Adventures in Magic the Gathering: Battle For Zendikar Previews

So the ongoing PAX Prime 2015. That’s something that has been happening for a few days now. Now, my interest in PAX Prime is limited only to what news I can get about Wizards of the Coast and Magic the Gathering, so naturally, the ongoing Magic the Gathering World Championship and the much-hyped (with good reason!) Battle for Zendikar Preview Show are something I’ve been keeping an eye on. I’ve seen most of the day 1 competition so far, and its been exciting to a degree, but the BFZ Preview Show is where the real fun is at and that’s what I’m gonna talk about in this write-up.

BFZ Art

Hosted by Wil Wheaton and Ashly Burch, the show kicked off last night and over the course of the roughly 40-min show, we got tons of information about the upcoming set (and block), which also included some fantastic new cards that are bringing back old mechanics while also giving new twists to them. Having just finished watching the entire Preview Show, with guests such as Doug Beyer of the Magic creative team, Mark Rosewater of the design and development team and Graham Stark of the Friday Nights fame, I can say with all honesty that it was an amazing experience. When the Battle For Zendikar set rolls out on October 2nd, it is going to be a hell of a lot of fun!

First of all, to get you pumped for Battle For Zendikar, here’s the trailer for the new set. I’ve watched it about a dozen times already, and I keep wanting to see more. It is a fantastic sequence that combines narration and card animations very well, and it puts you right in the mood to begin your own journey in this revisit to a world we last saw some six years ago (well, technically, you all since I didn’t start playing until last Fall!). What’s more is that the narrator is Torri Higginon, who had a damn good run as Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate: Atlantis, one of my favourite shows ever, and also has recently done some special appearances recently on Dark Matter as Commander Delaney Truffault. How awesome is that?

Now, on to the other things.

The Preview Show kicked off with an introduction to Doug Beyer, who works on the Magic creative team, and he gave us all an intro to what you can expect from the new set. Most of this information is already known of course, but one of the really, really cool things about his piece was when he revealed the artwork for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which is the new Gideon Jura Planeswalker card from the new set. We recently have seen Gideon in Magic Origins, as both his younger self on Theros and his mature self on Bant. In this version, he is the cheapest of the new cycle of flip-Planeswalkers from Magic Origins, and also one of the coolest I feel, excepting the new Liliana, but that’s a different argument of course. Here’s Gideon as he is right now:

Gideon OriginsPretty damn cool right? I only have one of him at the moment, but once the rotation happens with Battle For Zendikar coming out in just about another month or so, this is a card that I really want to brew with. But, that’s not what this article is about. This article is about the following beauty, something that I think is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in standard since I started playing:

gideonallyofzendikarFirst of all, the cost. 2WW isn’t all that restrictive (certainly nothing like the 1WWW for the Archangel of Tithes from Magic Origins!) and it can easily slot into any 2 colour or 3 colour deck. As a huge huge fan of GW (or even GWx) strategies, I am very excited about this card. It is much faster than Elspeth, Sun’s Champion for one thing, and it also gives you an instant anthem effect! For the uninitiated, anthem effects are those effects on spells of any type that give a stat boost to your creatures, as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar‘s -4 ability does here. I mean, just look at this card. You play it at 4 mana, and then you do a -4, giving you an anthem effect that cannot be removed! In that way, it is better than something like Spear of Heliod, which is 1WW for a similar effect, but is an enchantment artifact, which means it can be removed by any spell or ability that destroys those types. Sure, 4 mana is expensive for something like this, but what this does is that if you have multiple Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in hand, then they aren’t redundant at all. You play one, -4 to get the emblem, then put down the second and either +1 it or 0 it.

gideonsreproach
This card was not revealed during the Preview Show but is one of the spoiled cards from PAX Prime.

This is another card that I’m very excited about. Removal in white is almost always conditional, certainly so in the current standard when you look at cards like Sandblast or Celestial Flare or Swift Reckoning or Valorous Stance. What’s really cool about this card though is that this is constructed playable to a very big degree. For only 1W, you deal a major amount of damage, very relevant in a world where big creatures are the norm, such as Siege Rhino or Surrak, the Hunt Caller or Blight Herder or Eldrazi Devastator or any of the big dragons or what have you. 4 damage for just 1W? I’ll certainly be running 2 of those in my decks, split mainboard/sideboard, especially if I drop by Abzan deck for an out-and-out GW deck. And another thing is that this is also really useful as a kill spell in a deck like RW Aggro. With the Theros block moving out of rotation in October, we are losing the Heroic mechanic, headlined by the WUx Heroic decks at numerous tournaments, and RW Prowess is an archetype that is springing up. And in that kind of a deck, Gideon’s Reproach is a great way to clear out blockers and pump your Prowess creatures for extra damage.

