Positive EV – Zendikar: First Impressions

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Wednesday, September 30th – Manuel Bucher played in a 300-man prerelease in the glorious city of Paris, and managed to win the whole thing! Today he shares his winning decklist, plus some interesting tidbits he picked up along the way…

Just like everybody else, I was playing in the Prerelease events for Zendikar last weekend. As I am staying in Paris right now, I was playing the tournament there. This meant I was playing with French cards, which I didn’t really know. Luckily my French was good enough for roughly 90% of the cards, and the people were able to help me even though their English was not the best.

I will now talk about cards that were surprisingly good or bad in my deck. I’ll mention some cards in my sideboard, and why I didn’t include them at all. This is the deck I played, winning a 300-player Prerelease. This is the first time I played in such a big prerelease, and the organisation was pretty original. For every round there was a “Quest,” and the first few players that fulfilled the Quest would get a free pack. Quests where things like controlling a 10/10 creature, having 4 artifacts in play, or simply trapping any spell. This created a very friendly atmosphere, and I guess it makes it more enjoyable for everyone in attendance.

7 Plains
8 Forest
2 Mountain

2 Gigantiform
1 Grazing Gladehart
1 Magma Rift
1 Burst Lightning
2 Emeria Angel
1 Baloth Cage Trap
1 Harrow
2 Kor Hookmaster
1 Kor Sanctifiers
1 Turntimber Basilisk
1 Kor Aeronaut
1 Inferno Trap
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Oran-Rief Survivalist
1 Territorial Baloth
1 Mold Shambler
1 Zendikar Farguide
1 Expedition Map
1 Vines of Vastwood
1 Cobra Trap

Yes, I had two. And no, I sadly never kicked it. When I opened the card, I thought it would be merely good. But it was amazing all day. It is very hard to lose a game when you play this card, as the games are over so fast, and there is not a lot of non-Blue removal for an 8/8 trample guy. Lucky me… none of my opponents were playing Blue.

Baloth Cage Trap
I thought this one would be much better than it was. I was never able to trap the card as I wanted to tap out to curve in the first few turns. And if I wasn’t able to play a drop, my opponents were not playing artifacts. I don’t think the card is bad — it is still a five-mana 4/4 with flash. I just thought it would be much better than it turned out to be.

The card was amazing all day. Especially if it’s combined with the obvious Emeria Angel or Grazing Gladehart, or just to ramp up your lands. My all-star with Harrow has been Turntimber Basilisk. It was my only way to activate multiple landfall triggers in a single turn, and therefore the only way to have my Basilisk kill multiple guys. I was also able to use it once as a combat trick for my Territorial Baloth, which is cute, but I don’t think my opponent should have blocked the way he did if he knew either Harrow or Vines of Vastwood was in the format.

Kor Hookmaster
This card is much better in an aggressive deck. More often than not, this was a Gray Ogre in the deck, and one that I was unable to play unless my opponent already had a guy. I think over the course of the tournament Gray Ogre would have been better than him, even though I have to admit that his ability was good once or twice.

Kor Aeronaut
Even though the card looks amazing on paper, it just doesn’t belong in my deck. I am unable to cast it on turn 2 very often, and I kicked it only once over the course of the tournament.

Oran-Rief Survivalist
The card is slightly better than a Grizzly Bear in my deck. Curving out and building up pressure was key with this deck, and he was a guy I could always cast on turn 2. In addition, the +1/+1 counter had a lot of synergy with Gigantiform.

Vines of Vastwood
I didn’t want to play the card at first, but then I realized that it would be the best opportunity to get an initial impression of its strength. My initial thought was that the card was worse than a Giant Growth, as for the same effect I would have to spend twice as much mana. However, the unkicked spell won me a lot of games, as I was able to protect a Gigantiformed-up guy from my opponent’s removal, which immediately wins me the game. I also protected one of my Angels. I don’t think the card is good unless you have cards like the Angels or Gigantiform to go along with it. As a Giant Growth alone, it seems really weak.

Cobra Trap
This was the last card I added to the deck, as I was never able to trap the card with this deck. If I couldn’t combine the card with Gigantiform, it wouldn’t have been too good. I was able to two-for-one with it once or twice, but more often than not the problems you’re facing on the turns you are able to play this card are either some sort of landfall Baloth or something with evasion.

My sideboard was the following.

1 Arrow Volley Trap
I don’t like the card at all. It seems like a five-mana Neck Snap for attackers only, with the potential to cause a two-for-one trade. But, especially in this deck, if I am keeping five mana up they already have to expect an instant Beast, so they are probably attacking very carefully. In addition, if you are able to trap this card, especially with the deck above, you are very probably losing.

