Positive EV – Zendikar Impressions, Part 2

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!Wednesday, October 7th – Last week, Manuel Bucher shared his experiences of Zendikar in Limited play. Today, with many more drafts under his belt, he brings us a fresh batch of insights into the cards he feels are stronger or weaker than they first appear…

Last week I wrote about my prerelease experience in Paris. A few of you guys pointed out some misunderstandings in cards I was playing, and I am really thankful for that. As my French is not good at all (yet), I had a decent amount of trouble translating the cards. Therefore I made a few mistakes which I probably wouldn’t have discovered until it popped up in a game. Lately, I’ve done tons of drafting with Zendikar, and I will share some of my experiences today.

In general, the format is very aggressive, as it is very difficult to plan blocking if you have no idea what the attackers will look like. Both the Ally theme and the landfall theme make it very hard to know what’s going to attack you. Therefore I want to build a deck that is focused on racing in almost any situation. One thing I really like about the format is that there are only a few rares that are amazing bombs. This leads to the fact that removal is not that important in the format.

I will now share thoughts on cards that have made an outstanding impression on me, by either being stronger or weaker than I originally thought.

Adventuring Gear
I am not a huge fan of the card. The first impact it can have is on the third turn, which would be fine if you could rely on it. Later on in the game it is pretty much a blank. Other better cards are too, but they have more impact on the game if you get them active (like some Expeditions). In a dedicated landfall deck, which I expect to be Green-based, your creatures that are supposed to attack are already big enough if you manage to trigger the landfall, so you don’t need another +2+2 on the guy. In any other deck, you are not activating the Gear often enough, while it punishes your bad draws even more… while it doesn’t make the good draws that much better.

Arrow Volley Trap
Another card that is not very good by itself, but it gets even worse with the Landfall and Ally theme. It is almost impossible to trap the card, while if you cast it for five your opponent has to expect it, as you haven’t cast anything on your turn — and therefore you might often get Time Walked. This card is very similar to Neck Snap in Lorwyn. Both formats are very aggressive, and there are not a lot of White Instants, and therefore a good opponent will see it coming and can adjust their game accordingly.

Blood Seeker
I didn’t think I’d like the card that much, until I played it a few times. He usually gets some damage in through his attacks, but the trigger is very hard to race. If he wasn’t a Vampire, however, he would be much worse. He’s often included to provide the critical number of Vampires to allow you to add Feast of Blood to your deck. Although it only happens a few times, his trigger can deal with some token-producing rares.

Day of Judgment
I first picked it once… and I was so disappointed that I started passing it from that point. It is almost impossible to draft a control deck in this format, as it is almost impossible to block. It feels really awkward to write something bad about a Wrath of God effect in Limited, but I’d rather race than destroy all my guys and let my opponent pull ahead in the race by leading out first on his very next turn. In the first draft I played, a player that had already drafted the format several times was first picking Day of Judgment, and in the end he told me that he should have picked Kor Skyfisher over it, as he didn’t even end up playing the Day in his White-based deck.

Expedition Map
I only mention it because somebody asked how I feel about the card after my last article. I think the card is only good if you are splashing for a third color, which shouldn’t happen very often in a non-Green deck in the format. Maybe you can use it if you have a special synergy going on… for example, Living Tsunami. [Not sure I get this one, Manu… – Craig, confused.]

Grazing Gladehart
Depending on whether you have this guy in the early game or not, it makes the average Green deck either very good or very bad. It makes sure that you have enough time to cast your more expensive landfall spells, and if it is not removed it is almost impossible to race the big guys. He is definitely one of the few cards that have a shot at ending up being the best common in the set.

Hellfire Mongrel
He is not only one of the few three-drops that Red has to offer… his ability is also more than decent. Any landfall deck has a lot of trouble racing this guy, as they want to play the lands in order to race you, and they obviously need to cast their spells to catch up on the board. I didn’t expect the card to trigger that often when I first read him, but it turned out to have a nice impact on the game whenever I played it.

