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Zendikar Rising: Some People Never Learn

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Same set review show. Same set review channel.

Card evaluations and star ratings are based on Standard play. Limited is not considered. Modern, Pioneer, Historic, Vintage, Legacy and especially Commander are also not considered. I'll say a few words when there's a clear older implementation, but that's all.

Same mistakes. Le sigh.

Zendikar Rising's strongest cards essentially all play into the exact things we need to power down. I'm worried that it's going to be a long year or two, and perhaps longer. I certainly don't think morale has sufficiently improved that the bannings can stop.

Let's get right to it.

I got to this a little late. To avoid hindsight bias, I've intentionally not looked at what's happening this weekend in terms of Constructed, although I do get the benefit of having done some drafts. I've asked the editors to inform me if something is already making a big splash I didn't see coming, in which case I'll note that I was given the alert if I change my opinion as a result.

The star ratings work like this:

Zero stars: Bad card, no application. Something very strange would have to be printed to make this do anything at all. It's a miss if this ever does anything.

One star: Bad card, narrow potential application. Has a potential role to play in a particular strategy, perhaps a strategy that can't exist yet but might plausibly exist in the future. If this card is actually good, rather than being a necessary supporting player, this is a miss. If it never does anything at all, that's not a miss unless the exact deck it is designed for exists and no future card is filling its role.

Two stars: Mediocre card, some application. Does the job it was meant to do well enough to be considered if that's a job you want done. This isn't a reason to build a deck that wants to do that job, but can fill the role. It's a miss if this never sees play, unless the entire strategy it goes into never sees any play either. It's a miss if this card makes opponents heads drop when it gets played and is considered a definitive credit to the deck. Anything in between is not a miss.

Three stars: Good card, substantial applications. This is a miss if it never gets played, but not if it gets played in tier two decks that turn out not to be good enough, especially if the supporting cards suck. These cards are either a definitive credit to their strategies and a reason to build the decks in question (whether they're enough to make that deck good is another story). Also a miss if the card is a messed up Magic card and could plausibly get banned, unless the set is another Throne of Eldraine and there are 20+ such cards, in which case it's on me to say that's the case like I did with the companions in Ikoria. I'm not saying that this time.

Four stars: Great card, top ten in the set. Land cycles collectively count as one card for this purpose. Cards that narrowly miss are downgraded to three stars and an honorable mention, and should be treated accordingly. This is a miss if the card doesn't deserve to be ranked where it gets ranked, and that includes within the top ten. As an extreme example, I consider Oko, Thief of Crowns somewhat of a miss in my Throne of Eldraine review because I ranked it second in the set. Seeing some play and being a good card doesn't cut it at the top, either. Polukranos at #2 was a big miss, although Uro at #1 was obviously correct.

Commons

White Commons: 19 Cards, 5 Stars (2 from a reprint)

Zero stars: Angelheart Protector, Cliffhaven Sell-Sword, Expedition Healer, Farsight Adept, Kabira Outrider, Kor Celebrant, Mesa Lynx, [Pressure Point], Prowling Felidar, Sea Gate Banneret, Shepherd of Heroes, [Smite the Monstrous], Tazeem Raptor, Dauntless Unity, Makindi Ox

One star: Practiced Tactics, Resolute Strike, Nahiri's Binding

Two stars: [Disenchant]

Nahiri's Binding is the most interesting of the bunch. It's mostly a standard issue Oblivion Ring style card with a more annoying cost, but there will be corner cases where it is better. At a minimum it doesn't risk additional comes-into-play triggers if it is removed.

Practiced Tactics is very cheap, so if you're already going for a party this could be a reasonable combat trick.

Resolute Strike is a 1 mana way to equip something with a somewhat useful trick attached, so if there are things that cost a ton to equip, perhaps we can make this work.

[Disenchant] is disenchant. Good stuff.

Blue Commons: 19 Cards, 11 Stars (5 from 2 reprints)

Zero stars: Cascade Seer, Cleric of Chill Depths, Anticognition, Cunning Geysermage, Expedition Diviner, Glacial Grasp, Living Tempest, Risen Riptide, Seafloor Stalker, Shell Shield, Skyclave Squid, Tazeem Roilmage, Zulaport Duelist

One star: Chilling Trap, Deliberate

Two stars: Bubble Snare, Field Research, [Into the Roil]

Three stars: [Negate]

Chilling Trap in a dedicated Wizard deck is probably still bad but might be the best option in some spots.

Deliberate is well below rate, but could at some point be someone's best option. Anticipate is substantially better.

Bubble Snare is a 1 mana answer to creatures if you are willing to take a hit or already have, or it's 4 mana if you need them tapped now. It seems like an excellent way to stabilize a board while keeping mana open, or not fall behind early. The kicker option comes online later in the game. Going down to 1 mana for such effects is a big deal.

[Into the Roil] and [Negate] are staple utility cards. Yay.

Black: 19 Cards, 9 Stars

Zero stars: Blood Beckoning, Drana's Silencer, Dreadwurm, Expedition Skulker, Ghastly Gloomhunter, Guul Draz Mucklord, Hagra Constrictor, Highborn Vampire, Marauding Blight-Priest, Nimana Skitter-Sneak, Nimana Skydancer, Oblivion's Hunger, Subtle Strike, [Vanquish the Weak]

One star: Mind Drain

Two stars: Blood Price, Deadly Alliance, Feed the Swarm, Malakir Blood-Priest

Blood Price is a sorcery, which limits its appeal severely, but if you can overlook that, it gives Black a solid Blue card drawer in terms of ability to pull away. The two life hurts but doesn't have to be a dealbreaker. Good option to have around.

Deadly Alliance is good if you can average its cost down to three, and actively great if you can do better than that. It's certainly a great card to have as part of your party's toolbox, and the same decks that don't kill your party are likely to often have juicy things for you to kill. If you get stuck paying four or more for this, it will sometimes be bad, but often be fine. Seems good if and only if one is serious about the party.

Feed the Swarm is a very strong rate for decks that don't care about paying life, or matchups where you don't care, but it's a sorcery and it's going to be up against Heartless Act and Eliminate. I do still expect there to be places this is what you want, especially if Black gets a hankering to take down enchantments.

Malakir Blood-Priest is a plausible two point drain when it enters, sometimes more. Maybe there's something there if there's an aggro party deck. Certainly reasonable to add this to one's toolbox.

Mind Drain is trying to make Mind Rot happen by adding in a little drain. The mill is unfortunate since it's an advantage, but that could be a lot less of an issue once Uro is banned. I can see it on the fringe. A little sad about the complexity creep.

Red: 19 Cards, 10 Stars (2 from a reprint)

Zero stars: Ardent Electromancer, Expedition Champion, Fissure Wizard, Inordinate Rage, Molten Blast, Pyroclastic Hellion, Scavenged Blade, Scorch Rider, Sizzling Barrage, Spitfire Lagac, Synchronized Spellcraft, Teeterpeak Ambusher, Tuktuk Rubblefort

One star: Grotag Bug-Catcher, Roil Eruption, Sneaking Guide

Two stars: Cleansing Wildfire, [Tormenting Voice]

Three stars: Akoum Hellhound

Grotag Bug-Catcher can hit hard if you have a full party. They can be new and not attacking, so you should be able to get him to 3/2 often enough. But on his own he's pretty sad, and the games where he is big you likely win anyway. Hopefully we can do a lot better.

Roil Eruption is bad burn, but it's bad burn that can go to the face. People love going to the face.

Sneaking Guide can provide a 1-drop rogue that offers some backdoor things to do later on for a party deck, or a way to win later in a Red aggro deck, but the rate is pretty terrible. Still, such decks sometimes do even worse.

