At The Gathering – Zendikarnal Pleasures

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Wednesday, September 16th – As the pending set rotation looms ominously over competitive Magic, the mania over Zendikar continues. There are pundits a-plenty examining the new landscape. This week, we’re going to go a rundown of some of the new cards and/or themes I like in the new set, and why. Then, we’ll look at a potential Standard deck, then we’ll finish off with a potential Extended decklist for your consideration.

As the pending set rotation looms ominously over competitive Magic, the mania over Zendikar continues. Whether it is the new Fetchlands or the return of Kicker (Okay, it’s mostly the fetchlands) there are pundits a-plenty examining the new landscape. This week, we’re going to go a rundown of some of the new cards and/or themes I like in the new set, and why. Then, we’ll look at a potential Standard deck, then we’ll finish off with a potential Extended decklist for your consideration.

Let’s start with the biggest card on the list, Iona, Shield of Emeria.

Iona, Shield of Emeria
Legendary Creature — Angel
As Iona, Shield of Emeria enters the battlefield, choose a color.
Your opponents can’t play spells of the chosen color.

This card has piqued my interest, although not for the usual reasons. I don’t think this card will break any competitive formats, and I don’t anticipate anyone actually casting it short of sealed pools, with one simple exception: Elder Dragon Highlander. Yes, she’s Legendary, and yes, she will make some portion of the table mad at you. The Ferret would be pulling his hair out about how you are completely futzing up multiplayer politics, using a sledgehammer where subtlety and wit are required, but I don’t care. I don’t play EDH to win, I play to have fun, and every once in a while, it’s fun to make everyone at the table want to kill you. When I cast here, I’ll be sure to announce “Gentleman, start your engines. Who gets to kill me first. LEEEEEEEEEEERRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOY JENKINS!” because it is obvious I’m doing nothing but draw aggro. Or am I? There’s an annoying Heartless Hidegetsu deck running around our playgroup that doesn’t win a whole lot, but it sure makes games a lot faster, usually to most players detriment. It turns out that whoever planned the worst usually wins, of all things. It’s a crazy deck, which is fun, but annoying, for sure. Why, Iona could stop those shenanigans from happening. In fact, it could shut down just about any mono-color deck. And as long as you can get the multi-colored players affected by the deck to realize, or at least believe, that it’s in their best interest, that the sacrifice is better than the alternative, you could find yourself with not only a lack of aggression, but even some defense from unaffected players who are happy to help you help them. Show me the money, Jerry.

Moving on, here are two trap spells that I like, for the same formats.

Mindbreak Trap
Instant — Trap
If an opponent cast three or more spells this turn, you may pay 0 rather than play Mindbreak Trap’s mana cost.
Exile any number of target spells.

Archive Trap
Instant – Trap
If an opponent searched his or her library this turn, you may pay 0 rather than pay Archive Trap’s mana cost.
Target opponent puts the top thirteen cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

Let’s start with the trap mechanic, since we’re here, and then move on to the cards. The trap mechanic is very deceptive, and a great way to print powerful eternal cards without wrecking standard, or even Extended. The exciting ones for Eternal are cards that won’t trigger much in Standard or Extended. Is there some good tutoring in Standard or Extended? Yeah, a bit, but not much. And with Storm largely relegated to Eternal formats, we won’t see a whole lot of times that 3 spells are cats in a single turn. Perhaps with super cascade, or perhaps with Counter-wars over a Baneslayer Angel, but at that point, it’s the same as a regular counterspell, except on rare occasion, its free. But in Eternal formats, most of these will trigger early, and probably often. To be fair, the Fetch-land or Path to Exile search does open a lot of milling in Standard, and with Tome Scour, there just might be the start of a viable mill deck, assuming there’s some more support for it.

Looking at Archive trap, I am personally going to try it out for use in my Legacy Landstill deck, which often uses mill as a win condition. Coming up +13 helps that race quite a bit, and I think that the first game it makes a decent surprise card. I can then board it out, as they may react to having seen it and change their board strategy accordingly.

