up pressure even through resistance, especially if combined with something like the card’s best friend, From Beyond.

Zada, Hedron Grinder: I have never missed Reckless Charge more than right now. Which is quite a lot, since I miss Reckless Charge every day.

Oh crazy-on-fire-goggle-wearing-horned-helmet-and-spiked-shoulder-pads-guy, why won’t they reprint you?

Well, you know this card is sweet, and going to be a staple at FNMs until it rotates. I don’t think it’s going to set the world on fire. Why? Well, it’s another Hill Giant by itself. If you are playing your Hill Giant, and you have multiple creatures in play, then you are able to cast something sweet on it, and your opponent is letting this all happen, then great. But sadly in reality, this will most likely get killed right away. Or your other creatures will be dead. And then we have the problem that you maybe don’t have any removal yourself, since your deck is filled with creatures and sweet spells to play on Zada, thus making your deck pretty defenceless when your opponent takes the initiative.

So, go ahead, play your Zada decks, play some cool pump spells, I can’t stop you, but it will never be a top tier plan. Not until the reprint of Reckless Charge next set. Then we enter the dark ages of Zada dominance.

Holy cow, this was a lot of words for these two colours. Especially considering how generally unexciting most of them are. I suppose it takes more to explain when a marginal card might be good, than a card that’s just obviously stupendous.

See you next time!

Battle for Zendikar Constructed Predictions! (Colourless, White and Blue)

I’m baaaack and I’ve got a new trick! Battle for Zendikar (or BfZ) is imminent, and the full spoiler has been revealed! Time to write down what I think about the new cards and how they will be relevant in the future. Or maybe I’ll comment because I heard other people commenting, and I’m yet to be convinced.

I’m going to miss out a whole bunch of cards because I don’t think they’re really worth looking at in terms of 60 card decks, so if I miss the next sleeper, well, it’ll be plain for all to see in a few months time when I go over my predictions again. :3

This is the full spoiler, follow along! It feels like it might be fairly tedious to manually link all the cards in here when you can just open another tab, and see what cards I’m leaving out. Let’s go!

(p.s. I will however provide links to cards I mention that are not in this set)

Bane of Bala Ged: Losing annihilator was a knock against most of the eldrazi monsters, but look, this guy has it! I don’t actually think this will be featuring in many decks, but it is one of the few cards that pretty much end a game if it is allowed to attack a couple of times, which makes it worth some slight consideration, and even if it dies immediately after attacking it’s still a 3 for 1. Sadly, I expect this will be relegated to dishing out incredible beatings in limited instead.

FNM deck idea: this guy with Temur Ascendancy! Think of ~the value~!

Blight Herder: This will go for all of these processor cards, but obviously this isn’t good if you can’t ever trigger it. I’m not sure how easy that will be, but I’m giving WotC the benefit of the doubt and say that if you *want* to trigger these guys, it won’t be that difficult to do so in a reasonable way. Perhaps not right now, but after the next set or two.

5 mana for 7/8 worth of bodies isn’t a bad rate, and it passes the ‘what happens if it dies immediately’ test (aka. the Doom Blade test) quite well. The three Scions represent a decent squad of attackers at minimum, and a huge boost in mana at best. That aspect depends on how good the big things you are casting on 8 mana are. Ugin is the obvious answer and he’s great. Needing 2 cards to process does make it not a trivial thing to set up, so rather than pure ramp decks, this seems best in control decks that are quite reliably casting things like Silk Wrap or Utter End rather than other mana acceleration.

Conduit of Ruin: Conduit of Ruin is here to dominate some mid-range decks. 5/5 for 6 isn’t a all that great a rate these days, but ensuring you’re going to draw some powerful card is nice, and lets you run titans like the new Ulamog as a 1-of rather than risking running more and having them clogging up your hand. There aren’t that many things to get right now that are worth it, but I’d keep an eye on this. Only getting creatures keeps it out of modern as a sort of super-Treasure Mage, but I’m sure casual formats will enjoy this too.

