What’s the best card in Zendikar Rising?
I would like to present an overlooked contender: Kazandu Mammoth
It’s That Good?
Why is Kazandu Mammoth a card I’m expecting great things from?
That’s obviously not the right view. Here are some cards it is closer to.
Kazandu Mammoth is a significant threat or a land. How good were Raging Ravine and Treetop Village? Really good, as in “solidly Modern playable” good, “among the best lands in their Standard formats” good.
For literally a decade, I’ve won a lot of matches of Magic with a simple rule for base-Golgari Midrange: your deck is best when you can just take your opponent to task in the combat step if they stumble or mess around.
The problem is usually that you can’t just put bodies in your deck. When you play against aggressive decks, you need all your cards to do something. Interact, hit land drops on the way to a sweeper, just something. That means your bodies need to be virtual interaction. The three-drop Gruul Spellbreaker-style threats don’t quite cut it, since they are often timed such that aggro can get out under them and kill them profitably or they aren’t quite sized to defend against the three-drops your opponents will cast. Historically, the threats you chase people down with cost two so aggro can’t get out under them, or are higher-impact things like Siege Rhino or Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath that rapidly finish a game while turning things around.
But Kazandu Mammoth can just be a land when a three-drop doofus isn’t profitable, and that is a huge deal. You don’t draw virtual six-card hands when you have a Kazandu Mammoth. You can just hit land drops and do everything else your deck does, but when you’re on the play or when your opponent misses their curve or when you just aren’t playing an aggressive matchup, you can just take them to Turn 3 Mammoth Town. What more do you want from a card?
Maybe dodging the premier removal spells of the format? The Gnarled Mass body type is shockingly well-positioned in Zendikar Rising Standard. Bloodchief’s Thirst will be the most common black removal spell, where the converted mana cost of three forces your opponent to trade down on mana, and Stomp just doesn’t kill it. This might change over the weeks if people move towards Eliminate and Roil Eruption, but for now I would assume that we live in a bizarre world where Kazandu Mammoth isn’t just a good card but is hard to kill as well.
One weird note: the double landfall scenario with Kazandu Mammoth isn’t as good as it seems. You pull it off once and Mammoth is still a four-shot kill: seven, five for twelve total, five for seventeen total, five for 22 total. Pull it off twice? Still a four-shot: seven, seven for fourteen total, five for nineteen total, and still short unless you are gunning through a single Uro trigger.
The double can make up for a miss later, but that really doesn’t matter since only Fabled Passage sets up a double without expending the land drop you would use later for the single you missed. The best use of making a 7/7 Mammoth will be to run over something larger, but at that point are you just trying to beat an Uro with a not-Uro?
This math can all change with additional damage sources, but when you solo someone with a Kazandu Mammoth, extra landfall triggers don’t change a ton.
Kazandu Mammoth is a flawless fit for the Nissa of Shadowed Boughs decks I worked on last week, so why not start there? Nissa already wanted you to be a midrange deck that could push aggressively, so Kazandu Mammoth is a great tool.
- 1 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 2 Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths
- 1 Polukranos, Unchained
- 4 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
- 3 Llanowar Visionary
- 3 Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
- 1 Tangled Florahedron
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
This is a pretty easy four cuts from the Sultai deck I started off with last week. Trim some random four-drops, trim a land or two, deck is done. Kazandu Mammoth also pushes me away from Solemn Simulacrum and Acolyte of Affliction, which promote longer games and trading, and towards Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths, which promotes just turning stuff sideways.
Oddly the creatures in this deck suck to reanimate. I love Nullpriest of Oblivion, but I don’t think it belongs here. What are you going to do, recur Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse on Turn 6 after you spew all your cards out? Recur Uro for a cantrip? Nah, I’m good.
I might be missing on Skyclave Shade as a sideboard threat. You don’t want it in Game 1 since it is totally uninteractive, and it doesn’t top Uro in midrange mirrors, but it might be the threat you want to battle down control.
I’ll be honest up front: I don’t know if anything else is a better fit for Kazandu Mammoth. When I imagine a deck that has cards that let it take any role depending on matchup and starting hands, this is it. Jolrael and Nissa even let you just draw hands that turn up the heat and crush random nonsense.
