When a new set comes out it's extremely easy to get caught up on the hype train. Choo-Choo! We're going back to Zendikar!
WotC is breaking out the awesome bat and beating us over the head with it, providing a set that includes Battle lands, creature-lands, Eldrazi, Allies, and new planeswalkers to tickle our pickles. As always, it's truly a wondrous time to be a magician.
It's really easy to forget the fundamentals because they are on the verge of changing in a way that most of us aren't ready for. A lot of things that you think you may know are inherently false, and me, the guy writing this article, is going to be the levelheaded party that ensures your survival when things get new and scary.
Let's delve into the nitty gritty about what you need to get ready for Battle of Zendikar.
Mana as You Know it Will Never be the Same
As much as they were scoffed at when they were first printed, Temples have gone on to become one of- if not the most influential pillar of Standard deckbuilding in the last decade. A land with scry meant the ability to smooth out your draws in a way never before present, and even though they entered the battlefield tapped, they created a lot of games of Magic whereas other lands wouldn't have allowed them to exist, specifically in the case of making mulligans less of a factor in matches when they were in your opening hand.
But as the years since their printing went on, we became spoiled by them and less in awe of how excellent Temples were and instantly became enthralled by how shiny Battle lands are. The general consensus became "this is a format with fetchlands and sort-of dual lands. Case closed!"
Magic, though, is never that black and white.
The emergence of Battle lands, while powerful, will not have the impact that Temples had when it comes to competitive deckbuilding. Yes, they will see a metric ton of play, but how we approach various strategies will completely be altered.
Since Temples first graced Standard, they have been one of the single most important factors in control decks, and perhaps one of their greatest enemies. Allow me to explain.
This is an example of one of Shaheen Soorani's Esper Control decks, but it is macrocosmic rather than a corner case. Control decks of every ilk began to adopt as many Temples as the format allowed because they allowed them to do the best things for control: make land drops and find powerful spells. This gave decks like Esper Dragons or U/B Control the means to challenge the format as top contenders.
At the same time, this was control's greatest weakness. With decks like Abzan Midrange or Jeskai Aggro out there traditionally playing a high sum of Temples as well, they were able to compete on multiple mid and lategame levels by filtering their draws to find the necessary spells. This allowed Standard to become incredibly healthy, but at the same time devolve into what many referred to as a slugfest of the biggest and baddest spells. Case and point: G/R Devotion.
Without them, decks may have to do the following:
-Play more lands to ensure land drops are hit at all stages of the game deemed necessary by the strategy being employed.
-Play less lands and more cantrip-style cards; diluting the overall quality of the deck, but creating incremental advantages rather than home runs.
-Play green for fixing ability and the most fluid way to turn on Battle lands.
All of these options are unexplored currently and will require a full spoiler to flesh out. In the limited testing I've done so far, I was able to determine that two-color decks with light splashes are yielding the best results. The creature-lands have been mildly underwhelming, but they will also go a long way in manabase construction. I don't believe they'll appear in the same number as say, their Zendikar/Worldwake counterparts due to power creep and overall strength. With tri-lands, Battle lands, gain lands, multicolored lands, and creature-lands, it'll be more about striking a delicate balance between all of your available options rather than slamming 12-14 tapped lands in your deck.
The "Best Decks" May Not Port Directly
Return to Ravnica is a great example of decks porting naturally. A multi-colored format with shocklands, Farseek, and the sheer strength of Innistrad meant a deck like Jund was a natural occurrence from Block, only now it would have better mana.
BFZ, despite having Battle lands, may not benefit from that, and in turn, the person trying to jam Abzan Control in the first week may be the person finding themselves in the dust. It's going to take incorporating a higher degree of finesse with sculpting a manabase to get the desired results from BFZ's cards.
A few nights ago, I was involved in a conversation with some friends who were really excited for Brutal Expulsion in Jeskai. It seems like a very Command-esque card in the sense that it Remands a spell or bounces a creature, and has the added bonus of doubling as removal and exile fuel. I asked what spots were going to need filled when it came to losing out on Lightning Strike and Stoke the Flames when the friend said "Expulsion is better than Lightning Strike, so it'll go there."
Well, that's great, but the deck is already reliant on another four-drop by the name of Ojutai's Command, which in concert with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy has become a mainstay as a way to get the powerful creature/planeswalker online and as much as four copies are sometimes played, although three seems more acceptable. Adding Brutal Expulsion is another four mana spell, and unlike Stoke, can't be cast at a discount. You're paying retail for a great effect, but you're also clogging your midgame.
The loss of cards like Hero's Downfall for Abzan isn't so easily replaced by Ruinous Path, because a lot of Abzan's structural integrity comes from being able to do a lot at instant speed, so if a creature doesn't need to be destroyed, instead it can cast Abzan Charm to draw cards and sculpt the best hand possible. Ruinous Path, while having insane lategame implications, doesn't allow for that. Being tapped out isn't what a control deck wants to do, and a Valorous Stance to "counter" your removal spell can be disastrous when they untap and drop a bomb. This is a huge hole, and given the multicolored aspects of Khans of Tarkir, doesn't seem like one Ultimate Price is ready to solve.
In order to be successful in the early portion of the format, understanding the place of cards that were once strong in Theros/Khans Standard but may now not be the best choice now is going to be extremely important going forward.
The short of it is don't get too attached to those cards you love from Khans and Magic Origins, because they may drop in playability very quickly.
Nothing is Taboo. Everything Could be Playable
See the Unwritten has spiked in price and playability in the last week. A format with Eldrazi means any way to cheat them onto the battlefield faster is going to be a very, very viable strategy in BFZ's infancy. A little card called Summoning Trap did some serious damage a few years back, and See harkens back to it, only this sucker will let you double up on the big creatures.
It's only an example, however. On the surface it's the most basic and visible source of exploitation for Battle for Zendikar, but that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of things out there beneath waiting for their chance in the sun.
A card like Suspension Field may drastically increase in value, going from a cute removal spell that was played lightly when it first came out to one of the premier ways to deal with the Eldrazi. It's cheap, efficient, and can be played in aggro, midrange, or control. Instantly it goes from barely played to premium, and that's just a tip of the iceberg.
New sets are essentially a brewer's paradise because they allow, for a few shining weeks, creativity and experimentation to win out over conventional and the status quo. You can't just sit back and wait for someone else to discover it, lest you sideline yourself from Magic for a few weeks while the cream rises to the top. It's your duty as a Magic player to get out there and test out new and different strategies. I'm currently testing out a R/B Aggro deck that exploits Smothering Abomination.
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 3 Merciless Executioner
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Smothering Abomination
I wish there were more cards available, but right off the bat I love the synergy of Merciless Executioner and Smothering Abomination or Hangarback Walker. The Abomination also lets you sacrifice Bloodsoaked Champion over and over again, only to return him with raid after you attack. The deck also pumps out tokens to feed to it and draw you more cards. The sideboard would almost certainly pack some number of Duress, Outpost Siege, Fiery Impulse, or Ruinous Path. It's simple but effective.
Understanding that things are about to change in a grand fashion is going to be your biggest asset in tournaments coming up. Sometimes things don't get shaken up this heavily, but in this case, BFZ is going to be shock treatment.
Gear up, kiddies. This train doesn't have brakes. As for me? I'm on vacation. I'll be spending the next week in Pittsburgh enjoying the kind of food they simply don't have in Florida. Home sweet home.
And french-fry sandwiches. I'm gonna eat like…six of those. If I die…know I died eating well.