PV’s Playhouse – Preliminary Zendikar Analysis

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Friday, September 18th – Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa brings us his personal thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the currently spoiled Zendikar cards. As usual, it’s a mixed review, with some hits and some misses, but overall, Zendikar gets the PV Seal of Approval!


When I was looking around for what to write about, one idea was that I analyze the results from the last StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open. I thought it would be challenging, but when I clicked at the link and saw that the winning deck was White Weenie, I knew I was just not up to the task. I would probably just get bashed on the forums again for saying all the decks are horrible (I mean, White Weenie? Really?). So instead, today I’m going to try to hate on something different – the spoiled cards from Zendikar!

The first thing we need to know before talking about the new cards is the format that remains. This is particularly hard with this format, because the Lorwyn block cards simply outclassed the rest of the competition. All you have to do is look at the top decks and you’ll see most of them are almost all Lorwyn based. When Shards came in, it was easy to see how relevant the cards would be because you would just have to insert them into the context of Lorwyn decks; This time, you cannot do that, because the context of Shards decks is just too weak — you’ll have to insert Zendikar cards in the context of Zendikar, which is a lot harder because we don’t know the context yet.

That said, onto the cards. As usual, all cards here are from our friends at MTGSalvation.com:

Devout Lightcaster
Creature – Kor Cleric (Rare)
Protection from black
When Devout Lightcaster enters the battlefield, exile target black permanent.

This card strikes me as a potent sideboard option, if Mono Black becomes a successful archetype. People are going to think they have it good with their Gatekeepers, only to be completely outclassed by this guy. The problem is that, unlike the Gatekeeper, it is a terrible maindeck card — but he seems like a Sideboard option on the level of Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, being a reasonably cheap card that can get you back tempo and sometimes single-handedly win the game in multiples, which should be enough to make it see play if something can support it. If only we still had Filter Lands …

Iona, Shield of Emeria
Legendary Creature – Angel (Mythic Rare)
As Iona, Shield of Emeria enters the battlefield, choose a color.
Your opponents can’t play spells of the chosen color.

I think this card is a tad overrated. Sure, her effect is powerful, but she costs NINE; what did you expect? Tooth and Nail costs nine. Sundering Titan costs eight. If you can reanimate her early enough, she might stop your opponent from playing anything, but if it’s not early enough, she might just not be good enough to win the game by herself, which is what you expect on a reanimated fatty.

I think the main problem with her is that she has no board presence (other than being a 7/7 flier) — if she attacks, she doesn’t block, and she only blocks one guy and has no defensive abilities such as Lifelink — if they have a good board, they will just overwhelm you with what they already have. The other problem is that the base Blue decks usually splash another color for removal — Path to Exile, Doom Blade, etc — and so if you name Blue you will blank their entire deck but they will be able to remove it, and if you name the color of the removal, she will stay alive but won’t actually stop anything other than the removal itself. In the end I guess it will depend on whether you can reanimate/cast her fast enough so that they cannot win with what they already have — if you can, she might be worth it. If you can’t, then I would look for another target.

Luminarch Ascension
Enchantment (Rare)
At the beginning of each opponent’s end step, if you didn’t lose life this turn, you may put a quest counter on Luminarch Ascension. (Damage causes loss of life)
1W: Put a 4/4 white Angel creature token with flying onto the battlefield. Activate this ability only if Luminarch Ascension has four or more quest counters on it.

This card puzzles me. It basically says if you can stay untouched for four turns, you win the game. Now, how hard is it to stay untouched? It’s not something we generally care about, since it has not been relevant before, but we could compare this to building up the ultimate on a planeswalker — this is a two-mana Planeswalker whose first two abilities are irrelevant, and the first one needs four turns and wins the game. If you look at it that way, I don’t think it’s good enough — especially since you also take the damage they redirect at your Planeswalker.

It might be good, however, as a sideboard card, in control mirrors, playing the way of an Ajani Vengeant ultimate — Ajani is useful besides his Ultimate, but in control mirrors it’s really the threat of the ultimate that is good, and this threatens just the same for two mana less, which means it’s basically uncounterable and so will probably force people to adapt by playing some sort of enchantment removal. Ajani also has the advantage of being good against burn decks, so you would board it in against more things, but if you have enough slots for a dedicated control card, Luminarch Ascension is probably good enough.

World Queller
Creature – Avatar (Rare)
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may choose a card type. If you do, each player sacrifices a permanent of that type.

How I wish this card was a little bit better! Its effect is so powerful — you get rid of any permanent they have, including Planeswalkers, and most of the time at no cost to yourself. Think of it as a Molder Slug that doesn’t require them to be playing artifacts to be good, and that you can just choose not to use if it’s not convenient to you. Even if they play something like Baneslayer Angel, you can trade your worst guy (or in the worst case, this guy) for it. Now, the question of course is, why are you not playing the Baneslayer Angel yourself?

I’m not sure this would see play if it was not for Baneslayer completely outclassing it in the 5 slot, but it’s an interesting card. As it is, it’ll probably not be played at all.

Archive Trap
Instant – Trap (Rare)
If an opponent searched his or her library this turn, you may pay 0 rather than pay Archive Trap’s mana cost.
Target opponent puts the top thirteen cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

What is it with people that makes them like all the mill cards? It seems to me that, every time they release a mill card, people in the Brazilian forums go crazy about it — “wow, Wizards is pushing Mill effects to the extreme,” and “now it’s going to be good, finally,” etc. Well, the news is, it’s never good. I don’t recall a Millstone deck ever being good in my entire Magic career — no, worse, I don’t recall it ever being viable. Of course, Millstone itself was a decent card in control decks and control mirrors, but because it was a creature-kill-immune kill condition.

In this world of information that we live in today, the number of people who think there is value in milling your opponent is astonishing. If you mill any number of cards and that does not kill them, then it’s as if you hadn’t done anything – it’s as if you were playing Lava Axe in your mill deck. Forget dreams of “I’m going to mill all his kill conditions,” “I’m going to mill all his spells and he will be stuck drawing lands” — you are just as likely to mill all his irrelevant cards and put his kill condition on top of his deck, or to mill all his lands and leave him drawing spells for the rest of the game.

This is almost the same thing that happens with cards like Cranial Extraction, Extirpate, etc — people get caught in the awesome scenario where they strip their opponent’s kill conditions and ignore all the other times where the card doesn’t do anything, which is most of them. The difference is that those cards have applications — narrow, but they do – and this one really doesn’t. Unless something drastic happens, it’ll be completely unplayable.

Instant (Common)
Counter target spell.

Yes, we already got the message; we are not getting Counterspell back. You can stop reprinting Cancel now.

Mindbreak Trap
Instant – Trap (Mythic Rare)
If an opponent cast three or more spells this turn, you may pay 0 rather than pay Mindbreak Trap’s mana cost.
Exile any number of target spells.
“Life is a maze. This is one of its dead ends.” – Noyan Dar, Tazeem lullmage

I like this card a lot, as it has many different applications. First, it completely hoses storm-based combo decks, and it can be played in any color if that is your only goal. If they are playing the likes of Ad Nauseam, it’ll probably counter it anyway, since they need multiple rituals to play it.

Then, it is the counter everyone asked for in the last Block tournament. It not only deals with Cascade (and for free if they get lucky), it also doesn’t meddle with your Cascading as far as Bloodbraid Elf is concerned — no longer you have to play many Traumatic Visions. It also removes from the game (okay, okay… “exiles”) instead of countering the spell, so it hits Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout, which is not irrelevant.

I predict this card will see play, but not as a four-of like Cryptic Command, unless the Standard format resembles the Block format too much, which I’ve already said I don’t think it will.

I do have one problem with this card, though — it is Mythic. Now, that would not be a problem — I’m familiar with the concept of having to sell boosters. Planeswalkers are Mythic and good, and I’m not complaining. The problem was that they specifically told us utility cards would not be Mythic — this strikes me as a utility card. How is it not? Is it some giant powerful being? Some game-breaking effect? No, it’s definitely utility. Why did they tell us they wouldn’t do that, then? If they had not told us anything, I would be fine with it, but this shows me when Wizards says something, they don’t necessarily mean it.

Sphinx of Lost Truths
Creature – Sphinx (Rare)
Kicker 1U (You may pay an additional 1U as you cast this spell)
When Sphinx of Lost Truths enters the battlefield, draw three cards. Then if it wasn’t kicked, discard three cards.

This card is also pretty elegant — it’s kind of a Mulldrifter with a more expensive option instead of a cheaper one. I like it a lot, but I don’t think it will see much play — it’s one of those good cards that are simply outclassed. Not that it is outclassed by any particular card, it’s just that I cannot conceive a deck that would like to play this. It is, however, a really good option in Dredge.

