Feature Article from Seth Manfield

R/G Landfall at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar

Seth Manfield

10/21/2015 11:02:00 AM

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I truly enjoyed playing Red/Green Landfall at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. It was one of the top performing decks, I personally finished 7-3, and my testing team had over a 61 percent win rate with it. While there weren't any copies in the Top 8, there were a number of players who came close to making it. Normally for Pro Tours I just play what the best deck in my testing is, and for this Pro Tour that was no different. However, I had a ton of fun playing the Red/Green Landfall deck, which differs from decks I have played at previous Pro Tours.

In playtesting a good portion of the games ended on turn four, and some as early as turn three, which is pretty impressive for a Standard deck. The deck plays similarly to Atarka Red as it contains the combo of Temur Battle Rage plus Become Immense but there are a number of green creatures instead of just the red ones. This is the list that I played:

R/G Landfall by Seth Manfield
Finished 17th - 32nd Place at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar
Main Deck
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
3 Den Protector
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Scythe Leopard
3 Snapping Gnarlid
2 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [20]
4 Atarka's Command
4 Become Immense
4 Temur Battle Rage
4 Titan's Strength
Spells [16]
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Cinder Glade
5 Forest (269)
5 Mountain (265)
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]

3 Arc Lightning
1 Fiery Impulse
2 Outpost Siege
3 Rending Volley
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
2 Wild Slash
2 Yasova Dragonclaw
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

The list is fairly straightforward but there is a ton of power behind it, and for an aggressive deck it sideboards extremely well. The maindeck is more combo oriented as all the spells work towards pumping the creatures, and maximizing the power of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense. The reason is that most decks have significantly less removal for game one compared to sideboarded games, which makes it much harder to interact with Temur Battle Rage plus Become Immense, or a different combination of pump effects. This is why there are four copies of each pump spell and Temur Battle Rage, you always want to draw one copy of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense, though it is true there are times you don't want multiples it is necessary to play four of each. There are also four of both Titan's Strength and Atarka's Command as they are simply good cards on their own.

Many lists of Red/Green Landfall or Atarka Red don't play all these pump spells in the maindeck, but instead have some amount of burn spells instead. This version doesn't have any copies of Wild Slash in the main; while Wild Slash is nice in the mirror the idea is that this deck is faster than any other in the format so we don't need to interact with the opponent. We just want to get them dead as fast as possible, and put the burn in the sideboard for when we need it. This approach worked well over the course of the tournament, and it gives the deck much more of a transformational sideboard package. As far as other pump effects like, say, Retreat to Valakut, this deck can win as early as turn three so cards like that are just too slow, at least for the maindeck.

The assortment of creatures is quite nice because they are all technically one- or two-drops, but some can be hard to deal with if the game goes long. First off, this deck plays ten one-drops, and they are all great. During testing we were calling Scythe Leopard the new Wild Nacatl and that really isn't too far off. Scythe Leopard is the reason to be Red/Green Landfall and means that the one-drop creatures in this deck are much better compared to Atarka Red. We only play two copies of Zurgo Bellstriker. This significantly lowers the chances of drawing multiples, which is the problem with playing four copies like Atarka Red does. In addition this deck doesn't play Lightning Berserker at all, which is the consensus worst one-drop in the Atarka Red deck. This deck can very easily start on a one-drop and play two more on the following turn. The one-drop creatures are what help make this deck so explosive.

The two-drops have a bit more versatility than the ones in terms of what turn you want to be casting them. The guy you do want to get down as soon as possible is Snapping Gnarlid, as he hits hard on turn three since a lot of the time he is just a two-mana four-power creature. One of the most noticeable things about this list is the absence of Makindi Sliderunner. Upon first impression and throughout most of testing the idea was that Makindi Sliderunner was better than Snapping Gnarlid because it has trample. Trample is very important if you don't have a Temur Battle Rage since you can cast a card like Become Immense or Titan's Strength on Makindi Sliderunner to get through a bunch of damage. However, there are multiple less obvious factors which led to the switch of Snapping Gnarlid instead of Makindi Sliderunner.

In many matchups Makindi Sliderunner was getting boarded out for one reason or another. Maybe it was the vulnerability to Arc Lightning, or being a red creature versus Surge of Righteousness. Snapping Gnarlid has neither of those vulnerabilities as many of the top decks were boarding in Surge of Righteousness, and now after board there isn't a need to take out any creatures if we don't want to. The extra point of toughness is super relevant not just because of Arc Lightning, but for a number of reasons. First of all, versus a deck like Atarka Red, having a creature that can block a Goblin Token is nice, as that is a matchup where you may need to block. When attacking, Snapping Gnarlid also might not trade with three-power creatures like Avatar of the Resolute and friends. The other part about the landfall creatures is having the ability to keep multiple fetch lands in play, and simply threatening to crack them can make the opponent play differently.

