Battle for Zendikar: Playing to Your Weaknesses – Multicolor and Lands
(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.
Today’s article brings this series to an end for Battle for Zendikar. Multicolor brought a lot to the Khans block and coupled with morph made mulitcolor cards playable in almost every deck if the mana was there. However, what land you had (or mana fixing for that matter) was incredibly important. That’s why multicolor cards and lands go hand in hand with one another. While the overall power level of multicolor cards in BFZ isn’t as high as it was in the Khans block, they still bring a lot to the table. Lets go over the multicolor cards first today, and then take a look at the land and how we can use them to play the multicolor cards.
While they aren’t “truly” multicolor cards, the multicolor Eldrazi with Devoid still need more than one color to cast. One of the best ones is Catacomb Sifter. It only costs 3 mana, gives you a 1/1 Scion for ramp, and lets you scry whenever a creature dies. This has amazing synergy with decks that use a lot of Scion tokens such as green, but it’s also worth noting that it works great in a BUG Eldrazi deck as well. Drawing cards is good and all, but using scry after you chump block or when you ramp with Scion tokens can be incredibly effective too. GB ramp is the obvious placement for this card, but as I said consider BUG and possibly Jund as well if you have the mana fixing. Three and four mana creatures are the bread and butter of this format, so having quality ones goes a long way at establishing your end game.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
Ulamog’s Nullifier was another great card I had the chance to play with at the pre-release. It’s a processor which means you’ll need to have some creatures with Ingest or exile effects in your deck in order to get optimal use out of him, but even so I still like this card. As a 2/3 flyer with flash in a UB, BUG, or Grixis Eldrazi deck I would rank it as at 3 stars, but when you add in that conditional ability that counters any spell I think it goes up higher and worth an early pick in draft (especially with some enabling cards in your pool). I used this card countless times in the later turns of games, countering powerful spells and huge creatures a like. It also helped me to fly over their creatures. Black/Blue flyers is a rather strong archetype in BFZ, if only because the removal is so bad, especially for flyers. Solid choice.
RATING: 3.5 stars
While I don’t like red and blue colors together in limited usually, this time around I could be swayed to play them if the synergy is there. Blue has tons of Eldrazi cards that come with ramp, good card draw, and great tempo cards. Red on the other hand, has a few Eldrazi cards, removal that’s good for smaller creatures only, and very little evasion. As I stated before, I felt as though red was mostly a support color and wouldn’t go all in on it. If you’re going to play red, do it as either a splash or because your best removal is in that color. I did poorly with a straight UR deck at one pre-release, but did really well with a RUG deck in my next one which leads me to believe this guy belongs in either a RUG or RUB build. If you have a few Eldrazi at 5, 6, and 7 mana he comes in pretty handy. I don’t think he’d go early in draft, but if you’re picking up a lot of blue considering getting him asap. Good card if you have a large selection of Eldrazi to choose from.
RATING: 3 Stars
Pretty straightforward. A 3/2 body for 2 mana (good), can give itself haste for 1 more mana the turn it comes into play (also good), can give your Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger haste when it comes into play (AMAZING). Just like Herald of Kozilek before it, this is a card that you don’t so much want to play in a straight BR Eldrazi deck (which would be kind of weak), but rather in a BUG or Jund Eldrazi/Ramp deck. It’s also not bad in a non-Eldrazi Mardu or BR build by itself as an aggressive creature on your curve.
RATING: 3 Stars
So it’s pretty much a given that this format is going to be a 18 land format with all of these Eldrazi cards with casting costs of 6 and up being played. With that being said, Landfall cards stand to see a lot of play in limited because of that. When 45% of your deck is lands, that means you’ll be activating Landfall abilities every other turn. Cards like Omnath, Locus of Rage are game ending bombs, and the Retreat enchantment cycle can be counted on to activate quite a few times when played. That’s why I like Grove Rumbler. With removal as bad as it is right now (especially at instant speed), Grove Rumbler should have no problem being a 5/5 trampler for 4 mana. RUG has proven itself to be a strong color combination in limited already, and pure GR landfall decks have also shown a lot of success (they’re fast and can pile on the damage VERY quickly). If you’re playing in green or in red and can manage a splash to play him, I recommend it. He’s a powerful 4 drop and will deal a lot of damage over a few turns.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
One of the most powerful multicolor cards at any rarity is probably Resolute Blademaster. Don’t feel obligated to play this guy only in Ally-centric decks. If you can play UWR flyers, Naya Landfall, or any other aggressive combination the Blademaster will add a lot of finishing power to the deck. His 2 toughness makes him an easy target for removal, but even one trigger of his double strike ability on a board with a few creatures can swing a game heavily in your favor. Think of him as a 5 mana combat trick that can be reused multiple times (for each Ally you play in the deck).
RATING: 3.5 Stars
Skyrider Elf is another card that I think will see a lot of play in limited. The dual lands make it pretty easy to add in a 3rd or 4th color to your deck, and with lots of people splashing or going all in on 3 colors I think you can expect this card to be a 3/3 flyer for 3 most of the time. You also don’t have to pay the X cost either. This is basically a 2/2 flying “bear” for 2 mana with the bonus of giving it another counter for each color you add. There aren’t that many strong 2 or 3 drops in BFZ limited, especially with flying, so I think it’s something you should grab early in draft if you’re playing either green or blue. It’s also an Ally, which gives it a little more playability. 5 Color Allies just might be possible in draft.
