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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 17 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! It's been a while since I've written an article, and there's been one notable change: PureMTGO now supports card hovers! Hopefully I've done everything right, and that makes it much easier to have cards to reference. However, that good news is counteracted by the lack of updates to Magiccards.info—hopefully the site itself stays up without ruining all the links in my articles. Then again, with card hovers, do I even need the card reference anymore? I've left them in for both Zendikar and Worldwake, but I've left them out for Rise of the Eldrazi (as I'm trying some different things there). Let me know if those lists are useful. Now on to Zendikar!
 
Ah, Zendikar, the start of the ramp up of Magic becoming the force it now is. While the reason for this isn't certain (Fetchlands, full-art lands, and “Priceless Treasures” for enfranchised fans; Duels of the Planeswalkers, New World Order, and the resonant theme for newcomers), it's a long way to come for the “land set” only Mark Rosewater believed in. While lands as a theme was something new for Magic (other than in Prophecy, and if you haven't seen my attempt at Masques Remastered, it certainly wasn't a success there), it turns out designing a format where players are happy to draw lands (even more than spells in some cases) is a good thing. The adventure theme also help masked the pure “lands” theme, as this is the first set where the entire set couldn't be defined by a singular theme (like artifacts matter for Mirrodin, or tribal for Lorwyn). The format certainly isn't perfect (as it's one of the fastest formats ever), but what it does, it does well. On to the mechanics!
 
Steppe Lynx Ior Ruin Expedition Surrakar Marauder
Landfall:
Another familiar mechanic, Landfall hasn't changed much over its appearances. In addition, it shows up a lot at common, with two cycles plus some other cards. While I'll cover the quests in their own section, the cycle of pump creatures is important, especially Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede, as these two creatures (and Windrider Eel to a lesser extent) are a major reason this format is so fast. You also need to watch for things that put lands into play at instant speed—Harrow is nearly a bomb in this format.
 
Aether Figment Vampire's Bite Heartstabber Mosquito
Kicker:
Another important part of a format that wants people to play a lot of lands is mana sinks, and Kicker is the most-pure mana sink there is. This probably should be a less-generic Kicker variant, but it's been this way since early design (where Kicker was thrown in as a generic “mana sink mechanic”). However, Kicker does get evolved in Worldwake, and it mostly has a consistent identity here: colorless costs just make the spell bigger (notably in a cycle of rares with large kickers), while colored costs can add an additional effect (and Blood Tribute is the one non-mana Kicker cost). One strange thing is that there is a cycle of common creatures that have Kicker costs that affect another permanent (like Torch Slinger<-a>_and_(Heartstabber_Mosquito.html">Torch_Slinger.jpg" alt="" /> and Heartstabber Mosquito)—these feel like they aren't worth the NWO cost, but maybe they are simpler than they look since they're virtual (french) vanilla otherwise?
 
Oran-Rief Survivalist Highland Berserker Ondu Cleric
Allies:
Allies are the first supported tribe in Zendikar, and were basically the new take on the Sliver design. Unlike in Battle for Zendikar, almost every Ally (the exceptions being Stonework Puma and Sea Gate Loremasterr.html">Stonework_Puma.jpg" alt="" /has a “enters the battlefield” trigger (what would eventually become Rally), and those effects generally only care about Allies. Following the adventuring/Dungeons and Dragons theme, there are three main categories of Allies: Warriors, Clerics, and Wizards. The Warriors all get a +1/+1 counter on every Rally trigger (including itself), and this is very strong, especially since most of them are fairly costs after just the initial trigger. Next, the Clerics buff your Allies with every Rally trigger, and would be fine, except that Highland Berserker is the only reasonably priced one below rare. Finally, the Wizards give you a spell effect on the Rally trigger, which generally scales off the number of Allies you control. Allies are very good, but they're spread through all five colors—don't be too greedy, as this format is very fast.
 
