Welcome back! This is the third review of Zendikar Rising so far, with all of them in the process of being released daily on MTG Arena Zone between the 12th and 17th, beginning with White and ending with Multicolour, Artifacts, and Lands (which is all one final article). After the whole review is out, we’ll be compiling a full tier list for your viewing pleasure, which will be updated regularly over the coming months – check out our Core Set 2021, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and Theros: Beyond Death Tier Lists, which link to their attached reviews and written updates, for an illustration of what’s to come!
Check out the introduction above for analysis of Zendikar Rising’s mechanics, the aims of our review, and some points of clarification!
Who are we?
I’ve played Magic off and on for the last 20 years. I just checked to confirm that and it blew my mind a little bit. I started with 6th edition and began playing ‘competitively’ with Odyssey. My handle is actually a really good Limited card from the Odyssey block. Anyway, Magic Arena got me back into the game, and I have been drafting infinitely since closed beta and have finished top 1000 Mythic nearly every ranked season.
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 30k or so gems from it at this point, 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!
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. (Baneslayer Angel, Elder Gargaroth, Sublime Epiphany)
- A: Very powerful card: approaches bomb status, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Chandra, Heart of Fire, A: Scavenging Ooze, A-: Mangara, the Diplomat)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour. (B+: Soul Sear, B: Roaming Ghostlight B-: Hunter’s Edge)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut. (Deathbloom Thallid, Selfless Savior, Quirion Dryad)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Alpine Watchdog, Fetid Imp, Hobblefiend)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Caged Zombie, Legion's Judgment, Short Sword)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Titanic Growth, D: Silent Dart, D-: Burn Bright)
- F: Mostly to totally unplayable cards. (Miscast, Necromentia, Tormod’s Crypt)
At worst this is a little better than Ravenous Rats and in some cases you will be able to snipe their best card. You only need to hit something better than a 1/2 to be ahead, which is pretty much always going to be the case unless your opponent is flooded.
The baseline of a creature which discards them is decent, and this can even thoughtseize them if you have enough party members. This gets a little extra value in this set because people will often hold their last land or two in case they draw their landfall cards, so it’ll be online for longer. I’ve also found that people have a tendency to undervalue their lands in general, when taking a land with this in the early game is very good for you!
Once you hit about seven mana, Agadeem's Awakening can completely swing the game. What’s more, there will be decks in this format that are looking to Mill, actively filling your graveyard. This should be considered a spell and its land mode simply a bonus, especially since Agadeem's Awakening benefits from having a healthy number of lands.
This is a completely absurd ability to have on a land. It keeps scaling into the later game but even just returning 2-3 creatures on turn 6 or 7 is nuts. Being playable on a land actually matters less on spell-lands which are this good, because you have to be desperate to play this as a land in Limited, but it’s certainly nice upside as well, though definitely always use a spell slot for this.
Getting a 2/3 Menace for three mana is already an intriguing proposition. It blocks well and sneaks in for two whenever you opponent has only one blocker. Add in the +3/+0 and tap land aspects and here is a very good playable.
This is another of those spell-lands which are never bad – either you have a decent body that scales well into the late game even, or you get to make your land drops when you need to. It’s the most powerful of the uncommon spell-lands we’ve reviewed so far, so I’m happy to take it very highly.
For this one, it’s kind of interesting whether you count it as a spell or a land and I’d mostly look at how packed your 3 drop slot is and how easily your deck can make it a 5/3. If your 3 drop slot is packed, good reason to have it as a land, and if you can make it a 5/3 easily then good reason to have it as a spell. The rest of your deck matters too; if it’s pretty high curve then you can benefit from extra lands anyway so count it as a spell.
Disentomb is unexciting and 4 mana to return two creatures is overpaying. Decks with several important creatures will possibly want the effect anyway, but this is one of those Kicker spells where neither mode is very intriguing.
I think with this card, the flexibility of costing 1 mana is actually a pretty big deal – when you have good ways to use your mana or just have a good creature to return, this does so cheaply, and then in the late game it’s not too bad to have to pay 1 more for it, even if it does mean you won’t always be able to deploy the best thing you brought back that turn. I don’t think this card is exciting, but the flexibility means I don’t plan to cut it all the time either. Your opponents milling you is also a pretty great way to enable this!
