Innovations – Zendikar, Valakut, and Other Fun Words

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Monday, August 31st – With Zendikar just around the corner, Patrick Chapin examines some of the stronger cards from the rumor mills and spoiler sites. He brings us some interesting Extended decks with the new set in mind, plus a host of other interesting ideas and opinions…

Warning: Spoiler Alert!

Zendikar is on the horizon, and we are getting our first tastes of a set that promises to build on the successes of M10 and continue a red hot time for Magic. I have a lot on the agenda today, including talking about some Zendikar cards, Extended, Baneslayer, Zvi, Planechase, and more.

To start with, let’s look at one of the most exciting cards spoiled thus far:

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle enters the Battlefield tapped. Whenever a Mountain enters the battlefield under your control, if you control at least 5 other mountains, you may have Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deal 3 damage to target player or creature.
T: Add R to your mana pool.

This card is going to have obvious Standard implications, and it’s an exciting reexamination of Keldon Megaliths. I like a lot of possibilities with this card, but the one that has me most excited is the idea I was discussing with World of Warcraft Superstar Phil Cape yesterday.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle plus Scapeshift.

Valakut Naya

4 Scapeshift
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Harmonize

4 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Lightning Helix
2 Kitchen Finks
1 Firespout

3 Path to Exile

2 Engineered Explosives
3 Chalice of the Void

2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Vesuva
1 Mosswort Bridge
1 Treetop Village
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Temple Garden
1 Plains
1 Mountain
2 Snow-covered Forest
2 Forest

If you Scapeshift with seven lands, you can get a Valakut and six “Mountain” to deal 18 to your opponent. With a Flagstones, you deal 21. With eight land, you get an extra Valakut and deal 36. This deck is a really rough first attempt at abusing this interaction. I think there are many possible applications for this combo, and I really don’t yet know the best direction to go. Here is another possibility:

Valakut Tooth

3 Tooth and Nail
3 Scapeshift
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
3 Sylvan Scrying
1 Eternal Witness
1 Life from the Loam

2 Firespout

3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Pestermite
1 Condescend

1 Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror Breaker

4 Chalice of the Void
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Sundering Titan
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Duplicant
1 Mindslaver

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
1 Academy Ruins
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Tolaria West
4 Cloudpost
4 Vesuva
4 Stomping Ground
4 Breeding Pools
1 Steam Vents
1 Yavimaya Coast
1 Mountain
1 Island
1 Snow-covered Forest
2 Forest

Remember that Vesuva can serve as an additional Valakut or a Mountain. There are so many ways to use this combo, and it is particularly exciting because it is a “one-card-combo.”

I am glad that it looks like Valakut is not Mythic, and I recommend picking these up.

Let’s look at a card that uses one of the new twists to Zendikar…

Whiplash Trap
Instant — Trap
When two or more creatures enter the battlefield under an opponent’s control this turn, you may pay U rather than pay Whiplash Traps casting cost. Return two target creatures to their owner’s hand.

It's a trap!


The first thing that jumps off this card is the Trap sub-type. The common link for Traps is presumably that if the Trap condition is met, you can play the card for some cost other than its casting cost. Personally, I like the flavor and the mechanical implications. I always really enjoy alternative casting costs, and the conditional alternative costs that are not zero are full of potential for interesting gameplay.

There is no question that there will be no shortage of teenage boys screaming “IT’S A TRAP!” in their best Admiral Ackbar voice.


There is no question there will be times where this will be funny and, with good comedic timing, many lols are to be had, but I assure you, this joke will be used approximately 34 times as often as it should. Don’t be that guy!

As far as Whiplash Trap itself goes, this one looks sweet in Limited, with an outside shot at Constructed, though I am guessing it will be played a lot more at first than it probably should. Most likely, it is just not going to be worth doing in Constructed unless you are planning on targeting your own guys.

When it comes to Limited, this card seems totally sweet. It has the potential to be a huge tempo swing, and will likely be especially devastating at first, before people realize that they can play around it.

I happen to really like when there are good cards that are especially powerful against people who don’t know the correct way to play against them.

