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By: Godot, Ryan Spain
Jan 25 2010 1:52am
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First, an apology. Barring the holidays, I’ve done my best to maintain a weekly column for puremtgo.com, but the juggle of life is a tough act, and you know what they say: when the juggling gets tough, the tough let their Magic-column ball hit the dirt. Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing. At any rate, I’ll continue to write articles as regularly as I can, but I need to be realistic about it, too. If you check the site on a given week and don’t see a new Waiting for Godot, you can figure the juggling has gotten tough again. I apologize in advance, but at least, unlike my namesake Beckett character, I do actually show up sometimes.

But enough about that. I was debating my options for this column, and I even started an Alara “block booster” draft walkthrough, but my heart just wasn’t in it (the draft or the walkthrough, really). Let’s face it: it’s awfully hard to be excited about doing a triple-Zen or Alara-anything walkthrough when the Worldwake spoilers have begun to flow, so why fight it? Let’s take a look at some of the officially-spoiled Worldwake commons with an eye toward their impact on Zendikar drafting.

First though, I want to touch on a couple of considerations for evaluating small-set commons and uncommons entering a triple-large-set Limited environment.

It’s a Small, Small Worldwake

imageRarity in Magic is a funny thing. On the simple surface, there are four rarities in Magic as of the Shards of Alara expansion, up from three previously: mythic, rare, uncommon, and common. In actuality, it’s more complicated than that. For Limited purposes, the rarity of any given card in any given expansion is best described as the percent chance that it will be in a pack. This is a number that can fluctuate from set to set for each traditional rarity designation.

Zendikar, for example, has 229 unique non-basic-land cards: 15 mythic, 53 rare, 60 uncommon, 101 common. With ten non-basic commons in a pack (ignoring the possibility foils), there is a 9.9% chance (10 in 101) of any given common being in a Zendikar pack you open. Worldwake, meanwhile—assuming it follows in the footsteps of the other 145-card expansions of the Mythic Era—will have 10 mythic rares, 35 rares, 40 uncommons, 60 commons. That means any given Worldwake common has a 16.7% chance (10 in 60) of being in a Worldwake pack you open. Meanwhile, finding a given uncommon in a Worldwake pack will be a 7.5% shot (3 in 40), up 50% from Zendikar’s 5% chance (3 in 60).

This is a very significant difference when anticipating what commons and uncommons you can reasonably expect to see in that third pack. With individual commons appearing almost 70% more often in Worldwake than in Zendikar, each Worldwake common, in effect, is working nearly double duty to replace the commons from the third Zendikar pack in your draft decks. This understanding leads nicely into another important consideration for small-set impact, and one that will be the focus of my initial look at Worldwake Limited.

Throwing Analogs on the Fire

When you participate in a large-expansion Limited environment for the first time, you are learning an entirely new world. You can apply some basic card evaluation techniques and your historical understanding of Limited to the new cards (removal is good, big evasive guys win games), but, because the folks at Wizards of the Coast R&D are really good at their jobs, there are inevitably things about a new Limited environment as a whole that you aren’t going to fully understand and appreciate until you’ve played it.

On the other hand, when small sets are introduced into a triple-large-set environment, regular drafters have a foundation of experience from which to evaluate the incoming cards. One third of the old familiar cards in your draft decks are about to be replaced with something new, but two thirds are going to be what you’ve already been drafting for months. Accordingly, one of the first things I do with new commons and uncommons from a small expansion is to look for “analogs” to large-set cards.

imageAn analog is a card that fills a similar cost and function to an existing card. Identifying analogs to large-set cards in an incoming small set and assessing how their differences will impact established draft archetypes is a great starting point for evaluating a new small set for Limited. What archetypes are going to maintain their critical mass of parts through analogs? How do those analogs strengthen or weaken those archetypes? Which archetypes are missing key analogs entirely? We won’t be able to answer these questions completely until all 145 Worldwake cards are known and we’ve taken some of them into battle a few times, but there are always clues to be found in the analogs among the early spoilers.

Don’t I Know You from Somewhere?

Worldwake contains two common black cards that effectively demonstrate both the analog principle and the impact “true rarity” has on the comparison of analogs, so I’ll start there.

