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Utter Beatings – Pointing Zendikar Limited

 

Time for a tour through Zendikar’s commons. The idea here is to get an introductory look at the draft format, getting a sense of what each color does well and how the colors stack up against each other. Straight from R&D’s Developer’s Handbook, here’s how to point a card for limited:

Given that this is the first card you see (of your 75-card sealed deck or first pack, first pick in draft), how happy are you — on a scale of 0.0 – 5.0 — to see it? Furthermore, your ratings should be linear (that is, you’d be just as happy with a 3.5 and a 2.5 or with two 3.0’s). Also, to be technically correct, this all assumes that your goal is to win – winning makes you “happy.”

The following elaborations of this scale are merely guidelines, designed to clarify the scale defined above:

5.0: I will always play this card. Period.

4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.

4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.

3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card’s color.

3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)

2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)

2.0: If I’m playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)

1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)

1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)

0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I’ll never start it. (10%)

0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)

Those guidelines break down for artifacts and gold cards – fall back onto the fundamental definition when rating these categories of cards: the happiness scale.

Each color is sorted into rough pick order, with each card pointed. The order and values are based on first pick, first pack, where I value flexibility over potential. For example, I have [card]Mold Shambler[/card] listed as the top Green common, but I expect that by pack three it will almost never be the Green common you most want to open for any specific deck. Obviously, pick orders have limited utility past the first pick, and probably moreso in Zendikar than in most limited formats, as the commons tend to be close in power level but get maximized by very different decks.

White

Journey to Nowhere – 4
Kor Sanctifiers – 3
Kor Skyfisher– 3
Kor Hookmaster – 2
Makindi Shieldmate – 1.5
Ondu Cleric – 1.5
Cliff Treader – 1.5
Kor Outfitter– 1.5
Kor Cartographer – 1.5
Steppe Lynx – 1.5
Bold Defense – 1.5
Pillarfield Ox – 1.5
Caravan Hurda – 1
Narrow Escape – 1
Nimbus Wings– 1
Shieldmate’s Blessing – 0.5
Noble Vestige – 0.5
Sunspring Expedition – 0.5

Average: 1.6

White is awful at common. Not only does it suffer from overall poor quality, but also from a split in focus – a third of its common creatures are strictly defensive and a third are purely offensive. There’s enough bodies to be able to attack with some two power guys, or to turtle up on the ground, but there’s little to be excited about in White. There’s only three commons that really give you incentive to draft White, only one of which is actually impressive. Journey to Nowhere is to Zendikar as Lightning Bolt was to M10. Only it makes an even better splash, so the best reason to be in White is going to get poached even more.

Blue

Welkin Tern – 3
Umara Raptor – 3
Windrider Eel – 3
Into the Roil – 3
Whiplash Trap – 2.5
Ior Ruin Expedition – 2
Sky Ruin Drake – 2
Paralyzing Grasp – 2
Shoal Serpent – 2
Kraken Hatchling – 1.5
Cancel – 1.5
Reckless Scholar – 1.5
Spell Pierce – 1
Lethargy Trap – 1
Spreading Seas – 1
Tempest Owl – 1
Caller of Gales– 1
Trapfinder’s Trick – 0.5

Average: 1.8

Blue sure can attack in this set. Three efficient flyers and two amazing bounce spells as Blue’s top five commons makes for quite the base to an aggressive deck. Of course, the more controlling Blue shell we are used to is present as well, with the bottom half of Blue’s playables pushing in that direction. Though blue has a split between more aggressive and controlling cards, it doesn’t really have an Identity Crisis like White does. The Blue cards may be better in one direction or the other, but they can be effective anywhere. Kraken Hatchling and Paralyzing Grasp do a fine job of keeping pressure off while bashing in the air with flyers, and the aggressive flyers still make fine finishers for the more controlling decks. Plus, even if the split focus did hurt Blue, unlike White it has the depth to take the hit.

Ior Ruin Expedition is much worse than I initially thought, and is much, much worse than Divination. It’s not just that it makes a terrible topdeck, but also that it messes up your curve like card draw shouldn’t. Normally, you don’t want to play your card draw until after burning through all your action in hand, but with Ior Ruin Expedition, you have to play it out early or you risk blanking it. I may not often be cutting the Expedition, but I’m also pretty indifferent to having it in my deck. I do think that Ior Ruin Expedition will end up being one of the most important cards for green decks. There, not only do Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition help make it awesome later in the game, but it’s going to be critical for making sure the mana-heavy deck (from all the Harrows and Hearts) has adequate gas.

