Black Magic – Understanding Worldwake Through Deckbuilding

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Tuesday, January 26th – The new Worldwake cards are looking good, and everyone has plans and strategies built around their powerful effects. Today, Sam Black shares his outlook on a number of fresh offerings, suggesting a selection of interesting brainstormed decklists for experimentation in the new Standard metagame…

Wow. I’m really excited to discuss Worldwake. It’s not that I’m tremendously excited about any individual card, but rather that, taken holistically, I think the set is very interesting. Rather than build the flow of discussion around working in card text, Worldwake cards with be marked with a * the first time they appear, and all * cards will have text listed at the bottom of the article

I feel like Zendikar and Worldwake have done a lot to increase the value of a mana. This is not strictly a power creep issue, but that is somewhat related. More important is the tension between insane one-drops and insane lands that enter the battlefield tapped. I expect this tension to be one of the primary driving forces in Standard. Consider the one-drops: Savannah Lions used to be among the best creatures in Magic. It has fallen so far that Elite Vanguard is barely playable in strategies that are perfect for him (Boros). I’m even at the point where I think Savannah Lions shouldn’t be in the cube. Amusingly, one of the creatures that trumps it is the new Loam Lion*, a creature which, somewhat ironically, actually loves the Savannah. Loam Lion is good. It will probably be played. It will not have an impact anywhere near as strong as the impact Kird Ape had when it was reprinted. The reason is that we’ve come so far from 2/1 for one that it’s hard to even get that excited about a 2/3 for one. Granted, Wild Nacatl isn’t exactly a 3/3 for one in Standard, but Steppe Lynx is pretty close to being a 4/5 for one. It’s nice that the two are in the same color, but unfortunate for their specific interaction that there’s no Windswept Heath. I feel like I should mention Goblin Guide somewhere in the paragraph about one-drops getting better, so here he is. He’s even better now.

It’s pretty awkward to claim that Goblin Guide is better immediately after talking about a one mana 2/3 that more or less completely trumps him, but that’s where we are. Why? Well, Standard is looking more and more like it’s going to be about mana more than it’s about cards. The enters the battlefield tapped lands are so amazing that it’s almost impossible not to play several of them, and that slows people down, which keeps cards in their hand longer, which increases the odds that they’ll be unable to utilize the cards Goblin Guide gives them, or, better yet, that they’ll literally just have to discard them. This is the best thing you can do to punish someone for Treasure Hunting for multiple cards. And as for the 2/3 that’s holding him back, well, if you’re playing Red, you were probably going to have a pretty rough time beating Green and White creatures anyway, let’s be honest. More importantly, all these insane enters the battlefield tapped lands (which I’ll get to in more detail soon, I promise), make the Forest requirement pretty inconvenient. If you want to play Loam Lion, you’re going to have to work pretty hard to build a manabase that truly supports him, and even then, if you’re on the draw, Goblin Guide has hit you for 4 before the earliest you want to block with him.

I think it’s correct to try to understand where Standard is (or might be) going largely through Treasure Hunt*. It doesn’t particularly matter if you’re convinced that this card is the second coming of [insert whatever card draw spell you want to compare it to], what matters is how excited people like Patrick Chapin and LSV, who can do a lot to drive a metagame, are about it. People are going to play with this card. As Patrick Chapin explained yesterday, there are a lot of reasons to play this card (mostly just that it’s a surprisingly powerful card draw spell). I think there is a good chance that it will disappoint. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m not saying I think it’s as overhyped as I thought Lotus Cobra was. With Lotus Cobra, I thought it was likely that I wouldn’t play the card because I didn’t know what the deck that played it would look like. I think I’ll be playing with Treasure Hunt. Specifically, I think it’s more than 50% likely that I’ll be playing with it in PT: San Diego. However, I think there’s a chance that the card is just too slow, too low impact. If mana is more valuable, spending two mana to cycle is a much larger cost. If my draw needs me to cast that card early, I’m more likely pay a larger chunk of my life total in damage by letting a larger cheap creature hit me an extra time over using that mana for a removal spell. This format very well could still be about more proactive, tempo positive ways to generate card advantage, like cascade. This problem is compounded by the fact that Treasure Hunt works best with other library manipulation, like Halimar Depths*, which means decks that want to play it are going to put themselves even further behind with more library manipulation. This might just mean that the best approach will often be to plan to do something else on turn 2, and to Treasure Hunt later in the game, but if that’s the plan, then you’re not really planning to smooth draws with it. This is often the goal of cheap card draw, and you might be better off playing potentially more powerful late game card draw like Mysteries of the Deep. Let’s assume for the moment that Treasure Hunt is powerful enough to work for, and consider what happens when you actually try to put it in a deck.

