Zendikar Rising Early Card Review

Petr Sochurek

Petr Sochurek

Introduction

Hello world! It’s the spoiler season again which is one of the most exciting times in Magic for many -myself included. We are back to Zendikar – the home of Eldrazi (or not?) and land-interacting mechanics.

Emrakul, the Aeons TornGideon, Ally of Zendikar

I often hear people complaining about the fact that Wizards are running out of ideas for new worlds which is why they tend to revisit the known ones more and more often but I actually very much like that approach – I think it’s awesome for Magic to create an existing lore to which people can return and continue with adventures and stories they are familiar with. Obviously you want to explore new places as well but I personally enjoy coming back to sets like Ravnica or Zendikar more.

Note for the article

Kabira Outrider

As I am writing this the full spoiler isn’t out yet so it’s hard for me to evaluate the strength of some of the cards because their power will largely depend on if enough other cards that interact favorably with what is out already get printed (talking mainly about the party mechanic here – some of the party cards can end up being extremely good, but I just don’t have enough info as of know to make an assessment on that)

So I am going to focus more on cards that are more broad and can potentially fit already existing archetypes and/or are just good cards in general for constructed play.

Card Review

White

《Angel of Destiny》

Angel of Destiny

《Angel of Destiny》 is a very interesting card. I don’t honestly think that it will end up seeing that much play on the competitive level, but the card is unique and interesting enough that I decided to write about it.

What it basically does is that it makes your creatures don’t do any damage and you gain life meaning that if the right conditions are met you can win with the angel on the following turn. That on its own doesn’t look very appealing but one of the recent sets presented many cards that reward you for gaining life which is a potential strategy where Angel could shine – namely 《Heliod, Sun-Crowned》.

《Archpriest of Iona》

Archpriest of Iona

Now, I know I’ve said that I will shy away from the party cards a little but I think that this specific one is so obviously good that I have enough confidence to include it anyway – it doesn’t seem very hard to turn this guy into a 1mana 2-power creature with (significant) upside and if there is a small white creature deck in standard it will almost certainly play this guy.

The party mechanic is something fresh that we haven’t really seen before and I am excited to see how much it will influence some of the deckbuilding options the players will have to make when optimizing their deck.

《Emeria’s Call / Emeria, Shattered Skyclave》

Emeria's CallEmeria, Shattered Skyclave

Paying 7 mana for this effect would obviously be too much for any deck, but the fact that this card can function as a slightly-worse 《Plains》 in the early-game turns this into a powerhouse.

I would be surprised if we didn’t see the Call even in older formats like Pioneer or Historic as it gives any kind of a slower deck a huge lategame boost – you can just play it over a land in your deck (it IS a 《Plains》 functionally afterall) but when you topdeck it in the lategame it turns into a powerfull game-swinging card.

Another nice thing about it is that creatureless control decks often have to play some suboptimal cards to have a win-condition in case the opponent doesn’t concede when the game is locked up and Call solves that problem easily.

《Maul of the Skyclaves》

Maul of the Skyclaves

This card seems like a sleeper that no one really talks about to me: +2/+2 flying is no joke in an aggro deck and it solves one of the problems the small creature decks often have once opponent stabilizes – it turns your small meaningless guys into an actual threats which is especially relevant with token makers like 《Castle Ardenvale》 for instance.

Equipments tend to have diminishing returns though so I don’t expect to see this card getting played in full 4 copies but it’s most definitely something to keep an eye on.

Blue

《Anticognition》

Anticognition

It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a 2-mana permission spell this good. I would even go as far as saying that it’s better than 《Essence Scatter》. The issue with Scatter is that it can be a dead card in a certain matchups but the decks not playing creatures usually tend to play walkers which makes this card almost always active.

It’s still quite conditional so it will probably show up as a 2-off, but it does seem very good to me – the fact that they can pay is usually relevant mostly in the early game and later this card turn into a pseudo-card advantage.

One big hit that can maybe make this card not quite as potent is the fact that 《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》 can get around that easily by exiling the graveyard when casting it… Oh 《Uro》… why did they print that card again??

《Confounding Conundrum》

Confounding Conundrum

I’ve seen some guys on Twitter excited about this new blue „hate-bearish“ card that will finally bring an end to the 《Uro》 menace but I just don’t really see that happening.

You have to spend 2 mana just to get a replacement effect and the hosing part is only „maybe“ good against a dedicated ramp deck, but definitely not 《Uro》 – the fact that they don’t get to put a land into a play isn’t that big of a deal and the 《Uro》 decks often play like 3 《Uro》s and that’s it, so you are filling your deck with a low-impact cards not to mention that bouncing their land might be even to their advantage with stuff like Landfall etc.

《Field Research》

Field Research

I know that we are probably past the times when 《Divination》 was a playable standard card but if there ever is a format in which the good old tapout strategy of drawing extra cards and dealing with presented threats, this can be a perfect card. I personally have a sweet spot in my heart for strategies like that so I have my fingers crossed.

