Battle for Zendikar: The Early Bird Special

I sip Mountain Dew and stare into the cool, electric glow of my computer monitors. On one, an empty Word document sits in purgatory. On the other, Norm MacDonald splits the screen with a slew of tabs and notes and lists.

“What to write? Think, brain,” I say. Some people feel strange talking to themselves, but I don’t. Sometimes it’s the only way to get a good conversation.

“I’m right here, you know.”

The voice makes me jump, and I turn my head to see an intruder sitting in the corner. Perhaps “sitting” is the wrong word, since it lacks a body (and thus the necessary tuckus) to sit with. My eyes move along the large, moist mass of gray matter, and my brow raises with recognition.

It’s my brain.

“Oh, it’s you,” I say.

“Of course it’s me, who else would it be?” my brain replies. It doesn’t move to speak, and instead the words form themselves inside my head (I believe this is typical of brains).

“I need a topic. Standard is already fleshed out. We have all the cards, and we’ve built all the decks, and now it’s this circular metagame that teeters back and forth between Siege Rhino being the best or not the best. Meanwhile, Modern is being covered by Sam and Pascal, and I haven’t played Legacy in months.”

“You could put the call out on Twitter for article ideas.”

“I guess. I wish it was spoiler season. Actually, that’s it! Brain, you’re a genius,” I say, my fingers flying over the keys in an act of trivial Magic, summoning the spoiler list for Battle for Zendikar.

“But there are only seven cards spoiled, and one of them is Evolving Wilds.”

“**** it. We’ll do it live.”

Veteran Warleader


This is the most unexciting exciting card ever. The stats of “power and toughness equal to the number of creatures you control” is very green-white, and at 1GW we already know it’s going to be tempting but never really busted. The built in evasion (trample) is a nice upgrade from Wayfaring Temple, but if that’s all this card was I would have a much more tepid reaction.

But that’s not all! Veteran Warleader is an Ally. Allies were somewhat competitive the last time around, and I’m sure they will be again, but I don’t really care about some tier 2 aggro deck in Standard. I care about a tier 3 aggro deck in Modern!

Allies, by Daniel Mulato

Daniel Top 4’d a PPTQ with this thing, and it’s the level of quasi-competitive and wildly unexpected that makes me want to run it through a few Dailies on MTGO, but probably never bring it to a real-life event. That said, the right printing could move it from interesting to legitimately good, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Retreat to Kazandu


While this technically could be a hoser for burn decks, I don’t like my hosers to assume something is going right (in this case, hitting land drops.) At least Nylea’s Disciple comes with a pair of devotion attached.

As a Limited card, Retreat seems awesome. Incidental life gain is great in Limited, which is dominated by creature strategies, and it gets better the more aggressive the format. In less aggressive formats, slowly building your creatures with additional +1/+1 counters has more value, and the only time this card is lackluster is when you’re light on threats.

Sheer Drop


This card is nuts in Limited, where Assassinate is already playable.

In Constructed, control decks would normally love a removal spell + value, but as a 3-mana conditional sorcery it’s a bit of a stretch.

On the other hand, Awaken is an exciting mechanic for anyone that loves value, which by my calculations includes approximately 100% of Magic players. I’m sure there’ll be a few Awaken cards priced for Constructed.

Oblivion Seer


I’ve bricked on Satyr Wayfinder enough to not be particularly excited about this card, and on its own the card doesn’t look very good, even though 6 mana for a 5/8 is reasonable.

On the other hand, the ability triggers when you cast it, so it resolves through countermagic. It can be built around too, assuming there are playable ways of exiling the opponent’s cards. I feel much better casting this guy if I know I’m getting a few lands for sure, and possibly getting some 5+ lands for six mana is exciting.

If the “exiling the opponent’s cards” subtheme isn’t viable in Standard, then it’s still a sweet build-around for EDH.

Forerunner of Slaughter


This card looks a bit more jovial than the typical Eldrazi. After all, you can’t spell “slaughter” without “laughter.”

Devoid (the Ghostfire mechanic) isn’t interesting in and of itself, but it signals to us that color (or lack of color) is going to be important in this set, and we get a hint of that with the Forerunner’s sweet hasty ability. By itself, it’s a split card where you get a 3/2 for 2 or a 3/2 haste for 3, which is solid. Giving anything else haste is just gravy.

Dominator Drone


Ingest being a mechanic means that we’ll have at least a few ways of priming Oblivion Seer’s ability, though it would need to be on a less aggressive threat to make sense. It’s not like I want 6-mana ramp spells in the same deck as a 3-mana 3/2 that drains.

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