Origins is just around the corner and next week we will be doing our regular review for the entire set here on TCGplayer.com. In the meantime, it's hard to talk about upcoming Standard events while just ignoring the sweet new cards soon to be at our fingertips. So instead, I decided to just embrace the new age of Standard and kick things off by talking about the offerings of one of my favorite planes - Zendikar.
For those of you that played during Zendikar, you will remember that both sets in the block were all about lands. Cool lands with abilities were a big part of this, but even nonlands cared about lands in that world. This time around, while there is not nearly the support that existed in Zendikar, there are some distinct land themes in Origins to throwback to Zendikar and, unsurprisingly, many of them work well together.
Last year as M15 was being released, one of the cards that really caught my eye was Aggressive Mining. Here was a card that clearly netted the user a profit if they were willing to make an exchange of resources. Of course, stopping yourself from being able to make land drops is a big cost, but there were ways around it. Karametra was my card of choice at the time, but since then, many more cards have been printed that allow us to get around this drawback with relative ease.
Removing the enchantment is a reasonable solution and cards like Banishing Light are very playable in Standard even when you don't want to hit your own permanent. Or, we could continue down the path that Karametra had us going and explore cards like Explosive Vegetation and Nissa's Expedition. Even then though, I am not quite excited enough by Aggressive Mining to run it over less punishing draw engines.
Origins is a set that not only gives us some ways around the drawback of Aggressive Mining, but it also gives us other cards that ask for similar environments and conditions as Aggressive Mining which means we might be able to get more pay for the things we already wanted to do with the card. In this case, we want a steady supply of lands to fuel Mining. If we are able to find additional cards that ask for that same input, we are going to add consistency to our deck which is important because building around a single card always comes with inherent risks.
After looking through Standard, I decided to list every card that either rewards you for playing with lands in some capacity, or that give you access to these lands. Of course, I was sure to include any Origins cards that fit the bill as well.
Courser of Kruphix
Hammer of Purphoros
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Seek the Horizon
Sword of the Animist
The Great Aurora
That list is much smaller than a list of goblins or a list of enchantments might be, but what we do have here is concentrated mostly into one or two colors, so we still have plenty of fodder to come up with a cohesive deck. Looking at only the above list is also a little shortsighted because we didn't actually include the lands that we get to play with.
If you go back into older formats, such as Legacy, you will find a deck that runs 40 or more lands and is happy to do so thanks to the versatility and utility that those lands provide. When your lands are drawing you cards, gaining you life, dealing damage, and even attacking, those lands might as well be spells. While I would not expect to have the same level of utility in Standard, of course, that doesn't mean we cannot at least find some utility.
Looking through Standard, these are the nonbasic lands that we can squeeze a little extra value out of:
Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
Foundry of the Consuls
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon
This list is secretly a bit longer as I decided to abbreviate the Temples and gainlands, but regardless, we are still working with a limited amount of utility here. Notably, most of the utility lands from above produce colorless mana which can be an issue once we hit a certain threshold. Looking at the spells from above, we are most likely wanting to settle on a red or green shell, possibly both, and having access to high amounts of both colors has appeal.
If we are to rely on Molten Vortex as our win condition, for example, we need to have enough red mana to have it be threatening. Meanwhile cards like Courser of Kruphix and even Nissa (in creature form) ask us to play a significant number of green sources or even just Forests. Finding this balance along with our various utility spells is going to be key.
The way I see it, there are a few essential components to a lands list and Aggressive Mining is not near the top of that list. While Aggressive Mining can be powerful, it cannot win you a game alone and it needs to be played strategically to avoid crippling yourself. It provides an incentive for many lands, but alone is not enough of a payoff. Origins fixes that though with the following package:
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
In these four cards you have a healthy mix of card draw, removal, win conditions, and ramp that our "Land" deck might want. Aggressive Mining fits into that shell nicely, but I could easily see a list that foregoes the four mana enchantment altogether.
The above cards all ask for a heavy commitment to lands in your deck. If you have 25 lands like most normal decks, then you probably won't have more than a few extras to dish out with Vortex and your Animist's Awakening will be missing an awful lot of the time. That said, without some number of spells, our deck just doesn't do anything. So where is the right balance? I don't actually know the hard answer here, as the metagame we will be playing this into has yet to fully form and will have a big influence here, but we can at least theorycraft a little.
One direction is to minimize any spells that don't act as key pieces to the deck. In other words, wherever we can find extra copies of cards we don't need, we can replace those with lands to build a high density of them in our deck. This would have us creep toward the 40 or even 45 land count, ensuring that our land synergy cards are at full value. The issue this might present is that we have too little gas before our engines come online. If we are drawing lands instead of Lightning Strikes, that is fine with a Molten Vortex out, but what about when we don't? How do we keep up with decks that run actual spells when ours has so few?
