Zendikar Rising Set Review - Red

(Moraug, Fury of Akoum | Art by Rudy Siswanto)

Clever Titles Are For Blue Players

And formal intros are for white players; red is the color of action. Let's GO.


Leyline Tyrant

What a big cool guy! With the new Omnath, Locus of Creation taking on so much responsibility, Leyline Tyrant has stepped up to the plate to fill Omnath's original role! And rather than greedily storing all that mana in his body like Omnath, Locus of Mana, he's elected to share it with whoever comes a knockin', in the form of a giant fireball!

I love how this mitigates the anticlimactic fizzle of when your Omnath or Kruphix, God of Horizons gets removed. This goes right the heck into any red deck that loves ramping (most of them) or dealing damage (all of them). Neheb, the Eternal is particularly eager for a Dragon that holds onto all his excess mana, but really, who doesn't want a high-flyin', stockpilin', guy-fryin' sky tyrant?

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

Well, that Minotaur tribal guy on reddit is probably the most excited, but I would imagine literally every red player is at some level of completely losing their mind over this. Before I do the same, let's just note the wording and mark that it does not give you another main phase, and the trigger is only valid during a main phase, so shenanigans with Sword of the Animist or the new Murasa Rootgrazer don't work the way one might imagine. Also, if your creatures have tap abilities, make sure to do all your land hijinks in your second main phase! Otherwise, your creatures won't untap for your normal combat phase.

Alright, disclaimer time over, I'm gonna geek out now. This cow daddy slaps so hard, he slapped the "more cowbell" joke I was gonna make straight outta this article. We are absolutely looking at an auto-include in pretty much any lands-matter build, and, quite frankly, an absurdly strong contender for any aggressive red deck. Seriously, the low-end payoff for this guy if you don't build around him is still an extra combat step on most of your turns. Meanwhile, the high-end payoff is military-grade ballistics, i.e. Scapeshift and Boundless Realms. And he's just begging (cow daddy don't beg) demanding to sit in your command zone. Crack one fetchland, and you're suddenly looking at 3 combat phases - which is lethal commander damage - so you'd best be finding him a Whispersilk Cloak or Rogue's Passage. I'm going to move on before I spend the whole article on this guy, but my heart forever belongs to Moraug the Magnificent.

Shatterskull Smashing

Pretty decent. The spell itself does have some severe limitations in that it can only hit up to two targets, and neither can be the face, but the fact that it gives the option to bolt you and come in as a Mountain means that it's frequently worth it to slot this in over a Mountain for emergency removal. I suppose the exception would be if you're running some wacko mono-red build in the vein of Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit. There's really not much else to say about this card, which is kind of rare for a mythic (pun intended).


Geode Rager

First off, our new red friend from the Commander decks. This definitely doesn't seem like it needs a dedicated Landfall deck to be worthwhile, given that it tops out at three triggers. Marisi, Breaker of the Coil will probably slot this in, as will the vast majority of decks in the "forced combat" archetype, like Thantis, the Warweaver, Gahiji, Geist-Honored Monk, or Pramikon, Sky Rampart. It's good at that. Cuz it's a card that forces combat. So run it in forced combat decks.

And if you areĀ in a dedicated lands deck... well, Omnath, Locus of Rage is probably aggressive enough not to need it, but Lord WIndgrace might be happy with the added defenses here.

Kargan Intimidator

The Warrior thing! Like Boldwyr Intimidator! Cool! "Cowards can't block Warriors" is some of the best rules text in Magic, up there with Marrow-Gnawer's equally true "All Rats have fear." It does only cost two mana, as opposed to the Intimidator, and its abilities are a bit more efficient, but unlike Intimidator, you can't just endlessly sink mana into this one. Najeela, the Blade-Blossom Warrior Tribal builds can obviously run whichever Warriors they want, but a more niche Warrior build like Lovisa Coldeyes would probably be happy to toss this in.

Magmatic Channeler

I like this. I think even red might have a few slightly better draw engines in this format - heck, we've got some coming up a little later - but mono-red builds could consider giving this a try. That goes for any Wizard-y build that cares about filling graveyards as well (looking at you, Kess Dissident Mage).

Nahiri's Lithoforming

This might not be the best card, but it's a very cool card. An X draw spell in mono-red with a fun, risky red downside? That can also function as a kind of pseudo-Scapeshift for your Landfall triggers? All those new Moraug, Fury of Akoum decks are gonna love this. It'll definitely be something of a skill test, since it makes it very easy to mess yourself up. The best non-Landfall uses will probably either be hand refill for very low-to-the-ground (Goblin?) decks that dump their hands early, or more careful (read: less red) decks judiciously paying for exactly as many lands as they already have in hand. For Landfall decks, themselves, this pairs amazingly with Crucible of Worlds and Ramunap Excavator effects to get the sacrificed lands right back out of the yard! It may not be as strong as it first appears, but it will definitely be a very worthy include for the right strategy (namely, triggering Moraug six times to kill the table).

Relic Robber

This doesn't seem, like, good, but rather annoying as hell and kind of fun in the right deck. The new Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner would probably get a kick out of this, and there are, in fact, cards that care about the total number of Goblins on the field like Gempalm Incinerator and Coat of Arms, but it's highly possible that the latter would come back and bite you in the butt in this case. Probably won't make a huge splash or anything, but, c'mon, don't you just wanna throw a Fireshrieker on him and watch him go to town?

