Hi folks. We had a huge weekend at PAX. I watched a good deal of the coverage and am firmly convinced that at some point I will need to attend one of these events because it looked super cool. Did you see the GIANT Eldrazi sculpture erected in front of the exhibit hall?! Wow! That was amazing and looked super cool. The most impressive part was the detail on the sculpture…but I won’t go too far into that.
In addition to the World Championship and PAX, we got a massive amount of previews from the set that will be hitting the shelves this fall. That’s right, Battle for Zendikar is just about here and I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to play with all these giant Eldrazi monsters stomping around because it feels amazing to see so many massive creatures. And they all seem to pack some sort of nasty ability! Talk about spoiling us!
The last time we visited Zendikar, during Rise of the Eldrazi, I wasn’t playing and was totally oblivious to these creatures. I have since come to know many of them through things like watching and paying attention to deck lists, reading up on the lore of the plane, and generally paying attention to the happenings in the Magic community. However, I have seen these guys in isolation. I have watched Emrakul get cheated into play with a variety of tricks. I have seen Ulamog in a Modern Masters 2015 draft pack. I have heard about Kozilek and the destruction he can wreak on a board and the massive card advantage you can draw. But I have never seen these three beasts in their own element. I have never faced down the wrath of a horde of voracious Eldrazi and I can hardly wait to get my first real Eldrazi experience now that we are heading back to Zendikar.
While the prospect of facing down the Eldrazi is very appealing, there are a few other things that were spoiled that are bound to be of interest to people. Personally, the most important thing spoiled was the new cycle of dual lands. Initially I read that there were a lot of people who were disappointed that the Enemy Coloured Fetchlands weren’t going to be reprinted, but it seems unusual for WoTC to have all 10 Fetchlands in standard at the same time. So, Fetchlands were out but word got out that a new set of Dual Lands was being released and the speculation exploded. What was revealed Saturday night was a very interesting set of lands.
The lands are allied coloured dual lands. That’s a fair place to start and not the least bit unusual. I hope we see the remaining five enemy coloured lands in the second set, but for the time being we have 5 lands. They also have a drawback of coming into play tapped unless you control 2 basic lands. That is a very reasonable drawback, but I will come back to that. The most interesting feature is that they have 2 land types meaning you can fetch them with a Fetchland. That is exciting because the last time that non-basic lands had two land types was the Ravnica Shocklands, but once again we’ll come back to any comparison with the Shocklands. On the whole, this is pretty exciting cycle of lands and an interesting variant on dual lands in general.
The reaction has been mixed to say the least. The initial place that most people started with was that these lands are inferior versions of the Shocklands. Yes, they share the characteristic of having 2 basic land types on them, but the Shocklands can enter play untapped based on YOUR decision and aren’t conditional to you controling 2 basic lands. So, we can agree that the Shocklands are a notch better, but there is something to be said for NOT having your land hit you for 2 points of life (or 3 if used in conjunction with a Fetchland) that might make these more appealing. That extra 2 or 3 points of damage per land is a very real cost and now having the chance to avoid it is appealing and will give players in Modern reason to pause at least to consider their mana base before sleeving up their deck.
As far as Standard is concerned, these will be nice replacements for the Temples and could be seen in many ways as an upgrade because you can actually fetch them. As nice as the Temples were, you could never fetch them up and that was not optimal. The tradeoff of a Scry in favour of being able to fetch the land is very real, but something that many players will be prepared to make. The new Mulligan rules may prove to be a saving grace to many players because they might be able to get that first turn Scry that they have become accustomed to thanks to the Scry lands. We’ll need to keep an eye on that trend for sure once all the changes come into effect.
The other piece here is that the clause that allows you to have them come into play untapped is conditional and not a choice. This feels like a very balanced option and a way to mitigate the relative power that you can harness by having access to two colours of mana in the same card. In my mind this harkens back to the balancing act that WoTC was trying to get with the “Buddy” lands but with a new twist. In either case, players who are looking to play their lands untapped will find themselves putting more basic lands in their decks and limit the number of colours that they play, while decks that are prepared to pay the price of playing your land tapped may continue to run three or more and play these happily.
I think that these lands are being unfairly criticized by some members of the community. I think people are looking for a direct and obvious upgrade to the Shocklands that can migrate over to Modern. Looking at these, I don’t feel like that was ever the intent, but I will not be surprised to see some people opt to play some number of copies of these in their Modern decks. No, these lands have been designed to be played in Standard and they fit in nicely. Just as we lose the Temples we get a balanced, interesting, and fun land mechanic that will undoubtedly shake up the sequencing of your land. If they happen to move to Modern, all the better, but for the time being Standard is a good starting point.