The potential solution to that problem would be to lower the land count to something more reasonable (say 30 of 60). In this world, we would be closer to a mana heavy midrange deck looking to sculpt the game in such a way that we eventually reach our engines and have enough lands back to do something with them.
I would say that the most famous deck of this nature is the CAL deck from extended. CAL stands for Confinement, Assault, Loam. The deck used Seismic Assault and Solitary Confinement to control a game, providing enough fodder for them by using Life from the Loam to constantly bring back three lands a turn. Without that key engine of Life from the Loam though, the deck really did not have enough lands to win using its other engines. Loam was an essential part of the deck being able to cut mana sources.
In Standard, we have no equivalent to Life from the Loam. On some level, you can argue that Aggressive Mining can fill that role, but really only during your final few turns as you are actively trading in your in-play mana for mana in hand, which you are filtering through a Vortex for the win. Life from the Loam is great in that you can basically always move in on it and never really be punished as it asks for so little in return.
Without that engine available to us, it would make more sense that we need to be a more dedicated "Land Heavy" deck. The new mulligan rule probably helps us quite a bit here as I can see a deck like this mulliganing once or twice a game just to find key pieces without hurting you too much overall.
With all of that in mind, here is the first place my mind went when looking at roughly 40 lands.
Here we basically are looking at a deck with seven win conditions, lands, and then some cards to help us get to those win conditions without dying. The overall strategy is relatively simple, although there are some cool things that the deck can do.
For example, with Courser of Kruphix out, your Animist's Awakening becomes a big life gain spell (in addition to the Radiant Fountains and Rugged Highlands you will hit) which can be crucial in surviving until a turn where Molten Vortex can take over the game. Luckily, all of the red mana that Awakening hits will also help that effort, possibly even in the same turn if you hit Spell Mastery.
Or maybe you want to catch your opponent off guard by flipping your Nissa on turn four thanks to a slightly lucky Awakening for three on the same turn. Most people will ignore your Grey Ogre when you are a full four lands away from it Walking anywhere. And when you have a planeswalker with the power of Nissa, Sage Animist, out on turn four, that is a pretty awesome thing.
Magmatic Insight and Courser are both in the deck to help provide smoothing and card advantage while you dig for the cards that really matter.
In terms of our nonbasic land choices, I like Radiant Fountain and Foundry of the Consuls a lot. They both provide a tangible reward that we can use quite nicely. In particular, if we can leverage a few damage out of our Thopter Tokens that is just fewer lands we need to throw at the opponent when the time comes to do so.
A few tips/tricks to help when playing this deck:
- Playing Courser while you have a land drop still available is huge. Because you have such a high land density, Courser is much more likely to "draw" a card when it comes into play, but it can only do this if you can still play a land. Most decks happily run out Courser on turn three and then wait to untap and take advantage but with this list, holding off until turn four will usually be worth it.
- Fetching lands is actually pretty bad as you lower the density of lands in your deck, hurting the effectiveness of Animist's Awakening. We have four copies of Wooded Foothills because finding your second green or red mana can be crucial, but when we can get to that mana without breaking a fetch, we should. Later we can turn the fetchland into a Shock and never need to break it. Additionally, we might want to save a shuffle effect for later in the game when we have shoved a bunch of spells to the bottom of our deck with Awakening and need access to them again.
- Killing everything with Vortex is tempting, but you need to win the game at some point to. Try to figure out what creatures and walkers are important to get rid of and which you can handle with some life gain and blockers. The more resources you have when you finally hit Vortex, the more likely you are to win the game shortly after. If we have Vortex out but only a land or two in hand, we need to do a lot of work to dig back out of it.
- The sideboard here is still very much under construction, but the basic premise is to load up on threats against control. That would be the reason there are so many different walkers, most of which attack control pretty well. Of particular importance here is the ability to add cards from your sideboard without taking any out. You can go up to a 75 card deck here with relative ease if need be as you have enough mana to support that kind of deck. I would not advocate for this strategy against fast decks because you need to hit certain cards at certain points, but when you are simply trying to fight through countermagic, having more threats will often benefit you.
Origins is a set begging to be brewed with. There are all sorts of cool toys for deckbuilders out there, from planeswalkers that have quests to big powerful cards like The Great Aurora that I am dying to use (it might even be fine as one-of in the sideboard of the above deck).
Next week, we will be tackling the entire set and discussing each card at length so if you are interested in potential brew ideas, or just want to learn what to Draft at for the next three months, be sure to stop by then! Until next week, thanks for reading!