This is sort of like Dark Bargain except I am not sure the Sorcery speed justifies seeing one additional card. At any rate, losing life while tapping out to draw cards is a dangerous game. In BW this may be pretty good though because you will likely be gaining life, and paying the Blood Price is one of your only shots at card advantage.
With Kicker cards, I feel like you want to be on the board more in this sort of format in the early turns because you’ll have enough expensive stuff to play later on, which makes a card like this significantly less exciting. With Dark Bargain, your opponents had to play around countermagic and the potential for you to have removal spells, so you lose quite a large play dynamic in having to tap out for this at sorcery speed. This card also pales in comparison to Blue card draw, and I doubt you’ll want more than 1 copy in almost any deck.
Hard removal for 4 is a great deal while having the ability to take out something cheap for only 1 is a sweet bonus.
4 mana hard removal with a powerful tempo option that you usually won’t want to use, but will be great when it comes up especially in removal-heavy hands, is a great place to be.
Tutors are just not good in Limited, and if you have a full Party in play you may not even have anything to cast for free except a cheaper card you opt to find. It isn’t worthless, but I don’t like it at all.
Tutors aren’t good in Limited when they cost a lot of mana, and I think this will cost 3 or more too often for me to be really happy. It is cute that you can use it to finish off your Party for other cards, but I think that won’t come up as often as just getting the best card in your deck. It is nice in the late game when your deck is already well set-up for Party and it doesn’t cost that much mana, so I don’t think it’s totally unplayable. I think tutoring after you already have a full party is pretty winmore, so I’m not excited by that line of text either – I’d play this if I had a great bomb and I was well set-up for party, and not otherwise.
It is worth noting that this card gets a good deal better in Sealed, and I’d be a lot more likely to play it there, since that’s a slower bombier format.
I love how well this scales. Even with an empty Party its cost is reasonable and with just two members you are getting away with Murder.
This is a great removal spell and you’ll play it even if you don’t have many of the Party types somehow, since it’ll usually cost either 3 or 4, and be great either way. Still, I think there are enough draws where it’ll be more awkward than Murder – say when you draw a bunch of Clerics and not your Warriors – that I don’t want to give it higher than B+.
All colors seem to feature playable cheap creatures so I have a hard time seeing how you can reliably come out ahead with this. I experimented with Plaguecrafter quite a few times with very little success, and see no reason to suspect it will fare significantly better in this format.
Edict effects don’t tend to be great in Limited, and the fact that there are almost no token producers is a double-edged sword – you don’t get to sacrifice your own but your opponents are less likely to have them. Still, there are plenty of 1 drops people will play to enable party types, so I think if you have enough of those, this is a decent card, but the failcase of having to use it as a 3 mana edict and sacrifice itself is really bad, since you’ll mostly just be trading down there. The Cleric type in Black is reasonably valuable, as there are only 2 commons, but having to sacrifice other members of your party could be quite painful too!
Drana, the Last Bloodchief
Even though it brings back your worst creature first, if you are allowed to attack with Drana whoever you are playing against is in really big trouble. With the power level seemingly creeping back slightly in ZNR it is tempting to give something like this an S due to context, but I’d like to keep that reserved for universally broken cards (Doom Whisperer in this slot for example).
Drana is a 4/4 flier for 5, which is a great statline, but then she gives you often game-winning value if she gets to attack! That’s a fantastic rate, so I doubt I’ll ever be passing this card.
This is a very far cry from Blight-Breath Catoblepas and probably won’t earn a slot in many decks even if they are Party themed.
If this card is giving something -2/-2, it’s a decent rate and you only need one other non-Rogue party member for that! Blight-Breath Catoblepas was one of the best commons in that format, and this doesn’t scale quite as well but it’s still good enough, and the threat of giving -3/-3 or -4/-4 later on is very real. Still, this is a kicker format so 6 drops are weaker, and you do need to draw a good mix of types for it to be really good, so I’m not going to pick it too highly but I don’t think it’s a bad card by any means.
At five mana you are only going to be able to give this indestructible a couple times but its stats really aren’t too bad, especially in the context of this set. It is unfortunate that you aren’t aiding Party synergy with Dreadwurm, but it still seems like a fine curve topper that squeezes some value out of excess lands in an Aggro deck.
This is a great line of text if you’re attacking, and I’m pretty excited about this card – being a 5/4 makes it a really fast clock and very hard for them to block. Green has some ways to put lands in at instant speed, and that can set up some tricksy moments and even enable its ability on the defence.
