Hello everyone, and welcome back to Legit MTG. I can’t believe it’s already September, and we have a new expansion in Magic: the Gathering about to be released. The sets released around this time of year not only invoke the coming change of summer into fall, but also a change in Standard as well. Many of the game’s most memorable sets have been fall expansions. From Innistrad, to Ravnica: City of Guilds, and even the first time we visited Zendikar. Now we’re about to visit the plane a third time in the last 11 years. Let’s take a look at to some of the offerings from Zendikar Rising, the next expansion in Magic: the Gathering.
Before we go in depth in what the set has to offer make sure to visit the Legit MTG store after reading. You can order all of the singles, and sealed product for this as well as many other Magic sets today! Also note at the time of writing not all of the cards have been revealed.
With any Magic: the Gathering expansion we can’t talk about the new set unless we talk about the planeswalkers featured within it. Let’s take a look at two of the three we will run into.
Jace, Mirror Mage has the keyword Kicker (which I’ll review here in a moment) that allows you to pay extra mana one time as you cast Jace to receive an extra benefit. Being tied to illusion spells (see Spark Double from War of the Spark) he can create an illusion of himself to essentially be a second planeswalker on the battlefield. Unless your opponent has spells in hand to attack your planeswalker they have to spend a turn attacking with one (or more) of their creatures to negate any future advantage you build using them. Even without the kicker casting this Jace for three mana, and using it’s +1 ability to scry two cards puts it’s loyalty at 5 making it hard to defeat in a single attack. When using the scry ability you want to set up the second card to be a land card to use the 0 ability the following turn, unless you kicked it and then you of course draw the land this turn.
I think this card will see Standard, and Commander play. Beyond that I’m not sure Modern decks will necessarily want it as it fights with Teferi, Time Raveler for the same slot on the curve, but could find a home in non-white control based strategies.
Nahiri returns as we visit her home. Fresh off of her appearance in War of the Spark, which followed her revenge tour to lay waste to Innistrad, she is trying to restore Zendikar to its former pre-Eldrazi glory at any means necessary. While I don’t feel her story is properly reflected on this card her abilities are something we should cover based on the cards we have seen since she was first revealed.
Nahiri’s +1 allows you to create a creature, and attach any equipment you control to it. While some equipment may be underwhelming attaching a sword of Feast and Famine onto a 1/1 gives it protection from Fatal Push, makes it a formidable blocker against Rock and Jund style midrange decks, and can possibly attack through their forces the next turn. While I’m not sure she’ll pair with her former self (Stoneforge Mystic) in Modern it would be interesting to see a 1/1 made, and then equip to a Batterskull you already have on the field. Not bad protection there.
Her -2 ability is something to look at as Warriors are an important creature type (more on that in a moment), and there is an equipment theme as well. Being able to look for key cards you have built your deck around can help you find the exact card you need at a crucial moment in the game. Upon first seeing this version of Nahiri I was hesitant on if this ability would have a lot of impact in Standard, and now I believe it will not just with Zendikar Rising, but with future sets this coming year as well.
Her last ability at -3 is interesting, and while it doesn’t completely drain her I can see it being used, and then casting another copy of the card to use it again, to deal the last bits of damage needed to finish an opponent. Very corner case, but something worth noting. Could she see play in Modern? Perhaps in a midrange shell built around her and equipment, but this card is definitely focused for Standard play.
While many may think about Mirrodin (or New Phyrexia) when it comes to equipment Zendikar is not a stranger to this card type. Being on a plane of adventure one needs to have various gear with them to survive the wilds, and anything else they may encounter.
Unlike other equipment we have seen in Modern in the past these cards can be automatically equipped when they enter the battlefield. That reminds me of the treatment given to Embercleave, and if this is the way equipment will be designed going forward I love it. From a flavor perspective it makes sense as the one with the weapon on them (in their deck) will draw it, and have it ready for battle (equipped when it enters play). I am sure there is something that can be done with Stoneforge Mystic putting these into play in the middle of combat before blocks are made. Even just using it’s ability to put Maul of the Skyclaves onto the battlefield in response to a Lightning Bolt to save your creature seems great. There’s a lot of potential here, and look over all of the options in the various colors to find the one you want to brew with.
As mentioned with Jace, Mirror Mage the keyword Kicker has returned. This ability can show up on any non-land card type in the set from enchantments, instants, and even creatures. Here we have a few examples that will most definitely see Standard play, but their Modern applications should not be overlooked either.
With the reprint of Into the Roil control decks have a solid tempo spell early, and can draw cards with it late. Holding off your opponent for an extra turn, and forcing them to commit more to the board before you cast a board wipe may be something control decks have to do in Standard going forward. In Modern this could be seen as no more than a two-of, however your quality of spells (from counterspells, and other tempo spells) are generally better I can see this being in non-white based control decks that may need a little help.
However the same can’t be said for Scourge of the Skyclave. This Demon not only is going to show up in Nethroi, Apex of Death decks in Commander I can see this as a supplemental piece in Death’s Shadow decks. Unlike Death’s Shadow it does focus on the player who has the highest life total it can come down as a big threat after you have already dealt damage with Death’s Shadow (or Gurmag Angler) forcing the opponent to deal with your boardstate or lose.
While Kicker is an interesting ability sometimes it can overshadow whether a card is good without that cost. Scourge of the Skyclave is a perfect example of that. When looking at cards with Kicker evaluate the card based on what it does without that keyword before considering adding it to your deck.
