Zendikar Rising Limited Set Review – Red

Zendikar Rising Limited Set Review Red

Welcome back! This is the fourth 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 2021Ikoria: 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?

Compulsion

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.

Check out all my articles here or follow me on Twitch to catch my streams!

Drifter

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!

Check out all my articles here or follow me on Twitter for regular updates!

Legend

Akoum Hellhound

Akoum Hellhound

Compulsion: C-

Akoum Hellhound has some Aggro appeal, being a 2/3 attacker for the first few turns at least. Laying this down on the play is going to feel very good. However, it will only have a short time to shine before becoming irrelevant unless you have ramp spells, and I don’t see this as being a very good fit for a deck that is running those. Akoum Hellhound is much better suited for an Aggro deck where you are hoping to get 4-6 damage out of it early and praying you don’t find a copy late in the game.

Drifter: D+

This is a good card to play in an aggro deck on turn 1 or 2, but pretty bad in any other deck and at any other point. This hasn’t struck me as a particularly aggressive format so far, and White and Green have some solid tools to deal with aggression. Even in an aggro deck, this only gets a couple of turns to attack for 2 before it’s outclassed by blockers and other attackers. Steppe Lynx may have been a decent card in its format, but Zendikar was one of the most aggressive formats of all time and that was less to do with Steppe Lynx and more to do with the number of evasive 2 drops in the set. Also, there were fetchlands and more ways to double landfall…

Akoum Warrior

Compulsion: B-

These cards are so goofy to rate. Akoum Warrior is a terrible value for 6 mana, but ‘free’ cards are just so compelling. Companions needed to be nerfed, after all… I have a feeling some or even most of the Spell-Lands could be overrated, but time will tell. Easily my biggest curiosity of the set is how these will play game to game, and how many you can typically draft without sacrificing the underlying integrity of your themes/curve which is comprised of actual spells.

Drifter: B-

This is another card I’m excited to have, because it’s good at any point in the game. I think the Blue and Black “creature spell-lands” were significantly better, but I’ll still be taking this one early and often, because it’s still such a fantastic upgrade to a Mountain.

Ardent Electromancer

Ardent Electromancer

Compulsion: C

There is definitely some tempo potential with this one. Casting two spells on turn 3 is a tantalizing prospect. Sadly, more often than not I think this ends up being just a 3-mana 3/2.

Drifter: C

It’s as easy to imagine the nuts curve out where you don’t really need this, where you go 1 drop party creature 2 drop party creature into it, as it is to imagine it just being a 3/2 for 3. The latter is going to happen a lot more, but still this card costs 2 mana on turn 3 and often 1 mana on turn 4, which is pretty good, especially in a Kicker format where you’re going to have more ways to spend your mana, even in the late game.

Cinderclasm

Cinderclasm

Compulsion: B

Pyroclasm can be a devastating effect, and I do expect this to inflict some serious damage to Aggro archetypes in this set. Cinderclasm is definitely a card to be aware of when a Red player seems to be slow playing so you don’t overextend or even while navigating combat since it is cast at Instant speed. I am really interested in experimenting with this card but suspect it will be quite good.

Drifter: B-

This card is really bad in any deck where you have a lot of small creatures, so stay away in your aggro decks, but in midrangier or slower decks without too many small creatures and no x/1s of their own, it’s pretty good, especially at instant speed. It won’t be an uncommon case to have this kill a creature and let you trade up with another creature, or to use it to counter a trick; it’s just a very flexible card thanks to instant speed and having two modes that do different amounts of damage. However, Red feels quite aggressive to me this format, or at least it doesn’t really have many roles or options beyond that, and if your deck is heavy Red then it might not want this a lot of the time. Still, if Red is your support colour, then this will often be great, especially in Izzet and Gruul which have kicker synergy.

Cleansing Wildfire

Cleansing Wildfire

Compulsion: C

The theme of this card might be a little too relevant right now, but using this in a deck with Forests to trigger Landfall and thin your deck seems to be the intention. The value ranges wildly on this card depending on how many Landfall payoffs are in your deck. Cleansing Wildfire burning through two cards for just two mana allows you to find those payoffs more consistently as well.

