Zendikar Rising Set Review - Gold
(Omnath, Locus of Creation | Art by Bastien Grivet)
There's Gold at the End of Omnath's Rainbow
Welcome to the gold installment of the Zendikar Rising set review! Since you've likely read all of the reviews we've posted so far, you can guess what's ahead. Not only will I be reviewing the gold cards of Zendikar Rising, but I'll also be covering the gold cards of the Zendikar Rising Commander decks. Let's check out the many legends and gold cards of Zendikar Rising!
Anowon, the Ruin Thief
Anowon, the Ruin Thief arrives at the helm of the new Sneak Attack Commander deck as a tribal Rogue commander. An anthem effect is about the most uninspiring effect that you can stick on a tribal commander, but for Anowon and his den of thieves, it plays right into his second ability, even if it does make Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive ineffective.
At a glance, Anowon is a color-shifted version of Edric, Spymaster of Trest that's going to draw far fewer cards. This is offset by being able to build mill payoffs and theft abilities into the deck (for instance, Memory Plunder effects). We'll talk about him later, but the new Zareth San, the Trickster is not only a great inclusion in the deck, but he might actually fill the role better as a commander, himself. Regardless, Anowon is a solid Rogue commander that's going to go wide with lots of evasive bodies. I'd expect this deck to draw more cards than you're comfortable with because of Bident of Thassa and other similar effects. Just watch out when you try to fill up the Meren of Clan Nel Toth player's graveyard.
Nahiri, Heir of Ancients
I'll expose my bias right now, but I'm a sucker for Equipment decks. I was introduced to Magic and Commander through Kemba, Kha Regent, and I've always had one in my rotation. Each of Nahiri's first two abilities are great to have in many situations. While most Equipment decks would rather suit up a heavy-hitter than a 1/1, I've found this ability to be better than it reads from my games with Nahiri, the Lithomancer, who has a near-verbatim effect. Don't underestimate creating a powerful creature after a board wipe, or a creature than can defend in a pinch. If you've managed to draw or tutor a Skullclamp, the ability reads, "Add a loyalty counter to Nahiri, draw two cards."
For as maligned and talked-about as Boros's card draw capacity has been over the last few years, Nahiri's first minus should be a godsend. While it has a higher chance to miss than I'd like, I'll gladly accept having the option. Plus, not only can we search for Equipment, but there are also a few notable Warriors in Boros colors that we can find, such as Stonehewer Giant, Kazuul's Toll Collector, Champion of the Flame[el], or the to-be-discussed [el]Akiri, Fearless Voyager. Nahiri's second minus will be used sparingly, but I'm glad to have the option, especially since she can survive using it the turn she's played while killing a sizable threat, if need be.
Nissa of Shadowed Boughs
When I first saw Nissa, my only thought was, "This has to be fake, right? This is a really powerful planeswalker."
Over time, however, my opinion of Nissa has certainly had time to mellow. Her plus ability is the weakest part of her card, and it's underwhelming in Commander. Without stacking counters on our lands, an evasive 3/3 will not do much.
However, Nissa of Shadowed Boughs is still a powerful planeswalker with just her passive and minus abilities. Getting a loyalty counter for each Landfall trigger makes Nissa a resilient and repeatable 'walker. For many decks, like Lord Windgrace or The Gitrog Monster, it isn't hard to generate four or five triggers in a single turn with some fetchlands. With an established engine, Nissa can use her minus ability each turn. Reanimating a creature or cheating one into play each turn is a massive amount of advantage when the costs are just 'casting Nissa and doing what your deck wants to do.' Not only that, but the creature also enters with two +1/+1 counters, which opens up more avenues for powerful plays.
While I've sung her praises, she'll probably be limited to dedicated Landfall decks. Five loyalty is a steep cost to use multiple times without many land drops. She'll be a powerful tool in a specific archetype, but not a planeswalker that we'll see in every deck with green and black. Non-Landfall decks will stick to cheaper effects, like Animate Dead, or ones with multiple uses, like Dread Return.
Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor
Leading the new Land's Wrath Commander deck is yet another twist on the lands archetype: Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor is one of the few multicolor land commanders that isn't trying to maximize the number of land drops. Unlike his contemporaries, his Landfall effect is one of the weaker ones that we've seen on a commander, but this points us to focus on his first ability, instead. Rather than land drops pushing the deck's power, like usual land decks, Obuun's land animation will drive the direction of his deck.
Animating a single land per turn as a trampling attacker is toned down compared to current commander designs, especially when it starts only as a 3/3. However, I think it'll be underrated until you see it in practice. Once you begin stacking other abilities, Obuun will play as a sleeper threat within an archetype defined by its powerful commanders.
