Zendikar on a Budget

Posted in Building on a Budget on September 30, 2009

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

I have received a lot of emails since I began writing this column asking for a budget set review. Zendikar is looking like an extremely powerful set and I'm certain there's a lot we still have to learn. This week I'll be examining the potential of the cards that seem to be overlooked as of right now.

I'm going to go through the cards I deem "budget" one at a time and explain their possible applications in the new Standard. I want everyone to have their footing when they go into the lab. New sets can be tricky. I'm sure there will be something like Windbrisk Heights that goes from being a bulk rare to a chase rare. I cannot say I will find these cards, but I want to make sure we're all on the same page going in.

Lets get started.

Archive Trap

This seems like a sleeper to me. Archive Trap is almost always going to be free with fetch lands being reprinted. I can see people Twincasting this in the near future. I feel like this type of strategy would probably fit pretty nicely in a new incarnation of Turbo-Fog. Unfortunately, I also predict that cards like Qasali Pridemage will increase in popularity. I fear an Archive Trap deck with no Howling Mine could be drawing pretty thin.

Archmage Ascension

I don't really see this card doing much. You need to draw extra cards six times for it to go active. If I have put forth that much effort to bring an effect to fruition, I really expect more than some Demonic Tutors. Sure, there are ways to cheat this like Merfolk Looter, but 1-toughness creatures will have very short life expectancies in a format containing Lotus Cobra.

Armament Master

This one could be really impressive if there are enough Kor creatures in upcoming sets. Equipping a Behemoth Sledge and giving the whole team +2/+2 seems pretty exciting. For right now you can combine this with your old-school Kor and make a sweet casual deck.

Bala Ged Thief

This card may be a sleeper. It's a creature that your opponent absolutely must destroy. When it enters the battlefield, you get to pinpoint some discard. There may not be enough Allies to make this competitive in Standard yet, but I suspect more Allies are on the way.

Baloth Cage Trap

I'm a big fan of this card in Limited, and I think it may make its way onto the Constructed stage before it rotates out of Standard.

Beastmaster Ascension

I had an opponent play this card on turn three and attack me with two creatures. A few turns later, they had five creatures in play and swung with everything. This spell is definitely a Limited bomb! I could see a card like this being played in a Constructed deck that wanted to swarm the table with tokens.

Bloodchief Ascension

I wanted to write my column on a red deck that uses Sign in Blood, Earthquake, Blightning, tons of quick burn, and this card. I feel like a lot of people would probably accuse me of beating a dead horse, though, and I decided to take a different route. This card seems like a very strong first-turn play. It's obviously much weaker if you draw it later on in the game. The good part about modern red decks is that they can slow-roll the doming burn and just kill the dangerous guys. Bloodchief Ascension makes late game burn end the game very quickly. I think this card is extremely powerful.

Burst Lightning

This card is absolutely ridiculous. I understand that Lightning Bolt is legal in Standard and is a better version of this most of the time, but this card is one of the best "Shocks" I've ever seen. I think this card is close to Firebolt on a power scale, and that says a lot for my opinion of this card. Keep four of this common in safe place for later.

Celestial Mantle

This may be a Limited bomb, but I don't think it warrants any constructed play.

Conqueror's Pledge

Here's another sleeper. You would think people might keep an eye out for cards that completely change a board position. This card is very easy to get right now and it seems like white's natural replacement for Cloudgoat Ranger. It combos very nicely with Ajani Goldmane and with all the Soldier lords from Magic 2010. I'd try to pick up four of these on the cheap right now.

Devout Lightcaster

I don't know if Vampires will live up to the hype. However, if Vampires do become a popular choice for tournaments, I think this card will probably a good investment right now while it's being traded as a bulk rare.

Eldrazi Monument

I'm not thrilled with this card's power in comparison to its price tag. Right now it's valued higher than almost every other card I've mentioned due to its mythic rare status. I'd trade these away early.


This card may be good if people use Zektar Shrine Expedition, the two-mana enchantment that makes a 7/1 Ball Lightning. I'm not sure if that warrants any play, though. I'd probably watch this card regardless; cards that end in "potence" have a tendency to surprise me.

Elemental Appeal

Red decks have access to a lot of Ball Lightnings these days. I could easily see this card in a Constructed deck in the near future. It seems to be very undervalued right now and I'm sure it's at least a Blistering Firecat. I'd probably pick up four.

Emeria Angel

Four-mana creatures that die to Lightning Bolt and don't do anything when they come into play seem like a bad choice these days. This card is fun and powerful for casual, though, and I'm sure you can reliably pick up a play set if you ever want them for your casual decks.

Emeria, the Sky Ruin

I think this card is probably quite good, particularly with Martyr of Sands in Extended or Captain of the Watch in Standard. I can see this card being very good.

