Zendikar Rising previews started today. Let's look at the standouts from what we've seen so far!
The first kind of card that was previewed (inadvertently) was "Modal Double-Faced Cards." Unlike every other dual-faced card, we choose which side to play when we play them. It's worth noting that the front side of the card (in this case, instant) is what the card is everywhere but on the battlefield and in the stack. This card can be Duress, it can be brought back with a card like Archaeomancer, and it is not legal to be targeted by Life from the Loam when in your graveyard. The only time the card is a land is when it's in play.
That said, I imagine that the way the rules are written for these cards is going to do players a little bit of a disservice. For all intents and purposes, I'm going to be viewing this cycle as effectively utility lands, and putting them in the land slot. Early on, it's almost guaranteed that I'm going to put these into play to keep hitting my land drops. Later in the game, or when flooding, they can be cast for an alternative effect. On the whole, I imagine that I will be using them more frequently as lands than as spells, but having ways to get more use out of your lands is what the best decks in Magic are made of.
Downshifted from mythic to rare (and rightfully so, that one always felt… ambitious to call a mythic), Lotus Cobra is the sort of reprint that is probably safe but has the potential to be completely broken. Using Cobra to gain an extra mana or two a turn is a little too fair of an upside compared to the downside of drawing Goblin Piker in today's high-powered Standard. Even Fabled Passage, the only legal "fetch land" in Standard, is only going to accelerate a player to four mana if they play Cobra on turn two and Passage on turn three, making it a Paradise Druid that never has hexproof. Where Cobra becomes terrifying is if there are ways to put several lands into play at once and use Lotus Cobra as a ritual to power out cards early.
If there is a more fair way to break Lotus Cobra, it's with everyone's favorite card, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Cobra on turn two, turn three play a land drop (+1 mana), Uro, put Fabled Passage into play (+1 mana) crack it (+1 mana) will put us back to four mana, making Uro effectively free. I don't think that this will be strong enough, but if there are other reasons for both of these cards to be included in a deck already, it's a strong synergy.
"Party" asks us to assemble a classic RPG party of Warrior, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric to go adventuring. Some of them check to see how many of these creature types you have across unique creatures (you cannot use your Warrior as your Wizard, sorry Changelings). Others require that you have a "full party," meaning you have four creatures each filling one of the roles.
While I love a good Party game, I'm suspicious that this is a Limited-specific mechanic. It's not common that one player has four creatures in play and isn't already in a winning position. While the version of this mechanic that checks how many of the four party members are present might show up on a couple cards that are pushed for Constructed, the "full party"-style mechanic feels too easily disrupted by spot removal (or a Shatter the Sky, if you get close to achieving it) to see much play. That said, the mechanic is fun and flavorful, and even if they don't make it to Constructed, I'm very excited to draft around it.
Having just talked about party, let me get this out of the way: I don't think we're going to see this ability trigger nearly ever. If we do, it's definitely a decent bonus, and if there are good creatures worth playing that happen to fill the roles of Warrior, Rogue and Cleric in some sort of Azorius aggro deck, I'm interested in having the option.
That said, the rest of the card is just an even better Dauntless Escort. Like, holy crap is this card pushed. Dauntless Escort already saw play in aggressive decks as a way to insulate aggro from wrath effects, or as a toolbox card to tutor for. Linvala, Shield of Sky Gate has flying, gives us more options by letting us choose hexproof or indestructible, and has a bonus ability tacked onto it on top of that. I'm very excited for the possibility that Azorius Aggro could become a thing going forward, because this card feels pushed.
I'm calling these Schrodinger's Lands, and nobody can stop me.
Importantly, these FINALLY give two-color aggressive decks a way to fix their mana on turn one! The ability to play either Fervent Champion or Knight of the Ebon Legion on turn one without having to turn to a card like Tournament Grounds is huge. These decks' mana have consistently been the sticking point, rendering them unable to deploy quickly enough.
