Zendikar Rising Draft Guide
Our Zendikar Rising Draft Guide dives deep in to the limited format, going over the mechanics, archetypes, the top commons and uncommons for each color and how to best assemble your draft deck.
Ten days has passed since Zendikar Rising’s release, and the hedrons certainly seem to have aligned for Limited – already people are hailing it as the greatest draft format of all time. While that’s probably jumping the gun, the format is certainly yet another fantastic one among those of the last couple of years, in which we’ve seen Wizards of the Coast absolutely knock Limited out of the park (notwithstanding the issues with the Constructed formats). So how do you draft the format, how do the colour combinations stack up, and how aggressively should you be partying?
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing in New Phyrexia. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube drafts, I’ve drafted more sets than I can count on every platform through wildly different eras. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited 40k or so gems by now, and have made top 100 mythic many times. Self-reflection and forming good habits are paramount to Limited improvement, and those themes feature in many of my articles and in each session of the Limited coaching service I provide; consider booking a session today if you’d like feedback tailored to you that you can really put into practice!
Note: I don’t talk much about rares or mythics in this article – they’re just not that important to the landscape. Commons and uncommons are what define this format like the vast majority of draft formats; rares and mythics are nice to have, and some of them will pull you into certain strategies more, but you won’t see them often and they’re different enough in what they do that you shouldn’t hedge any bets on them.
Modal Double-Faced Cards (Spell-Lands)
These are cards with two faces: one is a land and one is a spell, and you can choose to play either half. Generally each side is weaker for balancing reasons than a card you would just put into your deck e.g. the lands generally enter tapped, but the added versatility makes them absolutely incredible – you just get free value by having them in your deck, because you can play more lands and still flood out less. They’re in every colour, and every deck should have at least a couple.
The question of whether you should cut lands for them or treat them as spells in your mana base is surprisingly contextual – it all depends on how powerful the spell half is. If the spell half is especially good in your deck or just good in general, your primary plan should be to cast it as much as you can. In this scenario, playing it as a land is a failcase; it’ll sometimes be necessary and you’ll be thankful to have the option, but you don’t want to aim for that. If that’s the case, then the card should occupy a spell slot, so you minimise the chances of needing the land half. If that’s not the case and you don’t mind playing it as a land and are just including it as extra value and flood insurance, you can directly replace a land with it. That being said, this is a format where you will want to play 18 a lot, between landfall and these, and especially having a few spell-lands makes it free to do so – flooding won’t be that big a deal when a good proportion of your lands can also do other things!
Some spell-lands will be exceptionally good in some of your decks e.g. Makindi Stampede in aggro decks or Spikefield Hazard in Red Blue spell synergy decks, and if they are then that’s a good reason to consider having them as spells, even if they wouldn’t necessarily be worth it otherwise. If the spell half of your card isn’t great in the late game, then you’re not getting as much value out of the land half – because neither side will be good later on. If that’s the case, then you should probably just count the card as a land – so Tangled Florahedron is a great card, but I wouldn’t count it as a spell.
Rules for Spell-Lands
I would start with 17 lands, remove a land for each spell-land I don’t mind playing as a land (so as I explained above, if the land is strong enough that I want it as a spell, then I would just count it as one) and then adjust for the following:
- If I have 1-2 Spell-lands which I’m happy to have as lands, I would play 17 lands including those, adjusting for my curve (so if I’m a deck with a lot of kicker cards, probably 18), whether I’m playing best-of-one (you can get away with playing fewer lands there because of hand smoothing), and how many Landfall cards I have – if I had 4 or 5, I’d play another land.
- If I have 3-4, I’d play 18.
- If I have 5-6, I’d play 19.
- If I have 7+, I’d play 20 and I probably wouldn’t play more than 8, or go under 12 basics.
This a fantastic Limited mechanic which causes some of your cards to have an additional effect whenever you play a land, and gives them a lot of longevity going into the late game. When you’re getting an extra effect from several cards whenever you play a land, that can easily be worth a card, or even better. After all, the spells you draw could well just be 2-drops or other low impact cards, and it doesn’t take much for landfall abilities to beat that. Landfall cards synergise really well, since you can pretty freely include an extra land or two if you have a lot of them – this is another reason to include 18 lands, but if you have a lot of landfall cards and a couple of spell lands, you can even include 19.
