So Zendikar is finally available for purchase, and players have been casting traps, triggering landfall and summoning allies for this last weekend at the Zendikar launch party, where participants were awarded a promotional Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle just for attending. I went off to my Launch party only having done one draft before, and keeping in mind that black, green, and red seemed to be the colours to pick, but to watch for blue in case it was underdrafted as pointed out by James in the comment section of my previous article.
We went into 3 pods of 6, and I was happy to be plopped between to very experienced drafters, so I knew that my signaling would pay off. My first pack showed me a Bloodchief Ascension, which I happily took. I think that the Ascension is solid in limited, and I think that it will definitely have a home in a couple of Standard decks. I took a second pick Pitfall Trap in a pack that was rather lacking, and I took another black card for my third pick. In pick 4 I was sorely tempted to switch to black-green because I knew that green had the overall stronger colours, and with a lack of playable white cards I opted for a fourth pick Territorial Baloth. However, that pack proved to be something of an anomaly, when I got fed almost all black cards with a smattering of white for the rest of the draft. I knew I would need to play a very aggressive deck again, which seems to be key in this format. Here’s the final list I decided on.
One thing I immediately noticed was the fact that I had no Vampire Nighthawks, Hideous Ends nor any Journey to Nowheres or Shepherd of the Losts. There I was without any of the best commons or uncommons for my colours, not that I had seen any. However, I realized that with my playset of Surrakar Marauders and other early, evasive creatures, that I just might be able to get in a couple aggressive wins.
Round 1: vs Chris (W/B)
It was Chris’s first tournament, but he had played Magic for a fair bit before coming, so there were no rules disputes like there are when playing against newer players, which was nice. Nothing against newer players, it’s just that this is a complex game whose rules take some time and effort to fully understand, and Chris knew the rules to a tee. When he cast a turn one Steppe Lynx, I was unsure of how to proceed. I had a Disfigure in my hand, but I waited to see if he was hurting on land. He wasn’t, and I cast the black spell in response to the Landfall trigger to ensure it didn’t get out of hand. He then followed it up with a variety of Kor, while I played 3 Surrakar Marauders back to back, and I hit my land drops every turn to swing for 6 unblockable, and he couldn’t muster a black creature.
In game 2 I boarded in a Bog Tatters, because I had seen swamps from him, and a lack of removal. I saw the swampwalker in my opening hand, and after playing little evasive guys in the early game, he was my best out against an unkicked Conquerors Pledge, while Giant Scorpion and a 5/5 Zombie token held the fort. Sure enough, he didn’t draw removal for my guy and lost.
1 – 0
Round 2: vs Umir (RGBu Allies)
Umir had been in my draft pod, and he had joked afterward about how terrible his deck was. He had 4 refuges, and splashed black off them to support double Hideous End, which was relatively ineffective against most of my guys. His only blue card was a Sea Gate Loremaster, and I didn’t expect a whole lot. He cast a turn 2 2/1 FS ALLY which was promptly Disfigured, and I cast Surrakar Marauder, which went unanswered. Soon joined by a Bloodchief Ascension, Umir couldn’t let any of his cards go to the graveyard, and he promptly died. In the second game I just overwhelmed him with my Surrakars, and was undefeated going into round 3.
2 – 0
Round 3: vs Atilla
Atilla is a relatively new player who’s become quite good in the months that he’s been playing. He had a really good blue-green deck that took advantage of Windrider Eel and Living Tsunami to bring tons of power in the air. However, I was able to get a quick win in game 1 thanks to a turn 1 Lacerator, turn 2 Surrakar and turn 3 kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir, which dispatched his Umara Raptor. He quickly got below 10 life, and Guul Daz Vampire just got there thanks to the evasion provided by intimidate. In game 2 I hit a bit of a mana flood, and we shuffled up for game 3. Here, Atilla made 3 critical misplays. The first was not responding to my Pitfall Trap with his Caller of Gales, the second was not responding to my final Bloodchief Ascension trigger, and playing an instant after it resolved, and the final misplay was not attacking with a Living Tsunami because he forgot about my guys having intimidate. I don’t think I deserved to win, but being able to capitalize on misplays is a necessary skill in the tournament scene.
3 – 0
Round 4: vs Matt
We decided to intentionally draw the final round to give us both 7 packs in prizes. When we actually played it out, I was able to win easily in 2 games, because my deck was just faster (although his mana screw in game 1 helped) and the ceremony match was quickly decided.
3 – 0 – 1
So the deck I drafted told me a fair bit about the tempo and style of Zendikar limited matches. The first thing is that intimidate is simply awesome, and Surrakar Marauder should not be underestimated. Even Guul Daaz Vampire is a great inclusion if you’ve got a fast enough deck, and you’ll often just consider them unblockable.
A few days ago the team and I had a discussion about limited, and when to play Kor Skyfisher was a topic of discussion. I’m an advocate of playing it on turn two, because it doesn’t die to Burst Lightning (unkicked) or Disfigure. I also find that Zendikar limited is slow enough that bouncing a land is a weatherable loss, and if you bounce something like a 1 drop equipment or quest is always an option. It’s a great choice for when your opponent drops a Paralyzing Grasp or something like that. The interaction with Landfall is also noteworthy, as well as bouncing any ally that would be advantageous. All in all, I think that the skyfisher should be picked around 3-4th in draft, much higher than what I’ve seen it going.
I also believe that Bold Defense is worth a second look. It will often resolve kicked, and the first strike ability is almost always relevant. At it’s worst, it will help your guys punch through for a few additional points of damage, much like Warriors Honor, and at best it can be a one sided Day of Judgment. I think that it’s a solid card that should not be going later than 7th or 8th.
The key to being successful in Zendikar limited is (in my opinion) to be very agressive. Many decks will be quite slow, and an agressive deck will likely be able to keep the opponent off balance. Conversely, it’s not a bad thing if a slower deck packs a Kraken Hatchling, because it does an excellent job of slowing your opponent down. Nobody wants to waste removal on a 0/4, and while I wouldn’t pick it early, you should definitely consider it. Obviously River Boa is even more awesome in that situation, but you already knew that it was good.
Next week I’ll probably discuss my first standard deck in the new environment, free from faeries and five colour control and all the other cards from Lorwyn Block. Until then, send any questions or suggestions to zak-AT-power9pro.com, or via my twitter feed at www.twitter.com/zturchan.