The Riki Rules: The Elder Dragons of Zendikar

Now that Sheldon has moved on to differently-hued pastures, that leaves me once again as the highest level Judge writing for this site. Among the perks, I get a parking space much closer to the lobby and i get to write about Elder Dragon Highlander.

Exploring the impact of a new set on Constructed formats can be a daunting task. Usually, the larger the format, the easy this exercise is. Very few cards printed these days will make an impact on Vintage. In terms of card pool, EDH falls somewhere between Vintage and Legacy. However, the singleton nature of the format and the color restrictions during deck construction means that more cards get an opportunity to find a home. The format being primarily multiplayer also has an effect on the viability of cards. Wilderness Elemental ends up being more of a house than Tarmogoyf.

Thus there are three primary criteria by which I look for good new EDH cards. The first is uniqueness; does the card do something that’s never been done before? The second part can be especially important if the effect is fairly unheard of in your general’s colors (artifacts always deserve extra scrutiny for this). A card like [card]Hive Mind[/card] is obviously a big red flag in this criteria and spawned the ridiculous Pacts combo that can kill anyone not playing the appropriate colors.

The second criteria is power (Unlimited power!); does the card do something better than it’s been done before? The evaluation for this can be slightly different than in normal Magic. Because of how much slower EDH games are, raw power is far more desirable over tempo. Dismantling Blow > Disenchant.

The third criteria is finding cards that are significantly improved in a multiplayer setting. Tarmogoyf may rule all of two-player land, but what is a two-mana 5/6 compared to a Copperhoof Vorrac?

Beastmaster Ascension
Muraganda Petroglyphs is already a popular enhancer for token decks. With multiple opponents to prey upon, the green Ascension should be really easy to “flip.” It’s a little worse than Petroglyphs off the top of your deck, especially after one of the numerous Wrath effects that you will have to fight through. But this has the benefit of working for your chocolate, strawberry, and butter pecan-flavored creatures. Damn. One card in and I’ve already made myself hungry.

Blood Seeker Speaking of tokens decks, here’s a nice answer. This probably won’t unseat Netherborn Phalanx in any of my black decks as a token punisher–the transmute option is just too good–but the thing with EDH is that you’re always looking for multiple options. You might think that cards like this will make you a bunch of enemies, but small bleeders like this tend to go unnoticed until people get to twenty life or so. Maybe they won’t be your friends, but this won’t make them your mortal enemies either. (The term “frenemy” from Dollhouse comes to mind.)

Bloodchief Ascension
This card on the other hand will make everyone your Megatron. I may end up talking about all the Ascensions as this is another one of those cards that should be easy to get going, and once it does, it seems kind of hard to lose. Zur will want to tutor for this nice and early, and it might be fun to feature this in a milling deck. EDH has always featured more hate for artifacts than enchantments. That may need to change now because these enchantments are becoming very powerful.

Burst Lightning
Dinky burn spells can have problems making it into decks because they don’t deal with the biggest of monsters and 40 life times X players makes it less efficient when going to the dome. Mostly you want to stick to X-spells. Burst Lightning mostly qualifies as a medium strength X-spell, but with the important caveat that it can kill [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card].

Chandra Ablaze
Have you heard? It’s all over Facebook. Chandra is going steady with Squee? This couple should be making a strong push for Homecoming King and Queen.

Devout Lightcaster
In a format like Standard, the triple-white cost on this card will relegate it to mono-white decks. EDH has no such puny limitations. Between every dual land in the history of Magic and the longer games, any two-color deck should be able to handle this load.

Devout Lightcaster serves as a nice answer to opposing generals, hard-to-kill regenerators, and ubiquitous cards like Phyrexian Arena. Seemingly underpowered, Sometimes the total package just comes together to make a very nice card.

Eternity Vessel
Starting with twice as much life obviously makes Eternity Vessel better. However, there is a huge target factor with cards like this. Someone is going to blow it up, or several players will gang up on you to deal 40 in one series of attacks. I just feel like you’re better off with Phyrexian Processor and its ilk.

Properly built around, you’re going to want to have multiple avenues to triggering the landfall at any time. How frustrating would it be for the anti-Vessel coalition for you to Harrow just before the third consecutive attack hits. You might also want to find ways to get more mileage out of your reset life total with cards that trade life for other resources. Phyrexian Processor and Necropotence come to mind.

Expedition Map
This is my pick for best EDH card in the set. There are only about half a dozen cards that can go get any land (discounting non-specific tutors like Demonic Tutor which usually get bigger and better things). More importantly, those cards are all green and/or white.

This gives blue a second way to get Tolarian Academy in addition to Tolaria West, but more significantly it allows you to chain tutor with Trinket Mage. Yeah, that card just continues to appreciate in value. Maybe some day it will get banned. Red is also very happy to finally get in on the land-serching act. Watch out for that volcano now.

Felidar Sovereign
Good luck with this one. Test of Endurance is much harder to destroy and it doesn’t see significant play. Making it all the way around the table with an “I win at the beginning of my upkeep” card is nearly impossible. If you’re going to do this, you’ll want to flash the big cat out with something like Chord of Calling.

Grim Discovery
Most EDH decks are packed with fetch and/or cycle lands of the appropriate colors. And creatures. Plenty of creatures. Every deck needs solid roleplayers like this to gain incremental card advantage over the course of a game.

Halo Hunter
Can’t kill Akroma. Can’t kill Baneslayer. Can’t kill Chameleon Colossus. This card is a cruel joke.

