Welcome to the second part of my Zendikar Rising set review. If you missed the first part, you can check it out below. I only reviewed a handful of cards last week, but they included two of the new planeswalkers and all of the pathway lands. I also shared my initial take on how the COVID-19 pandemic and expedition box-toppers might impact the set's future value.
In today's installment, I'm going to be taking a card-by-card look at most of the other rares and mythics that have been revealed over the past few days. And honestly, this set looks incredibly sweet so far. It's definitely a step down in raw power from what we've seen in some other recent sets, but it has a lot of deceptively powerful cards that I really love, including one of the best mythic rare cycles I've ever seen. But while there are quite a few cards in Zendikar Rising that I really like, and some sweet new potential staples that seem like good buys right now, I'm definitely bearish on the set's overall financial prospects, especially compared to most other large fall sets.
Here's why. "Project booster fun" turns one year old with Zendikar Rising, and we now have enough data to say with some degree of certainty that the existence of collector boosters has significantly depressed the value of the best draft booster cards. This effect is going to be even more pronounced with Zendikar Rising, especially since this set's collector boosters have gorgeous foil fetch lands in them. Zendikar Rising is also feeling the pinch from several other sources: the pandemic severely depressing demand for Standard-legal competitive cards, the expedition box toppers soaking up a lot of the value of each booster box, and the overall powering-down of Standard after the "print first, ban later" ethos of sets like Throne of Eldraine.
This doesn't mean that Zendikar Rising is a "bad" set, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if even the best cards in the set end up being worth less than comparable cards from earlier expansions. This outlook makes me somewhat less likely to recommend buying Zendikar Rising's chase cards right now than I normally would.
That said, having a clear financial picture of Zendikar Rising might be more important than ever. Thanks to the expeditions, I'd wager most of you will be buying boxes of this set, or at least individual collector boosters, so it's important to know which cards you should move on from ASAP, which cards are worth holding for the long haul, and which cards still have a shot at making real financial gains. There are also a lot of rares in the set currently selling for less than $1, and quite a few of them have a shot at seeing small (but significant) spikes as the new metagame is established. Even though I think that Zendikar Rising's prices will be somewhat depressed, this is still a very important expansion, especially from a financial perspective.
Let's get to the cards, then, shall we?
We're going to talk about all five members of the modal double-faced mythic land cycle today, starting with Emeria's Call. Before we get to this card specially, though, I just want to say that I am quite bullish on this cycle overall. We've now spent the past couple of years getting used to the idea of paying 2 life for the privilege of playing our shock lands untapped, and while it's never a trivial decision, it's pretty clear how good that option can be. Even though the spell side is rather underwhelming on a lot of these cards, don't forget that they're effectively replacing a land slot in your deck—they're a way to turn that basic Plains into a little extra late-game gas at the expense of having essentially a mono-colored shock land in your deck.
You probably aren't running seven or eight of these modal lands in all of your Standard decks, but you can absolutely get away with running four or five of them. Then there are the Eternal formats, where the importance of smooth early-game draws far outweighs a few points of life, and Commander, where 3 life is trivial. Point being, these lands are going to see a lot of play across many formats. Over time, they will almost certainly reshape the ways we think about building our manabases. Sleep on them at your own risk.
Emeria's Call is quite solid, and the ability to make a couple of 4/4 fliers late in the game is the exact sort of upside we want in one of these cards. Its price tag is currently trending downward, so it's hard for me to recommend buying in until it bottoms out, but I'm definitely going to snag a set of these this fall. I wouldn't be shocked if the better members of this cycle end up being worth $10-$20 over the long haul, despite all of the factors currently depressing prices in this set. We'll just have to be patient.
Sea Gate Restoration
I've heard some of the pros call Sea Gate Restoration the best member of the cycle, while others are calling it the worst. I'm more in the former camp—the decks that most want Sea Gate Restoration will be able to draw three to four cards off this most of the time, which is going to be better than a couple of angels or some direct damage. Blue is also the color that can best take advantage of this cycle, and I expect this card to be played across all formats. I really like it.
As with Emeria's Call, however, Sea Gate Restoration has been slowly trending downward since it was first previewed a few days ago. While I expect this trend to reverse at some point, I don't want to ignore that chart, nor do I want to ignore all the underlying issues that I talked about in the intro section. My current plan is to monitor these cards closely, and buy in if I start to see any upward movement. They're incredibly good, and they've got a ton of long-term potential, but it's quite possible that this card bottoms out at $3-$4 before any of that potential is revealed.
Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt
Agadeem's Awakening is also great. All the cards in this cycle are great. Early game, it's a land. Late game, it'll get you back a couple of creatures. Unlike Sea Gate Restoration, which is perfect for big mana control decks, Agadeem's Awakening shines best in black-based aggro or tempo strategies; play it land-side in the early game to curve out, or play it spell-side in the late game to refill your board. As with the other members of this cycle, I'm buying in as soon as I see the price chart level out or start to tick back up.
Another five-star member of the mythic modal land cycle. Shatterskull Smashing is going to be all over the place going forward, and I can't imagine running a burn deck in any format where I'm not swapping out several of my basic Mountains for a copy of this card. My financial advice about this card is the same as the others since Shatterskull Smashing is currently trending downward as well, but I just want to be crystal clear: this card is a multi-format all-star. Treat it as such, and don't sleep on it.
Well, we're five-for-five in terms of me loving the cards in this cycle. While Shatterskull Smashing might be the most competitively ubiquitous mythic modal land, Turntimber Symbiosis should be the most popular for Commander players. In that format, paying 3 life to play a land is almost irrelevant, while getting to dig through seven cards and play a creature for free is unbelievable. Turntimber Symbiosis will see some competitive play too, but casual demand will put this one over the top. As with the others, buy in ASAP once they bottom out. I don't want to leave 2020 without four copies of each member of this cycle.
What a unique card. Angel of Destiny is incredibly niche, but "life gain matters" is a beloved theme, and a lot of people play it whenever it's viable in Standard—especially the kitchen table and more casual FNM contingent. This is one of those cards that could shoot right up to $15 if Mono-White Life Gain ends up being the breakout deck of the week-one metagame.
That's an unlikely outcome, though, and Angel of Destiny is probably going to end up being a narrow Commander card and not much else. I expect it to kick around the $5 range for a while, though it could end up at $10-$15 in a few years if it becomes a beloved win condition in Commander. Regardless, I'm probably not ordering Angel of Destiny right away.
Ashaya, Soul of the Wild is better than it looks. I'm not a fan of arbitrarily large green monsters in general, nor am I really a fan of giant win-more ramp cards outside of Commander, but Ashaya, Soul of the Wild reminds me a little of Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Nissa, Who Shakes the World was great because it was kind of like a three-drop masquerading as a five-drop—whenever you cast it, you could use that additional (usually) two mana to do something else on your turn. Since Ashaya lets all of your other creatures tap for green mana, you can drop the Elemental on five and then tap your board down to keep casting your spells. Oh—and any additional creatures you cast will trigger landfall, which seems kind of relevant.
Will this be good enough? Probably not right now. The best ramp decks in Standard are creature-light and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath-heavy, so it's unlikely that Ashaya, Soul of the Wild will find an immediate home in the post-rotation metagame. Don't sleep on this card, though—if ramp moves in a more creature-heavy direction at some point, Ashaya could be key. I'm out at current retail, but this card is making my "wait a month" shopping list for sure.
I'm not a fan of Drana, the Last Bloodchief. Its flavor is cool, but at the end of the day we're talking about a 4/4 flier for five with no protection, no haste, and no enters-the-battlefield trigger. It's nice that Drana, the Last Bloodchief triggers on attack instead of when it deals combat damage, but the fact that your opponent chooses the creature that comes back means that you can't really build around Drana in any meaningful way, even in Commander. Future bulk mythic.
Sea Gate Stormcaller is quite good, and should see play across all formats. The obvious comparison here is Snapcaster Mage, which is still going to be better in most control builds, but Sea Gate Stormcaller is kind of like a more proactive version of the card—if you've got a deck with a lot of cheap removal or disruption, like Lightning Bolt or Duress, Sea Gate Stormcaller is a heck of an early value engine with a little bit of added late game utility thanks to that kicker cost. The fact that you can blink Sea Gate Stormcaller to rebuy the ability is quite nice, too.
Sea Gate Stormcaller has some real financial potential, especially at mythic, and this is one of the few cards in the set that legitimately could end up being a stable $20+ card for years to come. While no $10+ card in this set is safe from risk, and it's quite possible that Sea Gate Stormcaller is a $4 card by the holidays, I'd rather gamble on a multi-format two-drop blue mythic than on almost anything else. I'm probably not going to personally order a set, but if you're less risk-averse than I am and you also like the card, this is a solid pickup.
