Welcome back to the final day in our set review of Battle for Zendikar here on TCGplayer.com! All week we have been taking a card by card look at Magic's latest set and assessing the strengths of those cards for Constructed! Yesterday, we got to check out some sweet red cards and some even sweeter lands but today we will be moving to the green cards as well as all of the multicolor stuff from the set! Finally, I will be wrapping up with my Top 8 cards for Constructed from Battle for Zendikar.
This time around we have done things a little differently and will be focusing on the Constructed applications of the cards from this set, covering Standard first and foremost. With that comes a bunch of brews and deck ideas for the cards which hopefully is fun to explore!
Once again, 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).
A hasty mana maker is an interesting thing. At two mana it won't actually net you mana on the turn you cast, but it can color fix for you. The drawback of having to spend this mana on creatures is a big one and will keep this from seeing significantly less play than something like Sylvan Caryatid, but it is still playable, possibly just in an ally shell.
YES! I love this creature significantly more than I ever loved Doomed Traveler despite them being very similar. I am a much bigger fan of potentially getting some mana out of my early block than I am a 1/1 flier, but that could just be me loving ramp a little too much. I have already featured this in a few lists though I expect it to be much more of a Workhorse than you might think.
I considered throwing this guy into a few lists yesterday, usually as a one-of to be tutored for, but he doesn't seem too far off. Comparing this to Cloudgoat Ranger or Siege-Gang Commander is a bit of a stretch as six mana is a lot more than five, but four bodies is still a lot. Just like with Spawning Bed yesterday, the mana could come in handy for more expensive stuff, but even without that, they still attack and block.
I don't know what brood this duder is hunting, but it sure as heck is not in Constructed.
Call the Scions
Comparing this to Growth Spasm, I think it is safe to say this is worse as you really want mana out of your ramp spell and Growth Spasm came with half of that mana permanently. Being 1/1 tokens is definitely an upgrade for decks wanting to use these aggressively, although I am not sure if this particular devoid spell even makes the cut there. Playable, but it has to fight through a lot of opportunity cost.
This card is pretty interesting in that it defaults to a seven mana 6/6 haste creature in the late game while being basically an aura in the early game. I can easily see the +1/+1 counter deck being a thing in this small format, so this might find a home there. Here is a quick starting draft:
4 Avatar of the Resolute
4 Earthen Arms
4 Abzan Charm
3 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
2 Abzan Battle Priest
3 Anafenza, the Foremost
2 Inspiring Call
4 High Sentinels of Arashin
4 Hangarback Walker
So I find this slightly better than Call the Scions because a third body is quite relevant if you are counting colorless permanents or boosting them all up in some way. The fact that this is a creature also matters for the likes of sacrificing it, such as in the Evolutionary Leap deck from yesterday. Niche, but playable.
If you could not tell already from the many times I have talked about this card or included it in lists, it is probably my favorite card in the set. Awakening Zone still remains one of my favorite cards and I snap it up in Cube all the time. From Beyond upgrades the things I love by making relevant tokens and also giving me the option to find some gas when I am sitting there bricking on my draw steps.
Four mana is definitely a cost being paid over the old enchantment, but with all of the upgrades, I think that is reasonable. Awakening Zone was basically just a ramp spell due to its tokens not really doing much else without assistance, so being cheap was the only thing going for it while From Beyond acts as a standalone engine.
Help, we have a spider turning into a mantis over here! As much as I miss Giant Spider, it was never in Constructed that I wanted the little guy.
Greenwarden of Murasa
This reminds me a lot of Deadwood Treefolk from Planar Chaos, which is a little surprising considering that card was an uncommon that you could loop two copies of and this is a mythic that you can't, but I suppose the loss of Vanishing is pretty nice. This is not nearly as strong as a titan for six mana, so I don't see it taking over, but as a utility card, specifically as a one-of in lists with a lot of tutoring, this can be a solid role player.
