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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Apr 01 2016 11:00am
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

> summary <

 Battle for Zendikar came out last Fall, and since then its follow-up set Oath of the Gatewatch has come and gone already, as we approach the Shadows over Innistrad release, all of which makes this evaluation really not timely. I apologize, real life got in between and all that. But it would be a shame not to examine what those two neo-Zendikari sets brought to the world of MTG creatures. Because they, indeed, brought a lot, considering the ratio of new creatures/new cards for BFZ amounts to over 56%. In particular, for the first time in the almost 4 years since I started doing these articles (i.e. since Magic 2013), a tribe other than Human got the most new additions; in fact, there's an unbelievable three tribes beating Humans at their own growing game: Eldrazi, Ally, and Drone. And if that's not particularly surprising, given the strong Eldrazi vs. Anti-Eldrazi Alliance theme of the set, the numbers are also record-setting: 51 new Eldrazi means the tribe gets close to a +350% boost, which is, I believe, unprecedented for tribes with more than 10 members to begin with.
 This said, let's have a tardive look at what all this meant for the new BFZ creatures. As always, the focus is on the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, but you'll find a hypertextual list at the end. Due to the fact that I'm writing this when the set's MVPs have been largely established, my main concern here will just be to register the arrivals for posterity.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 254 (+20 duplicated basic lands and 25 full art basic lands)
  • New cards: 232
  • New creatures: 131
  • Reprinted cards: 22
  • Reprinted creatures: 5 (Dragonmaster Outcast, Felidar Sovereign, Giant Mantis, Pilgrim's Eye, Territorial Baloth)
  • Creature types affected: 40
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Eldrazi (+51), Ally (+37), Drone (+24), Human (+16), Processor (+11), Kor (+9), Vampire (+9), Warrior (+9), Elemental (+8), Elf (+7), Scout (+7), Shaman (+6)

Ally: +37

   

   

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 New Tribal Total: 67

 Related Tribes: AngelAssassin, Cleric, Druid, Elf, Giant, Goblin, Human, Knight, Kor, Merfolk, Minotaur, Rogue, Scout, Shaman, Soldier, Vampire, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: The second biggest tribe in this new trip to an Eldrazi-ridden Zendikar is none other than Eldrazi's main enemy: the Alliance of the Willing, or whatever they call themselves those who say "no!" to the migratory flux from the Blind Eternities. While more than doubling its ranks, though, Ally has lost the all-encompassing "one tribe, one mechanic" aspect that had characterized it in the previous block; it's now rather used as kind of a supertype, tying together the various ethnic facets of the Eldrazi opposition.

 Some, like Hero of Goma Fada, maintain the old linear shtick where all Allies are rewarded whenever another one of them joins the battlefield; while others, like Angelic Captain, update the mechanic making it more of a static ability that just counts the number of Allies on the board. A different group of neo-Allies care for creatures in general, not other Allies specifically: for instance, Drana, Liberator of Malakir feels like she could've easily been a non-Ally, but she certainly works alongside Allies as well; similarly, Veteran Warleader remembers he's an Ally only in the second part of his text. Finally, there are those who just happen to have the Ally type attached, like Beastcaller Savant and Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper (the latter doesn't even seem a good fit in a creature-based deck).

 So, what's good, then? Well, most the mentioned ones aren't bad, particularly Drana, who's a fast flyer a la Mirri the Cursed (they attack in the same turn), packing the same genre of universal pumping as Archangel of Thune (minus the combo, of course). Plus it's nice to see a vampire heroine, isn't it? Fighting to free her land from Eldrazi tyranny and for her rights to suck people's blood?

 This said, Ally decks appreciated the redundancy provided by Lantern Scout over Talus Paladin, while Munda, Ambush Leader is well-meaning, but just outclassed in a world where Collected Company exists.


Angel: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 118 (online: 117)

 Related Tribes: Ally

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: None of these three new Angels is really, explosively good, but none is really, outrageously bad, either. Of course, 6 mana for a 4/4 flyer and a variable amount of life is not going to fly (pun intended), even if the potential lifegain is situationally very high in the right (Commander) deck. The Ally captain is too specialized to be bothered, and belongs to a non-Angel deck that doesn't even want it that much.

 Emeria Shepherd is honestly interesting, though. It appears overpriced for a low body and an effect that most likely won't be activated right away (although, it could). Still, considering that all the lands in its deck will be Plains, what we're left with is essentially a reworked Reya Dawnbringer for 2 mana less: granted, you can't consistently raise the dead turn after turn, barring some land-blinking or land-bouncing shenanigan; but you aren't limited to creature cards, which is huge. It doesn't seem as combo-prone as Angel of Glory's Rise, but it's more flexible, more of something the opponent has to deal with in order not to lose the game. Plus, it might be used as the first target of a reanimation spell following a massive graveyard dump, right? No? Maybe.