Khalni Heart Expedition Quest for the Holy Relic Pyromancer Ascension
Quests:
Quests aren't a named mechanic and aren't that important to the overall mechanics of the set, but work well to help establish the adventure theme. Quests are enchantments that get counters when you fulfill a specific condition, then allow you to either activate an ability or get an extra benefit, and exist in three tight cycles in Zendikar. The Expeditions are the common cycle and all work the same way: they trigger off Landfall, and allow you to sacrifice them when they have three counters and get a simple effect (thought it can be big, likeKhalni Heart Expedition). The uncommon cycle is “Quest for (Object)” and is similar to the commons, but trigger off unique conditions and the activation threshold varies, from the single counter on Quest for the Gemblades to five counters on Quest for the Holy Relic. The Ascensions are the rare cycle, and are like the uncommons, but stay in play once you've met the threshold, giving you the effects continuously (likePyromancer Ascension), the only reason you've heard of Quests at all).
 
Whiplash Trap Pitfall Trap Baloth Cage Trap
Traps:
Another adventuring staple, the Traps have slightly more mechanical cohesion than Quests (as the subtype allows (Trapmaker's Snare to exist), but mostly exist as a subset of interesting cards. The Traps are expensive cards with big effects, but are massively discounted if a specific condition is met by the opponent. Each color has two non-rare traps (and it's worth looking at them all if you want to play a lot of Zendikar limited), but the only two common traps are both blue. Lethargy Trap probably won't see much play (even if it should in an aggressive format—keep it in mind when sideboarding), but Whiplash Trap is a top common, especially since the base cost isn't even that bad (if expensive in this fast format). Otherwise, most of the playable uncommon Traps are removal spells, and removal's still removal, so the trap cost doesn't matter quite as much.
 
The last mechanic is the debut of Intimidate, but it's basically a remaster of Fear they can use in Red (and occasionally other colors). There are other minor themes, but since most of them are confined to a single color, they can be covered in those sections—and that's a nice transition to the colors!
 
Kor Outfitter Kor Skyfisher Kor Hookmaster Journey to Nowhere
White:
Commons Uncommons
White's sub-theme is Equipment, and while the Equipment is better than what we get these days, there are still only a couple of good pieces, means cards like Kor Duelist can't be played in most decks, while Kor Outfitter just is a hard-to-cast 2/2 for 2 with occasional upside. Instead, white is the color of great two-drops, with Steppe Lynx and Kor Skyfisher (a way to get extra Landfall) at common and both Kor Aeronaut and Kazandu Blademaster at uncommon. There are also a lot of good ways to get those creatures through, with Kor Hookmaster which can also be bounced with (Kor Skyfisher if necessary) and Brave the Elements being great enablers for aggressive strategies. There's also good removal: the pair of Pitfall Trap and Arrow Volley Trap are fine, but nothing can top Journey to Nowhere, which is so much better than Pacifism even before you consider that Narrow Escape lets you abuse the Oblivion Ring trick to permanently exile things.
 
Umara Raptor Windrider Eel Kraken Hatchling Into the Roil
Blue:
Commons Uncommons
Blue's sub-theme is supposed to be Traps, but it should be really good fliers. On the smaller end, Welkin Tern's initial printing pushes the aggressive theme, while Umara Raptor builds upon itself (as Ally decks generally don't want blue) while starting as a Wind Drake. On the higher end, both Windrider Eel and Living Tsunami are virtual 4/4 fliers for 4 (that work well together), while Sky Ruin Drake is one of the few defenses to those fliers. Blue can even hold the ground well, as Kraken Hatchling holds off the aggressive creatures except for double-Landfalled (Steppe Lynx<-Span><-a>_and_(Plated_Geopede.html">Steppe_Lynx.jpg" alt="" /> and Plated Geopede, while Merfolk Seastalkers stops everything relevant on the ground while being an evasive threat on its own as (Spreading Seas is playable, especially against greedy decks). There are other good cards that can fit in the same decks, as Into the Roil joins Whiplash Trap in the bounce suite, and Reckless Scholar is still common. Finally, while Hedron Crab is the rare mill card that can win the game on its own (especially if you have land support from other colors), it's just too slow to be playable except in specific situations.
 
