Zendikar Rising preview season is just about over as I write this and I’m really liking the look of the set. I’m really impressed with how they’ve taken the kicker mechanic, something that we’ve seen many times, and given it a unique feel for this environment.
Previous sets tended to handle kicker by giving you something that was okay on-curve and then giving you a different option that was also pretty medium at a higher cost if you were willing and able to spend more mana. The cards with kicker in Zendikar Rising tend to be strong on-curve unkicked and even better if you have the ability to kick them.
Rather than giving you two decent options with the strength of the card being the versatility, they’re just giving you two good options. Kicker is getting some “good now or better later” support cards as well. I’ve developed a bit of a distaste for Simic over the last year, but nevertheless I’m excited to see what Verazol, the Split Current can do.
The first thing to notice about Verazol is that the blue and green mana in its cost are counted in the number of +1/+1 counters that it enters the battlefield with. Functionally it’s a two-mana 2/2 that you can pay an additional X mana for and have it enter with an additional X +1/+1 counters. This isn’t the most exciting rate given that any deck can cast a Stonecoil Serpent if you’re into that sort of body, but it’s worth noting that this creature is larger than you often get with this sort of template.
The reason to play Verazol is, of course, the ability to copy kicked spells. Zendikar Rising will be the only Standard-legal set featuring the kicker mechanic when it launches, but there are quite a few solid kicker cards. I’m a sucker for Drake Haven, and I intend to see if Roost of Drakes can provide enough value to hack it in Zendikar Rising Standard.
I might be naive to think that it can hold up in 2020 Magic, but setting up a Verazol and using it to copy a kicked Roost of Drakes and netting two 2/2 Drakes in that initial exchange really excites me.
Roost of Drakes and Verazol are both fairly parasitic and will limit the amount of cards without kicker that you’ll want to put in your deck, but there are already a lot of great options to outline a kicker themed strategy. Bloodchief’s Thirst and Bubble Snare both provide cheap removal for creatures, and the Into the Roil effect has seen its fair share of Standard play historically. Inscription of Insight and Inscription of Ruin are a little on the clunky side, but they also provide reasonable interaction and have pretty high ceilings when kicked.
I also see Jace, Mirror Mage as being a powerful value engine that synergizes well with Roost of Drakes, with Jace providing a stream of cards and Roost of Drakes providing a stream of blockers. Of course, the elephant in the room is Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. I believe there’s room for Uro in kicker decks given that a lot of the cards you care about are instants and sorceries.
The question then is whether an Uro deck built around kicker can compete with other Uro decks. I imagine that the biggest issue a kicker build would have would be the other Uro decks packing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, as it really easily undoes all the work of Roost of Drakes. And though it can be combated with counterspells, you’ll want to have Ugin on your radar. At the time of this writing there hasn’t been any counterspell with kicker previewed [Copy Editor’s Note: And there isn’t one in the full set – sorry Ryan!], but things like Neutralize, Negate, and Mystical Dispute should do the trick. I also really like the idea of hitting an Ugin with Jwari Disruption.
Manabases in Zendikar Rising Standard are going to be a little weird with shocklands rotating and an incomplete cycle of Pathways taking their place. Verazol suffers some from the lack of a Simic Pathway, but I imagine that kicker tribal wants to be a Sultai deck anyway. Zagoth Triome and Fabled Passage offer a solid starting point for making the mana work.
As I write, this would be my starting point for a kicker deck:
One thing that I really like about this deck is that some of your higher-impact cards like Roost of Drakes and Bloodchief’s Thirst don’t cost your Jaces much loyalty. In theory that will enable decks like this to smoothly draw plenty of extra cards while interacting with the opponent’s plan. Jace looks right at home next to the other kicker cards.
Some of the elements here are a bit uncertain. I don’t know if maindecking Bubble Snare is advisable without any looting effects, and I could easily see that slot changing. I’m also sure it’ll take some time before we really optimize manabases with modal double-faced cards (DFCs). I like having Jwari Disruption and Bala Ged Recovery here, but I’m not sure if I should be cutting lands and playing more of this type of effect or how close I am to optimized there. Minimally I know that Uro somehow gets even more absurd in conjunction with modal DFCs.
It’s honestly not clear how long Uro is going to stay legal in Standard, and I don’t see much value in advocating strongly one way or the other. What I will say is that kicker tribal definitely wants to be an Uro deck for as long as that’s allowed, and also that the deck stands to gain a lot if Uro ends up being banned as the other value engines in the deck will be more powerful relative to the rest of the format.
Whether Uro remains legal or not, I intend to spend some time using Verazol to copy all kinds of value spells. I won’t hold my breath on a counterspell with kicker showing up, but I am excited to see what other tools the kicker decks will get from Zendikar Rising.