Mindbreak Trap, on the other hand, seems like a good card to use in Vintage, where there is often 3 spells being cats on turn one alone. The chance to get another 4 Force of Wills (without the inherent card disadvantage or life loss, for the record) seems like it’s worth looking at heavily. Being Mythic Rare means supply will be low, so I’d recommend trying to pick them up while people are still undervaluing them. If you’re wrong, you’re out maybe a few bucks, but I think the risk/reward ratio if they do become good is well worth it.

Next on our chopping block is Vampires! Yes, as I mentioned last week, I think vampires is going to be good, probably mixed with red to maximum effect. Thanks to the folks in the forums, I’ve been educated about two absolutely killer combos, one of which is a bit of a nut draw, but still doable. Here it is, and I think it goes to show the nuttiness of Landfall:

Turn 1: Blade of the Bloodchief
Turn 2: Bloodghast
Turn 3: Vampire Aristocrat
Turn 4: Equip Aristocrat, then play Bloodghast #2. Sacrifice both of them to Vampire Aristocrat (VA gets net +8/+8, total 10/10) play Fetchland from hand, return both Bloodghasts from the Graveyard to the Battlefield. Sacrifice both Bloodghasts for the second time. (VA now 18/18) Activate Fetchland, triggering landfall again, bringing both Bloodghasts back onto the battlefield again. Sacrifice them to the Aristocrat a third time. Attack with a 26/26 Vampire Aristocrat. Give rousing acceptance speech as the biggest Timmy of the tournament.

In all seriousness, that’s just one potentially awesome application of the Vampire tribe’s signature weapon. A Deathbringer Thoctar with the Blade of the Bloodchief (Don’t ask me how that works, I’m still working on Elephants with Hammers) also makes a pretty good machine gun impersonation, gaining a +1/+1 counter with each X/1 killed, and breaking even on X/2’s. A single Fleshbag Marauder could potentially make everything go completely nuts. Gatekeeper of Malakir is a great option to start things off as well, as a 2/2 for (BB) with a Cruel Edict kicker for (B), which also helps to take care of potentially unwanted Great Sable Stags that may be cluttering up the opponent’s side of the board.

The two legendary Vampires for this set, Kalitas and Ob Nixilis both look to be interesting for Elder dragon highlander, but I’m not sure either on quite cuts the mustard for a mono-colored general. However, both of them have residual effects, which means they may have a place in the deck as one of “the ninety and nine.” (Bonus points to the first forum poster to nail that 80’s reference.)

Kalitas is interesting for his ability to nuke almost any creature, and typically get a decent sized blocker out of it to boot. Also important is his ability to rid the battlefield of opposing Generals at will, with the exception of “My name is” Uril, the Miststalker and other shroud-y legends. He’s also a 5/5 by his own right, and should be able to avoid some targeted removal by virtue of being black.

Ob Nixilis is slightly more viable as a general for his ability to grow rapidly to potentially lethal size, meaning 21 general damage is very doable. If you play him turn 5, then fetchland on turn 6, he’s a 9/9. Any land the next turn, and he’s lethal to that player. With Sol Ring and/or Mana Vault powering him out, you could be looking at turn two play him, turn 3 swing for 9 damage, turn 4 kill. Tempting, but then you’re stuck playing mono-black, which isn’t very appealing to me. I’d miss the card drawing powers of Blue too much. Still, for you Dark-hearted, Dark-mana mages out there, it’s something to keep in mind.

Finally, within the Vampire Tribe is the other One-drop of power, Vampire Lacerator.

Vampire Lacerator
Creature — Vampire Warrior
At the beginning of your upkeep, you lose 1 life unless an opponent has 10 or less life.

Yeah, it’s got a drawback, but that’s not really a drawback for an aggro deck. The potential downside is that the number of viable one-drops is going up. Red has a pretty good one in Goblin Guide, white has the Savannah Lions reprint, Elite Guard, and Green has the potentially troublesome Wild Nacatl, which just became more efficient and more powerful with Fetchlands now in the mix in Standard. On top of that, removal is getting cheaper with Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt both very playable options. Now, I doubt that either player will waste their removal on it, but they might, if they can’t get a sufficiently large blocker out in time. And against lifegain, forget about it. I suggest a sacrifice outlet (like maybe Vampire Aristocrat) just in case. Faeries had an outlet for Bitterblossom, (Mistbind Clique,) just in case. I met Bitterblossom, and Vampire Lacerator is no Bitterblossom.