Cleansing Wildfire can fix your mana while adding two cards to your yard, or it can take out a key enemy land. There's bound to be reasons to want that, and also bound to be people cheating on their basic land distribution because of their new options. It can also be part of a true landfall strategy if you're sufficiently all-in on that plan, since it does buy you an extra land play. But man, you'd better be pretty desperate.

[Tormenting Voice] is more good utility. There's a better version of this card available in the set, now with an extra face, but it does technically cost one more mana. I'm happy with the 'reprint utility cards at common a lot' theme.

Akoum Hellhound certainly encourages landfall strategies in older formats, where you now can reliably land your first enabler on the first turn. For Standard, I'm less excited, but it's still a pretty solid rate if you want to go aggro and also make your land drops. The old version did some real damage.

Green: 19 Cards, 5 Stars (one from a reprint)

Zero stars: Broken Wings, Canopy Baloth, Dauntless Survivor, Gnarlid Colony, Joraga Visionary, Kazandu Nectarpot, Kazandu Stomper, Might of Murasa, Murasa Brute, Nissa's Zendikon, Scale the Heights, Strength of Solidarity, Tajuru Snarecaster, Territorial Scythecat, Turntimber Ascetic

One star: Adventure Awaits, [Rabid Bite], Tajuru Blightblade

Two stars: Reclaim the Wastes

The design on Adventure Awaits is neat. If you don't want or can't find a creature, you can turn it down and take the card. It's also the world's worst Once Upon a Time. Remember how remarkably bad it was to have to cast Once Upon a Time for 2 mana, because things move that fast nowadays? Yeah. That's every time here.

Tajuru Blightblade isn't too bad a Rogue or Elf if you need one of those for 1 mana. I've sideboarded functionally identical cards happily from time to time.

Reclaim the Wastes is an easy card for an old school player to get excited about. We have to remind ourselves that excitement isn't appropriate. Migration Path is barely played. Basic lands are more expensive than ever to play in sufficient quantity and variety. Still, the option to get a second land here is nice.

Colorless: 6 Cards, 2 Stars

Zero stars: Cliffhaven Kitesail, Sea Gate Colossus, Skyclave Sentinel, Spare Supplies, Utility Knife

Two stars: Stonework Packbeast

Stonework Packbeast is the thing you need at the price you didn't want to pay. If you're super serious about a full party, you're probably stuck with it. You'll play it and like it. It does help with your mana in a pinch. I do want to note that the flavor here is super, super weird to me.

Uncommon

White: 13 Cards, 11 Stars

Zero Stars: Allied Assault, Attended Healer, Canyon Jerboa, Emeria Captain, Kitesail Cleric, Makindi Stampede

One Star: Fearless Fledgling, Paired Tactician, Sejiri Shelter

Two Stars: Journey to Oblivion, Kabira Takedown, Kor Blademaster, Skyclave Cleric

Fearless Fledgling only sometimes having flying is not ideal. It's a terrible blocker all around. It's still a 2-drop that can plausibly do the whole twenty damage on its own in the air, so I can't outright dismiss it.

Journey to Oblivion is a second solid three-mana removal spell scaled to the party. That means that if you can get the party going reliably, you can have up to eight efficient removal if you want that. A fine start.

Kabira Takedown is a tapped Plains or a conditional removal spell. There will certainly be plenty of whammy situations, where the last thing you need is another land but there's nothing to kill or nothing you can keep alive, so the card is useless. Yet the fork here seems quite good. If you can cast your spells, you cast this after your creatures. If you can't, you play this as a land. It seems like a useful way to utilize your 'tapped land budget.'

Kor Blademaster is depending on there being equipment worth using. Double strike plus good equipment can be quite good, but having to base that on a 1/1 has traditionally been a dealbreaker. You need to start big, get bigger and then hit twice, so there needs to be a warrior/equipment deck that's for real.

Paired Tactician is expensive. If this is the best we can do, the warrior deck probably isn't going to make it, but it still attacks as a 4/3 and then keeps going if the warrior supply is reliable.

Sejiri Shelter isn't a cantrip. That's a problem. When you pull this off, it won't be a big victory, only a nice little exchange. But when you protect your key creature or go in for the kill, it might not matter much whether you draw the card, and having the land as a secondary plan covers a lot of issues. This is certainly better than Shelter, so if one has the tapped lands to spare, I can see having a little of this.

Skyclave Cleric's problem is that both halves are mediocre early plays. Later on, you won't want the land and you won't want the 1/3. The flip side of that is that Skyclave Cleric solves your problems against a pure rush deck full of 1/1 creatures - it makes sure you get your mana, and it gives you a second turn play that buys you time and is still a reasonable play later. So, this is a remarkably workable sideboard card, or as a way to shore up such matchups at minimal cost in the places where it hurts. You can also think of this as a fork between 'it matters that I come out fast with my defenses' in which case this provides help, and 'it doesn't matter that I come out fast with my defenses' in which case this doesn't hurt you much.

Blue: 13 Cards, 17 Stars

Zero stars: Merfolk Falconer, Skyclave Plunder, Windrider Wizard, Sure-Footed Infiltrator

One star: Beyeen Veil, Lullmage's Domination, Merfolk Windrobber, Umara Wizard

Two stars: Ruin Crab, Roost of Drakes

Three stars: Jwari Disruption, Silundi Vision, Concerted Defense

Beyeen Veil is a rather desperate spell to be casting in Constructed. Or is it? It's a way to buy substantial time or have a good edge in a large combat. It can provide the necessary bridge to your first sweeper, or punish a premature alpha strike, all for the low price of a tapped land. If the land base can take it, playing this seems entirely reasonable. The biggest problem is I can't see playing this over Jwari Disruption, and they're fighting for the same slot, and you also have to contend with Silundi Vision.

Lullmage's Domination only costs one more than Entrancing Melody, and later on it will cost two less. In a world without Uro, where you could plausibly mill the opponent on purpose, that's tempting, but it still runs into the problem that when you need it most, in the turn three to five range, it's much harder to take something. That 1 mana matters a lot in context. I'd still be interested in this in a dedicated mill deck that was already into cards like Into the Story, but we need to be that level of serious.

Merfolk Windrobber exists in a context where it's plausible to want a 1/1 flyer that doesn't offer much beyond that. If you're not doing any more work, getting them to eight cards will often take a while, so it's probably no good there, but I've played some pretty desperate-looking things in that slot. The other play is to go to a rogue deck that cares a lot about milling the opponent, where this will provide substantial extra ammo and then cycle itself if it's going to die or is no longer relevant. It's a reach, but I can see it.

Umara Wizard is a reach, but I don't want to discount the power of these modal cards. There's plenty of upside of having a large creature that flies, even if it costs 2 mana more than it deserves to. If tapped lands are cheap, because you don't have much use for the other modal cards, I can totally see using this. I can also see playing one or two as a backup win condition in a deck that might otherwise be unable to kill.

Ruin Crab is Ruined Crab. Remember when we could mill ourselves and do all sorts of cool stuff? It seems Wizards remembers as well, and is going to be having none of it. Can't say I blame them. There are still some options here. We can use this to turn on all of our graveyard-reliant cards. Is this an upgrade to Merfolk Secretkeeper? It's 1 mana to get both halves instead of two, and will often mill the full seven cards. It can even deck the opponent if left alone too long, especially in multiples, which such decks couldn't do at all before. I'm giving it two stars on the assumption that Uro can't be with us that much longer.

Roost of Drakes is a fine card. It is an excellent card if everything around you has kicker and you can actually pay those kicker costs. That does not seem likely to be the case. This card will be good, but you'll be twisting yourself in knots to get it. Doesn't seem worth it.

Concerted Defense only needs two party members to look good, and only one to look reasonable. Seems like a good rate. If you're already coming to party, might as well use this to keep the party going.

