Just under a year ago, white was suffering from longstanding issues in Limited. It was bound by rules of a bygone era while all other colors had long since moved past such limitations. Blue regularly has access to quality creature interaction (Bubble Snare demonstrates just how far Paralyzing Grasp from original Zendikar has come), red gets 2/2s with upside, black gets quality common creatures in addition to quality removal, and green gets to do almost everything.

Well, what a difference a year makes. White is pushing into new territory, and no set does a better job of demonstrating all of white’s new common tools than Zendikar Rising.

Farsight Adept continues to chip away at white’s big weakness: card draw. Once upon a time, blue was the only color to have consistent access to card advantage and card smoothing (with black sometimes getting it alongside life loss or sacrificing a resource). Nowadays, red and green regularly get both, sometimes even beating blue at its own game (see Tireless Tracker and Experimental Frenzy). Lacking card draw downside is especially pronounced in Commander, where fast aggressive starts can peter out and a few wraths are insufficient to keep pace. This form of card draw circumvents card advantage by being symmetrical, but it still provides white card flow when it needs it.

Farsight Adept follows in the footsteps of Happily Ever After, adding a political element to make it both more powerful and more interesting in multiplayer. But there’s something else behind the new design vein: this is a 3/3 for three, white’s first common 3/3 for three. Sure, Attended Knight provided those same stats, but this is a Centaur Courser, arguably with upside. Last year, I’d talked about how green had taken some of white’s strength by getting better two and three drops—it’s nice seeing white reclaim some of that lost territory by beefing up one of its midsize creatures.

Captivating Unicorn was white’s second ever common with 4 power (and fifth with 4+ power). It formally ended the ban on white commons being limited to 3 power. Makindi Ox is the next step in white’s journey to getting bigger common threats. Yes, it’s very, very similar to Captivating Unicorn, but it’s confirmation that white will continue to get bigger top end finishers. (It’s uncertain which is better—the Ox is a more consistent tapper, but the Unicorn can more easily double-tap and the Omen cycle let it tap on your opponent’s turn.)

A long time ago, Aven Windreader was a strong card. Now, blue reliably gets common 3/4 fliers with upside (such as Cloudreader Sphinx). White has been stuck with Prized Griffin, Enforcer Griffin, and Shining Aerosaur. Well, just as white is reclaiming lost ground from green with its small and midsize creatures, white’s becoming more competitive with blue in the skies. Yes, gaining 2 life is certainly weaker than Scrying 2, but gaining 4-8 life while increasing the size of your party and/or triggering your cleric’s abilities makes Shepherd of Heroes more than the sum of its already impressive parts. This is a very potent card and perhaps a harbinger of white getting a bit more bang for its buck across the board.

Just as we tend to get 3/4 fliers with upside nowadays, so too has Wind Drake‘s stock fallen. Two power, three mana fliers tend to get a bit more oomph these days. It’s nice seeing Wizards give a modest but appreciable bump in power while also hearkening back to Pauper Zendikar powerhouse, Kor Skyfisher.

Last but absolutely not least is Prowling Felidar. Growing threats used to be quite infrequent at common; and when they came along, formats could suffer under the yoke of Thriving Rhino or Topan Freeblade (and she only grew once). This design is a new tool for white mages, and it’s exciting having a common with a ludicrously high ceiling. Prowling Felidar seems to be in an impressively balanced sweet spot—you need to invest both time and land drops for it to be better than a four mana 3/4, a hoop that’s neither too difficult nor facile to jump through (unlike Thriving Rhino‘s).

It’s always fun diving into a new Limited format, especially when we return to a beloved plane. I’ve been enjoying Zendikar Rising and haven’t yet cracked its secrets in Limited (partly due to it coming out during the High Holidays, like many September sets). While there’s plenty yet to say about the draft format and how I’m really appreciating how micro-themes are weaved into this particular expansion, I can’t help but smile at all these little changes and tweaks to white. They might not be the flashiest developments, but they demonstrate an awareness of what white had been lacking and a willingness to experiment with solutions.

If you’re at all interested in game design, even just appreciating Magic’s design, I encourage you to look for these patterns—what cards deviate from past precedent? What is just a little bit stronger, more complicated, or more wordy than it used to be at common? Every set has these scavenger hunts, and while the rares and mythics might take a lot of the spotlight, there’s so much to learn at lower rarities.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance gatame design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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