Welcome back! This is our final review of Zendikar Rising, and will be immediately followed by the release of our tier list, which you’ll likely see linked at the top right now. Thanks for joining us on another wild ride through an entire set, and we hope you enjoyed your time with us. Check our tier list regularly, since we’ll provide both written updates and grade changes on the fly for it over the coming months. We expect to see some significant changes to our initial evaluations, once we know precisely how good everything is and how well the different strategies shape up against each other!
Read 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)
Gold cards are worse picks early on, since they commit you to things immediately and leave you less open to other strategies. Our rating system doesn’t purely reflect pick order, so each Gold card takes a knock as an early pick as a result. In most of pack 1, these cards are about 1-2 grades lower than we rate them (so C+ becomes C), especially if they’re not splashable, while in packs 2 and 3, they conform more to their grades if you’re in that colour pair or strategy already.
Akiri, Fearless Voyager
This is a heck of an incentive to run extra Equipment in an archetype (RW Warriors) that already benefits heavily from it. The combination of abilities here is effectively at minimum W: Draw a card, although you will need to re-equip the equipment in order to get set up to do it again next turn.
Boros has enough equipment synergies that you should be able to enable this a fair bit, and at that point it threatens to draw you two cards a turn and enables some free attacks with that fantastic ability. Still, it’s just a 3 mana 3/3 when you don’t have an equipment, and I would never splash this card or be that excited unless I was already in the strategy – I don’t really want to expend early picks on cards that lock me into a strategy immediately, and that I need to draft a bunch of cards to support.
I don’t think every Boros deck will be focused on equipment synergies, since there aren’t actually that many payoffs, so ultimately I think this will be a wasted pick a lot of the time if you take it too highly. Still, it’s a fine thing to speculate on over most things in the C range.
A Landfall deck will want this, but otherwise this is basically attacks as a 3/3 Haste on 3rd turn, which is good but nothing too amazing. It is nice that your opponent can’t stack block a couple smaller creatures to take this down, but Brushfire Elemental will also eventually return to 1/1 status when you run out of lands.
A 3/3 that can’t trade down is a powerful rate for a 2-drop. It doesn’t start beating down on turn 2 all that well, so you usually want to play it on turn 3 with a land, and the problem there is a lot of 3 drops can trade with it, so you might only get 1-2 hits in, which is really good but not busted. I don’t really think ramp is that big a deal with this, because ramp doesn’t go well in this sort of beatdown deck anyway. This does curve pretty nicely into Scale the Heights, but that just does a burst of damage and leaves you weak to removal.
This is never splashable and I won’t be taking it highly early on – I think it’s a low C as an early pick, though I would rate the card high C+ overall.
Cleric of Life’s Bond
This guy loves Clerics so much it is printed four times on his card. In a full on Cleric deck this one is great, but if you only have a few other ones I wouldn’t splash it or anything. It is nice that you can trigger it with any lifegain and aren’t limited only to the first ability to generate counters.
I really like this card, because White and Black are filled with good Clerics and lifegain payoffs this format, and he enables those and grows each turn. This is the kind of enabler you really want with Maruading Blight-Priest and Attended Healer, and I suspect the Cleric decks are good anyway. It’s a shame that lifegain triggers don’t grow this multiple times a turn, so it’ll never be that overstatted, but the combination of lifegain plus payoff is really good.
I would take it at high C+ early, since I do think the payoff is big enough to warrant that, but it’s not a card you ever want to splash.
Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager
Grakmaw is a value machine! 3 mana 3/3’s are already a fine rate and you get at least two of them in one card with this. Grakmaw is the type of multicolor card I don’t mind first picking at all, especially since I am liking the potential of BG at this point.
The base line of this card is a 3/3 that creates a 3/3 when it dies, which is great! If you have counter synergies, this can scale up even more and just the fact that it resists removal and trades well is a huge boon.
Still, there are a few things that hurt it – there aren’t many ways to sacrifice it so it’s a bit weak to enchantment/bounce-based removal in White and Blue. It doesn’t scale quite as well into the late game since board stalls are rarely about random 3/3s and even in attrition games, they might well just have a bigger creature by that point. It’s not trivial to grow it, since most decks won’t have that many creatures with +1/+1 counters and they have to die, which you won’t always be able to set up that well. It’s a pretty bad splash.
