Welcome to the third and final part of my Zendikar Rising set review. If you missed the first two parts, you can find the links just below this paragraph. Part one covers the pathway lands and most of the day one reveals, while part two covers the mythic modal double-faced card cycle and about half the rares in the set. Today's piece will cover all the rares and mythic rares that I haven't reviewed yet, including several of my favorite cards in the set.
Now that we've seen Zendikar Rising in its entirety, I have to say—it's pretty good! The power level does seem to have been turned down a little bit from a year ago, when the fall set had some obviously broken cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Once Upon a Time, but I think people are underrating just how impactful the modal DFCs are going to be. These cards are similar to Ikoria's companions in that they're Wizards of the Coast's attempt to open up a design vein that has been previously untouched. In the case of the companions, it was "what if you had an extra card in your opening hand?" In the case of the MDFCs, it's "what if a third of your deck wasn't just boring old lands?"
With Mark Rosewater recently revealing that MDFCs will be an evergreen mechanic going forward, I have to believe that Zendikar Rising marks the beginning of a new era for deckbuilding. I have no idea how many MDFCs the average deck is going to be able to run, but I suspect these new cards will be able to replace both lands and spells in roughly equal proportions in order to help create smoother games and fewer dead draws. If they prove their worth early on, as I hope they will, there could be a quick demand (and price) spike for these cards. Don't forget: WotC tends to get the power level slightly wrong when they're first engaging with an entirely new mechanic, so it's possible that some of these cards will prove overpowered compared to future MDFCs. I could be wrong about all of this, and all the MDFCs could turn out to be a bust, but if there's strong value in this set, that's where I suspect it'll be.
That said, I feel like most of the singles in Zendikar Rising are overpriced. There are some killer bulk rares that I think everyone's sleeping on—we'll get to those later—and I really like the MDFCs and a few of the Commander-centric mythics. But there are plenty of other cards in the $5-$20 range that should lose most of that value in the coming weeks. I don't think people are properly factoring in the value of the Expedition box toppers yet, which is going to push the value of Zendikar Rising's other singles way down. Factor in the pathway lands and other MDFCs, and there's just not much more room for value here.
If you're looking to buy Zendikar Rising for yourself, I don't hate going in on sealed boxes or collector boosters. I have no idea whether or not WotC will simply keep ratcheting up the quality and accessibility of their high-end promos, but this set still seems special to me. Not that booster boxes and collector boosters are cheap—they're not—but the quality of the Zendikar Rising Expeditions is well ahead of the curve, and cards this good are usually gated a little higher—either by the older masterpiece drop rate, or by a higher price point like Secret Lair Ultimate Edition. If these cards appeal to you and you've got the cash, I'd go premium this time around. My guess is that the next couple of sets won't have promos that are this good, if only because there aren't a lot of cards in Magic that are nicer than the fetch lands. I'm not sure where WotC goes from here if they want to top this round of premium promos.
If you're avoiding boxes and buying singles—the smart play if you're not into promos or you're more value-conscious—I'd wait two to four weeks on almost everything. People are going to open a massive amount of Zendikar Rising in order to chase the promos, and there's going to be a massive supply glut on the market a little less than a month from now. I'd consider going in earlier on some of the cheaper cards that you think are being underrated right now, but if you're after the $10-$20 cards? Just be patient and let the market come to you. I'm planning my own TCGplayer shopping spree for Zendikar Rising singles in early October.
Lastly, if you want to think outside the box a little, I suspect you'll be able to get really solid deals on booster boxes of Zendikar Rising that have already had the box topper removed. If you're risk-averse and you just want to crack packs, this might be the best way to go. At the very least, it's worth checking to see if any of your friends are planning to go deep on boxes in order to chase those sexy box toppers. I bet some of them will sell or trade you their "leftover" packs at a killer rate.
Anyway, let's get to the remaining cards!