The other major preview was for a new Planeswalker. In the upcoming set we will be seeing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as the newest incarnation of our friend Gideon and he’s pretty sweet. I like that they have retained his ability to become a powerful creature that is difficult to kill, but his other two abilities are extremely relevant and a significant departure for Gideon. His 0 ability has him make a 2/2 Knight token, which is pretty significant. This is a new ability for Gideon, and making a 2/2 Knight is pretty awesome. However, the most interesting thing is the ultimate ability that allows you to IMMEDIATELY remove all the counters from him and for him to become an Anthem effect. In many aggressive decks Anthem effects are extremely powerful and I’m fairly certain that this will not change. The Zendikar Allies are going to love it. Plus, this version of Gideon looks to play quite well with the Kytheon/Gideon transform card from Magic Origins further adding to the appeal. There is no doubt that this card will be one to watch and might be a defining card once Battle for Zendikar arrives. I’m a big fan and can’t wait to see what happens with this new addition to the Planeswalker club.
One of the things that I am always on the look for are some hidden gems that you can use around the kitchen table to really spice up your casual games and to perhaps get a leg up on your friends. Sure, you could play all the hottest cards from the newest Standard legal set, but right now, as we approach rotation, you could find yourself some very budget friendly gems that could really add some appeal to your games.
Planeswalkers are a fun way to add a new dimension to your game and there are a couple out there that right now that are good value and can pack a pretty good punch. Jace, Architect of Thought and Kiora, the Crashing Wave represent strong cards that you can add to your decks and are extremely affordable right now. Both of these are hovering around $4 a card right here on Three Kings Loot and would be great value. Sure, these may not be the best cards ever printed, but they pack strong abilities, can win you a game if left unchecked, and can certainly be a big distraction if your opponents are intent on taking care of them. If you don’t believe me that they are good value, take a look at some other Planeswalkers that have recently been printed but rarely see eternal play. Tamiyo is about $19 a card. Domri and Ral Zarek are around $7. Garruk, Apex Predator weighs in at $8. Clearly, these two look to be a little on the inexpensive side right now and with Kiora rotating out shortly you could likely scoop her up quite cheaply.
A creature that has been supplanted by the mighty Siege Rhino has been the Reaper of the Wilds and at a mere $0.30 a card this solid 4/5 for 4 mana would be an addition to many a deck. Besides being a very sizeable body, Reaper packs 3 abilities! This one has clearly been forgotten about, but your kitchen table would be an ideal location for some revitalization.
After a brief foray into a Pro-Tour Chromanticore has largely vanished despite the fact that it is a super fun card that packs way too many abilities…and at less than $1.50 would be steal.
Herald of Torment has never really received much love, but I for one think that this little beauty is well worth the pick up. The casting cost is about right, the Bestow is very powerful, Black devotion LOVES this guy and he costs a mere $0.30. C’mon. If you rock Black around the kitchen table this guy needs to be one of your dudes.
We had been missing a genuine wrath effect for Black until we hit Khans block and got Crux of Fate and followed up with Languish in Magic Origins. However, for your Casual game, don’t forget Extinguish All Hope. In most environments this is good as any wrath you will ever need and while it does cost a little more Mana it’s also $0.25 meaning you could pick up some of these and still have pocket money left over to buy yourself a coffee . What’s even better, if you build your deck right to abuse this, this could become a beautiful one-sided wrath and really make your opponents curse you and your janky (but hilarious) 6 mana wrath spell.
That’s all for tonight folks, but thanks for stopping in. I’m super excited to see more of the Battle for Zendikar spoilers and glimpse the landscape of Magic for the upcoming autumn. Thanks, and have a great MTG day.
by Bruce Gray -Casual Encounters
Regardless if you play Standard, Legacy, Vintage, Limited…or you just play on a Saturday night with some buddies around the kitchen table, lands are by far and away the most crucial component to any deck. If you don’t have the right mana you can’t cast your spells. Everyone can play with basic lands of whatever colour, but in some instances that still leaves you stuck looking for just the right land to cast your awesome spell or activate that cool ability that you want to trigger. What can a guy do?
In its original form Magic had dual lands. They were just like any other land except they produced mana of both colours. As time has passed these lands have been revealed to be tremendous assets and greatly increase the consistency of decks and thus have climbed in value to the point that only the most ardent of collector or the most competitive of players are prepared to pick them up. Other dual lands of varying nature have been printed, all with differing drawbacks, but yet these too have seen their value climb. Players want access to both colours of mana and modest tradeoffs are perfectly acceptable.
As a casual player, I fully appreciate the need for access to the right mana and dual lands are certainly the way to go. However, the price tag on these lands can be staggering. If you were to review the mana base for many top tier decks, the value of the lands that are being run in the deck are often the most prohibitive part of replicating the deck yourself, or of brewing up something that is just as competitive. So, how do you balance the need to have access to the correct lands without putting a hole in your pocket? Today I will go through some of the options that a casual player can use without mortgaging your home (again) but can still make your decks fun and relatively competitive when you sit down to play.
The cheapest and easiest dual lands is the guildgates from the Return to Ravnica. The nice thing is that all 10 colour combinations have access to a guildgate making them very versatile and readily accessible for decks looking to access the mana of both colours. Each guildgate enters play tapped which is a dilemma if you are looking to have untapped lands, but played strategically can be a nice addition to a deck. Each guildgate runs for about $0.25 on Three Kings Loot but can often be found in boxes at game shops for a dime. This makes them eminently affordable and can help greatly to smooth out the mana hiccups.
