What I like about Battle for Zendikar

nde bannerAs a follow-up on my gloomy post about Battle for Zendikar, I thought I’d go over the things I actually do like about the new set. Not everything is awful, not even when one of the most interesting worlds in Magic has been overrun by otherworldly alien creatures.

omnath,locusofrage.full#1: Landfall is interesting, and likely better.
Landfall is a baller mechanic for Magic in general, and one I think deserve to be evergreen more than for example Prowess. Magic has always had its mana system, and while I like it overall, nobody can argue that it sucks losing to mana screws or mana floods. Landfall solves the latter in a rather elegant way.

In the first Zendikar block, however, Landfall was something of a menace (pun unintended). Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede combined their powers to create one of the fastest limited formats ever – to the point that taking a Welkin Tern or even a Cliff Threader or a Surrakar Marauder over an obvious bomb in a more orthodox format, say a Rampaging Baloths was often the correct call.

In this format, so far, we’ve seen much more reserved Landfall threats – Makindi Sliderunner, Snapping Gnarlid, and Scythe Leopard have a more reasonable growth, and the rest of the threats on common and uncommon are of higher casting costs. The only really crazy Landfall threat on the uncommon rarity is Grove Rumbler, and it’s multicolour after all.

All in all, I expect Battle for Zendikar’s limited format to contain elements from Zendikar for sure, but with a page from Rise of the Eldrazi as well, which seems positive. It should be noted that Landfall is more or less an exclusively offensive ability, which might make for a faster-than-usual limited environment after all.

clutchofcurrents.full#2. Landfall works well with Awaken.
Original Zendikar had Kicker, and Worldwake had Multikicker to function as mana sinks in the limited environment. Useful tools for when decks sometimes wants to run more than 17 lands to fuel Landfall.

Awaken could be considered a variant of kicker in some aspects, even though the kicked version of the spells all have the same bonus effects – animating a land and adding some counters to it, or sometimes just adding counters to an already awakend land.

This ought to work well with Landfall as well, in that it both serves to have some spells with two configurations (although some Awaken costs are a bit high, and other spells are virtually unplayable without Awaken) – suitable for when you have more lands in play than usual.

#3. (Some) instant speed ramp.
The ramp isn’t very rampy in Battle for Zendikar, as I’ve stated before – but the ones there are are pretty decent. Natural Connection costs three and a card, but is an Instant, which means you could activate Landfall out of nowhere in instant speed. Evolving Wilds is slow mana fixing, but does the same thing, even if the opponent can see it coming. Lastly, Blighted Woodland can create three (!) Landfall triggers on its own in a single turn! The good thing about these is that Evolving Wilds is likely the only high-ish pick for people, so if you’re deep in powerful Landfall triggers, it’s likely that some of the common fixing will come around late in a draft.

#4. The Eldrazi mechanics convey meaning well.salvagedrone.full
I’ve stated before that I don’t like the Eldrazi much before – but I will say that R&D has done a great job with the mechanics. During the spoiler weeks, I caught myself saying “Huh, that’s… weird. But maybe that’s the point” on more than one occasion. Ingest and Devoid feels like alien mechanics to me, and even though they serve a bad villain, they’re doing it well.

What do you like about Battle for Zendikar? Leave a comment!

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Things that worry me in Battle for Zendikar

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Battle for Zendikar has been fully spoiled and I have to say I’m not excited wholeheartedly. I was skeptical towards Khans of Tarkir as well at first, but that turned out awesome, so I won’t judge the set before I get my hands on it. That said, there are a few things that worry me in the set.

1. (Some of) the mechanics seem to be parasitic.dominatordrone
A parasitic mechanic, as defined by Mark Rosewater in an article on the mothership, is a mechanic that doesn’t blend well with other mechanics and other cards. I find more than one examples of this in Battle for Zendikar. Ingest has synergy with cards within the set, but will probably not be relevant outside Battle for Zendikar limited, and maybe Standard. Devoid, or rather “colourless matters” is a more broad mechanic in general, since there are lots of colourless cards outside Battle for Zendikar. Rally, the keyword for the Ally enters the battlefield triggers is at least less parasitic than it was in original Zendikar block, since bonuses from allies are granted all of your creatures these days, not just your other allies. That said, in order to re-trigger these abilities you need more allies, a creature type confined to the blocks set on Zendikar, and that’s excluding Rise of the Eldrazi, in which they are inexplicalby absent.

heroofgomafada.full2. The limited format seems wide open.
This isn’t a problem intrinsicly, since open limited formats are a lot more interesting than “on-rails” drafts in closed formats, but even so – having a limited format with very little direction is daunting to me as an irregular Limited player. Aside the blatant Allies deck and maybe some Eldrazi ramp/colourless matters (though the ramp isn’t very rampy, frankly) deck, I don’t see a clear direction. Granted, I’m a really bad Limited player, but I have played Magic for more than fifteen years. I can’t imagine how confused beginners would be, sitting down at a Battle for Zendikar draft table.

