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Zendikar Rising in Legacy

While the past year of Magic set design has been controversial, I have good reason to be optimistic for the future. Zendikar Rising is upon us and looks awesome. The designs look fun and interesting, while not appearing to be overwhelmingly powerful, especially in the context of Legacy.

There’s a lot of new territory in this set, specifically surrounding modal double-faced cards, or MDFC. I don’t have a clear sense of how these are going to change things or where these are going to fit in, but I’m excited to discuss them and explore what impact they might have.

Speaking of MDFC, I want to talk about Belcher and Oops, All Spells for a moment before I get into specifics. It is possible that just about any MDFC will find its way into those decks because they are specifically in the market for lands that don’t count as lands in their deck. I don’t know in what capacity they will be included, nor which specific cards will be included, but I can all but guarantee they will show up. As such, I will not be talking about specific cards getting added to Belcher.

With the set getting into people’s hands soon after the full preview (the set will be out on Magic Online by the time this goes up) I could see some of what I have to say here already being invalidated by its release. However, I’m excited to talk about the cards and hope I can get at least a few calls correct here.

Blue

Sea Gate StormcallerThieving SkydiverSea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, RebornConfounding ConundrumJace, Mirror MageRuin Crab

Sea Gate Stormcaller

One of the flashiest cards in the set for eternal formats, Sea Gate Stormcaller is a new take on getting extra copies of your spells. I like this card, but I think the design space it exists in is already full in Legacy. The closest comparison is Snapcaster Mage, but I’m unsure if the play patterns Stormcaller promotes will have the same level of impact. Snapcaster Mage incentivizes you to cast your spells ahead of time and provides a lot of flexibility when it comes to timing. Being able to store the spell in your graveyard for future use is nice against discard spells as well. While you do save on mana the turn you cast Stormcaller, since the second copy is free to cast, you essentially lose the mana if you would have cast the spell earlier in the game but chose not to.

Stormcaller does do some things very well. If you’re planning on copying a two-mana spell now you’re really starting to save on mana if you have a good use for that mana early on. The fact that you can cast and copy Lightning Bolt in the same turn (to kill a Tarmogoyf, for instance) is meaningful.

The next closest comparison is Dreadhorde Arcanist, but I don’t think the two are in the same conversation. While Arcanist does give you copies of spells for free, the repetitive nature of Arcanist makes it quite different (and substantially more powerful) from Stormcaller. I would not be surprised to see this card show up, but I don’t think it’s going to replace any previously existing cards. You want this in a more proactive deck (as opposed to Snapcaster, which is better in a reactive deck), and it’ll be nice to give non-red blue midrange decks some additional tools that focus on spells, rather than creatures or planeswalkers.

Thieving Skydiver

There’s are enough decent artifacts to steal in Legacy for this to be interesting. Stealing cards like Aether Vial, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Arcum’s Astrolabe could be a big game. The body itself is decent and I could see this being a solid inclusion in the sideboard of Ninjas, Merfolk, and various Stoneblade decks (and depending on the metagame, it could be worth including in the main deck).

Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn

This card is interesting in the context of Omnitell decks. On the front side, it’s decent payoff if you can resolve a Show and Tell without expending too many resources. The fail state of being a land will increase the consistency that the deck can develop its mana base with. It might end up being a bit too underwhelming on the spell side, as it can sometimes be difficult to have a decent number of cards left in hand post Show and Tell.

I might be more interested in this if Omnitell shifts back towards playing red for Burning Wish. If you have two lands with no additional lands in hand, you can Wish for this on turn two to give yourself the third land drop. Then, if you happen to draw a land naturally, you can try to resolve a Show and Tell and use this as the payoff instead. Regardless, a land that pitches to Force of Will is certainly interesting so I think this will show up in some number in the future.

Confounding Conundrum

This is an interesting sideboard card against Exploration decks, but it doesn’t look good enough to me. With Field of the Dead around I could even imagine this being a downside if you draw it late in the game. It is interesting against fetch lands, but it seems very underpowered in modern day Legacy.

Jace, Mirror Mage

Since Legacy is the format that gets to keep all the broken cards that have been printed and banned in other formats, I don’t think Jace, Mirror Mage comes close to being strong enough. Considering the Jace, the Mind Sculptor sees minimal play these days, the bar is high for planeswalkers. I think it is a pretty interesting card and at five mana it can really start to generate a lot of value but there are too many potent cards and efficient answers in Legacy these days for this to have an impact.

Ruin Crab

Not being able to mill yourself is a huge downside, so I doubt this will see any real play. If they ever push the mill archetype enough to exist in the format, having access to eight crabs will be a good thing, but I’m doubtful we’ll ever get there.

