Welcome back to yet another day of our Battle for Zendikar set review here on TCGplayer.com! Today is day four and so far we have taken a look at a large chunk of the new cards from Battle for Zendikar. Left on our plate remains red, green, the lands, and the multicolor stuff from the set. Today, we will be looking to cut that list in half as we tackle all of those red cards and lands before moving into tomorrow where we'll be wrapping things up, including my Top 8 Constructed cards from the set!
For those just joining the review this time, we are doing things a little differently than past reviews. This time around we have been focusing on the Constructed applications of cards, noting Standard uses as our primary goal. Additionally, it's tough for me to not think like a brewer, so we have been exploring various decklists and shells of decklists to get some ideas flowing around. I have been having fun with this, but be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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).
This is not my favorite phoenix design of recent times, but I think it could easily show up in Constructed, particularly as a weapon against the midrange and control decks that try to win by dealing with all of your threats over time. The landfall cost on this is pretty steep, so this doesn't start to get annoying until later, but three a turn definitely adds up. I think Ashcloud Phoenix and Flamewake Phoenix are both better than this, but this serves a slightly different purpose, so I expect it to still see some play. Maybe a sideboard option.
I wish this were a little bit bigger, because I feel like its trigger is just not enough of a payoff to play with a six mana 4/4 flyer. Shocking things is great, but loses a lot of value on turn seven when this turns on. This might find a home in some kind of Valakut-style deck where you are looking to Scapeshift into a bunch of Mountains for the win or something, but that's about all I see for it.
This card actually packs quite a punch. As a 2/1 for two, he applies a little pressure on his own, but the following turn he can turn into five damage without needing to invest another card. If you draw this with four or more mana in play, you can even get three hasty damage immediately. Especially in a small format, I would not be surprised for this to be fairly common in red aggressive archetypes.
I want to like this more than I do, but the eight mana it costs me to get where I want to be is a bit much. A 5/3 for five mana isn't terrible, but I wish I didn't have to spend so much on the fling effect. Still, there are going to be some obvious combos with this. Yesterday we talked about a black/green sacrifice deck, but we can get there with red as well.
4 Forerunner of Slaughter
4 Vile Aggregate
4 Smothering Abomination
4 Barrage Tyrant
4 Hangarback Walker
2 Vampiric Rites
Not quite as much traction here as we are trying to build along two linears at once, but we will explore this concept later this week when we move to the multicolored cards.
Running this through the landfall test, I don't think anyone would be happy paying four mana for a 4/2 that always had first strike, so I doubt anyone is desiring a 4/2 with conditional first strike.
This will certainly see play, but it will primarily be because of the upfront portion of the card. Going from a two mana spell that is best at winning aggro on aggro wars, into a seven mana spell, is a big Leap. Still, I am sure someone will awaken one of these in Constructed and stories will be told! Should be a solid red sideboard card.
So while the stats on this are not great, this does have haste and then gives haste to every future ally you cast. There is also a dream of getting some other creatures into play and somehow casting this to give nonallies haste, but at four mana, that seems difficult. Haste is a very abusable ability though, so expect some brewing to be attempted with this.
Crumble to Dust
Oh, playable land death, how I have missed thee!!!! It is kind of sad that a slightly better Sowing Salt is the best land destruction we have seen in years, but that is basically the case. Still, this is going to be a crucial card in the upcoming format for multiple reasons.
1) It is the most playable way to Remove a land and there are a ton of lands that need to be dealt with in this format.
2) This is a reliable way to get at least one card, but possible four, into exile without feeling bad about it. That Oblivion Sower deck from yesterday benefits from this not just by one mana, but by four, which is crazy good.
Another reprint of a card from the past that I think gets a lot better this time around. Without stuff like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Bloodbraid Elf, Vengevine, and three giant Eldrazi holding this down, it might actually be used as a win condition. For one mana, this produces quite the clock and should be easy to protect with countermagic. If you can keep this around for just a turn or two, the opponent can no longer focus on killing this and instead has to focus on surviving. I could easily see a deck like Temur control using this as they don't need to compete with Ojutai and it can be played off of a Sarkhan activation, which is just sweet. I'll save the list for when we get to Radiant Flames below, as it is much more essential to the concept.