RATING: 3 Stars
You’ll definitely want to be playing 4-5 Allies in a Naya, Bant, or Abzan build to get any kind of benefit from Grovetender Druids. A 3/3 for 4 mana that sometimes puts a 1/1 creature into play is playable but something I wouldn’t be afraid to cut. The only times I see the tokens as an advantage would be in Ally decks using stampede effects like Tajuru Warcaller/Beastmaster or alongside Retreat to Emeria. It can be good in a dedicated swarm deck, but so-so in other strategies.
RATING: 3 Stars
A 2/2 flyer that drains one life each turn is definitely playable, but what’s more important with her is the ability to activate all of those triggers in a BW Vampiric themed deck. Giving your creatures flying, deathtouch, counters, etc. can add up really quickly in a well drafted BW deck. She’ll fit in any BW/x deck regardless, but definitely pick her up if you’re sitting on some good black cards like Malakir Familiar, Kalastria Nightwatch, or Bloodbond Vampire. Being an Ally, GBW Allies would also be a good fit for her.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
The last playable multicolor card we have is Roil Spout. Being sorcery speed really does suck, but bouncing late game finishers like an Eldrazi, then attacking with a 4/4 can be a good tempo swing. A deck like Esper Flyer/tempo could really use/abuse this card, but overall I think it would be strong in any other UW deck you build. I’d much rather have a Planar Outburst, but setting your opponent’s attack end game strategy back a turn can allow you just the time you need to change the game to your favor.
RATING: 3 Stars
The first 3 lands that I think add the most to limited are Fertile Thicket, Skyline Cascade, and Mortuary Mire. Fertile Thicket is a great card for 3+ color decks as it allows you to set up your next turn with the land you need, as well as giving you a better idea as to what cards you won’t be drawing in the near future. I had 2 in my pre-release pool and they worked very well in a 3 color RUG deck. I even saw some people using them in a non-green deck just as a way to set up their next turn and to add to Converge cards. It’s definitely a useful card in limited.
Skyline Cascade would have been a lot stronger if it tapped a creature when it came into play, but as it stands you have to rely on a creature to attack to lock it down. Still, it’s not a bad ability and can come in handy when you’re playing a somewhat aggressive Jeskai or Esper deck with a lot of flyers and quick hitting creatures. Good tempo card.
The last card, Mortuary Mire, is more of a late game play. If your finisher gets killed, countered, or discarded, it’s a good way to get it back. I usually don’t feel like these type of effects warrant a spot in your deck, but since it’s a land you’re not really losing out on anything. It’s not as good as the green and blue producing cards, but it’s still late game card advantage.
RATING: Fertile Thicket – 4 Stars / Skyline Cascade – 3.5 Stars / Mortuary Mire – 3 Stars
Evolving Wilds is always a good card in limited, and with Landfall decks it’s even better. Get 2-3 early if you can in draft just in case you plan on playing a mana intensive 3 color deck. As I said above (and others are saying elsewhere), whenever you can, play 3 colors. The added power and versatility you get along with playing big Eldrazi on your top end is worth it.
RATING: 4 Stars
This isn’t a card you play to ramp early, it’s a card you play to ramp late. There are times when you can get to 6-7 mana but simply can’t draw the land you need play your finisher. BFZ has a number of cards at 8, 9, and 10 mana that are game enders but playing them can be difficult. Aside from fast GR Landfall and some Ally decks, most decks you face are going to be somewhat slower midrange decks that stabilize and start becoming trouble around turn 7 or 8. That’s when Spawning bed hopefully comes on for you as well. You can throw 3 Scion tokens under the feet of a huge attacker, or go from 7 mana on turn 7 to 10 mana on turn 8 so you can play an Ulamog or Desolation Twin. I’m not sure if you want to be running this in a 3 color deck instead of lands like Fertile Thicket, but it’s pretty good in 2 color decks such as GB Eldrazi Ramp, UB flyers, or anything else that isn’t hungry for mana. The more Eldrazi you play, the better this becomes.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
The last cards I want to talk about in BFZ limited is the Blighted cycle of lands. These are colorless lands with a colored ability pulled straight from the color wheel. Life from White, cards from blue, removal from black, etc. They’re all playable to some extent, but not all of them are created equal. For example, the reason why the red one isn’t here is that I think 2 damage simply isn’t enough of a pay off.
The best one by far is Blighted Woodland. In a format looking to play high costed Eldrazi as soon as possible, Blighted Woodland lets you go from 5 mana on turn 5 to 8 mana on turn 6 (if you play another land). This allows you to play an Eldrazi earlier than an opponent and put some real pressure on them. It also works great with Landfall decks.
My next favorite card is Blighted Fen. With good removal at a premium, I’ll take anything I can get. If you’re taking out your opponent’s creatures one by one through attrition, this will help you to shift the balance in your favor. If your opponent has been blocking aggressively all game, this card can really punish them.