If you are a dedicated Rogue deck Expedition Skulker looks a little better, but generally you don’t want vanilla bears in your deck so I would avoid this unless it’ll have deathtouch most of the time. Playing Expedition Skulker also opens you up to some disappointing combats where your other Rogue gets bounced or blown up and your Skulker dies for free.
There are four common Rogues, all of which are fine, and deathtouch means that this is a 2 drop that scales decently into the late game. It’s not all that exciting a card and not worth running unless you have plenty of other Rogues/are looking to enable the payoffs, so take it as filler if you’re not there yet.
Feed the Swarm
Cards really aren’t too expensive in this format so this is likely better than it probably looks. The more costly cards are typically of the Kicker variety, which doesn’t affect how much life you lose when you Feed the Swarm. In a Lifegain deck this is a no brainer, but even in other Black archetypes I still like it a lot.
The more you want to kill something, the worse this is on average. It’s such an efficient rate that you’re usually happy anyway, but I think you’re going to want to use this on small creatures a lot, and it will play worse than it looks. 5 damage for a decent flying threat is just not an amount you can afford to take in a lot of matchups. Hitting Enchantments is really nice so I do expect this card to be good, but it also gets a good deal worse in multiples – you probably don’t want to draw two in the early turns of any given game.
Not having a relevant creature type really hurts this card. It’s reasonably versatile, but both options are weak, and I think other kicker cards will outscale this by a lot – in other sets, you might’ve been able to rely on it shutting down aggro decks, but when they’re still spending 6 or 7 mana for things, I doubt this will be enough to really shut them down. It ascends from okay filler to a card you’re reasonably happy to have in lifegain synergy decks and those that buff it with counters or equipment, so I think it is a good enough enabler to make it to C, but you really need the synergies.
Guul Draz Mucklord
This Crocodile won’t Party, but it still does enough to earn a spot in decks that don’t care about that (likely BG).
Crocodiles don’t like parties. This is a good amount of value on a 3 drop and Black does have some +1/+1 counter synergies to exploit at common, the main ones being Hagra Constrictor and Oblivion's Hunger. I feel like you do want to be exploiting those synergies to be happy to have this card, since that’s really the nature of the format, and it doesn’t help your Party, which means it’s very good in Black Green, where you get some uncommons like Iridescent Hornbeetle and Moss-Pit Skeleton, but it’s really unexciting outside of there. Having a 2/3 die isn’t as easy as most statlines, so you might not be able to get the synergy when you want either – this would be much better if it was a 3/2.
3 mana 2/2 Menace is a pretty mediocre statline; it’s very easy to race and doesn’t actually get there in the late game at all. Where this card becomes interesting is with specific uncommons like Iridescent Hornbeetle, Moss-Pit Skeleton, and Skyclave Shadowcat, but I don’t think that’s enough for me to be really excited.
Black sure has some quality removal in this set, and will likely be highly sought after in Draft as a result.
This will never cost less than 4 in Limited, but 4 mana remove anything is already a B+, and I think the land upside is nice enough to reach A-. This is a card you’ll always count as a spell, since it’s powerful enough that playing it as a land is a failcase.
,,,and then we have Filler McFillerson over here. If you find yourself in dire need of a Warrior then I suppose he can come out and play.
Do you really need a Warrior? If so, you can play this, but it’s not very exciting…
Inscription of Ruin
These inscription spells are pretty cool. The first two modes are fine and the third is good, while Kicker allows it to be the sum of its parts. So, I suppose you might say Inscription of Ruin is double fine plus good.
This is a decent selection of modes if a little situation, and unlike the Blue one, the kicker is much more reachable at 7 mana rather than 8 and will be backbreaking. In a format with Kicker, Mind Rot effects get a bit better since spells will naturally cost more and people will be holding them more often. This middle ability is kind of weak, but kicker helps that too since some of your 2 drops will have kicker and be more impactful in the late game. This is something you ideally want to treat as a 7 drop and only use as Reave Soul or Mind Rot if there’s a particularly good situation for it or you need to, but the flexibility and potential power are incredible.
Players of Lithoform Blight were probably so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
This is a card you never really want to play, but sometimes the fixing will be good enough, say if you’re splashing and didn’t get many other sources.
