By: Derek Madlem
With the launch of Battle for Zendikar we’ve got a lot coming at us very quickly. I fear this spoiler season might be more like a bottle rocket than a sparkler, flying high into the air and making a tiny bang and then it’s over. We’ve already seen most of the dual lands, all the Planeswalkers, the now-obligatory mythic nuisance creature from green, and quite a few rares that are likely to be left on the table after a draft with the rest of the scraps.
If you read my article last week, you’ll get what I mean by EVE – expected value equity. In BFZ we’re going to see just a small handful of cards soaking up most of the Expected Value Equity in the set, so cards that would have typically been good for $5-8 will likely end up around $2-4. With only a handful of cards being able to hold value going forward, where do we realistically expect that value to land?
It Takes Two to Tango
You can call them what you want, but I’m going to call them the tango lands because it’s an easy word and the description works on another axis in addition to the card mechanics: the tango is a dance that at first glance seems incredibly sexy and awesome, but the reality is that it kinda sucks.
Let’s get one thing clear: these lands are not really Modern playable. I’ll let you do the in-depth analysis yourselves because THAT OTHER finance site seems to have misplaced the entire article I once wrote on the matter; but the typical number of shocklands and fetches in Modern broke down as such:
So in your typical three color deck, say Abzan, you would have a remarkable four shocklands spread out across three different land types:
So the argument that we can replace some number of shocklands with tango lands for more flexibility just doesn’t seem to hold up very well as there just aren’t any shocklands in these three color decks to take out. So what about the two color decks?
Well here’s the mana base for one of the most prolific two color strategies in Modern, Bogles:
Go ahead, explain to me what we’re taking out here to slot in a Canopy Vista. While you’re at it, show me what we’re cutting to add basics because this deck runs three. Three.
Taking a look at the basics in other top decks in Modern you gets you a similar result:
Jund – 3
Abzan – 4
Naya Burn – 2
Grixis Twin – 5
Grixis Delver – 4
You get the idea…having the “option” to sometimes save two damage over using a shock land is not going to be worth the sacrifice in flexibility. Modern is a format that is often won and lost on tempo, the same reason we’ll never really see the temples crossing over to the big show.
These lands are going to be really sweet in Standard… for six months, then they’re going to be pretty average barring reprints of the Zendikar fetches or a card like Farseek.
Summary: don’t go whole-hog on these lands as they’re destined for pretty mediocre things, between a mediocre existence long term outside of Commander and the reality that they are not going to be where that EVE ends up…they’re a losing proposition for the foreseeable future.
Walk the Walk
Face it, we’re still hungover from Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It’s been five years and we’re still afraid of missing out. We are compelled to closely scrutinize and over pay for every planeswalker printed now because we’re afraid of missing out on the next Jace. The reality is that even the Liliana of the Veil went as low as $25 during her time in Standard before joining Jace in the $100 Planeswalker Pantheon. With Battle for Zendikar we have three shiny new Planeswalkers to sink our teeth into and make bold assumptions of future value:
If you’re not proclaiming loudly “UNLEASH THE KRAKENS!” every time you ultimate this Kiora, you’re probably living your life incorrectly. Kiora has the distinct dishonor of existing in one of the worst two-color combinations for constructed. While those Sultai decks had a good run, they’ve dipped back into the darkness with little recent success and let’s not even talk about how miserable Temur has been this block… but having said all that, did you see that -2 ability? It might be time to dust off these Sidisi, Brood Tyrants and get that Sultai deck back into action.
This iteration of Kiora is probably not significantly better than the last one we saw. She’s almost always going to grant you card advantage as long as you activate the second ability. If you’re doing anything else in a format where “Destroy target Planeswalker” is printed on a card, you’re setting yourself up for failure, but that’s the extent of her power. She does give you the ability to untap a creature to block of a land to cast a defensive spell but does little to protect herself when played onto an open board.
This is not where I would place my bets for BFZ’s money cards.
There’s a lot of misevaluation to this card going around. Gideon is a 5/5 indestructible creature for four mana the same way as Sarkhan was a 4/4 flying haste Indestructible for five mana… only kinda. When Gideon is not in creature mode (your opponent’s turn) he is still going to die to attacks, and won’t even trade in combat as he just stands there staring at the creatures thumping him upside the head.
The ability to crap out a single 2/2 creature every turn is cool, but the last time we saw this trick they had haste and showed up in a color that had access to some mana ramp.
The ultimate? Meh?
This is not even the most powerful Gideon ever printed so I don’t expect this card to see heavy play in Standard (or any other format) unless there is a fairly incredible ally deck being preconstructed for us (don’t worry, there’s not).
That leaves us with Ob Nixilis Reignited.
Phyrexian Arena + Murder + the best Underworld Dreams you’re ever going to see? Check. Ob Nixilis has the starting loyalty to ensure that he doesn’t die as soon as he hits the board. Ob Nixilis will often function as a pseudo Time Warp, drawing you a card and blanking your opponent’s next attack phase as they try to take him out, but on an empty board he’s going to be the Boss Monster. The ability to outdraw your opponent is a time-honored method for winning at Magic and the ability to do so while removing any threat your opponent plays is a lot like Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
“Derek said that Ob Nixilis is the next Jace!”
No, but one could draw some parallels if you stretch hard enough! Realistically I think Ob Nixilis is going to be an incredibly powerful card for his 18 month reign in Standard, the flexibility in having card advantage coupled with board control on a single Planeswalker is too powerful to ignore; admittedly he is going to be kept in check by Ruinous Path, a spell trope that is sure to keep all future Planeswalkers from dominating a format in the same way that Jace TMS did.
I can see Ob Nixilis staying above $15 for the bulk of his time in Standard, but am going have a hard time seeing him anywhere above $25 for long. If we didn’t have the expedition lands in this set pushing his price down, I could imagine an entirely different world for Ob Nixilis…this card does seem pretty sick.
The Hard to Kill Green Guy
So it appears that Wizards is noticing that players love mythic green creatures that are a pain in the ass to permanently deal with, so in the vein of Vengevine and Deathmist Raptor they give you this guy:
The obvious places to start with this guy are the fetchlands and Sword of the Animist. Maybe we’ll see a world where Animist’s Awakening is dumping piles of lands into play and this guy gests huge off of that, but a 2/2 that gains “Divine Shield” every time you play a land is going to go a long way to clog up the board in the early game. While I don’t think this is going to go crazy high like Deathmist Raptor did, this is probably sustainable in the $5-8 range after release and may be enough to put some price pressure on all of those Sword of the Animists sitting in spec boxes.
Oh Man, Lands!
Manlands were a foregone conclusion from this set, though I admit that I’m really surprised to hear that they’re dividing the set up across the two sets. So far we’ve only seen the Blue / Green land and it’s about what you’d expect:
If I was to guess blindly what this card would be, I would have expected a 2/3 Hexproof with a three mana activation, but they decided to up the ante a little bit and give us a 3/3 for four, which is probably reasonable given how hard these will be to kill outside of combat. Having a land-creature that dodges pretty much all removal is going to make it extremely difficult for control decks to continue playing with such low creature counts.
The value of these manlands is going to be extremely meta-dependant. If blue / green continues to be a bad combination, then this land might just never get a chance in the sun.
Placing bets on Battle for Zendikar is going to be hard. The shadow of Expeditions Lands looming over the rest of the set like a specter of anti-value is going to mean that a very small handful of mythics and rares will hold almost all the value in this set, we just have to identify where to divide that equity and place our bets there.