The Kitchen Table #306 – Zendikar and Five

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Wednesday, October 7th – Today, I want to do my regular review of the latest set with an eye towards Five Color and other casual formats, like Peasant and Pauper-Prismatic-Singleton online, highlander, multiplayer and more. Instead of a typical set review, which lists every single card and then says whether they are good or not, I am just going to mention the hits. These are the cards I expect to see played regularly.

Hello my friends, and welcome back to the column that is dedicated to giving your casual self a nice rest in a quiet Magic-laden oasis. In a web of information for the active tournament players, this is a place where you can kick off your shoes and relax.

Today, I want to do my regular review of the latest set with an eye towards Five Color and other casual formats, like Peasant and Pauper-Prismatic-Singleton online, highlander, multiplayer and more. Instead of a typical set review, which lists every single card and then says whether they are good or not, I am just going to mention the hits. These are the cards I expect to see played regularly.

In casual land, every card will see play. I am never surprised to see anything hit the board, but I want to focus on those cards that are generally going to be the movers and shakers of Zendikar.

Before we begin, since most of their reviews will be Five Color oriented, allow me to remind you of the rules of Five Color. 300 card minimum, 25 cards of each color, we have our own B&R list, generous mulligans, proxies allowed, Vintage legal sets are all in.

Anyway, one quick comment about Zendikar. I think this is a consequence of having smaller sets. Zendikar, to me, only feels maybe half fleshed out. It needs more special lands, more equipment for your questing, more quests, more traps, and most importantly, more treasure. Now, the old cards are great treasure, and I love the idea to bits. However, there should be normal cards that represent the findings that you get. I’m thinking some uber-powerful artifacts would be great. How about a magical sword so powerful it can cut through any substance. How about a shield so powerful that nothing can penetrate it (what happens when that sword and that shield are used against each other?). How about an artifact so valuable it literally makes it easier to cast your own spells, like a cheaper Stone Calendar. How about an artifact that gives you a Demonic Tutor every upkeep for free? Maybe 10 prizes or so would be great.

That’s the quick and dirty. Alright, let’s begin.


Day of Judgment – Every casual format I look at for these reviews has Wrath of God and Damnation and such, and doesn’t care as much about this, or it doesn’t allow rares, and doesn’t care about this. The only reason I would pick up these is if you play Highlander. There, redundancy is key, and having another four-mana Wrath is great, so for EDH or flat out Highlander, this is good pickup as a one-of. As such, I wouldn’t trade the ones you get, because they still have value, and you can have more Wraths for your many different decks and so forth, but I wouldn’t go out of your way try to acquire more than one.

Emeria Angel — It’s a bit underwhelming at first, but as long as this 3/3 flyer is in play, it keeps giving turn after turn. I expect it to have good long term impact for many casual boards out there, but for Five Color? It’s not that hot.

Felidar Sovereign — This guy is just one Beacon of Immortality away from winning you the game, since the threshold to win is a full ten life lower. It also is a creature, but its costs more than Test, and cannot be used for fun Test of Endurance games, like Academy Rector at the end of turn, untap, upkeep oh look I won, tricks. On the other hand, you could do end of turn, Flash it into play, untap, upkeep, oh look I won. It’s also valuable when you have 10 life instead of 50, unlike Test, so ultimately, I’d say, better than Test.

Journey to Nowhere — I have talked about how I like Oubliette for a long time, and this is better than it. It is also common, so it can be used easily in Peasant or PPS. I like it, and I think it has some value in those colors.

Kor Cartographer — In a deck with a lot of duels, its CIP ability is every bit as good as Solemn Simulacrum for Five Color. It doesn’t draw you one when it dies, and it requires White to play, but if you want more Simulacrums outside of Green, just in case you don’t draw Green for your mana smoothing or you do not own Simulacrums, this is a good card to fit in.

Kor Sanctifiers — I think these are great in PPS where card advantage rules the day. I would seriously consider their play.

Luminarch Ascension — Sometimes I think I want to slap whoever designed this card. There are a lot of broken things in multiplayer, like Insurrection or Blatant Thievery or Lord of Extinction. This is similarly really good there. However, none of them cost a tiny fraction of mana and then rule the table. Sure, in a duel this is fine, but this may singlehandedly pushes enchantment removal to the forefront of every multiplayer deck in existence. This card is stupidly powerful in multiplayer. Play it on turn 2 without acceleration, and then start making 4/4 Angels for 1W as many times as you have mana over the game until someone destroys the Ascension. That’s silly good, and it requires no investment in any other card in order to work. It’s not like you played it like a trap, or dropped it off mana acceleration or whatever. This is broken all by itself. It’s like they reprinted Insurrection at 3 mana. This is stupidly silly in multiplayer. I am warning everyone I play against, if you play this stupid card against me in multiplayer, I will attack you and kill you, and I will enjoy it. I will also make fun of you for the entire game. I’m just saying.

