A New Adventure, A New Expedition – Zendikar Rising

Kristen GregoryCommander

Zendikar Rising is right around the corner, and I’m really excited to embark on a new adventure. With a new trip to Zendikar come new Expedition lands, and new modal double-faced lands, too! Today, I’ll be sharing why I’m so excited to return to Zendikar, and my thoughts on the modal double-faced lands. 

Expedition Envoy Meets Expedition Envy

I’d like to start by setting the scene a little. Way back in 2015, I was a hardcore Pokemon TCG player. A regular on the grind, I was enjoying the competitive experience, and in my prime, I earned Top 8 after Top 8 finish. One Friday evening at casual league play, I was deliberating over which prize packs to get after finishing in top place. A friend suggested getting some packs of Battle for Zendikar, as they had “huge EV and lottery cards!” I had no idea what he meant, but I figured, hey, why the hell not?

When I opened the first pack, I was intrigued by the art direction and the aesthetic of the cards. It felt alien — probably not least because of the Eldrazi — and I honestly thought the character in Reckless Cohort was aiming a rifle. My next thought was that the mechanics on the card didn’t really engender that interpretation. I was intrigued, though, and something spoke to me.

I rifled through to the back of the pack, and there was a glossy foil card. It looked different than the others, and I leaned back in my seat to inquire if this was indeed what I should be looking for. My friend’s jaw dropped, and not a moment later, a collective groan arose from the Magic players on the tables behind us. “As if a Pokemon player just opened an Expedition! Not fair!” is perhaps the PG version of what was said next. 

It probably won’t surprise you to know that I sold the card shortly after opening it. I wasn’t a Magic player, and the cash from selling the card helped me book a trip to the next big Pokemon event. Still, something had awoken in me. If you’ve read my writing over at Hipsters of the Coast, you’ll know I’m a big Boros fan. Maybe I didn’t choose to be, though — maybe, in opening that Expedition, the Boros chose me!

Zendikar Rising

I got into Magic shortly after Battle for Zendikar, completely sold on the gothic aesthetic of Shadows over Innistrad. It wasn’t long before I was drafting regularly, and I built my first EDH deck in 2016 after picking up a copy of From the Vault: Angels. No prizes for guessing that it was Aurelia, the Warleader!

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Over the years, I’ve been slowly upgrading and foiling out the deck. It’s great to have a foil project when a deck really speaks to you, and my most recent additions have been foil Boros Ravnica Weekend basics, and a couple of the cheaper Expedition lands that are available, like Rugged Prairie and Arid Mesa

Now that we’re returning to Zendikar, it almost feels like coming full circle for me, especially as we’ll have some new Zendikar Expedition lands to hunt for. This time around, though, the set isn’t alien, and I have some nostalgia and familiarity. Like many Zendikar natives, I’m ready to explore again and rediscover the adventure plane. 

I’m also really hyped on the idea of picking up some more foil Expedition lands to finish off my Aurelia EDH deck! Cards like Ancient Tomb, Cavern of Souls and the fetch lands are historically pricey in foil. Thanks to the many playable cards and the chance to open foil Expeditions in Collector Boosters, I’m anticipating that now will be a really good time to keep an eye on singles prices if you’re interested in blinging out your decks. I know I’ll be on the hunt!

Modal Double-Faced Cards

We can’t talk about Zendikar Rising and lands without discussing the new modal double-faced cards. These are something never seen before in Magic, and they’re an elegant solution to offering more flexibility and modality to cards. 

There are two main types of double-faced lands in the set. The first are the “dual” lands: two lands in one that produce your choice of two colors when they come into play. These are really flexible, and offer a great untapped source of mana fixing in the early game. I can see many players picking these up for EDH decks, and I can see these potentially replacing the fast lands, check lands, and Temples. Some decks will want these and these new ones; your mileage may vary.

The next type of land we’ll see are modal cards that have a spell on the front side and a land on the back. These, to me, are where the excitement is at. At more casual tables, up to around a 6-7 on the power scale, these modal cards are perfect. At faster tables, where players can represent a win on turn six or seven, you’ll not want to be running many tap lands, if at all, but on tables where the win happens on turn 8-9 or later, I see these as highly valuable pieces of tech.