3. The Eldrazi are pretty awful villains.wastelandstrangler.full
To kill, to consume, to move on. Eldrazi motivations carry about as much relatability and weight as the Tyranids from the Warhammer 40k universe – which is approaching zero. I’m quite sure that Wizards has designed the Eldrazi to feel strange and alien, and when it comes to the whole “First I put the cards from your library to exile, then I put them in your graveyard from there” does a good job at conveying that, but it turns the Eldrazi into nothing more than a force of nature. Conflict between lopsided sides when it comes to sympathy makes for dull storytelling. Nissa, Jace, Gideon et al might as well try and put out the greatest forest fire in Zendikar history – because that’s essentially what the Eldrazi are, they are a very hard to put out forest fire. Compared to conflicts between sides that have no clear “good” or “evil” alignment – say House Tyrell and House Lannister from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Battle for Zendikar falls quite short. With stories with clear “evil” villains, I much prefer relatable villains with understandable motivations over Eldrazi, or Tyranids. This is Vorthos, but Wizards is banking a lot of Vorthos these days, and some players do care.

4. The low power level compared to Khans.akoumfirebird.full
Again, not an intrinsic problem, since power is relative. That said, Battle for Zendikar will spend some time in the sun together with Khans of Tarkir block, which has a generally high power level. My fear is that the cards in the new set will be overshadowed by the older cards, and I have a sense that we will se a lot more Siege Rhinos than Eldrazi on camera during the Standard portion of Pro Tour: Battle for Zendikar.

As I said, these are just my worries about the set, and I might be completely wrong. Reading the spoiler doesn’t get me excited for anything though bar a few of the EDH goodies they crammed into the set.

Zendikar, like Tarkir, seems like a world that was a lot more interesting before the big baddies took over.

[Battle for Zendikar] Drana 2

nde bannerThe new version of Drana has been officially spoiled, and it is complete insanity:

Drana2Drana, Liberator of Malakir is an evasive three-drop 2/3, and as long as she gets through she will pump your team. Not only is this great in one of my EDH decks (not revealed here yet), but she also has synergy with herself – if non-first strikers attack with her, she will deal her combat damage in the First Strike damage step, getting the trigger off and putting a counter before the rest of the team hits!

Coupled with all the +1/+1 counter “lords” from Tarkir, I’d say she’d make a fine addition to any black EDH deck that cares about counters. Construcing a deck around her is harder, especially compared to her previous form, but she is aggressively costed and will be easy to cast multiple times in a black deck. Too bad she has little impact the turn she comes into play.

Overall, I like her a lot, and I love the fact that the fanservice has been dialed down from her previous incarnation.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

The Planeswalkers of Battle for Zendikar

nde bannerIt’s no secret that Planeswalkers have become very important to Magic as a game, and a set is often judged on its Mythichs, specifically its Planeswalkers. Battle for Zendikar has had three revealed so far, and it’s unlikely we’ll see a fourth. I want to take some time and go over them.

gideonallyofzendikarFirst up is Gideon, and he is pretty darn good. His +1 is very Gideon, though useless on the first turn in a vacuum. His 0 his pretty darn great though, and even though the ability won’t plus him, getting a 2/2 creature for free every turn is powerful even in constructed. On top of that, the creature in question is an Ally, meaning it’ll trigger the various Ally abilities on the field (now dubbed “Rally”). His -4 isn’t terribly impressive, but it will have quite an impact, and the fact that you can drop him and immediately ultimate him means it’s an anthem effect for 4, not awesome but not shabby either. Overall a very solid Planeswalker, and I can’t imagine him not seeing Standard play even Allies aren’t a thing come this fall. Blatant Limited bomb, and a windmill slam first pick unless the draft format turns out to be very strange and white somehow turns out to be the worst colour.

kioramasterofthedepths1Kiora does a somewhat decent job at protecting herself with her +1, untapping creatures to block or untapping lands to cast spells to protect her. It does recquire work, but overall it’s a pretty good +1. The -2 is restrictive enough to not be broken but flexible enough to be powerful, and you can do it twice without plusing her. The ultimate is pretty insane, she gets you an emblem which will let you fight for free and after that she nets you three 8/8’s (!). In case anyone is keeping scores, this means that she will clear the board from almost anything and net you a game-winning advantage immediately. Very potent and fitting for her ultimate. Easy constructed playable, but perhaps only in Standard. Her mana cost might mean she’s not an easy pack one pick one, but she will be played anywhere people can play her in Limited.

obnixilisreignited2Last up is my new favourite bad boy of Magic! Ob Nixilis protects himself nicely with his -3, but it’s a shame he can’t do it twice without plusing. The +1 by the way is quite insane, seeing as how he will immediately replace himself no matter what ability you activate and leave you with a Planeswalker at either 6 or 2 loyalty. The emblem will also close out even the grindiest games very quickly, and overall I must say he’s solid but perhaps the least potent of the three. I also think they could’ve shaved a colourless mana off of his cost and not turning it broken. I will surely try and get my hands on one for EDH!