Infuse with the Elements
If you manage to converge this for maximum value, it isn't terrible as essentially a +4/+4 aura. Four colors is a lot to play in an aggressive deck though, which is where this makes the most sense. If you are casting this for less than four, you could instead play Cached Defenses or Earthen Arms from above, so be sure to use this where it is able to stand out from the rest of these effects.
I am a big fan of small creatures with good defensive capabilities. Nyx-Fleece Ram comes to mind as a good example of a playable card in this category, but I think Jaddi Offshoot is perfectly acceptable in a world where a bunch of two-power aggressive creatures are running around. If three power is the magic number and this can't block effectively, then it loses a lot of its appeal. Gaining one to two life a turn adds up though, so consider this, if nothing else.
Three mana is usually not a great place for mana creature to reside. If they have some fancy ability like Shaman of Forgotten Ways then they can tend to find a niche, but as a three-mana Birds of Paradise my hopes are not high.
This card has Limited written all over it as a Hill Giant with a massive trigger cost on the landfall ability. If you have four mana to spare on two +1/+1 counters, you can probably be winning the game instead.
Many people seem to be upset about Rampant Growth coming in at a full mana more expensive, which is reasonable, but being an instant in a format with landfall is hardly a useless feature. We had Harrow last time Zendikar was around which was mostly better than this but punished you against countermagic. Maybe we end up with some kind of blue/green shell that runs this plus countermagic, causing you to never know what is about to happen with that three mana they left up. Counterspells pretty uniformly cost three mana these days anyway.
4 Natural Connection
4 Scatter to the Winds
4 Calculated Dismissal
4 Sultai Charm
I love this card. One of my favorite cards to cast was Kiss of the Amesha in Shards block Limited and this reminds me of that, but in a more Constructed viable shell. This manages to mana fix and trigger landfall a ton of times, both of which can be abused. The seven life helps to make sure you aren't dying while you take the turn off to cast this, which is also nice. I see this in ramp shells and midrange decks, likely that use landfall in some manner.
4 Undergrowth Champion
3 Dragonlord Dromoka
4 Emeria Shepherd
4 Nissa's Renewal
Making yourself slightly better as an already big six-drop is not the most exciting output in the world, especially without a way to protect itself. You have better expensive options and doubly so in green.
I think this is more playable than most of the Invokers because it starts off as a bear rather than Grey Ogre or something worse, but spending eight mana to turn this into a formidable threat is just too big of a risk in a format full of instant speed removal.
Anything with hexproof makes me take a second to verify that it is not constructed playable as that ability is just so strong. This has no real benefit aside from being big though, so I don't think it has the impact needed to be Constructed viable.
Plummet has always been a perfectly solid sideboard card; it just requires flying threats to be considered. Ojutai is a stretch due to its hexproof, but if people start running stuff like Smothering Abomination and Dragonlord Dromoka, than this is one of the better options at dealing with them.
Creeping Mold is back and commoner than ever! While the rarity drop doesn't matter for Constructed, it is nice to see the versatility of Creeping Mold back. I have certainly run the card before and now will be a great time to consider it as various decks are going to run the various types of cards listed. Against control you might need the land destruction and enchantment removal, for example, while blue/red aggro might rely on artifacts to beat you. Having this in your sideboard allows you to cover your bases without devoting a ton of slots.
Retreat to Kazandu
While the two modes on this don't synergize, they do work at various stages of the game. While you are behind, you want to be using this to stay afloat, gaining life whenever possible. Once you get a threat down though, it's time to go offensive and make that thing bigger. Combos well with hexproof of course.
I left this guy out of my sacrifice shell a few days ago because I felt he was worse than Carrier Thrull and was not sure how many two-drops I wanted that did not actually do much on their own but needed assistance to do work. I do think this card is quite playable as it can actually just be Tarmogoyf in certain shells, even if he won't be great in a majority of archetypes.
