Insider Information – Overrated and Underrated in Rise of the Eldrazi Part 2

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Friday, April 23rd – Last week, Cedric Phillips waded into the debate on the Constructed applications of Rise of the Eldrazi. Today, he continues in a similar vein, highlighting his personal picks for the most underrated and overrated cards in the new set. Find out Ced’s view of Consuming Vapors, Vengevine, Sarkhan the Mad, and more!

Underrated Card #1: Consuming Vapors

Consuming Vapors
Target player sacrifices a creature. You gain life equal to that creature’s toughness.

Consuming Vapors is my favorite rebound card in Rise of the Eldrazi. Jund is the control deck of choice that utilizes Black the best right now in Standard, and it is very clear that Jund has access to more efficient removal than Consuming Vapors . However, I think Consuming Vapors will find its true home in Block Constructed and post-Shards Standard. Consuming Vapors reminds me a lot of Seize the Soul, in that a lot of things are going on here in one card, things that are very favorable for you and very unfavorable for your opponent. Consuming Vapors isn’t going to be a staple like Lightning Bolt and Terminate, but it will have its uses, and to overlook the card is a mistake.

Overrated Card #1: Inquisition of Kozilek

Inquisition of Kozilek
Target player reveals his or her hand. You choose a nonland card from it with converted mana cost 3 or less. That player discards that card.

As good as Inquisition of Kozilek can be, this is still a card with plenty of faults. Inquisition of Kozilek is regulated to Eternal formats, as Standard is a format full of Bloodbraid Elves and Baneslayer Angels: two cards you really want your opponent to discard, given the opportunity. My issue with Inquisition of Kozilek is that for how many relevant cards it nails (Tarmogoyf, Sensei’s Divining Top, Counterbalance, AEther Vial, Goblin Lackey), it misses just as many relevant ones (Force of Will, Natural Order, Ad Nauseam, Goblin Charbelcher, Empty the Warrens, Goblin Ringleader, Tombstalker, Moat). I believe that if you are looking to disrupt your opponent with discard, Thoughtseize is a much better option, as I would pay two life to hit any card in my opponent’s hand 100% of the time.

Overrated Card #2: Guul Draz Assassin

Guul Draz Assassin
Creature – Vampire Assassin
Level up 1B (1B: Put a Level counter on this. (Level up only as a sorcery.)
[Level 2-3] B, T: Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn. | 2/2
[Level 4+] B, T: Target creature gets -4/-4 until end of turn. | 4/4

As great as I think Guul Draz Assassin is in Limited (read: very), I don’t think this is a card that will have any impact in Constructed formats. Vampires needed a way to interact favorably with Sprouting Thrinax to put it back into relevancy, and Guul Draz Vampire isn’t the card to satisfy that need. Vampires also needed a one-drop that did something more than Vampire Lacerator, as an undercosted aggressive threat simply wasn’t getting the job done. Not only is Guul Draz Vampire less aggressive than Vampire Lacerator, but its abilities are not terribly relevant. Giving a creature -4/-4 is a pretty powerful effect that kills just about every relevant Standard creature sans Baneslayer Angel, but that takes more time than Jund is willing to give you. Sadly, Guul Draz Vampire is a great Limited card and nothing more.

Interesting Card #1: Devastating Summons

Devastating Summons
As an additional cost to cast Devastating Summons, sacrifice X lands.
Put two X/X red Elemental creature tokens onto the battlefield.

I think Devastating Summons is a card that people should keep in the back of their mind, because it is such a unique effect. When I think of Devastating Summons, I keep thinking about Devastating Dreams. Devastating Dreams was a card that was, for the most part, all negative for the person casting it, especially if it got met with a counterspell. Sure, the effect was powerful and symmetrical to an extent, but there was a lot more that could go wrong than right with Devastating Dreams. All it took for Devastating Dreams to become great was the printing of Life from the Loam.

I feel like Devastating Summons is in the exact same camp. Everything about Devastating Summons screams “blowout waiting to happen,” but maybe all that is necessary to put this card over the top is a little outside-the-box thinking. I remember a Death’s Shadow / Ad Nauseam / Goblin Bushwhacker deck before Pro Tour: San Diego that people were trying to build. Maybe Devastating Summons sits side by side here, or replaces Death’s Shadow. I’m not entirely sure where Devastating Summons will live, but it won’t surprise me in the least when it finds a home.