Waker of the Wilds can stack counters on a land, followed by Obuun giving it +3/+3 or more. We can power up Obuun with Blackblade Reforged or other effects that can translate into larger attacker each turn. However, Obuun will shine brightest with additional combat steps: each combat, we're getting another potentially massive attacker. Combined with just Moraug, Fury of Akoum, Obuun could suddenly summon an army of massive animated lands to strike an opponent down from a nearly empty board.
Omnath, Locus of Creation
Returning with their fourth iteration, and Magic's first four-color card in four years, is Omnath, Locus of Creation. Already at the top of Zendikar Rising's ranks on EDHREC, Omnath's fourth iteration is poised to be as popular as their predecessors.
With blue and white added, we get access to plenty of blink effects as well that can allow us to reset Omnath and draw another card once we've hit our third land drop in a given turn. While the ability is designed to limit the value that we're supposed to get, Commander is all about making engines for maximum value. Gaining life will sustain Omnath through assaults wanting to take down our engine quickly. Adding a burst of four mana will power out our most powerful cards. Finally, dealing four damage to each opponent and opposing planeswalker will help end the game beyond what Omnath's deck will bring to bear.
Not only that, but Omnath gets access to my favorite combo in the lands archetype: Ruin Ghost and Retreat to Coralhelm. We also finally get to include Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper in a lands deck if you weren't running him with Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis.
Otherwise, I expect Omnath to be fueled by the same staples that have propelled lands decks to be one of the most popular themes on EDHREC. You'll see Rampaging Baloths, Tatyova, Benthic Druid, and the newly reprinted Lotus Cobra. Along with those, the deck will get to be bolstered by blue's counter magic and white's removal. And, of course, there's plenty of Food Chain combo to be had with him as well. I'm looking forward to building a deck focused around bouncing and replaying lands to give me an alternate gameplay compared to my graveyard-focused Lord Widngrace. Omnath is going to be an incredibly powerful engine, and I'm looking forward to playing them, but not playing against them.
Tazri, Beacon of Unity
General Tazri returns in Zendikar Rising as another five-color general with an Ally-supportive mechanic. In addition, we also get a five-color legend that cares about the new Party mechanic. While many of the other legends in the set that care about Party are limited to two colors, Tazri, Beacon of Unity gives us access to every Wizard, Cleric, Warrior, Rogue, and Ally in Magic's long history. In fact, one fifth of all creatures in Magic fall into one of these subtypes. With unparalleled access, each Tazri deck will likely look very different depending on their chosen focus, and her activated ability will help her deck find the pieces that she needs to keep the engine running.
This can even be accelerated by the inclusion of Training Grounds or Biomancer's Familiar to reduce Tazri's ability cost. Removing her permanently will also be problematic for our opponents, as we've seen how cost reductions can keep commanders like Karador, Ghost Chieftain present through an entire game.
Akiri, Fearless Voyager
Akiri returns in dramatic fashion with a new twist on Equipment. She doesn't boost her power anymore, trading that in for a stronger toolkit. While Equipment decks are typically known for creating massive singular threats, Akiri, Fearless Voyager gives us incentives for going wide. Boasting a miniature version of Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale's ability, Akiri feeds the card draw engine that Boros decks tend to clamor for. Not only that, but she adds layers of protection with her second ability. One on the quickest ways to make an Equipment deck flounder is removing their Equipment-wielders, and Akiri lets you protect them for a single white mana. Not only that, but because de-Equipping a creature is part of the effect, an opponent needs to have as many removal spells as you have white mana to circumvent Akiri. While you'll have no problems running an Equipment deck with Akiri at the helm, she's not so defining and powerful to push out other options for that spot. Plus, you'll want to consider her as a low-cost and impactful support piece in general.
Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager
Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager is the strange lovechild of Reyhan, Last of the Abzan and Flesh Carver at first glance. If this horrific Hydra was released a few years ago, it would probably be maligned and glossed over quickly. However, with the new rule change to how commanders move to the command zone, Grakmaw deserves a look.
Mostly, Grakmaw strikes me as a support piece for existing +1/+1 counter decks. If we're shifting counters around, Reyhan, Last of the Abzan outshines Grakmaw in most respects as a commander before we even consider support pieces like The Ozolith. Focusing on Grakmaw's token creation ability will give it the most unique flair as we could quickly drain our opponents with Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, given a large enough commander.
Kaza, Roil Chaser
Another blue-red spellslinger? Pass.
Kaza, Roil Chaser is actually one of my favorite iterations of this archetype in some time. Like Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, we have built-in Wizard synergy as well. Without any support, Kaza is a one-use Goblin Electromancer, but she can quickly scale with more Wizards on the board or one of the myriad ways that blue and red can untap creatures. Most blue-red spellslinger support, like Electromancer, Baral, Chief of Compliance, or Niv-Mizzet, Parun and his many iterations, are already Wizards, so Kaza is unlike most tribal commanders where you really need to pigeonhole your deckbuilding around her ability. With support cards like Thousand-Year Elixir or the Zendikar-adjacent Retreat to Coralhelm, we can get numerous activations from Kaza. Finally, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist is perhaps tentative about a legendary Wizard she can't copy successfully, but Kaza can give her some of the best spell discounts she could ask for, which more than makes up for it.
Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate
In her third iteration, Linvala continues to strike me as a Constructed-focused legend. Overall, I'm not a fan of Party for Commander, and with Linvala's static ability being related to the mechanic, I'm not excited. However, I think that in the right build she can be usable. Selfless Spirit sees play in about 8,000 decks, and Heroic Intervention sees play in about 35,000 decks. Don't get me wrong, Linvala isn't as good as Heroic Intervention, but having a proactive version available that can be recurred like Selfless Spirit is acceptable. Flying decks like the new Inniaz, the Gale Force, take note.
Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
Orah is our second legend this set that benefits from the recent rules changes, and he leverages it even more than our previous entry. Not only is Orah, Skyclave Hierophant an ordained and tribal version of Scrap Trawler, but he also fits nicely into the popular Aristocrat archetype. While I've recently avoided Tribal decks, Orah's focus on a more class-based tribe opens up the card pool a lot more. With over 350 Clerics to pull from, he has broader access than many popular tribes, like Dragons and Merfolk. Additionally, most Clerics are powerful individually rather than as a tribe. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Mother of Runes, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Tymna, the Weaver, and almost every Soul Sister fit into his deck just fine. If you're looking for a more focused Aristocrat deck in exchange for raw power, you could like swap Teysa Karlov with Orah with a few other swaps to have a perfectly playable deck.
Phylath, World Sculptor
The initial comments surrounding Phylath, the World Sculptor highlighted an amusing dichotomy of Commander players: there are players that are happy to see a powerful legend that isn't on the same level as Korvold, the Fae-Cursed King, and there are others that I've seen questioning why Avenger of Zendikar was nerfed so much.
I'm part of the former; in fact, Phylath is one of my favorites in the set. Avenger of Zendikar is a powerful Magic card, but an issue that one of my decks has run into is that being able to ramp it out early with nonland ramp is anti-synergistic. You're typically wanting to create an army. Phylath presents a solution to this. You're not going to create as many tokens as Avenger, since Phylath only counts basics, but with his Landfall trigger, each Plant token becomes an immediate threat. Phylath will slot nicely into lands decks that go tall, but even as a commander, Phylath is a one-card army. While Plant support is relatively thin, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Centaur Vinecrasher, and Turntimber Sower are some excellent picks to throw into a deck to pull their weight.
Verazol, the Split Current
Borrowing from Commander 2013, Verazol will scale in both size and utility as we cast them over and over again because their ability cares about mana we spend to cast them, which will include commander tax. If you liked Hallar, the Fire-Fletcher's design, you'll like Verazol. Your deckbuilding will be limited with Verazol at the helm, but I really like the manaless cost that Verazol's brings with their doubling. Luckily for the Serpent, many of the Kicker cards from Zendikar Rising are quite good, and new entries such as Thieving Skydiver, Skyclave Relic, and the new Inscriptions will help give us some options.
Two noteworthy things to remember: First, when you copy a Kicked spell, not only do you get a free copy, but you also get the added benefit of doubling up on the Kicker effect. You never know when you'll need ten copies of the best creature on the board with Rite of Replication. Second, unless you're playing tokens already, skip Parallel Lives and its cousins. Any copy of a kicked creature will not be doubled as it enters. Parallel Lives's updated wording reads, "If an effect would create one or more tokens under your control, it creates twice that many of those tokens instead." However, Verazol's token copies are not "created", they simply enter from the stack. More rules notes on these copies can be found here.
Yasharn, Implacable Earth
Yasharn, Implacable Earth is going to make a heavy impact in many green-white decks as a member of the 99, and there will be a much lesser impact with Yasharn at the helm of a deck. This hateboar shuts down so many decks and strategies passively that you won't have to worry about throwing it in a deck haphazardly. Many reanimation, Aristocrat, and typical black decks get ousted by it. Lands decks like Lord Windgrace that run multiple fetchlands are nullified because you can't pay the life to sacrifice them. While there are only 740 decks listed under the Hatebears category, many of their most-played cards, such as Aven Mindcensor and Hushbringer, are played in thousands of decks. Plus, Yasharn even sets up your next land drops!
Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats
When I first read Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats, "legendary Hooded Blightfang" was my first thought. While destroying planeswalkers on hit is powerful, it's hard to build around an ability that is basically ribbon text. While our new Vampire isn't quite a deathtouch-focused commander, he does fill in partially as the legendary Ankle Shanker many people pined for during the Khans of Tarkir block.
