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Discussing Zendikar: Black and Green

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About Joel Calafell

Joel Calafell
Joel Calafell

Joel is a level 6 pro player from Spain who helped develop well-known combo decks such as Cephalid Breakfast or the recent Cascade Swans, he loves playing almost every format and has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • Top 8 Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur
  • Winner Grand Prix Barcelona
  • Three Grand Prix Top 8
  • 65 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Level 6 Pro Players Club member

About Yann Massicard

Yann Massicard
Yann Massicard

Yann is a level 5 Magic pro player from France who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • Winner Grand Prix Seattle 2009
  • 47 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Level 5 Pro Players Club member
  • Top 16 Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • Top 24 Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur 2008
  • Top 16 Grand Prix Strasbourg 2007

Discussing Zendikar: Black and Green

Yann: Let’s start with Green! This is my pick order so far!

  1. Baloth Woodcrasher
  2. Grazing Gladehart
  3. Nissa's Chosen
  4. River Boa
  5. Oran-Rief Survivalist
  6. Turntimber Basilisk
  7. Harrow
  8. Territorial Baloth
  9. Baloth Cage Trap
  10. Mold Shambler
  11. Greenweaver Druid
  12. Oran-Rief Recluse
  13. Timbermaw Larva
  14. Vines of Vastwood
  15. Quest for the Gemblades
  16. Savage Silhouette

Joel: Ok, here’s mine!

  1. Baloth Woodcrasher
  2. River Boa
  3. Grazing Gladehart
  4. Turntimber Basilisk
  5. Oran-Rief Survivalist
  6. Nissa’s Chosen
  7. Harrow
  8. Vines of Vastwood
  9. Territorial Baloth
  10. Baloth Cage Trap
  11. Mold Shambler
  12. Oran-Rief Recluse
  13. Timbermaw Larva
  14. Greenweaver Druid
  15. Quest for the Gemblades
  16. Savage Silhouette

Yann: So when looking at your list one thing that stands out is: Why do you have River Boa over Grazing Gladehart?

Joel: I think River Boa is one of the best two-mana drops in the format and green decks really need to fill this spot in their curve. Plus I like it, because it can be both good on defense and on offense, which fits nicely for a first pick, when you don't know yet how aggressive your deck will be!

Yann: Well, I agree that early drops are essential in this format, but Green lacks aggressive three and four mana drops, removal spells to let your two mana creatures attack and evasion. This means that you often have to wait for your big guys to win the game and Grazing Gladehart gets you the time you need. I guess I underrated River Boa though, as it costs just one Green compared to Nissa's Chosen, so it might be slightly better after all.

Joel: Maybe it's because when I draft Green, I don't really like to draft very slow decks with a lot of big guys, because I think the format is so fast that you don’t really want to wait too long for your deck to get active. So cards like River Boa are golden when you try to have a fast deck with some reach and it fits nicely into the fast red-green versions. When I draft those decks the "I need time to play my big guys" equation doesn’t really work for me that way.

Yann: Anyway, you just talked about two mana drops being important, why do you pick Turntimber Basilisk so high?

Joel: It's true that I love 2 drops! And indeed I love Nissa's Chosen, but there are two things to consider:

  1. The Basilisk is very good and the kind of card Green always needed: It’s like removal on a stick and not to say if you manage to get something like Harrow to go with it. Plus being able to kill your opponent's best creature has been very important for me every time.
  2. Nissa's Chosen is a card I feel is very underrated, so it's not really a green signal for most people. Thus, I'm not willing to pick it that high anyway, because I know I will get it passed later on. I guess that also explains why I value Oran-Rief Survivalist, ally potential aside, higher than Nissa's Chosen (Don’t forget it also costs 1G and not GG).

Yann: Ok! I really like the Basilisk too, but I guess I haven't drafted Green often enough yet to value it correctly. I just remember that every time I went Green…, well I lost a lot, but I also wanted to be heavily Green and splash some removal spells. Let's say that the order varies depending on how heavily you are committed to Green. Timbermaw Larva just sucks if you don't play a lot of Forests, for instance. I also think that Oran-Rief Survivalist can be picked over Nissa's Chosen in the first pack, but later on if you have no Allies, I'm not sure I would pass the 2/3.

Which colors do you like to pair with Green?

Joel: I like it with Red and Black. I can't win with GW or UG, but I think I pretty much only want to go GR when committed to Green. I mean, GB looks always good on paper, but it’s never really exciting when you actually get to play with the deck. The only good GB decks I've seen include multiple Nimana Sell-Swords and Oran-Rief Survivalists, along with a lot of black removal. So I'd basically say: The less Green your deck has, the better it is! Isn't that ironic?

