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Rogue Report – Limited Changes in the New World

My next two big events are fast approaching: Grand Prix Oakland and Pro Tour San Diego. I’ll be battling extended in Oakland over Valentines Day (hopefully), and while Worldwake is likely to have some impact, so far it looks like the extended metagame is going to remain largely intact. That being said, I still don’t know what I’m playing, and time is running out.

For my second Pro Tour I’ll be in San Diego playing standard. As Zaiem put it, “you sure qualified for the worst Pro Tours.” Ok, so location-wise Hawaii is near the top of the list, but both Shards of Alara block and Standard are marred by Jund. Worldwake should have more of an impact on Standard than Extended, but Jund is likely to remain a deck. I’m still confident I can make my mark, so don’t take this to mean I’ve given up, but Worldwake isn’t going to flip the format upside down.

The second half of Pro Tour San Diego is going to be Zendikar draft with a shiny new third pack of Worldwake, and that is where the set is likely to make its largest impact. A whole new pack means a whole new set of cards to evaluate. Constructed evaluation of a new set is quite different than Limited. The chances of you seeing any one card across the table from you out of Worldwake in Limited is much higher than in Constructed, and a better evaluation of the set as a whole can put you relatively far ahead.

At the time I’m writing this the spoiler shows 109 out of 145 cards, so we’re more than 2/3rds of the way there. With the prerelease this weekend I’m going to take a stab at predicting how Zen limited will shift with the introduction of Worldwake, color by color.

White

White is by far the color I’ve had the most experience with in Limited. My strategy has been all about two-drops, and my draft strategy usually relies on picking up late filler cards like Kor Outfitters and Bold Defense. The deck is basically two-drops and ways to keep your two-drops attacking. Some are better than others – Kor Skyfisher is miles better than the Outfitter, and Windborn Charge is better than Bold Defense – but as long as you have a mix of each spell type, the deck tends to work. If Worldwake takes away cards of these types without giving back, the strategy is in trouble.

The loss of Steppe Lynx hurts my soul. Kitesail Apprentice is on the level of Kor Duelist, though I can’t tell if it’s any better or worse. It’s still marginally playable, on the level of good in the right deck, but that deck is very specific.

Unless the remaining five White cards in Worldwake include commons on the level of Kor Hookmaster and Kor Skyfisher, White isn’t going to be nearly as good. Marsh Threader is likely better than Cliff Threader, assuming Black is still good, but White isn’t gaining much ground here. Loam Lion is an awesome card, but since it’s uncommon, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to draft GW just to pick this guy up. Nobody else is likely to want him, but it’s not good enough for a whole strategy to rely on.

One of the best directions for White to go seems to be allies. White picks up two very powerful ally cards in Hada Freeblade and Join the Ranks. Even better, other people aren’t going to be clamoring for these cards like they were for Kazandu Blademaster. Freeblade and Join the Ranks are very efficient ways to keep the allies flowing.

I also see a lot of tools for a more controlling White deck I’ve run Makindi Shieldmate as the lone ally in my deck before, and Gaurdian Zendikon seems even better. While it has a bit of the Scarwood Treefolk drawback on turn three, the ability to block Shatterskull Giants and a pumped Nimana Sell-Sword is key. Iona’s Judgement is straight-up removal, but wants a more controlling deck with it’s steep mana cost. Lightkeeper of Emeria is an amazing tool for this type of deck, proving a great roadblock on turn four and serving as an amazing topdeck later in the game.

Ruin Ghost could find a home in an aggro deck, but I feel like the 1/1 for two wants to be in a control deck so that he can have a larger effect in a longer game. Not only does white have Kabira Crossroads, but the new Sejiri Steppe seems nuts when you can blink it. Lastly, I think Rest for the Weary is actually pretty good and is another reason this White control deck could work. I’ve played Sunspring Expedition before, but this card seems much better.

Overall I think White loses out, especially in the aggro department. If control is your thing, White might be getting an upgrade, but that strategy as a whole has been weak in triple Zen limited, so I’m skeptical.

Blue

Blue seems like more of the same in Worldwake, but not in a bad way. There are still aggressive creatures with evasion, great tempo cards, and some card advantage.

