Rough Landing

Posted in Limited Information on February 9, 2010

By Steve Sadin

Every time a new set comes out there are going to be a bunch of cards that challenge the way you think about Magic both inside and outside of games. Zendikar and Worldwake have both put a strong emphasis on lands, and that has been reflected in the way that we build our decks and craft our plays throughout games. In past Limited formats, the default would often be to play your excess lands unless you had a good reason not to, like a Merfolk Looter or a Wild Mongrel or some other card that allowed you to utilize extra cards in your hand for a significant effect. But in Zendikar Limited, the default is to hold your excess lands in anticipation of future landfall triggers.

Zendikar's additional emphasis on lands has also caused players to run more lands than they might have in the past. While a fairly aggressive deck in past years might have ran a mere 17 or even 16 lands, almost every Zendikar and Worldwake Limited deck wants to have 18 lands, even if its curve stops at four or five. Decks want this many lands because it is important to get your colors fast, and because being able to consistently hit your landfall triggers is of immense importance.

But once the game has progressed a bit, and you already have sufficient mana, you are going to want to do things with those excess lands. Equipment can sometimes accomplish this goal, giving you something to sink your mana into turn after turn as creatures die. But Equipment usually isn't enough. If it's at all possible, you want your lands to be able to do something with true impact. Like attack.

So what happens when lands attack (and block)!?!?!

To figure that out, let's take a closer look at the cards in Worldwake that allow your lands to get into tussles.

    In the Wind

Perhaps the most direct way to make your lands attack and block is by use of the common Zendikons. The cheaper Zendikons change the way you play in very interesting ways, while the more expensive ones (which I guess is just Vastwood Zendikon) present you with fairly standard game-play questions.

While all of the Zendikons open up a new world of play decisions, Wind Zendikon in particular presents some very interesting in-game questions.

It's your first turn in a Zendikar / Zendikar / Worldwake draft. Your opponent's board consists of a Swamp and a Vampire Lacerator. Your hand consists of: Island, Island, Forest, Forest, Wind Zendikon, Oran-Rief Recluse, Mold Shambler, Surrakar Banisher.

What do you do?

Well, which land you play depends a bit on your deck, but the correct play here is almost always land, go. Then, on your next turn, unless you draw a new spell that you can cast, the correct play is another land before you pass the turn.

You see, while you would have the opportunity to get in a "free" hit with your Wind Zendikon here, if your opponent has a removal spell it will be absolutely devastating. Because you have plays for the next couple of turns, and thus it's not like you're going to be able to punch in for several hits with your 2/2 flying land, it's really just those 2 points of damage at stake. The upside that you get from punching in for those extra 2 points of damage if your opponent does not have a removal spell is fairly negligible, while the downside if he or she does have removal is pretty enormous.

If your opponent's board were instead empty on turn two, or consisted only of a two-mana creature that he or she had to tap out for, then it would probably be worth it to run out your Wind Zendikon on turn two, because you (probably) won't fall too far behind if your opponent has a removal spell.

If your opponent hasn't played a Mountain or a Swamp by turn two, then it will probably be worth it to get that hit in with your Wind Zendikon because it is unlikely that your opponent will be able to find a cheap answer to your flying land to put you back a turn.

If you are on the play instead of the draw, and your opponent has started off with a Swamp and a Vampire Lacerator, then you would have a close choice as to whether or not you want to cast your Wind Zendikon. I probably would cast it the majority of the time, but if you have good reason to suspect that your opponent has numerous cheap removal spells (maybe you passed him or her a couple of Disfigures during the draft), then you might want to hold off a few turns before you enchant your land. But without a good reason to suspect that you are likely to get blown out, you should feel okay sneaking in a hit with your land.

Because of the liabilities associated with casting it early, Wind Zendikon isn't a particularly great card. Yes it's still good, and I wouldn't hesitate to take it about 4th-7th pick, but I can't see many situations where I would want to take it particularly early. The exception to this is if my deck is particularly aggressive with a pretty low curve. If that's the case, I will be have plenty of opportunities to cast Wind Zendikon on turn one, in anticipation of attacking with it and casting a two drop on turn three. Or I can cast it on turn four along with a new two-drop. Or I can just think of it as a 2/2 flier with haste that I usually won't want to cast until the middle of the game (which is more than worthwhile in a lot of decks).

    Ze Rest of Ze Zendikons

While nowhere near as complex as its blue cousin, Corrupted Zendikon is still very interesting. I know I discussed Corrupted Zendikon a bit last week, but I don't mind reiterating just how impressed I was with the card at the Prerelease. It truly exceeded my expectations in every way possible. For some reason I just couldn't imagine Corrupted Zendikon being any good. I figured that at best it would be roughly equivalent to a Hill Giant or a five-mana 3/3 creature with haste. I quickly discovered that it's a lot better than that.