Quest for the Holy Relic — In highlander decks with few options for equipment tutoring, this can be your fourth tutor for your deck of equipment.

World Queller — This is a nasty multiplayer card, but because it’s a creature (which every color can deal with) and because it’s a 5 mana card, it’s much fairer. This thing can kill any permanent you name. You can use this as The Abyss. You can use this to kill Planeswalkers. Kill artifacts, enchantments, even tribal permanents. You can also use this to off lands and destroy a bunch of lands. You can prevent anyone from ever again getting more lands in play except by spells. I could see this as a good creature in mid-range decks in Five Color, as well as multiplayer. This thing is strong. Use it and abuse it.


I feel like they missed an opportunity for a great reprint in Green – Veteran Explorer. As an Explorer, he would have been in flavor, and his ability, with landfall, would have been golden. Maybe in the next set!

Frontier Guide — Slowly, over time, this guy could be quite nuts. The lands he puts into play still allow you to play lands from your hand, so it’s not like a Journeyer’s Kite, which eventually mugs up your hand with lands. I can see this getting a lot of play in certain casual oriented decks.

Khalni Heart Expedition — This is a solid card for Pauper-Prismatic-Singleton, but outside of it, there are better and faster ways of getting mana, like Kodama’s Reach. A lot of people might even prefer Sakura-Tribe Elder to this. The problem with this in Five Color is that you want to do your mana fixing on turns 1 and 2. By turn three, you want to be playing spells. Although this does drop on turn 2, it assumes you will get three more lands, and only then will it pop. Well, it’s not that good there, because that means you are probably on turn 5 at the earliest, and could be later with mana screw. This is a land search card which does not get you out of land screw. That’s not a good thing.

Lotus Cobra — Like many others, I too find this at mythic rare to be a problem. My main issue is this: if a card feels like it could be uncommon, it certainly shouldn’t be mythic. This could totally be acceptable as a silver-bordered card, and here it is, sporting the red. If you had seen it spoiled with a silver symbol, would you, honestly, have thought “Wow, that just seems Mythic too me.” I don’t think so. It’s good for aggro decks that want to push quickly. Play a land and drop a Savannah Lions or Kird Ape or even Vampire Lacerator. It fits the curve and it can help you drop your hand quickly.

Mold Shambler — This is another great card to look at for PPS. A 3/3 that also destroys non-creature permanent is great there. I expect to see them regularly.

Nissa Revane — Would you like to know why I am very ho-hum about this card? It’s just another elf card. I guess I feel planeswalkers should be more than another elf card. Play it in your elf deck, and that’s it. Ho-hum.

Oracle of Mul-Daya — I think this is very good in the long game, because the creature isn’t big enough to get killed, it adds to your density of creatures, and its ability is good, but not broken. That makes it great for multiplayer.

Oran-Rief Recluse — This also adds to density of creatures, and the ability to destroy a flyer has long been awesome — see Sunscape Battlemage. It’s great for multiplayer where it can off Akroma, Akroma Jr, Baneslayer, Kokusho, Meloku, Keiga, Exalted Angel, etc. The only regularly played things it does not kill are Simic Sky Swallower, Iridescent Angel, Prismatic Angel and Commander Eesha. Also okay in PPS.

Quest for the Gemblades — I feel like there is an aggro deck out there that can really abuse this, since it only needs one counter on it to go off. Since your opponent might not want to see four counters on one of your dudes, they may choose not to trade early, which means you will be doing more damage more quickly.

Summoning Trap — I like this in any deck that had a combo card that is a creature, and is key to victory. If someone counters it in order to stop your combo, just Trap them and you have 7 chances to find another. Note that you can even put it in non-Green decks just for this purpose.

Tanglesap — I just want to say, for the record, that this is one of the best Fog variants we’ve seen in a long time.