Assassin: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 44 (online: 41)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Bat: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 16 (online: 14)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: None


Beast: +5

  

 

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 New Tribal Total: 329 (online: 324)

 Related Tribes: Cat

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Beasts are used here as mere examples of the returning landfall mechanic, but mostly at common, so, eh. Snapping Gnarlid and Makindi Sliderunner do illustrate pretty effectively the differences between the "Bear" archetype in green and in red. And I guess now the Beast and Cat tribes got their own Kami of Ancient Law/Ronom Unicorn/Keening Apparition, which is always useful. And I saw worse 7-mana dorks than Plated Crusher. Hexproof on a trampler is cute enough.


Cat: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 134 (online: 129)

 Related Tribes: Beast

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: We already told about Felidar Cub's Spirit impression. Scythe Leopard is a wannabe Steppe Lynx. Not nearly explosive enough, but hey, it's still a 1-drop, and can deal damage even when the lands don't fall.


Cleric: +4

   

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 New Tribal Total: 292 (online: 270)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Kor, Human, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Clerics play around with life, as they should. None of these do that in a totally satisfying way, but they're also just commons and uncommons. Serene Steward isn't actually that bad in a Soul Sisters kind of build, with that kind of cross between bolster and extort. And Drana's Emissary can fit a Commander deck with a life manipulation theme. Plus, that's some gorgeous art by Karl Kopinski.


Dragon: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 156

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: This guy would be good if other 6-mana Dragons didn't exist.


Drone: +24

   

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 New Tribal Total: 40

 Related Tribes: Eldrazi

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: The Drone subset of Eldrazi is responsible for almost half of the total Eldrazi boost, but they're very different animals from both their big brothers and their rich cousins, the Processors. Whereas in the old Zendikar block the Drones had some very playable, highly cost-effective colored creatures, these dudes are here mostly to represent the fact that now Eldrazi of any kind can require colored mana but they're still colorless; that the 0/1 Spawn tokens have been replaced by 1/1 Scions; and that annihilator is now aimed at the libraries. Even the Drone rares from BFZ sport some awkwardly overcosted abilities.


Druid: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 132 (online: 128)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: You would think Druids had more of a role in a plane where the land is alive. I guess not: even in the old Zendikar block there weren't that many of them, just six across the three sets; they were better, though, it has to be said. Here, these Plant-growing guys are at most cute.


Eldrazi: +51

  

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 66

 Related Tribes: Drone, Processor

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: Look, I won't start pontificating on the Eldrazi from this set (or the next, for that matter). I'm way too late for that, and there have been tons and tons of articles about them, as they've been the harbingers of an archetype dominating Modern in the past few months and calling for emergency bans and whatnot. I'll just say that the first three featured up there, Blight Herder, Oblivion Sower and Wasteland Strangler, are the highlights and the first parts of the Modern archetype in its first occurrences. They're truly amazing creatures, as it's the new version of Ulamog. I admit I liked annihilator better, not as a mechanic as much as an implementation of flavor: eating up the library is just not as iconic as devouring the battlefield itself. It is as effective, though, if you're aiming to win the game through gigantic scary monster action.

 Oddly enough, two of the four mythic Eldrazi have been truly duds, both currently ranking as 3- or 4-cents mythics (in digital form). Sire of Stagnation was just too clunky (you either drop it very early, and the double color requirement doesn't help with that, or the opponent will just restrain from playing more lands), while Void Winnower was more of an oddity that couldn't really be tailored into a viable strategy.

 Amidst the sizeable range of the BFZ Eldrazi, we also get guys that try to extend the tribe's reach by doing semi-capable impressions of, say, Bosh, Iron Golem (Barrage Tyrant), Brutalizer Exarch (Conduit of Ruin), or half the existing Demons (Smothering Abomination).


Elemental: +8

   

   

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 New Tribal Total: 356 (online: 352)

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: I believe this might be the first time ever that a tribe that isn't the main focus of a set (like Eldrazi is for BFZ) gets as many as 3 mythics. Elemental fans (such as myself) should rejoice, if not for the fact that all these three additions feel like wasted opportunities. Greenwarden of Murasa and Omnath, Locus of Rage both suffer from overcosted syndrome: they do interesting things, especially the new Omnath with its 5/5s, but the price for doing them is not worth it. Of the three mythic Elementals, Undergrowth Champion is the better card for sure, packing a solid landfall trigger and a damage-denying mechanic that comes all the way back from the Judgment "Phantom" cycle. It's very playable as a neat beater in some stomper build; it doesn't feel "mythic", though. It's something you play in the Predator Ooze or Leatherback Baloth slot (and it probably plays worse than both).

