It’s time for another one of these no longer Standard blogs! I wouldn’t say that I’m getting back into Magic per se, but I am definitely paying some more attention to the game once again, and have been enjoying looking through the collection to see what I have, and so on. Zendikar is one of the big planes that looms large in the lore, for me, and really seems to provide a certain something that really showcases what the game is about. I don’t really know what it is, there’s just something about this block, more so even than Ravnica or Innistrad, which just screams “this is Magic!” to me!
Zendikar was released in October 2009, and was the 50th expansion for Magic the Gathering, coming on the heels of the Alara block. Alara Reborn was apparently a bit of a dud, with 5-colour decks being pushed to the point where everything seemed a little bland, players were hyped for a new set on a new plane. The set brought us to a new plane within the multiverse, although we had seen the native Kor in earlier sets. Zendikar is also home to goblins and vampires, among others. The set was flavoured mainly around Land, with the new mechanic Landfall forming a big part of things. Landfall is an ability word that grants an effect when a land is played, so can become quite important if you get such a card early enough when you’re still building up your mana base. Land was also given importance by the inclusion of full-art land cards in boosters, the first time this was a thing in a regular Magic set. Players seem to love the full-art lands, but I’m not a big fan personally. However, they do excite the player-base!
One of the most important aspects of the original Zendikar set was the enemy-coloured Fetch Lands being printed. Allied colour Fetch Lands were a thing going back to 2002’s Onslaught, so having the cycle completed here gave people a lot more choice. Generally speaking, allied colour combinations get more support than enemy pairs, it’s just the way the game seems to be designed, so it’s always quite nice to get these things (especially for me, as I love Black/White and Blue/Green!) Fetch Lands also had a useful tie-in to the Land theme, as they would provide two Landfall triggers if that’s something you were going for. Of course, they’re not cheap, because they’re so sought after…
The style of Zendikar is quite distinctive thanks to the fact there are massive floating hedrons scattered across the plane. The theme was one of adventure, and I think this comes across when you look at the artwork on the cards, you can see there is that element of places to discover – somehow, the Zendikar artwork really manages to excite me into wanting to discover more of the plane! Priceless Treasures to be discovered was a pretty bonkers thing Wizards did to market the set, as well, by including cards from Beta and other early sets randomly in booster packs, including cards from the reserved list – they weren’t reprinted cards, but cards from the original print run that were obviously just lying about. So you could get one of the Power Nine cards from a booster, which is probably why booster boxes for Zendikar are so rare out in the wild, regardless of its age. It’s interesting, because when Wizards revisited Zendikar with Battle for Zendikar, they introduced Expedition Lands which were reprints with new artwork etc of powerful land cards from the past. Heretofore I hadn’t realised that this idea was a callback to the original marketing!
In addition to Landfall, we have Quest cards which are enchantments that gather quest counters on them, usually giving a reward at the end. A subtype of instant spells is the new Trap card, which have an alternative casting cost if an opponent did something this turn. Ally is a new creature subtype that was introduced, and will trigger off the number of existing Allies you have out on the board. Intimidate replaced Fear as a form of evasion, making the creature unblockable except by artifacts and creatures who share a colour with it. Kicker is back, and finally, the vampires of the set have the Bloodied effect which makes them more dangerous if an opponent is at 10 or less life.
The second set of the block was Worldwake, and was released in January of 2010. The set continued the theme of lands being important, and introduced Manlands (I think they now call them creature lands) which have the ability to turn into Elemental creatures until end of turn. Here we had the allied colour pairings; it wasn’t until Battle for Zendikar block that we had the enemy colour pairings. There are also Zendikon auras that you can attach to regular lands to make them into creatures. Multikicker was a new keyword introduced here that allowed you to Kick a card as many times as you could afford to pay the activation cost; you could then activate the ability on the card for each time you paid the cost. I like Multikicker for a late-game play, when you might have a lot of mana but not a great deal to do with it. It’s like including X-spells, where you can make an effect bigger the more mana you pump into it.
Worldwake brought us the first four-ability Planeswalker, too: Jace, the Mind-Sculptor. He’s a bit like Liliana of the Veil from original Innistrad block, in many ways – one of the mythical Planeswalker cards that excites the fanbase so much whenever the name is mentioned. His abilities are notorious, with a +2 that lets him look at the top card of a player’s library, then put it on the bottom; and a -12 that allows him to exile a player’s library and shuffle their hand to form their new library. Remember, if you can’t draw a card, you lose the game. Of course, Jace’s starting loyalty is 3, so it’ll take him a while to get there; also, he came out in a block that included the Planeswalker-killer Vampire Hexmage, who removes all counters from a card (meaning all loyalty counters in this instance, killing the Planeswalker). But he still gets consistently more play than the Hexmage, who is predominantly used in strategies to bring out Marit Lage from the Dark Depths – but that’s a story for another day.
