Wednesday, 23 September 2020 11:53

Zendikar Rising: The best new cards in each color

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Zendikar Rising: The best new cards in each color WOTC

When Zendikar Rising drops for paper Magic: The Gathering on Sept. 25, it will bring with it 280 cards with the vast majority being brand new to the game.

The set includes a nice selection of themes and mechanics such landfall and kicker (both returning mechanics), as well as a new breed of dual-faced cards.  There is also the RPG-inspired party mechanic, which vaguely resembles the ally tribal strategy from previous Zendikar sets.

So, what are the cards that players should be on the look out for?  What are the best of the best?  The crème de la crème, as it were?

Well, just like beauty, what's "best" is largely in the eye of the beholder.  And, no, we don't mean that big creepy monster from Dungeons & Dragons.

So, without further ado (and before you plop down your hard-earned cash for a ZNR booster box, bundleset boosters, or a collector booster pack), here are the best three new cards to be found for each color (yes, colorless and multicolored are covered as well) in the soon-to-release set, Zendikar Rising:



Archon of Emeria – In a time when power creep is more like a power sprint, it’s nice to be able to slow things down a bit.  That’s what Archon of Emeria, a three-drop (2W) 2/3 with flying is designed to do.  Not only does the creature limit players to playing only one spell per turn (RIP combo deck), it also makes it so that all non-basic lands opponents control come into play tapped.  While this might not shut down every deck (Amulet Titan doesn’t really care, for example), it will be a thorn in the side of many.


Emeria’s Call – Sure the mana cost is high at 4WWW, but so is the payoff.  As a top-end card of a deck, it can wind up being a finisher – especially in limited.  The sudden creation of a pair of 4/4 creatures that fly is nice and the fact that all your (non-angel) creatures become indestructible until your next turn can be a game saver.  What’s also nice about this card as well is that it’s never going to be a dead card thanks to its dual-faced nature with a land on the other side.  Use it now for the mana or later for the effect, it’s up to you.


Skyclave Apparition – It’s fair-costed (1WW) permanent removal in white, it’s a 2/2 bear (okay, fine – spirit), and it can be brought in at instant speed courtesy of an Aether Vial on three.  We think it’s great that it can exile nonland/token permanent with mana cost four or less (bye bye T3feri) upon ETB and we don’t mind that it essentially turns that card into a X/X vanilla token creature (X = the exiled card’s mana cost) for your opponent upon death.  After all, if a 1/1-4/4 vanilla token creature for your opponent would make or break the game for you, then you probably already have bigger issues to deal with.



Scourge of the Skyclaves – Sure, this card screams “trap mythic” or “EDH-only,” but Scourge of the Skycaves could have relevance in some specific 60-card decks as well.  What we’re thinking here is as a secondary game winner for Death’s Shadow decks or as a second big threat in Sultai midrange decks to complement Tarmogoyf – often the deck’s only real source of closing power.  Then again, there’s nothing wrong with a card that could be really neat in multiplayer formats such as Commander, Oathbreaker, or (insert eyeroll here) Brawl.


Soul Shatter – While targeted removal is arguably better, untargeted removal can be just as good (if not situationally better) as it gets around pesky annoyances such as hexproof, shroud, protection, and indestructibility.  Such is the case with Soul Shatter, a three-drop (2B) instant that forces each opponent to sacrifice whichever creature or planeswalker they control has the highest converted mana cost.  While that might seem a bit limiting, the fact of the matter is that the higher-costed permanent a player has in play often times is the critical one for their strategy such as with Monastery Mentor (which is typically surrounded by zero mana cost tokens), Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in control matchups, Griselbrand in reanimator decks, and Emrakul, The Aeons Torn in Sneak & Show-type strategies.  If you time it well, it’s bye-bye threat and (sometimes) hello victory.


Nighthawk ScavengerVampire Nighthawk, who?  While the 2/3 O.G. Zendikar creature is/was a popular inclusion in black decks for a number of formats, this new three-drop (1BB – the same as Vampire Nighthawk) is far superior.  It has flying, deathtouch, and lifelink just like the original, but this time around it’s power is equal to one plus the number of card types in all opponents’ graveyards (which is very Tarmogoyf-ish).  Trust us: you’ll be seeing this card quite a bit.