Roiling Vortex

This seems rather meta-dependent. If you're looking to slow down your local Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder and your colors don't give access to Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, this is an okay alternative. While that activated ability is probably a bad option to counter anyone still playing Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (has anyone seen him in the last couple years? He used to be so popular), it's a solid wrench to toss into the Aetherflux Reservoir player's gears. The first ability is barely worth mentioning, but Torbran, Thane of Red Fell players looking for more of a "slow burn" build (not red-approved) might keep it in mind.

Valakut Awakening

My policy on tapped lands in Commander is that, unless you're in an extremely cutthroat meta, you're rarely going to need to curve out perfectly (and you probably won't even be able to, given the singleton nature of the format), which means it's often worth throwing in some tapped lands as long as they have a cool upside. This particular one has a fantastic upside! The fact that the spell doesn't discard the cards makes it less useful for Bone Miser style strategies or Madness, a la Anje Falkenrath, but I'm sure that The Locust God or Niv-Mizzet, Parun will welcome a selective wheel that can also come down as a land in a pinch. As with most flexible cards in Magic, I think that this card is very much more than the sum of its parts, especially given how playable the spell itself is on its own.

PS: you know who's salivating the hardest for this through his li'l Goblin teeth? Frikkin' Grenzo, Dungeon Warden. Oh yeah, baby. Color me unsurprised when this shows up in his EDHREC High Synergy section down the line.

Valakut Exploration

Geez, what a card to finish off this section. This is debatably mono-red's best card draw spell. For serious. For one, it's got the all-important "play" rather than "cast", so it can trigger itself if you've loaded up on Exploration effects. As with the cow daddy above, this is wicked good value with Harrow and Explosive Vegetation (RIP that card) and starts getting kinda spooky with Boundless Realms and Scapeshift. With the latter, you don't even need to worry about not being able to play the cards since they'll just bean your opponents anyway! Lovely. Great card.

Uncommons & Commons

Kazuul's Fury

My tapland policy from before applies here, too. If your deck likes to Fling, this might be your thing.

Rockslide Sorcerer

Four is a little expensive, but the right kind of low-to-the-ground Izzet spellslinger deck could definitely have a lot of fun using this to zap pesky utility creatures, especially if the deck is Wizard tribal. Barring that Wizard clause, it's probably a worse pick than Sentinel Tower or even Gelectrode, but a little redundancy never hurt anybody, especially if you're on a budget. I'm a little sad that the nature of the card necessitates it be a cast trigger rather than ETB, otherwise it would've been kinda cute to use this with to Naban, Dean of Iteration.

Ardent Electromancer

This is definitely designed to be a tempo play in literally any other format, but my ears are filled with the whirring sounds of a thousand Johnnys and Jennys trying to go infinite with this. Let me tell you, I am all in for janky combos, so let's give it a whirl: Deadeye Navigator and Gemstone Array can give infinite ETBs with two more party members, or infinite mana with a full party. Alternatively, Splinter Twin opens up some more interesting/"playable" avenues, either with Pemmin's Aura and Gemstone Array (requiring either one or two additional party members for infinite ETBs or mana, respectively) or, my favorite, Tolarian Kraken and Azami, Lady of Scrolls, which lets you draw your deck on its own and gives infinite red mana with just one more party member! Priest of Urabrask's baby cousin will certainly find a home with the jank brewers, and hey, the Priest, itself, is a Cleric, so they should get along famously as long as they can find a tank and DPS.

Cleansing Wildfire

So it's definitely not a stretch to say that this is now the best targeted land removal spell in the format, but I honestly think it kinda wipes the floor with Field of Ruin and Wasteland, too. It's a direct upgrade to Geomancer's Gambit, a very underplayed card that replaces itself without leaving you behind or your opponents ahead. With this at one less mana and bringing the land in tapped, it's only short of being strictly better if you're using the effect to fix your own lands (a totally valid option, by the way). As a person who plays Cabal Coffers and has lost quite a few times to Field of the Dead, I strongly urge you to consider slotting this into your red decks.

Tuktuk Rubblefort

"Your summoning sickness is not recognized inside Fort Let's-Kick-Some-Butt". An excellent alternative for anyone who doesn't want to shell out 2 bucks for Fervor.

Power (Creep), Unlimited Power (Creep)

And we're done! Zendikar Rising definitely feels like a step up in power level after the more subdued installments of the past few sets. This may sound weird after I just gushed over all these cards, but I feel like... maybe some of them are a wee bit more powerful than they need to be? Like, I'm not saying I would, but I could make an argument for maybe six of the cards in this article that they should go in every red EDH deck ever. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the experience of finding a crazy powerful new card and playing it, but the catch here is that everybody loves that, that's how you get auto-includes and stagnation. But maybe that's just the nature of games with regular content updates? I'm gonna throw a poll down below to shut myself up now.

Beyond my stuffy worrywart complaints, what do you think of the cards in general? Any cool uses for them that I missed? Let me know in the comments, or @Byrnenator on twitter if you want. Thanks for reading!

Amos has been playing Magic since OG Innistrad, where in his first ever draft pack he passed a shiny Grimgrin for a Corpse Lunge. He hails from the icy wastes of Vermont, where he enjoys hunting Warhammer players on his dogsled and watching movies. You can follow his Tweeter at @Byrnenator.

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