Thirst For Knowledge – Zendikar, Cobra, and Extended Bant Midrange

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Wednesday, September 23rd – No matter how you look at it, it would seem that the feelings about Zendikar are more or less unanimous amongst the Magic community. Some suggest that it’s the best set since Ravnica, while others say it’s interesting yet also a tad overhyped. Myself, though, I find somewhere in between.

No matter how you look at it, it would seem that the feelings about Zendikar are more or less unanimous amongst the Magic community. Some suggest that it’s the best set since Ravnica (a bold statement given that we’ve seen 169 cards out of 249, twenty of which are basic land), while others say it’s interesting yet also a tad overhyped. Myself, though, I find somewhere in between. I’m quite taken by the setting, mechanics, and style of the cards, and I’m also enamored by some of the powerful cards we’ve been teased with. But at the same time, I’m aware that we’ve had sets like Lorwyn in recent memory, and it would be a very tall order to stack up to that set/block in comparison. Therefore, color me officially “excited” for Zendikar, but not overwhelmingly in love with it. I share the sentiments of many others that it will be then best-selling set of all time, however, as we’re talking about a set that includes not only superstars like Lotus Cobra but also the enemy fetchlands.

Oh, that’s right — Lotus Cobra. Consider this next section the obligatory “here are my thoughts on Lotus Cobra” that you’d expect in any articles involving Zendikar. First, the card for those who haven’t seen it yet:

Lotus Cobra
Creature — Snake (Mythic Rare)
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

It’s fairly obvious that we’re looking at a strong card here. That “turn 3 Ultimatum” crap doesn’t really cut it at all, though, and in reality it’s as you’ve been hearing all week: if you don’t focus on building around this card, it will perform much better for you. Patrick Chapin article on Monday mentioned something about this card being compared to Tarmogoyf in terms of power level, and that blows my mind. There are people who think Lotus Cobra is a better two-drop than Tarmogoyf? Do they know what Tarmogoyf is? The 5/6 for two? How does this snake even begin to compare? I mean, Lotus Cobra is very good, but better than Tarmogoyf? Please.

But how good is it? Well, it will allow you to effortlessly play turn three Baneslayer Angels with a mediocre hand, and you could fairly easily force things to get out of hand quickly with this and Knight of the Reliquary. These things are obvious, and they are clearly where a large amount of the hype around this care comes from. It seems to me that if you’re going to be playing green in Standard (or even Extended) in the foreseeable future, you’re going to want a set of these in your deck. Two-mana bears that also happen to give you an insane tempo boost (especially with those shiny fetches) for virtually no cost to you just should be played. There’s no excuse for this card to be Mythic, though (I’m pretty confident we all feel this way), but I guess there’s no use in complaining about it. But really, why? Is it because of the word “Lotus?”

I don’t think Lotus Cobra makes the cut in Extended Zoo decks considering that those decks rarely need the additional mana and also because it’s so far below that deck’s curve, but the GWx midrange decks in that format will be more than happy to make use of it. Consider the following rough list:

Bant Midrange
Chris Jobin

4 Noble Hierarch
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Rhox War Monk
3 Qasali Pridemage
3 Troll Ascetic
2 Vendilion Clique

4 Path to Exile
4 Mana Leak
2 Bant Charm
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Sword of Fire and Ice

4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs*
3 Breeding Pool
2 Temple Garden
2 Hallowed Fountain
3 Treetop Village
3 Forest
1 Island

*Speculated name of the BG fetchland

I definitely think that this kind of Bant deck (very reminiscent of last year’s) will be strong in the coming Extended format, and Lotus Cobra easily fits into the deck’s plan. Coupled with a fetchland, you can easily generate strong advantage in the early turns. For example:

Turn 1: Breeding Pool, Noble Hierarch
Turn 2: Misty Rainforest, Lotus Cobra
Opponent’s turn 2: Sac Rainforest to add a mana and get a Forest, Mana Leak

In this scenario (a common one, at that), you’ve got two bodies in play by turn two and you have counter mana up. Here’s another:

Turn 1: Breeding Pool, Noble Hierarch
Turn 2: Lotus Cobra, Misty Rainforest, sac Rainforest, Sword of Fire and Ice
Turn 3: Forest, equip, Path to Exile/Mana Leak/Bant Charm/creature

In this scenario, if you had the second fetchland on turn three you could even have double Mana Leak mana up or lay a three-drop like Rhox War Monk in addition to equipping and swinging with an equipped Cobra and clearing its way with a Path. The end result in either case, however, is that Lotus Cobra creates some very explosive starts, and in an aggressive format like Extended I think that it is enough to give you a distinct edge when paired with powerful midrange creatures like War Monk and Troll Ascetic. If Zoo is laying 2/3s and 3/3s, how are they supposed to compete with a deck dropping 3/4s on turn three while also crashing in with a Sword-equipped dude? Imagine if that Sword was of the Light and Shadow variety, even, so that you could eliminate their outs (Path to Exile). Sick.

I’m not saying that these types of plays will always happen, but Bant has always been very good versus Zoo decks, and now it’s even worse for them. I’d also argue that you’re better off against the blue control decks because you can overextend early and hold counter mana up much easier, which is an incredible boon. I’d go as far as to say that Lotus Cobra could push Bant over the edge in this format, which I’m particularly thrilled about. Granted, Lotus Cobra doesn’t solve the “all of my spells trade one-for-one” problem the archetype has, but the tools available to the deck are some of the best in the business, including superstars like Wrath of God, Spell Snare, Kitchen Finks, Wickerbough Elder, Engineered Explosives, and Dauntless Escort. Bant was one of the very best meta decks last season, and I fully expect it to hit the top tables again this year. Also, please notice that my list didn’t include Knight of the Reliquary, but that wasn’t an oversight — it’s just that I haven’t spent enough time with the format yet to tell if it works better than what I’ve got so far or not (if it isn’t apparent by now, I hate testing formats when we don’t know all the cards).

So there you have it: my small take on Lotus Cobra. Should it be Mythic? No. Will it see play? Yes. Should you get four? Uhm, definitely. I’ve personally pre-ordered a number of Japanese boxes, and I’m basically hoping for a foil…

Okay, that’s all for this we —

Wait, there were other cards spoiled this week? Oh, oh, okay…

Spell Pierce
Instant (Common)
Counter target noncreature spell unless its controller pays 2.

Let me get this out of the way: this card makes me pretty mad. Not because it’s bad, or because it’s too good. In fact, I think the card is right about in between those two – it’s balanced, and just narrow enough to justify its efficiency. But the problem I have with it is that it shouldn’t be in this set. No, it should have been in the Lorwyn block somewhere. Why? To put it simply, this card could have made the most boring and luck-based control mirror match of perhaps all time into something so much more. While it’s true that the Faeries mirror wasn’t exactly entirely based upon luck, it’s undeniable that a turn 2 Bitterblossom from one player while the other failed to find his puts the one player so far ahead that often it was nearly impossible to win if one didn’t find his own soon afterward and get it to resolve. Spell Pierce wouldn’t have hurt anyone to have been printed sooner I don’t think, and it would have made playing Faeries a bit less of a total chore. Of course, thinking of it that way, maybe that’s why they didn’t print it sooner…

That aside, I like this card a lot. You’ll probably just want Negate most of the time over this, but I think there’s a decent amount of potential in this card, specifically in older formats. In Legacy, for example, you’ll rarely see a player with much more than one to two lands open on any given turn, as the land counts tend to be quite low most of the time and there’s more tapping out in that format since the best counterspells are all free. It also easily counters a Brainstorm on the first turn as well as the Force of Will played when totally tapped out. It doesn’t counter a Nimble Mongoose, however, so it’s hard to tell where this card will fit. Its usefulness in Standard will be based on how much noncreature spells see play, though I think we all want to counter a Cruel Ultimatum with it.

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

This card, like Spell Pierce, relies on the specific format to determine how good or bad it truly is. I can’t say with any confidence that this card is good at all, but right now it seems decent enough. In reality, at present it tutors for a counterspell (Mindbreak Trap), and I don’t think we should scoff at that. It also fetches Archive Trap, but even then I still don’t think a mill strategy will ever truly be tournament viable that doesn’t involve Brain Freeze. Lavaball Trap is a pretty decent card as well, but we’d have to see a few more powerful traps to make this thing good enough for tournament play. Still, I’m watching this one closely, as any card even remotely resembling Mystical Teachings is enough to get me at least somewhat excited. I think the true potential of this card comes to light when you play it with the free traps as opposed to those with costs (such as tutoring for Mindbreak Trap after they’ve played Enlisted Wurm and cascaded into the nuts), but we’ll see.

