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Battle for Zendikar Limited Set Review – White

*Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte.

5.0: The best of the best. (Citadel Siege. Wingmate Roc. Dragonlord Atarka.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Tragic Arrogance. Whirler Rogue. Icefall Regent. Hangarback Walker.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Abbot of Keral Keep. Jhessian Thief. Ultimate Price.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Separatist Voidmage. Fiery Impulse. Epic Confrontation.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Deadbridge Shaman. Skyraker Giant. Watercourser.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Read the Bones. Silumgar Butcher. Dragon-Scarred Bear.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Throwing Knife. Chandra’s Fury. Artful Maneuver.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Vastwood Gorger. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Cobblebrute.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Thornbow Archer. Deep-Sea Terror. Akroan Jailer.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Vandalize. Vine Snare. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Fascination. Infinite Obliteration.)

First, a quick note on 5.0s: I am slightly relaxing what I consider a 5, as reserving it for just the top cards ever in Limited isn’t as useful. Yes, Umezawa’s Jitte and Pack Rat are on another level, but cards like Citadel Siege or Atarka should make the list as well. You are going to see more cards get the highest grade, even though I’m not going so far as to say that the best card in a set automatically gets it. It’s possible for the best card to still not quite get there.

Angel of Renewal

Limited: 3.5

Paying 6 mana for a 4/4 flier is still a powerful Limited play, even though all the formats we’ve seen recently have been pretty fast. What I particularly like about this card is that it will gain you at least 1 life, and often 3 or 4, which makes surviving to make use of your powerful flier much more likely. One of the weaknesses of expensive cards is how vulnerable they are to bounce and removal, so the life gain here is a huge boon. Bouncing this is unlikely to provide much in the way of progress, and even if this eats a removal spell you still gained a couple life for your trouble. Plus, some decks can realistically gain 6+ life when they play this, which makes it a finisher against beatdown decks. I also wouldn’t mind splashing this if my deck was very heavy on Eldrazi Scions and the like.

Angelic Gift

Limited: 2.0

This isn’t the most extravagant present, but it’s also one that doesn’t cost a whole lot. It’s like the gift you’d give to a coworker who you were on pretty good terms with, but not really close friends. As such, in a deck with a lot of cheap creatures, I’m happy including this, but anticipate cutting it if I don’t have plenty of early targets. The value does go up if you have creatures that really want to hit the opponent, but white isn’t full of those. Cycling this on the opponent’s creature is possible, but not very pleasant.

Cliffside Lookout

Limited: 1.5

I’m not generally on the lookout for one-drop 1/1s, though the ability here is of some interest. This is the kind of card you only want if your deck is full of creatures and fairly aggressive, and even then you will often find better finishers. The good news is that nobody else is interested in this card either, so you should be able to pick one or two up in case you end up in the swarm deck and need ways to punch through. Cards like Cliffside Lookout are often deceptive, because they are bad in most decks but have a very high top end when put into a deck that really wants them. I like having cards like this in the format, as they reward those who know when (and when not) to use them.

Courier Griffin

Limited: 3.0

Courier Griffin really delivers. It has good stats, a good enters-the-battlefield ability, and plays well on both defense and offense. I approve.

Emeria Shepherd

Limited: 3.5

The speed of the format will determine where Emeria Shepherd (and other cards that cost 6+ mana) lands on the power level spectrum. If the format is very fast, their ratings will fall, even if they are powerful. Emeria Shepherd is in fact powerful, powerful enough to be an engine for a control deck, though the signs don’t point to this being as slow as Rise of the Eldrazi. As we saw the first time we visited Zendikar, landfall creatures promote aggression and end games, and I’m not seeing mana ramp near the quality of Overgrown Battlement or Kozilek’s Predator (which is part of why you could cast 8+ drops consistently in Rise). Still, there’s a lot of room between Rise of the Eldrazi and a normal Limited format, so this can be faster than Rise and still let you play expensive cards.

My initial impression is that this format has more support for decks that want to play big cards than a normal Limited format. Cards like Emeria Shepherd will be good if you can draft around them, and the tools are there to do so. I’m not saying that you can just ignore 2-drops and early aggression, or that you need to windmill slam any card that costs 7+ mana and assume it will work out, just that big decks that play cards like this are way more doable than they were in the last couple sets.

As for the Shepherd itself: treat it like an 8-mana spell and it will do a lot of work. Playing Shepherd plus Plains is an awesome turn, and even if the land isn’t a Plains you still come out ahead. This is a threat that must be dealt with or it ends the game rapidly, and if you have the time to wait until you can trigger it immediately, there’s basically no way for you to lose value on the exchange.

