by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Since the inception of the Old School MTG format among long-time Magic the Gathering players, many older cards have become highly sought after. The Old School format only uses cards from Fallen Empires and before, cards from early sets such as Legends and Arabian Nights have seen a lot of interesting price fluctuations. Being a casual format, cards you would never have thought of playing suddenly look quite interesting in that format.
Since most of these cards are on the Reserved List, which are cards that Wizards of the Coast promised to never reprint, these old rare cards can make some very good investments.
Of particular interest is an 8 mana white enchantment (6WW) called Divine Intervention. What's particularly interesting about this card is its rather unique effect. There are several cards in Magic that serve as alternate win conditions. But Divine Intervention, after it has two intervention counters removed from it, actually ends the game in a draw.
From a competitive standpoint, this doesn't seem like a very fun card. It has seen some fringe play in Phelddagrif "group hug" EDH decks as a way to simply let no one win. It's not really a fun card, but it has its uses.
It doesn't seem like you'll be seeing Divine Intervention becoming a format staple anytime soon. But, seeing what a mediocre enchantment like Field of Dreams has done in price in the past, it can't hurt to find a good condition copy or two of this as an investment. All you need is for the supply to dry up all of a sudden which with these very old cards can happen quite easily.
If anything, this is just a cool gem from early Magic. It's a cool one to have. In EDH, it's a great way to end a Commander game no one really wants to play anymore.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Field of Dreams is an enchantment from Legends saw a crazy price increase back in 2015. Its price jumped from $6 to $20 to $80 in a very short time. What tempted players to buy out this reserved list Enchantment?
It costs a single blue mana to cast. What does it do? It has all players play with the top card of their decks revealed. This doesn't sound all that exciting.
However, as an artifact with a similar effect has shown, knowing what the next draw would be can provide plenty of useful information. The difference between this and the Modern-playable Lantern of Insight, however, is that you can sacrifice the Lantern to shuffle a target library. Field of Dreams has no such extra ability.
Having such a similar effect, though, it would seem a few players thought it may have some potential and bought copies. Suddenly having such a low supply card see sudden interest, there was a buyout. It's actually a great card to sell if you happen to have any laying around and don't plan on using it.
The only format in which this could ever actually be good is the Old School Magic format. It's a format that only allows cards printed from Fallen Empires and before. Because of this, it's often called 93/94. Could there be a sort of Lantern control deck possible in that format using Field of Dreams as an alternate version? Who knows. Someone out there must be trying it.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Haunted Plate Mail was pretty cool in Limited when it was first released in the Magic 2014 Core Set. Sure, it wasn’t going to see much play in Constructed, but getting a free creature whenever you didn’t control any was pretty cool. Yeah, it could die to removal, but then again you could always just equip it to your best creature and give it +4/+4.
Quite a few players liked it in that Limited environment. Also, a Blue/White Trading Post deck ran two copies with some success back in 2013. That was an actual thing that happened. In Commander, while hardly one of the best Equipments you can run, there are plenty of players of Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer and Kemba, Kha Regent that have run it out there. It’s a bulk rare, but as they go an Equipment that can also be a creature is never a bad thing.
When the Mail was reprinted in Magic 2015, however, it was much more mediocre in that Limited environment. It was still somewhat playable, but it wasn’t a rare anyone wanted to see. It was fine in Sealed if you didn’t have any good creatures to play… but you’d never actually want to draft it, despite being able to fit into literally any color. Whatever the case, it’s a well-designed card that was just printed in one too many Core Sets.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
We've already run through and reviewed all of the Ally cards in all five colors, so now it's down to the final few, the multi-colored cards! Plus, we'll have a bonus card to look at! Without further ado, let's take this thing home and reach a final verdict!
Getting +1/+1 for each attacking ally is cool. As a curve topper in Limited, this is fine with minimal Ally support. In combination with the red Allies that give haste and menace, this Angel can do work. Tajuru Warcaller in Green pumps your team, and may be a better five-drop overall, but this is fine on its own.
This is easily one of the best Ally creatures in the set. Each opponent gets drained for 1 during each of your upkeeps - meaning you gain 1 life for each opponent that loses 1 life. It's a sweet little clock you get to put your opposition on, and clocks are great in what’s looking to be a very "durdly" Limited format with BFZ. And there are other drain effects in the set, too, that you can play alongside the Emissary. Put them all together and you have a winning draft strategy. It may not make the grade in Constructed, but there are Commander players happy to find the Emissary a home. I love cards that scale up in multiplayer. That being said, a white/black Ally drain deck isn’t impossible in Standard, probably just not anywhere in the top tier.
The Druids were underwhelming to me when the card was first spoiled. Now seeing the whole set, paying the extra 1 for the rally trigger to make a 1/1 Plant token seems slightly better than it did knowing we have allies like Tajuru Warcaller around that can pump those tokens - since Rally triggers affect all your creatures, not only the Allies. I feel like this has a few things conspiring against it, though. It has to be in a very dedicated Ally strategy to be worth playing, plus you need something as good a payoff as Warcaller's +2/+2 or Resolute Blademaster's double strike for the tokens to be of much relevance. It's going to be fine in Limited for Ally strategies, as Green and White is a solid way to go with the deck (although Black/White Allies is looking better), but it's more of a complementary creature rather than a linchpin.
March from the Tomb
There's varied opinions on how good this actually is. If you're just playing the white and black Allies exclusively, this is probably well worth the 5 mana as you get back up to CMC 8 worth of Allies that can drain for a bunch. It's probably good if you play Allies at all. Reanimation spells are always fun. There's no drawback, either, other than being limited to solely Allies, so I think it's better than it's being credited for. Still it is narrow, but as Ally support, it's solid. You just have to set it up well. It’s going to do work in the right Limited decks and there’s possibility for some Standard play, too. Do remember that Rally the Ancestors is still around.
Munda, Ambush Leader
Munda is a 3 / 4 with Haste and with the White and Red Allies around to give him some extra abilities, the Kor Ally is a decent Limited creature, and not a terrible rare to draft. He also has the ability to help you keep drawing Allies, which isn’t nothing. As I said in my spoiler review of Munda, he’s a bit worse Goblin Ringleader, as you don’t directly get card advantage from him. Were he a Ringleader, he’d be a mythic rare and probably loses a point of power and/or toughness. He’s a bit too balanced for most players liking and a bit weak for Constructed purposes, although there may be a corner case where Naya (white/red/green) Allies are good enough that this guy helps you set up a strong Collected Company play, but that seems a bit awkward.
It’s too bad he doesn’t actually add Allies to your hand directly like Ringleader does for Goblins. There are enough Red and White Allies in the game now, plus relevant Changelings, that you could make a pretty sweet Commander deck with him. As of right now, he’s a candidate for General Insanity - a series where we take Legendaries that get no love and try to form a deck around them.
Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper
I like this Merfolk Legend too much for my own good. Awaken is a cool mechanic and animating a land for pretty much free is pretty cool. In Commander, he’s pretty sweet to build around. CMDTower has a pretty awesome start on a good Noyan Dar Commander list, actually. In limited, it's pretty easy to get value especially if you drafted a creature land and have Tidecaller around. I like this way too much.
As an Ally though, it's just a Rally trigger You want this in a blue/white Control build, not in Ally. If it made Elemental Ally lands I'd like the flavor more, although I’m not sure how lands would be Allies. Anyway, he’s good, just not as an Ally per se.
Double strike is very good. 2/2 for 3RW doesn't seem too good but gaining double strike on a regular basis can diminish that downside. I probably wouldn't play this outside of Limited, but the double strike can just kill someone out of nowhere. There are enough Ally synergies, especially with the Red Allies that grant haste and menace, to simply overwhelm your opponent with a team of double strikers that can attack right away and need more than one blocker to stop. Probably doesn’t make the cut in Constructed, though.
At worst, this Elf is a 2 / 2 flyer for two. Being a 2-drop flyer is already worth playing this in Limited. At best, it's a 5 / 5 flyer for 5, which seems decent if you’re playing 5 colors. Having a flyer that rewards you for playing more colors seems sweet. It’s definitely worth playing in Limited, and it scales well, so the X in the casting cost plus Converge is more of a bonus in most cases. It does very badly in Constructed, though, if you want to cheat it in with Collected Company, because it’s just a 0/0 and dies. You have to cast it, essentially, unless you can throw counters on it at instant speed. Really, it’s Limited only, but it doesn’t need a critical mass of Allies to be good and it does have the synergies, so it’s playable.
Featured in the Zendikar vs Eldrazi Duel Deck, we now see that the Warleader could be OK, at least in Limited. He really only needs one other Ally you control to be good. Tap one with summoning sickness and get first strike, vigilance or trample. This seems fine. With 3 or 4 creatures on board he's decent. Probably not super constructed playable, though. Even if you could cheat him in with Collected Company, there are better creatures to play instead in that 3-drop slot in Constructed.