Vampire Lacerator Giant Scorpion Marsh Casualties Vampire Nighthawk
Black:
Commons Uncommons
The sub-theme in black is Vampires, which have a minor tribal theme in Zendikar (as part of their transition from an iconic race to a characteristic race in Magic 2010), but it doesn't manifest itself as actual tribal outside of rare. Instead, lots of Vampires care about whether the opponent is at ten or less life (whether the opponent is “bloodied”, in another Dungeons and Dragons reference), which leads to the format being more aggressive. Speaking of that aggressive trend, it's telling just how pervasive that trend is when Giant Scorpion is one of the best creatures: it wins fights against all the two power creatures, while at least trading with everything except Plated Geopede. Black also has a lot of good removal: Disfigure and Hideous End are some of the last wave of efficient common removal, while Marsh Casualties might as well be Plague Wind in a world of 2/2's (especially ones that are only big on your turn due to Landfall). Staying at uncommon, the Vampires are extremely good: Gatekeeper of Malakir is tough to cast but functions as a two-drop and removal spell, Vampire Hexmage is another good two-drop that is versatile, and Vampire Nighthawk is one of the best non-rare creatures ever—remember I said Giant Scorpion was great in this format, and this is almost strictly better in great ways.
 
Plated Geopede Goblin Shortcutter Burst Lightning Geyser Glider
Red:
Commons Uncommons
Red is the height of the aggressiveness in Zendikar, and it's highlighted by Plated Geopede—almost nothing can compete with a 3/3 First Strike for 2 below four mana one reason why all the 0/4's are good, even something like (Molten Ravager), and even then it still eats generic Hill Giants. Red also has a lot of Haste with cards like Goblin Bushwhacker, Goblin Ruinblaster whose (Wasteland effect is a lot more relevant here than it would be in most limited formats) and Zektar Shrine Expedition, and Goblin Shortcutter even gives an efficient way to get damage through. The removal is also good, as Burst Lightning and Punishing Fire kill small things (and Landfall means most things are small on your turn, or in response to their triggers), while Magma Rift and Inferno Trap can kill bigger things reasonably efficiently. One surprise is that there's actually a lot of decent slower red stuff here, like Geyser Glider and Spire Barrage, but it's just underwhelming compared to the faster stuff in the format.
 
Harrow Grazing Gladehart Timbermaw Larva Savage Silhouette
Green:
Commons Uncommons
As you would expect, Green is the color of ramping, but while Harrow is the near-bomb you would expect, Khalni Heart Expedition is almost as good—sure, it's a bad topdeck and probably won't ramp you into much, but once it's active your Landfall creatures become mammoth threats, from a gigantic Baloth Woodcrasher to a lowly Steppe Lynx. In addition, Grazing Gladehart is a natural counter to the speed of the format, and can let you get to those expensive creatures that can actually stand up to your opponent's two-drops. Then again, the better thing to ramp into might just be the flexible Mold Shambler and Oran-Rief Recluse, or extra Forests for Timbermaw Larva (which is much better than it looks—the average case is attacking on T5 as a 4/4 or 5/5 for 4). Savage Silhouette is also better than it looks—sure, instant speed removal exists, but if you can dodge it, casting this with regeneration mana up provides a nearly-unkillable threat. That's not to say green can't be aggressive too—in particular, a mono-green deck that can reliably cast Nissa's Chosen and make the most out of Timbermaw Larva and Primal Bellow looks good, but it can be hard to get when garbage like Beast Hunt and Scythe Tiger (seriously, this looks good but the cost is just too much for limited) is clogging the packs.
 
