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By: gwyned, gwyned
Oct 12 2015 12:00pm
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I. Introduction

By the time you're reading this, Battle for Zendikar will finally be released on Magic Online, and as such it's time to finish up my Standard Pauper review of Battle for Zendikar. 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. By now, you should be familiar with all of the old and new mechanics for this set, but if not, be sure 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. In Part One, I started with the White and Blue Commons. Last time, in Part Two, I examined the Black and Red Commons. And so today, I finish off with Green and Colorless cards and share some final thoughts on the set.

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 finish strong!

II. Green Commons

1. Blisterpod is an interesting take on the typical ability to generate 1/1 Eldrazi Scions. As I've mentioned often, a 1/1 for 1 is almost never worth it in any format, Constructed or otherwise, as the impact is just too small to be worth a card slot in your deck. Blisterpod at least has the decency to replace itself when it dies, which makes it an excellent sacrifice target. But unless you're getting significant value out of that mechanic, this isn't a card you should be playing. Yes, you're getting two Power and Toughness for a single Green mana, but the fact that you only get one of them at a time makes that pretty insignificant.

Verdict: Borderline - Only its use in a sacrifice themed deck keeps this from a more blistering verdict.

2. Broodhunter Wurm is certainly aggressive and efficiently costed, but that's about all it has going for it. As is fitting for a Green creature, you are getting an extra point of Power for your four mana, but the lack of any relevant abilities certainly hurts its chances of seeing play. Worse, there's a surprising difference between 3 and 4 Toughness, which makes this much more vulnerable to removal than a card like Rumbling Baloth which has a similar casting cost. Given that the Baloth didn't see much play, it should be clear that Broodhunter Wurm probably won't fare any better.

Verdict: Borderline - It's not the worst of the brood, but I still would hunt for a better card.

3. Call the Scions is an interesting variant on the Common Sorcery speed cards that summon two 1/1 tokens such as Dragon Fodder. In this case, you're paying an extra mana, but these tokens have the added benefit of potentially ramping you 2 additional colorless mana, boosting you from 4 to 6 mana in the ideal scenario. This added flexibility is probably worth the extra mana you're paying for the effect. Green hadn't been much for token strategies as of late, so I'm somewhat skeptical that this will see much play in a token archetype. As such, this is probably only worthwhile in a Green ramp decklist.

Verdict: Borderline - It's narrow in scope, but I'd call it perfectly suitable for the right deck.

4. As a pseudo-Aura granting +2/+2, Earthen Arms isn't that impressive, even with the upside of being immune to Enchantment-hate. However, its unique wording allows the counters to target a Land, which means that in combination with its Awaken ability, you're getting a 6/6 Elemental with Haste for 6G, which is actually a pretty strong spell. And of course, you could instead place the extra 2 counters on a different creature, spreading out the damage to help get around defending creatures. So while this is pretty expensive, it's one of the best things you could do with seven mana in Green.

Verdict: Hit - I may have slightly overrated this; don't get up all in arms about it.

5. Eyeless Watcher might be a "fixed" Kozilek's Predator in that it still gives you three Power worth of creatures for 3G and the two Eldrazi tokens. But in actuality, this card plays much more like a Green Captain's Call, giving you three 1/1 creatures at Sorcery speed for four mana. While not amazing, the fact that two of those creatures can also be converted into additional mana later is a nice bonus. Whether you're trying to ramp up to bigger creatures or just play a dedicated tokens build, this seems like it would slot in pretty well. So while I wouldn't consider this amazing, there's enough utility here to be worth consideration.

Verdict: Borderline - I'll definitely keep my eyes on this card.

6. Giant Spider returns in its alternate type reprint in Giant Mantis, which is your archetypal 2/4 Green creature which Reach for 3G. It's not unusual now to get 2/4s for 4 at Common with a strong secondary ability, but in this case Reach doesn't quite live up to that power level. Against a deck with lots of Flyers, this might be worth consideration in the Sideboard, but honestly in that slot you'd probably just as soon play Plummet. So without any particular synergies or combos pushing you to play this particular card, most of the time this won't make the cut even in a metagame with lots of Flyers.

Verdict: Borderline - It's not a giant mistake to play this, but you can do better.

7. Lifespring Druid is essentially a bad Manalith, in that it not only requires you to be playing Green but also comes in a much more fragile container of a 2/1 creature. With the frequent reprinting of Evolving Wilds and the Common enters the battlefield tapped dual Lands, mana-fixing is already pretty decent in Standard Pauper without having to resort to expensive options such as this. Given that Manalith was printed when color-fixing was much worse and still didn't see any competitive play, the likelihood that this card will ever make its way into a decklist is pretty remote.

Verdict: Myth - I don't expect a long life for this card.