Treasure Hunt obviously likes to be played with a lot of lands, since that increases the average number of cards it will draw. There exists some tension though, in that decks that have the ability to draw a lot of lands often want to play fewer lands, because you can only actually use so many lands. Explore* happens to be another card that wants you to play a lot of lands, and allows you to use more of them. This means that it plays extremely well with Treasure Hunt. The only problem, of course, is that now we’re compounding the problem of wasting too much increasingly precious mana on cards that don’t particularly impact the board. Still, I assume that the right mix of cheap removal and powerful finishers can overcome that problem. That’s what the rest of a deck that uses these cards together will have to be, incidentally. Cheap removal and powerful finishers. You can’t spend all this mana on incremental card advantage and then hope to compete with the creatures your opponent played while you were doing that by playing your own. They’ll just path them and kill you. You need cheap removal to make up for the tempo loss and preserve your life total while your card advantage works, and powerful finishers because so much of your deck is going to be dedicated to cards that don’t win the game that you’ll have to be able to win with relatively few actually win conditions.

The problem is that you’re playing Blue and Green, which aren’t great at those things, particularly cheap removal. This means we’re going to need a third color. Something other than White would be ideal, because the mana on 3 allied colors has become extremely awkward, which is another issue I promise to come back to, but take my word on in for now. This is unfortunate, because I’d love to have Path to Exile with those cards, but Lightning Bolt or Smother will have to do. Sorry, I’m talking about a deck I’m trying to build without really doing enough work to spell it all out.

I want to start with an engine of 4 Halimar Depths, 4 Treasure Hunt, 4 Explore, 4 Misty Rainforest, and probably some Khalni Gardens* to buy time. Since I’m going to have 4 mana on turn 3, and I’m playing Blue, I assume I’ll want at least three copies of Treasure Hunt’s best friend: Jace, the Mind Sculptor*. I’m assuming I’ll want 26-27 lands, at least 4 more of which are fetch lands. I also think I’ll want 3-4 Time Warps, because I think that card is incredible if you can afford to have it sit in your hand until you have 5 lands, particularly if you’re playing planeswalkers. From there I think Red and Black are both reasonable, and there’s an option on trying to go creatureless or not. If you’re playing creatures, I think Lotus Cobra might fit very well, since it has synergistic interactions all over the place with the cards I already want to play. Consider something like this for the Black creature version:

4 Lotus Cobra
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Smother
4 Treasure Hunt
4 Explore
1 Into the Roil
3 Jace, The Mind Sculptor
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
3 Time Warp
2 Sorin Markov
2 Essence Scatter
2 Negate
2 Khalni Garden
4 Halimar Depths
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Creeping Tar Pits*
4 Drowned Catacombs
2 Forest
2 Island
2 Swamp

2 Pithing Needle
2 Doom Blade
3 Disfigure
2 Negate
3 Flashfreeze
2 Infest
1 Naturalize

Pithing Needle is in the board both because this deck could have problems with opposing Planewalkers and Luminarch Ascension, and because it’s important to bring in against Vampires to stop Vampire Hexmage from killing your Planeswalkers. The rest of the sideboard is just to tune answers to the deck you’re playing against. The Green looks a little out of place, so it’s entirely possible to just cut it for more removal and replace Explore with Everflowing Chalice*, but the fetch lands are good anyway for Jace and Halimar Depths, so I think it’s reasonable.

The Red version would look similar enough, but without Nighthawk I’m less inclined to play Lotus Cobra since it would just turn on their removal, and given the existence of Everflowing Chalice to take Explore’s slot, it might be best to consider the future of UWR, based on LSV’s SCG LA deck:

3 Sphinx Of Jwar Isle
4 Wall Of Denial
2 Double Negative
2 Essence Scatter
2 Negate
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Path To Exile
3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Earthquake
1 Mysteries of the Deep
1 Mind Spring
4 Treasure Hunt
4 Everflowing Chalice
3 Island
2 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Arid Mesa
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Celestial Colonnade
4 Halimar Depths

3 Baneslayer Angel
3 Luminarch Ascension
3 Flashfreeze
2 Mind Control
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Essence Scatter
1 Negate
1 Pithing Needle

The changes to this deck fit very nicely. The deck loses most of its 3 mana spells, but it picks up Chalice, making threes less important, and it picks up fours to take advantage of Chalice. Jace fits nicely with what the deck is trying to do, and combines well with Treasure Hunts. Given the desire for fetch lands to play with Jace and Halimar Depths, and given how well those work with Treasure Hunt, Blue is looking like it wants to be played in a wedge (3 colors that are not a shard or arch), and this is probably where it will usually end up.

