Adventures In Magic the Gathering: BFZ Spoilers Week 1

About a week ago, I ran a post in my Adventures In Magic the Gathering series that talked about the various (or, most of) cards revealed for the upcoming block (and set) Battle For Zendikar, during the Magic the Gathering Worlds Championship during PAX Prime. There were some rather huge announcements during these previews, not the least of which was a reveal of the new cards for iconic characters like Gideon and Ulamog, but also tasty tidbits for collectors such as the Zendikar Expeditions promos and the new rare lands cycle for the set. And then in this last week, we’ve barely gotten any spoilers, likely due to the fact that Wizards of The Coast frontloaded so much during PAX, but now we are back in spoiler territory, so let’s kick off.

This is only week 1 of spoilers, as counted on the Wizards website, so we still have a long way to go, especially since so far we know only about a third of the entire set. But at the same time, many of these spoilers were really good, especially the new Kiora planeswalker and the new Wrath effect. Or all the cool new allies. Or even the new lands cycle to be found in the set (making it one of two, though only one is actually brand new), though the entire cycle is undoubtedly split between Battle For Zendikar, and its sequel set for next year, Oath of The Gatewatch. So let’s get to them!

BFZ ArtTypically, the way that Wizards breaks down the Planeswalkers for any block is to do it so that each set in the block has at least one and three at most. The difference comes from the size of the set generally and the bigger sets get more Planeswalkers obviously, such as Fate Reforged having only Ugin, the Spirit Dragon while Khans of Tarkir had both Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Dragons of Tarkir had both Narset Transcendant and Sarkhan Unbroken. However, the new block-structure for the game moving forward is that each block is only going to be made up of 2 sets, and not 3. This allows the creative team to tell faster-paced stories while the design and development teams are able to focus each set better within the rest of the block on a mechanical level, to put it simply.

So, given that, Battle For Zendikar has three Planeswalkers in it, while the sequel set Oath of The Gatewatch will have only two. We know one of these Planeswalkers already, that being Gideon, Ally of Zendikar who was revealed during the PAX Prime Preview Show, and now we have the other two.

BFZ PWs 2The last that we saw of Kiora, a Merfolk Planeswalker from Zendikar itself, she was on the plane of Theros, looking for deep-sea leviathans of various types to help her fight the Eldrazi on her home plane. Just a few months ago, her stay on Theros came to an end during a near-climactic battle between her and the Goddess Thassa, who was the premier water deity of Theros, worshipped by the plane’s merfolk most of all. From what little reading I’ve done, Kiora was mistaken for Thassa by the local Merfolk, a mistake she didn’t correct but made full use of, and that angered Thassa. The battle between them was certainly something, and in the end Kiora made off with Thassa’s Bident, the artifact that gave her control of sea creatures and was a sign of her powers. In Battle For Zendikar, I can’t wait to see how Kiora puts the Bident of Thassa into effect, and how she fights off the Zendikari, but her Planeswalker card certainly offers a few hints. That ultimate is totally boss, and we’ll have to wait until the card is up on Gatherer to see how it would work out in terms of stacking the triggers, but it is ultimately something very Kiora and shows her increased level of powers after acquiring the Bident. And her +1 ability can “combo” nicely enough with the new rare lands from the set, which are being called Tangolands or Late Duals or Slow Lands or what have you.

Ob Nixilis on the other hand is a character I have no knowledge of beyond what little I’ve read about him on various forums and stuff. He certainly comes across as a formidable character, and someone who is currently raging across Zendikar, so how his story pans out should be fun. But in the meantime, I think as a Planeswalker he is going to slot into quite a few black-based control decks. Both his +1 and his -3 are quite relevant in that regard and a blue-black mill deck utilizing some of the key cards from the recent Magic Origins set could do very well with him when comboed with something like Sphinx’s Tutelage. Interesting times!