As a result of these things, it’s by no means a bomb and I’m only looking to pick it early in the B- range, but it’s fantastic if you’re already in the colours.
It is cool that Kargan Warleader sort of gets the buff too, as ‘lords’ are almost always 2/2’s for 3. With pump spells and equipment this is often going to be a 3/3 Glorious Anthem for a Warrior deck. If that archetype ends up being really strong in the meta expect this card to get snatched up very early.
There are enough Warriors in the set that I’m pretty excited for this card, since Red is full of good ones, and +1/+1 leads to some really busted curve-outs. It’s likely to be a fantastic card in Boros aggro decks, and I think that’s what the colour combination will be doing for the most part.
I think this is a significant enough pull into the strategy that I’m happy to take it at C+ early.
Kaza, Roil Chaser
This would be so much better if it had two power. As only a 1 power attacker you should have several strong Kicker spells to make Kaza worthwhile. I really want UR Wizards/Spells to be good but I am afraid it’ll be kind of durdly in this format. Expediting your spells with this would help quite a bit, but it is a rare after all.
I don’t think this is a good enough payoff or fits enough decks that I’m excited to take it early, so I need to be specifically in Izzet spells. It has a weak body, and you have to have several Wizards and expensive instants and sorceries before it’s doing anything insane, which admittedly is easier to do in a kicker format. The base case of making an instant or sorcery cost 1 cheaper is okay, but you’re spending a card to do that – Vodalian Arcanist hasn’t been breaking any formats of late! Ultimately, I just don’t like this card very much, but it has just enough potential that it escaped the D range for now.
Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate
The stats on this one are already great, and the full party ability is a huge upside since it goes until your next turn. You can more or less completely lock down a creature permanently and have a chance to switch it up each turn. The only thing it wouldn’t prevent is activated abilities that can be used before you begin combat and select your target. Sacrificing this would be pretty extreme, but against a wrath effect it would be great to have.
This has a fantastic body and the sacrifice ability can be used to trade up or protect your better creatures from removal; this is a strong card early and late. Azorius is one of the best party colour combinations, so I don’t think enabling this will be unreasonable, though it is still an inconsistent late game thing. If you do enable it, it will lock your opponent’s best thing down and remove it for as long as you have it, which is pretty busted. I’d take this at about a B- early on, since I don’t think it’s a good splash and it can be a bit low-impact late game – I don’t think the party bonus will come up enough to give it a really high grade.
Blocking and gaining life is exactly what you want your mana dork to do as you invest in expensive spells. UG Kicker decks will usually have some extremely powerful stuff, and Lullmage's Familiar should help you stay alive long enough to cast it.
This is a solid blocker, and it gives you some nice value out of your kicker cards while enabling them. I don’t think it’s busted or anything, since it can be a bit low impact and Green-Blue isn’t really the place for lifegain synergies, but Blue-Green is the home of kicker cards and has tons of good ones, so I’m excited to take this reasonably highly.
I would take it as a low C+ early on.
This would be nuts if it returned to your hand, but going on top of your library kind of sours it for me. Sure, a 5 mana 5/5 is usually going to be better than a random card so putting it on top makes sense, but the lack of card advantage is disappointing. It is still a good playable though, especially if your deck cares a lot about +1/+1 counters.
This is a 2 mana 2/2 or a 5 mana 5/5, and that’s some great flexibility and decent rates. This ability isn’t card advantage but a repeatable threat is strong nonetheless. With counter synergies, I’m pretty excited, since it’s a repeatable enabler for those and goes really exponential with cards like Iridescent Hornbeetle.
I still wouldn’t take this too highly early on, since it’s good but not amazingly powerful – I’d take it at C+, and this is a high B- for me. I could see it going up to B, but will need to see how the coutners decks play out.
Murasa Rootgrazer seems better and better the more you consider it. A 2/3 vigilance is already a nice stat line since you can attack into and defend against most other 2-drops. Ramping mana/triggering Landfall is going to be very good in GW, but the real prize is the 2nd ability which provides infinite Landfall. Even if you bounce a land and then end up drawing another one the following turn you could still double Landfall by using the first ability. It seems like GW decks are either going to Party or Landfall, and if yours is in the latter category Murasa Rootgrazer will be one of your best cards.
