Positive EV – Discussing Zendikar #1: White and Blue

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Wednesday, October 28th – Olivier Ruel and Manuel Bucher have once again teamed up to bring us the lowdown on triple-Zendikar drafting! Today, they discuss their personal Top 15 Common and Uncommon pick orders from White and Blue. In such a fast format, is there a hope for control strategies? Read on to find out!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of our “Discussing X” Limited series!

Oli and I finally found time to chat together about the Zendikar draft format. The articles will have the same form as the Discussing Shards series. Today, we open with White and Blue, discussing our personal Top 15 uncommons and commons in each color. In future articles, we’ll cover all the others. So, as Evan Erwin says… Let’s go!

Manu: Hey Oli, hey readers… Welcome to another edition of “Discussing X,” with myself and Olivier Ruel!
Oli: Manu, good to see you! Hey everyone! I must confess that I’ve missed the shared column thing lately.
Manu: Before we get started on White, how do you think the format looks overall?
Oli: This format is extremely aggressive, and games are often decided in the first 6-7 turns. Also, the Landfall ability is very interesting, as it makes land flood a far less important concern. I used to play 18 lands in nothing but my control decks, but in this format I play 18 lands pretty much all the time.
Manu: In addition, blocking is pretty difficult, as with the Intimidate, Landfall, and Ally theme, it is really hard to set up blocks as you are never sure what kind of monster your opponent’s creature may turn into once they move to the red zone.
Oli: Agreed. Anyway, ready to reveal our Top 15 picks in White and Blue? I’m so excited… it’s been too long!

1 – Shepherd of the Lost
2 – Journey to Nowhere
3 – Kazandu Blademaster
4 – Kor Skyfisher
5 – Kor Aeronaut
6 – Kor Hookmaster
7 – Steppe Lynx
8 – Kor Sanctifiers
9 – Windborne Charge
10 –Cliff Threader
11 – Kor Outfitters
12 – Pitfall Trap
13 – Ondu Cleric
14 – Kor Cartographer
15 – Makindi Shieldmate

1 — Shepherd of the Lost
2 — Kazandu Blademaster
3 — Journey to Nowhere
4 — Kor Hookmaster
5 — Kor Skyfisher
6 — Kor Aeronaut
7 — Windborn Charge
8 — Kor Sanctifiers
9 — Steppe Lynx
10 — Pitfall Trap
11 — Makindi Shieldmate
12 — Kor Cartographer
13 — Cliff Threader
14 — Kor Outfitter
15 — Pillarfield Ox

Manu: So, even though the format is so super fast, we both end up with a five-drop as our number one choice…
Oli: It’s not a five-drop… it’s the five-drop. The guy attacks and blocks, and it also benefits from the fact that White cards have such a low casting cost. My other 14 cards cost one mana (one example), two mana (seven examples), three mana (four examples, including a trap) and five mana (two examples). And this shows us what the curve of a White deck should be. Even when you don’t have the mana to cast it, it’s no big deal, as three lands will let you cast pretty much everything else
Manu: Kazandu Blademaster is a two-drop that attacks, blocks, and benefits from the fact that there are other Allies in this set. And it has such a low casting cost. Still, you pick Journey to Nowhere over it!
Oli: Yeah, but if you actually have an allied base, it’s actually on the level of the other top uncommons in the format (Marsh Casualties, Vampire Nighthawk, Living Tsunami), and I pick it over any other White card, besides maybe Emeria Angel.
Manu: So, the scenario in which you end up with an ally base is so rare that you’d rather pick the solid removal?
Oli: I believe so. I like the archetype in sealed, in which it is often solid, but it’s rarely open in draft, and you’re never sure you’ll get the key cards. Indeed, cards like Umara Raptor and Oran-Rief Survivalist are pretty good in other decks.
Manu: I can see the point of picking Journey to Nowhere over the Blademaster because the ally theme is not that strong in draft, but I actually like the card more than the Journey even if it does “only” end up being a 2/2. So many decks have to either kill it or die to it.
Oli: It makes sense; the card is strong on its own, and you can easily get two or three other allies in the next 41 picks.
Manu: That makes my case even stronger. But with both cards being really strong, the first big difference in our lists is Kor Hookmaster. I’ve actually played White and Green a little less than any other colors, but often, when my opponent casts the Hookmaster, I am so far behind in the race that I often end up losing to it.
Oli: The problems in White decks occur when they face a three toughness creature, which often stops their team. There are several ways to get past them: flyers, removal spells, equipment, and Kor Hookmaster. The only removal spell (Journey to Nowhere) is obviously the best, and then both flyers and Hookmasters are pretty good. When it comes to a race versus small guys, I like them a little more than flyers, but when facing guys or controlling the pace of the game, I like flyers a little more. I guess they’re about as good as each other.
Manu: What kind of three-toughness creatures are there?
Oli: Nissa’s Chosen and Giant Scorpion are the most annoying, but often they can just trade two-drops and then cast Shatterskull Giant or Nimana Sell-Sword.
Manu: That’s fair. I guess you have more experience with White, and I will follow your advice. I wanted to mention something about both Pitfall Trap and Arrow Volley Trap. Both cards could be pretty good cards in any other format, but in Zendikar, you want to be the attacking player more often than not.
Oli: If I draft a more controlling deck, I definitely have the Arrow Volley Trap in a higher rank, but I don’t really see myself drafting White and control in this format. In an aggro deck, it’s just a five-mana spell that doesn’t necessarily do something when you can eventually cast it, which makes it a mediocre option.
Manu: Pitfall Trap can actually be decent if you are facing the aggro mirror. You can get a cheap removal spell in the early game without losing tempo when you are curving out.
Oli: Yeah, Pitfall Trap is a pretty good card. It just doesn’t fit the archetype you’ll usually be drafting. Anything to add before we move to Blue?
Manu: Nope… Blue it is!

