Battle for Zendikar: Playing to Your Weaknesses – Red
(NOTE: “Playing to your Weaknesses” is a series of articles I have been doing on my own blog since Avacyn Restored that cover all of the uncommons and commons in a new expansion and which ones I would choose to use as one of the 23 cards in a 40 card limited deck. For those of you uninitiated to limited, it simply means sealed and booster draft, where you open packs and then proceed to make a deck out of them. I’ve purposely left out the rare cards because it is much more likely that you’ll see multiples of uncommon and commons in your packs/pools.)
As for my rating system, I’ll be using a new format this time around. After a lot of feedback, I’ve decided to abandon my 3 tier scoring system of Low-Medium-High and I will instead be moving onto a 5 star ranking system. The system is as follows:
- 1 star = a card that is barely playable, even as filler for your deck
- 2 stars = this card could be a strong sideboard card, but is highly conditional and not always effective
- 3 stars = a 3 star card is a solid role-player. These cards could be less than amazing removal effects, or a creature that is a glass cannon (high power, low defense). They could be good except for a few flaws.
- 4 stars = Here’s where we get into the powerhouses. 4 Stars could be good finishers, or cards that can end a game if left unchecked. They also have multiple effects, and are all around good value for you. The only thing holding them back is restrictive costs or some small drawback.
- 5 stars = you won’t see a lot of these at common and uncommon. These will usually be your rares and mythics because they are incredibly bonkers. Planeswalkers, massive creatures, etc., these are the cards you could build a deck around.
It’s going to be close but I should be able to get out all of basic colors for the Battle for Zendikar pre-release before most of you crack your first packs. Lets not waste any time and get right into red! Right off the bat it seems as though red has lost a lot of burn and seems like it’s more creature-centric and focused on combat tricks. Not sure if this will work out in limited or not, but let’s wait to make any other judgments until after looking at what we have to work with.
I’m going to start with Devoid cards first just because there are so few playables in red. There are no processors to be found in this color which means anything with Ingest in this color will be almost pointless to play unless you’re playing some good processors in black or blue. The majority of Eldrazi in red are drones, and at common and uncommon Vile Aggregate is the best one. As I said, the Ingest ability will be pretty pointless until later on in the game, but overall the Aggregate is a good card. It’s an Eldrazi-only Keldon Warlord of sorts, which means the best deck you can play him in is a deck that has a lot of Eldrazi Scion tokens or a large concentration of other Eldrazi cards. A UB Eldrazi processor deck with a splash of red seems like a good idea, as would a Jund ramp deck Even if you don’t make a devoted Eldrazi deck, I think you can count on him to be a 3/5 trample most of the time (since he counts himself in the number of color less creatures). That 5 toughness will stonewall just about anything your opponent can throw at you early in the game, and he can only get stronger. If you’re building an UR eldrazi deck with cards like Herald of Kozilek and Ruination Guide this card would be great.
RATING: 3.5 stars
Going along with the UR Elzdrazi build idea from above, Vestige of Emrakul seems like a good choice too. You don’t get abilities like Ingest or processing, but it fits well on your curve and has trample which is enough for me. It should be good for both blocking and attacking Ally decks, and if you have cards like Ruination Guide it can be somewhat aggressive too. If it doesn’t have any synergy with the cards in your pool I think it is still playable in limited. It’s reliable, not over-costed, and has good base power/toughness.
RATING: 3 Stars
This seems like a good card but due to the lack of colorless cards in red it really needs a solid blue or black pool to make any kind of difference. It’s 3 power will trade with lots of non-Eldrazi cards, but that 1 toughness also means it will die to everything. The best place for this card will be in a UR or Grixis Eldrazi processing deck I think, but it would be functional as a 22nd or 23rd card in any other red/X deck you make. The only difference between a devoted Eldrazi deck and a regular deck is a few points of extra damage, so don’t feel forced to play it if you have better choices.
RATING: 2.5 stars
Sadly, this is probably the best “burn” red is going to get in Battle for Eldrazi. The exiling effect adds to a deck’s ability to activate processing abilities, but you have to admit that 3 mana for 3 damage feels kind of underwhelming, especially at sorcery speed. It’s a good supplement to other removal (black and white are better in BRW Allies for example), but if you’re looking for removal to stop 6+ toughness Eldrazi you better look to another color. I really can’t see red as anything other than a supplemental color in this set. Shame.