The Rootgrazers enables your Landfall cards every single turn, allows you to double Landfall, and ensures you always get value from them. In the late game, it can recur spell-lands for even more value. In the right deck, this is a fantastic card, and it has a pretty good statline too. With a couple of these, you can even consider splashing double-colour cards – you can tap your splash basic for mana, return it to your hand, and then play it and tap it again! It’s versatile enough that I’m pretty excited for it, but not a card that really pulls me into Selesnya or that I expect to have ridiculously high-impact. This is more of a great role-player than something that takes over the game, but I think there are enough good Landfall payoffs in White and Green that I’m happy to give it a high grade. This is a low B, and I would only pick it as a high C+ early on, since you should never dream of splashing this card.
Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients
A steady stream of free creatures completely takes over the game in Limited, and a potential 5 loyalty and chump blocker to start is going to be really tough to break. I have been stingy with S grades this set but I think Nahiri gets there.
Nahiri strikes me as a powerful card, especially so if you have a lot of equipment, but that’s a lot of work and effort to go to rather than just having an incredible bomb Mythic. I don’t think there are enough good Equipment to enable her that well (there are three at common in Boros, but Utility Knife is pretty bad).
Nevertheless, her baseline as a 4 mana card that spits out a 1/1 every turn and can provide you some card advantage if you have Warriors, of which there are plenty in Red and White, is still nuts. There is a huge danger of her minus missing if your deck isn’t well set-up for it – with 6 Warriors and Equipment, you only have a 65% chance to hit on six cards (and that’s a good number that many decks won’t reach, especially if they’re more of a party deck with lots of different types). With 8, which is a deck heavily committed to the strategy, it’s still only 76% and it’s pretty devastating every time you miss. I don’t think she’s a good splash unless you are heavily invested in the equipment synergies.
Ultimately, I’m only taking Nahiri at around B early on, but I do think the fact that you can build around her as an early pick is strong, and the failcase is still good.
Nissa of Shadowed Boughs
Another busted planeswalker, Evil Nissa also ramps up the royalty and provides a stream of free creatures. It is a shame that the first ability is purely to attack or generate an extra mana and can’t protect Nissa, but the Landfall ability already makes her amazing.
The main problem I have with Nissa is that she doesn’t defend herself, and is pretty vulnerable the turn she comes out. Often you’ll drop her on turn 5 so you can Landfall and she begins on 5 loyalty, so she isn’t trivial to kill, but if they have anything to attack her at all then you won’t be able to use that fantastic -5 ability. You only need one turn of them having nothing, so she is pretty good in slow low-pressure matchups, but it’s easy to remember the times when she was busted because they didn’t have anything and forget when she just gained you some life and did a little damage.
I think Nissa requires you to be ahead and beating down well to be good, or to have ramp to trigger her ability a lot and good blockers to defend her, rather than just being a strong card in her own right. Even if her minus ability is great, you have to have something good in the graveyard to recur and she doesn’t help you do that. I think she’ll often just be gain 7-8 life and deal 6 damage, which sounds good, but compare that to some of the 5 drops you can play, and understand that they can just ignore her and go for you if they’re aggressive or whatever.. if they don’t want you to use that -5, they’ll generally be able to stop you if they’re not quite behind. That being said, she does get a lot better with ramp and can be quite difficult to kill if you’re making your land drops and they’re not attacking her with all that much.
I’d take her at around B- early – I really don’t think she approaches bomb levels by any means, and she doesn’t strike me as a good splash.
Omnath, Locus of Creation
It really just comes down to mana cost. Casting this is going to be really hard to pull off in ZNR Limited. There is enough land fetching in Green that Omnath isn’t completely out of the question, but it is a long shot.
So this card is completely unplayable in all but one deck. In the rare 4-colour Green decks that get enough copies of Roiling Regrowth, Reclaim the Wastes, and Vastwood Surge that can enable this, Omnath just isn’t an exciting enough payoff to go to all that work. It’s a 4 mana 4/4 that replaces itself and gains you a bunch of life, not a ludicrous bomb that just takes over the game. Even the double and triple Landfall abilities aren’t really that exciting, which cements this as a card that’s almost never worth it in my mind.