Reckless Scholar is probably the worst a looter has ever been in limited. Zendikar, thanks to both Landfall and Kicker, just gives you too much value out of excess lands. Plus, draft looks to be fast enough that a three mana investment in improving your card quality is not what you want to be doing. Outside of the more controlling decks where Reckless Scholar is going to be important for winning drawn out games, I do not want to be playing it. Note that Reckless Scholar is significantly better in Sealed, where decks are weaker (so you get a much bigger boost in card quality from looting) and games are longer.

Spell Pierce can be pretty blowout-inducing (Harrow, thanks!), but most of the time it’s just going to rot in your hand. It’s not something I want to play main, though it does make for a nice sideboard option.

Spreading Seas is bad and you would certainly rather not play it, but don’t completely dismiss it as useless. You can randomly color screw your opponent, or more practically, lock them out of a splash color.

Black

Hideous End – 3.5
Disfigure – 3
Heartstabber Mosquito – 2.5
Surrakar Maurader – 2.5
Gull Draz Vampire – 2.5
Nimana Sell-Sword – 2.5
Crypt Ripper – 2.5
Soul Stair Expedition – 2
Giant Scorpion – 2
Vampire Lacerator – 1.5
Bog Tatters – 1.5
Hagra Crocodile – 1
Blood Seeker – 1
Desecrated Earth – 1
Grim Discovery – 1
Vampire’s Bite – 0.5
Mire Blight – 0
Mindless Null – 0

Average: 1.7

Great removal, some card advantage (Soul Stair Expedition is by far the best of the cycle, and a great way to make sure you are never lacking for bodies), and some very good aggressive creatures. In the context of what Black does well, Vampire Lacerator is probably quite good, and Giant Scorpion is not going to to be so exciting. Crypt Ripper may not have Tendrils of Corruption to play with, but it’s still very nasty on its own in mono-Black, and is plenty good enough in a straight two color deck as well.

Red

Burst Lightning – 3.5
Bladetusk Boar – 3
Plated Geopede – 2.5
Torch Slinger– 2.5
Highland Berserker – 2.5
Tuktuk Grunts – 2
Shatterskull Giant – 2
Spire Barrage – 2
Magma Rift – 2
Goblin Shortcutter – 2
Ruinous Minotaur – 1.5
Goblin War Paint – 1.5
Zektar Shrine Expedition – 1.5
Slaughter Cry – 1.5
Goblin Bushwhacker – 1.5
Seismic Shudder – 1
Demolish – 1
Molten Ravager – 1

Average: 1.9

Red the best color!? Blasphemy! I’ll stick to Blue as my pick for best color at common, despite pointing lower, because its cards are so flexible. Most of them play well in any deck and with any colors. Red, on the other hand, only does one thing – attack – but it does it well, and the set does reward attacking far more than blocking.

Green

Mold Shambler – 3
Oran-Rief Survivalist – 3
Harrow – 2.5
Timbermaw Larva – 2.5
Territorial Baloth – 2.5
Vines of Vastwood – 2.5
Oran-Rief Recluse– 2.5
Vastwood Gorger – 2.5
Vastwood Gorger – 2
Nissa’s Chosen – 2
Khalni Heart Expedition – 1.5
Relic Crush – 1.5
Zendikar Farguide – 1.5
Savage Silhouette – 1
Joraga Bard – 0.5
Tanglesap – 0.5
Scythe Tiger – 0
Beast Hunt – 0

Average: 1.75

Green has the sick curve of ground pounders we have come to expect, but mixed in are a couple of nice two for ones in Mold Shambler and Oran-Rief Recluse. I probably have the various fatties too high, as they are mostly interchangeable and there are enough of them that collecting as many as you want shouldn’t be too difficult. The other cards might be worse, but they are much scarcer. The format also seems somewhat hostile to Green fat, as boom booms aren’t ideal for handling quick aggressive decks, and Blue especially can punish them with efficient flyers and the backbreaking bounce spells.

Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition are obviously quite nice with Landfall. The fact that Zendikar gives you so much extra value out of your lands makes ramp style decks significantly stronger, and I suspect that archetypes built around Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition will be popular and successful. Big expensive bombs are going to be the key to making these decks work, and the run of the mill common green fatties may make a good start but are probably insufficient. Because these decks can get away with some serious splashing, it seems pretty reasonable to assemble enough bombs (across multiple colors) to make ramping into them a good plan.