Moving into Red, Goblin Ruinblaster has me intrigued. Non-basic usage will be down, for sure, but there will still be some played. I’ll probably never use Goblin Ruinblaster personally, as locally a good 3 color manabase is often described as “8 of each of the three basics, done.” Yes, I cringe too, but I also point it out every time they lose with uncastable cards in their hand. Try as I might, some players just don’t get the idea that your deck is 60 cards, not 36. Invest in the whole thing, kids, it’ll pay off in prize packs. Probably.

Other than that, Red has some interesting Allies, but I’m not sold yet. I like that a lot of the Ally abilities trigger on themselves when you play them, so you can get value out of even one. However, I haven’t seen enough low cost allies yet, and certainly not centralized enough in a color. If I’m going to go into more than two colors, I need to see cruel Ultimatum levels of power, or else I’d just be casting Cruel Ultimatum itself. So far, Allies doesn’t do that, so I need to see more localization in two powers. Perhaps by the end of the block, it will be viable. Heck, as I write this, we still only have 94 cards spoiled out of 249, and 20 of those are basic lands. There is still a lot of room to grow here.

The last card I want to talk about is Eternity Vessel. This is another card that looks great for Elder Dragon Highlander. Throw this bad boy down early, and keep resetting your life total, to the dismay of your opponents. Sure, they’ll remove it eventually, maybe even sooner than later. But every artifact kill aimed at Eternity Vessel is one that’s not aimed at Voltaic Key, or Sol Ring, or Umezawa’s Jitte, or… well, you get the picture. It’s not a bad 99th card to add, and could be potentially game-changing. Sounds good.

Here’s my update of Vam-Pyres, staying in Red/ Black but making a few changes.


4 Blade of the Bloodchief
4 Vampire Aristocrat
4 Bloodghast
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Goblin Assault
4 Vampire Lacerator
4 Doom Blade
3 Deathbringer Thoctar
2 Crumbling Necropolis
2 Savage Lands
2 Arid Mesa
2 Verdant Marsh
2 Obsidian Flats
4 Dragonskull Summit
2 Mountain
9 Swamp

I cut down the number of red fetchlands, but only have 3 spells requiring Red, so I think the 12 red sources justify the splash plenty. I cut Siege-Gang Commander and Vampire Nocturnus, although I may add Nocturnus back in depending on how creature heavy the format becomes. The potential for Deathbringer Thoctar to just go off on somebody’s creature base is just too good to pass up. I’m pretty sure that combo will make its way to my EDH deck as well.

What I like about this deck is that each of the pieces is slightly underpowered on its own, but still viable. There is a lot of synergy within the deck, and it has some decent reach with its ability to finish.

Let’s finish up with a Burn deck for Extended. Todd Anderson doesn’t expect Burn to be a good deck, but I think that there’s some potential. Let’s look at the following starting point, a boatload of Burn, or as I call it, (With apologies to Brian Kowal) Boat Burn:

Boat Burn

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Shard Volley
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Flame Javelin
4 Lava Spike
4 Incinerate
4 Magma Jet
4 Browbeat
4 Flames of the Blood Hand
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Great Furnace
12 Mountain

That’s just a pure burn version, but there may be a place for some creatures, shifting along the spectrum towards perhaps a Burn-Zoo Hybrid, with 12-16 creatures backed by a boatload of burn. Certainly having a few more artifacts in wouldn’t hurt, as right now Shrapnel Blast is a risk, albeit not too big, and with potentially good payoffs. However, you can see the extremely low curve here makes for some very explosive starts, and with the continuing diminishment in the number of playable counterspells, I think an evolved version of this could easily rush out and take an envelope or two in the early weeks, while the format sorts itself out.

As for creatures to add, Keldon Marauders, Hellspark Elemental, and Mogg Fanatic are all potentially playable, and Volcanic Fallout could be a good addition as well. Jitte would make a good potential sideboard card, as would engineered explosives, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a sideboard until the format starts shaping up.

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.