This card can easily just be a finisher in aggressive red decks. Paying three mana to make your squad nearly unblockable isn't terrible, but then factor in that you get to do that again with another ally later on and you have added another body to the board in the process. I compare this to Mogis's Marauder, which was a better card, but did a similar job in a similar style of deck.
Goblin War Paint
I consider most things that have the ability to grant haste playable these days, so long as they have a decent rate and this certainly qualifies. Imagine this in the red heroic decks, for example. While heroic is no longer around, cards like Goblin Piledriver that would love haste still are. In fact, Chasm Guide from above is also a goblin that grants haste, although granted, that is a six mana play, it could come up.
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Chasm Guide
4 Goblin War Paint
I want to take note of other goblins we come across and revisit this idea later on.
Another colorless build-around. While this payoff is not enough to actually go all-in on a colorless theme, it does pretty naturally fit into a colorless shell. A 1/4 for two mana is hardly a bad rate. Remember how annoying Frostburn Weird was to attack through? And then eventually it started beating you down for four a turn. This runs a very similar game, although it hits for slightly less usually but never has to risk any toughness in the process.
A goblin! And a one-drop at that! Unfortunately, this got a second stat point on the wrong side or else we would be talking about a definite Constructed all-star. As is, I think this is playable, but only in a deck making use of one of its mundane traits, such as its creature type. With a Goblin Piledriver coming in alongside this though, it could be good enough.
Unlike Plated Geopede, this will not be one of the best creatures in Standard, but it will still be a fine beater in decks featuring a lot of fetchlands and aggressive curves. Trample won't come up unless this is getting chump blocked or you have backup burn to use, but I am certainly not complaining about it. A 4/3 trampler coming in on turn three is definitely cause for concern. Even without a fetch land, this is still a reasonable rate as a 3/2 for two.
The most important thing to note about this card is that it can hit both players and creatures. While I do not think it is the best colorless engine to build around, I do think there is some potential here as dealing with enchantments is so much tougher than dealing with creatures. This could be a nice sideboard option for colorless aggro or might just merit a deck all on its own using a bunch of noncreature colorless stuff. Here are some of the better options for that idea:
Aligned Hedron Network
Orbs of Warding
Tapestry of the Ages
Crumble to Dust
Touch of the Void
Transgress the Mind
In all likelihood, if you are going to try out the Molten Nursery deck, you should probably go ahead and include creatures, especially since this particular one is working in tandem with what the rest of your deck is trying to do. This can go in aggressive creature-based decks outside of the Molten Nursery idea as well, and is probably where this best fits in.
While trample is probably the worst ability to be giving a group of allies, this is also one of the more reasonable bodies on its own. I still think this lacks any pizazz needed for Constructed though.
This has very limited applications in Constructed, as you need to be a deck that consistently has three or more creatures out and need to Remove an opposing creature. That said, a one-mana instant is as good as you can get on rate, so if a red/green deck picked this up and chucked them in the sideboard, I would totally be on board.
I assume this would be too good as a spell that also goes to the face, but unfortunately, without it, I don't think is quite good enough. Being cheap is almost counteracted by the fact that you cannot reliably cast this early. I would just stick to Roast if you need this effect.
This might be the most defining red card from the set even though it will always be played with other colors. The format tends to need some form of this kind of sweeper to keep things in check and while this comes with the drawback of needing to be multiple colors, it is also relatively easy to cast and most places that want it already are three colors! Remember that Temur, Mardu, and Jeskai were all featured in Khans of Tarkir block and all three naturally want the three colors necessary for this to reach super saiyan mode. I expect to personally be testing this in everything from those wedges to Five-Color Control.
Between this, Languish, and three five-mana sweepers in the format, aggro is going to have to be inventive to survive.
Ally! Not the most exciting ally, but if the deck is in need of a cheap one, this might be up some niche play. Outside of that, don't try.