Jwari Disruption is great, and will cause very interesting decisions. On turn one, do you play your tapped land, or do you try to get them with it? Later in the game, do you shore up your land base, or do you hope they get careless and tap out and/or force them to hold a mana back? If you have two, do you play one and hold one so they think you don't have the second one and walk in? The big issue is that this is very much two things you want early and you don't care about late. It will prevent flood if you see it coming and cast this while it matters, but on turn ten it is often a dead draw. That's why I don't think its top tier and I still instinctively prefer Censor, but it still seems rather sweet.

Silundi Vision is an excellent fork in the road. If you need mana, it's mana. If you don't, you can go get whatever you do need, provided your deck has enough spells in it. It's easy to see the kind of deck that is very happy to play this and lean into the option to play draw-go when it wants to do that. I can even see playing this without being that confident it's not going to miss, if the expensive cards one cares about are available to be hit. That shouldn't be necessary, though, because you'll be able to hit a number of your lands.

Black: 13 Cards, 22 Stars

Zero stars: Mind Carver, Scion of the Swarm, Shadow Stinger, Skyclave Shadowcat

One star: Lithoform Blight, Zof Consumption

Two stars: Demon's Disciple

Three stars: Acquisitions Expert, Blackbloom Rogue, Bloodchief's Thirst, Malakir Rebirth, Thwart the Grave, Pelakka Predation

Demon's Disciple is strangely a slight downgrade to stats, but the change won't much matter, and hitting planeswalkers will help a lot. I don't think there's a place for this, but that could easily be wrong.

Acquisitions Expert is the latest power creep recipient, since it is Ravenous Rats with a relevant class, an extra toughness and the chance to give you a choice of cards. Being a rogue opens up a bunch of possibilities. What party decks are going to need includes an excuse to get a bunch of disposable members, and this card delivers exactly that. The extra point of toughness isn't the biggest deal, but it's far from nothing.

Blackbloom Rogue is a late-Game 3 mana 5/3 with menace, a highly respectable creature. It's also a rogue for the mill deck that enables her, and plays backup duty as an early land. This is exactly what I want from such cards in a non-ramp context - we get insurance that lets us stop our mana development after the first three to five plays, and that doesn't make us sad about that.

Bloodchief's Thirst is the word instant away from being a superstar. It's unconditional removal when you need it, cheap removal when you need that most. What a package. My only concern is that spending 4 mana at sorcery speed is going to be an issue, rendering this rather awkward rather often. But it's a way to do one of the things this set does best, pack power while having a backup plan.

Lithoform Blight is an emergency way to get rid of a land you really don't want to deal with, or an even more emergency way to fix your mana in a pinch. It does not change the name of the card in question, which means it won't properly do the thing such cards are most frequently called upon to do. A pity.

Malakir Rebirth as a spell is a great example of a terrible card that you can probably get reasonable use out of in any given game, and will often end up being pretty damn good. Adding the modal land makes me very interested.

Pelakka Predation is expensive when you play it, but you'll often be very happy to pay. It gets all the things you want the most, other than exiling Uro. When it's bad, you have a backup plan. The problem is getting into a late game situation with plenty of mana and nothing in their hand, damping the benefit of being modal. It's annoying, but I'm down for that price.

Thwart the Grave gets back two things. That's a big deal. Living the dream is not easy, since you'll need a party to start off with and another mini-party to bring back. I do realize that is asking a lot. But the payoff is very real, a double-Zombify that will usually be at four or 5 mana. The question is, will there be good targets and reasonable ways to get them where they need to be?

Zof Consumption is often a worthwhile use of time and mana. Other times, it won't do anything impactful in either mode. I've always been a skeptic of effects like this, but it's a big game in a race and gives reach, so I can see this being worth it as the top end in an aggro build.

Red: 13 Cards, 14 Stars

Zero stars: Goma Fada Vanguard, Grotag Night-Runner, Rockslide Sorcerer, Thundering Sparkmage

One star: Akoum Warrior, Fireblade Charger, Shatterskull Minotaur, Song-Mad Treachery, Thundering Rebuke

Two stars: Kazuul's Fury, Skyclave Geopede, Spikefield Hazard

Three stars: Cinderclasm

Akoum Warrior packs a punch when you need another punch. I realize the price is way too damn high, but I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't sometimes pay it? If a tapped land is not expensive, having the option on a creature that plays, even a vastly overpriced one, seems fine.

Fireblade Charger is not a good card, but it could be the bad 1-drop a warrior equipment decks needs

Kazuul's Fury is very interesting to me. When a Fling wins the game, costing an extra mana usually won't matter. It's a high payoff with a low probability, so it seems great to have another way to get good use out of the card. I'm into this in the right place and in small quantities, or in the built-around-me place in large ones.

Cinderclasm offers a lot of flexibility. Sometimes you'll be able to save a mana or save a bunch of your stuff. The days when Pyroclasm cost 2 mana are over, so this is now the best way to get this effect. It's a sign of the times that when I looked at my top ten, I thought that this effect didn't seem that important now, and it missed out on the top 10.

Shatterskull Minotaur starts to be a reasonable creature at 4 mana, is good at three and crazy good at two. As a play after a board wipe, paying six isn't so bad if you have the six. I presume you can do better, but this isn't so bad.

Skyclave Geopede should often provide five trample for 3 mana, with times of failure but also ways to amplify that. At a minimum one has Fabled Passage. It also comes with another good landfall attacker in the same color, so we don't have to twist our mana base into knots if this is who we want to be. We can stay Gruul, or go into Temur.

Song-Mad Treachery is an example of exactly how far I'm willing to consider going to play modal cards. Normally it will be a tapped Mountain, but every so often you'll steal an Uro and kill them, or something else similar. In my book, that's something to consider. Normally the Threaten wants to be the last spell you cast, so it costing a ton will often not matter much. When it works, the extra damage involved is massive, and that's if you don't have sacrifice effects. Asking for three more mana to follow-up with Kazuul's Fury is probably a bit much, but I can definitely see a Gruul aggro deck that is top heavy, doesn't play many 1-drops and builds that into its plans.

Spikefield Hazard will sometimes exile a problematic permanent. Other times it will be cast to kill something on turn one or two. Those times can have a big payoff. And sometimes your opponent is at 1, or you need to finish something off. The rest of the time, congratulations, here's another land, that wasn't so bad. What differentiates this from many of the other modal cards is that when this does its job, it is efficient. It would make sense to see this card make it into older formats.

Thundering Rebuke can't hit players and doesn't exile, but does hit planeswalkers. Sometimes that will be what you want, but hitting planeswalkers at sorcery speed never feels great. I'm a skeptic, but not a total one.

Green: 13 Cards, 21 Stars

Zero stars: Iridescent Hornbeetle, Murasa Sproutling, Springmantle Cleric, Taunting Arbormage, Vastwood Fortification

One star: Veteran Adventurer

Two stars: Skyclave Pick-Axe, Vine Gecko

Three stars: Bala Ged Recovery, Khalni Ambush, Vastwood Surge, [Harrow] by any other name

Four stars: Tangled Florahedron

Bala Ged Recovery seems great to me. It's clunky as hell when you cast it, but does good work exactly in the places a land is bad.

Khalni Ambush also seems great to me. It's often tricky to pull off, but a very good tool much of the time, and when it's bad you can put it to good use. The worry here is that in the games where it's not good, you're already worried about flooding, so having the land option doesn't do anything once you're out of the first three turns.

Harrow is always a risky play. If they counter it, you're in real trouble. If not, it only costs 1 mana on net, or gains one on net with a Lotus Cobra. Also, for some reason I can't fathom it's been renamed to something longer and less memorable. I will not be acknowledging this change. In the landfall decks, this is scary good, both aggressive and those based on Lotus Cobra and Felidar Retreat. Or both. In other decks, it's going to fall short.

