Insert Column Name Here: Zendikar – The First Impressions!

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Tuesday, September 29th – my initial impressions are that this seems to be a really tricky set. Alara Block seemed packed with mechanics that were powerful, but not particularly subtle — oh, you get more Exalted, you Unearth more creatures, you play more guys with five power! Whereas Zendikar feels like it’s just packed with very clever plays that reward very clever, alert players.

So I went to Zendikar. I did not open any treasures. Aside from the bitter disappointment of not opening a Mox, how was it?

Well, my prerelease report should be next week (assuming I can find my videocamera). But my initial impressions are that this seems to be a really tricky set. Alara Block seemed packed with mechanics that were powerful, but not particularly subtle — oh, you get more Exalted, you Unearth more creatures, you play more guys with five power! Whereas Zendikar feels like it’s just packed with very clever plays that reward very clever, alert players. There were a lot of tricks I didn’t see coming, and a lot of things I did that my opponent didn’t see coming, which hopefully means this is a set that won’t get boring fast.

That said, how were the individual cards?

Ben Bleiweiss said that Allies “seem like bad Slivers,” which they are. But even bad Slivers are still potent in multiples, and get these guys into the late game and they start kicking butt. Unfortunately, unlike Slivers, which start out at the bottom of the curve with some attractive low-mana guys, most of the good Allies are at five and up, making it hard to justify in Draft and a little weird in Sealed.

I could well be wrong on this. We’ll see.

I kept having a brainfart on these things; because they had trigger conditions, I kept forgetting that you could hard-cast them. So I almost didn’t put Cobra Trap into my deck because hey, how often would an opponent destroy a non-creature permanent of mine — not forgetting that in Sealed, four guys at instant speed is still a pretty good (if pricey) combat trick.

I dunno if anyone else had it during the day, but I kept going, “Whiplash Trap? But I didn’t cast — oh, right, five mana, hi.”

Adventuring Gear.
Landfall just seems to be fairly brutal anyway, but this cheap equipment on an evasion guy or a guy with landfall is spectacularly difficult to deal with. This is one of those cards I’m going to be happy to play in Sealed every time.

Beastmaster Ascension.
Much easier to trigger in a deck than you’d think, at least judging from the excited reactions of people who played it. Especially good with Cobra Trap — end of turn four guys, attack with four guys + your team, Ascension triggers, GG.

Blood Seeker.
There seems to be a really good Suicide Black deck archetype lurking in Draft, and if it is I think this card will be key to making it work (in addition to, naturally, Hideous End). I was locked out of two games when I got to four life and couldn’t deal with this guy on the board. Keep up with him on dudes and die, or not cast dudes and die? Ugly, ugly.

Soul Warden could occasionally keep you in games you didn’t deserve to win; its inverse brother can put someone out of games they do deserve to win. Definitely worth a slot.

Cobra Trap.
As mentioned twice already, it’s a good combat trick for Sealed — not sure about Draft, which seems to be quicker, but definitely something that can keep you in a game.

A little disappointing. Yes, it did destroy about 50% of the guys in the set, since Zendikar seems a little weenish, but the problems I was having weren’t with the guys, but the Equipment that they were attached to, or the triple-landfall at the wrong times, or other issues. I mean, it’s still removal, and I’m happy for that, but for some reason it just seemed slightly underpowered. Go figure.

Explorer’s Scope.
This, on the other hand, was nuts — and certainly the most surprising card for me in Zendikar. I saw it third and fifth in the first pack of a Draft and wondered whether I should have taken one, and even now I regret not snagging ‘em up.

The Scope helps you hit land drops, accelerates mana, triggers landfall, and plan for future turns. All for two mana. It’s crazy how useful this damn thing is. Double-landfall (one during combat) can be something that’s just overwhelming if you don’t have the trick to counter it, and this helps that happen without you being lucky enough to crack a fetchland in your starting packs. Too sweet.

Frontier Guide.
I opened two of these, and they seemed just a tad slow. Four mana is a lot to ask to keep open, so I think the best way to go on these is not to think of them as “mana development” — which they aren’t — but rather as a path to late-game domination, allowing you to thin your deck and trigger landfall on turn 6 and beyond. Which means that though these masquerade as two-drops, they’re actually not gonna help you all that much when you need them. Plan appropriately.

Giant Scorpion.
Really, Magic? We’ve never had a Giant Scorpion before? Well, twiddle my Serra, who knew? And a solid, flavorful card for what it is!

Guul Draz Vampire / Surrakar Marauder.
As stated, there’s a Suicide Black archetype clearly built into this set, and here are the main offenders. Of the two, the Marauder is better, since it can more consistently fire, but if you have enough of Blood Seekers and pingers to trigger the Guul Draz, then it gets really scary. Will the Suicide Black be good enough to work in Draft, or even in a quirky pool of Sealed? Stay tuned.

