Welcome back to day two of our week-long review of Battle for Zendikar here on TCGplayer.com! Yesterday we kicked off a new format for our set reviews while covering all of the white cards from the set and today we are going to carry that momentum over to the blue cards and artifacts from Battle for Zendikar.
Once again we are focusing more on Standard applications for cards in the set as well as any deckbuilding or brew potential that the cards might Foster. This is a little different than we have traditionally reviewed the set, so please leave any feedback you have (positive or negative!) in the comments section below the article and we will be sure to check it out!
As I mentioned yesterday, we are going to roll out a new scale that more appropriately accomplishes what we are looking for. Our review will focus first on Standard applications of the cards and then make nods to Modern and Eternal when it makes sense. Here is what we will be working with:
5 - These are true Constructed all-stars and will define one or more archetypes in loud ways or will simply be everywhere as their power is nearly unmatched in a format. Current examples of this include Siege Rhino, Thoughtseize, and Hangarback Walker.
4 - These are less defining than fives but are very close in power level. These tend to be the bread and butter of most Tier 1 Constructed decks. Examples include things like Sylvan Caryatid, Languish, and Stoke the Flames.
3 - These are powerful cards that tend to be more niche than the higher ranks, or are more utility-based. In general, when you go to start a Constructed decklist, you naturally begin with fives and fours as they grab our attention, but threes come in to fill in the cracks afterward. Examples include Anafenza, the Foremost, Soulfire Grand Master, and Satyr Wayfinder.
2 - These tend to require very specific environments or decks in order to have success, but they can still be very strong. Additionally, sideboard staples tend to fall in this category. I generally rate wacky cards that I am not exactly sure of in this space too. Current examples include Minister of Pain, Lightning Berserker, and Revoke Existence.
1 - This includes everything else. That is to say most cards that won't see any Constructed play fall here or the ones that pop up very infrequently for very minor jobs (usually out of the sideboard).
These effects always have a tough time making it into Constructed because the value of tapping something, even if it cannot untap for a turn, is so much lower than just killing that thing. Being devoid and making an Eldrazi Scion are both nice benefits, but probably not enough to start brewing with this.
Our old friend is back for a second time and I expect this to be just as popular this time; maybe even a bit more now that control is a more viable option. This is best in control because of its early game ability to find land while then avoiding those same lands in the late game. Decks using spell mastery might want to consider this as well just because of how low cost it is to include it in your deck.
Horned Turtle, I love what you've done with the place! In all reality, the upgrades to this make it an actual thing to consider. A 1/4 unblockable is an annoying body to have around if you have any auras or equipment to go with it. This is also one of the more reliable Ingest cards, although I am not sure how much that ability will end up mattering in Constructed.
For being a common draw spell, this actually offers quite a bit to the format. In general, draw spells that give you a discard outlet are not too common or Constructed playable, but at max value, this is a weak Careful Consideration which has purpose. Reanimator style lists or anything trying to find a way to enable the graveyard should consider this, although the added pressure of needing to be three or four colors does hurt.
I love a Snapping Drake as much as the next guy, but I have never been tempted to play one in Constructed.
Clutch of Currents
While I wouldn't put this in the Vapor Snag camp, it is certainly much more playable than most Unsummon style spells. This is a nice tempo card in that, when you draw it later on in the game and are a little behind, it is nowhere near as dead, turning into a 3/3 Man-o'-War instead. Aggressive shells could easily use this and enjoy both halves of the card, but it's possible that control or midrange dip their toes into here just for the versatility.
Unfortunately I don't think this is all too viable on rate alone. While a draw spell with awaken on it would certainly be something interesting, four mana for a Divination is just so bad. I can actually see a 4/4 for six and the two cards being desirable somewhere though, but I am not sure where exactly as traditional control is going to turn elsewhere, like Ojutai.
I could see this being good if the land aspect really matters, such as with a card we are going to talk about a little later today.
This is an ally that actually serves a role in the late game, even if it does cost a bit of mana. Rogue's Passage is something I have run in Constructed before to push through giant creatures without evasion and allies can certainly create that. In a non-ally deck, there is probably not enough going on here to really get you excited. I hardly think this is the reward for going allies, but it seems like a fine two-drop for a color that doesn't get many of those.
Hill Giants are not exactly the talk of the town in Constructed and, while I want to make an argument for the ability being good, the reality is that it is mediocre at best and requires some setup, so this is one probably left in the 40 card decks.
