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75% Gems in Battle for Zendikar


I love this set. You can tell just by that statement that I basically don’t play Standard at all anymore. Standard players aren’t jazzed about this set, and that’s fine with me. They’re going to embrace slow cards. Standard players didn’t like Dragons of Tarkir, either, until they realized they could survive long enough to cast Dragonlord Atarka and Dragonlord Ojutai, and all of a sudden, they’re swinging big, durdly dargons into each other’s teeth and loving Magic. And isn’t that why we love Commander? We get to survive long enough to cast just about any card in Magic, so we appreciate a good dargon-bashing already. Standard players will come around. They’ll discover cards like Fathom Feeder and start to feel better about their lives. And good for them. Meanwhile, we Commander nerds have been excited about this set the entire time. And why not? This set is lousy with Commander gems, and most of them are ready to jam in any 75% Commander deck. Which cards? So glad you asked.

Kiora, Master of the DepthsThis is what we want in a Simic Planeswalker. I’m not super happy about her making Octopuses rather than 9/9 Krakens, but then I remembered I could use her to untap a land and a Somberwald Sage, and I forgave her. Sure, we commissioned custom 9/9 Kraken tokens from RK Post and they look saucy, but maybe making three 9/9s to fight their side with may have been too good. Whether you’re using her for mana-ramp, sifting, or other shenanigans, this is the Kiora I have been waiting for. Her emblem is great removal in a deck full of green fatties. My Vorel of the Hull Clade deck and my Maelstrom Wanderer deck are experimenting with this card, and I like her so far.

Greenwarden of MurasaThis is solid. Any Eternal Witness variant is welcome, but this lets you be greedy with sac outlets and grab even more cards back. Greater Good could play nicely with this, as could Perilous Forays or cards that reanimate creatures if you don’t want to exile him for that trigger. I am testing this in every deck I have that runs Eternal Witness, and while this may be too expensive for some of those decks, other decks will love it. I like the idea of grabbing a card, saccing this to Shattergang Brothers, and grabbing something else. It’s a very versatile card and has a relevant body in combat—unlike the small and fragile Eternal Witness. Saucy!

Kiora, Master of the Depths
Greenwarden of Murasa
Emeria Shepherd

Emeria ShepherdThis may be my favorite card in the set. Very “Emeria-flavored,” this card is the perfect Angel, and I’m already excited to trigger landfall with cards like Endless Horizons and Knight of the Reliquary. I like this for my Bruna, Light of Alabaster deck, but I could see decks ranging from Karador, Ghost Chieftain to Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer giving this a shot. I am working on putting together G/W landfall, and you know this is a shoo-in there, and Karametra, God of Harvests is probably at the helm. Pair this with Emeria, the Sky Ruin for maximum flavor.

Retreat to CoralhelmHas to be the most exciting card I’ve seen in a long time. Knight of the Reliquary, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Walking Atlas, Ruin Ghost, Budoka Gardener . . . The list of sicko combinations is long and illustrious. Don’t build a deck that’s bad when you don’t draw or stick your Retreat, but have some fun with some wacky landfall shenanigans. There are infinite combos with this card already being tested in Modern, so you know this will be a fun card. I’m considering this in Azami, Lady of Scrolls. Who doesn’t want to scry and untap Wizards? I may brew a deck around this card; we’ll see.

Retreat to EmeriaI like a lot of this cycle. This one can really help you grind value, and it’s just another way to produce tokens in decks that like to go wide. If you’re in Jor Kadeen or Iroas, God of Victory or a deck like that, even the simple act of playing a land can help you go wide, and when you’re swinging for the win, the aggro boost can do a lot of damage for one trigger. Pair with green, and you’re suddenly using Doubling Season or Parallel Lives to cheat at Magic.

Retreat to Coralhelm
Retreat to Emeria
Retreat to Kazandu

Retreat to KazanduI think a lot of the uncommons in this set are better than a lot of the rares. Vorel loves ways to put that first counter on creatures who have a hard time gaining them, and this is a great way to do it while doing something you were going to do anyway: play lands. The life is meh, but it will probably help you not lose a game or two, especially if you play a Boundless Realms for twelve lands as I tend to.

Zada, Hedron GrinderI won’t belabor this too much since I’ve already brewed a whole, spicy deck pile with this gobbo Ally, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention her here.

Zulaport CutthroatThis is Blood Artist numero dos in a lot of decks that are really good at making sure you find all the triggers you need. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, Shattergang Brothers, Olivia Voldaren—I have a pile of decks waiting for this card. Who cares if it doesn’t trigger from opponents’ dead creatures? They’ll be too busy sacrificing their own creatures to Butcher of Malakir for you to mind that you don’t gain a life-loss trigger also. This set even has good sac outlets, such as . . . 

Zada, Hedron Grinder
Zulaport Cutthroat
Vampiric Rites

Vampiric RitesThis is savage. It joins Attrition as a go-to sac outlet in a lot of the same decks I mentioned above. I love me some Perilous Forays, but this could replace it in a few of my decks—or join it to make a veritable cornucopia of ways to send your own creatures to an early grave.

