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Fertile Fields: A Battle for Zendikar Cycle Preview

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Remember me? I write about Pauper sometimes. Well, I’m back! And today, I have a suite of sweet cards to show you from Battle for Zendikar.

The last time we visited this gorgeous plane, Zendikar and Worldwake each gave us a cycle of spell lands. These cards reinforced the land theme while providing tiny, but sometimes meaningful, effects at common. I remember many a game in which I used a Soaring Seacliff in conjunction with Oran-Rief Recluse to kill something dead.

That’s a hard-working spider.

A return to Zendikar means that lands matter once again. We’ve seen awaken, we’ve seen enemy-colored creature lands, and we’ve seen the new duals. What else does this latest battlefield have to offer?

These lands are certainly something. If it were not for the Gates from Return to Ravnica block and the gain lands from Khans of Tarkir block, I would have pegged Battle for Zendikar as an ideal time to print common dual lands. Instead, those cards came early, and now we get these.

Khalni Garden
Awesome.

Reflect for a moment on the restrictions of these lands. They have to produce an effect that costs approximately 1 mana. At the same time, they cannot be countered by the vast majority of spells and have the kicker of putting a fresh land into play, advancing mana development. In Pauper, a format in which taking a turn off can often mean the difference, these new toys give decks the ability to develop their mana while also making forward progress. Bojuka Bog is a common inclusion in decks that can’t fetch it up simply as a low-cost way to blow up a graveyard while Khalni Garden often gums up the ground while doubling as Diabolic Edict insurance.

It’s important to recognize that Crop Rotation is legal in Pauper, which adds another dimension to these cards. At instant speed, they now represent actual tricks. In days gone by, when Infect was a player, Crop Rotation for Teetering Peaks for the win or Sejiri Steppe for the save were common sights. Now, well, it still gets a piece of the Urzatron just fine.

As for these lands . . . 

Looming Spires and Sandstone Bridge are reminiscent of Turntimber Grove, but better. They grant a line of combat-relevant text on top of the stat boost. Neither grants evasion or the damage burst of a Teetering Peaks. That does not mean they lack merit. Vigilance is an underrated ability in that it allows a deck to push through damage while also staying back on defense. There are certain matchups in Pauper that come down to trading damage, and a timely Sandstone Bridge may be able to wreck race math.

Crop Rotation
Looming Spires is interesting. The creatures in Pauper tend to be the same size, and this land lets your beater survive combat. Obviously better in conjunction with Crop Rotation, Looming Spires may find home in non-Goblins red decks that use Vault Skirge on the one.

These two are definitely up for consideration. I wonder aloud whether the abilities are enough to supplant Teetering Peaks as the damage land of choice. I will say that I am excited to put these in my aggressive Limited decks. Red and white seem to overlap on the beatdown, and these two should perform quite nicely in that archetype.

Skyline Cascade isn’t missing a line of text. Normally, when we see the “sleep” or “freeze” ability, it comes with the capability to tap the creature down. Here, we simply have a land that keeps a good creature down. So this card is less combat trick and more preemptive Fog. Again, we see a card that is quite good when it comes to the back and forth of combat. One of the better creatures in Pauper is Delver of Secrets, and that Wizard just happens to be blue. It is well within reason to see Skyline Cascade locking down an Insectile Aberration for a turn while helping to turn the tide of a damage race.

Skyline Cascade also looks better with Crop Rotation. The opportunity to send something to sleep on your opponent’s turn and then untapping with a fresh land can allow a deck to increase pressure while limiting interaction.

Currently, Gurmag Angler is all the rage, and Eldrazi Devastator may supplant Ulamog's Crusher due that unknowable entity’s trample. Skyline Cascade is a great way to keep one of these down and stave off death for a turn. Combine it with Kor Skyfisher or Dream Stalker, and you have a slow but reliable way to keep your life total up.

Mortuary Mire is a fascinating card. I am not a fan of Reclaim when it costs a full card—but as a land? You have my interest.

Who am I kidding? It’s a card that plays with the graveyard. Of course I’m interested.