Well, this is certainly no Steppe Lynx, but it is a fine creature. If you are playing one land a turn, this attacks for the same amount as Lynx. Obviously the poor comparison comes when a fetchland is involved, but honestly, a 3/3 for one mana is still strong. I like that this adds a little pressure to the board even after you run out of lands. Steppe Lynx would often reach a point in the game where it was totally dead and every draw step saw you cheering for a fetchland to gain access to your one-drop again. Scythe Leopard never falls that far off, so you get more consistent damage out of it, even if it isn't as explosive.
Seek the Wilds
This is much weaker than we have grown used to as it only looks at four cards and then puts the rest back into a zone you cannot abuse rather than the graveyard. This might pick some play, but it will not be to the extent of Grisly Salvage, Commune with the Gods, or Gather the Pack.
This guy basically did the same treatment to Plated Geopede that Scythe Leopard did to Steppe Lynx in that he increased the base size and therefore made damage more consistent, but in return he lost most of the explosiveness that Geopede had. One land and they both attack for the same amount, although first strike definitely puts Geopede ahead here. A fetchland and first strike starts to matter less, but Geopede is getting in for an extra damage at that point. I think Gnarlid will see play, but it will not quite be the format defining card that Plated Geopede was.
Swell of Growth
I am actually way more excited about this card than I thought I would be. The idea of ramping, triggering your landfall at instant speed, and getting a combat trick out of a single card is pretty exciting. Of course, the number of decks where this is actually viable is small as you need small creatures and a desire to put extra lands into play, but I still think this could be worth exploring.
4 Scythe Leopard
4 Snapping Gnarlid
4 Makindi Sliderunner
4 Valakut Predator
4 Swell of Growth
4 Temur Battle Rage
This is only using cards we have talked about thus far, but you can get some explosive starts. Turn one Scythe Leopard into turn two Gnarlid allows you to play a fetchland on turn three, break it, play Swell of Growth, another fetchland off of it, break it, and then cast another two-drop or something like Temur Battle Rage on your Gnarlid, which at this point is an 8/8 alongside a 5/5 Leopard that already attacked once this game and you quickly assemble lethal damage on turn three using a bunch of Limited cards.
Turns out, tutors are strong, even when all they do is find land. This is one of the few ways to reliably grab your busted nonbasic lands and as such, has seen extensive play in Standard before as well as Modern and even a little Legacy play. Lands are generally uncounterable, meaning this is one of the few tutors where you actually need to counter the tutor to get your desired result out of the deal.
Expect this to be finding Blighted lands and creature lands in Standard in a variety of archetypes and shells.
Another solid Limited finisher, but six mana in Constructed needs to give you more than a temporary Glorious Anthem and a 5/5 body. Allies will likely want cheaper and more efficient options.
We are always on the ally watch and this is one you might not have realized was an ally, but surprise! While this is only playable when you are playing three colors, it is solid as a 3/4 and one that rocks a bunch of +1/+1 counters if you wanted to explore our idea from above but with the addition of this little three-drop.
Comparing Beastcaller to this, you can see why I was hesitant to call the former playable. This gives you a much more immediate impact, effectively acting like a Dictate of Heliod for the turn and then every ally thereafter. I can see this in ally decks, or just decks looking to get out a lot of small tokens, such as with From Beyond.
This gets to be rather big, but it is a little too slow for Constructed, especially without some kind of evasion. So while this might be territorial, its territory is 40 card decks.
This card is just sweet. It reminds me a lot of the phantom creatures from Odyssey block and those were pretty sweet whenever they were given a solid enough rate. This attacks as a 3/3 or 4/4 the first time, which is more than fine for your three mana, especially when they come with a damage shield. Also, putting lands into play at instant speed is insanely strong with this as you can foil an opponent's plan to deal with it.
I can see this fitting into our +1/+1 counter deck from earlier, or in our landfall aggro deck. Let's flesh that one out a bit.
For those of you that didn't realize it, this is actually an instant, which is not typically the case for fight cards. Fight is a tough mechanic to work into Constructed just because the conditions needed for it to be successful don't get met nearly as often. I expect that to be the case for this as well.