For a number of years Core Sets had a series of lands affectionately called“Buddy Lands”. These were lands of typical allied colours (W/U, R/G, B/U, G/W, B/R) and came into play tapped unless you controlled a basic land of the required colours. These lands balanced the need for access to both colour mana and had a suitable drawback without making them undesirable to play such that they were extremely popular. The other nice thing is that since they saw a number of print runs the cost of picking them up can be quite a bit lower than other dual lands. Three Kings Loot has them listed for anywhere from $1.99 to $5.99 a card. These can add up quickly to a costly investment, but their versatility and ability to come into play untapped may make these appealing. Since these have rotated out of Standard there is likely no rush to pick them up, so unless you suddenly get the urge to test out your latest deck at a Modern event you should be just fine to gradually collect these to help defray the cost over a period of time.
Another cycle of inexpensive dual lands that is a little older are the Zendikar “Life Gain” lands. Again, these were allied colour combinations (G/W, W/U, B/U, R/G, B/R) where the land came into play tapped. What sets these a little bit ahead of a guildgate is the fact that when the land enters play you can gain a life. This may sound like a minor benefit, but any benefit is better than simply coming into play tapped. Also, in a deck where you may be running 4 or more of these lands in your multi-coloured deck you may fine yourself with a 20-30% increase in you life total, which is actually very sizable. It is even possible to recur these lands and gain the benefit a second time with creatures such as Kor Skyfisher or Emancipation Angel making for a little extra benefit from these lands. These lands run for approximately $0.75 a piece on Three Kings Loot but can be found at local game shops for about $0.50 a card, making them very inexpensive and perfect for a casual player.
When people think of fetch lands everyone immediately thinks of the Zendikar fetch lands (Arid Mesa, etc). These cards are extremely pricey and not typically something someone on a tight budget can afford. However, Mirage had a very reasonable set of fetch lands. Flood plain, Bad River, Grasslands, Mountain Valley, and Rocky Tar Pit enter play tapped, but can then be sacrificed to fetch a basic land of either type of land type. This is extremely valuable because it allows you to effectively thin your deck out for land and still let you get the land you require to cast your spells. Is it as desirable as the Zendikar lands that let you play them untapped? Absolutely not, but when you compare the difference in cost, a casual player may be willing to accept this tradeoff. The Mirage fetch lands are listed on Three Kings Loot for $0.50 a card and are roughly the same at the local game shop near my home. Arid Mesa is about $40 a card. I could pick up a play set of all 5 Mirage fetch lands for $10. If I’m looking to stretch my dollar I know what I’m looking to get.
The Ice Age “pain” lands are another option for those looking to pick up lands that produce both types of mana. Unlike the “buddy lands” or the “life gain” lands, “pain” lands come into play untapped and can be used for a colourless mana with no drawback. However, if the land is tapped for a coloured source it deals 1 damage to you. As your deck initially kicks off at the start of the game you may be willing to accept this drawback in favour of getting off to a quick start. The option to then use them as colourless mana is appealing to limit the damage you take, but still leaves you open to options. These Ice Age lands were initially in the Allied colours, but a similar set of Enemy dual lands was printed in Apocalypse, giving the “pain” lands a full complement of colour options. These lands usually run for about $1.99 a card, making them somewhat more expensive but not outside the realm of possibility.
There are other ways to go about fixing up your mana situation without needing dual lands or fetches. There is always the option of artifacts that allow you fetch your lands. The cheapest and easiest to put into practice is Traveler’s Amulet as it was printed in Innistrad block and again in Theros. Traveler’s Amulet allows you to fetch a basic land and put it into your hand and is very useful to get out of a jam. Along the same vein, Expedition Map grants you a similar ability. The activation cost to sacrifice it a tad more, but you can fetch ANY land including a non-basic. There are also countless spells and creatures that allow you to fetch lands of varying sorts and all of these are viable as well.
The problem with having these different mana fixing tools in your deck, whether you play at a kitchen table or commander, or some other variant, is that all these cards take spots in your deck. Some players may not mind running a 61 or 62 card deck, but every additional card limits the chance to draw what you really need. Conversly, if you stick to 60 cards you are sacrificing spots in your deck for creatures, removal, or other spells in favour of mana fixing. In Commander, with only 99 spots, you may find yourself unable to squeeze in the required mana fixing into your deck. As a result, these options are not optimal and having access to the correct mana is vastly preferred.
So, as you look to diversify the mana in your casual decks in time for your next kitchen table game, take a moment and consider if access to the correct lands is in your best interest. Instead of getting bogged down with the prohibitive cost of playing the newest and most expensive dual lands, explore some of the other options available to you to help keep you competitive without drying up your bank account. Remember, Casual Encounters are the perfect place to give these older, and often overlooked, cards a chance to shine once again, and great way to help keep your game of Magic fresh and interesting.
Until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…and keep it casual.Bruce Gray @bgray8791