Retreat to Valakut
Here is an example of a retreat with two very synergistic abilities and I like that. If the ground is free, get your Teetering Peaks out of this each turn and be happy. If the ground is clogged, turn this into what is effectively a removal spell and get your damage in. This could be an interesting card in certain decks or possibly out of the sideboard. Fetch lands especially enjoy this.
While this is sure to be one of the all-stars of the set in Limited, I am not sure it will have many uses in Standard. This costs five mana to even get to an Arc Lighting which just feels like a lot. There is some good mana ramp in the format, but there are better expensive spells to be sinking that into.
This is certainly more playable than Rolling Thunder at essentially the same job. This is basically Cone of Flame with every number increased by one and the cost increased by two, but I actually think that is a reasonable adjustment. If this were six mana I think it would be a moderately played whereas at seven it is certainly more niche. But one-sided sweepers, especially one that enables a major mechanic in the set, tend to find a home somewhere.
While this is an ally, I think you would need to have a shattered skull before considering running this in Constructed.
Another card intended to smooth out Limited but that is far too clunky in Constructed. I don't want my removal spell to require that I both have a lot of lands and that I also tap a significant number of them before I get a conditional removal spell.
While this is not nearly on the same level as Titan's Strength, granting first strike does insure that the creature you target will win in combat, which is not something Titan's Strength can claim very often. This might see some niche play if anything like heroic comes around.
Touch of the Void
If this were an instant, I would be much more excited about it in Constructed. As is, the only real use for this is if you are absolutely in need of colorless spells, like in the list we detailed above for Molten Nursery. Even then, this is fairly low on the list in terms of power level and viability.
A three mana 3/2 is not the most playable thing in the world, but if this reliably does three damage or so to the opponent, it could easily be justified in aggressive shells. I wish this were a goblin for our sweet Piledriver deck, but it still should see some play regardless.
I would like to set up a hotline for players that get blown out by this in Limited and just need someone to talk to. In Constructed, I do not expect this to have nearly that kind of impact as being an instant is less important and spending five mana vs. the three you normally would is a real cost.
I love basically every invoker ever printed, but most of them do not translate well to Constructed. Spending eight mana for a Lightning Bolt is only exciting if you have infinite mana to funnel into this and if you have infinite mana, why are you playing with Draft uncommons?
With a single land, this is a 4/4 creature for three mana which is borderline playable without context but works even better considering that ferocious and the Temur clan are still running around. With a fetch land, you are attacking with a 6/6, which is pretty scary. Another solid option for red aggressive decks.
Vestige of Emrakul
I don't mean to hate on Emrakul, but I remember the guy as one of the scariest things in the known multiverse, so what's his Vestige doing impersonating a Hill Giant?
See Emrakul, this could have been your Vestige! But no...we had to go and make some bad decisions with our life, now didn't we? I quite love this card as a big incentive for a "colorless matters" deck and a pretty reliable ingester in said deck. We looked at the sort of generic colorless aggro deck earlier, but here is an idea that uses the ingest to some degree.
4 Kozilek's Sentinel
4 Vile Aggregate
4 Nettle Drone
3 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
4 Brutal Expulsion
4 Blight Herder
4 Hangarback Walker
Four mana for an instant speed Stone Rain is hardly great, but outside of Crumble to Dust, this is the best we have for this sort of job. I cannot really imagine anyone playing this over Crumble, but it could be used in conjunction with it.
Zada, Hedron Grinder
Finally, another Goblin! Plus he's an ally! And he's totally a grinder! There are a ton of directions to take this, but I do very much like the idea of it in goblins. It triggers your haste granter, which is pretty nice, but there are also just a lot of strong red spells that combo with this. I am going to list all of the best options that I found in Standard to let you do some brewing on your own, but there are some real gems in there.
Might of the Masses
Swell of Growth
Temur Battle Rage
If allies are even remotely a thing, it is hard not to see this land joining them. Being able to tap for all five colors while still producing colorless mana for your other spells is basically a freebie and while bouncing an ally to your hand isn't always going to be useful, it will provide a clutch set of triggers when you need it or save something from a removal spell.
