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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Aug 12 2007 10:54pm
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Masters Edition Sneak Preview: Zuran Orb
Traditionally, a preview article debuting a new card should tease everyone by hiding the card and making people click to reveal it. Stuff like that is supposed to build excitement. I don’t need that sort of stuff – I’m writing about Zuran Orb! This card has been a tournament staple forever, and has been in my casual and 5Color decks for almost a decade.
Here’s the card:
Zuran Orb will be part of the Masters Edition, scheduled for release on September 10, 2007. You can read about it here. Wizards is previewing cards on the flagship site one per day – and letting other sites preview special cards as well.
Which is what I’m doing.
Zuran Orb.
I spent some time looking around my house to see how many copies of Zuran Orb Ingrid and I own. I think the total is fourteen.
Ice Ages went out of print in February, 1996. Over a decade ago. For most old cards, we kept a playset – two if we thought Ingrid and I might both play them at once. 
Fourteen Zuran Orbs. I think. I was going through the paper decks I have built – casual, Vintage, Legacy, multiplayer, 5color, Elder Dragon Highlander, etc. I probably have two dozen decks built at any given moment. I was finding Zuran Orbs in a lot of them. Not all – the decks for formats where Zuran Orb is not legal had none, of course – but a lot of the rest did.
So what sort of decks play the Orb? I have played it in control, in aggro, in mid-range and built combos around it. It fits everywhere. In fact, it is banned in Ice Age Block, and was banned in Standard and Extended from 1995 to until Ice Ages rotated out of the format. Why was it banned? Because it was appearing everywhere, in all types of decks, and was “severely undercosted for it’s effect” according to Wizards spokesman Henry Stern. 
Looking way back in time, the first big “netdeck” was a control deck designed by Brian Weissman and called simply “The Deck.” “The Deck” was the origin of the entire Type One (the original name for Vintage) control archetype. “The Deck” evolved into “Keeper” and other variants, but the core of “The Deck” was consistent for half a decade. Here’s a decklist:
“The Deck” November 1996, Brian Weissman, 39th Place, Pro Tour Dallas
Blue (17)
Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Amnesia
1 Braingeyser
1 Recall
Mana Drain
2 Counterspell
Force of Will
4 Mystical Tutor

White (7)
3 Disenchant
Swords to Plowshares

Black (2)
The Abyss
1 Demonic Tutor

Green (1)

Red (2)
2 Fireball

Artifact (3)
2 Jayemdae Tome
Mirror Universe

Mana (28)
Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
Sol Ring
4 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
4 City of Brass
Volcanic Island
4 Tundra
1 Plains
4 Island

