Zendikar Rising Set Review – Blue

(Charix, the Raging Isle | Art by Kekai Kotaki)

From the Rubble

Zendikar has always been one of my favorite planes, and I was very excited to hear we’d be returning again. The promise of seeing Zendikar turn back to themes of adventure and expedition really got my heart pumping to see just what we’d get this time around. Landfall is back! Omnath is back! And we’ve been introduced to the modal double-faced cards. This is an idea that I think has the potential to be brilliant by cutting down on dead draws. But Wizards knows how powerful this mechanic could be, so it seems like most of the cards in this category are fairly tame or are specific to a particular archetype. I actually have to think about which decks want to replace a land with one of these double-faced cards. I like that tension, even if it is more functional than flashy.

But enough preamble, let’s dive into the blue cards from Zendikar Rising!


Mythics


Sea Gate Restoration

Our first card in this review presents a question that we will circle back to a few times, and that players across formats are considering right now: is it worth it to replace a basic land with one of the new modal double-faced cards? My first, most reckless impulse is to jam as many of these modal double-faced cards into land slots. It allows me to play the types of cards that never quite make it into my deck!

The spell half of this card is comparable to Overflowing Insight, a card which has a hard time finding a foothold in our format. Drawing seven cards is obviously good, but there is a principle of diminishing returns at play in card draw. Drawing one card for one mana is fine, two cards for two mana is good, three cards for three mana is amazing, but if you continue this pattern, the effect starts becoming less efficient and less desirable, unless you have infinite mana and are drawing your whole deck with Blue Sun’s Zenith (though even that’s instant-speed). As such, I don’t foresee that Sea Gate Restoration will be particularly desirable as a draw spell. But is it worth a land slot? The added versatility of being a land perhaps makes this more analogous to a card like Overwhelming Intellect: a versatile but inefficient draw spell. There are costs to replacing lands with modal double-faced cards, so tread carefully, but I have a hard time saying that this card is bad. It can be what you need it to be.


Jace, Mirror Mage

Planeswalkers already have a high barrier to entry in EDH, and this one doesn’t quite do what we need it to do to see play in the format. Jace, Mirror Mage is very tame, only acting as a plodding card advantage engine. Since it lacks an ultimate ability, I don’t anticipate that Jace, Mirror Mage will find a spot in Superfriends decks, and because it’s slow and inefficient in its role, I can’t imagine throwing it into just any blue deck. I might prefer even underwhelming card advantage effects such as Divination in the slot that new Jace would fill. If you play Jace tribal, you have a new consideration, but the rest of us will just have to wait for his next appearance.


Sea Gate Stormcaller

This card might seem like the second coming of Snapcaster Mage, but it’s probably more akin to Dualcaster Mage, albeit with less combo potential, because it doesn’t leverage a resource outside of your hand. Maybe there is good two-card combo involving Sea Gate Stormcaller, but I haven’t found it yet. If you know of one, point it out in the comments! Either way, this card seems weaker than both Snapcaster Mage and Dualcaster Mage, and neither of these are remarkably potent in Commander. As I see it, this card is fair. It might net you a bit of additional value, but even when kicked, it can still only copy a small spells. This seems like it’ll perform decently well in spellslinger decks, but probably doesn’t have the legs for broad play across the format.


Rares


Charix, the Raging Isle

Lands matter! On a legendary blue creature! Who would’ve thought we’d be playing lands matter in mono-blue. While this general has the ability to pump itself based on the number of Islands you control, there aren’t enough ways to put extra lands onto the battlefield in blue to facilitate this strategy. We need to find a new direction, such as a hyper-defensive control shell (Get it? Shell?) or a super evasive Voltron strategy. Use cards like Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive to slip Charix through enemy defenses, then activate the ability before damage! If you want to beat your opponents to death with a mono-blue general for the novelty, power to you. Charix might be your commander.


