Finding Value With Valakut Exploration

Patrick Chapin has big plans for Valakut Exploration. See how “The Innovator” brews with it in Zendikar Rising Standard and beyond.

Y’all are reading this, right?

Just to get one thing out there, right off the top: Zendikar Rising not having fetchlands (at least Standard-legal) means the landfall cards can be costed for a world without them. That’s awesome and such a clean way to make some cards that are strong in Standard without necessarily being broken, while also being strong in powered formats (where the landfall is sort of given a 1.5x+ multiplier, since each fetchland double-triggers it).

How strong is this particular landfall ability?

So, Outpost Siege is pretty good. Yeah, it has that second mode, but generally speaking, this red style of card draw where you’ve got one turn to play the card has been pretty solid on a lot of four-cost cards that give you one every turn.

While the ability may read like Outpost Siege in some ways and has the durability of an enchantment, it’s actually kind of mechanically closer to Chandra’s. Obviously, Chandra’s ability has that rider about dealing damage if you don’t play the card, and that’s part of it. However, she also doesn’t let you play lands from her ability, and while Valakut Exploration does, it does take effort to make it possible. Before unpacking this, let’s consider a moment…

What’s better, “Landfall – Do a thing” or “At the beginning of your turn, do a thing”?

Well, let’s start through the lens of Standard. Assuming there’s nothing crazy that lets you play additional lands involved, landfall aspires to be once a turn, so it’s kind of necessarily less powerful, as you will miss sometimes. Particularly importantly, this ability is inherently super-awkward with itself, at least with no ability to play additional lands. Drawing an extra card is generally worth a fair bit more than one damage, so you really want to get a chance to play these cards, for the most part. Every time you play a land and reveal a land, if you don’t have any funny business going on, you’re just getting one damage out of it.

So, with no funny business involved, Valakut Exploration doesn’t actually let you play lands, and it only deals one damage per land instead of Chandra’s two. And while it may seem like Valakut Exploration’s “card draw” should beget more card draw, it doesn’t actually net you any extra land drops…

…unless you cast anything that does anything.

Lots of nonland cards that can be cast off Valakut Exploration put more land into your hand, ensuring future landfall triggers. Really, most card draw is going to contribute to this some.

It’s also not a given that hitting “lands” means missing off Valakut Exploration.

Kazandu Mammoth is a great creature that can play the role of high-damage threat at the three-spot or serve as an additional mana source when needed. This isn’t just about the virtual “Forestcycling – 1” this ability approximates. Since it can be played without needing other mana sources, playing a bunch of these cards is very realistic and can allow us to build some manabases that look a little different from anything we’ve been working with. It’s not at all out of the question to imagine a deck that functionally has 28 lands (ensuring it’s extremely reliably hitting its mana on time), also having more than half of its lands also be business. There are many modal double-faced cards (DFCs) worthy of consideration, plus Castles, creature-lands, and more.

If you reveal Kazandu Mammoth to your Valakut Exploration, you get to just use it, and it doesn’t take that many of these kinds of “mana sources” to really skew the math behind Valakut Exploration.

Mitigating the risk of Valakut Exploration “missing” is one thing, but what about actually getting ahead of the game (well, even more ahead than the extra card every turn is getting you)?

They may not be Scalding Tarn or Wooded Foothills, but Fabled Passage and Evolving Wilds sure do take on new meaning with aggressively costed landfall cards. Playing either of these means we’ve got draws to two cards instead of one. While there may be diminishing returns (higher risk of not being able to play one of the cards), we’ll get to play both a fair bit, and besides, it’s nice to have options.

Cards that let you play an additional land per turn scale extremely well with Valakut Exploration. Not only do you get twice as many shots per turn, you also get to play half (or more) of the lands you reveal to Valakut Exploration. It gets slightly recursive when your Valakut Exploration reveals a Fabled Passage, which you can play because of Azusa, Lost but Seeking, revealing two more cards, one of which is a land that you can also play because of Azusa, giving you yet another additional card.

Radha, Heart of Keld may not let you play additional lands, but she substantially increases the number you’ll have access to, on account of Valakut Exploration continually leaving you with a fresh top of the library. Knowing what you have coming also makes it possible to play what you Valakut this turn, versus what you actually draw and keep in hand. If another card is giving you the ability to play multiple land in a turn, you can also start getting a crazy multiplier on Valakut Exploration’s ability to keep refreshing the top of your deck for Radha.

I don’t love being so glutted on three-drops, but at least Bonecrusher Giant gives us another two and Radha makes a pretty respectable four.

