gwyned's picture
By: gwyned, gwyned
Sep 28 2015 12:00pm
0
Login or register to post comments
2570 views


I. Introduction

As I'm writing this, the paper Prerelease events for Battle for Zendikar are well underway, so that means it's time for another set review. If you're looking for superb analysis of this set's impact on Limited and Standard, I'm afraid you've clicked the wrong link. Instead, it is the purpose of this article to break down this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. Along with the return of Landfall, this set has some very unique and interesting mechanics, so it's probably a good idea to brush up on these before continuing, as I will assume you understand how they work. Also, given the way that this set breaks down, I will be reviewing this set in color groupings rather than my typical division by mechanics, reprints, and the rest. So today I will be looking at all of the White and Blue Commons, examine the Black and Red Commons next time, and finish off with Green and Colorless cards in Part Three.

If you've read my previous set reviews, you should be familiar with my methodology. Rather than assigning a particular letter grade, I will instead note each card as a "hit or myth" and discuss why I believe this card will or will not be relevant. My reasoning is simple: unlike in Limited, you will never have an instance where you have to prioritize one card over another in any meaningful way, and thus a letter grade is not that helpful in actual practice. I also make use of a third category - borderline - for those cards that aren't great, but might see some play in the right deck. Let's get started!

II. White Commons

1. Angelic Gift is about as mediocre an Aura as should ever see print. It doesn't boost Power or Toughness at all, but merely grants the enchanted creature flying. Granted, it does have the slight upside of replacing itself when it enters the battlefield. But even with the reduction in cheap, Instant speed removal, playing Auras is still a risky proposition, and in the case of Angelic Gift the reward simply isn't worth the risk you're taking. Maybe if Aura Gnarlid had been reprinted this might be worth playing in that edge case, but as is there is no reason to include this in your deck.

Verdict: Myth - Only a fallen angel would give such a gift.

2. Cliffside Lookout is another very mediocre card with an expensive but otherwise strong activated ability. This card is highly reminiscent of Selfless Cathar, but rather than having to sacrifice the creature and pay 1W, you instead have to pay 3 additional mana but keep the creature. It's also not inconceivable to be able to activate the ability twice in a drawn out game. While this isn't of much value in an aggressive tokens build, in the right deck this might actually be worth considering. Even if you never activate it, just the threat is enough to swing a decent advantage in combat.

Verdict: Borderline - It's narrow, but I'd still be on the lookout for this card.

3. Courier Griffin ranks somewhere between Abbey Griffin and Chapel Geist. A 2/3 Flying for 3W is fine but not exciting, but this card also grants you a couple extra point of Life as well. With several solid White fliers rotating out of the format, this might be good enough to see play in a typical White Weenie build, even though it is a tad expensive for that archetype. For one mana cheaper, this would probably be too good to see print at Common, so it's probably a fair cost. But as always, fair isn't really what you want to be doing in Constructed play, even in Standard Pauper.

Verdict: Borderline - This griffin delivers a decent amount of value for the cost.

4. Felidar Cub is a functional reprint of Keening Apparition, a card that saw plenty of play in Standard Pauper while it was in the format. A 2/2 for 1W is reasonable but not exciting, but giving it the flexibility to instead function as Enchantment hate makes this well worth including in any format where an opponent's Enchantments need to be dealt with. You can even use it to chump-block before activating its sacrifice ability, squeezing out every bit of value from this card. It's a shame this didn't see print while Theros block was still in the format, but even in the new metagame I suspect this will still prove valuable enough to play often.

Verdict: Hit - Guess I'm just a bit enchanted with this one.

5. Fortified Rampart is simply way too narrow. If you're looking for a card that can block just about anything on the ground, it certainly fills that role perfectly well. But that's all it can do. It doesn't deal damage, it doesn't reward you in any way for playing it, and it can't even interact with flying creatures. Mnemonic Wall and Wall of Tanglecord set the standard for what a playable Wall looks like in Standard Pauper, and Fortified Rampart doesn't come anywhere close to either of those cards. And since Battle for Zendikar lacks the 'Defender matters' theme from Rise of the Eldrazi, you simply shouldn't play this.

