Zendikar Rising spoilers are officially underway! That also means summer is ending... but what great outdoor plans did we have that weren't ruined by a global pandemic anyway? There's never been a better time to forget about real-life exploration and lock ourselves inside to peruse new cards at a glowing computer screen!
Rising's marquee mechanic is the flipping cards, which let pilots choose which side to play the card as when they're ready to play either side. One side houses a spell, while the other has a land. On the whole, I don't think these cards will see a whole lot of play in Modern, but I wouldn't count them out entirely.
Lands on Lands
At their most basic, the flipping cards are two-sided lands, giving players the choice of producing one of two colors for a game's entirety (as with Riverglide Pathway // Lavaglide Pathway). This cycle aims to provide mana fixing, but fixing is already very good in Modern—we've got fastlands of every pair, Horizon lands, and of course the ol' fetch-and-shock. Nonbasic lands need to be quite powerful to merit inclusion in Modern decks, as players open themselves up to hate like Blood Moon and Field of Ruin for running them. I don't think the double-land cards are gonna make it.
Lands n' Spells... At Once
Then there's the spell lands, which enter tapped but can also be cast for an effect. In theory, the idea isn't so splashy, but potentially powerful nonetheless. Having lands that can double as spells lets players functionally play fewer lands in their decks, as it mitigates the risk of flooding. Compare with cycling lands, which do something similar, but still tax pilots mana to draw into another card. Plus, that new card might just be a land, and not a spell!
Whether flip lands beat cycling lands depends mostly on how good the spells on the other side are. And they aren't great. For the most part, these spells are wildly overpriced for their effects, especially since they force players to run taplands.
Take Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale. Here we've got a flexible-looking card: players can use it to ramp into four mana, or they can deploy the card as a land if they're light on sources early on. But then there's each side of the card: never would players want to run taplands in Modern, and no deck wants a generic two-mana Llanowar Elves. This is the format of infinite mana via Devoted Druid, after all!
Splashier spells like Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge show more promise. Depending on how the rulings will go, a deck like Dredge could bring back the land with Life from the Loam, then cast Awakening for more Dredge triggers. But even that deck now has better things to do at that stage of the game: recur Blast Zone, for instance, or just cast Ox of Agonas for a similar effect that also impacts the board—and a cheaper one, to boot! This line of thought gets more interesting with other land recursion effects, such as Wrenn and Six, but there's no getting around that the new spells in question leave much to be desired.
A Mythical Implementation
Yet another cycle of flip lands is the most promising. At mythic rare, this final cycle lets players have the spell land enter untapped, but at the cost of 3 life. That might seem like a lot until one considers these cards have three modes: spell, tapped land, and untapped land. That flexibility makes the steep asking price worthwhile and even desirable in many scenarios.
As for the spells, they're a lot more impactful, but mostly finisher-type effects. That means only slower decks will be able to run these. Still, those decks do love a high land count, and not needing to dedicate space to extra finishers—which can be invaluable in grindy mirrors—might merit further exploration.
Let's Double Up
Another exciting development is Rising is the set's plagiarism—that is, its printing of cards that closely resemble existing Modern playables.
Hedron Crab? Meet Ruin Crab! Mill decks will love doubling up on their favorite creature, but I think the new Crab's most promising future lies in energizing brews that rely on Hedron Crab for self-mill. What's left of the Hogaak deck will probably want a playset, as well as fringe strategies like Rally the Ancestors.
Steppe Lynx? Wow, haven't heard that name in a while. That's because Lynx was petty much the only Modern playable landfall creature, and as such, not really worth building around with a high land count: don't draw one of just four copies, and you're playing a Zoo deck full of lands. Yuck!
Well, Akoum Hellhound to the rescue! Lynx will certainly benefit from this canine companion, as it does from another somewhat-recent printing: Wrenn and Six. With Wrenn in the mix, a high land count isn't even a prerequisite, as the walker recycles fetchlands every turn.
Yes, that's Tarmogoyf, who effortlessly grows to 5/6 in this build and backs up our fragile landfall clocks by slamming opponents who Fatal Push them. And Monastery Swiftspear, the attacker too good not to run in an aggro shell these days. Manamorphose, Mishra's Bauble, Crash Through, and Light Up the Stage happen to be pretty great alongside Tarmogoyf, too, and giving our landfall guys trample is the sauce. A common curve: T1 Lynx, T2 Goyf/Wrenn/Lynx-plus-removal and swing 4, T3 Brushfire-plus-Crash and swing for a ton.
Oh, and yeah, 14 lands. That's the smallest amount I was able to hit by pushing my count lower and lower. Wrenn provides unending land drops, and we've got 12 cantrips, so the unbelievable number plays out fine in practice.
Sea Gate Stormcaller
Snapcaster Mage, meet Sea Gate Stormcaller! Except you play Stormcaller before your spell, not after. And on the same turn. And only on your turn. I'll see myself out.
One positive development in Rising is the presence of nonbasic land hate. We've seen a bit of this push in the past with printings like Damping Sphere, Field of Ruin, and Alpine Moon, all of which were adapted in some quantity to combat Modern's Tron menace. If you ask me, when it comes to nonbasic land hate, the more the merrier!
Conundrum replaces itself on resolution, making it relatively splashable. And it incidentally hates on fetchlands, giving it further application in different matchups. And it stacks, making for some very nasty plays with Ghost Quarter & co. Besides that, Conundrum seems tailor-made to fight Uro decks specifically, which are all about land ramping. Whether they can quell the Simic menace remains to be seen.
Hierarch, Aribter, Wildfire? Who doesn't want a cantripping Stone Rain? But then, what Hierarch-powered Christmasland scenario doesn't look awesome on paper? Cleansing Wildfire might take a bit more work to get going than Conundrum, but giving red a way to Field of Ruin opponents on a cantrip strikes me as a great way to start spreading nonbasic hate into different deck niches.
The Expediting Continues
Between two-sided cards, classics returning in new and exciting forms, and different colors getting extra ways to interact with enemy land strategies, I'm stoked to see what else Zendikar Rising has to offer. We didn't even get into the party mechanic... but you already know I'ma throw one if we get some cool Rogues to invite! Which new cards have you gearing up for an expedition?