Sideboard (15)
Gorilla Shaman
3 Pyroblast
3 Sand Golem
Zuran Orb1 Ivory Tower
1 Disenchant
2 COP:Red
1 Mana Short
By April of 1998, the Zuran Orb had moved into the main deck. It stayed there for years – pretty much as long as the archetype existed.
The Deck was an early control deck. It countered or destroyed an opponent’s threats, then eventually killed them with one of a handful of win conditions. I won’t try to describe how to play the deck in detail. Oscar Tan, the first modern proponent of the Vintage format, wrote “The Control Player’s Bible” explaining how to play “The Deck” and its descendants. The Control Player’s Bible is 380 pages long. You can find it, in article form, in Oscar’s archives on
What Zuran Orb did in this archetype is easier to explain. When control deck like The Deck face beatdown decks, they try to keep the board clear using pinpoint removal effects like Swords to Plowshares and global removal effects like Wrath of God. (In the above list, Balance serves this purpose.)   Inevitably, however, some damage would leak through. However, Zuran Orb converts spare lands into life – and once Zuran Orb hits, it becomes very difficult for aggro decks to beat “The Deck.”
Here’s a quote from Oscar Tan’s Bible, talking about using tutors:
If you know what you need from the board or guessing at the opponent’s hand, though, then you can fetch the right silver bullet. Against weenies, go for Balance if he has three or more creatures already in play, and The Abyss if he has one or two. If your life total is in danger, you go for Zuran Orb. Other times, you just go for a sideboarded card or simply Morphling to end the game. Or, if you have an opening against another control deck and have the mana, go for Mind Twist, as in Part V, or try Library of Alexandria as an uncounterable threat.”
The Deck never had access to Tolaria West – which would have been a great means of tutoring for Zuran Orb. Now, of course, we do.
The slow life gain was just one of the things it could do in The Deck. Most notably, that may also be the most useful things it will do once it hits MTGO. Zuran Orb can convert spare lands into minor life gain. That was critical for The Deck, which tended towards long games in which spare lands would often be drawn, and where small chunks of life were important. You know where else that situation commonly occurs?
In limited.
The Master Series will have online Release Events starting September 14th.   Those events will involve drafts, leagues and sealed PEs.   Although I have only seen two dozen of the 180 Master Series cards, so I don’t really know what drafting it will be like, it is still limited. Zuran Orb will probably be akin to Sun Droplet in Mirrodin block draft; namely a card that you never want to pass.
However, life gain is not the major use of Zuran Orb. It is the ability to get rid of lands, for a profit, and without spending mana, that makes it good. Let’s look at some situations in which I have found Zuran Orb valuable.
In various competitive and casual games, I have faced opponents who were playing land destruction and land theft decks. Having the ability to sacrifice a land that was targeted for destruction, and to get two life out of the deal, was so frustrating for them. Their cards were always countered. My life total went up. They were pissed. Of course that didn’t make being mana screwed any more fun – but at least both of us were equally pissed, if for different reasons. 
I have also played a couple decks that basically tried to win by stealing everyone elses’ lands. Zuran Orb is a great answer to that type of deck. “You want to Annex my Island? I’ll sacrifice it in response.” “Your Blatant Thievery targets my Plains? I’ll gain two life instead.”  It shut them down completely.    
I built my own deck around land theft and Zuran Orb. I won’t give the entire decklist, since a lot of the cards are not available online, but I will describe how Zuran Orb got an entire multiplayer table to concede: 
I had Panoptic Mirror in play, imprinted with Political Trickery. This meant that, at the beginning of my upkeep, I could trade my (tapped) land for someone else’s land. I also had a Brooding Saurian in play, meaning that everyone got their own stuff back at end of turn. However, once I played Zuran Orb, everyone quickly realized that I was never going to give their lands back, and they conceded. 
(The deck has some other interesting combinations, some of which are awesome, some just strange. The best Political Trickery trick, however, is to trade away a tapped Undiscovered Paradise. Undiscovered Paradise returns to its owners hand during upkeep if it was tapped for mana by anyone. Better yet – get Blatant Thievery imprinted on Panoptic Mirror.)
A rules note: you cannot use Zuran Orb (or other effects) to eat the land you propose to trade with Political Trickery, or any other exchange card, and still get your opponent’s land. The way the rules are worded, you cannot make an exchange unless both cards are in play when the exchange occurs. However, you can use the Boom half of Boom // Bust, and sacrifice your land to Zuran Orb. Since Boom has two targets, it still resolves even if one target is gone. I know – I use that trick in my 5color deck. I’ll talk more about that later.
Zuran Orb’s ability to eat lands was most famously coupled with the card Balance.   Here’s Balance:
If you cast Balance, then sacrificed your lands in response, when Balance resolved, all opponents would also have to sacrifice all of their lands (and creatures, and hands, etc.) 
Scott Johns once described the Quarterfinals of Pro Tour Dallas, 1996, as “one of the most famous Type I matches ever.”    In it, Tom Guevin opened with Tundra, Zuran Orb, two Moxen – then cast Balance and sacrificed his Tundra to the Orb. Balance resolved, and Tom’s opponent discarded all but two cards. (However, since the first three cards discarded were three (Guerilla Tactics), the play was not quite as crushing as it could have been.) 
Balance is a completely broken card. It could get reprinted in the Masters Edition, but since the set seems to be avoiding cards that are restricted in Vintage, that may not happen. However, the second most famous combo with Zuran Orb is Armageddon – and Armageddon was the second card Wizards previewed. 
Armageddon was, conceptually, the counterpart to Wrath of God. It was also the reason that White Weenie was such a good deck, back in the day. White Weenie could drop a hoard of little guys, then cut the lands out from everyone (gaining 2 life for each of their own lands, thanks to Zuran Orb), and beat down before the opponent could recover. The alternative Fattie Geddon decks dropped large, undercosted creatures, then blew up the lands. 
I long played a fattie-geddon variant in multiplayer. My paper deck ran the original dual land Savannah and a single copy of Balance, but if I replaced the duals with Temple Garden, and the Balance with something else, I could play it online (if I could afford the Terravores and Aura Shards.) Here’s the decklist.   Cards in parenthesis are the closest online equivalants to the paper cards.
Multiplayer Fattie Geddon
4 Savannah  (Temple Garden online)
