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Attention to Detail #34
Feel Unlucky, Punk?
by Jordan Kronick
August 4, 2006

Let's take a trip in the wayback machine, everybody. And if you don't get that reference, ask your parents. We're going to take a trip all the way back to the year 2005. The world was a different place. Everyone still thought snow-covered lands were awful and “ripple” was just a variety of potato chip. The information on what Ravnica would give us was just beginning to appear and everyone was getting excited. In the midst of all this, the Magic Invitational was held and, as we all know, the result ended up being Rakdos Augermage. But there was another winner from that crowd of player-created cards. One card, as selected by a vote, would be printed in addition to the winner's card. This one wouldn't feature a player's likeness on it, but it's still quite the honor. The result of that vote gave us Unluckyman's Paradise. Well, a couple weeks ago we found out what that card was going to become and when we'd be seeing it. It's in Time Spiral and it's called Gemstone Caverns. Not to be confused with Gemstone Mine or Hall of Gemstone. If you haven't seen this information, here's the text of the card. It's going to take some getting used to.

Gemstone Caverns
Legendary Land
If Gemstone Caverns is in your opening hand and you're not playing first, you may begin the game with Gemstone Caverns in play with a luck counter on it. If you do, remove a card in your hand from the game.
T: Add 1 to your mana pool. If Gemstone Caverns has a luck counter on it, instead add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

It seems really simple at first. It's a bit like a Mox Diamond, after all. It costs you an extra card, but it produces any color of mana. Then there's all that rubbish about putting it into play at the start of the game, but that can't matter much, can it? Well, yes it can. It matters a whole lot, in fact. Although the mana fixing power of Mox Diamond was one of its great facets, the real power was in acceleration. And the Mox came down a half a turn later than the Gemstone Caverns can. Everyone's first thought, of course, is that this accelerates you to 2 mana on turn 1. What can you do with 2 mana on the first turn? Well you could play a Vinelasher Kudzu or a Watchwolf. You could play a signet and increase your acceleration a little bit more. The options for 2-mana spells that would be strong on turn 1 are nearly limitless, especially when you go beyond the realm of what is currently in Standard. A look at the Selecting 10th Edition vote this week shows that Mind Stone has the potential to come back next summer. That's an awfully good 2-drop. It even lets you play another 1-drop right off the bat. And next turn? Next turn you're humming. But I'm getting ahead of myself. All the great things that you can do with a Gemstone Caverns on turn 1 are nothing compared to the great things you can do with Gemstone Caverns on turn 0. That's right, don't forget that the Caverns come into play untapped. Our options for 1-mana instants on turn 0 are somewhat limited in Standard at the moment. Here's some of the more interesting options:

Darkblast – Kill that Birds of Paradise without screwing up your tempo.

Shock – As above, but a bit more versatile. With all the great red cards coming back in 10th, a very fast deck could reasonably be casting Shock before they ever have a turn.

And then there's... oh, wait. No, there isn't. Standard is, unfortunately, not the right place for this card to truly shine on turn zero. The way Wizards has tightened up on the speed of the game has resulted in a lack of particularly impressive one-mana cards. Fortunately, we're not limited to the realm of Standard. Instead of that, let's look at Magic Online. What can we do on turn zero in the digital realm?

Annul or Force Spike – Want to stop that turn 1 artifact or that turn 1.. well, anything? Here you go. Force Spike has never been this powerful before. People used to always have the option to playing something before you got a land to get around the spike. Now there's no hope at all.

Mental Note, Opt, Peek, Brainstorm etc – For a few years there we got a whole lot of 1-mana blue instants that did something small and drew a card. Those days seem to have passed, but the cards are still around on Magic Online. Being able to Brainstorm in response to a first turn Duress is a pretty impressive move. The Mental Note can propel you into Dredging on turn 1 and all the others can help smooth you out a little more, after starting the game with 5 cards in hand (though one in play).

Stilfle – Here's a fun one. Even stifled a fetchland activation before? It's good fun. And now you can do it on turn zero. Fetchlands have never been more useful than they are now that Ravnica's full set of dual lands are around. A stifle on a turn 1 fetchland activation with a Gemstone Caverns in play can be a huge tempo swing. Suddenly you've got 2 mana to play around with and they've got none. Not bad for playing second, huh?