Pulse Tracker


Pulse Tracker is your pack-three analog for the common one-drop vampires of Zendikar. Like Vampire Lacerator, the Pulse Tracker can come down on turn one and hit your opponent for 2 life a turn until contained. Like the Guul Draz Vampire, the Pulse Tracker sports a 1/1 body that becomes outclassed quickly in combat. While the Pulse Tracker doesn’t suffer the lacerator’s drawback of pinging you each upkeep until you’ve “bloodied” your opponent, its inability to trade with X/2s or survive encounters with 1/Xs is a significant downgrade from the suicidal Vampire Lacerator. image

As for the comparison to Guul Draz Vampire, Pulse Tracker looks much better in the early game, and much worse in the late game. The real strength of the Guul Draz Vampire is that it ends games quickly against non-black opponents once you bloody them up. Given that, Pulse Tracker is more of a direct analog to Vampire Lacerator. In that role, I think it will perform fine for the hyper-aggro monoblack and black-x archetypes that have been so successful in triple Zendikar drafting. Dropping three 1cc vampires in the first two turns with a removal spell for turn three is still going to be great with Pulse Tracker in there.

Because there will be approximately 1.7 times as many Pulse Trackers in pack three as there will be Vampire Lacerators or Guul Draz Vampires in each of packs one and two, the Pulse Tracker will serve analog duty for both of Zendikar’s one-drop vampires.

Hot Tech Aside: Note that the triggered ability of the Pulse Tracker resolves before blockers are declared, so if you have your opponent at 12 with two Pulse Trackers and two Guul Draz Vampires in play, you can attack with everything and have two 3/2 intimidates before blockers are declared. The Pulse Trackers may be on a suicide mission, but the GDVs should mop up from there.

imageRuthless Cullblade

clip_image006Ruthless Cullblade is the other black common doing double-duty analog work in Worldwake for Surrakar Marauder and Blood Seeker. You could argue thatimage the cullblade’s “Bloodied” ability actually makes it more analogous to the Guul Draz Vampire than either of these black two drops, but the lack of intimidate makes me shy away from that comparison. In this case, the relevant analog consideration is that it is a vampire for with 2 power, which has it straddling the line between Blood Seeker and Surrakar Marauder. The Cullblade is a little better than Blood Seeker and a lot worse than Surrakar Marauder, making this an overall downgrade for aggressive black decks.

We’ll see what other common black creatures emerge from Worldwake, but the first two out of the gate feel like an overall downgrade to the aggro black strategies, mainly due to the power drop from Surrakar Marauder to Ruthless Cullblade. What analogs, if any, will be in Worldwake for other key contributors like Crypt Ripper, Giant Scorpion and Nimana Sell-Sword? We’ll know pretty soon, here.


image Kitesail Apprentice


While the Kitesail Apprentice ability is far more analogous to the Kor Duelist, the duelist is uncommon, and was never really an impact player in aggressive white strategies to begin with. The closest analog himageere is to Steppe Lynx because they are both common white one-drop creatures. The apprentice is a significant drop in quality from Steppe Lynx, and could seriously impact the power of aggro-white in ZZW drafting.

A turn-one Steppe Lynx is a groan-inducing play that puts the opposition on immediate notice, likely converting one mana into 6 or more damage before becoming outclassed on the battlefield. Kitesail Apprentice meanwhile has the same problem as Kor Duelist, which is that you generally don’t even want to play the amount of equipment you’d have to for the ability to be reliably relevant, leading to a card that stinks most of the time while occasionally being great—not what we are looking for in our Limited staples.

Again, without the full set revealed, we can’t know for sure what the true impact of losing a pack of Steppe Lynxes will be. Perhaps there is a yet-to-be-revealed common white one drop that can deal 2 damage a turn, and Kitesail Apprentice is more accurately an analog for Caravan Hurda and Noble Vestige (i.e., a common white creature you don’t generally play unless desperate). Until then, I see Kitesail Apprentice as troubling downgrade from Steppe Lynx for white ZZW mages.

imageVastwood Zendikon


Vastwood Zendikon and its “animate land” effect may be mechanically different from imageTerritorial Baloth and Vastwood Gorger, but ultimately it serves the same roll: high-curve, big green beater. Technically a five drop, Vastwood Zendikon (and all the common man-land makers) function more ideally for an additional mana, where you are creating a man-land with haste.

I like Vastwood Zendikon more than the Vastwood Gorger but less than the Territorial Baloth. The baloth’s ability to become a 6/6 instead of a 6/4 is not insignificant, not to mention the Harrow tricks that can turn an unblocked Territorial Baloth into a blowout. I slightly prefer an extra point of power and haste over Vastwood Gorger’s vanilla 5/6 frame, although at least the gorger stops asking for mana after the initial investment, while the man-land aura basically has an upkeep of should you want to attack with it every turn.