Moving swiftly on…

Instant (Common)
Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn.

Well, it certainly took them long enough to print this. This card, which I’m going to nickname Cobra Killer from now on, should be good enough to see a large amount of play. It can off a Putrid Leech (after it’s pumped of course), a Bloodbraid Elf, most of the “+X/+X” landfall creatures, and also that stupid Lotus Cobra and its pals (Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise). In fact, this card might single-handedly keep Lotus Cobra in check in Standard, which is good news for all the non-Green mages out there. Now, I get that Lightning Bolt already does all of those things (and does it better), but this card is Black, and that means that a Mono-Black Aggro deck could run this as early removal and Tendrils of Corruption for later in the game. Time will tell if it won’t just be worth it more often than not to just splash Red for Lightning Bolt in said decks, but until we know for sure I consider this to be a strong contender for Standard play.

Burst Lightning
Instant (Common)
Kicker 4
Burst Lightning deals 2 damage to target creature or player. If Burst Lightning was kicked, it deals 4 damage to that creature or player instead.

Woooooow. Adrian Sullivan is going to love this one.

I don’t particularly enjoy slinging burn spells, but if I did I’d imagine that this one would be a pretty sexy one to be tossing around. In theory, it actually does everything you want your burn spells to do — it can off creatures early at an efficient mana cost so that your Goblin Guides can get in there, and in the late game it can dome the opponent (and better creatures) for twice as much to finish them off. It probably seems really unpowered compared to Flame Javelin, but in some ways I think it’s a lot better than that card, and I’m pretty positive that this one makes the cut for Standard. I know in all my future testing of red decks in the format I will be including this card. I really think it’s that good.

Onward, to Green…

Summoning Trap
Instant — Trap (Rare)
If a creature you cast this turn was countered by a spell or ability an opponent controlled, you may pay 0 rather than 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.

Oh come ON. This card is actually very, very strong, and it’s yet another slap in the face for Blue decks. On the other hand, it’s also a trap, and I hear Blue has a card that tutors for those…

But seriously, this card seems very good. Considering that it will be free approximately all the time, we’re looking at a very unfair way for creature decks just to totally recover from a counterspell and lose zero tempo. Literally any deck can sideboard this card against control decks and totally disregard Essence Scatter and company. That’s honestly really insane, and I foresee this card being a very popular card in sideboards, as it’s SO much better in theory than Guttural Response ever was (although you could counter Cryptic tapdowns with that one at least). The only saving grace for Blue mages? If they put a Bloodbraid Elf into play with this card, they just get a 3/2. Le sigh.

And last, and probably least:

Jwar Isle Refuge
Land (Uncommon)
Jwar Isle Refuge enters the battlefield tapped.
When Jwar Isle Refuge enters the battlefield, you gain 1 life.
T: Add U or B to your mana pool.

You know it’s a sad day when cards like these aren’t even good anymore. Like, is one life even worth it? Would you really play this over Seaside Citadel? I mean, sure, if your deck is just UW I guess it’s reasonable, but at that point you’re giving your opponents a chance to make use of Needlebite Trap (the one that you can pay a B for if the opponent gained life) even on the first turn, and that’s just dumb. These lands are also just generally dumb, and I’m sick of two-colored “enters the battlefield tapped” lands. The M10 duals were tolerable, but I really just want duals that come into play untapped. At this point any drawback would be workable, as we’ve been weaned off of powerful duals since Ravnica and we’d be more than welcome something not craptacular for a change. Still, at least these lands are better than the old Invasion lands, but then again so were the Alara trilands. So, really, who cares?

Anyway, the prerelease is this weekend, so we should have a complete spoiler very soon – perhaps even by the time this article sees print. I can only hope that the rest of the set is as exciting, fun, and intuitive as the first half. In the meantime, I urge you all to go out and play in one last FNM with the Lorwyn block. I know I, for one, will be casting turn 2 Bitterblossoms one last time.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
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