So that's a look at turn zero. Turn one is really elementary. The number of cool things you can do with two mana is really only limited by your imagination. So, you're asking, is it worth it? After all, you're ditching a card from your hand right from the start of the game. That can be a dangerous situation. Well, yes it is worth it. The key to remember with Gemstone Caverns is that its special ability is only going to come into play if you're playing second. That means that the card you're losing is essentially replaced by the card you'll draw on your turn. There's the genius behind Gemstone Caverns. If you lose the coin flip, it doesn't matter. In many respects, it'll be like you won the coin flip. You lose the ability to play a permanent or sorcery on your first turn, but exchange that for the utility of having a land that taps for any color of mana. In this supremely multicolored environment, that's a darn fine thing.

It's not all rosy, though. There's a reason that this card isn't being hailed as the greatest thing since sliced Mana Drain. It has some flaws that are hard to overcome. The first of which is that it's legendary. You're not going to be able to get more than one of these in play from the start of the game, but that's probably not too big of a concern after all. You probably don't want to go down to 3 cards in hand right off the bat, anyway. However, the Legendary status can still get you into trouble. Let's say you're playing against someone else who's using Gemstone Caverns in their deck. They play first and you put your Caverns into play, removing something from the game. Well, your opponent is feeling a bit cruel and so their land drop on turn one is – you guessed it – Gemstone Caverns. It negates your play and sets you back a card. They've just moved one card up in the overall card advantage scheme. You'll get to play the first mana producing land that sticks around on your turn, but you're already down two cards. You get to draw first, but even so. It's like playing first but down a card. It's a dangerous situation, to be sure. And you can bet that a lot of people will be running Gemstone Caverns in their deck, so it might not be as rare a circumstance as you might think. There's a good side to the Legendary status, however. If you do play a Gemstone Caverns on turn zero, you can remove another one from your hand. After all, the second one isn't going to be too terribly useful to you, so it makes a great card to remove from the game.

But what about the game after turn one? Legendary lands in constructed decks are nothing new. The assorted legendary lands from Kamigawa block have all seen play in the past couple years. The difference is that those were almost always played as one-ofs in decks. With the exception of utility lands like Boseiju or possibly Miren and Mikokoro, there wasn't much reason to run multiples. Gemstone Caverns definitely wants you to play more than one of it. Otherwise you're only getting a small chance that it'll ever show up in your opening hand, and you might as well just be playing a basic land (or a Quicksand or something). The key here is in having something to do with those extra Caverns. Well, Ravnica has given us the perfect answer for that tricky situation. One of the card drawing spells currenly on the market is Compulsive Research. This fits Gemstone Caverns like a glove. You want to be discarding land to it anyway, and this way you can do it without feeling like you're really setting yourself back. The Compulsive can also help recoup a bit of the lost card advantage you suffered from playing a turn zero Caverns, too. Play something fun on turn 1, play the Compulsive on turn 3 and suddenly you've got a full hand and a mana advantage. That's a good place to be.

There's one more thing to think about when you talk Gemstone Caverns. And that's sideboarding. This can be a fun (or not so fun) game of reading your opponent's intentions. If you win the first game of a match, do you sideboard in some Gemstone Caverns? Your opponent is getting the chance to play first, but will they? For that matter, if you're playing a deck with Gemstone Caverns in it, do you choose to play first or draw first? It seems like drawing first must be the right choice here, as the Caverns will be fairly useless otherwise. So do you maindeck them? Or do you put them in the sideboard, leading your opponent to believe that maybe you're not running any – hoping to catch them offguard when they play first on the second game. There hasn't been this much interesting stuff going on before the first turn in the history of the game. Sorry, Serum Powder. You just don't cut the mustard.

For such a simple card, this raises a lot of questions. And clearly, the power is impressive. It won't be long before type one feels the power of the Gemstone Caverns. Playing an Ancestral Recall on your opponent's turn 1 during their upkeep is pretty huge. In a format where the game is often decided by the first turn, things can always get faster. Gemstone Caverns is going to be one of the big question marks of Time Spiral. So, do you feel Unlucky, punk? Well, do ya?



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