News : First look at Battle for Zendikar: the usual complaints and new mana bases by the numbers

First look at Battle for Zendikar: the usual complaints and new mana bases by the numbers

 

By Neil T Stacey

 

I’m supposed to be on hiatus but I’m taking a hiatus from my hiatus to look at the first spoilers for Battle for Zendikar. It’s more conventional to wait for an entire set to be spoiled before talking about it, but with the recent preview of the rare land cycle there’s enough to be going on with.

There’s always too much to talk about with a new set anyway, so there’s value in getting a head start. The new mechanics also provide ample fodder for complaining so I’ll start with that since it’s the most fun.

The ‘Awaken’ mechanic is yet another example of a particular gripe of mine. It seems that just about every set these days comes with a mechanic which could have been entirely templated under Kicker. They might as well just make “Kicker but worse” an evergreen keyword at this point. That said, Kicker is a sweet mechanic even with an extra chromosome so I’m sure there will be some great cards here.

Landfall is back, to no-one’s surprise, so that’s pretty exciting. In some ways it’s a poisoned chalice, however; if WOTC print any really powerful landfall cards then it becomes really unlikely for the enemy-colour fetches to be printed in this block’s second set. Ten different fetches in a Standard format with both landfall and delve seems like a risky move so my money’s on the next block for an appearance of the enemy-colour fetches. That way they’ll come in just as the Khans fetches fall out, switching up which colour combinations have fetches and giving different landfall cards their time in the sun.

Rally is a lot like the old Allies mechanic except that it now affects all of your creatures, which makes it less of a constraint on your deckbuilding. The rest of us have a way to go, but Allies at least are being more inclusive. Good on them.

Converge bucks the trend by being a more flexible version of an old mechanic. Sunburst always seemed quite limited so it’s probably a good move from WOTC to expand the design space with the new version.

Devoid, at this stage, is essentially a neat way of writing “doesn’t die to Ugin’s –X ability” but I assume that the rest of this block will give us a more reasons to care about colourlessness as we see more of this block. In Modern, Devoid comes with bonus text of “can block Etched Champion” which means I’ll keep an eye on it. I’m always in the market for Chord of Calling targets that can deal with problematic cards so I’m hoping for something reasonably efficient in the two-drop slot here.

Ingest is a mechanic that’s mostly exciting for that ever-present niche of players who inexplicably care about milling. The fact that it requires you to actually deal combat damage makes it particularly useless on its own. I’m already having some sort of reverse flashbacks about players telling me how great it is that two Ingest creatures only need ten hits to mill out an opponent who would, incidentally, be on negative 30 life by that time. The mechanic of Eldrazi Processors interacting with your opponent’s exiled cards looks to me like one of those mechanics that just aren’t focused enough to get there in Constructed play. Exiling one card at a time when you’re already getting in for combat damage is just too small an effect to be relevant. An enabling mechanic that requires your creatures to already be getting in isn’t even Win-More, it’s more “Take a break from winning to do something completely different.”

That’s enough of my whining, now for the important part. New dual land cycle.

BFZ duals

 

Allied colours are getting some good fixing with not too much drawback. These play amazingly well with fetchlands for two reasons. Not only can fetchlands go get these, they can also fetch the basics you need to set these up to come in untapped. These also mitigate one of the problems faced by decks with fetchlands, which is the possibility of running out of basics to fetch in the late game. However, you do still need reliable access to basic lands if you plan on reliably playing these untapped.

In two-colour decks this isn’t much of an issue. You’re already running enough basics to reasonably expect these to come in untapped on turn 3 a fair percentage of the time and if you’re in Allied colours, you also have a set of fetchlands that either set you up for these or bring them in after you’ve played out a few basics. A Green-White manabase, for instance, might look like this in the new Standard:

4x Canopy Vista

4x Windswept Heath

10x Forest

5x Plains

1x Foundry of the Consuls

That’s 18 green sources, enough for an 82% chance of double green mana by turn 3 (on the play), and 13 white sources, enough for an 83% chance of white mana in your opening hand. You’ll notice that I’m counting our fetchlands as 1 whole source of each colour they produce whereas in the past, it’s been better to count them as 0.75 of a source. The reason for this is that here, they have dual lands they can fetch, so they can reliably get both colours.

They can reliably get them untapped, too. The odds of drawing a Canopy Vista in your opening hand and not being able to play it untapped on your third turn are a mere 11.2% (on the play).

In many ways this is a superb mana-base. It reliably produces your colours, your lands all come in untapped in the vast majority of games and you barely take any damage from your mana. All that from only 24 lands and you even have space for a utility land. There’s also plenty of room for tuning to your specific needs. If you need to reliably make both double white and double green, for instance, then you can cut 2 Forests and 2 Foundries for 2 Blossoming Sands and 2 Plains. Then you’re looking at 18 green sources and 17 white sources, with only 2 tapped lands.

We don’t yet know if/when enemy colour pairs will get more mana fixing, so I won’t look into how those mana bases are likely to look. With what we have right now, it is quite possible to assemble viable mana bases using Painlands and Refuges, but the result isn’t great. So let’s instead take a look at 3-colour mana bases. Now, I’m assuming for the moment that BFZ doesn’t have another cycle of lands for enemy colours, which leaves us with the following fixing after rotation: Painlands for enemy colours, Fetchlands and New Lands (nickname tbd) for allied colours, Refuges for all colour pairs and tri-lands for wedges.

