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By: gwyned, gwyned
Oct 05 2015 12:00pm
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I. Introduction

As I'm writing this, the paper Release events for Battle for Zendikar are underway, and I am well on my way through 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. 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. In Part One, I started with the White and Blue Commons. Today, I will be examining the Black and Red Commons, then 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. Black Commons

1. Altar's Reap has been reprinted just in time to synergize well with all of the Eldrazi Scions running around the virtual battlefield. Paying 1B to draw 2 cards is obviously quite strong, and there are numerous ways to minimize the impact of having to sacrifice a creature: giving up a token, sacrificing a creature that's under a Pacifism-style effect, picking a creature that has some beneficial effect when it enters the graveyard, or even killing it right out from under your opponent's Lightning Strike. With so many different options here, it shouldn't be hard to get great value out of this.

Verdict: Hit - Even if you don't build around this, it's not hard to reap the rewards.

2. Bone Splinters is another card that gives you a powerful effect for cheap provided that you're willing to sacrifice a creature to do it. Obviously in normal circumstances you're two-for-oneing yourself, so whatever creature you're removing better be worth such a major cost. On the other hand, if you can sacrifice a creature that's already been rendered useless or an Eldrazi Spawn, you can mitigate this cost to some extent. But since this card is at Sorcery speed, it's more difficult to accomplish this than with the previous card. Given that fact as well as the plethora of removal at Black's disposal already, this doesn't make the cut.

Verdict: Myth - This cuts too close to the bone to make it worth playing.

3. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Complete Disregard is one of the best Black removal spells we've seen since Doom Blade when out of fashion as a Common. For 2B, you get to Exile any creature provided that it's Power it 3 or less, which will hit the majority of creatures at Common, even in a set like Battle for Zendikar. And it synergizes well with cards that reward you for playing colorless spells as well as the so-called processor creatures. Granted, this won't be much use against some of the more powerful creatures in the format. But it should still be a mainstay in any deck with access to Black.

Verdict: Hit - Don't make the mistake of disregarding how cheap and effective this card is.

4. Culling Drone is our first Ingest creature in Black, and it gives us an otherwise decent vanilla creature as a 2/2 for 1B. If you need creatures to setup your processor cards, this at least won't force you to play a completely mediocre creature to do so. Of course, your deck has to be pretty aggressive even in Standard Pauper to want to play a 2/2 for 2 without any abilities that affect the board, which typically won't be of much use in a more Control oriented deck that is probably required to make use of the processor cards. As such, I certainly am not optimistic that this will see much play.

Verdict: Myth - Most of the time, you will cull this from your deck without much thought.

5. Demon's Grasp is another decent Black removal spell. In fact, it's almost an easier to cast Flesh to Dust, since the negative counters effectively dodge Regeneration even without the additional clause. After all, most of the time -5 / -5 will be more than sufficient to kill whatever creature you're targeting. Of course, in a set where we've got massive Eldrazi running around, this does lose some of its luster. Even worse, unlike the aforementioned Flesh to Dust, this is cast at Sorcery speed, which definitely is a major step backwards. Under most circumstances then, I would just stick with Flesh to Dust.

Verdict: Borderline - This is just out of reach of being solid removal going forward.

6. Dominator Drone is a decent creature that gives you a nice bonus if you're also playing other colorless creatures. As a 3/2 for 2B, it's already on the edge of playable, and the fact that it can also hit your opponent for 2 Life when it enters the battlefield is a pretty decent upside. Given the sheer number of other Devoid creatures in Black (not to mention Blue, which is the most likely color to pair Black with in this format), it shouldn't be too difficult to satisfy this requirement most of the time. None of that makes this an amazing card, but does at least give us one worth considering in the right deck.

Verdict: Borderline - Nothing here tells me it will dominate the format.

7. Dutiful Return has been reprinted from Khans of Tarkir, which means it will be staying in Standard for some time to come. This card has been somewhat overshadowed by Font of Return, which for a similar cost allowed you to return three creatures rather than just two. But with that rotating out, this card becomes the best option at your disposal for recurring creatures from your graveyard. While this is at odds with the excellent Delve mechanic, Black-based Control decks should still find a spot for this most of the time, even if it's only in the Sideboard to be used against rival Control archetypes.

Verdict: Borderline - It's not amazing, but I'm glad to see it return.