I am actually quite a big fan of this effect. While it is not as strong as Night of Souls' Betrayal, it can give blue that impact and slow the game down against token decks and the like, letting you reach later turns of the game where your heavy hitters come online. This is a card that I have already been including in the sideboards of any deck that runs Bring to Light just because it has the possibility to shut out some decks.
I could also see this being featured in a Turbo Fog style of list. If you get a few of these out you can lock up the board. We even have Clever Impersonator to help out! This might look kind of cheesy, but an enchantment style Fog deck could be a real thing.
4 Tightening Coils
4 Sphinx's Tutelage
4 Dampening Pulse
4 Clever Impersonator
4 Starfield of Nyx
This has become a staple in sideboards ranging from Standard to Vintage and it makes sense. One mana to take out an entire class of cards is pretty cheap. Expect this to be primarily a sideboard card in Standard, used against control most often. It can also be a main deck inclusion though if you know you need to be forcing something through, like a combo deck does.
Drowner of Hope
This guy intrigues me quite a bit because he is rather expensive, but can bring a lot to the table as well. First of all, seven power and toughness spread across three bodies isn't bad, it just isn't quite Constructed playable on its own. Two of those bodies being able to turn into mana is a step up, but the real eye-catcher here is the tap activation. Theoretically, if you can continue to feed this Scions, you can lock an opponent out of combat. I am primarily look at From Beyond here which can not only find this, but can also fuel it up.
It might seem easy to pass this off as just another Limited card, but I actually think this might be pretty strong. Compare this to the likes of Wood Elf and you might see where we can go with this. Obviously there is a big trade off in exactly how those two cards operate, but ramping you into five mana a turn early while providing a 2/1 flying body is at least within the realm of playable. If Drowner of Hope is going to see play, I suspect this will be in the same kind of shell.
If you are going to be five colors, you might as well get some payoff for it. I think that Bring to Light is probably the most attractive card for that job but this is a close second. This does not work well with Bring to Light, so don't necessarily rely on that, but being able to permanently steal things of measurable size is just such a huge ability to have in your back pocket. Five-Color Control and Five-Color Midrange should both be plenty happy to see this printed.
Guardian of Tazeem
This is arguably the worst of the landfall cycle in terms of ability. The trigger might not even matter unless it is an Island, which is not the case for most, but on the other hand, the body on this is quite reasonable. This is Air Elemental with an extra point on the backside which is especially relevant considering Exquisite Firecraft is in the format. I could see this at the top end of a Temur curve or something, although the five spot is a bit crowded these days in terms of power level.
Now we get to talk a little more about awaken as a build around. This is one of only a few build-arounds in the set for the mechanic, but it is a pretty solid one as you get rewarded on two fronts and at an extremely good rate. Scrivener costs five mana and is smaller, for comparison. If you note other cards like Planar Outburst and Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper, you can actually get to a decent land-creatures-matter deck. Here is a quick 60 I drafted up as a starting point.
Even if you do not want to take it to this extreme, just playing the card in a deck with 12 awaken cards is pretty good value as a Regrowth. Ruinous Path, Planar Outburst, and Scatter to the Winds can all easily be four-ofs in a deck and then once you factor in Shambling Vent, Tidecaller does some serious work.
While this is far from my favorite Counterspell considering it is basically Remove Soul with restrictions, there is still a niche for this. Because this manages to exile the spell it counters, it's possible that if a control or midrange deck wants to use any of the exile processors, they need some enablers and this can do that while filling a needed role as a Counterspell. I suspect this will not be the most popular card in the world, but it will make an appearance on occasion. If nothing else, this deals with Siege Rhino and people hate that card resolving.
This is prettier than a Hill Giant, which is a good start for Limited, but not particularly inspiring for Constructed. I imagine the rate on this is too poor that even people desiring a source for Scions will go elsewhere.
This is fairly innocent looking and likely won't show up often, but just like the Infiltrator from before, if people are in desperate need of exiling cards, this is a reasonably reliable way to do so. A 1/2 flying body leaves much to be desired, but if all you are interested in is the ability, you could do worse.
I don't think being devoid or having an extra point of power are worth the hoops you need to jump through to make this work. Separatist Voidmage is a lot cleaner if you need to go here, although if you have some other Eldrazi synergies, then perhaps you include one of these things to tutor up.
Oracle of Dust
I would have loved to see this as an uncommon and for it to just draw rather than loot, but alas, that is not what we have here. I note that because this guy asks you to put in a lot of work. You need to spend five mana, keep a 3/5 around, and then spend another two mana plus process an exiled card, all for a loot. While that can take over a Limited game, I don't see any deck looking for that clunky mess in Standard or beyond.