Something I want to mention off the topic of Standard, but before I move away from talking about Treasure Hunt, is its applications to Lands! in Legacy. I’ve seen a number of people suggest that it will be awesome in that deck, and I think that belief represent a substantial fundamental misunderstanding of that deck that I’d like to try to clear up (although I haven’t actually played the deck yet). The goal of the deck is to get an accelerator down and start playing Life from the Loam as often and quickly as possible. Once that happens, all you want to see is lands. The deck only works because of its huge land density. Mox Diamond is amazing, and I don’t think there’s any way it can be cut. It makes the mana better, the deck faster, lets you Manabond while keeping a cycling land out of play, and gives you mana to kill Blood Moon. Explorations and Manabonds are the engine, so they can’t be cut. That leaves Intuitions, Gambles, and lands. Replacing Intuitions and Gambles makes finding Loam harder and sideboard cards less effective. Getting a random spell isn’t desirable, since most of the spells in the deck are only good on turn 1. Yes, it will draw a bunch of lands, but so will Mulch, the issue is that as long as your deck is working, you already have plenty of those thanks to Loam. Maybe some kind of different Land deck that is less dependent on the graveyard, using Mulch and Treasure Hunt instead of Loam to get all the extra lands, and using Crucible of Worlds to recycle wastelands with Treasure Hunt to help find it could be built, but that deck is less powerful. It is less vulnerable to hate though, so maybe it’s worth trying, but Treasure Hunt can’t be slotted into the existing Lands! deck, it has to change the engine. Just an aside that people have asked about. Anyway, back to Standard:

It is unfitting to discuss Standard for this long without mentioning Jund. I think Jund took a huge hit from Worldwake. The new lands are incredible, particularly the man lands, and Jund’s M10 Duals start to fall apart if it tries to squeeze in more enters the battlefield tapped lands. The M10 duals can be cut for man land duals, and the solution is probably to cut just 2-3 of them for 2-3 man lands, but the situation isn’t ideal. More importantly, Treasure Hunt is at its best against Blightning. What better use is there for all those extra lands you can’t play fast enough than to discard them to minimize the impact of getting hit by Blightning? The most likely card I see helping Jund is Searing Blaze*, which works very well with its incidental damage plan, but the double Red casting cost is a little unfortunate. It’s possible that that and Explore will have Jund players dropping Putrid Leech and moving further from Black. Concentrating basic lands in Red and Green would allow it to play 4 Rootbound Crag and cut some Dragonskull Summits for Lavaclaw Reaches to minimize the detriment of entering the battlefield tapped.

Getting back to Loam Lion, let’s see what we can do with that:

4 Loam Lion
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Steward of Valeron
4 Kor Firewalker*
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Emeria Angel
3 Baneslayer Angel
3 Path to Exile
4 Honor the Pure
3 Marshal’s Anthem*
4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Worldwake GW Dual
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Sejiri Steppe*
4 Marsh Flats
3 Verdant Catacombs
3 Forest
5 Plains

1 Path to Exile
2 Luminarch Ascension
4 Devout Lightcaster
4 White Knight
1 Baneslayer Angel
1 Brave the Elements
2 Refraction Trap*

It’s possible that Baneslayer should be Conqueror’s Pledge, but I think the ability to bring it back with Marshal’s Anthem is enough to make me want to try Baneslayer instead. Sejiri Steppe appears to exist entirely because Knight of the Reliquary just wasn’t good enough before. I actually like this deck a lot. It has enough pressure to punish people for coming out too slowly, and a lot of hate for the other aggressive decks. Oblivion Ring and Martial Coup are both cards I’d keep in mind for this kind of archetype.