I wonder if there will be Splice onto Trap…? Hehe!

Here is one of the Planeswalkers that will be debuting in Zendikar:

Sorin Markov
Planeswalker — Sorin
+2: Deal 2 damage to target player or creature and gain 2 life.
-3: Target opponent’s life total becomes 10.
-7: You control target player’s next turn.
Loyalty: 4

Sorin is already drawing a fair bit of attention, but it is hard to say if that is just because he is the only Planeswalker in Zendikar that is totally spoiled so far, or if it is actually as good as some say. Personally, I think he will probably be initially overrated. People will think he will reignite Mono-Black control. He won’t. They will try to build a million decks around him. It won’t work.

This is when the backlash will set in. People say that he sucks, and he will be ridiculed just as Ajani Goldmane once was. Later, he will start showing up as a one-of or two-of in some Japanese decklists. He will be reaccepted as a tournament card. At this point, Manuel Bucher will win a GP early next year with a deck revolving around four Sorin Markovs, and it will be cool to have “always liked him…”

All I know is that when I imagine my opponent playing this, it is pretty daunting. I mean, if I don’t deal with it in two turns I am getting Slavered, and he lives to keep messing with me?

Day of Judgment
Destroy all creatures in play.

This card is so good for Magic in so many ways. Trust me, you don’t want to be one of those people that just sits around complaining about WotC being greedy for money and printing this card to sell packs, or that this card is just worse than Wrath.

Let’s clear a few things up. First of all, this is functionally Wrath. What regenerates? What? Really? Name a card that regenerates that people play in Standard. That is what I thought.

Second of all, this card might be better than Wrath. If none of your opponents play regenerators, but you might, then this card could be better. Imagine the first time you Day of Judgment and regenerate a creature that you put in your deck because you play Day of Judgment. I know good regenerators aren’t really around yet, but if they print one in Zendikar, you will appreciate it.

The fight to revive Regeneration has been going on for a while now, with Terror and Incinerate becoming Doom Blade and Lightning Bolt. I for one am thrilled. I like regeneration, and think that it would be cool to be more relevant.

Next of all, it is important that this card does not have the word “God” in it. I love God with all my heart, but a Magic card called Wrath of God is not a necessity. I am a practical man, and it is not just China that has a problem with such things. Wrath of God is extraordinarily iconic, but it does have baggage. Day of Judgment might have the potential to be just as iconic, and it appears to bring less baggage.

This is not attempt to gouge money out of you. Day of Judgment is not a Mythic. I know that it is annoying that you have those four Wraths and now you need to get four Day of Judgments, but ten years from now, the game will be better off because of it.

Day of Judgment is just three words:

Destroy all creatures.

That is so elegant, so impressive. When someone reads Wrath of God for the first time, there is no denying that the anti-regeneration clause detracts a little from the awe inspiring effect of the card. It is so much big impressive power, and then a bunch of more words that do very little.

Day of Judgment is clean, elegant, straightforward, and powerful.

Obviously, it would have been great to put Day of Judgment in M10, except that there is no question people would just complain about Wrath getting hosed. As it stands, Wrath left, people mourned it, but Hallowed Burial picked up the slack. Now Day of Judgment is printed, and people should be thankful to have a four mana Wrath in any form.

This is the type of card that I imagine being in the perfect core set. I am glad that R&D had the courage to pull off the band-aid and print Day of Judgment at the expense of Wrath. Besides, I am already casting Gifts Ungiven and putting Day of Judgment and Wrath of God in the Gifts pile…

What will Baneslayer Angel’s fate be in Standard after the rotation?

Last week I talked at length about Five-Color and why I still play Broodmates Dragons, not Baneslayer Angels like most people. This is not an indictment of Baneslayer; quite the contrary. I think that Baneslayer is certainly in the same league as Broodmate, and very possibly better. The difference is twofold:

First, when people prepare for Baneslayer, it drops in value hard. On the other hand, Broodmate is very difficult to actually hose, and is less susceptible to a format dedicated to beating it. I think there are very good reasons why one might play Baneslayer instead of Broodmate, and I anticipate playing a lot of Baneslayers in the years to come.

