Earlier this week, I asked the following on Twitter:
What are some Magic article topics that you're hoping someone writes
about? Looking for good/interesting article ideas.
— Brian Braun-Duin (@BraunDuinIt) September 23, 2015
I got a lot of great responses that I plan to address in articles to come, but I also was asked to write about how bad Battle for Zendikar is.
This idea, that Battle for Zendikar is bad and terrible and icky and gross, seems to be the accepted idea from a lot of people. At least my
Twitter and Facebook feeds in the past few weeks have been overflowing with this idea. Battle for Zendikar really sucks and everyone is
Well, except me.
I don’t know why people want me to tell them why a set is bad. That idea just seems absurd to me. Do we not even want things to be good anymore? Do we need
other people to tell us why we shouldn’t like something instead of trying it out for ourselves and giving ourselves a chance to…you know…actually like
Sometimes I wonder if we’re at the point where we are actively rooting for sets to be bad. Sometimes I feel like we really love to be outraged, angry, or
argumentative so much that we root for negative things in our life just to give us something to complain about. “I really hope I stub my toe so I can tell
the landlord off for not fixing the doorstep. That would be the perfect ending to this miserable day.”
I sincerely hope it never gets to this point for me, and if it does, please kindly show me to the door, then open the door, then push me out of the door,
then lock the door and throw away the key so I can never come back. Make sure I do stub my toe on the way out. You know, for good measure. It’s the
landlord’s fault, after all. She probably designed the doorstep herself.
Why do we always condemn or celebrate something before we even know what that thing is? It’s like when we were kids and we’d tell adults that we didn’t
like certain foods because they looked gross even though we had never actually tried them before. My mom would always see through the lie. She knew I had
never had it before and she’d make me eat it. Sometimes I would actually like it, and I’d have this inner debate with myself as to whether I’d have to
pretend to dislike the food just to save face or whether I’d just eat crow (sometimes literally!) and admit I was stone wrong. “Sorry, Mom, that weird crow
casserole was actually tasty. You were right and I was wrong.”
Now, it’s okay to get first impressions. I know when Avacyn Restored came out, my first impression was “bleh”. It was a bunch of expensive
enchantments that didn’t do anything and I certainly wasn’t excited by it. I don’t see any issue with not being excited by something. However, where I
begin to take issue is when a conclusion is drawn from first impressions without any underlying basis behind it. “Wow, this book’s cover is a third
grader’s drawing of a dog standing near a tree. I bet that book really sucks! I’m going to condemn it as the worst book of 2015 without reading it!”
Sometimes it turns out that Dog Standing Near Tree is the must-read feel-good story of the year.
I’m going to flip the script right back on its head. I’m not going to tell you all the reasons Battle for Zendikar sucks. Because
frankly, I don’t believe that. Instead I’m going to tell you about how Battle for Zendikar is awesome and how the set is a blast to play. Bring on
the hate and let me douse it out with a bucket of love. I’m also going to share my favorite deck from testing so far and why I think this deck is gasoline.
Reason #1: You Can do Whatever the [Expletive Deleted] You Want!
That’s right. The sky’s the limit in Battle for Zendikar Standard. You want to curve Mantis Rider into Siege Rhino? I’m not saying it’s
necessarily easy, but I’m not saying it can’t be done either. I’ve certainly been doing it myself.
Fetchlands and Battle lands allow for some really interesting choices when deckbuilding. You can really push manabases pretty hard into four- and
five-color decks without too many problems, but the drawback is that you don’t get to use as many cards that double up on the same color of mana. If your
goal is to facilitate the ability to cast four or five color worth of spells, you basically have to prioritize fetching to get as many colors of mana as
you can, which means that you can’t get a second green source sometimes because that means you don’t have a blue source.
Undergrowth Champion is tougher to cast in a four-or five-color deck than Anafenza, the Foremost. Wingmate Roc is much harder to cast than Dragonlord
Ojutai. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is hard, but Siege Rhino is easy. You get the idea.
Building manabases is really hard and really interesting in this format, but the payoff is that you get to do a lot of really cool things. A lot of those
cool things spring directly from some of the new mechanics in Battle for Zendikar.
