Dominaria leaks are well underway, and one recent card that's grabbed my attention is Zhalfirin Void. Unlike the clunky and frivolous Karn, Scion of Urza, Void looks to be a snap-include for Colorless Eldrazi Stompy in some number. We do have a few things to consider before sleeving it up, though: what the card does for us, the opportunity cost of inclusion, and how many to run.
My Worcester Classic win with Colorless Eldrazi Stompy has bought the deck significant air time on popular Modern channels. With great air time comes great misunderstanding, and I've watched pros and Modern dabblers alike experiment with misguided technology "upgrades" to the deck like Cavern of Souls and Sorcerous Spyglass. I'm excited the deck has struck a chord in the Modern community, and for innovations regarding its future developments to eventually roll in from elsewhere. But as things currently stand, I want those picking it up to have access to where I stand on card choice, since I've already tested most possible includes in my two years on the deck.
For reference, here's my list from the Classic.
Zhalfirin Void: Merits
"Scry 1" means different things to different decks. Ad Nauseam, a deck featuring one-drops like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, values the extra digging power enough to run tapped scry lands; so does Grishoalbrand, a deck on Faithless Looting. Zhalfirin Void is unique among scry lands in that it enters the battlefield untapped, allowing us to size it up based mostly on the merits of "scry 1."
Virtual Card Advantage
The virtual advantage benefits of "scry 1" in Colorless Eldrazi Stompy are obvious. To enable the broken openers that make this deck tick, we run relatively dead draws like Serum Powder and Simian Spirit Guide. Other crucial turn one cards like Gemstone Caverns and Chalice of the Void also get worse in multiples. Until now, we've only had Smuggler's Coper as an alluring way to filter through our draws, and doing that does indeed win us games. Zhalfirin Void joins Copter as an in-game consistency tool.
If playing the mulligan sub-game with Serum Powder doesn't lock things up with a nutty opener, we play a top-deck game, which we're actually quite good at. Like Reality Smasher, Void vastly improves this top-deck game. Scrying a weaker card to the bottom early is actually insane for us, even if we don't feel the benefit immediately. Say we bottom something small, like an Eldrazi Mimic; some turns down the road, we draw two lands and then eventually, a Reality Smasher that wins us the game. That early Void got us to it a full turn earlier.
Our games tend to be close enough that drawing the right card a crucial turn early matters immensely. This benefit of increasing our deck's density of powerful cards over time is mostly unique to decks without fetchlands, such as Ad Nauseam; everyone else "resets" their bottom scrys with each crack.
One other type of virtual advantage that Void provides is synergy, or meshing with our overall gameplan. Colorless Eldrazi Stompy's gameplan is basically "find Eldrazi Temple," and we enact it by aggressively mulliganing. Mulligans, by their nature, deplete our resources. Void further lightens the load on this axis, helping find whatever resources we're in short supply of once the game begins. Incidentally, it also helps find Eldrazi Temple.
A way to quantify the virtual advantage gained from "scry 1" likely exists—for instance, we could take a sample of openers to get an idea of the amount of dead draws our average in-game deck has, generate a number indicating the likelihood of drawing Void over however many turns and in however many games, and then calculate the probability of seeing a bad card on top with the scry and tucking it. But I'm no math guy, instead more the type to jam a bunch of games and feel out the right number. So that's what I'll be doing over the next few weeks. In the meantime, though, we have more pre-rep theory to discuss.
Raw Card Advantage
From a non-virtual card advantage viewpoint, Void is worse than many of our other lands. I've heard players, after much deliberation, roughly equate "draw a card" with "scry 3;" in that sense, Void counts for just a third of an extra card. Compare with Mutavault, which is a creature and can often trade with opposing removal; Scavenger Grounds, which says "draw X cards" depending on the amount of Eternal Scourges in our graveyard; and Sea Gate Wreckage, which literally draws us cards every turn once its condition is met.
So Void appears to boast a lesser card advantage effect than our other lands. That said, the above lands (besides Sea Gate Wreckage) usually have to hit the graveyard to trade in for a card, whereas Void remains on the battlefield after it has drawn us 33% of one, which is something to consider. Staying on the field is worth less in a land-heavy top-deck scenario, where we'd happily throw around Mutavaults or Ghost Quarters for opposing resources or life points, but it's valuable otherwise.
