The Tyrant of the Cliffs

Posted in Savor The Flavor on January 27, 2010

It's impossible to sail past Zendikar's continent of Murasa. That's the problem with the place. You try, but you just never quite make it. Like any reasonable traveler, you intend to take the safe route around the continent, avoiding the hull-rending submerged trees of Sunder Bay, steering clear of the canyons of Kazandu and the rapids at Thunder Gap, letting the many-armed, gargantuan statues of the Na Plateau disappear into the mist astern. But things never go that way. Instead you find yourself fighting the deceitful currents, casting anchor in unknown waters, sacrificing cargo and crew to make a disastrous landing against the perpendicular cliffs of Murasa's shores.

When you take accounting of the cost of your arrival, it doesn't add up. You're ill-prepared and understaffed. You've only stepped onto the beach, and already you shouldn't have come. But it'd be even worse if you were to turn around. It would take another calamitous siege against the elements just to raise anchor again.

Besides, losses notwithstanding, somehow you feel regret for none of it. You stand there between the stark cliffs and the crashing sea, a crick in your neck from gazing up at the terrible kilometer of stone looming above you, and yet your heart sprints as if you were about to crack open your birthday present.

It's as if Murasa has its own gravity pulling you in. The hidden treasures call. The untapped sources of wild mana beckon. As much as you try to turn away from its treacherous cliffs, you can't resist the natural law of Murasa.

But if you thought it's just Murasa's law that holds here, you'd be wrong.

    The Tyrant of the Cliffs

Today's preview is not an elemental made from pure mana or a callous ruin sage from a powerful vampire family. He's big, but not the biggest. He's not going to eradicate every creature in sight like a Novablast Wurm or wrestle a mighty Terastodon to the ground. And he's crafty, but not the craftiest. He's not going to outdo the mana-binding talents of a Harabaz Druid, and he's certainly not going to out-brilliant the likes of Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

But perhaps cruelty is a talent. Perhaps in a world where the land rumbles to life and its denizens scramble for succor, opportunism is the strongest muscle one can flex. Perhaps all one needs to do to distinguish oneself in a time of need is to prey on the desperation of the victims.

You want to enter Murasa? You want to scale its sheer cliff faces and venture into its treasure-laden interior? You've gotta get through this guy. He's an ogre. He commands a small army of warrior-slaves. His name is Kazuul, and he thinks himself a businessman.

Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs | Art by Paul Bonner

You know in every adventure movie, where the hero finds himself dangling over the cliff by his fingertips? And the villain is there to chuckle heartily down at hero while stomping on his fingers—or on his face? The ogre slavemaster Kazuul is that villain, except he's far more wretched and mercenary than that. To his mind, there's no reason for punishment. It's business. You and the slavemaster can work out a deal.

See, Kazuul is a businessman. His boot doesn't have to be the last thing you see before a splattery death far below. His chained slaves don't have to wage war on your expedition, using their superior knowledge of the Murasan wilds to their advantage, crushing skulls with native Murasan rocks. All he asks—all he asks!—is a tribute. Just a simple compensatory sum to be determined by him and to be paid in full immediately upon attempted ascent of the cliffs. Just a symbolic recognition that he, Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, reigns over the pass, and that you tread it with his consent.

Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs

Three mana, and it's "Welcome to Murasa; enjoy your stay."

No payment? Bad things, I'm afraid, have to happen to you.

Cliffs of Kazuul. These cliffs represent the only maintained cliff-side ascent of the exterior of Murasa's Wall. Set up by the Tajuru elves but now maintained mainly by humans, the Cliffs of Kazuul are named for the pass's current ruler, an ogre slave-master who demands tribute from any who seek passage. Those who pay (including a bribe to the lift operators at various points on the path) are allowed to traverse the steep zig-zagging trails cut into the cliffs between each harrowing vertical ascent using log-and-rope elevators. Those who reach the top without proper tribute for Kazuul are cast out, sometimes hurled to their deaths in the crashing ocean.
Excerpt from the Zendikar style guide, Murasa chapter

It's bad enough that Kazuul's warrior-slaves—usually his favorites, the bemuscled ogre brutes that make up the tougher end of his illegitimate army—will come out in force to greet you. But it can be worse. Where do you think Kazuul gets his slaves? Let me put it this way—make enough trips through Kazuul's domain, and you're likely to start seeing your own compatriots with their necks in ogre-forged iron.

    Building Decks Using Kazuul

Like all petty tyrants, Kazuul is a minor-league but frustrating adversary—not an unstoppable threat but one that your opponents will definitely want to see go away. You can use Kazuul's frustration powers as a major roadblock, deterring your foes from attacking while you stomp on their fingers in other ways. Of course, he's also a mass of muscle wielding a six-foot meat cleaver; he's pretty good at mashing creatures—and opponents—all by himself. Here are some ways you might use Kazuul in your deck.