Leeching three or four life is where this card becomes impactful, so generally you shouldn’t count this as a two drop creature since you will want to lay down other Party members first. Malakir Blood-Priest is reminiscent of Smitten Swordmaster but the lack of lifelink brings down its value somewhat.
This isn’t that exciting as a 2 drop, but I think it is deceptively powerful in the late game – if you can burn them for 3 or 4, you’re getting a fantastic rate, and there are some lifegain synergies to enable as well. Being a Cleric is good too and makes running this out on 2 still reasonable.
Another effect I really don’t care to play. But when it only costs you one mana, 2 life, and a downgraded land, why not?
This would ordinarily be a situational and weak ability, but again it’s really nice to get it for free on your land. If you have a bunch of lands in hand already, this doesn’t need to do much to be better than that; it recurs your death and ETB triggers for some value and isn’t too hard to hold up against removal. This isn’t powerful enough that I would count it as a spell though, it’s just another great value to eke some value out of your land slots.
Lifegain synergy is well-supported in this set, especially in Orzhov, and with commons like Kor Celebrant.
Mind Carver is a tough one to rate because its value changes dramatically depending on the archetype. It looks fantastic in UB Rogue/Mill decks due to their menace and unblockable creatures and ability to fill their opponent’s graveyard. However, your opponent is highly unlikely to move past the threshold and hit 8 cards without you directly Milling some of them, so Mind Carver ranges from unplayable if you have no Mill cards to very good depending on how many you have.
Mind Carver is a powerful payoff for being in Dimir and having a bunch of Rogues, as +3/+1 is a crazy rate that will force them to always trade with your creatures or lose to a flier in just a couple of swings. Even if you can’t enable it right away, there are some Red cards where equipment matters and it’s not that terrible on a random flier in the mean time – it is terrible if you can’t enable it at all, but I think most decks will eventually be able to since eight cards is a thing that will happen naturally and a lot of the Black cards mill incidentally. I’m happy to take this card highly, since I see it being reasonable in enough decks even if it’s only truly busted in Dimir.
Mind Rot has always been lingering in that nearly decent but generally not worth including space, and I think this is enough to put it over the edge. You are actually getting 3 cards in their graveyard with it since they discard 2 and Mill 1, which is a good chunk of the 8 you need for enabling several nice payoffs. Depending on how many of those payoffs you have Mind Drain is more or less valuable, but I am liking this quite a bit. The drain 1 even activates life gain synergy as well.
With kicker, I think people are likely to have cards stuck in their hand for longer in the game, so this kind of effect has more longevity. Adding mill and lifegain to a Mind Rot in a format where both synergies matter is enough that I’m reasonably excited to have this in some decks. So far, I don’t think the format is going to be all that fast, but this is a card that will certainly be hurt a lot if it is, so do watch out for the tier list updates later on!
I was wondering when they would bring back the Tarmogoyf ability. Costing 1BB makes this considerably less broken in constructed formats, but Nighthawk Scavenger will still be a Limited bomb. With just two card types in their graveyard you have a 3/3 flying, deathtouch, lifelink for 3 mana which is already amazing. Even without any Mill enabling it is a strong playable and the ceiling is quite high.
This is a completely nuts card that will just run away with the game in short order, especially in a format where mill is heavily supported. It’s a much better Vampire Nighthawk, a card which dominated its draft format back in its heyday, although I do believe this one is much better equipped to deal with it. At the point where it’s a 3/3 or 4/3, which won’t be hard to enable at all with all the self-mill and through your opponents naturally playing cards, it’s just running away with the game every hit and they’ll never be able to race it. All that being said, it lines up poorly into some of the 3/x flying commons like Expedition Diviner and Shepherd of Heroes, so I expect it to merely be fantastic rather than an unbeatable bomb.
Even in a deck adept at filling the enemy graveyard this is purely filler and you could do a lot better.
This is a medium blocker that retains some late game presence; a filler card overall but a fine way to enable your Rogue synergies, especially if you’re not Dimir and therefore have less options in that regard.
This is an alright Rogue if you need them, but flashing in a 2/1 is unlikely to allow you to trade for something that costs more than 3 mana. There are better ways to get your Mill on so I would typically look elsewhere unless I was in the right archetype and needed another 3-drop to fill out my curve.
