Innovations – Zendikar Thoughts: Snakes Alive!

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Monday, September 21st – With the Zendikar prerelease mere days away, Patrick Chapin looks at one of the most highly-anticipated cards due to arrive in the new set: Lotus Cobra! He examines its strengths and weaknesses, and shares his thoughts on a selection of other Zendikar goodies along the way… [Warning: Contains Spoilers.]

Man, the prerelease is literally days away, and only about half of Zendikar has been spoiled so far. That’s crazy. MTGSalvation.com is usually ruthlessly effective at uncovering the complete cardlist for upcoming sets further in advance than this. Still, props to those guys for helping get the information that we do have together, as this set seems like a good choice to have an inside scoop.

As if it was going to be any surprise, Wizards of the Coast sold out of the entire first run of Zendikar last week. Distributors are quickly clamping down on the last remaining cases they have allocated, and it is already coming to the surface that Zendikar really will be on par with M10 in the sales department, probably even surpassing it. Just remember, this is one time where you had “the hot stock tip.” What you chose to do with it is on you.

This week’s latest wave of spoilers continues to impress. Someone mentioned that maybe the set is not totally absurd, that we have just seen all the good/cool cards, and that the Powers That Be are only spoiling the crème-de-le-crème. I thought about this, and it does seem a plausible theory, except that each wave of new spoilers continues to bring more cool and powerful cards. When I was explaining this to a friend of mine that doesn’t play Magic, their theory was that maybe R&D has just gotten really good at their job.

I happen to think R&D is a great bunch of guys and gals anyway, but I gotta tell you, it does seem like they are doing a fantastic job of designing a variety of interesting cards that are good without being broken. For those that think my review is all sunshine and hyperbole, keep in mind that I am primarily reviewing the cards that I think are most interesting or strong (though there are plenty of good Limited cards or casual cards in Zendikar that I am not covering). In addition, I think Zendikar is strong, but I am not saying it is the strongest set ever. I just think it will be the best-selling set, despite Darksteel.

Without further ado, I would like to present the award for Most Discussed, Most Hyped Card. Some say its power level is on par with Mind’s Desire. Some writers even claim that this is the most powerful two-drop in the history of Magic. Ladies and gentlemen, the award for Most Hyped Two-Drop in History goes to…

I'm sorry Patrick, I'm really happy for you and I'll let you finish, but the alt text on [card name=

Oh, err, this is awkward.

Yeah, I guess it is pretty unfair to Lotus Cobra that there are people who actually have the nerve to claim it is better than Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant. Why can’t we just be happy that this guy is an exciting new tool to try in a plethora of strategies? I mean, no one doubts that Lotus Cobra is a good card; why does it have to be Better Than Tarmogoyf? Do you have any idea how exceptionally unlikely it is that any given creature is going to be better than Tarmogoyf?

There are 8,673 creatures in Magic. Let’s say we were to rank them from 8,673 (I don’t know, Wall of Wood maybe? Wood Elemental?) to 1, which is Tarmogoyf. To claim that Lotus Cobra is better than Tarmogoyf is to say that it is better than every creature in the game, ever. It is Ranked #1. If it turns out to merely be the 10th best or 20th best creature in the game, than it is still not better than Tarmogoyf (and I don’t think it is in the Top 20 of all time, that is for sure).

I was always Cobra Kai

Anyway, let’s start with the positive spin. Lotus Cobra is an accelerator, color fixer, implied card advantage, deadly threat, efficient, and it combos with a lot of really good cards.

Obviously the baseline way to use Lotus Cobra is to essentially have a 2/1 that is producing a mana of any color without having to tap (assuming you keep hitting your land drops). This is solid, but hardly breathtaking.

Anyone that has played Magic for at least an hour will realize that Fetchlands interact incredibly with Landfall, and the Lotus Cobra is no exception. Play a fetchland on turn 3 and you ramp straight to five mana for that Baneslayer that you love so very much (and will apparently live, since they obviously didn’t have an answer to your Lotus Cobra…). Of course Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary invented this trick back in the late nineties, but whatever.

