The last core set may have been a disappointment competitively, but Zendikar Rising looks outright promising in comparison! So, it's time to make Top 10 lists for the newest set again! As is tradition, mine is for my Top 10 Cards New to Modern, though feel free to pick any format or reason you want:
Wayward Guide-Beast: Turns out that as long as this guy bounces no lands on Turn 2 (use your Turn 2 land drop post-combat) or is played on Turn 2 or later, the tempo hit Burn takes for playing this guy is fairly negligible. Looks like Burn wants this, then!
Cleansing Wildfire: Unless R(x) Prowess builds really need the actual land destruction against Field of the Dead decks, I think they prefer the cheaper cantrip. This card is better at slowing down Tron decks than any 3-mana card ever will, anyway.
Inscription of Ruin: It does a decent Liliana of the Veil impression, a somewhat-there Liliana, the Last Hope impression with better removal and a tempo boost, and an OK Unearth impression. Yes, it can do only one thing at a time, but when that one thing is killing or resurrecting a creature, that tends to be pretty good! The kicker is gravy.
Spare Supplies: I suspect Eldrazi Tron would rather have the speedy card or two than the eventual life gain and potential extra cards that Mazemind Tome provides. Mazemind Tome kept Scrying instead of drawing cards when I tested it, anyway.
Myriad Construct: Eldrazi Tron may want this as yet another beater opponents may not be inclined to spend removal on. Eldrazi Tron actually being able to kick it is a plus. Then there are those nutty decks I'm already seeing that try to get it involved in a massive Empty the Warrens impression...
Turntimber Symbiosis: At the very least, Neobrand wants this card as a land that makes mana the turn it ETB that's actually green. Some green decks that can make lots of mana, such as Devoted Vizier combo decks, that newfangled GW Field of the Dead Creature Ramp deck with 4 Elvish Reclaimer, and the more fringe Tooth and Nail decks and Nykthos Green decks may also want this.
Akoum Hellhound: If Small Zoo comes back (it did for some time within the last year), this guy will be headlining it. Its Landfall pump plays nice with Small Zoo's love of Revolt.
Honorable mentions Skyclave Apparition: Catch-all removal for 3 mana Bubble Snare: Removal for a single blue mana Bloodchief's Thirst: More cheap removal. I'm not as high on this as many others. Sorcery speed is a major drawback, imo. Fireblade Charger: cheap and goblin creature type makes me think this may be playable in eternal formats Turntimber Symbiosis: Any green deck that is not concerned with life total will play this. Valakut Exploration: Seems like it will be relatively easy to trigger this every turn by playing flip-lands.
I still haven't grokked even half the new cards but, OK, I'll give this a shot. Thinking Standard here.
Coveted Prize - There aren't many tutors in Standard right now so you have to compare this to Grim Tutor, and with 0-1 party members it's not really as good. However it's totally still playable and the ceiling is pretty high - it's a one-mana tutor and play any 4-mana card for free (and it doesn't even have to be the card you tutored for!).
Lotus Cobra - Given how rampant ramp is at the moment, this will definitely see use. Also being able to play Beanstalk Giant for free on T3 is pretty neat.
Nullpriest of Oblivion - I just think that this is cool. Lifelink + menace is nice and the kicker is a four-mana return-to-the-battlefield which is cheaper than pretty much any equivalent card (you do also have to spend the 2 mana for the creature itself but conversely it's not costing you an extra card). Plus the effect is a later-game one anyway, when you'll actually be able to afford it.
Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats - Flying, deathtouch, haste on a 4/4 is a nice body, plus deathtouch for all creatures? Obvious combo with Hooded Blightfang. Wants a party, but is hardly necessary; it will be easy to play him for 5 rather than 6 and he hardly seems unfair for that, and if you can play him for 4 or 3, awesome!
Zareth San, the Trickster - Ninjustsu is cool but, also, given the crazy amounts of mill in blue/black Rogues you will pretty much right away be able to steal something useful from someone's graveyard.
Feed the Swarm - Yes, it's targeted enchantment removal in black! Also really flexible as enchantment removal which can also be used vs creatures. Comparable with Mortify, I guess.
The six modal two-colour lands - a cool design, a way to fix mana without playing taplands, so a fair trade for the shocks. But, why only six? Does anyone know what the actual pattern is here? Why three for white and red? Where are my blue/white and black/green lands?
The other modal lands - I think that actually most of these will not be relevant in most decks, because coming in tapped they can't really replace regular lands, and the spells themselves tend to be a lot weaker to compensate. I do think it's a cool idea, though, and the flexibility to play a card as a land at least gives you a worse-case-scenario backup if you're mana-starved and might occasionally be useful if you don't really need the land right then but have better things to play. The ones which can come in untapped for 3 life will probably see use; that's a hefty cost, but it's worth having the option.
Murasa Rootgrazer - Just because it's nice, with landfall, to have a way to return lands to your hand; this essentially gives you a guaranteed landfall trigger every turn and potentially e.g. a scry or just a bonus mana (tap, return, play, tap again). Plus you can ramp with it too.
All the new planeswalkers, obviously. Nissa could be pretty mental, letting you play huge creatures for free (kind of Fires of Invention-esq, even), potentially even on the turn she's played (thanks to landfall). Nice that she's in green/black and not just green, though. Tajuru Paragon will see a home in pretty much any party deck that can afford to play green. Lithoform Engine can probably be abused; watch this space.
