Zendikar was a set designed around the theme of explorers and adventurers discovering ancient secrets and powerful treasures. The set was packed full of treasures, literally - the Hidden Treasures promotion by WOTC inserted iconic, expensive and rare old cards into a small set of boosters. Players could open an Underground Sea or a Candelabra of Tawnos; they might open Guardian Beast or crack Black Lotus. Zendikar was full of treasures inside the set, too; the Allies were like Slivers, growing with every new one. The long-awaited enemy-color fetchlands continue to pull good prices and deserve discussion of their impact on the game at large. Let's not tarry any longer... let's dig in to the first half of the world of Zendikar!
If you do the math on Archive Trap, you can see that it's set up to make a dream come true. Your opponent cracks their fetchland on the first turn and then, bam! Four Archive Traps blast their entire library out of the game. Even when you can't make the dream scenario come true, this Trap takes out an appreciable amount of someone's library for its mana. You can pull it up with Trapmaker's Snare or Merchant Scroll and have twelve in the deck, too.
But Archive Trap is more than just a card, it's a reminder for the trader that casual, junky cards like this and Sanity Grinding are worth actual money. Milling decks are fun and represent a blue strategy that doesn't rely on piles of counterspells. Huge numbers of Archive Traps change hands every month on Ebay, so these are hot to have in a binder.
Ever since Onslaught, we wondered when we would get these babies. They made the biggest impact in Eternal formats, because base-blue decks must be able to play around Wasteland. In Legacy, grabbing a basic Forest lets you cast Tarmogoyfs against Merfolk. In Vintage, getting a Mountain means that you can evoke Ingot Chewers into a Chalice of the Void without exposing a Volcanic Island.
Even in newer formats, these cards link up manabases. In Modern, they get the Ravnica lands. These lands are actually quite a bit less powerful without fetchlands around, which sounds like a stupidly obvious statement. But when you compare them to checklands (Dragonskull Summit) and the 2-lands (Darkslick Shores, and is there any better name for these?), a fetchland isn't great. If you have no need for a shuffle, it will only snag one color, fixing but one of your colors. I think we've been used to fetchlands for so long that when we look at Modern manabases, we jump to fetches when filter lands or checklands might be much, much better.
Blade of the Bloodchief
There is a small contingent of loyal Vampire fans, and their bloodsuckers don't sparkle, they kill. The Blade comes down early and can make the smallest thrall into a grand old monster. I think if you're going to make a casual Vampire deck, then the list probably starts with four of these guys.
I wanted so much more from this card than it is... you can put it together in a burn deck and get a lot of reach, but by that point, you've got them halfway to death anyway. It's better in Commander and it's a fine casual card. I like that this card gives you a great payoff and it has an achievable goal. It's clear how to get the quest counters on this.
Bloodghast promises something for nothing. Sure, a 2/1 for BB isn't much, but it just keeps coming back for more! Every land, every landfall from a fetchland, brings back this little ghoulie. Most of the time, it's not for long because you're sacrificing it to a Cabal Therapy, sending it away with Attrition, or feeding it to a Bloodthrone Vampire. Bloodghast comes up a lot in Legacy Dredge, which drives some of its price, but more generally, it's just an interesting card that casual players want. I foresee Bloodghast doubling in price over the next year; it's a Vampire and it is nigh-unkillable. I'd bet on that as a casual gainer!
We've always wanted Chandra to be decent; every other color has a playable Planeswalker, but red just can't get its act together. She looks like she'll fit in a burn deck, but at six mana, good luck! Red doesn't need more card disadvantage and burn spells on its banner cards. Despite being unplayable in real formats, Chandra Ablaze still carries a few bucks. I know that Kelly Reid and Corbin Hosler actively trade for these, since they're frequently undervalued.
Day of Judgment
Either a worse Wrath of God or a differently-named Wrath for your Gifts Ungiven decks. DOJ lets monsters regenerate through it, but that's what we have to put up with for a hugely powerful effect. I think this card is mucho underpriced at under two bucks; there are plenty of copies in print, but you can say the same thing about Wrath and even the skankiest white-bordered versions rarely dip below $5.
This was briefly the "it" card when Eldrazi Green made waves in Standard. The idea was that you could summon a bunch of meaningless elves and tokens and then drop this thing, creating a flying army of monsters that actually means something. Giving your team flying is great in green - it's super-trample! Also, blowing away one plant token each turn didn't matter very much in the scheme of things. The monument shot up in about a week to $15, but it has since settled down after rotation. I peg this card to end up a lot like Akroma's Memorial. It'll eventually be $8 again when people realize that they all want it for their Commander decks.
Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Emeria has slowly been ticking up in value. It has an insane effect, but you have to pay a huge cost of playing all Plains. That Emeria isn't Legendary makes it even better, since you can get double the fun if you hit seven Plains and get two of these babies out. It's seeing a little bit of play in Modern with the mono-white Martyr decks. Those decks are The Real Thing and I wouldn't be surprised to see a breakout price jump on secondary cards like Emeria.
My oh my, this can combine lifegain with actually winning the game! All those Life Bursts and Martyrs actually mean something when you can drop this guy and protect it. There was a howl in the Commander community when this first came out; people called for emergency pre-emptive bans. Turns out, killing a six-mana guy is easy enough to do.
Back when Zendikar first came out and Quiet Spec was just a blog that Kelly ran, this card was spoiled and people divided sharply over it. A lot of people thought it was awful; after the first turn, it was bad, and it let your opponent draw cards all the time! It turns out that Goblin Guide was part of a devastating R/W Landfall strategy; by the time your opponent started their second turn, they might be at 16 life and facing down even more danger. The Guide has gotten a little bit of love in Modern because it's a part of Boros and Zoo decks. It'll be a solid roleplayer in the format for a long time.
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Iona promises a hard lock in one card, a tremendous barrier to the opponent attached to a 7/7 body. It was the primary reason that Karakas went from $7 to $40. Iona and Painter's Servant could lock someone out completely; Iona and Unburial Rites became a combo with Gifts Ungiven. I don't think people attempt to pay retail for Iona, but there are plenty of ways to sneak her out. What I find most interesting about Iona's tradeability is that there were hundreds of transactions for her in the past few months. If your goal is to trade into a more liquid portfolio (meaning, easier to find customers), this is the card to look for. Converting this Angel into cash is simple enough.
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet
Mainly a Commander rare, either as a general or merely as a floating battlestation of doom. Unlike other big monsters with tap-out abilities, like Helldozer, Kalitas doesn't punish you too much for not attacking; it makes a token so your next combat phase will hit just as hard as the one you skipped.
That's it for the front end of Zendikar; join me next week as we look at serpentine lotuses, maniacal planeswalkers and crafty goblins!