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Commander Review: Battle For Zendikar (Lands, White, Blue, Black)


Battle for Zendikar is now fully spoiled! It's time to sift through the pile of new cards and pull out the shiniest potentials for our Commander decks. Here are the top cards I'm most excited about, including what decks will want to play them:

Lands

This time we're starting with lands because they're what I'm by far the most excited about. So many decks are going to love the first cards on my list:

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The new BFZ dual lands — slowlands, latelands, tangolands, charmlands, hamletlands, bofalands, ugglands, companylands, voldemort lands, whatever you want to call them — are one of the greatest gifts to Commander in general in a long, long time. Like the ABUR dual lands (ex. Tundra) and Ravnica shocklands (ex. Hallowed Fountain), the BFZ duals have two notable advantages:

While the BFZ duals are slightly worse than the other two dual land types due to sometimes coming into play tapped, it's important to remember how much cheaper these new lands are compared to ABUR duals:

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Personally I'm okay with the slightly worse dual lands and not setting fire to my wallet.

The most obvious inclusion for the BFZ duals are pretty much any 2-color Commander deck. These decks run the highest concentration of basic lands already, so getting your BFZ dual land into play untapped will be trivial. For example, here is my Xenagos, God of Revels's lands, which will be now including Cinder Glade that can be pulled out with fetchlands, Wood Elves, and Nature's Lore:

3-color decks will also be happy to run these duals and budget alternatives to the ABUR ones. Here is a standard Sydri, Galvanic Genius manabase that includes Sunken Hollow and Prairie Stream:

The BFZ duals are going to be the most played Commander cards from the set, no doubt. Add them, love them!

 

Ally Encampment

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Allies has always been a fringe deck in Commander — pretty much a more casual Slivers deck, really. Each ally helps the party out and they can do cool unique things if you get enough of them on the table at once, but they don't snowball out of control and do broken things like Slivers do. On the flipside, Allies aren't as feared/hated as Slivers, so that's a nice political perk.

Anyhoo, about this land: it's a staple for Allies like Sliver Hive is for Slivers. If you have one, you'll be running this. It's a superb mana-fixer and has added utility. Awesome.

 

Blighted Woodland

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By far my favorite blighted land of the cycle. It's a Green version of Myriad Landscape; it comes into play untapped but costs more to use its Explosive Vegetation ability. Not only is this card sweet ramp, but the fact that it brings two extra lands into play means it plays nice with the Landfall mechanic — Avenger of Zendikar and friends are very happy. Expect Titania, Protector of Argoth and the sweet new Omnath, Locus of Rage to jam this land into their decks immediately.

 

Sanctum of Ugin, Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

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Colorless decks are a thing. The most popular colorless commanders are Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Karn, Silver Golem, but I bet Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will soon join their ranks. Since these commanders are colorless, they cannot run any colored mana in their deck which means they're restricted to only colorless lands like these. Both Sanctum of Ugin and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods are excellent new utility lands to add to colorless land bases. Sanctum cashes itself in as a tutor once you've got excess mana, and Shrine ramps you once you've hit the mid/lategame. They're easy includes in colorless decks but probably not worthwhile in colored decks.

 

White

Emeria Shepherd

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A beautiful nod to Emeria, the Sky Ruin. 7-mana is a significant sum even in Commander, and she only gains value once you start dropping lands after she hits the table. Tapping out to cast her and then passing the turn without triggering landfall could end up being terrible if she is taken out before you get anything back from your graveyard. However, once you trigger her landfall a single time and get back something spicy (note it's any nonland permanent), she pays for her casting cost and anything beyond that is gravy.

Emeria Shepherd will be most at home in decks that can cheat her into play. My first thought about Angels is to turn to Kaalia of the Vast who can play her for free and then immediately trigger landfall for value. Reanimation works too; a simple Animate Dead can be quite fun and Karador, Ghost Chieftan may enjoy her recursion as well. Mono White Control may enjoy her as well, if only because Mono White can struggle refueling in the mid/late game.

Perhaps the sweetest new home for Emeria Shepherd is in White/Green decks that run staple Green land ramp creatures such as Sakura-Tribe Elder. With Shepherd and Elder in play, you can sacrifice Elder to put a Plains into play triggering Shepherd and returning Elder back into play; do this over and over until you've ramped out all the Plains in your deck. Similar shenanigans can be done with Wood Elves plus a sacrifice outlet like Phyrexian Altar. In these decks, Emeria Shepherd is crazy good; expect GW decks like Karador, Ghost Chieftain to jam her in immediately!