RATING: 3 Stars
Ok, I lied. So there is ONE card in red at common/uncommon that processes exiled cards: Processor Assault (can they be anymore obvious?). Two mana for 5 damage is pretty sweet, but it’s going to be really hard to play this before turn 4 or 5, and that’s if you’re playing an aggressive blue/red or BRU processing deck. It’s great removal in those decks, but otherwise I think you’re better off not playing it if you don’t have a consistent way to put cards into exile.
RATING: 2.5 stars (3.5 in devoted processing deck)
Outside of the Devoid spells there is some okay removal in red, however by and far you’ll be hard pressed to find pin point removal. Most of it is devoted to taking out multiple creatures at once, and doing large amounts of damage. I guess this is okay if most people are playing midrange decks with huge, game ending Eldrazi, but it sucks if people go for aggressive tempo decks. Rolling Thunder was pretty darn sweet back during Tempest’s time for the simple of reason of not having to pay mana to do damage to more than one target. You can play X as 8 and wipe an entire board, or you could split up the damage to wipe out their 1 toughness Allies and hit them for 5 to the face. This card is going to be good removal late game in BFZ limited, and I expect it to go high in draft. Pick it up if you can. Absolutely worth playing in sealed too.
RATING: 4 Stars
Another good late game card. Even though it’s instant the 5 mana casting cost can be somewhat restrictive and only dealing damage to creatures is a drawback too. I would choose more reliable removal first from other colors if I could, but if I wasn’t running enough in my main deck I wouldn’t think twice about playing this. If you’re not ramping into it with mana creatures or Eldrazi Scions, I don’t see why this shouldn’t be doing between 5-8 damage on average. Great for killing Eldrazi.
RATING: 3 Stars
Before checking out the creatures, I want check out Red’s Retreat. Retreat to Valakut is probably my least favorite from the cycle due to its heavy reliance on you having creatures on the battlefield. In a Mardu Allies deck it can be downright destructive (especially if you have a Retreat to Emeria in play or Ally bonuses like trample or first strike). Both abilities put a lot of pressure on an opponent, but if you’re not able to attack that can be a problem. Each of the other retreats are good by themselves without support (life gain, a creature, scry), but if you don’t have creatures or enough power to push through damage, Retreat to Valakut can be pretty worthless. I recommend only playing this if you have a high concentration of aggressive creatures or can make a lot (like Scion tokens). Otherwise, keep it in your sideboard.
RATING: 2.5 Stars
Red always has aggressive creatures, and Akoum Stonewaker’s ability is typical of red. I don’t feel like it’s anything new (heck, we had something exactly like this in Theros block with the Inspire mechanic), but it’s still good in limited. The elemental typing of the token makes it a lot of fun if you’re lucky enough to get an Omnath, Locus of Rage in your card pool (you basically get 3 damage for free when you landfall). If you’re looking to put pressure on an opponent that lacks big blockers to deal with a 3/1 attacker, Stonewaker is your guy. Not a high draft pick, but functional in limited.
RATING: 3 Stars
Out of all of the colors so far, the Landfall abilities on the creatures in red seem like the best. Tunneling Geopede would be playable as a 3 mana vanilla 3/2 creature, but it’s ability makes it even more desirable in limited. I expect a card like this to deal 3-5 damage on average with its ability, and its even better if you play it in conjunction with cards like Retreat to Hagra or Zulaport Cutthroat. Black/Red decks seem like the best place for it, but of course you’d want to speed up the landfall if possible so adding green to the mix seems like the right move. The Geopede seems like a good card regardless of deck you play it in, so I’m going to recommend this highly in both sealed and draft.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
The Predator isn’t as strong as previously mentioned landfall creatures in in the other colors, but at 3 mana it’s a good card for your curve in a landfall themed Red/Green deck. It’s definitely possible to draft GR Landfall and I’d take this elemental to maximize efficiency alongside the Geopede, Scythe Leopard, and anything else with Landfall I could get my hands on. Another dependable choice in both draft and sealed, and decent outside of Landfall decks as well.