Giving deathtouch to our creatures allows us to run creatures with combat damage triggers that usually struggle to hit players during combat, like the long-forgotten Prophetic Flamespeaker. It's much less appealing to block a double-striking deathtoucher, after all. Additionally, many deathtouch commanders, like Glissa, the Traitor and Queen Marchesa, run cards like Viridian Longbow or Thornbite Staff to control the board. Not only can we do the same for Zagras, but we can also run creatures like Goblin Sharpshooter, Dagger Caster, or Goblin Chainwhirler to basically cast repeatable Plague Winds!
Zareth San, the Trickster
Sporting a Rogue-shifted version of Ninjutsu, Zareth San, the Trickster presents the same issue that all non-Yuriko Ninjutsu commanders have presented. Being able to start in hand is somewhat remedied by Zareth San having flash, but there are still additional hoops to jump through. Luckily, Rogues are a tribe that have a deep history based in evasion, so Invisible Stalker finds yet another home. However, there is some tension, as there are powerful Rogue effects also trigger on combat damage. Fitting, for a legend that leads Rogues, I suppose. Zareth San, the Trickster's ability will often be the strongest of these damage triggers we have, but it is something to consider when bouncing back the likes of Thada Adel, Acquisitor and Rankle, Master of Pranks.
Consider also, however, that Zareth San's second ability is good enough even if we never use his first one.
Since Zareth San wields an incredibly similar ability to Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, we can search through the old mono-black pillar's page to find inspiration. Whispersilk Cloak is a perfect Equipment, as protecting Zareth San from creatures and removal is a top priority. Mindcrank can help set up future targets for Zareth San or prepare an opponent's graveyard for theft. Lastly, Fireshrieker can alleviate the previous concern over splitting combat damage triggers by allowing us to switch Zareth San in after the first hit from double strike while also getting his trigger. Zareth San is probably one of the cards I'm most interested in the set, and I'm sure that I'll be stealing permanents from my opponents as soon as I find a home for him.
As a whole, I'm not impressed with most of the uncommons from Zendikar Rising. Most of them are niche cards with minimal impact in that niche. Murasa Rootgrazer has the highest ceiling of the bunch, but that ceiling is only going to be achieved in decks that can and want to play multiple lands in a turn. If you're not using the second ability often, I think it'll get cut more often than not as there is already a colorless effect that sees play in only 1,000 decks: Walking Atlas.
If you're building Orah, Skyclave Hierophant as a deck focused around gaining life in many increments, Cleric of Life's Bond will fill in as a role-player nicely. However, the new Cleric on the block has stiff competition as it is more color-intensive, expensive, and limited as a Soul Sister compared to its predecessors.
Spoils of Adventure is a perfectly acceptable card even if your party contains just one member, but with the massive catalog of cards that Commander players have access to, it's hard to justify if you're not maximizing the discount. With that said, I think this card will routinely cost four mana, which is a rate that we don't often see on draw spells. And you gain life, too!
Brushfire Elemental is decent threat for the mana, but it strikes me as a card that, if it appeared in a precon, would be one of my earliest cuts. Simplistic beaters usually don't cut it for me.
There are basically two homes for Lullmage's Familiar: Riku of Two Reflections and Verazol, the Split Current. Riku is a thematic commander that allows you to run Verazol and Hallar, the Firefletcher in tandem, and Verazol's inclusion as a leader should be obvious. Even then, tacking on two life to each Kicked spell doesn't excite me on a three-mana mana dork.
I really wish Soaring Thought-Thief scaled better for multiplayer or the number of Rogues. This is a decent support card if you're building up from the new Rogue Commander precon until it can be replaced. That said, Zareth San, the Trickster runs this slightly better than Anowan, the Ruin Thief, as we can build around recent flash synergy like Slitherwisp. Like most of this set's uncommons, it's very likely to only appear in niche decks.
I really like Moss-Pit Skeleton for Limited, and it has some sneaky uses in Commander with one of the sneakiest characters in lore, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. It would require a consistent way to mill and a way to consistently put counters on your creatures, but the Skeleton strikes me as an interesting loop for a continuous stream of Zombies. Eventually, Wizards will print a card that enables an infinite combo.
Every Equipment in Zendikar Rising auto-Equips when it enters the battlefield, which gives Ravager's Mace an edge over most Equipment across history. It's a trend that I hope we see beyond this set. With that said, a slightly better Glaive of Guildpact still is unlikely to make waves considering that the Glaive and Chitinous Cloak are in fewer than 1,000 decks combined.
We Found the Pot of Gold
What do you think of the new multicolor cards? Are the number of options overwhelming? Do you not care and are planning to build four or more of them? Do you adore the heavy-handed four theme of Omnath? Do you have any disagreements or alternate views of cards? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Until the next one! Thanks for reading!