8. Natural Connection is an Instant speed Rampant Growth, and as a result you end up paying one additional mana for the upgrade. In a Simic Control build, this is certainly a decent alternative to cast at the end of your turn when you held up counterspell magic, and it also has the benefit of triggering Landfall at Instant speed, making this almost a combat trick in certain archetypes. And of course, it can always be used as simple mana ramp, although that's not typically what you want to be doing on Turn 3. I think this card will find some use, but its application is too narrow to see widespread play.

Verdict: Borderline - With Landfall in the set, it's only natural we get a few ways to trigger it at Instant speed.

9. Oran-Rief Invoker is a disappointing analogue of Wildheart Invoker from Rise of the Eldrazi. As a 2/2 for 1G it's perfectly mediocre, but the ability to transform it into a 7/7 with Trample and pseudo-Haste for 8 mana is actually a pretty good deal. But the problem here is that since it can only target itself, it will often be trivial for your opponent to kill it in response, hitting you with a major tempo loss. And since this card has to be on the battlefield for a turn before you can attack with it, it's not like your opponent won't see it coming. This certainly has raw power, but it's too fragile to be reliable.

Verdict: Borderline - This doesn't evoke any confidence that it will survive long enough to deal much damage.

10. Plummet has been widely reprinted now, and along with the Fight cards at Common these are the two forms of removal Green can count on having at its disposal in almost any metagame. While it's rare for the metagame to include so many flyers that you can include this in your main deck, this is a favorite Sideboard option for decks running Green, as they often struggle against decks with a lot of solid Flying creatures. Flying doesn't seem to be a major emphasis in Battle for Zendikar, but as one of the strongest evergreen abilities, this is probably one of the most reliable cards to include in a Green Sideboard.

Verdict: Borderline - Depending on the metagame, this card's value may rise or plummet.

11. Along with Red, Green is the color of land destruction, so in a set with an emphasis on Lands attacking, it only makes sense to include a card like Reclaiming Vines in Green's arsenal. It's a shame this isn't at Instant speed, since its best case is that you use it to destroy a Land your opponent targeted with Awaken. As is, you still have to take one hit from such a Land before you can remove it with this card. Otherwise, this is quite an expensive and slow method to deal with Enchantments or Artifacts compared to the ubiquitous Naturalize. I don't think this will see much play.

Verdict: Myth - Even making this Instant speed wouldn't reclaim it a spot in my deck.

12. Seek the Wilds is another type of effect we often see at Common in Green nowadays. You're giving up a card to look for a Land or creature card in your top four cards, and taking the tempo hit of 1G as well. This card also doesn't have any synergy with Delve, since the cards get put on the bottom of your Library. When you're desperate for a creature or for a particular color of mana, this can be a great way to help you find it. But overall I just don't like cards like these. It doesn't seem like it gives you enough value to be worth a card slot in your deck unless it synergizes particularly well with something else you're trying to do.

Verdict: Myth - I would seek a different card if I were you.

13. Snapping Gnarlid seems unimpressive compared to the type of Landfall cards we got at Common back in Zendikar, but in aggressive Green or Gruul deck, it's actually not that bad. Most of the time it will attack as a 3/3 at its first opportunity, and Green gives you access to just enough ways to trigger Landfall at Instant speed that you can squeeze additional value out of the trigger, even if it does only pump Power and Toughness by a single point. In retrospect, Plated Geopede was just too good to be a Common, and it casts a long shadow over every other Landfall creature that comes after it.

Verdict: Borderline - I wouldn't snap this right up, but it's got value in the right build.

14. Speaking of Instant speed Landfall enablers, Swell of Growth is an unusual combination of mana ramp and combat trick that doesn't do either part very well. Granting +2 / +2, even an Instant speed, is pretty unremarkable for a Green combat trick in light of the classic Giant Growth. Similarly, the second ability requires you to already have a Land in your hand, much like Explore. But in a deck that utilizes both mana ramp and Landfall creatures, this could be a potent trick, accelerating your mana while also providing a big boost to the targeted creature. But that's a pretty big setup cost.

Verdict: Borderline - It's a swell effect, but it takes unique circumstances to make it work well.

15. Tajuru Beastmaster is easily the best of the Rally creatures at Common. It enters play as a 6/6 for 5G, and immediately pumps all of your creatures for an additional point of Power and Toughness. And if you manage to get multiples on the virtual battlefield, you're getting an effect on par with Inspired Charge to with your massive creature. Of course, at 6 mana, it's a pretty expensive effect, but with all the various ramp spells at your disposal, Green should be able to cast this pretty reliably. It's a shame the rest of the Ally cards aren't stronger, as this is definitely an effect worth building around.

Verdict: Borderline - If you can master using this effectively, it's pretty close to being a "Hit."

