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Battle for Zendikar Set Review and Set Redo

Ratings Scale

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.)

Eldrazi Obligator

Constructed: 2.5

Zealous Conscripts was a powerful option when it was in Standard, and saw both main-deck and sideboard play. Obligator differs in some important ways, ways that are both advantages and disadvantages.

1) Obligator can’t take planeswalkers. This is a big one, because stealing a planeswalker was one of the biggest swings possible.

2) Obligator can be cast as a 3/1 haste for 3. Having the option of running this out as a 3-mana play is a big advantage, as decks that want this effect often have a low curve, and being able to play your 5-drop for 3 mana gives it a ton of flexibility.

3) Obligator’s ability can’t be countered, because it triggers on cast. This isn’t a huge advantage, but having the Threaten part be uncounterable will win some games.

Obligator doesn’t come out poorly in this comparison, as having a 3-mana mode is huge, though we also have to take into account that it requires colorless mana. That will restrict where it shows up, so I’d be looking at some kind of aggro colorless deck with Obligators, Thought-Knot Seers, and Reality Smashers to start with. The power is here, but figuring out the best way to harness it is the trick.

Immobilizer Eldrazi

Constructed: 2.0

I don’t know if this is going to successfully move from Limited to Constructed, but the ability is unique enough to take a look at. If you are colorless beatdown, this is a below-rate creature that might make the opponent unable to block for multiple turns, and that’s powerful. You’d have to be very confident that this affects all of the opponent’s creatures before it really starts paying off, but there may be decks where that’s largely true.

Kozilek’s Return

Constructed: 4.0

Kozilek’s Return is my pick for the most powerful card in the set. That doesn’t mean it will be the most played, because it comes with some stringent deckbuilding restrictions, but it’s absurd when you can reliably take advantage of it. A 3-mana deal 2 is already a solid card, and this is SO much more than that.

First of all, a 0-mana deal 5 is outrageous, and this mode happens while you have a giant monster on the stack, putting you in a fantastic position. The difficulty is getting that monster on the stack to begin with, but we have so many ramp options that it doesn’t seem impossible by any stretch. Return buys you time early and wipes the board when your finisher comes out, meaning you can be far behind when you cast your Eldrazi and still come out with a win. It also makes me like Kozilek more, because Kozilek plus his Return is both flavorful and synergistic. I’d rather have Kozilek than Ulamog if I have Return in my bin, though otherwise Ulamog is the safer choice. Note that World Breaker can trigger this as well, and likely will many times over the course of Standard.

Even if you aren’t in a position to trigger the Return part of this, your opponent doesn’t know that! Once you are on 7+ mana, if you have one of these in your graveyard it will change how your opponent plays. That’s a lot of free value, as the less they commit, the longer you have to assemble your late game and find that Eldrazi. It’s going to be unpleasant, but part of this Standard format will involve playing creatures right in to a face-up Kozilek’s Return and just hoping your opponent doesn’t have the Eldrazi.

Part of the reason I gave this such a high rating is that it also has Modern implications. It may fit into both Tron and red/X Eldrazi decks, for a variety of reasons. Modern has more busted mana acceleration options, which makes this trigger earlier and more often. It also kills Etched Champion out of Affinity, which is a relevant interaction.

Kozilek’s Return is a game-changer, and a huge power boost to a type of deck that got a ton of new toys in OGW.

Boulder Salvo

Constructed: 2.0

Flame Slash is gone, ok? It’s not coming back, and this is what we get instead.

I don’t love the idea of having to do work to play my removal, and this is in all likelihood worse than Roast, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a piece of efficient removal that can kill Mantis Rider, Jace, Anafenza, Abbot, and more.

Chandra, Flamecaller

Constructed: 2.5

Chandra combines a lot of very good abilities, but a lot of her equity is burned by costing a full 6 mana. She does hit a lot of the benchmarks that I look for in planeswalkers:

1) She protects herself. Her ultimate is usable immediately, and can keep everything but Rhino-sized creatures off the board. Additionally, she’s good when behind, which isn’t true of a lot of planeswalkers.

2) She draws a card each turn. Her 0 actually does more than that, but at the very least you are up a card, plus a significant boost in card quality (I’m gonna go ahead and assume you are casting your good cards and leaving your bad ones in hand).

3) She pressures the opponent’s life total. This is the most valuable ability when you are ahead, as a potential 6 damage a turn is a very fast clock.

