Black Magic – Drafting Zendikar with Worldwake

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Tuesday, February 2nd – With the world of Drafting turning its focus towards the Zendikar / Zendikar / Worldwake format, players are clamoring for the inside scoop on the top playable commons and uncommon in the new set. Today, Sam Black goes beyond such mere card rankings, and investigates precisely how the third pack from Worldwake informs your drafting of Zendikar for packs one and two…

I believe we’re still in the period in which all articles must focus on Worldwake in some way. The difficulty, when everyone has to write about Worldwake, is writing something that won’t be said by five other writers. Toward this end, I think it’s best to try to find some niche, rather than just going through a typical set review.

Having been writing for about a year, I’m starting to get a sense of where my niche is as a writer. I tend to focus on a holistic, metagame level approach to Magic theory. What I mean is that I am less interested in extremely abstract general theory, as occasionally written about by Richard, Patrick, and Adrian, and tend to like to focus less on extremely detailed fine tuning of a specific deck, or exact lines of play or details of a single matchup (although, looking back, Black Magic – One Game With Cedric Phillips, was among my favorite of my articles, so I’ll that kind of thing again at some point). Instead, I tend to focus on metagames and related trends. I like to look at how formats are evolving and why, and to try to predict roughly how to react to that. I also tend to prefer to illustrate and teach theory and methods of evaluating these things, rather than providing direct short term solutions (in the form of updated decklists and sideboarding plans).

The analog for this in Limited is what I hope to cover in this article. I don’t want to worry too much about exactly when and why any given card in Worldwake is good. I want to make some rough assumptions about the good commons, and use those assumptions to come to further conclusions about the draft format as a whole.

Specifically, I think that knowing the relative power level of Worldwake cards isn’t actually that helpful as you sit down to draft ZZW. You’ll open a pack of Zendikar and, at that point, what you need to know is how to reevaluate that pack based on Worldwake. By the time you get to drafting your pack of Worldwake, you’ll have a pretty good idea of which cards are right for your deck, so what you need to know isn’t which cards are best in Worldwake; it’s how Worldwake should change the way you draft Zendikar. To understand that, we need to know enough about Worldwake to know what kind of impact it’s going to have, but we don’t really need to know whether Caustic Crawler is better than Bojuka Brigand.

To do that, we need to look at things like how the commons and uncommons impact things like the curve, mana requirements, and which colors are best suited to which archetypes. It’s important to know which cards in Worldwake matter and which don’t, but some flexibility on the cards that matter is acceptable. Unfortunately, having done only two drafts with Worldwake, one of which was ZWW, it’s hard to conclude much about archetypes yet. So, looking at the commons by color:



Cards that should almost always be played: Apex Hawks, Fledgling Griffin, Iona’s Judgment, Join the Ranks, Marsh Treader

Cards that will usually be played: Guardian Zendikon

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Battle Hurda, Kitesail Apprentice, Veteran’s Reflexes

Cards that will rarely be played: Rest for the Weary

Of note: None of these cards require more than one White mana, though Apex Hawks can benefit from it. Still, Apex Hawks is less color intensive than the red and black equivalents, which cost 1CC rather than 2C at 3 mana, and scale up appropriately.

Other than Guardian Zendikon, the cards are very aggressive.

While Join the Ranks is amazing in a dedicated ally deck, but it’s worse than most allies would be in a deck with 0-5 other allies, and it’s White’s only common ally. This pushes White toward wanting either a lot of allies or no allies, rather than just 3-4 allies. Ondu Cleric was already working in this direction.


Cards that should almost always be played: Calcite Snapper, Enclave Elite, Halimar Excavator, Mysteries of the Deep, Surrakar Banisher, Treasure Hunt, Wind Zendikon

Cards that will usually be played:: Aether Tradewinds, Twitch

Cards that will rarely be played: Dispel

I’m giving a lot of these cards the benefit of doubt. A lot of these could end up being played much less often, and my listing of so many cards in the first category shouldn’t be taken to mean Blue is amazing in this set. But all of those cards are significant.

