Insider: Battle for Zendikar – Standard Top 10

Mike-Lanigan QS Magic the Gathering MTG

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Don’t fret and let’s have a positive attitude. All I’ve heard lately is about how disappointed we all are about Battle for Zendikar, but there are a lot of great cards in the set! For example, Skyrider Elf may not make the top 10 today, but it’s still a solid card and I’m looking forward to playing with it. There are a lot of cards like that in this set.

Many staples or solid role players are hidden in the spoiler as well. What we need to remember is that we are coming from a high-powered, multi-colored block where Wizards pushed the envelope with cards that had tough mana costs. We are going back to a set designed on a power level of normal, single-colored cards. That is going to bring the power level down a notch and that’s okay.

Honestly, I like formats that are underpowered more than ones that are overpowered because your skill matters more. You need to be able to leverage your lower-powered cards and get the most out of them rather than relying on overpowered cards to get you easy wins.

Getting back to the topic at hand, there are lots of great cards in this set! Here are the ones that made their way to the top of the list.

Honorable Mention

Every Top 10 article needs an honorable mention section and most of the section this time is take up by lands. The main problem with the lands from this set has nothing to do with how powerful they are. With this being a land based set, there are understandably tons of lands. So many of them are good, but not all of them can see play. There are only so many slots for lands in a deck and we can only squeeze a limited number of colorless lands into any deck.

New Duals

I’ve spoken about how important the new dual land cycle will be in the upcoming format, but what I didn’t realize until recently is how their importance will differ between archetypes. There is a reason that Sunken Hollow is one of the most expensive cards in the set, due to the deck type it’s played in. Many writers have been pushing Esper Dragons for the new format and Sunken Hollow fits perfectly into that deck.

The point I’m getting at here is that players are rewarded in the mid to late game with their duals coming into play untapped. If there were a blue-black aggressive deck that was tier one, we wouldn’t be seeing this land near the top of the valuable cards in the set. Once players start building their Abzan Control decks to fight Esper, just like it happened before, then we should see a rise in price of Canopy Vista the same as we are seeing with Sunken Hollow trending upward.

All of these lands are great, but they need a deck that is willing to play towards prolonging the game and not ending it by turn four or five.

Blighted Lands

The Battle for Zendikar is raging and even the countryside is fighting back. The land itself is giving power to the planeswalkers. We have been granted the ability to draw two cards, make our opponent sacrifice a creature, deal two damage to a creature or player, or search for two basic lands to come into play tapped. Spawning Bed deserves an honorary inclusion too since it functions the same way and the white one is so terrible.

Those are some powerful abilities. Sure, we have to pay a bit of mana, but the effects we get are worth the investment. All of these lands will need to contend with Foundry of the Consuls, but some decks will be able to support multiple of these types of lands. Snap up foil copies of these lands as well because Commander players are going to be all over this cycle and they’ll need multiple copies for their various decks.

Planar Outburst

A clear upgrade?

Planar Outburst might not be the most powerful sweeper ever printed, but its functionality in the upcoming format looks impressive. While this card is essentially the same as End Hostilities, the ability to use your wrath effect as a win condition in the late game is impressive.

Who knows, maybe we could even see an awaken control deck where the only win conditions are awakening your lands to do battle for you. Now that would be something to see. This board clearing card should see a decent amount of play in the new format. I bet the foils look sweet too.

Radiant Flames

Good enough?

Next up in our honorable mention section is a card I nearly forgot about. Earlier in the week, Brian DeMars identified Radiant Flames as an interesting new card to pick up in presales. His article had some solid advice, including some of the cards that made it onto the Top 10. Check it out if you have a couple minutes. It's well worth your time.

This new red spell is subtly effective. Normally we would be getting Pyroclasm for three mana and that seems to be our level zero these days. What is unique about this card though is that the amount of damage we deal can change based on the way we use our mana. We can do things like keep our three-toughness creatures around while killing their two-toughness army. How necessary this versatility is will determine how much table time this new sorcery sees.

Beastcaller Savant

Solid role player or format pillar?

Last in the so close club is a card many have pegged as a centerpiece of the evolving new format. Beastcaller Savant is a great card. Not only does it have haste, which will sometimes be relevant, but it also taps for any color mana. It is a 1/1, so it won't be bashing any skulls anytime soon, but if you have a way to pump your creatures, this 1/1 haste could turn into a threat in the late game.