Underrated Card #2: Flame Slash

Flame Slash
Flame Slash deals 4 damage to target creature.

Skred, this is not! However, comparing a one-mana removal spell to Skred is quite unfair, as Skred was a one-of-a-kind removal spell. Flame Slash is pretty darn close to Skred, however. Four damage is a lot for one Red mana, and there is no drawback to what we can target, unlike Sunlance and Strafe. At worst, I see Flame Slash being a sideboard card from a control deck to halt an early rush. At best, I see Flame Slash being a staple removal spell for a mid-range or control deck for years to come. Overall, I expect Flame Slash to see a lot of play. It deals four damage for one mana!

Overrated Card #3: Kargan Dragonlord

Kargan Dragonlord
Creature – Human Warrior
Level up R
[Level 4-7] Flying | 4/4
[Level 8+] Flying, trample
R: Kargan Dragonlord gets +1/+0 until end of turn. | 8/8

It probably isn’t fair to compare Kargan Dragonlord to Plated Geopde, but that is exactly what I am about to do. Plated Geopede isn’t better in every way, but it is definitely better at attacking thanks to fetchlands, Terramorphic Expanse, and the freshly printed Evolving Wilds. Both are about the same on defense, except Plated Geopede can be very formidable in combination with any of the above lands, while Kargan Dragonlord is almost always going to be a boring 2/2. Yes, Kargan Dragonlord gives you something to do with your mana when you are flooding out, but that really looks to be its only upside. Did I mention that one of these two can block Ball Lightning and Hellspark Elemental without batting an eye? Put the “1/1” in your deck. You will be happy you did.

Underrated Card #3: Ancient Stirrings

Ancient Stirrings
Look at the top five cards of your library. You may reveal a colorless card from among them and put it into your hand. Then put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

Oh, how I love this card! This is the card I want to be casting the most at Pro Tour: San Juan. Not only does Ancient Stirrings help us dig for land drops, it helps us find certain lands (Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle; Tectonic Edge; Eldrazi Temple) or colorless cards (Everflowing Chalice, All Is Dust, a giant ALIEN). Nine times out of ten, Ancient Stirrings is going to replace itself by finding a land at the very least. The times where it finds that timely All Is Dust to clear the board, or that Everflowing Chalice you need to cast on turn 2 to ramp up to a turn 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor are the times you will cherish. Ancient Stirrings is a role player in every sense of the term, but I love the role that it plays. Hopefully I can find a great deck for this card.

Underrated Card #4: Awakening Zone

Awakening Zone
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a 0/1 colorless Eldrazi Spawn creature token onto the battlefield. It has “Sacrifice this creature: Add 1 to your mana pool.”

Awakening Zone isn’t as good as Bitterblossom (thank God!) and isn’t as bad as Goblin Assault (thank God!). I think it’s right in the middle of the two, and that is a very good thing. Awakening Zone seems to be correctly priced, as at two mana it would get out of hand, and at four mana it would be much too slow to effect games. Do I know what people are going to do with Awakening Zone? Not really. There is potential to do a lot of things here. Awakening Zone could be used as a Forcefield type effect against aggressive decks. It could be used as a way to generate a long-term mana advantage in a control mirror. It could be used to generate a short-term mana advantage for a combo deck. Hell, it could be used as a way to generate Polymorph fodder in case Khalni Garden, Wind Zendikon, and Garruk Wildspeaker aren’t good enough. The point is, Awakening Zone can do a lot of things, and none of them are negative. I think this card is underpriced right now, and will only go up as people figure out all the great ways to use it. Congrats to R&D on a really cool card.

Overrated Card #4: Boar Umbra

Boar Umbra
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +3/+3.
Totem armor

Boar Umbra isn’t as good as its buddies Elephant Guide and Moldervine Cloak. Elephant Guide left behind a 3/3 that wasn’t difficult to deal with, but could close games out pretty quickly. Moldervine Cloak was re-useable, and could turn an average threat into a real one at the start of a draw step. My issue with Boar Umbra is that I feel the creature it will leave around isn’t one that the opponent will care about too much. Are you really going to suit up your Leatherback Baloth with Boar Umbra? Leatherback Baloth doesn’t need any more help being awesome, and you risk getting yourself two-for-oned if choose that option. Standard is a very removal-heavy format right now, and getting yourself two-for-oned is going to lead to a lot of losses. It’s the reason Blightning is so good! Why cast Blightning on yourself when you don’t have to?