Deathless Behemoth: Extremely vulnerable to being exiled via Abzan Charm, but I could theoretically imagine certain match-ups that have a hard time with this if the Scion making things are in your deck anyway. Not very exciting, but if you look at it as a card that an Eldazi Scion theme deck would play rather than a ramp deck, it gets a bit better. I think this is the kind of card people would pick up while brewing a deck, think “Hmm… maybe this guy would be good…” then put it back in the box.

Desolation Twin: Destined to be overshadowed for the most part by Ulamog methinks. On the other hand, if the toolbox Eldrazi plan is at all playable, this is probably worth a look. Maybe there will be some hexproof guys that need blocking and they’re countering your big guy, or you have something to give your 10/10’s haste and murder the enemy right away. Or maybe just attacking for 10 is not enough. I don’t think there will be a deck where you are choosing this and not playing any Ulamog, in your deck, but you don’t want to get Ulamog flooded either.

You said it!

Endless One: Certain colours have a harder time filling their curves than others, so I can see this showing up from time to time. If they print a Ranger of Eos type thing, it becomes a fine flexible tutor target. Likely to be overshadowed by Hangarback Walker in the ‘versatile mana cost’ slot in decks, but if you just want a bigger guy RIGHT NOW or they print some more ‘Eldrazi matters’ type cards it can get the nod.

Oblivion Sower: I believe this was the first card spoiled, and most people reacted with ‘meh’ from what I observed. Comparisons to Primeval Titan are unflattering, but to be fair, Prime Time is insane. Assuming you… assist this card with some extra exiles, or maybe the opponent helps with Delve (fetchlands stolen may or may not help you out though) I think this card has the potential to power up any deck that intends to cast Eldrazi titans in the future. Obvious combo with Crumble to Dust is cute for certain match ups, and might end up being the only reason to gets played, but honestly if there’s ever a reliable way to get 3 lands out of this, it’ll be worth it. As for right now however, well, Nissa’s Renewal is what you want if you want a 6 mana ramp spell.

Titan’s Presence: Narrow in terms of decks it can exist in, I think this is a really strong tool. Lets you play say, GU ramp any not die horribly to an early Tasigur or similar before your guys come online. Would’ve been really fun to cast this while Gods Willing was protecting Heroic creatures. :3

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger: Annihilator was obviously much better at ending games, but exiling 2 permanents is a huge game. If Eldrazi turn out to be a deck, I boldly and shockingly predict this will be a big reason why. Even assuming the ‘exile 20’ part is largely useless because if you’re getting an indestructible 10/10 you shouldn’t need to attack that often, Ulamog pulls you back from being behind incredibly well, and there’s not much people can do about it. And you will be behind, since you don’t typically get to ramp to 10 while your opponent plays no threats.

Void Winnower: Another card very weak to removal, on account of no cast-triggers. But, this is an incredible trump card in certain match ups. You will notice that they can’t even cast most of the other Eldrazi with this out, and they can’t Titan’s Presence it either. Won’t make much of an impact while Abzan Charm and the new Downfall and 5 mana Wraths are running around, but when it’s good, it’s basically unbeatable. (another tutor target!)

Angelic Gift: Perfect for the Heroic dec-hey wait! No, come back Heroic cards!

Emeria Shepherd: Emeria Shepherd is a strong card in a weird place. In a deck that sets itself up to cast this, it should always be accompanied by a plains (or fetchland) on the turn you play it, so it passes the Doom Blade test. Furthermore, you can make some really resilient threats against conventional removal by looping 2 of these with each other. The problem is, if you’re going this late into a game, you’re pretty vulnerable to just being overpowered by Eldrazi exiling your angels and such. So simply doing this for value isn’t as sweet as it might otherwise be e.g. returning Rhinos or Stasis Snare. However, if you are returning other huge threats at the same time, your opponents might not be able to deal so easily with say, a Void Winnower or a previously countered Ulamog. I expect to see this card being tried a lot, and the games where they can’t counter or kill it will make it seem amazing, just don’t expect that to be common.