After the rotation, I anticipate the format experiencing a great deal of pressure to become Cascade: the Format. We will have to see what all Zendikar offers, but as of right now, New Standard looks like it will be heavily inspired by Block Constructed, which is all Cascade all the time.

Gerry Thompson, Brian Kibler, and Nick Becvar all made Top 8 at the Block Championship at GenCon two weeks ago, piloting my Hawaii Deck, Five-Color Cascade Control. This included Kibler splitting the finals with Brian Kowal (also playing Cascade in an All-BK final). I guess technically the format is still open, since the Top 8 only contained 28 Bloodbraid Elves (and a lone G/W Soldier keeping Saito’s dream alive…)

This is the best deck in Block, not close, and it is probably a good place to start looking for the deck to beat come New Standard. Does Baneslayer fit in? Maybe, but probably not as naturally as it does in Naya-Jund decks, like the deck with which Brian Kowal won the Block Championship.

I actually think Baneslayer might be better in this deck than in Five-Color, as you have so many creatures that your opponent is not just going to be sitting there with a fistful of removal. Baneslayer is the perfect cost for this deck (it has too many six-drops), and the lifelink helps win Anathemancer mirrors. The five toughness is the right size. The Enlisted-Wurm-into-Baneslayer-Angel dream makes the possibility of the Cascade Dream a little harder.

This is the ideal starting point for Baneslayer, but you can pretty much stick her anywhere, just as long as there is actually a format besides the all Cascade-into-Maelstrom-Pulse format. It is also sweet that Shriekmaw is gone and Terror-like effects no longer have Mistbind Clique, Elves, or Kithkin to prey on…

Things that are as good as they say

1. Merfolk Looter in M10 Draft – the best common.
2. Inglourious Basterds – This movie delivers.
3. M10 – A great success for Magic on many levels. I think Zendikar will live up to it.
4. Eminem’s Verse on “Forever” – I am sorry I ever doubted you even for a moment.
5. Zvi’s book, My Files – Have you checked it out yet?
6. The Magic Cruise 2010 in Jamaica.
7. Vintage with no proxies – These people have crazy love for Vintage, and will keep it alive.

What would you recommend for “me” in Standard?

I would totally have played Faeries in Dallas, so if you play the Fae well, I would go that route. Otherwise, probably something somewhere on the Five-Color to Jund spectrum, although it is conceivable that the format could be right for a mediocre U/W deck (I like Baneslayer better than Reveillark), though I would tend to think not.

At the end of the day, you should definitely play a deck with which you are proficient. Just because Five-Color is the best deck doesn’t mean it is the only deck you can play. In this case, you have to be a good Five-Color player just to make the deck “good,” and on top of that, a good Five-Color deck is not leagues better than Jund, Elves, Faeries, Kithkin, U/W, Time Sieve, etc. The margin is not that great. It is far more important to know your deck, and to play a deck that suits you.

Why do drive-thru ATMs have Braille signs?

It is cheaper to manufacture one type of ATM face that can be used in a variety of locations, rather than specifically make one that has one less feature. Since it is functionally no worse and non-zero more economical to manufacture, it is generally better from the perspective of the ATM owner.

Zvi Fixes One of My Vintage Ideas

People often ask me about designing and developing Magic cards, as I used to work in WotC R&D and Magic design is a passion of mine. A dialogue between Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz and I, while at lunch, happened at Grand Prix: Boston a few weeks ago. It may provide some insight into how to take a raw design and run with it. At some point, we were discussing card design.

Eventually, I asked his input on the Corrosive Ooze (Time Slime) card that I suggested in an article a couple of months ago. Specifically, we discussed how to fix the card to be more flavorful, elegant, and clean.

For reference, here is the original version:

Corrosive Ooze
Creature — Ooze
When Corrosive Ooze enters the battlefield, destroy target non-creature permanent.
During an opponent’s upkeep, if they took the previous turn, you may put Corrosive Ooze onto the battlefield from your hand, then end the turn.