1 – Living Tsunami
2 – Welkin Turn
3 – Umara Raptor
4 – Kraken Hatchling
5 – Windrider Eel
6 – Whiplash Trap
7 – Merfolk Seastalkers
8 – Sky Ruin Drake
9 – Into the Roil
10 – Reckless Scholar
11 – Paralyzing Grasp
12 – Aether Figment
13 – Summoner’s Bane
14 –Gomazoa
15 –Cancel

1 — Living Tsunami
2 — Welkin Term
3 — Umara Raptor
4 — Kraken Hatchling
5 — Windrider Eel
6 — Reckless Scholar
7 — Whiplash Trap
8 — Merfolk Seastalkers
9 — Sky Ruin Drake
10 — Paralyzing Grasp
11 — Into the Roil
12 — Hedron Crab
13 — Spreading Seas
14 — Aether Figment
15 — Summoner’s Bane

Manu: We agree on 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Wow.
Oli: Well, Number 1 is not even close. More interesting are 2, 4, and 5. What kind of format is this, when we have Kraken Hatchling over Windrider Eel?!
Manu: Windrider Eel is merely four mana and 2 toughness, while Kraken Hatchling is able to block the other colors’ early drops. This is especially relevant as Blue is a touch slower than any other color. Maybe not Green…
Oli: While we’re on the subject of Green… Windrider Eel is probably worth second place in a UG deck, but yes, otherwise it is just a little slow. It’s still good, but it’s slow.
Manu: True. Our first big difference is Reckless Scholar. I have had some pretty good experiences with this guy in any non-Blue/Green deck.
Oli: The thing is, in this format, I often don’t care that much whether I’m drawing a spell or a land, mostly because of the Landfall ability, and I want my three-mana guy to have a bigger impact on combat. The card is still okay, and I’ll play it if I have it, but I just won’t pick it too highly.
Manu: This is one of the few three-drops Blue has to offer that is still capable of attacking. And thanks to his ability, he is not a blank as soon as your opponent has either a three-toughness guy, or if you need to draw an out in order to stop his big guy.
Oli: It is true this lack of three-drops is the main reason why I am not a huge fan of this color in draft. It is also the reason why I have Gomazoa in my Top 15. Even though the card is only played in a control deck, which happens a lot more often with Blue than with White or Red, for instance. But I must admit I’ve been a little harsh on the 2/1.
Oli: When I reached my 14th pick, I had no idea what to put in the final spot, as Cancel and Spreading Seas are playable but not really cards I want to run. And then I ran into the Hedron Crab… which brought me to the conclusion that I have no idea what it takes to be playable! Could you please enlighten us?
Manu: The crab is not really playable.
Oli: Except when…?
Manu: Except when you are Blue/Green. As soon as you play Islands and Forests in the same deck, the card becomes amazing. With Khalni Heart Expedition and Harrow in your deck, the card gets lethal really fast, and your opponent has to deal with it immediately.
Oli: Is it actually amazing, or is it just a filler card that can end up being an alternate win condition? Don’t you need a pair of Crabs to make them really good?
Manu: The card is obviously bad if you draw it very late, but if it’s in your opening hand, it gets really good, no matter if you have one or two. This means that one of them is always good.
Manu: You did put Cancel in your Top 15. How does this card end up in such a good position even though the format is super aggressive?
Oli: It’s not good; it’s just a filler. I simply didn’t see myself putting Spreading Seas or Hedron Crab in there. About the Aura… how much do you like it? It has been pretty good when I’ve faced it, but I’ve been very disappointed both times I ran it.
Manu: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa played the card so often, and he won several games in his controlling decks when he screwed his opponent with his Seas. As soon as I included them in the Blue aggro decks, they were pretty amazing. If you curve out and you can screw them on one of their colors, they have a really hard time catching up.
Oli: What if you’re on the draw and/or your opponent is Blue? Do you take the card out for game 2?
Manu: That depends on the deck. If my opponent is base-Blue it is really easy to screw him on a support color. Also, if my opponent is showing a deck including Kor Outfitter and Marsh Casualties, I keep the card in because it should be easier to screw him.
Oli: I think we’ve said pretty much everything… anything you’d like to add?
Manu: Join us next week when we talk about Black and Red. Olivier will talk more about his various Magic trips in Reflecting Ruel later this week.
Oli: With seven tournaments and four continents under my belt in seven weeks, I feel like sharing my around-the-world travel stories!
Manu: Thanks for reading! And thanks Olivier for this interesting chat.
Oli: And thank you, Manu! Shall we go for dinner? I‘m starving!

Until next time…

Oli and Manu