Skyclave Pick-Axe only makes sense if you're super serious about your landfall, and it's plausibly +4/+4 or better on a regular basis. In that case, you can use this to have sixteen sources of that effect. One issue is that a lot of lands won't let you put this on the landfall 1-drop on the second turn without playing a Green land on turn two to do it. That rules out the hulk smash of playing this and Fabled Passage to do eight damage on turn two. Another note is that unlike the previous edition of equipment that auto-attaches, you can play this directly onto Syr Faren on the third turn, potentially adding eight damage to the battlefield on the spot. You can also do this in multiples. Playing a 1-drop 1/1, then Syr Faren, then two of these plus a Fabled Passage would be a turn three kill. Keep an eye on that.

Tangled Florahedron had me at hello. For many years this has been the dream. A way to accelerate your mana that counts as a first source of Green to get your acceleration off the ground. There is an obvious objection, which is that either way you get a source of one Green mana and little else, so you often won't want either half. And that's true enough, but the beauty here still shines through. The option to accelerate on turn two without creating awkward draws is a superpower. I love this as the backup to Lotus Cobra in particular, ensuring you'll always get off to the races. Same with Arboreal Grazer, allowing you to play this as your second turn one land when you draw Grazer and want to get down to business, or play it on turn two when more acceleration is called for. Love it. I absolutely love it. Please keep passing this to me.

Vastwood Surge is tempting me more than it should, but it seems clear how this earns its value. The true ramp decks will often get a ton of power out of pumping up their teams. The question is, do they do this in situations where it changes wins into losses, or was the situation already well in hand? Note that I see this being played in addition to Migration Path, because the whole idea is to play the first Vegetation to in part set up the kicked second one. That makes the mana base tricky, as you'll need plenty of basics. Can't be tempted by too many modal cards.

Veteran Adventurer is a way to complete your party for 3 mana while also accomplishing something. You can't have too many 'payoffs' in your party, since you also want payoff spells, and there's no question that this is a distant second place at best in that department. So probably not close to good enough, but also completing the party is a big game if you want to trigger effects that require everyone to be present. I think the specialist deck at least gets close to playing this.

Vine Gecko is in an odd color for kicker payoffs. Luckily color is rather cheap these days, especially if Green is one of them. A worry is that this is then mostly duplicative of other Green cards, so you don't get much net benefit. It's not like you'll be able to kick multiple things in the same turn that often. Even with multiples of this it won't be that easy. Presumably your plan is this on turn two then Roost of Drakes on turn three, or Roost of Drakes on turn one and kicking something else on turn three.

Gold cards: 10 Cards, 16 Stars

No stars: Ravager's Mace, Moss-Pit Skeleton, Lullmage's Familiar

One star: Umara Mystic

Two stars: Soaring Thought-Thief, Brushfire Elemental, Kargan Warleader

Three stars: Spoils of Adventure, Cleric of Life's Bond, Murasa Rootgrazer

Spoils of Adventure is reasonable at even a 1 mana discount, and often won't feel too bad at full price. If you will often have a chance to knock this down to three or two, it's a very exciting card, with the obvious caveats about winning more. Using this right away after assembling the party can provide you with insurance against a sweeper. It's not an easy card to be in position to want and use, but if you're in the market, the price is right.

Soaring Thought-Thief seems like a fine card in the rogue mill threshold deck we're supposed to be building. As soon as we won't be milling Uro one card out of fifteen, we can get right on that and see if it's any good. My guts tell me it still isn't any good. You don't mill people out, nor do you assemble enough damage to impress. I expect it to still go nowhere.

Brushfire Elemental having haste will often look like it isn't doing much, or force you to make awkward decisions. It's still appreciated, especially when they show up in multiples, and helps make math very difficult for opponents who have to worry that much more about suddenly dying to a Fabled Passage. If you're doing this, you're all in, with twelve of this effect at minimum and quite possibly sixteen. Either that's a good thing to be doing, or it isn't.

Murasa Rootgrazer is such a tease. You want to be playing aggro landfall, but suddenly you need all these basic lands in a deck that needs to be three colors. Or you want to be playing four colors and go nuts, and the problem is that much worse. The lands you most want to pick up, this won't let you pick up. Whoops. As a way to fix mana without landfall while having a reasonable creature, no. Either it's an unreasonable creature, or don't bother. But the more I see it as an unreasonable creature, the more I like it. Go big, and reap the rewards, because the upside is there on so many levels. The question is, how many basics do we get to run? To what extent do Fabled Passage and Evolving Wilds or other ways to search one out count? Once you pick one up you can put it down again. This won't be the direct star, but if the configuration works, it's going to turbocharge the landfall strategies at almost no direct cost. I keep thinking this card is going to be more and more important.

Cleric of Life's Bond is the real deal. It grows itself, it gives you lots of lifegain triggers while doing so, it's exceptionally reasonably priced. You can't go quite as directly nuts as you can with Ajani's Pridemate, but you get what you need more reliably and robustly, as this is also an enabler. If the rest of the deck is up to the task, watch out. I don't see signs of that yet, but there's a lot of time left for the necessary complements to show up.

People will try to make Umara Mystic happen. That's why cards like this keep showing up. It almost certainly won't work, because it almost never does. The dream isn't good enough.

Kargan Warleader is a perfectly good lord if you're in the Warrior lord business, definitely something you play in the Warrior deck, although noticeably worse than it would be as a 2/2 for rw. I don't think there's a Warrior deck.

Colorless: 5 Cards, 3 Stars

Zero stars: Relic Amulet, Relic Axe, Relic Vial

One star: Base Camp

Two stars: Relic Golem

Allow me to join the chorus of players deeply insulted by Base Camp. There is no reason this has to come into play tapped. None. Perhaps the party deck (oh yeah, party deck! Excellent!) was too good and needed a last minute nerf, although that seems highly unlikely. Even then, we could have taken power away somewhere else. The party deck needs this land, and now it's going to come into play tapped. Why the fun police?

Relic Golem is an excellent complement to Vantress Gargoyle. Both provide milling, both become very efficient creatures once you've done sufficient amounts of milling. Relic Golem can't block right away, but once you've done the work can block for the rest of the game. Overall, it seems like a major step down from Vantress Gargoyle, since it costs mana to activate and you'll miss the flying, and most importantly when it comes down it might not be able to block right away, but it's the kind of effect where the more of it you can get the better off you are. I'm optimistic on its future once Uro is banned, but Uro needs to be banned first. If anything, I'm worried that this theme was balanced with Uro in mind, and now that Uro is bonkers we have a problem. We'll see.

Rares

White: 9 Cards, 17 Stars

Zero stars: Legion Angel, Maul of the Skyclaves

One star: Archon of Emeria, Skyclave Apparition

Two stars: Squad Commander

Three stars: Ondu Inversion, Archpriest of Iona, Luminarch Aspirant

Four stars: Felidar Retreat

There will be decks where Archon of Emeria makes all their lands come into play tapped and breaks up their intended turns. It still won't impress me, because it doesn't fight and when it matters that it lives, it will usually die.

Archpriest of Iona is a very, very good 1-drop for the aggressive version of the party deck. It will probably attack for two on most turns, and has the potential to hit for five in the air. If that type of deck is for real, this will be one of the reasons. It doesn't make it to the fourth star because I have no faith in the party deck.

Felidar Retreat is certainly quite the upgrade. Now you get a 2/2 as your base rather than a 1/1 like on Retreat to Emeria. On top of that, circumstances seem ideal for this to shine. You were ramping anyway, now it wins you the game. It's a little slow, this is true, but it takes over convincingly.

Legion Angel is a cool design. How many are in your maindeck, how many in your sideboard? Presumably two and two? This card has zero stars, but it makes me smile.