Verdict: Myth - My convictions about this card cannot be assailed.

6. Ghostly Sentinel almost seems like it's in the wrong color, as a 3/3 with Flying for 5 mana is more typical of what you'd see in Blue at Common. In this case, we also get Vigilance, which I suppose places this card solidly in White. Had this been costed at  four mana, this card would be quite good - perhaps too good to be printed at Common. But for five mana, even with both Flying and Vigilance, this probably won't see that much play. It's just slightly too expensive, and doesn't reward you enough for the five mana investment. It's right on the cusp, but just doesn't quite get there, at least in my opinion.

Verdict: Borderline - I'll keep my eye on this one, but I don't have high hopes.

7. White removal continues to get cheaper, and Gideon's Reproach is one of the better removal cards we've seen in recent sets. It's a half-cost Divine Verdict with the downside of only dealing with creatures with 4 Toughness or less. Yes, your opponent has to either attack or block with the creature for you to be able to target it. But Instant speed removal for only 2 mana is very strong, especially in a format where the majority of creatures have 2 Toughness and very few have more than 4. And with Gods Willing and its cousins rotating out, this card should be at its best in the upcoming metagame.

Verdict: Hit - You'll earn my reproach if you don't play this in almost any White deck.

8. Inspired Charge has been reprinted yet again, and it continues to be the standard by which similar effects are evaluated. White Weenie and most token archetypes have made plenty of use of this card in the past, and assuming you can pair this with cards that dump Eldrazi Spawn onto the battlefield, the opportunity to pump up a large number of creatures certainly exists going into the new format. Unless your opponent has a counterspell or Scouring Sands-type effect at the ready, there is little he or she can do when your creatures alpha-strike in after casting this card.

Verdict: Borderline - It's narrow in scope, but certainly an inspired win-condition in the right deck.

9. While this trip to Zendikar doesn't have the emphasis on Equipment like the first time around, apparently Kitesail returns already equipped to this Kor in the form of Kitesail Scout. Unfortunately, a 1/1 Flyer, even for only 1 mana, generally doesn't give you enough value to be worth a card slot in your deck. Indeed, Kitesail would be a much stronger card, allowing you to grant Flying and an extra point of Power to any creature, rather than this mediocre 1/1. Even in a dedicated tokens strategy, there simply are more relevant cards for you to play than this. As such, I recommend avoiding this card.

Verdict: Myth - If you're searching for a way to win, this card is not it.

10. As of late, White has been receiving a 3/1 for 1W creature in just about every set. Kor Castigator is the latest iteration, and under most circumstances it will function as a simple vanilla creature. While such a creature is fair in a pretty aggressive Boros or White build, generally speaking they aren't good enough to see much play. In this case, Kor Castigator also gets the ability to ignore Eldrazi Scions. It's also an Ally, which means it will trigger other creature's Rally abilities. But while these are a nice bonus, it's hardly enough to push this card to the point of being generally playable.

Verdict: Myth - Other people may castigate you for playing this card.

11. Gods Willing this is not. Lithomancer's Focus is a decent combat trick, giving your creature +2 / +2 for a single mana, but most of the time the secondary ability will not be that relevant. It does protect against Touch of the Void, and will allow it to survive tangling with Eldrazi creatures, but doesn't dodge forms of removal that don't deal damage. In a dedicated White Weenie build, this is probably one of the better combat tricks at your disposal, but don't mistake it for a reliable way of dodging removal in the way that Gods Willing functioned. As such, it's decent, but not great.

Verdict: Borderline - Focus on the boost to Power and Toughness, not the damage prevention.

