Positive EV – Zendikar Traps And More

Read Manuel Bucher every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, September 16th – The approach of a new base set packed with powerful cards has Magic players excited about the upcoming changes to Standard and Extended. Manuel Bucher is no different, and today it’s his turn to drive the Zendikar. Strap yourselves in while Manu takes us for a ride…

For today’s article, I searched the Zendikar spoiler on MTGSalvation.com for cards that might be interesting for future Standard and/or Extended formats. The set features a lot of interesting cards, and a very interesting ability for Constructed… Trap. I will not talk about all the Trap cards today, although I think all of them have the potential to be played in Constructed formats somewhere.

Pitfall Trap
Instant — Trap
If exactly one creature is attacking, you may pay W instead of paying Pitfall Trap’s mana cost.
Destroy target attacking creature without flying.

I never was a huge fan of Path to Exile, but the card was a reasonable choice with all those Faeries flying around. Since the arrival of M10, we don’t get the choice of Path to Exile or Condemn in Standard anymore, but I think this is a really good spot removal for future White-based control decks. It deals very well with the probable new face of Red aggression, which includes Hellspark Elemental, Ball Lightning, and the new Blistering Firecat (see below). The Jund decks we all expect to be huge after the rotation lose their three-mana haste guy (Boggart Ram-Gang), which ensures that, unless another one gets printed, we can Trap this spell on our first few turns to deal with either Putrid Leeches or the new Carnophage (Vampire Lacerator). I really like how the card is designed, as it will lead to interesting situations in which you might want to play around the Trap, or instead play an unkicked Goblin Ruinblaster to simply force through some damage.

Sphinx of Lost Truths
Creature — Sphinx
Kicker 1U
When Sphinx of Lost Truths enters the battlefield, draw three cards. Then if it wasn’t kicked, discard three cards.

I like all creatures that draw cards, and this is not an exception. I don’t think he will see a lot of Standard play, but it could have some impact on the Extended Dredge deck. Right now, people are returning Mulldrifter, which is worse as soon as it hits the graveyard. Both cards have their advantages and disadvantages in the Dredge deck. Mulldrifter lets you use its evoke cost, and therefore it’s not a dead card if you draw it, but the Sphinx ensures you a game win whenever you reanimate it.

Whiplash Trap
Instant — Trap
If an opponent had two or more creatures enter the battlefield under his or her control this turn, you may pay U rather than pay Whiplash Trap’s mana cost.
Return two target creatures to their owner’s hand.

Even though the Standard format is losing Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger, against which this card could be cute, there will still be cards like Bloodbraid Elf and Garruk Wildspeaker, against which this card might be strong. Unlike Pitfall Trap, this card gets a lot worse if you are able to pay it with its alternate mana cost, which makes it more likely not to see play. But most of the Trap cards seem to be very interesting for the future Constructed formats. They are cards which might force your opponent to misplay, and therefore they might be even better than they look.

Mindbreak Trap
Instant — Trap
If an opponent cast three or more spells this turn, you may pay 0 rather than play Mindbreak Trap’s mana cost.
Exile any number of target spells.

The card is obviously good against any deck using the Storm mechanic. Other than that, it seems like a good solution to Bloodbraid Elf for a similar mana cost to Double Negative if your deck is not able to run that. The most interesting thing about the card is that it says that you exile the spells, which makes it able to counter Great Sable Stag, or a Tooth and Nail that was made uncounterable with the Boseiju, Who Shelters All.

Creature — Vampire Spirit
Bloodghast can’t block.
Bloodghast has haste as long as an opponent has 10 life or less.
Landfall — Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may return Bloodghast from your graveyard to the battlefield.

This is a card that I would predict will see a lot of play in future Constructed formats. He’s not only an excellent Black beatdown creature… you might also want to use him in control decks as a win-condition. My first thoughts were to play him as the kill condition in an U/W Control deck that uses Careful Consideration to put him in the graveyard. Later on that day, we were playing some all-proxy Extended, and my opponent was running a Dredge Deck which used this to have more Narcomoebas as long as he had a land in hand. I don’t know if he is powerful enough to impact wider formats than Extended, but I would bet that he will see play in Extended and Standard, in Beatdown, Control, and Combo decks (if you count Dredge as a combo deck).

Vampire Lacerator
Creature — Vampire Warrior
At the beginning of your upkeep, you lose 1 life unless an opponent has 10 or less life.

This could be the one-drop of choice in any Standard deck running Putrid Leech. With the G/B fetch land around, it shouldn’t be a huge problem to curve from a turn 1 Lacerator into a Putrid Leech, and the disadvantage of losing a life a turn can be nullified very quickly with Putrid Leech, fetch lands, and the Vampire draining the life of your opponent.