《Jace, Mirror Mage》

Jace, Mirror Mage

The new walkers are always extremely hard to evaluate – planeswalkers are probably the most unique card-type in Magic with so many factors (all the abilities + loyalty count) and some that I thought would be great turned into garbage and vice-versa and the new Jace is no different.

I am leaning towards it being very good as it’s cheap, provides an immediate value, has a high loyalty + the kicker looks kinda bonkers though it will obviously depend on how the format turns out.

Black

《Acquisitions Expert》

Acquisitions Expert

On the first glance this looks like a strictly better 《Rat》 because of the extra toughness but keep in mind that if they kill it with the trigger on the stack it won’t actually make them discard anything.

On the other hand the upside of choosing a card is huge and I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy turned out to be a stable we see on the Magic tables.

《Bloodchief’s Thirst》

Bloodchief's Thirst

Don’t think that this card needs a huge explanation – just a premium removal spell.

It’s only downside is that it’s not an instant but the combination of an early interaction + the ability to kill something huge/walker later in the game makes this an auto-include in all black decks.

《Demon’s Disciple》

Demon's Disciple

This is a new spin on a 《Plaguecrafter》-type card. It is clearly strictly worse than 《Plaguecrafter》 but the relevant parts of it remains the same and you have to take circumstances into an account.

Whether a card like this ends up being good largely depends on the decks in the metagame and if there are enough good sacrifice outlets. As for the outlets we have infinite now (small black creatures, 《Woe Strider》 etc…) so it’s mostly about the metagame but if we see bunch of Sultai/Bant-like looking midrange decks with big guys/walkers on the top-end, this guy might turn out to be a pretty good weapon to fight those without having to full your deck up with removal spells that don’t really cooperate with what is your synergistic deck trying to do.

《Feed the Swarm》

Feed the Swarm

It doesn’t happen often that black gets an access to a card that can deal with enchantments so directly, so even though the creature-removal part of the card isn’t that good, this is certainly a card that many players will go to during the history of magic especially in formats like EDH etc.

《Pelakka Predation / Pelakka Caverns》

Pelakka PredationPelakka Caverns

The effect is obviously very expensive but playing a couple tap lands isn’t a big deal for some decks and the upside can be quite huge so I expect to see this card getting played quite a bit even in older formats.

《Soul Shatter》

Soul Shatter

Cards like this always end up being WAY better than I expected them to be so I am not going to make the same mistake again that I did with 《Crackling Doom》 and just assume that this will be very good.

The thing about edict effects like this is that it usually kills the guy you want to kill anyway but it can kill threats that a regular removal spell wouldn’t be able to deal with which makes 《Soul Shatter》 a great card.

《Taborax, Hope’s Demise》

Taborax, Hope's Demise

This is once again a card that is hard to evaluate because.. well because it depends on whether there are enough good cards to go with it, but if there are I can see Taborax turn into a powerhouse – cards that are threatening on its own and also provide card advantage usually tend to end up being great so I guess we will have to wait and see…

Red

《Cleansing Wildfire》

Cleansing Wildfire

《Cleansing Wildfire》 is a very interesting card and likely something that we will see in sideaboards if 《Field of the Dead》 keeps on ruining all the formats that it’s legal in – we’ve seen similar effects in the past that actually kill the land for good but for more mana, but when it comes to killing utility lands 《Cleansing Wildfire》 might end up being better option as it’s cheaper.

《Roiling Vortex》

Roiling Vortex

If I’ve ever seen a card that screams: BURN SIDEBOARD!! it gotta be this one – the application of it would obviously mainly be in Legacy/Vintage where it competes with different powerfull options like 《Pyrostatic Pillar》 BUT it functions as both an answer to a problematic gain-life cards as well as a weapon that slowly pinks and punishes sneaky combo players for cheating on mana with 《Lion’s Eye Diamond》s, 《Lotus Petal》s etc. So I can definitely see it getting played.

《Valakut Awakening / Valakut Stoneforge》

Valakut AwakeningValakut Stoneforge

This card seems extraordinary good to me – we’ve seen how powerfull this effect can be when added on already a good card in 《Collective Defiance》 – the fact that you can play it over a 《Mountain》 in your deck and just refill your hand when needed seems ridiculous to me and I expect this card to be a huge player.

Green

《Bala Ged Recovery / Bala Ged Sanctuary》

Bala Ged RecoveryBala Ged Sanctuary

The green option from this cycle doesn’t disappoint as well and it will probably see some play, though it’s likely not as good as the previous ones.

《Lotus Cobra》

Lotus Cobra

Probably the most talked-about card and most likely rightfully so; I played during the old days of Cobra and remember it being completely busted especially when combined with cards that provide multiple Landfall triggers (hello there my friend 《Uro》) – Cobra can provide mana immediately making it essentially free, can lead to huge turns and you don’t even have to tap it to do all that!

Green is my second favorite color (after red(lol)) but I am starting to get a little irritated by its dominance in Standard in the past years and wouldn’t mind if a different color rises to the top – unfortunately it looks like it won’t be anytime soon…

《Roiling Regrowth》

Roiling Regrowth

Roiling Regrowth is way worse than Harrow was back in the day but if there is a deck that cares about landfall and ramping at the same time, this is the perfect card for that!