Part the Waterveil
This is one of the more interesting awaken cards due to how the spell fundamentally changes the way your awakened land interacts with the opponent. First of all, a 6/6 creature is gigantic, especially compared to other awaken numbers. In addition, you are very likely getting to attack with that 6/6 at least twice due to the extra turn. The bigger issue is finding a deck that is willing to run a six mana Time Walk. While I don't know if such a deck exists right now, it might be worth trying out.
You could even try to jam this into Halimar Tidecaller deck from above, but I worry that this is a bit too expensive there.
What a weird card. In a five-color shell this can actually be quite impressive though as locking down one or two creatures for a while is decent but, more importantly, this offers you a card selection engine that goes pretty deep. Five mana is not small, so you can only activate this after your opponent gives you some breathing room, but after only one or two activations, you are probably pretty set.
If Five-Color Control is a thing, and I can't imagine it not being to some extent, then this will at least be a reasonable option.
Retreat to Coralhelm
This is one of the tougher to use Retreats because the first ability and the second ability really have no synergy. The first ability probably belongs in some kind of combo deck where you are tapping a creature to search out lands but that sounds rather clunky. The second ability is a nice thing to have in a control deck, but it isn't really worth investing a card into. Ultimately, I think this one has to get shipped off to the island of misfit toys.
While this is a Fog that you need to put some work into, it is also a pretty sweet Fog. Giving things -4/-0 is going to stop most damage coming in except your creatures get the opportunity to fight back at full strength. The big thing going on here is the "draw a card" clause though as now if you are running this in a Fog shell, you actually get to go digging for more Fogs. Ideally, we probably dip into every color other than red, but if we wanted to try red, we could include Prism Array from above which can act like a Fog.
4 Winds of Qal Sisma
4 Encircling Fissure
4 Painful Truths
4 Abzan Charm
4 Roilmage's Trick
4 Prism Array
2 Crux of Fate
3 Planar Outburst
We definitely need some more action in the early game to complete this shell, but there is enough card advantage and Fog effects there that we could end up with something pretty sweet.
A lord you say? While this is a little strange to see in blue, I think most will be happy to have it around. A 3/2 for three mana is a bit better than normal as far as lords are concerned, but we do lose the bonus to toughness in the exchange. This could easily be the catalyst for a Scion producing deck or maybe even with artifacts in the kind of shell that Ensoul Artifact saw play in before rotation.
Rush of Ice
While I do think this is playable, I also think it is going to be hated out on opportunity cost because Clutch of Currents is so much better at a very similar role. You even have identical costs and awaken costs, making it very difficult to justify this. If you are in the department for more than four copies though, this is reasonable.
I love this little guy because he just does so much work in a little package. Being this cheap with ingest means it can get in a few hits and then its loot ability helps with any kind of reanimator strategy. If you are looking to Reanimate Eldrazi processors, then this is basically the perfect package outside of not being able to control when the loot takes place.
Scatter to the Winds
Alright, I will admit it: they finally got me excited to play with Cancel. I would imagine that 80% of the time you are casting this card, it is just Cancel, but those moments in the 20% are going to leave an impression and give you some "card advantage" which is just not something Counterspells often do.
Expect to see this in most of your typical control decks, although dragon decks will definitely still run four copies of Silumgar's Scorn first. Between this, Stasis Snare, and the various Charms, three mana is going to be the gold standard for causing Hesitation during your turn.
This is much easier to run in your main deck than Horribly Awry is, but a much worse sideboard option as it is more expensive and able to be played around. Because neither card is great in the maindeck, the fact that this is a little better there doesn't matter much and it will ultimately see less play than Horribly Awry will. The exile clause is the one possible saving grace here, so perhaps some deck will pick it up as an enabler for your processors.
The counterpart to the power boosting half is not as exciting, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still serve a role. A 0/5 for two mana isn't a terrible deal right off the bat. Keep in mind that this does not have defender, so if you do boost its power, it can freely get in there. As far as the toughness boosting ability, while that is certainly worse than boosting power, it is not without value and I think this guy might find some interesting homes between his stats and lord effect.
I have always been a big fan of these auras because blue tends to struggle against big early creatures and this is basically as good as a Pacifism when you don't care about attacking back. While this won't be extremely popular, I do think it serves its role quite well and will be a sideboard card as well as a defensive tool for decks that tend to not get them, like blue/green control/ramp for example.