(And yes, I know there’s an early 2/2 that deals you damage if your opponent’s not battered enough, but I didn’t face it to say.)

Please, however, do not discuss the possibility of Suicide Black returning in Constructed. Currently, we suffer from a disease called Volcanic Falloutitis, which is fatal to suicidal patients. Thankew!

Hedron Crab.
This thing was nuts. Now I want to draft the all-Crab deck and just start running rampant with land drops. Milling three cards off the top for every land seems silly, but come turn 6 when he’s down fifteen cards and is seriously thinking about blowing his precious removal on a crab…. Well, it’s an ugly choice.

The Crab is one of those things where it’s a nice incidental effect. Does it hurt you overmuch to put a Crab in? No. Will it win every game for you? Of course not. But will there be games that go long where your opponent has to start playing around your one-drop? Yes. And the evil part of me likes that.

Living Tsunami.
As good as you’d think. Considering this set has so many effects that allow you to put two lands into play in a turn, the drawback isn’t really that much of a drawback in the right decks.

Nissa Revane.
There are seven Elves in the set. Two of them are rare. Two are uncommon. Of the three remaining, you have Elvish Warrior with a trigger, a 1/1 dork that fetches land, and a modified Horned Turtle. You may be cool for Constructed, Nissa, but in this block it’s hard to get too excited aboutcha.

(And yes, I did play with her, why’d you ask?)

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen.
I didn’t face any copies of this guy, but those who did shuddered when they talked about him. We all heard the tale of the “lay a land, Harrow, lose nine life, now I attack with my gigantic guy.” And that’s what he’s supposed to do, man. Be scary.

Oracle of Mul Daya.
Quietly and utterly crazy. Future Sight was a good card in a set that didn’t really have a need for it, whereas this is incredibly synergetic with the core mechanics. This sucker triggers double-landfall, blows through any mana clumps, and lets you ramp into staggeringly huge plays earlier than your opponent. Yeah, she doesn’t arrive until turn 4, but after that it’s all gravy. I started out thinking, “Well, let’s see how she is,” and ended the day a converted fanboy.

Quest for the Gemblades.
The easiest quest to get, it’s also a pretty damn good — well, I wanna call it a “combat trick,” but it’s not tricky at all since they’ll see it coming. The best Quests reward you for stuff you were gonna do anyway, and isn’t attacking and blocking what Sealed is about? And getting a +4/+4 on some evasion creature is always nice, especially if you plan around the fact that your opponent sees it coming and will have the trick. (Just force him to blow his removal/bounce on your terms, man!)

Reckless Scholar.
I seriously question whether the extra mana means anything here. I’m not going to attack with it in all but the direst of situations, and who in heck is going to target their opponent? Okay, maybe when he’s down to zero cards, but even then wouldn’t you rather strengthen your own hand? Come on.

Rite of Replication.
If it fires, it wins games. If not, it’s a Clone, which isn’t terrible. The problem is — and Wizards knows this, damn their black hearts — that we’ll sit on this, waiting for the uberplay, and get blown out waiting for just one more land. Oh yes. They know.

River Boa.
Still good. Better, actually, since “regeneration” means more in this modern, less-deadly day and age.

Scute Mob.
Also pretty danged good. Yes, it’s vanilla, and yes, it starts out small, but removal seems relatively scarce in this set. Your opponent may well blow his removal to stay in the game after a quick start on your part, and then you drop this on turn 5. Whoops.

Sorin Markov.
Crazy as advertised!

Soul Stair Expedition.
Really easy to trigger, and getting two creatures back really helps Black stay in the game. They can’t compete in the battlefield with their teeny guys, but they can compete on resource exhaustion!

Spell Pierce.
Far, far less effective than I’d hoped. With all of the ways of fetching extra land, it just seemed like my opponents always had the two land to pay for it, or I was holding land open for no reason and stunting my development. Yes, it’ll be nice when you clobber a Harrow, but I’m not sure I want to start with this in my deck ever. I could be wrong.

Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
The “untargetability” is huge. 5/5 is also really huge in this set. However, I’m a little worried about someone spamming me in MODO with an infinite series of “peek at the top card” activations; I know, it doesn’t use the stack, but how will MODO handle it? Hopefully well.

Timbermaw Larva.
Useless on defense, but a beast on the offense. (Get it? No, seriously, he’s a beast. Says so right on the card.) It’s a little overpriced, but in Sealed it can be a 7/7 attacking every turn, which is surprisingly hard to deal with. Just get used to the fact that you will never, ever want to block with him.

As usual, I’ll ask the question I ask every prerelease:

  • What card was much better than you thought it was?
  • What card was much worse than you thought it was?

Signing off,
The Ferrett
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy