Endless Whispers #8 — Zendikar Uber Allies!
Endless Whispers 8: Zendikar Über Allies
Zendikar, the ‘land matters’ set has also brough with it a number of tribes. The vampire tribe is making waves in standard tournament testing, teaming up with their lord from M10 Vampire Nocturnus. The Kor tribe is a group of white weenies, looking to either replace soldiers or work alongside them as the WW player’s new tribe of choice. Goblins are in red as always, doing their suicidal aggro thing. The last tribe is spread across all 5 colours and as such is much harder to build than the others, and it has been dismissed as a competitive tribe by most writers – this is a bonus for casual players, however, as it means we can pick up the strong rares for a fraction of the cost of what tourney players are paying – going by starcitygames’ prices, you can pick up 4 Kazuul Warlords and 4 Turntimber Rangers for the price of 1 Goblin Guide. Before I label them a purely casual tribe though, let’s take a look at what the allies are capable of.
Maro talked about designing the different varieties of allies in one of his Zendikar preview articles. This is what he had to say:
“We called these cards the “fighters” because they strengthened themselves. Other cards were called the “wizards” because they created an effect whose size was based upon how many adventurers you had. The third group was the “clerics” that buffed the team by giving them all abilities when it came into play.”
Now that we have the full set available to us, we can see what he was talking about with each different type.
Fighter: Oran-Rief Survivalist 1G 1/1, Whenever Oran-Rief Survivalist or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Oran-Rief Survivalist.
The fighter types are the allies heavy hitters in combat, they start out as mediocre guys like Grizzly Bears and Hill Giant but rapidly grow out of hand as you play more allies. The Kazandu Blademaster is the most impressive of these types, but his WW cost is an issue for a 5 colour deck.
Wizard: Murasa Pyromancer 4RR 3/2, Whenever Murasa Pyromancer or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may have Murasa Pyromancer deal damage to target creature equal to the number of Allies you control.
The wizard allies tend to have the most splashy effects, like the Pyromancer who turns every ally into a Flametongue Kavu as it comes into play. All the abilities on these guys become more effective the more allies you have in play.
Cleric: Kabira Evangel, 2W 2/3, Whenever Kabira Evangel or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may choose a color. If you do, Allies you control gain protection from the chosen color until end of turn.
The clerics grant a bonus to your whole team of allies when they or another ally come into play – obviously the more allies you have in play the more advantage you’ll get from this effect. Amusingly Ondu Cleric is better classified as a wizard.
Whats common to all the different types of ally is that they get better the more allies you play, a lot like Slivers. In an ally deck you will feel obliged to drop as many allies as you can to get some big fighters and more powerful effects from your wizards and clerics. The only problem with this is that you are inviting your opponent to destroy you with Day of Judgment or something similar. Aggro decks have been competitive only when they are resilient to the relevant sweepers in the format, or they are fast enough to ignore them – allies looks like it will be neither, and it certainly isn’t a traditionally control deck. Instead it looks like allies will be best positioned as a midrange deck, able to play aggressively against true control decks and play control against true aggro decks. Let’s see what tools there are in each colour.
White (4 allies total)
Kabira Evangel – While protection might initially seem like a defensive tool, this guy does not have flash and there are no allies currently that do, meaning you cannot give your guys protection in response to a removal spell. In the Evangel’s case protection from the colour of your choice is an aggressive ability, making it so that your attackers can’t be blocked by the opponent’s creatures of the given colour, or removed in combat by something like Divine Verdict. If there are flash allies in Worldwake this guy will become amazing, as it is I expect he is merely good.
Kazandu Blademaster – As mentioned above, this guy is the pick of the fighter type allies. He is very good value even without other allies, and some other white weenie decks are including him as a 2/2 first strike/vigilance with a very slight chance of growing bigger. In a dedicated ally deck he is likely to grow every turn and provide a strong presence on both offense and defence. If I can manage to support the WW cost I will definitely include him.
Makindi Shieldmate – Horned Turtle is strong in limited but is hardly the sort of creature you’d want to play in constructed, where 3 mana gets you a Great Sable Stag or a Woolly Thoctar. Shieldmate has a lot of potential for growth however, and if you can keep up a steady stream of allies he should be able to keep up with your opponent’s increasingly threatening creatures. He doesn’t have reach so he won’t be able to stop a Broodmate Dragon or similar, but against ground-aggro decks he might prove to be a tough nut to crack.
Ondu Cleric – This guy reminds me of Judge of Currents from Lorwyn, as with a large creature base he can gain you silly amounts of life without having to do anything special – having multiples is even sillier. Ondu Cleric might figure in a combo type allies deck, or just be the tool we need to survive against an early rush.
