Angry Lands, Brave Adventurers, and Other Decks for Vorthos

Posted in Savor The Flavor on February 10, 2010

Liliana Vess and Garruk Wildspeaker hate each other's guts. They begin battering each other on sight, fastballing the nastiest spells they know at each other from moment one, leaving each other off of party invitations, and just generally wishing each other painful forms of death.

But did you know that you can put both of them in the same deck together?

Of course you can. The rules don't prevent that sort of thing. The rules have a lot to say about planeswalkers, sure—even quite flavorful things about loyalty and getting Bolted and not having two Garruks around at once—and of course they have plenty to say about deck construction. But search through the entire Comprehensive Rules and you won't find anything about a seething Liliana / Garruk intestinal hatred, or how that enduring planeswalker grudge affects how you have to build your deck. Nope. You can even have those two crazy kids on the battlefield at the same time, fighting alongside you against a common opponent. You can even have them help each other out—maybe have Liliana tutor up a removal spell to clear the path for Garruk's beasts, or have Garruk provide some mana to power out some disruption magic complemented by Liliana's discard ability.

The strength of Magic is that it lets you make the choices you want, even those that ignore flavor. Sometimes that leads to combo-riffic breakthroughs that hone your deck, such as putting Kor Firewalker in the same deck as Earthquake. So you aren't forced to build around a given flavor conflict.

And yet, with some self-imposed Vorthosian deckbuilding discipline, you can simulate the conflicts seething away in the game's backstory. Stuff like Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana or the upcoming Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition is only the beginning. Especially given the "lands attack" theme of Worldwake, you can build around the thematic conflicts of Zendikar as well.

Ready to build? The battle on Zendikar is between two—and possibly slightly more than two—warring factions.

    In this Corner: The Adventurers of Zendikar

One side of the battle is the sentient humanoids of Zendikar, those hardy adventurers who brave the elements to explore the wild places of the world, chasing legends of treasures and discovering sites of powerful, spell-permeated mana.

Just about every creature card with both a race type and a class type in the block are on this side of the conflict. Kor Scouts, Goblin Knights, Elf Warriors, Human Shamans—they're all flavored as valiant trailblazers, struggling to survive against the dangers of Zendikar's wilderness, and they'd all make a great addition to an adventurer-themed deck. You should also consider Battle Hurda and Caravan Hurda; even though they're too unsophisticated to have a class type, they're definitely useful as traveling pack animals that are thematically appropriate.

The Ally tribe is also firmly on this side of the conflict. Their teamwork-flavored abilities have the feel of bringing together the ideal adventuring party, ready to venture out and test their heterogeneous skill set against Zendikar's perils. An Ally deck is a configurable expedition in the making—build around your favorite Allies and throw in some support spells, and you have a good adventuring theme deck. Note that just about every humanoid race on Zendikar occurs as an Ally somewhere in Zendikar or Worldwake, even oddball brutes like Ogre and Minotaur. (We'll get to the conspicuous absence of a certain fangy race in another section.)

Other especially flavorful cards for an adventurer deck include gear, expeditions, quests, artifact treasures, discovery-themed spells, and anything that shows an adventurer kicking butt in the art. Try cards like Adventuring Gear, Kitesail, Khalni Heart Expedition, Explore, Quest for Ula's Temple, Brave the Elements, Rite of Replication, Everflowing Chalice, Expedition Map, Trusty Machete, Claws of Valakut, Twitch, Windborne Charge, Conqueror's Pledge, and/or Marshal's Anthem in your adventuring theme deck, and start blazing those trails.

    In this Corner: The Land of Zendikar

On the other side of the battle are Zendikar's lands themselves. They have had it up to here (imagine Avenger of Zendikar holding a leafy limb up, level with its angry eye-fissures) with those pesky adventurers trampling and plundering their fortune-laden landscapes. The plane has always been dangerous, but clearly not dangerous enough, because the humanoids are still out there, scrambling over the world like ants at a picnic. Rude. Well, it's time to get rude back.

Certainly all of Worldwake's animatable lands qualify for a Zendikar-strikes-back theme deck. So do the Zendikons, those magical Auras that cause pieces of the world to awaken and commence their stomping, and any lands that have spell-like enter-the-battlefield abilities. Also look out for other huge monsters that care about the land, such as Avenger of Zendikar or Omnath, Locus of Mana.

Another key is landfall. Landfall often occurs on cards that are flavored to be on the land's side. Creatures like Caustic Crawler, Snapping Creeper, and Hedron Rover represent dangerous monsters with powerful ties to the land. They respond well to magic that expands the range of their territory, combining well with effects like Harrow and fetch lands. Not every card with landfall is a perfect fit—Zendikar's cycle of Expedition enchantments are for the adventurers' deck, and arguably the benevolent Emeria Angel and spells like Rest for the Weary might belong on the humanoids' side as well—but "landfall = land side" is a good rule of thumb.

Just about any nasty, non-humanoid creature works for the land side of the conflict, too. Look for creatures that lack class types such as Hellkite Charger, Terastodon, Loam Lion, or the creepy, sub-sentient Surrakar. These represent the predatory creatures out to chow down on adventurer flesh if they can manage to catch one with his or her Trusty Machete unwisely sheathed.

Traps certainly work well on the land's side, as do many of the block's removal spells, as they are almost always flavored around an adventurer's expedition coming to a lethal end. Marsh Casualties? Rumbling Aftershocks? Cobra Trap? Chain Reaction? Permafrost Trap? They all represent Zendikar's natural defenses munching away at adventurers. Look through a player's guide or Gatherer to check out the art, and you'll find plenty of cards that are thematically perfect for a Zendikar "When Lands Attack" deck.