Drifter: D+

This card is a really interesting design, which does a few weird things – a) it’s a “free” landfall trigger in that it doesn’t cost you a card and b) it gets your splash source in a deck that wants fixing. I don’t think the thinning aspect is relevant at all, but the splashing is actually pretty exciting because there’s not a ton of fixing going around, nor a ton of ways to double landfall. Very rarely, you can also use it to mana screw your opponents’ splashes if they’re only playing one basic of that colour and ways to tutor for it! Still, I think this is a really mediocre rate if you’re not doing one of those first two things and I want to pick it up on the wheel in my heavy landfall/splashing decks, so I won’t give it a high grade.

Expedition Champion

Expedition Champion

Compulsion: C+

The 4/3 upside on this one is rather enticing. If RW Warrior Aggro ends up being good Expedition Champion will be a staple common. I would want to have at least 4-5 other warriors before running it though, even though the 2/3 floor isn’t terrible.

Drifter: C+

I think this card will be Red’s bread and butter this format, because there are enough good Warriors that this will often attack for 4, and either trade up or do a lot of damage. There aren’t a lot of common 3/3s either, which would hurt it. It’s especially good in Boros, but many Red decks will be happy enough.

Fireblade Charger

Fireblade Charger

Compulsion: B-

The first ability is actually pretty nice to have in case you draw it late with equipment on the board. Hitting any target on death is probably the most compelling aspect, threatening to take out a big creature or hit your opponent with some reach damage to the face, provided you have some ways to pump Fireblade Charger.

Drifter: C+

This is a card that’s really strong with tricks or Equipment, since it has a lot of potential to 2 for 1 or do a lot of face damage. Green has a lot of ways to put counters on things this set, and White has a lot of group buffs, so I think this card is likely to be good in a lot of decks, especially since it’s a 1 drop that enables Warrior synergy on top of that. It certainly won’t be good in every deck – it’s bad if you can’t buff it up, and you really do want to be beating down to make good use of it, but that’s most of what Red is doing this format anyway.

Fissure Wizard

Fissure Wizard

Compulsion: C-

Goblins and Wizards are two of my favorite creature types, but I am feeling filler on this one. It doesn’t really affect the value of this card, but it seems worth pointing out looting and rummaging effects do help decks in this format that want 8 cards in your graveyard. We will see how prevalent they are in the meta, but that consideration could help narrow down some final cuts while deck building.

Drifter: C

This is a decent effect, and this is the only 2-drop common Wizard in Red, so plenty of decks are going to want it. In the late game, it retains some value by ditching other lands you hold, though that’s less relevant in a kicker/spell-land format.

Goma Fada Vanguard

znr-141-goma-fada-vanguard

Compulsion: C+

The only thing that feels uncommon about this creature is its name, which sounds more made up than usual. It can sometimes remove a key blocker and that is enough to make it an above average two drop, but I would only be excited to play this in a dedicated Warrior deck.

Drifter: C+

This is a solid beatdowny 2-drop, making 1/xs look really bad because they can’t block this by itself! With other Warriors, which Red has plenty of at Common, this can make for some really threatening starts especially for getting creatures through that have attack/damage triggers, like Grotag Night-Runner, or when you buff it. Even if you only get one good attack in, it’s still doing much better than most other 2 drops. Usually other Warriors would have to attack with this, but this card lets you just control them, which means your Warriors have immediate impact on its ability.

Grotag Bug-Catcher

Grotag Bug-Catcher

Compulsion: C

I am liking Grotag Bug-Catcher quite a bit in Aggro decks that have abundant access to at least one other Party archetype besides warrior. In the right deck this will usually attack as a 3/2 Trample which seems perfectly reasonable for a 2-drop.

Drifter: C-

This is a decent beatdown card, since it won’t be that hard to have it attack for 3 Trample if you’re curving out, and it retains some use in the late game. Still, it’s bad if you do end up needing to block or if you end up drawing too many Warriors or other creature types.

