The Magic Show #159 – Zendikar Adventures

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Friday, September 25th – Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re barreling toward the Zendikar prerelease, ready to crack some packs, rock some Landfall, and discover our upcoming Standard and Extended PTQ environment. You ready for an adventure? Let’s go!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re barreling toward the Zendikar prerelease, ready to crack some packs, rock some Landfall, and discover our upcoming Standard and Extended PTQ environment. You ready for an adventure? Let’s go!

Zendikar Adventures… in Price Management

So this past week has been a long string of explanations, reasoning, and calming of the playerbase over the incredible Lotus Cobra. Quite simply, the problem is twofold: One, the card is incredibly hyped because it’s obvious it’s ridiculously good. Second, the card is being overhyped by the fact that everyone is still living in Magical Christmas Land where Turn 3 Ultimatums are the norm and your opponent lives in a little bowl and swims in circles.

The truth is somewhere in between. Will Lotus Cobra help define formats? You bet it will. Will it be game over if your opponent untaps with one? Of course not. The variance in Magic is simply too great to say that any card that provides an advantage, such a free spell from Bloodbraid Elf or even a 7-for-1 via Cruel Ultimatum, will warp the game to oblivion. The fact is, many players have won after their opponent flips up Blightning or Maelstrom Pulse from Bloodbraid Elf just like many players, including myself, have won games even after having Cruel Ultimatum resolved against them.

With that said, the other issue with Lotus Cobra, as well as my own awesome spoiler Warren Instigator and the Legacy-and-Vintage-impacting Mindbreak Trap, is the fact that these cards are Mythic when they don’t really ah…’feel’ Mythic. Now this is a very gray area, so I’ll tread lightly. The fact is, Wizards of the Coast is a business, and they want to make money so they can continue making this game we like so damn much. This sometimes includes “rare-ing up” some cards in order to sell sets. While you could argue that Baneslayer Angel was made a Mythic Rare as an insurance policy to sell M10 packs, you could also argue that M10 is selling like hotcakes on the back of its awesome design, killer flavor and…the fact that Baneslayer Angel is a Mythic Rare. Zendikar has already sold out of its first printing two weeks before it has even hit the shelves, and you could also argue this has to do with its awesome design, killer flavor… and three ridiculously powerful Mythic cards.

But that would negate awesome rares such as the enemy fetchlands, the new Wrath of God, and other goodies, just like the statement before it negated the power of new duals and awesome rares like Elvish Archdruid and Great Sable Stag. The fact is, the Magic cards we see in person for the first time this weekend have been finished for a year. This means that Lotus Cobra has been Mythic for a year at Wizards of the Coast, and so have Mindbreak Trap and Warren Instigator. Complaining about this now won’t change what’s in Worldwake, or the set after that (rumored to be Rise of the Eldrazi), or even Magic 2011. It’s like complaining about how the actor portrayed a character on the opening weekend of a movie. There’s nothing that can be done, probably not even for the actor or director’s next movie either.

The definition of Mythic spells, as originally defined, was “epic-feeling creatures and spells,” whatever that means. Just recently Aaron Forsythe twittered the following to help us further figure out what makes a Mythic: “My definition of mythic rare: cards that are jaw-dropping to some part of the audience.” And I agree, Lotus Cobra, Mindbreak Trap and Warren Instigator all made my jaw drop. Partially because they’re so damn good, and partially because it is jaw-dropping how much tournament players are going to be dishing out for playsets of these cards.

Am I saying it’s wrong to put these cards at Mythic Rarity? Nah. It is Wizards’ prerogative to put whatever cards they want at whatever rarity they want. However, I will go on record saying that I really dislike all three of these cards at Mythic, simply because a 2/1 two-drop with a great ability isn’t really Mythic in my book, and neither is a great counterspell. Buuut… Not sure about ole Instigator though. He’s pretty damn Mythic, in my opinion, for a Goblin. Seriously, that card made your jaw drop, and you’ve got the Legacy players telling you it’s overhyped as it is. However, with this ‘jaw dropping’ distinction needed for a Mythic, would it really be out of place for Lightning Bolt to be Mythic? I mean, it’s awe-inspiring, and I know my jaw dropped when I saw it was coming back to Standard, yet it’s a mere common.