12. Each color gets a Rally Ally at Common save Blue, with a scattering of other Allies amidst all five colors. Makindi Patrol is a 2/3 for 3, and when it or any other Ally enters the battlefield, all creatures gain Vigilance. In a close game with a clogged board state, the ability to swing with your whole team and still have them available for defense during your opponent's turn is a nice bonus, but this isn't a scenario that comes up all that often. If the Ally deck becomes a viable archetype, this would be a suitable card to include. But given my doubts about the Ally deck, I don't think this will see much play.

Verdict: Borderline - My inclination is to pass on this, but a 2/3 for 3 isn't completely terrible.

13. Ondu Greathorn is one of the strongest of the new Landfall creatures. A 2/3 First Strike for 3W is already decent, and much of the time this will be able to attack as a 4/5 First Strike, which is quite strong. Couple this with Evolving Wilds, and it becomes a major incentive for your opponent to hold her creatures back, and the same trick also allows you to dodge most Instant speed removal, since you can immediately boost it up to 5 Toughness. It's not particular fast, but especially coupled with First Strike, it's solid enough that I would anticipate this making the cut in most White decks.

Verdict: Hit - I expect great things for this card.

14. White continues the trend of getting Flying creatures typically reserved for Blue; in this case, Shadow Glider is a color-shifted Wind Drake. While this is fairly mediocre in a typically slow color like Blue, at least in White you have the ability to quickly curve out with a bunch of other efficiently costed creatures and overwhelm your opponent. However, outside of that particular build of White Weenie, I can't imagine that most other decks will want to include this card. There simply are enough 3 Toughness flyers even in the upcoming format that this won't be that relevant in a non-aggressive build.

Verdict: Borderline - Such cards will always live in the shadow of Kor Skyfisher...or even Chapel Geist.

15. Sheer Drop is a color-shifted version of Assassinate with a major upside. I predict that most of the Awaken cards are going to be pretty good in the format simply due to their flexibility. While Assassinate wasn't really playable in past sets, the fact that you can draw this late and pay an additional three mana to transform one of your Lands into a 3/3 Haste creature is pretty good value. It's a shame that this doesn't Exile the card or work at Instant speed, but even as is this is worth considering in any White deck that reasonably expects to have access to 6 mana in most of its matches.

Verdict: Hit - I rated it this high sheerly due to the Awaken ability, and hope I don't have to drop it lower.

16. Smite the Monstrous is back, and just in time to deal with the monstrous Eldrazi and other large creatures that I expect to see in Battle for Zendikar and the next set. Even in Standard Pauper, I expect that there will be plenty of targets for this to hit. That said, I would be hesitant to include this maindeck unless the metagame shakes out in such a way that big creatures dominate the format. But out of the Sideboard, this is a great option to deal with such creatures. It's also one mana cheaper than most other forms of removal that can deal with big fatties. As such, I suspect this will make an appearance in a lot of Sideboards.

Verdict: Borderline - This certainly isn't monstrously unfair, but it should prove its worth.

17. Stone Haven Medic is strikingly similar to Soulmender, but suffers by comparison. The extra two Toughness is nice, but you not only do you have to pay an additional mana for it, but also have to actually spend another mana every time you want to activate its ability. As far as I know Soulmender didn't see any play in the format since its release in Magic 2015, and I don't see any reason why Stone Haven Medic would fare any better. Lifegain as a strategy just isn't very good, and it certainly isn't something you want to be sinking mana into turn after turn. For all those reasons, this is a card you want to skip.

Verdict: Myth - Keep this off the front lines with the rest of the medics.

18. Tandem Tactics would have been very strong in Theros block, enabling you to enable Heroic on two different creatures with the same combat trick. In this new environment, it's still decent, serving as a miniature Inspired Charge at Instant speed for half the cost, and giving you some incidental Lifegain in the process. It shouldn't be too hard to use this to completely change the outcome of combat, potentially allowing you to safe two of your creatures in the exchange. It's also cheap enough to hold up reliably without tipping your hand. As far as combat tricks go, this is pretty good.