Grotag Night-Runner

Grotag Night-Runner

Compulsion: B-

I absolutely love this card conceptually. The main hindrance to it being great in practice won’t be getting through for damage really but doing so while having enough mana open to play what you reveal. There are numerous ways to provide Rogues like this Evasion or a Buff, but unless you equip Grotag Night-Runner you likely had to spend mana to do it. You can still play cheaper spells and will find free lands about 40% of the time though so I am interested in building around this.

Drifter: C+

This ability is much worse than drawing a card, because if you expend mana to clear the way for this card then you’re likely going to be unable to cast spells you find off the top. Still, you can play lands and they’ll have to pretty much always leave a blocker back for it. Its saving grace is that it has 1 extra toughness over Thieving Otter, meaning that you can attack into 2 drops on the play and often get a free card., or that it forces double blocks more often. Overall, this is a fine card, but I have it at pretty low C+.

Inordinate Rage

Inordinate Rage

Compulsion: D

This is the type of combat that is a playable card but unlikely to make the final cut in your deck. With Spell-Lands taking up earlier picks it seems likely we will find more D-tier cards seeing play than usual in this format though.

Drifter: D+

Red has a strong beatdown plan this format, and those appreciate having access to some tricks. This isn’t the best one, since +3/+2 will only win most combats and trading both this and a creature into something bigger is really not what you want to be doing, but scry 1 is a nice addition especially in the late game.

Kargan Intimidator

Kargan Intimidator

Compulsion: B+

I love this guy, he literally tuns your foes into Cowards. There is a lot of value here for a 2-drop. The abilities are cheap but spending (2) to get through for 4 damage will probably prevent you from playing a creature, so at times trying to get too much out of Kargan Intimidator could slow you down. In conjunction with removal or cards like Goma Fada Vanguard this get card could get pretty abusive, and I am a fan.

Drifter: B-

Being able to repeatedly make one of your opponent’s creatures unable to block is really strong, and this is a nice way to use up spare mana you have lying around. It makes all your other Warriors significantly better, and has the potential to hit really hard by itself. Still, sometimes you’ll be curving out and won’t want this as much, and paying 2 mana to get through for 4 damage is good but not exciting and won’t always work if they have multiple creatures. If you’re trying to enable Party, this is a little less exciting too. It’s a very flexible card on a fine body, but nothing gamebreaking.

Kazuul’s Fury

Compulsion: B-

Once I saw they were printing overpriced versions of terrible spells a part of me deep down knew one of them would be Fling. Ideally you have some higher power creatures in the deck, but the possibility of turning a Land into damage for three mana is always going to be worth it. You should definitely count this card as a Land, though.

Drifter: B-

Fling is an incredibly powerful but narrow effect so having it on a land is the nuts. Mid to late game, upgrading your outclassed creatures into removal or your big creatures into lethal damage is fantastic. This goes especially well in aggro decks, but any deck will be happy to have it. Sadly, there’s only one Threaten effect at uncommon to combo with it in Song-Mad Treachery, but that’ll come up every so often too!

Leyline Tyrant

Leyline Tyrant

Compulsion: A+

4 mana for a 4/4 flyer is ridiculous, and unless Leyline Tyrant can be removed quickly it ends up with reach damage baked into it in an interesting way.

Drifter: A+

A 4 mana 4/4 flier is great, and this has a fantastic removal-resistant ability if they don’t kill it immediately. I don’t expect the mana production to come up much beyond this ability, but it doesn’t need to.

Magmatic Channeler

Magmatic Channeler

Compulsion: A-

Magmatic Channeler is meant to payoff late in the game by upgrading your excess lands and dud spells while potentially becoming a 4/4. The 1/3 body is efficient early to block and prolong the game. This feels like a UR Spells card but it doesn’t really have to be as any deck can make good use of the tap ability, especially if having an extra Wizard is a benefit.

Drifter: B

This is an activated ability that slots well into any deck – the ability to upgrade your lands into real cards in the late game is fantastic, even in aggro decks, especially in a format where they’ll probably be playing more to enable Landfall and because of spell-lands. I think in most decks, it’ll be hard to make this a 4/4 until the very late game, but it’s much easier when you’re looking at essentially three cards a turn. Decks like Izzet spells may well be able to enable it earlier on. Still, it’s not that exciting early on and takes a while to get going, so I don’t consider it close to bomb territory.