Landfall is mostly in Red, White, and Green. Some of the landfall cards are quite beatdowny and reward being more aggressive, especially in Red and White, but many of them simply instil permanent buffs on creatures and therefore aren’t all that context-specific. Lots of creatures get bigger and bigger this set as a result, more than you’ll be used to seeing.
A mechanic that wants you to have creatures of several different types in play, with different colours being especially good for different types. White is good for Clerics and Warriors, Blue is good for Rogues and Wizards, Red is good for Warriors and Wizards, Black is good for Rogues and Clerics, and Green is a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. As such, combining the right colours together is going to be important in the set if you’re trying to maximise Party/have a lot of Party payoffs. There aren’t too many full party bonuses so it’s not imperative to fill them out completely, but your cards scaling up better is still valuable. One interesting tension is that many cards benefit from having creatures of a certain type rather than a mix, so you really need to have a good idea of which of your synergies are best-supported and strongest, and what to chase.
Below is a very handy reference sheet by SheepParade from reddit, with all the Party payoffs and enablers in the set.
Kicker essentially gives your cards two useful modes – one that is useful earlier on and one that scales into the late game. The effect of having a bunch of Kicker cards is that you need dedicated late game less – your 6+ drops are less important, because you’ll have lots of ways to use your mana anyway. This is something that spell-lands help with too, in that having those available late means you’ll have a higher density of spells in most decks, which will allow you to keep up with dedicated high end better.
While Blue Green has the most, and has it as a self-contained strategy with payoffs for kicking spells, there are kicker cards in every colour. These have a tendency to just be good in every deck, if they’re not too situational and at least one of the effects is a solid rate.
Synergy is important, but don’t force it
Zendikar is a format where synergies matter a lot, more than the last few formats we’ve seen. There are many cards which are fantastic in the right deck but don’t hold up quite so well unless you’re building around them, and that’s a good place to be because you’re likely to see them later if you are!
These cards might be artifacts, but they certainly don’t belong in every deck! There are plenty of decks with few type payoffs or that have enough already, where Stonework Packbeast is just fancy Prismite, but if you’re on the Party Bus or just have a bunch of synergies that require specific types then it’ll make your stuff cheaper, bigger, and/or give you all sorts of weird and wonderful side effects! Relic Vial is bad if you don’t have Clerics, but great if you have 5 or 6 at least – that’s easy in Orzhov, but plenty of White decks get there too. Relic Axe is expensive and weak if you don’t have Warriors, but a reasonable if not super exciting include in any deck that has plenty. Skyclave Sentinel is a medium ramp payoff or way to sponge a flier weakness in the average deck, but gets supercharged by counters, which Green has plenty of ways to gift it, and becomes a terrifying threat in its own right.
What this means is that there are many cards which are simply medium filler if you aren’t enabling them this set, and you don’t want to take those too highly and early. Once you already have a bunch of support for the strategy, that’s the time when you want to take those cards a lot higher, depending on how much you have. Nabbing an early Skyclave Sentinel and then trying to force counters isn’t that likely to work out well for you – the payoff for that card being turned on is not that massive, and there’s too much risk that you’re not seeing the right cards to go into it or other people are already drafting it. Staying open early on is the key to the format, not forcing strategies purely because they’re good.
So what you should you take highly and early?
Prioritise Good Cards
This might seem obvious, but some people really like to pigeon-hole on synergies in Draft; in general, this is a strategy that is almost always worse than simply drafting the good cards early on and seeing where they take you.
I’d like to preface my colour combination section by saying that you can draft any of these colour combos without committing fully, and you can just have little packages belonging to them instead of drafting that archetype or “being a GB Counters deck”. I tend to like to think of Limited, especially recent sets, more in terms of packages than archetypes. Sometimes decks like Cycling in Ikoria emerge which are proper archetypes in that the deck is entirely constructed towards their plan, but most decks in Limited just tend to get their feet wet rather than diving right in.
