Pro Tour Hall of Famer Mike Turian and current Magic developer at Wizards of the Coast sat down with me to talk about some of the ins and outs of Limited play post-Worldwake. While many of the Wizards employees who participate in the event have seen the cards, that exposure has not diminished Turian's joy at the day the cards are finally being cracked out of packs to play with for the first time.
"I played in every Prerelelease from Tempest on until I started working here," Turian said of his fondness for the Prerelease events. "It is tons of fun. Even working on the cards and then seeing them for real a year later ... it has that 'ooooooh' factor. Which is kind of ridiculous since I am often the last person responsible for what this card said. It is fun because you get to discover the cards again."
"One of things that is going on with Worldwake is that with multikicker and landfall you want to make sure that you are packing your deck full of lands," said Turian of the new mana-thirsty format. "And it is not unheard of to run 19 lands or 18 lands and Everflowing Chalice because there is a whole uncommon cycle of guys—like Lightkeeper of Emeria—so when you have 10 mana, you may have one or two too many lands but you are going to gain 12 or 14 life and you will be back in the game. The same is true of guys like Apex Hawk, Skitter Lizard, and Quag Vampires. You would play Wind Drake in Limited every day of the week, but later in the game it can be a 3/3 flier for five mana or a 4/4 for seven. So that is definitely something that is going on with the new set."
Mike was especially fond of the interaction between an old favorite and a new card for using up excess mana to put the game out of your opponent's reach and he urged me to look for similar synergies when building my deck—something of a theme throughout our discussion.
"One of the very cool combos you should be on the lookout for in Limited this weekend is Archon of Redemption from the new set with Kor Skyfisher from Zendikar." Mike explained that you can cast the Skyfisher and then return it as the permanent you have to bounce. "You can just gain a lot of life with those two cards for each time you can pay two mana. When I go to a Prerelease I always look for ways to take the Zendikar cards that I know and put them together with the new cards in Worldwake. Allies are a perfect example of that. We really gave Allies a boost in Worldwake. There is the one-mana Hada Freeblade. If you open with that guy and follow up with Kazandu Blademaster and then Join the Ranks, you just have giant guys ...."
For Turian, the Prerelease is not only an opportunity to play with the new cards in your deck but to learn about the new ones your opponents might have lying in wait for you to step into.
"One thing to do is to talk to your friends after building your deck and make sure you find out what all the Traps do," Turian cautioned. "All the traps—with the exception of the rare Stone Idol Trap—are color-focused. So you can know that if you are playing red you need to be aware of what Refraction Trap does or if you are green what Permafrost Trap does. You want to see what their new cards are so you can play around them. We tried to stay true to Zendikar—keep traps, keep kicker and landfall too. There is a new landfall tapper—the Tideforce Elemental. You have to think about what that means. What happens if your opponent has a fetch land out? It is not just a +2/+2 landfall anymore, but he untaps and he can untap somebody else. So that is the tricky stuff you need to keep in mind."
Mike was excited to play with the new cycle of enchant lands known as the Zendikons. If you play them on a land that has already started the turn on the battlefield, they are essentially hasty creatures that can hit had and fast.
"All the Zendikons are pretty competitively priced for Limited," Turian continued. "While I don't think that this format is as fast as Zendikar alone, you need to think about these guys while you are playing because you can just win with them out of nowhere.
There has been some talk about various ways to use the the Zendikons to get back fetch lands or Wastelands, in Constructed but Turian wanted to remind everyone that many of the lands in this block are worth doubling up on in Limited.
"The great thing is you can just use it with Kabira Crossroads. You gain 2 when it comes into play and then if they kill your land you get to gain 2 again," said Turian of the synergy between the Crossroads and Wind Zendikon in a white-blue deck. "I think the best combo is Crusher Zendikon with Smoldering Spires. You are probably a red deck and you are trying to apply a lot of pressure .... You make them not be able to block with Smoldering Spires and get in with a bunch of guys. Next turn you enchant the Smoldering Spires with the Crusher Zendikon, and if they kill it you are going to have the 'can't block' effect coming back again. While that is good for the red deck specifically, I like looking for all those tricks. I love enchanting Khalni Garden—now your 'Plant land' is coming in and beating them down. Wind Zendikon also combos well with the rare lands, because when you activate them you get to keep flying—although we should triple check that with Gottlieb!"
Turian is right about Zendikons and the rare dual lands—if you enchant a Lavaclaw Reaches with Crusher Zendikon and then activate it, it will be a 2/2 black and red creature with trample and "firebreathing."
Turian also pointed to cards like Basilisk Collar and Pilgrim's Eye as a way to keep your deck stocked with enough playables without having to unnecessarily stray into a third color.
"This set has ten-ish artifacts, and any time something is colorless and fits in your deck you want to take a second look at those cards. So many times I have built a deck and gotten to 20 cards. A lot of times I will play an extra land—since we are on Zendikar—but if you are not doing that artifacts are always a great place to go," he said. He also pointed out that there were a couple of cards that would alter the field of battle. "Razor Boomerang is great for picking off all those little annoying guys that are running around from Zendikar—Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx. The world really is different with this card and Cunning Sparkmage. A creature with 1 toughness is a little more vulnerable that it was in just Zendikar. Something to keep in mind."
Landfall has been such an important element of Zendikar Limited, and it was not uncommon to see a player pass on making a land drop—even if it was their third of the game—to make sure those Plated Geopedes or Steppe Lynxes fired a turn later. Now, with the addition of multikicker, there seems to be an opposing force that wants you to play as many of your lands out as possible.
"I think it is better to hold one land," agreed Turian about how Worldwake has changed the format in a subtle way. "If you draw a multikicker guy you can play it, and you still have a little something for your landfall guys. You are definitely not going to be stockpiling lands in your hand."
With an eye toward playing later that afternoon I asked Turian how he approaches a Sealed Deck pool and decides what colors he wants to play.
"One of the first things I do—at the Prerelease especially—is look at my rares and mythic rares," he said frankly. "They have this double edge: one, rares and mythic rares often pack a punch, and two, your opponent probably won't ever see them coming. Halfway into the day, your opponents know what the Skitter of Lizards does, they are prepared for what Wind Zendikon does, but what about when you say 'Here's Butcher of Malakir,' and they have to pick it up and ask, 'What is this?' Then you answer, 'Oh, just a 5/4 flying creature that makes you sacrifice a guy every time one of my guys dies.' A card like that or Chain Reaction, you can't expect players to be prepared for. When I am building my deck I look at my cards and if they speak to me ... If you get a card like Strength of the Tajuru or Comet Storm—I start out with that and then I look to fill out my deck."
"Synergy is a great next step," he continued. "Take what you learned about Zendikar and read the new cards and see where they take you. Look at something like Ruin Ghost and all the lands that have an effect when they enter the battlefield."
"I usually stay away from one-drops unless they can grow bigger," said Turian about how he decides what his mana curve of creatures and spells look like. While there are obvious exceptions like Vampire Lacerator and Hada Freeblade that do much more than your average one-drop, Turian pointed out that the best one-drops were multikicker creatures like Quag Vampires and Skitter of Lizards.
"These guys are all great to cast for one mana. You can cast them early if you are land light or you can cast them with something like Adventuring Gear. Normally what I look for are twos and threes. Those are the prime spot where you get a great curve. I find that if you load up on fours, fives, and sixes, you need to get to four land and then slowly stream out your guys. And keep in mind that multikicker is usually going to use up all your mana on the turns you cast those creatures. If I had to break it down I would say I like to have seven two-drops and seven three-drops and then sort of bell curve out from there. My fourteen cards are mixed in the two and three slot. Those last eight cards can be spread out from there but you want the bulk of your mana costs coming at two and three—especially if those guys have multikicker."
"One of the things I do differently—I know a lot of people like to break up their cards into creatures and spells, but I like to view it as one unit," said Turian while pointing out that sometimes your creatures can be the best source of removal. "One of things that has changed in Magic is that there are all these planeswalkers out there like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. You really want to be able to have some game plan against them. Evasion is great for that. You don't want to fill your deck with Smother and Urge to Feed—removal, removal, removal—and then they play a planeswalker."
Turian felt that the baseline amount of lands players should have in their Limited decks is 18, but that did not mean that players should automatically default to nine of each land type in a two-color deck.
"I really feel like you should commit your deck to one or the other and look for that," he elaborated explaining that multikicker and single color casting cost requirements should bias your numbers. "You have to lay out your cards and if you have 13 green cards, 8 blue cards, and two artifacts you probably want to be 10 Forest and 8 Island or maybe even 11 and 7. But if you look at your deck and you have three Crypt Rippers then you are going to think about 12 or even 13 Swamps. You want as many swamps as possible in your deck. You can think of cards like Crypt Ripper, Spire Barrage, or that whole cycle of guys that check for another land type like Sejiri Merfolk as two cards for the purposes of figuring out your mana."
One of the biggest challenges players face when building a Sealed Deck can be what to do when your best cards come in colors that are light on removal and you have to splash something like Magma Rift and Burst Lightning in an otherwise green-white deck.
"Usually my suggestion is three lands, if I am willing to play off-color removal," he answered, working under the assumption that this was to support two single-color-requirement removal spells. "Three lands of that type—two Mountains and a Kazandu Refuge would be fine. Three I find is right because you are playing the removal for a reason and you don't want to draw these cards and not be able to cast them."
Armed with Mike's advice, I headed to the Prerelease event and took my first crack at building a deck with three packs of Zendikar and three packs of Worldwake. I looked through my rares and mythic rares and found that I was not seeing anything other than Wolfbriar Elemental that called out to me. Sadly, I did not have enough green cards to fully support the multikicker goodness of the card, and I shelved that color.
What did call out to me after that were three copies of Searing Blaze—the card Mike Flores previewed yesterday—and some pretty fast Vampire cards. The Searing Blaze turned out to be every but as good as advertised as it kept pushing through extra damage and they played a big role in me finishing 5-0—including a Round 1 win over Mark Rosewater. I also got beaten down to -24 in one game by an Abyssal Persecutor, but I was able to get its controller down to zero before he found one of his ways to bounce it.
Good Luck, Have Fun
Good luck to everyone playing in a Prerelease this weekend! I was going to be heading to Richmond, VA for gunslinging, but that Prerelease has been cancelled due to winter storm warnings. I am not sure yet whether I will end up playing here in Renton or back home in New York. If you go to an event, I encourage you to check back in on the forums and let everyone know how you did!