4 Windswept Heath
4 Elfhame Palace
4 Forest
2 Krosan Verge
2 Plains
1 Nantuko Monastery
3 Gemstone Mine
4 Wall of Roots
4 Wall of Blossoms  (Edge of Autumn online)
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Skyshroud Elf  (Quirion Elves online)
4 Terravore
Eternal Witness
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Armageddon
4 Aura Shards
1 Balance (maybe Life from the Loam online)
2 Lightning Greaves
2 Zuran Orb
The concept was simple – I would play out some walls, do random things and kill various mana artifacts and enchantments with Aura Shards. Once I hit seven mana, I would float it, then cast Armageddon, then Terravore. On a good day, I would also have Lightning Greaves in play – so I could Greaves up the Terravore and smash for lots. In a five player game, Terravore was almost always lethal.
Also, with any luck, I would be at about 30 life, since all my lands would have been sacrificed to Zuran Orb before Armageddon resolved.
I really liked this deck. I liked it so much that I eventually built my 5color deck along the same principles. 5color is the original paper format that inspired Prismatic – and my paper 5color deck also has Armageddons, Detritivores, Boom // Bust and a host of copies of those effects.
And Zuran Orb.
I’m pretty sure I even run Zuran Orb in my 300+ card five color true Highlander deck – but I was too lazy to go through all of those cards to make sure. Not that I have to: I run a lot of spare lands in that deck, to avoid mana screw, but that means I frequently have spare lands. Zuran Orb converts those spares into not dying.   
That’s a good thing. 
I also played Zuran Orb in my most competitive Elder Dragon Highlander deck. At Worlds, 2004, Sheldon issued a challenge to all judges to play Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), with a bunch of judge foils were on the line. I really wanted to win – mainly because I felt I had something to prove. I won. You can read about my adventures, if you like.
EDH is a singleton format: decks with 100 cards, and only one copy of anything except basic lands. I guessed that all the other judges would be playing decks with high mana costs, so I built a deck to enforce mana screw on everyone. Here’s the sickest of a number of sick combos my deck could play:
Turn one:
Zuran Orb
Black Lotus (sacrifice Black Lotus for UUU)
Sol Ring
Land Equilibrium
Mox Ruby
Sphere of Resistance
(sacrifice the Island to Zuran Orb).
Land Equilibrium basically says that no one can ever have more land than I do – and I have none. Sphere of Resistance means no one can play any spells without paying one more mana. No lands, extra cost: no one else will ever play anything. I played the above on turn one, and everyone in the game immediately conceded. 
Zuran Orb FTW!
I took that deck apart. My current EDH decks are nowhere near that evil.
Of course, I still have the decklist...
Other Combos with Zuran Orb
Zuran Orb is a cheap way to get rid of lands. Why do you want to get rid of lands? Well, assume that you have the following in play at the end of your opponent’s turn: six untapped lands, Claws of Gix and Barren Glory. You have no cards in hand. You could win – but you need to somehow sacrifice seven permanents - but you have only Claws of Gix and six mana. Can’t be done. However, add a Zuran Orb and it’s easy.
Remember how Wizards described Zuran Orb as “severely undercosted?” That’s what they meant. Claws of Gix is a “fixed” Zuran Orb.
Now I don’t really think that Zuran Orb would mean that Barren Glory is now competitive in Classic, but it is at least feasible, in the casual room, if nothing else.
Zuran Orb is also a very strong combo with Crucible of Worlds.
Crucible of Worlds
Any turn you don’t have a land drop, you can tap a land for mana, sacrifice it to gain two life, then play it again from your graveyard and tap it again. That sort of thing can fix mana, boost your life total and totally annoy your opponents.
It gets better in Vintage, where paper Magic has access to Fastbond.   
Fastbond, Zuran Orb, Crucible of Worlds and a land: infinite life and infinite mana. 
If they reprint Fastbond in the Masters Edition, I will – something. I probably should not say. It could happen. It would be a mistake, but so was Umezawa’s Jitte.
Crucible of Worlds is quite busted with practically anything – especially cards that let you play extra lands each turn. Zuran Orb is a nice addition to such decks – but it will be other cards that would drive such decks. Online, I’m not sure that the cards to make such decks competitive exist. You could certainly make them annoying – competitive is another question. 
Zuran Orb in Competitive Online Play
I don’t play competitive Prismatic online. I don’t have the cards. However, I do play 5color – the paper equivalent – and am on the 5color rules council, so I know something about the format. I also play Prismatic Singleton.
I expect that Wizards will take a careful look at Prismatic, and may ban additional cards in either September or December, because the Masters Edition should have a huge impact on the format. Knowing only about two dozen of the 180 Master Series cards, I really don’t know what to expect. 
The biggest question is whether Tolaria West will be banned. Assuming that Tolaria West is not banned, I see practically every Prismatic deck running at least a singleton copy of Zuran Orb as a tutor target.  In control decks, Zuran Orb will do what Zuran Orb has always done – stick another nail in the coffin of aggro decks. In aggro, however, where decks are designed to run on almost no mana, Zuran Orb can convert extra land into life – and without cost. That might make it better in the aggro mirror than things like Stormbind or Wild Mongrel
Zuran Orb will make another card better: Sylvan Library. Sylvan Library is another Masters card, and it lets you draw additional cards for 4 life. That’s harsh, but if one of those cards is a land, you can play it and sacrifice it to Zuran Orb. Now you are paying one life to pull lands out of your deck. That’s very reasonable. Sylvan Library and Zuran Orb were a preferred combo back in the days before fetchlands – with fetchlands, Sylvan Library is busted. Sylvan Library is clearly playable in controlling Primsatic decks. Thanks to Zuran Orb, it may even make the cut when shrinking down to sixty card decks.
Shrinking down to sixty moves us into the Classic format. Classic is going to get a huge boost from the Master Series. Some decks will stay the same – others will change drastically.
The Hulk Flash combo decks will stay roughly the same. I have not seen anything that will change that – but Zuran Orb may help fight it.   The Hulk Flash decks I have seen kill Disciple of the Vault and up to six artifact creatures. If all the artifact creatures die, that means that Disciples trigger 24 times – losing 24 life. If you could sacrifice just two lands to Zuran Orb, you would survive. (Of course, you have to then kill the Disciples, but at least you could gain another turn to make that happen.)
The current Flash-killer seems to be UBW Fish. Here’s a version:
Blade's UWB Fish 
Flooded Strand
Godless Shrine
Polluted Delta
Watery Grave
Hallowed Fountain