8. Geyserfield Stalker is quite massive for a Black creature, at least when you take Landfall into consideration. Obviously a 3/2 for 4B would be pretty terrible, but given that it will often attack as a 5/4, and require your opponent to block with at least two creatures, this should be a pretty potent threat in your deck. This particularly pairs well with combat tricks and/or Instant speed effects that allow you to trigger Landfall an additional time, since your opponent is forced to double-block it and open themselves up to a two-for-one. As the finisher in an aggressive Rakdos deck, this certainly has some potential.

Verdict: Borderline - This is stalking its way closer to the "Hit" category, but falls just short of that field.

9. Grave Birthing immediately harkens back to Brood Birthing from Rise of the Eldrazi, in that it gives us three small effects rolled into one. It only generates a single token instead of three, but instead acts as graveyard-hate, sets up processor cards, and even replaces itself upon casting. It also costs one more mana than Brood Birthing, but happens at Instant speed, which means it also can be used as a virtual combat trick, albeit a meager one. So while most of the time you're still probably not getting a card worth of value, in the right circumstances I could see this being useful.

Verdict: Borderline - I can certainly create scenarios where this could be gravely important to cast.

10. Kalastria Healer is a great example of why the Ally cards probably won't see much play in Standard Pauper. While there are a decent number of Ally cards altogether, most of them have meager stats or secondary abilities, and thus don't really reward you enough for building your deck around them. In this case, a 1/2 for 1B is pretty mediocre, and the fact that it drains your opponent for a single point of Life barely even factors into the equation. It's not much good for either attacking or blocking, and even if you activate its ability several times, you're still probably not getting a card's worth of value.

Verdict: Myth - Let me heal you of any mistaken idea that this is playable.

11. Kalastria Nightwatch is an interesting card to pair with the previous card, but ultimately underwhelming. A 4/5 vanilla for 4B is fine but nothing exciting. However, it is an Ally card, and if you have both this and Kalestria Healer in play when another Ally enters the battlefield, you will be able to grant this card Flying and turn it into a formidable threat. But that's a pretty major setup cost just to be able to attack with a 4/5 Flyer every turn. Furthermore, since Lifegain typically isn't a great strategy in general, I'm not confident there's another viable way to grant this Flying every turn. As such, I'm not impressed.

Verdict: Borderline - I'll be watching this card, but right now I don't see a good way to abuse it.

12. Mind Raker is the first processor card we've looked at this time, meaning that it requires you to have exiled one of your opponent's cards in order to activate its ability. Apart from that, you're getting a 3/3 for 3B vanilla creature, which once more is borderline playable but not generally good enough to make the cut. In this case, you place one exiled card back into your opponent's Graveyard, and then that opponent has to discard a card. Getting a creature and forcing a discard is almost a two-for-one most of the time. However, you have to jump through some significant hoops to get there.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm raking my mind for realistic scenarios that make this a strong card.

13. In general I've been a fan of the Awaken cards, but Mire's Malice is simply too expensive. Mind Rot is already just Sideboard material at best, and having to pay an additional mana for it makes it that much worse. Granted, you do to generate a 3/3 with Haste for only two additional mana, but at that stage in the game, your opponent isn't typically holding on to that many good cards anyway. I'm fairly sure that we won't ever see cards that force your opponent to discard at Instant speed, but that would probably be what it would take for me to be exciting about this card.

Verdict: Myth - Call me a hater, but I just don't want to play this.

14. Nirkana Assassin is our second Vampire Ally with an ability activated by gaining Life - in this case, it gains Deathtouch until end of turn. Its baseline is a 2/3 for 2B, which is about what you would expect, but doesn't exactly synergize well with Deathtouch, since you would prefer a creature 1/4 or even 1/5 for that mana cost. Even when you activate its ability, most of the time you're still just trading with the opposing creature in combat, so that's a pretty mediocre reward for your setup cost. If there was a strong Ally deck, this might be worth considering, but as is this is not a card you should be playing.

Verdict: Myth - Put to death any thoughts of playing this card.

15. Silent Skimmer is an odd one. As a 0/4 you would expect this to have Defender, and as such you wouldn't ever want to pay 3B for such a defensive creature, even if it could block other flyers. In this case though, it's a virtual 2/4 unblockable that dies if your opponent could have dealt lethal damage to it in combat, with the additional downside of never being able to kill another creature defensively. It's probably easier if you just think of it as a 2/4 for 3B with Flying, which is fine but not particularly exciting. So unless you've got some particular incentives for playing colorless creatures, I would give this a pass.