Very Funny, R&D #1: Gigantomancer

Creature – Human Shaman
1: Target creature you control becomes a 7/7 until end of turn

This guy couldn’t have been a 3/3 or something? Really? I think it’s adorable that he can turn himself and all of his friends into a 7/7, but an eight mana 1/1 that is Green is just ridiculous. Sure, Scornful Egotist was an eight mana 1/1, but that is fairly in-favor for Blue in my book. Plus, it had morph, so it was there to embarrass people when they wasted a removal spell on it. But this? This I cannot allow to go by without a comment! I love a joke card as much as the next guy, but you can start printing joke cards when you stop printing format-ruiners like Bloodbraid Elf.

Underrated Card #5: Mul Daya Channelers

Mul Daya Channelers
Creature – Elf Druid Shaman
Play with the top card of your library revealed.
As long as the top card of your library is a creature card, Mul Daya Channelers gets +3/+3.
As long as the top card of your library is a land card, Mul Daya Channelers has “T: Add two mana of any one color to your mana pool.”

I probably like Vampire Nocturnus more than most, but Mul Daya Channelers feels like an undercosted Vampire Nocturnus with no downside to me. If you build your deck correctly with at least eight fetchlands (Verdant Catacombs/Misty Rainforest), Mul Daya Channelers is going to give you exactly what you want it to a great deal of the time. If Mul Daya Channelers is accelerated into, you can be swinging for five on turn 3. That is certainly nothing to laugh about. Also, notice it is an elf, so it can get some nice bonuses from Elvish Archdruid and Jogara Warspeaker if you choose to go that route.

Underrated Card #6: Overgrown Battlement

Overgrown Battlement
Creature – Wall
T: Add G to your mana pool for each creature with defender you control.

I’ve never seen Vine Trellis get such little respect. Look, I get it. Wall of Omens is back, and that is all the rage nowadays. I didn’t even bothering covering that card because it isn’t overrated or underrated. The card is just a good guy that is going to see a lot of play. However, for people to act like Overgrown Battlement doesn’t exist is a little off-putting. This is a strict upgrade over Vine Trellis, a card that has seen in a lot of play in the past. Yes, Green decks are a little different right now, and aren’t dying for this effect, as there are a lot of mana-producing cards in the format right now, but for some decks Overgrown Battlement is better than Everflowing Chalice. It blocks all the same cards that Wall of Omens does, and accelerating threats ahead of schedule can be the equivalent of drawing a card. Don’t sleep on this one just because Wall of Omens is receiving all the hype.

Interesting Card #2: Realms Uncharted

Realms Uncharted
Search your library for four land cards with different names and reveal them. An opponent chooses two of those cards. Put the chosen cards into the graveyard and the rest into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Clearly, Realms Uncharted isn’t in the same league as Gifts Ungiven. Gifts Ungiven can search for any card, has spawned its own archetypes, and dominated a Pro Tour years ago. However, Realms Uncharted is an interesting card because it ensures that you will be hitting your next two land drops, and it can help prevent you from mana flooding because you are thinning your deck of four lands. I keep wanting to compare Realms Uncharted to Kodama’s Reach, but they are two very different cards. I’m not sure there is a card that you can compare Realms Uncharted to, and that is so hard for me and others to decipher how good a card it will be. Right now, Realms Uncharted is relatively inexpensive, so I would pick them up and wait for the great deckbuilders to give this card a home.

Overrated Card #5: Vengevine

Creature – Elemental
Whenever you cast a spell, if it’s the second creature spell you cast this turn, you may return Vengevine from the graveyard to the battlefield.

Remember when R&D said they wouldn’t print Mythics that were going to be staple four-of playables? Me neither…

Back to the point at hand. Vengevine is overrated. How could it not be overrated? This is the card everyone is talking about. Just like Treasure Hunt. Just like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Can Vengevine dominate a game like Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Of course not! It’s a 4/3 with haste, for goodness sake! Is Vengevine a good card? Of course it is. It’s properly costed, very aggressive, and has an upside in case it happens to die. There are a lot of good things about Vengevine. But what deck is Vengevine going to hop into?