All in all, I’d call Vastwood Zendikon a slight downgrade from the Territorial Baloth/Vastwood Gorger duo, but not an incredibly relevant one. Either your non-evasive green fatty is going to get through for some serious harm or it isn’t, and at that point it doesn’t matter too much whether it’s a Craw Wurm-sized man-land or a some other slice of beef.

imageHalimar Excavator & Wind Zendikon

image Not all analogs are as straightforward as comparing Vampire Lacerator to Pulse Tracker. In the case of these blue commons, there are several important Zendikar roles spread across a couple of new Worldwake commons, as well as a new twist, making for a more complex assessment of the impact these new blue cards will have on ZZW drafts.

Halimar Excavator is an upgrade to Kraken Hatchling in the role of early defense. While it can’t block Plated Geopede or Nimana Sell-Sword the way a Kraken Hatchling can, its ability to shut down attacks entirely from multiple 2/1s and 1/1s is a significant improvement, as is the ability to swing for 1 when the coast is clear.

While Halimar Excavator may be a hatchling upgrade, it’s a clear downgrade from Umara Raptor as the common blue ally, mainly because it’s trying to win in a way that none of your other allies are. Producing frighteningly large Umara Raptors has been a big reason for playing blue in triple-Zendikar, even witimageh a light ally theme. The loss of a pack’s worth of Umara Raptors could significantly impact my desire to play blue in ZZW, depending of course on the other blue Worldwake offerings to come.

On the other hand, thanks to Halimar Excavator, it seems there is now a more-viable mill deck to be drafted, teaming Halimar Excavator with multiple Hedron Crabs and as many Ondu Clerics and Makindi Shieldmates as you can snag, but it feels quite risky to prioritize Hedron Crabs, Ondu Clerics and Makindi Shieldmates in the first two packs on the assumption that you will find enough Halimar Excavators in pack three to make the strategy work. Still, it’s a deck to look out for.

image Stepping in and attempting to make up for the loss of Umara Raptor and Welkin Tern is another in the man-land aura cycle, Wind Zendikon. This zendikon improves on Welkin Tern in terms of blocking and toughness, but the “upkeep” problem with zendikons is far more pronounced in Wind Zendikon than it is with Vastwood Zendikon. At least by the time you run the craw aura out there, you are probably at the top end of your curve, where using a land as an attacker each turn isn’t a major setback. It’s a hefty cost to your mana development to play Wind Zendikon on turn two, although as we have seen with Kor Skyfisher, setting yourself back a turn on mana development can be worth it to enable early evasive beats.

In the late game, Wind Zendikon is clearly superior to Welkin Tern, providing blue with rare haste—and evasive haste at that—as well as a creature that can actually play some defense if need be. With no other allies, I’d rather have one Wind Zendikon in my deck over one Umara Raptor, but I’m awfully concerned about the way the zendikons suck up a land each turn (perhaps the white zendikon will have vigilance, which would be sweet). Even the “return” clause in case of death, while nice, still sets you back a turn on mana development.

I’m also assuming there will be one other solid blue flyer at common, given the pack-three loss of Windrider Eel and Sky Ruin Drake as well. If there is not a decent four- or five-mana common flyer in blue, the color will be quite crippled in ZZW.

imageCrusher Zendikon

image Well, I may as well cover all the known zendikons (as of this writing), since they are all serving as interesting analogs to some common creatures in their colors. In the case of red, we have a blendimage of Ruinous Minotaur and Shatterskull Giant with a trample bonus. It technically costs 3 like the minotaur, but effectively 4 like the giant, and it’s lighter on the red requirement than both. It hits for the giant’s power and has the minotaur’s toughness. It doesn’t require a land sacrifice upon dealing damage to a player like the minotaur, but it does require the standard zendikon “land sacrifice” of an effective upkeep of to use it as an attacker instead of a mana producer.

The trample is nice, but I would still rather have Shatterskull Giant pretty much every time because of the extra toughness. I’d rather have Crusher Zendikon over Ruinous Minotaur almost every time as well, so at least the red zendikon falls in somewhere between the two Zendikar commons. The difference between two and three toughness is dramatic in Zendikar, though, and the list of two-drop creatures that will happily trade with this zendikon is disturbingly long—too long for me to think of this card as a particularly high pick. That being said, if you are packing enough removal and Goblin Shortcutters, it won’t take too many attacks for Crusher Zendikon to earn its keep.


It’s Not the End of the Worldwake

Well, this article is growing longer (and later) by the minute, so I’m going to cut myself off. That was a lot of words for only a few cards, but hopefully taking a look at analog theory helped frame an approach for looking at the other incoming Worldwake spoilers. Next time—hopefully much sooner—I’ll go over a larger quantity of Worldwake commons and uncommons, including hitting on some cards at the opposite end of the spectrum from the analogs I discussed today: the game-changers. What happens when you insert a pinger into Zendikar Limited, anyway?