Thieving Skydiver

The year is 2020. Almost every set, Wizards prints a card that is the best in its category for EDH: Fiery Emancipation, Nyxbloom Ancient, and Arcane Signet were all released within the last year. And yet, somehow, Thieving Skydiver is the new Commander staple that has impressed me most in recent memory. I’m already an advocate for Steal Artifact, and Thieving Skydiver is much better, both because of its Equipment clause and because you maintain control of the artifact even if the Skydiver is removed. Looking through the top 100 Artifacts on EDHREC, it’s hard to find one that I wouldn’t be happy to steal. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Solemn Simulacrum are the rare exceptions. This is blue ramp on a body. Paying three mana to steal a Sol Ring or Mana Crypt is obviously powerful, but it’s even good when targeting an artifact land or other early-game mana rocks.

This card also has the upside of interacting well with the most popular Equipment in Commander. Taking a Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots is a fine baseline, but because it immediately Equips whatever it takes, the Skydiver also plays favorably against high-value Equipment cards, such as Blackblade Reforged and Sword of Feast and Famine. My favorite application, however, is with Skullclamp. Pay three mana to steal a Skullclamp and immediately draw two cards is exactly what I want to do in games of EDH. Of course, this card is also great when stealing a win condition, such as Aetherflux Reservoir. There will rarely be a board where it’s bad. Pick up as many copies as you can.


Inscription of Insight

Analyzing a set like this is tricky because modal cards are so finicky in EDH. Cyclonic Rift is technically a modal card, but is it really? How many times have you seen someone cast Rift without paying for Overload in EDH? In a separate category, Casualties of War has gained some popularity because it can sometimes 5-for-1 the table. However, these cards seem like outliers. Modal spells gain traction in EDH when they do one thing exceptionally well, such as Cyclonic Rift, Boros Charm, or Rite of Replication, or when they provide a significant and reliable rate of return for doing many things, as with Casualties of War or Mystic Confluence. I’m not saying modal spells are bad in EDH, only that middle-of-the-road modal spells don’t scale well to the format. In my opinion, that’s why Cryptic Command was such an all-star in other formats but isn’t impactful enough for ours.

Inscription of Insight might just straddle the line in EDH. It might just get there. At four mana, it’s fine: you get soft removal, decent card advantage, or a threat. At eight mana, you don’t win the game, but you do produce a board swing and draw more gas. As such, this card seems a lot like the newly-minted Sublime Epiphany. They’re both flexible, high-value considerations, but it might be hard to squeeze them into a deck with many other cards competing for slots. Consider this card if you are making a modal-tribal deck, or if you’re a glutton for flexibility.


Enigma Thief

This new addition from the Commander product for this set can be a house. The soft removal effect tacked onto this substantial body is actually pretty nice. Returning up to three nonland permanents to their owners’ hands can be an effective tempo swing on the board, especially when it leaves you with a 5/5 flyer. While I may not be happy to pay seven mana for this effect, I could imagine doing so in a deck centered around flying creatures like Inniaz, the Gale Force. For four mana, however, this is an incredible rate. Because this card is so good when cast for its Prowl cost, this should be a mainstay in Rogue decks from now on. It’s even a Rogue, itself, to trigger subsequent Prowl effects! Of course, it comes in Anowon, the Ruin Thief’s preconstructed deck, but I would also put this in Sygg, River Cutthroat Rogue tribal decks.


Glasspool Mimic

This is the modal double-faced card that most confounds me. Cloning a creature that you control can be good, but I’m not sure if I would instantly replace an Island in each of my blue decks with this card. I’m most impressed that this card only costs three mana. It has the restriction of only targeting creatures you control, but it’s a pretty efficient rate for a Clone effect. Glasspool Mimic is a slam dunk in clone decks, such as Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, and might be a decent addition to a Prime Speaker Vannifar toolbox.