While the rest of this set certainly does feel like Zendikar, Red does not. Red simply feels interchangeable with other Red. Demolish is here again, Threaten is here again, several Ball Lightning variants are here again, 13 cards that deal damage, overuse of haste and cheap creatures, and tons of goblins. Only a handful of Red cards even feel new or different, like Bladetusk Boar or Geyser Glider. This is a very underwhelming color.

Chandra Ablaze — Say hello to some combos. Although it has some severe Red love going on, do you see how Chandra Ablaze has much more to offer a deckbuilder like myself than Nissa? Unlike a lot of other Planeswalker, all of her abilities work together. I know I’m sold.

Goblin Guide — There are some good aggro decks in Five Color and they would normally love a 2/2 haste Red goblin for R, but there are so many good one drops these days that I don’t think this one is needed anymore, thus allowing you to avoid it’s disadvantage. If it had been made 10 years ago, it would have been a staple of 5 Color Aggro all this time alongside Sarcomancy and Jackal Pup. I just don’t think it is meant to be.

Warren Instigator — Put it in your goblin decks. Yawn.


There are numerous interesting things in this set, and in this color, so let’s set aside the severe Red stuff for now and move to the next color.

Bloodchief Ascension — I think this is really strong, and I would not be surprised to see decks try and run it, especially aggressive decks with some burn. I play this on turn two, and hit someone with the Carnophage I played last turn. It gets a counter. During their turn, I Lightning Bolt them, it gets a counter. I attack again, and now I have three counters on it and the pain starts. I think there is some real potential here.

Bloodghast — With such a cheap way of recurring it, a lot of people might miss that it also has a hard-to-abuse way of recurring itself too. You are not going to be able to abuse this as much as, say, Ashen Ghoul, or even Nether Spirit. Still, for what it does, I’m quite pleased.

Gatekeeper of Malakir – Edicts are great, and I like them enough to have put Predatory Nightstalker on my Underused Hall of Fame. They can kill the unkillable. There goes your Morphling. There goes your Darksteel Colossus. There goes your Simic Sky Swallower. Whoops, did I do that?

Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet — This certainly reminds me of tap abilities like Visara or Avatar of Woe from previous sets. Its heavy Black mana requirement to tap the card, however, is a big hangup for formats like Five Color. You are not playing this outside of mono-Black or perhaps a two color deck. However, at the multiplayer table, it both ends threats and makes them simultaneously. That gives you some serious power, so you’re mono-Black casual deck might really benefit from one or two of these.

Malakir Bloodwitch — It’s not like you come across Black creatures with pro-White on a regular basis. You could easily have extra vampires out by having changelings or vampires from M10 or Zendikar in your deck. The ability, in multiplayer, to basically Syphon Soul scale-ably is quite appealing, and it has a nice set of abilities and p/t to cc ratio. This is not a bad card for multiplayer at all.

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen — His abilities have been catalogued long before now. He is a clock and a winning condition at the same time. He is playable at five mana, around the upper casting cost range of many decks. Imagine him with just a few lands getting played. Even three over three turns means something.

Sorin Markhov — Everybody loves his abilities, and they are quite good, to be fair. However, I like his ability to really throw off your opponent’s game. Seeing a Mindslaver out that they can stop from hitting them is a significant encouragement for your opponent to do anything they can to kill Sorin Markhov. All of that while you are still trying to kill them, and you’ve dealt some damage and gained some life from Sorin.

Vampire Hexmage — This little 2/1 that could may not seem like much, but she is a sleeper, because she kills Planeswalkers. She can get sacrificed, and then remove all of the counter from a Planeswalker to kill it, and it’s in addition to being an acceptable 2/1 with first strike for 2 mana. She also plays with other cards too, from Mindless Automaton and Spike Weaver to Forgotten Ancient and Protean Hydra.

Vampire Lacerator — This is great. This is the best one drop for suicide Black since Carnophage, and it’s better than Carnophage. I expect it to see play in the one drop Black slot alongside Sarcomancy and Carnophage in aggro Five Color decks very soon. It’s also a powerful tool for Peasant Magic and gives you another great common beater for aggro decks.

Vampire Nighthawk — This remind me of Akroma and Scryb Ranger. So you remember Scryb Ranger, the 1/1 for 2 two mana with four abilities? Well, here we have a 2/3 for three mana with three abilities and all are good. It is great on defense against the early attackers people tend to play and it will trade with any creature it can damage, while also being able to nip in for some damage and life-gain when needed. I like it.


Cosi’s Trickster — In a full on tournament Five Color level, where players may well have 40 of the fetch lands, plus a variety of other search and shuffle effects, this could be quite a house as a one drop for your aggro Blue. I’m confident there will be some experimenting with it.