Blue (3 allies total)
Sea Gate Loremaster – At 5 mana this guy is near the top end of the allies curve so you want him to be impressive, and drawing a bunch of cards is always impressive. His 1/3 body is not, though, and makes me incline to think he is just going to eat a Lightning Bolt. I’d rather play Distant Melody than this guy, I think.
Seascape Aerialist – This guy is going to perform a similar function to the Evangel above, letting the team you’ve built up get in one big attack to win the game. He costs 5 mana as opposed to 3 and is better against multicoloured opponents, but worse against opponents with flying creatures. I’d prefer the Evangel to this guy most of the time.
Umara Raptor – The strongest reason to play blue out of the three, the raptor has built in evasion and a reasonable cheap body with the potential to grow. I’d like to splash this into a deck based in a better base colour.
Black (3 allies total)
Bala Ged Thief – Some writers have compared this guy to an expensive Thieving Sprite, which never made a dent in constructed. That’s not really fair though, because the sprite had built in evasion. I don’t want to play Bala Ged Thief if I don’t have to, Duress is a better answer to whatever they have in their hand and there are more efficient ally beaters available.
Hagra Diabolist – Now the Diabolist is a much more impressive wizard. For an extra mana over the Thief, he will Lava Axe your opponent and let every subsequent ally do the same. This is a strong win condition but it unfortunately has a 2-toughness behind, which is very vulnerable for a 5 mana creature. Kabira Evangel might be a better way to force damage through, but the Diabolist is worth considering.
Nimana Sell-Sword – A black Hill Giant, the Sell-Sword is perfectly acceptable in limited but not very exciting for constructed. He does have the potential to grow quite large though and if our ally deck wants a big dumb ground creature, the Sell-Sword is the go-to guy.
Red (4 allies total)
Highland Berserker – A very unexciting guy, he is one of the cheapest allies going and this is the biggest mark in his favour. First strike is not irrelevant, but his 2/1 body almost is in the midrange deck I’m expecting to make.
Kazuul Warlord – Without doubt the beefiest ally available, he will also grow our whole team like a combination fighter/cleric. If we want to play the Warlord he’ll doubtless be the centrepiece of the deck, and he makes a pretty great target for Rite of Replication.
Murasa Pyromancer – Flametongue Kavu was a very strong red creature, and unfortunately he is much more efficient and reliable than the pyromancer. 6 mana is a lot to play for a 2 toughness guy, but his effect is very strong and if we have any board presence he will probably amount to a 2-for-1 when he comes into play as will our subsequent allies.
Tuktuk Grunts – 5 mana is too much for a non-evasive 3/3, with haste or without. It’s almost impossible to grow it on its first turn in play, so haste is pretty irrelevant.
Green (4 allies total)
Joraga Bard – There’s not much to say about this guy, there’s no hidden reason that we want to pay 4 mana for a 1/ 4 that can’t grow itself. Vigilance is nice but we can do a lot better for 4 mana.
Oran-Rief Survivalist – A grizzly bears that grows quickly is good value and an ally deck will likely want to play 4 of these whether it’s aggressive or more controlling. Opponents are unlikely to want to waste their removal on him, and he should be a 4/4 or 5/5 without much effort.
Tajuru Archer – The archer’s ability is not very relevant unless we’re playing against a deck based on flying creatures, and faeries is on a whole different level to allies. This could be a really terrible answer to Baneslayer Angel, I suppose?
Turntimber Ranger – The most exciting ally has been saved for last, even though I said a 3/3 for 5 wasn’t good enough with Tuktuk Grunts. The Ranger has a much better ability than haste, which is that he pops out a 2/2 each time an ally comes into play. There’s a great combo with Artificial Evolution, where you change the Ranger to make ally tokens. Each new token will cause a new trigger, making a new token and pumping the Ranger until he’s as big as we want and we have enough tokens to start a factory. In more reasonable territory the Ranger is still an efficient 5 power for 5 mana, with the potential for a lot more and he will look good at the top of the curve.
Artifact (1 ally total)
Stonework Puma – A rather unexciting grey ogre, we will have to be pretty light on for allies before playing this. He is an artifact though, which could be relevant in some sort of combo.
Okay! So we’ve reviewed the allies available, let’s see what sort of decks we might make out of them. There are rather fewer good options than I first thought, as several of the allies we do have are just unplayable.