Ancient Greenwarden – While a 5/7 with reach for 4GG might not make the biggest headlines in today’s power-pushed era of Magic: The Gathering, Ancient Greenwarden has two key abilities that players will find quite handy.  First off is its Crucible of Worlds/Ramunap Excavator ability that lets its controller play lands from their graveyard.  Second is its ability to double-up your landfall triggers.  This landfall bonus is stackable thanks to the Greenwarden not being legendary.  Plus, it’s a key piece of synergy for the card Scute Swarm (which we’ll talk about shortly).


Turntimber Symbiosis – Sure it costs a tad much at seven mana (4GGG), but Turntimber Symbiosis is going to be a welcome addition to the already formidable Amulet Titan deck in Modern.  Thanks to its dual-sided nature (spell on one side, land on the other), the card provides the deck with more firepower without compromising land counts.  It should also reduce the deck’s chances for failure as it helps players locate their Primeval Titan and fire off successfully more often than not.


Scute Swarm – If you haven’t been paying attention to Scute Swarm since Zendikar Rising hit Magic Arena last week, you’ve been living under a rock.  While having six or more lands in play to fire off the better version of its landfall ability sounds like quite the investment, it’s a lot easier than it sounds thanks to the absurd amount of ramp that Wizards of the Coast has been injecting into the game over the past few sets.  With the right combination, this card has gotten out of hand and players have been taking their opinions online with some absolutely loving abusing the card and others calling for its outright and immediate ban.



Maddening Cacophony – Do you older players remember playing against the Odyssey card Traumatize?  Do you recall how game-ruining it could be to have half of your library milled away all at once?  Well, with the new card Maddening Cacophony, you can experience that joy all over again if you want to.  A not-too-shabby eight-card milling sorcery for two (1U), players can choose to toss in a 3U kicker to turn it into a Traumatize.  Nearly literally, in fact, as the kicker raises the total cost to 4UU (which is one generic mana more than the original) for the same effect.


Ruin Crab – One of the more notorious cards in the original Zendikar is Hedron Crab, a 0/2 one-drop which mills a target player for three when Landfall is triggered.  Ruin Crab is an upgrade of that card.  Not only is it a 0/3 (which makes it essentially Shock proof), it also mills ALL opponents for three rather than just one player.  Don’t be surprised if you see 8-Crab mill decks popping up here and there.  Actually, we may need to come up with one of our own…


Sea Gate Stormcaller – This is one of the Zendikar Rising cards that’s most ripe for abuse.  While the kicker cost is a tad high at 4U, the benefits can far outweigh the price.  While this card’s 2/1 body is underwhelming, if it’s being played as a body then the player is probably already in trouble as the only draw here (and it’s a big one) is its enter-the-battlefield ability to copy the next instant or sorcery (max converted mana cost of two) one to two times depending on whether or not it was kicked.  Furthermore, the Stormcaller only cares about the card’s mana cost, meaning that kicker, buyback, etc. aren’t figured into the math.  Have fun with this one.



Cleansing Wildfire – It’s a powerful hate card that is efficiently costed and replaces itself.  While this land destruction card does allow its victim to replace the destroyed land with any basic land from within their deck, it’s a great way to deal with Tron and other big mana decks on the cheap.  We expect to see this card included in the sideboard of most red decks in most of the game’s formats.


Roiling Vortex – Let’s address the elephant in the room for a moment.  Control matchups can be a pain in the rear – especially when they run “free” counterspells such as Force of Will, Daze, Force of Negation, Pact of Negation, or (on the rare occasion) Foil.  Roiling Vortex (assuming it doesn’t get countered) is an answer to that as it essentially add the text “you take 5 damage” to any of those spells.  The thing is, it doesn’t only affect those.  Any card that can be cast for free (eg: Summoner’s Pact), for zero mana (eg: Mana Crypt), or without paying its mana cost for whatever the reason are also fair game.  Furthermore, Roiling Vortex not only also pings each player for one on each of their turns, but it can also make it impossible for players to gain life.  Don’t be surprised if you see this maindecked and/or sideboarded in Legacy burn in place of Sulfuric Vortex.