Felidar Sovereign

Another Limited bomb that probably won't make the jump to Constructed. I'll probably eat my hat after they print some insane card in the next expansion that makes your life total 40 at instant speed. Or maybe not.


Here's a fun card. This probably won't make the cut for competitive decks, but I feel like it definitely has enough fun factor for the casual crowd to keep its value up a bit. I like the design of this card a lot, and I'm sure I'll play with it in the coming months.

Grappling Hook

It seems like this card is too mana-intensive to make it in competitive play, but I like the flavor a lot. I'm sure that fans of Scorpion and Link will keep this card's value at a decent mark for its power level.

Guul Draz Specter

Hypnotic Specter seems a lot better than this to me. I don't think I see this card going anywhere without a good way to preemptively protect it.

Hellkite Charger

I think this card might be good in a metagame deck's sideboard. 5/5s with flying and haste for six mana are a really good way to put green decks on the defensive.

Iona, Shield of Emeria

Currently very easy for a mythic rare. Iona is one of those cards that you really want to reanimate ... really really want to reanimate. I think this edges out Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Inkwell Leviathan in reanimator decks, and I could see this being a one-of in Extended Dredge decks. Very powerful effect!

Journey to Nowhere

I really want Sigil of the Empty Throne to be good, and this could help.

Kabira Evangel

This card will probably be very good once they print enough Allies to make it worthwhile. The Evangel is probably a good card to trade for now.

Kazuul Warlord

I don't think this will increase in value like the Evangel. Paying five mana for a creature seems like a bad deal now that Day of Judgement is around. I want something that creates a board presence all on its own for five mana, like Conqueror's Pledge.

Lavaball Trap

I loved Wildfire so much. I'll to make this card work, and I'm sure it will see some play in some sideboards, but it isn't Wildfire. I think all the traps will retain some value because of their fun factor. I would suggest picking up a play set if you're in the business of frustrating your opponents and putting them in awkward spots where they don't want to search for a land when you cast Path to Exile.

Lullmage Mentor

That's pretty unexciting. To activate its second ability you need to have seven creatures in play and not be attacking with them. Lull!

Luminarch Ascension

Wow! this card is ridiculous. Wait, it isn't really worth that much right now? I need four. You need four. All your friends need four. This card is absurd. When I first read this card I thought you had to remove the counters. Then I realized that you just had unlimited 4/4s. Again, we all need four!

Magosi, the Waterveil

I think this card is quite good in control Mirrors. It also seems like you can use this card as a win condition in Howling Mine / Font of Mythos decks. This card seems like a very good value to me.

Malakir Bloodwitch

Here's a card I think will be quite good for Vampire decks. 4/4s for five are not very exciting. I do like protection from white a lot right now. I also think the drain can be relevant in races. I think this card may see a good amount of Standard and block play.

Murasa Pyromancer

I drafted two of this guy in a deck with thirteen Allies, and it was very powerful. I can definitely see this being a contender in Block Constructed.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

I picked up four of these at my Prerelease. I suggest everyone who plans on playing Extended does the same. This card is a bargain right now, and it makes your Kitchen Finks unkillable. Yes, it's an über-combo with persist ... but wait, there's more! this card is absurd in any deck that has token generation or cascades into creatures off Bloodbraid Elf. I suggest finding and keeping a play set while they're still inexpensive.

Rite of Replication

This card might be good at some point. It seems a little pricey for its effect right now, but I can see this card in bulk binders soon. That will be a good time to pick them up.

Roil Elemental

This effect is very powerful, but the creature seems too fragile. Sower of Temptation costs two less and takes something right away. I don't see this being very big, but I could be wrong.

Sadistic Sacrament

May I please remove one more card?

Sphinx of Jwar Isle

This could be a finisher in a dedicated control deck. Right now its very inexpensive. I'd probably pick them up as bulk rares if you can. If you can't find them for cheap I wouldn't worry about it. You probably don't need more than two regardless.

Sphinx of Lost Truths

Did they really just print another awesome card for Extended Dredge? I'd watch this card. Don't worry too much about picking them up early; Dredge will only play one or two copies, so the card's value won't .

Summoning Trap

Nice sideboard card.

Turntimber Ranger

Here's another card that will get better if they print more playable Allies. I like this better than Kazuul Warlord because it creates a board presence all by itself.

World Queller

This doesn't do anything when it first comes into play, so it probably isn't worth the five mana.

There it is! A Zendikar budget set review. I mainly focused on overlooked rares this week, and I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about my assessment of these cards. I hope this review has sparked your interest in creative deckbuilding. Send me some email with your latest Zendikar decks and I'll be happy to give some feedback.

Happy brewing!

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