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Silvestri Says – Zendikar Impressions

 

Woo! Finally we’ve gotten to get our hands on Zendikar and actually play with the cards, so no more scraping by for article topics! As a result this week’s article will be divvied into two sections, the first being my prerelease experience and the second giving detailed impressions of certain post-rotation decks and Zendikar cards. I know I rarely cover Limited, but you’ll have to indulge me for one of the five times a year I actually talk about it.

For my Zendikar PR I attended the midnight release, as well as the main flight on Saturday. To my complete shock, 157 people showed up for the midnight flight. I just couldn’t get over how many people were streaming into the store at that time of night to play in a tournament. It was at that point that it really stuck me just how popular this set was and how hyped up everyone was.

In fact a lot of the conversations I heard while I was waiting for dozens of people to sign up went something like this.

“Oh man, did you hear about treasures?”

“Dude, someone opened a MOX over in France?”

“Is it true that Wizards is reprinting the Power Nine?”

“Man I hope I open an Ancestral or Lotus”

This Priceless Treasures promotion really just pushed the popularity of Zendikar over the top. Even though the odds of cracking anything were very remote, just the thought was really exciting. Heck, how could it not be? It reminded me a lot of the Golden Tickets in Willy Wonka. In the end the only treasures opened were a Phyrexian Dreadnought and Gaea’s Cradle out of something like 2700 packs cracked over the weekend, but it was still a really cool thing to do.

Back to the actual Zendikar playing! I ended up playing only the first round of the midnight PR so I could go home and sleep for the 10am flight that morning. I only won a couple of matches over the weekend, but the matches felt a lot closer and more contested than in M10 or Shards sealed. There were sealed decks that people fielded that could really make people care about early damage, the quest and trap cards combined to form a lot of skill-tester scenarios and overall the set felt like it flowed well.

In both of my Sealed pools I ended up going three colors, two main and a splash for Red removal. Personally I felt each pool gave me three or four colors with enough playable cards to give me a legitimate reason to run them. My impression of the general color balance was that it was well struck and that no color got shafted and was weaker than others before seeing the pool. This could quickly change once I play with the set more, but that’s why this is an initial impressions section.

I also had the chance to get in a draft with my prize packs where I made a sick little G/U deck and ended up going 3-1. Cheap Blue evasive creatures combined with equipment like Adventuring Gear and Explorer’s Scope quickly got out of hand. The Scope in particular was a spicy little number when played on an evasive creature, clearing off the top of my library and getting really abusive with all the Landfall cards. Nearly all the games I’ve played of Zendikar Limited gave me enough time to really take advantage of thinning effects and slower cards in general. That said, games weren’t coming down to long stalemates and bombs like in M10; the decks simply played out the way they were built. You could make decks with actual plans and you had enough time to actually accomplish them.

Mana-fixing wise, the format has just enough that most decks can get by, but it isn’t so abundant that you can go nuts with off-color commitments. Between the uncommon lands, Khalni Gem, Expedition Map and the traditional Green fixing, there’s some good ways to get your three colors working well with one another. Creatures in every color are also pretty effective, although I’m reasonably sure Black and Blue have ones just a cut above the rest. I mean just take a look at the creatures at common for Blue:

Blue

Kraken Hatchling (Not only was I paying 2U for this guy in M10, but three toughness or higher can gum up the ground for days)

Reckless Scholar (Merfolk Looter at 2U)

Shoal Serpent (Blue actually gets a fattie that can attack!)

Umara Raptor (Wind Drake at worst and usually a 3/3 flyer for 2U)

Welkin Tern (Wind Drake for one less)

Windrider Eel (Ridiculous)

Pretty good men in general and then you get to throw in Living Tsunami and Merfolk Seastalkers at uncommon. What else is nice is that about half the Blue creatures have flying, which is very rare outside of White and Blue. Only two cards in the set have reach (Oran-Rief Recluse and Spidersilk Net). Past that, the color pie seems pretty balanced this time around.

As for the concept of Allies and general strength, a notable number of them seem fine to play on their own and it only takes a few coming down in consecutive turns for them to get out of hand. The upper-end allies are very strong, and if not quickly dealt with can completely dominate a game. They remind me a lot of a weaker Sliver tribe in that the later an Ally is played, the smaller it ends up even though their ability is typically stronger. As for specific Ally creatures, the Blue, White and Green Ally creatures felt stronger than the ones in Red or Black (with the exception of Murasa Pyromancer).