Elemental Appeal
Kicker 5
Put a 7/1 red Elemental creature token with trample and haste onto the battlefield. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step. If Elemental Appeal was kicked, that creature gets +7+0 until end of turn.

The card is not a better Blistering Firecat, but it is almost as good. Red Aggro decks lose a lot of power with the rotation, losing a lot of good three-drops including Flame Javelin and Boggart Ram-Gang. It will be very interesting to see the face of the Red deck after the rotation, with the possibility of an all Ball Lightning deck, including not only the Ball but also the Hellspark Elemental and the Elemental Appeal. The other option would be a Big Red style deck using cards like Chandra Ablaze, or even Lavaball Trap.

Chandra Ablaze
Planeswalker — Chandra
+1: Discard a card. If a red card is discarded this way, Chandra Ablaze deals 4 damage to target creature or player.
-2: Each player discards hid or her hand, then draws three cards.
-7: Cast any number of target red instant and/or sorcery cards from your graveyard without paying their mana cost.

When I first read the card, I didn’t think it would be played at all. The more as I think about the card, the more I like it. It is the perfect card to create some card advantage in a Red Control deck that wants to get the best use of Valkut, the Molten Pinnacle. On a stabilized board, you can use its second ability directly to refill your hand, and from then on you either play a spell a turn and get two free blasts with Valkut and Chandra, or refill your hand once again. Definitely one of the more exciting Planeswalkers, and I am looking forward to test one or two decks that contain this card.

Goblin Ruinblaster
Creature — Goblin Shaman
Kicker R
When Goblin Ruinmaster enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, destroy target nonbasic land.

There is not a lot to say about this card, as the format will define how good the card will be. There are a lot of cards that are not “obviously” good, such as Valkut. Depending on their power level, this card will either profit or lose a lot of value. Finally, a good red four-drop… when not counting multicolored cards like Bloodbraid Elf. Speaking of which, this card doesn’t have a lot of synergy with it, which makes deckbuilding a touch more interesting.

Lavaball Trap
Instant — Trap
If an opponent had two or more lands enter the battlefield under his or her control this turn, you may pay 3RR rather than pay Lavaball Trap’s mana cost.
Destroy two target lands. Lavaball Trap deals 4 damage to each creature.

The alternate mana cost is obviously good against fetch lands. But as a clever opponent might choose to activate the lands in your turn as soon as you keep having five mana up, it seems like a dream scenario to ever cast the card. If there are more cards printed against which this might be effective, and there are decks actually using Rampant Growth, it might see some splash play here and there. And I wouldn’t even be too unhappy about it.

Scythe Tiger
Creature — Cat
When Scythe Tiger enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you sacrifice a land.

As it is, I don’t really think the card is any good. I think this card would have been a great opportunity to make it a lot more interesting with a Portal-like rules text of “When Scythe Tiger enters the battlefield, sacrifice a Forest.” I think the times of Rogue Elephant are past, as there are far too many good creatures, while control decks lose a lot of value in spot removal, which makes the advantage of having shroud not very strong.

Valkut, the Molten Pinnacle
Valkut, the Molten Pinnacle enters the battlefield tapped.
Whenever a mountain enters the battlefield under your control, if you control at least five other Mountains, you may have Valkut, the Molten Pinnacle deal 3 damage to target creature or player.
Tap: Add R to your mana pool.

One of the most interesting cards in the set, and I have no idea if it will end up good or not — and the name of the card screams to be legendary, even though it’s not. The card would have been great in times with Solemn Simulacrum or Wayfarer’s Bauble. I think it is too slow for an aggressive Red deck, especially if there is a creature printed that screams to be cast on turn 1. Mogg Fanatic has already rotated out, and Valkut will never see the same Standard play as Figure of Destiny. The only one-drop that might be playable in a very aggressive Red deck with the 8 available Ball Lightnings would be Goblin Guide.

Goblin Guide
Creature — Goblin Scout
Whenever Goblin Guide attacks, defending player reveals the top card of his or her library. If it’s a land card, that player puts it into his or her hand.

Goblin Guide seems fantastic if there is a place for a Ball Lightning strategy in Standard. The disadvantage is not that big, as your games tend to end turn 5 if you are winning, and if you play first and your opponent reveals a land he will often end up discarding anyway.

Zendikar has a lot of ideas I really like. Landfall is an interesting ability for Limited, and I like how it might impact the land count of some Draft and Sealed decks. Trap is an ability I am really excited about, as it leads to more complex situations, giving you the opportunity to play around some traps. The only other thing I am looking forward to seeing in the new set is a strong “Careful Consideration” style card draw spell, as the format will miss such a thing once Cryptic Command is gone.

Thanks for reading! Until next week…

Manu B