Luminarch Aspirant is not to be slept upon. Even without any tricks or even other creatures, this seems rather sweet. You play it pre-combat, get the first counter right away on an attacker, then keep going. It's vastly better than a 2 mana 3/3, which plays reasonably well in a pinch. It's slightly annoying this is a human, but I'm sure we can make do. If only I thought you could play such strategies in Standard right now.

Ondu Inversion is for the serious ramp player. Ramp all day, then if necessary, we can sweep the board once we have infinite mana available. Game should then be over. Yeah, jumping from six to eight is a rather large jump to go modal, but when one wants to play a ludicrous number of mana sources and ways to ramp, this is how you do it and get away with it.

Skyclave Apparition is a new version of a thing we've seen a number of times. It can't hit tokens or expensive things, so it's not the ideal version of the thing. Returning an illusion rather than the original card will usually be what you want, provided you're not hitting tokens. But not hitting tokens or the biggest things makes me pretty sad on reflection.

Squad Commander badly wants a full party. With a full party, he boosts the attack by 14. Alone, he's a 3/3 and a 1/1 both with no abilities. Note that we don't need the full party that badly when he arrives. Three tokens would be fine, even two. What we need is to get the trigger going off in games we wouldn't have already otherwise won. That's what will determine whether this is worth it. Alternatively, we could have a bunch of ways to payoff having a large number of creatures, to make this acceptable much of the time so long as a few extra Warriors show up.

Blue: 9 Cards, 11 Stars

Zero stars: Charix, the Raging Isle, Master of Winds, Nimble Trapfinder

One star: Coralhelm Chronicler, Inscription of Insight

Two stars: Confounding Conundrum, Maddening Cacophony, Thieving Skydiver

Three stars: Glasspool Mimic

Charix, the Raging Isle is hilarious. Are you willing to go back to playing real Islands? If so, you can have a lot of toughness and potentially hit for sixteen at some point off of eight lands. I still don't see any scenario where this is worth our time. Leave it to the players who love this sort of thing.

Confounding Conundrum is also hilarious. There are some players who would love you to play this for them. There are decks that would happily play this on themselves, if that was an option. But there's another style of deck where this is potentially a nightmare. It shuts ramping off entirely, and those decks will be in a lot of trouble. It's good that we have this in reserve in case we need it. The flip side of that is that if they're actively working off of landfall, and likely off of a bunch of modal lands, the same decks that fear this coming down early are thrilled to be able to work with it later in the game. Combine that with the loophole of using Fabled Passage on the enemy turn, and the effect looks mostly manageable.

Glasspool Mimic is the latest in discounted clone technology. Clones are some of the cards most likely to not be able to do anything, so being modal is welcome, but the 'I have nothing' problem is unlikely to be solved by an additional land. You still have to worry about being estranged, but the additional power boost here is clearly large, so many decks should give this the nod for their tapped land slots.

Inscription of Insight offers three modes to choose from, but giving yourself a creature isn't speaking to me much except as an emergency backup kill condition for control decks. It's more about the other two. The card drawing at sorcery speed is pretty lousy. The bounce is potentially interesting, but at 4 mana there aren't that many places the exchange seems exciting. So, I don't know what this is supposed to do. At 8 mana you can draw cards then make an illusion, but that doesn't seem like it will win that many games. Often, you'll likely leave the mana open rather than kick it.

Maddening Cacophony asks how badly you want your opponent to have eight cards in their yard, and offers a realistic path to milling them out entirely if you back it up. If you have to use an entire card to set up, this is an efficient way to do it. Merfolk Secretkeeper only gets one halfway there, and a Ruin Crab needs to stay alive for three activations if it doesn't get help. So, there's an argument for getting the job done for real while giving yourself an actual win condition. The problem is that you can't count on Cacophony, so in order to take advantage of it, you'll have to have sufficient backup plans that you don't usually need outside of actually winning the game. So, I think this moves into actually winning the game territory. In that capacity, it's got promise.

Thieving Skydiver has to be going around wondering how rich she could have been if only X could be zero. In Standard, it's a moot point. Is there anything worth taking? As far as I can tell the answer is no, but there are a few candidates that could change that, especially after Uro's demise.

Black: 9 Cards, 19 Stars

One star: Inscription of Ruin, Shadows' Verdict, Skyclave Shade, Taborax, Hope's Demise

Three stars: Coveted Prize, Hagra Mauling, Nighthawk Scavenger, Soul Shatter, Nullpriest of Oblivion

Coveted Prize is a great payoff card for a full party. On your fifth turn, you can potentially play Coveted Prize for Coveted Prize for Coveted Prize for Coveted Prize for Deadly Alliance, or something like that, while playing out the rest of your hand with the extra triggers. That's likely too much strain on your colored mana, but the options are plentiful. If you can't complete the party, you can still make this a damn cheap Demonic Tutor and use it to complete the party or find the payoff card you want most. This makes me want to make the party deck happen. I'm not going to four stars because the party deck is too narrow an application for that and I don't see the pieces coming together, but that could easily change.

Hagra Mauling is a perfectly serviceable kill spell a large portion of the time, and in the places where you don't want that an extra land will often be most welcome. The discount for no basic lands is interesting. Occasionally players won't have one, and there are temptations from the new land cycle and the modal tapped lands to go very low on basic lands in mostly mono-color aggro decks, perhaps even to zero in some cases. When that happens, this card is pretty nuts.

Inscription of Ruin is another attempt to print a Mind Rot worth playing. Now you have a lot of additional options. There's likely something worthwhile in there somewhere, but none of it is worth what you're paying. These options excite me much less than getting a land to play in a pinch.

Nighthawk Scavenger will always have lifelink, flying, and deathtouch. It will usually have at least 3 power, often substantially more than that. It's certainly a solid creature. But it's trying to be a Baneslayer Angel, and in that context the standards are super high.

Nullpriest of Oblivion is not so bad when it comes out on turn two and also offers an excellent place to mutate. When you pay six, it's a nice complement to a Zombify. This certainly improves our reanimation options. As always, the question is whether the deck can come together. If it does, this should provide insurance along multiple fronts. It should also play very well in the cleric deck if that deck gets there.

Shadows' Verdict is that Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Lurrus of the Dream-Den are super guilty. Good verdict. Can't pay court costs. Five is a lot more than four. For Uro in particular, this won't usually do much against the rest of their deck, so this is a really poor solution to your problems on all fronts. I can see this being used against Lurrus or other decks that are heavily into recursion, but even under ideal conditions this is so expensive.

Skyclave Shade is the class of cards that would have made our jaws utterly drop for Magic's first twenty years and now we mostly shrug. Still, there's a lot to like. This is a great way to generate fuel for Priest of Forgotten Gods and Village Rites, and give yourself some staying power while doing so. I'm expecting it to be good enough in at least some such strategies.

Soul Shatter gets around hexproof and forces them to sacrifice something legitimate, and it's an instant. As ways to build in answers to planeswalkers go, you can do a lot worse. Probably will see some play.

Taborax, Hope's Demise holds out a lot of promise. Most of it is highly unlikely to happen in a way that matters, and there's a lot of three cost clerics fighting for our attention if that's our game. Things don't die all that often these days. Still, this has the potential to pay off quickly if you're doing the work, and probably does end up in the Cleric deck. Outside of that, this isn't big enough.

Red: 9 Cards, 16 Stars

Zero stars: Nahiri's Lithoforming, Shatterskull Charger

One star: Wayward Guide-Beast

Two stars: Kargan Intimidator, Relic Robber, Roiling Vortex, Valakut Exploration

Three stars: Valakut Awakening

Four stars: Magmatic Channeler

Kargan Intimidator is here to remind us that cowards can't block warriors. If your deck is entirely warriors, that's something to keep in mind, and this can attack for four and even trample. You'd need to be all-in on the warrior theme, but presumably it's good if you commit.