Ancient Greenwarden is a fantastic Commander card. We all know how good Crucible of Worlds can be in that format, and the ramp decks that can abuse Crucible effects are already salivating over this perfect 5/7. Doubling your landfall triggers is amazing too, and I wouldn't be shocked if this ends up doing something in Standard as well. Perhaps it's the curve-topper in a Gruul Landfall brew, though there's another card we'll talk about a little later that it's competing with.
Ancient Greenwarden's price chart looks fairly strong, too. Most of the new cards in Zendikar Rising have seen at least a small dip in price since first being previewed, but not Ancient Greenwarden. It appears to be holding in the $18-$20 range, with steady demand:
Can this price tag last? I don't think so. This is the exact sort of card that will hold its value long-term, and might turn out to be a robust spec buy at some point, but this set simply doesn't have room for many $20 cards alongside the Expedition lands and everything else, at least not in the short term. My guess is that you'll be able to buy in under $10 if you're willing to wait a few weeks.
I don't think you want to play Scourge of the Skyclaves in Standard. With no shock lands around, there are going to be too many games when this is just a dead card in your hand. It might seem trivial in a vacuum, but in actuality controlling both players' life totals is really, really hard.
In Modern? Scourge of the Skyclaves might be something special. This card is something akin to a Tarmogoyf/Death's Shadow hybrid in that format, which should be quite playable. You do have to build around Scourge of the Skyclaves, so I think the application will be narrow, but I suspect it'll find a home. You should be able to buy in somewhere in the $5-$8 range a few weeks from now, and I recommend that course of action if you're a Modern player.
Leyline Tyrant is going to be awesome in Commander, where I'm dying to run this in my Dragon deck, but I'm not sure it has the legs for competitive play. This card would be amazing if it also had haste, but generic 4/4 fliers for 4 haven't been great for a while now. The death trigger is incredibly sweet if you can pull it off, but note that it doesn't trigger at all if Leyline Tyrant is bounced or exiled. Using that trigger to your advantage also requires you to hold back a bunch of extra red mana, which means that you really can't play this in the midgame unless you're okay either potentially missing out on the death trigger or missing out on developing your board. I could be wrong about all of this, but I just don't get why it's still hovering around $13. This looks like a $4-$5 card at best.
Before we move on, I want to show you one more price chart:
Is this Leyline Tyrant? Nope. This is Braid of Fire, an obscure Coldsnap rare that exploded in value this week due to its combo potential with Leyline Tyrant. While I don't think this is a competitive combo, it's a cute casual interaction, and Braid of Fire is an incredibly scarce card that has never been reprinted. I'm selling into the hype, especially because Braid of Fire has spiked and dropped several times before, but you should have a reasonably long window to move on from your copies this time around if you choose to do so.
Moraug, Fury of Akoum is a great card to dream on, but I'm skeptical about how it will actually perform. It's a six-drop that does nothing when you play it unless you have another land ready to go, at which point it will likely win you the game as long as you've got a sizable army. If Gruul or Jund Landfall/Midrange ends up becoming a thing, Moraug should be a pretty sweet curve-topper. Otherwise, I'd rather have a late-game top deck that doesn't require me to also have more lands in hand. The upside here is right in line with Moraug's current $15-$20 price tag, while the downside is that this is a future bulk mythic. I'm staying away at current retail.
I don't think Nissa of Shadowed Boughs will see much play in Standard, and she won't see any play in the Eternal formats. Since Nissa's Elementals only stick around until the end of the turn, her +1 is only useful if you can successfully attack with a 3/3. Her -5 is fantastic if you've got a handful of creatures, but it's pretty worthless otherwise. My guess is that she'll see play as a two-of or three-of here and there, but she's definitely on the lower end of the power level scale for planeswalkers. Future $5 mythic.