Here’s another card that’s really good in Dimir, but not too bad outside it – being able to hold up other instants with it makes the Flash ability much stronger, but also just using it to ambush a card like Expedition Diviner before they can get a Wizard out will come up, and the mill helps it a lot. It is hurt a bit because a lot of the Rogue cards have had evasion and smaller statlines, which increases the need for good blockers to avoid being raced and this only compounds that weakness, but still a solid enough card to make low C+ I think.
Nullpriest of Oblivion
The Kicker cost is very appealing as a Raise Dead with a bonus creature, but on the play I am liking the idea of casting it on 2nd turn and creating a significant annoyance for my opponent that will be hard pressed to avoid getting hit by Nullpriest of Oblivion throughout the game. This is a nice example of a 2-drop that scales well if you draw it late.
Nullpriest is a good 2 drop, but unless you’re enabling lifegain synergies or have plenty of late game in hand, you mostly want to wait to deploy it until turn 6, where you’re getting an easy 2-for-1 and a fantastic rate. Still, it does require you to have a good creature die already and the body itself won’t be that impactful on turn 6, so I think it’s a pretty low A-.
This seems like a reasonable trick in BG where you will have a chance at hitting a creature with a counter on it and your Green creatures will on average be more worth protecting. I wouldn’t even consider this in other archetypes, though.
There are enough counters that I’m happy to include this card in some decks, but it’s a lot of work to do to draw a card, and it’ll rot in your hand for several turns to set that up. If you don’t get to draw a card, it’s pretty bad, so it’s probably fine in Golgari or if you have plenty of the cards with counters in Black, and weak elsewhere.
Toll of the Invasion was shockingly good back in War of the Spark, and trading Amass for the Spell-Land mechanic is a really advantageous payoff. Even with two modes, are there times you will draw this really late and it’ll still be a dead card, but I still want it in any Black deck.
Another solid spell-land, this is a land when you need it to be and trades for a card when you don’t. Sometimes it will miss, especially in a kicker format where people are likely to be holding 2 drops more often and have cheaper CMC cards overall, but it’s still free value that I’m always happy to swap out a Swamp for and this has a high ceiling, with the potential to take a really impactful card out of their hand.
Scion of the Swarm
Scion of the Swarm may end up being a little too slow, but being in a lifegain deck should buy you enough time to invest in it. After one counter this is already good and it can keep scaling up from there. This Cleric is a very good win condition for any deck with at least a decent lifegain theme.
There’s enough incidental lifegain in Black’s commons between Malakir Blood-Priest, Mind Drain, and Ghastly Gloom-Hunter that I’m happy to take this card really highly, and the failcase really isn’t that bad even if you only have a couple of sources. In Orzhov, with cards like Kor Celebrant and Shepherd of Heroes, it has the potential to grow at a terrifying rate.
Scourge of the Skyclaves
I would not consider this a 2-drop since it will need to be cast either with Kicker or after each player has lost a few life. I could see playing it fourth turn or so as a cheap 4/4 or 5/5 though depending on the game. There are some fail cases though, for example if you are beating your opponent down without them attacking back (or vice versa) this may just rot in your hand as a 0/0. The significant lifegain presence in the format is also troublesome. Your opponent can also play around it somewhat once it hits the board. Ultimately Scourge of the Skyclaves is a very playable card but it will be a bit of a gamble from game to game.
This is not a 2 drop (you often won’t even be able to play it on t2!) and it’s not that great a 7 drop, but it’ll probably be good somewhere in between. You know you have it and your opponents don’t, so you’ll be pretty happy to take a little damage even as the aggressor to drop a 2 mana 3/3 or 4/4 on turn 4 that keeps growing and dissuades their attacks. Sometimes this kicker will be nice for finishing them off or growing this enough to get through blockers, but it’s not super exciting in general – this is just a really beefy creature that threatens to become even beefier.
It is a bit clunky how you need to tie up two creatures to make this work, but Shadow Stinger is a serviceable way to set up your Mill 8 payoffs and can eventually trade with anything as long as you have another Rogue available. I would not prioritize it in draft, but in a Rogue deck it should do okay.
I’m not super excited by this card, because deathtouch doesn’t actually enable its attacks that well as long as they have 4 power back since they can just double block it and you can only pick one to kill. Still, it’s really good against small creatures, and it’s a fine blocker even if you don’t always have another Rogue. Having to keep a Rogue untapped to enable this is pretty annoying, but threat of activation means you might not have to actually tap it. If it does get through then it enables your mill synergies really well. Overall, I think it’s fine in the Rogue decks, but it’s not that exciting even if you can enable it, and really bad when you can’t. Additionally, Party will lead people to wanting to be on the aggressive side, so having it as your party Rogue isn’t that exciting, especially as you probably won’t be able to give it deathtouch.
