Wednesday 2 September 2020

Zendikar Rising Preliminary Review Part I

Jace, Mirror Mage 7

This looks solid and should finally see off one of the longest standing planeswalkers in the cube - the original Jace Beleren. Mirror Mage is a bit of a blend of Nissa Steward of Elements and Jace Beleren. He is more playable than the Nissa and more versatile than the Jace while being more powerful than both (short of an 8 mana+ Nissa!). The only thing Mirror Mage does badly is being a threat. He has no ultimate and is just a source of card quality and draw. He will likely sponge up a bunch of damage too but you can't control or force that so it is not overly worth factoring in to the evaluation. Lack of being a threat isn't an issue for a three drop walker either, Beleren almost never uses the ultimate. Cube decks tend to have an average CMC of 2ish. Blue does have a bunch of high cost delve and alternate casting cost cards which lead to it being on the higher end of this range but even so you should get a good two draws on from Mirror Mage blind and as a three drop just using the 0 mode. In practice this will be higher as you have a lot of library manipulation both in blue and on Jace himself! If you hit a 3 drop on the first use you are likely going to charge him up a bit if you have the time and avoid losing him to any non-land hit. I would expect Jace at three mana to absorb 6 or so damage, give 4 scry and a card back when under pressure or get 2 cards and 2 scry every 3 turns when not under much pressure. Both of those are pretty happy places hence the card seeming like a win.

When we get to the five mana mode Jace starts to look really impressive. The mirror copy grows and scrys so that the real Jace is able to draw at little cost. Not under pressure you are getting scry 2 and a card each turn and under pressure you have loads of options. You can go upto 7 total loyalty immediately while digging pretty deep into the deck and having two walkers to spread attacks over. You can assure two cards immediately if you like too. The kicker really adds a lot of power and utility to the card. If it was only a five drop it would be a bit too expensive for just a draw spell despite the decent power but with the perfectly strong 3 mana mode the card is a winner. Really good design that showcases what cool stuff can be done with walkers. A great way to have a boring effect like Divination become option rich and interactive. The power level is great too, it is a desirable card but it is pretty fair by cube standards.

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients 4

While this is very powerful you really need to have the right things in your deck for it to get it done. Without equipment this is weak. Warriors help but really only in that they make the -2 more likely to hit. You are probably only using the -2 when you are after an equipment so as to all the other modes to do good things. You probably need 2 equipment plus Stoneforge and a handful of warriors in your deck before this looks playable although it does quickly turn from bad to good as those conditions are met. Not enough cube decks do that, especially for a gold card, and so this isn't going to be getting a drafting cube slot. I am sure it will see plenty of play in decks set up to abuse it and in those it will be a really strong walker, perhaps even an abusable one with Colossus Hammer and the like!

Shell Shield 0

A poor Dive Down, probably not something I would even run over Mizzium Skin. Fringe effects like this need to be the best on offer or at least do something unique.

Valakut Awakening / Valakut Stoneforge 6

This is some masterwork of card quality as far as an overal effect. I am excited to see these new flip cards, a great design space and a lovely way to get lots of card onto a card without it getting cluttered. I am less excited about the prospects of double sleeving these and trying to get them in and out of the outer sleeve all the time without destroying everything and it taking an age. I imagine a lot of these making the cube what with it being an incredibly low cost of inclusion. Super utility lands. This one specifically might be all a bit too much! The best thing about card quality effects is that they ensure you have a good ratio of spells and lands. This does that by being a spell and a land which in turn renders the effect of Valakut Awakening less meaningful. At worst this cycles for three and at best it does things like putting Tinker and Natural Order targets back into your deck along with other dead cards in hand. Red is becoming the colour of getting cards from hand back into the deck as well as Polymorph effects so I can absolutely see this as a supporting card in a load of different places. It smacks more of combo that normal play although the floor is a little too high to overlook this anywhere. This is lands at low cost when you need them and a super cycler late game. It lets you warp your ratios a bit more than normal and include more narrow or potentially dead cards too. Far from broken in terms of power but ever so playable, interesting, and useful. I am looking forward to messing around with this one.

Murasa Rootgrazer 1

This is fine. It can ramp you to a four drop. It can help empower land fall. The body is passable for the cost and has a bit of self synergy with the vigilance and tap effects. All told this is a narrow support card that isn't powerful enough to get much, if any, cube action.

Ruin Crab 2

Better at milling opponents than Hedron Crab being tougher and hitting all of them at once. Sadly being unable to hit yourself rules out most of the best uses for the new landfall Crab.