Molten Blast

Molten Blast

Compulsion: D+

There are definitely some good Artifacts running around, but they are mostly rare and the rate of the damage mode is simply not good enough to make this more than decent sideboard material.

Drifter: C

This does cost a lot of mana, but there are a lot of high value Equipment and other artifacts in this set. Being instant means you can get some real blowouts against the Equipment, and I don’t think 3 mana 2 damage is a terrible failcase. That being said, I think this gets a lot worse in multiples and won’t be too hard to pick up, so I’m going to give it a high C rather than a C+.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Compulsion: A+

Moraug is an absolute house, buffing your entire team and providing two combats potentially every turn. It does need to attack and survive until your second main to maximize its effectiveness, but that shouldn’t be terribly difficult with a 6/6 body. At the very least it’ll generally invite a stack block and allow the rest of your team to go through unblocked with an extra +1/+0.

Drifter: A

A 6 mana 6/6 that gives +1/+0 to all your attacking creatures is the baseline for this card, and that card is fantastic in Limited to begin with. Now, let’s add in this ability which means that if you have more creatures than your opponent or they’re not able to trade off with everything immediately, then they’ll often just die to the second attack where they all get +2/+0… yeah, okay. Moraug even has the potential to do this multiple times, which is hilarious but unnecessary. If you play this on turn 7, you get the additional combat phase immediately.

Nahiri’s Lithoforming

Nahiri's Lithoforming

Compulsion: C

Landfall? More like Land Cascade with this thing. Nahiri’s Lithoforming seems pretty bad for most decks since all it really does is cycle all of your excess lands late in the game. With some good Landfall triggers in play this could be an absolutely devastating spell though, so I would give it a try if I were in the archetype but wouldn’t p1p1 this and force it or anything.

Drifter: D-

The joke with this card is that you get a bunch of landfall triggers, and it’s tempting in decks where you have some really busted rare landfall cards, but I think it’s garbage even there. It’s just a waste of mana and card disadvantage – you aren’t guaranteed to replace your lands, so sacrificing all of them with this can be really dangerous, and it’s really expensive to do so since you only get 2 landfall triggers for 4 mana. There is the dream of this + Skyclave Geopede, but even that is only dealing up to 8 trample damage on 6 mana. I don’t think this is a reasonable card in any deck.

Pyroclastic Hellion

Pyroclastic Hellion

Compulsion: C

Pyroclastic Hellion seems pretty average, but it isn’t a terrible way to recur Landfall triggers. With no Landfall triggers in your deck this likely isn’t worth a slot however, so it is a fairly archetype specific creature.

Drifter: C

This is a sweet way to pick up spell lands and gives you some extra value for it on a fine body.

Relic Robber

Relic Robber

Compulsion: B

With haste it is conceivable for Relic Robber to get through at least once, and that is all you need for it to be well worth it. Sometimes it’ll be an awkward 3 mana 2/2 but I think it is worth the risk.

Drifter: C

It won’t always be easy to get this through in Limited, the tokens are horrible vs sacrifice outlets (of which there are only two at uncommon, that being said), and they usually won’t struggle to race one of these if they have reasonable pressure. Still, there are some enablers like Goma Fada Vanguard and Sneaking Guide which can get it through, and the dream is to be able to do that multiple times – even a card like Cliffhaven Kitesail starts to look impressive if you have this and a couple of other creatures with damage triggers.

Rockslide Sorcerer

Rockslide Sorcerer

Compulsion: B

Rockslide Sorcerer looks really good in the UR Wizards deck. I am not sure you are going to get enough mileage out of it in other archetypes, but even then there are a lot of 1 toughness targets running around in this format so it may only take one instant or sorcery to put you ahead with this in play.

Drifter: B-

Free pings for just playing the game? The potential to kill even x/2s if you can double spell? Sign me up! This isn’t a card you even have to build around – it will be good in every deck, and exceptionally so in some.

