Black Magic – Landfall in Standard

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Tuesday, October 6th – When a new set hits the Constructed scene, its fresh mechanics have the potential to cause a mighty stir. Sam Black believes that Zendikar’s Landfall mechanic is sufficiently strong to crash the sixty-card party. Today, he provides some fledgling Landfall strategies and decks for Standard play.

With the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia this coming Saturday, the time has finally come to take a look at the new Standard. I won’t be able to attend the tournament this weekend, and I’ve been focusing on Extended and Limited for Pro Tour: Austin, but I’ve been impressed enough by the insane turns I’ve seen in Limited with landfall that I have to wonder how it would look in Standard. Today, I’m going to talk through building decks to take advantage of this explosive mechanic – and I hope that is the most high-school-essay-sounding sentence I ever write.

First, I’ve loved 18-19 land aggro decks in Limited. You usually get mana flooded, but it usually doesn’t matter, because hitting a land drop every turn is giving you so much value out of the few spells you do draw that you win anyway. This deck will probably try to operate similarly. I’m going to need a lot of fetchlands, which means I’m going to need a lot of basics. The aggressive landfall cards are in Red and White, so I’ll be playing those colors, and when I’m playing a lot of Mountains and Plains it’s pretty hard not to splash for Wild Nacatl, so let’s start there:

4 Steppe Lynx
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Plated Geopede

Once I have 4 Wild Nacatls and I think they’re going to be 3/3s, it’s hard not to add 4 Ranger of Eos, especially since I’m planning to hit my curve. At that point, I’d like to be able to search Scute Mobs, so let’s get a couple of those in there. Next, if I’m going all-in on making landfall work, I want Adventuring Gear, as that card can just get nutty. That gives me my aggressive skeleton.

If I’m playing an aggressive R/W deck, I can’t really imagine not playing 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Path to Exiles, especially given how awesome Pathing my own creature as a combat trick could be in this deck. That leaves us at:

4 Steppe Lynx
4 Wild Nacatl
2 Scute Mob
4 Adventuring Gear
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Plated Geopede
4 Ranger of Eos

That’s a little creature light. Let’s consider our other options:

Goblin Guide: I’m looking to finish them off as quickly as possible, and this guy’s fast. Unfortunately, I think he’s at his best in a format where there aren’t a lot of other early creatures running around so that he has a better chance to get a few hits in before trading with value for your opponent. I don’t think he’ll be right for Standard unless it ends up revolving around cascade decks rather than soldiers and vampires and other early creatures. If the format does turn out to be dominated by cascade decks that aren’t doing much in the first few turns, this guy could be awesome. It’s also pretty nice to be able to find a haster with Ranger of Eos when the extra 2 points wins the game on the spot, so playing just one or two isn’t out of the question.

Noble Hierarch: I’m mostly including him to explain why I think he shouldn’t be played even though he’s awesome with Ranger of Eos. This deck already has to play more mana sources than it wants to, so I don’t want to use one of my few exceptionally valuable spell slots on an additional mana source.

Lotus Cobra: For the exact same reason, I’m reluctant to include Lotus Cobra even though my deck is built to trigger him a lot. I just don’t expect to be able to do anything with all the extra mana.

River Boa: Regeneration is rare and awesome in this format, and this is a solid creature that carries Adventurer’s Gear very well.

Grazing Gladehart: I’m guessing you didn’t expect me to go here. I don’t think it’s actually possible to race this card in an aggressive mirror. They have to kill him, and even when they do, you’re already up if you play him on turn 4. This is a serious card to consider.

Oracle of Mul Daya: I’m not so sure about a four mana 2/2, but the effect is awesome as soon as it hits play, and it gains a lot of value with fetchlands as a way to try again on hitting a free land off the top. It also just gives you excellent late game, as you’ll almost always draw spells.

Bloodbraid Elf: I can’t really leave this guy out without a good reason, but I think he’s probably worse than the other four-drops here, given how many cards I have that I’m not that pumped about cascading into. He’s generally too slow for what I’m trying to do here.

I don’t think I can choose the final creatures I want without considering what other spells the deck might be playing. The most interesting spells at this point are:

Burst Lightning: If I didn’t already have eight one-mana removal spells, I’d be a lot more interested in this. It’s a great fit for the deck, since you’ll want to kick it a lot of the time, and that won’t be a problem, but I think the card is just enough worse than Lightning Bolt that we can’t play it over Lightning Bolt, and I don’t know that the deck wants both.

Zektar Shrine Expedition: Explosive landfall card? Check. My only concern is that when you telegraph a Ball Lightning this far in advance, the opponent can probably save a removal spell for it. On the other hand, you can hold onto it and play it for free whenever, so they probably have to tap out sometime. I think this card is probably awesome here.