Creature – Vampire Spirit (Rare)
Bloodghast can’t block.
Bloodghast has haste as long as an opponent has 10 life or less.
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may return Bloodghast from your graveyard to the battlefield.

This card is pretty elegant too — it seems powerful, but not degenerate. It reminds me of Narcomoeba, except with Narcomoeba you know nothing good can come out of it — either it is useless, or completely broken, which makes me think it should not exist. This card, however, can be good without being broken. A solid addition to dredge too, and a card that can give control some trouble — I like it.

Gatekeeper of Malakir
Creature – Vampire Warrior (Uncommon)
Kicker B (You may pay an additional B as you cast this spell.)
When Gatekeeper of Malakir enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, target player sacrifices a creature.
“You may enter the city – once the toll is paid.”

To me, the most important feature of this guy is that he kills Great Sable Stag. If a Mono Black deck is viable, this is probably the reason. Not much more to say about him that has not being said, though.

Halo Hunter
Creature – Demon (Rare)
Intimidate (This creature can be blocked only by artifact creatures or creatures that share a color with it.)
When Halo Hunter enters the battlefield, destroy target Angel.

Why is this a Demon?! Even if it wasn’t, though, I don’t think this would have seen much play — even if the body is much bigger, it’s not on the level of Shriekmaw (which rotates, I know, I know — but if you have BBB, you might as well play Gatekeeper). Right now, there aren’t even any Angels you want to kill that don’t have Protection from Demons anyway…

Needlebite Trap
Instant – Trap (Uncommon)
If an opponent gained life this turn, you may pay B rather than pay Needlebite Trap’s mana cost.
Target player loses 5 life and you gain 5 life.
The traps around the vampire city of Malakir hint at the thirst of its inhabitants.

This card seems really bad, but overhyped for some reason. I see people talking about comboing this with Grove of the Burnwillows, or as a good sideboard card — it seems very narrow for all those. If they have life gain, then you must have this and the mana on the turns they are gaining the life, and it has to matter. If they are gaining life, the five you are gaining likely don’t matter — unless it’s some kind of Zoo mirror when they Helix your guy and the 10-point life swing can be game-winning. I don’t think this will see any play, and you can probably have better cards in your sideboard slots.

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
Legendary Creature – Demon (Mythic Rare)
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may have target player lose 3 life. If you do, put three +1/+1 counters on Ob Nixilis, the Fallen.

When I first read this guy, I thought he was very powerful, because I thought he had Flying. If he had, he would kill your opponent in two turns — play him turn 5, play a land on turn 6 and a land on turn 7 and your opponent takes 21 damage from him alone. As it is, he kind of reminds me of Lord of Extinction — a big body that will not get through — except he’s better because the three damage does get through. If you play this and a Fetchland next turn, you have a 9/9 attacker and your opponent just took 6. Even if your opponent has removal, he cannot stop you from dealing three damage if you play this on turn 6. If you have this and play a Fetchland, they cannot Lightning Bolt it either — they can respond to the Trigger, but by then the Fetch will be already in play and you can sacrifice it before the Bolt resolves to get another land. Overall a powerful card even without Flying, and I think it will see play.

Vampire Nighthawk
Creature – Vampire Shaman (Uncommon)

Normally creatures of this status would be unplayable, but this guy has a lot of abilities — look at El Hajjaj for a comparison – and it might be pushed into playability. Flying and Lifelink are two abilities that go very well together, and Deathtouch means he will probably trade with stuff that is more expensive than he is. I like this card, he is just… elegant, like most of the set.

Goblin Guide
Creature – Goblin Scout (Rare)
Whenever Goblin Guide attacks, defending player reveals the top card of his or her library. If it’s a land card, that player puts it into his or her hand.
“I’ve been all over this world. I even remember some of those places.”

Ah, the controversial card. The power of this card will depend a lot on how fast the format is, and on how fast answers are. If you attack twice, and your opponent gets a land and Lightning Bolts him on the second attack step, he is obviously terrible. If your opponent’s removal of choice is Day of Judgment, he is great. If your opponent spends his second turn discarding the land you just gave him, he is even greater.

He has another problem in that Fetchlands are going to be played, so he might help filter your opponent’s draws for them — that is, if they need a land and the top card is not a land, they will crack the Fetch and shuffle. If you attack with two of them, they might do the same. At the same time, he gets better because of Fetchlands, since everyone takes damage, which makes aggressive approaches better.