Magmatic Channeler – A two mana (1R) 1/3 isn’t terrible, but it won’t blow anybody away.  A two mana 4/4, on the other hand, is certainly powerful.  More often than not, that’s exactly what Magmatic Channeler will be as it is likely to be an inclusion in red aggro, midrange, and burn builds.  Beyond that, the creature turns any dead or less-than-useful card in your hand into (more-or-less) a Sleight of Hand.  Pardon the pun, but that is quite “handy” indeed.



Lithoform Engine – This is a card that just screams EDH inclusion.  This artifact is essentially a Riku of Two Reflections coupled with a pseudo-Tawnos, Urza’s Apprentice.  What really sends this card over the top, though, is its flexibility.  Pretty much every EDH deck can find at least one of the artifact’s abilities useful and most, to be honest, would find at least two of them to be of use.  Furthermore, with everything about this card requiring only generic mana, it makes use requirements seem that much easier.


Myriad Construct – A 4/4 for four generic mana isn’t exactly a slouch, but add onto that an ability that lets you go wide and it’s something to really consider.  Sure, Myriad Construct just needs to be the target of a spell (that’s a spell, not spell or ability) for it to go kaboom, but when it does you get a quantity of 1/1 token creatures equal to the Construct’s power.  Plus, for a kicker of three generic mana, the creature gets a +1/+1 counter for each nonbasic land your opponents control.  Now, while this may be just one or two in a 60-card 1v1 game, this number could be huge in multiplayer.  Plus, it’s even better when coupled with the next card on the list.


Forsaken Monument – What’s up with the inhabitants of Zendikar and their love for creating monuments for the Eldrazi?  After all, Forsaken Monument is the third on the plane after Eldrazi Monument and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods.  But back to the card itself, Forsaken Monument is a very powerful artifact that has many uses.  First off, it buffs all of your colorless creatures by +2/+2 (which can even make an Ornithopter a formidable zero-drop), it adds an extra colorless mana whenever a permanent is tapped for colorless mana (note that that permanent does not need to be an artifact), and it gains you two life each time you cast a colorless spell.  All this for five mana seems pretty darn good, don’t you think?



Yasharn, Implacable Earth – Paying four mana to search for two lands (in this case, a plains and a forest) isn’t terrible, but tack it onto a 4/4 creature, and it is not too shabby at all.  Now, tack onto that the fact that the creature disallows players to pay life or sacrifice permanents to cast spells or activate abilities and you’ve really got something there.  The card renders useless decks like Rakdos Sacrifice, all but erases “pay life” abilities of cards like Grislebrand and Hatred.  It’s just too bad that its ability doesn’t shut down sacrifice or life loss abilities of lands.


Brushfire Elemental – A rather aggressive two-drop with the Modern format in mind, Brushfire Elemental can turn around a lot of damage in a short amount of time thanks to the widespread use of fetchlands in the format.  And, if the card is brought out with the aid of a Simian Spirit Guide, it can reap the benefits of landfall the turn it comes into play by coming in before that turn’s land drops.  Add in its evasion by being unable to be blocked by creatures with power of two or less (which will be pretty much all of them in the early game), and you have some all-but-guaranteed damage that will do a lot of harm to your opponent’s life total in practically no time.


Omnath, Locus of Creation – Extremely powerful in Historic/Modern (and, to an extent, Standard) thanks to the great amount of ramp and color fixing available, this latest iteration of Omnath can really be a game changer (and possibly a game winner).  It replaces itself upon ETB and its stacking Landfall abilities can get out of hand easier than one might think.  Its lifegain ability is important against burn and other aggro strategies, its mana generation is very useful, and its ability to get rid of planeswalkers while also knocking your opponents down by a fifth of their starting life at a time can be almost too much for many players to handle more than a couple of times.

Zendikar Rising releases Sept. 25 on paper.