I’m not sure whether it’s just part of the euphoria I’m feeling from finally getting to play with Zendikar (and all the various implications to Standard & Extended), but this set also brings some monumental shifts in my approach to Elder Dragon Highlander, in addition to the usual bumper crop of fun new cards I’m dying to try.
Some of the Biggest Haymakers We’ve Seen in a While
The biggest thing about Zendikar is the huge quantity of eye-popping, board-dominating “haymaker” cards that everyone who plays EDH is going to have to keep in mind when building their decks and playing their games. Prior to Zendikar, there were certainly a good number of individual cards you needed to plan for, much like today’s Standard has Baneslayer Angel hanging over it; Seedborn Muse immediately springs to mind. However, Zendikar feels to me like it’s tipped the balance and that we might be entering into a new era. Let’s go over the individual cards first.
When this was spoiled, I was convinced that the EDH Rules Committee would swiftly ban it, but Sheldon has already said that is not under consideration. I am certainly surprised. Sure, it’s just a creature, and any EDH deck worth its salt is going to have ways of dealing with creatures. The problem I see with Felidar Sovereign is two-fold: first, its win condition is immediately met given that players start the game at 40 life. Sure, by the time he comes into play you could have take damage and be below 40 life, but by the same token someone playing Sovereign can play plenty of lifegain to be well over 40 life. Second problem – everyone has just one shot to deal with the problem or lose. Now granted, dropping a Sovereign with a sufficiently high life total is certainly going to put a huge bulls eye on your head, and having the whole table work towards your demise (or at least reducing your life total enough or killing the creature) can be tough to fend off. But what if you play it at instant speed at the end of the guy to your right’s turn? Say you’ve got a Teferi in play. What can anybody do then?
The abilities this artifact grants is nuts, and the sacrifice drawback is definitely minimized when you consider how many turns (including each opponent’s turn) you get to have flying, indestructible, slightly larger creatures. And there are plenty of creatures that can be sacrificed for profit. A lot of people build their EDH decks with the assumption that Wrath effects (either their own or someone else’s) can handle things when creatures get out of hand; the Monument directly challenges that assumption, especially given that this can go into any deck with sufficient creatures.
Iona, Shield of Emeria
The nightmare scenario of course is Tooth and Nail with entwine, and fetch up Iona and Painter’s Servant. Congratulations, Spike – you’ve locked everyone else from be able to do hardly anything! Even outside of the nightmare scenario, Iona is insanely powerful, hitting the board you can totally screw anybody playing a single color general.
Inside the box thinking, the Vessel certainly makes it hard to beat someone down from a high life total so long as they keep playing lands. Outside the box thinking? Turn 3, tap your two lands for Green mana, play Channel, pay 6 life for six mana and play Eternity Vessel (X = 34), pay 16 life and drop Darksteel Colossus, Memory Jar, pop the Jar, drop a few more artifacts, maybe some that produce colored mana and play a few spells, then play your land for the turn, go back up to 34 and be done. What if you play Scapeshift the turn you play Channel, and in between each landfall trigger you convert a huge chunk of life into mana? What about Necropotence, what about Fastbond? There are a fair number of cards in Magic’s history that convert life points for resources, and Eternity Vessel breaks them in half.
I consider World Queller a sleeper hit for Standard, but it’s even nuttier in EDH where each upkeep you have the chance to wreak havoc across the board, especially if you don’t have the type of permanent you end up choosing.
Most of the Ascension cycle is pretty insane in multiplayer, but Luminarch Ascension is just off the chain. Play this on the second turn and odds are pretty good it’ll be charge up and ready to go when you untap. Even late game odds are pretty good that there will at least be some players at the table who won’t be dealing damage to you.
While the effect of this Ascension is ridiculous, I have to agree with others who pointed out if you’re drawing two cards a turn for six turns — especially if that includes other people’s turns — then you’re likely already winning and so this becomes a win-more type of card.
Lorthos, the Tidemaker
Mentos, the Freshmaker cracks aside, this guy is going to be terrifying when he attacks. Tapping down 8 permanents for two turns is huge in multiplayer, especially if there are other players who want to join in on the beatings. The thing that really puts Lorthos over the top however is that those 8 target permanents don’t need to be controlled by the player you’re attacking, nor do they have to even belong to the same player. That’s the kind of powerful, flexible ability that defines haymaker, and you can make this guy your general if you want.
