Zendikar Rising Spoiler Analysis Part Four: Landfall and Kicker
Landfall is an old mechanic from Magic’s past that has always been related to the plane of Zendikar, and was introduced for the first time in 2009 in the fiftieth MTG expansion, which first introduced that plane. The ability reappeared a year later in “Worldwake”, in 2015 with “Battle for Zendikar”, and now comes back after another five-year interval.
Every card with the Landfall keyword will trigger its effects any time a land enters the battlefield under its owner’s control – so not just for the turn’s natural land drop, but also for any other action or spell that makes a land come into play (Cultivate, Uro, etc). If a player controls multiple cards with Landfall, all of them will trigger at the same time, and it’s up to the player to organize the stack and make them resolve in the desired order.
From a theoretical perspective, the purpose of this ability would be to reduce the impact that mana flood has in the game. The idea is that extra lands will still give the player some form of card advantage, trying to keep up with an opponent that might have drawn less lands and more spells, and in limited formats like Draft or Sealed, it has worked out fine this way. It functions as a balancing mechanic that makes games healthier, offering added value in circumstances where those unnecessary extra lands would have meant losing the game. But in Constructed, the way deck building has approached Landfall deviates from all these premises.
Because of the much more aggressive and consistent nature of the format, constructed decks have not played landfall cards “in case they draw too many lands” as a way to mitigate mana flood, but as a win condition instead, trying to abusing their abilities. It has even worked the other way around, as decks sometimes play more lands to make sure they get those beneficial triggers:
This is a Modern Naya aggro zoo deck, that tries to exploit the landfall mechanic to close out games quickly. “Steppe Lynx” and “Plated Geopede” were both designed to transform land drops into damage, as both come into play early and convert lands played into damage. Still, Landfall is enabled less by the spells than by Modern’s mana bases. Traditional fetch lands work exceptionally well with this mechanic, as they provide two triggers per land played, letting you attack for four points of damage with your one drop, and for five with your two drop. That is a ratio of power/converted mana cost you won’t find anywhere else.
Note that these decks are playing more lands than they would otherwise for a mana curve this low: even though you are playing multiple cheap creatures and spells, most of them wont function properly if you miss your land drop for the turn. “Revolt” is another payoff for having all those fetch lands at your disposal.
Now, in Standard we won’t have the classic fetch lands at our disposal to abuse the mechanic, so we will have to get a bit more creative if we want to get extra value out of it. “Fabled Passage” is the only exception, a card that might go up in value dramatically, depending on how many decks want to exploit landfall. Doesn’t matter if that basic you are searching for comes into play tapped or untapped; the card will always ensure you get double the effect of your landfall cards for the turn, even letting you trigger the second one at instant speed! It is also worth mentioning that the new double-faced cards might be even better with landfall abilities in your deck, making them even more flexible than they already are. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting cards revealed so far (you can find a review of the new “Nissa of Shadowed Boughs” in Part I):
Originally a Mythic Rare, the green snake was first printed in the original Zendikar block back in 2009, and makes a comeback as a Rare this time around. As you can see, it’s a two drop that will give you extra mana of any color, assuming you are hitting those land drops. If we are getting one mana per turn with this, it won’t be anything special, but if our deck is built in such a way that it can make multiple lands come into play in a single main phase, then the cobra starts going nuts, being a two mana accelerant that produces multiple mana of any kind. Apart from obvious things like Uro or Cultivate, I wonder if we will get something else to get those triggers going…
…Here it is! Without context, this would only be a three mana ramp spell at instant speed that puts you up only one mana source, but in Zendikar Rising and with all the Landfall cards, this has the potential to be much more than that. You are getting effectively three land triggers in one turn (with your natural land drop plus the two basics you are getting), and those two extras can even be fetched up during your opponent’s turn. If there is a landfall deck, this may easily be the key piece that ties it all together. It’s interesting to note that a previous version of a similar spell called Harrow (also from the original Zendikar block) had two crucial differences: the old version put the basic lands into play untapped, being essentially a one mana ramp spell if you were able to immediately use the lands you were searching for. But, on the negative side, the land you were forced to sacrifice was part of the spell’s casting cost, meaning that if “Harrow” was countered, you still had your land go to the graveyard, whereas with Roiling Regrowth, the sacrifice effect is part of the resolution, meaning it won’t happen until the spell fully resolves.