On the topic of new mechanics, one of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard about Battle for Zendikar is that a lot of the keywords like
devoid and creature type “Ally” are basically just irrelevant and randomly tacked onto cards.
I’m not saying that they’re wrong. That argument does actually hold a lot of water. Which creatures are Allies versus which aren’t does feel arbitrary, as
does giving a number of cards devoid. However, it doesn’t bother me at all because I’m just looking at those as Limited mechanics. Those are cards that can
do some cool things in Draft, and I don’t see why it should bother me that they aren’t also big Constructed players. I don’t really care that the devoid
keyword on a Riot Devils feels irrelevant if I’m only ever playing that Riot Devils in Limited and it can maybe turn on a few other cards in my Limited
For Constructed, we have awaken, landfall, and converge, and these mechanics are all actually really awesome and have a lot of synergy with each other.
They also have synergy with Khans of Tarkir block, which also pushes playing multicolor cards.
Landfall makes us want to play more lands, fetchlands especially. This makes it more likely that we reach enough lands to turn on awaken. Fetchlands enable
multicolored decks, which makes converge a more realistic option, as we’ll be able to support playing more colors of mana and thus getting more out of our
The end result is that you can do something like cast Jace on turn 2, Abzan Charm on turn 3, and Bring to Light to find Dragonlord Ojutai, Languish, or
Demonic Pact or any other number of awesome cards on turn 5. If you like brewing or coming up with interesting combinations of cards, this is going to be a
fun set for you.
Reason #2: Games are Fun
This is obviously a very subjective argument. Not everyone enjoys the same things. For example, in Fact or Fiction this week, Brad Nelson
thought the last Standard format we just had was the best Standard format of all time, whereas I personally didn’t have fun playing it. However, I will say
that I have really enjoyed playing games of this new format. Normally I’m not too gung ho to just play a bunch of games with random brews, but I’ve
basically been testing almost nonstop the last week because I’ve just had such a great time playing games of Magic with Battle for Zendikar in the
I’ve enjoyed playing “boring” decks like Abzan. I’ve also enjoyed testing wild five-color decks and everything in between. I’m not sure I can pinpoint
exactly what it is that I love about this format, but I’m going to give it my best guess.
I don’t like formats where games exist where one player basically dies without having a chance to really play out their hand or try to enact their
gameplan. Cards like Stormbreath Dragon or turn 4 Dragonlord Atarkas are exactly the kinds of cards that prevent this style of Magic. You play a
Stormbreath Dragon and my hand is full of white cards and nothing I can do the rest of the game matters because of how fast it kills me. You play
Dragonlord Atarka, destroy my board, and I’m left having to deal with a giant Dragon and also figure out how to rebuild my board so I don’t die to the rest
of your cards.
I’m not saying that interaction-driven Magic is the best kind of Magic and everyone has to agree. Some people like to win games of Magic where their
opponent didn’t get to play or where their opponent’s cards didn’t matter because they didn’t match up properly. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just
not for me.
Now, obviously, a lot of games in the last format weren’t like that at all. There were plenty of great games with a lot of gameplay and decisions. But for
each of those games, there were also a lot of games that were over so fast and there wasn’t much you could do to influence it. Opponent leads on turn 1
Elvish Mystic, turn 2 Courser of Kruphix, turn 3 Xenagos the Reveler? The game might play on for another four turns, but it’s basically over. Even the
decks I played could do things like that. I won a lot of games where I only cast three spells the entire game: Fleecemane Lion on turn 2, Anafenza on turn
3, and removal spell on turn 4. Some decks were simply dead to that start and there was nothing they could do to compete.
Maybe we’re just building the wrong decks or focusing on the wrong cards, but that hasn’t happened very much in testing of this format so far. It is very
important to not be too slow in developing your gameplan, but at the same time, there seem to be very few starts that just kill you if you don’t have the
exact right interaction in the first few turns. Atarka Red might be the only deck that can do that by punishing you for not having any way to deal with
Monastery Swiftspear into Dragon Fodder into Hordeling Outburst into Atarka’s Command.