This isn't a deck that wants to aggressively use its fetch lands, as each one is like a mini pump spell. There will be many spots when it is correct not to break a fetch land even if that means potentially not getting in an extra point of damage. For example, against a Jeskai deck I faced during Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar we were playing a sideboarded game and I wanted to be able to play around Radiant Flames. Radiant Flames is a good card versus us but there are many times when it is possible to be careful and not get blown out by the card. In this particular spot I had a Snapping Gnarlid in play and was able to keep fetch lands available to crack in case my opponent cast Radiant Flames, which would make the Snapping Gnarlid into a four toughness creature. In fact, this exact sequence did occur and the Snapping Gnarlid eventually killed my opponent.

 Abbot of Keral Keep
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Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Abbot of Keral Keep Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

The other two-drops in the deck are creatures that are good on turn two but even better later in the game. Abbot of Keral Keep is an obvious one that has been a staple in red decks like this for quite a while, and with so many one-mana cards this guy normally gets played on turn three or four. The other creature is Den Protector. Den Protector is a new addition to this strategy that I haven't been seeing in other lists. This card is great in a number of matchups and becomes unblockable by using a pump spell on it before attacking. This is another reason for not needing Makindi Sliderunner as Den Protector can be used as an unblockable creature, so you don't need to worry about opposing blockers at all. I don't mind running Den Protector out face up but any time you get to flip it up and return something from the graveyard is great. Normally after sideboard it is more likely to be important to play Den Protector face down, to get as much card advantage out of it as possible.

I was extremely happy with the numbers of each card in the deck and a lot of thought went into them. This deck is an aggressive deck and it isn't a deck that really want to be going through Den Protector loops, so normally drawing two copies of Den Protector isn't where you want to be. In a similar way Snapping Gnarlid is great on turn two but has Diminishing Returns after that, which is why there are three copies of each of those two-drops. On the other hand Abbot of Keral Keep is great in multiples and allows you to make all your land drops so of course that is the two-drop there is four of. This deck is reminiscent of a deck like Heroic in many ways as you do need to draw the right combination of both creatures and spells to win. Many decks will try to stop you from having any creatures on the board, which is why we can go bigger after sideboard. The manabase is fairly straightforward and while we tested Evolving Wilds in an attempt to include more ways to fetch for lands, in the end it just isn't worth having lands come into play tapped.

Let's go over the sideboard plans for a few of the most important matchups.

Versus Jeskai:
-4 Titan's Strength
-4 Temur Battle Rage
-2 Become Immense
-3 Atarka's Command

+3 Arc Lightning
+3 Rending Volley
+2 Wild Slash
+1 Fiery Impulse
+2 Outpost Siege
+2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

First of all, in game one the matchup is good despite us needing to bring in so many cards after sideboard. After sideboard most lists of Jeskai had been trying to Overload us on removal, so we came up with this plan. Basically the idea is to deal with as many of the Jeskai creatures as possible and then play an Outpost Siege or a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. For Jeskai it is extremely hard to deal with Outpost Siege or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker effectively, so we become much more controlling after sideboarding. Since we play twenty four lands it is very possible to get to five mana; in fact I won many sideboarded games with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.

Versus Green/White Megamorph on the draw:
-2 Zurgo Bellstriker

+2 Yasova Dragonclaw

On the play:
-2 Zurgo Bellstriker
-2 Titan's Strength

+2 Yasova Dragonclaw
+2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

This is the best matchup for this version of Red/Green Landfall and there is no need to bring in a ton of cards. Yasova Dragonclaw can win the game single handedly if left unanswered. There also aren't that many answers to it, as Surge of Righteousness and Valorous Stance don't work, while even Dromoka's Command is often a two-for-one in you favor. The Sarkhan, the Dragonspeakers are good on the play because they come down before Wingmate Roc. Normally this deck is forced to tap out at some point which is when you can just go for the kill. After sideboard if you need to move in on a creature and they have mana up, make sure that creature is green to play around Surge of Righteousness.

Versus Atarka Red/the mirror on the play:
-4 Atarka's Command
-2 Titan's Strength

+3 Arc Lightning
+2 Wild Slash
+1 Fiery Impulse

On the draw:
-4 Atarka's Command
-2 Scythe Leopard

+3 Arc Lightning
+2 Wild Slash
+1 Fiery Impulse

This matchup can go either way, but after sideboard Arc Lightning is the best card we have access to. The reason why Scythe Leopard comes out on the draw is that it is a one-toughness creature that dies to Arc Lightning. Sometimes though the games come down to who draws Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage as the combo is tough to break up.

Versus Esper Control:
-4 Titan's Strength
-2 Atarka's Command
-2 Temur Battle Rage
-1 Become Immense

+3 Rending Volley
+2 Wild Slash
+2 Outpost Siege
+2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

Here we want some removal for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Dragonlord Ojutai, but we can afford to keep some pump spells in. Esper tends to have to tap out to play whatever their big threat is, which can lead to a window of opportunity. My record versus Esper Control at the Pro Tour was 3-1 and it is a pretty good matchup. Outpost Siege is capable of winning the game single handedly, and their threats aren't very scary. Rending Volley can kill a Shambling Vent too.

Well that just about covers my overview of Red/Green Landfall. This is a deck that is well-positioned and hard to attack, as well as being very fun to play. Still, it isn't easy to just pick up as there are lots of little decisions involved in the games.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield