PAX has hit. Cop cars have been hit. Specifically, giant forty-foot Cthulhu tentacles have smashed street lamps and a cop car, with Wizards of the Coast blowing it out in anticipation for the upcoming release of Battle for Zendikar. Our friends in Renton, WA have revealed several new lands and spells from that aforementioned upcoming set, and chatter around Battle for Zendikar has already started to come fast and furious around these and other Magical parts.
But rather than focusing on the fact that I think Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will probably be a four-of in Standard (it commonly will) or that Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is probably better than highly played ancestor Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (I think it is) I thought I'd talk this week about how our pace of play might change as Battle for Zendikar enters our Standard ecosystem.
In particular, I thought I'd focus on three areas where our mana and mana bases will shift.
I. Ordering Basic Lands (and to some degree, fetchlands)II. Setting Up Big SpellsIII. The Phases of Mana Acceleration, generally
I. Ordering Basic Lands (and to some degree, fetchlands)
Today most players order their lands like this:
1. Play non-Temple lands that enter the battlefield tapped2. Play Temples3. Play basic lands or other lands that enter the battlefield untapped (including fetchlands)4. Break fetchlands
In general, most players will run out a tapped land on the first turn; they may do this even if they have a strong one mana play (consider the Abzan mage who forgoes Thoughtseize regardless of having an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth), unless they are playing the red deck.
Most players will opt for an Opulent Palace or Evolving Wilds in advance of a Temple of Deceit early, given the option.
If you have a card on curve, you just might play out a land that comes into play untapped (say you follow your Temple of Silence with a basic Forest to cast Fleecemane Lion), but again generally speaking, it is going to be the one of the ones that enters the battlefield tapped, Temples last (unless trouble is brewing and you need to fix the top of your deck) always with an eye on future resources as well as "this turn" resources.
Of lands that come down straight, fetchlands typically get played last; and in fact, if you don't need the mana immediately, you'll generally leave a fetchland be for as long as you can. The reason for that is to maximize your options, in particular with Courser of Kruphix. Or, at least that's largely how these basic routines developed. (Unless, of course, desperation takes hold.)
That said there will soon be no Temples in Standard; and no Courser of Kruphix.
There will, however, be a new set of lands that come into play tapped!
I would guess that you will often play your appropriate "tango land" on turn one; coming into play tapped is a mighty penalty in Magic, but it's one with little downside if you have no turn one play.
It might not seem like a big deal which land you play that comes into play tapped on the first turn, but I think that we will ultimately build new routines and shortcuts. If given the option, you should drop your Rugged Highlands before your Cinder Glade.
Because you can play your Cinder Glade untapped later in the game!
More importantly, it's not just which land that enters the battlefield tapped that we have to learn about with Battle for Zendikar resources. You know that stuff about holding fetchlands? We're going to break them earlier than we did in the days of Dissolve and Courser of Kruphix for the same reason...getting basic lands in play is going to set up our tango lands! Because of this there will develop a weird spectrum where it is best to play tango lands first, but then it becomes better to hold tango lands for after basic lands (or fetchlands); and breaking fetchlands early will be instrumental in gaining, rather than losing, options.
All this stuff probably sounds obvious-ish when you say it "out loud" but it will probably take a while for proper land sequencing to actually become second nature for we, the player base.
II. Setting Up Big Spells
Remember what I just said about jamming fetchlands faster than we did before?
That will be true some of the time, specifically when we are trying to set up tango lands.
Magic isn't easy. There are few rules that hold true 100% of the time, and here in the context of a single set is a completely different set of sequencing incentives.
Typically you snowball a bunch of mana -- say six -- and then use it to cast a big spell. And that's the end of the mana-big spell story.
Battle for Zendikar's landfall mechanic incentivizes players to not only hold back lands to drop after making big spells, but in fact fetchlands have a special role. Because what's better than a 6/6 Oran-Rief Hydra? A 7/7 Oran-Rief Hydra.
I'm guessing that given the precedent of creatures like Rampaging Baloths in the original Zendikar, Oran-Rief Hydra probably won't be alone.
III. The Phases of Mana Acceleration, generally
In Standard right now there are basically three kinds of decks:
Almost Everyone - Decks where most of the cards cost about three mana. "About" three mana is exactly what it sounds like... Cards that actually cost three like Courser of Kruphix, Hero's Downfall, or Brimaz, King of Oreskos...plus cards that go with them that cost about three mana like Fleecemane Lion or Butcher of the Horde.
The Red Deck - A deck that is on a card-for-card average less powerful than the decks with cards that cost about three mana, but makes up for that by having most of its cards cost less than three mana. While any of the Red Deck's cards probably pales in comparison to its more expensive cousins, it can make up for it by jamming lots of them, and early. Anyone who has ever played on the back foot against s first turn Zurgo Bellstriker into an Eidolon of the Great Revel knows where this is coming from.
Green Devotion Decks - These decks have cards that cost way more than three mana. Sure they have some cards that cost three mana, but the whole point of them is to play cards that cost five, six, seven, or x mana. These decks play with a massive advantage in games where they can start on Elvish Mystic on turn one. Elvish Mystic is in itself a unique card in Standard. While Devotion decks have many acceleration options -- like Sylvan Caryatid, Rattleclaw Mystic, or Voyaging Satyr -- Elvish Mystic is the only one that costs one mana.
The Green Devotion decks typically play this game plan:
1. Play lands2. Play accelerator(s)3. Play big spells
There is some variation. Like they in fact can play a terrible version of Abzan where they go Courser of Kruphix into Polukranos, World-Eater instead of Siege Rhino...but these decks want to get paid off with Dragonlord Atarka or Genesis Hydra, ultimately.
While the cards are not all out on the tables yet, it seems that Battle for Zendikar is going to change the acceleration outlook from a three-phase plan to a four-phase one. To wit:
1. Play lands2. Play accelerators3. Play big spells4. Play bigger spells
Just compare the biggest thing anyone reasonably does right now ( Dragonlord Atarka) with the biggest thing that has been spoiled so far ( Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger). One of those cards is ambitious; one of them requires a specialized game plan to play it at all.
Imagine a spell that wins the game.
How much does that spell cost?
For most reasonable Standard decks, the bar is at four mana. Think of how backbreaking even one Siege Rhino is. How backbreaking are two or three? Four mana, right?
The new age of acceleration uses four mana as a bridge; heck, it probably uses five or six as a bridge!
Frontier Siege may get some revitalized play.
But what about this guy?
Hedron Archive already costs four! This card is at Siege Rhino / Butcher of the Horde / Thunderbreak Regent level.
...and it doesn't win the game by itself.
What it does is bridge you to six or seven mana.
What do you get at six?
Oblivion Sower is the kind of card you need-need to get to Ulamog mana. Oblivion Sower is set up to let you play lands that you don't have a real "right" to...to go from six to eight or nine mana.
Another option is this:
Blight Herder is a natural bridge from five mana to nine mana (provided you can give it some fuel).
The macro point being, cards that cost four, five, or six mana -- in a world where most of the cards cost three, the cards that cost two are considered fast, and the cards that cost four are backbreaking flagships -- are already supposed to be big enough to win the game.
In the new world order, they are just going to be toll booths on the road to Ulamog.
I, for one, am happy to welcome our new giant, alien, overlords.