Does all that add up to 6 mana? I’m not sure, but the power here makes me loathe to dismiss Chandra, as good as a play as that is in an actual game. Where she seems like she’d fit best is a midrange red deck, as that kind of deck has creatures to protect Chandra, could nominally be aggressive enough to make use of the +1, and can realistically get to 6 mana (unlike Atarka Red).

Devour in Flames

Constructed: 2.0

First you Roast, then you Devour, then you are full. This is another alternative to Roast that likely won’t see a ton of play, but it can kill fliers, and in a landfall deck could have an upside instead of a drawback.

Expedite

Constructed: 2.0

There are vague combo potentials here, so let’s not be too hasty in calling this unplayable. Granting haste at no cost of a card could be good, and any card that cycles for 1 mana is worth keeping an eye on.

Fall of the Titans

Constructed: 2.0

It’s hard for me to see this card and not think of how absurd it is in 2-Headed Giant, but that’s not what this review is about. What this could do in Constructed is act as a bad Forked Bolt (3 mana for 1+1 damage) until you can set it up to do something like kill two 5/5s. I’m not sure exactly how you are setting this up, as it isn’t powerful enough to be worth putting bad 0-drops in your deck.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers

Constructed: 3.0

Snapcaster Mage is back… kind of. If you reliably get a 3-mana spell off Dark-Dwellers, it’s not as ludicrous of a comparison as it may seem. A 4/4 that casts Crackling Doom is great, and if the fallback is to cast Kolaghan’s Command, Roast, or even Fiery Impulse, that’s not bad at all. It’s a shame that Painful Truths doesn’t work, but you can’t have it all. The nature of this card, and the fact that it costs 5, makes me hesitant to jam four copies, but as a 2-3 of it seems like it could be awesome in various Dark-Jeskai-type decks. The mana is a little rough and you have to up the number of spells it can hit (any Jeskai Charms?), but the payoff is there.

Kazuul’s Toll Collector

Constructed: 2.0

I honestly have no idea how you are supposed to use this, but I bet there’s some Modern-legal equipment with a huge equip cost that is BUSTED with this. Or something.

Oath of Chandra

Constructed: 2.5

Even at sorcery speed, if this could hit players it would be very good. Hitting only creatures makes it pretty good still, but less interesting for aggressive red decks. Funnily enough, the best red control deck is Jeskai, and that deck really prefers spells it can delve away or flash back with Jace and Dark-Dwellers. Draconic Roar may edge this out for the time being, but if a planeswalker-heavy control deck emerges, Oath of Chandra can do some work.

Reckless Bushwhacker

Constructed: 3.0

This is the definition of a 3.0, with the archetype in question being token-based red decks. It works well with Dragon Fodder due to how cheap Fodder is, though the extra damage from Hordeling Outburst makes both sound enticing. Even playing Abbot into this is 6 damage, making this more consistent than reckless, regardless of what it’s called.

Tears of Valakut

Constructed: 2.0

I was going to say that this could be another uncounterable answer to the Pestermite + Splinter Twin combination, but there’s an obvious problem with that: Tears of Valakut doesn’t hit Deceiver Exarch. As such, this looks like it might have a better shot in Standard, as it can pick off Mantis Rider and big fliers. My guess is that Rending Volley is better positioned right now, but in a world without Rending Volley we might be crying out for this.

Tyrant of Valakut

Constructed: 2.0

I like the idea of Crush of Tentacles more than Tyrant, because Tyrant isn’t even a great deal when you do surge it. For comparison, Dragonlord Atarka is an 8/8 for 7 that deals 5 always, and Tyrant is smaller, does less damage, and can even fizzle if you don’t have a cheap spell. The only upside is that you can play Tyrant on turn 5 or 6 with the right enabler, but I’m not working that hard for such a low payoff.

Top 3 Red Cards

3. Reckless Bushwhacker
2. Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1. Kozilek’s Return

I love what red got in this set. Kozilek’s Return is absurd, while also being interesting and a deckbuilding challenge. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is another powerful payoff for building the right deck, and a completely different deck at that. Lastly, Reckless Bushwhacker is another card that goes in a specific deck, and that deck is completely different from the first two! I love the combination of power and interesting deckbuilding decisions, and look forward to a wide range of red decks in the coming Standard (with some impact on Modern). Chandra is another card I think is very cool, and definitely has room to grow. She’s powerful and does enough different things that I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up being awesome.

Green is next, and oddly may have the best cantrip in the set.