But wait, there is more. If you play a Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch on turn 1, turn 2 you can play Lotus Cobra and a fetchland (which you don’t crack). Then turn 3 play another fetch land and ramp straight to seven mana. Now you can Cruel Ultimatum on turn 3! Ha, where is your Rofellos now? Under this scenario, he would make seven mana also, but you can’t use all that Green mana to Cruel Ultimatum, can you?!

As you can see, the potential upside to Lotus Cobra is pretty big. After all, all you have to do is imagine a scenario where two or three extra mana would be good, and viola!

The thing is, as much as I like to visit Magical Christmas Land, where I play decks that ruthlessly abuse Lotus Cobra, and I draw it, and my opponent can’t kill it, etc, even I do not live there. I think Lotus Cobra is good; very good, in fact. I just do not think it is in the same league as Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. As a matter of fact, I think there is a good chance that it is better than Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, and that is saying a lot, as that is a fine card that has done a lot of good things. I just know that no one ever claims Rofellos is superior to Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant.

I will not bore you with the “oh, they could just kill it” defense, as that is obviously somewhat flimsy. Sure they could, but how much have you really lost if they do? They might gain a mana on you if they Bolted it, right? That is not too bad.

The real issue is that we are comparing it to Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, the bar is going to be higher than what the text on Lotus Cobra can deliver. It could be “T: Add two mana of any color to your mana pool,” and it still wouldn’t be as good as them.

Reality Check:
You won’t always have a fetch land turn 3, even if you play 12.
You won’t always have him in your opening hand. A lot of two-drops are good turn 8…
You won’t always have something that costs a million in your hand to ramp into. Anyone that has played the Green creature decks with 36 mana sources (counting all the Elves and stuff) knows what I am talking about.
Sometimes your opponent will be able to react to what you are doing for cheap, for instance, Essence Scatter on a Baneslayer.
He really is going to die, a lot.

All things considered, I think that it would be best to take a step back, breathe, and start over with Lotus Cobra. Let it have its moment. This is its first Magic set. It probably always dreamed of being in a Magic set, without ever really thinking it actually would make it. This moment is supposed to be special. Why take this away from it? What kind of Mage would actually not understand Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant’s power at this point? Why does it have to be about those two, instead of letting Lotus Cobra enjoy its moment? It is a great new card, and a lot of people are going to have a lot of fun with it, plus it will surely put up some good finishes in a variety of tournaments. It is a great card.

I think Brian Kibler said it best,

“I’m not saying Lotus Cobra won’t be a very good card – I think it will be. I’m just saying people are looking too much at the best case scenarios with it and evaluating it based on that, but building decks to maximize those scenarios feels like it will be very high variance to me. It’s not the greatest card of all time — it’s only a tribute.”

What disappoints me is that Lotus Cobra is Mythic. This card doesn’t seem Mythic by any stretch of the definition. I mean, maybe when you consider the reaction to this card that some people have apparently had, but that definition is shady, because why isn’t Lightning Bolt a Mythic?

You know me, I am all about giving WotC the benefit of the doubt, as they often are working with information beyond what we in the public have to work with. Plus, they are obviously doing some things right… I mean, look at M10 and Zendikar. Still, let the record show that Lotus Cobra doesn’t feel right as a Mythic, and I have a pretty big tolerance for cards being “rared-up” to sell a set.

I was going to make a joke about one of the Traps in Zendikar being people buying playsets of Lotus Cobra, but that seems a little cheap.


Before I move on, let me cover some ideas on how to use Lotus Cobra beyond the MCL (Magic Christmas Land) ideas.

What about Lotus Cobra as your two-drop in a new Naya deck with Ranger of Eos, Wild Nacatl, Scute Mob, Knight of Reliquary, and more? Sometimes it will just be sweet to play a turn 2 Cobra and a turn 3 Ranger plus Wild Nacatl (with a Scute Mob in your hand).