While I’m not as enamored with this card for Standard as other folks, it’s just off the hook crazy good in EDH. The quest counters can be accumulated no matter who is doing the damaging, and once it’s turned on, any sort of mass removal is going to result in ridiculous life swings to your favor.
It’s fairly easy to attack with seven creatures in EDH, and when you do suddenly everybody gets +5/+5 (for an extra 35 points of damage for those seven creatures).
Emeria, The Sky Ruin
A creature brought back from your graveyard into play each upkeep, for no mana cost? And they just stay there, no sacrifice at the end of the turn, no upkeep, no catch? You thought Iona was tough to get rid of the first time around…
… Thus, a Rise in Importance for Pinpoint Removal
A lot of these cards are such that you need to have an answer and you need it now, often at instant speed. People typically frown at playing removal cards that are one-for-one, because when you’re trying to handle threats from multiple opponents, relying on one-for-one answers will run you quickly out of cards. That’s why you’re much more likely to find a Wrath of God over a Swords to Plowshares in an EDH deck. However, sweepers and cards that answer problems with a greater than one-for-one value tend to be slower and more expensive, and this new era of EDH suggests to me relying too heavily on that approach will get you dead. Some of these threat cards won’t give you the time. That’s why I’m going to start adding cards like Swords, Path to Exile, Doom Blade, Naturalize and Disenchant to my decks. Keep an eye out of cheap, efficient, and flexible cards like Putrefy and Mortify.
Alongside this lean towards more pinpoint removal, you’ll want to include more raw card-drawing power. It’s okay to cast tutor for a Wrath to sweep away a bunch of creatures. Tutoring for a Mortify isn’t going to feel quite so good.
Another sort of tool you should strongly consider is the preemptive strike, like Jester’s Cap. If you know a player is going to be trying to pull off the Iona/Painter’s Servant combo, Cap his ass and remove them from the game, along with the Living Wish they thought they’d be slick with to get one of â€˜em back. If you’re playing Black you’ll want to consider Sadistic Sacrament and Nightmare Incursion. Removing a bunch of game-breaking haymakers may very well make you the hero of the table.
Now that we’ve got Iona to contend with, you should probably also take another look at including Cycling and Channel spells in your deck. End of turn Resounding Wave cycled will give everyone at least a turn to handle the Iona/Servant lock. Arashi can take down a flying Iona, and Ghost-Lit Raider can kill Painter’s Servant. Unearth is a way to work around the lock as well — hello, Kederekt Leviathan! Or better yet, make sure there’s always someone playing a Sedris, the Traitor King EDH deck at the table.
The “lands matter” themes of Zendikar, particularly the landfall cards, are really going to hit EDH like a ton of bricks because throughout the history of the game there are a ton of cards that combine quite nicely with the mechanic. Just off the top of my heads consider the following cards combined with landfall: Scapeshift, Exploration, Crucible of Worlds, Horn of Greed, Storm Cauldron, Gaea’s Touch, Skyshroud Claim, Explosive Vegetation, Burgeoning, Life Gift, and Crop Rotation. Start mixing them in with Emeria Angel; Ob Nixilis, the Fallen; Baloth Woodcrasher; and Rampaging Baloths. As good as these cards are in the current Standard, they get positively insane in EDH.
Other Zendikar cards
Of course, there are a lot of other Zendikar cards that are just going to be fun multiplayer cards to add to your EDH toolbox, so I’ll give a brief rundown of ones you should make sure to set aside for your EDH decks:
Brave the Elements
If you’re playing a mono-White general, this card seems like a no-brainer, a very flexible card to use especially if your deck is more on the aggressive side.
If you’re looking for Auras to add to your Uril, the Miststalker deck, this one is certainly one to consider. Considering how threatening a general Uril is and how the rest of the table may be looking for your demise, doubling your life total is not a bad idea.
Day of Judgment
While there are lots and lots of Wrath variants out there, another one at a reasonable cost is always welcome. Keep in mind you can select your creatures (regeneration) so that the effect isn’t nearly as harmful (regeneration) to your board position (regeneration) as the others.
