It's spoiler season once again and the Battle for Zendikar previews are trickling in. While there are many interesting cards for Limited and Standard that are coming out of the woodwork, what about for Modern? Thanks to the Eldrazi theme, Battle for Zendikar has a lot of high cost spells and creatures. As I'll talk about later, that's fine for Tron but not as good for everyone else. As long as Splinter Twin exists, Modern will be a turn four format and many of the splashy cards from Battle for Zendikar do not have enough impact to justify their higher mana costs. With that said, there are a few major cards that look to shake up the Modern landscape and certainly the Modern mana base.
It's Good to Have Lands
The first major set of cards that will almost certainly have an impact in Modern post Battle for Zendikar are the manlands, of which two have already been spoiled with the expectation of a third. The first land spoiled was Lumbering Falls, which becomes a 3/3 blue and green hexproof elemental for 2GU. This card has major potential in decks like Temur Twin and Scapeshift where having a creature the opponent cannot interact with that also fixes two colors is outstanding. This should card help push the Tarmo-Twin deck further into prominence by helping against BGx decks that posed major problems in the past. Falls also makes the green splash easier to facilitate. While I do not believe that Temur Twin in its current iteration is a tier 1 deck, the addition of manlands could help push it over the top by blanking the removal of decks like Grixis and BGx. Tarmo-Twin had problems getting threats through black removal previously and the addition of a color fixer that attacks through removal might be all it takes to move up the rankings.
Falls is also strong in Scapeshift, where a 3/3 hexproof is huge. The manland can safely knock opponents from 20 to 17, which is below the 18 life threshold associated with a typical Scapeshift combo. Lumbering Falls also threatens to block smaller creatures to slow down the game against more aggressive opponents without risking an opponent's removal becoming a one-mana Stone Rain.
The next manland is not as exciting as Lumbering Falls, as it lacks both Falls' protection or the durability of the original Zendikar standout Celestial Colonnade. Shambling Vent is a black and white manland which becomes a 2/3 lifelink creature for 1WB. The card looks okay for decks like BW Tokens or the older BW Pack Rat/Deadguy Ale deck that lost some ground in the past months, but in decks like BGx where it really wants to shine it does not compare well to Stirring Wildwood. That is a real issue. While I could see one Treetop Village becoming a Shambling Vent, the fact that Vent dies to Lightning Bolt is a problem. Vent also has a relatively lackluster ability compared to trample or reach, both of which help close some of BGx’s weaknesses (unlike lifelink). The lifelink is not irrelevant against Burn, but Vent itself is a little slow and low impact against that deck. This all makes me question its inclusion in my Abzan lists. Besides, the BG manland is still unknown and would probably be preferable in BGx. Tokens might play Vent if they really need mana fixing or maindeck lifegain but that seems unlikely. In my eyes, Vent is a niche card that whose power is unclear until we see the BG manland. Overall, I think there is very little chance Shambling Vents makes as big a splash as Lumbering Falls.
The Battle Lands
The next big cycle of lands that have the potential to make a big difference are the Battle Lands (or whatever you are calling them until we decide on a name), which are fetchable dual lands that enter untapped if you control two or more basic lands. These lands are going to make a splash in two colors decks that want to splash a third color for sideboard cards or value cards without making their mana more painful. Unlike the shocklands, Prairie Stream and company do not force you to start at 17 life, but they also do not allow you to use them for mana right away before turn three. These are probably not as powerful as the shocklands but will definitely see play as a way to improve Burn matchups while still maximizing the value of your fetchlands. Some places where I expect these lands to excel are in decks like Grixis Twin, which only splashes a few black cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Terminate and already plays a good amount of basics. Another deck that is on the rise that gets some love from this cycle is UW Ojatai Control, such as Nathan Holiday's list at GP Oklahoma City or Jessy Hefner's 6th place list from the SCG Open in Cincinnati. The deck tends to let its shocklands enter tapped anyway so the drawback is not too severe. The deck also runs plenty of basics. UW Titan, Michael Segal's 13th place deck from the Charlotte SCG Open, will be a natural home for Prairie Stream since that deck is always looking for ways to turn on Emeria, the Sky Ruin. It will take more work to make the Battle Lands work, but for some decks the payoff may be worth it.
One of the biggest problems with these lands is that decks playing several one-drops will not want them. BGx has no use for another land that cannot play a turn one Thoughtseize or Noble Hierarch. Burn and other aggro decks will not play a land that prevents them from making plays on curve. The Battle Lands will be limited to slower midrange decks. I personally like these lands, but they will not be more than two-ofs in most lists. Next set, if the rest of this cycle is finished, look forward to decks like classic BG Rock and UR Twin gaining more lands that can tap for both of their colors while reducing some pain in their manabase. This should elevate these decks' popularity closer to that of their three color cousins.
