First Pick At Battle For Zendikar: Red And Green

Ari Lax returns with his acclaimed series on how to get a fast leg up on the competition in Limited! Today, he discusses the red and green goods from Battle for Zendikar!

, Blue, and Black are in the books. It’s
time to take a look at what red and green have to offer from Battle of Zendikar to get you ready for your Prerelease experience:


Common Creatures By Curve:

One Mana:

Lavastep Raider

Two Mana:

Kozilek's Sentinel Makindi Sliderunner Reckless Cohort

Three Mana:

Nettle Drone Valakut Invoker Valakut Predator

Four Mana:

Belligerent Whiptail Ondu Champion Vestige of Emrakul

Five Mana:

Shatterskull Recruit

Seven Mana:

Boiling Earth


Outnumber Stonefury Touch of the Void


Sure Strike


Goblin War Paint Volcanic Upheaval

My immediate reaction was to say “Yay, back to good removal,” but that needs some spelling out as black had “bad removal” that looks really similar on the

Stonefury can build up to kill an Eldrazi, and the fact it is an instant and Demon’s Grasp isn’t means you can take down an Eldrazi when it attacks and
not just when they block and play into your spell.

Outnumber is a cheap removal spell that is good early and lets you utilize the tempo it gives you, which is basically the opposite of Bone Splinters.

Touch of the Void is pretty much at par with Complete Disregard. Going to the face versus instant speed is about a push.

I don’t think I’m looking to first pick any of these besides Touch of the Void, but the shift from black is enough that I’m happy to take these third as
opposed to accepting Demon’s Grasp around fifth.

The big draw to red seems to be the two “four power” three-drops. Valakut Predator is actually a 4/4 most of the time, but Nettle Drone does similar work
in a devoid deck like the one Bing Luke drafted at the Community Cup. Predator is definitely the better of the two cards and probably the second or third
best red common, but the Phantom Warrior mode of Nettle Drone on a stalled board when casting devoid spells isn’t bad either. Makindi Sliderunner has a
similar aggressive slant, though a 3/2 for two is definitely worse than either of the three-drops.

Red also has the usual too many of the same four-drop issue. One of the three is going to be a bit better and the others a bit worse, and they technically
have different synergy things, but as replaceable four-drops, I’m playing whatever one I have most of the time and not actively looking for the “right
one.” Shatterskull Recruit honestly stumbles into the same category, as the difference between it and the four power four-drops is negligible.

The rest of the common creatures are similarly mediocre. Valakut Invoker is especially whatever, as even if there’s an eight-mana upside I don’t want to
play a Grey Ogre when I need my creatures to be in red zone early more than anything. They even tried real hard to get me to play a one-mana Firebreather
with Lavastep Raider, but it’s just barely not in the “laughably playable” zone. Kozilek’s Sentinel will be a nice 2/4 for two in some decks, but in most
others, remember that Plated Seastrider was not a card you put in your deck.

Sure Strike is yet another pushed combat trick (compare to Skillful Strike and Slaughter Cry) in a color with deep removal to fill the spell slots and in a
format where a small combat boost isn’t going to rectify the big issue of how your 2/2 fights that 7/7. I’m sad this is going to be cut from decks more
often than I want it to be. And if this card is borderline, Goblin War Paint is really far down the list. More so when you realize blue has multiple
Man-o’-Wars to punish auras as well as Awaken.

I would like to make the point that Volcanic Upheaval can counter an Awakened spell that has zero natural targets, as Awaken now gives it a target than can
be made illegal. There aren’t a ton of Awaken spells this applies to and you are much more likely to have Scour from Existence in your deck than Volcanic
Upheaval, but keep it in mind against Planar Outburst.

Red’s commons remind me a lot of white. The top five commons are nice, but the next five are very mediocre. The secret upside is that the best red common
is definitely worse than Sheer Drop, so you won’t have as many early fights over the color to worry about.