As with most of these party-mechanic cards, I'm going to assume that having a full party is basically never going to happen. Even if you manage to assemble the Avengers, it's very easy for your opponent to immediately disrupt your plans. It's going to be a win-more the majority of the time.
But a 2/2 for W? That's a Standard-playable card. It doesn't take much for a one-drop to make waves, and a good power/toughness ratio with scaling upside in the midgame ought to do it. As long as you can reasonably expect to play a Rogue, Warrior or Wizard on turn two when you curve out, Archpriest of Iona will see play. There's an outside shot that this card peaks in the $5-$6 range, but more realistically it's a bulk rare with $2-$3 upside. Grab a set now if you want to play with them, but there isn't much upside for speculation purposes.
Confounding Conundrum is a solid piece of hate. Ramp has been the scourge of all formats over the past few years, and the fact that this enchantment draws you a card when you play it means that it should be a playable sideboard card in multiple competitive formats, including Standard, Historic and Pioneer. It's also a pretty great way to slow down fetch-centric manabases in Modern and Legacy.
Confounding Conundrum should see some play in Commander, but the fact that it simply bounces the lands instead of preventing the search means that most casual players will eschew it, focusing instead on hate that provides more raw card advantage. It should see enough competitive play to maintain a price tag in the $2 range, and it might be a sneaky good long-term buy, but I don't see a ton of short-term upside here.
I can't fully dismiss a tutor, especially since Coveted Prize has a better rate than Diabolic Tutor if you've got at least half a party on the table, but I still think the full party dream is mostly going to be a Limited and kitchen table casual goal. Like most tutors, Coveted Prize will be a format staple if there's a two-card quick kill combo or five-color toolbox deck in Standard, and not if there isn't. Best case, this is a $4-$5 card. More likely, it'll be a bulk rare.
Is Legion Angel the reason to run Coveted Prize? Perhaps. I'm pretty sure the best way to play this card is a 1/3 split between your maindeck and sideboard, allowing you to essentially have an upgraded Squadron Hawk or Growth-Chamber Guardian in the mid to late game.
Does a control deck want to burn three sideboard slots in the hopes that they'll draw their singleton Legion Angel, especially in a Standard environment where a 4/3 flier doesn't do all that much? Honestly, I think the answer is yes. These types of cards are much better than they look on paper, and I expect Legion Angel will find a way to make its presence known in the new metagame—if not now, then at some point in the next year or two. There's solid $5-$6 upside here, which is pretty good for a card that you can currently pick up for about a buck.
Maul of the Skyclaves would be Limited fodder without the auto-equip clause, but instead I think we're looking at a pretty solid second or third-tier Standard staple. It's no Embercleave, but it's exactly the sort of card that aggressive white decks want, and it plays super well with the new Nahiri planeswalker. I expect it to be at least a three-of in whatever Nahiri deck ends up developing, and it could kick around the $1-$3 range for a while.
Oh lord, as a long-time Magic player, Nighthawk Scavenger is catnip to me. It's Vampire Nighthawk by way of Tarmogoyf! How could a card like this not be good?
Well, if Nighthawk Scavenger had been released in 2011, it would instantly be one of the two to three most powerful cards in the set. These days? We'll see. It's not very good against Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, and it wouldn't have done a lot against most of the top decks from the past few iterations of Standard, but I still suspect it'll end up being a four-of in at least one top-tier Standard deck. It could stick around the $5 range for a while, but it likely lacks the multi-format upside to go any higher.
Fiend Hunter variants tend to see play more often than not, and Skyclave Apparition is a pretty good one. The fact that the owner of the exiled permanent only gets a token if they kill the Skyclave Apparition instead of getting their permanent back is what really pushes this card over the top, and I wouldn't be shocked if it sees occasional play in multiple Eternal formats as well as in Standard. I know white hasn't been good recently, but that should hopefully change with this set—white really is getting a nice suite of cards this time around.
Finance-wise, this is one of the better buys in the set right now. I don't really see a world where Skyclave Apparition doesn't end up seeing some amount of competitive play over the next few years, and it's going to be an auto-include in any white-based tempo deck. There's legitimate $7-$10 upside here, though probably not until after the pandemic ends—that's some nice potential for a card that looks like it might settle in the sub-$1 range over the short-term.
Swarm Shambler is a pretty solid one-drop that should see some competitive play. Much like Archpriest of Iona, I feel like the bar is kind of low for one-drop creatures, and this card should play quite well with other solid Standard role-players like Stonecoil Serpent. We're going to need a replacement for Pelt Collector eventually, and this is about the best we can hope for. If you can snag these for a buck or less, I'd grab a set. There's solid $3-$5 potential here, which is really nice for a card that's currently selling for $0.50.
