Should We Take Removal Just To Take Removal In Zendikar Rising Draft?

Not all removal is equally valuable in Zendikar Rising Draft. Ryan Saxe’s packs and picks help you decide when to go for expensive removal spells.

Vastwood Fortification, illustrated by Sidharth Chaturvedi

Another day. Another Zendikar Rising draft. Here we go!

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

Brightclimb Pathway Vastwood Fortification Veteran Adventurer Iridescent Hornbeetle Dauntless Unity Cleric of Chill Depths Resolute Strike Seafloor Stalker Sea Gate Banneret Joraga Visionary Subtle Strike Chilling Trap Kazandu Nectarpot Synchronized Spellcraft

The Pick:

My take!

Efficiency versus inefficiency is really what analyzing this specific pack comes down to.

I really dislike the “removal is removal” philosophy that yields taking five-mana removal early. Synchronized Spellcraft is a serviceable piece of interaction. The Searing Blaze impression looks enticing, but I don’t think provides enough reach to justify starting on an inefficient card, especially since this Limited format appears to have a higher density of removal than most.

Veteran Adventurer is a solid card, but I’m not entirely sure how solid. At six mana, I would never include the card in my deck. At five mana, it would be a good top-end, but replaceable. At four mana, the card would be significantly above rate. However, given that green is unlikely to satisfy creature-type requirements, both other green cards in this pack are better starts to a draft.

The ceiling on Iridescent Hornbeetle is through the roof. However, it’s likely lackluster the turn it comes down. Even though it is theoretically capable of generating an advantage that turn, generally adding counters to creatures requires mana. That being said, Hornbeetle is still a great top-end for any deck capable of spitting out Insects. It is currently unclear if that will just be Golgari or it will be any green deck. My current expectation is the +1/+1 counters are ever present in any green deck, and that this card is quite good. I still don’t want to start a draft with an expensive creature.

I think many players are criminally low on Vastwood Fortification. Let me put it this way: I believe Vastwood Fortification is better than Rabid Bite. That might be hard to believe, and maybe I’m wrong, but I genuinely believe that to be true. Historically, one mana for a +1/+1 counter is considered a poor rate. That’s not what this card is, though. This card is a land. It’s a land that, occasionally, facilitates a combat and mana advantage.

If I get to use one mana to kill a creature, and then cast a creature of my own, the probability I win that game increases significantly. The only reason why combat tricks aren’t such a consistent part of Limited Magic is that they’re conditional; sometimes there’s never a scenario where their ceiling is attainable, and they rot in your hand forever, constituting a virtual mulligan. For Vastwood Fortification, any time that ceiling is not happening, it gets played as a land. I believe that ceiling is higher than the average scenario for Rabid Bite, and that it will come up frequently enough to justify taking Fortification over nearly every common.

Pack 1, Pick 2

The Picks So Far:

Vastwood Fortification

The Pack:

Makindi Stampede Concerted Defense Brushfire Elemental Fissure Wizard Mesa Lynx Gnarlid Colony Might of Murasa Guul Draz Mucklord Makindi Ox Expedition Healer Deadly Alliance Ghastly Gloomhunter Grotag Bug-Catcher

The Pick:

My take!

Brushfire Elemental is a powerful gold card. I’m more willing to take gold cards early than most, and Vastwood Fortification helps maximize aggressive landfall decks. But I just don’t think Brushfire Elemental is powerful enough of a gold card to justify taking. It’ll be one of the best cards in any Gruul aggro deck, but it’s a bad idea to splash, and unlikely to win a game all on its own. While it’s better in Gruul than Gnarlid Colony is, Colony is a better card for any other green deck.

I currently have high hopes for Gnarlid Colony. A two-drop that scales is quite powerful. While a two-mana 2/2 and a four-mana 4/4 with trample are both below rate, the modality is wonderful. The detriment of early creatures is that they can be poor to draw late, and this is where modality shines. If the secondary mode of a card shores up a weakness of the first, the card is always significantly better than it reads. While Colony isn’t the pick out of this pack, it’s a very good common and currently in my Top 10 commons.

Makindi Stampede is what I would take if I were drafting right now on Magic Online; however, I don’t believe it is the correct pick in this pack. For some additional context, as you can tell from my position on Vastwood Fortification, I am very high on modal double-faced cards (DFCs). I am currently drafting them with an even higher inflated rating simply to get more data and play with them more. I believe properly utilizing these cards will be the key to success at this format, and I believe risking a worse deck in order to deduce the proper way to utilize them is worth it in the long term. However, if I am not behaving with such an inflated rating, Stampede doesn’t compete with the best card in this pack.

Deadly Alliance is phenomenal. Historically, I have not been a proponent of expensive removal spells in Limited. I tend to prefer the efficient creature. But given that Deadly Alliance can quite easily cost four mana, and sometimes cost three, I can’t imagine a world in which this card is not in the Top 5 commons. I believe it is the correct pick out of this pack.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Vastwood Fortification Deadly Alliance

The Pack:

Skyclave Pick-Axe Acquisitions Expert Into the Roil Tormenting Voice Blood Beckoning Blood Price Molten Blast Cliffhaven Sell-Sword Scorch Rider Dauntless Unity Tazeem Raptor Turntimber Ascetic

The Pick:

[crowdsignal poll=10610299]

My take!

I promise, no matter how good you think Into the Roil is, it’s better than that. It’s one of the few commons that actually competes with Deadly Alliance for the title of second-best common, as the actual best almost certainly goes to Roil Eruption. Pack 1, Pick 3 is still plenty early to speculate. I believe Into the Roil is the best card in this pack, but it’s possible the black and green cards in this pack, when paired with my current pool, yield a more enticing pick than Into the Roil.

I’m fairly confident Turntimber Ascetic and Skyclave Pick-Axe are not correct to take here. Ascetic is a great anti-aggro tool, yet seems like just another piece of mediocre top-end. Skyclave could be an instrumental equipment in Selesnya and Gruul aggressive landfall strategies. But Into the Roil is just too good to hedge towards those archetypes, especially when that requires giving up on Deadly Alliance.

So, the pick boils down to Into the Roil and Acquisitions Expert. Expert seems like a great little two-drop, but it’s more likely to be maximized in nongreen decks, since those decks will often have multiple creature types. I think many people will gravitate towards Acquisitions Expert as a value creature that goes with the best card in the pool in Deadly Alliance. However, I’m taking Into the Roil. I just think it’s too much better than the other options in this pack to pass up.