The Battle for Zendikar Prerelease is in the books, and Eldrazi once again roam the battlefield looking to devour unprepared planeswalkers. It’s
time to start figuring out the best way to use them, abuse them, and not lose to them.
Today I’ll dive into the Battle for Zendikar Draft format while sharing my thoughts. I’ll go over some starting Draft picks, deckbuilding
decisions, and mulligan decisions. I only have a little experience drafting Battle for Zendikar so far seeing as it was just released, so these
are new opinions, but I’ll do my best to explain my thought processes. As long as you have a reason for why you do things and keep an open mind while being
willing to reevaluate, you’re bound to improve. I’ll be wrong sometimes, and so will you, but that’s just how you get better.
New Draft Formats
The first few times playing with the set are about exploration. Getting a feel for the format is like running your hands under tap water to gauge its
temperature. Trying new things is encouraged. Finding what colors work, trying strange color combinations and quirky
archetypes–especially ones you don’t think will be good. It’s better to have tried a bad archetype during practice than when it counts.
Remember, there is not usually a clear cut play every turn of every game. There aren’t guaranteed optimal mulligan guidelines, and no pick order can cover
every scenario. Unless Deep Blue releases a pick order.
Battle for Zendikar Draft
Here are my initial thoughts on how Battle for Zendikar Draft plays out:
The format is a slower than recent sets like Magic Origins or Khans of Tarkir block. It’s not glacial, but there is not a critical mass
of aggressive cards, and there are plenty of incentives to go big and delay the game thanks to awaken and Eldrazi.
Don’t get too fancy. This appears to be a fairly straightforward Draft format. That means your baseline should be drafting two-color decks in open colors.
I think the synergistic strategies in Battle for Zendikar are a little lacking. It seems like some of the archetypes don’t have enough cards to
support even one drafter, so focus on power over getting all the Allies.
Archetypes I like:
– U/W Awaken/Fliers
. Awaken cards are really good. Fliers are really good.
– G/R Landfall Aggro
. An excellent way to attack a format that is trying to go big. Get low with the powerful landfall creatures and end the game before Eldrazi matter.
Blue has a very clear identity with plenty of depth, at least in the beginning. I’ve struggled drafting the other archetypes, but it could just take time
to figure out how they work.
Archetypes I feel are lacking:
– G/U… Something
. Usually you can tell what archetype the color combination is by looking at the uncommon in those colors, so based on Skyrider Elf if you’re in G/U, you
should probably be splashing or going five colors.
– B/R Devoid Aggro
. I feel like there aren’t enough cards to push this strategy and you’re going to end up with half of a deck that’s synergistic B/R Aggro cards and half of
a deck that’s just black and red cards.
– G/W Ally Aggo + R/W Ally Aggro
. It’s awkward when you’re in G/W Allies and you keep passing R/W Allies or vice versa. If you want to go Naya Allies, your mana is probably going to be a
little wonky. Allies work on all creatures and feel weaker in dedicated Ally decks as a result.
. There isn’t much fixing, and the fixing isn’t very good. Evolving Wilds is going to be picked up by anyone. Utility lands are also excellent and push
away from five-color. It might be worth it if you just force five-color assuming no one else will want it. It still seems like you have to get reasonably
lucky and have enough powerful five-color cards opened.
Lots of your decks should start with eighteen lands, especially when you have plenty of utility lands and awaken cards. Don’t shy away from seventeen lands
if you don’t have a high curve though. On the play, you’ll want eighteen lands more often, and on the draw you want seventeen lands more often, so take
that into account while sideboarding.
It might sound like I think the set is a little bland, and that’s probably because it is to a certain extent, but many of the cards are very nuanced in
Draft and will be very difficult to pin down just how powerful they are. Awaken cards in particular are kind of like a triple split cards. Converge,
Allies, and ingest can all matter varying degrees, from medium to very good, based on what deck they’re in. I’d say the set is subtle and will take time to
get used to. Not every set can be multicolor wowza, explosions, and flashing lights. Unless… Return to Return to Ravnica, anyone?
Pick – Draft 1
Alright, now imagine you have three fresh Battle for Zendikar packs in front of you, with your intrepid Sherpa Shaun McLaren to carry you on his
back straight to the peak of Mt. Firstplace. All I ask on this expedition is to be paid in Expeditions.
We open our first Battle for Zendikar pack and see…
Pack 1, Pick 1
3rd – Shadow Glider
A solid flier that you actively want in your deck, even if it’s unexciting. Still not what you’d want to be first picking.
The format isn’t very fast, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is good in ramp decks, but ten mana is still a bit too slow when you aren’t specifically
ramping into it.
1st – Hedron Archive
This is a fairly weak pack, but I think Hedron Archive is a great first pick. The biggest draw being that it doesn’t commit you to a color. It fits into
ramp decks and awaken decks very well. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (and other costly Eldrazi) don’t commit you to a color either, but they don’t fit very
well into every deck. Hedron Archive is my pick.
Pack 1, Pick 2
4th – Ghostly Sentinel
Another unexciting solid flier in white. Fliers do get the job done, and this one is good if not undercosted.
3rd – Plated Crusher
A potentially unstoppable beater that works really well with Hedron Archive by virtue of costing seven mana. It would probably be better if not for that it
is easily challenged on the ground by the Eldrazi.