Maybe if it’s really free in that deck at some point, if you’re playing all those cards anyway, but I’m not rating for 1 in 50 decks. Really this card is closer to F than D.
Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
This is another Gold Multicolor card I wouldn’t mind taking p1p1 and looking to make work. You definitely want some Clerics in your deck to make good use of Orah, but that is really easy in these colors.
This is a absurd ability on a fantastic body, and while it commits you to a strategy immediately, the payoff really is here unlike some of the other Gold cards. Sometimes there’ll be some awkwardness in that you won’t have Clerics of the right CMC dying at the right time to bring back the ones you want, but I think the average Orzhov deck will have lots of Clerics since that colour combination revolves around that strategy anyway and there are lots of good ones. It’s fantastic that it triggers on its own death too, and I would take this over most B-s and try to draft around it.
Phylath, World Sculptor
This is basically a 7 drop, but that rate for a 5/5 and a 4/5 and four +1/+1 counters any time your Plant stays alive and you find another land is an excellent rate. Most of the multicolor Rare cards in this set are good enough for players to force the archetype which is a somewhat unusual trait of this set.
Phylath strikes me as an absolutely absurd card – it makes all your topdecks ridiculous while out, and while you usually want to play it as a 7 drop, don’t be afraid to run it out on 6 if you need to use your mana well. Green has some good ramp this set, and that is great before and after you land this card. Even the failcase of just blocking with the Plants is good since it will buy you a lot of time and prevent races.
This is one of the few Gold cards we’ve seen so far that I consider a true bomb and would first pick really highly, since it’s an amazing splash too – take it at A- and be overjoyed.
This is reliably +2/+0 Menace which is better than average but nothing amazing. These colors are able to assemble a full Party though, and I would value this a bit higher in that sort of deck.
This card costing 4 to equip really kills it in my eyes, since it gives whatever you put it on a huge weakness to instant speed removal and will almost always take up your entire turn. Still, I think for this card, the first equip is a really big deal since +2/+0 and Menace has the potential to run away with the game by itself, and it’s nice that it scales up as you play more Party cards. If they are forced to try to double block, you’re almost always trading with two things, so I do think it will be worth it in some decks, especially where you have disposable creatures to put it on (though here, it’s worth mentioning that there aren’t a lot of token producers in the set).
Still, it’s not that exciting a card so I would almost never take it early, probably at C- levels.
Soaring Thought-Thief is a one man milling machine! Flash is a great bonus on a 1/3 and could lead to a sniping something when you are on the draw. I would feel a lot better about running eight or mill card in graveyard payoffs with this in my deck.
Soaring Thought-Thief enables itself in a fantastic way, and this is a significant buff to give your Rogues, many of which will have evasion anyway so this is just free damage and pressure every turn. Coming down on their turn 2 end step means you can begin the mill train on turn 3, and Dimir has a lot of payoffs once you reach eight cards so it’ll help with more than just itself. The boost means it’s good early and late. All that being said, it’s still a bit low impact until you enable it and you do need to be fairly committed to the strategy for it to pay great dividends.
I would take this at low C+ early on.
Spoils of Adventure
Curving into this on fourth turn sounds amazing, and you are sure to feel spoiled whenever casting it for 3-4 mana.
Spoils of Adventure is a fantastic rate in the party synergy decks, and Azorius is one of the best colour combinations for that. Drawing three cards and gaining three life for 4 mana is a fantastic rate, and I think it will often be that especially since you usually want to cast your card draw in the later game so you’ll have gotten some of your party creatures out. Splashing this in Orzhov, where you have more lifegain payoffs, sounds very appealing to me, since Attended Healer is the only one in base White.
Overall, I like this card and will take it as a C+ early.
Time will tell if this is the right format for Wee Dragonauts, but it can be a potent card and blocks well enough until it is time to unload your spells.
This Wizard should be capable of attacking as a 3/3 flier on many turns, since Red-Blue has plenty of her brethren at common. Attacking for 5 occasionally will be strong too, though I don’t think there are enough cheap spells to really push the Kiln Fiend strategy as an option.
