Zendikar Rising Set Review – Artifacts and Lands
(Forsaken Monument | Art by Piotr Dura)
Nothing Going to Wastes!
Welcome to the Colorless and Lands portion of the Zendikar Rising EDHREC set review! We have many cards to cover and little time, so let's get started!
Forsaken Monument is a powerful card, plain and simple. The most obvious comparison is to Caged Sun, but I think that Forsaken Monument outperforms it by so much that it's a bit of unfair to compare both. There are several shells where it shines, such as Eldrazi tribal and Artifact decks in general. However, even decks that heavily rely on mana rocks to accelerate can use it to great effect.
While this card has three powerful abilities, we should probably focus on the first two, leaving the third as a nice bonus instead of a build-around. The anthem effect is a great addition to decks that want to go wide, and there are a ton of ways to do so in colorless. Getting our Thopter tokens to 3 power is pretty good, and so is buffing our Eldrazi army.
Morophon, the Boundless is probably one of the best commanders for an Eldrazi Aggro shell. It gives us access to every Devoid creature available in the format and helps us a bit by accelerating into them. While I do have some doubts on the overall effectiveness of such a limited tribe, Forsaken Monument is exactly the type of card that the tribe needs.
Sai, Master Thopterist is really powerful artifact commander that naturally creates plenty of evasive tokens, so the extra bump in power combined with the acceleration to play even more artifacts makes it a must in most Sai lists.
Last, but not least, Hope of Ghirapur is THE aggressive colorless commander. Hope uses the boost in power really well, and the extra mana is also helpful in smoothing out our curve from all the Equipment we'll probably have.
The second ability is where Forsaken Monument shows its true colors! Doubling not only our colorless lands but also our colorless mana rocks is an ability that cannot be underestimated. Mana rocks are a glue in our format and even some decks that aren't 'artifacts matter' have a bunch of them to be able to keep up with the Green decks.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion decks tend to try to ramp into it ASAP, using its draw trigger to recover the lost cards. Having Forsaken Monument makes the crucial first Kozilek, the Great Distortion cast that much faster and makes the eventual Kozilek, the Great Distortion recasts an incredibly easy task.
Daretti, Scrap Savant is the kind of commander that can always go for more mana. With his minus ability, it's very easy to get value from Forsaken Monument in the same turn we play it (since we don't need to spend mana on it), and it also allows us to get it back if it ever gets removed.
From time to time, we get a card that the only proper reaction would be, "That's SOOOO EDH". Lithoform Engine is that card. It's a Riku of Two Reflections merged with a more generic Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice! For four mana, we get an extremely flexible artifact that's probably going to cause a huge impact if we ever get the pleasure to untap with it. In terms of general power, the incredible flexibility is key to understanding why Lithoform Engine is such an amazing card. Every deck has at least one ability that it can use to great effect, and there are plenty of decks that can consistently use all of the abilities, which is where Lithoform Engine really shines. Requiring only generic mana costs is also great because it means that we can use Zirda, the Dawnwaker effects to reduce its costs. Let's go over its abilities one by one.
For two mana, we get to copy an activated or triggered ability we control. This is an extremely powerful ability that is somewhat under-explored in EDH. Both Rings of Brighthearth and Strionic Resonator are strong artifacts that can go in a wide array of strategies, such as slow and grindier decks like Brago, King Eternal and Daretti, Scrap Savant, or explosive and fast with Narset, Enlightened Master and Teferi, Temporal Archmage. Lithoform Engine is so over-the-top that it combines both of them, and that's just the first part of the card!
The second ability does quite a good Mirari impression. This ability is great in a format like EDH, where we're used to playing big effects like extra turns, Wheels, or even Ultimatums.
Its last ability is really impressive, as it's quite unique, with only Verazol, the Split Current coming to mind as a true allegory. The ability to copy key enablers is undoubtedly very powerful, but even when we're copying random creatures, like Wizards in a Naban, Dean of Iteration deck, it's also extremely powerful, as getting the copies into play can make our pay-off go over-the-top. A noteworthy mention is that when we copy Kicked spells, the copies are also Kicked.