I quite like this card. First of all, with no permanents in play you are still drawing three cards for five mana, which is in the realm of playable. Once we start scrying for three or four though, things get pretty stupid. Most planeswalkers that you are going to pair with this are around that cost as well, making it fairly likely. Other good enablers for this include Ojutai, who hexproofs around while you scry five, and Dampening Pulse, which we talked about earlier today. I also like this as a one-of in any deck running Bring to Light.
So we have a Scrivener that can also hits sorceries, comes with three extra toughness, but has the catch of needing an exiled card to do his job. While the last clause is hardly a given, I do think that the other upgrades are worth working for, so this guy might find a home or two before he leaves Standard.
Unfortunately, it has been quite some time since Mahamoti Djinn was Constructed playable and this particular iteration needs assistance to even get to that point. I usually talk about how landfall can be triggered more than once, but when we are talking about a six-drop, the odds of that are much lower.
The second coming of Ojutai? Prognostic Sphinx? While both of those cards share some big similarities with this, they also both possess a trait that this doesn't: hexproof. If you want to play a big flier with some built in card selection/advantage, that is perfectly fine, but you need to make sure it lives for a turn or two and this has no inherent way of ensuring that. Add to that fact that we are talking about three toughness and red mages are licking their chops.
Aligned Hedron Network
You call that an Oblivion Ring? This is an Oblivion Ring! (I totally said that with an Australian accent by the way.) This is sort of our replacement to Perilous Vault and while it has nowhere near the maindeck cleanup power that Vault provided, it also comes at half of the cost, immediate impact, and with obvious build-around potential. Vault basically reset the game, which was great, but outside of a weird Ashiok trick or two, there was no direct way to abuse its ability. AHN, on the other hand, allows you to play a more aggressive midrange deck and then to have this sitting in your back pocket ready to pounce on the bigger creatures. Imagine if this were in Standard right now and a deck like Abzan Aggro got to use this to take out Green Devotion. Seriously, just look at the current creatures in Abzan Aggro:
4 Anafenza, the Foremost
4 Den Protector
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Siege Rhino
2 Wingmate Roc
Not a single creature naturally gets hit by AHN outside of a giant Hangarback Walker. Look for Aligned Hedron Network to be quite the role player in months to come.
This is one of my favorite cards in the set. Dreamstone Hedron was one of my favorites in the original Rise of Eldrazi and this time around it comes in a much more Constructed friendly package. So many more decks would prefer to ramp from four to seven than would prefer to go from six to ten mana. On top of that, only costing two mana to draw two cards is not bad at all. You can easily play this as your double Mind Stone, use it for mana for a few turns, and then cash it in for cards. This, along with Blighted Cataract, has our mana giving us quite the card advantage. In fact, one of the cooler decks you could use this in would be something akin to Five-Color Blighteds, where you run an absurd amount of mana and then rely on that mana to pay you back as spells later on. I will include this list with the land section.
While this is probably frustrating to play against in Limited, in Constructed I don't see it mattering enough of the time to be valuable. Leonin Scimitar was not playable at half of this equip cost (even though I think it might be these days) so you really need to sell me on this ability, which is just too conditional for my tastes.
I really liked this card when I first saw it spoiled, but then I noticed that it costs two to activate the ability even after you have gone through the trouble of equipping this. That might leave it in a good space for your Limited decks, but I think investing five mana into your first ping (plus whatever the creature cost) is asking too much for Constructed.
He's back! This card might look fairly underpowered at first, but it turns out that other color decks enjoy Civic Wayfinder enough to play a colorless 1/1 flying version of him. Last time around in Standard, this saw play in white lists using Emeria but I think with the colorless support this time around, it can do some other cool things. Or, as we talked about yesterday, maybe it just supports Emeria Shepherd this time around.
This list obviously has some flaws in that its interaction with the opponent is somewhat minimal, but the concept is pretty cool and I would not be surprised to see something like this floating around eventually.
I really dislike this design as it forces you to bounce a land while attacking, meaning if you had no lands in hand, you miss out on any normal landfall triggers that you would have liked to have gotten before attacking. That is mostly a Limited issue though, as this card is rather clunky and unreliable in Constructed.
Well that's it for blue and the artifacts. I was a little disappointed after running across the white cards, which offered a little more for the brewers of the world. Blue still has some decent options, but the best cards mostly appear to be utility, which leaves deckbuilders scrapping at Tier 2 cards and below. That said, making one of the cards that are off the radar into a winning one is one of the best feelings in the world, so good luck!
Tomorrow we will be returning covering all of the black cards from Battle for Zendikar, as well as the colorless Eldrazi overlords that want to take over. Until tomorrow, thanks for reading!