BFZ Full Art LandsFull-art lands! As Mark Rosewater said during the Preview Show, this “mechanic” was one of the things that players loved the most about the original Zendikar block, and when they were bringing back some mechanics from “old” Zendikar to “new” Zendikar, this just had to happen. I love these new full-art lands. They show the evolved look of the plane in the years since the Eldrazi Titans broke free from their prisons and ravaged the plane, and I think they do a damn good job of delivering on the whole Battle For Zendikar experience. These are the stakes! I generally don’t like keeping basic land foils and trade them away the first chance I get, but where these new lands are concerned, fat chance! I am definitely going to keep my foils of these for collection purposes, though if I get a good enough offer, I may trade them. May.

BFZ Minimum LandsThe new cycle of dual lands at rare from Battle For Zendikar. They were hinted at by Mark Rosewater earlier this month when he said that the enemy-coloured fetches would not be in the new set, but that there will be an all-new cycle instead. At a first glance, the new cycle isn’t all that impressive, but then you have to consider that in Limited formats or 2-colour constructed decks, these new “Minimum Lands” would be really powerful. And the most exciting thing is that these can be fetched! Crack a Windswept Heath to get either a Canopy Vista or a Prairie Stream or a Cinder Glade. And in that way, your regular fetches get all the more powerful and you can definitely build solid 3 color decks. Or even 4. Or 5! What’s not to love about that. These will certainly get the prices of the fetches from Khans of Tarkir to go up as well, which is kind of good I suppose since I already have my playset of Windswept Heaths.

BFZ Minimum Lands FAAnd then there was this bomb. These are the premium versions of the new “Minimum Lands” cycle, and while they will not be available for general release, they will be found in regular Battle For Zendikar booster packs, albeit at the foil mythic rarity level. How freakin’ cool is that? The artwork is definitely gorgeous, as is to be expected from this set after all, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these. In the coming days, lots of people will be theorycrafting on the odds of pulling one of these in a booster pack or a fat pack or a booster box or what have you, and those will certainly prove to be an interesting read. But none of that matters. Full-art rare lands!

ZendikarExpeditionsGoodiesAnd then there was this. Mark Rosewater and Wil Wheaton were hyping this up in the final seconds of their segment though MaRo didn’t give in to Wil’s temptations, but we all got to see these anyway when co-host Ashly came back on stage and we got the reveal anyway. The keen eyes will notice that the first of these is one of the enemy fetches from original Zendikar while the other is one of the enemy shocklands from original Ravnica with the Guildpact set. This totally blew my mind. Earlier this month when MaRo confirmed that there wouldn’t be enemy fetches in Battle For Zendikar, I was bummed since as a new Modern player some of the prices are near-prohibitive, certainly for the enemy fetches which are in the range of $50-90 right now, and I was hoping to get them in this new set. But then this bomb drops, and I’m excited. Sure, these will not be available as a general release and meant for collectors, but all the same, this is a way to get them while they are available in Standard sets (though not Standard-legal of course).

New EldraziAnd these are some of the new Eldrazi, doing all sorts of different things. If you would notice, there are at least three new things happening here. The first is that all Eldrazi creatures now have the mechanic Devoid if their casting cost includes coloured mana, such as for Mist Intruder and Barrage Tyrant here. This basically means that even though you have to spend some coloured mana to cast said creature, it still counts as a colourless creature. This is a concession to not breaking the “colour pie” that is at the core of Magic the Gathering while also delivering on the inherent nature of the Eldrazi, that they are beings that have moved on from coloured mana, as certain individuals within the Multiverse have done, such as Ugin, the spirit dragon from Tarkir who is one of the planeswalkers to have locked up the Eldrazi several thousand years ago on Zendikar.

Then you have the Ingest mechanic, which reflects the inherent hunger of the Eldrazi to eat everything in sight. It is a really cool way to show off in the gameplay how the Eldrazi are devastating Zendikar without going into some really complicated mechanic that might just piss off the other players, such as the Annihilator mechanic of old which to me comes across as a really, really bad mechanic as relates to a fun Magic the Gathering experience. The monstrous nature of the Eldrazi is also reflected here, as in the Eldrazi Devastator which is one of the few cards we’ve seen so far from Battle For Zendikar that can go toe-to-toe with Dragonlord Atarka and survive in combat while taking it out at the same time! And as most of us know, Dragonlord Atarka has been a Standard staple since Dragons of Tarkir was released in March this year, finding its way in all sorts of green ramp strategies.

Finally, we have the Kozilek’s Channeler, which functions as the Eldrazi version of a mana dork. It is bigger than any of them, and taps for more mana. It was hilarious to hear that the card’s name during development was Elfdrazi, which is quite fitting. If only the name had made it into the final version! The importance of this card is that it protects itself by having such a big body, while also helping you cast your big Eldrazi spells, especially since it is not a legendary creatures and you can have like 4 of them on the field, which is pretty nuts.