The fact that you get your land back when Corrupted Zendikon dies is actually quite significant, giving you another chance to trigger your landfall abilities. All things considered, Corrupted Zendikon is probably worth picking around 3rd through 6th.

Guardian Zendikon certainly has its applications, but unlike the rest of the Zendikons it's not an auto include for most decks. Along with, say, a Perimeter Captain, Guardian Zendikon can put a serious halt to your opponent's offense. But even on its lonesome, a 2/6 body is pretty hard for anything to get through.

It's important to note that Guardian Zendikon is a bit awkward, in that defensive cards usually provide you with time to develop your mana so that your bigger spells can take over. But if you need to use all of your lands, you're going to be down a critical blocker. While this might feel uncomfortable, it is not at all unprecedented. For years, tappers like Benalish Trapper or Icy Manipulator have forced you to sink mana into locking down one of your opponent's key creatures.

Additionally, needing to keep your Guardian Zendikon untapped to block can have some very significant, non-obvious advantages. It becomes much easier to leave up mana for a key trick without immediately telegraphing to your opponent that something is wrong.

If you have a sizable amount of evasion in your deck, then you should probably be looking to pick up a Guardian Zendikon or two in the second half of your Worldwake pack. If your deck is doing most of its brawling on the ground, however, Guardian Zendikon is probably not going to be a good fit for you.

In my experiences so far, Crusher Zendikon has actually seemed a bit underwhelming to me. It's fairly rare that you get into a spot after turn three that your opponent will be completely without blockers. And as even a lowly 2/1 is ready to trade with Crusher Zendikon, you are going to need to have a very aggressive deck to make sure that the trample damage that you are pushing in will mean something.

If your deck is shaping up to be very aggressive, and you're looking for something to do to punch in a few extra points of damage, then by all means pick up some Crusher Zendikons. But if you expect that your deck will get into longer, more drawn-out slugfests, then Crusher Zendikon probably won't be a good fit.

Now it's entirely possible, and perhaps even likely, that I'm way off on Crusher Zendikon. It could turn out that it's a very good card, and I just don't have enough experience with the format to give it the respect it deserves. Heck, if you had asked me about Corrupted Zendikon before I had gotten a chance to play with it, I would have told you that I didn't think it was any good, but after only a single game with it I was able to see just how much potential it had. It could be that as soon as I get the right red deck I will do a complete 180 on Crusher Zendikon, and I will be singing its praises.

So that brings up the question: What do you think of Crusher Zendikon?

As I mentioned earlier, Vastwood Zendikon isn't actually that special of a card. Because it costs five, Vastwood Zendikon should be at (or near) the top of your curve. This means that locking down a land shouldn't have much of an effect on your game. Without the additional layers of intricacy that the cheaper Zendikons offer, what you see is pretty much what you get with Vastwood Zendikon. If you need a monster to help you finish off games, then get ready to start crashing in with some 6/4 lands. But if your deck already has a few good five-plus drops, then you won't need to take this green enchantment unless you see it pretty late.

    Dread Statuary and Vastwood Animist

Dread Statuary would obviously be a very good card in any format, but it's especially relevant in Zendikar / Worldwake Limited because it gives you something to do with your excess lands. Even my decks that have curves that stop at four will usually have 18 lands so I can keep hitting my landfall. Getting some extra utility out of your lands is just so good in these types of situations, and a 4/2 creature certainly qualifies as some extra utility.

While Dread Statuary offers you a way to take advantage of running an abundance of lands in decks that are often full of inexpensive spells, it does so at the cost of losing some color consistency.

While Dread Statuary will usually be worth picking up anywhere from about the 4th or 5th pick on, the fact that it messes with your colors is actually pretty significant. If your deck doesn't have harsh color requirements (say, you're monocolored, or nearly monocolored) then you will be able to pick up Dread Statuary with one of your first few picks without feeling any guilt.

In stark contrast with Dread Statuary, which makes your deck less consistent in exchange for more power, Vastwood Animist allows you to take advantage of your extra lands while actually making your Ally deck more synergistic by virtue of the very fact that it is an Ally itself. If you don't have many Allies, Vastwood Animist shouldn't really be on your radar, but if you have five or six Allies going into the third pack, then you can comfortably take Vastwood Animist in your first few picks. If you have four Allies, then you could still take Vastwood Animist fairly early, but you won't want to take it over anything too good.

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