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Spoiler Spotlight – Ral Zarek

For the last set I did two of these Spotlights, one for Obzedat and one for Ghor-Clan Rampager. The one I did on Ghor-Clan included a Naya aggro list, and the Obzedat Spotlight had three lists including an Esper list, an aggressive BW [card]Lingering Souls[/card] deck, and Junk. While the lists I posted weren’t on par with the tried and polished creations winning tournaments today, they served as reasonable approximations of things to come.

At the least, you can trust that my eye for tournament staples hasn’t dulled. Ral Zarek might not take over the format, but it is definitely playable.

Man that art’s sweet. It reminds me of those images of volcanic lightning (if you’re unfamiliar, Google image search “volcanic lightning” and gorge your eyes for a while).

The abilities are sweet too.

+1 – Twiddle some things

The important thing to realize about the +1 ability is that it can target a tapped land for ramp, à la [card]Garruk Wildspeaker[/card]. A common curve could be turn two [card]Farseek[/card], turn three Ral -2 to kill a creature, turn four +1 into a six-drop.

Of course, the ramp is less powerful than Garruk’s, but the ability is more versatile. You could untap an [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card], for example, or you could go all Travis Woo-style and untap [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]. If your creature is good at both attacking and blocking, say a [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card] with a [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] equipped, you can untap it in the second main to give a sort of vigilance.

The tap’s most intuitive use is to clear blockers out of the way, say for a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], but it could also be used to prime the Tamiyo draw ability. I realize that multiple planeswalkers working together is nothing special, but it’s still a neat interaction.

Let’s list more things that are sweet to [card]Twiddle[/card].

[card]Verdant Haven[/card] (more so for Block than Standard)
[card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card] (only need one more creature since the Priest produces a 5/5)
[card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] (could make it into the Skirsdag deck)
[card]Thraben Doomsayer[/card] [card]Gyre Sage[/card] [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] (and [card]Desolate Lighthouse[/card], Drownyard, etc.)
[card]Underworld Connections[/card] [card]Door to Nothingness[/card] (lol)
[card]Chalice of Life[/card] [card]Staff of Nin[/card] (lol)

And the aforementioned [card]Gilded Lotus[/card] and [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card].

In Cube and Vintage, this bad boy can untap [card]Time Vault[/card] or the busted lands like [card]Tolarian Academy[/card].

In Legacy, a deck with [card]Grim Monolith[/card], [card]Goblin Welder[/card], and [card]Metalworker[/card] might want Zarek, but I’m not sure what such a list would look like.

In Modern, UR Tron might want this card for both the [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s and being able to untap Tron lands.

-2 – Some righteous planeswalker Bolts.

This ability isn’t actually much worse than [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]’s [card]Lightning Helix[/card]. For one, Ral is in a better set of colors. For another, the higher starting loyalty allows you to fire it off on back-to-back turns, while Ajani needed to juice up at least once first.

One issue I see with this ability is that it doesn’t take care of a [card]Restoration Angel[/card], which will otherwise eat Ral Zarek alive. Also, targeting a [card]Thragtusk[/card] and having it blinked in response seems like the worst thing ever, and Ral might need these cards to rotate out before he starts seeing serious play.

-7 – Let’s flip some coins!

Taking extra turns is sweet, and one of my favorite things in Magic is generating an overwhelming advantage over an extra turn or two. Sometimes an attack step is all it takes, but other times cards like [card]Howling Mine[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], or planeswalkers can combine with a Time Walk to win an otherwise lost game.

One in 32 ultimates will end in zero extra turns, but I’d rather pretend that’ll never happen. Instead, let’s talk about the best-case scenario.

Since the average five extra turns is clearly a win, and the worst five extra turns is that bad beat story you’ll have to hear about forever, our time is best spent analyzing the most gratuitously excellent five extra turns. Is it when you go to time and it’s turn zero of turns? What about if you have an [card]Azor’s Elocutors[/card] in play? Or if you cast a second Ral Zarek the turn you ultimate, letting you chain ultimates together? Of course, that doesn’t even take the full five extra turns, but rather the much more reasonable three, which should happen a little under half the times you ultimate.

Even if you only get two extra turns, that’s a free [card]Time Stretch[/card], which is a ten-mana card.

Taking even a single extra turn with an Aurelia should lead to a win.

Now that we’ve gone over the abilities a bit, it’s time to brew!

RUG Zarek

[deck]4 Stomping Ground
4 Breeding Pool
4 Steam Vents
3 Rootbound Crag
3 Sulfur Falls
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Forest
4 Farseek
2 Izzet Charm
1 Dissipate
3 Syncopate
2 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Turn // Burn
3 Searing Spear
2 Think Twice
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Thragtusk
2 Ral Zarek
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter[/deck]

This deck mimics the Jund formula, but with some counters and the curve of [card]Farseek[/card] into Ral Zarek into turn four Niv Mizzet.

I’ve always appreciated passing the turn to flip Huntmaster while holding up disruption. Perhaps the deck wants to move toward [card]Thoughtflare[/card] or Yeva to have even more options on the opponent’s turn.

Turn // Burn isn’t the point of this Spoiler Spotlight, but it’s an excellent answer to all the value creatures in the format and should make stuff like [card]Essence Scatter[/card] less necessary. I’m looking forward to a format where you can simply kill a [card]Thragtusk[/card] or an [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] at instant speed.

 

UWR Zarek

[deck]2 Island
3 Sacred Foundry
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Moorland Haunt
4 Steam Vents
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Clifftop Retreat
2 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
3 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Turn/Burn
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Pillar of Flame
3 Searing Spear
2 Unsummon
3 Dissipate
2 Think Twice
3 Azorius Charm
1 Izzet Charm
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Ral Zarek[/deck]

In this deck, Zarek can still ramp into a Niv-Mizzet. It can also buff up a sorcery-speed [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. More importantly, it’s a pile of burn in planeswalker form, and his inclusion makes it more likely that you can finish off the opponent with a flurry of [card]Searing Spear[/card]s.

I like the idea of playing him turn four and untapping a blue source to hold up [card]Unsummon[/card]. Similarly, Larry Swasey suggested untapping into [card]Fog[/card]. There’s also [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], but is that really better than just using his -2 ability?

Modern UR Zarek Tron

[deck]1 Mountain
3 Island
1 Breeding Pool
1 Steam Vents
2 Shivan Reef
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
1 Eye of Ugin
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
2 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Electrolyze
2 Ral Zarek
4 Remand
3 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Through the Breach
3 Pyroclasm
1 Condescend
1 Prismatic Lens
4 Expedition Map
4 Izzet Signet[/deck]

The blue Tron lists, while less explosive than RG Tron, get to run sweet spells like [card]Remand[/card] and [card]Condescend[/card], which makes them less vulnerable to fast combo decks and hate cards like [card]Sowing Salt[/card].

Last year, Jarvis Yu won a PTQ with a similar deck, and this is a version of his list. I cut the [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card]s for Zareks and maindeck [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]s. Here, Zarek does double duty as both recurring removal and a ramp spell. With active Tron, he’ll let you cast Emrakul more easily. Without active Tron, he can help you curve into natural Wurmcoil. I like that [card]Izzet Signet[/card] makes him reliably castable.

The [card]Breeding Pool[/card] is for splashed [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] action out of the board.

What’s your favorite Zarek ability? What decks are you going to jam him in?

Caleb Durward
@CalebDMTG

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