In third place is Blighted Cataract. Drawing cards is another strong effect in this format as card advantage is key in a lot of match ups. Being able to keep the pressure on and to draw the cards you need quickly is very important.
The last land card I think is playable is Blighted Steppe. This card can be good or bad depending on your archetype. If you’re playing a BW Vampiric, White/X ally, or some kind of token deck it can be pretty useful to disregard you life total and just attack aggressively. If you’re playing more of a slow midrange deck with some strong beaters though, it’s not going to be as strong. More conditional than the other cards, but still decent.
Blighted Woodland – 4 Stars
Blighted Fen – 3.5 Stars
Blighted Cataract – 3 Stars
Blighted Steppe – 2.5 Stars
Other Cards that Might See Play
- Looming Spires – good in aggressive decks. Helps you attack favorably early.
- Sandstone Bridge – it’s alright if you want to be aggressive/defensive at the same time, but the lack of first strike that Looming Spires gives you reduces your number of options.
Results and Sample Decks
The first limited deck I made was at a 59 person midnight release in Nagoya, Japan. I got Fathom Feeder as my promo and opened a rather strong blue and black pool. I had a total of 9 flyers, including Drana, Liberator of Malakir. This deck had some really strong 2 and 3 drop creatures along with a decent amount of removal. Retreat to Coralhelm, Blighted Fen, and Skyline Cascade provided me with even more tempo to slow down and manipulate my opponent and Bane of Bala Ged and Eldrazi Devastator proved to be good finishers. I went 2-1 in a short 3 round tournament, beating UB Eldrazi, losing to GR landfall, and beating a 4 color Eldrazi deck. This deck curved out often and the flyers usually proved hard to deal with (especially Drana). The mix of tempo, card advantage, flyers, and removal was really strong. I would love to play this archetype again.
My second tournament on Saturday afternoon was the first time I tripped up in the format. I found that the synergy between red and blue was pretty good, but the main reason I played this color combination was the removal. I had absolutely none of it in this pool in any of my colors, but this forced me to play some subpar cards in my deck. If I had known what I know now, I would have tried to have play a 3 color deck (possibly RUG). I went 2-4 with this deck at a 6 round, 54 player tournament. I lost to Naya Landfall, GR landfall, beat BGW Landfall/ramp and GB Landfall/ramp, then lost to BUG ramp and BGW ramp.
The removal I had simply wouldn’t cut it, and in late games my creatures were easily overwhelmed. My lack of card draw/advantage also hurt. Aside from 1 Anticipate I didn’t have anyway to dig to my strong cards (which there were few of). Akoum Phoenix wasn’t bad, but Guardian of Tazeem was absolutely amazing in limited. I also learned that you have be careful around GR based landfall strategies. They are fast and without good blockers early or removal, they can put you in a bad situation early.
By day 3, I had learned my lesson and after opening an Expedition Breeding Pool and foil Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in my packs I felt like I was destined to use UG Eldrazi ramp. The biggest drawback to it was the total lack of removal. My red cards again had the best removal so I tried out a UR deck again in my first round and lost. Not wanting to repeat the same results from Saturday, I changed my deck up to this RUG build, adding in Oran-Rief Hydra as another finisher, a few ramp cards, and 2 Fertile Thickets to help with my mana.
After that initial loss to a Naya Allies/Landfall deck, I rattled off 3 straight wins to make it to the top tables for round 5 (I beat Naya Allies, BUG Eldrazi control, and Mardu Allies/Midrange). I ended up facing off against Goto Yuusei, one of the pros here in Nagoya, and try as I might (I played Ulamog in both games but he always had a way to deal with it) he ended up swarming me with his GWB Eldrazi Ramp deck’s army of Scion tokens for lethal. In round 6 I played 3 tight games against another BUG Eldrazi deck and thanks to double Anticipate, Ruination Guide, and early flyers I was able to sneak out a win and finish 4-2 at this 50 player event. After playing 3 colors, I can say I’m never going to look at solid 2 colors in BFZ limited again. Playing 3 colors just gives you so many more options and opens up the synergy.
A record of 8-7 after 3 tournaments might seem so-so, but I feel like I have the knowledge and experience now to put a lot more marks in the WIN column. The set is deep and can sometimes be confusing with all the triggers and different zones you’re interacting with, but once you get used to it the format is pretty rewarding. I look forward to kicking some butt prior to GP Nagoya in January.
That’s a Wrap
Finally finished and not a moment too soon. Lots of people will be cracking packs this weekend in drafting, and there are also 2 Battle for Zendikar limited Grand Prix coming up soon too. I hope this series helped you find some synergies and combos that you didn’t think of before, and also got you thinking about some cards differently that you had written off at first glance. This weekend I’ll be doing some drafting and sealed practice of my own with the box I bought, and also brewing and testing out some new standard decks I have in the work. I’ll be posting my ideas over the next few days, and I’ll also be talking about what cards I think will be breaking out in BFZ standard in my next series “Bang For Your Buck – Investing in Cards for BFZ”. I hope to see you back then!