Sejiri Refuge Teetering Peaks Trusty Machete Khalni Gem
Colorless:
Commons Uncommons
While having relevant lands is something you would expect from the land set, the quality of them is hurt by having them all be tapped. While the Refuges are clearly worth it if you need the fixing, the common lands are hurt by entering tapped—sure, the two life from Kabira Crossroads is meaningful when it doesn't cost a card, but when that's your second land (or your only white source) in your opening hand and you can't cast a two-drop, that looks a lot worse. As such, Teetering Peaks and Soaring Seacliff look better as spells you would want to cast that fit better in this aggressive format. As for the artifacts, as I mentioned, the main theme here is the Equipment sub-theme for white. The surprising thing is that most of the Equipment here is actually good: Adventuring Gear and Explorer's Scope are both good, cheap Equipment that work well in the aggressive Landfall decks, Trusty Machete is a good “generic” Equipment I wish we could see in new sets, and Blazing Torch is a removal spell (even if the tribal clause wasn't nearly as relevant here as in Innistrad). One final artifact to note is Khalni Gem: There's obvious upside here (color fixing, added Landfall triggers, and a net gain of mana once the lands are replayed), but the risk is so high getting it (Mold Shambler<-Span><-a>ed_or_(Into_the_Roil.html">Mold_Shambler.jpg" alt="" />ed or (Into the Roil)ed is a disaster), so it should be played only when you're out of land drops (so you're only down one land and one mana that turn) or if you have spell-lands.
 
Now to the archetypes, where there isn't much to pull us away from the traditional color pairs—sure, there are a lot of incentives towards mono-color, but mono-color is hard to draft without specific set design techniques (like in Mirrodin and Shadowmoor), and only mono-green looks like it has the card quality and density of mono-color rewards to do so. On to the color pairs!
 
White/Blue:
I would say UW Fliers, but white only contributes Kor Skyfisher to that plan. Maybe this is the best place for Equipment, as putting an Adventuring Gear on a flier is naturally better?
 
Blue/Black:
Another controlling archetype, as black's removal and (Giant Scorpions) clears out all the threats while any of blue's fliers can win the game on its own. Again, I'm weary of slow strategies in this format, but this could work.
 
Black/Red:
One of the more-clearly aggressive archetypes, the removal and cheap creatures are both great here, while red's slow cards can finish a game if necessary. This looks like a great deck for all aspects of the format.
 
Red/Green:
This is one of the more Landfall-heavy archetypes, and while it looks strong, the fact that both red and green want lots of their respective basic lands is a notable anti-synergy. Then again, if you're sticking the Plated Geopede and Harrow parts of the colors rather than Timbermaw Larva and Spire Barrage, that shouldn't come up as much.
 
Green/White:
This color combination feels a little disjointed—the Ally synergy focuses on the early game, while the Landfall stuff focuses on the late game. The card quality is here, but I'm not sure there's a coherent theme.
 
White/Black:
There are certainly pieces of the “drain” archetype that's shown up in recent sets as the WB archetype here notably (Blood Seeker, along with the rest of the “bloodied” synergies), but it feels like something is missing. I think it's just that the Cavern Hurdas aren't well positioned here, so I wouldn't rank this highly.
 
Blue/Red:
All of the removal and bounce combined with the efficient creatures points to a clear tempo strategy for blue/red. My one concern is that I don't know if I want to be spending cards on bounce if I need a steady stream of lands for my Plated Geopedes and Windrider Eels to be good, but playing tempo in Limited isn't my strength.
 
Black/Green:
This is where color tendencies tend to hurt a color pair: Black and green want to be slow, and while pieces could work (Grim Discovery<-Span><-a>_Recurring_a_Land_You_(Harrow.html">Grim_Discovery.jpg" alt="" /> recurring a land you Harrowed away and a Heartstabber Mosquito, but you'll be dead before you can even kick Heartstabber Mosquito, and not much else in the color works.
 
Red/White:
As you would expect, the most aggressive color pair is great when it can go Steppe Lynx into Plated Geopede and has plenty of removal spells. However, everyone wants those cheap creatures to defend against you (though Steppe Lynx generally only fits in the aggressive decks), so this deck will probably be the most contested.
 
Green/Blue:
This color combination actually works better than you would expect, as it has the defenses to survive until the Landfall synergies can take over. This is probably one of the harder decks to draft, but I think it's underrated.
 
That's another article done—hopefully you enjoy the new card hovers. Next time the land comes alive in Worldwake.
 
