Our Favorite Cards From Battle for Zendikar

Justin Clouse | 25 Sep 2015 15:00
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While I don't have real numbers and fancy graphs to substantiate this, my anecdotal experience playing and judging Magic has told me a lot of the current Magic community either returned or started playing Magic around the original Zendikar block. Those sets managed to hit that oh so perfect confluence of interesting new mechanics, exciting cards that appealed to a variety of players, and marrying that with an rich setting and lore. So there was a ton of hype surrounding the announcement that we'd be returning to that plane, and some controversy if the set is living up to those expectations once we got the full spoiler. Regardless, as we move into pre-release weekend and start crafting new decks shortly after, here are some of the cards we're excited to play with. Let us know which cards you're hoping to open in the comments! Well besides the Expeditions lottery, who doesn't want to open a several hundred dollar Scalding Tarn?

Justin's Picks

After premiering as one of the best five mana planeswalkers ever printed, Gideon Jura, Gideon hit kind of a rough patch - in an ironic way mirroring his backstory. Despite some killer art and a sweet title, Gideon, Champion of Justice was practically a dud on arrival, rivaling even Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. Kytheon, Hero of Akros has also failed to impress thus far, but worst case he's still a fancy Savannah Lion and thus finds a home in a bunch of cubes. However, with our return to Zendikar Gideon stands to make a major comeback, perhaps propelling himself to the former glory of being a format staple again.

In keeping with his previous iterations, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar doesn't feature the typical plus, minus, and ultimate planeswalker ability structure. Instead Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has access to all his abilities as soon as you play him. You can plus him for his iconic ability to transform into a creature and beatdown (note that he'll still be summoning sick on the first turn), split out 2/2 Allies, or minus him into a Glorious Anthem. The last ability has me very intrigued, since extra Gideon, Ally of Zendikars can always be cashed in to boost the team, including the tokens he generates.

He's going to play extremely well with Wingmate Roc going forward since it's almost impossible for your opponent to stop the raid, as they would have to remove both the 2/2 Ally and Gideon himself. It's certainly the card I'm most excited to jam games with, especially with Elspeth, Sun's Champion rotating out.

Sometimes all it takes is changing a single word for a card to radically fluctuate in power level. While this is certainly not uncommon when you jump from sorcery to instant for any number of cards, Threaten goes from a decent-enough card for removing a big blocker and closing out the game to just being absolutely brutal at times. Granted its five CMC is going to keep this strictly limited, but anyone that's had the pleasure, or displeasure, of being one either side of a Ray of Command will know the blowouts this card can cause.

You can still just grab their biggest creature before combat and swing for lethal when it's a game winning play, but where you can really take advantage of Turn Against is by using it after your opponent has declared attacks but before you declare blocks. Ideally your opponent will swing with a pair of big creatures that trade with each other, and then you borrow one to block his buddy. In the right circumstances it's a clean two-for-one on your opponent's best two creatures.

This is the Hussar Patrol of the set. Eventually folks will learn to play around their opponents having four and a red open, but for the first few weeks you can look forward to getting a few people with it, especially in the more bomb driven sealed formats.

These Blighted lands might need to steep for a few months with the color hungry Khan's block cards still in the format, since adding a colorless land when you're deck wants to cast cards like Mantis Rider on time is kind of a serious cost. But any deck that's two colors or is only lightly splashing a third may want to take note, as long as you can still generate sufficient colors in the rest of your manabase.

Think of these has being roughly half a land and half a spell. In general if you're looking to close the game out quickly you probably want the man lands, or no tapped lands at all, while slower decks will be more interested in the Blighted cycle and turn extra lands in the late game into resources. The Blue and Black lands are both valuable effects for drawing cards or killing creatures. Green probably becomes an EDH/Commander staple for stapling ramp on a land. The Red and White ones are the weaker of the bunch, though they could have situational potential.

The advantage and desire behind these Blighted lands, and the man lands as well, is that you're able to run a more stable number of lands in your deck while simultaneously fighting mana flooding.

I got the chances to proxy test against this card earlier in the week, and wow did this impress during our games. It certainly takes some work to set-up, but the payoff is really worth it. My opponent was using Transgress the Mind, the various Devoid Counterspells, or simply waiting for me to delve in order to enable it. Using removal on it always felt awful since it already came down and ate one of your spells.

Much like it's Mystic Snake predecessor, Ulamog's Nullifier is just solid 2-for-1 value. It even gets to gain a point of toughness, very key for surprise blocking 2/2s, and it gets evasion on top of that. It's one of those cards where all the individual pieces are not great. At four mana you're not going to be super excited for conditional Counterspell or a 2/3 flash flyer, but when you bake them together you get delicious peanut butter and chocolate goodness.

There are a lot of control players with fond memories of Nephalia Drownyard style almost-zero-win condition control. Just imagine creating a super grindy control deck with no other win conditions except Ulamog's Nullifier, man lands, and some awaken cards, and you can get pretty close to that.

*see next page*

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