All the "snap-on" equipment looks interesting, and Akiri has a fun synergy (attack with an equipped critter, draw a card, remove the equipment to give it indestructible - at a minimum, repeatable card-draw every turn even if they have strong blockers). Skyclave Shade looks a bit like Silversmote Ghoul and can be kicked from the graveyard. Shadows' Verdict is not quite a Ritual of Soot replacement, but close. I would probably top 10 this if we'd been in the same block as War for the Spark to get rid of all those annoying 3-mana planeswalkers in control decks. Nighthawk Scavenger is definitely going to show up in some horrible aggro-type decks. Deadly Alliance just because it laughs in the face of Finishing Blow and, like some of the other party cards, potentially has a pretty high ceiling. Less good because you are just saving mana when you likely need it less but, still, unconditional removal is good.
Some thoughts on the mechanics...
I really like Party. I see it as a more difficult (and therefore sophisticated) form of something like tribal; you're rewarded for actually being smart about deckbuilding rather than just stuffing it full of cards of the same type. I fear it won't be worth it outside of specific decks as compared with "dumber" but more powerful strategies.
Landfall is cool - I had a lot of fun with the Evolution Sage/Fertilid combo which is essentially that - but with the amount of ramp in Standard at the moment, I suspect it may just be kind of busted, in an un-fun way (plus that thing about "dumber" strategies again). It seems a bit crazy, after banning Growth Spiral, to then add a bunch of ramp cards in M21 and then a bunch of cards which make ramp even better in the very next block.
There seems like there's a lot of mill in blue/black, especially Rogues. On the one hand, why is mill even a win condition, and why would you want to print more of it? On the other, there are lots of cards this time which actually make use of stuff being in the graveyard (without it being an all-or-nothing wincon), with the "at least 8 cards" thing showing up a lot more. In conjunction with things like Thieves' Guild Enforcer and Drown in the Loch this could make for some fun enemy-graveyard-based strategies (shame that we are losing Mnemonic Betrayal, though).
Kicker doesn't seem like anything special but it strikes me that between it and the modal lands, they are making a specific effort to make cards a lot more flexible, perhaps changing one of Magic's biggest long-standing "quirks" which is the whole mana starve/mana flood thing. This is possibly a very stealthy but very major shift in the design of the game! Honestly, I think this is a good thing, as Magic's pretty luck-reliant as it is. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, anyway.
11:15, restate my assumptions: 1. Mathematics is the language of nature. 2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. 3. If you graph these numbers, patterns emerge. Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature. - Maximillian Cohen.
Am I the only person that sees valakut exploration as the best card in the set. It's more or less, draw a card and/or ping opponent every turn. Tons of ways to drop a bunch of lands. Greenwarden, Valakut, And Nahiri's Lithoforming is 12 damage if you sac 4 lands just to replay them tapped. It also would draw 4/ bin 4 if you want the damage. There are many jund cards that can make this finisher both consistent and resilient.
Turn 2 Cobra.
Turn 3 Ilysian Grove, fetch, AND valakut
Turn 4, Greenwarden and ballgame. Like seriously, you still have 4 mana, after casting greenwarden, you've drawn an extra card. You still have a land play, so replay the fetch again which draws another 2 and rituals a land. Let me just grow that Nissa and play greenwarden for free..
Or maybe that 3 mana black mode card that either discards two, replays a cobra and/kills 3 or less cmc creature. Not one but two landfall tramples at 3cmc. Toss in red wheel land a some bolts/ramps and you have a deck that threatens lethal as early as turn 4
If we speak for Pioneer, this set offers at least 30 playable cards in many fringe (or not) decks, every set is good food for the variety of the format.
Now going beyond Pioneer (i.e. Modern, Legacy & Vintage), as usually in recent sets, some combo-ish cards will be either too cute or will make a viable deck, I'm not the one to figure those out. Going by color, not necessarily the ones that look the strongest, but the most interesting for what they offer :
1- Feed the Swarm : this card will be played and remembered as a heck of a break. I'm happy to see it and hope it's gonna be the only one card to do it in black for a long time.
2- Scourge of the Skyclaves : this goes in many aggro decks with Bolts and 1-cmc creatures. I love a blue sky on a black card art too.
Not based on powerlevel or a specific format. These are just my personal favs, reasons are a mix of design/gameplay/art/creative.
1) Scute Swarm - There are already more than a dozen videos on Youtube that demonstrate how ridiculous this card can get. Looking forward to using it in EDH. The flavor text is cute too (compare with Scute Mob).
2) Anticognition - Cool art and use of the "reverse threshold" mechanic. The card feels just right powerlevel-wise. I really like it when they do interesting cards like this at the lower rarities.
4) Verazol, the Split Current - Copies! This is a nice commander for a lower-powered EDH deck. Unless other legendaries that care about one specific mechanic, you don't feel so bad about this one because Kicker is so vanilla-flavored that it can show up almost everywhere.
6) Kabira Takedown / Silundi Vision / Hagra Mauling / Kazuul'S Fury / Tangled Florahedron - These are not a cycle, but I'm grouping them together regardless because I like them for the same reason. They're all MDFCs that feel very "snug", design-wise. Their front side is good enough that you'll never feel bad about playing them, and in case you can't use them, they can always be a land! Florahedron is also super cute.