Spoiler season is warming us up just as winter is starting to get cold, and several of those cards are really starting to get the blood pumping! While I normally like to wait until a new set is completely spoiled to start the brewing process, I can’t wait to get cracking at this set, which is pushing devoid, Allies, planeswalker-matters, and surge into the fore. Each of these mechanics tickles a different part of my brewing fancy, so I’m anxious to get in.
As of the time I’m writing this article, 81 cards of the set’s 184 have been spoiled, so it’ll be hard to pick just one to focus on today, but as is often the case, let’s look at perhaps the least exciting of the newest creature-lands and see what we can do with it.
Red and white are traditionally the colors of double strike. Between classic cards like Boros Swiftblade and Hearthfire Hobgoblin and new cards like Iroas’s Champion, double strike is these colors’ thing. Lots of Magic players correctly predicted this land, some even getting the power, toughness, and activation costs correct. Once the card was spoiled, though, many were disappointed by what they feel are anemic stats and a hefty activation cost. While I agree it could have cost one less to activate, this is still a powerful land, and it gives a recently abandoned color combination a new mode of attack.
Although this may be true, Needle Spires is far more powerful than Wind-Scarred Crag, and once Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotate out of Standard, this will likely be our go-to red and white land, so it’s nice you can slap a body on it. I’ve been looking at two decks that utilize this card and its associated strategies, so let’s see another Oath of the Gatewatch spoiler that can help with the first strategy.
I love equipment, and while our recent Standard environment hasn’t exactly been rife with playable swords, shields, and helmets, this Outfitter might hint at a more exciting equipment base for either this set, the spring set, or the fall set in a few months. The ability to pump equipped creatures, even if the equipment is conditional, begs noticing, and replacing equipped creatures on death can keep red and white, a color combination traditionally low on card draw, at or above parity with its opponent. So what Equipment are we looking at?
Oh yeah, it’s our old buddy from Fate Reforged, ready to make a final shout into Standard. Thankfully for us, since this spell came out, two very tempting legendary creatures have appeared to hold the Blade proudly, and each falls within the color combination we’re looking at. Both are one-mana, have two power, and can make a great play early or late in the game. Alongside their friends, here’s a starting list that digs into that color.
- 1 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 4 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
- 4 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
- 3 Relic Seeker
- 4 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 1 Stone Haven Outfitter
Here’s a first look at the deck.
The creatures in this deck all work together, so it’s best to look at them as a whole. The seven one-drop legendary creatures stand to gain the most from Hero’s Blade, pumping their cost-appropriate stats to profound levels, giving each the power to kill a Siege Rhino with no additional mana investment. Zurgo is particularly slick with Hero’s Blade, allowing you to dash him in and smash for five if you attach the Blade when he enters. Reckless Bushwhacker, a tribute to the original Zendikar’s Goblin Bushwhacker, is by far one of my favorite cards from this set. In this deck in particular, it has the potential to create some exciting plays. Turn 1 Kytheon, turn 2 Hero’s Blade and attack for two, turn 3 Zurgo, attach the Blade and Bushwhacker, attack for eleven, flip Kytheon and force an attack, leaving them open for the bone-crushing defeat the next turn. Wow! Anafenza can hold a Blade with the best of them, but she’s also great at helping the rest of your team remain sturdy. Bear in mind that you can stack her triggers to pump a legendary creature that would receive the Blade so it can be even bigger. There are four equipment-based creatures: three Relic Seekers and one Stone Haven Outfitter. The Relic Seekers work well with the Bushwhacker, providing immediate pressure and access to a Hero’s Blade. Did I mention I like the Bushwhacker? Finally, a single Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, can recover any of the deck’s creatures, and any legendary creatures recovered can get saddled with the Blade for maximum damage. Basically, this deck doesn’t let up.
The spells are a little more muted, but they can provide assistance with cheap surge activators while being relevant cards all on their own. Crater’s Claws, while typically not appropriate for what amounts to a weenie deck, has ferocious as long as any creature, legendary or otherwise, is equipped with Hero’s Blade, providing that last punch of damage to finish the job.
As much as I like this deck, it doesn’t showcase Needle Spires as much as I’d like, so I’m inclined to move in another direction to highlight just how powerful a build-your-own Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion can be.
As with all double strike cards, any power boost is doubly effective, giving you twice the punch for the same price. Instead of an aggressive deck, what if we tried a more midrange-based strategy that focused on card draw, large threats, and power pumps to make Needle Spires effective?
Whoa, that’s a lot of power on a land, and it’s even on curve. If you choose Khans, you can untap with the Needle Spires, activate before combat, and swing for eight. Untap the following turn, do it again, and swing for twelve. That’s all you need! While a single threat like this is not particularly reliable, we can distract our opponent’s energy on less relevant effects. Green helps us be consistent both with our mana and with our curve, so a green base is likely for the best. It also gives me an excuse to first-turn Oath of Nissa, a card I’m extremely excited about for Standard and even other formats. With some new planeswalkers, nifty enchantments, and the ultimate, punishing goal of dominating my opponent’s life total with a huge Needle Spires, we’ve got our work cut out!
- 1 Sarkhan Unbroken
- 1 Kiora, Master of the Depths
- 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
- 1 Chandra, Flamecaller
- 3 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
In this deck, our plan is to overwhelm our opponent with planeswalker threats and value while building up our Needle Spires for a brutal beatdown. The deck features some old favorites, some unknowns, and several new friends, including the new Chandra, Flamecaller and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. The creatures help cast our enchantments and planeswalkers while our all-star sits tapped on the bench. Once your opponent has exhausted their resources killing your planeswalkers and creatures, it’s time to get Needle Spires online, and you’ll have lots of help. Both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar provide anthem effects and/or tokens to pump the Needle Spires or slow down your opponent’s advance. With Den Protector, you can always bring your Needle Spires or a planeswalker back to keep the pressure on. Linvala, the Preserver seems outstanding, too. Without much in the way of sweeping effects and the potential to take some damage from my fetchlands and incidental damage, this can bring me right back into the game with an additional body to boot.
Oath of Nissa helps us find the land or other creatures to help the rest of the plan get online. To be honest, Oath of Nissa is one of my favorite cards in Oath of the Gatewatch, but more on that later. The perfect draw puts your opponent dead on turn 5 (turn 1 Needle Spires, turn 2 ramp creature, turn 3 Citadel Siege, turn 4 activate and attack as a 4/3, repeat for turn 5). While not particularly exciting, Needle Spires does have some potential besides that small amount of attention it’s been granted. Red and white is a fun aggressive and midrange combination, and soon, it won’t be tainted by Jeskai or Mardu, allowed to run free as the Boros was born to be.
All three creature lands from this set are exciting, but I felt it was important to highlight the least impressive one first. All of them have potential, no matter how they look on the outside. Red and white have the potential to make a comeback, and soon, these will be all you’ve got, so get ready.
Which is your favorite land from the new creature-lands from this set? Have you figured out fun ways to utilize their abilities to leverage their power?