lumberingfallsLumbering Falls is another rare land from the new set, and you can immediately see that it is not the same as the ones we’ve already seen, like Canopy Vista or Cinder Glade. This land card, overall, is part of the “manland” cycle of lands, which can transformed into creatures with varying abilities after paying some amount of mana for them. However, the thing is that the existing manlands are all  ally-coloured while this is enemy-coloured. That certainly opens up manabases for those who are in need of fixing for 3-colour or even 4- or 5-colour decks, as we are losing out on the Scry Lands cycle, and also Mana Confluence from the Theros block.

stasissnareThis is going to be a pretty important card I feel. With Banishing Light rotating, we needed a good exile enchantment, and Stasis Snare definitely fits the bill. The Flash mechanic is balanced by the mana cost restriction when compared with Banishing Light, but I think that just overall this is a better card since instant speed removal is almost always to be valued highly as it lets you deal with creatures on an opponent’s turn and free up the required mana on your own turn. Depending on how my Abzan deck changes post-rotation, I definitely see myself running at least one of these. Oh and this is also the Battle For Zendikar Game Day Promo, given to all attendees of the event, so that should be good as well. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing out on yet another Game Day, my fourth in a row, as this time I’ll be in India during both the dates. C’est la vie!

desolationtwinThis is a completely bonkers card. Sure, it costs a ton of mana to cast, but this is a pretty nice finisher for control decks at the least, or even ramp decks, depending on how mana ramp ends up working out in Battle For Zendikar. The key part here is that the token comes in on a “cast” trigger and not an “enters the battlefield” trigger. In best case scenario, the player ends up with two 10/10 creatures, while in the worst case, he or she ends up with a single 10/10 creature. Thank god there is no trample here, otherwise this would be totally broken. I can just chump this with something like a Tyhoid Rat!

undergrowthchampionAs Managorger Hydra has shown us from Magic Origins, creatures like this can get out of control real fast. Landfall as a mechanic works really well with something like Fetchlands, which can give you two triggers here, and if you can get something like Explosive Vegetation or Nissa’s Renewal going, then this card becomes even better. Of course, if you can also combo this with a card like Hardened Scales, thus increasing the number of +1/+1 counters you can get, then Undergrowth Champion becomes even more of a beast, and something like that is certainly going to be a big part of Standard I think. I believe this card is very much a build-around-me card, and finding the right shell is going to be fun.After the initial

After the initial round of Zendikar Expeditions reveals, we have had some more since then and they are all as beautiful as the ones before. However, one thing I’ve started to note, as have many others, that some of the beauty of these cards is taken away by the text boxes. For one, the text boxes are bigger than they need to be, and second, the background of the boxes isn’t as good as it could be either. Looking at something like Stasis Snare from above, the Game Day Promo that is, it is certainly possible for Wizards to go that route, but I wonder if the difference between non-foil and foil has something to do with it. And of course, you kind of get the odd thing such as the Hallowed Fountain not really conveying the proper feel of a card meant to be both Plains and Island land types. Either way, of these five, my favourites are definitely the Sacred Foundry and Temple Garden, which are both just immensely gorgeous cards.

zadahedrongrinderThis one is a very interesting card. This is something that actively wants the controlling player to be playing with some kind of pump spells or even protection spells of some kind. There’s a wide variety of cards that could be relevant here, ranging everything from Chandra’s Ignition and Titan’s Strength and Joraga Invocation and Epic Confrontation and Become Immense. Just how exactly some of the multi-target spells would work with this card I’m not sure of, but surely, that’s something else to be explored in the new set, and should be a fun process.

templeoftheforsakengodsMore mana-fixing, this time for colorless decks. Temple of the Forsaken Gods generates one mana per turn for any regular spells, but if you want to use this land for colorless spells, then you can generate 2 mana per turn with the restriction that you control seven or more lands already. Certainly intriguing from a top-end perspective. It is not a legendary either, so if you can get this going in multiples and combine it with something like the new Kozilek’s Channeler, then you can get some serious mana generation going. And Eldrazi decks should be a big thing for the new standard so expect this land to see a lot of play.