Omnath, Locus of Creation
The big elemental lord keeps winning colors. Its original form was green, then conquered Red and became Gruul, acquired blue to become Temur, and now it’s incorporated white, to transform into an “Ink” creature (I only learnt this 4-colour combination name myself recently!). Assuming your deck can tap for this combination of colors on curve, you are getting four mana 4/4 that automatically draws a card, which is already a solid start. This means that if Omnath is removed after that and we don’t get to abuse its landfall abilities, it still replaced itself with a new card, so we are not risking much other than the tempo loss we could suffer. Now, if we get to untap with it, things can get out of control pretty quickly. Managed to save that Fabled Passage? You are getting four life and four extra mana, representing a jump all the way to NINE, more than enough to cast an Ultimatum, Ugin, or anything else capable of closing out the game on its own. The fact that it can also deal direct damage and kill Planeswalkers is mind-blowing, and a single “Roiling Regrowth” at sorcery speed will get you there. With the potential to take away the game by itself and still being a decent play when things don’t develop perfectly, I think Omnath is a card you should consider playing with at the beginning of this new Standard season.
Phylath, World Sculptor
There was a rumor going before spoiler season began, that “Avenger of Zendikar” was coming back. That ended up not being the case, and we ended up getting its younger Gruul brother instead. Still a 5/5, still making plants, still triggering with Landfall, but with some differences that make this version a bit weaker: plants will come into play only equal to the amount of basic lands you control, which sets an important deckbuilding restriction. I wouldn’t consider this creature decent in a deck if it is not producing at least four plant tokens on average. The other key distinction is that +1+1 counters are placed in groups of four for each land that comes into play, which in my opinion is worse than distributing equal amount of counters on all of your plants at the same time. Still, none of these aspects make this red/green monster a bad card, as it can still create an army all by itself, and it costs one less mana to come into play. A decent payoff for gruul ramp decks that can play many basic lands, but I’m not so sure a three color mana base can support as many basics as this will need, especially if you are planning to cast Uro in the same deck.
Moraug, Fury of Akoum
This minotaur has many people excited and for good reason. A decent sized creature that pumps your attacking team and can grant multiple additional combat phases can get really out of hand. My inclination is to think that it won’t see much play because of its restrictive mana cost, as not every deck can get to six mana while being the aggressor at the same time. Still, it’s interesting how you can play Moraug in your first main phase to pump your team, or you can attack first without letting your opponent know what is going to happen, then play the mythic rare in your second main phase and hit your land drop to get a surprise extra combat phase!
Kicker is also a mechanic brought back to life from Magic’s past, but this one has its roots many years before. Its first appearance can be found in the Invasion block, a set of three expansions called “Invasion”, “Planeshift” and “Apocalypse”, released in 2000/2001. It was then reutilized in the “Time Spiral” block in 2006, and made an appearance in every Zendikar block after that. The last time we played with the mechanic was in “Dominaria” just a couple of years ago.
This ability adds an extra, optional cost to a spell that can be chosen upon casting, and will grant additional effects. That supplemental cost can be extra mana as the most common case (keep in mind it doesn’t change the spell’s converted mana cost) or anything that any other spell could require for being cast, such as discarding cards or sacrificing creatures. When a spell is “kicked”, it will provide an added bonus that the regular version of the card did not have, increasing its power level and relevance in the late game. There is also a variant of this keyword called “Multikicker” that was introduced in “Worldwake” in 2010. It functions exactly the same as Kicker, but its added cost can be paid any amount of times, and the extra effect gets replicated for each time that cost was paid. We don’t know yet if this variation will be included in the new Zendikar, but it might reappear at some point.
Even though it’s a keyword that has been used and printed in many different ways, “Kicker” also brings a phenomenal balancing factor to the game: an intrinsic problem that games like Magic the Gathering have (or probably any other card game with a “mana cost system”) is that many of its pieces are only relevant in specific moments in a game, and very disappointing in all the others. You will probably be delighted to have your two mana creature in your opening hand, ready to be played on Turn 2, but might not be as excited when you top deck that same creature on Turn 7, as its relevance has dramatically decreased by that point. Something similar can happen with expensive cards: a great seven mana finisher can be amazing in the late game, allowing you to win the game all by itself, but can also be stuck in your hand doing nothing prior to that, and if you didn’t manage to survive that long then you would have wanted it to be something else.
With this concept in mind, we can think of “Kicker” as an ability that allows spells to adjust the impact they can have in to different circumstances, and makes them relevant in other points during the game. Not only that, but many times a spell with Kicker can present scenarios where the player hast to make more decisions: do I have to play this card in its regular form right now, or should I wait a few more turns to kick it and get full value out of it? Is it more important to get this creature now into play to not lose tempo on the board, or will I be able to skip casting it now and make full use of it later on? As with any other aspect of the game, anything that brings more questions and expands the decision-making process is a huge boost to gameplay, rewarding players for good choices and planning ahead.
Let’s take a look at some interesting cards revealed so far (you can find a review of the new “Jace, Mirror Mage” in Part I):
Sea Gate Stormcaller
Snapcaster Mage this is not, but that doesn’t mean we are not looking at a powerful card. This wizard is a perfect example of a spell that can adjust its effectiveness in different scenarios during a game. It can be an extra “Opt” for two mana (with a 2/1 body attached). It can be three “Lightning Strikes” in the ultra late turns, when you have tons of mana at your disposal and need something strong to finish off the game. It can even be a two power blocker on turn 2 if needed, or something to apply pressure to a planeswalker. Flexibility is this card’s best trait, but the fact that she only copies spells with converted mana cost two or less will define the type of decks that want her, and of course no “Flash” means counterspells do not synergize well here. Other than that, I think we are looking at a premier creature that will see tons of play during its Standard lifespan.
Another case of a card that can scale its efficiency depending on context, and can serve different purposes. If you are facing an aggro player and need not to die to the early creature rush, you can use its one mana mode. If you are playing against a slower, planeswalker-heavy deck, you can cast a four mana unconditional removal spell. Sure, sorcery speed might limit how good this ends up being, but you don’t need to take the risk of playing removal spells that might be amazing in some matchups and disastrous in others (Eliminate against a deck with no targets, Aether Gust against an Esper opponent) with cards like these. Even though it might be a bit slower and expensive, you are sacrificing power for consistency. When a specific Standard format develops and you know better what you will face, you can attack the metagame with more particular removal spells, but when the meta is diverse, flexibility is king.
Something tells me we are looking at a new Vintage Cube bomb here, as a 2/1 flyer that can permanently steal your Sol Ring or any piece of artifact ramp you play early on is a fantastic card for the format (still have to pay 1 mana to get that Mox though!). As for Standard of Historic, it will depend on the amount of artifacts being played and that will determine whether this is unplayable, a good sideboard card, or an amazing maindeck hate tech. The fact that it automatically attaches equipment is not irrelevant at all, as you can target your own Equipment with the ability to skip though potentially expensive costs.
The easiest way to analyze this card is to compare it with “Flame Sweep”, and I think we are getting a much better deal here. Sure, the old one asked only for 1 red source and you could build scenarios where your own creatures but in this case we might be able to adjust the spell to the turn and get a similar effect when one damage is enough to kill opposing threats while ours live). The fact that we can cast it as a two mana card if needed, or use the three mana version, makes it a better sideboard option in my opinion.
Inscription of Ruin
Choose one. If kicked, choose any number instead:
• Target opponent discards two cards from their hand.
• Return a creature with 2 or less cmc from your graveyard to the battlefield.
• Destroy target creature with 3 or less cmc.
As I am writing this, we haven’t yet seen the full inscription cycle, but by looking at the two already revealed, we can already tell it’s going to be a group of constructed playable cards, with what I find a very smart design. In this particular case, we get to choose from three different options, for which we end up paying a bit more of what we would like: three mana at sorcery speed to kill a creature of equal or less converted mana cost is not fantastic, bringing back a two drop from the graveyard will put us in mana disadvantage scenarios, and Mind Rotting our opponent is not amazing in many circumstances. However, if we take into account that it’s the same card and we can choose what we want, we can adjust it to the situation we are facing, and we shouldn’t forget the fact that a seven-mana option to do everything together is a really powerful option we have abvailable. Again, flexibility is what makes these cards great.
Thank you so much for reading and following these articles! Make sure to check out my other Zendikar spoiler impressions:
- Zendikar Rising Spoiler Analysis Part Three: Party!
- Zendikar Rising Spoiler Analysis Part One: The Three Planeswalkers
- Zendikar Rising Spoiler Analysis Part Two: Double-Faced Cards