This Land Is Your Land

Posted in Latest Developments on September 18, 2009

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

The world of Zendikar is one of high adventure and danger, and many of the set's mechanics, as seen on the cards in the Visual Spoiler, reflect this. For example, there are quest cards that represent expeditions into Zendikar's wilderness to retrieve powerful objects.

Quest for Ancient Secrets Khalni Heart Expedition

As I showed you last week, there are also cards that represent the many traps one might encounter on this sort of quest.

Needlebite Trap Archive Trap

You might also hire a band of intrepid adventurers to help you navigate the traps and other dangers you would face along your way.

Oran-Rief Survivalist Kazandu Blademaster

However, despite all that, the lands are the mechanical heart of Zendikar. One expression of this is landfall, which is the most important mechanic in the set.

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen Rampaging Baloths

Lead designer Mark Rosewater and lead developer Henry Stern both worked to make sure that the land theme was represented in other ways. Many cards that do not have the landfall ability word reference lands in other ways.

Scythe Tiger Goblin Guide

Mark and Henry knew that there was another important way to make sure that Zendikar was remembered as the land set, and that was to make some really awesome lands across all the rarities. Both Mark and Henry did their part to make this happen. Today I'll take you on a tour through them those lands that will end with my preview card. Let's go!

A cycle of common lands existed in Zendikar from the very beginning of design. These lands enter the battlefield tapped, make one color of mana, and have abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield.

Teetering Peaks

At the beginning of development, all five of these lands conferred beneficial abilities on creatures that made attacking with them more attractive. There were a few concerns with this. From a design perspective, a few people were unhappy that felt bad to play these lands before one had a creature that could take advantage of the triggered ability. Others were unhappy that all five lands played so similarly. Although each color's effect was different, in practice most of the time each of the lands let you attack with a creature you would not otherwise have been able to attack with. Finally, a few developers were concerned about the overall aggressiveness of the set's mechanics. Because landfall abilities can't trigger on an opponent's turn unless something tricky happens, many Zendikar cards are much stronger on their controller's turn. We were worried that this punished players who were unable to attack, and this cycle of lands contributed to the feeling that attacking was the only thing to do.

Henry solved this cycle's problems by making two of the five triggers useful independent of whether or not there was a creature on the table, then separating the other three combat abilities from each other. For example, Teetering Peaks, above, is very good at getting extra damage through if your opponent doesn't have any blockers, but it won't help you get a creature past an opposing defense. One of the other cards from this cycle will get your creature through, but it won't put any extra damage on it. The third of these lands that gives a creature an ability is somewhere in between.

Mark Rosewater's goal in Zendikar was to make lands matter in new ways, and Teetering Peaks and its ilk are cards that will make that happen. We played the cards in this cycle heavily in Limited and expect that people in the real world will do the same. Some of them made the jump to our most cutthroat Constructed playtest decks as well. However, many lands are famous for their ability to fix mana, and Zendikar contains more than its share of mana-fixing lands. Let's look at some of them.

These uncommon lands, designed by Mark Rosewater, are not the only mana-fixing lands in Zendikar. As we spoiled at the PAX "Sights of Zendikar" party and have shown on the site many times since then, the set contains the long-awaited "enemy fetch lands."

Arid Mesa Misty Rainforest

Players remember many sets fondly because of their cycles of rare lands. For example, both Onslaught's original fetch lands and Ravnica's dual lands are famous cards that help carry the banner for their respective sets. It seemed obvious that Zendikar, then known internally as the "lands matter" set, would be incomplete without a cycle of rare lands that inspire that feeling.

We have publicly stated that we are not huge fans of cards that make you shuffle your library needlessly, and fetch lands skirt that line. As you can see from cards like Seaside Citadel, Dragonskull Summit, Fetid Heath, and Gilt-Leaf Palace, we are quite capable of making functional multilands that do not require shuffling. Given that, why did we choose to do the fetch lands here rather than some kind of land that does not require a shuffle?

There were two major reasons. The first is that the fetch lands work extremely well with the landfall mechanic. On a very basic level, a fetch land represents two land drops in a turn. Following up a second-turn Plated Geopede with a third-turn Arid Mesa that fetches a Mountain allows you to swing for 5, which is a pretty cool trick. They also allow for silly fun with cards like Lotus Cobra and Rampaging Baloths. Fetch lands are also a convenient way for landfall abilities to trigger on other players' turns. Powerful landfall cards pushed decks to be extremely aggressive because of how landfall cards are only at full strength on their controllers' turns, and these cards gave us a way to enable them to be at full strength on defense as well.

The other reason that we chose to put the enemy fetch lands here is that players have wanted them for a long time. Because only the allied-color fetch lands existed, we had a constant stream of feedback asking for their enemy-color equivalents. Furthermore, Extended, Vintage, and Legacy mana bases have been warped around the existence of Onslaught's fetch lands for a long time, but the lack of enemy colored lands was sometimes a problem. For example, someone playing a mostly blue deck that splashes green in Legacy might want to be able to fetch a Forest to protect against Wasteland, but they only had access to white-blue and blue-black fetch lands.