Artifact

Adventuring Gear – 2
Explorer’s Scope – 1.5
Stonework Puma – 1
Expedition Map – 1
Spidersilk Net – 0.5
Hedron Scrabbler – 0

I have been pretty impressed with Adventuring Gear so far. It adds a ton of damage and makes blocking a losing proposition for your opponent. I haven’t had much experience with Explorer’s Scope, and it’s a tricky one to size up. I would like it much more if you knew if you were going to hit a land or not, as it can be pretty awkward when you have a Landfall creature that can only attack profitably if it’s getting pumped. I would also like it far more if it didn’t involve attacking, as it is such a sweet value card over long games that control decks would really like to be able to take advantage of it, but may not be able to. I do look forward to Scopeing up many Kraken Hatchlings in the future. I do not look forward to games being decided on the swinginess of Scope hitting land in the early turns.

Land

Kabira Crossroads – 3
Turntimber Grove – 2
Teetering Peaks – 2
Soaring Seacliff – 1.5
Piranha Marsh – 0

I pointed the lands by about how often you would want to play them, but they are all going to be very low in pick orders, probably just above the “unplayables” (the ones and below). The difference between these lands and a basic is pretty small, about as big as the difference between the last card that makes your deck versus the last cut, assuming you have enough playables. If you don’t have enough, though, you end up taking a pretty huge hit in quality, so you want to make sure you are going to have enough cards to play before you start taking any of these lands over playables.

What a difference one life makes. I think you just about always play Kabira Crossroads in a heavy White deck, whereas I don’t know that it is ever correct to play Piranha Marsh.

It’s also interesting noting where each of the lands is at its best. Soaring Seacliff is unplayable in mono-Blue, but pretty nuts sending green’s monsters or a Ruinous Minotaur to the skies. Teetering Peaks is fine enough in red, but really excels paired with Blue’s evasion ensuring two extra damage. Green’s giant bodies benefit little from Turntimber Grove (or in the case of Timbermaw Larva, are actively hurt by it), but it is easily worth three extra points on the plentiful two power beaters in other colors.

Playing completely off-color lands in this cycle is viable, though probably just in monocolor. I would almost certainly play all the Soaring Seacliffs I had in mono-Green, for example.

Allies

Umara Raptor (Blue) – 3
Oran-Rief Survivalist (Green) – 3
Highland Berserker (Red) – 2.5
Nimana Sell-Sword (Black) – 2.5
Tuktuk Grunts (Red) – 2
Makindi Shieldmate (White) – 1.5
Ondu Cleric (White) – 1.5
Stonework Puma (Artifact) – 1
Joraga Bard (Green) – 0.5

The Allies are far harder to evaluate, and far more deck dependant, than the other cards in the set. Clearly, once you have some Allies, others become far more valuable than where I have them, and they also get much worse as the draft progresses if you haven’t been collecting them.

You don’t get a fair sense of the Allies just looking at the commons, as it is the uncommons and rares that provide the real incentives for maxing out on Allies. The most important thing to take away from the common Allies is that drafting an “Allies” deck is not viable. With at most two commons per color (plus Stonework Puma), you just aren’t going to be able to play a high concentration of Allies. It’s also not like non-Allies drafters want nothing to do with the cards, as the good Allies are all reasonable picks even with little to no support. Allies work as a mini-theme in decks, but not as an archetype. Make sure you evaluate the uncommon and rare Allies as such – they won’t often be getting much support, and building around them won’t often work out.

Not to be confused with a conclusion, I wanted to end on some final quick takeaways on the draft format:

– The colors all look pretty close in power level, with the exception of White.
– Red and Black are mostly forced into fast beatdown, but the other colors have plenty of options available.
– Monocolor is viable. There are just enough incentives that are just strong enough that you will often find yourself not wanting to move into a second color. But the incentives aren’t strong enough or plentiful enough to make monocolor the norm. You need to be in a very open color to pull it off, but if you can it is worthwhile to try to.
– You are going to be scrounging for playables. There is enough garbage to make getting up to 23 a challenge. Fortunately you may not always want 23, but pay careful attention to how many lands you want to run and how many playables you still need.

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