Iona, Shield of Emeria
I doubt Iona will see any serious play as a general; nine mana is a bit much even in this format, just to see her fall to an StP after you name black, or Terror after naming white. However, there are plenty of ways to cheat creatures into play, Lurking Predators being everyone’s new favorite (throw her on top of your deck with Worldly Tutor in response to the trigger).

But wait, there’s more. Several people have mentioned the possibility of Tooth and Nail for Iona and Painter’s Servant in normal Magic. In addition to that, EDH also features the two-creature fetcher in Defense of the Heart, which isn’t that hard to set off with or without Forbidden Orchard.

This situation bears watching. Tooth and Nail and Defense of the Heart have always been able to get potential game-ending combos (my favorite was Triskelion and Vigor with Doubling Season in play [told you I love that card!]) Iona/ Painter doesn’t auto win, but it does shut out all of your opponents from playing spells the minute it hits, and that shouts “unfun.”

Luminarch Ascension
This quest was made for multiplayer since it triggers on each of their end steps. If you’re playing at a larger table, this might mean one short cycle around the table. More realistically, you probably need to make it partway through a second turn cycle. If you play it on turn two, that’s not a problem. But even if you drop this later, there is no penalty for actually losing life (like removing counters), so you should be able to find one or two opponents who can’t mount an offensive and take advantage of their sedentary ways. This is another fun one for Zur to get early, and by fun I mean “Is this guy a problem yet?”

Malakir Bloodwitch
All opponents. You have to love those words in multiplayer formats. New tribes always suffer from a lack of playables, and vampires are no exception. Better load up on appropriately colored changelings. However, it could be fun to get in on the ground floor with a vampire deck now and watch it get better over the next few years as they finally push the tribe beyond “lame Sengir variants.”

Nissa Revane
I’m very disappointed in Nissa. Planeswalkers are usually very good in EDH, but Nissa puts some rather unusual constraints on your deck. First, you have to play with an Elvish Warrior. Second, despite how lame it is to have said 2/3, you can only have the one. This means you can’t chain them and end up going into gain 2 life mode next turn. If your Chosen gets exiled, things get really sad. All that said, I am still going to use her because if I ever hit the ultimate, all your lands are belong to me.

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen This is as good a spot as any to talk about landfall. Either someone spoiled the party to the rules committe, or we got very lucky that Fastbond was just banned. I was already going crazy comboing it with Urza’s Armor or Lifegift and Storm Cauldron for the infinites. Getting other benefits off of landfall would have been Ob Nixilis–I mean obnoxious.

Obsidian Fireheart
The land continues to burn Best reminder text ever. It’s also a brutally effective continuous damage source.

Punishing Fire
Here’s another very efficient burn spell. Most decks will have some random life gain here and there for you to take advantage of, but if you really want to maximize this card, you can play cards like Armistice or Grove of the Burnwillows.

Pyromancer Ascension
Not all the Ascensions can be EDH winners. There is a way to use it, but it involves Eye of the Storm and your opponent casting a spell with the same name as one in your graveyard. Just once and you too can be an EDH legend. Yes, I’m working on making this happen.

Rite of Replication
I’ve already heard the stories of this card kicking butt in Limited. Imagine getting five copies of Eternal Witness. Or maybe just unleashing a storm of Bogardan Hellkites or Angels of Despair. Yeah, that sounds cool. It also sounds mythic to me. Hmm…

Sorin Markov
Now here’s an EDH planeswalker I can get behind. When the mad Russian was first spoiled line by line, people were very disappointed in the -2 ability. In the context of his vampire brethren, the ability makes more sense, but it truly shines when you are nugging your opponent for 30 instead of 10. And [card]Mindslaver[/card] is just Mindslaver. You either love it or you hate it.

Surrakar Marauder
What the hell is a Surrakar and why is this the only creature in existence to have this type? Just wanted to ask that.

Vampire Hexmage
Apparently, a friend of a friend is the person who bought up every single Dark Depths in existence at $2 as soon as he saw this card. This little fella can sure do it all. Kill target planeswalker–check. Reset Darksteel Reactor–check. Dethreatify Forgotten Ancient–check.

World Queller
This is a really fascinating effect. It’s a very surgical tool that get rid of planeswalkers or trouble enchantments. Artifacts tend to be more common and cluttered in the form of Signets and things, but you can still set several people back in that department. Overall, very reminiscent of Celestial Kirin, but much better most of the time.

I almost wrote about Mindless Null, but what’s the point?

That’s not a comprehensive list of everything that’s playable in EDH. I encourage you to chime in with your favorite card from Zendikar for EDH.

As you read this, I am on the floor of the first Zendikar PTQ in California. It kicks off a very busy season for me. Next week, I’ll obviously be in Austin, followed by the GP in Tampa. I get two weeks off after that, by which I mean I haven’t figured out what tournament I’ll be working, then it’s off to Europe. Okay, technically the European trip starts with the GP in Minneapolis after which I fly directly to Rome for the World Championship. With no major family commitments, I’ll be staying an extra week in Europe with friends after that. It’s certainly never boring.

For the column, next week will probably feature some aspect of the PTQ, either wacky Zendikar rulings or some new and challenging communcation challenge. For those of you who like to follow along with the happenings of the Pro Tour semi-live, I will be in charge of the Judge Blog for the event (check there once the event starts). Again, we’ll be covering the interesting rulings (Extended should be better fodder for this part) and interviewing Judges from around the world. If you have any burning questions about judging a Pro Tour, just ask me in the comments below and I will try to feature it.

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