Verdict: Borderline - Even skimming the surface of what this can do is usually enough to set it aside.

16. Sludge Crawler is an interesting variant of a Black Shade creature that starts small but can be pumped up by investing mana in it each turn. Generally have to pay 2 mana for each point of Power and Toughness is pretty bad, but at least in this case you can pay it with any color of mana. Additionally, it's very cheap for a Shade, allowing you to drop it into play early and make it difficult for your opponent to block it, since you always have the option of pumping it up to survive combat. So while this card has some serious drawbacks, the fact that it's so cheap saves it from being unplayable dross.

Verdict: Borderline - It's managed to crawl out of the morass of being grossly unplayable.

17. Swarm Surge seems to have some color confusion, as this is almost strictly better than Trumpet Blast but requires Black mana to cast. You can only cast it at Sorcery speed, so your opponent always sees it coming, but it also rewards you strongly for playing colorless creatures, since those creatures also get First Strike to go along with their boost in Power (which, once again, seems like a very Red ability). Generally Black isn't aggressive enough to make use of this kind of card most of the time, but in the right Rakdos or Orzhov build, I could see this possibly making the cut.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm not exactly having a surge of confidence about this card.

18. At first glance, Voracious Null looks a lot like Nantuko Husk with the downside of having to pay 1B for each creature you sacrifice, and what's worse doing so at Sorcery speed. In this case however, you actually get to keep the boosted Power and Toughness in the form of +1 / +1 counters, which is obviously much better. This essentially allows you to turn any creature into a 1B Aura that gives this creature +2 / +2. And while that's overtly powerful, it does put a great deal of investment into what is otherwise a fragile creature, creating the potential for a pretty back-breaking blow-out.

Verdict: Borderline - The major risk somewhat nullifies the raw power of this card.

Black looks quite aggressive in this set, and much of it is devoted to sacrifice-type effects. It also has the highest concentration of Eldrazi and other Devoid cards, including the excellent Complete Disregard. Altar's Reap is also quite strong, with Demon's Grasp probably in third place, and a fairly major gap between these three and all the rest. With the possible exception of Geyserfield Stalker, none of the Black creatures look all that impressive. Much like White, this seems like more of a support color for decks going forward into the new metagame.

III. Red Commons

1. Belligerent Whiptail is the first Landfall creature we've seen where the effect doesn't pump Power and Toughness, and not surprisingly it seems weaker for that. A 4/2 for 3R is quite aggressive, but normally will die to the much cheaper creatures. Giving it First Strike from Landfall certainly makes it decent on offense, but it still remains quite vulnerable to most forms of removal. Assuming you have Evolving Wilds or other Instant speed effects that get Land onto the battlefield, this gets quite a bit better. But outside of that, I'm not sure this is good enough to include in most Red decks.

Verdict: Borderline - I hate to belligerent about this, but I just don't like this card.

2. Boiling Earth is our Tremor variant of the format, and is roughly equivalent to Scouring Sands, which has proven to be quite a valuable Sideboard card in the current metagame. But like all other Awaken cards, this has the added bonus of being quite strong later in the game, where you combine this effect with the ability to generate a 4/4 Elemental with Haste for an additional 5 mana. Given the presence of Eldrazi Scions, this seems like it would have added benefit in the upcoming format, so I anticipate seeing plenty of this card going forward, although probably not in the maindeck.

Verdict: Borderline - This certainly gets your blood boiling when it kills off all your tokens.

3. Goblin War Paint is actually a reprint from Zendikar, and it's about as basic as an Aura can be and still see some play. Most of the time the Haste ability won't be that relevant, since it's rare you'll actually want to play this on a creature that just entered play. At least at only 1R it's cheap enough that it won't take up your whole turn, but like all Auras it does open you up to getting two-for-one'd when your opponent removes the creature, either as the Aura comes into play or later in the game. As such, you'll only want to play this in a very aggressive RDW or Rakdos style decklist.

Verdict: Borderline - It's a decent way to go to war, assuming you don't suffer the same fate as most goblins.

4. Kozilek's Sentinel comes from a long line of Red creatures that can be pumped by casting certain kinds of spells, of which Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops are perhaps the two best  known at Common. In this case though, it gains a mere plus one boost to Power for casting colorless spells, which is a pretty mediocre reward for a type of spell that isn't going to be cast all that often. Now granted, it is a 1/4 for 1R, which essentially makes it a cheaper Red Horned Turtle with upside. But since Red typically isn't looking for defensive type creatures such as this, it will take a particular deck to make this worth including.