 The rest of the tribe's new additions are landfall-oriented, Territorial Baloth style, but nothing noteworthy at that. It's a cycle that embraces almost all colors, though. After all, Zendikar is a living plane, so a secondary focus on Elementals does make some sense.


Elf: +7

   

  

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 New Tribal Total: 292 (online: 281)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Druid, Scout, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Most of these new Elves are truly terrible filler. Were I to save one of them, Beastcaller Savant is actually not that bad, haste makes him either swing come round 2, or immediately give back half his cost, a la Wall of Roots.


Fish: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 26 (online: 22)

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Fungus: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 33 (online: 32)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: This is usually an Orzhov ability (in fact, this is a color-shifted Unruly Mob), and Fungi do die quite a lot in their builds, but all in all, meh.


Giant: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 127 (online: 121)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Goblin: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 289 (online: 278)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Scout, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Zada, Hedron Grinder is the only passable Goblin here, but I can't really see a lot of, like, heroic triggers finding room in a Goblin or Ally deck.


Griffin: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 38

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: None


Human: +16

  

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 New Tribal Total: 1734 (online: 1566)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Assassin, Cleric, Knight, Rogue, Scout, Shaman, Soldier, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Human cards in BFZ are almost entirely focused on the Ally subtype, so any other synergy takes second seat to the freedom fighters.


Hydra: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 31

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: As far as Hydras go, this Oran-Rief variant is not a bad specimen by all means. It comes with trample, a good starting body, and the growth is triggered for free and consistently enough. The problem is of perspective, though: within BFZ, Oran-Rief Hydra is the best possible Hydra (eh), but when we consider the Hydra meta at large, well, would you pay 6 for this one and threaten the opponent with a 7/7 or 8/8 trampler a couple of turns later, or would you rather have, say, Kalonian Hydra from the previous turn, that's already an 8/8 and threatens to become a 32/32 in 2 turns?


Insect: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 137 (online: 133)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The control side to Plated Geopede's aggro. Actually, scratch that, this thing does only damage to the opponent. It's pretty useless.


Knight: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 181 (online: 170)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Knights have better ways to give indestructible to their kin, you know?


Kor: +9

  

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 New Tribal Total: 44

 Related Tribes: Ally, Cleric, Scout, Soldier, Spirit, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Kor are one of the native people of Zendikar, and their albino faces have become a distinctive feature of the plan and some of the most well-known of its inhabitants (you know, such lovely pale ladies as Stoneforge Mystic or Nahiri?). They don't make a very triumphant return in BFZ, though: they're mostly at the service of the Ally type, and not even that effectively at that.


Merfolk: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 155 (online: 152)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Scout, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Merfolk only provide a token of representation in BFZ. They do get a legendary guy, who's an Ally but doesn't follow the Ally way, as he creates creaturelands from casting instants and sorceries. He ain't no Master of Waves, I can tell you that.


Minotaur: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 53 (online: 52)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: This is the second Minotaur Ally after Kazuul Warlord. He does bring more of a Minotaur culture to the gang.


Phoenix: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 15

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Is it me or most of the Phoenices feel like they're reprints of each others? Like, I could swear this one already existed. They should find a different design space for "flaming bird that comes back from the dead".


Plant: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 41 (online: 37)

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: It doesn't look like much, but this little thing here is a really nice 1-drop, both in Plant decks and in general, especially in builds where you're desperate to buy yourself some time against aggro.


Processor: +11

    

   

  

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 New Tribal Total: 11

 Related Tribes: Eldrazi

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: And so the Eldrazi did it: they created a whole new tribe (the 209th in the game). The Processors, which, I assume, are nothing like this, but more like the biological version of something like this, have had a brilliant debut, thanks to instant stars as diverse as Blight Herder, aka 4 creatures for 5 mana, and Wasteland Strangler, that gives Eldrazi (and Processor) an in-tribe removal; both synergize with ingest and other exiling effects. The rest of this first lot (spoiler: they don't show up in Oath of the Gatewatch) isn't as strong as the Herder and the Strangler, especially cost-wise, but it's not terrible. For instance, here's what a Processor tribal deck look like. (Incidentally, "The Herder and the Strangler" is a cool title for a horror movie; or the name for a heavy metal band).


