Positive EV – Discussing Zendikar #2: Red and Black

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Friday, November 6th – In the second part of the Discussing Zendikar Limited article series, Oli and Manu shift their focus to Red and Black. The colors of removal appear to be the strongest in the set, but do you pick that Marsh Casualties over Vampire Nighthawk? Or that Punishing Fire over the Plated Geopede? Read on to find out!

I’ve had a lot of trouble reaching Olivier while he was in Japan, but now he’s on the way back to France I was finally able to catch him online when he was at the airport. I’m sorry that the article couldn’t be up earlier in the week, but better late than never. Without further ado, here is part two of our Discussing Zendikar articles!

Manu: Hey there Oli! Where are you located right now?
Oli: I’m in Kuala Lumpur, on my way back to France form Japan, and I’m now heading to my next stop: Melbourne!
Manu: Sounds exciting! It’s also a good time to talk about Zendikar Limited! Let’s get things started before you have to actually board your next plane.

1 – Marsh Casualties/Vampire Nighthawk
3 — Disfigure
4 — Hideous End
5 — Surrakar Marauder
6 — Vampire Lacerator
7 — Giant Scorpion
8 — Gatekeeper of Malakir
9 — Vampire Hexmage
10 — Crypt Ripper
11 — Heartstabber Mosquito
12 — Guul Draz Vampire
13 — Mind Sludge
14 — Nimana Sell-Sword
15 — Hagra Crocodile

1 — Marsh Casualties
2 — Vampire Nighthawk
3 — Disfigure
4 — Hideous End
5 — Surrakar Marauder
6 — Gatekeeper of Malakir
7 — Vampire Lacerator
8 — Giant Scorpion
9 — Vampire Hexmage
10 — Crypt Ripper
11 — Hagra Crocodile
12 — Heartstabber Mosquito
13 — Guul Draz Vampire
14 — Vampire’s Bite
15 — Nimana Sell-Sword

Oli: Concerning the best card, I can’t make up my mind. Marsh Casualties and Vampire Nighthawk are just clearly the best two uncommon / commons in the entire set. Only Living Tsunami can compete.
Manu: But then again, Living Tsunami fails because it is Blue.
Oli: The first difference we have is Gatekeeper of Malakir. The card can be excellent but I’ve also seen it be mediocre so many times. If you’re not base-Black, it’s usually a turn 5 to 7 removal spell, in which case I like Heartstabber Mosquito over it. Of course, depending on how Black my deck is, it can be worth 3rd to 6th pick, but I just don’t feel so comfortable taking it pack 1 pick 1.
Manu: I completely agree with that, but we see it from the perspective of a very early pick. As early as this in the draft, and with me being on Black, I usually try to have a Black core. Therefore I pick it over the good (but not excellent) Vampire Lacerator or Giant Scorpion. In addition, I feel like passing a Gatekeeper is a sign to my left neighbour to go base-Black, which has to lead for an awkward second booster for me.
Oli: True. Considering the Nekrataal-type guys, how do you feel about Heartstabber Mosquito?
Manu: I feel like it’s a four-mana 2/2 flier. Unless I am Green — which, hopefully, I am not – I don’t see me kicking the card too often. This is the reason I pick the Hagra Crocodile over it – which is, by the way, why Vampire’s Bite made it in my Top 15. It’s unreal with both the Crocodile and Crypt Ripper. And it really helps your Lacerators to win the race.
Oli: The card looks so strong, but it’s not nearly as good as it seems. It may seem surprising to people who have been playing Zendikar sealed, in which the Mosquito is amazing, but the draft format is just too fast for him. You’ll want him in a control/midrange deck, but it’s definitely not a card you want to pick in RB Aggro, for instance. However, I don’t know about the Crocodile…
Manu: What’s wrong with a four mana 5/3?
Oli: I’ve played the card several times, and I’m not a huge fan. Usually I play it only when I’m short on playables, and I take it out when I’m on the draw. Is it actually that good?
Manu: I don’t see me blocking that often in this format. Therefore, it is very similar to Shatterskull Giant. It’s just a slow, big guy. I actually like it a lot.
Oli: I understand the point, but I don’t really agree on the comparison with the Giant. The Giant is, it is, in my opinion, one of the very few guys in the format which can both attack and block.
Manu: I did not say it’s better than the Giant. It’s not. I said it is similar. Not being able to block the card just creates huge swings in the race. If your opponent has to hold back a blocker for it, which it is often overpowering with your landfall, you are very likely to win the race, while I see Mind Sludge as a blank.
Oli: I see Mind Sludge as a card pretty similar to the Crocodile, actually: often great, but sometimes useless on the play, and often useless, but sometimes great on the draw.
Manu: And both Are great against bad decks…
Oli: Yeah, bad decks often belong to the “not fast” category of decks in the format. I don’t mean that it’s impossible to play Control or Midrange, just that most good decks rely on speed. Actually, Mind Sludge is not necessarily a card you want to play main, but when you’re not facing decks that are excessively fast, and/or if you’re on the play, the card becomes really good.
Manu: Is it good enough on the play you would board it in versus a Red-based Aggro deck?
Oli: Probably not, unless I have a pretty bad deck myself, in which case I’m glad I’ve got a card which has the potential to win games on its own.
Manu: Anything you want to mention before we move to Red?
Oli: Yes, two things. The first is that neither of us have Blood Seeker in our top 15, even though we’ve both been playing the card a lot.
Manu: And I don’t dislike it. There are just better options.
Oli: Same here. It’s fine, but in the best case scenario your opponent plays a guy a turn and you “attack him” for one, which is like having a two-mana 2/1. Decent, but not exciting. The second point is something I learned in Japan last weekend. Do you know what happens here? Your opponent is on 11, you attack him with Guul Draz Vampire and Bladetusk Boar. He blocks your 1/1 with a 1/1 of his own, and takes 3. What happens then?
Manu: I guess your Vampire survives. Did it die?
Oli: Your guy survives, as it has already become a 3/2 when state-based effects are checked.
Manu: That’s definitely good to know. It wouldn’t have come to my mind during a game, but when you actually think about it, it sounds logical.
Oli: It was a surprise to me. It’s true that that’s what the rules say, but it is not so intuitive. Be right back, I have to pass the gate.