Roil Eruption

znr-155-roil-eruption

Compulsion: B+

Someone must have made a mistake and accidentally made this cost 2 instead of 3, because Roil Eruption is pretty busted for a common. The formula on these kicker cards seems to be to take an existing card, increase the base cost by one mana and then give it a really expensive Kicker version. It turns out Lightning Bolt still looks amazing with this treatment. 7 mana is a lot for five damage but it is great to have scalable cards even if they are overpriced. This card is certainly the best Red common.

Drifter: B

A solid efficient rate that can burn players too, and then a strong kicker ability which can finish people off from a pretty high life total late. Sorcery speed isn’t great, but this card is.

Roiling Vortex

Roiling Vortex

Compulsion: D-

Roiling Vortex is not a playable Limited card except as a fringe sideboard answer against really dedicated lifegain decks.

Drifter: D-

This is only playable if you’re very aggressive, since if your opponents are likely to be able to race you then it’s really bad. Even in those decks, once you start losing, this will give you very few turns to recover – you won’t have time to sit there and topdeck a burn spell, for example, and it’s also an absolutely garbage topdeck itself. On turn 2, a creature will represent more damage and won’t hurt you in the process. Even against lifegain, paying 1 mana to shut it down isn’t what your aggro deck wants to be doing, but it is good if they have loads.

The only uses of this are as a sideboard card against focused Orzhov lifegain decks, or as a weak 23rd playable in aggressive decks.

Scavenged Blade

Scavenged Blade

Compulsion: C+

+2/+0 isn’t an amazing buff or anything but it attaches for free initially and there are quite a few creatures in this format that benefit greatly from playing Equipment. At the very least this allows your early drops to trade up later in the game. I will be happy to play at least one of these in pretty much any Red deck.

Drifter: C

This is a reasonable filler equipment for your aggro deck, and there are a bunch of synergies with equipment in the format and especially in Boros. Still, everything beyond the first equip is really expensive so I’m not overjoyed unless you do have those synergies or a bunch of fliers/evasive units, of which this set has plenty.

Scorch Rider

Scorch Rider

Compulsion: C-

The price just isn’t right on Scorch Rider. It could be slotted in as weak filler in a Warrior deck in a pinch, but isn’t really what you want to have in the 4-mana slot.

Drifter: D+

I think a vanilla 4/3 for 4 is a D+ in most sets, and this card doesn’t strike me as much better. By turn 6, your opponent will probably be able to block it even with haste. Warrior synergy is nice to enable, but Red has tons of Warriors so I don’t think it’s worth all that here either.

Shatterskull Charger

Shatterskull Charger

Compulsion: B+

Getting in for 4 on turn 3 is usually going to be worth it, even though Shatterskull Charger does go right back to your hand. Once you play it though the element of surprise is over. Still, the 5-mana value with Kicker is very good and this is well worth an early pick even if bouncing your third turn play is tempo negative.

Drifter: B-

Shatterskull Charger strikes me as pretty comparable to Shatterskull Minotaur, being a powerful 5 drop with the ability to be played earlier on. The ability to dash it out is pretty strong, representing a lot of pressure in the later game and dodging sorcery-speed removal, so I’m happy to take it quite highly though it’s not busted or anything. I consider this a high B-.

Shatterskull Minotaur

Shatterskull Minotaur

Compulsion: B-

Shatterskull Minotaur is great in any deck that can consistently play two or more Party creature types. Keep in mind this type of Party ability doesn’t count itself, but ideally you land two different Party types 2nd and 3rd turn, curving into this 4th turn. With cards like this running around, players will need to be even more thoughtful about when to trade and when to race. Trading your early drops for theirs can sometimes be a huge benefit if you are denying Party synergy.

Drifter: B-

This is usually a 5 mana 5/4 Haste, which is solid, and sometimes it’ll cost 4 mana at which point it’ll be total nuts. This reminds me of Charging Monstrosaur, a card that defined its Limited format; losing that 5th point of toughness makes a colossal difference since it will much easier to trade with, but it’s an absurd amount of immediate pressure and devastating if they can’t immediately block or remove it. All this card requires of you is to have a lot of 2 and 3 drops with Party types, something that aggro decks want to do anyway, and it will be completely insane but it’s good in any deck that’s trying to enable Party synergy. I consider this a high B-.