Into the Roll
Unlike Sam Black, I didn’t have a very good experience with this card. Kicking the Spell often costs you a turn, which is only helpful if you are ahead in the race. As you are playing a Blue deck, you should be in a happy position if you are ahead in the race. I would rather pick something that can help me get ahead in the race, such as Whiplash Trap, or something that can deal with the creature I am bouncing anyway and later on can race by itself like Sky Ruin Drake.

Kor Skyfisher
I understand now that the biggest mistake I made in the prerelease was not playing this guy. His drawback is almost never hurting you, as you shouldn’t see it only as a two-drop. He makes sure that, later on in the game, you don’t miss your landfall triggers. With his three toughness he is one of the few fliers that can actually block a 2/1 flier in the early game.

Kraken Hatchling
If your Blue deck is not supported by aggressive Black cards like Vampire Lacerator, this is the card you want in order to be able to race your opponent with your evasion guys. It might have occurred to you that I almost mention any card that can effectively block in this article, but these are the cards that have made a positive impression.

Marsh Casualties
The card didn’t get picked very early in the first few drafts, until we realised how insane it actually is. It often ends up being a one-sided Day of Judgment, as it is not very likely your opponent is triggering landfall in your turn. In addition, there are only a very few non-Green guys that survive the effect and have a big enough impact on the game that allow the targeted player to withstand your attacks, or even keep racing.

Mindless Null
According to some, this is one of the worst cards ever… but I think the card is fairly balanced for the Limited format. As I said above, I don’t really see a point in blocking, therefore this is a decent three-mana two-power beater I will often end up playing.

Punishing Fire
The more I play this card, the more I am impressed. There are so many cases in which your opponent is gaining life, such as the may effect of Grazing Gladehart, or via an Ally Chain, or just one of the many lands that trigger when they enter the battlefield. In addition, the majority of guys are 2/2, and therefore it kills a fair amount of targets.

Ruinous Minotaur
He is one of the few guys that is actually able to block, and you should see him as a Wall that is punishing your opponent if he doesn’t play any guys. Also, the evasion deck has to sacrifice one of his guys anyway in order to race you. I didn’t think the card was good at all when I first read it, but playing it made a good impression.

Spreading Seas
I have to admit I first didn’t realize the card draws a card when entering the battlefield. That effect alone makes it playable, but it also combos with a fair amount of cards in the format (such as Kor Skyfisher). It also can hurt your opponent if you are able to screw him out of one color.

Torch Slinger
It makes sense that the kicker ability wouldn’t be too good, as the guys are bigger as soon as you are able to kick it. People tell me they rather have the Shock in the early game. I am one of the few guys that would rather have the Gray Ogre in the early game plus the ability to cast it as a card that swings the race in your favor later on.

Vampire Lacerator
I am still not sure how I should rate this card. After a few drafts, I was thinking that it might be the best Black common, or that it might even be the best common overall. But other people — and a part of my own mind – keep telling me that it can’t be right to pick an Isamaru with a drawback over a good removal spell or Glazing Gladehart.

Vines of Vastwood
I like it in Sealed as a one-of, but I can’t see it at all in Draft. There are only a few targeted removal spells that deal with your big landfall guy which you might want to protect, but you don’t need to pump them up in order to win in combat. As it is very hard to block in the format, your creature is more unlikely to be blocked, and you don’t want to keep two mana and a blocker up in order to kill a bigger guy… especially one which might not even attack because he is missing his land drop.

Welkin Tern
The “drawback” of the card is actually made for bad players, so they don’t think about blocking with it and keep on racing. This has been the best Blue common in my experience. It is very hard to race a turn 2 Tern, especially if it supported by a 0/4 wall in the first few turns.

Zektar Shrine Expedition
Not only is “Blistering Firecat” a good effect in this format, it’s also another one of the few cards that is able to block. A card that, as soon as charged, is good in any scenario. If your opponent is able to race you even though it is fully charged, you can use it as a removal spell for their best attacker, while in any other case your opponent just often dies to the seven-damage Lava Axe.

If you are interested in another Discussing Draft series with Olivier and I, we might start it with Zendikar as soon as Olivier finishes playing in Melbourne.

Thanks for reading…