planaroutburstThis is going to be our new Wrath effect for the new Standard. Cards such as Crux of Fate and End Hostilities and even Duneblast do a few different things, and Planar Outburst here does something that is even more different for it takes advantage of the new Awaken mechanics. One thing to keep in mind is that most Awaken spells come with a heavy top-end, in something like the 6-9 mana range from what we’ve seen so far. That is a significant amount of mana, and really only some kind of a big mana deck or a control deck is going to be able to use them effectively to make the costs worth it. This spell is going to hit almost everything, excepting for the Elemental Land creatures generated by Awaken. I don’t think the Manlands are going to be an exception since they are only creatures until the end of their controlling player’s turn, if they are activated at all.

deathlessbehemothThe Deathless Behemoth is truly a beast. A 6mana 6/6 would be a decent creature on its own, but the Deathless Behemoth has Vigilance to boot, and it also has a neat effect (unofficial translation): “Sacrifice 2 Eldrazi Scions: Return Deathless Behemoth from the graveyard to your hand. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery”. As if sacrificing Scions for mana wasn’t enough, we can get yet more uses out of them, and that just builds on all the different kinds of synergies that a dedicated Eldrazi deck could have.

tajuruwarcallerThe Tajuru Warcaller is one of my favourite new cards from Battle For Zendikar. If you apply the Vanilla Test to this card, then it fails miserably on that front because a 5mana 2/1 is an abysmal rate and so the text has to offer something really enticing, and that’s where this card really shines I believe. The moment that I saw this card, and being an Abzan player, my mind turned immediately to a dream sequence of T3 Anafenza, the Foremost T4 Surrak, the Hunt Caller T5 Tajuru Warcaller attacking for a total of 19 damage on T5. That’s a crazy sequence. And in a dedicated ally deck this card obviously gets even better if you can trigger it often. Another thing to keep in mind is that this works very well with the Knight Ally tokens from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. On its own, without a proper shell for it, the card is bad, but otherwise, if you can get some support going, this card is going to do wonders.

grovetenderdruidsI was really excited to see GW playables in Battle For Zendikar, especially Ally creatures, and when I saw this card I got really pumped. At least I was rather pumped until I read the text on it. Then my excitement just faded off completely. You will never be casting this card on curve on T4. The requirement of having a 1 spare mana is something that is not feasible in most games, especially for aggro decks unless the games go on long. This might be a nice card for a sideboard in Limited, but beyond that, I really don’t think this is a good card at all for Constructed games.

groverumblerThis is a really solid card. Also a limited bomb, which is pretty significant. Using Fetchlands, you can trigger this twice to end up with a 7/7 beast. Now that’s some damn good quality right there. And on top of all that it has Trample, which can definitely help push through some damage and given that there are some cards there which care about whether or not you damage the opponent directly, then this card gets even better in those combinations.

 mundaambushleaderA 4mana 3/4 with Haste is a decent enough rate for Constructed I think. Not particularly amazing, but it gets the job done. And to add to that this one fixes your draws so that you can trigger him again for the next few turns. And again, in a dedicated deck with good support, this gets even better, such as with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar who can trigger him again and again with his tokens. An aggro-based RW deck with Allies is looking more and more probably as spoilers are revealed, and the next card here makes enough of a case for that.

resoluteblademasterT4 Munda with T5 Resolute Blademaster is a pretty good sequence. You fix your Ally creature draws if needed, and you can attack for a whopping 6 damage, if not more depending on what kind of other support you have. To be honest, for 5 mana the stats on the Resolute Blademaster are slightly weak I think, even counting the double strike and I wish that it was just a smidge better, either on offense or defense. But at the same time, it has a good synergy with your other creatures. Again, to come back to the new Gideon, you use his +0 on T4 and then his +1 on T5 when you cast this, you end up with 14 points worth of damage on T4, spread across two creatures. Pretty potent.