Zendikar block concluded with Rise of the Eldrazi in April 2010, which was another large set and shifted its focus slightly to the massive Eldrazi creatures. They had been previewed of sorts on the card Eye of Ugin from Worldwake, but with no further explanation until this set came out. The set was innovative for the time, as it was the first time a block had had a second large set, which included basic lands and new mechanics etc. Subsequent blocks such as Innistrad would also have a second large set, but anyway. The Eldrazi are the focus here, colourless creatures native to the Blind Eternities, the space between planes, intent on destroying the plane by devouring its mana. It becomes clear in the set story that Zendikar has held these Eldrazi prisoner, but the hedrons are now opening and the Eldrazi are being released!
Annihilator is a new mechanic specific for the Eldrazi, and forces the discard of a number of permanents from the battlefield when that creature attacks – representing their huge, devastating effect. Level Up is a mechanic that I’m quite fond of – it allows you to pay mana to level up a creature, giving it more effects and potentially increasing its power/toughness. It’s similar to X-spells as I was talking about before, nice to have outlets for a lot of mana in the mid-to-late game. Rebound is one of my favourite mechanics, allowing you to exile a spell as it resolves, then you get to cast it for free at the start of your next turn. Getting twice the effect from a single card is great, and I think I’m still in that phase of including Staggershock in almost every deck I build!
There are ten Totem Armor aura spells that essentially act as a kind of protection for a creature. Normally, when a creature is killed, it goes to the graveyard with all of its auras, but these spells essentially soak up the damage and one aura would be removed instead. You can still outright kill the creature, but if dealing damage to it, the aura would go before the creature is damaged. I believe there’s a Modern deck that uses all the totem armor on a Slippery Bogle creature, and so pretty much any aura card with totem armor is very difficult to come by…
I really enjoy Zendikar as a plane, and I think it’s one of the player favourites from back in the day. When I was first building my Magic collection all of those years ago, I remember feeling particularly impressed at being able to get my hands on cards from the block, as it held some kind of mythical fascination for me that I can’t quite explain! Zendikar vampires are some of the best vampires though, and as I do enjoy a good vampire deck, it’s only natural that I’d want to get my hands on some of those cards. When I was first getting into the game, though, Battle for Zendikar was the first main set I was around for, following Magic Origins (which was my first set), so I suppose there was a kind of borrowed nostalgia at work as well. Seeing the new cards in comparison to what had come before was really interesting, and learning how the story had evolved was great.
I’ve been playing around with a bit of a janky white/green deck to kinda celebrate the original Zendikar block, which involves a few of the block’s mechanics and stuff. I don’t have a massive back collection, of course, so it’s not going to be particularly amazing, I’m sure, but I thought I’d present it here nevertheless as a bit of a first draft. I’ve not bought Magic cards for a long time now, and I don’t know if I’m about to for this particular deck, but it might well be the deck that brings me back into the fold, as it were! Last month’s vampires were fun, but this one has weirdly got me really keen to play once more! At any rate, let’s take a look!
Armament Master (2)
Lightkeeper of Emeria
Loam Lion (2)
Greenweaver Druid (2)
Mul Daya Channelers
Gnarlid Pack (2)
Aura Gnarlid (4)
Might of the Masses (2)
Eland Umbra (4)
Mammoth Umbra (2)
Sunspring Expedition (2)
Khalni Heart Expedition
Adventuring Gear (2)
Hammer of Ruin (2)
Trailblazer’s Boots (2)
Kabira Crossroads (2)
Turntimber Grove (2)
There isn’t really a great deal to this deck. There are a bunch of totem armor cards in here, and more equipment than I would usually want, but it’s all there to buff up the select few creatures that I have. Stuff like the Kor Duelist gets double strike with any equipment on him, but he’s only a 1/1, so he’s a prime target for some auras to buff him up. There are a few green creatures in there who are useful in a variety of ways, including the Aura Gnarlid who gets bigger the more auras are on the battlefield. There are some anthem effects, some landfall triggers, some ways to get extra lands out to make more use of these.
Green and white isn’t my natural comfort zone, it has to be said – in making this deck, I toyed with pretty much every colour pairing with white, but ultimately it’s a deck that I’ve built within the limits of my own collection. I’m sure I could refine it down with better creatures, or shift the balance of stuff so there are fewer auras but more lands or whatever (21 lands does make me nervous!) but for now, this is how I’m choosing to build it.
A celebration of Zendikar!
I really love Zendikar as a plane – I think it might even beat out Ravnica for me as my favourite plane. We’ve been back there twice now, with Battle for Zendikar in 2015 and Zendikar Rising in 2020. I wonder if the plan is to return to the plane every five years? BFZ was the first Magic set I was around for all the way through spoiler season, as I came to Magic in June/July 2015, and I have tremendous affection for it. I also have a lot more cards for that set than original Zendikar! Zendikar Rising is more of a mystery to me, as it came out after I had fallen away from the game. I know it is mechanically related to Kaldheim, with the whole Party thing, and I think I did get some kind of preconstructed deck for it back in the day, but I’ve not really been paying any attention so I think I might take a look at that sometime soon. Who knows? Maybe I’ll revisit the White/Green deck with cards from across all three Zendikar sets! Wouldn’t that be something…