The better a card is by itself, the less synergy you need to include it in your deck. Let’s look at some examples – Murasa Rootgrazer is a 2/3 Vigilance for 2, which is already a good rate, it ramps you which is good in every deck, and then it doubles your landfall and triggers it endlessly late game, which can be really busted in some decks but there’s enough landfall in the set that it will be good everywhere – you don’t need to be a dedicated deck. You’re always going to play the card and be happy in GW. Hagra Constrictor, meanwhile, is a 3 mana 2/2 Menace, which is a lot worse than a 2/2 flier for 3 because it won’t attack well in the late game, and a pretty mediocre rate overall, and then that second line of text isn’t great unless you have creatures with +1/+1 counters, and it’s nothing busted unless you have loads. However, if you have an Iridescent Hornbeetle or two, having creatures with counters becomes pretty busted. So you slam Rootgrazer highly if you’re GW and Constrictor late, when you already have some of the synergies.
Roost of Drakes is a busted card in this format, one I’ve increased to A-, because Blue has a ton of Kicker cards available, and the rate isn’t bad on it to begin with. If you get a second Drake, you’re doing fantastically and at three or more, you easily run away with the game. If you draft Roost of Drakes, you’re not suddenly a Kicker deck because Roost is good in every Blue deck. You should take Kicker cards a little higher, but shouldn’t just slam them if there are significantly better options or if they don’t fit your curve and not if they’re bad, like Spell Shield. You won’t draw Roost in a timely fashion every game, and it will be great when you do, so why make the rest of your deck worse for a nuts card? If you’re the sort of monster that somehow gets 2-3 Roosts, sure, that’s a reason to draft kicker cards significantly higher and you should consider playing bad ones like Spell Shield at that point. Still if there are cards you really need to fit your curve or the power disparity is really big, you don’t need to mess around because your deck is already great and if you’re drawing all your Roosts, the game is probably going well for you anyway. Meanwhile, if you have a slow draw then that Spell Shield suddenly looks really bad – in a multiple Roost of Drakes deck, I would be prioritising good early game rather than bad kicker cards, because my deck is already winning the late game so who cares about shoring that up?
Mind Carver is total trash until you enable it, so unless you’re already leaning heavily into one of the Rogues colours and looking for a second, or have cards like Ruin Crab or several Nimana Skydancer already, don’t take it highly at all.
You can dip into the packages to enhance the individual power of your cards but the card power level is divergent enough that just drafting the best cards you can will win you the most games. If you take the best cards in the pack early on and don’t commit to anything too quickly, your deck will end up good regardless of how the draft goes – even if you don’t get all the party synergies you want, you still have Veteran Adventurer and Emeria Captain; the base rates of those cards are good anyway and they’re easy to enable, so you can just play another deck and still be happy with their only partially being turned on.
The Archetypes, Colour Combinations and Synergies
Note: By signpost, I mean that if you’re seeing these cards later than usual, that indicates the colour combination and strategy could be open and a good thing to go into – these are the best enablers and payoffs for their strategies. They don’t just mean best Commons and Uncommons – the tier list and reviews should make clear which those are, so I wanted to have a more specific and strategic look in. Many of the signpost cards are also good in other decks; they’re just exceptionally so in these combinations.
Landfall is just good, and many of the cards with Landfall are solid by themselves. A bunch of the Landfall cards e.g. Canyon Jerboa, Makindi Ox, Canopy Baloth (although this card in particular is good in every deck), and Skyclave Pick-Axe want you to be attacking; GW doesn’t necessarily have to beat down to be good but these cards will pull you in that direction. Landfall cards go extremely well together, so if you can pick up loads then all the better.
Green is the best colour overall, having the best party synergies and most powerful commons, and White is a strong support for it.
Scythecat and Baloth are fantastic cards, but they’re especially good here because you can grow them faster and for longer than anyone else. GW doesn’t have too much removal so you want to prioritise Nahiri’s Binding and Rabid Bite; take those highly, even over the decent Landfall cards. Cards like Tazeem Raptor and Kazandu Stomper get honourable mentions for being at their best in this strategy; you can make better use out of the lands you put back in your hand than any other deck. Reclaim the Wastes is at its best in this strategy, better than in the kicker decks because your lands are worth more to you, especially in the late game.
The ramp spells are at their best here, since you get multiple landfall triggers to crush your opponents underfoot. If you have enough good Landfall cards, they’ll even be worth playing in aggro builds! Canyon Jerboa has impressed me most in this strategy, because it’s a busted card if it ever gives +2/+2 – it’s not especially exciting in the other colour combinations, so you might even see it go late. Vastwood Surge gets special mention, because you’ll probably be playing more lands in this strategy than usual, so that kicker mode will come up more alongside just getting a bunch of landfall triggers. Remember that many of the landfall cards put counters on themselves, so take Iridescent Hornbeetle highly in this strategy too.