I’d take this at about a C early, since it’s good but I don’t think it really pushes the combination that much and there will be off-turns where you want to cast other things, especially if you’re an aggressive deck and want to play creatures or want to enable party synergy. I also don’t think Izzet will be a fantastic combination, since Red’s aggression plan and Blue’s slow defensive late-game plans are very at odds; it’ll still be fine but one of the weaker ones in my opinion, though I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
Verazol, the Split Current
The cost of this is really just X so long as you spend at least UG. So as an example at 4 mana you get a 4/4 capable of doubling up to two Kicker spells later. Seems like we have another fantastic archetype defining Multicolor Rare on our hands.
This is efficient at any point in the curve, whenever you need it, and then has this busted ability that will just win you the game if you cast any decent kicker spell, of which every deck will have plenty. You want to cast it for as much mana as you can ideally, but even running it out there as a 2 mana 2/2 will be fine if your hand is expensive especially since Green has a lot of ways to put counters on it so it’ll copy a kicked spell and survive. This card is the epitome of flexibility and power, wrapped up into one brilliant package, and I will absolutely go out of my way to splash it.
Yasharn, Implacable Earth
A 4 mana 4/4 is positioned very well in ZNR. Yasharn is intended for the Landfall iteration of GW, but it’ll do great even if you are running a Party theme.
This is a 4 mana 4/4 which provides you a lot of value, while being a double Landfall trigger. I think this is a format where you’ll be able to use spare lands really well so I’m pretty excited for this card. The last two lines of text are irrelevant, but the rest of it is strong, though not close to a bomb.
I would take this at high C+ early on, since it’s not a card you want to splash unless you really have a lot of landfall cards, and it’s good in the late game but not busted by any means – a lot of its power comes from its great body on turn 4.
Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats
This card is just insane and it’ll be really hard to beat this unless removal is handy. Another Rare I would happily draft an archetype around.
Zagras is a huge bomb, putting a lot of pressure on by itself and enabling all your creatures to trade up that same turn – you just get free attacks with anything small. It will demand immediate removal or just win the game for the most part, while costing 4 or 5. Red-Black is a great party combination, having access to decent cards in all the types.
Zagras is good enough that even early on, I wouldn’t pass him for any common or uncommon, since he’s also a great splash.
Zareth San, the Trickster
Zareth is a cool throwback to the Ninjitsu mechanic. This card is just spectacular as it shouldn’t be too hard to sneak a rogue through at some point and steal a permanent. Keep in mind this archetype has plenty of tools to Mill and potentially get some great stuff in there early.
Ninjutsu steal their best card is some pretty absurd text, even if that card needs to have already died. Zareth San is the best payoff for having a bunch of Rogues in your deck, and even if you don’t have one you can just flash him in end of turn and attack, and they’ll probably have to chump block, or just ambush one of their attackers and have him in play as a terrifying threat.
I like him a little less than Zagras, since he’s a much worse splash (while still being worth it some of the time). I straight up wouldn’t do that if I didn’t have a lot of Rogues, since his power is as a curve play without those, and I suspect the non-Dimir decks won’t have that many. I’d take him at A- as a first pick, which is still enough to beat every other common and uncommon.
Colourless cards have the opposite effect as gold cards: they’re better first picks, because they don’t commit you to anything and the good ones will be good in every deck. All of the cards below should be taken a little higher early on.
Typically I would rate this lower but there are several good Equipment payoffs in the set and fewer flying creatures than usual. This is cheap and does just enough to slot into a deck that needs it.
I don’t mind this card in this format, because it equips for free the first time which makes it much better than its predecessors anyway, and there aren’t enough better Equipment running around that you won’t really want this for your enablers in White and Red. I don’t really like it without Equipment payoffs, that being said – it’s still a little too low impact and situational, and I’d consider it more of a D+ in, say, green decks.
If only there were more than a handful of decent Colorless things in this set.
Forsake this Monument, for it has no relevant text this format.
If the format is somewhat fast this is likely doomed, but in a mana Ramp archetype such as UG this is your “I win unless you can kill me soon” card.
This card has a huge range, based on the deck you put it in – here’s the rough part of the rating system because you have to rate in a vacuum! I’m going to talk about it mostly as a p1p1 card, since that’s my go-to strategy with extremely contextual cards.
