December 10 2015 Thursday at 01:36 PM

Your first stop in Zendikar

Well Duelers, today is, supposedly, the day,

I started hoping that this expansion would drop in the middle of September.  About three months later, after the steam folks got their Christmas present early, perhaps I will finally get to play this expansion.  iOS and XB1 servers appear to be down, and we have been advised they will be down seven hours (really, seven hours?).  After that, one can guess the runway will be clear for the game to launch.

How to kill seven hours?  I mean, seriously, when I heard the game was dropping today I cleared my schedule.  Today's calendar consists of Duels, Battle, and Zendikar.  But hey, I can fill time like the best of them, including by getting some written content out there for my readers who may be in the same boat.  OK, maybe you are not all hitting refresh on the App Store with a trickle of drool slowly coming down the corner of your twisted smile, but hopefully after all the disappointment in the product and the delays you can still muster up some of that good old Magic enthusiasm and be excited about this.  Like a kid on Christmas....ok, I used a Christmas joke in Duels Diaries Week One back in July, I am allowed to do in December when it makes more sense!

If you have been a reader of my blog, you are already in the B4Z loop.  Maybe you have a stash of coins and are ready to buy all the boosters, and you already know the card pool and what deck you want to play.  That's great.  I have a horde that would make Smog proud, 24,000+ gold with nothing to spend it on, so all those packs will be cracked within a minute of the update hitting INSTALLED status.  I write for an audience of one, I try to think of what kind of written info I would like to read, and I try to get it out there for you like-minded magicians, but in this case I am going to take a break from that and talk to the players who may need to rebuild their gold portfolio.

First, I am going to talk about what I consider the key cards in B4Z, the ones that really impact the format, so if you are opening some packs you know what to look for and what to build around -

Drana's Emissary - This uncommon is really good, 2/2 flying, 1 life draining per upkeep for 1WB is a good stat-line for Duels.  It is an Ally, so that is a synergy to be aware of.  Both life-gain and flying also promote synergy.  I haven't found the right home for this card yet, but there should be one, this is a card you can build around.  The downside is that it is vulnerable to most removal in the format.

Kiora, Master of the Depths - I think this is some of the best card draw in the game.  You pay four mana, you use the -2 one turn, and maybe again on the next turn, and you net 2 lands and 2 creatures, aka draw 4.  It's mythic, so you can't build around it, but I think she belongs in most color appropriate decks.

Skyrider Elf - A lot of versatility in this card.  For two mana you get a 2/2 flyer in Simic Tempo, for three mana you get a 3/3 flyer in Sultai Elves, and in converge decks the ceiling just gets higher.  Really awesome.

Omnath, Locus of Rage - I wasn't high on this card when I first saw it.  I don't love the idea of hitting landfall after turn seven, when you would cast this.  However, I have come around on this dude, because you can set up some disgusting events with Oblivion Sower and Nissa's Renewal.  It is another must-kill-or-die threat in a Gruul color combo that has a lot of them, and that is a good thing.

Brilliant Spectrum - I thought this card was garbage, it isn't.  Drawing four for 4 mana isn't a thing you can do often in duels, and in a control deck finding two cards to discard isn't that hard because on turn four you can figure out what the matchup is and pitch the cards that are not great.  All this doesn't take into account if you plan to use your graveyard with Jace, Emeria Shepard or Necromantic Summons.  I think this card makes the cut in your 4 and 5 color decks, but not in three or less color decks.

Drowner of Hope - I really like this card.  Because of how much Ulamog we are all about to play with (I promise, it is a lot), the art of exiling and tapping down a big threat will prove almost as important as destroying target beef-cake creature.  Drowner gives you a few tap downs with a 5/5 body, and that is good on offense and on defense.  The only real problem I have with this card is that it is blue, because I don't like tapping out with  my blue decks any more because...

Horribly Awry, Spell Shrivel, Scatter to the Winds - We have real counterspells!  For better or worse, the days of tapping out and casting whatever we want without concern are over.  Love or hate counterspells, you have to drill the number four, 4, FOUR into your head.  This is how much mana to leave up, if possible, when casting an important spell.  Spell Shrivel doesn't look at first glance like a huge upgrade from Calculated Dismissal, but it is.

Planar Outburst, Radiant Flames - Dropping your whole hand of creatures onto the table isn't as safe as it used to be either.  Start thinking about how much you are committing to the board every turn with your aggro decks, or these big spells may just blow you out.

Carrier Thrall, Blisterpod, Smothering Abomination - The Aristocrats list with Nantuko Husk just picked up a ton of options.  I haven't seen anyone NAIL this list yet, but something powerful is lurking here just waiting for the right magician to tune it.

Snapping Gnarlid, Scythe Leopard, ect - Small landfall creatures haven't quite made it up the food chain, but I am sure there is a good deck there somewhere, some awesome deck builder just has to put it together in the right quantities.  Most of these are common and uncommon, so if you are grinding this game out these will be among the first creatures you get to try.

New lands - I would use all the new dual lands and man lands in any deck that matches their colors.  You have to be more selective with the ability lands, just because it has more text doesn't mean it is better than a Mountain.  Entering the battlefield tapped is a cost, assume the card is actually a spell that costs one mana.  Would you play it?

From Beyond - Like having three Ulamog's in your deck, right?  But don't forget that you can fetch things like Smothering Abomination and Barrage Tyrant as well.  Also, if you have plenty of mana, do the math and figure out when you should spend mana on fetching it.  Every upkeep you keep it around you get a free Scion, which you may really appreciate if your opponent answers your Ulamog with Fleshbag Marauder.  

Greenwarden of Murasa - The card is bugged for steam, you don't get the Exile trigger.  I am curious to see if the issue exists for iOS as well.  Regardless, getting an Eternal Witness effect in Duels is really good, so I think this makes the cut in most green decks.

Jaddi Offshoot - Keep red decks in their place at the very low cost of just one mana.  This card is a must for every slow deck that plans to ramp or hit a ton of land drops (think Sultai Fog).

Felidar Cub - Bringing easy enchantment removal to every white mage without having to resort to Solemn Offering is very nice.  This is a real thorn in the side of Evolutionary Leap, Thopter Spy Network, Flameshadow Conjuring, and all the retreats.

The obvious bonkers cards are Gideon, Ulamog, Oblivion Sower and Ob Nixilis, they just go in most decks where they could be played.  Do you play white?  Gideon.  Do you plan to have six or more mana?  Oblivion Sower.  Why stop there?  You could get to ten mana!  Ulamog.  Black cards in your deck?  Ole Saint Ob Nix.

So those the cards we want to be opening.  I would avoid Ingest/Process unless you are just doing it for fun, it seems too situational to be good.  From Beyond means you don't have to put every Eldrazi in your deck, you just need a few great ones.  Awaken seems good, not great, and a lot of Awaken cards get played for their standard cost most of the time.  The Mana is good enough to play Converge decks with four and five colors, but I would unlock the new dual lands first.  Allies seem OK at best, we didn't get any of the great ally cards that could put the tribe over the top.  I wouldn't spend too much time on them, I doubt they will ever really become a serious deck in this block.

Perilous Myr isn't nearly as good as it used to be.  Cutting them from decks where they probably never truly belonged is probably a great start to utilizing the new B4Z cards.  A few cards that just got a lot better include Acid Moss, Nissa's Pilgrimage and Nissa's Revelation.  Green is probably the best color in Duels, either tied with or followed closely by Red.  Black is probably now the weakest, as White got some much-needed help, and Blue hangs out in the middle with its pile of counters.

If I had little gold, and wanted to get some fast, I would play Red Aggro this week.  It will be fast enough to build your gold stash quickly and many players will be trying to cast their new ten-drops, making Red Aggro's job easy.  The deck doesn't want or need much from B4Z to do well.  Thopters is a little slower than Red Aggro, it is very vulnerable to Radiant Flames and Planar Outburst, and the might Spy Network gets eaten by Felidar Cub and Angelic Edict, both cards I expect to see plenty of.  I wouldn't play Thopters.  If you don't want to play Red Aggro, but agree that other people will play Red Aggro, Gruul Monsters is a fine alternative as it wins quickly enough and beats up Red Aggro.  Just understand that you could get beaten up by Eldrazi if you take too long to win.

Alright fellow Duelers, get in there and crack some packs!  In theory the game will go live in a matter of hours, and I hope this little playbook helps you decide what to do when the Hunger Games go live.  Which weapons to grab, what trees to climb, ect....

I promise I'll have plenty more to say and write about, and my first actual online results for the week, when Duels Diaries week 20 is released near the end of the weekend.

<3 CGB