《Swarm Shambler》

Swarm Shambler

This guy takes quite some time to get going but there is a shortage of good cheap green creatures recently and this one definitely delivers – they eventually have to kill it which means that sooner or later you are getting value from it, not to mention that it works well with the other cards that the current Mono-Green aggro deck plays.

《Tajuru Paragon》

Tajuru Paragon

I have to be honest here – I actually don’t know for sure whether this guy works as a party on its own or if it’s just one of them but either way – if there is a green deck that cares about partying (we could get along, I love to party) it will definitely play this – the stats are reasonable for a 2 drop while providing some utility and it turns into a strong card advantage card later.

《Vastwood Surge》

Vastwood Surge

WOW! We’ve seen cards like this being played in the past even without the Kicker bonus on it and what an upside it is! The problem with usual ramp cards is that they turn into blanks later in the game but this card works as both a ramp and a finisher when combined with something like 《Avenger of Zendikar》 etc. – expect it to be quite a player.

Multicolor

《Brushfire Elemental》

Brushfire Elemental

The disadvantage of this guy is that you usually don’t want to play that many lands in your aggro decks, but the upside of hitting for a huge chunk of damage out of nowhere is certainly there so I can maybe see it being pretty good – 《Plated Geopede》 used to see play and this is significantly better.

《Cleric of Life’s Bond》

Cleric of Life's Bond

《Ajani’s Pridemate》 was always a role-player and if your mana requirements are met this is clearly an upside to that card so I can see it being pretty good.

《Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate》

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate

What I like about Linvala is that even without the party part (which can be quite good) it can prove to be very solid on its own – it’s basically a 《Selfless Spirit》 on steroids and if there is an U/W creature deck anywhere it will definitely be interested in this new option.

《Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients》

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

Nahiri looks quite weak to me on the first glance but I don’t want to underestimate her – 《Elspeth, Knight-Errant》 also „only“ made 1/1s for +1 and ended up being super powerful so there is a chance I am wrong about Nahiri as well. Her strength will clearly depend on the equipments available but if there are good options Nahiri can end up being very potent!

《Nissa of Shadowed Boughs》

Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

Nissa seems more like a small reanimate spell that leaves something behind rather than an actual walker that provides value like we are used to – What’s unfortunate about her is that the 3/3 it creates can’t actually block attackers so I guess it works as a split card of a reanimate/hasty attacker in some weird B/G midrange aggro deck? Really not sure how to evaluate her power and I am super curious to find out.

《Omnath, Locus of Creation》

Omnath, Locus of Creation

I looooove cards like this, OMG I love them so much. Many colors, cheap, provide an insane value when things workout. Ondrej always says that I am crazy and I have to play an extra color so that I can win and he is right – even in Limited I tend to take duals and other fixing super highly and then just play all the best cards. Unfortunately, I also like to win but if there is a 1 card I hope will end up being good then it’s this one!

《Zareth San, the Trickster》

Zareth San, the Trickster

Am I missing something or does this card have Ninjutsu but… without Ninjutsu actually written on it? It probably has something to do with the flavor; I actually don’t really care 😀

But let’s take a look at the power of this card. The expensive Ninjutsu cards usually end up being worse than you would think – the reason is that with cheap Ninjutsu cards you can build your deck solely around them but it doesn’t really work like that with the more expensive ones – your opponent has more time to set up to blow you out or you might not have enough lands and you are stuck with weak enablers in play, etc.

What is different about this guy though is the fact that it’s also a threatening flash creature on its own so there might be hope for this guy but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Lands

Modal Double Faced Lands

Riverglide PathwayRiverglide Pathway

The new lands cycle is amazing and is something I would have never thought of myself. They will mostly shine in 2 color aggro decks as they allow you to play a one drop of both colors on turn 1 but besides that, it’s kinda hard for me to evaluate how good these lands actually are – probably not VERY good – after all they provide only 1 type of mana throughout the game but I like that it’s a land that gives the players additional decision point which is what the game is all about.

《Crawling Barrens》

Crawling Barrens

I think that the power level of this manland is very similar to 《Mobilized District》 we had available in Standard which means that we will propably see it show up every now and then in 1-2 copies but nothing to write home about.

Conclusion

Alright! This is the end of my review of (cards so far spoiled as I was writing this article) the new Zendikar set. I am sure I was wrong about many of my choices but that is what makes Magic such an awesome game – you just never stop learning! If you liked the article you can consider giving me a follow at PetrKikac on Instagram/Twitter.

Thank you for reading,

Petr Sochůrek (Twitter / Twitch)

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Petr Sochurek

Petr Sochurek His prowess in reading the meta and taking advantage of it with flawless plays is among the reasons he is considered to be one of top European players right now. Having played Grixis Control to a magnificent victory at GP Paris 2016. He is most assuredly one of the top players to keep an eye on right now! Read more articles by Petr Sochurek

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