Grand Prix Oklahoma City introduced many players to a spicy modern deck that has been on Magic Online for some time, a deck that has a lot of potential moving into Battle for Zendikar. The deck is Allies and with the printing of Ally Encampment, the deck can color-fix and cheaply protect key allies from removal without using deck space. The current Allies deck had a good showing at the Grand Prix with a Day 2 appearance in the hands of Stephen Perigo. With the addition of many allies from Battle for Zendikar and this new five-color land the deck stands to gain even more power. If the allies in Battle for Zendikar can bolster the deck, it could potentially take the format by surprise in the same way Collected Company Elves did at Grand Prix Charlotte. While I am not sure if the deck can thrive even with these new additions (most of the allies we've seen so far are a little slow and clunky), it is certainly one of the decks to keep in mind while testing for Grand Prix Pittsburg in November and moving forward in the Modern meta.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Tron looks to be the big winner for Battle for Zendikar: a block full of giant colorless monsters has got to provide something for the ramping menace. Whether or not there's something to replace the current slate of haymakers is not known, but we have seen a few cards that will heavily impact Tron, for good or bad. So far, the biggest new standouts are Titan’s Presence and Crumble to Dust. The biggest reprint, largely from a price standpoint, is Sylvan Scrying. Titan’s Presence is a colorless instant for three that allows a player to reveal a colorless creature and exile a creature with power less than or equal to the revealed creature’s power. The fact that this card is an instant really propels it into the realm of playability for Tron as it can answer Splinter Twin decks without a Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere, or Grove of the Burnwillows. I quite like this card since it is also very good in the mirror and can answer nearly any threat including a Primeval Titan from Amulet Bloom if you have a Wurmcoil Engine. The only major issue I foresee with this card is that it does require a creature, but the upside is there if you can find a Wurmcoil Engine or one of your Eldrazi. It is also possible that some of the new Eldrazi may find a home in Tron, making hitting with Presence more likely. I suspect this card will show up as a two of or three of maindeck and maybe in the board depending on the Splinter Twin density after Battle for Zendikar hits tournaments.
I am just going to mention Sylvan Scrying as it is already a Modern Tron staple, but it is worth picking up your copies now. Since Scrying is an uncommon, getting a set for Tron or other decks in the future is a worthwhile proposition while the card is in Standard. Tron has gotten a useful tool in Titan’s Presence that means access to Sylvan Scrying will be important for anyone convinced to move towards the big-mana decks after gaining an answer to the terrible Twin matchup. As I said Tron is sure to get a boost from Titan's Presence if nothing else, and nothing else seems unlikely, so you should pick up your staples before demand increases. Tron might get more monsters as the block evolves, so if you think you might want to play Tron in the near future, get your Scryings now.
Now that I have covered the cards that boost Tron, lets talk about one that looks to answer Tron and other land based combo decks like Amulet Bloom and Scapeshift: Crumble to Dust. This is a functional reprint of Sowing Saltwith two differences. The first, a minor one, is that Sowing Salt is red whereas Crumble to Dust is colorless. I do not expect will have a major impact on the playability of this spell. However, the second difference between Crumble and Sowing Salt is much bigger. Crumble is 3R to cast rather than Sowing Salt’s 2RR. This difference in casting cost is huge, allowing decks that did not want to invest so heavily into red like Jund to keep their best answer to Tron in the sideboard without too much pressure on an already stretched manabase. This should find its way into Grixis variants, especially Grixis Control, to combat Tron. The card is also strong against Scapeshift, which returned to form at Grand Prix Oklahoma City this past weekend with a Top 32 and a Top 8 showing. This card looks like it has a place in almost every sideboard that needs help against Tron or land based combo decks. I expect that Sowing Salt will almost entirely fall out of favor for this card and any deck running red that struggles versus big mana decks should look to acquire one to two copies.
Using Lands for Fun and Profit
So having looked at what is being gained, what might a post-Battle for Zendikar Modern deck look like? By taking Matthew Duggan’s Scapeshift deck from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Oklahoma City and changing the mana slightly we get a glimpse. The manlands add an extra angle of attack for control matches where comboing off is often difficult. The deck also gained Crumble to Dust for the sideboard replacing two Sowing Salts to combat Tron, which is a tough matchup given Karn can exile lands and they deploy big threats as early as turn three:
In addition to the manland and a sideboard upgrade, this deck gets to cut down on the number of shocklands it has to run as the new Battle Lands count as mountains for Valakut while not costing life in a deck that frequently will have two or more basics as early as turn three or four. This change allows players to still fetch for untapped GR sources while having the option of sequencing lands to take less damage and still have untapped GR sources later into the game. The deck utilizes both types of new lands especially efficiently since they help with the deck’s main win condition. In addition, post-BFZ Scapeshift also gains a valuable sideboard card that takes stress off a manabase that was trying to cast Sowing Saltand Cryptic Command in the same deck. I think Scapeshift gains the most from Battle for Zendikar so far and I would look to pick up some Scapeshift pieces before they increase in price, especially with the solid performance from Matthew this weekend.
The biggest addition Battle for Zendikar brings to Modern is more lands that can have impact on how you craft your mana base and supplemental manlands in colors that were short a recurring mana dump. There are many other noteworthy cards in Battle for Zendikar, but so far they all fall under the issue of mana cost verses impact in a format where Thoughtseize, Lightning Bolt, and Splinter Twin all see play. Crumble to Dust certainly has impressed as a flexible sideboard option for any deck running red without putting too much stress on manabases, as has Titan's Presence. Until we have more spoilers, I would say the card I most recommend picking up out of either cycle of lands is the Lumbering Falls as it is the most impressive and is very useful in decks that had been declining prior to GP Oklahoma City and could use a boost.
As more previews role in we are certain to see more cards with Modern potential. Are there any I missed? How do you think Battle for Zendikar will impact Modern? See you in the comments!