Ior Ruin Expedition — Could get played in PPS.

Kraken Hatchling — You know how fond I am of Steel Wall, and this is one for Blue that attacks. It’s a fine card for decks with a heavy Blue component who might want to steer away from the artifact vulnerabilities of Steel Wall.

Living Tsunami — It’s a better Waterspout Djinn, as such you might see it in some aggro Five Color decks but I doubt it, and it allows you to hit a landfall trigger every turn, guaranteed. Good luck.

Lullmage Mentor — I don’t mind this card at all for merfolk decks or counter decks. I mean, Guile is a lot worse than this guy, for its ability. What I don’t like, however, is how this guys slides in along Patron Wizard in a wizard deck that is now fully and completely annoying and makes you want to punch someone. Thanks Wizards. Double entendre intended.

Quest for Ancient Secrets — It’s got such a great name, and it’s the worse quest card out there, enabling you to do what you could already do for one mana with Thran Foundry. The Foundry didn’t even require you to jump through hoops, and you can do it in any color.

Roil Elemental — This is a great card for a mono-Blue control deck at the kitchen table, but understand that landfall gets worse the higher the casting cost of the card. The cheap landfall cards can be played early and you can drop numerous lands very quickly, but at some point in time they are going to run out, and then you are topdecking your lands. By the fourth, fifth or sixth turn, you may have played your pocket of starting land + the land you draw in that many turns, and you may begin to miss land drops. That Roil Elemental costs 6 mana means, conventionally, you will have to have had seven lands on the seventh turn in order to use it immediately. This is neither quick nor particularly good, so please note this restriction, not only of Roil Elemental, but all such expensive landfall cards.

Summoner’s Bane — Get ready to see this become one of the new and hot cards among counter-mages at kitchen tables everywhere.

Welkin Tern — I expect this might see occasional play in the Blue slots of an aggro Five color deck, because they are harder to fill.


Blazing Torch — I just want to say, for the record, that this card feels the most Zendikar of all of the cards in the set. The world really resonates with me, and this card most of all, I love it’s design. It’s not powerful, it’s not going to win you the next Standard Super Tournament of Over-Hyped-Ness, but it is a fun card that oozes the flavor of Zendikar.

Carnage Altar — For combo decks that do not like the tapping of Phyrexian Altar, allow me to give you Carnage Altar.

Eldrazi Monument — It’s not that good, and I doubt I would play it outside of a theme deck, but this is a perfect example of a card that I would love to see more of in Zendikar or the next set, from a flavor standpoint.

Expedition Map — This card is great, because it gets you any land, as you already know. In Five Color, you can use this to tutor for a duel land or other special lands. It gets Tolarian Academy, Library of Alexandria, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Bazaar of Baghdad, Maze of Ith, or anything else you might require. It can smooth your mana, no matter what colors you draw, because it is colorless. In Five Color, it’s a solid card for many decks. I also think many of those things make it great for casual play too.

Hedron Scrambler — Don’t you feel like this might be a clue to the next set?

Khalni Gem — I like it in highlander decks like an EDH deck that uses three or more colors, but it is very slow. I do not expect to see it in competitive Five Color decks. Please note that in the later game, bouncing two lands may mean you can get two more landfall triggers, and as such, may not be as bad as you think.


Arid Mesa — This entry will hold true for all of the enemy fetchlands. These are obviously the banner cards of the set, and they will have a severe impact on Five Color. Now, you can play just duels and fetches. Before, you could play at most 60 lands, but now there are 80 running around, so you will play as few additional lands as possible. This means several things. First of all, you can hose non-basics much more easily. Secondly, expect your opponent’s to take even more life loss from their fetch lands, and perhaps be a tad easier to kill. Finally, consider if you want to do the same or not. Remember that proxies are allowed in Five Color.

Crypt of Agadeem — Just looking at this card I can come up with a ton of combos. I’m sure you can find a bunch as well.

Emeria, the Sky Ruin — In a deck with either all Plains or mostly all Plains, this becomes a major winner. Note the amazing synergy of all of this and Valakut with Prismatic Omen.

After reviewing exactly 50 cards, I feel like we are pretty much done. I love the flavor of the set and world, and I look forward with eager anticipation the next one in line. Find the good stuff here, and I will see you in seven days when I bring you some decks using Zendikar cards.

Until later…

Abe Sargent