Speaking of Scute Mob, I think this guy is sweet. I think he is going to be a decent finisher in some decks, as he is a finisher that can actually close out a game well, and he only costs one mana. The biggest downside is that he has very little defensive value and the very decks that would want him are the ones that most often need someone that can also defend. This is why he will never be Tarmogoyf.

A subtle upside is that this card is quite possibly the best creature in new Standard to get with a Ranger of Eos, and he helps turn Ranger into essentially a Bloodbraid Elf that always flips Esper Charm. I think that Ranger of Eos is really on the way up, as it works so very well with Wild Nacatl, which has improved with Arid Mesa as well as Scute Mob, not to mention plenty of other fine options like Goblin Guide, Steppe Lynx, or Noble Hierarch.

For reference:

Steppe Lynx
Creature – Cat
Landfall- +2/+2 until end of turn.

I won’t say much on this guy, other than to say that he is obviously a card with a fair amount of potential, since you can make him a “4/5” as long as you keep hitting land drops that are fetches. He is pretty bad on defense, although it is cute that if you have fetches sitting in play, you can threaten to block with him. When they don’t attack, you don’t even have to bust your fetchland.

This card isn’t crazy or anything, but it does seem worth trying in a lot of decks, especially if you have a mechanism for ensuring that you keep hitting your landfalls, such as Knight of Reliquary.

Post-Zendikar Standard G/W Aggro
Patrick Chapin

4 Wild Nacatl
4 Noble Hierarch
2 Scute Mob
4 Lotus Cobra
2 Thornling

2 Path to Exile
3 Journey to Nowhere
4 Ranger of Eos
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Baneslayer Angel

2 Behemoth Sledge
4 Knight of the Reliquary

4 Arid Mesa
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Verdant Catacombs (B/G Fetchland)
2 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Forest
3 Plains
1 Mountain
4 Sunpetal Grove

I wanted to put in Steppe Lynx, I really did, but I had to cut it after looking my list a couple of times, as it just didn’t feel right. That said, it definitely needs to be tried in a variety of decks.

Anyway, my point is that if you just use Lotus Cobra honestly, he can actually do some pretty sweet things without you having to jump through crazy hoops trying to shoot the moon. I know I just spent 2000 words criticizing Lotus Cobra, but honestly I was just being critical of trying to ask him to be anything more than what he is: a glorified Rofellos. He is definitely a good card, and unfortunately he is a Mythic of which you are probably going to want a playset, if you plan on building many Green creature decks during the next two years. He is probably not a “four-of in every Green deck” type of card, but he is good at what he does.

Journey to Nowhere
When Journey to Nowhere enters the battlefield, exile target creature.
When Journey to Nowhere leaves play, return the exiled creature to play under owner’s control.

This is the creature removal spell listed above, and I think it is pretty sweet. Path to Exile is awesome, no question, but it is nice to have a removal spell that you can plan on using on their early guys (like their Cobra, hehe).

This card obviously begs the comparison to Oblivion Ring, but in many regards I think the difference between Oblivion Ring and Journey to Nowhere will turn out to be like the difference between Cancel and Essence Scatter. One mana can make all the difference in the world.

Actually, speaking of counterspells, there is a cool new option for Blue Mages that has people talking, and rightfully so:

Spell Pierce
Counter target non-creature spell unless its caster pays 2.

This card is a little narrow for Standard, as not even Negate was universally accepted, and this card is more restrictive. Still, one mana can make all the difference in the world. I think the reliability of Negate or Countersquall is probably superior to the tempo in Standard, but what about in higher powered formats where there are fewer creatures? Now we are really talking. Plus, a format like Vintage cares especially much about the difference between a one-mana spell and a two-mana spell. I am excited to try a miser’s Spell Pierce in The Deck. A cool card, a cool design, and not too strong (which is a good spot for countermagic, most of the time).