1 Shieldmate’s Blessing

1 Nimbus Wings
The card was surprisingly good whenever I played against it. There is not a huge amount of removal in the format, and the games are often a race. As I already had two Gigantiforms in my deck, I didn’t want to sideboard the card in, even though I started liking it.

1 Brave the Elements
This is a card I have to try out as soon as I have a heavy-White deck. In a G/W build, it seems worse than Vines of Vastwood.

1 Kor Skyfisher
I want to curve out a lot in this deck, so I am never playing him in the early game. In addition, I don’t have too many landfall synergies. The most obvious would be the one with the Angel. But if you untap with the Angel and start producing tokens, you probably don’t need this in order to win the game.

1 Ondu Cleric

1 Bold Defense
Another card I still have to try out before I judge it. I needed to add guys to the deck in order to have the Gigantiform work. This alone is why it didn’t make the cut in the end.

1 Quest for the Holy Relic
1 Narrow Escape

1 Vines of Vastwood
As I said, I only wanted to try the card, and I think playing one is perfectly fine in this pool.

1 Scythe Tiger
Several of my opponents played this card, and I still don’t understand why. In the early game you lose too much tempo for a card that is trading with a Grizzly Bear, and later on it doesn’t have any impact on the board anymore. The shroud also killed the synergy with their equipment. I think the card is unplayable in Sealed; I’m not sure if you can draft some sort of aggro deck with it.

1 Khalni Heart Expedition

2 Nissa’s Chosen
I guess I should have built upon these guys somehow. They seem far more solid than the one Kor Aeronaut in the deck, and a 2/3 is a decent power/toughness ratio in the early game. The ability of putting them on the bottom of your library when they die can be very annoying, especially if you have a lot of shuffle effects, or if you are not skilful enough to open the Planeswalker itself.

1 Carnage Altar
If damage went on the stack, I guess I would end up being a fan of these cards. Since the rules changed in M10, this card doesn’t have a purpose anymore.

1 Hedron Scrabbler

1 Trusty Machete
I am not a huge fan of Equipment, even though this one seems very good in a non-Green deck. In a Green deck, your guys already seem huge enough so you don’t need to play this. Again, the card didn’t make the cut as I already had two Gigantiforms, and therefore didn’t want too overwhelm my deck with Auras and Equipment.

1 Adventuring Gear
Another card I have to try out. I think the card is decent in any sort of evasive deck.

1 Stonework Puma
Oli dropped out early and went drafting. He was building an R/U ally deck, and from what I saw in his games, this card did a lot for him. Maybe I should have run with this, over either the Kor Aeronaut or one of the Hookmasters. I already discussed the drawback of the Hookmaster. In addition, I might get some synergy going on with Oran-Rief Survivalist.

1 Molten Ravager
1 Obsidian Fireheart
2 Highland Berserker
1 Goblin Shortcutter
1 Zektar Shrine Expedition
1 Plated Geopede
1 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Unstable Footing
1 Goblin War Paint
1 Geyser Glider
1 Quest for Pure Flame
1 Bladetusk Boar
1 Tuktuk Grunts
1 Windrider Eel
1 Hedron Crab
1 Aether Figment
1 Merfolk Wayfinder
2 Tempest Owl
1 Kraken Hatchling
1 Caller of Gales
2 Spell Pierce
1 Archive Trap
1 Hideous End
2 Crypt Ripper
1 Nimana Sell-Sword
1 Blood Seeker
1 Feast of Blood

1 Mire Blight
Some of my opponents played this card, and I still don’t understand why. I don’t think this card has any purpose. The typical one-for-two card.

1 Mindless Null
1 Surrakar Marauder
1 Vampire’s Bite
1 Giant Scorpion
1 Grim Discovery
1 Malakir Bloodwitch
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Desecrated Earth

2 Piranha Marsh
I don’t know if running these cards is good or not. The obvious disadvantage comes when you want to curve out and need to draw a land in order to do so… and you draw this. Also, if your opponent is running the returnable Shock (Punishing Fire), this can be a liability. Therefore I don’t know if the one life wins you the game more often than the card costs you the game.

Right now I think the format is very aggressive. Blocking doesn’t seem very good, as you don’t know what exactly is attacking you. Both Landfall and the Ally synergy are very easy to block if they don’t trigger, but as you don’t know what happens it is most likely just better to race. Synergy seems very important in the Ally strategy, but I don’t know how much it is needed in a Landfall-based aggressive deck.

I don’t know yet if I like the format. Obviously it is nice when you are winning, but there weren’t just enough surprises for me. The Traps were surprisingly disappointing, as I was never able to play a card with its trap cost, but otherwise the strength of the cards seem pretty obvious.

Until next week!