Calcite Snapper relevantly pulls decks toward heavy Blue, since having UU for him on turn 3 is very important. Also, while its offensive abilities are significant, overall, it’s a defensive card, like Halimar Excavator, Mysteries of the Deep, Treasure Hunt (to some degree), and Surrakar Banisher (which is notably more defensive than Man-O’-War or Ogre Savant due to the fact that it only bounces tapped creatures… there will be more of those if you’re getting attacked). Enclave Elite is also a good late game card. As a result, Blue looks much more controlling than it did in Zendikar, where it might be looking to take advantage of the aggressive Welkin Tern and Windrider Eel, as well as tempo cards like Whiplash Trap. This might mean that Wind Zendikon, an extremely aggressive card, will be available late for people who are playing aggressive decks based on another color will a lighter Blue commitment, because the Blue player that kept them from being heavier Blue might be busy taking slower cards.

It should also be noted that there are no four-mana spells here, which makes me like Windrider Eel more, and threes and fives look to be plentiful. This is bad news for cards like Whiplash Trap and Sky Ruin Drake, which I didn’t like maindecking that much anyway.


Cards that should almost always be played: Bojuka Brigand, Corrupted Zendikon, Quag Vampires, Ruthless Cullblade, Tomb Hex

Cards that will usually be played:: Dead Reckoning, Jagwasp Swarm

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Pulse Tracker, Mire’s Toll

Cards that will rarely be played: Brink of Disaster

Dead Reckoning looked insane to me on the spoiler, but having played with it, it can be pretty hard to get a large creature in the graveyard early enough for the card to do what you want. Still, that and Quag Vampires are pulling toward heavy Black. Also, it might be weird to say Quag Vampires will be played more often than Jagwasp Swarm, but I think this is true not because of their quality relative to each other, but due to their spot on Black’s curve. In Zendikar, Black was so pressed for three-drops that it would often play Mindless Null. It doesn’t have many fives either, while it has Crypt Ripper, Hagra Crocodile, and Nimana Sell-Sword at four mana. Bojuka Brigand plays much better with Nimana Sell-Sword (and other allies in general, since you usually want the +1/+1 allies to come out first) than another Nimana Sell-Sword would, and that makes me want Sell-Sword more than I already do. Also, we have the same number of Vampires as we had in Zendikar, but in a smaller set; your Feast of Blood might be playable slightly more often, but not enough that I would generally expect to be able to make it work early in a draft.


Cards that should almost always be played: Crusher Zendikon, Goblin Roughrider, Searing Blaze, Skitter of Lizards

Cards that will usually be played:: Grotag Thrasher

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Akoum Battlesinger, Claws of Valakut, Cosi’s Ravager

Cards that will rarely be played: Bull Rush, Rolling Terrain

Searing Blaze, Claws of Valakut, and Skitter of Lizards pull toward heavy Red. Searing Blaze and Skitter of Lizards are probably the best Red commons, so there’s no incentive at common here to splash Red.

Every single one of these cards is directly aggressive, which is nothing new, but it should tell you something about the direction of Red. This makes Red pair awkwardly with blue, for example.

Red is pretty shallow.


Cards that should almost always be played: Arbor Elf, Explore, Gnarlid Pack, Grappler Spider, Greypelt Hunter, Groundswell, Snapping Creeper, Vastwood Zendikon

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Feral Contest

Cards that will rarely be played: Nature’s Claim

Green in Worldwake actually looks really good to me, which I’m glad to see, because at this point I barely touch it in ZZZ. The average casting cost is substantially lower than it was in Zendikar, which is good, and it also makes me worry less when I take a five- or six-mana Green creature early.

It’s noteworthy that this set does not contain Green common mana fix, which decreases my desire to try to play multicolor base-Green decks (an archetype which I’ve given up on in Zendikar anyway).

The curve of the color in this set is very good in general, and the fact that it’s so deep means that it should be easy to fill a specific hole while drafting. As is fairly typical for Green though, all the cards are just reasonable men. There’s nothing you really want to splash for. Between that and its depth, the number of Green mana symbols in the cards isn’t all that important. If you’re playing Green, you’re probably playing nine or more Forests.


Cards that should almost always be played: Kitesail, Pilgrim’s Eye, Quicksand

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Hedron Rover

Cards that will rarely be played: Walking Atlas

There’s not a lot to say about these. Pilgrim’s Eye makes splashing a color a little more realistic, and Kitesail is a pretty significant tool for aggressive decks.

I played Walking Atlas in a 19-land Mono Red deck yesterday, and it was acceptable.