Uh...what? I literally did not believe this card existed when I first saw it on the spoiler. While six mana, seven if you count this, is a lot to just draw a few cards, that isn't very much when you tell me I didn't have to spend a card to do so. This crucially provides you with mana until you no longer need more, at which point it transforms into another set of resources for you. I can't stress how good this card is for control decks as they can reasonably run 27, 28, even 30 mana sources thanks to some number of them just turning into Divination in the late game.
A free Edict on a land? If nothing else, the fact that we have an uncounterable solution to Ojutai in the format is a really big deal. Obviously this comes with all sorts of other benefits, such as being a great follow up to one of black's three or four Constructed quality sweepers, or taking out a freshly cast Ulamog. Edicts tend to be tough things to run in your main deck unless they come with added benefit and being a land is certainly added benefit.
While this looks like a weak effect (Shock compared to Divination or Explosive Vegetation), the decks that want to play this will be extremely happy to get a free source of damage in their deck that does not take up a spell slot. Being able to run 22 lands without worrying as much about flood is a huge benefit to aggro and possibly even some midrange decks.
I would call this the worst of the bunch, but it is by no means bad. Turning your land into four or six life is still very valuable, it's just that getting this to be reliable is tough as it is very much board-state dependent. I think a few decks will use this to great effect, but whereas most of the other Blighted lands can fit into just about any shell of their color (manabase permitting), Blighted Steppe asks a few other things out of you, which will probably result in it seeing the least total play, even if what play it does see is extremely effective.
I saw some people complaining about this card compared to the other of the Blighted cycle and I just don't get it. You realize this is a land that ramps you and color fixes you in the mid-to-late game? Oh yea, even more important than that potentially, this provides you with two, sometimes even three landfall triggers in a single turn and for such a small cost to your deckbuilding. I personally think this card is going to be extremely powerful and if it weren't for the plethora of multicolor decks running around, it would see even more play than it is going to.
With all of the Blighted cycle now out of the way, here is a rough draft I made for a five color Blighted deck:
Canopy Vista, Cinder Glade, Prairie Stream, Smoldering Marsh, Sunken Hollow
Our new dual land cycle (dare I say...waltz lands?) is pretty spiffy, primarily due to the interaction with fetch lands. While having your lands come into play tapped early on can be a big drawback, with enough fetch lands, you very easily can grab a few basics to start the game and then every one of these lands you draw or fetchland you draw, helps net you what amounts to an original Dual land. This consistency has a lot of people expecting there to be a big rise in three, four, and even five-color decks as a result, which should make for an interesting Standard format.
One downside to there being such crazy manabases is that the plethora of colorless lands we have might see less play than they typically would as so much of our manabases are going to be devoted to fixing our mana. Still, some decks will probably fall on both sides of this battle and it should be a fairly wide open metagame as far as mana is concerned.
These will see less play in older formats both due to the lower number of basics played and the opportunity cost of shock lands and original duals being present. Still, decks like Scapeshift will love another Mountain/Forest, so we will certainly see these on occasion.
This is a pretty interesting land as it helps make sure you do not get mana screwed early and hit landfall triggers later in the game. Keep in mind that you can always fail to find with this, so in the late game, if you don't want to draw the basic you see, even if you see five basics staring back at you, because the card asks you to choose a specific kind of card from a hidden zone, you can simply say no and allow the top card of your deck to be random as normal.
I would say this is definitely worse than Teetering Peaks, as you would always rather have more power than toughness in red decks. The first strike clause is interesting though, as now we can potentially push through damage that we otherwise couldn't. I expect this to see some play, although not as much as the Peaks that came before it.
While the activation cost on this is a little steep for just a 3/3, hexproof is a very strong ability to have on your creature lands because often, the only way control has to answer one is through instant speed removal. They cannot cast a sweeper or anything to get around the hexproof clause. Crumble to Dust will be boarded in often to deal with this, which might tell you just how strong it might be.
Even in a worst case scenario, this is still a dual land and will see play for that reason alone. Turning into a hexproof Hill Giant is just gravy (and delicious gravy at that). Expect some Modern play and maybe a light touch into Legacy as well.
