Zendikar: Unstable Terrain Review (Part 2 of 2)
Welcome back! When last we left Zendikar, we were picking apart the Blue/Green Unstable Terrain, which used an army of Landfall-enabled beaters to dominate the red zone. With Sam challenging behind the Red/Blue Pumped Up, we put Terrain to the test, and here’s how it did!
On the play, Sam starts off with a Terramorphic Expanse into a Mountain, while I come into my Island the old fashioned way before passing. An Island of her own enables Sam to bring a turn 2 Welkin Tern on-line, while I fight bird with bird with a Sage Owl.
Sam swings in on turn 3 with her bird, and mine having done its job I accept the trade. I then play an Ior Ruin Expedition before laying my Land for the turn, and put a quest counter on it. Sam, already looking mana screwed, draws and passes.
I next play a Windrider Eel and an Island, adding another quest counter to the Expedition, and now I’m on the board with a beater. Sam manages to squeeze out a Prodigal Pyromancer, but she’s clearly in bad straits.
Turn 5 sees me play an Island before swinging in with my Eel and sacrificing the Expedition (drawing another Island and an Unsummon). I then play a second Eel. Sam gets on the board herself when she Act of Treasons my first Eel and follows it up with a ping from the Pyromancer, and we’re within one of each other (16-17).
The Island I found from the Expedition comes in handy as I drop it and watch my Eels bash in for 8, cutting Sam in half. I play Coral Merfolk and pass the turn. A waste of a play, I overlooked for a moment her pinger, and she gobbles up the low-hanging fruit before bouncing an Eel back with Into the Roil. “Use it or lose it,” she says, explaining why she wasn’t waiting until I attacked to cast it. It’s her final defiant gesture as I recast the second Eel, and they bash in for the win.
Again the game begins with Sam playing and cracking a Terramorphic Expanse, but this time she mixes it up and goes for an Island. The game unfolds in much the same manner… Sam plays a Goblin Piker and Prodigal Pyromancer early. I get out a Sage Owl (who later gets sniped by the pinger) and an Ior Ruin Expedition.
First blood is drawn after Sam plays the Pyromancer- knowing Sagey’s days are numbered, I send him in to peck for 1. Sam gets a real body on turn 4, though, when she plays the Canyon Minotaur. Not a sexy choice, but right now it’s easily the board’s bruiser. All I can manage is some fancy play, casting Harrow to accelerate my Ior Ruin Expedition. I sacrifice it, and draw another land… and another Ior Ruin Expedition. Already I’ve drawn into far too much land, and I have few options at the ready.
Sam plays a Raging Goblin on turn 5, then swings in with everything for 6 (plus a ping for 1). I’m down to 11 life after some early damage. I drop a Terramorphic Expanse and Windrider Eel (who happens to love Terramorphic Expanses, because they permit him to pump on defense).
Sam sends in most everything again, and I crack the Expanse to buff the Eel. The ideal choice is the 3/3 Minotaur, but with Sam’s pinger open I’d lose my Eel too, so instead I kill off the Piker. I’m now down to 7.
On my turn, I drop another land which brings the Ior Ruin Expedition up, so I sacrifice it and draw two cards- a Forest and an Island. I manage to lock down the Minotaur with a Paralyzing Grasp, and pass turn.
Sam tastes blood, though, and does not relent. She casts Act of Treason on my Eel, and not knowing if she has a land or not I’m forced to blow my Unsummon on it. She comes in for 2, and I’m at 5. My turn arrives, and I recast the Eel as well as a Sage Owl, which gives me a desperately-needed lifeline in the form of a Sphinx of Jwar Isle topdeck for the next turn. I still need to get through this one, and it isn’t helped when Sam casts Rite of Replication on my Eel, giving her one of her own.
Still, I’m able to draw the Sphinx, play a land and swing in with my 4/4 Eel (taking Sam to 11), before casting the Sphinx. Sam snipes the Owl with her pinger, then untaps and plays a Molten Ravager. She has only 4 Red mana sources, so I have at least a turn or two to breathe before that Ravager will start coming across, and I play a Merfolk Wayfinder. The extra Island it nets me (surprise) is nice… losing my only Mind Control is somewhat less so. It’s academic at that point, really, when Sam begins her next turn by casting Sleep.
I have no answer.
Sam and I have a laugh as we each use turn 1 to play a Terramorphic Expanse and crack it for an Island, before getting onto the real business of stomping one another into the dirt. I still am lured in by the idea of an early Ior Ruin Expedition, and cast it turn 2. Sam only plays a Mountain and passes.
I drop a Forest on turn 3, and add a quest counter to the Expedition before casting a Merfolk Wayfinder. It nets me an Island, but shoots my Paralyzing Grasp and Unsummon to the bottom of my deck. Sam again plays a land and passes.
Turn 4 and I’m in with a Grazing Gladehart before playing my land, getting a bump of 2. I swing in with the Wayfinder and pass. Sam finally has a beater on the board- the 2/2 unblockable Phantom Warrior. The next turn I’m still with a land drop, gaining another 2 life from the Gladehart and able to sac my Expedition. This time it hits paydirt- a Forest, yes, but also the Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I swing in again with the Merfolk. Sam draws and attacks in return, taking me to 22.
On turn 6, I’m in with the Sphinx and another 2 life. Sam manages the Canyon Minotaur, and we continue to swing back and forth- me in the air, Sam through her unblockable body. I drop a Forest on turn 7 and cast Harrow. The life bump of 6 is nice (taking me to 26), and it allows me to play the Roil Elemental. This is as much a drawfire as anything, and it works- Sam smacks it with a Spire Barrage on her turn.
With my Sphinx now going hostile, though, Sam’s time is up as she’s unable to find an answer.
Unstable Terrain may not be the flashiest preconstructed deck of the set, nor the most powerful (those designations go to The Adventurers and Rise of the Vampires both), but you might consider it a ‘solid role player.’ That role, of course, is to showcase Landfall, and it does so superbly.
From my own play, it was hard to get behind a Landfall theme that didn’t embrace either the Plated Geopede or Steppe Lynx (or- preferably- both), but Terrain is fun and consistent enough to make me a believer.
That’s not to say it didn’t have its flaws. The expensive back-end of the deck and lack of any consistent way to get there outside of Land drops meant that at times I was holding useless cards in hand. Another Harrow or two would have addressed this problem with a synergistic flair, for even if Ihad perfect mana the Landfall triggers from the Harrow would help at any point in the game.
In addition, some of the spell support was lacking, in particular the removal. Any deck that does the bulk of its work in the red zone such as this one needs to have a reliable way to remove obstacles that get in its way. Paralyzing Grasps were decently received, and the versatility of Unsummon can mitigate the fact that it’s not true removal, but overall it came up somewhat short. The common way to make up for that in a beater-heavy deck is with combat tricks (see: Giant Growth), letting them act as ersatz kill spells, but Terrain disappointingly packs in only one.
Overall, though, the creatures are well-selected for showing off Landfall, with only a couple minor duds (mainly the Coral Merfolk), and the deck is a lot of fun to play.
Hits: Excellent Landfall theme heavily supported by Creatures; decent balance of evasive and nonevasive beaters; deck follows a steady mana curve
Misses: Top of curve a little heavy without consistent ramp support; spell selection a little threadbare; tepid removal suite; singleton Harrow a missed opportunity
FINAL GRADE: 4.2/5.0