Tortured Existence
Pauper is a format in which removal runs rampant. Creatures are the name of the game, and things are often heading to the graveyard. The ability to guarantee one on the next draw step may not seem to be much, but what happens when it’s exactly the creature you want?

In that way Mortuary Mire reminds me of creatures with dredge, only without the broken graveyard-filling part.

Consider a card like Tortured Existence. A powerful centerpiece this card often hits the skids when it is unable to draw the right creature. Instead, the deck can become choked on mana and slowly succumb to other potent strategies. Now with Mortuary Mire, it can make sure the best creature is sitting there right on top. I for one am excited to try to pair this new land with Tortured Existence and Grave Scrabbler. Something also tells me that the Simic to my Golgari Carlos Gutierrez will find a way to use this one to do something incredibly durdly in Commander.

Finally, we come to my favorite card in this cycle: Fertile Thicket. If formats are based upon the mana available, Pauper has a new potential foundation.

One of the things keeping two-colored aggressive decks and three-colored midrange decks from finding a spot in the metagame is their inability to develop a robust mana base. Pauper has an abundance of good lands—the Gates, the gain lands, and the bounce lands from original Ravnica block—but Fertile Thicket is something else entirely.

Putrid Leech
How good is a free scry 5? It’s pretty freaking good, right?

Is it that much worse if you have to take a basic land? In Pauper, probably not, as trying to maximize your threats means taking using slots that may have otherwise gone to lands.

What about having to put the other four on the bottom? This actually does not matter. Those cards could have been at the bottom already for all you care—you now have two lands and two colors of mana.

Suddenly, decks have to jump through far fewer hoops to hit key 2-drops. Putrid Leech and Qasali Pridemage now have a far lower chance of being stranded in your hand. Decks with more colors now have opportunities to craft greedier mana bases to help enable more powerful spells. Fertile Thicket does not solve every problem Pauper faces with regards to mana, but it certainly fights a good fight. The ability to ensure a land on turn two and go a distance to finding a second color is titanic.

And if the next five cards were just terrible, you can put them on the bottom.

That’s some serious action.

These cards provide an interesting layer to Pauper mana bases.

The last thing I am going to say about these lands is that the arts are absolutely gorgeous. The previous cycles felt cramped, but these lands really seem to have the space to breathe in the art box. I imagine they’ll look good in foil, especially when they find their way into Cubes.




Adam Styborski @the_stybs

Adam is the Content Manager for Gathering Magic. He's a casual player at heart and weekly columnist for MagicTheGathering.com. He also travels the country for Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage, and he shares his Pauper Cube everywhere.

I’m Adam Styborski, and I write about my Pauper Cube every now and then. One of the most exciting features about Battle for Zendikar was the possibility of getting “spell lands” again. While cards like Sejiri Steppe and Bojuka Bog have corner-case use in Modern and Commander, many players weren’t around the first time we got to meet them.

Spell lands are excellent for Pauper Cubes since they provide depth without sacrificing utility. The first waves of these lands were mixed in utility value. In Pauper Cubes, Bojuka Bog just doesn’t do much, and Piranha Marsh pinging just once is marginal at best for a land coming down tapped. It’s why, in my Cube, I include one of the Onslaught cycling lands Barren Moor: It fulfills the role of a common “spell land” for black decks.

The new wave here in Battle for Zendikar is significantly improved as a whole. Each one fulfills a clear role for an archetype in my Cube:

  • Sandstone Bridge pumps while keeping a potential blocker ready for the next turn, helping to gain tempo.
  • Skyline Cascade can keep something tapped for a turn, buying precious time against creatures that normally aren’t slowed by bounce spells.
  • Mortuary Mire is a free Reclaim of sorts, neatly filling in the self-mill theme for black.
  • Looming Spires pumps and grants first strike, either punching through damage or earning a chunk block rather than trade.
  • Fertile Thicket is the one I’m least excited about, but in G/U ramp decks or color-intensive decks, finding another Swamp or ensuring you hit a land next turn can be powerful. Keeping it to play on turn one in a two-land hand seems like a no-brainer.

Having lands with effects feels great to draft: It’s functionally a playable spell that takes the space of the appropriate basic land.


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