This past weekend was the Battle for Zendikar Prerelease. The Prerelease is one of the few events each year that is highly regarded for both pro
players and amateur players alike. For both groups of players, the Prerelease is the first opportunity to see and play with the cards from Magic’s newest
set. For the pros specifically, it gives them the opportunity to get a little extra practice in before the Pro Tour, which traditionally features two
drafts of the new set. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make it to Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar with my teaching/coaching schedule, but I knew I was
going to the Prerelease for sure. Some people seemed unhappy with the set during spoiler season, but I thought there was a lot to be excited for in both
Constructed and Limited. I played a lot this weekend, so I figured I would spend today talking about the ten most important things I learned this past
1. The Expedition Lands are More Common than We Thought, or Are They?
If you’ve been paying attention to Reddit, or any number of other Magic: the Gathering websites this weekend, you would have seen countless reports of
Expeditions being opened at higher than expected numbers. The statement that a lot of players keep quoting is that these cards are slightly more common
than foil mythic rares. This statement originated from Mark Rosewater at PAX where he said that they would be equivalently rare to foil mythics, but that
there would be 25 of them instead of 15. This led players to initially suspect that they would appear at a ratio of about one per case, the approximate
rarity of a regular foil mythic rare. This weekend at the Prerelease, however, there were reports that way more copies of these lands were opened. The
estimates I’ve heard based on reports were about 1/70 packs, or three times the likelihood initially predicted. Most people have said that this is because
players were being pessimistic about how rare these cards were, but I suspect something else might be the case here. Years ago I had heard that the packs
used for Prerelease weekends had different print runs than regular packs. The story was that these packs were denser with big flashy cards from the set.
I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it certainly makes sense to me. If that is actually the case, it would explain why there were a lot more
Expeditions opened than expected. Another possibility is that it just feels like more Expeditions were opened, since the only reports we’ve heard have come
from people bragging about how many their store opened. I guess we’ll have to wait until release to know for sure.
2. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper is Insane
This card really impressed me this weekend, and not just for Limited play. As a 4/4 for five mana, it starts out as a decent body, but its true strength is
its ability that is very similar to Talrand and Young Pyromancer that gives you an extra advantage from casting your spells. I think this could be a good
role player in a deck like Jeskai that could give a player an edge in a mirror match. This card also had a lot of natural synergy with Planar Outburst
since you animate a lot of your lands before eventually destroying all of your opponent’s regular creatures.
3. BFZ Limited Manabases Will Have Lots of Lands
After playing a few events during Prerelease weekend, I’ve come to the early conclusion that Limited decks in this format will generally run a lot of
lands. This isn’t really too much of a surprise to me because the initial Zendikar block was famous for having aggro decks with high land-counts.
The obvious reason for this is because having lots of cards with landfall incentivizes you to hit your land drops in order to get the most out of those
creatures. In addition, this set has expensive Eldrazi spells that you need to run a lot of lands in order to cast. I think that eighteen lands will likely
be the standard for this set, and nineteen might even be a reality as well.
4. The New Planeswalkers are All Going to Impact Standard
When Magic Origins came out, a lot of people thought that the planeswalkers were all underpowered. Since then, people have gained more and more
respect for them, and they’ve started to see much more play. I think the planeswalkers from Battle for Zendikar are the opposite, as everyone
knows that they’re all good from the get-go. I’ve already started brewing with all three of them, and I think they will all have an impact in different
decks. Gideon is a great role-player that can hit for a lot of damage while also providing a continual source of card advantage. Kiora works great in a
ramp deck while also providing you with an inevitable win condition with her ultimate. Ob Nixilis has abilities that are obviously great, and I think the
ultimate is actually better than people think right now. I can’t wait to be able to play these cards this weekend, and I suspect that we will see a lot of
them in the decklists from #SCGIndy and Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.
5. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy Will Soon Be an $80 Card
I try not to talk too much about the financial side of Magic since I think the game should mostly be about playing, not money, but I can understand and
appreciate the financial side of it. However, I think a lot of people are undervaluing how important Jace really is. This card just seems to keep getting
played more and more, and the price tag seems to keep going up and up. This card is likely the not only the best two-drop in Standard but also the best
planeswalker in Battle for Zendikar Standard as well. I seriously think that this card will hit $80 this fall (maybe more), and I would recommend
that you get your playset if you haven’t yet. Unlike a lot of other Standard staples, this card has already started seeing play in Modern, Legacy, and even
Vintage. If you follow me on Twitter, you already likely saw that I was trying to pick up a foil set of these for my collection, as I really think that
this card is the real deal. At the end of this article I have two decklists I’m working on for Battle For Zendikar Standard and both are playing the full
four copies of Jace.
