Battle for Zendikar Constructed Set Review – Red

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5.0: Multi-format all-star. (Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage.)
4.0: Format staple. (Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Siege Rhino. Remand.)
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes and formats, but not a staple. (Jace Beleren. Seeker of the Way. Hordeling Outburst.)
3.0: Archetype staple. (Jace, Architect of Thought. Deathmist Raptor. Dromoka’s Command.)
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. (Jace, Memory Adept. Tragic Arrogance. Dragon Fodder.)
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. (Jace, the Living Guildpact. Naturalize. Duress.) Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although an explanation is obviously important.
1.0: It has seen play once. (One with Nothing). (I believe it was tech vs. Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)

Akoum Firebird

Constructed: 3.0

The only thing better than a Mantis Rider is an unkillable Mantis Rider. Granted, trading vigilance for “must attack” and costing an additional mana may make the analogy break down a little, but I still do like the Firebird. It’s one of the better things red can do on 4 mana, so if your aggressive red deck is looking for a high-end threat, Firebird is a hot one. Red decks don’t usually have a ton of room for expensive cards, and having to attack does land this firmly in the aggro camp, but I love the resilience from the landfall ability. I can see playing this maindeck in a RG Dragons type deck, as a 1-2 of in an aggressive mono-red deck, or out of the sideboard from a wide variety of decks—bringing a couple of these in against removal-heavy decks sounds pretty good.

Akoum Hellkite

Constructed: 2.0

When evaluating this cycle of cards, keep in mind that you can often get 1.5 triggers by playing a fetchland into the appropriate basic. Once you are in that space, Akoum Hellkite does do some amount of machine-gunning, though at 6 mana it’s going to need a specific matchup before it sees any play. An RG Ramp deck against something like mono-white aggro could be that matchup, but I’d like to see if either of those decks are good before I jam this.

Akoum Stonewaker

Constructed: 2.0

Historically, red 2-drops didn’t have to clear a very high bar to see play. Firebrand Ranger saw play in a mono-red deck that made Top 8 of a Pro Tour, though that was a long time ago. Akoum Stonewaker does a decent job of attacking early, and can provide some value late. It’s expensive enough that it’s one of the uncommon landfall creatures that doesn’t stack up all that well with fetchlands, but it still can toss a 3/1 at the opponent if you have nothing better to do. I suspect that 2/1s for 2 aren’t good enough these days, even ones with solid upside, which makes the future of this card rocky.

Barrage Tyrant

Constructed: 2.0

If you start with the assumption that this has a reasonable chance of survival, it’s a very dangerous card. It can toss other creatures at your opponent, and has 5 power of its own to threaten them with. However, that assumption isn’t very safe in Constructed, and I’d need a reason to believe that this would live before building a deck around it.

Boiling Earth

Constructed: 2.5

This is another deceptively good card. It’s mainly going to be a sideboard option against token decks, but Scouring Sands and other effects like that tend to see a decent amount of play. I see no reason why Boiling Earth wouldn’t, and the option to make a 4/4 is nice in the rare times it comes up.

Chasm Guide

Constructed: 2.0

Mass haste-granting sounds like something right up the Ally deck’s alley, that’s all I know. Having Chasm Guide out makes the Ally deck much more dangerous, and a combo version could lean on this (though Kalastria Healer may be the real engine card, depending on how things turn out).

Crumble to Dust

Constructed: 2.5

Sometimes cards come out that wholly retire other cards. It was a sad day when Blightsteel Colossus voided Darksteel Colossus, and we have the same situation here. Sowing Salt had a good run, but that run is over, and the easier-to-cast Crumble to Dust is the new go-to answer to Urza’s Tower in Modern.

Dragonmaster Outcast

Constructed: 2.5

Dragonmaster Outcast never quite got there last time around, but I still have hope that it’s a sick sideboard plan. If you can side this in against removal-light decks, or better yet, when you are a creatureless deck game 1, Dragonmaster Outcast can dominate. It’s an amazing card if it survives, and making sure it does is the trick.

Firemantle Mage

Constructed: 2.0

Look, as long as there are potential additions to the Ally deck, I’m going to keep firing away. In a deck based around killing the opponent with attacks, Firemantle Mage could combine with Chasm Guide, Lantern Scout, and Munda, giving you a robust offense that goes around most blockers.

Makindi Sliderunner

Constructed: 3.0

As it turns out, 4/3 tramplers for 2 mana are good. Plated Geopede is back, and even if it’s smaller, it does run over chump blockers much more effectively. I think this will slide right in to many red decks, and I expect it to be one of the staples of the archetype.

Molten Nursery

Constructed: 2.0

This may not be Modern All-Star Ghirapur Aether Grid, but it does have the potential to harass small creatures. I could see siding Molten Nursery in against a deck full of X/1s, though that requires you to be playing a deck with a high percentage of colorless spells.

Nettle Drone

Constructed: 2.0

If that deck full of colorless spells exists, Nettle Drone could also be a part of it. This does gun down the opponent fairly quickly, and if every nonland card in your deck triggers it, there is some power there.

Processor Assault

Constructed: 2.0

In a deck where your opponent always has an exiled card, this is a better version of Roast. I’m guessing that’s a tall order, but it’s worth keeping this in mind if you do end up exiling cards regularly (and hitting fliers isn’t irrelevant).

Radiant Flames

Constructed: 3.5

An easier-to-cast Anger of the Gods is a welcome sight, and in this format, I think 3 different colors is generally easier than 1RR. Losing out on the exile clause is particularly relevant right now, and may have pushed this over the top, but even as-is this is still a very impactful card for Standard (and potentially Modern). This wipes the board early, can be modulated to deal less if you need it to, and is the Mono-Red deck’s worst nightmare. I like to have controlling options in red, and this works well in midrange decks too.

Touch of the Void

Constructed: 2.5

Magma Spray is gone, and red decks do need a way to kill Hangarback Walker. Yes, this is a touch expensive, but you work with what you’ve got.

Tunneling Geopede

Constructed: 2.0

Like Nettle Drone, this can ping the opponent many times, and like Nettle Drone, I’m not overly optimistic about its chances.

Vile Aggregate

Constructed: 2.0

The capability of being a 3/5 or 4/5 early in the game is not one I’ll turn down lightly, and this is yet another reason to try and build a devoid deck. I think the deck is missing a couple pieces, but the groundwork is there.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

Constructed: 2.5

Zada is a bit far out there, but given a 1-cost cantrip, like Defiant Strike, she can draw you a ton of cards. Though you might assume she does well in grindy matchups, I think a good Zada deck is more likely to be a combo shell, maybe an aggro-combo mix. Playing tokens into Zada + a pump spell sounds interesting, and any card with such a powerful text box should be on your radar.

Top 3 Red Cards

3. Akoum Firebird
2. Makindi Sliderunner
1. Radiant Flames

Red did reasonably well for itself here. Radiant Flames may end up seeing less play than Sliderunner, but given that it offers a more unique effect, I’m more interested in the impact it will have. Both Sliderunner and Firebird are good threats for beatdown decks, and overall red really didn’t need that much help coming in, given how few of its good cards left.

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