For me I believe you have to be able to appreciate the fun side as well as the business side of Magic, even if you don’t really enjoy acknowledging said financials. There are plenty of posts and comments bemoaning how expensive it is to play tournament-level Magic. And many of those complaints have nuggets of truth to them. Gasp! It really does cost money to play Tier 1 decks in tournaments for cash and prizes! But it also takes creativity to take the cheaper, unknown gems and turn them into powerhouses to win those same events. There’s also, of course, an entire segment of the player population who has never and will never see a Magic Show, play outside their kitchen table or see the inside of a PTQ Top 8. This is our variance, and to keep all of those player demographics happy is quite a challenge, and one I honestly think Wizards has gotten better and better at.

Either way I’ll wrap this up by saying yes there will be more Baneslayer Angels and Lotus Cobras in the future. This is how Wizards sells its product, and there’s no use complaining about it. I for one am still glad enemy fetchlands and Day of Judgment are simply rare, along with a host of other powerful and useful cards in the upcoming standard environment. There are still plenty of ‘crap’ Mythics, if by ‘crap’ you mean crap in the format you enjoy best. Until then, however, try to appreciate the fact that not all rarity decisions are going to go your way.

Now, on to the spoilers!

Zendikar Adventures in Spoiling

This week we didn’t really receive any big ‘Lotus Cobra’-esque reveals, but one in particular looks really fascinating:

Bloodchief Ascension
At the beginning of each player’s end step, if an opponent lost 2 or more life this turn, you may put a quest counter on Bloodchief Ascension.
Whenever a card is put into an opponent’s graveyard from anywhere, if Bloodchief Ascension has three or more quest counters on it, you may have that player lose 2 life. If you do, you gain 2 life.

This card is just fantastic. Let’s see what makes it tick: Firstly, two damage a turn is going to be a pretty easy thing to do, whether you’re a mono black Vampire deck or Red/Black Blightning aggro. We now have Carnophage 2.0 in the form of Vampire Lacerator and Goblin Guide to make sure the two damage a turn is no biggie, along with Volcanic Fallout and Lightning Bolt to trigger this as well. Once this enchantment is ‘turned on’, holy crap, basically everything your opponent does will be painful for them.

Now the key to the power of this card is the wording: Whenever a card is put into an opponent’s graveyard from anywhere, you drain two life out of them. They play a removal spell? You drain two. You kill their guy? You drain two. They use a fetchland? You drain two. The card just keeps giving you a bonus for playing Magic over the course of the game.

Multiples of this trigger each other, another crazy fun and scary fact, and just think of how fun it will be to turn on Bloodchief Ascension, watch them use a fetchland and then play Archive Trap for free to kill them instantly. Ha! Now that’s a whoopin. I think this card is getting just the right amount of hype: It’s obvious the card is ridiculous, but in what form the winning deck built around it will be is still a mystery. I would suggest picking these up while they’re still in the “Is It Really That Good?” phase.

Speaking of underrated cards, check out Conqueror’s Pledge:

Conqueror’s Pledge
Kicker 6
Put six 1/1 white Kor Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield. If Conqueror’s Pledge was kicked, put twelve 1/1 white Kor Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield instead.

Wow. I don’t know if you realize how powerful six dudes are on Turn 5, let alone with an Honor of the Pure out, but damn. This puts Cloudgoat Ranger to shame in some ways, and at the very least shows us Spectral Procession 2.0, and I’ll be damned if I underrated another awesome white token producer.

I think the trick to this card is to actually look past the kicker. If you’re playing on tournament tables and your lands don’t say “Urza’s” on them, you’re never going to kick this. It’s nice to have it as an option if you ever really do get to that point, but I digress. This card is right up the white weenie curve, allowing you to play Ajani Goldmane on Turn 4 and follow up with this and what will have to be a You Have Day of Judgment Or We Go To Game 2 moment. It gives you one more point of power than the mana you paid for it, and while it almost demands to be played in a singular style of deck, it’s damn good in that deck and I would pick these up before everyone else notices.

Also note how Wizards gave you the best Anti-Volcanic Fallout card this side of Harm’s Way:

Brave the Elements
Choose a color. White creatures you control gain protection from the chosen color until end if turn.

Cheap, instant protection for all of your guys, token or not? I’ll take it.

But we’re not done with awesome white cards yet. How about the Creature-Only Oblivion Ring, Journey to Nowhere:

Journey to Nowhere
When Journey to Nowhere enters the battlefield, exile target creature.
When Journey to Nowhere leaves the battlefield, return the exiled creature to the battlefield under its owner’s control.

Obviously fantastic in limited, I don’t know if this will make it’s way into constructed but I love how it will be awesome in casual decks and in limited will do about 90% of what Oblivion Ring accomplished in past formats such as Lorwyn and Shards of Alara. I love the design and look forward to future explorations of white’s Oblivion Ring-esque possibilities.