Maddening Cacophony

Wizards is really pushing to make mill better in EDH, and I’m happy for everyone who likes that style of deck. No matter which mode you choose, this is one of the most efficient mill spells available to us. The first mode is akin to Glimpse the Unthinkable, and the second mode is essentially Traumatize. Even better, both modes hit each opponent. The two-mana mode might come in handy when people are nearing the bottoms of their libraries, but you’ll really play this card for the six-mana mode. Traumatize is one of the only haymakers that exists for mill strategies, so having another copy that affects all opponents is extremely valuable. This card is unprecedented for the archetype and should be one of the first cards in any Mill deck.

Mill needs some assistance in EDH, so I’m glad that Wizards is playing with the dials in terms of individual power levels of mill cards. Consider this card highly with Bruvac, the Grandiloquent or any other mill general that suits you.


Confounding Conundrum

What a strange hate card that might just be good in EDH! It seems like every pod that I play in, there’s at least one player that’s trying to shake all the lands from their deck onto the battlefield as fast as possible. Confounding Conundrum might be a good way for blue-inclusive nongreen decks to try to hobble the players that try to ramp into an early victory. Plus, it replaces itself. If you play in a meta with a lot of Landfall or ramp strategies, consider this card.

Alternatively, this is a fine inclusion in enchantment decks such as Tuvasa, the Sunlit, where it will draw a card, might draw additional cards from Enchantresses, and could trip up an opponent or two. Be careful, though, that it doesn’t help enable an opponent’s strategy by allowing them and their Azusa, Lost but Seeking to trigger Omnath, Locus of Rage over and over with just a single land card in their hand.


Uncommons and Commons


Silundi Vision

This is the one. If I were to place a bet on the best blue modal double-faced card, it would be this one. While three mana isn’t the best rate for card selection, this effect is actually fairly efficient in the number of cards that it lets you see. Augur of Bolas, Drawn from Dreams, and Impulse are probably the closest comparisons, all of which are decent cards in their own right. Silundi Vision does cost three mana only to replace itself, but it is an instant and it allows you to pick from the top six cards of your library. Imagining this card in-game, it provides you with two good options: hit your land drop if you need to, or dig for more gas. The fact that Silundi Vision only selects for instant and sorcery cards probably relegates this to spellslinger decks such as Mizzix of the Izmagnus or Talrand, Sky Summoner, but the opportunity cost is low enough that I might experiment by putting this card in decks that have twenty or more instants and sorceries.


Ruin Crab

This is a timely printing for an upgrade to Hedron Crab, which is a $5 uncommon now! Hedron Crab was already one of the better mill cards in the format, and Ruin Crab does a great job of scaling that effect to four players. Yes, you lose the flexibility of being able to mill yourself, but you put a faster clock on all of your opponents. As with Maddening Cacophony, I expect this to make its way into every Bruvac, the Grandiloquent deck from now on.


Merfolk Windrobber

This little guy is actually fairly powerful for its mana cost. I like playing cantrips such as Opt in my spellslinger decks, and Merfolk Windrobber could play a similar role in low-to-the-ground creature decks. Drawing a card for one mana is a fine rate, and having the added upside of an evasive body in decks that already run Coastal Piracy and Reconnaissance Mission is very powerful. This card might have more homes than it seems on the surface. Yes, an opponent must have eight or more cards in their graveyard for you to activate the draw ability, but that isn’t uncommon even if you aren’t actively milling the table. While Merfolk Windrobber appears in the Sneak Attack preconstructed deck, I think this could find a home outside Rogue tribal decks in flying decks, such as Inniaz, the Gale Force or Isperia the Inscrutable.


Off the Land

That’s all I have for the set. Are there any good EDH cards thsat I missed? Did I misevaluate anything? Am I dead wrong about the double-faced cards? Is there a secretly broken combo with Sea Gate Stormcaller? And, finally, which of these cards are you most looking forward to playing with. For me, I can’t wait to get my paws on Thieving Skydiver.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all on down the road!

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.