Verdict: Hit - The potential to get a 2-for-1 out of this makes for some excellent tactics.

While White has some decent support cards, outside of Ondu Greathorn none of its creatures are really that great. It's also worth noting that White is the only color to not receive any Devoid creatures or spells. White has traditionally been one of the strongest colors in Standard Pauper, so it's interesting to see a set where this doesn't appear to be the case. I doubt there's enough here to boost White Weenie back up to prominence in the format. On the other hand, in an environment that has decent support for two and three color decks, there are enough good cards here to augment an otherwise already good deck.

III. Blue Commons

1. Anticipate is back for another set, and it's proven to be as good as I had hoped. It's Instant speed card removal, synergizes well with Prowess, and allows you to dig deeper for a specific Land or answer that you desperately need. Given the resurgence of Blue and Izzet Control archetypes, this has also proven to be a great option for turns when you hold up counter magic but end up not needing to cast anything else on your opponent's turn. While it's certainly not as good as Brainstorm, the fact that it's even worth making that comparison is a testament to how good this card really is.

Verdict: Hit - I anticipate seeing plenty more of this card in the months ahead.

2. Benthic Infiltrator is this set's twist on the classic Horned Turtle. The Ingest ability will probably never be used to mill an opponent out, since it will always damage your opponent faster than it can run them out of cards. Instead, it sets up the so-called processor cards to allow you to take full advantage of them. In this specific case, the four Toughness will also allow this card to block well, while the unblockable ability all but guarantees the ability to utilize the processor cards later. If those cards are part of your strategy, Benthic Infiltrator may be your best bet for setting them up.

Verdict: Borderline - While narrow in scope, this should infiltrate its way into particular archetypes.

3. Brilliant Spectrum is an interesting variant of Amass the Components, potentially drawing more cards but also having to discard two of them. Being able to put four different colors of mana into this will be extremely rare, but utilizing three different colors is potentially viable. Even then, you're still talking about drawing three cards and having to discard two, which isn't the most exciting effect. This does synergize well with Exploit, which will continue to be in Standard for some time to come. But on the whole, this is just too expensive for what it gives you even if you get to draw three cards.

Verdict: Myth - On the spectrum between bad and good, this card is anything but brilliant.

4. Cloud Manta is strictly worse than Cloaked Siren and similar cards, since it lacks the Flash ability that at least made those cards a bit more viable. As is, a 3/2 with Flying for 3U is pretty mediocre. Worse, Cloaked Siren and its ilk rarely saw play in the format, and that certainly doesn't bode well for Cloud Manta. The two Toughness is just such a liability, since it not only falls to almost any removal spell but also lacks the ability to survive against almost any other playable Flyer in the format. Trading your four drop for one of your opponent's earlier drops is not how you win a game of Magic.

Verdict: Myth - You've got your head in the clouds if you're excited about this card.

5. Clutch of Currents is another excellent Awaken card. It's a Sorcery speed Unsummon in the early game, which is fine if somewhat lacking. But in the late game, you not only have the ability to get a potential blocker out of the way, you also get to swing in with a 3/3 Elemental with Haste for a reasonable 4U. This seems like it would fit well in an Izzet Control archetype, which will need new sources of tokens with Flurry of Horns and Rise of Eagles rotating out. Once again, the flexibility of this card is what pushes it from being merely playable to being an excellent choice for most Blue decks.

Verdict: Hit - This will be a clutch draw to end a game out of nowhere.

6. We're definitely seeing an increase in small creatures at Common with expensive repeatable activated abilities such as Coralhelm Guide. A vanilla 2/1 for 1U isn't typically good enough to see play in the format, but the ability to make your best creature unblockable each and every turn goes a long way towards making this decent. But it's a lot of mana to invest for that ability, and it's quite the blowout when your opponent simply points removal at the creature you gave it to. This isn't amazing, but in a stalled out board situation it certainly could prove beneficial. It's also an Ally, for whatever that's worth.