Magmatic Channeler is a messed up Magic card. For 2 mana, you get aggressive filtering to find what you want, and then after a while you end up with a 4/4. Also note that all the modal cards make this that much better, as they can always be played and they count as spells in the yard. If you want a land this usually finds one. If you don't want your lands, this will usually find something you can play if your deck is built reasonably. Wizards look a lot more interesting when they can start with this, and Red has its latest way to grind out the best of one queue. Also, it's a discard outlet and a way to be discarding, so that's another angle. There's a lot to do here.

Relic Robber is the world's worst Legion Warboss. It's still sort of a Legion Warboss, and will have its moments.

Roiling Vortex is going to show up in a lot of places it does not belong. Players get way too attached to cards like this, and having to hold the mana back to prevent lifegain is more painful than it might first appear. There still will be some scenarios where this is the right card for the job, so as much as I want to knock this down to one star that probably ends up looking wrong. So, I'm holding at two stars, but I do feel a bit like I can't block warriors.

Valakut Awakening makes life good, covering all risks but one. That one risk is speed. Otherwise, you get to shape things however you like. This seems like one of the best incidental modal lands for decks that can afford to play a few, but it's not quite at the top tier that promises to have more impact.

Valakut Exploration has a problem. If you hit a land, you probably can't play it, and the card you find will often be awkward. If you need a land, this usually won't help, although you can long range a Fabled Passage sometimes. If you have cards that allow you extra land plays, this gets a lot more interesting, since you can trigger it multiple times and you can use the lands you get to do that. Like a bunch of these landfall cards, there's promise, but you have to be all-in. I don't see this as a worthwhile generic card advantage play.

Wayward Guide-Beast can't attack on turn one if you care about winning. After that, it's not impressive. When you care about picking up the land, it will often be easy enough to stop that from happening. It could be interesting in a modern version of the landfall deck, where having more than two lands in play is not important, but not in Standard.

Green: 8 Cards, 20 Stars

They cheated Green out of a rare. You bastards.

One star: Scute Swarm

Two stars: Cragplate Baloth, Oran-Rief Ooze, Swarm Shambler

Three stars: Inscription of Abundance, Kazandu Mammoth, Tajuru Paragon

Four stars: [Lotus Cobra]

Cragplate Baloth loves having haste, but misses trample badly, and costs one more mana than we would like. It would also have been nice to be slightly more than Uro-sized, rather than Uro-sized. Kicker will get paid reasonably often, but doesn't seem like it makes much practical difference all that often, unless you get to count it as a 'card with kicker.' It's still probably the best tool for the job it's being asked to do, but I'd worry a lot about that seventh mana.

Inscription of Abundance without kicker offers two modes you will often be happy to use. A permanent +2/+2 for 2 mana that wins a combat, or a fight that functions as straight removal, are fine uses of 2 mana. Combining them plus some bonus life for 5 mana isn't bad either. The big problem is the high correlation between not wanting one mode and not wanting the other two. When you're facing the control or combo decks, nothing here much matters. Thus, this is better thought of as a very strong fight card with options for creature brawls, where this probably gets the nod over Ram Through as your first trick.

Kazandu Mammoth plays reasonable Magic as a creature. In the landfall deck, it plays reasonably good Magic that way, and also will serve well as an additional land drop, including sometimes late in the game. In a regular deck, it still plays solid Magic when you have a land to spare, which often in turn means you have other lands to play. I like this when we are moving all-in aggressively, and might even like it when we move all-in on midrange.

Lotus Cobra is not only a mistake. It is the mistake. The fundamental mistake. In a world with Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise, it's a reasonable card. In a world in which we banned Growth Spiral and love Paradise Druid, with Uro as the best existing card and landfall as the theme, I have zero idea how this makes its return with a straight face. This. Card. Is. Not. OK. We presumably won't ban it, the same way we didn't ban Gilded Goose, but it will be ubiquitous and dumb. You need a damn good excuse for this not to be in your deck going forward. I'd say more, but this card has already been with us once. I think I can stop there.

Oran-Rief Ooze seems playable if it pumps up your whole team. Luminarch Aspirant is one way to start down that road, and there are a few others, and some creatures that come with their own counters. At that point, it's at least reasonable, but it's not something drawing me to the strategy. Anyone seen Hardened Scales anywhere?

When I first read Scute Swarm I thought it cost g instead of 2g. I was impressed, but not blown away. It costs 2g. Maybe in some super landfall-heavy decks this can do something.

Swarm Shambler is part of a deck where everything has a +1/+1 counter so its ability triggers everywhere and it gets things from other cards based on having its counter. Otherwise this is too slow.

Tajuru Paragon is necessary for party decks to exist. It is glue that gives the deck hope of functioning at all. That doesn't make it great. This is not the payoff, this is only the enabler. You'll play a 2/1 with a marginal ability to get this, so you're very happy to get a 3/2 with a real kicker ability instead, but that's a question of one's desperation. The payoff better be worth it.

Gold: 10 Cards, 17 Stars

Zero stars: Phylath, World Sculptor

One star: Zareth San, the Trickster, Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Two stars: Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate, Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats, Yasharn, Implacable Earth, Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager, Verazol, the Split Current, Kaza, Roil Chaser

Three Stars: Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate reminds you to party responsibly. Remember to lock down to maintain social distance, and stay protected if you all must assemble on one battlefield. This seems like a noble attempt to get such decks the necessary glue to be able to play four creatures at once, since Linvala can protect the others. A shame it is legendary. This makes the mana in question awkward, since you now would need Green, White, Blue and Black. We certainly aren't playing without Coveted Prize and Deadly Alliance, and Tajuru Paragon is not optional, nor probably is Veteran Adventurer. Base Camp is both terrible and getting in the way. The rest is a puzzle, and one that is going to have quite the uphill climb. Another option is to use this in a regular skies deck, and give up our party dreams. Perhaps the protection clause is enough? In my experience, that might make this a reasonable sideboard card in such decks, but that seems like the upside. The numbers aren't there.

Zareth San, the Trickster doesn't like it when you refer to him as a ninja. He takes that kind of thing personally. He's a rogue, and don't you forget it. Seems like this card exists in two ways. There's playing actual rogues and trying to mill the opponent then nab their cards. I'm skeptical that the deck is there, but if your plan was already to mill them anyway and to be attacking them anyway, might as well see what this guy can do. The other mode is to end step this in as a surprise, then take control of the game in a midrange or control war. I doubt it's good enough for that, but it could have its moments.

Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats creates more color headaches for the party deck. Now we even need Red. I do like the payoff here, as the price gets very reasonable even with two party members, and universal deathtouch goes a long way to making a party of randoms worthwhile, and flying hate is always welcome. Oh, to have Lotus Cobra be a party member. One could argue that even at 5 mana this is starting to be somewhat interesting, but it will often cost the full six, so we need hope for a lot less than five.

Yasharn, Implacable Earth comes with two free basic lands, but you already need to have 4 mana. When this happens in a grindy battle where no one has any haymakers, it's going to feel terrible to be on the other side, but is this where we want to be when we could be developing more directly with cards like Migration Path? Presumably we're in the landfall business, so we get good use out of the lands we put into hand, but man there are a lot of cards those decks want. Still, this goes very well with a deck with lots of modal lands, where you can effectively reclaim spells by fetching up basics. There's enough good stuff vibes coming from this that I expect some people to get good use out of it, and it's an excellent turn three after a turn two Murasa Rootgrazer.

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager gets to live twice, with various potential upsides. If you draw two and they don't kill the first one for you, you still get a 4/4 and a 3/3. You also get to sacrifice this twice if you are so inclined. If there's a deck that wants to sacrifice and also can use other things with +1/+1 counters, things might get interesting. But mostly I look at this and see a card that is no longer good enough.