Take Journey to Oblivion highly again, probably over any of these cards. Taunting Arbormage is at its best here, since you’ll have plenty of colossal creatures and pressure to crush people with that card – it’s not really a signpost uncommon though, since it’s just good in every deck and Blue-Green especially will compete you for it.
The gold card, Murasa Rootgrazer, is great in every G/W deck that has a good number of Green and White sources to cast it early. I spoke about it above in the “Prioritise Good Cards” section.
While this combination is technically about counter synergies, there aren’t tons, and there are lots of cards that are mediocre without them. This tends to be more one of those combos where you get good cards in each colour or pick up a late Moss-Skeleton or two, and just end up falling into there. I don’t think it’s particularly strong or synergistic, but Green is the best colour and having access to Black removal fills one of its major weaknesses. Black also gives it a solid access to grind on, with recursion like Blood Beckoning (or, god forbid, Thwart the Graves) available and great with all Green’s fantastic creatures. If you can enable counter synergies, then some cards go from mediocre to decent, but don’t go too far out of your way.
If you have some counters cards, slam Skyclave Sentinel and Ghastly Gloomhunter because they’re very good there – take them at around C+ level. Dauntless Survivor is a fantastic enabler for this archetype, and Subtle Strike is at its very best here. Remember Green’s weak removal and look to shore that up – slam Deadly Alliance early and often, like everyone else will be doing but even more. Feed the Swarm can be a bit rough in multiples, but Green has enough lifegain that you still want to take it highly.
Hagra Constrictor is reasonable in this strategy, but not something I’d really prioritise since nobody else will want it, and you need to have a bunch of enablers already. Gul-Draz Mucklord is better here than in most decks, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s good – it will take ages for you to get the counter, and it won’t die when you want it to.
Skyclave Shadowcat and Iridescent Hornbeetle are the best payoffs for the counters strategy, and a good reason to get into it if you see them early. They’re both high picks anyway, but early on they can help cement you into Green Black. Bloodchief’s Thirst is nuts in every deck, but again Green Black needs it most, and there’s precious little you want to pass it for unless you already have a lot of removal.
Our mossy friend is great in every Green-Black deck, counter synergies or not, and exceptionally good with Iridescent Hornbeetle. If you start to see this card go late, it will be one of the best pulls into Green-Black, and it often does.
Red is pretty aggressive this format, so the RG decks tend to take two forms: the heavy Red decks are pretty aggressive and incorporate Warrior synergies, which Green’s commons help along but don’t really add that much to – Murasa Brute and Dauntless Survivor are merely okay cards. Still, lots of the Green cards lend themselves well to aggression even without having direct synergy, and Green does a lot to fill slots by just having all the fantastic commons it does. The other kind of RG deck is the Green deck that just has a few good Red cards and Red removal, which yeah it’ll happen a lot.
Red/Green has a lot of good Landfall cards, but I don’t consider that a big enough synergy it has to call it a Landfall combination – the two kinds of decks I just mentioned are more common than a dedicated Landfall deck in these colours.
Roil Eruption may be Red’s best common anyway, but it’s at its best here. You’ll be able to kick it more often in Green, since you have ramp and more Landfall cards/ways to recur spell-lands so you should play more lands than normal most of the time, and 7 mana Lava Axe ends a lot of games. Scythecat and Canopy Baloth are still the nuts here, whether you’re slow or fast. Akoum Hellhound is at its best in this strategy, since it’ll be relevant for more of the game and you can threaten them with Roiling Regrowth or Scale the Heights for a lot of damage. Pyroclastic Hellion is a sweet card, since it will often be a 5 mana 4/5 draw a card here – the land is great for Landfall and recurring spell-lands is huge in Green. The 2 damage will make your burn spells better too.
Cleansing Wildfire is at its best in this strategy, since you always want it to trigger a couple of Landfall cards and draw you a card. Still, don’t play it too much unless you are heavily invested – it has a really bad failcase. This is one of the colour combinations where Cliffhaven Kitesail is at its best, since you have plenty of beefy monsters to put it on and not many fliers of your own. Make sure you have a high creature count and lots of high power creatures first, and some decks will just be able to do better – it’s not that exciting a card, but it’s fine.