Encircling Fissure

Limited: 3.0

As a pure combat trick, this is medium. Spending three mana on this in the first 5-6 turns of the game is going to be fine at best, but once the game goes late this card becomes huge. Not only does it give you ambush opportunities by itself, it can swing a big combat completely, and I can see getting two or three cards with a well-timed Fissure. Your opponent can play around this if they see it coming, and those cards tend to lose value against wary opponents, especially once people get more acquainted with the format.

Expedition Envoy

Limited: 2.5

As I’ve said many times before, people tend to overrate 1-drops. If your deck isn’t full of 2-drops, playing this on turn one isn’t that different than playing it on turn two, and Constructed is where you are able to take advantage of curving out starting on 1. That being said, this is a fine card in any deck that wants a 2/1, which certainly won’t be every white deck.

Felidar Cub

Limited: 2.5

A 2-mana 2/2 with a solid upside is good in my book. There aren’t as many enchantments at common as there were in the last set, so this isn’t an auto-include, but there are plenty of decent uncommon ones to prey upon.

Felidar Sovereign

Limited: 4.0

Felidar Sovereign really is a beast, and even if the second line of text never becomes relevant, it will do a lot of work. If your opponent doesn’t have a removal spell, this makes racing nigh-impossible and gives you a huge threat. This is a classic 6-mana bomb, which only suffers in this set because there are plenty of cards that can go over the top. The nice part is that any deck can cast this, not just dedicated ramp decks, and as such I’d expect it to be picked early just about every time.

Fortified Rampart

Limited: 1.5

Even as a blocking aficionado, I tend to like my defenders to have a little bite. This does the job of keeping a ground creature back, sure, but having zero power means that it can stop one creature at most. If you need a 2-drop in your defensive deck, this does fill that role, but it can never overperform.

Ghostly Sentinel

Limited: 3.0

Ghostly Sentinel is the exact type of card that nobody gets excited about. It’s a fine card in aggro and a fine card in control but spectacular in neither. It’s also powerful enough that you should run it nearly all of the time, but you are never going to be happy taking it early. Cards like this are indeed ghosts, as they are the filler that smooth out Limited decks.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Limited: 5.0

Gideon is one of the most spell-like planeswalkers we’ve ever seen, and he kind of does it all to boot. When you play Gideon, you immediately have the option of making a 2/2 Knight or turning Gideon into an unkillable Glorious Anthem, which would already be an incredible sorcery. Add to that the option of turning into a 5/5 if you have no threats, and the ability to become Glorious Anthem but still stick around obtaining value, and you have an amazing card.

Some games you will just play Gideon on turn four and your opponent won’t be able to win, and even when drawn late game, Gideon can immediately affect the board by giving your team +1/+1.

Gideon’s power plus flexibility has to put him in the highest category, just because of how hard he is to deal with and how good he is even when you are behind. Like many planeswalkers, he is vulnerable to fliers, but even if the opponent has creatures out you can still use Gideon as a 1-shot Anthem, which is a very strong card. Gideon’s biggest drawback may be that he doesn’t help if your opponent has lots of evasive creatures and you have nothing in play, but there aren’t many cards that help you there, and he’s too good in just about every other situation to get anything but a 5.

Gideon’s Reproach

Limited: 3.0

Working on both offense and defense makes this solid, but certainly doesn’t put it above reproach. It’s just a fine card, and cheap enough to see play even if it’s not going to deal with the most dangerous threats.

Hero of Goma Fada

Limited: 3.5

I like that Allies work well with non-Allies this time around, and cards like Hero of Goma Fada demonstrate that perfectly. This is a solid card even if you can never trigger it again, and any given deck will just randomly have some Allies in it without trying. In the right deck, this just means you can attack with everything every turn without fear, which is a very fun way to play the game (that’s why I always tell streamers I’m watching to just attack with everything). If you are on the back foot, this doesn’t do much, so if you take this try and keep your deck aggressive.

Inspired Charge

Limited: 1.5

This is great in the decks that want it, and quite medium everywhere else. That means it isn’t a high priority, as it will tend to end up in the right place during your draft. I start looking for Inspired Charges when I have a low-curve deck with a ton of creatures, and particularly when I have ways to generate multiple creatures.

