Zendikar Rising Set Review – White

(Trove Guardian | Art by Lars Grant-West)

Balancing the Pie

For a long time now, there have been a lot of promises coming out of R&D about helping out the color white in the Commander format, and slowly but surely we’re starting to see some of those promises shine through. This time around, there’re only a couple additions to the team that do anything too crucial for card advantage or ramp, but there are also some bangers that will do work even with fewer cards and fewer lands, so let’s dig right in.


Mythics


 Angel of Destiny

Angel of Destiny is the exact kind of weird alternate win condition that players love to build around. Even for those of us that don’t fit the bill of a Johnny or a Jenny, however, this card is going to sneak into some lists. Off the top of my head, I can see this finding a niche in Group Hug, Lifegain, and Clone decks, but honestly that’s probably barely scratching the surface. Angel of Destiny itself is going to gain you a fair amount of life, given its double strike, so if you can make multiple copies of it with either Clone spells or Helm of the Host then you should be able to fly over for a win on the table fairly easily. If you are centered around lifegain already, however, then this is a threat the table has to answer immediately before you start killing a player every combat step, which is not a rate that most people are too comfortable with.


Emeria’s Call

Let there be no ifs, ands, or buts about it: seven mana is a lot of mana. At the high-power tables, anything that costs that much mana should be winning you the game. The question is, does Emeria’s Call qualify? Two 4/4 flyers is nice, but the bigger deal here is honestly the rest of your army getting indestructible until your next turn. Casting this card when you see a Nevinyrral’s Disk hit the table isn’t a bad deal at all to buy you an extra turn, but even outside of that specific circumstance, it very well may delay or save you from a board wipe or a big swing from that go-wide player across the table, or to allow you to do one of your own.

That said, the sorcery speed really hurts here, as does the huge mana cost. The whole idea of these flip lands is that if you need the land early, you can play it, and if you’re land flooded you can play the spell instead. Emeria’s Call fits that bill, but seven mana is a whole lot, as are the three pips of white mana. Whether or not you like this probably comes down to whether or not you feel these flip lands count as “free” spell slots in a deck. If you think they do (or even just that specifically the mythic cycle do, because they can come in untapped), then it really becomes a case of “why not?” If you’re on the fence, however, then this probably gets left just outside of the 99 unless you have existing synergies like Populate, Wrath of God tribal, or the ability to give the Angel tokens haste.


Rares


Archon of Emeria

Archon of Emeria isn’t giving white anything new here that we haven’t seen on other Hatebears. What it is doing that is new is stapling a couple of hatebears together!

That won’t do much to help with the Rule Zero problems that hatebears often encounters, nor can you just smash Archon of Emeria into any old white deck without making sure you aren’t Rule of Lawing yourself into oblivion. As such, I would expect this particular hatebear to remain rather niche. Which is a shame, because its second ability is exactly the kind of socially fair means for white to keep up with ramp decks that it so desperately needs, but the first ability will just get you hated off of many a casual table.


Archpriest of Iona

While there’s a lot of non-specific value to be had in a lot of the Party cards, given the high number of extremely good utility creatures that just happen to be Clerics, Rogues, Warriors, or Wizards, that’s not really true of Archpriest of Iona. Even in the actual Party deck, you do have to wonder if your deck would be playing Serra Ascendant, which is probably better most of the time if you discount theme. Maybe this makes a splash in Standard, but I’m not really seeing it here in EDH.


Felidar Retreat

An obvious callback to Retreat to Emeria, Felidar Retreat takes things a step further with bigger tokens and a more permanent buff, which comes with vigilance stapled to it.

Given that Retreat to Emeria sees play in 1,989 decks, however, that is not nothing. Of more note, white is getting more and more means to work with Lands Matter strategies, from the new Omnath, Locus of Creation to the Knight of the White Orchid effect we seem to get in nearly every set these days in the ongoing effort to improve white’s ability to keep up with the Joneses.

With that in mind, we may be seeing a bit of a “why not both” situation with Felidar Retreat and Retreat to Emeria in the decks that are interested, although if you have to pick between the two and you’re not playing Allies, then it’s not a particularly hard choice.