2nd – Complete Disregard
An exile enabler and instant speed removal, which is rare in this set. Still it only gets smallish creatures. A solid pick and it only commits you to
1st – Roil Spout
Roil Spout is fantastic. Bounce is excellent in this format, especially when fatties are cheated into play through Eldrazi Scions. The versatility and
power of Roil Spout make it worth committing to two colors, although it is important that blue and white are great colors to be in.
Build – Draft 1
The rest of the draft goes really well, including the lucky bomb opening of Planar Outburst, and you end up with a solid U/W deck.
- 2 Kozilek's Channeler
- 1 Endless One
- 1 Halimar Tidecaller
- 3 Eldrazi Skyspawner
- 2 Kor Castigator
- 1 Shadow Glider
You’ll notice the list is only 38 cards so far. You need to add two more cards from your available pool:
My picks to finish the deck:
All of these cards are underwhelming but potential candidates. I think the reason for adding these two cards is because the deck above is so powerful, I
wouldn’t want to lose to mana screw or quick beatdown. Something like Wave-Wing Elemental is powerful, but the deck already has plenty of lategame punch.
Fortified Rampart marches up very well against a lot of landfall creatures, and is great when you want to clog up the ground while you peck away in the
Opening Hands – Draft 1
Let’s go over some mulligan decisions (remember the mulligan scry rule is in effect for all events going forward).
Remember to pause, think, and allow yourself to make the correct decision. Taking a beat to pause before every mulligan decision is a great skill. All too
often I find myself keeping hands I shouldn’t be because I don’t think for even one second.
On the play against an unknown opponent:
Planar Outburst is a ridiculously powerful card and makes this hand great. Wrath effects in Limited are usually unexpected and game-breaking. It’s even
reasonable to win with this hand if you draw three more lands off the top of the deck in a row. Even if you don’t draw a Plains by turn 5, you can cash in
the Hedron Archive to draw one as well.
On the play against an unknown opponent:
The format is reasonably sluggish, but not enough so that you need to risk doing nothing the first four turns for very little reason. I like having a bunch
of expensive Divinations, but they don’t win the game by themselves.
On the play against an unknown opponent you mulliganed into:
A good hand if not amazing by any means. Kozilek’s Channeler actually does a fair job on defense.
You scry and see:
The plan for the above hand is very clear: draw lands. Even though Kor Castigator smooths out your curve and applies pressure or blocks on the ground, it’s
essentially going to be blocking the rest of your hand unless you draw two lands in a row afterwards.
Draft 2 – Pick 1
3rd – Skyrider Elf
A very powerful card on turn 2 in a G/U deck, and ridiculous in a five-color deck, but like I said earlier, I’m not sure Skyrider Elf is in an appealing
All solid removal, with Clutch of the Currents likely being the choice, but sometimes you just have to take the bomb.
1st – Omnath, Locus of Rage
Keep it simple. Take the bombs when you open them. Omnath, Locus of Rage is very powerful and worth committing to two colors. You can also happily abandon
him if the red and/or green isn’t flowing. I would pick Omnath, Locus of Rage.
Draft 2 – Build
- 1 Territorial Baloth
- 1 Omnath, Locus of Rage
- 2 Tajuru Warcaller
- 2 Grove Rumbler
- 1 Belligerent Whiptail
- 2 Blisterpod
- 1 Chasm Guide
- 2 Vile Aggregate
- 1 Oran-Rief Invoker
- 1 Valakut Predator
You’ll notice the list is only 38 cards so far. You need to add two more cards from your available pool. You’re already running eighteen lands. Although
you have plenty of powerful cards, the draft wasn’t sending an enormous amount of red and green playables to your seat and your options are somewhat
My picks to finish the deck:
Tajuru Beastmaster complements the rest of your deck the best. It can pump up a team of Eldrazi Scions or be accelerated onto the battlefield by them. It’s
also an Ally and works very well with Tajuru Warcaller and Chasm Guide. It’s a little on the pricey side but is a powerful card. Plummet is a riskier
inclusion, since it does nothing against some decks, but it has a very high upside and helps you where you’re weakest by acting as removal and defensive
Draft 2 – Opening Hands
You’re on the draw against an unknown opponent.
Don’t keep one-landers! Even on the draw, even when you can play two cards in your hand, even when you have Omnath, Locus of Rage. This hand likely needs
you to draw two lands, including a Mountain, in the first three draw steps to be good. If it doesn’t, it’s left doggie paddling and struggling the rest of
the game. Valakut Predator and Belligerent Whiptail also desperately need some of that sweet sweet mana to function effectively. It might be reasonable
against an aggro deck trying to push through the Blisterpods, but too many strategies should be able to just ignore them and ramp to victory or fly over.
You’re on the draw against an unknown opponent and mulligan into:
Don’t keep one-landers! Unless you’re supposed to! This is a situation where scrying is better than Omnath, Locus of Rage. The thing about most Magic cards
is you need to cast them for them to do things. Getting to scry is a big deal with this hand, since being able to curve out is.
You scry and see:
It’s no Mountain, but it’ll do. This hand craves lands, even if its awkward keeping a land that doesn’t actually fix your colors. Not drawing a Mountain in
the near future will be bad, but at least you’ll be able to drop Oran-Rief Invoker and follow it up with Valakut Predator when you do find the Mountain.
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed my first look at Battle for Zendikar Draft. At these early stages of the game, it feels like not stepping
out of line and sticking to nice solid fundamentals is the name of the game, and the format even seems to be a few shades slower than what we’re used to.
Do you disagree with any of my choices or have thoughts on cards that really impressed you based on your Battle for Zendikar Prerelease
experience? Sound off and let me know!