Enough about Limited, though the games I’ve played so far have been a lot of fun and that the PR itself was a blast. Now we move into the awesomeness that is post-rotation Standard. Here are some of my thoughts after actually testing out some of the stronger Zendikar cards.

Scute Mob

Here we have a vastly overrated card, almost on the same level Lotus Cobra. The Mob started drawing immediate comparisons to one of the best creatures ever: Tarmogoyf. This one post someone made on the Star City Games forums encompasses everything that was blown out of proportion with this card:

“This guy fills tarmogoyfs role in standard as a late game cheap threat and does it VERY well… yes he dies to burn and creature removal… but tarmogoyf died to creature removal as well and that sure as hell didnt make him suck…

The point is they HAVE to blow their point removal and blow it NOW on this guy. Or deal with a 5/5, 9/9, 13/13 etc…

At the WORST in a major creature deck like zoo he is a thoughtseize that yanks their creature removal card but dosent lose you any life… at best they dont have creature removal in hand late game and are gonna get smashed. Yes he sucks early game, but so does tarmogoyf who comes down as a whoping 0/1 on turn 2 if no cards in the yard.

Wake thrasher: Actually hes an example of WHY 1/1s that get huge next turn DO work late game… he ROCKED.”

First, let’s get the obvious wrongs out of the way. As anyone who has played Extended, Legacy or old Standard can attest to, there were plenty of turn two Tarmogoyfs and they were practically never 0/1’s. The other obvious wrong in his argument is that even if Goyf would be a 0/1 on turn two, by turn three or four Goyf would be of substantial size and provide immediate defense in the face of aggression. Scute Mob is a puny 1/1 until his upkeep trigger kicks in at least once, which isn’t happening until turn 5 at the earliest.

Scute Mob is awful in the early game, and is a terrible card to see in your opener, which is a major strike against it. The next point is that for being a late-game threat, it’s awfully vulnerable to the same cards that could / were killing your early game threats due to the start-up time involved. When an unkicked Burst Lightning or Lightning Bolt can take down the card your banking on as being a ‘late game threat’ that doesn’t speak well of it.

Forget Goyf for a minute – what you should compare it to are late-game finishers. That’s what this guy is going to be doing 99% of the time; killing opponents after they destroy your initial swarm of dudes. Baneslayer, Ob Nixilis, the Fallen and Broodmate Dragon are better comparison points. Against these guys the drawback becomes more quantifiable. It sucks against a losing board position, lacks evasion, can be killed the turn it drops by a light breeze, etc. Sure it only costs a single G instead of those guys, but unless you’re talking about a Bant deck featuring counters, what deck is going to care that you only spent one mana on your big threat instead of five?

The one big thing Scute Mob has going for it is that it can be fetched via Ranger of Eos. That’s a good argument to make in his favor and it’s why he’s going to see any play at all. I tried him in Naya Zoo for Standard and he lives up his billing as a large late-game beater, but it’s still disappointing to lose one to a Volcanic Fallout or Bolt when trying to race a Broodmate or Baneslayer. I’d run two for Ranger and possibly a third in the board against control, but I’d be hard pressed to run him in any non-Ranger deck or even as a full set.

Vampires – All of them

My initial impression was that the vampire cards and deck it would create was just adorable. I mean, mono Black aggro being viable without Necropotence or Hatred? Obviously just a pipe-dream, as there’s no way after the disaster of faeries that they would put all the building blocks in Zendikar to make a tier one tribal deck. Well now that I’ve actually built a stock vampires list to test with, I can safely say that they are the real deal.

Not only do all the creatures have a solid P/T to mana ratio, they all have useful abilities tacked on. All the vampires (with the sole exception of Lacerator) have a valid ability that increases their overall strength. Even the vampire cards that seemed a bit iffy like Malakir Bloodwitch are very strong in a tribal aggro deck. Turns out a fair Black Baneslayer Angel is good enough for the five mana slot; guess we learned something about not needing to slap sixteen abilities on a card, eh R&D?

