The Secret Lair – Zendikar Musings

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Friday, October 2nd – After spending a couple of weeks hitting WotC with the beatdown stick over sneaking tournament utility cards into the Mythic rarity slot, it’s a pleasure to praise them when they actually do something that qualifies as a bona fide Crowing Moment of Awesome: Priceless Treasures.

After spending a couple of weeks hitting WotC with the beatdown stick over sneaking tournament utility cards into the Mythic rarity slot, it’s a pleasure to praise them when they actually do something that qualifies as a bona fide Crowing Moment of Awesome.

Priceless Treasures

When I first heard the rumour about Eternal cards being randomly inserted into booster packs, I was skeptical to say the least. Reserve list, hello.

(This is actually one of their self imposed rules I’d actually like them to break anyway, but I’ll come to that later.)

The solution is fantastically elegant. Don’t reprint the cards at all, but take old cards and insert them randomly into new Zendikar boosters. Brilliant!

It makes you wonder where they got the cards from…

WOTC BOSS: “Come in Dithers. I hear you have a full set of the Power Nine.”

WOTC DRONE: “Yes sir. It’s my pride and joy.”

WOTC BOSS: “Hand them over.”

WOTC DRONE: “What sir?”

WOTC BOSS: “The marketing boys want to insert old cards into new Zendikar packs as part of the promotional campaign. We need to get hold of them from somewhere.”

WOTC DRONE: “But… But…”

WOTC BOSS: “Stop blubbing Dithers. It’s for the good of the company.”

WOTC DRONE (tearful): “Yes sir.”

This is an idea of fantastic genius in so many ways. First off, given the price of some of the cards involved, it really is like finding buried gold. They’ve also made them so rare that finding one is a genuine moment of excitement. Even with the big chase rares, the Lotus Cobras and Baneslayer Angels, enough of them will be opened at any decent size pre-release for it to not be particularly newsworthy. But someone cracking open an old Dual land, or an Ali from Cairo, or… the jackpot itself… a Black Lotus, now that’s excitement!

They even managed to cover all their bases on this one. The cards aren’t standard legal, so the everyday bread and butter tournament scene isn’t warped to oblivion by a sudden influx of Vintage-era heavy hitters. They were even sneaky enough to put out some late minute rule changes to cover what happens when the Priceless Treasure cards get opened in a Limited event:

Section 7.3 — Card Use in Limited Tournaments
Other than basic land, only cards from the expansions of the boosters opened (and only cards opened in that player’s pool) may be used in a player’s deck. For example, in a Magic 2010 Sealed Deck tournament, any card in a booster other then the Magic 2010 game cards received by the player and basic land may not be used in a player’s deck during that tournament.

Section 7.5 — Sealed Deck Swap
In Sealed Deck tournaments, the Head Judge may require players to perform a deck swap prior to deck construction. Players receive unopened product and register the contents (except basic land cards) on deck lists. Any card in a booster that is not a card from the expansion of the opened booster is retained by the player that registers the cards (example: a player that registers the contents of a booster during a deck swap keeps the token card, if any). Players who drop from the tournament before fulfilling this duty will receive a match loss in the first round. Tournament Officials then collect the recorded card pools and re-distribute them randomly. A player may randomly receive the product he or she registered. The Head Judge should require players to sort the cards they register according to some criteria (e.g. color and then alphabetically) to assist the player receiving the pool.

The first change nips the ‘why can’t I play this Ancestral Recall, I opened it?’ argument in the bud.

The second covers deck swaps. I don’t know what the exact response would be if someone opening a Black Lotus was then told to pass their entire card pool to the person sitting opposite, but I imagine some combination of ‘cold dead fingers,’ ‘prise,’ and ‘from’ might be involved.

In this respect the Priceless Treasures are like tokens or Pro Player cards: extra goodness that doesn’t interfere with the rest of the pack. No one’s going to moan that their rare slot was taken up with a useless card they can’t even play down their local FNM.

I suppose in theory you could complain about losing the basic land from the pack, but that would be taking anti-Magic trolling to unprecedented levels of idiocy. If it still bothers you, and I know basic land is vital to being able to play the game, be happy in the knowledge I will be enacting a special Priceless Treasure for basic land redemption scheme. Mail me your unwanted Priceless Treasure cards and I will replace them with a Zendikar basic land of your choice.