Oliver the Green Giant

(For new readers: I occasionally give an update on the progress of my seven-year-old son Oliver’s experiences as an early Magic player.)

My oldest, dearest friend Chris lives down in Portland, and despite that being fairly close to my Seattle stomping grounds, it can feel like Siberia when it comes to actually getting together, as anyone with old friends “close by” understands. While my podcasting partner Marshall introduced me to Magic, I really cut my teeth on the game with Chris. In the summer of 1995, a year or so after playing a couple games with Marshall, I bought a shoebox of Magic cards at a garage sale. Chris and I sat down, split them between us, and slogged our way through the rulebook until we were thoroughly confused and even more thoroughly addicted.

We played together regularly for a couple years until Chris moved away from my influence and eventually fell out of the game, but we’ve continued to play a little sealed together here and there whenever he makes it to Seattle for a visit. Since I began writing Waiting for Godot, though, Chris has been reading, and my influence over him has re-established itself over the internet (Hey Chris!). He’s back in the game, playing frequent Winston drafts and sealed decks with friends in Portland.

Recently, Chris made it up to Seattle for the first time since Oliver learned to play, and the three of us had the opportunity to play sealed with some Lorwyn/Morningtide boosters I had around. I had Oliver sort his cards by color, and then told him to identify some cards he definitely wanted to play, at which point I’d help him make a deck of it.

image“Dad, I want to play these,” he said, handing me a pretty pair of Vigors he’d cracked.

“Excellent choice, buddy,” I replied, “One Vigor is great, but two is just sick!” We looked through the rest of his pile and found plenty of support, including a Primal Command as a virtual third copy of Vigor, and three copies of Leaf Gilder to power out the Vigors before going on the incarnation-enhanced offensive. White was the clear-but-light secondary color, and the triple gilders plus a Fertile Ground made Vigor’s reliable enough to splash black for his Shriekmaw, which went perfectly with his other bomby rare, Galepowder Mage.

Chris ended up with a solid green-red elemental/elf/shaman deck sporting Imperious Perfect, Taurean Mauler, Rage Forger, and four other changelings to knit it all together, as well as two Mulldrifters splashed off a Smokebraider, a Vivid Grove, a Fertile Ground, and Shimmering Grotto. I went hard into blue-white merfolk with double Oblivion Ring, Summon the School, Judge of Currents, Merrow Reejerey, Silvergill Adept, Silvergill Douser, Streambed Aquitects, and a Merrow Harbinger to fetch up my merfolk of choice.

imageWe didn’t have a ton of time and we spent much of it cracking packs, sorting cards, and tinkering with decks (aka, the fun part), so we played a quick round-robin of one game for each matchup. Oliver and his Vigors proudly went 2-0, although it was the Shriekmaw/Galepowder Mage combo that ultimately devastated Chris. Meanwhile, I went 0-2 after a tight game against Chris that ended with a Rage Forger-enabled alpha strike taking me down.

Oliver and I have kept the decks intact, and are now using them league-style, adding in a pack to each pool every week and evolving the decks. Ollie ripped a second Changeling Hero, a Lignify and an Oblivion Ring to make his deck that much stronger, while I only found a second Streambed Aquitects to augment my merfolk. I managed to take him in three despite this thanks to some blazing starts on my part and multiple mulligans on his. To his credit, Ollie took the losses like a champ despite some obvious frustration.

The Lorwyn experience has Ollie intrigued by Sealed, and when I told him about the upcoming Sealed events at the Worldwake prerelease, his eyes lit up like it was Christmas. “Can I go with you again and watch you play?” he asked excitedly. “Even better,” I replied. “Now that you know how to play yourself, I was thinking we could enter the Two-Headed Giant event together. What do you think?” Well, continuing the Christmas comparison, Oliver’s response was an explosive cocktail of disbelief, triumph, pride, joy, and living-room gymnastics that made the N-64 Kid look downright demure. I took that as an affirmative.

Hopefully, the Seattle Worldwake prerelease will be the start of a long tradition of Oliver and me taking on Magic prereleases as a double-headed duo. If you are in the area, come down to the Seattle Center for the 1:00 Two-Headed Giant event, and maybe you and your other head will square off against Team Spain as we all sling some Worldwake spells for the first time. To paraphrase Ollie parading excitedly around the house last night, “We will destroy you!”