Overall, a card we cannot rate without knowing the format. My guess is that he will not be very good, but I might be wrong.

Goblin Ruinblaster
Creature – Goblin Shaman (Uncommon)
Kicker – R
When Goblin Ruinblaster enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, destroy target nonbasic land.

This guy would probably be very good in a Vivid Land metagame, but not so much without them. Again hard to rate — it depends on whether the new uncommon Duals will be heavily played or not. He is definitely a powerful card, and if we randomly inserted him in today’s Standard format, he would probably see play in BR and give Five-Color Control a very hard time, maybe in combination with Fulminator Mage. One thing I like is that WOTC is targeting non-basics with its land hate. Land destruction is not a very fun strategy to play against, and it’s good to know that if it’s troubling you, you can just play more basics.

Lavaball Trap
Instant – Trap (Rare)
If an opponent had two or more lands enter the battlefield under his or her control this turn, you may pay 3RR rather than pay Lavaball Trap’s mana cost.
Destroy two target lands. Lavaball Trap deals 4 damage to each creature.

Someone asked me about this in All-In Red in Extended; I think it’s really bad. It doesn’t do much, and your opponent can always play around it — no one is forced to use their Fetchlands the turn they come into play. As it is, five mana is too expensive.

Warren Instigator
Creature – Goblin Berserker (Mythic Rare)
Double Strike
Whenever Warren Instigator deals damage to an opponent, you may put a Goblin creature card from your hand onto the battlefield.

Cute, but not a 30-dollar Mythic rare. Now that there is no Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver, and also no Ringleader and Matron, the Lackey effect is not that good. Don’t get me wrong, attacking with this turn 3 and hitting Siege-Gang Commander and the new Lord is obviously good, but without the Goblins that get you more Goblins it gets really hard to play a deck that wants to swarm the board like that, since you are just making yourself way too vulnerable to mass removal.

Basically, for Extended, the question you have to ask yourself is why are you playing Goblins over any other aggressive deck, like Zoo? Without Warchief, Piledriver, Ringleader, and Matron, I don’t see any answers other than wanting to “live the dream” of Goblin Lackey into Siege-Gang Commander again.

I think the most likely to happen is that he sees play in a Standard deck that is not dedicated Goblins, but has a lot of them, in the way of the Kithkin decks of Lorwyn — you could play Instigator, Goblin Guide, Siege-Gang Commander, Goblin Chieftain, and Goblin Ruinblaster, for example. Those don’t require you to swarm the board like the other Goblin decks, but get benefits if you have more than one. He is not a terrible two-drop per se, and he gets a lot of bonuses from cards such as the +2/0 land, so he is fine even when you don’t draw Siege-Gangs.

Nissa Revane
Planeswalker – Nissa (Mythic Rare)
[+1] Search your library for a card named Nissa’s Chosen and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.
[+1] You gain 2 life for each Elf you control.
[-7] Search your library for any number of Elf creature cards and put them onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.

Nissa’s Chosen
Creature – Elf Warrior (Common)
If Nissa’s Chosen would be put into a graveyard from the battlefield, put it on the bottom of its owner’s library instead.

Probably a good card. Nissa’s Chosen is not my favorite card to run either, but in this format, he might not be bad — he prevails in combat against all the Goblins and all the Vampires. If you have a turn 2 Nissa’s Chosen and a turn 4 Nissa, it will be hard for your opponent to get rid of her, and every turn that passes it gets a lot harder. The second ability is either bad or completely game breaking, depending on what you are playing against — if you get to play her and gain 4-6 life, and then your opponent has to deal another 3 to her, it might be really hard for them to race you — especially since you are playing a lot of 2/3s for 2 in your deck. I like her, I think she is the best planeswalker in this set and she will see play, though I suspect I will not be playing her anytime soon, since BG Elves is not really my kind of deck.

Oracle of Mul Daya
Creature – Elf Shaman (Rare)
You can play one additional land on each of your turns.
Play with the top card of your library revealed.
You may play the top card of your library if it’s a land card.

Hey, this is my invitational card!

Well, not really. But they stole the idea from me!

The card I submitted was 1G, 2/2, Play with the top card of your library revealed. You may play the top card of your library if it’s a land card.