In addition to the vampire cards themselves, Black aggro decks have access to two very strong enchantments in Quest for the Gravelord and Bloodchief Ascension. The Black quest card is even stronger than I first anticipated; I won multiple games against control solely on the back of the 5/5 I got after my board was swept by Pyroclasm or Day of Judgment. In aggro mirrors you can control the flow of damage by resolving a quest and daring them to block your smaller creatures. Either they take chunks of life they don’t want to give up or they can trade and suddenly become outclassed on the battlefield.

Bloodchief Ascension is another card that gives the deck a tough to stop source of incremental advantage. Without burn in the deck though, it becomes a bit awkward to activate, which makes it more of a sideboard card. It is possible to get it active though and I did plenty of times against aggro and control alike. The key to remember with powering up this Ascension is that it removes the option of people leaning on their life-total for the early and mid-game.

If they let you get in for that early damage then not only does Bloodchief Ascension become active, but it becomes all the more dangerous since three or four activations could mean death. Players that pick option B and trade away cards away early, either in creature trades or by spending removal leave themselves open to overextending and losing to late-game threats. Quest for the Gravelord and Bloodghast are also valid reasons for why this type of plan is risky at best.

This is my current stock list for Vampires:

Vampires

And for another view on it, this is one that finished top two in the first Magic-League Master for post-rotation Standard.

Vampires by Comodope:

 

Luminarch Ascension 

This card is actually very playable in the right type of control deck. If you can get it active it’s nearly impossible to lose, making me feel that PV summed it up nicely with a description of ‘It’s a Planeswalker with only the ultimate ability on there.’ However, against certain decks like mono Red or Jund with Maelstrom Pulse, you’ll obviously have issues ever getting Ascension active. It also is rather poor in multiples, as you only require on to come online to win with.

I can definitely see people trying to make it work in MWC, WR and BW control decks or by boarding it in certain midrange decks in control matches where they feel outclassed. In actual game play it wasn’t difficult to get Luminarch online against decks like Vampires or Naya Zoo, but control proved more difficult than expected. Many of control decks I played against had a mix of Pulse and Esper Charm to keep my Luminarchs in line, forcing me to move to a plan B against them.

With some input from Justin Stanley, this is my current W/R Control list.

W/R Control

Even if Luminarch Ascension ends up not being good enough for the maindeck, I feel that some form of WR control will be viable in the new format. It gets a ton of great removal, an excellent finisher and now has ultimate inevitability in Emeria, the Sky Ruin. Not only does that card mean you won’t run out of win conditions any time soon, but it enables a soft-lock with Knight-Captain of Eos.

Mono Red / Sligh

I talked about the new and improved Red deck a couple of weeks ago after some spicy Red was spoiled. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect and update with a few new additions, I can say that the deck is very strong. It isn’t just a goldfish deck as I thought it might be; it can fight through a lot of spot removal and can shrug off sweepers. Wall of Denial is still very obnoxious, but ultimately can only block one guy a turn.

I don’t particularly like Elemental Appeal and prefer the other Prinny from the set, Zektar Shrine Expedition. That said, not liking isn’t the same as not playing it. I quickly recognized that if I was going to go all-out and run a deck based around aggressive haste guys, Elemental Appeal had its place in the deck. Perhaps future versions will figure out more efficient cards for the deck.

Right now this is my base list:

RDW

Most of these cards are self-explanatory; the only one I really feel the need to explain is Goblin Shortcutter. This is a case of a role player playing much better in testing than on paper. Being able to play a spell to remove a blocker from the equation, regardless of size, was a welcome addition to the deck. It plays especially well with Goblin Guide and Geopede, allowing them to attack for a turn longer than usual. Act of Treason is another sore thumb; I play it so I can actually beat a turn five Baneslayer Angel hitting play. If the opposing deck’s plan involves playing a large creature to stop my smaller guys and throwing spot removal on my Ball Lightning and Elemental Appeals, Act of Treason curbstomps that plan into the cold unforgiving ground.

This version of the Sligh deck absolutely crushes control decks and any slower midrange decks thinking they’ll have time to get their slower plans online. If you can’t pack a serious removal / defensive creature package and don’t plan on winning the game on turn five, you’ll be losing all the time to this.