Vincent

@CheaterHater1 on Twitter

18 Comments

Well, that didn't work the by Cheater Hater at Wed, 08/17/2016 - 17:02
Cheater Hater's picture

Well, that didn't work the best--the new hover technology didn't like a lot of my parentheses that weren't related to cards, and since the hovers are applied after submission, it appears there's no way for me to proofread it. Did I do something wrong on the ones that were messed up? Or do I need to avoid parenthetical asides (at least ones with cards in them, or maybe I can use non-hover cards?) in order to make up for some of the bugs in the programming?

I'm not sure, I would need to by xger at Thu, 08/18/2016 - 00:32
xger's picture

I'm not sure, I would need to see (or recreate) the article before the hover treatment. It's built to allow parenthesis with or without cards in them, so this shouldn't have happened. I'll look into it when I have the chance.

I think I did something by JXClaytor at Thu, 08/18/2016 - 04:22
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I think I did something wrong. Usually when there is something like ((card name) rest of sentence (card name)), it breaks the hover unless I add a space before the first two parenthesis and the last two ones. I have been quite ill for the past couple of days, and it just slipped my mind when I ran the program, I apologize.

So if I want to help fix by Cheater Hater at Thu, 08/18/2016 - 15:41
Cheater Hater's picture

So if I want to help fix that, whenever I go "((cardname:WWK) more text here)" I need to add a space between the consecutive parentheses? That seems simple enough.

Edit: Looking over the article, most of the mis-hovers follow that pattern, though there are a couple of exceptions. Notably, the Trapmaker's Snare hover under Traps, a Kor Skyfisher hover under White, a Spreading Seas hover under Blue, Wasteland under Red. It also mis-hovered when I verbed cardnames (Mold Shambler, and presumably Into the Roil if I did the hover code right). Presumably this is all related to why there's always a space after every card, which looks bad (especially when a space wouldn't show up afterward, like the parenthesis or a period)--I don't know if there's an easy way to fix that though :(

The space before and after a by xger at Thu, 08/18/2016 - 21:45
xger's picture

The space before and after a hover card is unavoidable, it's a function of the CSS and HTML used. At least, I don't know how to get rid of it (and I tried quite a bit).

I was unaware of the double parenthesis issue, but I should be able to fix that, so it shouldn't be a long term issue.

Why is the whitespace the by Paul Leicht at Fri, 08/19/2016 - 03:01
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Why is the whitespace the delimiter? With a non-whitespace character as the delimiter you could parse the character out of the code segment when using it for display purposes after using it to determine where the hover should be. (I am assuming some kind of server side script is doing a replace method on the page before serving it to the client. If I am wrong please let me know.)

hm could anyone give me by stsung at Fri, 08/19/2016 - 06:43
stsung's picture

hm could someone give me access to that? I really wonder why that is. I noticed that both your css and the one that was present previously actually put (or used to put) a 'space' in front and behind the span but for some reason I can't see a reason why you shouldn't be able to get rid of it?

The spaces annoyed me so I got rid of them in my articles.

http://puremtgo.com/articles/edh-magic-online-roon-hidden-realm

How are you getting rid of by Cheater Hater at Fri, 08/19/2016 - 16:30
Cheater Hater's picture

How are you getting rid of them--just not using spaces in your writing? (like "text here(cardname:ZEN)more text")

I'm glad to know that my complaints are getting people talking--now I just wish I could get this kind of discussion on my normal articles :p

Discussions on Puremtgo are by Paul Leicht at Sat, 08/20/2016 - 21:55
Paul Leicht's picture

Discussions on Puremtgo are quite random. Most have nothing to do with the content of the article itself.

Sorry it's taken me a bit to by xger at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 00:19
xger's picture

Sorry it's taken me a bit to respond. stsung uses a seperate script so that the hover cards are in it before it is submitted.

You submit yours as normal and then Josh runs a macro I wrote that (attempts to) translate the code of the article to include card hover. I update that macro as I find errors or further special cases.