I might even make it one of the alternate art ones.

The sneaky part, the moment of true genius, is the neat sidestepping of violating the reprint policy. New cards are not being printed, they’re just being recycled from another source. The overall number of Black Lotus’s (Lotii?) in existence is still going to be the same. The difference is some of them are now going to be busted open in packs by people who might not even have been alive back when the card was first printed.

I wonder if this trickle (even if it is a minute trickle) of Eternal cards entering the environment might generate some interest in the old formats. I suspect a lot of the Priceless Treasure cards will inevitably get traded back straight to card dealers for $50 bills (or to complete bastards for a Silklash Spider and a Spawnyard), but if a few look at their freshly busted Ancestral Recall and think, ‘you know, I’d really like to cast this bad boy in an actual Constructed tournament,’ that’s got to be a good thing for the health of the game.

Even though it looks like they’ve been careful to make sure these are existing cards (from reports of cards being signed and general appearance of wear), I suppose there is sort of grounds for complaint. If I squint real hard, I can sort of see how it might feel to fork out $2000 or whatever for a Black Lotus then watch as a little kid cracks one out of a $4 booster.

Mostly I’d just be happy that I had a spare $2000 lying around to splash out on a piece of cardboard though.

The reserve list is irritating, but I can see how important it is not to mess around with that, especially when it comes to the Power. Personally I wouldn’t mind if they introduced the occasional trickle of fresh Moxes and company into the wild. There are a finite number of Black Lotuses in existence. Inevitably some of these are going to meet with accidents (I once had a pint of milk spilled over my Vintage deck). A tiny influx would stabilize the prices at just f*****g expensive rather than wondering if you might need to hire a pair of armed bodyguards to accompany you to every Vintage event in a few years time.

I even mused if they could do this in a careful manner. Make them prizes at special events or something. Make them really really rare. But at least get them in circulation.

I mean, how much damage could it do to the price of Black Lotus if as few as five new ones were created a year.

Well, quite a lot apparently, as someone who knew a lot more about these things explained to me while I was musing over my naïve idea.

It’s not the amount; it’s the confidence. Even if WotC only reprinted a handful of old cards to use as Priceless Treasures, the single prices would collapse overnight as everyone tried to dump their Power before the price plummeted.

The thought wouldn’t be, ‘well, it’s only five new Black Lotus, they’re still going to be damn rare,’ it would be, ‘well, if they can reprint five this year, what’s to stop them reprinting ten, or a hundred, or a thousand next year?’

That’s why it’s so important they’re only recycling existing cards.

(Or seen to be recycling existing cards. I at least hope they had the tricksiness and low down cunning to run off a few sheets on the sly to sneak in amongst the obvious cards with signatures and sandpapered backs. It’s what I’d do, but then I’m evil.)

The only real bad consequence appears to be pushing demand to such a fever pitch that the first limited supply is nowhere near enough. I don’t know if reports of boxes going at twice the retail price on eBay is accurate or just more random frothing. It might be people failing basic mathematics again. We do this a lot, especially when it comes to probabilities. The cards are so rare it really isn’t worth going nuts over.

It’s a lottery. Most big lotteries are ridiculously bad EV (Expected Value). A person taking the same £ or $ they would have spent on a lottery ticket and placing it in a bank instead is going to, in all but a few exceptional cases, finish off up on someone who blew it on a ticket instead.

In reality, buying the odd lottery ticket is excusable as the potential winnings are so massive and instead of being saved the money would likely only have gone on beer and ciggies (and other… er… things).

Having a flutter on a single lottery ticket is fine.

However, buying a thousand lottery tickets to improve your chances of winning is seriously deranged. Yes, you are indeed a thousand times more likely to win the jackpot, but a thousand times infinitessimally small is still infinitessimally small in my book.

Enough random carping anyway. This was a fantastic piece of ingenuity and would have made the pre-releases truly memorable for those lucky enough to uncover a ‘Priceless Treasure.’

Or it might be more like this:

LITTLE JIMMY: “Um, I think there’s something wrong with this pack. There’s this funny looking card in it.”