I absolutely love the dream that this sells you and I am fairly certain that most of my From Beyond decks will include a copy of this somewhere in the 75 because when the dream is met and your opponent has a grip of exiled cards, this thing goes off and to good effect. It is difficult to justify too many maindeck slots to this though as it could just be a vanilla 2/3 for three mana, so either have a way to feed this, or run it in the board.
Well, we end green with quite the beater here. It is hard not to just jump straight to a dream world where we are casting this with four colors of mana and getting a 6/6 vigilant trampler for our troubles. That rate is actually just absurd and is easily worth the risk of running a creature that has no immediate impact via an "enters the battlefield" ability or something.
Thing is, this card is still crazy good in three color lists and as a result should be heavily played. Temur loves the big body. Abzan enjoys another four-drop to accompany Siege Rhino, even my +1/+1 counter deck wouldn't mind this. I expect this tree to be heavily played and incredibly strong.
This seems like a total beating in Limited, but setting this up in Constructed feels tough. You need to be attacking with multiple other allies for this to be good and if you have the ability to attack with multiple allies on turn six, you probably don't need a clunky flier to assist them. Use an anthem or an ally like Tajuru Warcaller to just end the game.
Bring to Light
Another one of my favorites from the set. I would not really consider running this in anything playing less than four colors and am primarily interested in it at all five colors so that I do not lose mana on the exchange. The ability to have a tool box of cards with five or less cost is just so appealing to me, especially in a format that might be rather open as new Standard tends to be. Here is a sweet five-color list I came up with for the card.
The Warden of the Eye is a little confusing, but basically Bring to Light can set up a long-combo where you use Warden of the Eye plus Kolaghan's Command to constantly have a 3/3, plus some other mode on the command whenever the Warden dies. The above list is rough, but I think could be one of the cooler archetypes in new Standard.
This is a solid Scion producer and then board control creature after the fact. While playing this on rate alone is probably not great, playing it with any synergies, like the sacrifice shell we discussed on Wednesday, could turn this into an all-star.
This card does so many things that it would be difficult for it not to see some play in Standard. For four mana, you could Remand a spell while killing a mana creature or planeswalker in the process. That is an interesting set of options, if nothing else. Obviously any control deck playing these colors will consider the card, but this could also be good in midrange decks like Temur or Jeskai as well.
I actually like this better than Brood Butcher as you get a creature above rate for the cost (3/4 for three mana is better than 4/4 for five mana once you add up the Scions) and then you get an ability that works with no additional mana needed. The "scry when it dies" trigger on Reaper of the Wilds was always pretty strong and it getting online a turn earlier just means less of a chance for you to stumble on mana or spells (whichever you lack). Also, as a three-drop, this is a somewhat reliable ramp spell to get a five-drop out a turn early.
While Wind Drake is hardly playable in Constructed, once you tack on this nifty trigger that synergizes with my "life gain matters" cards and effectively turns this into a three-power flier, I am much more interested. I think this is pretty niche in where it can be used, but it is an interesting card to think about.
I have been waiting to talk about a colorless aggro deck again because I knew this guy was coming and he is a pretty nice incentive for such a deck. The key thing to note is that even in colorless aggro, you can use this as a Sandstalker to keep it safe from sorcery speed removal, so don't automatically assume that text is a drawback.
Aside from that though, we have a five power creature with haste for only four mana and that is quite strong.
4 Forerunner of Slaughter
4 Kozilek's Sentinel
4 Vile Aggregate
4 Nettle Drone
2 Wasteland Strangler
4 Dust Stalker
3 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
2 Barrage Tyrant
4 Hangarback Walker
Even in this list I struggle with the Strangler because there is not much in the way of exiling opponent's stuff, so we probably need to add more consistency there, but regardless, this list doesn't look bad for a tribal deck with only one set's worth of cards.