Verdict: Borderline - If the past is any guide, late-game mana sinks shouldn't simply be dismissed.

7. Dispel has been reprinted in Battle for Zendikar, and it should be easy to figure out that it will make its presence felt pretty quickly. A one mana counter for all Instant spells seems innocuous enough, but in practice, this is an excellent 'silver-bullet' against a variety of different spells. So while it certainly won't find targets in every deck in the format, this should at the very least be an auto-include in every Sideboard that has access to Blue. And depending on how the format evolves, it's not unreasonable to assume you will even be able to maindeck this with good odds of finding a use for it.

Verdict: Hit - I will happily dispel any doubts about this card.

8. We've essentially seen this card in White, Red, and now in Blue (yes, technically it's colorless), where three mana gets you a 2/1 and 1/1 creature, one of which has Flying. In the case of Eldrazi Skyspawner, it's the 2/1 that gets Flying, and the 1/1 can even be sacrificed for a point of colorless mana. All that certainly adds up to an upgrade to cards that were already pretty good in the format. Overall this card seems quite reasonable on its own, and in a Control build that's looking to ramp up to play some giant creatures, this is quite strong. So while it's not amazing, this should see play.

Verdict: Borderline - I can spawn plenty of scenarios where there is good.

9. Incubator Drone is virtually an analog for Kozilek's Predator, although this may prove to be a disappointment in comparison. For the same converted mana cost, you get one less point of Power in the creature itself, and only a single token instead of two. Of course, the token itself is much better as a 1/1 as opposed to a 0/1, In effect then, you're getting 3 Power and 4 Toughness for 4 mana, with the ability to trade off a point of each for a single colorless mana. I would evaluate that as definitely worse than Kozilek's Predator, but not substantially so. As such, this should see play.

Verdict: Borderline - I could drone on and on about this, but it's definitely playable.

10. Mist Intruder is another creature designed to activate the processor cards in this set. This card immediately reminded me of Fetid Imp, a creature in Black with similar stats that has activated Deathtouch. It won't reliably hit as often as Benthic Infiltrator, and is clearly much worse on defense. If a deck exists that is all-in on needing to exile your opponent's cards, this will see play, but outside of that remote chance, there is essentially no reason to run this over the aforementioned Benthic Infiltrator. A 1/2 with Flying and no other relevant abilities simply isn't worth a slot in your deck.

Verdict: Myth - Maybe it will just disappear back into the mists.

11. Murk Strider is the first of the processor cards in Battle for Zendikar that we've looked at, requiring you to have exiled one of your opponent's cards in order to get its full effect. A 3/2 for 4 mana that bounces a creature when it enters the battlefield is an upgrade to Separatist Voidmage, a card that is playable but not great. This will still tend to trade down with your opponent's 2- and 3-drops, but the extra point of Power is certainly a nice bonus. At the end of the day though, I don't believe that this card rewards you enough for the high setup cost of running the Ingest cards in your deck.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm somewhat murky on just how playable this card actually is.

12. Oracle of Dust, on the other hand, seems like it offers some significant rewards for getting your opponent's cards into exile. The ability to loot multiple times in a turn for a mere 2 mana is quite strong. On its own, a 3/5 for 4U isn't that exciting, but it does have the ability to block most other creatures on the ground profitably. In a Control archetype that's looking for the game to go long, if you can exile enough of your opponent's cards, this will generate a steady supply of card advantage over the course of the game. Of course, it remains to be seen just how viable that really is.

Verdict: Borderline - It shouldn't take an oracle to see the great potential, but huge setup cost, of this card.

13. Converge seems like such an interesting mechanic, but sadly it would seem it only finds a place at Common in some fairly mediocre cards like Roilmage's Trick. Compare this to a card like Hysterical Blindness, which for one mana cheaper gives all of your opponent's creatures -4 / -0 until end of turn without having to go through the hoops of casting multiple colors. Yet that card saw no play while it was in Standard. Yes, Roilmage's Trick does at least replace itself with another card. But that's hardly good enough to make this worth a slot in your deck. This is not a good card.