Verdict: Borderline - Keep an eye out for a deck where this will be good.

5. If it accomplishes nothing else, Lavastep Raider shows us why 1/1s for 1 are so bad even in Standard Pauper, since it demonstrates that it's not unheard of to get even a 1/2 with an ability for that same cost without a drawback. The main problem with this card, however, is that the activated ability doesn't pump Toughness and is also quite expensive at 2R. Even if you can activate it multiple times, at best you'll be trading a whole bunch of mana plus this creature for whatever it tussles with in combat. Even in a hyper aggressive Red deck, pumping this is not what you want to be doing with 3 mana. This is not a good card.

Verdict: Myth - Playing this is definitely a step backwards.

6. It's not often you see a 2/1 for 1R with Trample, but Makindi Sliderunner might actually make use of it thanks to its Landfall ability that gives it an additional point of Power and Toughness whenever a Land enters the battlefield. Attacking as a 3/2 on turn 3 is decent, and if you can generate multiple Landfall triggers, this can do a lot of damage in a hurry. But once again, unless you're playing a very aggressive deck, it won't take long for this to find itself outclassed. Zendikar certainly has gotten tamer if this is what we get instead of Plated Geopede for the same mana cost.

Verdict: Borderline - Even on a sliding scale of aggression, this might not be good enough.

7. Nettle Drone is an interesting variation of Goblin Fireslinger. On a clear board, it attacks for 3, and when that option isn't available, it can still ping your opponent for a point every turn. It also has the slight upside of being able to untap whenever you cast a colorless spell, allowing it to become a surprise blocker or even just tap for another point of damage. This isn't really a card that would play well in the sort of prolonged game that typically favor Eldrazi, but it might find a home in an aggressive archetype that contains enough colorless spells to get some value out of its untap ability.

Verdict: Borderline - I won't needle you if I see this in your deck, but I'm not really impressed.

8. Ondu Champion is probably the best of the Ally cards with Rally. It's already a 4/3 for 2RR, which is perfectly suitable if not particularly exciting. But giving all of your creatures Trample when it enters the battlefield makes this an excellent finisher in a Gruul Monsters archetype, where you've got plenty of big dumb creatures just waiting for the chance to overwhelm an opponent's board in one major swing. And even in games where you don't get the chance to set up such a scenario, this card is still efficient enough on its own to be a viable threat in most Red based decks.

Verdict: Borderline - While good, it's kinda disappointing this is the champion of the Ally cards.

9. Outnumber is an interesting take on Red removal, and one that doesn't take much to make it quite strong. This is quite similar to Collateral Damage in that it will be good in decks that play a lot of tokens or similar creatures, but in this case will be much stronger in multiples since it doesn't require you to actually get rid of your creatures. It should be trivial for this to be equivalent to Shock, and it's even reasonable to expect it to be Lightning Bolt in some situations. Just watch out for instant speed removal, where your opponent can save their creature by destroying one of yours.

Verdict: Hit - The scenarios where this is amazing outnumber those where it's bad or worthless.

10. Reckless Cohort is pretty bad. Based on Valley Dasher, it's reasonable to expect a 2/2 for 1R that has to attack each turn to at least have Haste or some other beneficial ability to make up for the drawback. But in this case, it's just a vanilla 2/2 that can ignore the drawback if you happen to control another Ally card. In almost any scenario, you'd be better off just playing any 2/2 for 2 mana over this. And even in a dedicated Ally deck (which almost certainly won't be a thing in Standard Pauper), this card doesn't even reward you for being in that deck; it merely makes a bad card borderline playable.

Verdict: Myth - You're foolish and reckless if you include this in your deck.

11. Shatterskull Recruit feels more like a Green card to me, since it's essentially a big dumb beater with some pseudo-evasion in the form of Menace. It normally can't attack until at least turn 6, and by that point you would expect your opponent to have multiple creatures that can block in such a way to only trade one-for-one unless you've also got a combat trick at your disposal. If you can keep the board relatively clear, this can certainly do significant damage fairly quickly. As such it's worth consideration at the top end of a Gruul monsters style deck, but probably won't see much play outside of that specific archetype.

Verdict: Borderline - It's not earth shattering, but might be worth recruiting for some decks.

12. Compare Stonefury with Outnumber, and you can quickly see why that card is better than this. At its worst, you would expect this to deal 5 damage to a creature, since you need at least that many Lands in order to cast it. And in the late game, this is even stronger, giving you the ability to deal lethal damage to any creature in the format with relative ease. The only real problem is its cost, since most of the time you won't be able to do anything else on the turn that you cast this. Essentially this is just a Red Flesh to Dust, but made worse by being in a color that typically doesn't play Control that well.

Verdict: Borderline - Don't be furious about my lack of excitement for this card.

13. Sure Strike is a strictly better reprint of Slaughter Cry from the original Zendikar in that its one mana cheaper than its previous iteration. Moving from 2R to 1R is a big improvement, making it much easier to use as a combat trick and still have other spells you can play on the same turn. Even though it doesn't pump Toughness, most of the time this will guarantee your creature will kill the other creature and survive the process, which is exactly what you want to get out of your tricks. It's perfectly functional in that regard, but since it doesn't have any additional utility, its scope is somewhat limited.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm sure this will see some play, but it's sure not exciting.

14. Touch of the Void is another great way to enable the processor cards without playing a subpar card to do it. Taking Lightning Strike as an analogue, this is still clearly worse in that it costs more and can only be cast at Instant speed. But it also exiles the creature, which can be quite strong against decks looking to use the Graveyard as a resource, and synergizes well with cards that reward you for playing colorless spells. It's certainly not the greatest removal spell as your disposal, but it's a great alternative that should find a home in decks that can take advantage of its particulars.

Verdict: Borderline - This has just the right touch of synergy to make it useful in some scenarios.

15. The Invokers are back as a mini-cycle in Battle for Zendikar, and Valakut Invoker is one of the strongest that have ever been printed over the life of these Commons. As a 2/3 for 2R it's already borderline playable. But when you get up to eight mana, you get the ability to throw around virtual Lightning Bolts that can target both creatures and players. Granted, it's expensive and attached to a somewhat fragile creature. But in the late game where you can protect it, this card can easily become a win-condition all by itself, quickly finishing off an injured opponent or decimating the opposing side of the battlefield.

Verdict: Hit - I could invoke several rules about why I would never expect this at Common.

16. Valakut Predator seems like the stereotypical example of what a Landfall creature at Common should look like. It's a 2/2 for 2R, but attacks as a 4/4 most of the time on Turn 4.  As I've mentioned above, it obviously gets better if you have ways of triggering Landfall at Instant speed, either during your opponent's turn or simply in the midst of combat. It would have been nice to see it have some sort of french vanilla ability, but given the constraints of New World Order that's now a lot to ask at Common. All in all this is probably playable, but not anything you're excited to include in your deck.

Verdict: Borderline - This can prey on some weaker creatures, but won't ever dominate a game.

17. Vestige of Emrakul is certainly efficiently costed, giving you an extra point of Toughness and Trample for a very reasonable 3/4 body for 3R. It certainly isn't flashy, but anytime you get Trample on a creature at Common it's worth paying attention to. Obviously this is an excellent target for Power-boosting combat tricks, and the extra point of Toughness means that it can not only survive combat against most other four-drops but also sidesteps a lot of Common removal. Still, this probably won't make the cut unless you've got an archetype that is looking to pack in as many reasonable colorless cards as possible.

Verdict: Borderline - In situations where this is all that's left of your board, you're still in decent shape.

18. It's very unusual to see Land Destruction at Instant speed such as you find on Volcanic Upheaval, but when you consider the presence of Awaken in the set, suddenly it all makes sense. Most of the time Land Destruction is too slow to be worth playing, which is why despite all of its reprints Demolish has seen very little play in the history of Standard Pauper. At best, this is a very situational Sideboard card to combat a deck that places a lot of emphasis on Awaken or has a very shaky mana base. But most of the time, it's just too narrow even to be worth including in your Sideboard.

Verdict: Myth - Land Destruction at Instant speed shouldn't case any real upheaval in the metagame.

Red certainly has its share of aggressive creatures and powerful removal, which is about on par with what you would expect in most sets. In my opinion, Valakut Invoker is probably the stand-out Common in this color, with Outnumber not too far behind. The three Landfall creatures are decent, but by themselves aren't sufficient reason to go all-in on the Landfall deck. Both aggressive decks pairing Red with either White or Green as well as various Control archetypes with access to Red should find some strong options here, so I suspect Red's presence will certainly makes itself felt in the new metagame.

IV. Conclusion

So with that I conclude Part Two 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 3!