This card confuses me a heck of a lot even though I do think it is pretty strong. It asks you to attack, but actually to stay back and block, but actually to do neither because you want to keep it around to use its sweet ability. Realistically, you get to mold it to do whatever of those best benefits you at the time, but from a design standpoint, it still just feels weird. It is possible that blue/black control decks use this or maybe we even see some kind of blue/black Eldrazi shell, maybe even Grixis with the addition of red.
Forerunner of Slaughter
This thing starts off at a good rate and then just gets better with a very efficient haste granting ability. This does a lot of work in the list above and should be seen in most aggressive colorless strategies.
I included this in my landfall deck above and think it's actually quite a strong card. This is a 5/5 trampler with just a single land and a 7/7 trampler with a fetch which is crazy big for your four mana. If you compare this to Rumbling Slum, for example, this actually might just be better despite being an uncommon and smaller at a resting state. Be especially scared of this with Blighted Woodland because he will be coming in for infinite damage and ruining your party.
Herald of Kozilek
Looking at stats alone, a 2/4 for three mana is acceptable, even if I want a little more out this. Obviously the big drive behind running this card is the fact that it enables your colorless deck quite a bit. The big issue I have found there is that my colorless decks all seem to be black/blue or black/red and basically none have been exclusively red/blue.
I think you could probably rock a Grixis shell that uses all of the above and with more devoid stuff in future sets, this could probably find a home in a straight blue/red shell. Note that this does work on all colorless spells, not just creatures, so perhaps there is some traction there?
Kiora, Master of the Depths
I love me some Kiora, at least the first one, so I was excited to see the new iteration. In general, I like the new design, although it is not quite as generic as the first one was and will need to fit specific types of lists. For example, if your deck doesn't have many creatures in it, you won't be getting maximum value out of either the first or the second ability. That said, including this in midrange decks that can abuse all parts of the card has me really excited.
Untapping a mana creature and a land is probably the best possible use of this, but untapping an Ojutai in Bant midrange is also pretty awesome. If I had to start a list with this, I think Bant would be my starting point and then I would move over to Temur as I think both shells could serve this well.
One cool trick with this is to animate your Lumbering Falls and then untap it and another land with the ability to net a couple of untapped lands. Also note that the middle ability fills your graveyard, so there is probably some cool Sultai synergies to explore as well.
March from the Tomb
I immediately go to Kalastria Healer when I see this card. Reanimating four copies of it will result in a 16 point Drain Life. Of course, hitting all four at once is a bit of a stretch, but other combinations result in big swings. Three Healers with a pair of Expedition Envoys is still 15 damage. We can also insert the haste granter ally into this pile to allow for big combat swings off of March from the Tomb.
Of course this card can really only fit into one kind of strategy, but there are a lot of variations on that strategy that you can go with, so it will probably lead to some interesting deck lists. Note that you can grab changelings in Modern, for whatever that is worth.
Munda, Ambush Leader
I'll be honest with you, I hate this card. I started reading it and was getting super excited, expecting the card to draw you a bunch of allies, but then I read the part about them going on top of your deck and was instantly sad. That means that while I have a constant stream of allies, casting multiple in one turn does very little for me. Also, why does this have haste if I am supposed to be caring about my future allies? I should both be killing my opponent now and waiting for the top of my deck to deliver more action? Just feels weird to me.
From a power level perspective, this is ok and might see a little play, I just don't really like the card.
Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper
This is a wacky card. On the one hand, I like the dream this sells me, but I am not sure if I should pursue that dream or play this as support for other cards. Here is the list I came up with on Tuesday using this.
Playing this and then a one-mana instant immediately is pretty good even though you can only attack that turn with a seventh mana available. We might also just see a pure control deck that tries to use Noyan as its win condition.
Omnath, Locus of Rage
Well hello there! Omnath has been hitting the gym it seems. This card is incredibly powerful so the real challenge comes in finding a deck where he makes more sense than just jamming a giant Eldrazi of some sort. I think there are some solid landfall ideas out there that make use of this as a finisher of choice, but I also don't think I have seen a list that actually looks Tier 1.