There's a chance that a good competitive deck will emerge that has a critical mass of kicker spells, which would give Coralhelm Chronicler $2-$3 upside. I doubt it, though. This card has kitchen table bulk rare written all over it.
Crawling Barrens is excellent, and it gets better the more time you spend looking at it. The "may" clause is really important, since you can just keep adding counters to it while avoiding opening yourself up to creature removal, and the fact that you can tap the Crawling Barrens to help pay for the cost of adding a counter is a nice bonus, too. My guess is that Crawling Barrens is going to be slightly better than Mutavault most of the time, and slightly worse (albeit more flexible) than Raging Ravine. That means that it should see quite a bit of Standard play as well as a little play in Pioneer, Historic and Modern. A solid buy at $1 with some decent long-term potential.
I really like Kaza, Roil Chaser. Goblin Electromancer has proven itself to be a Standard-playable card, and it isn't hard to turn Kaza, Roil Chaser into an Goblin Electromancer with upside. Its ability is admittedly clunky, but don't sleep on mana acceleration—especially in a color combination that rarely gets any. I've been seeing this pre-selling for less than $1, and there's $5 upside here, especially since I think it'll catch on in Commander as well.
Relic Robber seems like a trap to me. Sure, there's the dream of connecting with this for a turn or two before a control deck can get their defenses down, but more often than not you're drawing into a 2/2 for 3 that's never going to actually connect. There's sideboard potential here if the metagame breaks toward, like, slow, wrathless control decks that need to be stopped, but I'm guessing this one remains a bulk rare.
Roiling Vortex seems to be attempting to solve either a problem that no longer exists (Fires of Invention) or a problem that never existed to begin with (Bolas's Citadel). The life loss isn't a fast clock the way it is on Sulfuric Vortex, and it doesn't cantrip like Confounding Conundrum, so I don't expect Roiling Vortex to see nearly as much incidental play. My guess is that this will end up in the bulk bin, with the potential to hit $3-$4 if it ever provides a much-needed answer to some future problem.
Soul Shatter's lack of flexibility is going to create frustrating situations for the caster more often than you'd think, but Crackling Doom saw play despite costing WBR, and Soul Shatter should get a few days in the sun as well. The fact that this is an instant makes it better than it looks, and any card that can take out either a Dream Trawler or an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon needs to be seriously considered. There's $5 upside here, though $2-$3 seems more likely to me. Either way, this should be readily available for bulk rare prices pretty soon, and it's not a bad pickup.
You probably aren't playing this card without any Clerics in your deck, but the upside is pretty high if you've got enough of those. With rumors of Shadowborn Apostle also being in this set, I can definitely see the appeal of Taborax, Hope's Demise. This card is likely a future bulk rare, but I'll be keeping a pretty close eye on it regardless. If its card draw engine proves easy enough to turn on, I could see it ending up as a $3-$4 role-player.
I'm bearish on decks that rely on assembling a full adventuring party in competitive Constructed, but I still like Tajuru Paragon. It's a 3/2 for 1G, which is solid value, and the fact that you can kick this for value at 4G gives it the sort of flexibility that I'm always looking for in my early-drop creatures. It remains to be seen whether or not it's possible to build a midrange creature deck with a critical mass of Elves, Rogues, Wizards, Clerics and/or Warriors to fetch, but it's possible that Tajuru Paragon will see play regardless. Looks like a $1-$2 card to me.
My guess is that all of these modal lands will be somewhat underrated at release. If you can plausibly stick a spell in your deck by swapping out one of the land slots, you're going to give yourself a level of versatility that your opponent simply doesn't possess.
That said, I think Valakut Awakening is good but not great. The awakening side is slightly better than "draw a card," while the land side comes into play tapped—a bigger drawback than you'd think in red. I'm probably not running more than two of these in my aggressive red decks, and maybe not even that. It's more of a midrange card, and that's not the best place to be in red. This cycle might hold a little extra long-term value due to its uniqueness, but I'd be hard pressed to see this one worth more than $2-$3 a month from now.
Archon of Emeria is pretty good, as far as hate-bear style cards go. Both abilities are reasonably strong, and this is a pretty solid way to buy time against ramp decks in older formats. I'd probably like the Archon of Emeria more if it was one mana cheaper and slightly less powerful, since three-drop hate bear cards are a lot harder to find room for than two-drops, but this should still see occasional play in Pioneer, Historic and probably Modern as well. Its price tag is currently trending down toward $1, and that's where I'd look to buy my set.