Expedition Envoy: Oh Savannah Lions, always getting outclassed. 😦 Might be useful that it’s a human, more likely thought that Ally will be important instead. Decent early guy, triggers all the rally guys for cheap. Seems playable, but white 2/1 creatures have been amazing lately and seen almost no play, so who knows.

Felidar Cub: Hey, there are a lot of good enchantments around right now, and maybe you have a way to recur this to shepherd up some value. Ronom Unicorn strikes back!

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar: First of all, thanks Wizards for making him an Ally creature when he animates. Flavour crisis is averted! Secondly, I think Gideon will be fantastic going forward. 4 mana Planeswalkers that make guys without dying have a strong pedigree, and I don’t see why Gideon would be different. Playing him on an empty board demands an answer or he runs away with the game, and if you just need to get damage in as quickly as possible, he hits really hard. The fact that he makes Ally creatures too is a nice little bonus for future Ally decks, and I even like the ‘ultimate’. It means that you’ll rarely get Gideon Flooded, and has great synergy with other token cards without having to dedicate slots to that effect, where things like Honour of the Pure were sometimes dead draws against sweepers.

Hero of Goma Fada: I think this is mostly too expensive since it isn’t that big itself and the effect is situational. However, if your opponents are trying to block and trade creatures with you, anyone that remembers playing against Frontline Medic knows how powerful this effect can be.

Kor Bladewhirl: Serviceable for your ally deck. That’s it, that’s all I’ve got.

Lantern Scout: Underwhelming body, but good out of the sideboard in your ally deck. Maybe even maindeck if there are enough aggressive decks! The existence of Munda *does* make it easier to play a powerful situational Ally as a 2-of and be somewhat more likely to find them on time!

Planar Outburst: 5 Mana sweepers are occasionally good enough. I like that this lets you play a bunch of awaken cards to be one-sided, but that’s a double-edged sword. I expect to see it in some UW decks, but if decks want a cheap wrath effect right now, they’re either playing black for Languish, or playing their own creatures and can play Tragic Arrogance. 8 mana is a lot to Awaken, and admittedly sweet. Duneblast  is exactly the sort of effect you want to topdeck in a late game, so Planar Outburst *is* much better than End Hostilities in that regard though, and you don’t even need to start with a creature to do it!

Quarantine Field: I don’t think this is very impressive. Yes, it’s a big haymaker to topdeck, but it’s not very good as a 4 mana spell, and I expect people should have answers to enchantments in the new standard, whether they are casting Dromoka’s Command or Ulamog. It is worth noting that it’s actually very weak to itself, if your opponent exiles one of these, you get no value if it returns, unlike an Oblivion Ring exiling another Oblivion Ring for example.

Retreat to Emeria: I think this is *unlikely* to be any any good decks, since if you want an anthem for 4, or something that makes tokens, well, Gideon is right there in the set. But maybe something gets printed that lets you dump a ton of lands in and out of play, in which case this has a shot. Let’s say, for example, in the future there existed a way to replay the same 3 lands in a turn over and over again, anyone that’d ever played against a Selesnya Guildmage with a lot of mana behind it knows how fast the combination of token production and enchantment kills people.

Stasis Snare: This will be a commonly played utility card until it rotates out. A bit of a liability while Dromoka’s Command exists, but at least it’s an instant so you can usually still get something temporarily useful out of it.

Unified Front: This is actually very powerful assuming you have at least 2 sets of Ally triggers happening. The 4 slot is a bit crowded for Allies, but imagine playing this with Tajuru Warcaller and a Chasm Guide in play for the ability to just end games out of nowhere, like a card-based RKO.