I would be incredibly surprised if this didn't see play though as it just impacts the game in such a major way and comes with some amount of value upon death which makes it much less risky than other win conditions might be.
This card fills a similar space to Tajuru Beastmaster in that you play it and swing for a bunch, making the body this leaves behind not that relevant. However, in any game where this lives and triggers multiple times, you will be happy that it did.
This is an ally that might be played in non-ally decks quite a bit just to grant double strike to your team, but most likely the ally shell will be its natural home.
Time Walk much? While not quite that, this could easily be a Time Ebb that sees Constructed play as turning into a 4/4 for six with the ability later on in the game is huge. Because of haste, you can easily chain a couple of these back to back and just kill your opponent while they put the same card back on top of their deck again and again.
This also makes a lot of sense in midrange, such as the Bant deck I continue to allude to or even in Jeskai where it triggers your prowess and clears the ground up.
Sire of Stagnation
This is one of the more hyped cards of the set. While I do think this is an eye catcher, I don't think it is as good as Consecrated Sphinx, which is what this most often gets compared to. Your opponent did not have a way out of giving you cards with Sphinx unless they could kill it at instant speed. With Sire, they can either skip playing lands altogether, or can just kill the Sire with their sorcery speed removal and then play a land.
The effect on this is obviously strong and I do expect the card to see play, I am just not sure how often reality meets expectation here. On the other hand, if my opponent is not playing lands, I am not exactly sad about that. Perhaps I want to kill some of their lands on the way up to this so that when I finally cast it and my opponent is on three or four lands, they have less of a choice to give me cards.
Ahhh, the mysterious X. While I am not a big fan of this card from a design perspective, it could see some play just due to its versatility as a 2/2 flier for two mana and then scaling up. It is also an ally, so that gives it a little more light in Constructed, although not much.
So Mystic Snake got a makeover and man is it uglier these days! Gaining flying and an extra point of toughness are both nice upgrades, but in exchange we have a much less reliable ability here which makes me concerned for the Constructed viability of this. If you can reliably get a card into your opponent's exile, then I would certainly run this, but the ways to do that are kind of sketchy at best right now. Maybe Fathom Feeder just needs to connect to turn this on and that is good enough,
This is a cool card, but I always worry for these Scion of the Wild designs as they tend to be wildly inconsistent. Eidolon of Countless Battles was cool because it was versatile and checked multiple permanent types so you didn't need to have an army to make it good. This is an ally and comes with a nifty keyword granting ability, so perhaps there are enough bells and whistles here to push this into Constructed.
Top 8 Constructed Cards
As with every set, some cards are a little better in Constructed than others and I wanted to highlight what I thought were the Top 8 cards from the set.
8: Scatter to the Winds
7: Undergrowth Champion
6: Radiant Flames
5: Quarantine Field
4: The Blighted Lands
3: Ob Nixilis Reignited
2: Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1: The Dual Lands!
Alright, there are a couple of cycles in there, so that is almost like a Top 16, but I couldn't contain myself to eight cards. While a lot of staples in the format rotate with the loss of Theros, Zendikar does a decent job of replacing the lost staples with new ones like Scatter to the Winds, Quarantine Field, and Ruinous Path.
I think this Top 8 is pretty good at showing off some of the cards that will be heavily played for the next three or four months, but I also think there is a really good chance that other cards from the set are going to gain a ton of power as more synergy from the next set comes out.
Overall, I think this set has a pretty high potential for fun and I am excited to begin seriously brewing with it. I also think that this set gets a lot better as more linear fodder comes out in future sets to help out the very specific themes, like devoid, allies, and the exile mechanic, all of which could use some help hitting a critical mass before moving into Constructed.
As I have mentioned before, this was our first time doing a Constructed and brew focused set review, so please leave any feedback you have about the format in the comments below so that we can continue to learn and grow with future reviews. Outside of that, I would like to thank you for joining us this week and until next time, cast those aliens!