ulamogtheceaselesshungerOf course, they couldn’t reveal all those new Eldrazi without also revealing at least one of the Eldrazi Titans, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger definitely fits that bill. The original version of this monster, from Rise of the Eldrazi, was quite the beast, with somewhat similar stats but different suite of abilities. This one however, I am shocked by it. The first half of the text-box I have nothing against, it is fairly… standard. But the second-half, with the exile ability, man, that thing is way too over-powered. It actually takes me back to Dragons of Tarkir with Dragonlord Kolaghan which hit a player for 10 points of life loss whenever a player cast a spell with the same name as a spell in their graveyard. While I’m quite happy that Dragonlord Kolaghan doesn’t really see any Constructed play, I doubt that Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is going to suffer the same fate. Backed up by cards like Kozilek’s Channeler and probably some kind of colorless-mana generating land that will definitely be in the set, the new Ulamog is a powerhouse and is one of the big threats of the game that demands immediate answers. And also, that thing is going to slot right into Modern with the various Tron decks running around that want to cast Karn Liberated on Turn 3 and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on Turn 4 with a nut draw. Trondrazi!

ruinouspathSince its printing in the Theros set almost two years ago, Hero’s Downfall has been a Standard staple at the highest level. Any deck running black used it exclusively because of its ability to unconditionally deal with both creatures and planeswalkers for a relatively cheap cost. And with the rotation, questions were being asked all over what would replace it. Well, now we have our answer: Ruinous Path. This is not the same as the previous iteration of course because this is a sorcery whereas Hero’s Downfall was an instant, but I think I like this one much the same. Especially because if you have some unused mana that you can’t do anything with, you can just cast this for the Awaken cost and get a 4/4 creature with haste out of it. That just might be the sleeper mode on it I feel, and control decks are certainly going to get quite a kick out of this. Also, the Awaken mechanic, well, another neat way for the set’s design team to reflect how Zendikar as a plane is fighting back against the Eldrazi. If the art had shown some kind of an Eldrazi then it would have been better in that sense, but I still like this as it is. And unless I’m mistaken (and as a few friends have pointed out), that’s Sorin Markov on the art, one of the defining planeswalkers of the Multiverse and who originally helped imprison the Eldrazi on Zendikar, alongside Ugin and Nahiri.

radiantflamesThis is the new “wrath” effect, meaning spells that either destroy all creatures on the board or which deal a significant amount of damage to most of them at any rate, lethal damage even. In Theros block, we had Anger of The Gods, which was a fairly powerful spell, but didn’t see much use in the months of Khans of Tarkir/Magic Origins Standard. Now we have this one, and if I’m honest, I don’t think it is all that powerful. Certainly very, very meta-game dependent. If you face off against people running lots of token creatures, then this can do 2 damage to all of them and pretty much take them all out. Against anything else though, not so good. I feel that this is good only in a Limited sense, because in Constructed you’d rather be casting something like Exquisite Firecraft or a plethora of burn spells available in Standard. If it was X+1 damage though, then it would be really good, but as it is, I’m not optimistic about it, though I don’t think I’m all that good a judge really, not with my limited experience of the game.

titanspresenceDefinitely one of the more interesting cards in the set, and one that will surely reward people for playing Eldrazi-centric decks. You cast this on Turn 3 with perhaps a Barrage Tyrant or an Eldrazi Devastator revealed and you can take out most any creature in the format except other Eldrazi fatties or Ulamog himself. Something to think about. Won’t be going in my Abzan or (theoretical) GW decks though, because those decks won’t care about expensive fatties at all, but something like a control deck needing a finisher of this kind, well, that’s something else entirely.

UG LandfallLandfall is back of course, and seemingly even better than before in the above cases. Mega Landfall, haha. Just the initial effect seems to be pretty great, and if the land type matches out, then you get an additional bonus. How cool is that? Combine these effects with fetches and suddenly there are lots of triggers going on and it all gets to be a trigger-crazy game. Those sound fun for sure. Particularly since a lot of people are going to be arguing over this in the coming days. And constantly asking about it of course.

heroofgomafada1Finally we have the Allies. Another returning mechanic from the previous iteration of Zendikar, and the Ally ETB triggers now have a proper mechanic name in Rally. As MaRo pointed out during the reveal of the above card, they are aiming to reward players who put just a few Ally cards in their decks in addition to the benefits that players get when they build Ally-centric decks, and I think that’s pretty cool. I could run 2-3 of these in a white-based deck and get lots of mileage out of it without necessarily building a full-on Ally deck. Another thing to experiment with in the coming days.

*****

That’s all it for me, I think. I’ve covered most of the cards that have been revealed in the last few days, and they’ve really got me pumped for the the prerelease in September and the release in the week after that. The whole system with Zendikar Expeditions is a neat little thing that Wizards is doing, and I applaud them for thinking of something out of the box and still managing to reward players, however minusculely, who want to see enemy fetches again. It won’t do much to dent the fetchland economy for modern and it won’t make it easier for new Modern players like me either, but I’m fine with that. You do get a chance at least.

And on a final note, I think that Ashly Burch and Wil Wheaton did a great job with the panel. They were excited about the cards, there were lots of jokes, Graham Stark made a great crash-appearance (and got Doug Beyer to reveal that there will be a Zendikar-centric artbook early next year!), and overall it was really fun watching the panel. For those interested in learning more about these cards, you can go the Wizards website here, or you can check out the panel for yourself as well. I’ll be back soon with more spoilers and first thoughts!

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6 thoughts on “Adventures in Magic the Gathering: Battle For Zendikar Previews

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