That's it! I've finally decided to change the title of this regular series to something other than "Top Sleepers."
These articles used to be called the Top X Sleepers of a given set, but the thing was that sometimes the cards weren't really sleepers. Sometimes it was too difficult to find sleepers; either the cards in a set were all obviously good, or obviously bad. Often times they were cards I didn't think were getting enough attention, cards that I thought should be getting a little more attention, and cards that I was personally really excited to brew with.
This would often lead to people in the comments saying things like, "Uh, that card is going for $4...it isn't a sleeper." Which then lead to this big introduction about how the article wasn't exactly sleepers, per se, and...well, here we are.
As I often mention, sometimes I'm way off and the cards I pick will be terrible. On the other hand, sometimes I'm right on the nose with these articles and certain cards end up being ridiculous hits. The thing I try hardest to accomplish is to provide you guys with a perspective on some cards that you might not have initially had. Maybe you'll see a card in a new light, or discover an application you might not have thought of, and if so, then I consider my work a success.
If you're looking for a list of the straight-up Top 8 best Battle for Zendikar cards you're in the wrong place. You will find no Ob Nixilis or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger here (though that doesn't mean I'm not extremely excited for them); only some of the unsung heroes of the set that I would personally like to build around based on the merit I see them possessing.
Without further ado...let's begin!
8. Aligned Hedron Network
As I tend to do with certain lists, this card is at number eight because, while I do want to brew with it, it's also one of the cards that's been talked about the most (I think) on the list. This card seems extremely powerful as a way to shut down all of our opponent's large creatures in one fell swoop. This is an incredible tool when a deck is playing smaller creatures like Halimar Tidecaller, Den Protector, even Savage Knuckleblade and Siege Rhino are safe from the dreaded Hedron Network! Dragonlord Silumgar is safe, but Dragonlord Ojutai isn't. Whisperwood Elemental is safe, but Dragonlord Atarka isn't. My only concern is that the Network slots a little too conveniently into Abzan decks and might make them even stronger. Let's keep our fingers crosses.
7. Conduit of Ruin
Like most Eldrazi, this guy has a lot going on. Not only is he putting your next Ulamog on top of your library, he's also helping us cast it. This is a great deal for a mere six mana. The thing to remember is that he makes the first creature we cast of any kind cost two less, not just Eldrazi. This means that we can play this guy on turn six (or five or four, heck, ramp your heart out!), then cast something huge with his help on the next turn, theoretically giving us access to nine mana - or rather a nine mana creature - the turn after we cast him.
I imagine the Conduit will only be getting better in the future with Oath of the Gatewatch when we're given even more creatures that cost seven mana or more to search out. You know, if there ends up being Eldrazi in that set.
6. Fathom Feeder
While I wish the ability was a little cheaper, this is one of my favorite cards in the set. It does practically everything I want a card to do, and has value at virtually every point in the game. It costs two mana so it comes down early. It has deathtouch so it blocks extremely well. It has ingest so it fuels whatever processors you might be running, while at the same time the deathtouch ensures that you'll actually be able to connect. And in the late game it lets you draw cards, but not just draw cards! It also lets you ingest the top card of the opponent's library when you do.
Fathom Feeder is a card that feels like it can be great whenever you happen to draw it. Like I said though, I do wish the activation cost was one less, but even so, it's a reusable draw effect that turns things like Ulamog's Nullifier on if need be. I imagine this little drone is going to play a pseudo-removal role in blue/black decks to come for quite some time.
5. March from the Tomb
March is an interesting little card. We've seen cards like it before, but never something like this for allies. This reminds me of Protean Hulk, if Protean Hulk was a sorcery rather than a creature, but truth be told this could be extremely powerful. With each ally having a very specific ability, we're left with some very powerful combinations. In the ally deck this is both card and tempo advantage, typically netting us at least three or four creatures and putting them directly into play. That's a great deal.
Oh, did we mention that Drana, Liberator of Malakir is an ally? At the very least returning one of your Dranas to play is going to make March from the Tomb worth it, let alone the fact that you get five more mana worth of allies to retrieve! Let's say you have two Kalastria Healers in play, or that you're returning two from the graveyard. With two other creatures coming into play that's a sixteen point life swing!
Lantern Scout is another reasonable option. I personally wouldn't mind returning a Lantern Scout, a Kalastria Healer, and a Drana to play for five mana. That seems like a bonkers deal. Heck, I would be happy retuning just a Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper and a Drana, Liberator of Malakir to play, then making 3/3 land creatures with any subsequent March from the Tomb.