Welkin Tern and Umara Raptor are being replaced by Wind Zendikon. While this makes Blue’s strength in the ally department a little weaker, a 2/2 flyer with haste for essentially 1U is pretty nuts, and I expect this will be a very good card. Sejiri Merfolk is the other aggressive card in Blue. It will probably see play as just a Jhessian Lookout, but when this guy is online you better watch out. I also expect Calcite Snapper to be very annoying to play against. A four power creature that can block damage the turn it comes down seems very good.

As for card advantage, Blue is getting a very nice upgrade in Treasure Hunt over the near unplayable Ior Ruin Expedition. My circle hates the Expedition, but I can’t wait to play Treasure Hunt. Like White, I can see Blue moving in on a control deck in order to utilize cards like Mysteries of the Deep. Three cards is a lot in Limited, so buying enough time to use them seems profitable to me. Blue even has some great new blockers like Halimar Excavator that I expect a certain B. Stark draft in multiples, and not just to block.

In the tempo department, Blue is giving up a lot through the loss of Zen. Whiplash Trap can be one of the biggest blowouts, and Into the Roil is one of the most profitable bounce spells we’ve seen in a while. Worldwake does not disappoint. I’m a big fan of Surrakar Banisher. It’s not as good as Whiplash Trap for pushing through against a control deck, but it has got to be brutal in a race. Maybe in combination with Twitch it gets better, but that card is only marginally playable anyway.

Where Blue really gains, so far, is in its uncommons. Have you seen Vapor Snare? The Biting Tethers of the format, I am not looking forward to playing against this card. Living Tsunami has taught us that bouncing a land each turn is often a blessing, and I can only imagine what atrocities will occur with the Snare.

The really scary card, though, is Tideforce Elemental. My god. It’s a tapper that taps two creatures, and it only costs three mana! It can even attack! It can tap a blocker and then swing into the red zone for two damage – unbelievable. Oh, by the way, it also untaps creatures. There aren’t a lot of tap abilities in the land of Zendikar, but if you ever get this with a Cunning Sparkmage it’s game over!

Blue looks to be gaining ground on all fronts. Where before Blue had trouble blocking with its Welkin Terns and Windrider Eels, now it’s got Calcite Snapper. Plus the color can actually draw cards now.

Black

The big bad wolf, Black was easily the best color in Zendikar. How does it fare in Worldwake?

Black in Zendikar was highlighted by efficient cheap creatures and removal. The key cards all worked so well together: Vampire Lacerator, Guul Draz Vampire, Surrakar Marauder, Disfigure, Hideous End. That’s a lot of ground for Worldwake to make up. What I see are some creatures that are about on par with what we’re used to.

Corrupted Zendikon is a very welcome addition to the team, and will be quite the menace. If you thought Kor Skyfisher was hard to race, try this guy on for size. Ruthless Cullblade is debatably better than Guul Draz Vampire, but Black has lost its signature one-drops. Pulse Tracker hardly picks up the slack there.

In the removal front, it seems that the uncommon slot has absorbed those. Smother and Urge to Feed are each very good and very similar, so while I think Black is down a bit on quantity of removal spells (though I’m not sure entirely how the math works here) it’s still up on quality.

Black wasn’t all cheap spells; it also had Crypt Rippers and Nimana Sell-Swords rounding out its arsenal. Worldwake does have some midrange creatures so far, but they’re not quite on the same level. Bloodhusk Ritualist strikes me as very good, much better than Mind Sludge in two-color black decks, but Caustic Crawler and Shoreline Salvager are probably worse than their Zendikar equivalents.

Overall Black seems toned down, but Corrupted Zendikon is going to be a beating. Couple that with hyper-efficient removal spells taking up two uncommon slots, and I think these vampire still have some life in them. Black could easily remain top dog.

Red

Red was always my second favorite color, rounding out my most successful draft strategy: RW two-drops. The mono-Red deck wasn’t terrible and gained a lot of ground out of Molten Ravagers and Spire Barrage. Filled with aggressive creatures and burn spells, Red was often the second favorite color in Zen Limited, at least in sealed.

Two words on Red in Worldwake: Cunning Sparkmage. There was no traditional pinger in Zendikar, and I assumed that was because it would be too good. So many creatures that are pivotal to the format have one toughness. So what does WOTC throw at us in the second set? Why, it’s an easier to cast Vulshok Sorcerer! Brutal. I think every deck I’ve ever drafted in Zen Limited gets annihilated by this guy. Bye bye, Cliff Threader. Goblin Shortcutter. Surrakar Marauder. Welkin Tern. Green is the only color that emerges intact, a reason why it might be more popular of a color after Worldwake. Still, the Sparkmage is just an uncommon, so it won’t completely warp the format, but damn does it scare me.

