Thirst for Knowledge – Onward, to Zendikar

Read Chris Jobin every week... at StarCityGames.com!Wednesday, September 9th – Here I am again, in the lull between expansions. It’s times like these that I loathe being a Magic writer, as often it is difficult to find relevant topics to write about. As luck would have it, however, this week I’ve got a decent amount of content to cover. Zendikar spoilers are in full swing, and there are quite a few choice bits to sink our teeth into.

Here I am again, in the lull between expansions. It’s times like these that I loathe being a Magic writer, as often it is difficult to find relevant topics to write about. As luck would have it, however, this week I’ve got a decent amount of content to cover. Zendikar spoilers are in full swing, and there are quite a few choice bits to sink our teeth into.

Now, I had planned on writing a bit about Extended in this week’s article, seeing as the format is about to undergo a drastic shift with the loss of the fetchlands. But, late last night, this was spoiled on MTGSalvation.com:

Arid Mesa
Land (Rare)
T, Pay 1 Life, Sacrifice Arid Mesa: Search your library for a Mountain or Plains card and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.

So… yep. To every person who said “it’s never going to happen,” you sure do look kind of stupid right now. I mean, sure, Zendikar is clearly the best fit for these, but I’ll admit it seems a bit unreal to think that we’re finally getting enemy fetchlands. With Landfall as Zendikar’s main mechanic (along with a “land matters” theme), these lands could potentially make all the difference in Standard. This is worthy of note, too, since the fetchlands’ impact on the Standard format has always been dwarfed by their use in other formats such as Extended or Legacy. I’m not really saying that they’ll be better in Standard or anything, but probably much more so than the original fetches were in Onslaught Standard.

Still, it’s not all fun and games. That is, consider what Standard will soon look like. We’ll have the Alara shardlands and the M10 duals as our mana-fixing, and then whatever Zendikar gives us. Considering that we’re getting enemy fetches, I’m not so sure they’ll be printing anything else beyond that in terms of mana-fixing lands (though who knows — this is the land block, after all), so our options are far more numbered than one might realize. Now, at first glance the M10 lands seem amazing with fetchlands, but it’s mostly an illusion. The problem is that we’re trying to combine enemy-colored fetchlands with allied-color duals, which doesn’t work too well.

Here’s an example: say you were playing a Jund deck, and your first-turn land drop is the BG fetchland. When you crack it, you go get a Forest with it. On your second turn you can play a Rootbound Crag untapped and have RG up. However, on the third turn you must play a Swamp in order to get Black, as neither Dragonskull Summit nor a shardland will do. You’re still going to end up a turn behind unless you missed that Swamp, so you can see how this could be an issue. I suppose a second fetchland would work there as well, but we’re talking about only eight or so lands in your entire deck would work in this instance.

Now, if the fetchland was instead a Wooded Foothills, you could crack it for a Mountain and then both Rootbound Crag and Dragonskull Summit would be “online” in the subsequent turns. Granted, this interaction could very easily see a lot of playtime in Extended this coming season, but in Standard it’s obviously impossible. So while it’s great that the enemy fetches can help us play Putrid Leech on two, they won’t be miraculously pulling any manabases together anytime soon. I hope for deck-building’s sake that we get another set of duals in Zendikar to help us cast the Alara cards (at least allied-color lands, yeah?).

But what about other formats? How good are the new fetches in Extended and Legacy? In reality, they’re not much different than the old fetches in either format, but there are a few things to note. For example, in a Legacy Threshold deck, we can now play a UG fetchland to get Tropicals, Tundras, and basic Forests/Islands, which is a vast improvement over Windswept Heath. No more will we be stuck in that awkward situation where we want a basic Island, but only have a Heath to get it. I know that that has happened to me a thousand times, and each time I just wished I had a UG fetch. And look, now I do!

The impact of these lands will be most apparent in Extended, far more than any other format. I’m actually very sympathetic with Quentin Martin, who just wrote two lengthy articles on the Extended format for Austin, because now that we have our old manabases back a number of the decks he wrote about will be totally different. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, though, his ideas and archetypes still exist, but I’m sure he’s none too happy about this recent news.

So what changes in Extended? Well, Wild Nacatl remains the best card in the format, and the huge reduction in speed that was supposedly going to take place isn’t as drastic now. It’s certainly still there, but nowhere near where it was before. Decks like Fae, though, are clear-shots for top dog again since they can easily splash for any cards they need, and Vedalken Shackles is still insane. Still, without Riptide Laboratory, Next Level Blue might still be better than straight Bitterblossom Faeries. Observe:

Next Level Blue
Chris Jobin

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Vendilion Clique
3 Venser, Shaper Savant

4 Ancestral Vision
2 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Engineered Explosives
4 Mana Leak
4 Spell Snare
4 Cryptic Command
3 Vedalken Shackles
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

4 U/G Fetchland
2 U/R Fetchland
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Breeding Pool
2 Steam Vents
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Academy Ruins
1 Forest
7 Island

2 Path to Exile
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Firespout
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Tormod’s Crypt

Look familiar? While I’m excited to have the enemy fetches at long last, I must admit I’m a bit upset that I won’t get to play in “fetchless Extended,” which was something I was really looking forward to. On the other hand, this list looks like something I’d have a blast playing, so maybe it’s not all bad? The sideboard in this list is clearly just there to give you an idea of the options, and is totally hypothetical given that we don’t have any idea what else is in Zendikar nor do we have any idea what the Extended meta will look like (though I’m sure cards like Tormod’s Crypt, Kitchen Finks, and Ancient Grudge will be popular sideboard cards regardless). Tarmogoyf makes a triumphant return as the “creature of choice” in Extended Blue decks (to offset the loss of Laboratory), and the fetchlands keep him well fed. Cryptic Command is, put simply, “too good not to play,” and so I think you’ll see a lot more of them this season.