Yann: I guess we both agree about Green being the worst color so far. It can be good but you really want to be the only one at the table drafting it.

Joel: Yeah, I agree, you don’t want to be Green at all! And if you are, just try to go mostly with your second color and fill the deck with top green commons or some early green drops, like Oran-Rief Survivalist or solid creatures like Mold Shambler.

Ok… so...oh, wait, wait. Vines of the Vastwood on 14th?

Yann: Well I just prefer to have creatures to put pressure on the opponent or at least block with them. In this format Green has the biggest guys already as decks tend to run small creatures, which means a pump spell isn't that important, though you always need some in green decks in general.

Joel: That’s right, pump spells are like Green’s removal, even if they are not that important. But what I find more interesting than the pump effect is the “shroud” effect. Sometimes it’s devastating to “counter” a removal spell for just one green mana that just that alone makes it worth it. Plus you can also target your opponent’s creatures! Which even if it’s something that looks narrow, sometimes might be very useful (I have already countered Gigantiform, Celestial Mantle and Rife of Replication with it!). But I agree with pump spells not being that important in this format after all. Still, I I like it better than the big guys and some creatures like Mold Shambler or Timbermaw Larva.

Yann: I mean, the card is good, but it's just not 1st pick material! Maybe it is better than Timbermaw Larva, but I really like Mold Shambler! So it would depend on my curve and needs…

Joel: Ok, I think that’s pretty much it, then.

Now let’s continue with Black!

Yann: Sure!

Joel: Ok, hmm…, I think this would be my pick order. But I’m still not 100% sure.

  1. Vampire Nighthawk
  2. Marsh Casualties
  3. Hideous End
  4. Disfigure
  5. Gatekeeper of Malakir
  6. Surrakar Marauder
  7. Vampire Hexmage
  8. Vampire Lacerator
  9. Quest for the Gravelord
  10. Crypt Ripper
  11. Nimana-Sell Sword
  12. Heartstabber Mosquito
  13. Giant Scorpion
  14. Guul Draz Vampire
  15. Blood Seeker
  16. Hagra Crocodile

Yann: That’s nice! I think we both agree on the first 4 picks! Take a look:

  1. Vampire Nighthawk
  2. Marsh Casualties
  3. Hideous End
  4. Disfigure
  5. Surrakar Marauder
  6. Vampire Lacerator
  7. Gatekeeper of Malakir
  8. Heartstabber Mosquito
  9. Giant Scorpion
  10. Vampire Hexmage
  11. Crypt Ripper
  12. Guul Draz Vampire
  13. Quest for the Gravelord
  14. Nimana-Sell Sword
  15. Blood Seeker
  16. Hagra Crocodile

Joel: I see we both agree on Hideous End over Disfigure, although I have seen people claiming that Disfigure might be better because the format is so fast and it costs only one Black (which makes it easier to splash), plus it can kill most of the creatures for a single mana. It seems like Black is more and more overdrafted, so the “non-black” part on Hideous End might actually be quite a downside…

What do you think about it?

Yann: Well, so far, I would never first pick Disfigure over Hideous End as I almost always draft my decks with a black base, and my black decks feature a lot of one drops and also two drops which cost two black mana, which always makes me play a lot of Swamps. Besides, the card is just more powerful, gets rid of any non-black blocker and the two extra damage is just a blessing when your goal is to get your opponent to 10 life as soon as possible.

Joel: Yes! I agree, the two extra damage is just too important, so I guess that makes Hideous End just better most of the time. By the way, I also think I like Gatekeeper of Malakir a lot, but I see you wouldn’t pick it that high. Maybe it’s just me, but everytime I see this guy and I pick it early, I’m never disappointed by it. It’s really, really good, probably the best creature you can play on turn three when playing an aggressive deck, and the fact that it costs BBB is usually not a problem, as I always end up with a very deep black base anyway, so I rarely play less than 10-11 Swamps in my B/x decks.

Yann: This time it really depends on how many Swamps you think you are going to run. Surrakar Marauder is always awesome, the best two mana drop for sure, while Gatekeeper of Malakir is definitely a three drop. Attacking with Intimidate for two all game long is really what you want, while forcing your opponent to sacrifice a 1/1 on turn 4 or 5, if you have a two color deck seems just inferior. To me, black decks want to deal a lot of damage, and that’s what Surrakar Marauder does; you will eventually get rid of annoying blockers either with removal or with evasion.