Aggressive W/U Allies almost looks good enough, but unless there’s another very good ally, I think the deck just ends up looking a little worse than this. It’s possible that unblockable lifelinkers are good enough though; perhaps something like:

4 Hada Freeblade*
4 Kazandu Blademaster
4 Jwari Shapeshifter*
3 Ondu Cleric
4 Kabira Evangel
4 Talus Paladin
2 Ranger of Eos
3 Join the Ranks
2 Negate
3 Path to Exile
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Journey to Nowhere
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Sejiri Refuge
3 Celestial Colonnade
2 Island
7 Plains
3 Tectonic Edge*

1 Ondu Cleric
4 Devout Lightcaster
4 Kor Firewalker
2 Brave the Elements
2 Sea Gate Loremaster
2 Flashfreeze

Another option would be to go Mono White Allies with Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Knight of the White Orchid. This deck actually looks a little better than I was expecting it to, so allies might make some waves. I’m excited about finding a place where Tectonic Edge might work. I’d like one in the Knight of the Reliquary deck above, but I was worried about it not having enough uses for colorless lands and I didn’t feel comfortable cutting any of the colored lands in the deck. Without Loam Lion this deck’s mana is a little more flexible, but I’m not sure if it’s a card you ever really want to play the full four copies.

Quest for Ula’s Temple* is a card I’m curious about. It looks like a silly casual card at first, and it is slow to set up, but the effect so potentially powerful that I think it might be worth seriously considering. It shouldn’t be that hard to build a Blue deck that can wait a few turns before putting an Inkwell Leviathan into play for free and winning, right? The problem is that that kind of deck generally doesn’t want to play a lot of creatures, and this card forces you to do so. Also, even if you do play a lot of creatures, how many expensive sea monsters can you really fit in a deck? This is another card that works beautifully with Jace. Jace can keep putting the same creature back on top to reveal, and help you get rid of extra quests or sea monsters, and help make sure that when you do find the temple, there’s a monster there. Consider something as simple as:

4 Deft Duelist
4 Wall of Denial
4 Calcite Snapper
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
4 Inkwell Leviathan
4 Treasure Hunt
4 Everflowing Chalice
4 Quest for Ula’s Temple
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Sejiri Refuge
4 Kabira Crossroads
4 Halimar Depths
4 Misty Rainforest
5 Island

3 Celestial Purge
2 Pithing Needle
3 Negate
1 Into the Roil
3 Luminarch Ascension
3 Mind Control

Probably not great, but it would cause problems for some decks. I think this is largely a case where trying to build it made me a little less optimistic about Quest for Ula’s Temple, but that’s really one of the important points I’m trying to get to here. The best way to evaluate a new card that looks like it could have potential because it does something new and different is to try to picture it in a deck that could take advantage of it. The reason I was never that excited about Lotus Cobra was because I just couldn’t picture the decks that were going to let him do all those insane things people were talking about.

This set has a similar card. I’ve heard that a lot of people are talking about Amulet of Vigor, but I’m just not seeing it. Yes, it’s awesome with Ravnica duals, but is that really your plan in Extended? You’re going to hope to draw an Amulet of Vigor and play enough Ravnica duals that it generates a bunch of mana? What expensive spells are you going to play with that mana, and what are you going to do when you don’t have the Amulet? Maybe you just want to play it in Standard with a lot of “enters the battlefield tapped” lands. That’s fine, but how many of those can you really play? And once you’ve done all this work in deckbuilding, isn’t it basically just a Birds of Paradise at best? I’ll admit that I’m not usually the person to find the awesome combo cards, but this one just looks terrible to me.

Lodestone Golem* is fundamentally an extremely powerful card. Yes, it’s very easy to kill, but in the meantime, it’s insane. I can only assume this is the most ridiculous thing since Trinisphere with Mishra’s Workshop, but I’m not really all that interested in its Vintage applications. I’m curious as to whether we’ve finally hit the point where Esper as an artifact creature deck is playable:

4 Court Homunculus
4 Esper Stormblade
4 Etherium Sculptor
4 Master of Etherium
3 Ethersworn Shieldmage
4 Lodestone Golem
3 Sanctum Gargoyle
3 Everflowing Chalice
3 Path to Exile
1 Journey to Nowhere
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
2 Thopter Foundry
4 Fieldmist Borderpost
2 Glacial Fortress
2 Celestial Colonnade
7 Plains
7 Island

3 Open the Vaults
2 Spell Pierce
2 Negate
3 Celestial Purge
3 Flashfreeze
2 Pithing Needle

I like how easy it is to play turn 3 Lodestone Golem. I like that Master of Etherium is similarly important to kill, and lets Lodestone Golem survive a Lightning Bolt. I like Sanctum Gargoyles, and I think the Open the Vaults backup plan could be pretty exciting. I’m still not sure Court Homunculus isn’t terrible, but I want more pressure against control decks. The deck also might need another multicolored artifact creature for Esper Stormblade. Basilisk Collar* is interesting, particularly with Thopter Foundry, but I’m not confident enough in that one yet.

