With the Pro Tour in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for me to go over Battle for Zendikar Limited. In this article, I will present my pick order list in which I rank all cards in the set from high to low as a guide for the first-pick-first-pack decision.
In this list, multicolored cards and cards that are only good in one specific color combination are ranked relatively low because first-picking such a card leaves you with less flexibility to maneuver during the draft. Conversely, colorless cards and cards that fit into multiple archetypes are ranked relatively high because they keep your options open. I believe this is a good general philosophy because if you commit too early, then you might miss out on an open color and/or your draft will be a train wreck if your right-hand neighbor happens to be drafting the same colors.
A final point I should mention is that I ranked cards from the Grixis shard slightly higher because red/blue, blue/black, and red/black decks put up the best results in my testing. Green or white decks often felt underwhelming.
Although the list I’m about to show is relevant for the first-pick-first-pack decision, it does not capture one essential aspect of Battle for Zendikar Limited: the importance of drafting a synergistic deck with a coherent game plan. This distinguishes BFZ from previous draft formats. In Magic Origins, for instance, you could easily win a draft by picking the best or most powerful card in every booster. You had to keep an eye on your mana curve, but there was not that much synergy around. This is not the case in Battle for Zendikar—more so than most sets in recent memory, you need to focus on cards that work together and that fit your game plan. To provide some aid for that, I will highlight the most valuable commons and uncommons for each of the ten different two-color combinations at the end of this article.
But first, my first-pick-first-pack list. I broke it down into separate categories to make it easier to read and to allow me to intersperse some comments, but you can think of it as one continuous list.
The Best Rares
I would take all of these cards over any common or uncommon.
I didn’t include the Expeditions because this list doesn’t take monetary value into account (I only consider the quality of a card during game play) but let’s be real—if you open an Expedition and you’re not drafting at a premier event like the Pro Tour, then you’ll be glad to take it over everything in the pack. Sometimes the mana-fixing can even help your deck, too!
The Top Uncommons & Good Rares
Rolling Thunder can finish any game by dealing a ton of damage to your opponent. This would already be good by itself, but the card’s ability to devastate the opponent’s board when the situation calls for it makes it the top uncommon.
The batch of subsequent rares (Woodland Wanderer, Greenwarden of Murasa, Wasteland Strangler, Akoum Firebird, Blight Herder, and Conduit of Ruin) are all just about as good as Rolling Thunder. I currently have them below it, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to take any of these cards over Rolling Thunder. And I do like to start my draft with Blight Herder or Conduit of Ruin—they are colorless, so they can make my deck no matter which colors I end up in. One thing to keep in mind for Conduit of Ruin is that its triggered ability doesn’t work so well against ingest. A similar caveat holds for cards that scry.
The Top Commons & Mid-Level Rares/Uncommons
Eldrazi Skyspawner is the best common as it comes at a great rate. A 2-power flier for 3 mana would already be playable by itself, but the relevance of devoid and the Eldrazi Scion token push it over the top. Clutch of Currents is good too—it presents a similar swing as Goblin Heelcutter—but I still prefer the best devoid cards over it.
You’ll notice that most of the commons in this category are from the Grixis shard. As I mentioned, I’ve found the devoid decks to the best decks that you can draft in this format, so I like to start with a red, blue, or black card if possible, even if there is a slightly better green or white card in the booster. Stasis Snare and Brood Monitor, for instance, are great cards, but they are ranked a little lower in comparison due to my color preference.
Sprinkled in are some of the best Ally cards (which is typically what you want to do when you’re drafting green or white) and a number of good rares. The rares in this category are all good, but slightly worse than the absolute top rares because they are multicolor, a bit too slow, mana-intensive, or situational.
Good Multicolor, Ramp, & Ally Cards
This group contains some of the best cards for color combinations outside of the Grixis shard. In particular, there are great multicolor cards, ramp cards, and Allys here that are all reasonable first-picks.