Joel: Maybe you are right on that one, but I still think that Gatekeeper of Malakir is very good and a strong signal to go into Black anyway. So sometimes I am tempted to just pick it…

Yann: Yeah, Gatekeeper of Malakir has also been awesome for me! And he can perhaps be better than Surrakar Marauder in a mono-black or almost mono-black deck, or if you are lacking removal spells and already have a lot of two mana drops, or if you tend to be more controlling.

Joel: I don’t know, I think it’s pretty close; both are really amazing, and I'd like to have as many copies of both as well, but then maybe as 1st pick Surrakar Marauder is better?

Yann: I think so.

Joel: But if you definitely know that black is open, you should take the Gatekeeper of Malakir, if you feel like you will get a lot of black cards and end up with a heavy black deck.

Yann: So far, I always go aggro with Black, so I think I would still stick to Surrakar Marauder! Anyway, you pick Vampire Hexmage over Vampire Lacerator…, is that because of Planeswalkers?!

Joel: What? I just found out Dark Depths is not in the format… Ok, seriously, I can see why would you disagree, but I like Vampire Hexmage so much in this format. It’s an amazing blocker and attacker, even better than Nissa’s Chosen is in Green and it trumps so many common attackers. Also, the fact that it messes up with counters on quests or allies makes it much more important than it seems, so it’s definitely a very solid and versatile creature.

Yann: But Vampire Lacerator

Joel: I mean Vampire Lacerator is amazing too! …Just not as impressive as Vampire Hexmage! Maybe my games were weird?

Yann: Wow, it’s just the opposite to me! Vampire Lacerator is the card you want four copies of in your deck to always have it on turn 1. On the play, it’s just insane, while I definitely disagree on Vampire Hexmage being a good attacker or blocker, as it blocks almost none of the best commons in Blue, White and Red, and becomes useless against Giant Scorpion, Oran-Rief Recluse or Kor Sanctifiers, just to name a few. Ok, Lacerator is also neutralized by the same dudes…, but at least it’s a one mana drop.

Joel: I guess if I see that I’m missing some one mana drops, I’d definitely go for the Vampire Lacerator, it’s just that I think that you really get what you pay for when playing Vampire Hexmage! I know it costs twice as much as Vampire Lacerator but it's really worth it!

Anyway, I recognize that the BB cost on it makes it a bit difficult to cast in some strategies, like GB, when you need to mix it up with cards like Turntimber Basilisk or Nissa’s Chosen, or in BW, when you play with Kazandu Blademaster, Kor Outfitters, Kor Aeronaut and so on. But I guess that’s why those strategies suck anyway! I mean you can’t even cast Ruinous Minotaur on turn three with the Vampire Hexmage when going BR! So maybe that’s really something to consider…

Yann: Yeah, what do you think about Heartstabber Mosquito. I think I overrated it a bit, as it should probably be in 11th or 12th. Still, Giant Scorpion is a card I like a lot, I can’t imagine it being below Heartstabber Mosquito or Crypt Ripper, can you?

Joel: I think Crypt Ripper, is just amazing in a heavy black aggro deck, and since Black is so deep, you will always end up playing lots of Swamps anyway. When comparing Heartstabber Mosquito with Giant Scorpion, it really depends on your kind of deck, but both are better in controlish strategies like UB. Giant Scorpion is not very impressive in BR aggro, for instance, nor is Heartstabber Mosquito, as I’m pretty sure many times you won’t even have the seven mana required to make it “good”.  So maybe you are right that Giant Scorpion is better on average, but just not better than Crypt Ripper!

Yann: Great! That makes sense!

Joel: And what about Quest for the Gravelord? Don’t you think the card is solid?

Yann: Yes, it has always been pretty good. I haven’t played it much so far, but I like it a lot. It's probably again better than Heartstabber Mosquito, sigh…Damn! Let’s put this Mosquito in 16th place, c’mon!

Joel: Yeah! Just go back to Sealed play, Mosquito…! Besides, I think Quest for the Gravelord is really good with just a few removal spells, and it doesn’t really matter at what point you activate it, because it’s always good. But if you somehow manage to activate it on the early turns..., you can pretty much win with it. That’s why it’s so sick in BR because you have so many removal spells!

Yann: I think we've said pretty much everything... anything you'd like to add?

Joel: Join us this Sunday when we talk about White, Red and Blue.

Yann: Thanks for reading! And thanks Joel for this interesting chat.

Joel: And thank you, Yann! Let's join another draft!

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