I think there’s two ways to run these. At faster tables, you’ll run them as a spell, with the potential to make a land drop in a pinch. At more relaxed tables, they’ll happily take a land slot, and give you something to do later in the game, much like cycling lands.

In fact, I think I’ll try replacing my cycling lands with DFC’s first — and in the Mardu colors, adding spells to land slots is a huge boost in card advantage. Of the cards previewed, I started toying with the idea of testing Valakut Awakening and Sejiri Shelter in my Aurelia build, replacing Temple of Triumph and either Desert of the True or Clifftop Retreat, which will come in tapped some amount of the time, anyway.

I’m not sold on replacing my second desert, as it gives an extra Scavenger Grounds activation, but I am pretty high on these spells. Boros loves protection and card draw, and the fact these can both be fetched off of Sunforger is honestly pretty exciting, too.

Overall, the strengths of these cards vary, and whether you take the effect will depend very much on the power level of your deck. In Mono-White Lyra, for example, I’ll happily pay the three life to play Emeria’s Call/Emeria, Shattered Skyclave, as my Plains count is already high enough and Lyra has lifelink. 

In a higher-powered and faster deck like Zaxara, the Exemplary, I don’t want to give up tempo by playing tapped lands. So, while Bala Ged Recovery is quite a strong effect, I don’t value it highly enough compared to playing an untapped basic or one of the many two- or three-color lands available. 

Maybe the takeaway should be that these benefit mono-color decks more. An interesting thought, given how playing more than one color in EDH is often seen as optimal. 

What I will say in support of these new lands is that they make bounce lands — such as the “karoo” lands from Ravnica block — way more playable. I’ve played them less frequently lately, but between bouncing Plains to get Emeria Shepherd triggers, resetting Treasure Map, and recovering these lands later to cast as spells? They just got a little better. 

My Top 5 Modal Double-Faced Lands for Commander

These modal lands have a bunch of relevant effects, and evaluating which are worth running will depend largely on how casual or competitive your deck is. More casual decks can happily run the ones that come into play tapped, with more competitive decks are only really interested in the mythic cycle that come into play untapped for three life. 

Here are the ones I think have the most universal appeal and relevance:

5. Agadeem’s Awakening – Though this will mostly serve as a Gruesome Menagerie that costs one more mana, any deck that builds around it can extract a lot more value from it than that. For starters, zero-cost creatures are free to tack on, and, with mana boosting effects like Cabal Coffers, you’ll be able to reanimate a whole swathe of creatures. Sacking them all to Ashnod’s Altar beforehand to re-use ETB effects seems saucy.

4. Valakut Awakening – An extra way to filter cards in red decks is never a bad thing. Valakut Awakening saves you from refilling an opponent’s hand with a classic Wheel effect, and instead lets you exchange your hand for another hand, plus one card.

3. Bala Ged RecoveryRegrowth is already one of the most powerful effects in a singleton format, and slotting an extra copy into the mana base of mono-green or two-color casual decks is something many players will be excited to do. Eternal Witness is one of the best green cards for a reason.

2. Glasspool Mimic – This isn’t the best Clone in the world, as it can’t copy opponent’s creatures. What it can do, though, is give you a land drop in a pinch, and otherwise give you a second copy of the best non-legendary creature you have in play. It’s free to run in mono-blue decks as a tapped land, and any deck that has Clone synergies will be excited to have access to this card.

1. The Pathway Lands – Though not yet a full cycle, with the other four coming “soon,” these are far and away the most useful mana fixing for Commander in a long time. 

In Closing

Zendikar Rising is right around the corner, and I haven’t been this excited to play Magic for a while. Getting to revisit Zendikar for a new adventure will be refreshing without the Eldrazi, and the sheer amount of great land options — from modal cards to Expeditions — makes this feel distinctly like Zendikar, too. 

Today marks my inaugural article here at Card Kingdom. I’m really excited to join the team and embark on a new adventure here, too. Though some things change, others stay the same — you’ll still be able to find my Commander column here every Monday, and I’ll still be writing from the same perspective. Next week, I’ll be offering my take on the new Akiri, Fearless Voyager. Until then, as ever, hit me up on Twitter to continue the discussion!