The multiverse in Magic: the Gathering has been radically changed with the newest block: Battle for Zendikar. Those familiar with past lore know exactly what the return of Zendikar entails but recently new planeswalkers, like myself, are in for a whole new battle on a massive scale. Titanic creatures called the Eldrazi have been lying dormant within the plane of Zendikar, but they are silent no more. The Eldrazi have erupted from below and threaten the very existence of Zendikar. Despite the imposing, terrifying Eldrazi army the residents of Zendikar are not going to give up easily. The Eldrazi will have to fight both the now-allied humanoid forces as well as the wild beasts defending their home. There are many new mechanics (to standard play) that radically change possible play styles. The Theros block and Core 15 have also been rotated out, meaning any cards from Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey Into Nyx, and Core Set 2015 are no longer standard. I would like to take some time and explain some of these new mechanics as well as give you a taste of what you can expect when buying Battle for Zendikar cards ranging from a handful of boosters, to intro packs, to fat packs.
Awaken – Certain cards in Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) awaken Zendikar itself and transform lands into creatures that can fight, defend, and turn the tide of battle. Some cards have a more expensive casting cost that place a set number of counters onto a land, and give it haste, making them elemental creatures to be reckoned with. Awaken takes effect when the card is cast, so regardless of whether or not the “parent spell” is countered the land will still be awakened. Effects occurring when a spell is cast is a more frequent occurrence in BFZ than in prior sets.
Rally – As I said earlier, the residents of Zendikar are working together to fight the Eldrazi and have allied together to face this grave threat. Creatures with the ally subtype trigger different abilities when an Ally enters the battlefield depending on cards already there. For example, Hero of Goma Foda gives quite the boost for allies: “Whenever Hero of Goma Fada or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, creatures you control gain indestructible until end of turn.” When one spell (even a one-drop ally) can hypothetically give all of your other creatures abilities like deathtouch, trample, and indestructible among others, the allied forces of Zendikar are incredibly powerful and just may save their world.
Converge – Many cards in BFZ are colorless which frees up the possible number of mana colors that can be realistically and effectively utilized. For players brave enough to utilize multiple colors of mana, Converge is an “X” factor that can increase damage output, token generation, and more (where X is the number of mana colors used to cast the spell). These added benefits of diverse mana pools helps offset the complications surrounding mana requirements when you just cannot seem to find one of those two islands you just KNOW are in your deck. Converge, as well as a mechanic I will touch on next: Landfall, place an increased value and use on Evolving Wilds, but more on that later.
Landfall – Zendikar’s lands can do more than just be awoken by various spells, they can also buff both creatures and players alike. Landfall is found on many permanents, both creatures and enchantments. Many enchantments let the player choose one of two benefits which opens up customization options for play. From life gain to token generation (even Ally tokens) or giving temporary buffs to creatures (i.e. +2/+2) lands have more to offer than just mana. This mechanic paired with cards that allow for multiple lands to be played like Evolving Wilds (itself and the one you pull from your deck) or cards that allow you to search for multiple basic lands and put them on the battlefield can make your creatures more threatening or provide benefits to the player. As long as players have a steady flow of lands they can be quite intimidating.
It is clear that the forces of Zendikar have quite the armada ready to battle the Eldrazi, but rest assured the Eldrazi have abilities of their own to battle back the Zendikari resistance. Let’s take a look.
Ingest – The Eldrazi want to consume everything in their path but not all of them are massive titans, so the smaller Eldrazi have their own way of wreaking havoc. Ingest triggers when certain creatures deal combat damage to a player causing them to send a certain number of cards from the top of the library into exile. This makes smaller Eldrazi a viable threat, and those exiled cards will prove invaluable to our next Eldrazi mechanic.
Processors – Some Eldrazi have an additional subtype: Processor. Processors have an optional cost to play, that cost being moving cards your opponent has in exile to their graveyard. From spawning tokens, to gaining life, to countering spells, processors can use opponents’ exiled creatures for our own gain. Ingest is incredibly useful at building up a stock of exiled cards you can use for the processor cost.
Eldrazi Scions – I mentioned tokens earlier, and the Eldrazi tokens in this set are Eldrazi Scions. These tokens are 1/1 with the ability to sacrifice them and add one colorless mana to your mana pool. Many creatures trigger token spawns when they enter the battlefield as well as sorceries and instants that spawn them as well. Building up a swarm of scions can serve as easy blockers, a decent attack force if you give them a buff or two, or better yet you can sacrifice a handful of scions to get the mana needed to bring out one of the Eldrazi’s high-cost monstrosities. These scions help offset the abnormal mana curve in Eldrazi decks where
a 12-drop creature would be unheard of.
Devoid – This last mechanic is a widespread trait seen among Eldrazi that makes them colorless regardless of the mana required to cast them. Just because you needed a mountain, the creature is not red. This trait plays well with cards requiring the possession or sacrifice of a “colorless” creature. It also makes “protection from” spells or abilities useless because there is no color to protect from. In addition to the added benefit of being colorless it makes the cards themselves look outright cool.