    In this Corner: Vampires?

So, what to do about those bloodsucking stalkers of the night? Vampires are humanoids, but they're not really on the adventurers' side. They're certainly not on the land's side either, although their heritage on Zendikar stretches back hundreds or thousands of years. The answer is typical for the color black: they like doing their own thing, and they don't play well with others.

There aren't any Vampire Allies (that aren't also Weird Ox Samurai). There aren't any Vampires with landfall (except Bloodghast, which kind of an oddball Vampire Spirit itself, and which still kind of plays best with its own vampiric kind). So Vampires really want to be in a deck all on their own. Zendikar and Worldwake are replete with Vampire-themed spells like Urge to Feed, Vampires's Bite, Feast of Blood, and Bloodchief Ascension. There are plenty of tools to build a theme deck around Zendikar's vamps, so you can play the self-serving third team in the plane's central land-vs.-adventurers conflict. The trick might be to keep certain cards out of a Vampire deck, even if they work in mono-black. The disciplined Vorthos might not run cards like Crypt Ripper, Trusty Machete, or Grim Discovery even if they fit the colors of the deck, because their flavor would fit better in other theme decks. What you do with cards like Guul Draz Specter or Halo Hunter depends on your vision of the world's struggling forces—maybe you just want to set efficiencies to brutal and make the best black Vampire-and-other-stuff deck you can—but if you ask me, some stuff just doesn't fit the theme.

But might there even be more to Zendikar's greater conflict? Might there be another lurking faction, likely worthy of some serious theme deck treatment, that has yet to make its presence known?

    In this Corner: Something else ...?

... I mean, I'm just saying.

Nothing's stopping you from building your deck however you want—you're absolutely free to mix landfall and Allies, Vampires and creature lands, Elementals and machetes, Lavaball Traps and the Scouts who hate them. But with some cleverness and a bit of flavor-minded restraint, you can bring the story of Zendikar to life.

Hey, do me a favor? Let me know who wins.

    Letter of the Week

A couple of good questions this week.

Dear Doug Beyer,

Do you know what the flying mount is on Archon of Justice from Eventide? A friend really liked the art and wanted to know.


Archon of Justice | Art by Jason Chan

Very few Archons have appeared in Magic. The first was Blazing Archon in Ravnica, and the most recent is Worldwake'sArchon of Redemption. They appear as a surreal, mystical humanoid figure riding a flying mount of some kind, and represent white-aligned principles and values. Eventide'sArchon of Justice rides a winged white stag, as you can read in the concept given to artist Jason Chan:

Color: White creature
Location: Starlit sky
Action: In Magic, an "archon" is a divine figure riding a flying mount, a symbol of glory and justice. Show a Shadowmoor version of an archon: a glorious warrior figure, about the proportions of a human or elf, riding a mystical white winged stag. The rider shouldn't look obviously human or elven; perhaps its face is obscured by a hooded cloak. The rider raises a sword in triumph as the stag flies.
Focus: The stag and rider
Mood: Powerful, glorious. A symbol of protective justice

The closest thing to the winged stag might be Lorwyn's Purity, although it's unclear if the Archon rides an actual Elemental Incarnation exactly like that.

Purity | Art by Warren Mahy

There are a few similar creatures from the Lorwyn and Shadowmoor style guides, such as cervins, the deer-like creatures that elves ride (see the art of cards like Raven's Run Dragoon or Wilt-Leaf Liege). There's also this elemental from the style guide, and the Lorwyn white Elemental token made by Hoofprints of the Stag. Remember, Elementals on Lorwyn / Shadowmoor are surreal combinations of various woodland creatures.

Art by Anthony S. Waters and Steve Prescott

Art by Anthony S. Waters

Worldwake's Archon of Redemption shows some similarity to the very first Blazing Archon, and to the art of Eventide'sSpirit of the Hearth, in that it rides a mystical flying lion through the sky. Thanks for the question, Jacob!

Archon of Redemption | Art by Steven Belledin

Dear Doug Beyer,

Given that Zendikar vampires live openly in Guul Draz, how exactly do they prevent people from freaking out about their existence when they travel and live abroad?

Also, are there any kor vampires, or does being a vampire change most humanoids enough that you would be hard pressed to tell an ex-kor from an ex-human?


Good questions, Sawin. Although most denizens of Zendikar may never see a vampire in their lifetime, vampires are a known quantity on Zendikar, and part of the reason you just stay out of regions such as Guul Draz. Vampires that venture out beyond that gloomy continent are hunters, using stealth and their preternatural olfactory abilities to stalk their prey without arousing too much suspicion. Powerful vampires such as bloodchiefs possess overwhelming power and can command small armies of nulls and lesser vampires, and have been known to level entire wildnerness outposts—often before word can get out about it.

On Zendikar at least, only bloodchiefs can sire new vampires; when a lesser vampire drains a victim, what results is a strange, faceless thrall known as a null. Other races can indeed become nulls, as seen on the goblinoid Slavering Nulls. Theoretically other Zendikar races can become true vampires as well, but it is unknown whether physiological differences (such as elf ears or kor chin-barbels) persist after the vampiric transformation.

Interestingly, the vampires of Zendikar have an almost innate certainty that they were once oppressed and abused as a race, though the specific memories of their oppressors have largely been lost. It's thought that many vampires feel justified in their predation of other races as a result of this subconscious, subjugated history.

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