Brainstorming with Ral Zarek


Now that the full Dragon’s Maze set has been spoiled, we can start looking at how Magic the Gathering Standard might be affected with the full Return to Ravnica block assembled. Will the new cards cause massive change in the midst of a Standard PTQ and WMCQ Season? Will brand new archetypes emerge?

Not likely. With Dragon’s Maze being a small set of 166 cards (20 of which are land reprints), the Standard card pool is only growing by about 145 new cards. That’s about a 10% change from the current card pool.

That’s not to say that there are no playable cards in Dragon’s Maze—in fact, there are a number of interesting cards that could make an impact on Standard right away. The first of these cards is the lone Planeswalker of the set: Ral Zarek.


Sorry if the article title was misleading—Ral Zarek does not cast Brainstorm like Jace, the Mind Sculptor—but he does do several interesting things. There’s been lots of talk already about how good or bad Ral Zarek is and which types of decks or strategies he might fit. Farseek into Ral Zarek into 6-drop is a rather enticing curve, and using Ral to potentially untap a Gilded Lotus certainly has a lot of players excited.

This first deck tries to make use of Ral Zarek as a mana-ramping tool, as well as to use him for spot removal as necessary:

This deck has the solid foundation of Jund Midrange: acceleration, Huntmaster and Thragtusk, a bunch of removal spells, and planeswalkers. Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, is part Olivia Voldaren and part Garruk, Primal Hunter. An Arbor Elf or a Farseek sets up a turn-three Ral Zarek, which, in turn, can lead to a turn-four Niv-Mizzet or an overloaded Mizzium Mortars.

Forbidden Alchemy is a great source of early card selection to help establish a powerful mid-to-late game. Once you’ve put together a Gilded Lotus and Ral Zarek, you can simply out-mana and out-muscle your opponent with large Bonfires and activations from Niv-Mizzet and Deadeye Navigator. (You’ve blinked a Thragtusk with Restoration Angel? How about blinking four times a turn?)

Note the Zealous Conscripts in the sideboard for the off chance that you assemble the infinite-mana combo of Conscripts, Deadeye Navigator, and Gilded Lotus.

Another potential use for Ral Zarek is to fit him into an aggressive strategy, clearing the way for your attackers with either his +1 or -2 ability. I liken this to Ajani Vengeant’s recent rise in Modern as a planeswalker with similar abilities.

This type of UWR deck abandons Boros Reckoner and Sphinx’s Revelation for the raw power of Geist of Saint Traft and more tempo-oriented cards. Protecting Ral Zarek on an even board might be difficult in this sort of configuration, but in a race, he’ll do his job by killing a creature and then soaking up damage for a turn. This deck gets much better at fighting through a Thragtusk thanks to Turn // Burn (which I expect to be an excellent card in Standard) and Rak Zarek’s ability to tap the beast down clearing the way for your Geist to get in and opening up mana for an Unsummon or Searing Spear.

Others have noted that Ral Zarek into Fog can be a great way to protect this shiny new Planeswalker on the turn after you cast him. Fog, mana acceleration, and extra turns: these just beg to be put into a Travis Woo-inspired deck, don’t they?

These are just a few possibilities for Ral Zarek. I don’t think he’ll be a format-defining all-star or anything, but few planeswalkers in the current Standard environment are. I’ll leave you with a quick list of other cards from Dragon’s Maze that I think have some amount of immediate playability to them:

Renounce the Guilds: Answer to many hard-to-deal-with permanents; Esper is a likely home.

Riot Control: Possible Safe Passage effect for Turbo-Fog decks.

Blood Scrivener: Dislike him for the same reasons the Hellbent mechanic was poor, but he comes with a very relevant creature type.

Pyrewild Shaman: Recursion is good (see Chandra’s Phoenix) but might cost too much mana.

Deputy of Acquittals: Great synergy with Augur and Snapcaster; maybe there’s something there.

Far // Away, Turn // Burn, Toil // Trouble: Useful split cards that provide a lot of flexibility.

Gaze of Granite: Very mana-intensive but seems like good sideboard material.

Notion Thief: Narrow, but a huge blowout versus Sphinx’s Revelation.

Putrefy: Replacement for Murder in Jund that also kills Witchbane Orb.

Sin Collector: Castigate on a Human, possible sideboard or even maindeck card for Aristocrats.

Sire of Insanity: Could absolutely punish Control decks, but not strictly better than Rakdos’s Return.

Warleader’s Helix: A bit expensive for removal, but the lifegain is welcome against Aggro.

And here are some others to consider with the future in mind:

AEtherling : Could become the win condition of choice for Control once Nephalia Drownyard rotates.

Skylasher: Possible hate card.

Advent of the Wurm: Might not have a home right away but is powerful enough to see play.

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch: Great stats but has to compete with Hellrider and Falkenrath Aristocrat right now.

Legion’s Initiative: Conditional anthem, anti-Wrath, triggers come-into-play effects; might be useful someday.

Voice of Resurgence: A much better Safehold Elite, but how much better is dependent on matchup.

Thanks for reading and good luck diving into Dragon’s Maze!

Alex Bianchi

Gemmanite on Twitter and MTGO