Notably Eldariel from Magic-League ran a similar build, but with a few key deviations. The differences from mine to his are:

-3 Act of Treason (In his board)

-2 Magma Spray (in his board)

-2 Goblin Shortcutter

+3 Resounding Thunder

+2 Banefire

+2 Goblin Bushwacker

Nissa Revane

Although originally I believed the card sucked, it turns out Nissa is acceptable in a modified Elves deck. Might not be optimal or particularly powerful, but produces a constant flow of creatures and isn’t stopped by the traditional anti-swarm means. Plus, with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood and Elvish Archdruid, those Elvish Warriors can get big pretty quickly. Having a creature creator that won’t die to the traditional mass removal options is pretty sweet. Against other creature decks both of her +1 abilities are relevant, although I find she has one starting loyalty too few to be truly effective against Red decks.

Here’s a list that finished in the top eight of the M-L Master.

GR Elves by Capoeira02

Next week we’ll be focused entirely on post-Zendikar standard, although a few people have harassed me about doing some updates on Extended. Depending on how many people care I might do one more split article on the subject before the PT. That’s all for now though and I hope everyone had fun at their prereleases this weekend.

Josh Silvestri

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

19 thoughts on “Silvestri Says – Zendikar Impressions”

  1. I just heard of this, I love playing this type of game.

    I wonder how big it will get. it seems like a very fun game though. I wish I knew more people around here to play it with.

    Everyone I know is just boring old farts that I work with

  2. During my PR draft, the guy I was sitting next to opened a MOX. I’m pissed cuz I actually handed him his packs… oh well. Great coverage with lots of deck ideas, I’d like to know why you want jackal familiars in that mono red, seems like you could put any number of things in there that would be more effective.

  3. I really like the vampires idea and list, but I really believe that vampires can not be viable as mono-colored. I know you want everything to activate nocturnus but how does it deal with stag and devout lightcaster? And please dont say gatekeeper. If they are playing mono white, i believe there will be more than one creature facing you on turn three. Gatekeeper is very good but I was thinking more of a red black build of vampires just for sideboard purposes. Red black give your access to, whether it be in the side or main, blightning, bituminous blast, terminate(these all trigger Nocturnus) and in the side for sure to deal with lightcaster and stag…lighting bolt. Blasting into a Nocturnus with Nocturnus on board and Nocturnus being revealed becuase of Nocturnus on Board seeems kinda good…just some suggestions. Great article though. I love reading decklist.

  4. I dont get why you play fetches in the vampire list. Are you in such dire need of multiple bloodghast triggers? Because there is no other synergy. If it is to “thin out the deck” how about crunching some numbers?

    Opening seven with three Lands. Lets see how likely it is to draw lands over the next few turns. I just look at the next five turns for no apparent reason besides probably being a bit lower then your average game length with this deck.
    Probability to draw X lands without fetchland/with fetchland:
    0: 8%/9%
    1: 29%/30%
    2: 36%/36%
    3: 21%/20%
    4: 6%/5%
    5: 1%/0%

    If an increase of 1% of the desirable outcomes and a decrease of 1% of the undesirable outcomes is worth a point of life to you, then all is good and well. But after all the thinning effect is ridiculous. I think it is insane to stuff fetches in every deck. It is good in two color decks because of the fixing and the minimal thinning it gives you, but in a monocolored deck its just not worth it. Just doing the numbers sometimes helps.
    Well lets see what happens if you played 2 fetchlands in the first two turns. Is it better now?
    Without fetch/1 fetch/ 2 fetches:
    0: 8%/9%/10%
    1: 28%/29%/31%
    2: 36%/36%/36%
    3: 22%/20%/19%
    4: 6%/5%/5%
    5: 1%/0%/0%

    Who the hell are we kidding here? Please cut those damn fetches. They only do something in 1 or 2 of 100 games but cost you about 1 life each game. Do not tell beginners to do stuff like that please…

  5. i played against scute mob this weekend in a draft!! scary, scary card. i had to Into the roil, whiplash trap and eventually marsh casualty to get rid of it. granted my opponent cheated, but he’s a nice guy and i wasn’t in the mood to call a judge, i let it go. it involved him NOT equipping something in order to save mana up for narrow escape the previous turn and then not remembering why he didn’t equip so he assumed he did, etc etc you get the pointed, he basically wasn’t on his game that day.

