Hey guys, It’s ALuckyBum here to break down the new Magic: The Gathering set Battle for Zendikar. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the set’s mechanics, I think it’s important to talk about why people play magic and what is important to them in having fun. Some people only play in constructed formats that tend to be more competitive and require a heavy investment for specific cards and decks. While other people play limited formats that are usually built on the fly with cards you open in packs or draft. There are plenty of people that like both but most of people only have time and money for one. There are also casual formats like commander, tiny leaders, two headed giant and battle box. For this review I want to focus on constructed and limited. Those are the two formats that Wizards of the coast focuses the most on, and garnish the most attention from the majority of magic players.
I’m going to break down the 5 mechanics in BFZ for both Constructed and Limited.
Note: For more background on the basic gameplay and mechanics of Magic: The Gathering, check out Wizards of the Coast’s tutorial, which goes over all you need to know to get started!
I have split feelings on awaken. I actually think it is one of the most powerful mechanics in the set, but I can’t shake the feeling of boredom. Much like my feelings, the card functions like a split card. If you need the spell’s effect in the early game you can fire it off. If the games go late you get a bonus dude on the battlefield fighting for you. For constructed, the pickings are slim. Ruinous Path is an all star, but probably would have been even without the awaken part. Most of the awaken cards tend to be more for a control deck. Aggressive decks aren’t in the game long enough for the awaken land to become a deciding factor. Either they have killed their opponent or are about to be killed themselves. It also has the feeling of easy game design. Just take a normal instant spell, add awaken for 4 more mana, make it a sorcery, and WALA you have just made a card that is probably in Battle for Zendikar.
There are a ton more awaken playables in limited. It can go into any deck, and is a natural two for one. In limited almost all decks fall into the “mid range” category and can probably make it up to the needed mana for animating lands. It’s simple and powerful. It’s still not flashy or complex, but it gets the job done.
Converge has some interesting design space. It limits spells to a minimum of 2 CMC (converted mana cost) and higher. A converge spell that is for one mana is kind of a joke. It also has some restrictions on how expensive a spell can be. A converge spell with a 6 CMC would also be a little silly, but less so then the 1 cmc spells. That being said they managed to make about 3 standard playable cards with converge. You can push just about any mechanic to be powerful, and they got there on a few. Radiant Flames, Bring to Light, and Woodland Wanderer seem to be the best spells and they do very different things. I like Radiant flames in terms of its use of converge, sometimes you want the full 3 damage, but others you want it at 2 even if you could get 3 different colors and save your 3 toughness dudes. Bring to Light might be a huge player in standard with its ability to be a split card for your whole deck. I still like converge, even though I don’t think there is a ton more they could do with it. It is such a mid range mechanic.
Converge has a lot more play in limited than in constructed. There is going to be some difficult deck building choices when considering your converge cards. Devoid (more on that later) doesn’t care about colors and converge cares about a lot of colors. At first glance it looks like they couldn’t be in the same deck. However, if you have a good split of converge spells and true colorless cards (not devoid) then your mana doesn’t have to be so tight. Maybe you are missing a color or two in your 5 color deck, but you can still play your colorless cards until you find the missing colors. If you have a lot of converge cards you might still be able to cast half of them with 3 color power behind them. It’s the strict two color decks that will have a harder time putting converge cards in their deck. In the end it means for more interesting decision points when putting a sealed deck together or when you are drafting.
I could be completely wrong, but I think that nearly all Devoid cards that see play in standard will be played for the card itself, not for the devoid interactions. Devoid feels like nothing, because that is the mechanic, nothing. In standard there is way more removal then in limited and I’m pretty sure that a devoid “tribal” deck wouldn’t be able to hold up against the normal powerful standard decks. It’s too easy to kill the ruination guide, and leave behind underpowered limited cards on the battlefield. Hopefully there is more coming in the next set that could make a devoid deck relevant, but for the time being the mechanic itself is devoid of power.
There are a few “build around me” cards that pay you off for the devoid mechanic in limited. Tide Drifter and Ruination Guide are the obvious ones. When you look through the set you will find a lot of tacked on bonuses from colorless creatures and spells. If you “get there” with enough of these enablers then I think it is a fun interaction with a lot of upside. However, the vast majority of the time the word “devoid” printed on your card will not matter at all. I look forward to drafting this deck and want to give the mechanic a Hit based on that alone, however I feel like devoid will do nothing most of the time until…it does something. Hopefully that ‘something’ will be worth it.
