A First Look At Zendikar Rising Limited
- Jonatan Nahnfeldt
The advent of a new set is always the most exciting time for Limited players, and this time is no exception. Gather your friends and assemble your party, because it's time for adventure on Zendikar! Here's all you need to know before jumping into your first Draft or maybe even prerelease!
In Zendikar Rising, we have three main mechanics that get special focus. Two of them are returning mechanics, landfall and kicker, but we also get a brand new one: party!
It is time to gather your friends and to flood the board. Party is a mechanic focused in the white-blue and black-red color pairs that cares about how many different creatures of specific creature types you can assemble. Ideally, you want to have one creature that's a Cleric, another that's a Rogue, another that's a Warrior, and another one that's a Wizard on the battlefield. The closer you get to this goal, the bigger the different kinds of bonuses you can reap become, for example cost reductions on your spells or power and/or toughness boosts for your creatures.
Each color has primary, secondary and tertiary access to different classes, except for green which is tertiary in all of the classes. Each nongreen color is also missing access to one creature class. They are distributed in their respective order as follows:
- White: Cleric, Warrior, Wizard
- Blue: Wizard, Rogue, Cleric
- Black: Rogue, Cleric, Warrior
- Red: Warrior, Wizard, Rogue
As mentioned, green is tertiary in all classes and therefore has every class sprinkled throughout its creature base. It also features a few creatures that are all classes, such as Veteran Adventurer. Note that having one of these in play does not make a complete party. You need to control four separate creatures where each belongs to a different class for that. But these multi-classers make assembling your party a little less tedious.
Landfall is a mechanic introduced the first time we visited Zendikar, and as the name suggests, it cares about lands. More specifically, it triggers upon lands entering the battlefield under your control. In this set, landfall is focused in the Naya colors: red, green, and white. Just by playing your lands, you will get different bonuses, usually some kind of power and toughness boost to your creature(s).
We last saw kicker in Dominaria. It is an ability that allows you to pay some kind of additional cost (usually some extra mana) when you cast your spell to get an additional effect when the spell is cast or resolves. Kicker is present in all colors in this set, but is concentrated in Sultai: black, green, and blue.
In addition to these mechanics, the set also introduces a new kind of double-faced card, that have two modes. The so-called modal double-faced cards (MDFCs) are spells on one side and lands on the other, and you can pick one when you play them. The lands all produce one mana of a single color, and except for a cycle of mythic rares, they all enter the battlefield tapped. Like with planeswalkers in War of the Spark, there will be at least one MDFC in every pack.
W/U – Party Tempo
White-blue is along with black-red the color pair with the best access to the creature types needed to complete your party. It looks to be tempo-heavy and, as is often the case, to utilize flying creatures to win the game.
U/B – Mill/Rogues
In Zendikar Rising, blue-black has a theme similar to Eldraine, where it cares about the amount of cards in the opponent's graveyard. Using some Rogue-tribal synergies, it is looking to use incidental mill to gain a boost to their tempo/beatdown plan. While the mill victory is an enticing alternate win condition, it shouldn't be your primary game plan. However, if the board stalls out, it is something you can have in mind as a back-up plan.
B/R – Party Beats
In contrast to white-blue's more controlling approach to the party theme, black-red is looking to get some more aggressive payoffs for their creatures. Aggressive early drops and a low curve will be instrumental for this style of deck. As the color pair has access to some of the best removal in the set, it's looking like a promising archetype.
R/G – Landfall Aggro
Another aggressive pairing, but instead of creature types, these colors want to use their lands to facilitate their game plan. Beware before venturing into this color pair though, as the theme seems to be less supported at common and more at uncommon, making it a tough deck to assemble.
G/W – Landfall Midrange
Like red-green, green-white is aiming for a landfall beatdown deck. However, the green-white version of landfall sees a lot more supported at common, and more cards that benefit from landfall for more than just one turn.
W/B – Lifegain/Clerics
White-black is the second tribal color pair, along with having the classic "lifegain matters" theme the combination so often gets. White-black also has decent access to the party creature classes, so don't overlook party cards even though it isn't a main focus of this pairing.
U/R – Spells/Wizards
Similarly to white-black, blue-red gets its classic Wizards/spellslinger theme along with solid access to the party creature classes. Like white-blue, it seeks to utilize tempo and an assortment of instants and sorceries to get ahead. A new addition to the classic spellslinger ability "whenever you cast an instant or sorcery" trigger is that you now also get this when you cast Wizard spells. This means that you could potentially trigger your Umara Mystic with every single nonland in your deck — and a bunch of possible lands, namely the MDFCs, too!