Shadow’s Verdict is a reasonable wrath effect. It is awkward that it clears graveyards, so a Mill deck may not want it. Obviously decks with a large amount of 2 and 3 drop creatures won’t want it either. But, any other deck can expect this to be a 2-for-1 and potentially even more so I would take it relatively early most of the time.
This is a really weird sweeper, and probably the card I had the most difficulty rating in Black. Mostly, being 5 mana means that it’s kind of hard to wait for and plan around as much as other sweepers, because your opponents can just begin to play 4 drops (which obviously you can as well, but it’s certainly an added layer of awkwardness) and unlike other sweepers, where you construct your deck to make best use of them, you’re going to be forced to have creatures that cost 3 or less in every deck, and plenty of them.
This is an awkward format for it because if you start passing the turn, your opponents may not be over-committing to the board anyway – they’ll have Kicker cards and spel-lands, and those will help them recover from playing into this, or they’ll choose to hold those Kicker cards since they’ll be more valuable than random bodies so they won’t be playing into your sweeper that way either. I think a lot of the value from this sort of card is the potential for your opponent to be low on resources and unable to recover, but that won’t happen as much this format.
All that being said, there’s still the angle of this is a sweeper and your opponents won’t know you have it, so I think it’s still a decent card but not something I’m really looking to take highly. This gains some value if the format does end up on the faster side, but so far I don’t really believe that.
Being able to continually play this throughout the game is pretty insane. Not being able to block is a pretty big deal though, as a 3/1 at some point just isn’t very impactful. It can Kicker up to a 5/3 at least a couple times though, so Skyclave Shade is still looking very good.
This is an absurdly powerful card, starting off as a 2 mana 3/1 which is a fine rate, enticing them to block it or take a lot of damage, and then just coming back over and over and being annoying for them at other points in the game. The fact that it scales up to 5/3 means it’s great even in the late game and this is one of the most powerful Landfall cards out there. It can’t block, which hurts it a bit, since you do want to be beating down to make good use of it, but this is a huge reward for doing so. Additionally, people will be milling you a lot, so you might even get the additional value of just being able to pluck it out of your graveyard when you need it!
Skyclave Shadowcat is yet another great tool for a +1/+1 counter archetype. Even outside the archetype it looks pretty good as long as your deck is relatively saturated with creatures. But, to get the most out of this card you really want some other +1/+1 counters available to turn into cards beyond the ones Shadowcat obtains through its ability.
I’m fond of Shadowcat – it has great synergy with the Black commons with +1/+1 counters, which aren’t too exciting themselves but are great if you have some of these, and then it’s absurd in Golgari. Still, it has some weaknesses – this will be the first card they target with removal, you won’t be able to draw off it unless you’ve already sacrificed something, there are next to no tokens at common or uncommon in the set, and the body is a bit weak to start with, but this is a high reward card if you get to untap with it. Cat Horror sadly isn’t a Party type, and I think this will be pretty bad in Party decks, but the ceiling is high enough for me to leave it at C+.
Wow, Black has quite the suite of removal spells in this set. Soul Shatter is actually a very good edict effect since it will almost always hit your opponents’ best creature. Now, if they do have two five drops for example, they can choose the worst one to sacrifice. But killing a five mana creature for your 3 mana Instant is still an awesome deal.
Usually the creature you want them to sacrifice will be the one with the highest converted mana cost anyway, so this card is just premium removal. It won’t hit what you want 100% of the time, and some of the Kicker cards do get around it while being huge threats, but for 3 mana at instant speed and splashable, you really can’t do better.
I actually like this quite a bit, especially in BG. There are quite a few 1 toughness creatures in this set to kill outright, and +1/+1 counters look to be fairly valuable. Skulduggery tended to be a really nice playable and even though this costs another mana it still seems like a solid trick.
This is a great card – it’s a solid trick, kills their x/1s, buffs one of your creatures permanently, and it even has the potential to 2 for 1. It can be a bit narrow at times, but I’m going to take it highly and be happy to even have multiples. You don’t need to be a combat trick deck to play this – it’s just good in almost every deck, and if you do have +1/+1 counter synergies then all the better.