At this current state of things, uncertainty surrounds the ally tribe. Will Beastcaller Savant be the piece that makes the deck work? Is the deck even viable? Only time will tell. I doubt that Beastcaller will see much play outside of Allies though because of the creature-only restriction on his mana ability. That's a huge restriction and one that will likely force this card to the sidelines in favor of Rattleclaw Mystic.

Battle for Zendikar Top 10!

10. Scatter to the Winds

Make a giant Mystic Snake!
Dissolve is the best Counterspell we’ve seen in while. It’s nowhere near as powerful as Cryptic Command or even Dismiss, but scrying is the next best thing to actually drawing cards. The advantage you gain by casting Dissolve was immense.

Now we have a similar card with Scatter to the Winds. Just like with the other solid awaken cards, this counter gets better the longer the game goes. Coincidentally, control decks tend to like the game going long so they can amass their advantage. I’m still a huge proponent of Clash of Wills, but Scatter is going to see tons of play as well. I expect this number ten to pull its weight in the format unless another more powerful counter is printed.

9. Ruinous Path

Better Hero's Downfall or best Hero's Downfall?

As the caption for our number nine card, Ruinous Path, implies, I like our new Hero's Downfall imposter, but some may be confused as to why. First of all, with Downfall leaving the format, we had a huge hole to fill for not only unconditional removal, but also a way to easily deal with planeswalkers. Wizards has pushed development of this concept so that we don’t constantly lose to the planeswalker card type.

Thinking through how Hero's Downfall played out, I saw many times this card was cast during the main phase instead of on the opponent’s turn. Most players won’t cast their valuable planeswalker into open mana, because then they would only get one activation out of it. So, what usually happened was that a planeswalker would sneak into play when the control player was forced to tap out. Then they would usually untap and use mana on their turn to rid the board of the threat. This was a perfectly fine sequence for both players. It left the tempo in favor of the player casting the planeswalker but the control player was also able to deal with the threat so they didn’t mind either.

Because I so frequently saw this process during games, it’s easy for me to see Ruinous Path making a big impact in Standard. If it was an instant, it would be so much more powerful, but as a sorcery, it’s still good enough. It’s still a removal spell that kills any creature or planeswalker and in the late game, it’s also a threat.

With how impressed I’ve been by Ruinous Path, Scatter to the Winds, and Planar Outburst, we need to inspect the awaken cards more thoroughly before dismissing them. Effects that normally don’t make the cut might be good enough if their awaken cost is low enough. What an exciting mechanic!

8. Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Solid role player or pillar of an aggro deck?

I can’t help thinking about Drana, Liberator of Malakir as similar to Vampire Nighthawk. They have the same stats and similar abilities. Regardless of their similarities, both of these cards are worthy of our time. Not only is Drana an ally, which is surprising but refreshing, she is also just plain good. If we had access to her last season, that may have pushed Mono-Black Aggro over the top.

As it stands now, she needs a home, but that can be said of most cards on this list. I’m excited to brew in this format and I think Drana is worth our time to brew around. Also, if you see her falling under $10, I’d say she’s a good pick up. I think she’s at her peak for now unless she starts seeing play immediately. This black legend seems like a great sleeper pick to me.

7. Omnath, Locus of Rage

Is this what we should be ramping into?

Mighty Omnath has transformed from a mild mannered elemental into a force of nature that brings the landscape around him into battle. Battle for Zendikar has forced landfall into green and red but players aren’t adjusting. All I’ve seen is players trying to reimagine the original decks from Zendikar, but we don’t have the tools to make them work the way we did back then. We need to adapt.

We need to be thinking more G/R Snow from back in Coldsnap than Mono-Green Eldrazi. Let’s throw in some red removal and ramp into Omnath, Locus of Rage so we can create our elemental army. This guy is much better than he’s being given credit. Here is another card to track down foil copies of as well. My ear to the Commander circles heard some chatter about this guy being desired. Use it to your advantage.

6. Kiora, Master of the Depths

Kiora, Master of the Depths Battle for Zendikar
Kiora got a big upgrade with this card.

Kiora, Master of the Depths does exactly what I’m looking for in a planeswalker. Kiora is like Garruk Wildspeaker when paired with Rattleclaw Mystic but she also generates card advantage for you as well!

There are plenty of blue-green cards that interest me going forward. I’m not ready to let my sweet U/G Company deck die yet and Kiora could be the glue that holds the new deck together. Coming in at number six, I think Kiora will find a home eventually and I’m excited to try her out.

She will definitely be a favorite of the casual crowd. I know we say this a lot, but I’ve observed just how much the casual players drive sales. My store constantly sells singles like this to players who never come out for FNM or go to larger events. They are happy just playing with their friends at home. She will be popular with many types of players.

5. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

The Ulamonster is back!

Halfway there, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger makes an appearance on the list. There’s no doubt how potent exiling two permanents will be. The question in my mind is whether the cards that surround him will be good enough to reliably get him in play. All you have to do is cast him to exile their permanents, but getting to ten mana is the challenging part. I think we all can agree that this is a great threat with scary implications if left in play. Weigh in down below in the comments as to how good you think he will be in the format.

4. Manlands

Which is the better man-land?

Not only do I think these two lands are really good, but I also think they will push the format into these two colors just so we have access to manlands. We all know how good dual lands that turn into creatures are because all we have to do is look at Modern for our evidence. Neither of these two lands are amazing on their own, but when the effect comes from a land, that value should not be underestimated.

Of the two, I’m not sure which is better, but they are both decent. We can wish they were better every day the format is legal, or we can use what we’ve got to work with. Don’t spend time wanting more, punish the players unwilling to turn their duals into threats. Next time you see someone gain a life from their dual lands, you can pause and reflect on how much better your land being a threat really would have been in that situation. I know I will be brewing in these color combinations just so I can attack with some Shambling Vents and Lumbering Falls.

3. Ob Nixilis Reignited

Ob Nixilis Reignited Battle for Zendikar
Where's the buzz? This planeswalker's good!

While writing this article, I realized that Ob isn’t his name, it’s his title. Did anyone ever say that before? Nixilis is his name and the position he holds is Ob. Look at his card. It says Planeswalker – Nixilis. That’s the same formatting as the other planeswalkers, but I never thought about it until now. What’s an Ob anyway?

Even if he has an odd title, his abilities are tremendously good. Think about following up your Siege Rhino by killing their threat and having your planeswalker friend stick around to help you out after that. How amazing would that be? What about in a control deck? Kill their guy and then start drawing cards next turn or counter their spell and untap into an empty board to start drawing cards on.

There are many possibilities, but once we start seeing this black planeswalker on the table, I think we will all see just how good he is. That’s my feeling with many cards in this set. They are subtly good and all we need is time to discover their potential. Will you put Ob Nixilis Reignited on your side or will you battle against him?

2. Undergrowth Champion

Undergrowth Champion Battle for Zendikar
$20 for a reason.

The cat’s out of the bag with Undergrowth Champion. What does that mean anyway? When was the last time you saw people going around catching cats in bags anyway? Might be a silly saying but the presale price doubling speaks mighty words in my ear. I was already a believer that this card would shape the format, but apparently everyone else caught on quickly.

Back in the day, I used to slam Elephant Guide onto my Phantom Centaurs and give my opponent a sick beatdown. The wording on Undergrowth Champion isn’t quite as abusive as the phantom creatures, but it is great for today’s meta. It seems like red is not as powerful as it has been this past year, but players won’t give up their burn spells without a fight and this green champion will be there to defend us from the ever-raging inferno.

1. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Army and buffs all in one can.

Drum roll please… Number one on our Battle of Zendikar Top 10 is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar!

It may come as no surprise that the most expensive card in the set is rated as the best, but I have a track record of doubting the presale pricing and choosing my own hero to sit atop the number one slot. Gideon is number one for a reason. He is good. He’s real good.

At first, I thought that he might take a back seat to Sorin, Solemn Visitor because Sorin brings a vampire army and gives them all lifelink. Upon further reflection though, Sorin seems like the one that will be the backup while Gideon takes the limelight.

The main swinging point for me is that Gideon can churn out his ally army every turn. That Xenagos-like ability to pound your opponent into the ground can be rough to play through. Then at some point, you can start attacking with your 5/5 planeswalker. If you want, you can also tick down and get an emblem that your opponent won’t ever be able to remove.

Gideon is not only the ally of Zendikar but he’s also the ally of many decks to come in Standard. You can play this guy in every deck with white mana. He goes into aggro, midrange, and control decks. Don’t hesitate to pick up your copies early, because this card should stay above $20 as long as he’s legal in Standard.


Alright, loyal Quiet Speculation readers. That's all for me this week. I hope you enjoyed the latest installment of my favorite article series. Battle for Zendikar might not be the most powerful set in the history of the game, but I like more cards in this set than any in recent memory. Remember, you don't have to agree with me, but if you don't agree, all you have to do is post your list in the comments.

Let's get this conversation started. What did I miss? Are there some cards that I should have on the list? And no matter what, don't forget to pick up every single foil basic land you can get your hands on. Don't wait. Start amassing your stack as soon as packs are opened.

Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

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