The original version has a variety of problems, but the general idea is to hose people that take extra turns, specifically people with Time Vault.

The problems with the original card:

1. Obnoxious in multiples.
2. Insane WITH Time Vault.
3. Feels contrived.
4. Not interesting enough to justify the strange text and clauses.
5. Lacks cohesive flavor.

Zvi asked me a series of questions to investigate the spirit in which I was imagining this card, and eventually produced the following as a final version:

Levan, Destroyer of Yesterday
Legendary Creature – Human Shaman
When Levan, Destroyer of Yesterday enters the battlefield, destroy all artifacts on the battlefield, then end the turn.
During an opponent’s upkeep, if they took the previous turn, you may put Levan, Destroyer of Yesterday into the battlefield from your hand.

As you can see, the original concept is retained, but the new version addresses a lot of the original’s problems in clever ways. First of all, the “multiples” problem is addressed with the move to a Legend, which also leads to better flavor. In this case, the flavor is that of a Shaman that seeks to destroy the past, as demonstrated by the destruction of artifacts (relics from the past) and the ending of the turn (literally ending one part of time and moving forward).

Destroying all artifacts addresses the combo with Time Vault, somewhat, and helps push the flavor of someone that seeks to remove all traces of the past (which is more interesting than a giant slime that randomly ends turns). In addition, marrying the “end the turn” ability with the destruction of artifacts ability, rather than the playing for free ability actually accomplishes several things.

It makes the card less busy, as the end the turn clause combines much more seamlessly this way and is less clunky to look at. In addition, ending the turn when you play a creature is pretty interesting, as opposed to the old version that had pretty much just the one application. For instance, this guy is now interesting with Momentary Blink, as a hoser against artifact decks (Stax in addition to Tez? Affinity as well…)

Wording the card in this way also makes it a lot less confusing. For instance, under the old wording, does the turn end with the destruction ability on the stack?

By wording the card this way, the final ability actually feels much more like it ties into the “destroying yesterday” flavor and not just a contrived hack hoser against Time Vault and Time Walk. Your opponent is trying to manipulate Time? Levan shows up and has something to say about that…


I saw a display for Planechase yesterday, and it occurred to me that while I have heard a little about it, I wasn’t really familiar with what exactly it was. I had a general idea that it was sort of a pseudo-Vanguard multiplayer variant, but I ended up looking into it.

Planechase is a variant of Magic that is specifically designed for games involving three or more players, though it works for two. At the beginning of the game, the first player flips up a Plane card from a deck of 10 different Planes (that is shuffled), with each player having their own Planar deck and only one Plane revealed at a time.

The card affects everyone and cannot be affected by in game cards. During your turn, you can roll the Planar Die by paying one mana for every time you have already rolled it this turn. The first one’s free, then one mana, then two mana, etc. The Planar Die is a six-sided die that has four blank faces, a Planeswalk symbol, and a Chaos symbol.

When you roll the Planeswalk symbol, you put the current Plane on the bottom of its owner’s Planar Deck and reveal the top card of your Planar Deck, which is now the new Plane. When you roll a Chaos symbol, you put the Chaos trigger at the bottom of the card on the stack. When you roll a blank, nothing happens.

As you can see, the Planechase variant is extremely chaotic and is probably best not take too seriously, but it does look like it offers some interesting new ways to play Magic. The type of people playing three or more players at a time are more likely to be the type of people that appreciate the craziness that comes along with Planechase. I am interested to hear from the EDH contingent out there… how well does Planechase mesh with EDH?

I love how beautiful the cards are, and it was an excellent idea to have them somewhat over-sized. I am not usually one to play a lot of multi-player games of Magic, but Planechase is definitely something I am planning on trying, most likely at midnight at a Gaming Con, after a Vintage tournament, or at a GP with the right mix of gamers to make the chaos and craziness fun.

Okay, I am out. Thanks to those readers that helped me and my brother Jeff get ready for my brother Michael’s pirate-themed wedding. Congratulations, Michael and Marie!

See you guys next week…

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”