 

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

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Another fine addition to the Ally deck. Gideon's tokens are crucially Ally creatures, thus triggering Ally enter-the-battlefield effects which leads to fun times. Non-Ally decks should probably avoid him, however, since there are many alternatives that offer what Gideon does but better. If you're really hurting for a 4cmc white planeswalker that produces tokens and lays a beatdown, go with Elspeth, Knight-Errant.

 

Planar Outburst

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This is a cool card. You know what's a cooler card though? Phyrexian Rebirth! I frickin' LOVE that card; it wipes the board and leaves you the only person with a creature, and it's usually a HUGE creature too! It's so awesome. Planar Outburst is similar, but not as good. Yeah, it's 1-mana cheaper if you just want a board wipe, but Rebirth is far better if you want to pay the big Awaken cost.

Poor Phyrexian Rebirth gets no love despite being so awesome. Run that card first. If you love it and really want a second copy, then add Planar Outburst.

 

Quarantine Field

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Banishing Light's bigger (and for some reason Mythic) cousin. I wish you weren't limited to exiling your opponents' creatures. It would've been more interesting if you could exile your own permanents as well, which could lead to sweet politics: "if you pop the field, you'll get X back, but I'll get Y back.. are you sure you want to do that?" Angel of Serenity was a fun card.

As for playability, I think it's alright. White has tons of board wipes, but not much (potentially) multi-target removal. Return to Dust is a staple and this has the added flexibility of exiling any nonland permanent — although it's very expensive and fragile. Zedruu the Greathearted might like this since you can donate the Field away after it's been cast, so that's nice.

 

Blue

Part the Waterveil

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It's a Time Warp that costs one extra but has a bonus upside if you have tons of mana. Narset, Enlightened Master and Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge will happily run this, much to the grumbling of the rest of the table.

 

Retreat to Coralhelm

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While not particularly exciting on its own, the ability to untap a creature whenever a land enters the battlefield can open up sweet new combos: Knight of the Reliquary + Retreat to Coralhelm lets you activate the Knight's ability until you've pulled out all the lands from your deck which can certainly lead to broken things. What other fun interactions can you find?

 

Black

Defiant Bloodlord

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Sanguine Bond stapled on to a creature is both good and bad. Bad because it costs more and is more vulnerable to removal. Good because it's much easier to tutor up with cards like Entomb and bring back from the graveyard with cards like Animate Dead. Depending on how you've built your lifegain deck, you may prefer Bond or Bloodlord — or maybe run both!

 

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

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While Drana, Liberator of Malakir doesn't excite me as the leader of a Mono Black deck, I believe she has serious potential in other decks. Decks that care about adding +1/+1 counters, such as Marchesa, the Black Rose, will happily run her; two starting power makes her a worthy candidate for Alesha, Who Smiles at Death; and surely tribal Vampire decks will embrace this fantastic inclusion.

 

Ob Nixilis Reignited

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Ob Nixilis Reignited is a combination of three highly-relevant abilities wrapped together in one card: Unconditional removal lets you take out a problematic Prophet of Kruphix or Balefire Dragon, drawing a card for a measely one life, or put a death sentence on one opponent — note it's whenever any player draws a card, so in a typical 4-player game that's a minimum of 8 unstoppable lifeloss per turn. 

The downside is that planeswalkers are generally inferior in multiplayer: planeswalkers are balanced by taking multiple turns to be worth casting, and opponents tend to gang up to kill the walker as soon as it hits the table. So while this is a fine addition in pretty much any Black deck, Ob Nixilis Reignited will shine brightest in decks best suited to play and protect planeswalkers such as Superfriends where the demon brings much-needed abilities to the deck while hiding behind a swarm of tokens, Sphere of Safety, Humility, and more.

 

Smothering Abomination

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Grim Haruspex and Harvester of Souls are both great cards but don't play so nice with a lot of Sacrifice decks because they don't trigger off tokens. Smothering Abomination crucially does trigger off tokens, which makes Sacrifice decks like Prossh, Skyrider of Kher and Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper very happy. Expect this card to be a new staple for Sacrifice decks as a sweet value engine.

 

Vampiric Rites

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I prefer my sacrifice outlets to be free and repeatable: Phyrexian Altar, Ashnod's Altar, and Greater Good being some of my favorites. If I have to pay mana to sacrifice, the effect better be great. I was never a fan of Culling Dais and Vampiric Rites certainly is reminiscent, allowing you to sacrifice multiple things per turn but paying 2-mana each time. I don't think Rites is worthwhile, but it's interesting enough that I'd at least try it out.

 

Coming Soon: Red, Green, Multicolored, Artifact

That's it for now. Follow me on Twitter @BudgetCommander for notifications on when the next article is up, updates on future decks, and input for what to work on next. Thanks for reading!


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