B/G – Counters
Green-white passes the counters theme over to black-green this time around. While the counter synergy doesn't appear as strong as in M21, it does have some good support in both black and green. The archetype is looking to utilize +1/+1 counters in a slightly different way than green-white did in M21, leaning toward value via the graveyard and sacrifices as the color combination so often does.
R/W – Warriors
Red-white is, to the surprise of absolutely no one, all about war(riors) and aggro. This time it is focused on the tribal component and equipment. There are quite a few pieces of equipment in the set, and a new trend is that they all attach themselves to a creature when they enter the battlefield, making the tempo loss of first playing an equipment a lot less punishing.
G/U – Kicker
Green-blue is often all about ramp and value, and this time is no different. Green-blue gets to be the frontline color pair for the kicker mechanic, and it looks to be able to do it in spectacular fashion. There are plenty of kicker cards and ways to gum up the board, and when the kicker deck gets to the late game there should be few decks that can compete.
The Big Picture
My expectation is that this format will be heavily oriented toward tempo, but that does not necessarily mean it will be fast. In fact, modal double-faced cards will lead to a higher number of tapped lands in most decks than in your average format, and even aggro decks will be running them. As a result, games might slow down by about one turn in general, which helps slower strategies and hinders the aggressive ones. With this in mind, be wary of how many MDFCs you put into your aggro decks. While they are still very, very good, taplands remain punishing if you want to curve out.
A tempo format also means that plays such as Into the Roil will be very strong. You might have noticed that I put it as the top key common for every blue archetype, and it is because I believe it will be among the best commons in the set due to the apparent tempo-focused nature of the environment.
Party does also look particularly pushed, and while it might turn out to be a win-more mechanic, I will start out by evaluating it as a tempo-value-style mechanic offering cost reductions and "free" boosts to your creatures. You should generally be able to expect to have two classes fulfilled in your party-oriented decks, so evaluate creatures with party as if the theoretical x equals two. With noncreature spells that care about party, it becomes slightly more difficult to get a consistent evaluation of the cost as the spells do not provide at least one party creature class on their own. However, I think it's fine to assume that x will equal two even in those cases.
The color balance seems slightly more even than in M21, where the Naya colors were miles ahead of blue and black. Ranking the colors in this set at common, I would say that blue and black are back at the top once again, along with green and white, while red on paper looks like the weakest color. But even though commons are the backbone of Limited, there are more rarities in a set! So here's a quick look at my takes for the top uncommons and rares/mythics.
- Sejiri Shelter // Sejiri Glacier
- Kabira Takedown // Kabira Plateau
- Khalni Ambush // Khalni Territory
- Bloodchief's Thirst
- Thwart the Grave
This list was tough to put together. There are so many good uncommons! The top three are unsurprisingly MDFCs. Having your removal spells double as land drops is incredibly powerful, and having a Feat of Resistance-style card doing the same even more so. Along with that, Bloodchief's Thirst is looking to be one of the best removal spells in the set, being highly versatile and relevant at any point in the game. Thwart the Grave is similarly probably the strongest version of this style of card we've seen. Returning two creatures for as little as two mana is some insane value, and a very powerful play even at full cost.
And in the same way that we have a lot of powerful uncommons at our disposal in Zendikar Rising, we also have a good amount of very powerful rares and mythics. Here are my frontrunners.
- Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients
- Drana, the Last Bloodchief
- Zareth San, the Trickster
- Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt
- Ashaya, Soul of the Wild
Nahiri is the poster child of the set and the best rare you could open in my mind. The classic four-mana planeswalker that protects itself, removes stuff, and generates card advantage is always very powerful. While she doesn't slot into every deck perfectly, I think you will rarely lose a game when you resolve her. Drana is also back and once again incredibly strong and will generate insane value if left unchecked. Note that the card doesn't have to deal combat damage to trigger. It just needs to attack, and it really only needs to do so once.
Zareth San is one of my hotter takes for this list, but I think the blue-black Rogues archetype is so well supported that this guy will be making a very convincing Fallen Shinobi impression. With the heavy mill support, I don't see it unusual for you to have at least one target for this by turn four, and getting just about any creature from your opponent's graveyard is massive value for the mana invested. Agadeem's Awakening is another card that is just massive value, even more so in being a land in the early game and an incredibly powerful spell in the late game. Ashaya makes this list not just by being a huge creature on its own. It also makes your creatures trigger landfall and leaves them immune to effects that target nonland permanents.
That's all the theory crafting I have for now, the rest will unfold when we get our hands on this set, and you can be sure to see an updated format review from me after our first week of adventure! Happy drafting!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.