Rogue: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 186 (online: 176)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: It's not that this type of effects doesn't have applications, even combo-worthy; it's that it feels like you could already build it with other cards. But maybe not, and this Rogue is very efficient anyway, so it's okay, I guess.


Scout: +7

   

  

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 New Tribal Total: 101 (online: 95)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf, Goblin, Human, Kor, Merfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Zendikar is all wilderness and savage lands, so Scout has to be a pretty common job. Indeed, we see here Scouts representing all the main races that inhabit Zendikar, except Vampires (but they can fly, so maybe they don't need explorers). Still, there's not much to say about these guys, the best one is Lantern Scout, and it's part of an Ally strategy. There's even a vanilla one, for Ulamog's sake! How is that vanilla creature better at scouting than Coral Merfolk or Bronze Sable?

 By the way, that one Scout that didn't join the Alliance should feel bad about himself. Then again, he's pretty useless (a color-shifted Flying Men), so maybe they just didn't invite him.


Shaman: +6

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 317 (online: 313)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf, Human, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Oh my, the Invoker cycle is back! Remember those 5 dorks from Rise of the Eldrazi, who were a reprise from these 5 dorks from Legions? Now we have another 2 dorks (guess they weren't even worth a full cycle this time around), as much Limited filler as their predecessors. And they take one third of the Shaman allotment in BFZ. Not that the rest of them seems very inspired. The best one is Beastcaller Savant, who's yet another one of the 3-subtype creatures generated by the proliferation of Allies. His Shaman subtype may be the most relevant, though, because Shamans can use good mana dudes.


Soldier: +5

  

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 531 (online: 475)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Kor

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: BFZ Soldiers are all either Kor or Ally (or both). The one Soldier Ally that stands out a little is Resolute Blademaster, but 5 mana are too many even for repeatable universal double strike.


Sphinx: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 34

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The lonely Sphinx we get is pretty decent: decent body, decent ability... It can't really measure up to the better 5-mana Sphinges, though.


Spirit: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 395 (online: 391)

 Related Tribes: Kor

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Vampire: +9

  

  

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 New Tribal Total: 116 (online: 114)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Assassin, Cleric, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Zendikar Vampires are a very distinctive component of the setting: roaming clans of ragged, leather-clad, punky savages, whereas their Innistrad counterparts are more akin to the refined noblemen and noblewomen of the Gothic novels. BFZ manages to pay some homage to these wild vamps, mostly through the new iteration of Drana, who's now one of the leaders de la revolución. As seen above, her new card avatar is faster and more aggro-oriented than the previous one.

 Besides her, we have two semi-notable rares: Defiant Bloodlord, who's Sanguine Bond on a stick at the same cost of Butcher of Malakir (which is, Commander-worthy cost); and Guul Draz Overseer, who's simply too overcosted for what she does.

 With Carrier Thrall, we get confirmation that some vampires still side with the Eldrazi (remember Pawn of Ulamog?), while from Drana's Emissary's colors, we can infer her mistress's true allegiance: under all that black leather beats an Orzhov-like, order-in-chaos kind of heart!


Wall: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 112 (online: 91)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: None


Warrior: +9

  

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 New Tribal Total: 506 (online: 491)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf, Giant, Goblin, Human, Minotaur, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: There's not a single Warrior with rarity higher than uncommon in BFZ, with results that we may easily surmise.


Wizard: +3

  

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 New Tribal Total: 561 (online: 549)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Kor, Merfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Zendikar is a land of shamanism, so the practitioners of wizardry are few and not particularly strong. "Can't be blocked by Eldrazi Scions" is some hilarious ability, though. Like, "okay, I guess I'll just block it with the Eldrazi that created the Scions?"


Wurm: +2

 

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 New Tribal Total: 78 (online: 74)

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: These are some pretty strange Wurms, aren't they? Toughness 2 and first strike? But even more than strange, they're entirely useless.


Zombie: +1

 

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 New Tribal Total: 330 (online: 324)

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Good grief. I get it, zombies aren't a Zendikar thing. On Zendikar, what's dead stays dead. Except, of course, that which can eternal lie, waiting for strange aeons.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here. The new quantities will be added only after the relative evaluation has been published.


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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS

 

1 Comments

I would mention the by Bazaar of Baghdad at Sun, 04/03/2016 - 16:54
Bazaar of Baghdad's picture

I would mention the non-tribal enchantment Retreat to Coralhelm as BFF with tribal standby Knight of the Reliquary. Other than that, your review, albeit pessimistic, is spot on.