Otherwise Red loses a lot of its pizzaz. I’m only looking at 16 out of 24 of the cards, but out of those cards Red’s common creature slots are taken up with guys such as Cosi’s Ravager Serpent, Grotag Goblin Thrasher, Roiling Terrain, and Skitter of Lizards. Sure, these cards are OK, but I don’t see them holding up to Bladetusk Boar, Goblin Shortcutter, and Torch Slinger in the long run. Red has got to gain some serious ground in its creatures if it wants to stay near the top.

Red even seems down in the removal spell department to me. Searing Blaze is pretty nuts when you can landfall it, but it’s very underwhelming otherwise. It’s also made more awkward by the RR mana cost, making it worse that Burst Lightning in my book. Worse than Burst Lightning isn’t actually that bad of a place to be, but this isn’t a spell worth splashing, where Burst Lightning definitely was.

Unless Red gets an efficient removal spell and an efficient two or three-drop, I’m out.

Green

From the top to the bottom, poor Green has been kicked, spit on, and underdrafted. Green failed in Zendikar Limited for multiple reasons, and I recommend reading my article on the subject here to see why. Let’s see if Green can overcome its faults in the new set.

Unfortunately, like Red, Green is so far shorted in the spoiler. Arbor Elf seems like a great way to give big Green monsters a boost, and it’s got to be better than Greenweaver Druid. Heck, it even works great with the Zendikons. Similarly, Explore is a great way to accelerate and is one of the best landfall enablers out there. There was a lot of talk about the UG landfall deck when Zendikar first came out, but it eventually fell out of favor. I can see Explore bringing a deck like this back, and I can’t wait to cast it.

The other Green commons are more of the same. Groundswell is a little worse than Vines of the Vastwood, at least in my book, but Graypelt Hunter gives Green a great Nimana Sell-Sword. Vastwood Zendikon picks up Territorial Baloth’s slot, and is even worse at blocking on turn five. Unfortunately, random guys and pump spells isn’t what Green needed to succeed in this format. The remaining commons better be good.

The uncommon slot is just more random guys, though two of them are very impressive. If you’ve managed to be the mono-Green deck than there’s not much you want to see over a Leatherback Baloth. Unfortunately, the mana cost is quite restrictive outside of that strategy. Bestial Menace, however, seems insane to me and gives green a better way to interact with Kor Hookmaster and Goblin Shortcutter.

With one less pack of Grazing Gladehart green is going to need a lot of help in the few remaining cards. More random guys isn’t going to get the job done. Luckily the other colors seem to be toning down a bit, which might give the green cards in Zendikar more room to breathe. Green also has two great enablers in Explore and Harabaz Druid, though unfortunately the latter is uncommon and hard to plan for.

The Rest

More marginal equipment, the picking look even worse this time around. The original Zen equipment grew on me eventually, but it’s not like Worldwake is providing any huge upgrades. While Razor Boomerang always comes back, it is definitely not as a Trusty Machete.

Pilgrim’s Eye looks good to me and will be good in every deck, and it will help out the multi-color ally decks and some of the control deck’s splashes, but it’s not going to be blowing any doors down. Walking Atlas is a great enabler like Explore, and will probably even see some play outside of landfall focused decks as a straight-up accelerator with some tricky benefits.

The lands are generally on par with Zendikar. Some of them are better (like Khalni Garden), and the Black one is still pretty bad. (At least in Limited. I’m super excited about Bojuka Bog in Constructed.) The man lands are going to be awesome if you get one, but I’m worried about the effect Dread Statuary will have on mana. It’s still good, but I found Zendikar Limited to be pretty color intensive. The loss of the uncommon mana fixing lands will be felt, but not enough to destroy archetypes I don’t think.

Two Headed Giant, Here I Come!

In order to protect my two byes from total rating for Grand Prix Oakland, I’m not going to be playing in the traditional prerelease flights. I’ll still be at the prerelease as it’s one of the most fun Magic days ever, but I’ll be playing in the Two-Headed Giant flight in order to win some packs so I can draft through the night.

I’m excited. With Worldwake coming out it means I can go full speed in my Oakland and San Diego testing. Wish me luck next month.

Thanks for reading,

Jonathon Loucks
Loucksj @ gmail
JonLoucks on Twitter
Zygonn on Magic Online

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