There’s always someone playing Black, and if not you can always play with something like Distorting Lens to make this card the ultimate removal spell. I would recommend utilizing some ways to bounce or Blink this fellow so you can get multiple uses out of him.
Quest for the Holy Relic
Most EDH decks play creatures, and if so you’ve certainly got a couple pieces of equipment. While Zendikar itself is a little light on killer pieces of equipment, in your EDH deck you have all sorts of awesome choices, such as Skullclamp, Sword of Fire and Ice, or Umezawa’s Jitte. Keep in mind that, once you’ve got enough quest counters, you can activate the ability at any time, tutoring up just the right piece of equipment and equipping it to just the right creature at instant speed. The free equip is particularly helpful with artifacts sporting high equip costs.
Everyone has ways of searching their library in EDH, so this is going to be free most of the time. Free is good, right? If you love milling, or have a Reanimator style deck, or you just want to laugh at someone who just cast Vampiric Tutor, you’ll want Archive Trap.
Many players go for some sort of combo kill in order to beat a multiplayer table, and that often involves a “big turn,” where multiple spells are cast to set up the kill. Once three spells are cast Mindbreak becomes free, and free is good, right? The biggie with this spell of course is the fact that you Exile the target, and since combo lovers often have ways of recovering their combo pieces if they get disrupted, putting a key piece in Exile is a pretty good move. Also, Mindbreak Trap will make you a hero when some jackass thinks it’s funny to drop Obliterate after you’ve already been playing for three hours.
Rite Of Replication
This is a nice enough Clone variant normally, but you’re going to want to just hang on to this until you’ve got nine mana available because then you can really have some fun. I’m figuring you want to start with Nucklavee as a potential target and go from there.
Sphinx of Jwar Isle
A reasonably costed good-sized flier, shroud is nice for punching past Maze of Ith or Icy Manipulator. The ability to check out what card you have coming up is awesome too, especially with fetchlands, Thawing Glaciers and such that can reset the top of your deck.
People love making a zillion tokens in EDH, and Blood Seeker can make them pay. If you really want to be evil (and you’re playing black already, so you’re already there), pair it up with Varchild’s War-riders!
Hungry Demons throughout Magic’s history are going to love this fellow, one of the easiest-to-recur victims ever printed.
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet
Every time I see this card’s name, I think of the Eagle’s “Hotel California” – warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air. Kinda gives the line a new spin… anyway, Kalitas joins the pantheon of good Black creatures (Visara the Dreadful, Avatar of “Whoa!”) that tap to kill stuff, only instead of just tapping for free, you’ve got to pay mana to activate it. In exchange, you get to Clone the victim (just its power and toughness) and have him work for you. That’s pretty awesome, especially given how gigantic some creatures can get in EDH games (Lord of Extinction, for instance).
I love Malakir Bloodwitch for Standard, but I did want to point out that her enters-the-battlefield lifedrain ability hits all players and gives you that in a life boost. The more players — and the more vampires — the merrier.
While I doubt that you’d ever get to the point where you can use Sorin’s ultimate ability, his second ability alone is worth the six mana. Taking someone down to 10 life is huge in EDH.
I’ve been trying for a long, long, long time to be able to use my shiny Marit Lage token. I still have hopes to fire it off in my Rofellos deck, but Vampire Hexmage gives another way to try it. The Hexmage is a fantastic tool to have for all sorts of purposes – there are a zillion ways players use counters, and Hexmage throws a big ol’ monkey wrench into â€˜em.
In EDH, you’ve got a host of powerful Red sorceries and instants you can have in your graveyard to make going for the ultimate gold worth it with Chandra. Wheel of Fortune, Insurrection, Sudden Impact…
If you’ve got a way to make a ton of Red mana (*cough* Mana Geyser *cough*), this guy can really put a serious hurting on a player… and I imagine have him scrambling for a Zuran Orb come next game!
Speaking of Sudden Impact, these sorts of cards (along with Stormseeker) are always a nice tool to have to combat those Greedy McGreedersons who go nuts with the card-drawing, and being able to do it for just one Red mana is pretty awesome.
If you’re playing with any of the Kamigawa snake legends, this is a no-brainer. People are going to try and kill your stuff at some point, so this will most just cost one Green mana.