As you can see there are many new mechanics in BFZ that will radically change standard play. Now I would like to give a little sneak peek of what you can expect to get when you buy some BFZ cards.
Handful of boosters – Whether you are drafting at your local card shop, or picking up some cards at a department store you are in for a wide array of cards. First and foremost you will get a lot of lands with these packs. In addition to the full-art land in each booster, other non-basic lands can fill common, uncommon, and rare slots. While this cuts back on possible spells, many of the lands have added benefits like giving a creature +1/+1 for a turn or even the land itself turning into a creature for the turn. In my experience with booster-buying I got a wide range of cards from Allies, Eldrazi, and Landfall creatures. While this range was nice for diversity’s sake it made deckbuilding harder than in previous sets trying to find a consistent mechanic to build on. Drafting will make it easier since you can try to pull similar cards, but if you get caught behind someone with the same idea you may be stuck with mediocre cards. Boosters in BFZ are best used to buff pre-existing BFZ decks, even more than in previous sets.
Intro Packs – The intro decks in BFZ are quite intimidating. I was hard pressed to deckbuild further than what came sealed because they were already put together so well. The five decks this time around are as follows: Rallying Cry is a Red-White deck focused on Allies, possibly the most impressive deck of the lot but it is virtually impossible to bring in any standard cards from prior sets because there are no Allies. The foil alternate will be the aforementioned Hero of Goma Fada giving indestructible when another Ally enters the battlefield. Swarming Instinct is a Blue-Green deck focused on getting out a lot of Eldrazi Scions to bring out bigger creatures (like Desolation Twin). Again, not much prior set inclusion because you will want as many Scions as you can. The foil alternate is Drowner of Hope which in addition to spawning some Scions, you can also sacrifice a Scion to tap target creature for some solid control. Call of Blood is a White-Black life gain deck with a few game accelerating (or even game ending cards). You can pull some life-gain and vampire cards from prior sets to buff this already impressive deck. One noteworthy card is Felidar Sovereign which will win you the game by default if you have 40 or more life at your upkeep. The foil alternate is Defiant Bloodlord which causes your opponent to lose life every time you gain life. Eldrazi Assault is a Red-Black deck focused on constantly attacking your opponent with smaller Eldrazi, many of whom have Ingest. A few colorless cards (like artifact creatures) could be added from prior sets but it is not entirely necessary. The foil alternate is Barrage Tyrant (pictured above) which lets you sacrifice a colorless creature and deal damage equal to its power to target creature or player if you pay 3 mana. This helps bypass strong defences that may be stopping your Ingest-ers from eating away the opponent’s deck. Finally, Zendikar’s Rage is a Red-Green deck focused on Landfall. A handful of powerful creatures and enchantments all benefit from Landfall perks and a few land retrieval sorceries help get multiple triggers in the same turn. Land retrieval spells from prior sets could help buff the deck, but you will not want to take out too many Landfall spells to fit them in. The foil alternate is Oran-Reef Hydra, a 5/5 with trample that gets a +1/+1 counter every landfall, two counters if that land is a forest. All in all many of these decks are incredibly powerful out of the gate. I felt Call of Blood was a bit lackluster, but I do not care for playing against game-ending cards like Felidar Sovereign so perhaps I am a bit biased. The other four decks, however, I absolutely fell in love with having bought two of them so far. New and old players alike should definitely scoop up an intro pack to jump into BFZ.
Fat Packs – My personal favorite part of new sets are the Fat Packs. Nine boosters, a new d20, a couple deck boxes, a stack of basic lands, a box to hold my endless number of cards, and the Player’s Guide that showcases all the cards of the set and gives us more lore. Opening up a fat pack will be similar to what you will get from a handful of boosters: a wide range of cards but not great for outright deckbuilding; the number of cards in a Fat Pack do make building easier though. I did not pull any mythics out of my fat pack (ending my streak of pulling a planeswalker every time) but I did have more foils than I have pulled in the past so I got some value out of it. Another perk of the BFZ fat pack is that the stack of basic lands are all full-art which is pretty darn sweet. For a wide array of BFZ cards, pick up a Fat Pack.
Booster Box – I will not spend too much time discussing boxes because those in the market for these beauties do not really need me telling them about it. One major benefit of buying boxes is the increased odds to pull one of the ever-elusive Zendikar Expedition lands: foil full-art lands (fetch and dual primarily) some of which are worth over three hundred dollars. The chances are extremely rare, but a box has 36 opportunities to pull one.
Well there you have it. The Eldrazi are back and threaten the multiverse as we know it. The mechanics in this set are incredibly fun to play and the intro packs provide an amazing way to get into the action and help save (or destroy) Zendikar. I have had a ton of fun with the set so far and I hope you guys do too. For more Magic the Gathering news and geek fun all around, come back and visit us here at GNN!