Harrow: I’m not entirely sure what we’re doing with the acceleration, but it’s probably worth it just as a pump spell. It is eight extra damage for a net cost of one mana if you have two landfall guys out, after all.

Possible list:

Let me explain some of these numbers: I don’t have room for everything I want while playing enough lands to make the mana work (both in terms of number of color sources and hitting all my land drops, especially while playing fetchlands and having lands to fetch). As a result, I had to do some trimming. Three Lightning Bolt looks really weird, but I as I mentioned earlier, I need to get as much mileage as I can out of each of my cards, and Lightning Bolt doesn’t really pull its weight in terms of letting me win when I have fewer spells than my opponent as well as some of the other options. Harrow and Ranger of Eos were trimmed again because they are cards of which I could easily draw too many copies. I only really want to see one of each per game. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t fit some of the other cards, like Zektar Shrine Expedition in, but there’s always the sideboard.

Incidentally, I won’t be listing sideboards this week. I’m brainstorming, and I don’t know enough about the field to give you useful suggestions.

The other way I wanted to go with Landfall takes lands in a more traditional direction: I want to get a lot of them and use them to cast big spells. I want this spells to be variably big, so that I can use them regardless of whether my Lotus Cobra lives or my Khalni Heart Expedition fires. That means I want to cast spells like Mind Spring and Sphinx of Lost Truths. I want to keep it to two colors if I can, but splashing for Ob Nixilis is certainly not out of the question. Consider the following manabase, assuming I do want to splash Ob Nixilis:

4 Khalni Heart Expedition
4 Harrow
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Scalding Tarn
3 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Swamp
5 Forest
4 Island

That’s 37 cards. That leaves us with 23 cards to win the game. That means that, as much as I would like to trigger my Ior Ruin Expedition the turn I play it and draw 2 cards, I probably can’t use a slot to do that – they’re just too valuable. The same can be said of Birds of Paradise. Yes, it would be nice to be able to play Birds on turn 1 and then play an Expedition or a Cobra on turn 2 before playing my land, but I can’t play spells that are that low impact, or I’ll just lose to flooding.

The payoff is that I should be able to do unreasonable things in the mid to late game, so let’s build to that. First, I’m going to need to live to get there, and I think Grazing Gladehart is the man for that in this deck. Next, I think Oracle of Mul Daya should be totally unreasonable here, so I want to include that as a card draw/acceleration engine. With that in place, I just want to do unreasonable things. Consider this for the last 23:

4 Grazing Gladehart
3 Oracle of Mul Daya
4 Time Warp
4 Sphinx of Lost Truths
2 Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
2 Mind Spring
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Rite of Replication
1 Into the Roil

This list very rough. It doesn’t contain planeswalkers, which I think could be wrong. It also has exactly one way to get a permanent off the board and no way to counter a spell. You’re just trying to gain enough life that they can’t race you, and win with some big spells. This strategy is unbelievably terrible against countermagic. Fortunately, most of the counters in Standard are bad enough not to see play.

Time Warp could easily suffer from the problem of being too low impact as one of your few spells, but the extra land drops can be spicy enough that it seems worth testing. This card would definitely like to work with Jace Beleren or Garruk Wildspeaker, but if the defensive plan is to gain life with Gladehart, then we don’t really have a plan to protect our planeswalkers, so they’re probably too much of a liability.

I hate that I couldn’t get Scute Mobs in here, since it really is the best card to draw off a Mind Spring or Sphinx of Lost Truths, but without anything to draw out removal, I think it’ll just die. Oracle of Mul Daya and Grazing Gladehart also have this problem, but at least we can get some value out of them first (this is especially true with the Gladehart if we have a ready Expedition in play).

I’m not sure which finishers are right, clearly, which is why I suggested a mix. Ob Nixilis can kill people almost on the spot, but I’m not sure that it’s worth splashing for considering that you can do similar things in color with Rampaging Baloths. Rite of Replication is another card that I wanted access to because it’s good on two totally different levels of investment. If things aren’t working out, a Clone can help stabilize, and if things are working out, five of them should probably win the game.

Roil Elemental seems like a sweet sideboard card if anyone else isn’t playing removal. Mold Shambler wouldn’t be bad either, so that we’d have a way to kill planeswalkers.

The deck could splash White instead of Black and play Day of Judgment and/or Ranger of Eos plus Scute Mob, but White is harder to splash because we don’t get to search for Plains off our fetchlands, and I don’t want to play the M10 lands because then we start running short of lands to find with our fetches. This would be a huge problem if our manabase looked anything like the manabase in the first deck, since we have Harrows and Khalni Heart Expeditions as well.

Both of these decks are rough skeletons, but I think there’s enough explosive power to both that they’re worth investigating and tuning. Zendikar’s mechanics are going to be real players in Standard, and there’s a lot here to build around. This is pretty exciting, since it means we will be looking at a fresh, new Standard metagame. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading…