Welcome to Landfall Week!
Actually, never mind.
It's Thursday. You've already been welcomed to Landfall Week like three times already, and come the day after tomorrow, it won't even be Landfall Week any more.
So instead let's just talk about landfall as a competitive mechanic.
As I wrote last week, I feel like landfall is going to end up looking linear, like cascade. Just like cascade, it is the kind of mechanic that can be "simply good" (you know, like running Bloodbraid Elf for free Lightning Bolts in random red-green-whatever decks) ... Or it can be overwhelming, like when you cast Enigma Sphinx into Enlisted Wurm, pick up the opponent's Arcane Sanctum with Deny Reality, slide down one of those aforementioned copies of Bloodbraid Elf, and finish up by blowing away all of your opponent's Borderposts with a Maelstrom Pulse.
And what I meant about landfall was when you Harrow into the last two counters you need to fire off your Khalni Heart Expedition, all of which LEGO together to bean the opponent for 12 via Ob Nixilis, the Fallen. The other mage is happy there's a fella back to block... until he realizes that you just put two copies of Bloodghast back onto the battlefield ... and he is now south of 10 life.
You almost manage to stop him from picking up all his cards, pointing out that "It isn't lethal or anything," but when his scowling face refuses to, um, not concede, you accede and show him "you had all these" left ... which in this case are just a bunch of Verdant Catacombs (which in this case are just good enough).
So what makes landfall such a cool ability?
Besides being attached to some very strong individual cards, landfall is tops for a very good general reason: People like to hit land drops, and this mechanic lets them feel good about something they like to do anyway.
I think you will see cards like Sunspring Expedition see play in non-landfall-focused decks because they are so cheap, and cards like Ob Nixilis, the Fallen played in all kinds of decks. Landfall in general makes one of the most satisfyingly natural actions you take as a player feel that much better ... and at its best, it is just nutty.
So originally I was going to rate and write about all the landfall cards, but it only took a couple of "Well, this card isn't really good enough for Constructed" for me to pare down to about two opening hands' worth of cards, making for a bit of a more interesting lineup. These fourteen cards are rated from the barely playable to the very best (hint, hint: it's Lotus Cobra). Please enjoy and comment in the forums.
- Grazing Gladehart
Combined with one Arid Mesa, Grazing Gladehart gives you a full Spike Feeder's worth of life (you know, minus one quarter to pay for the Arid Mesa), but leaving the 2/2 body instead of eating that body up entires. That means that a Forest next turn will give you another 2 points, and so on until you finish running through the 28 lands in your deck.
I am not as excited about Grazing Gladehart as I am about some of the other landfall cards, but I think that the comparison to Spike Feeder is fair, and in the context of a dedicated landfall deck, this card probably crosses the "merely annoying" line after a surprisingly short number of turns. As a point of comparison, we thought Deny Reality would be maybe one centimeter from Constructed Unplayable upon first glance, but this five-mana, sorcery-speed Boomerang has actually proven itself to be one of the more impressive cascade spells when situated in the right 60. Grazing Gladehart is probably much the same: an over-performer next to other landfall cards, if not worth the mana in most decks.
- Plated Geopede
This Insect is very "Wild Mongrel-ish." You see it now, don't you?
Here is a two-drop that seems kind of flaccid by itself, but is pretty hairy from the combat perspective once you give it a little bit of the specific rope it wants to tug at.
I like Plated Geopede more than some of the other creatures with similar abilities due to the mana. A Hagra Crocodile is a bit of a non-starter just because of the mana cost versus the size of that Crocodile's body. Plated Geopede is only a 1/1 base, but it can consistently crash for 3 to 5 damage at least two or three times in a game. Because it is red, that damage will often be more fundamentally valuable than similar damage from two-drops in other colors. The difficult blocking decisions that this creature poses can position it to hit as hard as—or harder than, over the course of an additional turn—a Hellspark Elemental. Really, Plated Geopede seems at least a little better than it looks at first.
- Baloth Woodcrasher
BDM and I did separate reviews on this card on Top8Magic.com during Zendikar previews.
Over the course of writing my preview article, I started to like Baloth Woodcrasher more and more; initially I felt like it was just a Limited card, but Baloth Woodcrasher is a killer. Especailly if you can afford to "save up" lands on Khalni Heart Expedition, you should be able to thread together a kill, a la Nantuko Husk. Then again, this card costs six mana.
- Soul Stair Expedition
This card isn't world-crushing in its effects, but the incredible cost (it doesn't get more efficient than one mana) combined with the easy trigger (doable in two land drops if one of them is a Verdant Catacombs) makes for an extremely economical Death's Duet.
Like the Grim Discovery we discussed last week, this is a card that can have Marsh Flats and Architects of Will playing very nicely together. Its warehouse sale-level price should help this one help you in attrition fights.
- Emeria Angel
I originally had Emeria Angel much lower on this list due to the relative cost between it and Lightning Bolt, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw it in relation to an old favorite, Belfry Spirit.
If you have an Arid Mesa in your hand, Emeria Angel is pretty much just better than a Belfry Spirit. You can hold back and play it on "five" and run out the Mesa, immediately dropping a pair of 1/1 flying creatures. The absence of haunt is counterbalanced by the fact that 3/3 is roughly three times better than 1/1, plus the fact that if your opponent doesn't kill it immediately, you are going to litter the board with Birds. Not bad at all.
- Roil Elemental
I think Roil Elemental will be relegated to sideboard space for the same reasons that I was initially apprehensive about Emeria Angel. Its ability is absolutely bananas, but 3/2 is even smaller than 3/3.
That said, if you're facing, say, a green-white deck (which you might just be given the superb performances of green-white decks various in both Standard and Block over the last six months), it is probably going to pack to Roil Elemental. If the Elemental's not dead, your opponent doesn't have any guys ... You have his guys, so he's dead. Etc.
- Sunspring Expedition
These days the move from a Shock standard to a Lightning Bolt standard has shifted a card like Sunspring Expedition from being worth four cards to being worth not quite three. That said, three cards for one mana smacks of Ancestral Recall, which should tell you how powerful this card can be (albeit not as a main-deck card).
If the opponent invests two Lightning Bolts and a Burst Lightning, those are three cards (not to mention three mana), and Sunspring Expedition counters the damage from all three for one card and one mana. While you will not usually want to invest in this card unless the opponent is sending Lightning Bolts (et al) at your face, the one-mana-ness of Sunspring Expedition gives you conditionally "free" mana in that you can play this on the first turn, or in one of many spots where you would not otherwise use that mana at all.
- Ior Ruin Expedition
This card is similar to Soul Stair Expedition, but has fewer restrictions attached to it. For the price of one additional mana, you get a down payment on a Council of the Soratami some time in the future. The deal is a good one. You get a card out of your hand. You get to pick when you fire off the Expedition (assuming you've hit your requisite counters). You can therefore play around with managing your hand (there is nothing more annoying than having to discard after you've drawn "too many" cards. Just a good card... Probably just better than sometimes-played Courier's Capsule.
- Rampaging Baloths
Rampaging Baloths is a one-beast army.
In and of itself, this creature is just fine in terms of power and toughness relative to mana cost. You can tap out for it without fear. If you get anything extra out of it, well ... That's just gravy.
But gravy it is, that you can expect to ladle all over your battlefield given enough land drops. Rampaging Baloths is a classic example of a card that is fine—maybe not "good enough" but fine—with no rules text, but gets better with just a single activation, then better and better as time goes by. Compare it to Broodmate Dragon. With one land drop, Rampaging Baloths trades flying for +2/+2 and trample, but if that land drop is a Verdant Catacombs or some similar, the Baloths starts looking wildly better than the Broodmate. The expense is clearly greater on Rampaging Baloths despite both creatures sharing the same converted mana cost, but that is probably counterbalanced by the fact that it is more likely to be played in a deck full of Rampant Growths, Harrows, and so on.
- Eternity Vessel
I feel like after we get a chance to play with a little Zendikar, you will see numerous "how to beat Eternity Vessel" articles start to creep up.
It really matters how many counters are on that Eternity Vessel. If it's up around 20 ... Good luck. You are going to have to be able to deal the full 20 in one bold move and still be satisfied with the opponent simply ho-hum sacrificing a land to reset.
Even if the opponent is at a relatively humble life total on running out the Vessel, each land is still worth essentially that life total, so the results will depend on how many lands your opponent draws and how efficient your packets of damage are. All in all, I anticipate games lasting an Eternity.
Josh Ravitz pointed out to me this week how good Bloodghast is in an attrition fight. If your goal is to, say, make the opponent discard cards, Bloodghast undoes a fair chunk of your good work with every landfall. Is one card—one creature—all that significant? Maybe not. It is, after all, just one card. But the fact that the same card (which presumably had been trading with cards) keeps coming back over and over ... Well, it can force someone to re-think how to operate against that one card. Very solid, especially against decks planning to win an attrition fight.
- Khalni Heart Expedition
With this card I feel like we have gotten to the heart of the Landfall strategy.
Khalni Heart Expedition is going to be "just" a great card, like an Explosive Vegetation, but saving up its synergies for landfall triggers will win a large proportion of games, too. It is kind of obvious why this card is good (card advantage), even better than cards like Ior Ruin Expedition (I just wanted to draw lands anyway), and why it should be good for producing fatties, whether they are Rampaging Baloths or something more economical.
- Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
The only question is whether this five-drop eventually overtakes the number one spot. Ob Nixilis is almost too good. One well-respected member of the Hall of Fame recently asked if it wasn't already better than Baneslayer Angel in Standard! One way you can tell how much most of us writers like Ob Nixilis, the Fallen is that when any of us run down examples of how exciting a turn we can take, it usually involves destroying someone with a super-sized one of these.
"Ob"-viously you should treat Ob Nixilis as a six unless you have a very good reason to run him out at the five he pretends to be. At five he is only a 3/3, but as a six he buys us 3 free life off the opponent and +3/+3 ... twice that with a fetch land! Ob Nixilis is a good example of how measured, patient, use of land drops and a disciplined plan of when and how to play cards—specifically landfall cards—can be more rewarding than playing on-curve in the fastest, most obvious way.
- Lotus Cobra
It goes a little something like this.
So there you have a structured, if fairly loose, run down of what I initially see as the Constructed-capable landfall spells in Zendikar. So where are we going to play them?
The first relatively big paper tournament to feature the new cards is coming up in Philadelphia this weekend.
My old buddy Pete Hoefling from Star City Games is running a $10,000 weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Saturday October 10th and Sunday October 11th ... Standard and Legacy tournaments, respectively, for $5,000 a pop.
More info on the $10,000 weekend is available on the Star City site.
So what to play?
After the $10,000 weekend we are going to have a much better idea of how the Zendikar-enabled Standard cards are going to fall (lands and otherwise), but for now, let's consider one of the new options Zendikar brings.
Although light on actual "tribal" effects, the Vampires of Zendikar are obviously a tribe ... tight weenies who in sum get the benefit of Vampire Nocturnus out of Magic 2010. Vampire Lacerator is a Carnophage (and better), while Gatekeeper of Malakir is a discount Nekrataal that can actually take out Great Sable Stag. Malakir Bloodwitch .... I don't even know what to say about this card! In a world with Path to Exile the Bloodwitch seems like everything Sengir Vampire ever wanted to be. Just bananas. If you play Vampires, you should probably play four, regardless of the somewhat prohibitive cost. The Drain Life aspect gives the tribe some welcome flexibility, and the Bloodwitch starts off as an Air Elemental that doesn't die to Doom Blade.
It should be pretty simple to see how the Vampire deck can compete with especially other creature decks. They are full of creatures that die to Doom Blade, and the Vampires themselves are surprisingly efficient offensively. Black has some nice fundamental speed with Duress and Vampire Lacerator on one (and Duress keeps the opponent from digging out of a hole later in the game); Swamps matter (again) with Tendrils of Corruption and Mind Sludge, and everyone is laced together like a bodice about to be ripped in a 1970s Christopher Lee movie. In short, everything's coming up Piznarski for the bad people in black.
Good luck if you hit the Star City tournament this weekend, and have fun with Zendikar and hitting your land drops either way.