dranasemissaryThis is an okay card. 3mana 2/2 flyer is acceptable enough and this one has the drain life effect tagged onto it. In draft, this is likely to be a pretty late pick because it isn’t really going to have any kind of an impact until T4, unless you have some crazy synergies going on with other Allies or something, and even in Constructed, I doubt it is going to see much play, unless something changes in a big way to make this a viable include. In Collected Company decks this might make a splash, but doubtful.

heraldofkozilekMore mana-fixing, of sorts. In multiples, this obviously quite good, as is the other Eldrazi creature from Kozilek’s specific brood, Kozilek’s Channeler which can generate 2 colorless mana per turn. Coming in on T3, this card should have a significant impact for ramp-oriented decks, and allow you to cast your big creatures that much early. And it blocks fairly well too with the 4 toughness, blunting a lot of early aggression, much as Courser of Kruphix of old did. And it is even more resilient than the Courser because of the Devoid mechanic since the other card could at least be taken out with an Ultimate Price. At least a Valorous Stance is still good, and with all the big Eldrazi creatures floating about, that card is going to get even better.

skyriderelfAnother Converge card, and another Ally without an ETB effect for Allies. If you are short on mana, this is a great 2mana 2/2 flyer. And the more different colours of mana you have, the bigger it is going to get, topping at a 5mana 5/5 flyer, which is kind of amazing. In that spot it is going to beat most midrange-y creatures, and do a lot of work with its evasion as well. We still have to see any adequate replacements for Sylvan Caryatid in the format, so obviously 4 or 5colour deck isn’t going to be as viable as it could be before, but still, Converge demands build-around-me cards and Skyrider Elf fits the bill.

voidwinnowerThis has to be one of the strangest cards from Battle For Zendikar. It is a late-game card, and by that time, the game should be close to over. Unless you find a way to cheat this into play with something like See The Unwritten. Now that can be a big bomb. I don’t see this card doing much in Limited, and it wouldn’t be my first pick for sure, but if you pick it up late, it could make a decent enough sideboard card I suppose. Unless you are able to draft a crazy Eldrazi ramp deck or something like that. This does lockout a ton of different things in the format though, and is good on both offense and defense, so perhaps there’s some home for this yet. I definitely know that I’m going to be packing a full set of Abzan Charms in my Abzan decks given all these crazy Eldrazi fatties we’ve seen.

BFZ LandsThe promo here has to be among the most gorgeous of them all, even when compared against Temple Garden and Sacred Foundry. The artists have done a hell of a job here, and I can’t wait to see some of these in all their foil glory. On the other hand, the WB manland here is so incredibly boring. I mean, you compare this with something like Celestial Colonnade, which is 4/4 flyer with vigilance when activated, or a Raging Ravine which gets counters every time it attacks, or even the Lumbering Falls above, and this just falls far short of the mark for me. Boring.

felidarsovereignYes! This card is back! Ever since I started building my Soul Sisters deck for Modern, I’ve been hinting for a Felidar Sovereign with no success. It is really tough to get cards here in Dubai, and even when I was in the States earlier this year in July I had zero luck. But now it is back and it seems that the card has dropped in rarity as well, going from a Mythic Rare from the original Zendikar to being a Rare. Good news for me! Clocking in at 6 mana, the Felidar Sovereign has both Vigilance and Lifelink and has some pretty good stats as well at 4/6. The text itself says that you win the game if you have 40 or more life during your upkeep. A relatively easy thing to do for a Soul Sisters deck by T6! In Standard, I’m not sure yet how this would work, but if you can find a good shell for it with something like Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Mastery of the Unseen and Feed the Clan, then you are on the right track!

