Battle for Zendikar is freshly released, and the Magic world is still operating on their first impressions of the cards. If you’re looking for a quick leg up in BFZ Limited, then this article is for you. I’ll point out, from my own experiences, where our first impressions may have led us astray.
Note: I don’t mean to give the impression that the cards on the “overrated” list are unplayable, or that the cards on the “underrated” list are among the best in the format. Consider this more to be a catalogue of my discoveries which have surprised me. It’s food for thought about interesting cards.
I’ll start with overrated cards today, and cover the underrated cards next time.
#1) Scour from Existence
I strongly considered including Scour from Existence in my prerelease deck, and so far I think that more than half of my opponents have had this card against me. There was a time in Magic’s history where this effect would have been powerful in Limited at virtually any mana cost, but that time has passed. 7 mana is simply too much to pay for a 1-for-1. In this set, there are plenty of creatures, even at common and uncommon, that ought to dominate the game singlehandedly if you’re willing to pay 7 mana for them.
Consider Scour from Existence a sideboard card for slow matchups, or when you’re desperate to answer a particular threat.
#2) Ondu Rising
Ondu Rising looks very exciting. First, it’s a hallmark example of the new awaken mechanic; and second, it’s a gamebreaker in any kind of race.
Unfortunately, I’ve found awaken to be less exciting in practice than it looks on paper. The optimistic way to look at the awaken on Ondu Rising is 6-mana for a 4/4 haste! The pessimistic way to look at it is 5 mana for a 4/4 that enters the battlefield tapped and requires you to sacrifice a land. While neither of these are precisely accurate, I now believe that the reality is closer to the pessimistic view. You need your lands in this format, and by the time awaken becomes relevant, there’s usually a larger creature dominating the other side of the battlefield.
Don’t consider awaken spells as creatures. Consider awaken a moderate upside on a spell that you’d want to play with anyway. Also, they get weaker in multiples, so there’s not a lot of incentive to play more than about 3 awaken spells in your deck.
To get back to Ondu Rising in particular, games don’t play out as close races all that often. For Ondu Rising to function at its full effect, you need a board state in which you can tap all of your mana on your precombat main phase and still make a giant attack. If your opponent has favorable blocks, you’ll gain a bunch of life, but get your board wiped and lose anyway.
This card can still be great if the game does turn into a pure race (for example, if one player is swinging for the fences with flying creatures, and the other is swinging for the fences with ground creatures). However, it’s going to do virtually nothing in an unacceptably high portion of games.
#3) Processor Assault
Processor Assault represents a very efficient 1-for-1, but sometimes can’t even be cast. More specifically, it cannot help you when your plan A game plan is failing. That makes it risky and, frankly, bad.
I drafted what I consider to be just about the best deck for Processor Assault that you can reasonably expect to get. (I had six ingest creatures that cost 1 or 2 mana and two removal spells that exiled cards). Of the eight games I played with the deck, I lost two because of not being able to cast Processor Assault. To clarify, I don’t simply mean that I played two games where I could not cast Processor Assault. I mean that I played two extremely close games that I would have won if Processor Assault was any reasonable, castable card, but instead I lost because I had a dead card in my hand. I predict that that will be an all-too-common experience.
#4) Volcanic Upheaval/Reclaiming Vines
I had originally thought that land destruction might be maindeckable in Battle for Zendikar. However, going along with the awaken mechanic underperforming, I’ve found that to not be the case. Firing off a turn-4 Stone Rain in an attempt to mana-screw your opponent is a bad plan. Saving it for a possible awaken spell is also a bad plan. By the point in the game that lands are being awakened, those lands are usually not the best creatures on the battlefield anyway.
#5) Roil’s Retribution/Turn Against
I thought these cards would be great because some of their ancestors—namely Arrow Volley Trap and Act of Aggression—were. But passing the turn with 5 mana open and asking your opponent to make a reckless attack is sometimes too bold. It will work more often in the early days of the format, and at lower levels of competition, but once savvy players get used to the format, they won’t walk into these cards often enough to make them good.
As a side note, I did get to Turn Against an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger once!
#6) Pathway Arrows/Hedron Blade
#7) Brilliant Spectrum
I think you should aim for 2-color decks in Battle for Zendikar Limited. It’s nice to play a few colorless value lands, and the tools just aren’t there to build multicolor converge decks. Everyone wants Evolving Wilds for landfall anyway, so you won’t get them late like you might’ve in other formats.
Avoid Brilliant Spectrum, and any converge card that’s not at least somewhat respectable to cast for two colors of mana.
The value of “random” Allies is lower than I expected, and lower than it was in original Zendikar. The strong Allies create exciting effects right away when you cast them, but you don’t necessarily need to be rallying every turn for them to be good. Starting your draft with a Lantern Scout and a Kor Bladewhirl is great, but it doesn’t mean your finished product needs to have sixteen Allies, and you don’t have to start drafting bad Allies right away.
The Retreats are difficult to evaluate at first glance. Some players liked them, others did not. From my experience, there’s not a blanket answer of “good” or “bad,” but instead the five Retreats vary wildly in power level. None of the Retreats are going to be good in short games. Kazandu, Coralhelm, and Valakut do not give large, tangible enough advantages in protracted games, either, so you should avoid them.
Remember, it’s still early in the format, and my experiences also have their limits. I’m sure that I’ve misjudged more than one or two cards in these lists, and that there will be plenty more to add as the format matures. Until then, I hope you can use these thoughts as a jump-start for your own exploration of Battle for Zendikar limited!