What do you think of our cast of Planeswalkers for Battle for Zendikar? Leave a comment!

[Battle for Zendikar] New duals!

nde bannerJust a quick morning post, PAX has resulted in a lot of cool spoilers, and I will cover them all (Ulamog, Gideon, the chase rares) in time, but for now, the most important bits are these doozies:

prariestream(There is one for each friendly colour combination of course).

New duals with the basic land types is exciting, and even thouh these will be worse than the Ravnica Shock lands in Modern and obviously unplayable in Legacy, I’d say that they will go very nicely into two-colour decks in EDH. Perhaps even three-colour. The restriction, that you have to play two basic lands first to get them into play untapped, is a very interesting design and I like these quite a bit.

What do you think of the new duals? Leave a comment!

[Battle for Zendikar] Guardian of Tazeem

nde bannerThe World Championships are running right now at PAX, and while I’m excited to see no less than two Swedes fighting for the title, I’m also excited for the new Battle for Zendikar spoilers! This little thing showed up in the middle of the stream yesterday:

guardianoftazeem

As of right now, I haven’t found a better scan, so I apologize for the quality.

While this fellow probably won’t make a splash in any of the constructed formats I care about (Legacy and EDH), he is a complete Limited bomb and a very effective beater. 4/5 flier for 5 is above the curve as-is, and the Landfall ability makes it crazy. Despite what I said about constructed formats, fetchlands make him even more crazy, since that means he can tap down two things.

Overall, I’d say it’s a good card with a neat design. What do you think?

Battle for Zendikar, the first spoilers

nde bannerNear Death Experience banner. I know the card is from Rise of the Eldrazi, but the art is just so baller! Besides, Gideon is in the new set as well!

The lists for Duel Decks: Zendikar vs. Eldrazi were revealed recently, along with a few new preview cards that are quite exciting. I don’t want to discuss all of them, but here’s a link to the article: Link to the mothership. In bullet points:

  • Allies are back
  • Landfall is back
  • There are three new keywords so far, Devoid, Ingest and Awaken.

Devoid and Ingest are both Eldrazi keywords, and both are represented on a pretty sweet common:

dominatordroneIn Limited, I’d say a 3/2 for 3 with no drawback is playable as is, at least in most formats. It depends on how fast the format will be and how important it will be to curve out. Zendikar was one of the fastest Limited environments of all time, where Rise of the Eldrazi was one of the slowest – with the latter featuring the infamously bad Glory Seeker, completely unplayable in the format but at least playable in every othoblivionsowerer Limited environment. Zendikar, on the other hand of the spectrum, was so fast that drafting a 2/1 vanillia for 2 over bomby 6-drops was almost always the right call. Only time will tell where Battle for Zendikar will fit in, but if it leans to the faster format, I’d say Dominator Drone is pretty good. If you can curve into it from a colourless 2-drop, the upside will make a difference, and it also means drafting multiple Dominator Drone will be nice.

Devoid is interesting since it will allow stuff like Dominator Drone to be good without having a Mirrodin-esque Limited environment with a bunch of colourless decks running around. Ingest doesn’t do much in this case, but it does have some synergy with at least one other spoiled Eldrazi card, the first spoiler in fact. Oblivion Sower makes use of not only cards it exiles itself but any exiled cards, and it’s very likely we’ll see more of these effects in higher rarities. Perhaps a build-around uncommon?

sheerdropAwaken, along with Landfall, are the revealed Zendikarian mechanics, and both reward playing lots of lands in your Limited decks. This leads me to believe this will be a slower format than usual. As far as Sheer Drop goes, it at least seems like a playable on first glance, playing it as a 1-for-1 for 3 is fine, even if it is Sorcery speed, and if you get to Awaken it, it’s an effective easy 2-for-1. If only it was an Instant it could’ve lead to some pretty crazy blow outs on the Limited tables coming this fall.

All in all, I rather like what I see from Battle for Zendikar so far, and I really enjoyed the old Zendikar block, so I’m pretty excited for this year’s fall set.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!