STOREKEEPER: “Let me see. Oh yes. I heard about this. Some of the new packs are defective. Some bad cards got in. Here, I’ll take them and give you a brand new pack instead. How does that sound?”

LITTLE JIMMY: “Gee thanks Mister. You’re such a nice guy to your customers.”

Someone’s probably already done that joke.

Anyway, this was a really fine move from WotC. It would be nice if they could do something like this regularly, but I suspect it’s the kind of move that can only work a limited number of times before the gloss wears off, maybe even only once.

You kind of feel sorry for the next big set in the queue. How do you follow this?

Anyway, forget about the Treasures. What about the…

Deadly Perils

I’ve got so many ideas for deadly perils for future print runs I’m bursting with excitement.

Spring loaded traps. Open the booster and the trap flips round and chops their fingers off. Fantastic! Hehe. It might be a problem for limited tournaments though. All that blood is bound to make the cards marked.

Poison. Plenty of substances you can imbue into the cardboard that are absorbed on skin contact. Hilarious with booster drafts. Last one not writhing on the floor and puking their own intestines out is the winner. Best when applied to Kraken Hatchling.

Spider mites. Deadly almost-microscopic killer spider mites.

Anthrax powder. Always a perennial fave.

And, saving the best to last, the miniature nuclear device. For when you really want the tournament to start with a bang. No one will forget that pre-release!

Ah, so many ideas.

Why won’t AForsythe return my emails….

Someone’s already done this joke as well, haven’t they?

Zendikar Musings

This article was originally going to be a look over the Zendikar cards that jumped out at me when I was skimming through the spoiler. Unfortunately, my home internet connection has been completely out for the past week, so my skimming has literally just been skimming during my lunch breaks at work.

As I don’t really play competitively anymore, the things I look for when going through the set are cards that do cool things, or can go at the heart of cool decks. If I don’t talk about cards that are obviously awesome in the new Standard format, it’s not because I don’t recognise their complete and utter awesomeness, it’s because I don’t really care that there’s a shock that upgrades to Char for four additional mana, or THE Wrath of God replacement (coming to a core set near you any time soon).

This will be a look at the rares I’ll be looking to filch while rare-grabbing booster drafting the new set.

The first place to look at possible decks are the new set mechanics. In most cases there’s always a fun deck based around new mechanics.

The big mechanic in Zendikar is Landfall. This triggers whenever a land hits play and then cool stuff happens. Even cooler stuff happens if you can make multiple lands hit play in the same turn. So a cool landfall deck is going to be a mixture of enablers and cards with Landfall.

The best enablers are going to be the fetch lands as they’re effectively two land hits in one. They’re also going to be pricey as tournament players remember how good they were last time. There will be more around than people think though. The forgotten side of the Mythic equation is how much more common normal rares are nowadays. I grab rare dual lands online whenever I see them in drafts, and I’m already at about two each of the new M10 ones from not that many drafts.

Thankfully there are already budget equivalents that will give the same effect, such as Terramorphic Expanse and the Shard specific Alara fetchlands. Green also has plenty of enablers such as Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition.

From other sets, it’s a real shame Scapeshift is rotating out just before it has a chance to be really silly. BDM has already mentioned Ob Nixilis with Warp World. I suspect Warp World is probably a total blast with Landfall in general. I imagine I might raid the bargain bots to get my play set of that M10 rare at some point.

Out of the actual Landfall cards, Emeria Angel and Rampaging Baloths interest me the most. I like repeatable effects that make creatures so I can see a lot of fun in seeing how much of a Bird or Beast army I can make out of these cards.

In the ‘just how big can we make this guy’ category there’s Baloth Woodcrasher and Ob Nixilis, the Demonic Something or Other. There are plenty of smaller size critters (I think Geopede has already been mentioned as a possibility in Extended Zoo decks) that get +2/+2, but at +4/+4 and trample the Woodcrasher appeals to my ‘overkill to the point of a greasy smear’ sentiments.

I should also mention the obvious Lotus Cobra

Why did they make you mythic, sob.

I actually secretly hope it turns out to be the biggest tournament flop in existence so I can pick up a few on the cheap to throw in silly casual decks. It is an ability that looks a lot of fun. I can’t see myself justifying splashing out for them if they stick at the 20-30 tix range on MTGO though.