RATING: 3 Stars
I really wish the Landfall could have been +1/+2, a 3/2 trampler attacking on turn 3 is pretty good. Just as all the other landfall creatures before it, it’s best alongside green where you can grab more than one land a turn, but fits in just about any deck. Can’t go wrong with the Landfall ability in 17+ land 40 card decks. After looking through white, blue, and black, I don’t think red will be that popular and you should be able to grab these red cards pretty easily in draft. If you see a large number of red cards available in your pool, go for it. Play aggressive landfall/Ally decks.
RATING: 3 Stars
Not much else I can say about Landfall without sounding like a broken record. The Whiptail is aggressive and not too expensive to play, and should put you at an advantage most of the time you pay it. It trades with a good number of creatures in battle and also fits in any red archetype.
RATING: 3 Stars
The last part of the red article will deal with Allies. The first one is Shatterskull Recruit, which at 5 mana is one of the most expensive costing Allies out there. It’s big though, and has menace which makes him hard to block and that gives him a distinct advantage when you’re giving him first strike, trample, life link, or any other Rally ability from playing other Allies. Good as the top of your curve in Ally decks, not horrible in a Red/X either. Decent common.
RATING: 3 Stars
Chasm Guide gives every Ally you play after him haste which is pretty sweet, especially if you’re playing 2 at the same time and activating multiple abilities. Of course you’d want him in your BR, RW, or BRW Ally deck, but outside of those combinations I’m not sure he’s really worth playing. Might be alright as a 23rd choice in a sealed deck, but finding synergy with him will be much easier in draft. I could see him going early if somebody goes with Allies.
RATING: 2.5 stars (3.5 in Allies)
Now this is a pretty awesome Ally. Adding Menace to all of your creatures puts your opponent in a VERY bad situation at any point of the game. If you’re giving them haste with the Guide or first strike with Kor Bladewhirl they are going to be on a very short clock. As with most of the other Allies though, outside of an Ally deck he’s nothing but fodder. Great card if you can draft an Ally deck, but probably not that good in sealed.
RATING: 2.5 (4 in an Ally deck)
The last card I want to focus on is Valakut Invoker. The “pay a lot of mana to do something” is nothing new and showed up around the time of the last Zendikar block. This time there is one in each of the colors, but Invoker’s ability is the only one worth considering. Cliffside Lookout’s ability in white is okay (5 mana for +1/+1 to everbody), but Hagra Sharpshooter’s in black (5 mana for 1-/-1 to one creature) is a joke. Sure, having a mana sink late in the game is better than nothing, but I’d rather be able to win the game with it. The Invoker does 3 damage straight to an opponent’s face if you want, or acts as burn (which the color is in dire need of in this set). Good in all red decks.
RATING: 3.5 stars
Other Cards that Might See Play
- Kozilek’s Sentinel – good in UR Eldrazi deck if you can draft a high density of colorless cards, but otherwise it’s kind of worthless other than as an early blocker.
- Ondu Champion – in Ally decks that trample ability won’t really have any meaning, especially if you’re fighting Eldrazi, but if you’re playing with a few of the Eldrazi, it wouldn’t hurt to have him in there to help you push damage through. A 4/3 for 4 mana also isn’t bad.
Coming Up Next
I still believe that red will be nothing more than a support color this time around, but there are some cards that will shine in this format. The Ally cards are great and will fit in well alongside white, black, or both. Red/Green Landfall also looks like a playable archetype as there is a high density of Landfall cards in red. While there are very few Eldrazi processor cards in red, the color still seems like it would supplement UB Eldrazi well as a splash for some of the multicolor Devoid cards. Keep an eye out during draft to see if red is open, and if it is then consider throwing together one of these archetypes. You can end up with some pretty strong cards in red if it’s wide open.
Well, not a lot of time left before the midnight pre-release now, but I’ll do my best to get green out. Hopefully the red review has helped you somewhat, and if you have any other suggestions or ideas as to how we can use it I’d like to see what you think down below. Thanks for reading and check back later for more limited articles!