When one thinks of Zendikar the word Landfall comes to mind immediately. This is truly the main mechanic many players want to build with as you are rewarded for simply just playing the game. Not only will you find creatures that increase in strength when a land comes into play, you might even find cards that place counters on other creatures, or ways to deal damage. This time around in Zendikar Rising we have not only a needed reprint, but a planeswalker with the Landfall ability.
While Lotus Cobra is mostly found in Lord Windgrace Commander decks (among other Commanders as well) it’s inclusion in Standard is a welcome one. While sure green may not need any help seeing it back makes this card not only accessible, but affordable for players as well. Currently it does not have a home in Modern, however with reprints of other cards such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, perhaps someone will look at the Temur Valakut decks that were around during the first time we visited Zendikar, and take a stab at a Modern upgrade.
Nissa returns to not only Standard, but Zendikar as well. Tied to Zendikar more than just through her birth there everything that has happened there Nissa has had a part in. From the releasing of the Eldrazi titans (even when Sorin explicitly said otherwise), to fighting against the titans with the other members of The Gatewatch, Nissa has been central to the continued existence of Zendikar. Arriving in time to see what Nahiri is up to, she returns to Ravnica to find Jace, and acquire help in defending her birthplace.
Although the original fetchlands are not in Standard we do have Fabled Passage, and waiting a turn to play this, and then put Fabled Passage into play (as well as using it) could allow you to start with using Nissa’s -5 ability to return a creature card in your graveyard or put one into play from your hand as long as it costs equals no more than the lands you have in play. This is quite powerful, and could lead to some boardstates where you have a pair of creatures, and a planeswalker on the board making it difficult to attack through.
Her +1 ability is a toned down version from Nissa, Who Shakes The World as the land becomes a creature temporarily fitting the flavor of the character, and her link to the natural world. While this card will definitely see play in Standard I can see this finding a home in Modern. Perhaps in a build where creatures can return from the graveyard with some measure of regularity. One deck that could use this is a Rock based strategy. While Jund has support from red the Rock decks just focus on black, and green as its colors, and playing the best spells in them. It can be hard for these decks to recover from removal spells, and perhaps Nissa may be what helps in that department at the top of the curve.
Now we arrive at the primary mechanic of the set. With Zendikar Rising not only are you going on an adventure, but you are also assembling a party to go with you. Creatures not only have a racial type, but also a job type. Assemble your party by having one each of a Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard. Once assembled you can gain bonuses to the creatures in play, and future spells may be cheaper based on the number of members in your party. “Your party consists of up to one each of Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard” appears as reminder text on some of these cards so you can sequence your spells accordingly to get the most value out of your cards.
Now why is this important? Why now? Well…
Coming next summer, and replacing the Core Set, is a Magic: the Gathering Standard set based on Dungeons & Dragons. The party mechanic is an obvious plant that cards with those classes will matter not just in Zendikar Rising, but throughout the whole year. The next set, in Winter 2021, Kaldheim will more than likely have Warriors and Equipment in it. Strixhaven: School of Mages arrives next Spring, and will mostly likely have Wizards. This is a great thing that Wizards of the Coast is doing by providing the foundation for a mechanic or theme in the fall set, and allowing us to build upon it through the next year of set releases in Standard.
The one big issue with the Party mechanic is that you often have to play more two colors. Some of the cards on their own may not be good enough without having multiple party members in play, and you have to have all four of them to get the full value. Standard decks are 60 cards. If 16 of them are playsets of cards with the Party mechanic it starts to take up space that you may use for other deck building options.
However with all of that said I can see Party decks making their way into Commander with relative ease, and hopefully when we get that D&D set we can really enhance the flavor of those decks.
Dual Face Cards
The cards that many are talking about though are these new Dual Faced cards that provide players a choice as they play them. This modal level of play can either provide you one color early, and another color later when you draw another copy, or on some of the cards a land early, and a spell later. While not every color combination in lands are available by this time next year we will have all of them available.
As far as the lands are concerned keep in mind these are not basic lands. You can not fetch for them, nor do they have the land type on them. They can be targeted with spells or abilities that target non-basic lands. While these are not as efficient as traditional dual lands (shocklands, check lands, or even scry lands) I can see these being played in dual colored decks for those who may be on a budget, or perhaps in formats where there are no fetchlands (such as Pioneer). Beyond that I would not expect to see them in Modern outside of budget concerns or testing.
Spells with lands on the back though are another story altogether. Having this level of flexibility could help you keep your land count up when building your decks, while also increasing your spell density. Sometimes the front side is a spell, and sometimes it’s a creature. You could have situations where your creature dies, then you bring it back to your hand, and choose to play it as a land instead. These Modal Double Faced Cards are going to be seen across formats in the game upon release of this set, and eventually will be weaned off in favor of those making an actual impact to the deck they are in.
Whew! We made it. That was a lot to cover, and by the time you read this the full set (along with the corresponding Commander decks) will be revealed. There’s a lot to discover especially in an adventure set based on Zendikar.
While reprints are lacking in this set there is still a lot to look forward to. New cards can bring forth some strategies that may be missing a card or two, or cause completely new archetypes to be formed. Just keep in mind when looking over the cards some of the keywords, and mechanics can overshadow how good (or bad) a card really is.
This time next week I’ll be looking over my favorites from this set that could see Modern play. Stay tuned.
TAP MORE MANA!!!
Tags: Scott Campbell
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