Legion Angel

This card was not made with Commander in mind, and doesn’t technically work in Commander. This is exactly the kind of card for which Rule Zero was made, though, so keep that in mind.


Luminarch Aspirant

+1/+1 counters has fallen to being only the fifth most popular theme here on EDHREC, after holding the #2 slot for years. With that said, we’re still at 8,811 +1/+1 counter decks, and of those, 1,534 are able to play white cards. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Luminarch Aspirant goes into all 1,534 of those decks, but I would say that it will probably go in most of them, along with seeing a fair amount of play besides.

I think my personal favorite with this card, however, is its interaction with the Mentor mechanic, allowing you to pump the mentor who then gets to pump a mentee, all before you go to blockers. That may not seem like much, but given that both the Mentor commanders in the game are in Boros, us white and red fans will take what we can get.


Maul of the Skyclaves

When evaluating these Equipment that come in and immediately attach to a creature, but cost a lot to re-equip, I find it helpful to think of them more as Auras with a bonus reusable option than as Equipment. In the case of Maul of the Skyclaves, that means comparing to the likes of On Serra’s Wings and Angelic Destiny.

Compared to these existing options, which see about 2,000 inclusions apiece, Maul of the Skyclaves immediately stacks up fairly well just by being one less mana. It also does less than both Auras, so that cheaper casting cost does come at a price. Still, I would expect to see similar numbers for this card, as it still allows for evasion and a bigger Voltron target, and will be the alternative card of choice for Equipment-specific decks looking for this effect, as the only similar option at this point is an extremely overpriced Living Weapon called Skinwing.


Ondu Inversion

While Ondu Inversion is less “free” than Emeria’s Call due to the fact that its land half cannot come into play untapped, I’m actually more of a fan of it than the mythic version. This may come as a surprise, as I was just critiquing Emeria’s Call for being seven mana and Ondu Inversion weighs in at a whopping eight, but my reasoning is fairly simple: it just does more. Emeria’s Call feels like the kind of card you’ll constantly just be holding in your hand wondering if this is the proper time to play it, whereas Ondu Inversion is a simple and straightforward option of “do I need a land or a Planar Cleansing more right now?”

Add that Ondu Inversion is only two mana more than what you’ll usually pay for the “destroy all nonland permanents” effect, and the drawback of playing a tapland becomes fairly inconsequential given the late-game opportunities. While I don’t see this making waves at the higher power levels (with the exception of highly tuned creature land decks like Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper), I would absolutely expect this to see play in pretty much all of the mid-power and battlecruiser metas out there.


Skyclave Apparition

Fiend Hunter is back, only you don’t have to jump through all the Blink hoops to make sure problems go away permanently, and you can target a lot more than just creatures! Skyclave Apparition feels like one of the biggest steps forward in flexible, efficient removal that white has gotten in a long time, and I don’t feel like I’m overstating the fact here to say that it will most likely become a white staple in any deck that can blink or recur creatures and can afford the double white in the mana cost. To put that into perspective, there are 3,915 Aristocrats builds and 3,406 Blink decks out there playing white.

Combine that with all of the mono-white options for converted mana cost or power/toughness recursion, and you can really see where this little Kor Spirit might be seeing some serious numbers in the decks trying to abuse what looks to be white’s main means of card advantage going forward. In fact, I would even go out on a limb here to predict that this will be the most popular white card from Zendikar Rising, although I wouldn’t be amazed to see a note from my editor here stating that this is not the opinion of EDHREC or anyone besides me, myself, and I.

Editor’s Note: What he said.

Squad Commander

While Squad Commander won’t be seeing anywhere near the numbers that Skyclave Apparition will be, it can at least be said that for the Party decks being brewed out there that it will definitely see more play than Archpriest of Iona. While it feels a bit ‘magical Christmas land’ to say that this will be a four-mana 3/3 that will get you four tokens upon entering the battlefield, it will probably get you at least two or three fairly often, especially since it is a Warrior itself. When you do manage to go wide enough to get a full party, however, then the +1/+0 and indestructible bonus will lead to a lot of aggression that should get you ahead in the damage game.