1 – Burst Lightning
2 – Plated Geopede
3 – Punishing Fire
4 – Bladetusk Boar
5 – Torch Slinger
6 – Inferno Trap
7 – Goblin Shortcutter
8 – Shatterskull Giant
9 – Zektar Shrine Expedition
10 – Highland Berserkers
11 – Mark of Mutiny
12 – Goblin Ruinblaster
13 – Hellfire Mongrel
14 – Tuktuk Grunts
15 – Geyser Glider

1 — Burst Lightning
2 — Punishing Fire
3 — Plated Geopede
4 — Torch Slinger
5 — Bladetusk Boar
6 — Zektar Shrine Expedition
7 — Goblin Shortcutter
8 — Highland Berserker
9 — Shatterskull Giant
10 — Hellfire Mongrel
11 — Inferno Trap
12 — Goblin Ruinblaster
13 — Slaughter Cry
14 — Tuktuk Grunts
15 — Geyser Glider

Oli: Hello again!
Manu: All this airport talk makes me feel I’m in Catch Me If You Can… First. I think you are right with Plated Geopede over Punishing Fire. But I can’t agree with Inferno Trap, it’s just so super clunky.
Oli: No matter what I play, Geopede is the card I don’t want to face, ever. To me, Red decks are the best in the format. Their only problems are creatures with three or more toughness, and the difficulty they have in passing them. This is the reason why Shatterskull Giant is so good when it’s “just” a 4/3, and it is also the reason why I like Inferno Trap a lot: not as a Trap, but as a four-mana removal spell. If you’re not RB or Mono-Red, the card is far worse, and your rating is probably more accurate there.
Manu: If you are not RB, you are likely to be RW or RU and have access to Hookmasters, Journeys, or bounce spells. I agree, Shatterskull Giant is really good, but in my opinion you really need a two-drop. Therefore I pick all the three good two-drops over it early in the draft. If I already have several already, the pick order might easily change.
Oli: How do you feel about Mark of Mutiny? If I’m pack 3 and already have a well established aggro deck, I can definitely see myself picking it between pick 1 and 3.
Manu: I love the card more and more, but I don’t see myself picking it between 1 and 3 because I expect the card always to wheel. This is one of the main reasons it didn’t make it in my Top 15 over Tuktuk Grunts and Geyser Glider.
Oli: It’s true that the card is not very popular, so it could wheel. On the other hand, the Glider is the exact opposite. It’s one of the most overrated cards in the set. People pick it so highly. It’s true it looks like a Red Air Elemental, but it’s just not anywhere near as good.
Manu: What surprises me is that Slaughter Cry didn’t make it in your Top 15. I play the card because you told me to do so, and now I think it is really good. And you don’t have it in your Top 15! What’s the reason behind this?
Oli: There are infinite good cards in Red. Slaughter Cry is about as good as the Glider, I think, and even cards like Molten Ravager, Goblin Bushwhacker, Ruinous Minotaur, and Magma Rift are very decent, but they still didn’t make it.
Manu: I don’t think Magma Rift is decent, but otherwise you are right. Red is really deep in Draft. Slaughter Cry accomplishes whatever Inferno Trap does without the loss of tempo.
Oli: Also, even though it’s not on our Top 15, Seismic Shudder is a card you definitely want to pick up, just to avoid facing it. The card may be mediocre against 80% of the decks at the table, but it’s often great versus Red. One last thing: it may be a rare, but I get passed Goblin Guide very often. I think it maybe the most underrated rare card in Zendikar Limited, which means you’ll see it almost as often as a good uncommon. If it was eligible for our Top 15, where would it be?
Manu: I like it slightly more than Bladetusk Boar. The card is so powerful, and is probably the most underrated card in the format.
Oli: Yeah, I would place it between 4th and 6th. The stewardess is telling me to turn off my computer so we can take off. Thanks for reading, and see you in Paris!
Manu: Enjoy your flight, Oli. See you soon!

Oli and Manu