Understand that these decklists are for brainstorming purposes only. They exist to consider what sort of things new cards are capable of, rather than as suggestions for finals lists to play in tournaments. This is particularly true when I don’t even know every card in the format yet. I hope that between the general theory and preliminary lists, you’ve come away with a substantially better understanding of how Worldwake could impact Standard.

Thanks for reading…


Worldwake Cards:

Loam Lion
Creature – Cat
Loam Lion gets +1/+2 as long as you control a forest.

Treasure Hunt
Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a nonland card, then put all cards revealed this way into your hand.

Halimar Depths
Halimar Depths enters the battlefield tapped.
When Halimar Depths enters the battlefield, look at top three cards of your library and put them back in any order.
T: Add U to your mana pool.

Draw a card. You may play an additional land this turn.

Khalni Garden
Khalni Garden enters the battlefield tapped.
When Khalni Garden enters the battlefield, put a 0/1 green Plant creature token onto the battlefield.
T: Add G to your mana pool.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalker – Jace
[+2]: Look at the top card of target player’s library. You may put that card on the bottom of that player’s library.
[0]: Draw three cards, then put two cards from your hand on top of your library in any order.
[-1]: Return target creature to its owner’s hand.
[-12]: Exile all cards from target player’s library, then that player shuffles his or her hand into his or her library.
Loyalty: 3

Creeping Tar Pits
Creeping Tar Pits enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add U or B to your mana pool.
1UB: Until end of turn, Creeping Tar Pits becomes a 3/2 blue and black Elemental creature and is unblockable. It’s still a land.

Everflowing Chalice
Multikicker 2
Everflowing Chalice enters the battlefield with a charge counter on it for each time it was kicked.
T: Add 1 to your mana pool for each charge counter on Everflowing Chalice.

Searing Blaze
Searing Blaze deals 1 damage to target player and 1 damage to target creature that player controls.
Landfall – If you had a land enter the battlefield under your control this turn, Searing Blaze deals 3 damage to that player and 3 damage to that creature instead.

Kor Firewalker
Creature – Kor Soldier
Protection from red
Whenever a player casts a red spell, you may gain 1 life.

Marshal’s Anthem
Multikicker 1W
Creatures you control get +1+1.
When Marshal’s Anthem enters the battlefield, return up to X target creature cards from your graveyard to the battlefield, where X is equal to the number of times Marshal’s Anthem was kicked.

Sejiri Steppe
Sejiri Steppe enters the battlefield tapped.
When Sejiri Steppe enters the battlefield, you may have target creature gain protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.
T: Add W to your mana pool.

Refraction Trap
Instant – Trap
If an opponent cast a red instant or sorcery spell this turn, you may pay W rather than pay Refraction Trap’s mana cost.
Prevent the next 3 damage that a source of your choice would deal to you and/or permanents you control. Refraction Trap deals that much damage to target creature or player.

Hada Freeblade
Creature – Human Soldier Ally
Whenever Hada Freeblade or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Hada Freeblade.

Jwari Shapeshifter
Creature – Shapeshifter Ally
You may have Jwari Shapeshifter enter the battlefield as a copy of any Ally creature on the battlefield.

Tectonic Edge
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
1, T: Sacrifice Tectonic Edge: Destroy target nonbasic land. Activate this ability only if an opponent controls four or more lands.

Quest for Ula’s Temple
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may look at the top card of your library. If it’s a creature card, you may reveal it and put a quest counter on Quest for Ula’s Temple.
At the beginning of each end step, if there are three or more quest counters on Quest for Ula’s Temple, you may put a Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus, or Serpent creature card from your hand onto the battlefield.

Lodestone Golem
Artifact Creature – Golem
Nonartifact spells cost 1 more to cast.

Basilisk Collar
Artifact – Equipment
Equipped creature has deathtouch and lifelink.
Equip 2