Belcher & Co. – The New Zero-Land Decks
- Marin Magda
Zendikar Rising has brought us brand-new modal double-faced cards, spell in front and land on the back. Suddenly they are all the rage, making waves in formats all the way back to Modern. It's not hard to find the reason why — in the possibility of decks not running any lands at all.
When Valakut Awakening, the first MDFC to be revealed during preview season, saw the light of day, it was the card's effect and design that captured players' imagination. Indeed, Awakening has the potential to see play in multiple formats by itself. But the fact that it's a land only on its back side was underestimated at first.
If it's anywhere else but on the battlefield, only the front side's types count, so cards such as this one aren't lands. People have tried to find a way to abuse this specific part of the new mechanic, and oh boy, did they succeed at doing it! It was such a big success that Goblin Charbelcher, a card that manages to see occasional play in Legacy, has moved to Modern and started wreaking absolute havoc there.
Goblin Charbelcher in Modern
5-0 Modern League results on Magic Online have become commonplace with this deck right away. Even though it folds pretty hard to counterspells and Karn, the Great Creator, the deck still manages to pull through. The main reason is that it offers extremely fast kills that are not considered fair one bit according to Modern standards. Not only can it kill before turn four, it can do so on turn one!
It's hard to pinpoint exactly who the person responsible for this crazy thing actually is. But the one who popularized it via Twitter seems to be Sebastian Stückl. This is the list that he shared:
|Sebastian Stückl's Modern Charbelcher Combo|
The deck has a huge amount of tricks to learn and watch out for at all times, but its goal, for the most part, is pretty simple. All you need to do is play Goblin Charbelcher and use its ability. As already stated, only the front face of Zendikar Rising's double-faced cards count outside the battlefield, so you essentially present a library with zero lands. Since this also happens to be the way in which Charbelcher looks at cards, activating its only ability usually kills the opponent on the spot. In other words, the damage it deals equals your deck size.
However, this deck wouldn't be even considered for Online leagues if it wasn't for its speed. It's pretty obvious that the basis of the mana production is bad, as only eight cards can enter the battlefield as untapped lands, but the rest of the deck more than makes up for it. Most, if not all, versions include playsets of Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual, and Manamorphose, while also running Vessel of Volatility in slightly smaller numbers. Of course, Simian Spirit Guides, a necessity, are also here, as well as Irencrag Feat, the Belcher enabler. Who cares about being able to play only a single spell when that spell could be a Belcher that's ready to finish the game?
Of course, one can't expect to ramp into an insta-kill every single game. What if one of the key pieces is missing? This is where Recross the Paths steps in. Recross is a card that just offers so many possibilities in a zero-land deck. Reading this one carefully is crucial, as many people — myself included — have missed the "in any order" part at first. This means we have a card that, for a measly cost of three mana, lets us rearrange the whole library in whichever order we wish! Currently, this most commonly means putting Reforge the Soul on top, followed by the ideal seven for the given situation. Since you can cast Reforge for its much lower miracle cost, you can, say, put two Spirit Guides, two Rituals, Irencrag Feat, Charbelcher, and whichever other card all just beneath it, winning the game outright.
Another interesting thing about this card is the clash mechanic. When clashing with an opponent, which happens after you resolve the spell, both you and they need to reveal the top card from your libraries, as well as effectively scry it. The player whose card has a higher converted mana cost (lands, naturally, have a CMC of zero) wins the clash. If that is you, you get to return Recross to your hand. Because of this, you can put Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood on top and scry it away to maximize the chances of winning the clash.
A deck with a powerful, yet very fast combo usually has to have some sort of major downside that makes it pretty vulnerable, and this one is no exception. Outside of the notorious Charbelcher kill, this deck has absolutely no way to win pre-board. To make things even worse, it only has a single additional win condition in the sideboard that requires a similar setup. You don't need a Charbelcher for this one, but you do need Recross the Paths. Reforge the Soul is not as important here, but it is a great asset, so the following combo, while more resistant to discard, is stilll somewhat vulnerable. By using Recross, you can put Collected Company on top, followed by Undercity Informer and Thassa's Oracle.
The great thing about this deck is that there are numerous ways of adjusting the list to the metagame. You can run most common metagame hate such as Blood Moon, Leyline of Sanctity, and even Chalice of the Void. This is not to mention Veil of Summer, which people keep including both in the main and the sideboard. Still, there are problematic matchups such as Control and Humans that should keep the deck in check. Not caring about graveyard hate goes a very long way, but casting Mind Grind for three mana goes around Veil and defeats this deck immediately. Mind Grind never saw any major play so far, but I think this should be an interaction to watch out for.
The other zero-land deck in Modern doesn't lose to Mind Grind, though …
Oops! All Spells in Modern
Another brand-new Modern combo deck with a similar win condition is actually a (very) old Legacy favorite. "Oops! All Spells" is one of the archetypes that made playing Magic with zero lands possible way before it became cool. The first versions were somewhat complicated, as they revolved around milling your own deck, followed by a specific sequence of cards that turn this into a win.
Besides the name, Modern and Legacy versions don't share much. The former does also rely on playing a Undercity Informer or Balustrade Spy as quickly as possible, but it doesn't win by emptying the library completely. Quite on the contrary, the deck includes a single Nexus of Fate to prevent a deckout. You fill the battlefield with Dredge staples both new and old, put Nexus on top of your library, and then win on the following attack.
|Oops! All Spells (unknown creator)|
A playset of Creeping Chill drains your opponent for 12, and the rest of the job is supposed to be done by creatures. I also like the inclusion of Phantasmagorian because you can use it do discard your Ghouls and Amalgams, as well as the Thassa's Oracle in the sideboard. Your devotion to blue is hopefully going to be two, which beats the one card in the deck that is the Nexus.
This deck relies on the graveyard, but that might be better than losing to discard. Force of Vigor takes care of Leyline of the Void, so you are still left with a fighting chance. It may be harder to get back from getting your Goblin Charbelcher discarded. Oops! All Spells finds hiding Belchers in the sideboard much easier than the Belcher deck would find including a graveyard-centric strategy.
At the end of the day, both of these decks have their own strengths and weaknesses. To me, Belcher looks a little bit more consistent but also more vulnerable to anything that isn't graveyard hate. The second list suffers under graveyard hate but is more resilient against Force of Negation. Only time and therefore thousands and thousands of finished matches can tell us which is the supreme zero-land build, as well as whether one or the other is actually broken. Similarly to this situation, the hype around the new and improved Modern Vial Goblins was too large for anybody's good, as the format has fully and quickly understood that the Goblin combo wasn't as scary as initially thought.
Considering that these Legacy builds are doing well in Modern, they may or may not also improve in their birthplace of Legacy itself. The card pool is much bigger and more powerful, after all, but other decks benefit from this too, so again, patience will be required. The Epic Storm is another Legacy deck that some have thought might benefit from the mythic pseudo-lands, but many others disagree. Yes, Burning Wish can now tutor land drops, but would you really try that with such a small amount of sideboard space?
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