These aren’t as significant as commons, but given that they’re usually more powerful and still show up considerably often, it’s worth keeping them in mind. Just don’t expect to see any one of them in particular in a given draft.


Cards that should almost always be played: Hada Freeblade, Kor Firewalker, Lightkeeper of Emeria, Perimeter Captain, Refraction Trap,

Cards that will usually be played:: Loam Lion, Ruin Ghost

No misses. These cards are all excellent. Loam Lion is listed as only “usually being played” because there might not be a GW drafter, and Ruin Ghost is also there because it’s so powerful someone might take it early and then not end up with the right tools (either White land, some other good common land, or enough landfall) and thus leave it in their board. Hada Freeblade is listed as “almost always” because I assume someone who has enough allies will get it, but it probably belongs with the other two in the category below. Anyway, these cards range from solid to amazing and make White look pretty good. Like a lot of other White cards, they’re pretty flexible in how aggressive they can be.


Cards that should almost always be played: Sejiri Merfolk, Tideforce Elemental, Vapor Snare, Voyager Drake

Cards that will usually be played:: Horizon Drake, Permafrost Trap, Spell Contortion

Here we have Blue’s aggressive cards from this set, with enough density to usefully support an aggressive deck, especially a Blue/White evasive aggressive deck. Again, these cards are all quite good, with Vapor Snare obviously being amazing. Tideforce Elemental also really impressed me when I played with it, particularly as an attacker, thanks to his landfall.


Cards that should almost always be played: Bloodhusk Ritualist, Caustic Crawler, Shoreline Salvager, Smother, Urge to Feed

Cards that will usually be played:: Nemesis Trap

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Scrib Nibblers

I’m starting to realize that the uncommons in this set are just amazing (sorry, Scrib Nibblers). I’d like to say more, but things like the mana costs of uncommons are less important to how you draft early, since that’s defined by commons.


Cards that should almost always be played: Cunning Sparkmage, Slavering Nulls, Tuktuk Scrapper

Cards that will usually be played:: Deathforge Shaman

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Ricochet Trap

Cards that will rarely be played: Quest for the Goblin Lord, Rumbling Aftershocks

Wow, Red is so shallow in this set. I’m a little surprised I managed to draft a Mono Red deck. Note the high position of Tuktuk Scrapper. I think there are enough good artifacts at this point that it’s usually worth playing even without other Allies, but I could be wrong on that. Still, this is my guess as to where he’ll end up.

On the other hand, Cunning Sparkmage is clearly amazing, and it finally gives this format a pinger. Pinger’s values are different in different formats depending on how many good x/1 creatures there are. In this format, there are plenty. This card is very, very good.


Cards that should almost always be played: Bestial Menace, Canopy Cover, Summit Apes

Cards that will usually be played:: Leatherback Baloth, Vastwood Animist

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Slingbow Trap

Cards that will rarely be played: Quest for Renewal

I’m not that impressed by Green’s uncommons as a whole. They’re far below the power level of White, Blue, and Black, and are very comparable to Red.


Cards that should almost always be played: Dread Statuary

Cards that will usually be played:: Everflowing Chalice, Hammer of Ruin

Cards that will be played in certain situations: Tectonic Edge

Cards that will rarely be played: Razor Boomerang

Tectonic Edge is likely worth it in mono color decks, since there are enough lands that you will often have a target, and you’ll have no reason not to want to kill one of their lands.

Random notes on specific cards:

Vampire Nighthawk is worse than it was. It’s still completely amazing, but some small portion of its power came from the fact that most removal spells weren’t good at dealing with it. Smother, Urge to Feed, Searing Blaze, and Tomb Hex all easily kill it, so it now might not be better than some bomb rares. Malakir Bloodwitch and Hellkite Charger, for example, are probably better than Nighthawk now, where I don’t think they were before.

Enchantment removal and bounce are both better because of Zendikons, but Into the Roil is non-land, unlike Whiplash Trap.

Grim Discovery is a little better because of Quicksand and Dread Statuary.

Land destruction is more reasonable to side in now than it was.

Hedron Crab got a friend at common, and now likes allies as a result.

I hope this has helped establish new color and archetype preferences, as well as given you a head start on knowing what to consider from Worldwake while making your picks in Zendikar.

Thanks for reading…