elcome back to the laboratory, Magic players one and all! This week is an exciting one: The first week of Zendikar previews! On a personal level, I know my interest in the latest large fall expansion was piqued early on, way back when I saw the Arcana that announced it. "Deadly Perils, Priceless Treasures" was (and is) the set's tagline. I was quickly intrigued at the adventurous spirit behind the line, and the cool diamond-shaped expansion symbol helped.
Later those mysterious diamonds—called "hedrons," I'm told—appeared on some of the first Zendikar cards revealed in full form. These cards are the long-awaited (if you're part of a Johnny-Vorthos playgroup like I am) full-art basic lands. What these "hedrons" are remains a puzzle, but the art for these lands revealed a plane of many wonders, such as, oh, levitating bucket-shaped rocks full of water, or perhaps a looping spiral of craggy mountain.
The whole feeling of the set began to feel like a strange Magic-tinted Indiana Jones movie, which is great because I love me some Raiders of the Lost Ark. For one, based on Quest for Ancient Secrets and the nifty Soul Stair Expedition, there are many quests to undertake in Zendikar. For two, Trap appears as a subtype on Zendikar instants, which is appropriate because Indy fell into a lot of traps in his three-movie run. (Yep, I said three-movie run. Let's just say I hope Skull of Ramos isn't reprinted.)
Apart from these adventuring antics, some other sub-themes have made themselves heard in this preview week so far. Kicker has made its return in Zendikar, and with a swifter, sleeker template to boot. (Get it? Boot? All right, I'm done.) Kor Sanctifiers and Gatekeeper of Malakir (previewed in Savor the Flavor yesterday) so far represent this spectrum of cards.
Finally, and probably most significantly, Zendikar has made topdecking a land more fun than ever! How? With landfall, the new ability word, of course! Rampaging Baloths seems nuts, and Ob-Nixilis the Fallen perhaps equally nuts. Not to mention the vast spread of nonbasic lands officially spoiled so far, from the burn-happy Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to the exciting enemy-colored fetch lands.
Which brings me to my preview card today. Crypt of Agadeem is another interesting nonbasic land from Zendikar. Even the name sounds like a relic-laden place for Indiana to explore. He'd better not hope to defeat any bad guys within it though: The more corpses in this Crypt, the scarier it can become ... for your opponent. Click here to enter the Crypt.
Cool, eh? With a loaded graveyard, this Crypt can get quite out of control. It reminds me a lot of Cabal Coffers, which also required two colorless mana to activate for a potentially giant sum of black mana. Where the Crypt differs from the Coffers is that it also has a normal ": Add to your mana pool," option. Also, where the Coffers was concerned, running more than two or three was a shaky prospect, since it relies on Swamps. Since the Crypt relies on your graveyard, we can run a full four without feeling too much at risk of mana woes.
So what synergies exist with Crypt of Agadeem? Let's walk through some cards that work well with the Crypt.
Black creatures that hit the graveyard from the battlefield quickly:
Shriekmaw comes to mind as a more than solid bit of creature removal. Any creature that has a sacrifice trigger upon entering play, such as Fleshbag Marauder (ooh, more removal!), is good, as is Bone Shredder (and more!), which can be sacrificed during your upkeep for free. I particularly like one of my favorite cards here, Prowling Pangolin. Either you get a 6/5 for five mana, or you basically play Barter in Blood. Since you're running Crypt of Agadeem, any sacrificing you do will help you in the long run.
Black creatures that hit the graveyard from your hand: There are a couple of mechanics that let you do this. Transmute is one. Dimir House Guard and Netherborn Phalanx can search for various things while powering up the Crypt. Channel is another. Not only does Ghost-Lit Stalker have channel, but while in play it's expensive to keep activating it. Crypt can solve that. Grandeur is a third. Korlash, Heir to Blackblade seems like the perfect creature to play in a Crypt of Agadeem deck. It can get giant, it discards copies of itself, and it ups your general mana base. The big fourth one is cycling. Any black creature with cycling (some standouts are Twisted Abomination, Undead Gladiator, and Scion of Darkness) will work. Faerie Macabre is an odd duck here, but since it says "up to," you don't have to exile any cards at all (if your opponent's graveyard was empty, say.)
Black creatures that fill your graveyard somehow: Dredge comes to mind. Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug seem like good bets. Creatures that can discard cards from your hand seem good as well, provided those cards are black creatures. Oona's Prowler and Skirk Ridge Exhumer are the kinds of creatures I'm talking about. For similar creatures that can take advantage of gobs of black mana, Cackling Witch and Rakdos Guildmage should fit the bill. This leads into our final category ....
Black creatures that love gobs of black mana: I like the word "gob." But I digress. Maga, Traitor to Mortals is a black creature that likes its value to be high ... just ask Heartbeat of Spring. Oona, Queen of the Fae is a game ender with an activated ability that's sweet when you're milling someone for 10. Stronghold Overseer can play elite offense or defense with the simultaneous self-pumping and enemy-neutralizing ability. Among smaller creatures, Nantuko Shade, Stromgald Crusader, and Wicked Akuba are great alternatives to sink the mana into. Dipping into relatively lesser known cards, other fun creatures to do this with are Thrashing Wumpus and Unliving Psychopath.
Of course, this is just looking among black creatures. But wait, why would I look elsewhere when Crypt of Agadeem specifies black creatures in the first place? This is just a thought, but Painter's Servant can make all creatures, even Balshan Collaborator and Pardic Collaborator, black. (Hmm....) Making all cards one color also helps out Oona, Queen of the Fae, as it guarantees as many 1/1 Faerie Rogue tokens as cards milled.
My first deck today will be a deck based on one of the Magic 2010 marriages I discussed a couple weeks back: Painter's Servant + Vampire Nocturnus. This requires my creature base to be full of Vampires. I'll use some of the supporting cards I mentioned then here as well: Repentant Vampire and Celestial Purge. Stalking Bloodsucker seems like a good Vampire to pump Crypt mana into, as do Skeletal Vampire and Sengir Nosferatu. All these creatures are expensive anyway, so Crypt should help out. Vampire Hounds (a Vampire—check the Oracle text!) can get dredge creatures like Stinkweed Imp into your graveyard. Mindless Automaton is a workhorse here, discarding black creatures and keeping your hand full. Shields of Velis Vel is a handy spell that can either transform your creature horde into Vampires (for the Nocturnus to go crazy) and Bats (ditto for Skeletal Vampire!)
Vampires of Agadeem
If the Orb of Insight for Zendikar is any indication, there might be some new Vampires on the streets of the new set. If any seem like decent fits here, go ahead and add 'em!
Under My Umbra
Sometimes when I'm pondering over a juicy new rare that is flexible enough to appear in different riffs on the same idea (Crypt of Agadeem being the example here, obviously), I'll check out cards that rely on similar resources. A forgotten rare that I think would work well with the Crypt is Umbra Stalker. It's an expensive fat guy that is fueled by black mana symbols in the graveyard.
To help this deck development, I turned to (who else) creatures with lots of black mana symbols. Avatar of Discord can soften your opponent up while discarding some black cards. Promise of Power (used to fine effect in the last deck) shows up here as either a hand refueler or a Demon maker (or both!). Oona, Queen of the Fae was mentioned above as a good mana sink and black-symboled fattie. Stronghold Overseer also qualifies in the triple-black-symbol category and was mentioned. Volrath the Fallen has a discard outlet, and Scion of Darkness cycles early and is scary late.
All of these giant creatures lack one thing: trample. (Well, except the Scion.) Enter the Loxodon Warhammer! Hey, we've got to gain life and successfully beat face somehow! In an earlier version of this deck, I had the little used Oni Possession on my big old Umbra Stalker, with a Creakwood Liege manning my upkeep sacrifice. The Possession left, but the Liege stayed in the list.
I use a lot of creatures from my bag of tricks here, making this deck a more of a hodgepodge. Still, this gives you the opportunity to shape it into something you might like! My goal here was to use Crypt of Agadeem to hurl Umbra Stalker into play, but you might want to cut the Stalker and center on something like Volrath the Fallen instead. Whatever you choose, remember to activate those Crypts!
A Slew of Skull Symbols
Buckle up, soldier, as next week I will be previewing and undertaking a quest, copy? Until then, enjoy the first glimpses of Zendikar!