Released in 2020, Magic: The Gathering's Zendikar Rising is full of player-favorite mechanics from the original Zendikar like landfall and kicker. Its impact on the Standard format was massive, as alongside those returning mechanics it also gave us new ones like party and modal double-faced cards.
With that being said, we can at least reminisce one last time on some of the set's best additions to the constructed format. We're not crying, you're crying!
10 Luminarch Aspirant
Talk about a worthy introduction. Luminarch Aspirant is perhaps the primary culprit for the dominance of the Mono-White Aggro deck through Zendikar Rising's many, many months in Standard.
This Human is powerful enough that its Alchemy counterpart saw a nerf which made the Aspirant add counters at the end of the turn instead of at the beginning of combat. If that's not proof enough that it came out of the oven a little too hot, you probably need to play some more Standard games so that you can see this Aspirant's power firsthand.
9 Legion Angel
Yet another card responsible for Mono-White Aggro's success is Legion Angel. A four-power, three-toughness flyer isn't anything special, but Legion Angel's trigger to add an additional copy of itself to your hand from your sideboard makes this the perfect top-end threat for an aggressive strategy.
If your opponent has already spent the first three turns of the game removing creatures, chances are they won't be prepared to face down an additional three to four flying angels. This appropriately-named card demonstrated the power of a consistent curve, and taught everyone the value of a repeatable flying threat.
8 Skyclave Apparition
First seeing play in Mono-White Aggro, Skyclave Apparition has since become more popular in midrange and control builds. While this temporary removal spell might not seem so effective granted the fact that it generates a token for your opponent, it turns out that creatures without abilities aren't so threatening.
Additionally, Apparation's ability to target any nonland permanent with a mana value of four or less makes it the perfect answer to just about anything your opponent might throw at you.
7 Bloodchief's Thirst
Selecting efficient removal spells is the first step to building a successful midrange or control deck. It doesn't get much more efficient than one black to remove a creature of mana value two or less, no matter the fact this removal spell comes at sorcery speed.
On top of that, Bloodchief's Thirst works perfectly well as removal for any creature in a pinch thanks to its kicker ability. While four mana isn't a great rate for removal, players soon found the card's kicker ability incredibly handy in top deck scenarios where it was this or simply losing the game.
6 Shadows Verdict
Before the era of Meathook Massacre, Shadows Verdict was the common board wipe spell aggressive players feared with utter dread. No matter how high the toughness of your creatures nor the recursive abilities they came with, Shadows Verdict served as a clean answer to all of it.
This card was so devastating to have resolved against you while playing an aggro deck, it often resulted in an instant concession. However, it does have the drawback of costing five mana, which makes it a bit too slow for the best aggressive draws.
5 Lotus Cobra
Any player interested in slinging green cards is more than likely a fan of generating tons of mana. Lotus Cobra was quite good at accomplishing this, especially when used in tandem with cards like Evolving Wilds, Reclaim the Wastes, and Vastwood Surge.
Unfortunately, Lotus Cobra hasn't seen as much play as it used to in Standard for some time now. This is likely due to the prevalence of incredibly aggressive cards like Luminarch Aspirant forcing players to fill their decks with tons of cheap removal perfect for taking care of our Cobra friend.
4 Cleric Of Life's Bond
Cleric of Life's Bond tells a tale of a deck that never quite was. There were many Clerics printed with the release of Zendikar Rising, and even more arrived with later sets. However, the deck never quite reached a high enough power level to break into the top levels of the constructed meta.
Nonetheless, many players enjoyed their Clerics brews as semi-competitive decks, and Cleric of Life's Bond was a mainstay in any orientation of the build. Maybe when tribal strategies finally receive some more support in Modern, Clerics will rear its head again.
3 Pathway Lands
One of the coolest innovations Zendikar Rising introduced to the game were the Pathway lands. These rare lands are double-faced modal cards that can be played as a land that produces one of two colours on either side. For example, Cragcrown Pathway taps for red, while the other side – Timbercrown Pathway – taps for green. It's a rather unique take on a rare land print, and a welcome one at that.
After all, there can only be so many iterations on your standard dual lands (lands that tap for one of two colors) before the design space is completely filled, and these gave us a way to have two colors without the land needing to enter the battlefield tapped.
2 Brushfire Elemental
As was mentioned in the introduction, landfall is a player-favorite mechanic due to it adding excitement to a part of Magic that's usually boring: playing lands. Unfortunately, Brushfire Elemental is just about the only creature with landfall that was powerful enough to leave its mark on the Standard meta.
And leave its mark it did. Brushfire Elemental was a key card in any aggressive Gruul (red/green) deck of which there were many iterations. While haste and its repeatable landfall ability were parts of Brushfire's allure, the Elemental's trample-like immunity to being blocked by creatures with power 2 or less was the lynchpin.
This led to many top decks and surprise moments where Gruul would win games from seemingly unwinnable positions. That's definitely more than you can ask for from your average two-drop.
1 Soaring Thought-Thief
Like Cleric of Life's Bond, Soaring Thought-Thief is more mentioned as a representation of its archetype than a card itself. Anyone who jammed a lot of Standard soon after Zendikar Rising's release will surely be familiar with the power of the blue/black Dimir Rogues.
While Clerics struggled to break into the metagame, Dimir Rogues was the deck that set the pace. By combining efficiently-costed Rogue threats with counterspells, cheap removal, and the notorious Ruin Crab, Dimir Rogues presented a game plan that was capable of winning the game through life loss or decking the opponent.
Fighting on both fronts was something that many decks weren't capable of keeping up with. While Dimir Rogues players will miss our friend Soaring Thought-Thief, there's no question that just as many people are happy to see him go.
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