10 Things I Learned at the Battle for Zendikar Prerelease

Posted in Limited Information on September 30, 2015

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

I had a chance to play in three Battle for Zendikar Prerelease events (or as I like to call it, "Work Research") this last weekend, and I had a blast. I also learned a lot in that short amount of time about this exciting new format. Today I'll go over a list of my observations on Week Zero of the new format.

  1. Colorless cards are everywhere!

At first glance, it wasn't apparent to me just how many instances of colorless (mainly devoid) cards there are in Battle for Zendikar. Even in Sealed Deck, I was able to build decks with nearly all colorless spells if I wanted. I saw other people toying with similar builds too. I figure that in Booster Draft the effect will be even more pronounced.

What does this mean? It means that there are some cards that need to be readdressed.

This guy was great for me in the two decks I ran him in. It performed much better than I anticipated, mainly because I just didn't understand how many colorless spells you could actually fit into a deck. Vile Aggregate was often a 4/5 with trample and ingest—or even bigger—for three mana! The key is to combine it not only with other colorless creatures but also with a bunch of Eldrazi Scion tokens. That is the way you unlock the raw power of Vile Aggregate.

The card has gone way up on my list.

Also probably going up the list, though I only played against the card rather than with it, is Ruination Guide.

Basically everything I said bout Vile Aggregate is true of Ruination Guide. Surround it with colorless creatures and Eldrazi Scion tokens and you'll have a ready-made army to close out the game in short order.

The true bar, though, will be if this card is actually playable (or even good?):

I normally don't like this kind of card very much. It doesn't attack or block, or even affect the board state on its own. It has a high setup cost, and the payoff isn't necessarily great in all matchups.

That said, it may just be a thing here in Zendikar.

What has my curiosity piqued is the idea of running multiple copies of this card. They do trigger each other, and once you get two on the battlefield, you are throwing around a heck of a lot of damage.

I don't know if it will be a good card, but it has a way better chance than I originally gave it.

  1. Coastal Discovery is the stuff dreams are made of.

Mulldrifter-flavored dreams, that is. It felt so good to set up games where you got to awaken a land, draw two cards, and attack for 4 all in the same turn.

I'm not planning on passing many of these in my Battle for Zendikar Draft career.

  1. The two green "pump Allies" are very important.

When it comes to curving out with Allies, these two are the big payoff:

A good Ally curve is hard to beat in this format. But one way you can be beat is if you don't curve into Allies that make other Allies bigger. You see, once you have a board of relatively small (say, 2 or maybe 3 power) Allies, giving them all first strike or vigilance doesn't get the job done.

Also, some of the big payoff cards like Unified Front don't stack well with this kind of ability (giving a creature first strike twice unfortunately doesn't make it a double-striker).

But if you have a card like Tajuru Warcaller on the battlefield and fire off a Unified Front for even just two, your team is getting +2/+2 twice, which is usually enough to run over the opponent.

One way to consistently get this buff is to use a card like Retreat to Emeria to pump your team.

If you happen to have one of these great green Allies on the battlefield, you can just make an Ally token with the Retreat. But in the case that you don't, you can give your team +1/+1 and combine that with any other Ally for a great attacking force.

  1. Touch of the Void, Demon's Grasp, and Sheer Drop are all sorceries.

Okay I actually knew that, but I had each of these cast on me as an instant over the course of the weekend. Don't do that!

  1. People were often running three colors.

In Sealed Deck, at least.

It's not yet clear to me how much this will translate to Booster Draft, but most of the decks I played against (and two of the three I played) were three colors. The mana fixing and general pace of the format seemed amenable to this arrangement, and the players didn't argue.

This of course brings up a lot of questions about consistency, when to take the mana fixing, and how it affects the speed of the format. Time will tell.

  1. Flying is still good.

After all these years, one of Magic's most elegant pieces of design work still shines: flying. It's so visceral to even the newest of players as a mechanic, and it's still so darned good in Limited.

It feels especially good in this format, because there are many defensive creatures on the ground as well as just a whole slew of Eldrazi Spawn tokens littering the battlefield. You do have to be careful not to let your opponent get some massive Eldrazi going on the ground, but if you can, beating down in the air seems as good as ever.

  1. When casting Void Winnower, it is apparently customary to say to your opponent, "You can't even."
  1. Deathless Behemoth, Bane of Bala Ged, and Breaker of Armies are all good.

Deathless Behemoth was the best of the bunch, coming down early and providing a robust threat as well as a blocker.

It's easy to forget the gap between six and seven mana. Even more so, the difference between six and eight mana. We grow accustomed to thinking of land drops in terms of turns. "I'll play my two-drop on turn two, my three-drop on turn three . . ."

This actually holds up until about the fourth or fifth land drop. But after five, the frequency with which you actually hit lands widens significantly. Just as a ballpark, you should think of hitting a land drop about every one-and-a-half turns or so.

Which means the gap from Deathless Behemoth to Bane of Bala Ged is not one turn later, but more like two.

The good news is that Bane of Bala Ged demands a lot of value from your opponent in order to deal with it. Basically you attack once, get your "annihilator" trigger (the exiling two permanents thing is reminiscent of the annihilator mechanic the Eldrazi had back in Rise of the Eldrazi) and then they will select two or three creatures to block it.

This is the moment of truth. If you have a way to keep your Bane alive, you'll probably win the game. If you don't, you'll probably still win the game, but with a slightly reduced win percentage. You are often getting three-for-ones from the Bane, which is great—and sometimes even four-for-ones happen. It's not quite a clean three- or four-for-one, as your opponent gets to decide what is blocking and such, but it still counts.

Another turn or three later, you'll have this guy on your side:

You get what you pay for, as they say. Breaker of Armies asks a very stern and poignant question: Do you have enough blockers to kill me?

If you don't now, you probably never will.

Breaker of Armies isn't great when you are behind in a race, but it does crush any standoffs you had with your opponent, and lives up to its name quite well.

  1. Yes, you can cast Eldrazi. Even the big ones.

I probably should have made this number eight.

The key here is the Eldrazi Scion tokens. There are plenty of ways to make these, and hence plenty of ways to skip a head a few turns in mana development and slap down a big fat Eldrazi onto the battlefield.

  1. Turn Against is great now, but will probably only be good for a few weeks.

Even at the Prerelease, some people knew what the card did and knew better than attacking into it blindly.

Like me, for example.

My opponent had four cards in hand, five mana available, was way behind, and just passed the turn to me.

Suspicious. I just attacked with one creature, and even though he had Turn Against, I avoided a major blowout by playing around it.

I expect that after the first time everyone gets destroyed by this easily-spotted trick, they won't be keen on making that mistake again.

Last Thoughts

I don't like to take too much away from a relatively small sample size like three Prerelease events, but I feel like I learned a lot and will continue to as I do more, um, Work Research.

I may need some assistants. I hope you're willing to come along for the ride.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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