This is an extremely slow card – to copy permanent spells, you have to have the mana to cast the spell and then 4 on top, and that’s the most common sort of card in your deck. To get a good rate, you have to copy anything twice, and that’s probably 9 or 10 mana total. Still, it’s an incredible payoff if you can do that. I think this format will lend itself better than most to this sort of card, because it has so much lifegain and ramp available, especially in Green, and many decks will be running 19+ lands because they have a bunch of spell-lands and kickers. I foresee some durdly decks in Selesnya or Simic where it’s completely absurd and always goes over the top, not even close to a C-, and then some faster decks or those that don’t have all that many great spells to copy, where it’s total trash.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t pick this that highly since it’s so bad if you’re not well set-up for it, and a lot of decks won’t be, but I would windmill slam it p3p1 a lot in the right deck.
I am all about the base cost of this card, but interestingly the Kicker could be relevant at times in Limited due to all of the Spell-Lands going around.
Ah, a 4 mana 4/4 that your opponents can’t target with a spell, or they just lose the game. You can’t pump this yourself either unless you’re happy to sacrifice it, which you will be in some spots, especially if you have buffs or they’re on a low life total. This card also has the ability to come in as usually a 7 mana 5/5 or 6/6 and trigger your kicker payoffs. Some decks won’t be at all well-equipped to handle it and it’s so flexible that whatever you do with it, you’re happy.
Still, I don’t want to give it a grade in the A range because the most common case is that they will trade for or double block it to deny you the tokens. It’s really good, but not a bomb in my eyes.
Relic Amulet does… something, but it is way too slow to consider playing.
I’m not too fond of this card, since it’s a really slow way of removing a creature, but if you land it early and then just allow it to ramp up and reward you for playing the game in the right deck then it’s not too bad. Once it reaches 3 damage, it’s actually a fine rate, and every deck will have some instants and sorceries to buff it so it should eventually get there. Still, it’s a horrible topdeck in non-Blue/Red decks, and I expect the format to be fairly value-oriented, so I’m not excited.
Relic Axe seems pretty good actually in the archetype most likely to want it (Warriors). I consider it to be on par with Marauder's Axe, maybe a little better due to the free equip.
Relic Axe seems pretty good in any deck with plenty of Warriors, and Red has enough good ones that I’m reasonably excited.
Obviously this only works in one type of deck, but I would give it a shot if my pile was really serious about Milling.
The fact that this card enables itself and all your other mill payoffs and then is a solid threat, especially in the late game, means I’m pretty happy with it. I think Blue and Black have enough incidental mill that sometimes you’ll get there without being dedicated to the strategy. It’s a C+ in Dimir but bad in most decks – it just takes too long to come online – so I won’t rate it too highly.
Another archetype-specific card, this does seem good for a dedicated Cleric deck but not much else. I do think having a Sac-Draw ability in that archetype is going to be key, since its creatures are likely to get outclassed by other Archetypes and card advantage will be mostly nonexistent.
I like Relic Vial a lot in Orzhov, since Black and White both have lots of Clerics, and this will enable your lifegain synergies. There aren’t a lot of ways to sacrifice in this format, but I don’t think this card is good enough if it does that alone, since it’s 5 mana for the first one.
This is another case of C+ in Orzhov, often a C in White or Black decks with Clerics, and terrible elsewhere.
Sea Gate Colossus
Four mana is where this gets a little busted, so you need a deck that can reliably field 3 Party types before even considering Sea Gate Colossus. Maybe it will be easier to assemble that then I am expecting, but I don’t have high hopes for this card.
5 mana 7/5 is a perfectly decent rate, and I think that’s reasonably easy to reach. In more dedicated party decks, this will often cost 4 mana, and then it gets pretty absurd. There are a lot of other good 5 drops in the format, but I’m happy to start this high. It’s especially good in Azorius and Rakdos I think, since those are the best colours for enabling party, though it is worth noting that Blue doesn’t have tons of other party payoffs.
Unless I am missing some application of the Indestructible ability, this is just an expensive mana rock. If you can already pay 6 mana (for the Kicker), do you really need 3 more? I am guessing not.
I think this mana rock is better than it looks, because it’s fixing in a set where non-Green colours don’t really have it so it can provide the ability to splash, and this is a kicker format where you’ll have plenty of ways to use your mana. The Gilded Lotus mode should be relevant a fair bit, and ramp you to some really big spells, and if you’re chaining this into card draw and such then I see it as pretty worth it.
I don’t like this at all outside of sideboarding against a Flyer deck. The Kicker cost is unreasonable so unless you really need a wall you should look elsewhere.
This card gets pretty good with +1/+1 counter synergies, and that’s where its main applications lie. Only Green is really good at putting counters on things this set, but I think this could be a fine card in decks with copies of Dauntless Survivor, for example. Still, it’s really bad without synergy and in a lot of decks, and you’ll know when you want it and be able to pick it up on the wheel usually; this isn’t an early pick at all.
Spare Supplies has a really interesting design/concept. I like that it provides card advantage for any deck and think it is very cleverly priced. The value is going to depend greatly on the speed of the metagame, but I am really excited to test this card out.
I think 4 mana draw two spread isn’t really where you want to be – this is a bad topdeck because it enters tapped, and getting to split it over two turns is nice but not enough to really save it for me. This is a set with a lot of other better ways to gain value.
Stonework Packbeat is decent filler for a Party deck, especially if you are trying to splash something. There is very little fixing in the format, so multiclassing Prismite may actually do pretty well in ZNR.
Stonework Packbeast strikes me as a much better Prismite, to the point where it’s actually a fine card in a lot of decks. It does your regular thing of enabling splashes in an expensive and mediocre way, but it also serves as a solid 2-drop in party decks, which helps provide consistency to the draws of the strategy as a whole – whatever combination of other party creatures you draw, the Packbeast’s type will still be relevant.
I think it’s as high as C+ in some party decks and the decks that really want more creatures in one type, and really bad everywhere else. This is a high C overall.
The Equip cost makes this worse than Short Sword, but in a pinch this can add some extra Equipment to your deck when needed. I would only ever play it in a deck with payoffs for Equipment, though.
This is a really steep equip cost, and Short Sword wasn’t a great card to begin with. The one free activation isn’t nearly enough to make up for that. If you’re really desperate to enable your equipment synergies or have a bunch of cards like Ghastly Gloomhunter, Kor Blademaster or Fireblade Charger that you don’t have many other ways to enable, then you can play this card, but I wouldn’t ever be all that happy. Look to pick it up on the wheel.
I like these lands alright, but as Rares you aren’t going to see them all that frequently. I reckon most decks will end up 2-color, but these still fix you without ever stalling a turn 99% of the time. The only downside is guessing wrong and ending up needing the color on the other side, but that seems unlikely to happen. If you are trying to splash something and find one of these that gives you access to that color though, sweet!
I think the Pathways are pretty unexciting, even compared to Guildgates – the problem is that most draft decks have a fairly even split of two colours, and choosing one over the other is kind of a hard sell. It’s a pretty big cost to go out of your way to pick them, and I’m not sure they give you enough to really warrant it because they’re a pretty weak sort of fixing, not even a full extra source but more like half a source. They don’t make your double-colour spells that much more reliable really.
That being said, I still don’t think they’re so bad that I won’t take them over weak playables. They’re at low C for me, and I deliberated moving down to C-.
This is only really playable in a 3-color Party deck, so unless that ends up being a playable archetype you will likely see this land quite a bit toward the end of packs in draft.
Base Camp could be okay in really heavily dedicated party decks which have cards in multiple colours and/or are splashing things. Entering tapped is a bigger deal this format than in most others, because most Draft decks only want like four taplands and spell-lands are already filling some of those slots.
I wouldn’t take this card until I was already really invested in that strategy, as it doesn’t belong in most decks and is pretty mediocre even in 2-colour party decks.
Crawling Barrens will do a lot better in higher land count/Ramp decks, but it is a ‘free’ creature in any deck and an amazing mana sink if games go long. There will be games where you never get a chance to activate it, but the upside is pretty good and it costs almost nothing to play in a 2-color deck.