They added 2 more mana to give it an Exploration effect, which makes it much worse, and I think not really playable. He better have a very nice picture, though, since it can’t be my face on it.

Rampaging Baloths
Creature – Beast (Mythic Rare)
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a 4/4 green Beast creature token onto the battlefield.
“When the land is angry, so are they.” – Nissa Revane

If you have a Fetchland, he is a 6/6 Trampler and two 4/4s for 7 — not too shabby. Still, he will probably not see much play, not because he is bad but because the decks you’d want to have him in are bad, but the raw power of this card can’t be overlooked — he has the potential to completely dominate the game and turn it around. He does combo very well with Warp World, too.

Scute Mob
Creature – Insect (Rare)
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control five or more lands, put four +1/+1 counters on Scute Mob.
“Survival rule 781: There are always more scute bugs.” – Zurdi, goblin shortcutter

Some people have been calling this “the new Tarmogoyf,” and I have to say I disagree. Tarmogoyf was good for two aspects — it is a cheap kill condition that leaves mana up, and it was a great defender for the early game. Scute Mob only shares one of those characteristics — it’s easy to play him and leave counter mana up, but he doesn’t do anything when you are being beaten down to death like Goyf does.

Still, he does have the power to dominate if the game is even — 9/9 is very big, even if it’s after three turns. He will probably be played, but a little bit more than he deserves to be.

Crypt of Agadeem
Land (Rare)
Crypt of Agadeem enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add B to your mana pool.
2, T: Add B to your mana pool for each black creature card in your graveyard.

This card looks pretty unplayable to me outside of a combo — you need to have four Black creatures in your graveyard so you can generate one extra mana. Since I see no combo, I think it’s just bad.

Emeria, The Sky Ruin
Land (Rare)
Emeria, the Sky Ruin enters the battlefield tapped.
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control seven or more plains, return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield.
T: Add W to you mana pool.

I don’t like this Land — seven Plains is a lot, basically meaning you have to play Mono White, and Mono White is in general a terrible deck. Mono White Control is even worse, and seven is just too big a number for aggro decks. If we still had Eternal Dragon, maybe a Martyr deck in Extended, but even then this is the kind of deck that tends to just be bad.

Teetering Peaks
Land (Common)
Teetering Peaks enters the battlefield tapped.
When Teetering Peaks enters the battlefield, target creature gets +2/+0 until end of turn.
T: Add R to your mana pool.

I have mixed feelings about this land. It has to battle Valakut for the spot, since you can’t really run both because that would make Valakut terrible. This land would probably win if there are any other non-Mountains you want to play. The problem with it is obvious — you want to play your tapped lands as early as possible, but this land wants you to play it in the exactly right situation, so it might be problematic if you hold it and then draw a card that needs you to have that extra land in play. I would probably play it in the pseudo Goblins deck I mentioned — it’s also good with Warren Instigator.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Land (Rare)
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle enters the battlefield tapped.
Whenever a Mountain enters the battlefield under your control, if you control at least five other Mountains, you may have Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deal 3 damage to target creature or player.
T: Add R to your mana pool.

This also looks good, but I think it won’t see much play outside of a Scapeshift combo deck. It all bows down to whether is stopping the Red decks from winning — if the games get stalled and then you lose in the late game because you don’t have enough Reach, then this land will probably be good. Contrary to the White land, mono Red decks are actually good, so this has a lot more chance. It also bows down to whether you want to play any other lands, or if you are happy with all Mountains. If you decide to play it, though, I wouldn’t play more than two — the very nature of this card and its late game aspect means you don’t want many of them.

So, this is it for cards spoiled thus far. The others are either really obvious or not very interesting, in my opinion. I have to say I like this set so far — most of the cards are very down to earth, though at first glance they might seem overly powerful. Landfall is a cool mechanic, though it seems much better for Limited than for Constructed, creating difficult scenarios where you might play or might not play your lands, and taking some of the mana flooding losses away, much the same way Cycling did. It’s also good that it has no shenanigans such as all gold and tricolors and things that make you lose matches that are way out of your control — all in all, I look forward to playing Limited with this set.

I don’t like that fetches are there, but this is because of Extended — they seem really good in Standard and Legacy. I don’t despise them either, I just wish they were not legal for the Pro Tour, because then we would have a bigger change. Big changes are always good, especially after a format that lasted as long as this one, with a Pro Tour, a Worlds and multiple GPs. But I guess we will survive.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and see you next week!