Forsaken Monument is incredibly strong in a very narrow set of circumstances. If your deck is full of colorless creatures and Wastes, this is one heck of a Mirari's Wake. I have to believe that the mad folks who have fully colorless Commander decks are over the moon about Forsaken Monument, and they'll keep this card from hitting bulk mythic levels.
Otherwise, I doubt this card will do much. Eldrazi Tron will certainly test it out, but my guess is that it's just a bit slow for competitive Eternal play. This looks like a future $3-$5 mythic to me. There are simply going to be too many copies floating around and not enough decks that can make use of Forsaken Monument.
Lithoform Engine is the best Commander card in a set that has quite a few solid Commander cards. This is the first time we've seen a card read "copy target permanent spell you control," and it comes attached to an artifact that can copy just about everything else you play, too. It instantly combos with dozens of other Commander staples, and it should fit into basically any deck that wants it. Heck, I wouldn't be shocked if this thing shows up in competitive play from time to time—it's certainly the kind of card that can produce a two-card infinite combo out of nowhere.
Financially, Lithoform Engine is going to be one of my top spec targets when the set hits peak supply. The card should remain desirable for years to come, regardless of how the competitive metagames ebb and flow. I'd compare it to Paradox Engine, which had a chart like this before it was banned in Commander:
As you can see, the best time to buy that card was a little dip just after release—the card was previewed on January 5th, and it hit rock bottom 20 days later, on January 25th. There was another solid buying opportunity that summer, approximately six to seven months after release, and then it was all uphill until the Commander ban. If there's a similar trend this time around, you're going to want to snag your copies of Lithoform Engine in early October or wait until next spring/summer. I'd rather get in sooner than later, myself.
Akiri, Fearless Voyager
It seems like WotC wants Boros Equipment to be a perennially playable Standard deck, similar to Izzet Tempo or Azorius Control. I like this development, and I wouldn't be surprised if Akiri, Fearless Voyager ends up seeing competitive play at some point during its run in Standard. This card is also going to have a solid base of demand thanks to casual and Commander players, where this is a must-play in any sort of Boros-based Voltron-style deck. $0.50-$2 seems like a plausible range of outcomes to me, and I'll probably pick up a few for my personal collection at some point soon. Not a lot of financial upside here, but a solid card.
Charix, the Raging Isle has the highest base toughness in all of Magic, and unique cards are always going to hold some kind of long-term value. I wouldn't be shocked if Charix develops something of a cult following in the casual/kitchen table scene, especially since it plays absurdly well with Assault Formation. This is the sort of card that might be randomly worth $5-$10 one day if it isn't reprinted, but $1 seems about right for the near-term future.
If you can get Felidar Retreat into play and still have a way to trigger landfall a bunch, this card can win the game on its own. That's no small feat for a four-mana enchantment, and goodness knows I've seen enough games of Standard over the past year that would have ended if the ramp player had stuck a Felidar Retreat on turn three or four. This is a pretty awful top-deck though, which always gives me pause when evaluating a new card. I also don't know if the ramp decks want to dip back into Bant right now, when there's not a lot of other reason for them to run white cards. Felidar Retreat definitely has promise, and it could easily end up being a $5-$6 format staple, but it's far from a slam dunk. More likely, it'll be a fringe-player in Standard that sticks around the $1 range thanks to moderate casual demand.
Yet again, I'm really high on the modal DFC's. You definitely don't want to have too many lands in your deck that enter the battlefield tapped, but if you're playing a reasonable number of basic Islands and creatures in your deck already, adding in some copies of Glasspool Mimic is a no-brainer. The cost for adding another few spells to your deck is just so low.
It's worth noting that people seem to agree with me so far. Most pre-order charts are either flat or down slightly this early in the game, but Glasspool Mimic has gained a bit of ground over the past few days. If that continues, then this could easily become one of the few $4-$5 rares in Zendikar Rising. Don't leave 2020 without a few copies, especially if it proves itself in the coming days.
Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager is a fantastic card. At its worst, it's a 3/3 for three that replaces itself with another 3/3 when it dies—one of the easiest-to-achieve two-for-ones I've seen in a while. At best, you can combine Grakmaw with a bunch of other Golgari or Abzan counters cards and go to town. There are quite a few of those running around in Standard already, so it won't take much for Grakmaw to see a decent amount of play. Financially, I'd be higher on Grakmaw if I thought it was going to see more play outside of Standard, but I think it's a solid $1-$2 card with a chance for more after the pandemic ends.
I haven't seen much hype for Hagra Mauling, and there aren't even any threads discussing this card in a lot of the competitive Magic subreddits. It's possible that the casting cost is simply too high for Hagra Mauling to see any play, but I still feel like stapling a Murder to a Swamp has to be playable, even if neither side is quite as good on its own. At the very least, this is a solid Commander card that will be played in every mono-black casual deck from now until the end of time. Hagra Mauling is currently selling for about $1, and I could see it ticking up into the $2-$3 range at some point.
I don't think Inscription of Abundance is going to see very much play. It's a great combat trick, and it will undoubtedly be a first pick in draft, but combat tricks almost never make the leap to competitive Constructed play, and I don't think this card will break that trend. Command-style spells are great in theory, but they have to have powerful effects. This one does not. Future bulk rare.
Oh wow, this card is such an interesting tempo play. The bounce mode is super useful, and…
Oh. Wait. Inscription of Insight is a sorcery!?
Never mind. Future bulk rare.
As with the other members of this cycle, I think Kazandu Mammoth will see play. The tapped land hurts more in green-based midrange than in most other archetypes, but if you replace a couple of spells and a couple of lands with four of these, it'll almost certainly smooth your draws more often than not. This card is pretty stable at $1.50 in the early going, and I'd give it a shot at $5-$8 if this were a normal set in normal times. As is, I bet it'll end up sticking around in the $2-$3 range instead of dropping down to bulk. Grab your set soon.
Maddening Cacophony is the exact sort of card that holds its value over the long haul. Milling eight cards for 1U is a great rate—roughly in line with the venerable Glimpse the Unthinkable—and the kicker is all upside. There's a shot that mill is going to be playable in the new Standard metagame, but even if that doesn't happen this card will be a casual darling for years to come. Maddening Cacophony is currently selling for just about $3, and I'm going to look to buy in just under $2 if possible. I'll probably wait a month for the set to settle down, but I don't want to leave 2020 without a small stack of these.
The enters-the-battlefield ability on Master of Winds gives it an outside shot at playability, since this is a solid two-for-one with a decent body. If some sort of Wizard Tempo deck emerges after rotation, I can see Master of Winds as a $1-$2 role-player in that brew. Otherwise, this is a pretty obvious bulk rare.
Myriad Construct seems like a pretty solid sideboard card that can do double duty as a combo piece in the right brew. The cost-to-power-level-ratio is a bit low for Modern, but it might show up here and there in the right environment or oddball brew. Future bulk rare with a little bit of upside.
Nahiri's Lithoforming is an incredibly cool card. Play this, sac your whole mana base, draw a bunch of cards, dump whatever lands you get back onto the battlefield, and reload. It's certainly high variance, and it'll completely wreck your game some amount of the time, but if there's a red deck that wants to key off landfall I think it'll run at least a few of these. There are probably a number of better pure draw spells for red, though, so its utility is fairly limited. Bulk rare with a hint of upside.
For as bullish as I am on the modal DFCs, I'm quite bearish on the "party matters" cards. I've just spent too much of my life opening bulk rare Allies in Zendikar sets to fully trust them, I suppose. Having a full party in play seems like a pipe dream in most competitive Standard games, so this is really just a 2/1 for 1U that's unblockable sometimes. Future bulk rare.