Smothering AbominationAs long as we’re talking about cards for the same decks, add this one-sided Fecundity with feet (tentacles), and draw cards all day. This is what I want a card to do. It’s hard to lose a war of attrition with, you know, attrition, when you have this engine going.

Barrage TyrantThis is a narrower Bosh, Iron Golem, but my Daretti, Scrap Savant deck doesn’t mind narrow. I want to throw Wurmcoil Engine, then pieces of a Wurmcoil Engine, and then Welder him back and do it again. I think this card is narrow and probably a bulk rare for a while, but this is a great card for hucking artifact creatures and turning it into a lot of damage. You can even threaten opponents’ and get rid of them. I’m looking at you, Platinum Angel.

Smothering Abomination
Barrage Tyrant
From Beyond

From BeyondIf Emeria Shepherd isn’t my favorite card in the set, this sure is. Do you take out Awakening Zone or just run another copy? That’s the only real question. Add Parallel Lives for extra value.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless HungerEldrazi are cool in Commander, but an Eldrazi you can reanimate if you want to is even cooler. There are so many ways to cheat this into play, but if you do the work to cast it, exiling two permanents does work. It’s easy to make the case for this card in a 75% deck since it is powerful but lacks the graveyard drawback and the feel-bads of annihilator.

Void Winnower

“I literally can’t even.”

— Everyone

“I literally can’t even cast Consecrated Sphinx.”

— Your opponents

This is going right into my Mayael the Anima deck.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Void Winnower
Oblivion Sower

Oblivion SowerI have been testing this in a deck in which I bounce it a lot with cards like Equilibrium, and while those effects rather than Deadeye Navigator and its ilk attenuate power level, they do it too much for the deck to still be 75%. This card is worth playing, but I don’t know where.

Sire of StagnationThis is the 75% Consecrated Sphinx we have all been waiting for. It’s not as good as Sphinx, which is great. It’s lower on the heat index. People won’t see it as a must-kill or must-copy or must-steal, they’ll just see it as a creature, and you will draw some extra cards. Drawing extra cards wins games. This is low-key, fairer, and narrower than the Sphinx. It’s perfect.

Fathom FeederI wish this were an artifact creature so it would be easier to justify in Sharuum the Hegemon decks. As it is, I like the renewable card-draw on the Baleful Strix. I’m trying this in that slot in decks like Merieke Ri Berit. Time will tell if I go back.

Sire of Stagnation
Fathom Feeder
Catacomb Sifter

Catacomb SifterI like this a lot, and with all of the saccing I do in decks like Prossh and Shattergang Brothers, being able to scry incidentally is useful. You can scry twice per dead dude if you’re saccing to Viscera Seer, which is good when you have a bunch of bad cards on top but not as good when you have good cards on top. Good. We don’t like win-more cards in 75% decks.

Herald of Kozilek I am kind of hoping someone breaks this for me.

Omnath, Locus of RageLike Zada, I brewed with this beast. Enjoy it if you missed it.

Herald of Kozilek
Omnath, Locus of Rage
Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper

Noyan Dar, Roil ShaperI like this in a Talrand, Sky Summoner–style deck with this at the helm and a ton of cantrips and guys with prowess. Making creatures when you cast cantrips seems solid, and this can even go in a Sygg, River Guide deck to help out. Maybe the next set will give us cards to make the ally affiliation relevant.

Bring to LightI like this card less than some people and more than most. Maybe I’m nuts, but I want this in a deck with a creature like Horde of Notions at the helm and cards like Maelstrom Nexus in the ninety-nine. Even being able to fetch Eternal Witness or Krosan Grip in my Riku of Two Reflections deck is enough to justify trying this out. This is a very cool card and the kind of face-up, attenuated tutor that is perfect for a 75% deck.

Aligned Hedron NetworkI like the idea of saccing and replaying this to flash a bunch of big creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects. This isn’t just removal, there is a lot of potential for shenanigans here. Daretti is going to try this out as well as Sharuum. If I like it as removal, I can consider other decks. This excites me.

Bring to Light
Aligned Hedron Network
Hedron Archive

Hedron ArchiveThis is just a solid card. Dreamstone Hedron is too big, and Mind Stone is too small. This is just right.

Shrine of the Forsaken GodsThis is worse than Temple of the False God in most decks, but I think in Daretti or other artifact-heavy builds, this could be better since you can tap it for a mana turn one. I don’t like to partial Paris away a Temple of the False God, and this lets you play turn-one Sol Ring. I’m sold.

Blighted Lands — These are almost all good in Commander. The red one is the worst, but what do you expect? Green has Gaea's Cradle, white has Serra's Sanctum, blue has Tolarian Academy, black has Phyrexian Tower, and red has $^&*ing Shivan Gorge. I hope you already own a Crucible of Worlds—they’re expensive.

Blighted Cataract
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Blighted Woodland

There you have it! I’m really excited about a lot of the cards in this set, and I probably skipped a few you like. Who doesn’t want to cast a big Endless One with Doubling Season out or to Desolation Twin someone to actual death with Warstorm Surge? I guess . . . I don’t. There are so many shenanigans, and I only have like twelve decks, but I have a feeling a few more sets like this full of Commander goodies, and I’ll be doubling that number soon. Thanks for reading, and I’ll hit you up next week with a decklist or something. You deserve it.

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