Battle for Zendikar is one of the most complex draft formats in recent memory. Cards can be difficult to evaluate, and things that would normally be amazing are often just average. With two Pro Tour drafts in the books, we're starting to have a more solid understanding of the new Limited environment.
Gerry Thompson is generally ahead of the curve when it comes to card evaluations. After a brief stint working at Wizards of the Coast, Thompson decided to come back to competitive play. In just a few short months, Thompson managed to secure a seat back on the Pro Tour and now has multiple invites stacked up. I decided to sit down with him in hopes of finding the best and most overlooked commons and uncommons in Battle for Zendikar.
White often encourages players to build aggressive ally or lifegain decks that seem fairly obvious with the available card pool in Battle for Zendikar. That's not the only thing white has going for it, though. White has a hidden archetype that's been doing very well here at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. White control decks that gum up the ground with Stone Haven Medic and Fortified Rampart seem to be the best decks at actually getting to cast gigantic Eldrazi.
A lot of players are solidly convinced that Stasis Snare is the best white uncommon, but Thompson thinks that Retreat to Emeria isn't getting its fair share of the praise. "Retreat to Emeria helps our control deck play the long game," he explained. "Once we've stabilized, Retreat provides a stream of creatures that will eventually let us win the game with the +1/+1 ability."
Some commons are obviously good. Cards like Sheer Drop and Gideon's Reproach are easy to identify as strong picks early in a draft. Still, other cards can be harder to evaluate. For example, when asked what the most underrated white common is, Thompson was quick to point out Ondu Rising. "The life swing is huge, and getting a 4/4 haste out of the deal makes it pretty absurd," he said.
Blue is likely the second deepest color in Battle for Zendikar Limited. The card quality at both the common and uncommon level is such that it's always one of the more sought after colors at the table. Blue has good cards, but it gains considerable strength from its ability to assemble powerful synergies.
I started talking about blue cards in Limited with Thompson, and calmly asserted that Eldrazi Skyspawner was easily the best common, not just in blue, but in the set, Thompson interrupted me. "I'm not sure that's even true," he retorted. "Clutch of Currents is very good. I like Man-o'-War more than most, and Clutch is a 3/3 haste Man-o'-War. Eldrazi Skyspawner is a ridiculous rate, but Clutch of Currents wins games."
He had a similarly unique opinion about Windrider Patrol when I suggested it was the best Blue uncommon. "Sure, it's a good card, but I'm over it," he admitted. "This isn't a set where we're trying to Giant Growth and cast Air Elementals and whatnot. We're trying to build decks. Ruination Guide is my favorite blue uncommon by a significant margin."
Black is one of the better colors in Battle for Zendikar largely because of the way it makes each of the other color's cards better. Black's strength lies in its synergies with ingest cards and processors, ways to profitably sacrifice Eldrazi Scions, aggressive creatures, strong removal, and efficient ways to abuse the lifegain cards.
Grip of Desolation is easily one of the best uncommons in Battle for Zendikar. Killing a creature and a land often means that we're killing two creatures. Even when we're not, Grip of Desolation puts our opponent one less mana away from casting their top end while also dealing with their best threat.
Most teams at the Pro Tour said that Kalastria Healer was the card that went up the most in their pick orders throughout testing. Kalastria Healer pressures people's life totals in a unique way and combos nicely with cards like Retreat to Emeria and Unified Front.
The vast majority of professionals feel that red is the best color by a significant margin. Red offers up an absurd power level at the common and uncommon level. Luckily, draft formats are largely self-correcting. Because of red's power level, there are a lot of players that are looking to draft it and things can dry up quick. Red is deep enough that it's easy to get three or four picks in before we realize that players on our right are stealing the goods.
What cards are we looking for out of Red?
Rolling Thunder, Vile Aggregate, and Touch of the Void are all obviously good, but there are other cards that tend to go later than Thompson thinks they should. For example, Kozilek's Sentinel is a lot better than most people think. "It's almost a Frostburn Weird," he said. "It blocks everything in its range, it can attack into most things, and it's easy to pick up in the middle of the pack even though it's very strong."
Green is widely considered the worst color in Battle for Zendikar Limited, but that gives us an opportunity to capitalize on a player's willingness to avoid the color. Most players want to avoid green if possible, but if it's very obviously open or we've been amassing a pile of powerful cards across multiple colors, then it makes sense to move in on green for mana fixing, ramp, and powerful cards like Brood Monitor, Green's best uncommon, that go much later than one might expect.
Thompson and his teammates have been especially impressed with Plated Crusher as the top of their curve. "Plated Crusher has easily been the best Eldrazi for us in testing," he said. "Where other six, seven, and eight-drops simply die to cards like Smite the Monstrous, Plated Crusher virtually guarantees that we'll be able to stick and battle with a gigantic monster."
Battle for Zendikar Limited is deep enough that we'll still be discovering new angles, strategies, and gems for months to come. Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar has revealed a number of hidden angles to explore and we'll only find more as we continue drafting.
Go crack some packs and build your masterpiece!