N-64 kid... by Fragoel2 at Mon, 01/25/2010 - 03:16
Fragoel2's picture

... is no match for the Blastoid one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PSvWR4dZKc&feature=related

Halimar Excavator and new cards by Shaterri at Mon, 01/25/2010 - 15:44
Shaterri's picture

While I think Excavator will occasionally mill people out, I think you hit the nail on the head; most of his uses are going to ignore the 'Ally' type line completely, except possibly with Ondu Clerics and the occasional Shieldmate to hold the ground. What I think it does it further the possibilities for the more controlly U/W archetypes for draft purposes, though we'll have to see what other flyers we get for that deck.

I'd be really curious what you think of the various 'new' new cards, though, the less-analagous ones. Treasure Hunt seems like it'll be fantastic for limited; the white Instant Ally spell should function in the right decks as a classic high-mana blowout combat trick; Quag Vampires seem infinitely better than Bog Tatters for blowing open those annoying Black mirror matches; Grotag Goblin Thrasher seems like a great late-game card for the red decks; and Roiling Terrain... well, Roiling Terrain seems like an awesome card to pick that Zen land over...

So...many...cards... My plan by Godot at Mon, 01/25/2010 - 15:55
Godot's picture


My plan is to get one more article in this week before the prerelease, and I'll try to cover more than seven cards, with a focus more on the game-changers and significant upgrades (such as Treasure Hunt > Ior Ruin Expedition).

Also, we're trying for two podcasts this week over at Limited Resources (http://www.mtgcast.com/?cat=65), covering most if not all Worldwake commons and uncommons. If you are interested in my opinion of a higher volume of cards, be sure to check out the 'casts. #17--already up--tackles quite a few.


Ryan, great as always, If I by theteeg (not verified) at Mon, 01/25/2010 - 18:34
theteeg's picture

Ryan, great as always, If I liven in Seattle as opposed to Pennsylvania I'd so be there. Ollie's progression as a magic player is a heart warming story, and your pride as a father is very apparent. Keep up with the good work on both Waiting for Godot, and Limited Resources. Both I found are great for beginners who I have pointed your way and those who are more experienced. Keep up fantastic work!

andyfisher's picture

Hi Godot - thanks for this article which I found to be loaded with useful material. I am about to go to my first pre-release this weekend and have never played Draft or Sealed before so any material like this that offers a sensible way of making evaluations on the relative merits of new cards is invaluable - great job.

Keep up the good work on the 'Limited Resources' podcast - I've never played Limited either(!) and yet I have learned so much that has helped me find my feet in Standard by listening to your show that I am already a dedicated listener!

Ryan Rocks! by KCBRoyce (not verified) at Mon, 01/25/2010 - 21:55
KCBRoyce's picture

I'd probably only play the zendikons on fetch lands or the does something when it comes into pl...ugh, enters the battlefield lands. And the former is not really a factor in limited.

I love your articles man. Awesome!

I've never thought to do this by Kamisaki (not verified) at Mon, 01/25/2010 - 22:55
Kamisaki's picture

I've never thought to do this type of analysis with a new set, that's a really good way of looking at things. Hope you don't let it go to your head, but your articles are consistently among the best Limited content on the web. And the podcast is great, too. Just want you to know your efforts are appreciated!

Oh, and keep the Ollie stories coming! My son is 5 right now, still a bit young to actually get the rules, but he loves to look at the cards and find the pictures that he likes. And he loves any X spell like Fireball, because "the X beats everything!" Looking forward to when I can start teaching him to play for real.

Re: 2 Vigors by Lauren Lee (not verified) at Tue, 01/26/2010 - 13:06
Lauren Lee's picture

Opening two Vigors is sick!!! What a lucky guy. Also the whole story about Ollie is absolutely precious! I loved it! Write more about him. :)

great stuff, and an inspiration by PastProphet (not verified) at Wed, 01/27/2010 - 13:14
PastProphet's picture

This is a great way to look at the upcoming expansion. I have only recently (since M10) been playing again (after the typical 'many years off') and have really fallen in love with Limited. Your podcast has been immensely helpful, and entertaining - the music makes me smile as I ride the early morning bus to campus.
Also, it makes me really excited to hear about your son playing. I have an almost-five-year-old daughter that has already shown interest in lots of other games, and she likes to look through my piles of Magic cards! She even wishes me luck when I go out to play FNM. I have been considering teaching her some of the basics soon, and by the time she's 'old enough' she should be a lot of fun to take with me. (and her little sister is coming up soon too!)
I am curious when you started teaching Ollie? And if you have any tips on how to ease into the complex rules?
Can't wait to read/hear more about your impressions of Worldwake, and Good Luck at the pre-