Uncommon Creatures By Curve:

Two Mana:

Akoum Stonewaker

Three Mana:

Tunneling Geopede Vile Aggregate Firemantle Mage

Four Mana:

Chasm Guide


Processor Assault Rolling Thunder


Turn Against


Crumble to Dust Molten Nursery Retreat to Valakut

Turn Against is one of the uncommons that gives Coastal Discovery a run for its money. I think the last time we had a straight up Ray of Command was New Phyrexia, so people may confuse this for its sorcery speed brethren. Making Threaten into an instant is like stapling it to the Fiery
Conclusion you were trying to combo it with. They attack, their attacker gets taken and trades for their other attacker in combat. This is even a format
where the normal Threaten mode of the card has more giant targets than usual, so the “fair” mode is even really good. Don’t pass this, pick up Looming
Spires to splash it.

Oh, and Rolling Thunder too? Admittedly this card is probably a bit worse than people remember it as there are less X/1s to Arc Lightning down with it than
there were in Tempest, but I’m going to have to see people actively say the card is worse after playing it a few times before I don’t assume the
worst. Or best, depending on how much you like uncommon Plague Wind being a card.

Things drop off a bit from there, but obviously all eleven uncommons can’t be the best in the set. The creatures are pretty strong. Nothing that takes over
a game, but they all have some reasonable bonuses. Firemantle Mage, Tunneling Geopede, and Akoum Stonewalker are all solid beaters with aggressive upsides.
Mage is the best of the bunch, as if triggering it on back to back turns probably wins the game. Chasm Guide and Vile Aggregate are also good but a bit
narrower. All five are cards I can see myself taking pack three, pick one once I’m in red. There might be a better card somewhere, but these are likely to
be the best red card in a pack without a Touch of the Void.

Important question to ask yourself: Which of these creatures are better than Valakut Predator? This is a scenario that will likely come up a lot. My guess
is that the answer is only Firemantle Mage, but there could be decks where Vile Aggregate is a 3/5 all the time.

Retreat to Valakut is in a similar category of solid but not insane. The split of Falter and pump is pretty nice, as it means the card actually does
something to solidify a lead or win a race regardless of your opponent’s boardstate.

Processor Assault is a U/B hybrid card that costs red mana. Or maybe you are the luckiest ever and got multiple copies of Touch of the Void and Vile
Aggregate. The card is much more restrictive than “just have enablers” because those enablers are not located in the most obvious place.

What are the odds you play more than one devoid spell a turn? Those are the odds Molten Nursery does more than one damage a turn. Very much not worth the



Akoum Hellkite Barrage Tyrant Dragonmaster Outcast


Akoum Firebird Serpentine Spike


Radiant Flames Zada, Hedron Grinder

Big fliers are good. Glad we settled that one. Big fliers that kill things are better. Cards that make a lot of big fliers are also better. Glad this
evaluating rares thing is so easy this set.

Barrage Tyrant is a variant on Bloodshot Cyclops. Other versions of this effect have been really good every time they are printed, and I can’t imagine this
one is any different. Remember that it throws Awakened lands and is likely at its absolute best in U/R.

Serpentine Spike is not Cone of Flame. It’s costed into Eldrazi range and can’t fight them. It also can’t target players, so you need the full three
targets. Plus one damage does mean that the full on three-for-one is more likely, but with red not being a color that gets Eldrazi Scions, I feel like for
every time this card is Plague Wind it’s going to have another time it comes down too late. I do reserve the ability to be completely wrong here and lose
to this card multiple times before I realize it.

I had Radiant Flames higher until I watched Bing Luke play it in the Community Cup. The card is just Pyroclasm in a color that is all x/2s. It’s better if
you just pretend it’s a green card that kills your Lifespring Druid to sweep an early board.

Zada, Hedron Grinder is on the low end of okay. It’s a Hill Giant with an ability that triggers on the combat tricks that are going to be edged out in the
format by extra lands and Awaken spells.

Takeaways From Red

The draw to red is common removal and big three-drops. The downside is that there’s a lot of random filler in the color that gets brick walled easily. Fill
in the gaps appropriately.