Red

Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer PassWayward Guide-BeastMagmatic ChannelerCleansing WildfireRoiling VortexValakut Awakening // Valakut StoneforgeCinderclasmNahiri's Lithoforming

Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

The buzz around this card has been as a Burning Wish target to tutor for an untapped red source. There are only a few decks where that is relevant (Charbelcher and TES, primarily) but having that as an option seems like it will be relevant, and I fully expect to see this card show up in Legacy.

Goblin Guide

While this isn’t Goblin Guide, it does a decent impression of it. This isn’t a card you should seek to play on turn one, which means you need to have a lot of one-drop creatures to mitigate the drawback. Burn already plays eight one-drops and could always be in the market for more.

I’m a bit hesitant to say this card is a great fit in Legacy because a lot of creatures in Burn are primary reasons to keep a hand. When you see Goblin Guide, two lands, and some burn spells, you’re more likely to keep that hand because of the Goblin’s consistent source of damage. Wayward Guide-Beast doesn’t really evoke the same experience and will set you back if you start the game with it on turn one. However, Burn has been slowly accruing more tools over the past few years and having more tools in its arsenal is not a bad thing. To include Wayward Guide-Beast the deck probably needs to be constructed differently, but I think there’s a world where it could be solid.

Magmatic Channeler

This is an interesting card. There are a decent number of cards in Legacy at this point that reward you for having a lot of instants and sorcery cards in your deck, so there’s a lot of competition for this type of card. While occasionally being a 4/4 is a nice upside, the fact that the ability doesn’t generate card advantage is a knock against it.

Since it doesn’t pull you ahead on cards (Dreadhorde Arcanist) and it doesn’t apply pressure particularly quickly (Young Pyromancer), I think Magmatic Channeler might be a bit outclassed as an option in the Delver decks of the format.

However, Channeler is neat in the context of Arclight Phoenix, which is territory that Arcanist and Pyromancer don’t usually show up in. That deck tends to get instants and sorcery cards in the graveyard more quickly than the average Delver deck, which will make this a meaningful beater more quickly. In addition, that deck is always looking to discard some phoenixes, so getting additional mileage out of the discard ability seems good to me.

Cleansing Wildfire

A lot of conversation surrounding this card has been about three-color Delver mirrors out of the sideboard. In a different era of Legacy, I would have said that was good enough – as it stands, I think the permanents in Delver are too potent these days to warrant spending two mana on destroying a land. I would hate to draw this when I was behind on board, and even in the best-case scenario, they can still cast Daze to counter the cantrip part of the card. I could see a world where a red deck with Wasteland would need to destroy some other problematic land, but it’s too much of a drawback to give the opponents a land and spend two mana on a sorcery and to not develop the board.

Roiling Vortex

This is an interesting Pyrostatic Pillar/Sulfuric Vortex mashup. My guess is that this won’t end up doing the job of either card particularly well. Part of what makes Sulfuric Vortex so strong against decks that rely on life gain and removal is that the clock it presents is fast. Roiling Vortex, on the other hand, doesn’t really have the same impact on the game, and opponents will often have enough time to find an answer. It will deal some real damage if your opponent must cast Force of Will on a spell, but in the postboard games there aren’t usually that many Forces left in player’s decks.

On the other hand, part of what makes Pyrostatic Pillar good is that it deals your Storm opponent the damage while they try to find an answer for it. Roiling Vortex is good against Lotus Petals and Lion’s Eye Diamonds, but they can wait to cast those until they have an answer, or even cast them beforehand if they know you have Roiling Vortex.

Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge

This card could be effective in small numbers in certain combo shells. I’m not sure exactly where it will find a home, but the versatility is decent so I could see it showing up. It pairs well with Life from the Loam, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see that be the starting point for Valakut Awakening. Three mana is a lot, though, so it might be too slow.

Cinderclasm

This is a nice tool to have added to the format and it will be a solid option for any red deck looking to kill small creatures. I think it’s worse than Blazing Volley most of the time, but most red sweepers show up in some number at some point in Legacy.

Nahiri’s Lithoforming

While this might seem interesting in Lands, I think it’s a steep cost to play for this effect. Lands doesn’t really want to spend four or more mana on many cards, and the effect it has is somewhat marginal.

Black

Feed the SwarmAgadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the UndercryptBloodchief's ThirstScourge of the SkyclavesSkyclave Shade

Feed the Swarm

Sometimes black-based control decks have trouble killing enchantments, so if a deck like Grixis Control becomes popular again, I think this will be a valuable sideboard card to have access to.

Agadeem’s Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt

This is a MDFC that can cast Dark Ritual, so this is one of the few that I think are a shoo-in for some fast, landless combo deck. The effect of the card isn’t meaningless, either so maybe it will see play in some other deck down the line.