How about a really clever blue card? There’s no shortage of those, and in Zendikar we have Cosi’s Trickster:

Cosi’s Trickster
Creature — Merfolk
Whenever an opponent shuffles his or her library, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Cosi’s Trickster.

Yup, this is a card that will probably not excite Standard players, but could be a beast in Vintage and Legacy formats where they shuffle their hearts out every chance they get. Between fetchlands, the myriad of Tutors, Gifts Ungiven, Trinket Mage and other all-stars, Cosi’s Trickster could hit 4/4 in just a few turns flat. That’s not too bad for a blue 1/1 that is still pitchable to Force of Will. It also seems fantastic in EDH, where your myriad of opponents will be happily tutoring for things and fetching lands while the Trickster reaches immense proportions. Best EDH one-drop this side of Sol Ring? Perhaps.

Speaking of clever blue cards, here’s one:

Trapmaker’s Snare
Search your library for a Trap card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your libary.

I love this card because of the awesome Traps available in Zendikar. While you’re revealing your trap, you can do this both offensively and defensively. If you’re Blue/Green playing a control deck, and really want to resolve your fatty, use Trapmaker’s Snare to get the Flores-spoiled Summoning Trap:

Summoning Trap
Instant — Trap
If a creature you cast this turn was countered by a spell or ability an opponent controlled, you may pay 0 rather then pay Summoning Trap’s casting cost.
Look at the top seven cards of your library. You may put a creature card from among them onto the battlefield. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

This Trap is very interesting in that it rewards playing large guys, is still viable as a six-mana end-of-turn surprise such as Sphinx of Lost Truths, and is a potential blowout depending on what monster(s) you happen to find in your top seven. This will be one scary trap for control players, and I hope they have their own Mindbreak Trap at the ready just in case.

Moving on, you know how Vampires are going to rock in Standard, right? Or, at least, it sure looks like Wizards is trying to make them matter. Either way, deckbuilders were looking for something to go somewhere between Vampire Nighthawk and Sorin Markov, and Wizards delivered. Check out the black Intro Pack rare, Malakir Bloodwitch:

Malakir Bloodwitch
Creature – Vampire Shaman
Flying, protection from white
When Malakir Bloodwitch enters the battlefield, each opponent loses life equal to the number of
Vampires you control. You gain life equal to the life lost this way.

Oh yes, that does say protection from Baneslayer Angel, and don’t you forget it. I for one am astounded this isn’t six mana, as it certainly looks like it based on previous five-mana-4-power-fliers such as Tenth Edition’s Sengir Vampire. Nowadays not only do you get four power of flier for five mana, you get protection and a kick ass ability to boot. The ability to drain 4+ life with Malakir Bloodwitch is no joke and will be a powerful finisher that is not only evasive but dodges the three most powerful and popular removal spells in the format: Doom Blade, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile while not allowing their Baneslayer Angel to attack. Now that’s quality. As I mentioned before, this is the rare to the Intro Pack, so expect that to keep prices reasonable much like Honor of the Pure never went to lofty $15+ heights thanks to its Intro Pack inclusion.

But you know what I really love about Zendikar? The flavor. The flavor of Zendikar, an ‘Adventure world’ where travelers of all types, hell, let’s call em ‘Allies’ as they need to work together in their own way, help each other traverse the incredible world around them, even as its sometimes actively tries to kill them. The artifacts in this set, at least the ones that refer to specific pieces of equipment an adventurer might use, are just awesome and really give you that Indiana Jones feeling when looking over them. This is the intangible uniqueness that each set tries to bring, and with Zendikar it really shines. I mean, just look at how Zelda this set looks. The Grappling Hook? The boots? The ‘Adventuring Gear’? Fantastic.

As for the set, I’m pretty sure you know how I feel about it. Zendikar for me has been a hell of a reveal and looks to be fairly kick ass in the new Standard environment. Warp World looks ridiculous with Lotus Cobra and Ob Nixilis, mono black Vampires WILL be a deck that is destined to show up in some fashion, and there are plenty of surprises in store I believe from other ‘suspect’ rares and Mythics such as Beastmaster Ascension and Eldrazi Monument.

So you know what to do: Find yourself a prerelease and get yourself to one. I’ll be live and in person this weekend with Ken Nagle from Wizards of the Coast in Richmond, Virginia, and I hope to see you all there. Say hello, play some Magic, and have fun. Because that’s what it’s all about.

So until next time Magic players, this is Evan Erwin. Tapping the cards… so you don’t have to.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin