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Battle For Zendikar Card Discussions: Part 1

Battle for Zedikar spoiler season has begun and all of us here at The Gray Merchants are loving it. A ton of exciting cards were shown at PAX and other places over recently so we thought we would share our opinions about them and what predictions we have for them in MtG’s future.

Lets start off with some short introductions:
Reuben: I’m a Timmy/Spike player and custom card creator who loves looking at the subtle ways the limited environments and individual cool cards are designed. Spoiler Season for me always has me looking at what themes and systems are underlying the set as well as how they integrate those with great vorthos flavor.
Molly: I’m a Spike through and through who enjoys aggressively costed, ridiculously powerful cards (who doesn’t!). For me it’s all about the win and whether a card will get me there. I do however really love the flavour that R&D imbues in sets and am super keen for Zendikar since I started playing right after we last visited.
Simon: I’m a Spike who loves limited, with Sealed being my favourite format. The commons and uncommons are the spoilers I look forward to most, and love to see what interactions will come up in draft.
Sean: I’ve been a Spike since I opened my first Guildpact booster many years ago, though that doesn’t mean my mastery of Magic cards is anything to write home about. I’m a great lover of Lightning Bolts, eternal formats and the Jeskai colour combination, and throughout Battle for Zendikar spoiler season I’ll be primarily looking at cards in the context of Modern and Legacy.

So lets start with the biggest bad himself, Ulamog!

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Ulamog
Reuben: The big guy himself. Designing eldrazi titans is a difficult balance of keeping them looking amazing while also being fun to play. However I think WotC have nailed this one, pushing him far more than I would have expected. They even removed the anti-reanimation clause!
They can do this because unlike the original titans he doesn’t have the annihilator ability which means a Ulamog cheated out in the first 3-4 turns is nowhere near as dangerous. The exile-mill attack trigger is still extremely dangerous but it just doesn’t effect the board, meaning a single swing with him doesn’t just end the game.
I hope to live the dream sometime soon and cast this guy in BfZ limited as very little gets me as excited as having a very strong limited deck that also happens to have 1 absurd bomb of some kind.
Molly: This card is super crazy! cannot believe they dropped the anti-reanimator clause! But as Reuben said, it’s all about the fact that he doesn’t impact the board as much every turn. I’m hoping to crack this or one of his eldrazi bretheren and stomp some limited face soon!
Simon: This looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun to cast in limited. Fantastic addition to GR Tron in Modern too, but I just want to beat someone in limited with this.
Sean: This card is going to be an impressive addition to the pantheon of Eldrazi who sit upon the UrzaTron in Modern. I expect this to find a place in RG Tron as being a tutorable double-exile effect is very powerful, and will likely be opted over his younger self. It’s also very sweet that UrzaTron + and Eye of Ugin allows this guy to be cast straight away. In Legacy, MUD will likely not want this guy, as he breaks apart the artifact synergies that Metalworker hinge upon, but in 12Post he’s a likely candidate, especially since Karakas can make him into a machine gun that can eat the opponent’s whole board.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Gideon
Reuben: Pwoh! This is pretty damn strong. Making Gideon an ally is a great way to show mechanically how he is helping the people of zendikar in the storyline as well as keep him feeling fresh. With the addition of Rally to the set Gidion seems like a potential linchpin in constructed for a ally deck while also having much wider casual appeal than previous iterations.
Also unlike a lot of walkers if you ever draw multiples of him you can use his powerful -4ability to keep a permanent and very powerful bonus.
Molly: I love that this has Ally synergies with the knight production 0 ability and the +1 Gideon-is-an-Ally ability. I also like that if you just need an anthem pump, you can ult him immediately. Good finisher, good body, sweet 0 ability. I think this will definitely find a place in standard especially pairing with Sorin before rotation.
Simon: Fantastic card. Ticks the main requirement by protecting itself. Nice to see that it creates a decent size token while not losing loyalty. Being able to cash in for an anthem effect is great, this card will definitely find a home.
Sean: I love me a good white planeswalker. This guy feels very close to Elspeth, Knight-Errant level in terms of power (perhaps a little less, but Elspeth is probably the best white planeswalker around, so that’s not a bad place to be…) and as such decks that have looked toward her, especially decks like BW Tokens, will likely appreciate Gideon, especially for his Anthem effect. In Legacy my personal love D&T has sometimes made room for Elspeth in the sideboard as a haymaker against control strategies, and Gideon fulfills a similar role while also providing insurance against Dread of Night.

Prairie Stream

prairie stream
Reuben: I don’t have a good read on what the power level of these are at the moment but I love the design. Using basics as a threshold really plays up the tension these create in deckbuilding which some players will love. Creating elegant rare dual land designs is a difficult task so I’m very impressed with these.
I wonder how modern playable these will be as anything that makes that format more accessible and diverse is a win in my books.
Also I just want to mention that all the art for the lands have been blowing me away with their quality.
Molly: I absolutely love that these have been dubbed the Tango lands (because it takes 2 to…) and I feel as though they will definitely be standard playable for their fetch-ability (still trying to make fetch happen) but probably not as a 4-of. It will definitely fuel 2 colour decks and allow for more productive splashes. I expect we will see them played more in midrange and control decks since they don’t really help the aggro decks at all. This may mean that aggro decks in this standard format will remain mono-with-a-splash type decks.
Simon: This cycle is great. Nice to see they pushed the mana while fetchlands are still in standard. 2 Basics is a lot so I’d expect to see very little use in modern.
Sean: These are going to add an amazing dimension to mana bases in Standard, shifting us away from the tri-land dominated mana bases we’ve been so used to since Siege Rhino appeared. In Modern I also think these are very playable in the same way that fast lands and buddy lands are – not as widely adopted due to lacking the flexibility of shocks, but in decks that can accommodate them they will see play, as the lack of damage is important against the aggressive decks of the format. Basic-heavy two-colour controlling decks, such as UR Twin and UW Control, may want to investigate altering their mana base to accommodate these. In Legacy where Alpha/Beta/Unlimited duals reign supreme these are essentially a no-go, but for budget Miracles players these Prairie Streams can do a very reasonable Tundra impression.

Ruinous Path

Ruinous Path
Reuben: So as a replacement for Hero’s Downfall this seems fairly decent but I’m more excited for the awaken mechanic. Awaken is subtly brilliant in my opinion and probably my favourite of the new mechanics. It cleverly uses +1/+1 counters to solve memory issues that could arise, allowing you to very quickly tell what lands are creatures by if they have counters on them. However more importantly the way they have worded it allows you to stack your counters on a single land over multiple awakenings which not only creates great moments where you can build up a large land to fight an eldrazi. Finally lands when animated are colorless creatures which fits super nicely into the colorless tribal subthemes we have seen.
Molly: Sorcery Speed Hero’s Downfall with a potential upside. The late game land animation may mean that it sees play in standard at its awaken cost but I’m unsure if it’s worth the cost of the loss of utility. It will definitely require some testing to know and will depend on the role of black in upcoming control. We have seen how amazing and format warping Hero’s Downfall was and I have no doubt it will see play.
Simon: This is an amazing replacement for Hero’s Downfall. Having it at sorcery speed makes haste a much more powerful ability in constructed. Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury and other such Dash creatures will prove difficult to stop if all the most powerful removal is sorcery speed.
I can’t wait to play with Awaken cards in limited. From what has been spoiled so far, I imagine a decent number of games, especially in sealed, will get to 7 or more mana at which point these cards are basically 2 for 1s. I like the haste clause too, it means newer players who accidentally choose the land they just played won’t get unfairly punished while most of the time not really mattering.
Sean: Sorcery speed force these cards to lose a lot of utility, but if Exquisite Firecraft has proven anything, it’s that the speed doesn’t matter when the effect is good enough. If this is the only option once Downfall leaves I guess we’ll be seeing this around. The Awaken effect is pretty marginal, but in grindy midrange/control mirrors essentially getting a two-for-one from your removal spell is a nice bonus that could be very swingy.

Lantern Scout

Lantern Scout
Reuben: Allies are back! I never got a chance to play with them much from original Zendikar block but I’ve seen both how fun they can be as well as their casual player appeal. Rally however is a smart way to integrate allies into the set design without the huge amount of parasitic design baggage they would otherwise hold. Rally will mean that a single ally card won’t be nearly useless in your deck, it still gives the enters the battlefield bonus to all your creatures. This also plays extra well with our new 1/1 Scion tokens as they will be more likely to take advantages of bonuses like lifelink.
Molly: New and improved allies! I’m loving that this mechanic is back, but Rally is so much better as it makes the allies less reliant on each other. Means that less synergy is required and means that they will see more play in both constructed and limited. This card has the potential to be strong in specific decks and I would definitely take it as my P1P1.
Simon: Every time I see Rally, I now pronounce it in my head the same way as Ally. That being said, lifelink is a powerful ability in limited and this will be a strong first pick to build around in draft.
Sean: I really hope they push Allies, as I love Tribal strategies after I got a face full of it in Lorwyn. This guy’s effect is pretty powerful for Standard (and insane in Draft) though the stats on this card are a bit lacklustre. Really depends on what the rest of the Allies look like to determine its constructed playability – this card would be very powerful if, for example, it could be tutored up against aggressive matchups.

Brood Butcher

Brood Butcher
Reuben: Of all the new eldrazi spoiler so far this is by far my least favourite design. It really highlights that if not used correctly how the devoid mechanic can be such a transparent label. If you took off the devoid ability this reads just like any other BG creature. At least with the annoyingly similar Barrage Tyrant we had a colorless clause on the fling ability to define it better.
However I do want to note that I love the 1/1 colorless Eldrazi Scion tokens, even if I keep mispronouncing their name. While the 0/1 spawn in the original setting really suited the slow defensive nature of that format they actually often play rather poorly in other more aggressive environments, lying around not doing much if we don’t have any mana sinks. This change will keep them far more relevant in limited and I can’t wait to see what the art for the tokens looks like.
Molly: I’m loving the extended borders and hedron designs, but aesthetics aside, this card seems sweet. I think it will mostly just be a limited bomb, but the relevance of the extra 1 power on scions vs spawn is not to be underestimated. Instead of underpowered mana dorks, you now have legitimate armies!
Simon: An absolute bomb in limited, and the Eldrazi Drones now making 1/1s instead of 0/1s is huge. Kozilek’s Predator and Emrakul’s Hatcher were amazing cards in Rise of the Eldrazi limited, and giving the tokens a point of power will make having a critical mass much better than it was previously.

Mist Intruder

Mist Intruder
Reuben: Eldrazi plus Storm Crow! Zendikar is truly doomed.
Ingest intrigues me, combining with processors and the larger eldrazi to really feel like an alien ecosystem of sorts. We haven’t had much exile matters stuff spoiled yet but I look forward to seeing if this card can fulfill a support role of a unique archetype.
While I stated before that I don’t love all aspects of Devoid, I do love the reminder text. Reminder text has no real effect on gameplay, and though it may illustrate the general meaning of a keyword’s function, it is often not completely accurate, sacrificing technical accuracy for ease of understanding
If devoid has used Ghostfire’s wording I could have easily seen a new player getting confused, thinking it is BOTH colorless and red. Its like when a protection spell asks to choose a color and a new player chooses colorless. Saying it has no color gets the mechanic across without any chance of misunderstanding while also sounding vaguely sinister.
Molly: Not sure what Ingest means yet to the format; the mechanic is exciting but foreign and we havent had the real core of it explained yet, just tantalising glimpses. This card specifically however will most likely be a good archetype support in limited, but not much more.
Simon: This is the card that has me most excited so far. Ingest feels like a mechanic that is useless unless there is going to be a payoff in multiple cards. R&D have done a great job of making all of their keyword abilities matter for a long time now. I would be extremely surprised if ingest is all about milling, as even a creature like this will deal 20 before milling someone out. Look out for that payoff, and this card will be like Thrummingbird in MM15 drafts.

Titan’s Presence

Titans Presence
Reuben: I always loved the design of Induce Despair from ROE as it allowed you to both feel like your giant eldrazi were not rotting in your hand while also adding a tension to the game as your opponent knows what horrific things are in store for them in the future.
This takes that same gameplay and flavor and then pumps it to 11. Giving a very powerful removal spell that feels uniquely eldrazi. The ultimate flavor win will be casting this revealing Ulamog himself.
Molly: Gosh this card has so much potential in so many formats! MUD in legacy, Tron in Modern and any standard deck running the new Eldrazi. Make no mistake this is going to have a huge impact on standard, especially depending on the power and utility of Ingest but mostly resting on the Eldrazi titans and big devoid cards.
Sean: This card has me very excited in Legacy, as giving MUD access to very reasonable removal is something it’s been lacking. Spine of Ish Sah, despite how cool it is when you get to sac it to Forgemaster, is pretty inefficient, and that’s what most lists have been looking towards. The card also fits very nicely into the City of Traitors/Ancient Tomb mana base the deck has. Of course, the card is predicated on having a creature in hand, but luckily most of the standard creatures in MUD, like Lodestone Golem, can deal with most of what the format has to offer. With that same thought in mind Vintage Forgemaster Shops could look towards this card in their Dismember slot, though I think the card is a bit too expensive mana-wise due to its inability to be cast off a Workshop and the fact that it gets severely taxed by your own Sphere effects. Not sure where this card could find a home in Modern, as Tron doesn’t play enough colourless creatures and Affinity’s creatures are too small to abuse this.
Simon: With obvious similarities to Induce Despair, this will be a strong piece of removal in the right decks. Great design for colourless removal as only a couple of people will want this at any particular draft table.

That’s all for this week’s predictions and Set Review, hope you enjoyed our opinions, see you for the next one!

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