Akiri, Fearless Voyager has rather bad numbers. The decks that go this route will often not benefit much from drawing another card. Compare this payoff to what you get off a card like Winota. I presume we're seeding things for some great equipment down the line, but even then I don't see it. The unequip trick to get around removal or maybe win a fight is cute I suppose.

Verazol, the Split Current is interesting if you can plausibly threaten to reliably copy things quickly, but you'll need to be copying something high impact and doing so reliably. That's tough to do when the spell needs to be kicked. If we're in the hardcore kicking business we absolutely want to be in the Verazol business as well, but I'm deeply skeptical of the business in question. The payoffs are questionable and the costs are high across the board.

Kaza, Roil Chaser is very weird. You need to be very serious about wizards to do this, since the body is terrible. On its own, this is terrible. If you've got lots of wizards and also cast lots of spells expensive enough that this discount matters? I still don't see it, but it's not impossible. One is usually wise not to dismiss large amounts of mana available on the cheap even if it's tough to get.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant is a dedicated cleric deck is going to provide a lot of value and presumably will make the cut. If you're going to assemble a Rube Goldberg device, some resiliency is certainly welcome.

Colorless Non-Land: 2 Cards, 1 Star

Zero stars: Myriad Construct

One star: Skyclave Relic

Skyclave Relic can be kicked. If your deck isn't actively looking to kick things, it better be ramping very high, presumably to Ondu Inversion or something like that. This only helps you get to eight. Perhaps one could use this if there's a lot of kicker triggers in the deck, so you want to ramp to kick other things and like the option late to kick this for kicker kicks. It's quite the reach.

Lands: 8 Cards, 28 Stars

One star: Throne of Makindi

Three stars: Crawling Barrens

Four Stars: Clearwater Pathway, Cragcrown Pathway, Branchloft Pathway, Brightclimb Pathway, Riverglide Pathway, Needleverge Pathway

Throne of Makindi is fine if our color is robust and we have a lot of kicker to aim for. That's plausibly the case if one is playing a bunch of modal lands. Even then, it's not an efficient way to do business.

Crawling Barrens is a much better proposal. This is a reasonably fast way to close the game even on its own, a good mana sink when you flood a ton, and you can pump it up without exposing the creature prematurely. Seems like a robust use of a colorless land slot.

Pathways are the best duals cycle since Alpha.

That's a bold statement, but it seems clear enough. They're not as good as when you have old school fetchlands and also have shocklands, but they're stronger than either of those on their own. The only advantage basic lands have over them is that basic lands are basic. There are going to be some very interesting mana bases to tune in Standard with all the options available. There's some great tension between having enough basics for your fetching versus the free extra color the Pathways offer you.

The big mystery is that there are only six of them. Why six? Why these six?

Mythic

White: 3 Cards, 7 Stars

Zero stars: Angel of Destiny (have you ever played Nahiri's Binding on this in Limited? Achievement unlocked even if you don't deck them).

Three stars: Tazri, Beacon of Unity

Four stars: Emeria's Call

Tazri, Beacon of Unity is an excellent party payoff card. You get good stats on the cheap, and the ability should usually only cost five or so mana to activate, so it's reasonable if the game goes long. Base Camp is insulting, but definitely helps out here. So do the pathways, offering cheap access to colors you don't often want. This seems mostly like it's better than the other high-end discount payoffs - if you had to choose either a 4/6 with abilities or a hard removal spell, for example, I'd assume the 4/6 would be ahead, especially since it can also complete your party.

Emeria's Call is a damn cheap price to pay for the option to go over the top with Angels and an indestructible alpha strike. Pulling this off will win a lot of otherwise lost games. Not being able to do this at most costs you three life, and you have the option to come into play tapped. Unless Standard frequently puts us under extreme early pressure, this is a pretty great value add to any deck that can cast it on seven. It's got enough upside that if I didn't want to start it, I'd seriously consider boarding it in once I knew the three life didn't matter, and could then choose between taking out Plains or spells depending on the matchup and who was on the play. I love this as a way to win the game out of a control deck, or as part of a top end for a ramp deck if we can get enough White mana there and also enough basic lands. If the color doesn't work we can go with the Green one instead, or of course we can play both and be legends.

Blue: 3 Cards, 8 Stars

One star: Sea Gate Stormcaller

Three stars: Sea Gate Restoration

Four stars: Jace, Mirror Mage

Jace, Mirror Mage is a mistake. I don't mean it's a mistake because it's broken and will need to be banned. I mean it's a mistake in the sense that it will definitely make my life and our collective lives worse by its existence. Let's face it. Jace is an annoying asshole with a highly punchable face and we're all sick of him. Even more than that, we're sick of 3 mana Blue planeswalkers that replace themselves on the spot and threaten to take over games. We had to ban Teferi-3 and had to ride out Narset-3, and as soon as we look like we're clear, boom, have a Jace. Why? What did we ever do to you, Wizards? At 3 mana, this can either replace itself and probably survive, or it can scry and go from there, often setting up to pick up a free land next turn. On 5 mana, you can scry with the token and then pick up the card with the original, so it's replaced itself and now they have two things to remove. That does not sound like the way I want my life to go, on either side of the table. For now, I'll keep drafting, I guess.

Sea Gate Restoration locks in the win if you already had a large hand. If you ramp into it, it won't do much, so this one is for control decks and others taking it slow. One could reasonably ask how often this is going to win a game you would have lost, but I do think it can pull us ahead in many situations that would otherwise have looked not so good. Tapping out is an issue to be sure, but the thing is that the price here is so damn cheap.

Sea Gate Stormcaller will eventually get kicked, but that is not what the card is for. This is for getting two copies of a spell, but the converted mana cost limitation is the fun police. It's not a bad play to copy Fire Prophecy on turn four and get two copies plus a 2/1 for two cards, but it also isn't that impressive. When this works, it's still not that great. The more I ponder this card the less I like it.

Black: 3 Cards, 9 Stars

Two stars: Drana, the Last Bloodchief

Three stars: Scourge of the Skyclaves

Four stars: Agadeem's Awakening

Agadeem's Awakening will do good work on occasion. All it asks in exchange is three life if its mana is needed in a hurry. Seems like a great deal to me, even if the most you'll ever pay for this is six. It'll often play fine even at 5 mana. Flexibility here is super high, so this should be part of most Black decks that have cheap drops to return. Also noting that every time I see the name I mentally hum "Agadeem Hayinu" and it seems appropriate.

Drana, the Last Bloodchief is another of these trap cards that look awesome but aren't because they don't do anything if they never get to attack. It's still quite the threat and only has to attack rather than get through, so I do expect it to have its uses.

Scourge of the Skyclaves asks the question of how you are going to make sure both players take damage. The answer on your end is the Awakening lands. You can play eight (or potentially even more) lands that each do three damage to you when you want to ensure this hits the table. Agonizing Remorse is another fine way to start the process in a pinch as can Feed the Swarm, while staying in Black. You do still have to damage them as well. There are any number of ways to force that issue, with the danger that this can die to them playing Uro if you're not careful, so this gets substantially stronger once that card is out of the way. The upside potential is a very large creature for 2 mana, or for 7 mana you get at least a 10/10 most of the time, plus you eat half their life total as a triggered effect. This card could be the next Death's Shadow, and the two play very well together. You gotta love it in Modern where everyone takes damage from their lands.

Red: 3 Cards, 7 Stars

Two stars: Shatterskull Smashing, Leyline Tyrant

Three stars: Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Shatterskull Smashing is a relatively weak mythic modal land. Even if this gets to eight, all it does is remove two things. Still, it can remove things and at most it costs you life. I'm guessing we sometimes play it anyway.