The actual mechanic is called “ingest” but really the mechanic is creatures and spells that use those exiled cards for more value. These creatures have the creature subtype of “Processor” that help us identify them without getting their own ability type. If there is some setup cost with a good pay off in a constructed deck, it is normally easy enough to make it work. I think there are plenty of cards that make it worth the effort. I don’t think you have to resort to Mist Intruder to get that setup. The neat thing about “processors” is that they don’t care how the cards got into your opponent’s exile zone. Ingest is a necessary evil in limited, but in constructed we have normal removal spells that exile, then you are getting real value. If I’m only judging ingest for constructed I would give it an instant Mith, but I’m looking at the big picture and want to include Processors too. In that case, I think there are a few cool deck possibilities that might come together.
Processors are a lot more rare then Ingest creatures or spells. I think you have to be very careful to build around or draft the payoff processors first because without the payoff spells your ingesting is basically worthless. Milling (putting cards from your opponent’s deck into their graveyard or exile) isn’t worth anything until you mill their whole deck. Mist Intruder is an F in a limited deck without the ingest ability. So make sure if you are playing cards with ingest that they can stand alone and be worth it, or you have a ton of payoff cards to make use of it. The same holds true for too many processors and not enough enabling ingest creatures. That will not happen near as often but if can if you are the only one in the right colors. My worry is that with the variance of magic you will find yourself with out the needed setup for both halves of the coin. It could end up being very awkward when you’re not sure if you should play an under powered processor without “processing”.
This is the one returning mechanic from the original Zendikar set. It’s a good mechanic and adds some excitement to drawing a land. Normally I HATE lands, except for when I really really need one. It’s quite the love/hate relationship. This tips the scale over to love for this standard rotation. In general landfall tends to be more of an aggressive mechanic because you can normally only trigger it on your turn when you play a land. If you want to use the bonus to your creature then you better attack with it this turn. There is a cycle of enchantments that have landfall and I really like the Retreat to Emeria one. It has a cool aspect of offense and defense depending on your board state. I think there is some potential for this in standard and we might get new toys in the next set. If it aint broke, don’t fix it.
This format will be a lot slower then the original Zendikar but if there is an aggressive deck landfall will probably be a part of it. There are going to be a lot of triggers in this limited set. It can add to the complexity on the board but in the end it is a fun mechanic in limited just based on using extra lands for value.
During the previews of the set you would here people talk about Rally and its Allies as a forgone conclusion in standard. The cards we knew about early on weren’t super powerful, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt and would say “it might have a place in the new Ally deck”. Pish! Well the whole spoiler is out and I don’t think the Allies made it. I hope I’m wrong because I like tribal decks when they are good enough for standard. It just goes to should you, that you judging something based on what might come out is fool’s gold. So I give allies a hit because there is probably a bunch of amazing cards coming out in the next set Oath of the Gatewatch.
Seriously, I think they made the cards too mid range. In the past Allies were a lot more aggressive. I feel like the mid range version might run out of gas, be too slow, and be over matched by the normal good decks of standard. There is a new bonus in that when a Rally Ally enters the battlefield it does trigger all your creatures not just your allies. But I don’t think the actual cards got there in the end.
Rally in limited has some really great power potential. Not only are there a lot of good Rally Allies, but there are a ton of random Allies that will be able to trigger them too. I think you should treat the Rally Allies like the processors. If you get some of the powerful payoff Rally cards, then you can eat up all the allies to support them. But picking up subpar allies before you have the Rally creatures can be a trap in limited. Be careful when you draft, I feel like this deck can flounder in you don’t get a critical mass of Rally creatures. I’m worried this limited environment might be a little too linear or “on rails”. Once you get into the Rally deck you just snap up all the Rally guys and Ally guys and hope your mana comes together.
Overall there was one more Hit than Mith. This is about how I view the set overall. There are a lot of negative Nancy’s out there and would leave you to believe that is the the worst set since Homelands. Don’t believe the internet hype train to sad town. It might not be as exciting as the was we would all hope, but since this set coming out also signifies the Theros block rotating out of standard; it will still shake up the meta game quiet a bit. Going from 8 sets to 5 means that we are going to need to dip into BFZ’s cookie jar and steal some goodies. I know that I still have the itch to try out some brews and see what works. Catch you all on the flip side.