Mana acceleration creatures have been a huge part of Constructed Magic since the beginning. I remember grimacing at opponents when they used their first few turns playing Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves only to follow it up with a game-breaking Armageddon.
Magic continued to develop, and deck lists became more focused. Mana acceleration creatures found their way back into the limelight in Zvi Mowshowitz's innovative "My Fires."
Zvi's deck used Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves to accelerate into Fires of Yavimaya. Once he had Fires of Yavimaya on the battlefield, he could start playing spell after spell that the opponent would have to deal with immediately or risk losing the game very quickly. This type of strategy would never have been viable without the tempo boost provided by the mana acceleration creatures.
Steve Sadin, Chris Lachmann, Jamie Parke, Zvi Mowshowitz, and myself designed a deck during Time Spiral / Lorwyn Standard that used mana acceleration creatures to play large threats before our opponents could favorably use Spellstutter Sprite to gain significant tempo/card advantage.
My team and I recognized the format's weakness to a Blood Moon effect and wanted to ensure that we could play Magus of the Moon on our second turn in an effort to dodge counterspells and removal. Again, we see a powerful Constructed strategy that heavily relies on the mana acceleration provided by creatures.
Today we see powerful decks like Mythic and Eldrazi Green continue the tradition of using mana acceleration creatures to power themselves into frustratingly large threats at very early stages of the game. My preview card is, perhaps, the best of the bunch. Without further ado, feast your eyes on Joraga Treespeaker!
Please, call him the Lorax!
The more time I spend thinking about this card, the more I cannot believe it is about to exist. The plays made possible by my newest Elf Druid friend are very impressive.
A lot of you may still be fuzzy on the rules of level up. I'll start by explaining how these cards actually work. Level up is an activated ability. Level up means ": Put a level counter on this permanent. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery." The additional text boxes and power/toughness boxes apply when the creature has the appropriate number of level counters. Pithing Needle may not stop you from activating the mana ability on Joraga Treespeaker, but it will prevent you from leveling one up.
Rise of the Eldrazi includes a lot of very powerful, very expensive cards. Gigantic Eldrazi spells get a lot more exciting when you see mana acceleration like Joraga Treespeaker. The huge tempo swing provided by Joraga Treespeaker is just a taste, though a delicious one, of the many ways to ramp into gargantuan spells in Rise of the Eldrazi.
A lot of players might take a first look at Joraga Treespeaker and worry that devoting their first two turns to a single mana-producing creature might put them in the position to be blown out by a one-mana spot removal spell. Further pondering reveals that Joraga Treespeaker will reward careful play. If you cast Joraga Treespeaker on turn one and level it up on your second turn, it taps for two mana immediately. The two mana spent to level up Joraga Treespeaker is instantly refunded to the player. If the two mana can be used to cast Arbor Elf, Llanowar Elves, Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, or Lotus Cobra, then your opponent will have to brace himself for whatever absurd spell you decide to cast with six or more mana on your third turn.
Here's how I suggest leveling with your Joraga Treespeaker to minimize your opponent's ability to beat you in the tempo war: You cast Joraga Treespeaker on your first turn and pass. On your second turn, if your opponent played a Mountain or fetch land that can grab a Mountain, you simply beat for 1 damage and use your lands to cast something else. If your opponent plays any other land, though, it seems silly not to give Joraga Treespeaker a level immediately and threaten casting five-, six-, or even seven-cost spells on your third turn. Conveniently, if you do not have anything to do with the two mana, you can simply use its ability to level up again.
Historically, any single playable card that produces two mana has been absurdly powerful. I like to think of Joraga Treespeaker as a modern-day Sol Ring. Your opponent may cast a powerful spell like Sprouting Thrinax on turn three, but Joraga Treespeaker makes casting spells like Bestial Menace, kicked Wolfbriar Elemental, or Thornling very feasable. You can even miss your third land drop and still play a third-turn Nissa Revane.
As long as Joraga Treespeaker remains on the battlefield, it produces both tempo and card advantage. The tempo advantage provided is obvious, but the card advantage is a bit more subtle. Normally in a game of Magic, each mana you can produce comes from a single card. Cards like Sol Ring, Gaea's Cradle, and Tolarian Academy produced a unique type of card advantage. A player with any of these cards can produce multiple mana from a single card every time they get an untap step. Joraga Treespeaker works on the same terms. Sure, your opponent can use a spot removal spell and make "the Lorax" a simple trade of one card for one card, but so long as a level 1+ Joraga Treespeaker is on the battlefield, you get all the goodness of two Forests for the low cost of a single card.