Leyline Tyrant is a reasonable body attached to an intriguing ability. Saving Red mana can mean saving it all up for a giant bash to the enemy's head, it can mean saving it to cast some massive spell, or it can be a nice bonus to mess around with that can pay off in various ways. What it can't do is have any reliability, since dying is never something one can count on these days. It's going to be hard to find time for this. So, it's hard for me to believe that I'm essentially turning this down, but I'm turning it down.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum costs six and then requires landfall. That's a tall order, but the payoff certainly is there. Trigger this twice and he alone attacks for 24. Even a Gilded Goose attacks for 6. This plus Ancient Greenwarden is definitely game over on the spot, since you get six attacks. There's certainly some worry it is win-more territory, but I can't deny the power here.

Green: 3 Cards, 11 Stars

Three stars: Ashaya, Soul of the Wild

Four stars: Ancient Greenwarden, Turntimber Symbiosis

Ashaya, Soul of the Wild lets you tap Lotus Cobra and Arboreal Grazer (and itself) for mana, as well as all the cats from Felidar Retreat and anything else you've done. And it is very large. Using this to set up for strong 6-drops or 7-drops seems remarkably easy. The same could obviously have previously been said of Nissa, and Nissa was a lot harder to stop and had more reliable upside. I still really like the flexibility and power this offers, and I'm going to enjoy it so much every time they can't hit my 'nonland permanents.'

Ancient Greenwarden is not messing around. My faith in card balance is so shot that I originally read this wrong and thought you got two extra copies, and that seemed like something they'd let happen. It's better that it's only one extra copy. Playing land cards from your graveyard means Evolving Wilds or Fabled Passage, so if you play this with a land drop free you get two triggers that can't be stopped and you usually get four or more. With Lotus Cobra you get the bulk of your mana back on the spot. With Felidar Retreat you get three 3/3s at a minimum, even starting from scratch. If Moraug is in play he attacks five times for 45 total. Omnath is the disappointment, all you do is get 4 mana, four life, and four damage to the opponent and their planeswalkers. What a disappointment. Scute Swarm is even worse, you only get nine copies instead of the sixteen that should rightfully be yours. Serious ripoff. But yes, we are totally doing this, and we're doing this as quickly as possible. The easy route to doing turn four is Lotus Cobra into Migration Path or similar. turn five you have lots of choices, and your deck presumably is doing plenty of other things in the meantime.

Turntimber Symbiosis is certainly speaking my language. If this doesn't outright miss, you always get something decent. Often, you'll get the card you're looking for, which I presume will often be Ancient Greenwarden. Other times, you'll have to settle for Omnath, Locus of Creation or a 5/4 Lotus Cobra out of what would have otherwise been a land. I think we can live with that. There's certainly the fear this will miss depending on the build, or force you on Arboreal Grazer or Gilded Goose, which encourages playing some modal creatures to ensure that doesn't happen.

Colorless: 2 Cards, 4 Stars

Two stars: Forsaken Monument, Lithoform Engine

Forsaken Monument seems good in a colorless deck if one somehow exists, but we're nowhere close even if you didn't rotate anything out. The rating reflects the potential for this card if the Eldrazi burst back next set or something, right now this does nothing.

Lithoform Engine is very slow, but once it gets going it does do some things. If you do this on your four turn, on your five turn you can copy a fetch, copy a 2 mana spell, copy Uro's come into play effect, and go from there.

Gold: 3 Cards, 7 Stars

One star: Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

Two stars: Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

Four stars: Omnath, Locus of Creation

Nissa plus a fetch land gets to put something into play, often from your graveyard, on the turn it arrives and stays alive. It will be a bit before she can do anything useful again, but she remains a threat to do it again two turns later. If the creature you get is Ancient Greenwarden, she can be ready again in a big hurry. Alas, she is the color that is not Omnath and seems inessential to all the plans. I don't know where she goes. Based on history and rarity I would be well served to bump her to three stars, but this is in the one color it can't afford to be in. I will go with my gut.

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients is making a bold claim. She's saying that there is equipment that you really, really want to attach without paying the equip cost. If that's not true, why are we bothering? The minus abilities are highly unimpressive by today's 4 mana planeswalker Standards. The edge must come because the +1 is gold. Right now it isn't. The new equipment is the opposite, it attaches automatically and isn't that large. Even if Nahiri had good targets, I'd be skeptical. Right now she doesn't even have the targets.

Omnath, Locus of Creation at least makes the ridiculous gold card also White and Red this time around. I can respect that somewhat. This is not a remotely reasonable Magic card. It comes down as a cantrip 4/4 for four. If you follow that up with a fetch land, you also gain four life and get your 4 mana back. So now you've played it for free, no card, no mana, four bonus life, and you go from there. The mana cost looks tough, but is it? Gilded Goose and Lotus Cobra make mana of any color. You can fetch any color. There are a bunch of modal cards and duals to cover your bases. It's not going to work every time, and will sometimes force you to burn your fetch before Omnath so you can't reclaim the mana quite that easily, sure. But this also is not that hard to do off a Green base with Gilded Goose and Lotus Cobra, eight fetchlands, one Mountain plus enough Blue to play Uro and enough White to play Felidar Retreat. I can probably play eight modal lands that come into play untapped as my entire high end, if I am so inclined. Add two Plains (so I can fetch into www) and my White is more than covered enough to play Murasa Rootgrazer if I'm so inclined to ensure the fun never stops. And so on. I'm seriously confused on what competes with something like this. We've been building toward it the whole review.

Summary and Top 10

This set offers us excellent modal cards, and some exciting landfall cards in both ramp and aggro varieties. There's a lot of overlap between those two groups. There's also a party theme that seems hopelessly outclassed, but it's trying, and presumably it will get help from Elminster and company once we set down in the Forgotten Realms. I never visited on paper, but I played the whole Pool of Radiance Gold Box series. Won the first three, but I'm still sad I never figured out how to win the final battle in Pools of Darkness. Those were some games.

There's also a kicker thing going on, which doesn't seem Constructed worthy as a theme. Jace is a very good card though.

Lotus Cobra would be in the top three, but reprints are not eligible for the top 10.

  1. The Pathway Cycle - Clearwater Pathway, Cragcrown Pathway, Branchloft Pathway, Brightclimb Pathway, Riverglide Pathway, Needleverge Pathway
  2. Omnath, Locus of Creation
  3. Felidar Retreat
  4. Jace, Mirror Mage
  5. Emeria's Call
  6. Turntimber Symbiosis
  7. Tangled Florahedron
  8. Magmatic Channeler
  9. Agadeem's Awakening
  10. Ancient Greenwarden

Honorable Mention: Cinderclasm, Nullpriest of Oblivion, Luminarch Aspirant, Murasa Rootgrazer

The Pathways won't get us into trouble, but they're ridiculously, ludicrously good. They're interesting cards because right now there's a lot of incentive to play basic lands so one can fetch them out.

This could end up being like when I put Once Upon a Time at #1 and Oko, Thief of Crowns at #2 - yes, I went with an obviously way too good card, but in doing so I missed the lead. There's a decent chance that's the case here again, but I'm willing to take that chance. The lands are too good.

Felidar Retreat in today's context seems clearly to come next, given how easy it is to run away with the game at that point. The counterpoint is that Jace is going to be ubiquitous and super annoying. I can see this one going either way.

After that, I don't think the order is obvious and it's reasonably close for a while. It will be tough to rank the modal cards even if they see a lot of play, as they silently make draws solid rather than blowing people away.

It seems to me like there's a lot of danger that we get another one-deck metagame at the competitive level. I haven't scoured the format's cards or looked closely at what's happening, but when the dust settles, I expect there to be a fast, highly reliable and highly powerful and resilient ramp landfall deck with tremendous flexibility. If you come at it aggressive, it can sideboard in any number of strong answers then take over the game. If you try to compete on value, good luck with that.

More than that, it seems likely we have a one card metagame. Either you run Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, or you're some sort of very low to the ground aggro deck, such as landfall, that is trying to make the value not matter. I wonder how long the titan can survive the ban hammer.

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