Myriad Construct is a risky but powerful effect. For seven mana, we get a behemoth that turns into an army of Constructs once it becomes the target of a spell. To evaluate its power level in a deck, we should consider how consistently we can trigger its sacrifice ability, or even how well we make use of the body. The biggest problem that Myriad Construct faces is its vulnerability to board wipes; after all, they can completely shut it out either by destroying the creature or by getting rid of the tokens.
As a card with Kicker, Myriad Construct might see play in dedicated Kicker lists, but I have a feeling that it might not be worth to spend seven mana to get an easily chump-blockable creature.
Zada, Hedron Grinder has no trouble triggering Myriad Construct's ability while really getting some mileage out of all the tokens that it creates. The high mana cost mana might seem like a challenge at first, but considering that we get access to plenty powerful rituals, it's not a deal-breaker.
Alternatively, Verazol, the Split Current allows us to have another copy of this giant behemoth when we play it Kicked. I wouldn't expect for decks like this to consistently trigger the sacrifice ability, but getting two beefy dudes for the price of one might be just good enough.
Skyclave Relic is an amazing mana rock that can shine both in the early and late game. Indestructible mana rocks are pretty safe, with the greatest danger coming from massive bounces like Cyclonic Rift and massive exile effects like Merciless Eviction. However, when considering that these effects tend to cost a lot of mana (and are already backbreaking on their own), it's easy to see how this is not much of a weakness.
One obvious comparison is with Darksteel Ingot, but there are plenty more effective mana rocks already in that same slot that make Ingot a bit obsolete. A much more relevant discussion is comparing Relic to Gilded Lotus. For one more mana, we get the same amount of mana production, with protection, and we get the flexibility of being able to play it early. Sure, there are some instances where having a mana rock that produces more than one mana is better, but unless we can take advantage of this, Skyclave Relic feels like an upgrade to good ol' Gilded Lotus.
Uncommons and Commons
Relic Axe has a tough competition with Obsidian Battle-Axe. It has a cheaper CMC, but it doesn't give haste, and is a bit clunkier than its counterpart. Being cheaper isn't very relevant since we need to cast it after our target, meaning that we only get full value from it one time. The fact that Obsidian Battle-Axe works better in a tribal deck (where we can keep auto-Equipping it) means that it's a much more reliable pick. Relic Axe can, however, fit a small niche of being a cheap Equipment that can be auto-Equipped by Warrior-typed Voltron commanders, but other than that, it's just not strong enough to be worth including.
As far as the Relic Cycle goes, this is by far the most powerful. It's a colorless Zulaport Cutthroat effect! The importance of this card cannot be overstated as it gives non-black and non-red decks like Saffi Eriksdotter an easier time going infinite. The card draw is a nice addition, but it's not the main selling point of the card, as it's slow and expensive. While we need to have a Cleric creature for Relic Vial to work, many decks that have a Cleric commander can freely add it to their list without needing to adapt anything.
Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle lists tend to be combo-oriented, using their commander's ability to create a ETB/LTB loop. Having access to a Zulaport Cutthroat effect will make combo lines even more flexible. Now we can use sacrifice outlets like Ashnod's Altar into a straight win instead of needing a mana sink. The fact that it's an artifact can even help us recover a combo piece and proceed to combo off.
Is there a limit to how many Blood Artists effects we can pull in a deck? No? I didn't think so. While this artifact not being a creature is a hidden cost, because it can be difficult to recur, not being a creature also means it avoids board wipes. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is already a great Aristocrat commander that is also a Cleric, so the Vial is a worthwhile consideration for extra redundancy.
Cliffhaven Kitesail & Utility Knife
Cheap Equipment that auto-Equips on ETB should never be underestimated. There's always a home for such cheap and yet deceptively powerful artifacts, with Cliffhaven Kitesail, in particular, blowing its competition out of the water. There are plenty of Voltron commanders that directly benefit for having many Equipment attached to them, like Kemba, Kha Regent and Valduk, Keeper of the Flame. Others wants us to keep casting them, like Sram, Senior Edificer and Danitha Capashen, Paragon, and there are even cards, like Akiri, Fearless Voyager and Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, that benefit us from having them in a less linear way. In other words, don't sleep on these two.