16. Tajuru Stalwart is much more in line with the other Allies at Common - which is to say, pretty mediocre. At best, it's a 3/4 for 2G, but that requires you to cast it with three different colors of mana - something you rarely will be able to do on Turn 3. More typically, it will be a 2/3 for 2G, which is fine but certainly not exciting. But there's just no real incentive to play this card outside of the potential Ally synergy, which as we've already noted is pretty subpar at Common. It's a shame that a card that is playing into two different mechanics in the set has to be so lackluster that it won't even see any play in the format.

Verdict: Myth - Apparently it doesn't take much to be stalwart among the Tajuru.

17. Territorial Baloth is the one Common with Landfall to be reprinted from the original Zendikar, and whereas it once was one of the weaker of the bunch, it now stands out among its new companions. A 4/4 for 4G isn't exciting, but the fact that it can attack as a 6/6 on the next turn is quite strong. And again, if you've got multiple ways of enabling Landfall at Instant speed, this becomes quite the powerful threat, potentially dealing 8 or more damage in the right scenario. Of course, at the end of the day, it's just a big dumb beater. But sometimes, that's all that Green really needs to win.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm not trying to be territorial, but I think this is the best of the new Landfall creatures.

18. We haven't had an Instant speed Green Fight card since Pit Fight, so right away Unnatural Aggression stands out from many similar effects. It also exiles the creature if it kills it, which not only prevents Graveyard recursion but also potentially sets up other processor cards. Furthermore, as a colorless spell, it even synergizes with a few other cards in the set. Put all those things together, and you have a solid Green removal spell that should be good in most situations and has the potential to be quite strong in the right kind of archetype. I expect this to see play in almost any Green deck.

Verdict: Hit - It feels unnatural to see this effect at Instant speed again.

Green seems poised to do what it does best in this set: summon big creatures onto the battlefield and smash with them. And with some strong yet expensive cards in the set, the Green ramp cards seem stronger than they have in some time. Earthen Arms, Tajuru Beastmaster, and Territorial Baloth are probably the best of the bunch, while Unnatural Aggression also being quite good. There should be plenty of good cards here to enable the MonoGreen or RG Monsters decks to continue to do well in the upcoming metagame.

III. (Truly) Colorless Commons

1. Eldrazi Devastator looks like the second cousin of Ulamog's Crusher, gaining you a single point of Toughness and Trample but giving up the excellent Annihilator 2 (as well as the so-called "drawback" of having to attack every turn). This does have the advantage of sidestepping your opponent's ability to chump-block, and the fact that it's colorless makes this a threat that any Control deck can include. At eight mana, it's still quite expensive, but given the presence of Eldrazi Scions and Green ramp spells, that shouldn't be that big of an issue. This should definitely see plenty of play.

Verdict: Hit - I'd be devastated if this didn't prove to be as good as it looks.

2. Evolving Wilds has become the de-facto Common mana-fixer in Standard for a long time, and in combination with the Common Duals that continue to see print, makes running two and three color decks at Common easier than it ever has been. While I wouldn't be surprised to see the Common Duals disappear for a time from Standard at some point in the future, reprinting Evolving Wilds in this set guarantees we'll still have access to simply mana-fixing for some time to come. Its presence in this set also provides every color with the ability to activate Landfall at Instant speed, which is certainly worth keeping in mind.

Verdict: Hit - Its role hasn't evolved much, but it will probably see more play than any other Common in the set.

3. While initially Fertile Thicket seemed like the perfect color fixing for aggressive decks, I don't think it's as good as it looks. First, this card itself enters the battlefield tapped, which is exactly the situation that hyper aggressive decks are trying to avoid. Second, Fertile Thicket can only search up basic lands, which means it doesn't work well with any of the other Common dual lands or Evolving Wilds. As such, I fail to see how Fertile Thicket significantly improves the ability for aggressive decks to get access to multiple colors without having to slow down their access to mana.

Verdict: Borderline - Guess I'm just too thick to recognize how this could best be used.

4. Hedron Blade is about what we expect to see with Equipment at Common these days. While it's cheap to cast, having to pay 2 colorless mana just for your creature to gain +1 / +1 is pretty mediocre. The Deathtouch ability is interesting in that it allows much weaker creatures to kill a surprisingly large number of creatures thanks to the Devoid keyword, at best you're still trading one-for-one plus the tempo loss of equipping the blade in the first place. Worse, it only works on offense, meaning your opponent gets the choice of whether or not to trade. All told, this is just not a card you should play.

Verdict: Myth - Hedrons apparently make for very dull blades.