Verdict: Myth - It's a trick alright - but on you, not your opponent.

14. Rush of Ice is a close relative of Clutch of Currents, and should serve a similar role. For a single Blue mana, it allows you to tap down an opponent's creature for two turns. And later, when you have the full 4U at your disposal, it also gives you a 3/3 Elemental with Haste. These two cards pair together nicely, easily slotting into an Izzet Control or MonoBlue archetype. Like I've said for each of these Awaken cards, the value of having a card that is relevant in both the early and late game shouldn't be underestimated. If you're playing Blue, there is very little reason for you not to include this card.

Verdict: Hit - It will be quite a rush the first time you win the game with this card.

15. Salvage Drone is yet another Ingest creature, and this time it's a meager 1/1 for 1. As I mentioned before, such cards simply don't give you enough value to be worth a card slot in your deck. At least in this case it gives you some additional value when it dies, since you get to draw and then discard a card. Again, if you're all-in on colorless cards or exiling your opponent's cards to activate processor cards, this is at least worth considering. It may also be worth a second look in a deck looking to cheat in big creatures early using Extort. But outside of those particular uses, this is not the kind of card you want to be playing in your deck.

Verdict: Myth - Send this junker to the salvage yard.

16. Spell Shrivel is exactly the kind of card you should be playing if you're trying to exile your opponent's cards. Most of the time, it will function as an easier to cast Cancel, since it will be rare that your opponent has 4 extra mana to spare when casting the kinds of spells you'd typically want to counter. The fact that this is also a colorless card gives it some synergy with some of the other cards in the set, such as Kozilek's Channeler. But even if you're not taking advantage of those combinations, this is still a card that is well worth considering. This card alone should be enough to keep Blue decks competitive in the new metagame.

Verdict: Hit - This is one of the strongest ways to counter any spell since Mana Leak.

17. Tightening Coils is a nice variant of Claustrophobia, allowing you to marginalize a creature by removing all of its Power. Similar cards haven't seen much play in the format, but Tightening Coil's chances are made better by the fact that it also removes Flying from any creature it enchants. As such, this is a great way to sidestep your opponent's flyers, preventing them from blocking yours and reducing them to little more than chump blockers on the ground. Of course, it is almost always worse than Claustrophobia, so as long as that card remains in the format, this probably won't see much play.

Verdict: Borderline - This isn't bad, but I'd rather get my clutches on a different card.

18. Wave-Wing Elemental looks quite impressive. It's a 3/4 with Flying and Landfall that most of the time will attack as a 5/6. And like Ondu Greathorn, it can utilize Evolving Wilds to grow even on your opponent's turn or to double-up on the +2 / +2 boost it gets whenever a land enters the battlefield. The only downside is its massive casting cost of 5U, which is already pushing into the same category as some of the behemoth Eldrazi. Worse, by the time you can cast this, you've likely played most of your Lands, reducing your odds of being able to activate Landfall. That doesn't bode well for this card.

Verdict: Borderline - It's a massive creature on the wing of Landfall, but too expensive to cast reliably.

Overall it seems like Blue is stronger than White. It has some excellent value cards in Rush of Ice and Clutch of Currents, and a very strong counterspell in Spell Shrivel. Anticipate and Dispel are likewise quite good. But like White, overall Blue's creatures are somewhat lackluster. Still, there's enough here that Blue should see plenty of play in the upcoming metagame, particularly in combination with another color that can bring with it some more relevant creatures.

IV. Conclusion

And so that's it for Part One of my Standard Pauper review of Battle for Zendikar. In closing, let me remind you that you can check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at any of my videos before they go live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. You can keep up with everything I'm doing on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Finally, I am the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 6:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room.

See you soon for Part Two!