6. Planar Outburst Can Be Built Around
If you watched the Community Cup, you might know that Joel Larsson had a Limited deck with two copies of Planar Outburst. I think that in Constructed there
might be a great deck that can be built around this card. Between Ruinous Path and Planar Outburst, there are a lot of copies of controlling cards with
awaken that a mana intensive deck would not mind playing. These cards have a great synergy together for a few reasons. Control decks tend to run a lot more
lands since they want to hit all of their land drops. This is especially true for decks that want to cast their expensive awaken spells and still be able
to attack with their animated lands. I think copies of both Ruinous Path and Planar Outburst will work really well together in those decks.
7. Allies Will be a Thing in Standard
A lot of people have talked about Allies becoming a tribal strategy in Modern, but I haven’t heard as much talk about the deck for Standard play. I think
that the strategy will be played by some people regardless of how good it is, but I think that it might also be a decent deck. Mana fixing is already
pretty good in this new Standard format, but Ally Encampment provides an additional source of fixing that is exclusive to the Allies deck. You may not have
known this, but Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is both an Ally and creates Ally tokens (as the name would suggest). I think the default version of this deck will
likely be B/W as a lot of the best aggressive Allies are in those colors. The deck also gets to run Drana, Liberator of Malakir, which is a deceptively
8. Manabases Are Going to Be Complicated
Players have begun to acknowledge how important the mana fixing is going to be in Battle for Zendikar Standard, but I think they have
underestimated how complicated it’s going to be to design the correct manabase. Fetchlands, Battle lands, and painlands are all great, but you want to make
sure that your manabase is best designed for what your strategy wants to accomplish. The fetchlands and Battle lands work well together for a few reasons.
The most important synergy is that you can fetch these new lands using the fetchlands, but the additional synergy is that your fetchlands can get copies of
basic lands to help your later Battle lands enter the battlefield untapped. With all of these options for non-basic lands, I think that deckbuilders are
going to have a lot of options when it comes to designing their manabases.
9. Atarka Red Will Still be a Thing
A lot of players have been critical of red decks in the new format since there’s no efficient three damage spell for the first time in a long time. That
said, I still think that Atarka Red will be an established deck in the new format. In Standard’s history there has almost always been a red deck, and I
don’t think Battle for Zendikar Standard is any different. The deck has a great aggressive curve of creatures like Monastery Swiftspear and Goblin
Heelcutter. Cards like Dragon Whisperer, which haven’t really yet seen play, will also likely find roles in the new format. In addition, Chandra, Fire of
Kaladesh is one of the easiest Magic Origins planeswalkers to flip. I think that there will be a lot of decks relying on expensive cards thanks to
awaken and the expensive Eldrazi, and red decks traditionally are able to capitalize on their slow speed. It’s also worth noting that a lot of decks are
slower and not as tuned in the early weeks of a new format, so red decks have a really great opportunity to take advantage of that with their speed and
consistency. It’s also worth noting that these decks struggled in the past with their ability to kill Sylvan Caryatid, but there is no such hexproof
accelerant in the new format.
10. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the Real Deal
The ability to exile two permanents for ten mana is no joke, especially since the ability can’t be countered even if the spell is. In addition, Ulamog
provides a steady clock that can’t really be chumped due to his second ability. He is guaranteed to win the game in three attacks–and sometimes even wins
in two. I think that there is definitely a Sultai shell that this is a great win condition in. Ulamog is likely the best target for From Beyond, and it
allows you to run a low number of it while still being able to find it consistently. You would also be able to run Rattleclaw Mystic and Kiora, since Kiora
is at her best when she’s untapping both a creature and a land. I think in the right shell you can quickly ramp up to this card. The deck might also be
able to run See the Unwritten as an alternate way to power out a quick Eldrazi threat.
So those are the ten things I’ve learned this past weekend just from playing in the Prerelease. I didn’t want to leave you without decklists for this
coming weekend in Indianapolis, so here are the two decks that I have been working on – Esper Dragons and Sultai Control:
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 1 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 2 Den Protector
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 3 Hangarback Walker
I’m not going to be able to make it to the #SCGIndy, but I am looking forward to playing one of these in a local Super IQ this weekend. Either way I know I
want to be playing four copies of Jace, but I’m not sure which deck I like better yet. Which deck do you guys think I should play?
Vote in the comments!