The other Extended decks are changed in much the same way, and I don’t think it’s worth going much into it. Zoo has its fetches again (and thus Kird Ape and Nacatl are great again, and not just “good”), and Doran decks still have stable manabases (whee!). The closer we get to Extended season, the clearer things will become in terms of how the format will shape up.

So those enemy fetches sure are cool, but what about the rest of Zendikar? Here are three more cards I’d like to talk about:

Warren Instigator
Creature — Goblin Berserker (Mythic)
Double Strike
Whenever Warren Instigator deals damage to an opponent, you may put a Goblin creature card from your hand onto the battlefield.

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

Goblin Guide

Creature — Goblin Scout (Rare)
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.

Wow. All three of these cards are immensely powerful, and coupled with Goblin Chieftain and Siege-Gang Commander we could actually have a very real Goblin deck in Standard again. Adding Black gives us Blightning, Goblin Outlander, and other goodies like Terminate in addition to the ever-useful Doom Blade (though without Forge-Tender in the format anymore it would seem that Terminate is a lot better anyway). Red has been given a slight shafting recently due to Kitchen Finks, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, and Baneslayer Angel being in Standard all at once, but perhaps red will stand a chance again with Zendikar. And, if I were a betting man, I’d say that red-based Goblins might just be the way to go. I mean, a super Goblin Lackey for just a mana more? Yes. Yes, please.

The only thing standing in the way of all those pesky creatures that are sure to populate Standard (I’m looking at you, Bloodbraid Elf)? This, which I’m sure you all know about:

Day of Judgment

Sorcery (Rare)
Destroy all creatures.

Having Wrath of God back is amazing, though to be honest I didn’t really notice it was gone (aside from those two PTQs where I had to evoke Reveillarks without it). Still, this is the ideal card to jumpstart the Baneslayer Angel decks that will undoubtedly pop up to stave off the Bloodbraid Elf decks in the new Standard. Think Day of Judgment, Path to Exile, Baneslayer Angel, Wall of Reverence, Jace, and some sick counterspells (here’s to hoping?). UW Control is simply the very best when it comes to playing classic control, and so I’m obviously pumped to play “The Deck” once again (Google that if you’re unfamiliar). If nothing else, I’ll try to make it work. Baneslayer Angel is just too good!

In Patrick Chapin article last week he talked about Valakut, but here’s a refresher:

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Land (Rare)
Valakut, 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 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deal 3 damage to target creature or player.

Patrick outlined some uses for this card, and I more than share his enthusiasm. The card is very good, and I have high hopes for the cycle. The White land (Emeria), for example, Resurrects a guy from the bin with seven Plains, which is a pretty powerful effect for a non-Legendary land. I’m obviously crossing my fingers for the blue land, as I’m more than eager to give it a run in the Next Level Blue deck I showed earlier. Still, these lands are fairly unwieldy. That is, you need a lot of basics and/or landtyped duals in order to make them effective, and I’m afraid that may be quite difficult to do in Standard. I think these lands will really shine in Extended (they’re too slow for Legacy, unless the blue one is drastically less than six or seven Islands for the trigger), and I can’t wait to see the whole cycle so that I can make an accurate judgment on their use.

So, is there anything else? There are a few interesting tidbits (as of Sunday night, the time of this writing), including a 2/2 for a single black and a 2/1 for BB that is very reminiscent of Nether Spirit, but overall I think more of the spoiler needs to be reveled before I can really dig into this set. Zendikar’s theme is incredibly cool, and personally I’ve been waiting for the Indiana Jones themed-block for ages. Treasure? Exploration? Danger? Yaus!

Still, something’s missing. This is a land block. The best card for this block? Exploration. Busted? Maybe, and maybe especially in this block. But come on. It’s a land block! However, Exploration doesn’t appear in the Orb of Insight, but there’s still hope for it in Worldwake! The last time I saw the Reserved List, Exploration wasn’t included, so it’s fair game. Come on Wizards, do it!

Anyway, Zendikar is almost here, so start thinking about what’s to come. I know most of us will be focusing on Zendikar limited for the qualifying season, but if we somehow manage to get States back between now and November Standard too will be an important facet of our Magic playtime. If it wasn’t already apparent, though, I’m rather excited for this set, and so it is with great optimism that I look onward toward Zendikar. I’m not too happy about having to gather twenty new twenty-dollar lands (or more!), but all in all I’m all good for it. Bring it on!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO and everywhere else