Taking advantage of the most efficient creatures, this deck starts with 4x Survivalist, 4x Raptor and 4x the awkward WW Kazandu Blademaster. Already the mana is looking terrible, but we have a lot of options for fixing available. Kabira Evangel will give the deck some reach, and Ondu Cleric is a cheap way to pump the team and gives us an edge over other aggro decks. Now we’re based white with a splash of green and blue, and 20 allies so far. Kor Skyfisher is another aggressive creature, and while not an ally it does let us bounce an Ondu Cleric or whatever to reuse it. Going beyond creatures we’ll want some removal, and 4x Path to Exile is a good place to start. Bant Charm gives us some more removal as well as utility, Windborne Charge is a nice finisher, and Into the Roil looks like a nice tempo card. With that quick first pass, how does the deck look?
4x Oran Rief Survivalist
4x Kazandu Blademaster
4x Ondu Cleric
4x Kor Skyfisher
4x Kabira Evangel
4x Umara Raptor
4x Path to Exile
4x Into the Roil
3x Bant Charm
3x Windborne Charge
4x Seaside Citadel
4x Terramorphic Expanse
A quick note about the lands – we don’t have any 1 drops so comes-into-play tapped lands aren’t as bad as they would normally be, and as far as aggro decks go this one will be pretty slow. We need all 3 colours early though, so I’m not stuffing around with the Zendikar duals. If you have Misty Rainforests or suitable M10 lands they would go well in this deck. I expect the deck will rely on every guy being a Wizened Cenn to survive against sweepers like Volcanic Fallout, and use its growing army and Ondu Clerics to establish superiority against other aggro decks.
This deck will use the more expensive red and black wizards, Murasa Pyromancer and Hagra Diabolist to keep the board clear and kill the opponent without having to attack. Highland Berserker, Nimana Sell-Sword and Stonework Puma will fill out the ally count while Lightning Bolt, Volcanic Fallout and Bituminous Blast keep the aggro decks down. Terminate is our answer to the Baneslayer question, and Blightning is just an amazing spell.
4x Highland Berserker
4x Stonework Puma
4x Nimana Sell-Sword
4x Hagra Diabolist
2x Murasa Pyromancer
4x Lightning Bolt
2x Volcanic Fallout
4x Bituminous Blast
4x Akoum Refuge
4x Dragonskull Summit
I like the idea of cascading into allies, especially when the pyromancer is making every ally a 2-for-1 in the first place. Cascade may actually be a viable partner to allies, powering up the strategy without overwhelming it and turning it into a cascade deck. The problem the list above will have is protecting its expensive, fragile guys. Without them in play it is just playing bad creatures like Hill Giant and Grey Ogre.
5 colour Rite
This one is going to be the flashiest deck, relying on allies comboing with Rite of Replication. I heard of a kicked rite being played on Kazuul Warlord at my prerelease, resulting in 6 36/36 creatures, and we’ll try and replicate that here. 4x Rite of Replication is obviously a good start, and 4x Turntimber Ranger and Kazuul Warlord will be our prime targets. Tuktuk Grunts is actually a major threat with Rite as a bunch of hasty fat guys should win the game, and Bala Ged Thief will strip the opponent’s hand. All those dudes and Rite itself are very expensive spells, so we’ll base in green for the mana acceleration and white for the defensive duo of Ondu Cleric and Makindi Shieldmate. I’ll be blowing any sort of reasonable budget on this one but in a 5 colour deck that wants to play 9 mana spells it is pretty unavoidable.
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Ondu Cleric
4 Makindi Shieldmate
4 Wall of Denial
1 Bala Ged Thief
2 Turntimber Ranger
2 Kazuul Warlord
2 Tuktuk Grunts
1 Sea Gate Loremaster
2 Khalni Heart Expedition
4 Rite of Replication
2 Obelisk of Alara
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
4 Terramorphic Expanse
The fetchlands fix our mana excellently and pair well with their expensive companion Lotus Cobra to power out our splashy 5 mana allies early along with making kicked rites more realistic. There is a danger the deck will get overloaded with defensive cards and mana acceleration and not enough big spells but if I manage to trade for the expensive cards I’ll put this deck together and test it. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas, at least.
After looking at all the resources allies have available, I have to agree with the consensus amongst other writers that they’re not going to be competitive at this stage. They just look too slow and too vulnerable to disruption, and other strategies offer more in the way of speed and power. That said they do look like a lot of fun, and they have the bonus of none of your allies being dead draws late game, like many aggro creatures would be, as long as you have other allies in play to trigger. If you give any of these decks a try or have your own ideas for allies, please let me know how you go in the comments or on twitter, @rtassicker.