greenwardenofmurasaAnother Mythic Rare revealed in the last few days, Greenwarden of Murasa has some good stats for its cost, and a fairly relevant text box as well. I’m really amazed at how all the recent and upcoming green fatties are so good. You look at Rhox Maulers, Dragonlord Atarka, Outland Colossus, Woodland Bellower, Omnath Locus of Rage and this, and you get a good feel for green-based decks. There are lots of these things these decks can be doing at the 5-7 mana slot, and this new card is a good addition to the stable. If you can abuse this card with some kind of blink effects akin to a Flickerwisp or a Restoration Angel, then that’s even more value!

hedronnetworkA few weeks ago we had the Hedron Archive. Now we have the Hedron Network, which is an artifact that exiles all creatures with power 5 or greater for as long as it is on the battlefield. Coming in at just 4 mana, this ruins the days for a lot of fatty-creature decks, especially the Eldrazi decks that will be cropping up all over, and I think is a very good sideboard card for almost any deck. I will definitely run one in my own sideboards because it is just too much value. You combine it with bounce effects, and again, more value to keep various big creatures locked down while you push through with your own minnows and Siege Rhinos.

marchfromthetombFor an aggressive deck, this card has a lot of good attached to it. I don’t think it is going to be seeing any maindecks any time soon, but in the sideboard as a 1- or 2-of, this has a lot of potential for the grindy games, especially against control decks. We don’t yet know the full scope of abilities for Allies in Battle For Zendikar, but any with Haste and draw-fixing such as Munda or other good ETB effects is going to shine with this.

 transgressthemindWith the upcoming rotation in 20 days, we are going to lose one of the biggest Standard and Modern staples, Thoughtseize. That card went in pretty much every black-based deck for the Theros and Khans of Tarkir Standard and it is only recently that people have begun to cut it in favor of other cards. Losing it as one of the best T1 plays for back-based decks is going to be a pain for sure, but we do have Despise and Duress in Standard still, and this card adds a very different angle of attack. It isn’t going to do much for aggro decks such as MonoRed aggro, but against those that go big, such as Abzan or RG Dragons or Mardu Midrange, this is going to do a lot of work. And the chosen card is exiled, so that’s something else as well, helping to fuel to the new Eldrazi Processor creatures.

brutalexpulsionThis is kind of a really odd card for me, as one or two others that I’ve mentioned above. For its mana cost, it is perhaps a good rate, but I’m kind of at a loss to understand the why of the wording of the first option there “target spell or creature”. Generally, a spell refers to any kind of card that is being cast, no matter what type it is (includes creature type cards). So for this card to reference a general spell and then the specific type in creature, is just really really odd. It is kind of a 4-mana spell counter or bounce effect, depending on what it targets, and is totally something that blue does, and then it “burns” creatures or planeswalkers, which is up red’s alley. This is probably going to see a fair amount of play in URx decks, especially Jeskai, and would be a decent enough Limited bomb as well.

akoumfirebirdThis is a pretty weak Mythic, I must say.  A 4mana 3/3 flyer with haste is pretty good, but I only see that “good” being good if it is a Rare, not a Mythic Rare, because the Landfall ability is simply way too expensive, and is so… vanilla. Simply put, this is a boring card. And this must attack so is only good on the offense, and not on defense. Perhaps that’s something that MonoRed needs, but there are honestly better options, such as a Thunderbreak Regent which is a far better card in the same slot and is good in multiples as well.

*****

That’s all for me this time. I’ve covered a lot of the new spoilers we saw this past week, and one thing I’ve noted is that Wizards is kind of slow-rolling the reveals. I mean, we saw only like 50 spoilers this past week, whereas just at PAX Prime alone we saw as many. And with only about 10 more weekdays of spoilers to go before the Battle For Zendikar Prereleases, we still are waiting on like 174 more cards. Wizards really needs to start pumping out more spoilers! Still, most of these have been good, and we are starting to see a better picture of the new Standard, and it will only get better as more cards are revealed.

Until next time, ciao! And here’s the trailer again!

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