Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge – Early Thoughts on Battle for Zendikar Limited
I was planning to write an article about discussing things in teams this week, in light of some of the discussions we have been having on this topic around the pre-release weekend, but I’ve put it off as I’ve written a lot of articles like that this year, and in some ways it would repeat a lot of what I was saying in my last article in particular. Instead I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the Limited format at this point. I’ve played a reasonable amount this week (1 prerelease, 2 drafts, 2 practice sealed decks. We ended up with loads of prizes, so got to get going with it early instead of trying our hand at the new Standard format in the first week – work which would likely be made redundant by the Starcity event this weekend anyway).
It seems to me that every time a new set comes out, a lot of people are oh so quick to pass judgement everything they see as quickly and decisively as possible, with no substantive evidence, and no cogent theoretical argument as to why their assertion is correct, either. I’ve found myself asking people why they think/are saying whatever they think/say frequently in the recent past and being met with a mixture of fluster, frustration and blank looks.
I’m not really sure why it is that this is the way of things (although, I have my suspicions…), but I do think it is deeply unhelpful. I do my best – this early in a format, when there are no meaningful time constraints – to be patient, and encourage others to do the same. Don’t worry about deciding if it’s a play or draw format before you start playing the prerelease, just choose one or the other, think about how it went, and work from there. it’s unclear if it’s an 18 or 17 land format because the nonbasics either tap for colourless (thus contributing nothing to the colour demands of your deck) or come into play tapped (awkwardly hampering the mana efficiency of your deck), but that’s ok; you don’t need to commit to one or the other right now. The same thing applies to how fast the format is, how many colours you can realistically play, how many non-basics to play and which ones, which of the allies are good, which colours each mechanic best fits into, etc etc.
But that’s all ok – no one is going to give you a prize for being right about it when you opened your first booster, nor your last. No one will care, because it doesn’t matter at all. Weirdly, the same people who don’t care will still be piping up about how the format’s slow, or card X is insane this time next year.
The bottom line is this doesn’t make you a better Magic player, and it is really boring.
Try new things. Don’t just find a deck you like and keep drafting it because it’s under drafted locally, keep trying new things. Challenge your own preconceptions about “play/draw” and “17/18land”. Trying it all and exposing yourself to a lot of different stuff over the course of the format is what makes you a master at it. This is especially true now, when you’re playing sealed events in September that are going to be potentially useful for you until about April if you’re playing sealed PPTQs. If you just draft or play sealed once or twice a week, you will put yourself at a big advantage over the average guy at a PPTQ, and if you’ve tried a lot of things, you’ll get caught out less in draft or sealed when a strange opportunity comes up because you might actually know that a weird rare is good due to having actually played it, meaning you get to take advantage of having been pasted it 3rd, for instance.
Broad Thoughts on the Format
The thing that has resonated most with me so far is that a lot of my games have been defined by tempo, both wins and losses. Clutch of Currents and to a lesser extent Rush of Ice have been better than I expected because of how threatening it can be to have an expensive man clutched or iced and then be attacked by whatever they have already (often evasive stuff) and a surprise 3/3 land.
This has some implications for the big men in the format, especially if they don’t have a positive come into play effect, or worse, if they have a negative one. Paying a lot of mana for something like Breaker of Armies only to have it bounced, and to then be attacked is really pretty punishing, compared to a cheaper creature where you can keep up some mana for removal, or two smaller creatures, meaning the bounce is less impactful.
The flipside of this is that creatures with positive come into play effects, like any of the Eldrazi which make a token, or the processor cards, or the allies (who trigger rally themselves often, as well as other allies) are naturally very good against bounce spells.
The format appears to be less “all-in” than Rise of the Eldrazi, where I felt like there were decks that were very much devoted to ramping out Eldrazi and trying to get the first attack in, allowing them to hinder the development of their opponents land (due to the annihilator mechanic), and thus stop them casting their own Eldrazi to block or otherwise compete. This time round the Eldrazi spawn have power, meaning they can trade rather than jump blocking, resulting in games where the deck with the high casting cost spells often simply plays a control roll, rather than racing for mana, then casting a threat. Annihilator was a very powerful mechanic, and the lack of it on the high casting cost Eldrazi in this set makes them a good bit less powerful in the abstract than their predecessors, too, making ramping into them a much less attractive prospect in terms of risk vs reward.
Awaken is a great mechanic in general, in that it mitigates somewhat for flood, and the choice to hold off till later vs getting the cheaper more immediate effect is a dynamic which rewards skill, especially combined with the prominence of tempo described above. Where it will really shine, however, is sealed. Many effects which I would consider marginal such as Council of the Soratami and Mind Rot have been reprinted at one more mana with Awaken (Mire’s Malice and Coastal Discovery). This makes them a lot more playable, meaning not only that sealed decks have more playable cards in general, but also that there is less need to play filler creatures to make up the numbers, as awaken will leave you some extra men in play over the course of the day.