In addition to often sacrificing themselves, our raw card advantage lands also require a mana investment of some sort to trade up into an extra card's worth of value. Not so with Void, which scrys upon battlefield entry and never asks for a single mana in return. That's huge in our many mana-light games. In the first few turns of most games, we're casting the disruption and Eldrazi in our hand, not activating our lands; that's a plan for later in the game. Void improves this stage by smoothing out our draws at no immediate cost. The cost is paid much later, when (and if) the game devolves into a topdeck war; that's the scenario that calls for spell-lands. On the other hand, Void's efficiency makes it one of our best lands in faster games.
It's also good in longer games, where all that scry adds up and might bail us out of topdeck scenarios. We still have to wait a turn before using the card we see, though—unless we flip Void off a Matter Reshaper on our opponent's turn.
Fitting It In
In our discussion of Zhalfirin Void's merits, we touched on the opportunity cost of including it in Colorless Eldrazi Stompy: our other utility lands. The next question: which ones can we afford to cut? Here's a list of our non-Eldrazi Temple lands, in subjective order of importance.
Six manlands is the sweet spot for this deck. They insulate us against planeswalkers and sweepers, and supplement our aggression in different ways.
Scavenger Grounds is a must when our deck's so apt at finding Eternal Scourge. It gives us a powerful mainboard way to hose attrition decks while buffing our graveyard-based matchups like Storm and Traverse Shadow. I tried a third Wastes after Worcester, and found it superfluous in a lot of matchups; it was best against UW Control, but a third Grounds shines there, too, and has wider applications overall. Still, we can't drop below 2 Wastes, as we need ways to punish players for firing off Path to Exile, Field of Ruin, and Ghost Quarter against us.
These lands are crucial to the deck's strategy, but I'm not convinced we need so many. If Zhalfirin Void isn't just the reason to cut up to one of each, it's at least the first compelling argument I've heard.
After Worcester, I was itching to cut one of these. I originally liked 2 Sea Gate to ensure I could draw into one after exiling a copy to Powder, but it's dead in so many matchups that I now think 2 is too many. Scavenger Grounds largely fulfills the same purpose against attrition decks, and does more elsewhere, too. The main benefit of Sea Gate is that it's a recurring value engine that attacks from a unique angle: drawing us cards from the deck. It can also be activated on an opponent's turn after representing other utility lands activations for a cycle (i.e. Ghost Quarter for a petrified Raging Ravine).
So the first copy's an easy cut, and the more I test, the more I think the second copy also needs to bite the dust. It's just dead in so many matchups. Void is dead in zero matchups.
Putting It Together
Looking over the list, we can at least begin by swapping the Sea Gates for Voids. From there, it's a matter of deciding whether we want to trim a Quarter or a Caverns for one or two more Voids. To get a solid sense of how the card performs in practice, I'm starting with the full set.
As I test, I'll be carefully monitoring to see how much I miss the Quarter and Caverns. I'll weigh that assessment against my impression of the amount of work Zhalfirin Void puts in to decide how many copies to run.
A final aspect to consider is the subtlety Void brings to Colorless Eldrazi Stompy. It's possible I'll want to make more drastic changes to the deck once I experience running it with a set of scry lands. After all, that's what happened with Scavenger Grounds, which encouraged me to slam Scourge more aggressively into permission and sweepers pre-board and incidentally invalidated Sea Gate Wreckage.
One of the exciting things about Colorless Eldrazi Stompy is that it will always receive playable cards through Standard, even if we're done getting literal Eldrazi creatures for a while. Wizards still has a ton of design space to explore when it comes to colorless cards like lands and artifacts; Damping Sphere, Karn, Scion of Urza, and now Zhalfirin Void all speak to that.
I've yet to settle on an optimal number for Void, but the card looks and feels sweet in this shell so far. So let's dwell on the details later and raise our Chalices to Colorless Eldrazi Stompy's newest include!