  6. Kenshin: Read what Vampire Nocturnus does instead of assuming I’ve never read one of the MANY threads on deck thinning with Fetches. I wouldn’t run 8 or anything quite that silly, but being able to drop a late fetch and ‘hold it’ to clear a land off the top for Nocturnus has come up in testing and the drawback has been minimal so far. If Sligh was the top deck in a month, then that would be a good reason to drop them all.

    As it stands, having them around for some minimal benefits makes them better than just running straight all-Swamps or Swamps + 1-2 Gargoyle Castle.

  7. Well that makes more sense. I know what the card does but i failed to realize that with a fetch you get another ~60% chance to not have a land on top. But again, is this so much better? Probably it is, but im not quite sold on that. You could as well run basics, Borderposts and splash red. This would increase the odds for colored spells too while giving you access to blightning, bolt and other shenannigans.

  8. Sorry for the doublepost, but I obviously did not test the deck. Have the fetches been amazing for you so far? On paper the advantage looks pretty narrow (given you have to have Nocturnus and a fetch to crack left).

  9. My first inclination was to run Borderposts, but the CIPT issue was too big for a deck that has a real curve to it. If the deck moves toward a slower build, then I could definitely see that as a valid option.

    The fetches have most definitely not been amazing for me. Then again I’m not asking for them to be amazing, the way I see it there’s two ways to go with the mana base.

    1. Run all Swamps at no drawback and no upside
    2. Run Swamps + Fetches for a minor drawback and minor upside

    In such a straight-forward deck I’d prefer the latter since the minor upside can lead directly to a game-winning situation. Of course if you drew 3 fetches, that’s pretty awkward, but I find in my small sample size the upside has been outweighing the downside. Tendrils of Corruption gaining a bunch of life has helped with that though. 🙂

    That said, one potential reason to run fetches is because you can board Zealous Persecution. So far that’s been the easiest splash to make for the deck and it really helps out in the mirror.

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  11. Why not Mark of Mutiny instead of act of treason in the red deck? It gets an extra damage in, and if you dont kill them, there dudes will outclass your dudes anyway.

  12. Kris: The SB is designed for an open field. Earthquakes and Siege-Gangs come in against aggro. Unlike older red decks, most of your guys explode after a turn anyway, so Earthquake really has no drawback when you sweep the board. SGC just gives you some late-game oomph. Against control decks Banefire and Zektar Shrine Expedition come in to replace garbage like Magma Spray and such.

    Shrine Expedition may seem like an odd choice, but what was frequently happening was I’d resolve Shrine and let it sit for a while. It can really worry the opponent because based on what you have in your hand, it becomes very risky to tap-out against the red deck. Even if they do something like play Baneslayer, they need counter mana or worry about Act of Treason + the 7/1 from Shrine tag-teaming for lethal from even 10 life.

    The other thing is that Shrine provides a threat that doesn’t require a tap-out from you. You can actually split your resources for the turn and still have the capacity to deal a ton of damage.

    @mgallop: Sure, some dude I steal will probably outclass my guys. My problem is in racing situations it can be a practicality road block. If my win isn’t guaranteed and I mark of mutiny and they get their guy back, odds are I’ve just dropped my opponent’s clock by a turn because I have no blockers. It also sucks on lifelink guys if they get them back.

    That said, I might be over-thinking the drawback might not matter and is definitely something worth trying out.

  13. Wow, this is like THE ONE TIME I see people jump to the defense of no-Fetchlands. To sum it up:

    Playing 8 Fetchlands and activating them all as soon as you draw them will net you a nonland card where a player without fetchlands would have drawn a land. Oh, when, you ask? After 26 turns. That’s how long it takes for that advantage to mathematically manifest.

    Running fetchlands for other reasons, like Tarmogoyf and Grim Lavamancer (and who remembers Rotting Giant?^^) is fine. Running them for Landfall is even better and keeping any multiples around to reanimate Bloodghast in a pinch or clear out a nonblack card from the top of your library. I am not sure about the correct number in the corresponding Block deck, but with Nocturnus in addition to Bloodghast, 8 are a given.

    Oh, and hi Kenshin! 🙂

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