Nullpriest of Oblivion is fantastic. A 2/1 for 1B with menace and lifelink is a perfect low drop, and the fact that you can also play this on six to bring a creature back makes this one of the more versatile cards in the set outside the Modal DFCs. Any card that's good at almost every stage of the game is going to be playable, and Nullpriest of Oblivion should prove no exception. This card is currently trending up toward $2 and it should settle in closer to $3-$4. I'm sitting here staring at a listing for several $1 copies right now, and debating going in on the whole stack.
You're not going to want to run more than a few of these, but white-based control decks are absolutely going to play a copy or two of Ondu Inversion whenever they can. Having access to a late-game Planar Cleansing is a pretty solid tradeoff for having to run a couple of tapped copies of Plains in your deck, and I'm going to make sure I have a few copies of Ondu Inversion in my collection. $1-$2 seems right.
Oran-Rief Ooze attacks as a 4/4 for 3, but I don't think that's good enough these days unless you've got a bunch of creatures with counters on them. It might see some play in whatever deck best utilizes Grakmaw, but it's probably going to be a Standard role-player at best. It's possible that the +1/+1 counter theming is enough to get people excited in Commander, but I still think this one ends up in the sub-$1 range.
Avenger of Zendikar is a fantastic card, but Phylath, World Sculptor is no Avenger of Zendikar. The fact that it doesn't work with nonbasic lands is the biggest sticking point to me, especially in a world where I want to be running as many modal DFCs as I can, and the landfall trigger isn't as good, either. Phylath might still see some play—Avenger of Zendikar was a really, really good card—but I generally dislike six-mana creatures that still need you to make more plays before they do anything. Isn't a planeswalker going to be better most of the time? Future bulk rare.
Scute Swarm can get out of control pretty quickly. If you play this card and then your sixth land, you can start exponentially growing your Insects until they overwhelm the table. I don't know if that's good—I doubt it'll be a competitive strategy—but it is cool, and I have to believe that it'll catch on in the casual sphere if nothing else. Future $1 rare with the potential for more, especially since some players will want to own, like, 50 copies of this to use as tokens.
Shadows' Verdict is going to see play in Standard, especially since it can actually get rid of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. It would be absurd at four mana, but it'll see play at five—in sideboards, if nothing else. That mana cost is too expensive to consider this in any other format, but Standard play should be enough to sustain a $1-$2 price tag here. I'd like it more as a spec if people were playing more in-person Standard, but it's a reasonable buy at current retail regardless.
Shatterskull Charger is like a worse Hell's Thunder that can stick around on the board sometimes. Maybe that's good enough in an aggressive red deck? You can pick these up for less than 50 cents right now, so you don't have much to lose if your spec doesn't pay off, but red aggro cards don't have much financial upside in the best of times. Feel free to grab a personal set if you want to mess around with these, but there's not much reason to buy in otherwise.
Oh, hey, we finally found another future Commander staple! Skyclave Relic isn't quite as good as Chromatic Lantern, but it's still a strictly-better Darksteel Ingot that will likely see play over Gilded Lotus most of the time. Gilded Lotus has proven itself one of the most resilient Commander cards of all time, and it's back up to about $4 yet again despite being reprinted in Dominaria, a fairly recent set. Skyclave Relic will likely tick up toward the $5+ range over time, with room to grow beyond that if it isn't reprinted itself. Grab these when you pick up your copies of Lithoform Engine in a couple of weeks.
I'm not sure how or where Skyclave Shade will see play, but I have no doubt that it's going to happen. This is the same landfall trigger that Bloodghast has, and you don't need me to remind you just how good that card has proven to be over the years. Throw in a late game kicker cost, and you have a creature that should see play in Standard, Pioneer, Historic, and maybe even Modern. With a current retail cost of just over $1, I see no reason not to grab a set or two ASAP. It might take a while to pay off, but it should happen eventually. Creatures that you can put onto the battlefield directly from your graveyard always find their way into the competitive metagame sooner or later.
