Reflecting Ruel – Zendikar: My Top 30

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Friday, September 25th – Zendikar arrives in prerelease form early tomorrow morning, and Magic players worldwide cannot wait to get their hands on the fresh spells! Of course, France’s Olivier Ruel is no exception, and today he highlights his personal Top 30 Zendikar cards thus far…

Now that the full Zendikar spoiler list has become public over at our friends MTGSalvation.com, let’s go through the best cards from the New Big Set. Here are, based on my first impressions from the Zendikar spoiler, the ratings of my 30 favorite cards.

30) Living Tsunami
The format may lack cards like Winter Orb or even Stasis as combo pieces, but it now has the lifegain lands (Kabira Crossroads and the new enters-the-battlefield-tapped duals). It has a remarkable power-toughness/casting cost ratio for a flyer, and could become the best card in an Aggro Blue deck. Can this really happen when the only good Aggro Blue archetype we have seen lately is Merfolk, a deck which used to rely on the sadly departing Cryptic Command? I doubt it.

It is still very playable, at least in the sideboard in a control deck against a Red Aggro deck, as it should be a two-for-one against your opponent, and it can possibly be used in combo with the lands. But then again, if you need a combo and three turns to get a Loxodon Hierarch, it’s not exactly dreamy.

29) Scythe Tiger
The same comment could apply to the Scythe Tiger, which could shine in a very aggressive Green deck, just as Rogue Elephant did in the old days, but it seems a bit too lonely at the moment to consider building a deck around it.

28) Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Elves seem to be in a pretty bad shape, but Green Aggro decks have always existed, and Oran-Rief will definitely be played in the future.

27) Chandra Ablaze
It is expensive, probably too expensive to be really playable. However, considering the amount of good early removal spells in the current Standard (Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, Pyroclasm, Earthquake), and the presence of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in the same set, we may be tempted to think a Red Burn Control deck is possible in the next metagame.

26) Kor Skyfisher
The card itself is not great, but it’s good when combined with almost any card playable in a Standard White Weenie deck, as it is a Soldier (Captain of the Watch), a Kor (Armament Master), and it bounces a land which can now be a bonus (Steppe Lynx, Kabira Crossroads).

25) Into the Roil
Yes, for the same price Cryptic Command could also counter a spell. Yes, Repulse was one mana cheaper. However, into the Roil is still an interesting tempo card, as it is exactly what Blue misses at the moment.

24) Sorin Markov
He’s very expensive so he will be hard to play, but his +2 ability is very strong, as one- and two-toughness guys are becoming very good again. The -3 ability has almost no effect, but the -7 Mindslaver should win games on its own. And it’s after only two turns on the table, while most of the Planeswalkers’ ultimate ability usually require more time.

23) Mind Sludge
Mono Black Control could become really good, as Blue decks lost much with the exit of the irreplaceable Cryptic Command. In this type of archetype, Mind Sludge will be better than the already excellent Mind Shatter.

22) Warren Instigator
This would be amazing if Goblin Matron or Goblin Ringleader was still around, but the 1/1 is one of the cards that highly benefits from Mogg Fanatic not being Standard legal anymore. It has two power for two and can get you a turn 3 Siege-Gang Commander. Quite decent.

21) Archive Trap
There is a very good chance that this card is crap. However, if everyone plays fetchlands, we may have a new zero mana Sanity Grinding, and therefore witness the rebirth of a deck everyone thought was dead as both Cryptic Command and Sanity Grinding left Standard. Just imagine, you make turn 2 Howling Mine, while on turn 3 your opponent cracks a fetchland and you either cast double Trap or Trap plus Twincast. Already he has a mere 23 cards left in his library. This is definitely a card to keep in view.

20) Elemental Appeal
The new Blistering Firecat may not be a morph, but its kicker will win a game once in a while.

19) Dual lands
Triple lands were played in Alara, and enters-the-battlefield-tapped dual lands in Invasion, and they seemed worse good than Sejiri Refuge and company. These will be a good alternative and/or complement to fetchlands in two-color control decks.

18) Hideous End
This is an excellent removal spell for Suicide Black decks, or even for any Black-dominant Aggro decks in general. It may even be better than the excellent Doom Blade.

17) Pitfall Trap
The best White answer to turn 1 Goblin Guide, and it should be a better card than Path to Exile versus the most aggressive decks. And if the trap doesn’t work, its cost is still very acceptable.

16) Plated Geopede
This is an excellent turn 2 play for Sligh, and maybe the key component (alongside Steppe Lynx) of a Landfall Boros deck that uses between twelve and sixteen fetchlands.

15) Teetering Peaks
You don’t really want a land to enter the battlefield tapped in an Aggro deck, but you can make an exception once in a while (Treetop Village, Keldon Megaliths) when the bonus is or consequence. In a Mono Red Sligh or Goblin deck, Teetering Peaks will probably deserve at least a pair of slots.