I have mostly just talked about how scary a turn-one Treespeaker is, but drawing a copy later in the game is nothing to sneeze at. At later stages of the game you can simply cast the Treespeaker and level it up as much as possible immediately. Joraga Treespeaker is, essentially, a better version of Greenweaver Druid whenever you have three or more mana available. Greenweaver Druid may not seem like the most exciting thing in the world, but the Treespeaker's ability to completely dominate a game when it is cast on the first turn makes its play value sky rocket. A level 1 Joraga Treespeaker also has two toughness, a small perk that has a lot of value in today's Standard format.
That 2 toughness may seem irrelevant, but Sprouting Thrinax and Martial Coup are two of the most played cards in Standard. The ability to favorably block 1/1 tokens is pretty impressive. Cunning Sparkmage has been used to decimate the mana producers of green decks since Pro Tour–San Diego, and a leveled up Joraga Treespeaker can be sparked and live to tell the tale. Joraga Treespeaker will already have been worth its weight in gold by the time your opponent casts a second Cunning Sparkmage, or a Basilisk Collar with the intention of equipping. Playing with Stoneforge Mystic has certainly taught me the value of 2 toughness; it becomes relevant far more often than you would imagine.
Think about this card in terms of Lotus Cobra. Sure, it only produces green mana, but Joraga Treespeaker gives you five mana on your third turn even if you do not have a fetch land at the ready. One of Lotus Cobra's biggest hinderences was the fact that you could only play four copies. Lotus Cobra enables very scary five-cost spells on the third turn when combined with a fetch land, but Joraga Treespeaker accomplishes the same thing without any such techy help. I could easily imagine any number of decks that use Joraga Treespeaker in tandem with Lotus Cobra to maximize the chance of casting five-mana spells on the third turn. Imagine if you cast a turn-one Joraga Treespeaker, level it up on your second turn, and cast Lotus Cobra. Now you are casting Wolfbriar Elemental and kicking it three times on your third turn (with a fetch land). Now imagine you have an Eldrazi Monument in your hand. This may seem like fantasy-land Magic, but things like this are very possible given the awesome creature accelerants available in Constructed these days.
Really scary things start happening once Joraga Treespeaker becomes level 5. Every Nissa's Chosen that you fetched up with your Nissa Revane now makes an extra two Wolf tokens when you cast your Wolfbriar Elemental. Every Llanowar Elves and Arbor Elf now taps for double the mana. Suddenly, casting something like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn seems completely feasable.
Where does it go? The most natural inclination I have as a deck builder when I see a card like this is to look at existing decks and see where it fits. My Elf deck from last week would greatly benefit from a card like this. Is Joraga Treespeaker enough of a boost to make Elves a tier one archetype in Standard? Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. There is another, perhaps tier one, Sandard archetype that needed Joraga Treespeaker even more.
Eldrazi Green, a mono-green deck featuring Eldrazi Monument, exploded onto the Standard scene when married couple Kali and Todd Anderson bashed their way through the field at a tournament in Nashville last fall. Since then, Eldrazi Green has continued to post reasonable results in many different tournaments. As of late, Eldrazi Green has seemed a bit under the radar. Worldwake offered Wolfbriar Elemental and Joraga Warcaller, but powerful white-blue control decks prevented the deck from becoming the powerhouse that many people expected it to be.
Joraga Treespeaker ups the ante. Eldrazi Green now has the acceleration necessary to land Eldrazi Monument with multiple creatures out before your opponent can cast a turn-four Day of Judgment. Speaking of Wolfbriar Elemental and Joraga Warcaller, how absurd are these cards when you take Joraga Treespeaker into consideration?
Joraga Treespeaker is even more absurd in Limited, where there is not as much spot removal to deal with it. Rise of the Eldrazi Limited games will be considerably slower than Zendikar. Games will often be decided by huge Eldrazi. Joraga Treespeaker allows players to cast gigantic Eldrazi spells at earlier stages of the game. Your opponent will have a very difficult time winning the game if you stick an Eldrazi and get to attack and trigger annihilator before your opponent can cast his or her Eldrazi. I am guessing that nearly all level up creatures are very good in Limited play. Players can simply dump excess mana into their level up creatures and essentially tick down their opponents' doomsday clock.
Do yourself a favor and find the location of a Rise of the Eldrazi Prerelease near you! There are countless awesome cards for competitive and casual players, and Prereleases are also some of the best ways to make new Magic buddies. I fully intend on sleeving up some Joraga Treespeakers in the very near future. Dust off those Nissa Revanes—Elves are back!