Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! Zendikar Rising spoiler season is in full swing, and tons of cards are being revealed each day. Old mechanics have been brought back, while new and out of the ordinary designs are being presented. We will be covering the known and the new as soon as each come out out, and taking a look at some of the most exciting cards that are calling everyone’s attention. Make sure not to miss “Part I – Planeswalkers”. Today, we have a “returning” element in the game: cards with two sides! But, is it really a return? Let’s find out:
New Dual Lands
Mark Rosewater (Magic’s Head Designer) told us a story before spoiler season began: around fifteen years ago, he created a type of dual land that he really liked, but was unable to include in any set. Until now. These lands represent the return of double faced cards, but with a key difference: we don’t get a front part that can transform into something else, but a card with two options. They still have a front side and a back, but you decide which one to use when playing them. It is something we have never seen before, and definitely expands the possibilities of game design to a whole new level.
These six new duals lands enter the battlefield untapped no matter what, and give you the option of choosing one color of mana or the other from the moment you play them. Once a side is chosen, that is the only color you will get from that land for the rest of the game (unless you manage to bounce the land back to your hand to replay it somehow, in which case you get to choose again). The mechanic may be new, but the idea seems to be quite simple to understand and friendly for players with any level of experience.
But what about their effectiveness? Well, let’s start by saying that they will work: you will get the color of mana you need, the turn you want it. Multicolored mana bases that don’t get crazy with requirements of double and triple color sources can use these without a problem and be happy with their untapped, restrictionless, damageless mana source.
The problem might arise when the color requirements become a little bit more intense: let’s say you are playing Selesnya Aggro, open a two land hand with a plains and a GW Dual, and need to curve out White one drop into bear into Basri Ket. If you had that extra third land, you would know which side to choose for your double-faced card, but you might get into a situation of needing to play the green side to cast your two drop, only to draw a forest afterwards. This scenario may intensify in decks like Temur Adventures, where ideally you have double green on turn 2, double blue on turn 3, and triple blue on turn 5.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a major problem and these lands will be played. You will need to craft and have them in your collection ready to fix your mana. Having said that, it is a clear downgrade from the shock lands. We also lose basic land types with these, which even though fetches aren’t a thing in Standard, sometimes is relevant for other effects (e.g. Nissa Who Shakes the World, which is rotating but cared about Forests).
Overall, I think it is a decent design that will let the format play out well. It is unclear why we are getting exactly six of the ten total combination of colors (in this case, both three allied pairs and three enemy pairs), but we have to assume that the four missing lands are coming in the near future. Not the most exciting duals we ever had, but it’s probably not an easy task to come up with amazing new concepts every time.
Modal Double-Faced Cards
There has always been this casual MTG format (that everyone has different names for) in which you can play any card as a land, or as the actual spell printed in it, as a way of mitigating the “mana problem” inherent in the game. Well, that noncompetitive ruling has become a reality and coming to Standard, with the debut of modal double faced cards (MDFCs). These are effectively cards with two alternatives that will ask you which side to play, but the option is a bit more interesting: a spell in the front, a land in the back.
For all the years the game has been around, we have had many tools at our disposal to try and reduce the impact that “mana flood” has: maybe in the form of a land with useful activated abilities, or keywords like “landfall” that let you get value out of your extra lands; maybe creatures that function as mana sinks, or things like the returned “kicker” that lets us save our two drop for later and get more value out of it.
These new ” MDFCs” might be the ultimate solution, being lands or spells, depending on what you need at the time. Sure, as a balancing factor, neither side is likely to be as efficient as if they were a single faced card (in the case of Pelakka Predation, a land that enter the battlefield tapped, and a discard spell that is a little bit overcosted for what it does), but it is in the enormous flexibility where I think these new cards will shine. See, it is a logical instinct to not be excited at first when you look at them. “why would I ever want this, both sides are unexciting”.
You might need to think of the different circumstances in which a card like these will cover your necessities: maybe in a single game, or a small sample of games, “Pelakka Predation” or “Pelakka Caverns” won’t be phenomenal, so as like any other land when you already have enough mana sources, or as any other spells when you are short on lands. When we start to consider that these card can adapt to each situation and be at least relevant for the game in much more cases in the long term,then I think we can start understanding their potential.
Some of the rules and interaction regarding this new type of cards will be interesting to discover, as spells that can be lands may open room for cool lines of play. Probably the most important thing to remember is that these cards count as lands ONLY when you play them as lands, and otherwise will be the type of spell that appears in the front. That means that you can’t put “Valakut Stoneforge” onto the battlefield with Uro, and means that the land drop you were planning to make next turn can be Duressed or Thoughtseized away, so be careful!
We will have to wait and see how much they push the boundaries of these new design, and how much versatility they are willing to apply to them, but overall I am very excited for where this is going. Let’s take a closer look at some of the revealed cards so far in this category:
Skyclave Cleric / Skyclave Colonnade: clear example of what we previously mentioned, a card which neither side will make you feel excited. A land entering the battlefield tapped, which might not be an issue in the first turns of the game but could represent missing casting a spell in a key turn, or a two mana creature that gains some life. Now, if we try to look at this from a different perspective, this is a land when you need it to be, and an early blocker against aggro decks. That is amazing. Playing a control deck, having your cards be relevant against slower decks (extra land drops), and efficient against fast strategies (any deck with one mana attackers will at least get slowed down by a 1/3 body that gains two life) is pretty good. Having a couple of this in the main of your Azorius Control deck means you get to effectively play sideboard cards for your Mono Red matchup in the maindeck.
Pelakka Predation / Pelakka Caverns: another card with two unexciting sides, that can adopt the role needed depending on the situation. This will be your land drop for the turn when you needed it to be, and a medium discard spell when you want it to. This one in particular might end up as sideboard material, as neither side is spectacular against fast strategies, but the fact that at worst it becomes a tapland, I think still gives it some potential. The flavor and art represented in the card are also phenomenal.
Valakut Awakening / Valakut Stoneforge: seems that this one in particular was strongly designed with the “good in either scenario” kind of mentality, being a land when you are short of mana sources, and removing your excess lands from your hand for fresh new cards when you are flooded. It even replaces itself, and doing so at instant speed doesn’t hurt. Again, two effects you are not thrilled to play, but that in conjunction might represent a solid choice for specific strategies.
Emeria’s Call / Emeria, Shattered Skyclave: now we are talking. NOW you are playing with POWER. You might again think that none of these sides look particularly great: paying three life to get a Plains? Seven mana for two angel tokens? Neither of these might be playable on their own. The best way to understand why you need to be excited is: think of it as a land that can be your win condition. As simple as that. If you are playing a control deck, or even a ramp deck with wrath effects and defensive Planeswalkers, you don’t need to dedicate slots in your 60 cards to something to close out the game, because your lands will. That is ridiculous.
Bala Ged Recovery / Bala Ged Sanctuary: phenomenal design here. Imagine having a card that can be your land drop for the turn or a three mana Regrowth later in the game. Well, you don’t need to imagine anymore! The fact that this one in particular belongs to the “weak” cycle of double faced cards (that is, for being an uncommon) is what excites me the most, because it is already a pretty solid choice for some constructed decks.
Umara Wizard / Umara Skyfalls: probably the least exciting of the group, as a 4/3 creature for five mana that could sometimes fly is nothing close to being relevant for a constructed deck. That won’t stop it being a high pick for limited though, as probably most of these cards will be. At least it’s a Wizard, and that counts for your party… Your “party”? Wait until Part III!