Shatterskull Smashing

Compulsion: A-

Being able to turn land cards into damage is fantastic, even if this cannot hit players. I would count this as a land though, as Shatterskull Smashing benefits from having a lot of them in play anyway.

Drifter: A

This is a fantastic and versatile card – the baseline will be dealing 4 damage divided as you choose for 6 mana, which is a great rate, and you’ll often be able to set that up to kill two things, but then it scales up as the game goes on and becomes better and better. Once you reach 8 mana, it almost always wins the game. It’s even relevant early, since against somebody with x/1s, you might be able to blow up two things on turn 4 or kill one and trade up, and this will devastate some boards even when it’s only 3 damage. Having it as a land if you’re mana screwed is solid upside, but you should always count this as a spell.

Sizzling Barrage

znr-162-sizzling-barrage

Compulsion: D

Not only is this pretty bad but it seems out of color for a Red spell. You expect White to deal damage to blockers while Red is typically allowed to blow them up precombat and deny blocking outright. Strange.

Drifter: D-

Don’t be deceived by this removal spell – it’s really bad. It does nothing in non-aggressive decks, and it doesn’t push damage in aggressive ones. It does a small enough amount of damage that you’ll often have to 2 for 1 yourself for it to do anything. Compare this to tricks – those are often bad because they’re so inflexible and have a tendency to rot in your hand, and they’re actually much more so than this.

If your opponent doesn’t block and plays around this card (and they will, especially later in the format, because I do think it will be overplayed), or you don’t have a threatening enough attacker that they even want to block, or you want to hold back and block yourself, then it’s just going to rot in your hand. I don’t think this belongs in any but the most aggressive decks, and even they should only run it if they really have nothing better to clear blockers.

Skyclave Geopede

Skyclave Geopede

Compulsion: B

I would want to be in a Landfall deck before getting too excited about Skyclave Geopede, but turns where you can trigger it twice are going to feel pretty darn good. If your deck can only ever drop one land it is still worth playing, but I would love to build toward the upside for this one.

Drifter: B-

Attacking as a 5/3 Trample is a crazy rate, and your opponent will be forced to block it almost immediately, at which point they’re in terrible shape against removal or tricks. Even if you do trade, you get to deal a bunch of damage for free. This is the exact kind of card an aggro deck wants, and it’s so good that a couple of these or other great Landfall triggers start to make me want Cleansing Wildfire in my deck…

Sneaking Guide

Sneaking Guide

Compulsion: D

Sneaking Guide is pretty terrible unless you have some top tier Rogues like Relic Robber in your deck. There needs to be a hefty payoff for spending a card and 2 mana to only get 1-2 damage through per activation. You can use this with Landfall creatures, equipment, and pump spells though where you make them unblockable before buffing them since they will retain the ability.

Drifter: D

There are decks that may want to play this because it’s a 1 mana Rogue and if you have enough 2 power creatures then it has a relevant effect in the late game, but it still costs you a card to have next to no effect for most of the game. Perhaps you get some cards with good attack/damage triggers that make this look a bit better, but the most likely case is that you play this if you’re desperate to enable Party synergy, and are basically never happy about it.

Song-Mad Treachery

Compulsion: B-

Why on Earth would I pay 5 mana for Threaten!? Oh, right…

Drifter: B-

Act of Treason is a pretty powerful situational effect – you don’t play it because it’s dead in your hand so much in Limited, but this also being a land means it’s never that! I think this is less versatile than Kazuul’s Fury, but still a huge upgrade to a Mountain and it serves a similar role in that it will often kill your opponent in the late game. It combines really well with Sacrifice effects, but there are only two of those in the format, both at uncommon. This is another one where you should always count it as a land – it’s not good enough an effect to be a spell.

Spikefield Hazard

Compulsion: B

One of my goals for ZNR is to finish off my opponent with this card. You are much more likely to pick off a weak creature or lay it down as a Land, though.

Drifter: C+

There’s a good number of x/1 targets for this in the format, and you can also just set this card up the hard way by attacking and removing a threat – that’s not an exciting use, but certainly better than a land that was otherwise rotting in your hand in the late game! Again, just replace a land, it’s not good enough to take up a spell slot.

