After months of anticipation, the full spoiler has been revealed, many of us have attended prerelease events, and boxes of Zendikar cards will be flying off the shelves of your local game store beginning this weekend. So how is the set? Today, I’ll break down Zendikar in terms of sealed deck, Standard format and pure fun. This set has some sharp teeth (and I’m not just talking about the vampires).
It’s particularly interesting to talk about Zendikar in a sealed deck format because this Pro Tour season is Zendikar sealed. There are Pro Tour Qualifiers held every weekend, and with the sealed format, you don’t have to worry about getting blown out of the water by someone with all the expensive cards. You enter, you’re seated, you get six packs of Zendikar, you open them up and record the contents on a deck registration sheet. Then the decks are collected and redistributed randomly (which prevents cheating). Then you build your deck and play five or more rounds (it’s Swiss format, so even if you lose, you can play to the end).
The overall impression one gets playing sealed Zendikar is that it’s hard. There are many opportunities to make tactical mistakes. Play your land before dropping your creature with the great Landfall ability. Forget to assign damage with your Blood Seeker. Play your Oran-Rief Recluse too early and miss out on the kicker bonus when you really needed it. Totally miss the power of Adventuring Gear and fail to include it in your deck. You have to be totally focused every moment of every game, even if you think you’ve got the game in hand. In one game last Sunday, I was up 14 life to 2 and lost on the next turn. In another, I’d played smart and kept mana open to protect a regenerating creature all game long, then lost focus and forgot to regen when the creature was finally killed (if I could literally kick myself, I would).
Another important thing to consider: do not underestimate Landfall. When a Plated Geopede hits the table, kill it fast. Otherwise, your opponent is going to drop a fetch land or an Explorer’s Scope next turn and you’ll be facing a 5/5 or worse. When you’re building your deck, don’t look at Landfall creatures and see only their base power and toughness. Assume you’ll get the Landfall bonus almost every turn. Chances are, you will.
Worry about Allies, but not too much. If your opponent gets three or four of them out, you’re in trouble, but they don’t seem to turn up in great enough numbers for very many people to build consistent sealed decks around them. If you see one Ally, don’t freak out and waste a burn spell on it. If they drop a second, it’s bad news, but not really a big deal. It’s only after that that things get nasty. Obviously, if you see (and die to) a lot of Allies in game one, eliminate any Allies you see with extreme prejudice.
Finally, don’t be overly aggressive. A lot of Zendikar creatures have good “enters the Battlefield” abilities, most of them fueled by kicker. You’re going to be tempted to drop your Kor Skyfisher turn two, but that’s usually a bad play. Later, it will give you a free Landfall activation when you miss a land draw, or better yet, give you an extra shot with your Heartstabber Mosquito. And if your opponent is playing red, be very, very, very afraid of Mark of Mutiny. You almost need to play around it even if you haven’t actually seen it in your opponent’s deck yet.
I’m not going to do a detailed analysis of Zendikar in Standard format because I’m not a genius deck builder. I think Landfall will have limited impact in constructed decks, with a few obvious cards becoming staples. I hate that Lotus Cobra is mythic rare, because that type of card in that rarity slot is exactly the kind of thing that makes people not even bother getting into constructed Magic. If you’re playing green, your deck will always be inferior to the one built by the guy who spent $100 on four cobras. I do have a weird feeling that one or two truly degenerate decks are going to come out of Zendikar. They might be Extended decks rather than Standard, but for some reason I feel like something from this set will be banned eventually. I can’t offer a specific suggestion, it’s just a general hunch that there’s a lot of untapped power in this set, and some insane card interactions that haven’t been discovered yet. Of course, this fits the Zendikar theme of adventure and exploration quite well!
Is it fun? Hell yes. There are so many huge, fun cards, an impressive vampire tribe, a bunch of useful artifacts, a few fantastic Planeswalkers and crafty combos that will make for some top notch Planechase games, or whatever other casual format you play with your friends. Plus, the Zendikar themes are brought out in the cards themselves very effectively, so each game can play out almost like a small fantasy adventure story. The games are unpredictable and exciting, with huge momentum swings and stunning upsets. You can order Zendikar booster packs from Robot Viking sponsor TrollandToad.com. Next week, draft with some friends or build a deck around the Rampaging Baloths you got at the prerelease.