Kitesail Scout

Limited: 0.0

Time for my 1/1 for 1 rant again: Do not play this card unless it serves a specific purpose in your deck. Even aggressive decks don’t want random 1/1s for 1, and there are very few cards that reward you for playing this. It’s not literally a zero, but I give it that to dissuade the legions of people that LOVE this card. I don’t want to make you feel bad if you do want to play this card, since it’s very appealing, but take it from me: it does not do enough to justify inclusion in the vast majority of decks. If you want to win more in Limited, take this card out of your deck.

Cases where playing Kitesail Scout are acceptable:

  • Your deck is mono-white, has 3-4 Inspired Charges, and is all 1-3 drop creatures with 15-16 land.
  • You sideboard it in against an opponent with a bunch of x/1s, especially fliers.

Kor Bladewhirl

Limited: 3.0

This fills your curve and gives you some solid attacks when you draw it late game, while potentially providing multiple triggers over the course of the game. I’d give it a whirl in most white decks.

Kor Castigator

Limited: 3.0

Most white decks are fine with playing 3/1s for 2, and this has a pair of bonuses. The first is the text box, which is just a bit of free value, and the second is the typeline. Yes, this is an Ally, which is not apparently obvious (given that some Kor are and some aren’t). It triggers all your other Ally powers, so some decks will be quite happy to pick this up.

Kor Entanglers

Limited: 2.0

Heaviest Infantry is a fine card if you have 5-6 Allies, and pretty mediocre otherwise. In a dedicated deck it can push through a lot of damage, and it’s one of the Allies that works best with Unified Front. Allies tend to be aggressive, so this ability is a little better than it looks at first glance.

Lantern Scout

Limited: 3.5

One good hit with a team of lifelink creatures is enough to put your opponent on the back foot in most games, which is why this is a great pickup even in non-Ally decks. It’s also got reasonable stats for its cost, making it a welcome addition to any deck. Funny enough, the high-power Ally cards aren’t that much of a reward for dedicated Ally decks, because any white deck is going to snap this up. That does mean the set plays more consistently well together, but I wanted to shine a light on the side effect that has on the rewards for dedicating to a theme, which in this case are lessened.

Lithomancer’s Focus

Limited: 3.0

1-mana combat tricks are usually pretty good, and this is no exception. It should win most fights in the early game, and the anti-colorless clause makes it more interesting once the giant creatures start coming out. Note that it prevents spell damage too, so it is even more flexible than it might appear on first glance.

Makindi Patrol

Limited: 1.5

Giving your team vigilance isn’t super exciting, especially if Ally decks tend to be the aggressor, so I see this more as a card you want if you just need a random 2/3 for three in your deck. The other reason to take it is if you have a ton of Ally synergies and just want any Ally you can get, as this does trigger your good cards.

Ondu Greathorn

Limited: 3.0

If you expect to be attacking, this card is great. It’s a mediocre blocker for its cost, which honestly is a betrayal of all its Pillarfield Ox ancestors worked for. The rating drops if you are drafting a defensive deck, which is almost universally true of landfall creatures.

Ondu Rising

Limited: 3.5

I don’t want to give this ondu praise, but it does lead to some mighty big swings. It’s a funny awaken card in that just casting it is very unlikely, but paying 6 for it (5 + attacking with the land) is quite strong. A 4/4 haste lifelinker for 6 mana is something I’d be interested in, and this gives the rest of your team lifelink while it’s at it. Granted, lifelink goes away after the first turn, but gaining at least 4 is already enough to turn most games. The ability to cast this for 2 mana is worth keeping in mind, as long as you don’t pull the trigger on that mode too often.

Planar Outburst

Limited: 4.5

Missing your opponent’s awakened lands is a real thing here, but that isn’t enough to keep this from being incredible. It kills almost everything, and often leaves you with a 4/4 (not to mention combo’ing with your other awaken spells). This is great on 5 mana and great on 8 mana, and catches you up when you are behind. The only things keeping this from being a 5 are that it doesn’t do a ton if you both have creatures in play, and the presence of even one awakened creature on the other side makes it a lot worse.

Quarantine Field

Limited: 5.0

Well, that didn’t take long. White gets another card that I can’t really imagine passing, and picks up another 5 while it’s at it. Casting Quarantine Field for 6 mana is going to be the most common scenario, and is absurd, but the fact that it’s decent on 4 and insane on 8 is what makes this card so good. Paying 6 to kill their best two permanents is awesome, and this scales up in a very powerful way. It’s also a card type that’s very hard to interact with in Limited, and even combos with any of your cards that make use of the opponent’s exile zone. You do have to worry about this getting blown up midcombat in post-board games, but that’s a minor note more than a big drawback.