As for the space, as has been pointed out, it apparently isn't normal. I'll send Josh a new file soon that should have that fixed (along with some other fixes). The problem is trying to write one program that can handle both the variant ways MTGO stores the card image and the store link and then also handle the set identifier and capitalization differences that may come from authors. Again, if others are more skilled at handling that, please let me know.

'spaces' by stsung at Sat, 08/20/2016 - 06:23
stsung's picture

I write my article. Then use a script to change the names of cards to links with the hover. I use xger's css but it is modified (because I don't like the additional border for example). What got me rid of the spaces is setting margin to 0 for the link thumb class.

I guess this won't help you much in particular. That is why I asked if someone could show me how it works on this site if this simple solution would work as well or not.

(yeah, I don't get comments much either ^_^)

Half the articles I have by Paul Leicht at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 01:24
Paul Leicht's picture

Half the articles I have written on this site have many comments while the other half, have few to none. It is just the way of the puremtgo audience, especially in the last few years.

Back when we did contests more often there was a lot more article discussion.

==edit== checked and there is only one with 0 comments but there are a bunch with 3-4 (half of which are probably me responding.)

I miss doing contests. by JXClaytor at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 06:06
JXClaytor's picture

I miss doing contests. Remember the Tempest build your own theme deck contest? Those were great.

What would you have in mind now a days?

I miss the custom card by AJ_Impy at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 07:45
AJ_Impy's picture

I miss the custom card creation contest, but that petered out due to lack of interest, if I recall.

Build deck contests are by Paul Leicht at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 13:42
Paul Leicht's picture

Build deck contests are great, as are design a card contests. The one that drew me to the site in 2009 was the Kaleidoscope Deck building contest. My submission didn't make the cut but it was a well organized and advertised contest. I do believe it had a mention on the MTGO mainpage. Getting something with great prizes and a lot of broad appeal would be ideal I think. Especially with a decent interval between announcement, judging and awards.

Currently on the mothership they are hosting a build your own cube contest which is quite a large task imho I don't think we should go THAT big but maybe we could do something akin to it?

I'm sure there isn't much of by Cheater Hater at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 15:43
Cheater Hater's picture

I'm sure there isn't much of an audience for building entire sets, but if they do another Cube Prize Pack (to release Conspiracy/Commander cards), building that could be a contest.

Yeah whole sets design is a by Paul Leicht at Tue, 08/23/2016 - 17:16
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Yeah whole sets design is a very complex and arduous task. But designing a card or a cube out of existing cards or as you say prize packs for a new release of commander and conspiracy cards could be alright. I wasn't a real fan of the Legendary Cube Prize packs though.

Not because of the content but because that content deserved and needed to be delivered via more reliable and less stringy methods. I prefer to not be coerced into buying product just so I can maybe obtain some other product maybe. But I understand there has to be a way for WOTC to monetize the cards being delivered online and if prize packs is the only way it gets done, why not make better ones?

So that's a possible idea.

Contest ideas so far:
- Design a Card
- Design a Deck
- Design a prize pack set. (the downside is the sheer number of unknowns here since the commander deck lists for 2016 haven't been spoiled and probably won't be spoiled until October.)
- ?? Other ideas welcome.

I feel like a lot of it was by Cheater Hater at Wed, 08/24/2016 - 22:27
Cheater Hater's picture

I feel like a lot of it was because of the content too--multiplayer stuff just isn't as popular online (due to client limitations), and none of the new stuff was pushed for Eternal formats. They also didn't use the restraints well enough--I understand that Wizards didn't want to spend the time to code in random Parley and Will of the Council cards no one would play, but that doesn't excuse the lack of interesting reprints. I also think the lack of commons in the set was an intentional design choice, but removed the interest of Pauper players.

When I did the LCPP design last year, I just put in placeholders for the C15 cards based on a rarity analysis--then again, I didn't get most of them right (due to confusion over how many new cards were in the set). Theoretically if I wrote an article introducing this contest, I'd write a part one asking for submissions, while doing that hard work and talking about the last design, then put out my own design in the second part.