Benthic Infiltrator: Woah woah, wait! Come back! I know, I know, it’s a Horned Turtle. But if you really need a recurring way to exile things from an enemy library this is pretty reliable at doing it, and in certain metagames a 1/4 can actually brick certain aggro decks. It’s (really really) an outside shot, but there are some specific circumstances where this might appear in an actual deck.

Brilliant Spectrum: Careful Consideration was great… but this is much less flexible and much worse. All the same, if you are one of the undoubtedly many multicoloured decks that might exist in the future and have some powerful graveyard synergies, you can do worse. You really need to be casting it for the full amount though. Likely to be overshadowed by the Converge black card draw spell, but hey, maybe the metagame is too dangerous for a lot of lifeloss.

Coastal Discovery: 4 Mana for 2 cards at sorcery speed is a really bad rate. But if more cards are printed to support Awaken in meaningful ways you can certainly grind out some people by casting this repeatedly. Even when you cast it for the Awaken cost you’re not getting a stupendous deal, so I don’t think this is going to feature in typical decks as more than a 1 or 2 of, if that.

Dampening Pulse: If tokens decks get big again, this is actually a pretty strong sideboard card! Anyone that’s trying to go wide by swamping the board with creatures is hampered by this, making it sort of like a cheaper Orbs of Warding if they can’t targeting you. And hey, the more effects like that, the more likely you are to double up on them and lock little creatures out of ever killing you.

Drowner of Hope: This is a bit overcosted for the effect, but if you’re in some kind of Eldrazi mirror match, I’m not sure how you can win if the other person has this and some Scion factories working away. The fact that it can’t tap Ojutai is actually a significant downside, since it can’t prevent a Dragons opponent for digging into their answers for this if you’re trying to use it as a finisher. Also, presumably, if you are making enough Scions to be controlling enemy Rhinos and such for a decent amount of time, you would rather be using those Scions to cast 10 drops and kill them outright. I guess this would make a good top end for an aggro-scions deck, if such a thing were to exist at some point.

Exert Influence: I think this card looks bad to a lot of people, but I think it’ll be very relevant. Being a spell is a huge bonus right now compared to Persuasion, since it’s immune to Dromoka’s Command and can be replayed with Jace. Even if you’re not playing all 5 colours, on 4 it steals Rhinos, Tasigurs, most Dragons, Undergrowth Champions, Mantis Riders, Archangel of Tithes and so on. It is slightly expensive so I don’t think decks will be jamming 4 of this too often, but as a 1 or 2 of or sideboard card, this can be back-breaking.

Halimar Tidecaller: If all the spells in your deck that you’d want to get back for re-use have awaken anyway, then it’s like an Eternal Witness! Okay, yeah, I know, you can’t get back fetchlands and Thoughtseizes like Witness and Den Protector can, but a UB deck is quite often vulnerable to tiny creatures that slip through the defences and deal loads of damage, so now you can rebuy your Ruinous Paths while not having to immediately use it on their Zurgo!

Horribly Awry: Counters Rhinos, Deathmists and Den Protectors without letting them recur them. This should be mildly playable in control decks even if you aren’t actively doing anything with the exiled cards. If there are are enough enablers and processors at some point in standard, I feel like this into turn 3 Strangler is a stifling anti-creature start.

Part the Waterveil: Time Walks haven’t been playable in standard for quite a while now, mostly due to costing 5 or more. Usually what dictates whether these are playable is whether or not you get enough advantage out of things like Howling Mine or if you can recur them. Obviously this is not very good at being reused unless your opponent wants to help out with some processing. 9 mana is a ton and triple blue sort of makes it harder to justify if you’re a multicoloured ramp deck. And if you’re getting that much mana, Ulamog isn’t too far away and is much harder to ignore with counterspells. I don’t think this will actually see play outside of overly ambitious miser copies.