Verdict on the Multi-Colored Allies: B
We have a pretty sweet Commander in Noyan Dar, who is more of a Merfolk Tribal/Blue-White Control card than an Ally, though. He looks Constructed playable in a vacuum, too. Munda is a decent Legendary, although his Commander and Constructed prospects are both murky. The rest all seem worth splashing for, including March from the Tomb, which could bring back 4 or 5 guys. That’s a lot of triggers, especially if you give all those creatures haste with something like Chasm Guide. Drana’s Emissary is particularly sweet. Pretty good group of cards here, if not the most exciting.
Before we get to the final verdict on BFZ’s Allies, though, we have one more card to look at: the Ally tribal land!
Oh, yay, another tribal land. There is something interesting I noticed about it, though. It lets you cast an Ally spell of any color. It doesn't specifically say creatures. Does this mean we will get Tribal enchantments instants and sorceries for allies? Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but that possibility is there. Sacrificing the encampment to bounce an ally you control seems fine under the right circumstances. Again though it doesn't have to be a creature.
I bring this up because way back in Lorwyn and Morningtide, there were introduced Tribal cards. They were cards that benefitted a specific tribe and could be tutored up by tribal cards and benefitted Tribal strategies. You also had Shapeshifter or Changeling Tribal cards that counted as being every tribe at once. Mutavault was part of these changeling cards, and that creature land is a staple in Modern and Legacy Tribal decks.
So is Ally Encampment going to be the land that makes Allies more Constructed-playable than ever? Whether we get Ally Tribal Enchantments, Instants, and Sorceries or not, this is a rainbow land for Allies. The sacrifice effect to bounce an Ally can be relevant in the later game when you really need to save a key creature. In many ways, it's a lot like Sliver Hive, in that you need a crazy amount of dedication to your tribe to make this work. But when it’s good, it’s really good.
Grade A - one of the better tribal lands we’ve seen, and if non-creature Tribal spells get printed, this could get even better!
Final Verdict on Battle for Zendikar Allies: B
So rather than just taking individual grades and doing the math, it felt right to just give the entire Battle for Zendikar Ally tribe a solid B. Grading the cards on an individual basis, I feel like the set’s offerings provide us with a B-minus or C-plus, but with the amount of synergies among the Allies, I had to bump them up a few points. Also, having the Rally mechanic benefit all creatures you control and not simply Allies is a minor but non-negligible upgrade for these newer Allies. Many of the new Allies are slightly more functional counterparts of those from Zendikar and Worldwake. A few are slightly worse perhaps, but make up for being slightly worse with benefitting all of your creatures.
The Ally Encampment is probably the best thing that Allies got in the entire set. The Black allies and Drana’s Emissary form a pretty sweet draft/sealed deck archetype. There are also enough decent two and three mana Allies (as well as the 2/1 one-mana Envoy) that playing a Collected Company Allies deck seems legitimate. There is hope in Standard for Allies.
We also got a couple cool Commanders in Noyan Dar and Zada, and the latter could actually work his way into a decent Standard deck, too.
Beyond Standard, though, the only real thing that I feel Allies picked up is the Encampment. Collected Company Allies have won here and there in Modern, especially having Aether Vial to cheat in creatures. The Encampment makes the mana base more consistent. Also, Zulaport Cutthroat is essentially another Blood Artist, and there are sweet things some Modern decks could do with Blood Artists #5-8, as those combos revolve around creatures you control anyway, so the functional downgrade doesn’t matter in those cases.
As seems to be the case with Battle for Zendikar in general, it feels like the power level of Battle for Zendikar was scaled back a bit too much. A lot of these cards are functional reprints of older cards, and as I said, some of them are actually better and some are only slightly worse. Casual players will jam plenty of these into their existing Ally decks. Only time will tell, but it seems Wizards developed the Allies into more of a Limited archetype than a Standard-playable upper-tier strategy.
However, although many people seem disappointed with what the set has offered, there are plenty of optimists, too. Battle for Zendikar went to the extreme with the tribal flavor of Allies vs Eldrazi. I think they succeeded from a design standpoint, but did development perhaps scale back these guys to be balanced for Limited play and cost them Constructed playability? We shall see.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
As we’ve been reviewing the Battle for Zendikar Allies color by color, they seem to be getting progressively better as we continue in WUBRG order. Green only has 4. But they’re all decent ones. So will Green prove to be the best of the five colors? Let’s find out.
A mana dork with haste is a plus. You can only use the mana for creature spells but honestly this may be okay. Harabaz Druid from Worldwake is tons better in Modern, as the Druid always produces at least one mana of any color to cast any spell. But for Standard purposes, the Savant should be fine, especially in a creature heavy deck, and certainly passable in Limited. You don’t have to even play the Savant in Allies for it to work. The haste is really the best thing about it, so it may have a chance to slip into Standard in the right deck (probably Allies).
5G for a 5/5 is OK. A Rally trigger that gives you an anthem until end of turn (+1/+1 to all creatures) is OK. At common, this is very okay. You won't be seeing this in Constructed, but at such a low rarity it was meant for Limited play, anyway, so who cares. Requiring only a single Green mana makes it pretty splashable, too, so if you just need a fatty to top off your curve, the Beastmaster is your guy. He’s a lot better with Allies, though - actually, a ton better.
The Stalwart with Converge is easily a 3/4 in a three color deck, something Allies tend to call for anyway. With +1/+1 counter shenanigans, it gets even bigger. It probably won't crack Standard, but potentially having a 3 / 4 for only 2G is definitely decent. In an Ally centric deck in Limited, this is definitely a strong pick. At common, it’s especially a good value.
As a mere 2/1 to begin with, the Warcaller seems fragile. But the +2/+2 boost her Rally trigger provides is the real deal. The Warcaller is easily a 4/3, and is so as she enters play, and possibly a 6/5 on some turns in a dedicated Ally strategy. This is definitely an Ally I want topping out my curve. She does require two Green mana symbols, which makes her a bit less splashable than some Allies, but her Rally ability is worth it if you’re going all in on Allies - which this set really wants you to do.
Verdict on the Green Allies: B
I might be grading the Green Allies a bit highly, as there are only four of them, and their high grade is mostly due to the fact that you don’t have to commit to Allies to play 3 out of the 4 of them. Beastcaller Savant is borderline Constructed playable, and all 3 others are good Limited plays. As far as Constructed is concerned, this batch is probably more like a C. Green isn’t the best color - that seems to be a relative tie between Black and Red - but it’s close.
Now that we’ve looked at all 5 colors, will the multi-colored Allies make or break the Ally tribe in Battle for Zendikar? We’ll find out.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Battle for Zendikar has given us more than a few Allies. Are they going to make the grade? So, far, we’ve looked at the rather average White Allies, the two Blue Allies (one of which is pretty cool), and the above average Black allies. So what does Red have in store for us?
Haste is good. Essentially having Haste herself and giving it to any Ally when they enter is pretty solid. A 3/2 for 4 isn’t great, but what she does makes for a playable creature. Rally the Ancestors and March from the Tomb have already been mentioned as being playable along the Guide in some Mardu Ally deck. As a replacement for Mogis’ Marauder, which gave intimidate, the popular Rally deck will get new life with Allies. The haste is probably better than the intimidate fueled by devotion to Black anyhow. March from the Tomb gets a lot better if the Allies it brings back suddenly have haste. I’m with the crowd on this one; this obviously is no Goblin Guide, but she’s solid.
Menace isn't quite as good as haste, perhaps. But with enough creatures on board, being unable to block any one creature with a single creature can leave opponents dead. Being able to get Menace on a regular basis is scary, and in combination with Chasm Guide, Allies have some serious acceleration. The fact that they curve well into one another in Limited helps matters, as well.
Who doesn’t love trample? Who doesn’t love Minotaurs? Ondu Champion gives all creatures you control trample with his Rally effect, which is pretty nice. In a Limited format full of chump blocking Eldrazi Scion tokens and other little creatures that need to band together to be any good, Trample is especially useful. Those few extra points of trample damage here and there can prevent opponents from ever being able to drop their big Eldrazi bombs by virtue of simply being dead.
A red “bear” is fine, but the downside is meaningful. In an Ally deck, you won’t have to worry about this guy recklessly killing himself, but the drawback does downgrade him a bit overall. Limited player only and really only in Ally-heavy builds.
3RR for a 4 / 4 with Menace is good at common. Exciting he is not, but he owes the Kor a debt of gratitude and is potentially going to take at least two creatures down with him. Any common that can give you a two-for-one is a solid card in my opinion.
Zada, Hedron Grinder
As an Ally, Zada doesn’t really have any synergy with the tribe outside of being an Ally himself. I’ve already gone into how good he is as a Mono-Red Commander and how you can use Zada in Standard without ever needing another Ally on board. Remember, Become Immense is a thing, and giving your whole team +6/+6 is sort of unfair. Here’s that in-depth review of Zada.
Since then, the entire set has been spoiled, so now we get to see what Zada has to play with in Limited. There aren’t a bunch of useful spells, but the ones there are should be good enough. Tandem Tactics is fine, giving Zada and your team +1/+2 as long as you only choose Zada as your only target (gaining 2 life for each creature is a nice bonus). Lithomancer’s Focus gives your team +2/+2 and invulnerability from colorless sources until end of turn - not quite protection and certainly no God’s Willing. Sure Strike in Red for 1R gives +3/+0 and first strike until end of turn - solid enough. The best ones appear to be in Green, Earthen Arms and Infuse with the Elements. Earthen Arms essentially gives all your creatures 2 +1/+1 counters. Infuse is a Converge spell for 3G that gives a target creature X +1/+1 counters and trample until end of turn. Four colors of mana is not out of the question for an Ally deck. But even for just 2 or 3 colors, it’s a nightmare with Zada.
Since Zada does have some decent firepower in Limited, I can get behind him in an Ally deck. But he doesn’t have to see play in Allies. The only thing about Zada is you need to have a pump spell to fire off right away to get the most out of him. You do kind of have to build around him, but when you do, you’ll probably win quite a few games.
Verdict on Red Allies: B+
Chasm Guide and Zada definitely look like Constructed playables, but as four-drops they will need to find their niches in Standard. In Limited, though, these Red Allies are all playable, with Cohort being the worst. Even Cohort is fine if all you’re casting are Allies. Black may have some great stuff, but so far, Red has the overall best cards. The Vampire theme in Black has proven a bit too cute for some players to stomach, so the alternative option to just bash face with Red is a welcome sight. Of course, Red and Black are probably going to be working together a lot when it comes to allies. Perhaps Mardu Aggro really will be a thing in Standard - finally.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Battle for Zendikar gives Allies a new breath of life after a long absence from the Standard scene. Now with the tribe being reinforced in a big way, will they have enough of an army to make Allies a true contender in competitive play? Will they rise above the chaff and make a reasonable contender in Standard? What about for Modern and beyond? Let's find out. We’ll be going in WUBRG order, ending with the multi-color cards. One article for each color seems worth it to give these cards the attention they probably deserve.
With White, we had a C-plus bunch. Blue only had two, but one was super good and supplemented the Awaken theme as a viable draft strategy. As we’ll see with Black, there’s some value creatures here that are not only good in Limited, but could break into Standard in a big way.
Gaining life is bound to happen with the drain effects that we’ll be seeing on some of these Allies. Bloodbond Vampire is set-up to benefit from the life gain. As a 4 drop 3 / 3 to begin with, it's not hard for this to become a 5 / 5 or 6 / 6. The incremental gains are better realized in Limited. It's pretty borderline when it comes to being constructed worthy, but it fits into Limited decks alongside its black brethren just fine.
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
From a raw power standpoint, the original Drana, Malakir Bloodwitch can take over a game in more ways than the Liberator of Malakir can. But purely as an Ally, the new mythic rare Drana is very powerful. Being a 2/3 flyer with first strike is awesome and the ability for her to pump your team during first strike damage means most of your team will often get a permanent +1/+1 boost before dealing their own damage. This makes for an awkward interaction with any card that gives all your creatures first strike, but most of the time, Drana will be the lynchpin in a successful alpha strike.
For a more complete look, check out my spoiler review of Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Apparently, I’m higher on her than a lot of people are but I think she’ll see quite a bit of play in Standard, and not just in Allies. That’s why she gets such a high grade. She’s got a lot of power for 3 mana, even if she’ll never compare to her Worldwake version.
A 2/2 for 2B and an ability is fine. When that ability costs 4B it better be good. Giving a target creature -1/-1 is not good. Even if it's repeatable, paying 5 mana for that ability is just not efficient. Sure you can use it during combat as a nifty trick but that's quite an investment. It's OK to round out a curve in an Ally deck in Limited. He can also pick off Eldrazi Scion tokens. But little else.
While a lot more conditional than his friend Zulaport Cutthroat (who we’ll get to in a bit), draining each opponent when the Healer or another Ally enters play is fine. A 1 / 2 for 1B is fine, too. Yes, the Healer needs Allies to be good. It has potential to do plenty of work, though. Not only is this likely a centerpiece to any Limited Ally deck, but it could even be a part of some Standard Ally brew, as well.
4B for a 4/5 is plenty decent on a common. If you happen to gain life, it flies. Hard not to like this at common. While it’s pretty conditional and needs its Vampire friends alongside it to do work, it fits nicely on the curve and again, it’s only a common. The high rating I’m bestowing upon it considers that rarity a great deal. Not Constructed worthy.
As a common a 2 / 3 for 2B that sometimes has deathtouch is decent. Gaining life is obviously a decent sub theme in black with this set. Being conditional deathtouch, opponents may block incorrectly and lose a guy they didn't mean to. Not constructed worthy but OK in Limited. I like it slightly better than Hagra Sharpshooter.
Oh, look, a good creature. He's not quite Blood Artist as he doesn't create loss of life when opponents’ creatures die. But Cutthroat drains for 1 when any of your creatures die, himself included. This is not only good in an Ally deck. It's also good with Eldrazi Scions as you sacrifice them. Flavor fail. What a traitor. Then again, he is a Rogue, so he doesn’t really care what side he takes.
In multiplayer, this guy is super good as his effect affects each opponent. There are more than a few black Commander decks with infinite sacrifice loops that can use the Cutthroat. Heck probably even some crazy Standard or Modern deck will find a way to abuse him. This guy is good and Constructed playable.
Verdict on the Black Allies: B/B+
Black would seem to have the best of the Allies from what we’ve seen so far. The drain effects are pretty powerful. A couple of these guys are even Standard playable, especially Zulaport Cutthroat and Drana. Kalastria Healer is really good in the right deck and they have a curve-topping common that can fly. Combined with the White Allies, you have a pretty strong base for a Limited Ally deck. You’re going to pick the Black Allies pretty highly in Limited. Cutthroat, Healer, and Drana can all work with Collected Company, too. So there are some great pieces to brew with in Standard and Modern. Finally, we have some real hope for the archetype!
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Battle for Zendikar has given the Ally tribe a slew of new recruits to join the fray. But will they be enough to make Allies a true contender in competitive play? Do they have a shot at being a strong archetype in Standard? Has this set provided new Ally tech for Modern and beyond? Let's find out. We’ll be going in WUBRG order, ending with the multi-color cards. One article for each color seems worth it to give these cards the attention they probably deserve.
With White, we had a C-plus bunch. Blue only has two, so we’ll give these two as much attention as we can.
First of, 1U for a 2 / 1 is OK, especially at common. Being able to making a creature unblockable is also ok. Paying 4U for that ability isn't so OK. This reminds me of an Ally version of Amphin Pathmage from the Magic 2015 core set with a couple of elements switched around. The Pathmage was 3U for a 3/2 Salamander Wizard, but the ability to make a creature unblockable was only 2U. Basically you swap the Guide coming down 2 turns earlier for the cost of the ability. I’d prefer to play the Pathmage, honestly.
She’s probably filler in Limited, but the 5 mana unblockable ability could help you kill a player out of nowhere. At common, she won’t be hard to sneak into your draft deck.
Grade C (simply because unblockability out of nowhere can be good)
As we’ll see with many of the best Ally cards in the set, Halimar Tidecaller continues a theme of not caring about what other Allies are on board. This is a very interesting creature. Not only does she recycle any card with Awaken to your hand, she gives your creature lands flying. Not only does she consider awakened lands, but also gives your regular creature lands like Lumbering Falls and Shambling Vent flying, too. I really like the Tidecaller as she also has decent stats: 2 / 3 for 2U. She’s kind of a niche card, but seems playable in the right deck. Any Rally triggers you get in addition are gravy. The Tidecaller also has a really good friend with Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper in the set. We’ll get to him later.
Having an Awaken “lord” at uncommon is pretty awesome. This is definitely a build around uncommon in Limited and possibly Standard playable if Awaken becomes a strong Standard theme. Usually this will just get you back this set’s Awaken version of Cancel, Scatter to the Winds. That’s usually going to be good enough. Coastal Discovery at 3U is an overcosted Divination, but it’s another potential target. Clutch of Currents is a sorcery speed Unsummon that also has Awaken. Rush of Ice is half of a Send to Sleep. Both of those are one-drops, so they will probably be common choices. The coolest target would be Part the Waterveil, except that it exiles itself upon resolving. So Tidecaller has some decent targets in Blue alone.
In Standard, Scatter to the Winds will definitely be a good target, as well as Ruinous Path in Black. It goes downhill from there in potential good targets, though Rising Miasma is Drown in Sorrow for one more mana and no Scry - it’s marginally playable. Mire’s Malice is an overcosted Mind Rot at 3B. White has the playable board-wipe Planar Outburst. But that’s about it. Encircling Fissure is a way overcosted Fog. Ondu Rising is an overcosted Lifelink enabler. Sheer Drop is a White Assassinate, which will be fine in Limited.
Red does have a 1R sort of Electrickery in Boiling Earth. That’s it for Red. Green has Earthen Arms at only 1G, which has good synergy with Awakening lands by putting 2 +1/+1 counters on any target permanent. That’s also the only one in the color. Finally we have Roil Spout. It costs 1WU to put a target creature on top of its owner’s library. This Time Ebb effect is properly costed and should be a good card in Limited. It’s even better if you use it on an opponent’s Awakened land.
A lot of the Awaken cards are familiar effects that cost one more mana and some are a bit too slow at sorcery speed. Others are clearly decent. Tidecaller definitely has cards that work with her, especially Earthen Arms. Having the ability to use the Awaken spells for their regular effect earlier in the game and be able to have a second chance to cast them for their Awaken cost later in the game is pretty solid. Whether this will be an effect worthy of Standard play remains to be seen.
Grade B+ (with the potential to get better with additional Awaken spells in the format).
Verdict on the Blue Allies: B-/B+
While the average of these two is technically a B-minus, I bump the verdict all the way up to a B+ on the strength of Tidecaller, who I could probably give an A-minus just for being one of the best uncommons in the set. Having either of these two can force a somewhat awkward Blue splash if you’re going all in for Allies. But there are enough decent Awaken cards in Blue that you don’t even have to be on Allies for either of these cards to make your Draft deck. The Guide isn’t really good enough for Standard play, but Tidecaller may be. In any case, you want to pick Tidecaller as early as possible. Just being an Archaeomancer with a bit narrower focus is good enough, but giving Awakened or otherwise animated lands flying is just too much fun. Just make sure you have Noyan Dar in play for maximum effect!
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Has Battle for Zendikar finally given the Ally tribe enough to be a true contender in competitive play? Do they have a shot at being a strong strategy in Standard? Did they get any new toys for Modern and beyond? Let's find out. We’ll be going in WUBRG order, ending with the multi-color cards. One article for each color seems worth it to give these cards the attention they probably deserve. We begin with White.
Angel of Renewal
Here’s a 4/4 flyer for 5W that gains you 1 life for each creature you control. That would seem to have good synergy with the “if you gained life” creatures in the set. It’s a bit worse than Goldnight Redeemer from Avacyn Restored, which gained 2 life for each other creature. This Angel does count itself. Conclave Phalanx from Ravnica was a 2/4 for 4W but it had Convoke and gained you 1 life for itself and each of your other creatures. Angel of Renewal is an Ally hybrid of those two. It’s OK. It only gives you a single lifegain trigger, so you can’t abuse it, but that’s fine for purposes of Limited play in this set.
Grade: C+ (gets better than that with a dedicated Ally strategy in Limited)
This is a worse Sunblade Elf. That could become a 2 / 2 if you controlled a plains, so the 4W anthem was gravy. This is just a 1/1 with the only upside being able to trigger Rally. You can play it in Limited, and it’s a relevant one-drop in the late game. But it's not good enough for constructed.
A 2/1 for one white seems to be a new thing in each set that is released now. This one is a vanilla ally though. Playable yes. Exciting no. But Savannah Lions is still a card. It's a good Ally one drop nonetheless. Hada Freeblade is a bit better in Modern, though, even though it’s a 0/1, because it can grow to a 2 / 3 upon playing just one other Ally once the Freeblade is on board.
Grade: B (for Standard Allies), C (for Modern Allies or non-Ally applications. There are better options.)
Hero of Goma Fada
Indestructible is a cool keyword and I'm happy to have this topping out my curve in limited, but it needs a good number of allies to be good. It does make all creatures indestructible with its rally trigger, but you still need allies. It's pretty underpowered stat wise (4/3 for 5) to be much good in Constructed. First picking it in draft pretty much pushes you into allies. so not sure this is what I want to see in my first pack.
In Modern, Kabira Evangel giving protection more often than not will be more valuable, and he’s only 2W, so he can be cheated in with Collected Company and Aether Vial. This isn’t quite as good as Frontline Medic was in Return to Ravnica Standard, either, as the Medic only needed two other creatures attacking along with itself. Having the ability to sacrifice itself to become a permission spell for Rakdos’s Return and Sphinx’s Revelation was also quite relevant at the time. This doesn’t see Eternal play, unless someone wants to jam it into an Ally-themed Commander deck.
A 2/1 with a Rally trigger that gives your creatures first strike seems fine. It's very Limited playable. Whether this is good enough for standard play, I feel like it's not. One of the better kor Allies, though. It is, in fact, better than its Red predecessor, Highland Berserker from Zendikar. Bladewhirl has one more toughness and gives all creatures you control first strike, not only Allies.
3/1 for 1W and can't be blocked by Scions… Awfully limited in scope, but he’s a slightly better Oreskos Swiftclaw, and that saw actual Limited play. 3 power is nice, and with enough Rally triggers this can be okay, but it’s an option to round-out a curve, not any sort of Ally staple. Were this more like Daring Skyjek, which had the ability to gain Flying with Battalion (attacking alongside two or more other creatures) I’d really like it. Alas, R&D probably felt that was too good at common with Ally synergies.
Tapping opponent creatures is a fine effect. Strapping it to a 4/3 that costs 4W is mediocre. Yeah there are decently cheap ways to make Rally happen. This is fine in limited. However, Court Street Denizen did this on the cheaper side for white creatures in Gatecrash and it’s better than the one shot tap and freeze for a turn of Kor Hookmaster. It’s more Kapsho Kitefins than those, though, and I’d rather have Kitefins because it counted any creature. In any case, too slow for Constructed.
Lifelink isn't bad, but it's hardly going to win you games on its own. I really like this in limited with how many white allies are decent in draft. It also has nice synergy with all of the Black “drain” creatures in the set. In constructed, though, I'm not sure it makes the cut. Still, it’s one to watch, and if black/white Ally Drain can be a deck, this would be a key contributor.
Talus Paladin is strictly better in Modern and beyond, as its a 4-drop, but also grows with +1/+1 counters for each trigger. So it’s really a 3 / 4, too. Lantern Scout is cheaper, though, and does give all creatures lifelink, not only Allies. Also, it could be cheated in with Collected Company, so there’s that. Modern sideboard for Collected Company Allies against burn, perhaps?
Grade: C (if it remains a Limited-only card), B (if there’s a Standard deck for it)
Vigilance is cool but is that worthy of a Rally trigger? In Limited, maybe. In Constructed, certainly not. In all fairness, the Patrol is a slightly cheaper more functional reprint of the 3G 1 / 4 Joraga Bard.
Retreat to Emeria
While not technically an Ally card, the Landfall trigger lets you make an Ally token. It also can give your creatures +1/+1 until end of turn. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar does these things better for a similar mana investment. This Retreat is fine in limited to make chump blockers and get some random rally triggers. Not really a constructed card.
Grade C- (mostly because it's splash-able in limited)
This is one of those “whenever you gain life” cards, which is cool. Each time that you do, you get to pay one White mana and put a +1/+1 counter on a target creature. It’s not exciting, but a mini Cradle of Vitality is hardly awful. The Steward will find a home in the White/Black/X Drain decks likely to emerge in BFZ Limited (more on that later).
Grade: B- (in the right deck, even better)
Were this 3W spell at instant speed, I’d like the Converge bit a lot more. Alas, it is at Sorcery speed. It takes 4 different colors to get this card up to its full potential, then. Still, 4 1/1 Ally tokens that can create 4 Rally triggers can create some nice combinations in the right situation. That’s probably why this is sorcery speed. 4 colors in Allies is definitely not hard to do, and casting it for just 3 different colors is probably worth the investment. It’s basically Spore Burst with greater upside - as Saprolings don’t necessarily offer the benefits of Ally triggers - and that was Domain (counting basic land types).
Grade: B (in Limited, especially. It may even be playable in the right Standard deck.)
And no, I didn’t forget about that White planeswalker. I was simply saving the best for last.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Not only can Gideon become an Ally, benefiting from old school Ally triggers from “back in the day” but he also creates Ally tokens, which trigger both old and new Ally triggers. Becoming an ally with his loyalty ability sadly does not trigger Rally - which would honestly be silly - as he doesn’t actually re-enter the battlefield. The anthem emblem is cool and is not something that has to be limited only to Allies, either. He fits into a few strategies, actually. Allies certainly want him around. He’s a cool, solid planeswalker.
Verdict on the White Allies: C/C+
Averaging out all the grades gives us a C, but I bump it up a few points to count Ally synergies. There are some functional upgrades from older Ally counterparts and having Rally affect all of your creatures and not just Ally was a good design and development move for the archetype. Together in Limited, these could form the backbone of a very playable Ally deck. I don’t see tons of upside here beyond Gideon, though. Unified Front I think is pretty decent even at Sorcery speed. Token generators are usually pretty playable. It may be one of the better Converge cards in the set, actually.
How do you feel about the White Allies and how they match up with their past and present Ally counterparts?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
With all of Battle for Zendikar revealed, there have been some interesting cards revealed as reprints. Besides Dragonmaster Outcast and Felidar Sovereign, neither of which should make many waves in Constructed, a few commons and uncommons are in BFZ that may well have an effect on the Limited and Standard formats.
Last printed in Standard: Magic 2014
Also printed in: Conspiracy
This was a Standard-playable card when it was first introduced in Innistrad. Then again, Morbid triggers aren’t around in the format any more. Sacrificing a creature, then drawing two cards for 1B isn’t too bad, though. It will definitely be a strong pick in Limited. On Magic Online, it does see some play in the all-common Pauper format and the new Ob Nixilis art is pretty awesome, so I see players wanting this version.
Last printed in Dragons of Tarkir
While this seems like an awfully fast reprinting, Anticipate is an excellent card in Limited. It’s also seeing some play in Esper Dragons and Blue/White control in Standard, and some fringe play in Modern including some Scapeshift and Control builds. This reprints ensures that Anticipate will remain in Standard for an extra year. Financially, this means DTK foils, which are around $7, will be adversely affected. The new art is excellent.
Last printed in Standard: Avacyn Restored
Also printed in Duel Decks Speed VS Cunning, Modern Masters 2015
There are enough expendable creatures in this Limited format, and perhaps even in Standard, where this one-mana sorcery should actually see a good amount of play. You do have to sacrifice a creature, but it kills anything for just one mana. It’s at least going to be strong in Limited, but I see some Standard decks using it.
Last printed in Standard: Return to Ravnica
Originally printed in Worldwake
A very popular card in Modern, Dispel gets some sweet new Jace art. It’s a great card for control decks, and while it’s typically been a sideboard card in Modern, it’s a good card to have back in Standard for those worried about Instant speed threats.
This reprint will definitely have an effect on its previous foil printings. Return to Ravnica foils are up to $10 on average, and the original Worldwake printings are around $6. The former seems to have the more desirable art, so we’ll see how the new Jace art, which is very good, affects those foils.
Goblin War Paint
Last printed in Standard: Magic 2012
Also printed in Modern Masters 2015
A pretty good Aura in Limited, giving a creature Haste and +2/+2 is pretty meaningful. It’s interesting that this is a card that was actually first printed in Zendikar to begin with. It may not see a ton of Standard play, but it’s definitely a good pick in Limited.
Last printed in Standard: Worldwake
Also printed in: Duel Decks: Venser vs Koth/Commander 2013/Commander 2014
Bumped up to uncommon for BFZ, Pilgrim’s Eye is decent mana fixing in Limited, and sees a good chunk of play in Commander, too. As an uncommon, it won’t be nearly as relevant in Limited, though. It’s still good, but it’s not the first uncommon you’ll want to take from most packs. Doesn’t really see Standard play anyway.
Smite the Monstrous
Last printed in Khans of Tarkir
Also printed in Duel Decks Heroes vs Monsters, Innistrad
Smite the Monstrous is another card that’s still in Standard at the moment, but will be gone after the next rotation. Smite barely sees any play in Standard, but is quite good in Limited. In the BFZ Limited format, this will be prime removal: destroying a creature with power 4 or more at instant speed is strong. It does cost 3W, but that’s fine for limited.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Today, we'll be taking a look at a commonly played land from Shards of Alara: Swamp #238... Wait, what?
One of the most important things about Magic: the Gathering is having lands to play your spells. This is why full art basics from Zendikar, Unglued, Unhinged, and now Battle for Zendikar are such good investments. It's why foils are even more so. It's why fetchlands fetch such a premium. Shock lands retain good value because they're the best nonbasic mana-producing lands in Modern. But remember that some decks are mono-color and therefore need a crap-ton of basic lands.
Enter Swamp #238 from Shards of Alara.
Kudos to MTG Goldfish tracking the trending price winners and catching this one. Turns out this has been a fairly "expensive" basic swamp for a bit, though. It was about $1 before a couple of recent price jumps.
How about the foil?
Admittedly Chippy does some awesome artwork on basic land arts, and it's not unusual to see some players buy up basic lands of particular arts. Turns out this already gorgeous art is already popular in foil, and has been for quite some time. It hasn't dropped below a TCG Player mid of $4.31 since Goldfish started tracking cards!
If you think this is interesting, check out this Swamp from New Phyrexia:
The non-foil doesn't nearly approach the foil here, but notice that this has been over $3.50 for some time, too. Because foil basics apparently are bought in bunches to fill up mono-colored decks, you tend to see some interesting price fluctuations.
There are a handful more over $2, and this is just looking at Swamps! I'll say one thing: I can never look at basic lands the same again! Some players really, really like particular arts on their basic lands. While I don't necessarily suggest raiding your local game store for the non-foil basics over $1, it's just a good idea to watch what basic lands are actually worth some money. Most buylists don't consider them, but you can always EBay them, Heck, you can even try to trade them off on PucaTrade!
So remember, if a particular land art looks super sweet in foil, look up the pric.e. It may be worth more than you'd ever expect.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Reroute is an interesting little red instant from Ravnica: City of Guilds. For 1R, it allows you to change the target of one target activated ability with a single target to another target. You can also draw a card. In Ravnica, there were a good number of activated abilities, so at the time, this could be a fairly nifty trick coupled with a can-trip effect.
It is so incredibly situational, though, and while there are certainly still plenty of activated abilities running around in Constructed formats these days, it’s not worth the card slot as it might have been in sideboards back in Ravnica block. It probably wasn’t used much back then, even with the added benefit of a card draw, since you needed the situation to arise that you’d actually want to use this effect to draw that card. Even in Commander, Reroute has only been seen in 50 of over 13000 potential decks, according to EDHREC. It’s a forgotten little uncommon that simply doesn’t have much value in today’s game.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Dragonmaster Outcast is pretty fragile and a removal magnet, but for a single red mana just getting a single 5/5 dragon mid-game is worth it. The reprint at mythic won't cripple his price the way Felidar Sovereign seeing reprint at rare did for that casual hit, but the BFZ copies will be much cheaper. No longer will he be just a $15+ mythic rare from Worldwake that only sees play in Dragon EDH decks.
The Outcast was pretty fun for me when I was able to make a clone of him with Riku of the Two Reflections in Commander. While that was probably not the best deck to try and jam him into, I must add that this was in 2011 when I had just gotten the Commander 2011 Mirror Mastery deck. Plus, he was actually effective. I actually got at least four Dragons out of him and some damage through before a board-wipe came. In a multiplayer game, usually there are a lot bigger threats at the table for opponents to worry about. Then, suddenly, you have a couple of extra 5/5 dragons. It’s an effect that sort of creeps up on you, provides a clock that opponents have to worry about, and can provide really good value. Just being a target for precious removal is worth the one mana, as it’s a piece of removal that won’t hit one of your bigger threats.
The best Commanders that Dragonmaster Outcast seems to complement are Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (who gives those Dragon tokens haste), Atarka, World Render (who gives them double strike), and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury (which allows your Dragon tokens to potentially pump your team by a considerable margin.) Pretty much any Dragon deck running Red will find a way to give the Outcast a home.
How about Constructed? If you play this on turn 6 and it survives an upkeep, you’ll be getting a 5/5 flyer for only a single Red mana. It probably won’t survive, though. Having a one-drop you have to hold until turn six isn’t really optimal in 60-card Constructed. There was a time, however, when he was a sideboard option in Deciever Exarch/Twin combo decks against Control. You could drop him on turn one, force a removal spell to be played, or he’d just sit there and make you a flier or two eventually. He’s one of the few one drop creatures you ever like to see late game. Perhaps a deck will find room for the Outcast in BFZ Standard.
How would you use Dragonmaster Outcast today, or how have you gone about using him in the past?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
What’s this? A Converge card that I like? Such madness! Woodland Wanderer is actually a pretty good creature. It’s only a 2/2 for 3G to start with, but it has vigilance and trample, keywords that go a long way towards making a creature Constructed-playable. But with Converge, it’s at worst a 3/3, and in any three-color deck, it’s usually going to be a 5/5. Splash a fourth color and you have a 6/6 trampling vigilant nightmare for 3G. The power creep is real, folks.
Temur needed a creature like this, and it got one. Abzan didn’t need a creature like this, but it got one anyway. Hardened Scales didn’t need this, either, but popping an extra +1/+1 counter on him seems ridiculous. It’s pretty easy to get the three colors of mana, with Rattleclaw Mystic hanging around, and the newly spoiled Beastcaller Expert able to give an off-color fourth color of mana to benefit him. What Standard was losing with Polukranos, World Eater, it’s pretty much getting back with Woodland Wanderer - although losing the Monstrosity ability is not irrelevant.
This appears to be one of the best Standard-playable creatures from Battle for Zendikar. What do you all think?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
How refreshing: a Constructed-playable ally that costs less than 5 mana! We’ve seen how Zada, Hedron Grinder could be good, but Drana, Liberator of Malakir can fit into far more decks. Like Zada, Drana could care less about what Allies are on the battlefield alongside her. If she deals combat damage to an opponent, each of your attacking creatures - herself included - get a +1/+1 counter. Due to her having first strike, the rest of your team gets the buff before they even deal damage. Being a flyer, as well, you’re looking at a very solid 3-drop that could fit into a ton of Constructed strategies.
Is she better than the original Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief? As someone who has pretty much single-handedly won Commander games with her before, it’s hard to say. The original Drana is probably the better mono-black Commander, as being able to drain a creature and gain that power as a flyer until end of turn is simply nasty. Of course - little known tidbit - that Drana was originally meant to be a mythic rare, but was powered down slightly to fill a rare slot in the set. The Bloodchief didn’t really catch on in Standard, but the new mythic rare Liberator of Malakir most certainly should. Of course, you can play them together in Commander.
In Standard, the +1/+1 counter pump seems pretty relevant for Abzan Aggro decks that want to pump their Hangarback Walkers and is a great complement to Anafenza the Foremost. Drana’s presence may make Hardened Scales a more relevant card, too, pushing what’s been a Green/White deck into Black, as well - which also introduces the mythic Anafenza into that deck. Scales doubles Drana’s ability, as well as Anafenza’s. Perhaps Drana was the missing piece for that deck to be a top tier contender. Drana helps Abzan stay relevant - that’s for certain.
The other cool thing about this Drana is that she’s a 3-drop, making her playable with Collected Company, an Abzan variant that has seen some success. She might even creep her way into Modern, a format where Collected Company is even more powerful.
Being a legendary mythic rare that will probably see at least 3-of play in more than a few decks, this should be one of the more valuable mythics in the set. Her Commander value is going to be pretty good, as well, giving Vampire tribal a huge weapon, plus giving Alesha, Who Smiles at Death another two-power creature to play with. This is going to be a fun creature to play with.
What do you think of the new Drana? Do you think she’ll make Allies a worthy contender, or is she simply good enough on her own to be a part of some of the best decks in Standard?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Ugin's Insight is being called the "fixed" Dig Through Time. It's not at instant speed and doesn't have the advantage of being able to Delve away your graveyard to cast it for cheap. But 5 mana to draw 3 cards was fine on Jace's Ingenuity. Ugin's Insight lets you scry X, as well, where X is the highest converted mana cost among permanents you control. On turn 5, that number could easily be 3 or 4, so Scry 3, draw 3 seems pretty decent.
Where this card really becomes powerful is when you have much larger permanents on board, such as Ugin the Spirit Dragon himself (with a CMC of 8) or any of the bigger Eldrazi cards. You can dig pretty deep for this card and send away anything you're not going to want to draw to the bottom. Dig is probably going to be strictly better during its time in Standard, but this is a pretty decent card to help you dig for combo pieces or otherwise set up your draws in the late game. Perhaps this could help set up See the Unwritten plays, but you need to have a decently sized creature on board already to get the full power out of this card.
The best applications for this sorcery, like many cards in Battle for Zendikar, are in Commander. Braids, Conjurer Adept and Narset, Enlightened Master are two that have come up a lot already. With Braids, you'll get to at least Scry 4 and make sure you're drawing better artifacts, lands, and creatures than your opponents. Narset is a bit better, as she's a 6-drop, getting you Scry 6. You can try to draw 3 cards that you don't really want to hit with Narset. Then, you get to maximize her ability to cast any of the top four cards for free as long as they're non-creature spells. It's powerful card filtering that can simply win you the game. There are tons of other commanders that will love this ability, of course, but those are the most obvious two.
What do you think of Ugin's Insight? Do you think it's Standard playable? How would you go about using it?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
The Awaken mechanic in Battle for Zendikar definitely adds quite a twist by providing an alternate casting cost to several instants and sorceries in the set. Getting a useful effect, plus a 3/3 or 4/4 beater with haste along with it, seems pretty good even despite a considerably higher cost. Ruinous Path and Planar Outburst seem quite playable as Awaken versions of Hero’s Downfall (albeit at Sorcery speed) and End Hostilities. But what if you could turn any instant or sorcery into one with Awaken 3?
Enter, Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper, a 4/4 Legendary Merfolk Ally with a casting cost of 3WU. His ability reads:
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, you may put three +1/+1 counters on target land you control. If you do, that land becomes a 0/0 Elemental creature with haste that's still a land.
Wow, that seems good. As underwhelming as Allies have been with the recent spoilers, this card is actually rather cool. A 4/4 for 5 mana isn’t incredible, but he has Ally support around him. The question is: can this guy be Standard-playable? It doesn’t take much to get value out of him, of course. Any instant or sorcery can turn one of your lands into at least a 3/3. The opportunity cost here is pretty low.
In Limited, Noyan Dar is going to be pretty good, as who doesn’t want to bash some people in the face with lands? You only have to get around to animating one or two lands to make playing him worth it, and if one of those is a man-land, then you’ve definitely gotten your value.
In Commander, I really like the Merfolk Legendary. Sygg, River Guide makes for a pretty solid Merfolk Tribal deck, but a blue-white control deck with Ally support seems legitimate. A lot of the great Allies are in White to begin with. Jwari Shapeshifter is probably the best in blue. This seems like a legitimate Commander to me. It does, of course, leave you pretty open to boardwipes - something that you’ll always have to contend with. But when we know all this set has to offer, this seems like a fun brew to play around with.
The other thing here is that there are plenty of man-lands in Commander to choose from. You can even choose to put 3 +1/+1 counters on a land that already has counters on it. Forbidding Watchtower and Faerie Conclave get a lot scarier when they get counters piled on top of them, and Celestial Colonnade goes to town. Some Esper Control brews in Commander may consider Noyan Dar to make their Creeping Tar Pits (which are unblockable) even scarier.
The saddest part is that Noyan Dar, like Zada, Hedron Grinder, is a creature that you really don’t need to play in an Ally deck and in fact doesn’t even really work well in an Ally deck. Still, Noyan Dar looks like a solid mid-range card for some control decks. The Tazeem lullmage is probably going to end up being a bulk rare, but a decent Commander.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
It's been a hot debate in the EDH / Commander community for some time whether to allow planeswalker cards as commanders. Some playgroups have allowed them in addition to the traditional legendary creatures as potential generals for quite some time. There's now also precedent for planeswalkers as commanders since there are in fact 5 planeswalkers specifically designed to be commanders.
Printed in the Commander 2014 preconstructed decks, each of the five have seen some play as commanders. But just how good have they proven to be? Can they give us some idea how other planeswalkers may prove to be as field generals?
Daretti, Scrap Savant
Commander in in 140+ decks (EDHREC)
Key cards: Goblin Welder, Scrap Mastery, Myr Battlesphere, Kuldotha Forgemaster
In the 99: Seen in 400+ decks. Staple in Feldon of the Third Path, Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Daretti is far and away the best of the five commander 2014 planeswalkers when it comes to being a boss. Not only are Daretti decks extremely competitive with about 80-90 percent of lists being similar, but he's very strong in a lot of other artifact commander decks as one of the 99 as well. He will not stay 3 or 4 dollars for long as he will only get better with each passing set.
Grade: A (Commander), A (in the 99). He’s solid through and through.
Nahiri the Lithomancer
Commander in 70+ decks (EDHREC)
Key cards: Puresteel Paladin, Stonehewer Giant, Argentum Armor, Masterwork of Ingenuity, Kemba Kha Regent
In the 99: Seen in 400+ decks. Staple in Kytheon Hero of Akros. Key contributor in Kemba and Eight and a Half Tails
Like Daretti, Nahiri has a strong identity as a Commander. Whereas Daretti is a savant of scraps, Nahiri is a master of equipment. It's actually a wonder that she hasn't been adopted by more Kemba players, actually. Perhaps the strongest point against her as a Commander is she needs one of her 99 to dole out the damage most of the time, although the Kor tokens she creates can do a lot of work.
She probably isn't seeing all of the 99 play she should and is probably being overlooked as a commander. There are just so many good white commanders but she should get more attention.
Grade: B (Commander), B (in the 99). She’s a really good planeswalker as long as you use plenty of equipment, which narrows her playability, but she’s really good at what she does.
Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury
Commander in 50+ decks
Key Cards: Priest of Titania, Elvish Archdruid, Ezuri Renegade Leader, Imperious Perfect, Joraga Warcaller
In the 99: Seen in about 500 decks. Staple in Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen and Nissa Vastwood Seer. Key contributor in Yeva, Ezuri, Yisan, Titania and Seton
Somewhat predictably, Elf Tribal is pretty much what to expect from Freyalise. She's really strong as a key contributor to a wide variety of mono green decks, as well. Yes, she makes elf mana dorks, but she can pick off annoying artifacts or enchantments and also draw you a ton of cards. She may be the best balanced of the Commander 2014 five based on the fact that her abilities don't force you to play one specific deck, although Elves are convenient. If you play mono green, most likely you can use her. Like Nahiri, she probably could stand to see even more play in the future as more players realize just how much card advantage she can create for you.
Grade: A- (Commander), A- (In the 99). One of the better mono-green planeswalkers you can run in the format.
Teferi, Temporal Archmage
Commander in ~40 decks
Key cards: Thran Dynamo, Tezzeret the Seeker, Tamiyo the Moon Sage, The Chain Veil
In the 99: Seen in 500+ decks. Key contributor in Stitcher Geralf, Teferi Mage of Zhalfir, and Lorthos the Tidemaker
Having an ultimate that provides loyalty abilities on an opponent’s turn seems really broken. This is a great ability to stack with The Chain Veil; the Magic 2015 artifact actually lets you play them twice in a turn. In a four player game, that means 4 loyalty abilities played before you untap again. However. it seems that Tezzeret the Seeker and Tamiyo are the only two walkers that really take full advantage of Teferi’s extra activation. As a commander, he pretty much allows for a mono blue control deck that can do some fun things late game with his two best planeswalker buddies. Obviously, he gets better the more planeswalkers that get printed but The Chain Veil seems better suited on average to get that job done. He's much better as a member of the 99.
Grade: C (Commander), B- (In the 99). He’s passable as a Commander, and a bit better in the 99 where he can help activate many other walkers.
Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
Commander in 25+ decks
Key cards: Bloodgift Demon, Archfiend of Depravity, Ob Nixilis Unshackled, Ghoulcaller Gisa
In the 99: Seen in about 400 decks. Key contributor in Liliana Heretical Healer, Ob Nixilis Unshackled, and Kothophed Soul Hoarder
The recent influx of awesome mono black commanders has made Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath the least adopted of the 5 mono colored commander 2014 walkers as a leader. His ultimate is pretty awesome, though. Still, he seems better suited as one of the 99. He'll have 99 competition with his Battle for Zendikar counterpart, Ob Nixilis Reignited, though. I still like the Black Oath incarnation long term, though. But if you don't build up to his sacrifice for value emblem, his true potential is difficult to realize. Most Commander players turned to his friend the Ghoulcaller Gisa as the more formidable commander and it seems they chose correctly. Still a good walker, though, who can offer great utility.
Grade: C (Commander), B (in the 99). A balanced walker with a cool emblem that doesn’t scream build around me but complements a great many other Commander strategies.
Overall, it seems Wizards went four for five in creating planeswalkers that have become key contributors in the format. Only Teferi appears to have been a miss, but he has his spots where he can make cool things happen. Two became really strong archetypal commanders with one becoming a format mainstay. Then, Freyalise was just really well balanced and is currently the most valuable of the five.
What looking at these five would seem to suggest is that the power level of walkers in the command zone could prove to be fairly high. It's fun to build around loyalty abilities and properly protected the ultimates can definitely happen.
Next time we'll take a look at the Magic Origins flip walkers, who while they are technically legendary creatures on the surface, can give us further insight into planeswalkers as commanders. Spoiler: they are already really popular.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Greenwarden of Murasa isn’t at first glance the most exciting mythic rare from Battle for Zendikar. But essentially having two Eternal Witnesses or Den Protectors on one card with a 5/4 body has to count for something, right? The power of Eternal Witness and Den Protector is well known in competitive play, as getting back any card from your graveyard to your hand is really really good. Even though you have to exile him to get the definite two-for-one advantage, it’s probably worth it. 6 mana is probably nothing in a format with Eldrazi, so this should see some Standard play.
The Greenwarden is even better in Commander where the singleton format makes Regrowth type (getting any card back from the yard to your hand) effects even better. It’s likely that you will see this in most green ramp decks going forward. It’s better that Deadwood Treefolk, which also costs 6 mana (5G) but only gets creatures, plus you don’t have to deal with the pesky Vanishing 3. It’s definitely a worthy upgrade unless you’re playing a Treefolk Tribal deck (which is fairly decent, actually.)
How would you use Greenwarden of Murasa?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Is From Beyond poised to be a better version of Awakening Zone? Like the popular Rise of the Eldrazi rare, this Enchantment makes Eldrazi tokens that can be sacrificed to produce colorless mana. However, this one makes 1/1 Eldrazi Scion tokens every upkeep instead of 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn tokens. Tokens with power are definitely better than those without. From Beyond costs one more mana than Awakening Zone does, but it also has a second ability to be sacrificed for 1G to search out any Eldrazi card and add it to your hand.
This is obviously pretty good. The combo that From Beyond will undoubtedly make along with Evolutionary Leap using the Scion tokens as sacrifice fuel should go a long way in making this Constructed playable. Being able to literally turn a 1/1 token into an Ulamog the Ceaseless Hunger feels like a strong play. At worst, it’s a more splashable Thopter Spy Network, although the tokens don’t fly. From Beyond is definitely Standard playable and is going to be quite good in Limited, too, as it doesn’t really commit you too much one way or another and it provides free chump blockers each turn.
The sheer amount of Eldrazi support in this set leads me to believe that in Commander we’ll see both From Beyond and Awakening Zone seeing play in the same deck. However, From Beyond is clearly a bit better, as having the power to begin with makes a difference. The tutoring option is absurdly cheap, too, and being able to say hey here’s an Eldrazi Titan that you’ll be seeing really soon for only 1G is not bad. The most popular target will probably be All is Dust, which is in plenty of EDH decks, but there should be plenty of Eldrazi now that you’ll want to get with this. I’m not sure we’ll be seeing this 4-mana enchantment in Modern, but seeking out Emrakul the Aeons Torn seems legit.
From Beyond is a pretty sweet Enchantment. This was a card that players were hoping for and not only did we get a slightly better Awakening Zone, but we got a cheap Eldrazi tutor, as well.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Shambling Vent is the white/black “man land” from Battle for Zendikar. It is a land that comes into play tapped and can tap for white or black mana. Additionally, for 1WB it can become a 2 / 3 white and black Elemental creature with lifelink until end of turn.
For only 3 mana that is pretty good, especially when serving as a creature in control builds. If you happen to cast Ruinous Path or Planar Outburst with their alternate Awaken costs, you can put 4 +1/+1 counters on the Vent and really create some huge life differentials in a hurry. It doesn’t sound exciting, but Shambling Vent should prove to be very playable in decks that don’t necessarily care about their lands coming into play tapped - Esper Control, for example. This is a pretty good land, even if it’s far from being the best creature land ever printed.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Battle for Zendikar has within it two reprints that each will have their financial impacts on the game, one from a casual perspective and the other from a competitive view. Felidar Sovereign is a casual bomb that sees lots of play in a wide variety of Commander decks and Sylvan Scrying has long been a great way in Modern to search out specific lands, especially the Urza Tron lands (Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Tower). Let’s see what sort of impact these cards may have on Standard, in the set’s Limited environment, and their overall financial impact on their previous printings.
Felidar Sovereign has long been in the range of a $10 card because of the fact it’s a mythic from an extremely popular set, Zendikar. As a reprint, this is a pretty awesome card to bring back, not only because it provides a win condition (having 40 or more life on your upkeep), but is a 4/6 with vigilance and lifelink, a huge bomb in Limited. In a format full of huge creatures, this could be a very high pick in Draft and definitely a worthy top-end creature in Sealed deck. However, being bumped down to rare status from mythic means that the market will soon be flooded with new copies. This will devastate the original printing’s price. The good news is that players that may have wanted a copy before but didn’t want to bother with it at $10 or more will grab their copies, so it should probably remain above a bulk rare. You may want to out any mythic rare copies you have hanging around right now, though, since BFZ will be opened massively and supply of rares like this will be plentiful.
I highly doubt the Sovereign sees much Standard play, unless there are decks that can consistently gain tons of life. One archetype that comes to mind is the Mastery of the Unseen deck that popped up awhile back. Along with Whisperwood Elemental, flipping over a Morph creature could gain you ridiculous amounts of life, but that in itself wasn’t really a win condition. Imagine manifesting this as a 2/2, and flipping it for 4WW at the end of your opponent’s turn when you’re over 40 life. Good games. That’s about the only way I see the Sovereign making serious competitive headway.
Sylvan Scrying, on the other hand, is currently a $5 uncommon that sees 4-of play in several Modern archetypes including Red/Green Tron (to seek out the Urza’s lands) and some builds of Infect (that want to find their Inkmoth Nexus quickly as possible). It’s a perfect time to reprint it while we’re in a “lands matter” block. While the huge influx of new copies may short the price a bit, being a card that a good number of Standard decks may want full playsets of anyway, the previous Mirrodin and Tenth Edition printings should be fine to hold onto at the moment. Add to the fact that the new printing of Sylvan Scrying has different artwork and the valuable previous printing foils may be in OK shape, as well. This is one of the best reprints in the set. It’s straightforward, grabbing you any land you want for 1G right to your hand. Need that man-land? Sure thing.
While the Sovereign will take a major price point hit, I’m happy to see it become much more accessible. Sylvan Scrying needed a new printing, too, so while this will make the previous printing a bit less valuable, there should be enough demand that this will remain a valuable uncommon.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Continuing the theme of a very Enchantment-happy set, the Magic 2014 Core Set gave us this little Blue gem called Dismiss into Dream. Before you scratch your head wondering why I called it a gem, it’s quite a fascinating thing that this card does. Every creature your opponents control suddenly can die to any targeted ability ever. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty awesome. In Commander, I can’t even begin to say how awesome this is.