Dark Confidant
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
Meddling Mage
Jotun GruntSerra Avenger

4 Brainstorm
Mana Leak
Swords to Plowshares
Umezawa's Jitte
4  Spell Snare
Could Zuran Orb fit in that deck? It would certainly help out with Dark Confidant: it would be a zero to reveal and would keep Bob from killing you. However, I’m not sure what you would want to cut, or that the deck has any lands to spare to fuel Zuran Orb.
However, I could see another deck appearing: a reworking of old three color fattie Geddon decks of old. What about something like this?
4  Tarmogoyf
Birds of Paradise/Edge of Autumn ???
4  Dark Confidant
True Believer
Isamaru, Hound of KondaJotun Grunt

4  Chrome Mox

4  Swords to Plowshares
4  Armageddon
2 Zuran Orb
I have no idea if that works or not – it’s just off the top of my head.   I could also see a UW version with Meddling Mage and Force of Will – which is also returning. 
However, I can easily see a deck playing mana acceleration and Armageddon in the coming format – and such a deck would be happy to control a Zuran Orb when Armageddon is cast.
Zuran Orb. Coming to Classic in …
/me counts on fingers
One, two, three -
In too many week. 
To quote Inigo Montoya, “I hate waiting.”
“one million words” on MTGO


by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sun, 08/12/2007 - 23:22
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

You gain 2 life when you sac a land to the Zuran Orb.  Not 3.  But it's still a great card...


Whoops by mtgotraders at Sun, 08/12/2007 - 23:38
mtgotraders's picture

Whoops forgot to edit that when I read over it.  Thanks!

by JXClaytor at Sun, 08/12/2007 - 23:40
JXClaytor's picture

I think it is really cool that the site got to do a preview card.  I'm even jealous that I did not get to write about it, but Pete did a great job.  :) 

I really like the idea of ME on MTGO, it lets me play with cards that I was a total nublet with when I started to play. 

by Outlaw1 at Sun, 08/12/2007 - 23:54
Outlaw1's picture

As always, another great article. Very cool that we get to preview a card!

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 08/13/2007 - 01:39
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

i love that you put The Deck decklist. whole article was a nice read.