Prism Array: Uh, you know this card is pretty weird and funky, but I like it. Just don’t compare it to say, Collective Restraint, or your domain deck will cry a little bit. I think it’s way too expensive to use for the most part, but maybe, JUST MAYBE sometime in the future, they print some incredibly sick Ball Lightning type cards, this is like a 5 for 1 against them. Or maybe the return of the Illusion mechanic. And who doesn’t want to Scry 3?

Retreat to Coralhelm: Ah yes, the card hailed as a modern playable for the combo with Knight of the Reliquary. Is it going to make it? Well… I’m sure the deck will be at least okay. Any 2 card infinite kill combo deserves a look. This does make you work hard to make sure your mana base combines with it effectively and still does other things. One idea I sort of like is playing a really bonkers hybrid between this and Splinter Twin, so you can perhaps overload their targeted removal and kill then randomly in any number of ways. For example, maybe you only have this in play. You end of enemy turn play Pestermite. They counter it/kill it. Then you crack a fetch for a Dryad Arbor, untap and put Splinter Twin on Arbor and kill them with infinite lands!

In all seriousness there are already a bunch of small creature combination decks, it’s not really going to catch people totally flat-footed and dominate tournaments like a combo involving non-creatures might, but it does have different options and configurations available so people can make it somewhat competitive.

Ruination Guide: Look at this blue aggro lord! I guess blue is the colour of Devoid Lords. I don’t think there is enough of a critical mass of colourless creatures yet, but it has the potential to show up at some point with enough new cards. If all you want to do is pump up Thopters, there are other options available that are not so vulnerable to removal.

Scatter to the Winds: Hey look, a relatively staple effect and cost at rare. Most castings will be in Cancel mode, and Cancel is usually not quite good enough to be playable. Fortunately once in a while it will be in weak Draining Whelk mode, and then you get some value. This will be played heavily by the kind of people that picked up 4 of these during pre-release weekend and will likely never stop playing it until it rotates. For everyone else, don’t worry, it’s not going to be oppressive, 6 mana is a lot for a counterspell.

Actually, I will talk about the ‘UW Awaken’ control decks people are brewing all over the place. I believe there are certain diminishing returns on having tons of awaken cards. These decks all seem incredibly mana hungry, and can’t actually afford to be aggressively awakening everything in sight, since you need to hit land drops consistently until really late in the game. In addition, in control match ups every mana counts, so getting 2 of your lands blown up by an otherwise dead Languish or similar can be a disaster. Basically, when you are making your Awaken control deck, don’t forget to put some cards in that are more effective than the Awaken cards in their most common modes. If you’re doing it right, your opponent hopefully already can no longer win the game before you start waking things up.

Spell Shrivel: More splashable than the other counterspells, but 3 mana conditional counterspells are traditionally very weak. Seems okay if you desperately need some big spells not to resolve.

Tightening Coils: Hey, sometimes blue decks are desperate for removal. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but if all you need to do is buy time and you aren’t able to cast Swift Reckonings or Ultimate Prices for some reason, this can hang out with in the company of those rare Narcolepsy or Encase in Ice that have appeared in 60-card decks.

Ugin’s Insight: Times have changed, and decks can’t really rely on 5 mana sorcery draw spells any more. The other spells that your opponents will resolve are usually very strong, or they’re playing red and you simply can’t take the turn off to cast this very often. That said, assuming you have more or less any permanent in play, this is a great way to refuel. Actually, it reminds me of  Fathom Trawl, in that it SOUNDS great in that you will always get 3 spells, but in reality the format is a much stronger influence on if a card like this is playable that the raw strength of your sorcery draw spell. I don’t think the Delve draw spells will be too afraid of this taking their slots. Maybe it will be a one-of like people kept doing with Interpret the Signs.

Phew! I think that’s more or less it for those colours. Next time will be Black and Red at least, we’ll see how many remote playables there are in there before I feel like stopping. :p

Ciao for now!