Welcome back to our exploration of Zendikar. If you were busy last week while we were plumbing the ruins of ancient tombs, take a look at Part One and you'll catch up. Otherwise, come on in and let's check out the second half of this set!
Lotus Cobra, along with Jenara, were ballyhooed because we all thought that everyone would need four of these in every deck to compete. It was a little more true with the Cobra, since the Mythic decks used it to catapult into Sovereigns of Lost Alara or Elspeth. With a fetchland, this can create two mana on a turn, so one can get some excellent mana advantage.
In Vintage, the Cobra also took off; there are, after all, far fewer ways to kill a little monster like this one. Cobra could transform the land drop from a Gush into casting Necropotence. It could turn into a turn-2 Jace if you wanted it!
Lotus Cobra doesn't see much competitive play these days and it isn't really a compelling casual card. It isn't much that you'd want in a Commander deck, since it's just a mana accelerator. But that said, it's a slightly played Mythic, so it commands a few dollars.
The Trap sees a little Modern and Vintage play, mostly for use against Storm decks. It saw a big jump lately as a way to fight U/R Storm. It can stop Grapeshots or it can completely handle a Past Into Flames. Being able to stop an Eldrazi makes Mindbreak Trap into a worthwhile Commander spell. It has experienced a few little jumps here and there; not a solid speculation target, but worth acquiring a few.
Nissa's history is this: when printed, Elf fans went crazy. Nissa dropped to $5 when the hype settled down. Then, Eldrazi Green came out and cards like Nissa became $15 cornerstones of the top Standard deck. Nissa could feed an Eldrazi Monument or spawn a growing field of swarming, angry elves. Now that the deck has gone, Nissa is down to reasonable levels for a planeswalker. The bonus ability for Nissa is nearly-irrelevant for Commander, since you only get one little guy to spawn, but the Ultimate can still pull a deck full of elves onto the board.
Oracle of Mul Daya
In recent Magic, we've seen ramp decks really take off. I think it's a result of having good expensive spells to cast. We've always had good acceleration, but one of the earliest big-spell decks I can remember is Accelerated Blue- a deck with Grim Monolith and Morphling! Oracle is part of a new wave, along with Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar. Oracle is a sustainable, mid-level ramp creature that's at home in both Standard and Commander decks. Oracle is kind of fragile, but I find that it can last for a few crucial turns in Commander. That's often all you need.
PA spawned a new combo type. Thanks to the shifting of Rituals to Red, one can use cantrips and Rits and easily "flip" Ascension. Then, it's just a matter of making enough mana to storm out with Grapeshot or Empty The Warrens. This card is still pretty seriously underpriced, but I doubt that PA decks will take off more than they have in Modern. If you're set on playing Sulfur Falls, Twin is probably the better deck. This deck gets batted around in Legacy now and then because you can use Regrowth and Manamorphose to loop through the entire deck.
Who knew that Sorin would drop this low! Of course, he was never a great Standard planeswalker; his major appeal comes from Commander. Being able to Magister Sphinx someone can be pretty solid, especially if you can drain them for 20 life or more. On top of that, Mindslaver is one of the most feared cards in Commander for a reason! Unfortunately, Sorin is pitiful at defending himself and leveling him up only draws the ire of the whole table. If you're going to make a casual Vampire deck, then this guy is a good pal to have as the King Baddie, but don't wait for him to see much Constructed play.
This is exactly the kind of uncommon that I want to see once in awhile. Nighthawk is really strong, but it just kisses the boundaries of what 1BB should get you. Cards like this make us care about uncommons, and the uncommon slot is a great home for powerful weenie creatures. We'd grumble if Kitchen Finks were a rare, but as an uncommon, it feels like a treat to open. Similarly, Strangleroot Geist is a great uncommon that gets us excited to open packs again.
Vampire Nighthawk sees a bit of casual play, especially because Deathtouch is such a rare ability. In multiplayer, a Deathtouch creature is like having a Seal of Doom on the board. With Nighthawk's Flying, you can even dare someone to come in with Empyrial Archangel - they'll still taste the blade!
What's better than one Goblin Lackey? Two tied together! For another mana, you get twice the hand-clearing, field-cluttering Goblin acceleration. Now absent cards like Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader, you'll rapidly run out of Goblins to actually deploy. That can be uncomfortable, especially for people trying to make this guy work in Modern. I don't see it happening, but the Instigator is still a fine casual card. This is another example of a card that people lost their senses over, then realized that it wasn't quite as good as previously thought.
Well that concludes our analysis of Zendikar, but we'll keep delving into this block next week as we try out the buried treasures of Worldwake! Until then,