Evaluating The Top Commons In Zendikar Rising Draft

Ryan Saxe breaks down his top commons for Zendikar Rising Draft before presenting his first packs and picks of the new Limited season.

Nahiri’s Binding, illustrated by Magali Villeneuve

By Thursday this week, Zendikar Rising Draft will be live on Magic Online and Magic Arena. But now that every card has been previewed, we can use awesome tools like DraftSim to explore the potentials of the format. It’s not particularly close to a true Draft experience; however, it provides the opportunity to practice early decisions over and over again in a fairly realistic fashion. Before I jump into the first few picks of a simulated draft, I want to discuss the best commons in the format by color:

Nahiri’s Binding (5)Into the Roil (3)Deadly Alliance (2)Roil Eruption (1)Rabid Bite (7)
Farsight AdeptBubble Snare (6)Vanquish the Weak (4)Fissure Wizard (9)Gnarlid Colony
Shepherd of HeroesRisen Riptide (10)Feed the Swarm (8)Akoum HellhoundTerritorial Scythecat
The number in parentheses is my ranking of the Top 10 commons in Zendikar Rising.

Looking at my initial ranking, blue and black are likely to be the best colors, with green and white trailing as the worst. I’m fairly certain about my top two in each of these colors, but format context will matter a lot. For example, I expect Risen Riptide to be able to attack (or block) for five multiple times. If this isn’t the case, a value creature like Cunning Geysermage or Tazeem Roilmage could make this list.

Another observation I have from this exercise is the amount of removal spells at common. With three extremely good ones in black, I would expect a black deck to be able to clear any threat. And there are quite a few removal spells that didn’t make this list. Molten Blast, Synchronized Spellcraft, and Sizzling Barrage are all red commons capable of killing creatures, but they’re either conditional or inefficient for their cost, and hence I don’t believe they compete with the best efficient creatures in Fissure Wizard, Akoum Hellhound, or even Grotag Bug-Catcher (which could unseat Akoum Hellhound if party is substantially more important to red’s identity than landfall).

With all of this in mind, let’s jump into the first few picks of a Zendikar Rising draft!

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

Cragcrown Pathway Shatterskull Minotaur Goma Fada Vanguard Vine Gecko Nahiri's Binding Tajuru Blightblade Makindi Ox Cleansing Wildfire Expedition Diviner Scale the Heights Seafloor Stalker Dreadwurm Anticognition Angelheart Protector

The Pick:

My take!

Shatterskull Minotaur is quite difficult to evaluate. Without any cost reduction, I would exclude this card from most of my red decks. At five mana, Shatterskull Minotaur would be a very solid top-end to any red deck. At four mana, the card would be one of the best red uncommons. However, it’s important to note that the reason the four-mana version would be so premium is how impactful it is on-curve. This would require playing two different tribal creatures in the first few turns of the game and having them live. This seems unlikely, and hence I expect Shatterskull Minotaur to be worse than the best commons.

Nahiri’s Binding is a great common removal spell, but it comes with the classic issues of enchantment removal:

  1. Bounce effects like Into the Roil.
  2. Disenchant and other enchantment interaction, notably Feed the Swarm.
  3. Doesn’t remove battlefield synergies like landfall, party, and “kicker matters” cards.

While Nahiri’s Binding is a solid removal spell, this places it below the absolute most efficient threats in the format. And I believe both Goma Fada Vanguard and Vine Gecko are significantly above rate for their mana cost.

Goma Fada Vanguard is an incredible two-drop creature. It may appear unassuming, but I expect it to be better than every single common. It matters for party, and especially Boros Warriors, but most importantly, it can remove a blocker. This effect is rarely on a two-drop. In fact, four-drop versions of this effect have been top commons. Yes, Goma is conditional on the number of Warriors, but I expect red decks to support this naturally enough that the card will be premium.

That said, I don’t think Goma Fada Vanguard competes with Vine Gecko. “Kicker matters” is a huge component of green in this format, and while I do have green as the worst color, it isn’t by enough of a delta to justify avoiding it. Curving this into Into the Roil will be a recipe for success, especially when Cunning Geysermage can come down on Turn 5 to close the door. Maybe green decks won’t be as kicker focused as I expect, and landfall will play a larger role, but for now I expect Vine Gecko to be a premium uncommon.

Pack 1, Pick 2

The Picks So Far:

Vine Gecko

The Pack:

Jwari Disruption Relic Golem Windrider Wizard Nahiri's Binding Feed the Swarm Synchronized Spellcraft Pyroclastic Hellion Marauding Blight-Priest Ardent Electromancer Nimana Skitter-Sneak Cunning Geysermage Tajuru Snarecaster Spare Supplies

The Pick:

My take!

This pack has a lot of options. Let’s eliminate a few quickly.

Both Nahiri’s Binding and Synchronized Spellcraft are a worse follow-up to Vine Gecko than Feed the Swarm. It’s splashable and cheaper.

Windrider Wizard and Relic Golem are both likely very good in their respective decks: Izzet Wizards and Dimir Rogues. Neither deck naturally follows the path of Vine Gecko. I think a common misconception is that, this early in the draft, if Relic Golem or Windrider Wizard is just the best card in the pack, they are correct to take. The delta between them and the next-best card matters with respect to the current pool. If Relic Golem and Windrider Wizard have a very low probability of being in the same deck as Vine Gecko, then that fact bolsters other options in this pack that can be used in tandem with my powerful first pick.

Cunning Geysermage is a great card in any deck with Vine Gecko, but I’m not sure how good it will be in other blue decks. It’ll be playable, but six mana is a lot. The texture and speed of the format will dictate how good this card is, and I think the synergy with my first pick bolsters Geysermage to the same level as a card like Windrider Wizard. But I think Feed the Swarm is still better.

Originally, I thought Feed the Swarm was a bit too risky. But I snapped out of that quickly. My initial response was that paying excess amounts of life can be costly. But then I remembered the mana cost. Reave Soul is always one of the best commons, and while this card still asks for a life payment, it’s not steep under the restrictions of Reave Soul. Yet it provides the flexibility of a more expensive removal spell. While I don’t think it’s the pick out of this pack, I do think it goes toe-to-toe with Vanquish the Weak as the second-best black common.

I used a lot of words to describe my thought process around a pick I don’t actually think is close, but hopefully it was still useful . . . this pick is Jwari Disruption by a country mile. If you strongly disagree with this statement, I suggest reading my article from last week on evaluating modal double-faced cards (DFCs).

My current prior is that access to a density of these cards mitigates flood, screw, and mulligan probability to such a degree that they should be prioritized extremely highly. While the value of Jwari Disruption diminishes over time, a piece of early interaction that doubles as a land when necessary provides a manner of flexibility that is unmatched. These double-faced cards may not feel too powerful, but I assure you, they are all much much much better than they appear.