Trove Warden

For those of you that were paying close attention to the spoilers, you may have bristled with my prediction that Skyclave Apparition would be the most popular white card out of Zendikar Rising. Well, there are two reasons that I think this. One, Trove Warden recurs Skyclave Apparition, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them show up in a lot of the same decks. Two, technically Trove Warden isn’t in Zendikar Rising, it’s in one of the Zendikar Rising Commander Precons. Please keep that in mind if you’re the type to crack packs instead of buy singles.

Predictions aside, there is no getting around the fact that Trove Warden is good. Its exile-from-grave ability will be able to target lands in Lands Matter decks, utility creatures in Aristocrats, artifacts in Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle or Eggs decks, and the little enchantments that tend to get destroyed or sacrificed in enchantment decks. Combine all of that together, and it probably still won’t even add up to the general play that Trove Warden will see in mono-white and two-color combinations just looking for value after board wipes and ramp from fetch lands.

Really, the only thing that tempers my excitement a little bit about this card when it comes to mono-white and Boros is the fact that it’s a dies trigger rather than a leaves-the-battlefield trigger, and there’s no denying that more and more people are playing exile effects these days.


Uncommons & Commons


Attended Healer

Slamming us white players back to earth after the highs of Trove Warden and Skyclave Apparition, Attended Healer feels rather overpriced at four mana for a 2/3 that requires outside intervention to even get you any tokens. With that said, something to keep in mind with the “for the first time each turn” triggers is that in a multiplayer game there are four turns, meaning that a lifegain deck should have little trouble flooding the table with tokens three or four times a “turn”. That’s still pretty niche, but it’s certainly not nothing.


Journey to Oblivion

I bring up Journey to Oblivion not because you should play it, but because you probably shouldn’t. Yet another efficient white removal spell in a long line of efficient white removal spells that just doesn’t stack up with Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, playing Journey to Oblivion is never the “correct” option.

This is exactly why Party decks should free up a copy of Path to Exile from their fun theme deck and replace it with this much worse spell. Form over function is how the saying goes, right?


Kabira Takedown

If you are looking to save a slot in your white go-wide deck, then Kabira Takedown is an option available to you that isn’t “strictly worse” than Swords or Path. That doesn’t mean it’s good, either, but it is a flexible card that may be able to get you out of a pinch, and it doesn’t have any of the “target attacking or blocking creature” drawbacks we’re used to in white. No, in a strange twist of circumstances, this was actually buffed a bit to be able to take out any creature or planeswalker, at instant speed!


Sejiri Shelter

Speaking of strictly worse, if you only pay attention to one side of Sejiri Shelter, it’s strictly worse than Shelter!

Given that it has more than one side, however, and that Shelter sees play in 85% of Feather, the Redeemed decks and 40% of both Anax and Cymede and Shu Yun, the Tempest decks, this might be worth a look to the aggro-spells decks of the world.


Resolute Strike

Outside of the new Akiri, Fearless Voyager, there are three other popular Equipment commanders that just happen to be Warriors:

Given the large amount of haphazard creatures out there that just happen to be Warriors and the fact that “Equipment deck” often translates to “Voltron deck”, Resolute Strike seems to be a pretty good option for these specific decks. While it will mostly be a combat trick, it can also easily be a way to cheat equip costs on a Helm of the Host, save your commander from removal with a Whispersilk Cloak, or just straight win the game unexpectedly by throwing a Loxodon Warhammer on after blockers for five more power than people were expecting. Not a bad deal for one mana.


Progress is Progress

There has been a tendency in the community to malign Wizards for the fact that white is “bad” in EDH. With the huge caveat that some members of the community need a reminder that these are real people on the other side of our keyboards, I would say that those critiques have been somewhat earned for the last few years. With that said, there is no denying that things are improving slowly, and for that we owe some folks our gratitude. Especially if you’ve been one to forget the real people thing, or even if you have been giving out your most civil constructive criticism, I would encourage you to reach out to those members of R&D who you feel have been helping to make improving white in EDH a priority and let them know how much you appreciate it. We’re not there yet, but at the slow pace that is possible for change to happen when the ship takes two years to start turning, we are making progress. Before long, we’ll have a smorgasbord of options with which to keep up with the table in white, and for that, we thank you, #WOTCstaff.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.