Wall of Ogre. Kazuul's choices are bad for your opponents. Nobody wants to give you a bunch of free 3/3s, and nobody wants to throw away three precious mana just to rumble over with something that will probably die to Kazuul's 5/4 body anyway. In multiplayer games, Kazuul's presence tends to make your opponents send inconsequential attacks elsewhere. In duels, Kazuul tends to slow down the game. Use this attacker-vacation to your advantage. Use Kazuul to bind up the ground game while you muster an army, assemble a deadly combo, or build up a suite of burn spells.

Force attacks. Or maybe you'd like to go the humiliation route. Make creatures run Kazuul's gauntlet, forcing them to commit three mana for each attacker or give you a tasty 3/3. Use effects like Alluring Siren, Bloodshed Fever, Suicidal Charge, and Fumiko the Lowblood to ensure a messy assault on Kazuul's cliffs. Use white cards like Divine Verdict, Ballista Squad, or Arrow Volley Trap to punish attackers even more.

Wage war on the land. Is Kazuul getting his tribute of three mana too often? Are you not getting as many Ogre Warrior slaves as you'd like? Make Kazuul's tribute harder to pay by sprinkling in some land destruction effects. Kazuul would even appreciate the sentiment—the more of your opponent's territory you destroy, the more valuable Kazuul's becomes. (May I suggest Ogre Arsonist as one of your land destruction weapons of choice? 3/3 Ogre synergy!)

Slave revolt! Use your 3/3s to good advantage. They're not just an army of blockers and attackers—they can also do nasty things just by showing up. Use effects like Pandemonium, Greater Good, or Carnage Altar to get even more bang out of their 3/3 hides. Use Shivan Harvest or Blood Rites to throw your Ogres down off the Cliffs of Kazuul and blow up lands or set fire to creatures. And if you have Coat of Arms, Eldrazi Monument, or even Konda's Banner lying around, you just might be able to smash over with a lethal force of Ogreness.

Have tyrannical fun at the Prerelease this weekend!

Letter of the Week

A couple of quickies this week.

Dear Magic Creative Team,
I know you've been working on all the major races and locations of Zendikar in your Planeswalker's Guide, but I was wondering if you were going to also write an entry for the less-touched-upon and seemingly less important continent of Sejiri. For some reason I'm really intrigued by the arctic mesa, and what secrets [...] it could hide, and I wanted to make sure you were going to write an entry for it.

Thanks for reading, see you on Zendikar,
Dav Flamerock

I dig Sejiri too—and yes, we will get our mukluks on and explore Sejiri in the Guide eventually. Sejiri represents a particular world-building decision for Zendikar. Like many fantasy games, we often visit worlds or regions that have one single climate—desert-covered Rabia, frozen Terisiare, volcanic Rath. It's handy to have this single, understandable theme for an entire world, but it can be simplistic. For Zendikar, where the focus is so strongly on the land and its exploration, we consciously steered clear of the global-biome effect. Zendikar has hot jungles, mist-shrouded islands, root-bound cave systems, and yep, the polar region of Sejiri—tons of environments through which feisty adventurers can do their adventuring. Magic won't always visit planes that have so much environmental variety as Zendikar, but it made sense here and I'm glad we took pains to do so for this block.

Dear Doug Beyer,
It would seem to me that there would be a much larger number of black aligned planeswalkers than any other color. I say this simply because all of the black aligned planeswalkers we have seen cards for are very old. Liliana is older than a century, Sorin Markov is at least a thousand years old and I've lost track of how long Nicol Bolas has been around.

I think there would be more black aligned planeswalkers because they seem to live longer. Is this true, or have we just not seen a five hundred year old fire mage, or thousand year old angel planeswalker yet?
- Tyler

It's true that black-aligned planeswalkers have a lot of clear methods of life extension at their disposal. If you can figure out how to hang on to your spark while becoming a vampire, you might be able to subsist for millennia by feeding on the lifeblood of other creatures, as Sorin has. Liliana, for her part, took a daring but straightforward route to eternal youth and power: a contract with demons. And old Nicol Bolas has amassed such a sweeping, cross-planar arsenal of mystical spellcraft that he's probably found dozens of spells that keep him alive—although he's been much the worse for wear since the Mending made planeswalkers mortal.

But life extension isn't a built-in feature of black mana, and it's not exclusive to black. Mages of all colors tend to die just like regular people unless they can find spells to ward off their final breaths. And while some black mages know some eerie tricks to stave off death, many never learn that particular brand of magic and simply die at their normal life expectancy (or are killed by pesky white- or green-aligned forces ... or by ambitious fellow black mages). Furthermore, mages and planeswalkers of other colors can find ways to avoid the Reaper. White and green mages can use healing or regenerative magic to combat the aging process. Blue mages can find ways to "jump bodies," construct artifacts to combat death, or otherwise extend the survivability of their precious minds. It's tough to say whether red mages have a good avenue for life-extending magic, as many of them simply don't see immortality as that desirable a goal. Many red mages fail to make plans for centuries-long magical careers, so we don't see ancient practitioners of red magic very often. Certainly we've seen more than our fair share of aged black-aligned planeswalkers lately, but that's not indicative of a strict rule; long-lived planeswalkers of all colors are out there.

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