Uh, what? So if you thought Fertile Thicket was the Cream of the Crop when it came to these common lands, did you manage to read down to Vampiric Tutor? Alright, that is a bit of a stretch, but in the late game, this rebuys literally any creature from your yard. Tired of seeing three to four Siege Rhinos every game? Well not anymore, because now you're going to be seeing five or six of them every game!
Ojutai? Get it back. Tasigur? Get it back, draw some cards. Finally deal with annoying indestructible Ulamog? Get it back, eat two permanents.
Midrange decks are going to play the heck out of this thing and control decks will probably find some uses for it too.
Sanctum of Ugin
This land feels a little clunky to me, but in a colorless shell, it serves a similar role to that of the Blighted cycle as it provides you mana while you need it and then cashes in for a more valuable card later. Needing to cast a seven-mana, colorless spell is specific enough that many decks won't be able to use this, but those that can will enjoy the power it adds to their manabase.
This is generally going to be less useful than the red land of the cycle as vigilance does not necessarily help you out very much in aggressive strategies unless you happen to be racing. I then thought about how this interacts with Ojutai, and that alone might be cool enough to let this see some play. Making sure your Ojutai remains protected and pushing it up to six power is pretty neat. Maybe a Bant midrange shell that uses Ojutai can take advantage of this?
Getting a 2/3 lifelink creature out of your land is a pretty big deal. Not only does this fit into all of the "life gain matters" shells that we have discussed this week, but it also just goes into every deck running black and white.
Control decks will enjoy another dual land in their deck and the ability to recover their life total after taking a beating early on.
Aggro decks will enjoy have the sweeper-proof threat looming at all times.
And midrange decks will use both of the above situations to their benefit.
Expect to see a lot of this over the next two years.
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Unlike Sanctum of Ugin, I am a big fan of this card because it basically provides you with what you want at all times. Play a colorless deck and you will eventually be rewarded with an extra mana to cast those Ulamogs and Desolation Twins early. The restriction of only being able to cast colorless spells will most certainly limit the number of decks this can make its way into, but that isn't to say it can't be powerful when it does make an appearance.
Overall, I like this card but do fear that it won't be heavily played until we get more expensive colorless stuff in the format.
First of all, it is worth noting that this trigger does not tap the creature it targets, so it only locks down things that have become tapped through some other means. Still, buying yourself time in the early game at the cost of having one of your lands enter play tapped is not a terrible tradeoff. If you hold down a three or four-power creature, you have gained three or four life and that is huge for a color that traditionally struggles more early on.
Decks will have a tough time making room for this land as it doesn't tap for two colors of mana or have an absurd output like the Blighted Cycle, but there is enough utility here that I would still expect it to see plenty of play.
Foundry of the Consuls by any other name... This has a very similar play pattern to Foundry except we are obviously trading a couple of flying bodies for a trio of ground ones. This can be important for decks like our sacrifice shell we discussed yesterday or any deck specifically caring about the number of colorless creatures. While the mana ability of those three Scions is not necessarily the most attractive thing in the world considering you had seven mana before even activating this, it can still make the difference in casting a ten-drop a few turns early or something, so don't sleep on it completely!
Red has some really interesting things in this set along with a few staple utility cards like Radiant Flames that are sure to see a ton of Constructed play in the coming years. Some of the crazier build-around themes, like colorless matters and allies, have some crucial engines in red, so as more of this block comes out, expect these kinds of cards to only go up in value and possibly even be worth exploring in Standard.
As for the lands, we expect Zendikar to deliver some sweet options for us and I think that remains true this time around. While we don't have a Halimar Depths or Teetering Peaks at common, we instead have an outrageous Blighted cycle and some amazing dual lands. If you enjoy mana, you should enjoy Battle for Zendikar.
Tomorrow we will be back to wrap things up by going over the green cards from Battle for Zendikar as well as the multicolor cards. In addition, as always I will be going over my Top 8 cards for Constructed, so be sure to come back tomorrow when we wrap things up! Thanks for reading!