Retreat to Emeria

Limited: 3.0

This Retreat combos quite nicely with itself, as it can make a ton of 1/1s and then send them in as 2/2s. It’s a good aggressive card and even a decent defensive one, which makes it a card that most decks will be interested in. Making Allies means that it’s the perfect enabler for an Ally deck, and even in a non-Ally beatdown deck it can really pressure the opponent.

Roil’s Retribution

Limited: 1.5

5 mana is a lot for a card that can only be cast during combat, because the implicit risk with any card like this is that your opponent will decline to give you a chance to cast it. Leaving 5 mana up and having an opponent just not attack can be a disaster, and that is a very real drawback. The upside is that this can kill two small-to-medium creatures or one large one, but that doesn’t excite me enough to take this very early.

Serene Steward

Limited: 2.5

White seems to love 2/2s for 2, especially when they happen to be Allies, so I’m fine with playing this even in a deck that can’t gain life. In part that helps conceal how good it is when you can gain life, as most people will assume you are just running this is a 2-drop. That can set up some nice ambushes with Tandem Tactics, which is a nice upside to have on your curve-filler. If you have no life gain and no Ally synergy, cutting this is reasonable, though I still think you will play it more often than not.

Shadow Glider

Limited: 2.5

3-mana 2/2 fliers are good enough that you need a reason not to play them, and this is even an Ally to boot. Control decks will cut this, but that’s about the extent of it.

Edit: Or it’s not an Ally, and I got confused. I’m sure that will never happen again. – LSV

Sheer Drop

Limited: 3.5

This card is a sheer beating when you pay the awaken cost, and that cost is low enough that it will happen fairly often. Sheer Drop is flexible and powerful, especially for a common. It’s hard to play around, as your opponents can’t really justify not attacking, but if you are at a low life total you may not be able to afford to take a hit before killing the creatures you really want to kill. Either way, this is one of the stronger control cards white has access to, though its relative weakness in aggro might make its stock drop.

Smite the Monstrous

Limited: 3.0

How playable this is will depend on how many decks you expect to have targets, and I’m starting with the assumption that just about every deck will have at least a couple. Even if it misses a lot of things, it does kill the creatures that need killing the most, and having at least one Smite covers a lot of bases. The third Smite is pretty bad, but I’m happy with the first couple.

Stasis Snare

Limited: 4.0

Unconditional removal at instant speed is hard to turn down, and this does its job so efficiently and reliably that I’m happy giving it a high rating.

Stone Haven Medic

Limited: 2.0

There’s a minor life gain theme in this set, which makes this more playable than it otherwise would be. It’s also a fine card in a control deck, as it keeps back most 2-drops and gains some incidental life if nothing else is going in. It’s not the stone nuts, but it’s a fine defensive option that has some combo possibility.

Tandem Tactics

Limited: 3.0

If you are in the market for combat tricks, this is exactly the kind of card you want. Decks that prioritize tricks have lots of small creatures, and lend themselves to board states where this is frequently a 2-for-1. It even gains 2 life, randomly, which can trigger any of the cards that care about that. It’s also easy to figure out when you don’t want this card, which is when you are a control deck, creature-light, or have a deck full of medium to large creatures. Even though some decks will leave this out, it’s awesome in the decks that do want it.

Unified Front

Limited: 2.0

There are two reasons to play this card: you can reliably make 3+ colors of mana, which means this is just an efficient card, or you really want Allies. If you have multiple creatures that have triggers that pay you per Ally, like Kor Entanglers, you are more likely to want this than the average 2-color Ally deck.

Top 5 White Commons

5. Gideon’s Reproach
4. Courier Griffin
3. Smite the Monstrous
2. Tandem Tactics
1. Sheer Drop

White has a lot of commons that overlap. Sheer Drop is the most powerful, as it kills a creature and turns a land into a 3/3 (which is a lot for a common), but the rest are cards that essentially show up multiple times. Tandem Tactics looks like enough of a blowout that I have it above Lithomancer’s Focus as the combat trick of choice, and Smite edges out Gideon’s Reproach as the second-best removal spell. Courier Griffin competes with Shadow Glider and Ghostly Sentinel as the best common flier, though I could see that flip-flopping depending on how the format shakes out. White also has a lot of decent 2-drops and an Ally theme, so it looks like it can support both aggressive decks and control decks alike.

LSV

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