4. Emeria Shepherd
Okay, I get it. The card costs seven mana and only has four toughness. But looking past that, Emeria Shepherd is insane! It's like if Admonition Angel and Sun Titan had a baby. Being able to return any nonland permanent to your hand is huge, but being able to return it to play? What if we have an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in there?! I get to play a Plains and return it to play? What if we have another Emeria Shepherd? What if we play an Emeria Shepherd on turn seven, then it dies, then we play another Emeria Shepherd on turn eight, then we play a Plains, returning the other Emeria Shepherd. How do you lose there?
And remember, this is a format that wants us to play more lands! Seven mana shouldn't be a lot in Standard right now. Heck, with Conduit of Ruin you can play her for five mana, and then play your land for the turn! I see a lot of potential with this card and I haven't even gotten into returning planeswalkers to play yet.
3. Blight Herder
Blight Herder stood out to me from the moment I saw it, but I don't hear anybody talking about this guy. I'm not really sure how much I have to say about it, but the biggest drawback on the card is that you have to "process" two cards when it comes into play if you want the big benefit.
What's the big benefit, you might ask? Okay, you're probably not asking since you can read the card for yourselves, but I'm going to tell you anyway! The fact that Blight Herder can enter the battlefield as seven power and eight toughness over four bodies for five mana is insane! Additionally, you can sacrifice three of those bodies for three mana, which is a huge boost. This ramps us to nine mana with no other help on turn six. That's one mana away from Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Let's just say that, just like similar scenarios with Conduit of Ruin, I'm not going to be too surprised if I'm facing down a From Beyond on turn four, a Blight Herder on turn five, and an Ulamog on turn six.
2. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper
I'll be honest: when I first saw Noyan Dar I glossed right over him as some kind of weirdo merfolk ally. Is that speciesist? Classist? Either way I did it. But when I actually took some time to digest Battle for Zendikar, this guy really stuck out. A 4/4 for five mana isn't the best deal, but finishers in control decks don't often need to have the industry standard when it comes to power and toughness; they usually excel in other areas.
The idea behind Noyan - can I call you Noyan? Great. The idea behind Noyan is that we want to play him real late in our control deck, like Elspeth, Sun's Champion late, and then keep up counter mana for everything our opponent tries to do to poor Noyan. If they try to kill him, we counter it and make a 3/3. If they don't, we win with our 4/4! There will even be times where we simply draw cards at the end of their turn (or not...thanks, Ugin's Insight) and get a bonus 3/3 out of the deal.
I predict that Noyan Dar is going to prove extremely powerful in the coming months, and the fact that he is an ally is just icing on the cake.
1. Sire of Stagnation
When this card was revealed, I immediately hailed it as my favorite card in the set. Everyone else seemed to draw the immediate comparison to Consecrated Sphinx, but there were also murmurings of how the card wasn't actually that good. I've managed to play a few games with it and I think it's just fine.
The Sire doesn't have any form of evasion, like Dragonlord Ojutai or Consecrated Sphinx, but the stats it does have are incredibly impressive. Five power means that it can put the opponent on a very reasonable clock, one faster than the Sphinx if we're starting at 20. Seven toughness is also huge and nearly impossible to get by. This allows it to dodge all burn, while also dodging Ultimate Price, Horribly Awry, Complete Disregard, and others.
One of my favorite interactions is being able to cast the Sire then keep Stubborn Denial up as a one-mana hard counter. While being able to draw two cards off of any subsequent land drop from the opponent is the real benefit, the two exiled cards can be far from irrelevant depending on how your deck is built. Bottom line, Sire of Stagnation has far too many things going on for it not to see play, and I think it bears way too close of a resemblance to one of the strongest fliers printed in the past ten years.
Wow, four out of eight cards were Eldrazi! Who saw that coming?
I know some of you are going to assuredly disagree with some of these picks, and maybe some of you are going to think a few of my choices are obviously good; that's fine! It's actually the exact reason I decided to stop referring to the cards in the column as "sleepers." Like I said in the beginning, these are basically the cards I'm excited to build decks around, so hopefully you'll be excited to build decks around them too.
Either way, I hope I've given you some things to think about and maybe you've seen some of these cards in a new light. Maybe comparing them to older cards might have helped, or maybe you just think they're all junk!
That's all for today, but I'll be back again on Monday with some more Modern! Thankfully it's a format that doesn't necessarily sleep simply because of a new set. In the meantime be sure and check out my podcast, Freshly Brewed, with Ali Aintrazi. You can subscribe through iTunes or help us out over on our Patreon. Thanks for reading and I'll see ya soon!
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Freshly Brewed Podcast with Ali Aintrazi (available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio)