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.
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.
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!