Some say Jund, but that is 100% false. “But I can Bloodbraid Elf into Sprouting Thrinax and get my Vengevine back for free!” Yeah, because it really sounds like you were losing the game where your opponent dealt with Vengevine and now has to deal with the two best creatures in Standard. How about the times when you don’t cascade into another creature ? How stupid do you look then? What would Vengevine replace in Jund? Putrid Leech? Siege-Gang Commander? Broodmate Dragon? No thanks. I’d even rather have Master of the Wild Hunt in my deck than Vengevine, as Master of the Wild Hunt can dominate a game all by itself against certain archetypes.

Some say Naya, but what is it going to replace> Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos are much better cards than Vengevine. Boss Naya has always had a few slots wavering in its decklist, slots that have been occupied by Ajani Vengeant and Baneslayer Angel, and I say those cards are better than Vengevine too!

Maybe Vengevine will spawn its own archetype, like Patrick Chapin wrote about this week, but maybe it won’t. All I’m saying is, everyone is going crazy over a 4/3 creature with haste and the ability to come back for more. Vengevine is only as good as the format around it allows it to be. Giant Solifuge was a great card because the format called for a card with that effect. Many would be wise to remember that.

Interesting Card #3: Sarkhan the Mad

Sarkhan the Mad
Planeswalker – Sarkhan
[0]: Reveal the top card of your library and put it into your hand. Sarkhan the Mad deals damage to himself equal to that card’s converted mana cost.
[-2]: Target creature’s controller sacrifices it, then that player puts a 5/5 red Dragon creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
[-4]: Each Dragon creature you control deals damage equal to its power to target player.

Chances are that this card sucks. However, even the worst planeswalkers have seen some play in competitive formats, so it’s hard for me to believe that Sarkhan the Mad won’t see at least some play at the beginning of our new Standard format. But let’s just go ahead and write this card off as garbage.

I am writing about Sarkhan the Mad because I opened a foil one at the pre-release in which I gunslang, in Los Angeles over the weekend. I can say with certainty that Sarkhan the Mad is one of the best cards I have ever played in a Limited game of Magic. I’ve played with Martial Coup. I’ve played with Lavalanche. I’ve even played with the fabled Umezawa’s Jitte. I’ve never felt power like I did when I was playing with Sarkhan the Mad. Sarkhan the Mad essentially makes three 5/5 dragons and then allows you to draw an extra card on its way out. Every time I cast Sarkhan the Mad and had anything resembling a decent draw, I did not get close to losing. I’ve lost games where I have cast Martial Coup and Lavalanche. I’ve had my Umezawa’s Jitte destroyed. If your opponent tries to go after Sarkhan the Mad, they are Time Walking themselves, and you probably got a 5/5 dragon out of the deal. You would pay 3BR for a 5/5 flyer in Limited and let your opponent Time Walk themselves, wouldn’t you?

The point is, if Sarkhan the Mad can even compare to how good it is in Sealed, then it will be a great Constructed card. Do I find this to be likely? Not really. But it sure would be cool if it happens.

Overall, I think Rise of the Eldrazi is a great set for both Constructed and Limited. It felt great to have the decision to block again in Limited when I was gunslinging in Los Angeles, and there were plenty of decisions to make in each of the games I played. Its Constructed impact is not easy to see right now, but I’m sure some things will change, and Jund’s dominance will scale back quite a bit. If you have paying attention to the Magic Online PTQs, UW Control has won the first two PTQs, and isn’t showing a sign of letting up with the introduction of Wall of Omens.

For now, I will say that Vengevine is the most overrated card, See Beyond is the most underrated card, and Wall of Omens will have the greatest impact on our Standard format.

To those who came out to the Los Angeles pre-release and gunslang against me, I hope you all had a great time. I had a great time meeting everyone, and have come around to Elder Dragon Highlander as a format. I had never played the format until last weekend, and I loved every minute of it! It doesn’t hurt that I was playing with Rofellos as my general (one of the more broken ones), but I was having a lot of fun casting Tooth and Nail with entwine on turn 4 regardless!

A big thank you goes out to Glen Goddard for selecting me to be the gunslinger of choice on the weekend. It was an honor to be there and be highlighted for the weekend. Hopefully I have the opportunity to do it again!

Until next week!

Cedric Phillips

[email protected]