Spitfire Lagac

Spitfire Lagac

Compulsion: C-

Even in a dedicated Landfall deck, I don’t love this one. Similar to Scorch Rider, it is fine for its archetype but just not very exciting.

Drifter: C-

I think that in most sets, this would be a much better card, but there’s a lot of competition for 4 drops in this one, and a lot of decks want to enable party synergies. While this has a nice effect that stays relevant in the late game, it’s still only likely to add up to a few damage since it’s lands after you hit your fourth in a spell-land format, and it doesn’t attack all that well as a 3/4. If you’re a non-party deck, this card does stack really nicely in multiples!

Synchronized Spellcraft

Synchronized Spellcraft

Compulsion: C

5 mana seems like overpaying for this effect. It is a serviceable removal spell if you are in need of one, but it only does one damage more than Roil Eruption for 3 additional mana. The incidental player damage is a nice bonus though.

Drifter: C

4 damage for 5 mana is okay but a bit inefficient – I’m quite surprised that this doesn’t deal 5, in which case it would be an easy C+, but now it misses a lot of Green creatures and other 5 drops. Still, the extra burn is really nice and, in dedicated party decks, this does make it to C+.

Teeterpeak Ambusher

Teeterpeak Ambusher

Compulsion: C-

Teeterpeak Ambusher is on the weaker side when it comes to Warriors. The 1/3 statline is looking pretty decent in this set actually, but it is annoying to have to pay mana to deal real damage if this is in an Aggro deck.

Drifter: D+

1/3 for 2 mana isn’t really what the aggro decks want to be doing, and this firebreathing ability is really expensive. This is a card you play if you want 2 mana Warriors to enable those synergies, but cut most of the time otherwise.

Thundering Rebuke

Thundering Rebuke

Compulsion: B+

I love me some Lava Coil! Trading Exile for Planeswalker damage is mostly irrelevant in this format.

Drifter: B

Efficient and powerful removal, once again at sorcery speed sadly, but still great.

Thundering Sparkmage

Thundering Sparkmage

Compulsion: B

Thundering Sparkmage seems very good! You will generally get a 2/2 along with 2-3 damage with this in a Party deck, which is an efficient use of four mana.

Drifter: B-

4 mana 2/2 that deals 2 to a creature on ETB is a solid rate, and I think this will usually be that, and then it scales up from there.

Tormenting Voice

Tormenting Voice

Compulsion: D

ZNR does not seem like a good format for this card. Many Red decks will have ways of making use of extra lands, and sometimes you will be up against decks actively trying to get cards into your graveyard. Giving them two for free just seems bad.y.

Drifter: D

I think this is a card you only really want to play in Izzet, if you have spell synergies – this strikes me as a particularly bad format for it otherwise, since Kicker wants you to have more lands in play, spell-lands mean more of your lands do something in the late game, and Landfall means sometimes you want to be playing your lands in the late game. If you’re just ditching spells to draw other spells, this isn’t a good use of a card.

Tuktuk Rubblefort

Tuktuk Rubblefort

Compulsion: D

Is haste really worth a card that just blocks? I don’t think so, but I was really low on Warded Battlements and it ended up being okay, so maybe this will go that route as well.

Drifter: D-

This card is almost never good – aggro decks don’t want a useless 3-drop that deals no damage, and slower decks want better blockers than an 0/3 and can’t make good use of the haste. There’s only one deck that may want this card: a midrangey deck with lots of big 5 and 6 drops but I think those can almost always do better too, especially in a format where creature types matter. The other place for this is with creatures that have on attack effects, but there really aren’t very many in the format. It doesn’t even block fliers well, since most of them have 3 power this set.

Valakut Awakening

Compulsion: B+

Don’t like your hand? Here, have a do over! This is a really powerful free effect and can even be done at instant speed. This could end up being really great!

Drifter: B

This is a fantastic card – when you don’t have enough lands, you just run it out as one, and the exact good case for this is your having too many lands, since it converts all your other dead land draws into new cards too. Remember that this is card parity, rather than card advantage, so I would still count it as a land rather than a spell, and still be overjoyed to have it.