Spare Supplies is a small variation on Ichor Wellspring where we trade the ability to use it to fuel as a sacrifice cost in order to have a more reliable second draw activation. This small difference completely changes the type of commander that would want it. Red-based artifact commanders will probably pass on it since they won't be able to sacrifice it to effects like Trash for Treasure. However, commanders with built-in recursion are more than happy to have an easier way to sacrifice it.
Emry, Lurker of the Loch is the quintessential commander for Spare Supplies; she has no trouble accessing it in the graveyard and gives us the option to keep recasting it throughout the course of the game. Spare Supplies can also be played pretty well with counterspells by giving us the ability to spend any unspent mana before our turn.
Unlike Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Glissa, the Traitor needs a little help to get Spare Supplies back. However, what we get for our troubles is the ability to wait before committing to it as a recursion target, and the ability to choose not to cast it right away, which makes our turn more flexible.
Hey, look, it's colorless Raging Ravine! Crawling Barrens is a very interesting creature land that, unlike the others, we can choose to not fully commit to by only placing the two +1/+1 counters on it without animating it at all This is a crucial aspect of the card because it allow us to charge it much more safely over time. That being said, we're still playing a 40-life multiplayer format, so I doubt that paying 4 mana to have a growing threat without any built-in evasion is efficient enough for it to be a worth its mana investment.
Brion Stoutarm might have a bit of fun using Crawling Barrens. We can use it as a mana sink whenever we have the extra mana, and, eventually, we can throw it at one of our opponents. This interaction is pretty good for such a low opportunity cost.
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma can help Crawling Barrens get through by giving it the much-needed evasion. The "free" extra threat is pretty nice in a deck that wants to get in as much as possible.
Oh, and if you happen to need a place to put a dozen or even a hundred mana, well, this is technically a possible outlet for an infinite-mana combo....
Modal double-faced lands are something quite unexpected, to say the least. These lands are an interesting twist on dual lands as a concept, as they give us the option to choose which color we want to commit to the board. Enemy colored pairs are starved for decent dual lands, and these are definitely worth looking into. Their obvious drawback is that they aren't really 'dual' lands in the sense of the word, meaning that, once we committed, there's always a non-zero chance that we can get color-screwed afterward.
That being said, it's important to understand how this unique ability changes how we usually build our mana base. Two-color lists that are heavily invested in only one of its colors (Feather, the Redeemed comes to mind, since she often contains double or even triple the number of white spells than red spells) will love to use this as a way to reduce the need for specific basics. For two-color decks that have both colors evenly matched, these Pathway lands will be a decent way to smooth out some bad draws, but otherwise they lose some of their utility. Still, it's hard to argue with the tempo that these lands can provide, since other tapped lands can occasionally become a bit of a speed bump.
The Pathways start to lose their value when we start getting into three-color-and-up territory. We have more flexible options that don't require us to commit to a specific color, and the more colors we have, the more chance we have of being blown out by choosing the 'wrong' side.
These look just great for two-color decks, although they're also great just for two-color decks, and, at least in my eyes, their downside isn't too dramatic, since they'll likely fix your colors when you need fixing the most.
Throne of Makindi
Throne of Makindi is a land that smooths out the mid game by allowing us to "store" some spare mana for future Kicked spells. How does it fare against Storage Lands like Fungal Reaches? On the one hand, Throne of Makindi is faster, getting online every other turn, which is nice if we're constantly trying to cast Kicked spells. However, storage lands have the benefit of being much more explosive. Given that, the consistency of Throne makes it a better addition to the archetype, as we need less time to set it up and can use it more often throughout the game.
Base Camp is a budget tribal land for any of the relevant tribes (and the obvious Party deck). It even has the nice little bonus of being able to use its mana for activated abilities. So, how does Base Camp compare to other tribal lands? Not very impressive, to be honest. It's a conditional land that enters the battlefield tapped, so unless we really need a crucial number of rainbow lands in our (probably Warrior) tribal deck, there are better options out there, like Path of Ancestry or Unclaimed Territory. Alternatively, using pain lands like Mana Confluence and City of Brass can fill that niche quite nicely (although both of them are rares).
This concludes my portion of this set review! Lithoform Engine is simply amazing, right? How cool are these Pathway lands?
Now I want to hear from you! What are your impressions of the set, and where would you put these new toys? Which cards are you most excited for? Let me know in the comments below!