Kazuul’s Fury is fantastic in a strategy full of big creatures, Geopede is a messed-up card in general but at its best here, and you probably want to take Thundering Rebuke over almost everything. Red removal is a bit more awkward than Black, since Rabid Bite can hit small creatures anyway and you still won’t be able to deal with big stuff, but there’s not much you can really do about that and you still really want that small removal nonetheless. Cinderclasm is at its best here since more of your creatures will live through it, and a lot of Landfall creatures will survive it if you do it on your turn. Most of Green’s uncommons fit lots of decks, and aren’t especially good in Red-Green, but will be solid anyway.
As always, ramp is good with the Landfall creatures. Skyclave Pick-Axe is at its best here, but the card isn’t that great so don’t take it too highly – the problem is that your creatures are big anyway, so you don’t need it, and you’re just opening yourself up to losing giant tempo swings to removal when you could just be playing other good creatures, which Green is full of.
Brushfire Elemental is great if you’re beating down, not so much otherwise. Many heavy Green decks won’t have easy access to Red mana early, so it won’t be that great there. Still, on turn 2, it’s totally busted in any aggressive deck so you do want to take it highly there, and not really anywhere else.
This combination is technically about kicker, and there are some payoffs, but it’s kind of fake. Almost every Kicker card is just good in every Blue or Green deck, you don’t need a specific reason to run them, and the payoffs will just be enabled naturally. If you do have some payoffs, sure take them higher or play them higher, but it’s not a big deal. Some of the Kicker cards get worse in multiples, so you do want the payoffs to run too many of them – if all your cards kick for 6 mana and you’re not that happy to run them without the kicker mode, it’s not that great for you, because they’ll all be stuck in your hand at the same time and running out your Tazeem Roilmage as a 2/1 on turn 5 isn’t the most exciting. What really defines Blue-Green is that it’s usually very slow, unless you’re doing some weird fliers plus big butts strategy. You want to play a very value-oriented game and go over the top of your opponents.
There’ll be a lot of competition for the kicker payoffs, and that’s just because kicker is so good and most of them don’t need that many. Really just be Blue Green because you have good Blue and Green cards, and kicker will come naturally.
Okay, you’re playing Blue-Green. Don’t mess around with removal spells – there aren’t too many, and you absolutely need them. Into the Roil is nice, but you really want these first two cards here, and unfortunately they’re great in every deck in these colours so you need to take them really early. Take Bubble Snare over almost everything and play as many as you can get – it’s your rock, the love of your life. Joraga Visionary is great here, since it will trigger the Wizard synergies that Blue has, and this is the kind of 4-drop you want in your slower decks anyway. Gnarlid Colony is your best 2, great early and late, and you should probably take it even higher than Visionary here since you’ll have lots of good 4s.
Ramp is really good in this strategy, since you have all these kicker cards which cost tons of mana – for that reason, I actually think this is the best combo for Scale the Heights, despite not having as much synergy! Reclaim the Wastes is great here also, especially if you can splash some Black or White removal using it. Kazandu Nectarpot and Turntimber Ascetic are at their best in Blue-Green, because you really need lifegain and don’t have better sources.
Risen Riptide isn’t actually that great here – you’ll have better creatures because you’re Green, the king of those, and you’re on the slower side so a 5/5 attacker isn’t as appealing. It’s still fine, but see my Blue/Black section…
Okay, I think I’ve said enough about Roost, but in case you missed the long soliloquy I wrote about it in the “Prioritise Good Cards” section, card’s broken. Especially here, but whatever. Vine Gecko is fantastic in every Blue-Green deck, as great enabler and payoff rolled into one. It doesn’t matter that it’s not quite as good late, because guess what? You’re Blue-Green, you should have that covered! Tangled Florahedron is fantastic here; you don’t need spell-lands in general as much here since you have a million things to do with your mana late, but this one is a clear exception. Merfolk Falconer kills them really fast, which is really important against Red decks with burn, and it will ensure you don’t flood out or die as often to fliers.
Our friendly packbeast is good in every Blue-Green deck, nothing too busted, but he threatens a lot of lifegain.