Bloodchief's Thirst 8

This is likely better than Fatal Push for cube. It could well start to replace it in modern too with plenty of 5 mana threats and walkers doing the rounds. When you need this to be cheap in the first few turns it will handle basically everything thrown at you. Later on when you need it to kill a wide range of scary things it will do that too. Really nice to see reliable, flexible, top tier removal in black at last with this and Eliminate both looking great. Sorcery speed is certainly a downside on this card but it is top rate in basically all other ways. This is almost always going to be an appropriate answer. While Fatal Push will be feeling the sting of this in modern it is cards like Ruinous Path that will be edged out of the cube by these better cheaper alternatives. Only the best removal spells that hit just creatures now cut it in the cube as there are so many planeswalkers out there. Most decks run walkers and some run barely any relevant creatures. You can either have a dead card for long periods of the game or a low value card if it is only able to deal with dorks. Cards that hit both walkers and dorks keep you much safer. The only removal effects left in my cube that only hit creatures either cost one mana while also exiling and/or being instant, or they come with huge upside like also being a Wrath or a creature etc. What makes Bloodchief's Thirst good is that it is reliable, not that it is powerful. You are still only ever going one for one with this at best and rarely are you gaining much if any tempo. This just does what you want a removal spell to do in the right way at the right times. As such it will see a lot of play and lead to lots of good interactive games but it will never feel unfair or oppressive.

Omnath, Locus of Creation 5.5

This is very cool indeed. It is also fairly powerful. Play this, drop a sac land and crack to result in five mana. Cast Golos or really any sort of thing to find a land with and you have made quite the swingy play. This is decent enough with no extra lands in a turn synergies. Just a reasonably statted cantrip card that gives you a pile of life it it sticks about. The mana cost combined with the need of specific supports likely put it out of contention for cube although not definitely. Breya has earned a long term place and Atraxa is played more than I would have expected. Omnath likely trumps Atraxa with support and compares without.Nice to have a more serious and well flavoured commander option in these colours finally I am sure too.

Acquisitions Expert 7

A strictly better Ravenous Rat. Baseline just that extra toughness and types but as soon as you randomly have extra party members this thing looks more and more like a Coercion. This feels good enough to last in my cube and adds a nice degree of building elements to think about which will be fun. I always appreciate it when cards using narrow set mechanics have a viable baseline as it lets you get more interesting cards into the cube.

Tazri, Beacon of Unity 2

Clearly the commander of choice for the EDH decks wanting to abuse the party mechanic from this set. On the surface this looks like a bad Kenrith. Tazri prbably only costs 4, often 3, but her ability is just value and somewhat conditional value. Kenrith dominates any sort of game when you untap with him and have access to (most of) the colours. Tazri really doesn't have that effect. As such this seems like a build around only. At best Tazri is probably a bad white Tasigur style card. Quite big, quite cheap, vanilla dork with a value generating mana sink. Sounds OK but really tends to under perform in cube. Tasigur is clearly a chunk better than this and sees very little play.

Spoils of Adventure 2

Impressive ceiling but hard, risky and all round unlikely to achieve. The kinds of deck looking for this sort of card are also the least likely to be able to party up effectively. At four mana this is certianly very solid and as soon as we get any cheaper than that the card is exceptional. It just isn't happening often even in dedicated decks. Too narrow to make the cube but decent, if a little off theme, in party/Tazri focused decks.

Linvala, Sheild of Sea Gate 6.5

The full party bit is magical cloud land in the drafting cube and pretty hard in decks built to get it. Detaining something each turn is quite nice but it is pretty small payoff given the extreme difficulty in pulling it off. Outside of party decks it is basically blank text. Still, a 3/3 flyer for 3 that can hexproof or indestructible your whole team on a no mana sacrifice is a big deal. As a mono coloured card this would be a lock in but as a gold card it will need to prove itself a little. Azorius tends to be a little less aggressive in my cube than this card would like which doesn't bode well for it. A card I am looking to play in most constructed UW aggro decks at least. At 1WW without the party bit this would be better than Selfless Spirit.

Pathway Cycle 8

Lovely set of dual lands that look delightful and have a lovely power level to them. Likely sat somewhere around the quick and the pain lands in terms of power level which is an outstanding place to be. Reliable fixing with no tempo cost is a big deal and the key feature of all the best duals. The cost is real to these cards but it isn't a tempo cost by coming in tapped, or a life cost, or a reliability cost as all alternatives are. The only thing I dislike about these is the wear they are clearly going to get compared to other cards. Functionally these play out a lot like sac lands finding Basics. Essentially an untapped version of the original Mirage sac lands finding basic lands without all the ancillary elements of a sac land such as filling up the bin, thinning the deck, shuffling, etc. These are just clean, make a choice now and be locked in to that short of land bounce effects! All told land bounce effects gained a bunch of extra value with this set and will have better things to do than target these lands!

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant 2

I would play this in tribal clerics, and short of a novel combo deck, no other places. Far too narrow on multiple fronts for the cube. Not even all that powerful without lots of synergies or abuses.

Farsight Adept 1

While pretty bad in a general sense there is not much like this in white and so I can envisage this getting the odd bit of fringe use in heads up play. Nice little filler group hug card for multiplayer too.

Merfolk Windrobber 2

Cute card but not the thing for cube. It doesn't do enough in any sort of reliable way. Sometimes it will be scary for control as they risk milling. Sometimes it will hold off a 3/1 or pressure a planeswalker. Sometimes it will cycle efficiently while doing some good defensive work. Sometimes however it will just die in some Chainwhirler Frenzy or worse still, help your opponent find and fuel escape cards or other graveyard based perks. This card is low reward, risky and unreliable. It is cheap and useful still and so will find homes in places that have specific synergies on offer but drafting cubes are not that home.

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