Most of the other decks are in it to play a decent game of Magic, though, and I can respect that. More than that, I actively enjoy it.
Reason #3: Decisions Matter
Games of Magic in this format are hard. It’s hard to sequence your lands properly. It’s hard to sequence your spells properly. It’s hard to play around the
right spells and not play around others. This format is going to really challenge our abilities to pilot a game of Magic and I love that.
After losing like 3-4 games in a row last night, I was lamenting to my testing partners that I’m pretty sure I would have won every single one of those
games if I had just sequenced my cards to play around a certain series of cards from them. I felt like most of my losses were preventable if I had just
It’s really easy to make mistakes, and it’s really easy to get punished for those mistakes. This is exactly why I love Legacy. I love that in Legacy you
get rewarded for knowing what your opponent is up to and what options they have access to, and you also get rewarded for piloting your own cards properly.
Now, I don’t think this Standard format is going to be anything like Legacy, but I think it’s going to be a lot more like this style of Magic than the last
Standard format was.
I want to play games of Magic where it feels like my destiny is in my own hands. If I play well, I’ll win. If I play poorly and lose, well that’s a lump
and a lesson for next time. So far, that’s what I’m getting in this format. Give me more.
Reason #4: Preparation Will Matter
This might be a bit far reaching, and this could end up being wrong. This is just a prediction. I feel like preparation is going to matter a lot in this
format. There are going to be a lot of decks that have access to a wide variety of situationally powerful cards. These cards are going to be good in some
situations and bad in others. It’s going to be important to be prepared to know which of these cards your opponent could potentially have and how to play
around them properly.
Likewise, I feel like this is going to be a format that rewards players like Robert Vaughan. Rob is a player who has had a bunch of near misses this year
on the Grand Prix circuit. Most of the time he shows up to a tournament with a deck that people aren’t expecting to play against that happens to have a
very good matchup against the format’s top decks. Usually he also has a bit of spice in his decks. There are generally some cards that you simply aren’t
expecting to play against and they end up being a giant blowout when you walk into them.
I think those are the kinds of cards that are going to be great in this format, and those are the kinds of decks that are going to succeed. Finding the
next hot card or next hot deck to surprise your opponents with feels like exactly the kind of way to get ahead in a format where you can do a lot of wild
things with your manabases and where games reward tight play and every decision matters. Sometimes they’ll run their Ugin into your Stubborn Denial without
giving it a second thought.
Reason #5: This Deck is a Thing
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 2 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 3 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 4 Woodland Wanderer
- 3 Beastcaller Savant
I’ll be the first to admit it. This deck needs a lot of work. The manabase can definitely be optimized a lot better. The creatures are powerful, but I’m
sure there is a way to make the deck less reliant on having an accelerator on turn 2 and also less prone to drawing too many of them late in the game when
they are poor.
Mantis Rider is the most powerful three-drop in the format, but it is really hard to cast in this deck. There are a lot of really strong options like Exert
Influence that can completely and utterly dominate a game, but do they deserve to be maindeck or just sideboard options? Which creatures should be played?
There are a lot of options. All of them, to be precise.
Is Dragonlord Silumgar the right six-drop? Should it be Dragonlord Dromoka? Does the deck even want a six-drop? Which cards belong in the sideboard? Which
spells should be played? Murderous Cut? Treasure Cruise? Draconic Roar?
Should the deck play less creatures and rely more on cards like Abzan Charm to bridge the gap?
This deck produces a lot of questions. There are so many ways to approach it. There are so many ways to build it. But I love the fact that it even exists.
More than that, I love playing the deck. It’s just so much fun. I love trying to solve the puzzle of figuring this deck out. How far off am I from the
optimal build? Ten cards? Fifteen? Twenty?
To me, this deck perfectly encapsulates what it is to play Standard with Battle for Zendikar. This deck is fun, it’s hard to pilot, it can play
whatever cards it wants to, and it’s going to be a challenge to figure it out in the weeks to come.
I welcome the challenge, with arms wide open. That’s my creed.