Rogues and mill are things, but you’ll be in them less than you are. The problem is they don’t have tons of good enablers, and you have to commit hard to get to eight cards. Rogues has to be open and you have to be seeing good uncommons for the strategy. Still, you often just end up here because you have good Black and Blue cards if you’re staying open; don’t fret, that’s absolutely fine.
Notice that these signpost commons are kind of crappy? Yeah, that’s why Rogues doesn’t really get there a lot – you really need the uncommons. Otherwise wow, I get a 2/2 Deathtouch for 2 that I actually have to do work for, and can get blown out by removal spells with, stop the presses.
Blue Black wants to be either beatdowny with evasive units or more controlling with removal spells and kicker cards. Either way, Risen Riptide kind of does what you want, since you need more good blockers and it threatens a lot of damage that might catch them off-guard. Same with Skyclave Squid. Tazeem Roilmage is better here than in Blue-Green, because you can return removal spells and your spells are better generally.
The other two cards here are some evasive units, and Skydancer will help you reach eight cards. Zulaport Duelist is sort of a necessary evil in that you need to enable your Rogue synergies and it does mill, but the card needs a lot of things to line up to kill something, especially in these colours where you don’t have the best creatures (and a lot of them have evasion so they’re not blocking them…), and it’s pretty unexciting if you can’t do that. Anticognition is decent if you have a ton of mill enablers, but it’s tough to get those and you still don’t want too many copies of it.
Signpost Uncommons (for Rogues)
Blackbloom Rogue is a messed-up card especially here, Relic Golem is enabler and payoff rolled into one, Mind Carver is only good in Rogues so don’t take it too highly and hope to get it later in the pack but it’s pretty nuts if you can reach eight cards consistently and early, and Shadow Stinger is important as both a Rogues payoff and great blocker to get your evasive guys through. Take Stinger highly, since you really need it – it’s like a B- in your strategy and medium everywhere else. Zof Consumption will kill them after you beatdown with your evasive creatures a bunch, and is exceptionally good with Rogues as a result.
Ruin Crab is obviously good in this archetype, but actually milling people out will be really hard since there’s not nearly enough for that and if you try, they will eventually realise that maybe they should point a removal spell at Mr Krabs. Maybe you can be the multiple Ruin Crab, multiple Maddening Cacophany deck, but don’t count on it…
You can figure this one out – card is busted in Rogues, and just okay otherwise. Take it over really highly if you’re already committed to Rogues. You’ll probably have some mill payoffs even outside those, and this is the best way to enable those.
W/B is the combination with a clear archetype rather than package, because the Clerics strategy is so strong and has so much inborn synergy that it’s kind of hard to not be pulled into it when you’re drafting these colours. Because of this, I’ve increased my grades for a bunch of the Orzhov cards – I think you should be taking them higher and earlier, because the failcase of just being a White Green Clerics deck or whatever also happens a decent amount, because the Clerics are just so good.
It’s kind of hard to pull away from Clerics and be a regular deck, because even if you end up there naturally by having good White and good Black, the Clerics cards will start to look more and more appealing because there are just so many and they have such good synergy. Kor Celebrant is like a B- in this strategy, probably a bit worse than Feed the Swarm but nuts nonetheless, and Marauding Blight-Priest is a combo with it that can fit into and be good in any slower deck. Unlike other decks, where multiple Feed the Swarms start to become really painful, you can just play several here because you have so much lifegain.
Blood Beckoning, Blood Price, and Mind Drain are at their best here, since your deck is very attritiony and lacks as much late game longevity as some of the other decks without these. Beckoning is the best of these.
Attended Healer is a first-pick quality card that is the absolute nuts with other Clerics, so if you happened to pick up that busted uncommon early then it pulls you into Black nearly as much as White. Relic Vial fits naturally into many Orzhov decks just because there are so many good Clerics available and Cleric decks want cards that grind well, and you can often draft other White combinations with it even if you don’t get enough good stuff to be straight Orzhov. Malakir Rebirth is at its best here, since you don’t care about the life loss and your good creatures aren’t as expensive as other decks. Scion of the Swarm will just kill them in this strategy, so they best have removal, and Red removal often won’t work.
This is the best gold uncommon, as busted enabler and payoff all in one. Clerics is good enough that despite being double-colour, you can often take him early and have it work out – don’t take him over anything too nuts, but pick 6 or so starts to become slam territory, and I would take him over anything in the C range.
While Boros generally tends to be aggressive since both White and Red have good cards to support that, you can theoretically make a midrangey base White deck with a lot of lifegain that doesn’t have that many Red cards work. Still, it’s mostly about Equipment, Warriors, and filling out your party for synergies in this strategy.
White/Red technically has access to all four creature types for Party, since Red has all but Clerics and White has plenty of those, but Red doesn’t have any good rogues at Common (the only one being Sneaking Guide, which can go into some Boros especially if you have Grotag Night-Runner or just some busted party synergies to enable, but is trash in most decks). Still, between them, they have easy access to the other three types and Practiced Tactics will often deal 4 damage, at which point it’s great. Spellcraft, while not a great removal spell, is a lot more exciting when it’s dealing 3 damage to the opposing face in a beatdown deck best designed to take advantage of that, which is exactly where we are! Expedition Champion is usually a 4/3, because Boros has so many Warriors available. Relic Axe is a reasonable equipment when it’s giving +2/+1, if not super exciting, and several of White and Red’s creatures love being buffed. Scavenged Blade is an okay, if slightly worse, replacement.
This is also the ideal colour combo for Sea Gate Banneret, since 1 drops are an important way to get an advantage in an aggro deck, and Banneret has a reasonable activated ability to boot. Grotag Bug-Catcher will often attack as a 3/2 Trample for 2, which is a solid rate, and should later make it to 4. This is another deck where Cliffhaven Kitesail is playable, especially with equipment synergies, but there aren’t too many so I suspect it is better in Red-Green. Allied Assault is a reasonable card in these decks, since it will often give +2/+2 to two things, at which point it’s okay, and later +3/+3 which is pretty nuts.
Red-Black may have access to more types than Boros, but Shatterskull Minotaur is still at its best here, in a colour combo that’s much better at applying massive pressure and stopping them from having the blockers available for him. Fireblade Charger and Kor Blademaster are both fantastic equipment holders, Kabira Takedown and Makindi Stampede are both at their best in fast go-wide decks with lots of cheap creatures, and Goma-Fada Vanguard is a great 2 drop in heavy-Warriors decks, and every Boros Aggro deck is likely to have a bunch. Thundering Sparkmage is great in this colour combo, usually dealing 2-3 damage that you don’t have to work that hard for. Paired Tactician is a solid card in this strategy also, becoming a 4/3 without too much work.
Warleader is fantastic in most Boros decks, providing some free buffs on an efficient body. If you curve out well with this card, he’ll steal some games in a truly crushing fashion.
This is one of the two types (Black/Red being the other) which has access to full Party synergy, but unfortunately for it, Blue has basically no Party payoffs at Common – it’s Seafloor Stalker and Cascade Seer, neither of which are very good cards. Spoils of Adventure and Skyclave Plunder are more exciting, but honestly not a huge reason to go out of your way to enable Party since they’ll be good regardless. For Party to really be worth it, you need to be leaning on the White side of things, and this is often just another deck you go into if you have good White and Blue cards rather than a dedicated Party deck.
UW mostly plays a pretty classic fliers strategy in this format, while being buffed up by the Party payoffs it does have access to. It’s all about beating down with evasive creatures, while preventing races with Kor Celebrant and Shepherd of Heroes. Dauntless Unity and Allied Assault can be pretty strong here, since they enable surprise lethals with evasive units. Kabira Outrider provides a bunch of free damage with a flying unit. Into the Roil is great here, since you’re playing for tempo, and backing that up with some free damage can be devastating. White and Blue both have access to an array of good defensive cards, so this strategy is solid. Bubble Snare is pretty busted here too, since it prevents races for 1 mana, and the classic strategy for dealing with fliers decks is to race with bigger creatures (especially for Green). Sea Gate Colossus will often cost 5 mana here, at which point it’s a great rate.
More fliers and more buffs are the way to go in this strategy. Remember not to skimp on removal spells though; you should take Journey to Oblivion over most commons and uncommons unless you already have your bases covered with Bubble Snare and Into the Roil and such. Makindi Stampede is a spell-land you really want, since it will help you steal some games.
Spoils of Adventure should be good in every Azorius deck – party synergies are rampant enough that it will almost always cost 5, and often 4, and gain 3 draw 3 helps prevent races and is a ton of value.