Valakut Exploration

Valakut Exploration

Compulsion: A-

I would for sure first pick this card. It always does something as long as you have lands to play, and often that is going to be free spells. It is great on third turn or drawn really late with a land or two left in hand. Red tends to do really well with engine cards like this since its spells are cheaper on average.

Drifter: B

This is “Landfall – Draw a card” enough that I’m really excited, even if you can’t play extra lands off it. Sometimes you’ll have better things to do than whatever’s on top or you won’t be able to cast some expensive or colour-intensive cards right this minute, so it won’t be exactly drawing a card in that scenario, and that 1 damage will add up in that case.

Wayward Guide-Beast

Wayward Guide-Beast

Compulsion: D-

It’s a cool card but you really can’t put this in your deck in Limited. Attack with this and your opponent goes ‘Okay, I guess I will take 2 and set you back an entire turn?’

Drifter: D-

This is essentially a 2/2 for R that can’t attack until the late game, and that you should probably trade off as quickly as you can… in the late game, it won’t get through to recur your spell lands anyway, so I think it’s pretty close to unplayable. Maybe there’ll be a deck which is really desperate for more cards that can block 2 drops that will play this once in a blue moon, but don’t let it lead you astray!

Conclusions

Compulsion

Red reminds me quite a bit of White in Ikoria. In that set White was diverse enough that pretty much every color wanted a piece of it. It wasn’t that its cards were overpowered, it just fit in really well with everything else. I see Red in this set being like that. It offers decent Warriors, Rogues, and even Wizards to decks that want to Party, very good Landfall enablers and payoffs, and efficient removal spells. It naturally pairs with White as RW Warrior Aggro or Party, or even Black as a Party deck since Red is only really missing Clerics. With Blue it can form a tempo-based UR Wizards/Spells, and with Green there is a nice Landfall or straightforward creature deck in the cards.

I don’t know if this makes Red the best color, but it is perhaps one of the most important/universal. We will see how Green looks tomorrow and then I will take a stab at ranking the colors just for fun. The metagame is really what will determine the truth of that matter. On Thursday we will see the multicolor cards that serve as signposts for each archetype along with the Artifacts and (remaining) Lands to round out the set.

Drifter

Red’s commons strike me as quite weak this set, but I think the colour as a whole will be fine despite that. That’s because it has a solid focused beatdown plan; unlike the other colours, it’s not messing around with synergies as much and it instead just has a lot of good beatdown cards which all work towards the same goal. Aggression tends to overperform in formats where several of the colours are value-oriented; people won’t be prepared for the amount of damage Red can deal, and it has more burn here than in ordinary sets, and just that clarity of focus means that the aggro decks will have a lot of good playables and be spoilt for choice when it’s underdrafted. Other colours won’t want their cards, and most of the cards they see will fit what they’re trying to do. As we saw in M21, Red tends to be pretty nutty in burn-heavy sets. Still, White and Black have way more lifegain than usual, which does mitigate a lot of that, so I don’t expect it to be the best colour by any means, but certainly decent standalone.

As a support colour, Red has the potential to be decent also, but I think you need to get some specific good uncommons or some of the strong Warriors, or have a solid beatdown plan in your other colour, to really want to go into it. Izzet strikes me as a really powerful tempo-based combination, using Red removal and Blue spells-matters cards and evasion, while Gruul will be fantastic with all Green’s beefy creatures and buffs, and its ability to perform as a jack-of-all-trades to finish Red’s parties. Red-White should have a pretty good beatdown plan, with all White’s group buffs, and Red-Black is a strong party combination, with Black’s Clerics and Rogues complementing Red’s Warriors and Wizards.

Overall, I think Red will be underdrafted early on in the format and at its best then, since the durdly Blue and Black decks won’t be prepared for its aggression.

I really like formats where everything seems viable and nothing seems particularly over or underpowered, and that’s where I am at with colour rankings so far, but I’ll revisit right at the very end!

Compulsion

I have been playing MTG for 20 years and am an infinite drafter on Arena. I teach high school chemistry full time and have a two year old daughter.

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