Similar to white, don’t get into fights over red when you are out of position. If you are being cut in red, your deck is going to look really bad and be
full of mediocre Magic cards.


Common Creatures By Curve:

One Mana:


Two Mana:

Oran-Rief Invoker Snapping Gnarlid

Three Mana:

Call the Scions Lifespring Druid Tajuru Stalwart

Four Mana:

Broodhunter Wurm Eyeless Watcher Giant Mantis

Five Mana:

Territorial Baloth

Six Mana:

Tajuru Beastmaster

Seven Mana:

Earthen Arms


Plummet Unnatural Aggression


Swell of Growth


Natural Connection Reclaiming Vines Seek the Wilds

Green is oddly conflicted. There’s so many ways to make mana (Lifespring Druid, Call the Scions, Eyeless Watcher, and Seek the Wilds), but nothing to
really use it on. This obviously means you want to take a lot of the larger colorless Eldrazi as payoffs for this mana or powerful splash or converge cards
as payoffs for having Lifespring Druid and Natural Connection. Of course these cards are colorless or just really good and you will be fighting for them,
so the way to end up in green is…. take non-green cards early and just back door your way into needing the green enablers?

This feels a bit unreliable. What else is the color able to do as a backup plan to make your mana count, or more accurately what are the other reasons to
end up in green?

Snapping Gnarlid is a really strong aggressive two-drop. The extra toughness means that unlike Makindi Sliderunner, this card bashes straight through
opposing two-drops. Two of the mana cards I mentioned previously are also token generators: Call the Scions and Eyeless Watcher. Unfortunately none of the
“go wide” enablers are as good as Raid Bombardment was, but there may be an occasional back door deck there. Note that Oran-Rief Invoker is not that great
of an aggro card. Bears are welcome, but to maximize the card you want a deck that needs a two-drop and an eight-drop out of the same card. Aggro doesn’t
want the eight-drop, so you are looking at a card better suited to midrange.

There’s also nothing wrong with being a slightly less rampy yet still bulky deck. Three of the four mana producers curve into Territorial Baloth, which is
definitely a card that gets better if you cast it earlier with more lands in hand. Both it and Tajuru Beastmaster significantly outclass the other
non-Eldrazi creatures in the formats, which as I mentioned before kinda stop at 3/3 or so. Broodhunter Wurm is somewhat on theme here as well, as are
Snapping Gnarlid and Tajuru Stalwart if you get all three colors on it. This shell reminds me a lot of the Myr plus Molder Beast shell from Scars of Mirrodin Draft, both in the sizing relative to other colors and the fact that you are likely to want to splash another color for removal.
I will note that despite playing every Maul Splicer I ever drafted in that format, I’m not interested in Earthen Arms. The card doesn’t look like it goes
big enough or spreads wide enough for the format.

Green’s spells are the usual mix of a fight card and a bunch of conditional stuff. Unnatural Aggression seems very similar in operation to Complete
Disregard, which probably makes it green’s best common in an unexciting way. Plummet and

Creeping Mold

Reclaiming Vines are pure sideboard action, Seek the Wilds is as filler as Anticipate is, if not more, and Swell of Growth is tricking you into thinking
you aren’t actually paying for a landfall today with your landfall next turn. Seriously, let me know when you construct a scenario where you Swell of
Growth early enough for the pump and ramp to matter.

While green’s general archetypes of ramp and fast fat should speak to me, I still can’t help but leave offended. Giant Mantis is a load of bull****. It’s
easily the most offensive issue in the entire set. Zendikar, Worldwake, and Rise of the Eldrazi each had a Spider. There were
zero Mantises in those sets. If you are going to deliberately spit in the face of the original Giant Spider, at least have the dignity to not retcon an
entire block to replace it with the arthropod flavor of the week.