This would normally be pretty good, but I don’t think this is the format for it. In the decks that want this kind of effect, I have Kicker cards and other spell-lands which don’t harm my mana base to cover the late game, and this card is only relevant then. I need two activations and 8 mana before it’s good, and this is a format where I’ll have a lot of other things to use my mana on. There’s some anti-synergy between this and spell lands, in that you’re increasing your likelihood of being cut off mana on crucial turns – taplands and colourless lands don’t go well together, and I would much rather have the spell-lands. The harm this does to your mana base is impactful even in a 2-colour deck, since playing 8-8 can be really rough with double-colour cards in each colour, and the format doesn’t have great fixing.
Still, manlands do tend to overperform, so I’m happy to give this a low C+ for now; I’m very much on the border between that and high C.
Throne of Makindi
I really don’t think banking mana is going to be good at all, especially when it can only be spent on Kicker.
There are a lot of good kicker cards in every colour this format, but this card will require you to have really a ton before it’s worth it. In the right deck, this is a fantastic way to ramp up to your big Kicker spells, cast them a turn sooner and fix for the ones you’re splashing. Even then, the cost is quite steep – you have to tap two lands now to generate one extra mana on a future turn, and it’s still a colourless land that hurts your mana base.
Ultimately, I don’t think you should take this card early at all – perhaps late in packs 2 and 3 if you’re well set up for it, then you can pick this card up freely, or take it highly at the start of pack 3 if you’re trying to splash a kicker card. It won’t belong in the vast majority of decks, and you should mostly hope to wheel it.
We have reached the end of the Zendikar Rising Limited Review! I will be expanding on my impressions of the set in a ZNR Draft Guide after I have a chance to do a bunch of drafts. Overall I am liking how it is shaping up. The overall power level may finally be going down (a little), as Wizards is incentivizing playing weaker cards by stapling them to lands. I think this may end up being a really clever solution to power creep. Along with that, Kicker spells will also slow down the pace as players will tend to save up to get the most value out of them if possible. There are still some really aggressive decks here, most notably Warriors and Party-based Aggro that will pressure more durdly ones. I am not sure I have ever seen so many archetype-specific spells, which should lead to very clear signals in draft. I believe this set could help newer drafters begin to pick up on signals and learn to draft more fluidly since drafts will be much more telegraphed than usual. At the same time, there power level of the multicolor and some archetype-specific Rares is extremely high, and will likely force players into certain colors early when they open them. It is going to be really fun to see how this all plays out and what the metagame is going to look like. Good luck with your events and be on the lookout for my Draft Guide in the next week or two.
And that’s a wrap, folks! I’m pretty happy with how Zendikar Rising looks and really excited to get into my first drafts, since the set seems well-balanced and with a lot of hidden depth and complexity. Deciding how much to commit to/juggle each synergy versus just playing better cards will be interesting, since there are a lot of very synergistic cards that are only especially good in certain decks, and you have to decide how good they are in yours on a case-by-case basis every time!
I love how much value there is running around, and deciding how many lands to play to enable your spell-lands, alongside Kicker and Landfall cards, will be really tough. In general, I think you should default to 18 lands in best-of-three in this format, and probably still 17 with hand-smoothing in best-of-one, but if you have several good spell-lands or you’re just a higher curve deck, then you should hop on that train too! Even aggro decks should often run 18 to enable Landfall and to ensure they don’t have too many taplands – a good solution to having lands come into play tapped is to just play more lands, if you have enough ways to use your mana anyway! Spell-lands are just busted, so take them early and often, and be happy to have multiples.
I think there’s a good mix of fast and slow decks in the format, but that ultimately it’s on the slower side since there’s tons of lifegain everywhere, and Red is the only colour with a really focused aggressive plan, while its card quality isn’t incredibly high to support that. Still, I do expect Red decks to be good, especially early on, because people just won’t be prepared for that kind of aggression and the kicker cards, many taplands and evasive units other colours are running won’t line up well at all! If you’re in a different colour, definitely don’t skimp on your 2 drops too much.
I’ll be continuing my regular Limited Spotlight series, so check that out for some Draft strategy content! The last one’s here, and I think it has some really valuable tips for taking your gameplay to the next level. My coaching service is still going strong, so consider booking a time slot with me today if you’d like some hands-on experience and to build long-lasting habits in just a few short hours. I’ll be updating my half of the tier list regularly as usual, both with written updates and on the fly. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!