Taborax, Hope’s Demise
Taborax is good even if you just have a few Clerics in your deck, but in decks that have stronger synergy this is going to be one of the best cards. 3 mana for a 2/2 flyer is fine, so this thing is pure upside.
Taborax is a crazy card – creatures dying happens all the time in Limited, so they are going to need a removal spell for this sooner or later. If you do have Clerics, then they’ll need to kill it even sooner but it’s great even without those. If you do manage to enable this absurd lifelink mode, then it’ll bring you back into games in which you’re behind or losing and threaten to just kill them, and there are some Green cards that can stack +1/+1 counters on it and get there faster.
Thwart the Grave
Thwart the Grave is typically going to read 2BB: Return 2 creatures from your graveyard to the battlefield. Obviously you need to have at least a Party theme for this to be the case, but as far as graveyard recursion spells go this is one of the best we have seen in some time.
Reanimating two things is absolutely absurd, and you don’t even need to get two good things to be happy with this rate. In a format where your opponents will be milling you a lot, and a lot of the Blue/Black cards just have that tacked on, this strikes me as even better, because in other formats the Party discount wouldn’t matter very much but I could easily foresee them milling two good cards and you wanting to reanimate on turn 4 with this. I don’t think it really matters whether you’re a good Party deck here at all – this card is good in every deck, and if you can eke some absurd tempo out of double-spelling with it too, that’s some nice gravy on top. It’s a bit slow and this is a kicker format where 6 drops get a little worse, but this has such immediate great impact that I’m happy to first pick it.
Vanquish the Weak
The amount of removal in this color is so far out of hand I don’t even know what to say at this point. This only kills smaller stuff, but converted mana costs of creatures is trending very low in this set and the Instant speed gives you the ability to 2-for-1 when your opponent plays a combat trick or Aura.
I think this isn’t as good in this format as most, because trading 1 for 1 isn’t as good into Kicker spells, this can be awkward versus equipment, and people won’t be running those out as much early if you’re both playing a slower game, but this is always a decent rate nonetheless. This is a high C+, but I don’t think it quite makes B- in this set.
Zof Consumption is a fun finisher that comes at a compelling price (basically free). You definitely don’t need this card in your deck and I would count it as a land, but if you do end up getting flooded, leeching 4 with your extra land is just gravy.
This effect isn’t traditionally good in Limited, but once again all you need to do is staple it to a land! This is a free way to kill your opponents in the late game and provides free reach for any deck; it’s better if you’re beating down but at any point where you’re not making good use of your lands, you’ll be happy to have this card. I think it’s weaker than some of the other spell-lands and on the lower end of C+, but I’m very happy to replace a Swamp with it in any deck where I don’t already have loads of taplands nonetheless.
Black is always the go-to color for quality removal spells, but in ZNR that is going to be taken to an extreme. Perhaps to balance out all of the removal Black seems a bit thin in the creature department. There are certainly cards that support Mill, Clerics, Rogues, and +1/+1 counter archetypes, but some of the cards that seem intended to support certain archetypes are quite weak. I am imagining in a lot of drafts a few players will find themselves at least splashing Black after taking removal spells early and end up fighting over the comparably few high quality creatures Black has to offer. Taken as a whole, this color is looking like a great support color for any of the archetypes I mentioned earlier. Once in a while there may be a draft where Black is left very open and one or two players end up completely stacked with removal spells, but I suspect supply and demand will make this a somewhat rare event.
Black is an interesting mix of things this set, and it strikes me as a colour that lives and dies on synergy, more so than the other colours. It has some powerful removal as usual, but many of its cards aren’t that exciting unless you’re building around lifegain in Orzhov, counters in Golgari, or Mill/Rogues in Dimir. Red appears to be following its own self-contained beatdown plan this set, and Black’s creatures strike me as a bit too weak to support that fantastically, but I could certainly see Red decks simply wanting access to its plethora of decent removal options.
I expect Black to be a solid support colour overall this format, but not one of the stronger colours and more one you prioritise when you already have a lane you’re going into and are seeing the right Black cards to support that strategy – if you have a bunch of lifegain cards and can lean on Black to provide payoffs, great, but a lot of Black’s commons are only contextually powerful so they won’t be as high picks as those in the other colours. Still, if you just get a bunch of good removal or some of Black’s great uncommons, you’ll be well set for a solid draft!