Unfortunately for Standard, the shock lands, our other source of turn 1 untapped dual lands, are rotating out as these rotate in. With Temples and Triomes still legal, I'm inclined to believe we're still going to be playing slower games, at least for the time being. It's also interesting to note that there are only six of the ten present, and while the other four will be coming out in "an upcoming set," the mana will be splintered in a strange way for the time being.
In Historic and Pioneer, these lands seem incredible. Untapped mana earlier in the game is critical, and unlike the fast lands, these will always work the turn you play them.
This card is either going to be busted or worthless, and there's very little in-between. This style of "Clericshift" is powerful, and lets us move down the chain with a sacrifice outlet like Woe Strider very effectively if there are enough Clerics we want to play. All it would take would be a way to reset to the top of the chain to create an infinite combo, and while I would hope that Wizards would watch for that, things have slipped through before.
Archfiend's Vessel will always combo with this, as it's probably the strongest "fair" application of this card, and is a powerful back-up plan to reanimating endless Clerics. Speaker of the Heavens is also legal, as is Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, so there are a few decent Clerics floating around already.
Amusingly one of the most potentially useful Clerics in Standard, Containment Priest, is a nonbo with Orah.
Overall, we're going to have to watch for what Clerics are actually legal. The list is pretty unimpressive currently.
This card is very, very good.
The front half of this card is Fatal Push as a sorcery. If it were an instant, it would be almost strictly better than a multi-format staple. As it is, it's "only" about on par with it. That this is never dead, and in fact upgrades into planeswalker removal, is phenomenal. We've cast Vraska's Contempt for 2BB before, and quite frequently I've been holding up more mana when I would love to be able cast Fatal Push for its "better" mode even if it cost me more. Losing instant speed is a huge drawback to be sure, but the combination of flexibility and power here is absolutely worth it.
I also love that this card tags Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded for one mana.
I'm noting this card only because I frowned when I saw it. I wanted card draw in white, and I don't like that to get that card draw I have to also let my opponent draw a card.
A 3/3 for three that drew a card would be absurd, but this has quite the drawback. I would let my opponent draw a card if the game was about to end, but that kind of defeats the purpose of me drawing more cards.
Zareth San feels like it will be a Limited bomb, but there are a surprising amount of Rogues in Standard. I'm interested in both Brazen Borrower and Thieves' Guild Enforcer on their own merits, and Cunning Nightbonder and Ghostly Pilferer aren't terrible. This has synergies with flash as well, and probably works nicely as a top-end in a Dimir Flash deck now that many of the reasons to play Simic Flash instead are rotating (Nightpack Ambusher, Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and I guess Frilled Mystic if you were into that). In particular, I love the idea of resetting my Brazen Borrower to keep ahead of them on tempo, though I hate that to do so I have to tap out on my turn. That said, sometimes there's something you have to answer.
I have so many questions about this card, first and foremost: why is she Golgari now? The answer is "read the story," so I guess we'll find out.
Her abilities are… strange. She's a decent planeswalker on turn four, acting as a functional 3/3 haste, menace creature. This alone probably keeps Nissa as a type of Planeswalker assassin (wait, maybe that's why she's Golgari?), able to punch them down in loyalty unexpectedly similar to how Nissa, Who Shakes the World sees play. Thankfully, these lands don't stay animated, so she doesn't have nearly the same snowball potential any more.
The -5 ability specifies that the converted mana cost of the creature has to be less than the number of lands she has in play, which is a bit limiting. Most of the ways to abuse reanimating a creature is to bring back something very large to justify the effort of putting a creature into the graveyard, or having a potentially dead card stuck in hand when you don't have Eureka.
What she does do is let you effectively "suspend" a card to gain mana the next turn. I imagine her typical play pattern will be to animate a land, go up to 5 loyalty, and then on the following turn play a land and unload ten mana worth of cards. Doubling mana has done pretty well, and that specific sequence gives me some Fires of Invention-type vibes. Unlike Fires, though, Nissa can be attacked to shut the threat down, and she doesn't have a way to protect herself. I'm not super high on this version of Nissa, but it's possible she could see some play.