Despite wanting to add cheap one-for-one removal to your deck, you’re still going to want answer cards with card-advantage, and this one is flexible and instant speed. A very good utility card.
If you’re playing a scary general — or scary creatures — at some point somebody is going to counterspell it, so getting a free consolation creature could be awesome (especially if you’re playing with Sylvan Library and know there’s a Rampaging Baloth or something like it on top of your library).
A new staple has come, long live Expedition Map! I expect nearly every single EDH deck to run this card, because nearly every single EDH deck has some sort of land they’re going to want to fetch. Red decks in particular haven’t had a way to tutor for lands before, so this is a huge boon.
Another EDH staple, since nearly every single deck that’s going to want to run Expedition Map (which is nearly every single deck) is going to be vulnerable to non-basic landwalk. Now that I think about it, this card might qualify for a haymaker and should have been in the list above, since it makes death by general damage much easier.
Crypt of Agadeem
While this is no Cabal Coffers, it’s definitely worth playing in a heavily Black deck with at least a fair number of creatures. You only need three creatures in the graveyard to make this generate an extra mana than normal, and you will eventually have a lot more than three. If you want to add a touch of Dredge to your deck this land could get you silly quantities of mana.
Magosi, the Waterveil
There are set-ups in EDH where you don’t want to do anything during your turn anyway – I’m thinking Seedborn Muse plus Vedalken Orrery in play. In which case Magosi is an awesome option to have, especially since you can use that sacrificed turn to “butt in line” between any two players’ turns. Think someone’s got it in for you? Jump in front of his turn and kill him first.
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
I mentioned before being a little bit annoyed that this card seems to have been unnecessarily given the Green “sharing” clause, so that anyone who can put Green creatures into play at instant speed can piggy back off your card. Still, its value is well-worth this minor downside, especially when you use it with Persist guys like Kitchen Finks, Spikes, Mycoloth, Phantom Centaur, and such.
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
An obvious staple for any mono-Red deck.
Obviously, I’m really looking forward to rocking some EDH with new Zendikar cards soon, and I’ll be sure to let you all know how they do. I also wanted to thank everyone who sent in decks for the EDH Deck Clinic, I plan on rolling out the first one in a couple weeks so keep an eye out.
In the meantime, I’m going to be pivoting towards the new Standard. Next week’s FNM is Standard, and we’ve got a StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia this weekend to get a first glimpse as to how the new metagame is shaking out. Are people going to be sticking close to Alara Block Constructed decks the pros played earlier in the year with a few M10 and Zendikar tweaks? Or is Zendikar going to make a huge splash? Personally, I’ve been having a ball cooking up new decklists, so in the interest of maybe inspiring someone at the last minute for the $5K or FNM, here’s my most recent creation:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Rafiq of the Many
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Master of the Wild Hunt
- 1 Scute Mob
Wargate is a card I’ve been turning around in my head for a while, but with Zendikar’s “land matters” themes I’m now considering Wargate as a three-mana mana accelerating/land tutor card with the added benefit of being able to tutor for cheaper cards later in the game. Turn 2 Wargate off a Noble Hierarch for your Seaside Citadel and you’re well on your way to your turn 3 Baneslayer. I know the first question some of you may be having is “where are your Lotus Cobras?” and perhaps you do want that card in here… but it seems to me that, between Birds, Hierarchs, Knights of the Reliquary, and Wargate you’ve got plenty of mana acceleration already. I thought the Qasali Pridemages might be more helpful depending on what artifact or enchantment shenanigans people will have going on. The more aggressive minded people might want to run Knotvine Paladin instead.
I haven’t concocted a sideboard yet, but with everyone talking about Vampires I’m figuring a couple more Blazing Torches aren’t a bad idea to help your Baneslayer Angel fly by Malakir Bloodwitches. Any other ideas for a sideboard?
That’s it for this week. If anyone tries out my Standard decks from last week or this week, I’d love to hear your feedback on how they did in the forums!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
What I’m listening to:
Smile Like You Mean It, The Killers
Chicago X 12, Rogue Wave
Sweet Virginia Breeze, Robbin Thompson
Ghost Under Rocks, Ra Ra Riot
The Outdoor Type, The Lemonheads