We were all nervous about the needless shuffling, but in the end the combination of the synergy between landfall and the fetch lands and the constant requests for enemy fetch lands made it clear that this was the time to print them. The shuffling would be a cost, but we wanted to print them eventually, and this seemed like the perfect time to do it. It also helped that Erik, who is the person in the department who fights the hardest to avoid needless shuffling, was also the person who was advocating the most for the fetch lands!

Although mana-fixing lands are often famous, players also have fond memories of many other lands. Cards like Gaea's Cradle, Volrath's Stronghold, and Academy Ruins have captured players' imaginations, and Henry Stern wanted to hit that note as well in Zendikar. Here's one of the cards we made to do that.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

This card has Zendikar written all over it. It is itself a land, it cares about the other lands you have on the battlefield, and it triggers when you play another land. It also has mono-red written all over it. This card captured the imagination of many playtesters, but none more so than mono-red luminary Jay Schnieder. Jay loves any mono-red deck, and he was often seen happily popping Amillary Spheres and throwing fire at people. I would guess that the majority of the notches that Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle has on its belt were earned in Jay's hands.

Finally, here's my preview card.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood is a Ken Nagle design. He originally made the card for Worldwake, but it was stolen for Zendikar when we realized that this land was exactly the sort of thing that Zendikar's lands wanted to do. We designed the other four members of the cycle to live up to this card's obvious appeal.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood is just fine without any tricks. However, it gets better the more creatures you can get onto the battlefield in a turn. One way to maximize this is to play multiple creatures. Lots of little creatures, like Elves, played all at once will all grow, but that still costs you a card for every Elf. Something like Bloodbraid Elf is a different story. If you cascade into another green creature, you get to make both the Bloodbraid Elf and its new friend bigger.

Bloodbraid Elf
Elvish Archdruid

Another way to get more value out of the Vastwood is to use token generation. You can turn your Howl of the Night Pack tokens into 3/3s, or you might make the Saprolings you got from a Sprouting Thrinax into 2/2s. My own favorite way to use Oran-Rief is to play with planeswalkers that generate creatures without costing me cards. Garruk Wildspeaker is a great way to do that, but you might also try Zendikar's Nissa Revane.

Nissa Revane

I had lots of fun with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood in the Future Future League. In one memorable game against Aaron Forsythe, both of us drew all of the copies of Oran-Rief we were playing. My four Oran-Riefs were letting me do strange things like attack with a 4/5 Birds of Paradise or generate a 6/7 Nissa's Chosen. Aaron was only playing two copies of Oran-Rief, but he still somehow managed to keep up. Later on in that game, he used two copies of a Zendikar card that hasn't been previewed yet to blow up two of my Oran-Riefs, and everything went downhill from there. However, we both had so much fun with our giant-sized creatures that game that I don't think either of us really lost.

The Zendikar Prerelease is quickly approaching. Make plans to find a large regional event or a local store event to play in next weekend, and you won't miss your first chance to play with these lands for yourself!

September 19 B&R Announcement

As we announced today, we have chosen to unban Dream Halls, Entomb, and Metalworker in Legacy.

Dream Halls

Entomb and Dream Halls are legal in Magic Online's Classic format and have not been problematically powerful, and we believe that they may enable new Legacy decks. We believe that Metalworker will strengthen artifact-based decks, but we also think that the efficient creature removal in Legacy will keep the card from being too powerful.


Last Week's Poll

Do you like Standard with Magic 2010?    
I love it! 3175 27.6%
I like it. 3134 27.2%
It's okay. 1805 15.7%
It's not great. 487 4.2%
It's awful! 368 3.2%
I have not played Standard since Magic 2010 released. 2551 22.1%
Total 11520 100.0%

I'm happy to see the results here, and I happen to agree with those of you who said you love it. Last weekend I played in a Standard tournament that was held to honor the life of Brian Baker, a Seattle-area judge who passed away in June. All proceeds from the event went to the Northwest Epilepsy Foundation, and the event was unsanctioned so that Wizards employees could also come to show our support for Brian's family and the Seattle Magic community that Brian worked so hard to build. I had a blast playing competitive Standard, and it seemed like everyone around me was also having fun. Thanks to Cascade Games for putting the event on, to the judges who donated their time to the event, to everyone who contributed to the amazing spread of prizes that included a Black Lotus and countless judge promotional cards, and to the Seattle Center for donating the space for the event.

If you missed me last weekend and want to catch me in person at any cost, get yourself to Phoenix Arizona next weekend. I'll be in attendance at the Saturday large regional Prerelease downtown, as well as at the Sunday Prerelease event at Gamer's Inn. Many of us from Magic R&D are traveling to other cities, so you have plenty of options if you're willing to settle for a member of Magic R&D who isn't me. There may be someone coming to an event near you!

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