In all honesty, though, Dismiss into Dream is a great concept. But being 7 mana, it simply was so far above the curve to even begin to be considered in Constructed and most players truly did Dismiss this card. However, it’s still a fun card to consider for your next Commander brew. It does affect all opponents. Has anyone actually used this? Yes, indeed. The most popular case is with the incredibly broken Commander, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician. With Dismiss into Dream in play, anytime Derevi goes to tap an opponent’s creature, the creature’s controller must sacrifice it. This is pretty awesome, since indestructibility doesn’t help and destruction replacement effects don’t work, either.
Other Commanders that have used this Enchantment include Keranos, God of Storms, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, and Roon of the Hidden Realms - all of whom have targeted abilities. Some Melek, Izzet Paragon decks have run it to make his instant and sorcery spells do even more work. Some Thassa, God of the Sea decks have run it to, mostly just to have another Enchantment, but also to make targeted blue bounce spells into sacrifice a creature spells.
The only reason we haven’t seen it in more decks? Seven mana is a lot, no matter how good your effect is. There are just bigger, better bombs. But when you can make this good, it’s pretty funny - for you, anyway.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Zada, Hedron Grinder is perhaps the most unique Ally being printed in Battle for Zendikar. Not only is this Legendary Goblin one that couldn’t care less about other Ally creatures being in play, but Zada benefits all of your creatures in a really neat way. While we’ve seen an effect a bit like Zada’s before on creatures like Ink-Treader Nephilim and Precursor Golem, it always had the chance to backfire since opponents could simply fire off a removal spell and wipe your whole board. Never fear: Zada only considers your own spells that you cast and only those that target Zada specifically.
If there was anything to make people sad about Theros and its vast suite of Heroic enablers leaving Standard, it would be Zada. Fortunately, there are still going to be tools in Standard that will make Zada quite formidable. Having only a single Red mana in the casting cost means that you don’t have to overcommit to the color if you don’t want to, which is awesome in Limited, while deriving an awesome benefit.
Pump All of the Creatures!
Even losing the sheer overwhelming number of cheap instants and sorceries that Theros block had to offer, there are a couple of obvious cards that work well with Zada in Standard. A single Titan’s Strength - reprinted in Magic Origins - pumps your whole board +3/+1 and lets you Scry 1 a whole bunch of times. Temur Battle Rage gives all of your creatures double strike, and if properly timed, affords your entire army trample, as well. Goblins have a potential win condition now beyond simply bashing face with a bunch of little guys and hoping the burn spells get there.
Of course, mono-red decks aren’t the only ones benefiting here. There are still some good White combat tricks, like Valorous Stance and the new Unison Strike that can work. The best thing that Stance can do is make your guys indestructible, but that could prove useful enough. Unison Strike can target up to two creatures, but choosing only Zada works just fine. Then all of your guys get +1/+2 and you gain two life for each creature you control because of Zada’s copy effect. Getting a slightly better Glorious Charge plus Congregate for 1W seems good.
One spell that looks particularly good here is Artful Maneuver, an instant that gives a target creature +2/+2 for 1W, but also has Rebound. Perhaps this wasn’t Standard playable before, but with Zada on board, you get to pump your army twice. Center Soul gives all of your creatures protection for a color for a turn for 1W and it has rebound, letting you do it next turn, as well. Defiant Strike is a great can-trip in Limited that’s seen Standard Heroic play, and now you get to give all your guys +1/+0 and draw a card for each - nuts…
Enshrouding Mist is a one-drop that gives your creatures +1/+1 and prevents all damage that would be dealt to them - the renowned part isn’t so important here. Feat of Resistance will give all your creatures +1/+1 counters and gain protection from the color of your choice until end of turn for only 1W. Mighty Leap has always been a decent Limited combat trick, but giving your whole team +2/+2 and flying could be a thing.
Blue should have some interesting tricks to consider, as well. Dance of the Skywise turns all your creatures into 4/4 flyers until end of turn for only 1U. Glint gives your guys +0/+3 and hexproof for 1U, but that’s not so exciting. Refocus lets you untap all your creatures after combat and draw a card for each of them for 1U.
Red already has the aforementioned Titan’s Strength and Temur Battle Rage, but otherwise it really only has Kindled Fury, which gives your creatures +1/+0 and first strike until end of turn for a single Red. Come on Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch - give us more Red pump spells!
Moving into Black we have one-drop Instant, Coat with Venom, which gives a target creature +1/+2 and deathtouch - meaning all your guys benefit. That’s one way to break up board stalls. Dark Dabbling already regenerates all your creatures for 2B if you have Spell Mastery, but with Zada you get to draw a card for each creature you control - much more expensive than Defiant Strike, though.
Awaken the Bear is a Green Instant for 2G that gives a target creature +3/+3 and trample, but becomes an Overrun with Zada. Epic Confrontation will pump your team +1/+2 for 1G and have them fight everyone. If your creatures win the fight, you then get to swing in for major damage. Might of the Masses can get pretty silly, giving each creature X/X where X is the number of creatures you control. That’s definitely worth a single Green mana. Titanic Growth, forever known as the “fixed” Giant Growth that never sees play may be considered for the +4/+4 boost to your team. Ruthless Instincts, Savage Punch, and Tread Upon are other possibilities. The best option, though, is the Delve spell, Become Immense. Making your whole team gain +6/+6 for potentially only a single Green mana is pretty unfair.
In Multicolor, Deflecting Palm is a card that seemed like it may prove to be a decent combat maneuver at some point. Indeed, it has seen some sideboard play. But swinging out, having your opponents declare blockers, then play this… that’s a blowout. Not only do you save your guys, but the otherwise prevented damage gets flung at your opponent’s face. Ow. Dromoka’s Command seems like a nice card to combo with Zada, but because it necessarily has to target two things, which can’t both be Zada, it doesn’t work. Shucks.
White and Green definitely have some good things going for them, with blue having some cute tricks. It seems that the best set up would probably be Naya Allies (red/white/green) or some other sort of Naya Aggro deck. Red/White may be sufficient to get the job done, too, though, especially having Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst to make Goblin tokens that quickly benefit from Zada’s awesomeness. Imagine turn one Goblin, into turn two Dragon Fodder, into turn three Hordeling Outburst, into turn four Zada, into turn five game-ending pump spell. Obviously that’s not going to happen every time, but the game could definitely end quite swiftly with Zada on board with Rebounding combat tricks and Defiant Strike to draw you some cards to recover if you need to. Zada definitely has plenty of tools to work with.
Grinding Hedrons in Commander
Goblins are already a super popular tribe in Commander, so Zada has plenty of support. The more little creatures you can pump out, the better the pump spells become. You’ll be limited to mono-Red, obviously, but beyond Titan’s Strength and Temur Battle Rage that you’re essentially limited to in Standard, there are quite a few options.
Here’s a quick list of possibilities that can target Zada and the effect you get:
The best part about Zada is that all you need is enough little guys to ruin the party. You don’t have to play your Commander until you essentially are in position to have the game won. There are enough ways to give all your guys haste that you can just win games out of nowhere and the deck is so brutally mana-efficient that it’s going to out-speed most Commander decks.
Zada looks to be poised to be a sleeper powerhouse in Standard, but as a Commander is where this Goblin definitely shines brightest.
How would you play with Zada, Hedron Grinder?
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Munda, Ambush Leader may not be the Legendary Kor that you want to lead your next Commander deck, but as a sort of Goblin Ringleader for Allies, he does the trick that he was designed to do. A 3 / 4 with Haste for 2WR is already playable, especially in Limited. Add to that his ability to look at the top four cards of your deck isn’t a reveal as it is with Goblin Ringleader, and it’s also not mandatory. You could decide to fail to search any Allies and put all four cards to the bottom if you want to. But it’s not quite as good as the Ringleader, because it doesn’t put those Allies into your hand. Then again, while you’re not exactly drawing cards, it does help you set up for drawing just the Ally you’re going to want. That’s a pretty useful ability in an Aggro deck.
Why isn’t this just Goblin Ringleader, then? Being a Rally ability, you would essentially be allowed to draw up to 4 cards every time you played an Ally; that’s pretty unfair card advantage. If you have Allies you want to dig for and simply don’t care to draw anything but creatures, this ability is just fine. It all depends on how Ally decks are ultimately constructed, but he’s already too slow for Modern Naya Allies as a four-drop, and Standard needs enough CMC 3 or lower Allies for this to be worth using its ability. Whether Munda sees Standard play or not will be dependent on how much gas Allies end up ultimately having.
As a Commander, this isn’t really too great to build around, as you’d be limited to Red and White Allies and Changelings. As a member of the 99 in a five color Ally deck, though, the ability to filter your draws for Allies could prove useful. He’s a balanced creature in any case, and should help to draw you fuel for the Rally fires in Limited. In Standard, it all depends on what you’d want to end up drawing for Allies - and nothing stands out (as yet) to get excited about.
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