Bloodchief’s Thirst

This looks a bit worse than Fatal Push on average, but the added late-game utility does seem nice. I like it against Delver from a control deck, as it answers every creature when unkicked, but has the additional upside of answering Oko in a longer game.

Scourge of the Skyclaves

This card sends out some serious Death’s Shadow vibes, but it’s nowhere near as potent. While most opponents do deal some damage to themselves, you probably need to get a few hits in with some creatures before this is a meaningful threat. The fact that you alone don’t have control over it if you want to, unlike Death’s Shadow, makes it a lot more awkward to use. I can see a world where it shows up in Dimir Shadow decks in smaller numbers, but I don’t expect it to make waves in the format.

Skyclave Shade

Most creatures that return from the graveyard are worth talking about, and this one doesn’t have a particularly steep cost. Since Bloodghast doesn’t even see play in Dredge, I doubt that this will show up there. However, Hogaak is always in the market for black creatures that can be recurred. When the condition for Gravecrawler is met it is far more efficient, but you don’t always have a zombie in play. This would give Hogaak up to eight creatures that return from the graveyard with landfall as the condition, which could increase the consistency of the deck.

White

Archon of EmeriaSkyclave ApparitionFelidar Retreat

Archon of Emeria

This is a combination of abilities that is bound to have an impact on Legacy. Thalia, Heretic Cathar already sees some play and is quite annoying. While Archon is worse against creature decks, white decks don’t usually struggle as much in those matchups, so giving white decks the ability to significantly slow down, or just K.O., unfair decks is an upgrade in a lot of situations.

Skyclave Apparition

This is a huge boon to white creature decks and I’m happy to see it. In Death and Taxes, the fact that they get a non-flying token when this is removed isn’t a particularly large deal, and giving the deck a really clean answer to Oko (as well as Uro, Delver, and just about anything else) is a big deal. Both Death and Taxes and Esper Vial are going to happily play this card, and it’s very cool to see white getting some love in Legacy for the first time in a while.

Felidar Retreat

I really like what this card does. There are a lot of decks in Legacy can play extra lands, and the combination of abilities here seem cool. I don’t know what a shell with this card would look like, but it’s going to be cool to see what people do with this.

Green

Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine WoodBala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary

Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood

Like Agadeem’s Awakening, this is a meaningful color for the landless combo decks of the format, so I think this is the other shoo-in to make it into Belcher or Oops, All Spells.

Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary

Pulse of Murasa has seen play before, although that card does some very specific things that made it a reasonable choice for Legacy (six life matters, instant speed matters). This card is likely worse than that, but it’s hard to get a feel for how being a land influences the card evaluation here.

Multicolored

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients

This card is a bit more unique than Jace, so it probably has a better chance of making it into the format. Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients pairs well with Winota, Joiner of Forces (as well as the cards that work well in that deck, like Goblin Rabblemaster) and decks built around that card have shown up on the fringes from time to time. I don’t think this has quite enough power to bring that deck up in power but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Artifacts

Myriad ConstructLithoform EngineForsaken Monument

Myriad Construct

This has some Hangarback Walker vibes, but it loses a lot of versatility that comes along with that card. The fact that it must be targeted to make the tokens is another knock against it, as it can’t just brawl with a Tarmogoyf in combat and produce a 1/1 army on its own. Mishra’s Workshop isn’t legal in Legacy, so it takes a bit more effort to reach four colorless mana here. This is the kind of card that looks alright in Steel Stompy, but probably doesn’t have enough impact to make the mana commitment worth it.

Lithoform Engine

I could picture a world where this is an effective Karn, the Great Creator tutor target. Providing a use for an abundance of mana is certainly desirable in some Karn decks, and this is a reasonable place to put that mana. If you can keep Karn around, doubling the tutor ability can be powerful and making all future threats double the trouble can really swing a game.
It’s very slow and clunky. Since most of the threats in the decks that want Karn are game ending by themselves, having two of them might be unnecessary. Still, I think it’s worth keeping in mind as an option.

Forsaken Monument

While I think Forsaken Monument is probably too slow for Legacy as an engine (especially when it reads “is a 3/3 green elk”), this is another card that looks interesting as a Karn target. All the stats on this card do seem strong and it works well in any style of artifact deck (in a combo deck with Mystic Forge, or a beatdown deck with Steel Overseer).

A Hopeful Future

All in all, I am stoked to give some of these new cards a try in Legacy. So many of the previous sets this year and last have completely warped the landscape of the format, so it’s a breath of fresh air to have a set that looks strong and generates excitement, while not quite restructuring the entire format.

Discussion

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