Felidar Sovereign was a bomb in a previous format, but in Battle for Zendikar, it’s merely okay because it gets trumped by all of the giant alien monsters. Ramping into big Eldrazi is a valid strategy in this set, by the way, which is why cards like Ulamog and Nissa’s Renewal are among the reasonable early picks. You still need a specific set of cards to make the ramp strategy work and there are only so many 6+ mana cards that you can put in your deck, so I don’t have them over the best commons and uncommons, but the cards can be formidable in the right deck.
Playables I’d First-Pick Below Evolving Wilds
The previous category ended with Evolving Wilds, and I want to take some time to praise it. I know there are many players who don’t even like to play it in a 2-color deck, but I have always liked to add it to my draft decks. Going from a 9/8 mana base to a 9/9 mana base (or from a 9-9 mana base to a 10-9 mana base) is a substantial improvement in terms of consistency, and it’s easily worth having a tapland in your deck for the same reason that decks in the previous Standard format were happy to include Sandsteppe Citadel and the like.
Especially in a draft deck with double-colored cards (e.g., Stasis Snare) I prefer to have at least 11-12 sources of that color. I’m rarely able to reach that level of consistency, but anything that gets me closer will reduce the frequency of color screws and mulligans, and ultimately increase my chances of winning a game. I realize that by picking Evolving Wilds over, say, Stonefury or Snapping Gnarlid, I may be missing out on a good card for my deck, but it’s usually not that hard to pick up a replacement playable. The resulting difference in quality of your nonland cards is, in my estimation, typically smaller than the difference between an Evolving Wilds and a basic land. And this entire discussion takes place in the context of the first pick of the first pack, where the colorless nature of Evolving Wilds is important because it keeps you open. Finally, in this format, Evolving Wilds is extra valuable due to landfall.
Now that we’re on the topic of mana anyway, I’ll add that 18 lands is the default number in this format (due to landfall, awaken, and mana-intensive win conditions) although I sometimes go down to 17 on the draw. The Blighted lands are nice, but I typically count them as a spell rather than a land because I don’t want to end up with too few colored sources for my spells. BFZ Limited is typically a 2-color format unless you’re drafting a UGx converge deck or a GWx Ally deck. In those decks, Fertile Thicket is valuable because it looks for a missing color. You should always choose to use Fertile Thicket’s ability even if you don’t need another land—by using it, you gain the information of what the bottom cards of your deck are, and you conceal the information that you don’t actually need lands from your opponent.
Next, I have a few words on mana curves. In BFZ Limited, there are way too many 4-drops. Most colors have three 4-drops at common, so you will typically be able to pick up a bunch of them late in the draft. There’s no need to waste an early pick on them unless you want to end up with a terrible curve featuring more than five 4-drops. For this reason, most of the 4-drops in this set are ranked relatively low. Continuing on the curve analysis, white doesn’t have many common 3-drops, so Shadow Glider and Makindi Patrol are a little higher than usual. Likewise, Culling Drone is the only common black 2-drop that you would play in a devoid/ingest deck, so even though this is a format where attacking with non-evasive 2/2s is not a good path to victory, I have it ranked relatively highly for curve purposes.
These cards are fine to fill out a deck, though they are not great in general. They are sorted only roughly because I cannot imagine that I’d ever take any of them as my first pick.
Cards I Would Not Main Deck
There’s a place for every card, and most of these cards have ended up in my deck at some point or another. But I’d still prefer not to start them in my main deck if I can avoid it.
The Top Commons and Uncommons For Each Color Combination
The pick order that I’ve provided so far is not meant to be rigid in the sense that you should follow it for the entirety of the draft. Once you settle in a certain archetype, things can change wildly, as you need to assemble a coherent, focused game plan. To give you some pointers, I’ll provide my picks for the 12 most important commons and uncommons in each two-color combination to give you an idea of what these color combinations generally try to do. In each of them, I roughly ranked the cards from best to worst, but again this is only an approximation because you should adjust during the draft based on curve considerations, synergy potential, and creature count.
BW Life Gain
I hope that my perspective on BFZ Draft was helpful to you, and I wish you the best of luck if you are participating in any upcoming Limited tournament. As for myself, I’ll be at Grand Prix Lyon next weekend as a text coverage reporter to see how the best Limited players in Europe approach this format. If there were any cards or strategies that you believe I misevaluated, let me know in the comment section below!