As Battle for Zendikar quickly approaches, you may be piecing together what the set is all about based on the preview cards you've seen on the internet. I'm right there with you. With the exception of the preview cards I get for this column and the podcast, I see the cards when you do. I much prefer it this way; I get excited with everyone else and I get to keep that awesome feeling of anticipation as the new set comes into focus.
This week, we'll be looking at a full five uncommon preview cards, many of which will bring that vision into much greater clarity.
Let's just jump right in, because these cards are honestly kind of crazy and I'd rather have my word count going toward them.
First up is a card you may have seen in a Duel Decks article; it's called Forerunner of Slaughter:
Before even getting into the card itself, the first thing that jumps out to you is that card frame, right? It's like, a gold card, but also a colorless card if you just look at the frame.
Actually, yeah, that's exactly what it is.
Forerunner of Slaughter is a gold card in the sense that it requires more than one color of mana to cast, in this case black and red. But it has this ability called devoid, which explicitly states that it has no color. Weird. We also note that this is an Eldrazi Drone, which, as we know, are colorless (but not artifacts).
So yeah, we have a colorless gold card on our hands. Noted.
What about the card itself?
It's good! Assuming you have the mana to cast it on turn two, a 3/2 beater hits hard and demands an answer pretty quickly. It's also got a nice ability: It can give haste to colorless creatures for the cost of just one colorless mana. The first thing to note is that it can, of course, do this to itself. So if your opening hand features another castable two-drop, you can play that, then play the Forerunner on turn three, activate its ability on itself, and bash.
Based on my extensive experience in Zendikar from Rise of the Eldrazi, I also know that while Eldrazi Drones may be 3/2, actual Eldrazi are much, much bigger. And every one I've ever seen is colorless.
This card looks super solid to me as a 3/2 haste for three mana, a 3/2 for two mana, or even a late game enabler of haste on massive colorless creatures.
Next up is Grove Rumbler:
Grove Rumbler is a card that seems perfectly suited for life on Zendikar. I love the simple but effective design on this card. For your four mana, you get an acceptable, if somewhat unexciting, 3/3 Elemental with trample.
If you haven't had a chance to play with the landfall ability yet, it's one of the best R&D has ever come up with. Once you get your Grove Rumbler on the battlefield, it will be a 5/5 trample for a turn or two (on your turn). But after that, you are either drawing more lands or more spells. So you get to keep your 5/5 trample creature rumbling along if you draw lands, and if you draw spells, well, you are drawing spells and are probably pretty happy about it.
How good is a 5/5 trample for four mana? It's amazing! Grove Rumbler isn't quite that, but it does a good impression for a few turns. Also it apparently pulls entire trees out by the roots, which is impressive to say the least.
Next up is Grovetender Druids:
Grovetender Druids hails the return of Allies. Allies were a popular and powerful strategy in the original Zendikar block, and they are back! The key with Allies is that they act as a tribal synergy (think Elves or Merfolk), but with some key differences.
First, they aren't bound by color. Allies can be any color—and even combinations of colors, as we see here.
Second, they trigger when they (or another Ally) enter the battlefield. Most tribal synergies care about how many of the tribe you have on the battlefield at any given time, but Allies seem to focus more on when one joins the party.
Coming back to Grovetender Druids, we have a Hill Giant—that's Magic slang for a 3/3 for four mana. Hill Giants aren't that exciting, though they usually pass the Vanilla Test with a barely-passing grade. We expect more, though (See: Grove Rumbler).
Here we see rally, which is an ability word that describes a particular game action. In this case, it describes what happens when an Ally enters the battlefield under your control. In this case, you may pay one colorless mana to make a 1/1 green Plant creature token. What this means is that if you wait until turn five to cast it, you can have a 3/3 and a 1/1 for five mana, which isn't bad. It's also not earth-shattering.
Grovetender Druids has a high upside—spitting out a bunch of 1/1 plants adds up—but it's slow to do so. I refer to setup cost in this column quite often, and this card has a relatively high setup cost. You need a lot of mana and a lot of Allies, and the payoff isn't overwhelming even if you do have those things.
Next card is Roil Spout:
Wow, this card seems fantastic. I love flexibility with my cards, and value it highly. It's part of the reason why I love morphs so much; you can play them early in the game for a reasonable effect, or play them later for a bigger effect. Roil Spout has that whole thing going on as well.
First, putting a creature on top of its owner's library is a one-for-one. It takes a creature off of the battlefield, and takes the next draw step away from your opponent, which is very different from returning a creature to its owner's hand.
I would already play this card in any deck that could cast it. It sets your opponent back on tempo and also knocks off Auras, Equipment, +1/+1 counters, and so on. It would be fine as a card even if it didn't have awaken.
Awaken is a new mechanic that lets you turn your lands into valuable creatures ready to fight on your side. In this case, Roil Spout has awaken 4, meaning that the land we "awaken" will get four +1/+1 counters on it once it becomes a creature. It costs six mana to do all of this, but what a powerful late game swing!
You get to take out an opposing creature while creating your own new threat that even has haste if you happen to have an extra land untapped after casting it for its awaken cost.
Also keep in mind that the land is a creature (that is still a land) indefinitely. This isn't an "until end of turn" thing.
I love Roil Spout, and can't wait to play it.
Last card for today is Ulamog's Nullifier:
Mind officially blown.
It looks like a Magic card from a different plane entirely.
Let's put it through the French-est Vanilla Test ever: It's a 2/3 with flying, flash, and devoid for 2UB. A four-mana 2/3 flyer with flash passes the French Vanilla Test, no doubt about it. It's not a mind-blowing combination of abilities, but it's never getting cut from any deck that could cast it either.
But what about that last sentence?
I can't even.
We are now taking cards from our opponent's exile zone and putting them into their graveyard, and for doing this we get to counter a spell? My assumption here is that there will be a lot of cards exiled in this set. And if we do this, we get to counter any spell. Assuming that this confluence of events pops up even semi-regularly, Ulamog's Nullifier is going to be an amazing card.
Like I said, I'd play it without that last sentence; adding it is pure gravy. This card is both awesome and fascinating. I can't wait to see how it all works.
That's going to do it for our Battle for Zendikar previews this week, but we'll be back with five more next week. You won't want to miss them!