5. Kozilek's Channeler is a 4/4 colorless creature for 5 mana with a secondary ability, which is decent value for a Common, especially since it's colorless and can be played in almost any deck. It also features one of the strongest ramp cards we've had at Common in some time, allowing you to tap to add 2 colorless mana. Granted, most of the time you won't be playing cards that cost much more than 6 mana. But the fact that you can either ramp this out earlier or utilize it to cast multiple spells in a turn is pretty good. Combine that with decent stats, and you've got a solid if unexciting card.

Verdict: Borderline - If you're looking to ramp out big creature, definitely channel this one.

6. Both Looming Spires and Sandstone Bridge are fairly good value, providing not only a small boost to Power and Toughness but either Vigilance or First Strike as well. However, since Red and White both tend to be fairly aggressive, the fact that these enter the battlefield tapped is not to be ignored. Between Evolving Wilds and the Common Dual Lands that enter tapped, we already have a glut of lands that aren't available to use when they come into play. It will take some testing to figure out how many of these such decks can afford to slot in.

Verdict: Borderline - These won't loom over the format, but they might bridge the gap in some decks.

7. Mortuary Mire is a bit of a puzzle to me still. Reclaim will always be a terrible card, since you're giving up both a card and your next draw step to get a single card back into your hand from your graveyard. But when you're getting that effect on a Land, the cost of doing so is significantly reduced, since the only think you're really giving up is having the land come into play tapped. Still, would it really have been too good to allow this to return a creature to your hand instead of to the top of your library? As is, the creature you are returning needs to be among the best in your deck to make this an attractive option.

Verdict: Borderline - Putting the card on top of your library really mires this in mediocrity.

8. Ruin Processor is another of the so-called processor cards, which require you to have exiled one of your opponent's cards and then place it in their graveyard to activate a secondary effect. In this case, you're getting a 7/8 for 7 that optionally also gains you 5 Life when it enters the battlefield. This is only a single mana cheaper than Eldrazi Devastator, and lacks the Trample ability that makes that card so good. You're not really getting much for your 7 mana investment, nor are you receiving a major payoff for jumping through the hoops to return an exiled card. This is not what I want to be doing for seven mana.

Verdict: Borderline - The lack of a relevant ability really ruins the payoff for casting this card.

9. At first glance, Scour from Existence looks amazing. It has no color requirements, meaning it can be played in any deck. It unconditionally removes any permanent, whether that be a creature, an enchantment, or even a land. And the permanent isn't just removed; it's exiled, potentially setting up your processor cards. Finally, it's even at Instant speed. There's just one small problem - you're paying 7 mana for what will typically be used as creature removal! So while the effect is amazing, you have to be pretty desperate to be willing to invest an entire turn in the late game just to exile one permanent.

Verdict: Borderline - It's great that this exists, but the cost is a major downside.

10. Skyline Cascade is a perfect fit for a Blue or Izzet tempo deck looking to use bounce and other tap effects to keep opposing creatures at bay long enough to finish off an opponent. Keep in mind that it doesn't actually tap the targeted creature; it merely keeps it tapped for an additional round. So this won't function as much of a combat trick, since your opponent will already know that the creature will be tapped on your turn. Still, for a spell effect that you get 'for free' from a Land, this is still good value. I don't think it's much of a stretch to call this the strongest of this cycle in the set.

Verdict: Hit - While as a spell this would be mediocre, being a land pushes it across the line to being very good.

Obviously these Colorless cards don't really have a shared identity like the five colors do. The spell-land cycle at Common is decent, and I suspect that all of them will see some play, with Skyline Cascade being the clear frontrunner and Fertile Thicket being the worst. The true Colorless Eldrazi are interesting, with Eldrazi Devastator being quite strong and Kozilek's Channeler potentially playing a major role in some sort of Green ramp decklist. It will certainly be interesting to see how these cards slot into the decks that will emerge in the new metagame.

IV. Final Thoughts

When a return to Zendikar was announced, I was pretty excited, as the Zendikar block represented one of the strongest and most interesting blocks at Common, with cards that still today find a place in Classic Pauper or Pauper cubes. However, in some ways it feels like the set tries to cover too much ground. Battle for Zendikar plays on the themes from Zendikar, Worldwake, and Rise of the Eldrazi, trying to squeeze in Allies, Landfall, spell Lands, colored Eldrazi creatures, and the massive Eldrazi monsters, all within one set. As a result, it doesn't seem to do any of these as well as I would have liked. My biggest disappointment is probably the Allies, since that was such an iconic deck for the block that probably won't see much if any real play in Standard Pauper. I also have my doubts about the processor cards, since it's not only no easy task to get your opponent's cards into exile, but also the rewards for doing so are not that high. But all that said, there's some interesting things going on in this set, and even with a long stretch of time between now and the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, I don't think the format will grow too stale between now and then.

Anyway, here are my favorite cards from the set, in color order:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


V. Conclusion

So that concludes my review of Battle for Zendikar for Standard Pauper. 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.