There’s this false idea that midrange loses to weird stuff like Dance of the Manse or since you can’t Extinction Event enchantments, but that only happens to bad midrange decks. Good midrange decks just have some beats and interaction to steal Game 1, and then sideboard into a really effective “Fish” deck. This sideboard specifically might be short some Negates to facilitate this, but I’ll wait for someone to invent the deck I care about Negate against first.
But let’s see what else we can manage with this phenomenal card. What about pushing down the landfall route?
This is probably a good time to mention I am disappointed with Scute Swarm. The turbo mode only really outpaces the normal mode on your eighth land, and at that point just cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. So all you have is something that landfalls for a single token and dies to everything, so who cares? Honestly, one of the biggest upsides of the card might be making regular Insect tokens to split bodies between zero-cost and three-cost against Extinction Event.
Just kidding, I looked at the options and kinda hate it. There aren’t a ton of good ways to double down on landfall, and at that point you are just working hard to play cards that aren’t even better than Bonecrusher Giant. The best one-drop for Skyclave Pick-Axe is… Gilded Goose? Gross. Just play four Kazandu Mammoth in Temur Adventures and you get to really maximize it with Beanstalk Giant. You even get a double Pathway color trio.
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Beanstalk Giant
- 4 Edgewall Innkeeper
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Fae of Wishes
- 4 Brazen Borrower
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
Absolutely adorable upgrade: you can now Granted for a modal DFC. The “do I play a land to Granted for” debate is just over, especially since Kazuul’s Fury is a clean replacement for the Fling people used to play.
This deck might be a little short on basics to find. The current Standard lists trim on nonbasics to fit them, so the last Fabled Passage or Ketria Triome might be a little much. I’m shorted on Mountains since both Pathways in Temur produce red mana.
The sideboard is always going to be in flux, but Lullmage’s Domination is an interesting tool against Uro. Even if you will never get to cast it with a discount against escape, permanently stealing their Uro has to be the best possible way to resolve that problem and there just isn’t another card that does that. Mythos of Illuna and Sublime Epiphany don’t quite cut it against Uro, but are cool cards in similar veins against non-Uro threats.
Maybe we can go back to landfall, but get really cute with it?
- 2 Lotus Cobra
- 2 Bonecrusher Giant
- 1 Radha, Heart of Keld
- 2 Murasa Rootgrazer
- 4 Brushfire Elemental
- 4 Akoum Hellhound
- 3 Ashaya, Soul of the Wild
- 2 Yasharn, Implacable Earth
- 2 Moraug, Fury of Akoum
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
One of the ways to cheat bonus landfall triggers that I don’t think has really been considered is Ashaya, Soul of the Wild. Todd Anderson went down the road of it making your creatures directly tap for mana, but it also just makes them into lands. Lands trigger landfall. Easy. Ashaya into Moraug, Fury of Akoum is also adorable since Moraug triggers its own landfall, though Moraug appears to have been designed to avoid real loops here since you don’t get a bonus main phase like other Relentless Assault effects so you can’t tap your land-creatures for more mana to cast more land-creatures and you see where it goes from here.
Yet again Kazuul’s Fury is doing good work. Maybe that should be the modal DFC I’m arguing for as one of the best cards in the set, except for the part where, a huge number of the decks you cast it against, the card you are chucking at people is Kazandu Mammoth.
I don’t love the Naya-specific options, but not having a Triome for the color pair is really mitigated by the double modal DFC manabase. What that manabase also gives you is room for more basic lands, which means you might be able to load up on basics and Evolving Wilds for really good landfall turns. I think this might actually be the reason to play Jund or Bant in this format over Temur or Sultai. As I keep saying, how often do Triomes really get cycled?
I feel like I’m writing on easy mode these last two weeks, but I’m just stating the things I see as obvious. When a card is just good, it’s often less a matter of building the deck specifically for it and more building the deck that maximizes the worse cards you have to play with it.
Kazandu Mammoth makes deckbuilding feel easy just like this. You play a couple more lands than usual and it’s done. Sounds like another indicator of a great card to me.