At the moment, Shards are far more widely played than wedges, due in part to tri-lands, but mostly due to absurd cards like Siege Rhino. An Abzan mana base in the new Standard might look something like this, if the deck were based in white:

4x Sandsteppe Citadel

4x Windswept Heath

4x Swamp

3x Caves of Koilos

3x Canopy Vista

3x Plains

2x Llanowar Wastes

1x Jungle Hollow

1x Forest

18 white sources, 15 green sources, 14 black sources. That’s not terrible, although I don’t like needing so many Swamps to prop up the count of black sources, and I’m not thrilled with how often Canopy Vista comes in tapped here. It’s also problematic to adjust this to make double black, since the GW lands make up such a big chunk of our mana. It’s doable, but it leans heavily on Painlands and Refuges.

 

A possible Abzan mana based in black looks a little bit different:

4x Sandsteppe Citadel

3x Caves of Koilos

3x Llanowar Wastes

4x Swamp

2x Jungle Hollow

2x Scoured Barrens

3x Windswept Heath

2x Canopy Vista

1x Forest

1x Plains

This is also a reasonable mana base, with 18 black sources, 15 white sources and 15 green sources. However, it’s leaning quite heavily on Painlands and Refuges, which isn’t ideal. Cramming in Windswept Heaths and Canopy Vistas along with Plains and Forests is tricky when neither White nor Green are our primary colour. An option worth considering, however, is to drop the Plains and Forests altogether and just have Windswept Heaths fetch nothing but Vistas. Bear in mind that having a pair of Swamps in play does meet the untapped criterion for Canopy Vista. I don’t love this approach, however, because it makes Canopy Vista start looking a lot like a straight up tapped land.

All in all, mana-bases for wedges are perfectly workable but will come with drawbacks and do require a bit of work to get right. Without scry-lands smoothing things out, I suspect a mana base like this will feel clunky and awkward more often than I’d like.  Wedge colour combinations lose out on Scry lands and in exchange, they’re getting access to a somewhat awkwardly positioned New Land, resulting in fairly clunky mana bases in these colour combinations. With Mana Confluence rotating we also lose the catchall solution to bad mana, albeit at a price.

Standard has been dominated by Wedge colour combinations for a while now, while Shard colour combinations have struggled. Lacking tri-lands, they have had inferior mana to go with their inferior non-Rhino card choices. They aren’t getting any Rhinos, but the new lands look good for Shard colour combinations.

Let’s take a look at a possible Bant mana-base, to get an idea of how Shard mana will look in the new Standard. It’s important to note here that both Flooded Strand and Windswept Heath can fetch either Prairie Stream or Canopy Vista, giving this mana base flexibility reminiscent of Modern and, I suspect, making up for the absence of a tri-land. This is true for all Shard colour combinations so we’re definitely looking at a bit of a shakeup of which three-colour combinations are playable in Standard.

4x Flooded Strand

4x Windswept Heath

4x Canopy Vista

4x Prairie Stream

3x Forest

3x Plains

3x Island

I’ve gone for the simplest 25-land set up here, just maxing out on the fetches and the new lands while splitting basics evenly between the three colours. I also have no Yavimaya Coasts or Refuges for any of the colour pairs. In fact, this is just about the crudest possible version of this mana base. And yet, despite that, it’s kind of excessively good for a 3-colour deck in Standard. Let’s start by considering each fetchland to be one full source of the two colours of basics it can fetch as well as 0.5 of a source of the third colour. Looked at in that way, this mana base has 15 sources of each colour, but with the option of aggressively fetching up sources of whatever particular colour the deck is focused on.

So, the crudest possible version of this mana base can produce all 3 colours with relative ease and doesn’t take a lot of pain for its mana. With 9 basics and 8 Fetchlands to go with its 8 New Lands, it has fairly reliable untapped mana too. There’s also a lot of flexibility here; adjusting the numbers of basics to favour your primary colour isn’t an issue and there are other non-basic lands worth considering. Yavimaya Coast makes two of our colours so that’s one option. Wooded Foothills fetches either Forest or Canopy Vista so we could work some of those in here if needed. Polluted Delta fetches Island or Prairie Stream, so that’s viable too.

Once we start down that road, actually, something scary starts to happen. How about a mana-base like this:

4x Flooded Strand

4x Windswept Heath

4x Canopy Vista

4x Prairie Stream

4x Polluted Delta

2x Forest

1x Plains

2x Island

 

In every other format where you can squeeze 12 Fetchlands into a deck, Treasure Cruise is banned or restricted. But here we have a non-terrible mana base with 12 Fetchlands and, depending on the makeup of your deck and how conservatively you can fetch, one that can still reasonably expect your mana to mostly arrive untapped.

Without cheap cantrips as extra fuel for Delve, Treasure Cruise isn’t going to reach quite the absurd levels that see it sidelined in formats where Stoneforge Mystic is okay and Jace, TMS is meh. However, these new lands make it possible to run worryingly high numbers of Fetchlands. I can envision a version of Standard where it’s normal to tap some variety of Island to draw three cards. If that comes to pass then some Standard bannings may be on the horizon.