Zendikar Rising Spotlight: Sea Gate Stormcaller in Legacy
- Andreas Reling
Legacy has long been defined by its powerful instants and sorceries for one mana or less. The best threats in this format often take advantage of decks full of those spells. Zendikar Rising brings us another such interaction, a new creature that has the potential to make it big in Legacy.
Sea Gate Stormcaller treads in the footsteps of cards like Snapcaster Mage, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Young Pyromancer, and many others. It fits nicely into existing, dominant Legacy archetypes such as Delver and has a lot more going on …
What It Does
On the surface, this is a 2/1 creature for two mana. You can cast it like that and have no other effect — which is pretty miserable, but it is an option. It becomes much better when you cast it and have additional mana to use its trigger. For example, at three mana you could get the body while also copying one of Legacy's popular spells like Brainstorm, Ponder, Swords to Plowshares, Thoughtseize, Pyroblast, Surgical Extraction, Cabal Therapy, or fancy stuff like Unearth.
I have to admit that it's not terribly likely to use its expensive kicker ability, though I could see decks and game states where it comes up, and that makes it a late-game bomb! For example, a control deck will have access to many lands at some point and should be able to pay the kicker cost pretty regularly. Alternatively, if you cast the Stormcaller or the card you want to copy without paying their mana coast — for example, due to Aluren or Dreadhorde Arcanist — you might be able to afford kicker and get the spell doubling for less than the six mana that it's supposed to cost.
Plays Better Than It Looks
When comparing the card to existing creatures that do similar things, the community was quick to call this worse than other options like Dreadhorde Arcanist and Snapcaster Mage. Cards that can be used in many different ways are often underrated at first, and Sea Gate Stormcaller being able to act as your two-drop and put on early pressure while also being your super-late-game mana sink is as relevant as that you can choose to make it another copy of any spell you want it to be. Need two removal spells for your opponent's creatures? One Bolt or Swords will do instead of needing to draw two! You're in a hurry to sculpt the perfect hand for a deciding counter war against a combo deck? Make it a second Brainstorm! The opponent is assembling the perfect hand to combo off through your counterspells with their Defense Grid? Mind Twist their entire grip with a single Cabal Therapy!
Sure, Snapcaster Mage might give your deck the same versatility in essentially doubling a spell of your choice while leaving a body behind. It also plays very well with counterspells like Counterspell, Veil of Summer, Spell Pierce, and so on. But what it doesn't do is cheat on mana. Just compare the two to each other: Using your three lands on the third turn to cast Snapcaster Mage on a one-mana spell will give you a 2/1 and a spell. Casting Stormcaller instead will give you two of the spells and the same body for the same amount of mana! Sticking a threat and then clearing the way of two blockers on the third turn is a powerful tempo play, for instance. Following up your Dreadhorde Arcanist with Stormcaller to cantrip three times for Force of Will, Force of Negation, or Daze also makes it much easier to deploy and protect an early board advantage and plays into the Delver strategy much better than Snapcaster Mage would.
Speaking of Dreadhorde Arcanist, this one helps to break the resource system even more. When you're able to cast Arcanist and untap with it on the third turn, you don't even need a third land drop or spend the third mana to use Sea Gate Stormcaller's ability. If you've cast a spell on the first turn, you'll be able to tap your two lands, cast the Stormcaller, attack with the Arcanist, and use its ability to cast your Lightning Bolt or whatever is already in the graveyard two times for zero mana while putting on more pressure! Those early-game curves involving the new card sound completely broken to me. I expect Delver decks to pick it up and become even better at snowballing away an early advantage with its help.
The Best Way to Use It
Casting additional removal spells or cantrips sounds very potent already. But I think the best way to abuse the card is some proactive Grixis shell that elevates Unearth and Cabal Therapy to their full potential.
Just imagine casting Cabal Therapy on the first turn to name the most likely card they have or the card you'd die to before deploying your synergy and then following up with Stormcaller on the second turn. You'll be able to pay the flashback cost of Therapy by sacrificing the body left on board and take two (or more) of their cards you already know. If you cast Unearth later and get back Stormcaller, you'll receive it's trigger again for the cheap cost of one mana and can do a lot more crazy stuff that way.
I put together a quick draft and I like how all of those cards work together. Oko, Thief of Crowns pushed Grixis Delver out of the metagame, but since Cabal Therapy and Unearth become a lot stronger with Stormcaller, I can see this version of the archetype being playable again. Village Rites is a card I wanted to try in Legacy since it was printed and I think it fits this deck pretty well. It synergizes nicely with Young Pyromancer and Stormcaller as a pretty potent card draw spell. Many have called it Ancestral Recall when you cast it in response to a removal spell targeting one of your creatures and that's somewhat true. Using it alongside Stormcaller also nets you four cards and with Unearth it gets absurd pretty quickly. I didn't want another copy though. It can get awkward to draw multiples, and sacrificing a creature in a tempo deck with only thirteen creature cards already is a risky proposition and in many game states not even possible or recommended.
After Oko has unified Delver versions and we essentially only find the RUG Delver stock list these days, I hope that Sea Gate Stormcaller can have an impact and make the archetype more diverse and fun again. However, I do think it's dangerous to give Delver decks a tool that improves their early game and makes them run away with games even more while also reducing their problem to close games where the opponent survives the initial onslaught.
Delver has been one of my favorite strategies to have around in Legacy for years. But Wizards are doing their best to turn what was once a strict tempo deck into a monster with a decent late-game as well, which makes it hard to justify playing any other fair deck as long as that's true. I think the Legacy community has long identified Delver's rise from an early-game deck that loses most top-deck wars to the preeminent midrange deck in the format. This is becoming a big threat to the diversity of the format as a whole.
What are your thoughts on Sea Gate Stormcaller? Do you think I'm right and it will be played a lot in Legacy? Or do you think it'll turn out to be another flop that can't stand against the fierce competition of existing creatures that create card advantage? Tell us about your opinion in the comments!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.