Maybe I can just get lucky and rip them in drafts. That’s how I ended up with four Reflecting Pool.

The other interesting looking Landfall mythic (actually, quite a few of the Landfall rares are mythic for some reason) is Eternity Vessel. If you have enough fetch land effects it’s going to be hard for some decks to actually kill you.

While I’ll try to get the full play sets of Emeria Angel and Rampaging Baloths (and Lotus Cobra). Eternity Vessel and Ob Nixilis are the kind of cute one ofs I like to run in my decks.

The two other Landfall cards I quite liked the look of for fun effects were Grazing Gladeheart and Hedron Crab.

Emeria Angel and Rampaging Baloths look like the core of an army spawning green-white landfall deck that’s probably a lot of fun.

Another fun iteration could take the deck off into Green-Blue and be a crazy milling deck with Hedron Crabs. Eternity Vessel would be a fit for that deck in making it damn hard for them to kill you as you reset your life every time a land hits play (at instant speed with fetches). As I was musing this I was thinking of how silly the Cobra would be for powering out the Eternity Vessel. Then I was thinking of other cards to power out that would fit the milling theme. Turn three Nemesis of Reason. Hmm, that might be fun to build.

Except getting hold of the Cobras is going to be a nightmare. Weepy face.

Zendikar is land related so there is a little sub theme of powering up cards based on the number of lands in play. Again, it’s a shame Shard of Alara gets in between Lorwyn block and Zendikar. Battlewand Oak and Dauntless Dourbark would love this set. I did have them in a Forests! Type deck with Howl of the Night Pack and plenty of cards that put forests into play. Timbermaw Larva and Primal Bellow play with that theme, but the deck is kind of a mess as it really wants Time Spiral block enablers (Yavimaya Dryad, Mwolnuli Acid Moss) and a split of cards from Lorwyn and Zendikar to really have fun. To top it all the green land, Oran-Rief, the Vastwood, doesn’t really fit the cycle that the spoiled cards Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Emeria, the Sky Ruin hinted at.

I like both Emeria and Valakut. Valakut looks like it has the most serious constructed possibilities. There’s the Scapeshift instant kill combo with Valakut, but I think it will also be a very dangerous addition to mono-red burn decks. Your opponent is in a rough place if they’re down on low life and nearly every possible card you could draw, including lands, is fatal. It won’t necessarily be an auto-include. Red decks don’t really like coming into play tapped lands as it screws up the curve too much, but if room can be made for Ghitu Encampment there might be space for a couple of Valakut.

Emeria needs a lot of plains and again is a little out of its time. How much would this love to be in the Coldsnap era Martyr of Sands Mono-white control decks? My first stab would be trying to get the plains out to turn it on. Kor Cartographer fits here. I was hoping he was one of a cycle that did the same for each colour, but no such joy, just the Cartographer. Explorer’s Scope is probably a reasonable way of getting extra plains into play. Armillary Sphere from Conflux might make an appearance here (as well as in any of the other land count matters type concoctions).

Once you have a lot of plains in play there need to be ways to use them. Conqueror’s Pledge comes to mind (How Magic has moved on from the days of Fallen Empires and Icatian Town). I might even play Landblind Ritual in this type of deck.

You know I should probably also think of creatures that I actually want to recur when I get up to enough plains to turn Emeria on.

Now onto Tribal strategies.

My favorite two tribes from Lorwyn were Giants and Treefolk, probably because they were terrible for Constructed so even their good rares were relatively inexpensive. They also had plenty of stupid big creatures that did fun things. I really liked the Giants deck. I built it round Thundercloud Shaman, some accelerants and every silly rare giant that fit the theme.

For me the essence of a fun (as opposed to ruthlessly good) tribal deck is a solid core of on-tribe creatures and then plenty of tribal creatures to round out the deck with interesting effects.

Goblins got a shot of nitro in Zendikar. They already got a boost in M10 with pseudo-War Chief Goblin Chieftain. Now they get a Lackey with double-strike, a walking (sprinting?) piece of land destruction and a hasty 2/2 for one mana in a colour where it was previously regarded as dangerous to even print a Grizzly Bear without a drawback.

Did Wizards hire Dan Paskins without telling anyone?

For casual it might be a little too good though. I like the idea of connecting with Instigator and dropping two Siege-Gangs on the table (does it really create two triggers… yowch?), but I suspect a lot of games might get disconnected as soon as the goblins appear. People still remember the remorseless killing machine Goblins became after Scourge came out.

I wonder if that might be the reason Goblin Guide came out as rare and Warren Instigator Mythic. They’ll give us a reasonable Goblin deck but not make it so common everyone can build it. (In the way virtually every casual game online after Morningtide came out was against a Rogue deck)

Vampires is the other buzz tribal deck, again with some foundations laid down in M10. As much as I utterly despise vampires (If you like horror, you get bored of them very quickly and I still haven’t forgiven Anne Rice for transforming the horror section of book stores into the vampire romance section) this looks the more interesting tribe to build a deck out of. The Instigator/Siege-Gang interaction aside, a goblin deck is pretty much going to be about making efficiently costed guys and turning them sideways until your opponent falls over. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’ll happily do it all day in tournaments. When I’m building silly casual fodder, I like a bit more richness from my decks.

The vampire tribe in Zendikar has the traditional suicide black feel tournament players will enjoy, but there are also plenty of big goofy guys to fit my idea of a fun tribal deck. There are also plenty of interesting support cards to make it feel like a proper theme deck: Feast of Blood (Crush Underfoot analogue) and Blade of the Bloodchief.

The obvious tribal build around card from blue (Lullmage Mentor) isn’t appropriate for the only real place I play currently (MTGO casual room). Elves have Nissa Revine, but they seem a bit light after that, probably as a reaction to the very strong elf decks that have been around recently.

White has the Kor and they seem to be the equivalents to the Leonin from Mirrodin (so much so I wonder why they used Kor for Zendikar and not brought back the equally equipment loving Leonin. Kor from past sets had the crazy damage redirection abilities, which doesn’t fit with the Kor in this set.) This definitely feels more like a casual tribe. Initially they don’t look anywhere near the same power level of Kithkin for example.

Armament Master looks like the core (Kor, geddit? Oh my god. I’ve just turned into Richard Hagon) card for this as a fun deck. Cast Conqueror’s pledge. Equip something to Armament Master. Inflict grievous bodily harm.

My God. Am I at 4000 words already. Ah, now I remember why I used an article for each color back in the day.

Anyway, some other cards that impinged on the build around me radar.

Luminarch Ascension.

More of a vicious control-on-control weapon. Or just about anything-on-control weapon.

Living Tsunami

A Waterspout Djinn for a new age. Obviously enables Landfall, but relaying the lands with enters-the-battlefield effects every turn feels particularly nice.


Outside of his tribe, this is still a useful recurring critter. Plenty of cards love to sacrifice critters over and over. Carnage Altar in the same set is a simple, if slow, utilisation.

Elemental Appeal, Zektar Shrine Expedition.

Hands up. Who’s the real Ball Lightning?

Trapmaker’s Snare.

There are a bunch of traps that have 0 as the alternate cost. You could make a silly Trap Deck that fetched whatever one the opponent was foolish enough to trigger.

Overall the traps look hard to build casual decks around. I like my casual decks to be largely proactive, they get out there and do cool stuff, whereas traps are completely reactive. I think their most frequent use will be as nasty sideboard fodder or vicious answers for predictable metagames. Situations where there’s a very good chance the alternate triggers will happen. The range of possible decks in more casual environments renders the traps less effective though.

I did snigger when I read Summoning Trap. One of the designers for this set really really hates having their stuff countered.

Then I remembered it would be the third spell and just trigger the Mindbreak Trap in their opponent’s hand.

Kazuul Warlord, Turntimber Ranger

The build around Ally cards. Some of them will get quite big and there’s enough variety to be interesting.

Crypt of Agadeem

Of the main shard mechanics Unearth is the one I’ve struggled most to build a silly deck around. Maybe Crypt of Agadeem will give me the silly big turn possibilities I’m helplessly addicted to. Traumatize oneself, activate Crypt of Agadeem, Rise from your Grave!

This has got long enough already and there are still cards I could talk about.

I’ll have to wait until the set comes out online before I get a chance to turn my musings into (horrible) deck lists.

Thanks for reading…