Renowned deck builder and Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz will tell you time and again that in order to build good decks, you must start with the mana. Look at the lands and mana creatures available, and then determine what kind of spells you want to play. Ultimately, your ability to play the game hinges on your mana development.
An easy enough concept, though one that was easy to forget with fetch/battle manabases. With rotation, there simple won't be much in the way of mana fixing.
With the release of Shadows over Innistrad we're going to have these and a full set of enters-the-battlefield-tapped duals, in addition to some scattered oddballs, like an ally land and a couple dragon ones. The dragon ones are interesting, though for the most part mana won't be exceptional going forward, barring additional fixing in Shadows.
Bad news on that front.
The name and number crunch doesn't leave enough lands for a full five card cycle. This could mean that we get the first part of an incomplete cycle, or it could mean that we just get a few utility lands.
Either way, we should be getting ready to play two-color decks where the allied pairs get eight duals and the enemy decks get 12---assuming you're willing to play those EtB tapped lands. You can fill out some slots with Evolving Wilds as well, though again, that's just more tapped lands.
One thing that I really want to know is whether we'll get another black-red land. As of now, I'm really excited about Rakdos Vampire Madness, though it's looking like the deck will have significant manabase frustrations. The deck has a couple relevant one-drops, some strong two-drops, great three-drops, and might be relegated to playing eight tapped lands.
The spells appear good enough to make a competitive deck even with awkward mana, but something that I'm looking out for is whether one or two decks will get an extra dual land. For example, a vampire land along the lines of Gilt-Leaf Palace would go a huge way in making this deck exceptional.
If you invested in Drana like I advocated last week then you're already able to buylist copies for more than you spent on them, though the future of the card's price is contingent on success. I think Drana is a strong hold with such a land, and is possibly a sell without.
In the meantime, investment in the existing Standard lands, while a good idea before, is now a more pressing matter. Many players were expecting something better in Shadows, and it's looking like that's not happening. While it's entirely possible that more mono-colored decks take off, there looks to be a plenty of cross-colored synergies and strong gold cards to keep players in two-color decks.
This isn't Theros---we don't have spells that offer incentive to play one color or lands like Mutavault and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. There are some solid utility lands, but I still want to play Gideon and I don't want to play mono-white.
The long and short of the above is that if you don't buy lands now, you will pay more for them later. If you pick the color pairs that end up seeing the most play, then you stand to make solid gains off of these lands.
Shivan Reef has been creeping up, though no similar gains have been made on Wandering Fumarole---easily the best creature land currently in Standard, and in a color pair that gives you access to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound and Chandra, Flamecaller. The card can be had for $2-3 for now; I expect to see it hit $8-10 in relatively short order.
A card that I'm more interested in now that we know that mana will be a little rough is Oath of Nissa. I maintain that Nissa plus Gideon is a winning curve, and Oath of Nissa helps you curve GG into WW on three to four despite a somewhat weak manabase. In a perfect world, I'd like to curve this into Chandra, Flamecaller. That might not be possible, but if it is, Oath of Nissa definitely helps make it so, and you probably just want it even in a straight Selesnya deck.
The buy price is about $2 right now, and this card has all the makings of a $5+ Standard staple. Nissa into the new red-green planeswalker, Arlinn Kord, is comparably exciting. That fits in a shell that easily supports Chandra, and wants Nissa's Oath just the same.
As far as Shadows spoilers go, there is a ton of hype around this set. There are cards that I would pay the pre-order price for to play, though there's nothing that really jumps out as a sleeper. There is one card that I'm watching though, and it could end up being quite good:
On its face, this card is looking for spirits to protect, and right now your only playable option is Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. A WW spell in a format with bad mana. I'm not too keen on a spirit deck just yet. What I am more interested in, is a flash deck.
Pepper in some counterspells and a bounce spell or two, and you got yourself a stew going! That's a lot of flash creatures, many of which have evasion, which makes dealing with opposing planeswalkers trivial in many situations. Not to mention that with the proper tempo support and a little luck with Collected Company a Simic flash deck could present a real clock.
There's still a lot to see out of Shadows, though with enemy mana being better than allied mana and Collected Company still being in Standard this could be a great deck.
And maybe the Anafenza thing isn't necessarily great, but an Azorius shell with some flash creatures isn't out of the question either. Flashing in a blocker makes flipping Avacyn rather simple, after all.
In sum, mana is bad, if you went deep on Drana lock in some value now, buy lands now, Avacyn is the best, and I'm still looking for sleepers. Watch for spirits, watch for lands.
Thanks for reading.
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