14) Kabira Crossroads
An excellent card for White Control decks, which should become popular again thanks to Day of Judgment. Also, it is good combined with Kor Skyfisher, and even better with Living Tsunami, even though that combo will be hard to utilize in a competitive deck.

13) Vampire Hexmage
Vampire Hexmage is quite a good card, as it obviously fits a vampire theme strategy, which should be one of the possible builds of Suicide Black (based around Zendikar vampires and headlined by Vampire Nocturnus). More importantly, it is an immediate answer to all Planeswalkers, which is a pretty good trick in the current metagame. And, eventually, the Extended combo with Dark Depths may turn out to be competitive.

12) River Boa
As the Vivid lands and the Filter lands are being replaced by Fetchlands, the number of basic lands in each deck is going to become higher. Also, the fact that you can regenerate from Day of Judgment makes River Boa an even stronger weapon against Control decks. It will also be an efficient blocker against the Aggro decks, and a very strong weapon against Red decks combined with Behemoth Sledge in Standard, and with Umezawa’s Jitte in Extended.

11) Steppe Lynx
While Goblin Guide stands as the successor of Figure of Destiny in Red decks, it is the Steppe Lynx who will have to play that role in White Weenie. The card should benefit from the presence of the new Fetchlands, and this cat will do its best to try and make us forget about our good old FoD. In case it is not big enough, or in case you would like to use it as a blocker, don’t forget you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice your Fetchlands immediately after you’ve played them.

10) Goblin Ruinblaster
Even though his ability is a little worse now that Mutavault and Treetop Village and their pals are not Standard legal, it seems a little better than the already excellent Avalanche Riders.

9) Gatekeeper of Malakir
There are two obvious builds of Mono Black at the moment. One is Aggro, and relies on the most aggressive one- and two-drops in the format. The other is Control, and takes advantage of cards like Mind Sludge and Sorin Markov. Gatekeeper of Malakir is one of the very few cards, along with Duress, that can fit into both archetypes. A Control deck could use Infest, but it is also a Suicide deck’s only answer to White Knight, a card that will definitely be played if Black decks become popular again.

8) Sphinx of Lost Truths
You’ll probably find it in every Dredge deck, as a replacement for Cephalid Sage. However, I personally highly doubt it will be played in any other deck. Indeed, even though it is a very decent creature, there are not many slots for kill conditions in control decks, and there already are many better options available.

7) Bloodghast
Excellent in Suicide Black. You don’t even necessarily need to have your opponent on less than 10 life for it to have haste, as you can just sacrifice a fetchland to get it back during your opponent’s turn. It may not be as good in Control as Nether Spirit used to be, but it could still be a good sideboard card in control matchups. Also, you can run a few of them as support to Narcomoeba in Dredge.

6) Vampire Lacerator
For a good Aggro deck to exist, you need good one-drops. This is the reason, along with the fact Dark Ritual has not been printed for a while, why Suicide Black disappeared from the field for many years. Now there is a great chance this archetype will rise again, as Vampire Lacerator is better than Sarcomancy and Carnophage. Along with Bloodghast, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Vampire Hexmage, and Vampire Nighthawk, we may be witnessing the return of Suicide Black.

5) Burst Lightning
Almost as good as Lightning Bolt, it will be an excellent complement to the three-damage burn spells in Red Deck Wins, and it will compensate for the exit of Flame Javelin from Standard.

4) Lotus Cobra
Now that Mogg Fanatic is not Standard legal anymore, Lotus Cobra could be an excellent card. While I still doubt a one-toughness creature can be the core of a dominant deck, it still obviously has a huge potential along with the fetchlands or Knight of the Reliquary.

3) Goblin Guide
One turn out of three you will give your opponent a land. Is it really a big problem when he will have taken six damage and revealed his other two draws in the meantime? Goblin Guide may not be as powerful as Figure of Destiny, but it would be unfair to compare it to the best creature of the previous Standard format. Goblin Guide is probably going to be the core of the next generation of Sligh and Goblin decks.

2) Day of Judgment
Wrath of God is back, and every control mage can breathe again. Beware: the two cards are not exactly the same, as creatures can be regenerated from a Day of Judgment. Therefore regenerators, and in particular River Boa, could become very annoying.

1) Enemy Fetchlands
Extended was about to go through an enormous change, as Bloodstained Mire, Wooded Foothills, Windswept Heath, Flooded Strand, and Polluted Delta dropping out of the format would restrict a lot the options in deckbuilding, and therefore make decks a lot weaker overall. This won’t happen, as the enemy-color Fetchlands will replace them.

As usual, neighbor colors have more synergy than opposing colors, so these new fetchlands should be less influential in Standard. However, with the Landfall ability and cards like Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede, they could actually end up being at least as good as their glorious ancestors.

Have a great weekend, and have fun at your prerelease events!