The home of Wizards and the small spell synergies attached to them, Izzet has some strong cards this set but is by no means incredible. The problem is that Red and Blue are sort of at odds this set, since Red very much wants to be beating down and Blue is slow and value-oriented. That being said, this is the best Roilmage and Cunning Geysermage combination, Chilling Trap is solid in it, and there are several good spells at common for it.
Rockslide Sorceror is a super strong card to begin with, but especially messed up in this strategy, where he has the potential to act as repeatable removal and even kill 2 toughness units often. Spikefield Hazard is a great way to trigger spell synergies for a very cheap investment, Thundering Rebuke is Izzet’s bread and butter and it doesn’t have enough removal that it should be passing that for very much, and Windrider Wizard offers a bunch of loots completely for free, enabling the Red Blue mage to sculpt their hand and never run out of gas to buff their Umara Mystics and such.
This is the only archetype in which Relic Amulet is playable, and it’s not too bad if you have really a ton of triggers for it – I would be happy to play it if I had 11-12 spells + Wizards, since it is repeatable removal that doesn’t sacrifice and will often kill at least a 2 toughness thing then stay in play and kill something else over the course of the game. It’s still a terrible topdeck and not a high priority pick at all though.
Umara Mystic can quickly steal games where you chain off a few spells and Wizards, and Izzet is very well-set up to do that! Unfortunately for it, there’s a wealth of 3 power common fliers this set from Shepherd of Heroes to Expedition Diviner, but hopefully you can just burn those away.
Rakdos is the other colour combo with the best party access, with Black having great access to Clerics and Rogues, and Red specialising in Wizards and Warriors. Compared to Azorius, this one wants you to party far more aggressively, and a lot of the payoffs are about dealing damage and buffing up your attackers. It also has far more decent payoffs than Azorius, so it really is the life of the party!
As you can see, it’s all party payoffs here! Electromancer has the best chance of paying for itself in this deck, Deadly Alliance is great in any Black deck but will often cost 3 here, Bug-Catcher will often attack for as much as 4, and Blood-Priest provides some much-needed late game reach and stops races in their tracks.
Well, this was a simple one to finish on! We’re just on more party payoffs here, since that’s pretty much what Red-Black has going for it all in all. I expect Boros to actually end up being the more aggressive colour, and therefore able to make best use of Shatterskull Minotaur, but Thundering Sparkmage is clearly at its best here, able to kill even bigger creatures once a full party bonus is achieved. Acquisitions Expert is great in all but the very late game here, being able to function as actual Thoughtseize on turn 4 or so, and Thwart the Grave is a busted card in general but even better when you get the insane tempo boost of being able to play it for as little as 3-4 mana.
Ravager’s Mace is a solid card which does what Rakdos wants to be doing, providing evasion and a huge attack boost to a creature repeatedly. It’s expensive to equip but when you’re reaching +3/+0 and Menace, it’s well worth it. Still, on raw power, it’s a bit lower than some of the other Gold uncommons, since it does leave you a bit weak to removal – its best home is on cheap creatures like Fireblade Charger and Acquisitions Expert, since you don’t really mind if they die. Sadly, there are no token producers or Reassembling Skeleton-type cards this set, but the Mace has overperformed when I’m played with and against it so far.
- Play two colours. Splashes are possible, but the fixing isn’t good enough for full three outside of some weird Green decks.
- Stay open and let the best cards in each pack guide you! The format is wide-open and you can play anything, the colours are reasonably close together, and nothing is so powerful that you need to force it. Leaving yourself open early lets you adopt whichever strategy you’re seeing the best cards for, and open to picking up a rare to guide you to your second colour in pack 2 pick 1 and such.
- Focus on having a good curve and using your mana well – with Kicker and Spell-lands, you’ll have stuff to do late anyway, so games will often be decided by who uses their mana best on the earlier turns.
- Board stalls are going to be fairly common, since both players are drawing a lot more action than in a regular set; have a plan for them. Cliffhaven Kitesail is a medium card, but a good way to break a stall if you don’t have anything else.
- Don’t be afraid to play extra lands, it’s correct almost all the time here. Check out my section on MDFCs for how to construct land bases around spell-lands.
Check out my last Limited Spotlight article for some helpful strategy advice, and stay tuned for my tier list update coming out soon!
Thanks for reading.