We all have our squad goals—or, at least, we did back in 2015 when that was still a relevant meme—but assembling a full party is probably not happening outside kitchen table matches. Future bulk rare.
Here's another Commander staple. Thieving Skydiver is exactly what you want in that format, allowing you to steal a Sol Ring on turn three or a game-winning artifact later in the game. It reminds me a bit of Thada Adel, Acquisitor, one of my favorite cards, only this one is arguably more impactful on the board as it stands. Financially, it looks like Thieving Skydiver bottomed out at $2 a few days ago and is currently on the rise again. This is at least a $5 card long-term, so I'd buy my copies during the initial dip.
Yawn. This is kind of a storage land, I guess, except the rate is very poor: counting the land itself, you're basically paying three mana over two turns to generate two mana that you can only spend on kicker costs. It's just not worth having a colorless land in your deck most of the time. Future bulk rare.
I don't really like Verazol, the Split Current. Not only are you paying a pretty poor rate for your Hydra-esque card, you basically have to play this as a four-drop 2/2 (at least) and then sacrifice it in order to… copy a kicked spell. It scales well, admittedly, but that's a massive cost and a lot of hoops to jump through for a very niche payoff. Future bulk rare.
I don't like Wayward Guide-Beast at all. You actively don't want to attack with this card on the early turns of the game, and drawing multiple copies is catastrophic. It can help buy you landfall triggers later in the game, I suppose, but it's also just a 2/2 that's going to run into an opposing creature and die most of the time. Goblin Guide this is not. Future bulk rare.
If you're going to gamble on a $0.50 rare, I like going in on Yasharn, Implacable Earth. It's dirt cheap right now, and I think people are underrating the fact that this is a three-for-one with a respectable 4/4 body. Granted, drawing a Forest and a Plains aren't the same as drawing two cards off the top of your library, but with ramp and landfall both being a thing…I mean, this is a pretty solid card in a vacuum, right? There might be a midrange deck that wants this, especially since this set has a bunch of high upside six-drops that everyone is excited about. For current retail, I'm in for a set.
The last rare in the set is another "party matters" card that I don't think is going to do much of anything outside of limited play. Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats' payoff is solid, but you're still not going to want to run this unless you think you can regularly cast it for three or four mana. Even if that happens, and even if that deck is good, you're still looking at a $2 rare because of how narrow the application is. And that's the best-case scenario. More likely, this is another future bulk rare.
There weren't a ton of spikes this week, but Oboro, Palace in the Clouds has roughly doubled in price over the past 14 days, jumping from $25 to about $50:
The reason for this card's rise is simple: landfall. If you need a cheap and easy way to activate that ability over and over again, Oboro, Palace in the Clouds is your card. Personally, I'm selling into the hype. Oboro is the sort of card that could hit $2-$3 if it ever ends up in a Masters set, which is only a matter of time at this point. Get out now while demand is peaking.
Also up this week: Knowledge Exploitation. There was a massive buyout last week, and the price tripled as a result:
This wasn't a single-source speculative buyout, and I can't find a peep on Twitter or in any of the Magic finance subreddits about this card. My guess is that it was featured on one of the popular Commander streams or YouTube shows, causing a bunch of people to go out and buy a copy on the same day. At any rate, the fact that sales remained steady at the new price point makes me suspect that this card will remain in the $10+ range for the foreseeable future.
Lastly, the Reserved List buyouts continue, leading to yet more misleading graphs kicking around the internet. Here's Gosta Dirk on MTGGoldfish:
And here's Gosta Dirk on the TCGplayer back end:
If you're curious about how many buyers made up that big orange column on 9/8, the answer is one: it was a totally single-source buyout at an average price of $19/copy. So far, only a single additional copy has sold, for just under $15. It's possible that this spec might pay off at some point—Reserved List buys tend to pay off at some point—but Gosta Dirk isn't worth anywhere near $400, and you can safely ignore the bulk of these buyouts for now.