I’ve been playing 18 lands in my decks so far, as I wanted to be able to play high casting cost spells, and ideally not have to sacrifice an Eldrazi Spawn to do so. This was partly because I didn’t want to lose the spawn too if the big spell got bounced, partly because I wanted to sacrifice them for awaken if I was going to do that at all, and partly because I would rather have traded them early if possible. The other thing I was concerned about was that I might get bitten for playing too many come into play tapped lands, for tempo reasons. I think the effect on the black and red lands in particular is worth playing even if it is off colour, and I would consider doing this for the white ones, too. Lastly, if my deck was more than 2 colours, I wanted to be able to play some evolving wilds well, again without too much risk of a faster deck punishing me for not getting on the board quickly, or densely, enough.
There seem to be a tonne of tricks in this format, too, and a lot of them are fairly impactful for a cheap cost, or really pretty powerful for a little more mana. This is probably a good thing as the Devoid men virtually all have high toughness for their mana, or make spawn, which would be quite oppressive if the aggressive decks didn’t have appropriate cards to fight against this stuff.
As I have only drafted twice, most of what I have to say about draft is purely theoretical speculation – once I’ve drafted a bit more I will write something about the archetypes as I see them having actually had some experience playing each of them. As it stands, however, I am quite excited to try out each of the following:
Allies with Converge – I expect this to be a pretty aggressive Green White deck splashing for good allies and spells in Blue, Red, or Black as appropriate. To do this it will likely need to step on the Red Green landfall decks toes a bit, as the spells which search for land will naturally be helpful to a three or four colour aggressive deck. This is the natural home for Tajuru Stalwart
Black White Life Allies – Kalastria Healer is good with other allies (for obvious reasons) but also with the life gain pay off creatures like Bloodbond Vampire and Kalastria Nightwatch. Serene Steward and Angel of Renewal actually work with both elements of this strategy. It’s a bit awkward that a lot of the best men for this deck are uncommon, but there are quite a few good pay off creatures, and we are drafting 3 of the same pack. Kalastria Nightwatch is a common, too, and a sizeable threat once it has flying, especially in a format where many decks will likely be planning to deal with creatures like it but blocking with a spawn and a low casting cost, 2 power creature.
Red Green Landfall – Valakut Predator, Territorial Balloth and Grove Rumbler are all excellent pay off for this deck, which is rewarded by playing land – you don’t even need to draft those! Cards like Evolving Wilds, Blighted Woodland, Swell of Growth and Natural Connection will do well here, allowing you to bring another land into play at instant speed and pump your team. These men will be difficult for the devoid men to simply block every turn, and they can put out massive damage. Awaken spells ought to do well enough here as the deck wants to have a lot of land in play anyway. Red is a bit light on Awaken cards though, and probably with good reason.
Blue Black Ingest – This deck has access to a lot of efficient ingest creatures, some of which have evasion. Culling Drone, Mist Intruder, Benthic Infiltrator, Salvage Drone and Sludge Crawler are all very serviceable, and they enable what to my mind seem like premium commons; Murk Strider and Mind Raker. Combined with reasonable removal (although, I think red is top dog for removal in this set) as well as good evasive creatures and the previously mentioned strong tempo cards in blue, this deck would be what I would want to draft if I top 8ed a sealed PPTQ this weekend.
Red Black Devoid – This deck looks like a trap, to me. There are a bunch of cards in red and black that are synergistic with colourless creatures, but the payoff is quite small. They’re also a bit of a mashup of aggressive and midrange cards. That said, there is plenty of removal between black and red, and a reasonable number of aggressive men, so perhaps the deck isn’t meant to be hugely invested in the devoid mechanic and should be looking to make a couple of creatures then kill everything the other guy does for 4-5 turns till they’re dead. I’ve played more limited decks than I can count which have done that, and they’re often great. The mechanic and payoff just seem much less impressive than the others, though. It’s obviously there to be tried…
Blue White Skies – White has three commons with flying, all of which seem pretty decent, as well as a couple of decent defensive early drops. Combine that with the two good fliers that blue has, and the tempo cards I’ve mentioned four times now, and you should be pretty good, I’d think. There isn’t a mechanic supported by these colours (other than awaken, which is more of a bonus that all the colours get, it seems), though, so perhaps in this format – which appears to have some powerful synergies – a deck like this won’t be great. This might be decent if the conventional wisdom *is* that the generic cards aren’t that great, and that you want to be in a synergy based deck, as the generic fliers might be going a bit later than you would expect in other formats.
That’s it for this week. I hope you’re enjoying the new limited format so far; I know I am. Hopefully standard is good, too.
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