Seriously. What. The. Hell. Wizards. I’m going to play this card basically every time I draft it, and I’m likely to draw an extra pair of legs on every
copy. Unless you are bringing us Insect tribal any time soon, don’t try to pull this stunt again.

Uncommon Creatures By Curve

One Mana:

Jaddi Offshoot Scythe Leopard

Two Mana:

Rot Shambler

Three Mana:

Void Attendant

Four Mana:

Murasa Ranger

Five Mana:

Tajuru Warcaller

Six Mana:

Brood Monitor

Seven Mana:

Plated Crusher


Infuse with the Elements


Retreat to Kazandu Sylvan Scrying

Maybe they finally did it. I’m excited about green uncommons for the first time since Overrun became unfit to print.

Wait, nope, they just printed Overrun. That keeps Overrunning. At least Tajuru Warcaller… ummm… doesn’t give trample? I guess if it gave trample the
fact that you could re-up on Overrun would be irrelevant. It’s more fun to force your opponent to mass chump once then take 48 damage.

Brood Monitor is also very strong. That’s so many bodies for one card! And it’s also so much mana and power and toughness! It’s also a card that jumps you
straight from six to ten (assuming a land drop) if you are lucky enough to have one of the high end Eldrazi.

The next tier of green uncommons aren’t quite as insane as Eldrazi-Goat Ranger and Overrun on a stick, but they are probably better than most of the
commons. Infuse with the Elements is a huge blowout of a trick, both for lethal trample and because it sticks around. Murasa Ranger gets Eldrazi-sized real
fast without the typical drawback of these cards where they start too small to matter. Retreat to Kazandu gives a lot of tangible advantage for landfall.
Compare to Grazing Gladeheart, which was basically the reason to be green in original Zendikar.

Then we have the archetypes specifics. Void Attendant gives a very tangible advantage for each ingest trigger you accumulate over a game in G/U or G/B.
Plated Crusher is an Eldrazi replacement that loses most of the heads up fights but beats all the ways people try to beat the Eldrazi. Rot Shambler is the
growing thing that starts off too small to matter, but with Eldrazi has a ton of enablers to get out of hand at instant speed. All of these are stuff I
would pick up mid-first pack as reasons to move into archetypes and pack three could see slamming, as if they are good, they will be one of my best cards.

The other cards… much worse. Scythe Leopard doesn’t mesh with the rest of green and drops off in quality real fast during a game. Maybe some decks want
this card, but most don’t. Sylvan Scrying is really bad fixing. Jaddi Offshoot is maybe a third of a card of value. The version of that card that auto
gains one a turn isn’t even playable in most formats



Greenwarden of Murasa Undergrowth Champion


Beastcaller Savant Oran-Rief Hydra From Beyond Woodland Wanderer


Nissa's Renewal

Still a bunch of big dumb creatures without flying, but it’s getting better than the past. The ones that are just big and dumb at least have trample, and a
couple even produce card advantage. None of them are Eldrazi big, but what is in the format?

I may be underestimating Beastcaller Savant, which says a lot considering I’m probably first picking it. Thinking more about the green plan of fast,
slightly smaller than Eldrazi fatties really feels like you might just win any game it resolves on turn 2. The only thing keeping it from being an
auto-slam is that most of the things I want the splash mana for aren’t creatures and just one mana from a card isn’t exciting past about six or seven mana.
Nissa’s Renewal is also probably better than I think, but it depends on having landfall cards to support it.

Takeaways From Green

Green is in an odd spot if you can’t get the stock Eldrazi Ramp deck. The typically good green cards have a pretty narrow needle to thread between the low
end cards and Eldrazi, and unfortunately, get tagged hard by a lot of the same cards that people will be using to fight Eldrazi, like bounce spells.
Finding the right balance for the middling green decks is going to be interesting, and it really might be more of finding the right colors.

Green has a lot of ways to make a splash work. Figuring out which splash cards to target is a big part of the whole equation for making it happen.

More so than the other colors, green looks like it requires finesse. Rather than just having synergy packages, the color moves in broader directions for
different decks.