Battle for Zendikar is a set chock full of aggressive creatures, most of them Eldrazi. While quite a few have gone on to competitive success, one that hasn’t quite found his place is a 5/3 for 4 mana, Dust Stalker. On the surface, he looks like a powerful creature. He does have the drawback of needing to return to his owner’s hand if you control no other colorless creatures. However, he has haste, and in a deck full of Eldrazi, his drawback is rarely an issue. Overall, he’s a pretty efficient creature.
However, as Dust Stalker became nothing more than a bulk rare soon after the set’s release, where has he gone wrong? First off, the Stalker has no other ability besides Haste than Devoid, which just makes him colorless. For 4 mana, even in a limited card pool such as Standard, you need more value out of him, especially in an aggressive deck. For example, Trample would allow him to get over blocking creatures. Otherwise, all that hasty power can be blocked efficiently by the smallest of dorks such as a Spawn token.
Soon after release, some budget-conscious tournament players did play with Dust Stalker having varied success with him in Aggro decks. But, most people weren’t committing to keeping around a full playset of four copies. This meant his retail price never really rose much beyond fifty cents. As new sets released, Dust Stalker was one of the first cuts to even budget decks, as while a 5/3 with haste is useful, the drawback was enough to make him obsolete, just as soon as Oath of the Gatewatch introduced far more useful and efficient Eldrazi creatures. Many of them required just colorless mana, rather than the two color requirements of the Stalker. In particular, Thought-Knot Seer is a four-drop that quickly outmoded Dust Stalker, and still sees play in Modern and Legacy today.
In fact, so few people wanted to own Dust Stalker that many vendor buylists excluded him completely. This meant to sell off unwanted copies, you’d have to sneak them into a buylist order to a vendor as an unlisted bulk rare. Was he worth keeping around? For casual players looking to build an aggressive red and black Eldrazi deck, it’s not hard to latch onto this guy as a cheap early building block. He’ll sneak into the occasional Morophon the Boundless Eldrazi tribal deck in EDH, and occasionally a Rakdos, Lord of Riots player will pick up a copy to save a buck or two.
Not all bulk rares are created equal. While this isn’t of the competitive ilk of Fathom Feeder from the same set, it’s definitely no Serpentine Spike, one of the worst rares printed up to that point in Magic’s history. Like many sets, Battle for Zendikar is actually full of cards that over time people will find uses for and suddenly they won’t be bulk any more. While Dust Stalker is a great card to introduce newer players to playing an aggressive Eldrazi deck, his drawback makes him a bit too niche and he became outclassed by creatures from the very next set. Were Dust Stalker printed in 2022, it’s likely he’d be only an uncommon, if not even a common, thanks to the drawback.
There is some hope for Dust Stalker, however limited. In October 2019, Katou Yoshitaka played an Eldrazi Aggro deck in Modern with four copies of Dust Stalker! What’s particularly surprising about this is that the deck plays your typical Eldrazi Aggro staples from Oath of the Gatewatch, such as Eldrazi Obligator, Matter Reshaper, Reality Shaper, and Thought-Knot Seer. Granted, this deck could play Dust Stalker because it had some fast mana in Simian Spirit Guide, a card that’s now banned in Modern.
But this is not the last we’ve heard from Dust Stalker. In fact, four copies of Dust Stalker emerged in Legacy in April 2022 in a Rakdos Eldrazi deck list piloted by Thomas Drescher. The list is eerily similar to the list Yoshitaka ran, including three copies of Simian Spirit Guide, which is still legal in Modern. The fourth Simian Spirit Guide is replaced by a copy of Endbringer. Otherwise, the mana base is upgraded for Legacy with Ancient Tomb, as well as other Legacy sideboard staples such as Null Rod. Granted, this was only a 15 person tournament in France, but this deck did win the event.
Most likely, Dust Stalker isn’t going to be a new Rakdos Eldrazi staple in Legacy. However, this goes to show that even a bulk rare can become a useful cog in a powerful deck, especially when you have a lot more mana ramp making a four-drop much easier to play. Five power with haste is pretty strong in any format, and while it’s easily the least versatile Eldrazi creature in the deck, it serves its purpose.
In any case, Dust Stalker continues to be a bulk rare, and likely will be for many years to come. Still, having revisited this card many years later only to make this discovery that it actually helped win a Legacy tournament was quite refreshing. Dust Stalker may never make any more waves, but who knows if another set featuring Eldrazi will make this rather simple yet usefully aggressive creature a useful piece of a fresh new strategy.