Inscription of Ruin
I don't want to underrate versatile cards, which is a trap that a lot of newer players and evaluators fall into, but I don't think Inscription of Ruin is going to get there. It's significantly worse than Kolaghan's Command in any format where that card is available, especially since Inscription of Ruin is a sorcery and you're only going to be kicking this about 10% of the time. None of these modes are going to do all that much in the late game, either. This card definitely has the look of a future format staple, but my guess is that it's a future bulk rare instead.
Magmatic Channeler is terrific. It's not as good as a red Merfolk Looter in control decks, but it might be better in a tempo-oriented deck—especially since this thing can attack as a 4/4 as soon as you've dumped a critical mass of spells into your graveyard. The thing I like best is that it's rarely going to be a dead draw, either providing you with a relevant body or card selection depending on your situation. I can easily see Magmatic Channeler sticking around the $2-$3 range, with a chance for more.
Kargan Intimidator is a solid two-drop for aggressive red decks. A 3/1 for 1R that can turn into a 4/2 pretty easily is solid, and in the late gate you can use this as a versatile mana sink. Cards like this are rarely worth more than a couple of bucks, and this card's not going to see any play outside of Standard, but it's a decent bulk rare to snag if you plan to play aggressive red decks. At less than 50 cents, there's not much downside here.
Cragplate Baloth is a seven-drop creature with kicker. That's not a Constructed-playable card, especially in a format where you can play modal lands that have seven-drop spells on the other side. Bulk rare.
Valakut Exploration is a nice little engine card in the vein of Experimental Frenzy. Even though Experimental Frenzy is a bulk rare right now, it was a $3-$5 card for most of its first year of legality, and it saw quite a bit of play. If Valakut Exploration is going to match that card's trajectory, you're betting on the development of some sort of Gruul Ponza-style deck that wants to get a couple of these into play at once in order to maximize those damage pings.
Financially there isn't much upside regardless—Valakut Exploration is still close to $2, and I can't see it spending much time above $4-$5, even if everything breaks right. But this is a solid card with decent engine potential, so feel free to grab a personal set if you want to mess around with it.
Luminarch Aspirant is a really solid aggro card. Worst case, it attacks as a 3/3 the turn after you play it. Best case, you can place the counters in the most useful places possible and really do some damage. It's hard to recommend this card since Standard has been hostile to this type of strategy for a while now, but with the format being powered down some, I think it has a real shot. It's also one of the few cards in the set that seems to be trending upward right now, which tells me that folks are willing to pay the current retail price of $3. I don't think there's a ton of upside—cards like this rarely spend time above $5-$6—but I can see it kicking around the $3 range for a while, with the potential for a few spikes to $5+.
The most interesting chart of the week belongs to Edgewalker, an uncommon from way back in Scourge that hasn't ever sold for more than about a buck. The card was sort of a weird, nominal part of the uncommon tribal lord cycle that gave us Dragonspeaker Shaman and Goblin Warchief, and it's a must-play in any Orzhov-based Cleric deck in Commander. You can even cast Cleric of Life's Blood or any number of Shadowborn Apostle without paying their mana costs as long as you've got an Edgewalker in play.
Was this a speculator-driven buyout? Absolutely. The average quantity of Edgewalker purchased per buyer on 8/31 was 7.3, which likely means there were at least a few orders of 20+ copies. This spike's going to stick around for a while, though, and anyone who bought in early got rewarded quite handsomely. The average number of copies per buyer after the spike was between 1 and 2, and sales have still been steady between $5-$6. That means that Commander players are willing to pay $5+ for this card, which has only been printed once. If you've got these kicking around your collection, pull them out of your bulk and list them while they're hot.
Another card that's spiking a bit thanks to Zendikar Rising? Outlaws' Merriment. This card generates Warriors, Clerics and Rogues, which means that you can use it to assemble a full party quicker than almost any other single spell in Standard right now. Here's the current price chart:
Those are buyout spikes, much like with Edgewalker, though the price doesn't seem to be holding quite as well. It's harder to get a card from Throne of Eldraine to spike than a card from Scourge, simply due to the far greater overall supply. I doubt this mythic drops all the way back down to $1, but it's unlikely to remain above $2 for long unless it starts seeing some serious competitive play.