Refuge or [card name=

As you can see, enemy fetches are not the only duals in the set. There is also a cycle of uncommon friendly-colored duals that are all templated the same as this.

These cards are not particularly strong or interesting, though it is nice that there is actually some kind of reward for playing two colors instead of three (you get a few extra points of life compared to a Seaside Citadel?)

Still, uncommon dual lands are nice, and I am all about it, I just wish the “enters the battlefield tapped” mechanic got used a little less. I know it is the easiest mechanic in the world to stick on a land, but come on, there have been eight (really) Coastal Towers in the past five years…

Morning Vastwood

It’s cool to see lands with positive enters the battlefield abilities, and I hope they do more with that theme in the next set. Oran-Rief, the Vastwood is a land I can really get behind, on the other hand. This one seems sweet on account of how flexible and efficient it is. It enters the battlefield tapped, sure, so that’s one mana. After that, however, it is no maintenance, no drawback. If have five mana and play a Bloodbraid Elf? Bam, you get bonuses. You only had four mana? No sweat, you lose nothing.

The key is that the ability doesn’t cost any mana (beyond the tapping of this land), ensuring that it is a very good card for spending your mana efficiently. I think a lot of people will sleep on this card, but it will turn out to be quite solid.

Another guy that has my curiosity piqued is Vampire Hexmage.

Vampire Hexmage
Creature – Vampire Shaman
First Strike
Sacrifice Vampire Hexmage: Remove all counters from target permanent.

At first you might think he is a 2/1 first strike that sacrifices to kill a Planeswalker, but he actually has many other interesting applications. First of all, a lot of opponents are going to put counters on their own cards. It is hard to anticipate this early what cards those will be, but imagine a timely solution to Chalice of the Void, or even Vivid Creek (in the right setting).

A second interesting feature is that this guy can actually mimic the old Mogg Fanatic trick. You can block, put his first strike damage “on the stack,” then sac him. This won’t really matter outside of gang-blocks, but it is interesting to think about. Could we soon see a Mogg Fanatic variant with First Strike (Hopefully not as a one-drop…)?

Finally, some clever players, such as Evan Erwin, have already realized that you can Vampire Hexmage your own permanents, should you have a permanent from which you really want to remove counters. One possible application is dropping a Birds of Paradise turn 1, then turn 2 Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths

This combo is one of those that will probably not pan out, but has an outside shot of being very exciting. Even if it doesn’t win that many tournaments, 10 out of 10 for style, no? Stupid Path to Exile

Ob Nixilis has fallen and he can't get up

One more card I want to talk about today is Ob Nixilis. I have to admit, at first, I did not think that highly of him, but he has really grown on me.

The key to evaluating Ob Nixilis is to imagine how the games will actually play out, since every random closer could look sweet in the right setting.

Ob Nixilis is best played as a six-drop. If you see him as a six-drop, you will greater appreciate how powerful and reliable he is. On turn 6, you play him, then immediately play a fetch land. Now you have a 6/6 and you have already dealt 3 to your opponent. If he has a removal spell that can actually kill a 9 toughness creature, respond by fetching and you have gotten in six extra points of damage, to make the trade a very profitable one for you. Should they not have a removal spell, you play any land next turn and you will have deal 9 points of direct damage and be attacking with a 12/12. That is a pretty fast clock.

Obviously he doesn’t directly have evasion, but his direct damage is better in many ways. Of course I used the perfect landfall scenario of “had a fetchland” but the difference is that even if you don’t have a fetchland, he is still a threat. Also, Lotus Cobra “dies to everything,” whereas when Ob Nixilis dies, at least he does 3-6 damage out the gate.

No, I will not be listing any Warp World decks today that take advantage of how insane Landfall is with everyone’s favorite Red Sorcery. Seriously though, it might be time…

Alright, I am getting on a plane and flying to Atlanta for the prerelease this weekend. That should be totally off the hook. See you guys next week, when the truth about Zendikar is finally revealed!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

PS. This card is not that good, but I sure like looking at it!

Foxy Lady!