It’s the Lightning Strike that’s legal; plus, this one is actually pretty good anyway, even if it is sorcery-speed. It’s especially good in a deck like this, that’s so capable of actually kicking it and having it matter. I absolutely love the design on this one. It looks like such a fun and smart combination of numbers and options. It’s also a good way to help make early-game removal good against creature-light decks; its existence gives incentive to players to get it over with; and, going long, it gives you more cards to hope for to try to actually win a game from a losing position.

It would not be difficult at all to splash blue in this deck for Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. Besides just being a messed-up Magic card, like it does with every card in the game, it synergizes extremely well with Valakut Exploration. There is some tension between permission and Valakut Exploration, so use caution. Still, depending on your format, there are some permission spells that can be used effectively with the Exploration.

As for the above list, there’s the interesting question of balancing the mythic modal DFCs with Valakut Exploration. They are great to reveal… if you can cast them. 

While they sort of have landcycling 1, the “pay 3 life” part gives them a Street Wraith / Stomping Ground dimension that’s really going to hinge on how aggressive the format is. The opportunity cost for these is so low, they can go from unplayable to automatic four-ofs pretty quickly, and neither zero nor four would surprise me to be right in the end. They are both expensive enough and the cumulative life loss stacks in a way that they do have diminishing returns. Besides, I’m really into the other land in here, too.

Shatterskull Smashing not being able to go upstairs has me a little unsure about it, as it’s such an expensive way to kill two things. It could enable some pretty cool comebacks, and if enough creatures have low toughness to begin with, the utility of the cheap version starts getting a lot higher. Regardless, it’s well worth exploration, and might be great.

Turntimber Symbiosis may seem a little unwieldy, but remember, we’re talking about a card you can just play as a land (and even an untapped one, if need be). Being able to turn a land into another Elder Gargaroth is pretty interesting, and with three +1/+1 counters, Radha is kind of a beast on Turn 7.

Turntimber Symbiosis might be more exciting for folks with Primeval Titans. Yeah, you don’t necessarily have all that many other hits, but if the opportunity cost ends up kind of low…

Valakut Exploration takes on a radical new savagery in Modern, where fetchlands crank its card advantage and selection into hyperdrive. If you can stick a Valakut Exploration, you’re going to be able to out-grind so many strategies, including tons of planeswalkers.

Of course, there’s nothing that says decks that actually want to grind can’t take advantage of it.

Without as many ways to play extra lands, we do have to be careful that we don’t try to bite off more than we can chew with tons of Valakut Explorations. However, whether in the maindeck or the sideboard, they could be a nice addition to Jund’s toolbox.

Wrenn and Six is an especially awesome way to keep hitting land drops, and the incremental damage does really add up with Valakut Exploration.

I’m not sure how far you can push it, but I could imagine Valakut Exploration as a potential sideboard option for decks like the following Rakdos build:

Sideboarding in a couple of copies could really help battles of attrition, providing a difficult-to-remove source of card advantage costing neither mana nor life.

This card is unbelievable.

I’m not sure it’s worth turning off Lurrus of the Dream-Den, but sideboarding Valakut Exploration in a burn deck might not be out of the question. It’s not like Lurrus is at its best here anyway, and if Valakut hits from an angle people aren’t prepared for, it could be good.

Perhaps, more reliably, it can play a role in Standard Mono-Red Aggro, doing its best Outpost Siege impression.

The format could easily end up too fast for such a grinding plan, and maybe it’s more appropriate for a list a little more in the Terror of the Peaks sort of space, but even a fast list should be strongly considering it for their sideboard.

Better suited for a landfall aggro deck by far, this one must stay home a fair bit in the above list. At least it ensures you’re hitting your Valakut Explorations, I guess.

A 3/1 for two isn’t the lowest floor, and its ability to go up to 4/2 is fairly economical. The other options are also respectable enough that I see this one being a fairly common staple.

Much better in Izzet, Magmatic Channeler is a good card that becomes amazing in the right deck. The selection makes this dig more effectively than Merfolk Looter, and the 1/3 body makes it a much bigger game piece, even when you don’t have enough instants and sorceries in your graveyard to go ham.

There are lots of great sideboard options to consider from this set, but one worthy of calling out is Thundering Rebuke (which could also be a maindeck card, depending on how the metagame goes). It may not have the exile clause of Lava Coil, but being able to hit planeswalkers is not a bad consolation prize. This could also be a particularly interesting option for control decks in formats where Teferi, Time Raveler is legal (as oxymoronic as that may be).

Valakut Exploration is a deceptively efficient source of card advantage that can be made to go from good to great with a little effort. I think it’s going to find plenty of homes, and don’t even get me started on a Vintage opening hand of Fastbond, Valakut Exploration, and five land…