Ally Up!

Posted in My Favorite Flavor on November 24, 2015

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

Since the release of Battle for Zendikar, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the Eldrazi. That's understandable—giant, scary space monsters are about as cool as it gets. Unfortunately, that means I've neglected to spend enough time with Zendikar's passionate defenders: the Allies.

This week, that's going to change.

Sea Gate Stories

The Liberation of Sea Gate is the pivotal event in the Battle for Zendikar—the culmination of Gideon's efforts to fight the Eldrazi and, perhaps, the turning point in the war. After reading the story of the fight on Uncharted Realms, I knew that I wanted to recreate the battle in card form. It's going to be a hard battle, though, and I'm going to need a little help from Zendikar's best and brightest.

Flavor-wise, my biggest question at the start of this project was whether or not it was okay to use Allies from the original Zendikar block in a deck like this. Ultimately, I decided to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. Sea Gate Loremaster, for example, probably didn't survive the initial assault on Sea Gate. Have the Kazandu Blademasters and Hada Freeblades of the world answered Zendikar's call, though? I like to think so.

That said, I didn't end up using any of them in the final draft of the deck. There are just too many interesting Allies to choose from! If you have a strong affinity for any of them, however, you have my blessing to add as many as you'd like.

Gideon and the Ground Troops

The majority of Sea Gate's liberators came from the refuge at Sky Rock. Gideon led the charge—whether on Theros or Zendikar, he's always rushing into battle at the head of a makeshift army—but he had help at the top from two native Zendikari: Munda, Ambush Leader and General Tazri. Gideon and Munda each have a card to their name, but Tazri hasn't shown up yet. Perhaps she'll make an appearance in Oath of the Gatewatch.

The good news is that we can use Angelic Captain to depict Tazri in our deck. It's not a perfect fit—Tazri is said to have small wings and a halo around her neck, while Angelic Captain has large wings and a halo around her eyes. Angelic Captain is depicted in similar armor, though, and her triggered ability (gaining power in battle from other attacking Allies) feels very on-flavor for Tazri. Good enough!

Of course, these three leaders need an army to command. We have a lot of Humans, Kor, and Angels to choose from here—Angel of Renewal, Hada Freeblade, Hero of Goma Fada, Kazandu Blademaster, Firemantle Mage, Kor Bladewhirl, Kor Castigator, Kor Entanglers, Makindi Shieldmate, Ondu Cleric, Resolute Blademaster, Serene Steward, Veteran Warleader, and Talus Paladin all look like they'd be useful in a fight. Since the battle's three major generals are all white or red-white, I'd like to have most of the smaller ground troops share their color identity.

I'm going to leave the more exploration-oriented creatures—Cliffside Lookout, Expedition Envoy, Kabira Evangel, Lantern Scout, Makindi Patrol—on the sidelines. While I assume they also helped with the Liberation of Sea Gate, I can't imagine their abilities were meant to be used in close-combat situations. A hedron lantern might be useful against a small Eldrazi on a dark night, but it's not going to make much of a difference on a bright battlefield.

Drana and the Vampires

Gideon would be the first to admit it: Sea Gate couldn't have been retaken without the help of Drana and her dark followers. One of the joys of this deck is getting to see strange bedfellows fighting side by side. As General Tazri says in the flavor text for Bloodbond Vampire, "Let the vampires join us. In this war, we no longer have the luxury of choosing our comrades."

The flavorful interaction between Serene Steward and Drana's Vampire crew is the perfect example of this. Serene Steward is a Human Cleric who can channel life gain into permanent strength buffs, which is awesome…except that there aren't very many ways for Humans or Kor to gain life in Battle for Zendikar. Instead, you have to turn to cards like Drana's Emissary and Kalastria Healer—Vampires who probably would have attacked a Serene Steward in the days before the Eldrazi war. I don't know if the Vampires and Humans will maintain an allegiance if the Eldrazi are defeated, but I hope so.

We're going to want to play Drana, Liberator of Malakir, Bloodbond Vampire, Drana's Emissary, Kalastria Healer, and Kalastria Nightwatch in this deck if we can. Nirkana Assassin is powerful as well, but Assassins do their best work while in the dark, unseen. This isn't the right arena for them to shine.

Kiora and the Merfolk

There's only two actual Merfolk Allies in Battle for Zendikar, but we know that Kiora showed up at the Liberation of Sea Gate with a cadre of Octopi at her command. That makes Kiora, Master of the Depths a wonderful card to add to our pile, and I'll be looking to activate her ultimate whenever I can. Luckily, the deck contains many good creatures to untap—a powerful first-striking creature like Drana seems like your best choice.

According to the Uncharted Realms story, Kiora flies around the battlefield on the back of a flying eel. She even takes Gideon for a ride at one point, allowing him an aerial view of how things are proceeding. This is one of the greatest things I've ever read, and it has to be included in the deck. While Battle for Zendikar doesn't have any eels in it, the original Zendikar gave us Windrider Eel, which is perfect.

I wanted to include Coralhelm Guide in the deck, but this isn't the sort of battle you can sneak up to from the seashore. We can certainly include Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper, though. Not only did he show up to the fight, but he helped rouse Zendikar itself to battle back. Oh, and speaking of Zendikar...

Nissa and the Elementals

Nissa doesn't have a planeswalker card in Battle for Zendikar, but she does arrive at the Liberation of Sea Gate with an army of Elementals ready to fight. There are several different Nissa cards for us to choose from here, but I'm going to use Nissa, Worldwaker from Magic 2015. Unlike the others, Nissa, Worldwaker can immediately turn one of your lands into a 4/4 Elemental that's ready to rumble. She feels like the version of Nissa most ready for battle.

Nissa, Worldwaker | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

As for the Elementals themselves, Woodland Wanderer and Grove Rumbler seem like the best inclusions. They're both aggressive in battle, and they both feature flavor text from our favorite Planeswalker heroes. Woodland Wanderer's converge ability is also a great way to highlight the unity that's required in fighting back against the Eldrazi. It's not just the creatures of Zendikar that have to rally—it's the land itself.

Places and Spells

We have to include Retreat to Emeria in this deck—it was the headquarters of the rebellion, and I love that it creates the feeling of a steady stream of Allies pouring out of the hills and onto the battlefield. Ditto for Ally Encampment.

Unified Front and March from the Tomb both make the cut as vivid depictions of Zendikari unity. Tandem Tactics goes in for the same reason. And let's not forget Inspired Charge—while Gideon's initial attempt to retake Sea Gate was a failure, he did ultimately lead his army to victory in battle. His heroic actions should be fun to recreate in a game of Magic.

Inspired charges and little Vampires are all well and good, but how are we going to defeat the bigger Eldrazi who are trying to hold Sea Gate? Smite the Monstrous is one good answer. Pathway Arrows is another. We'll need an Aligned Hedron Network, too, of course, for when Ulamog shows up. I also want to include Roil Spout—Noyan Dar is part of our crew, after all, and I'd love to see him work his shamanic magic against an Eldrazi titan.

All five colors are represented in this deck, so we're going to need a whole lot of lands. Unfortunately, Sea Gate isn't pictured on any of the set's basics, which means that the site of the conflict itself won't be present in our deck. The good news is that fighters from all over Zendikar have come to battle, and they'll probably draw on the energy of their homelands. That allows us to use lands from all over Zendikar in order to assemble our army.

I'd like to include one of each of Zendikar's battle lands in our deck—we need the fixing, and I love how each one depicts one of Zendikar's five main continents. Fertile Thicket will help us with mana as well, and I imagine Nissa has a strong affinity for the dwindling number of wild places like that left on Zendikar. Evolving Wilds is another flavorful way to fix our mana—if the land is going to evolve to help us fight the Eldrazi, let's put it to work fixing our mana.

In terms of basics, Plains #251 gives us the best view of what appears to be the part of Emeria where Gideon's army was hiding out. Island #255 looks like a shoreline where Kiora might tell her Octopuses to help battle the Eldrazi. Swamp #262 is a beautiful depiction of Bala Ged, the continent that Drana will surely draw her energy from. Mountain #266 appears to be the most hospitable for the multicolored Elementals we've included in our deck. Forest #273 shows a tree growing on top of a hedron—a nice nod to nature's ability to overcome the Eldrazi invasion.

Here's my attempt at including the whole shebang in one 60-card package:

Ally Up!

Download Arena Decklist

I want to play so many different things that I couldn't find room for two copies of any nonland card! Instead of copying my deck card-for-card, I'd suggest using it as a jumping-off point for your own exploration of the Liberation of Sea Gate. You can tweak this deck any way you want—it all depends on which part of the battle you'd like to focus on. Want to channel the Roil? Build a white-blue version with Noyan Dar at the center. Feeling vampiric? Throw together a white-black build highlighting Drana. Prefer hand-to-hand combat? A red-white brew with Gideon and Munda at the center is going to be difficult to beat in a race. For even more fun, throw together an Eldrazi deck, give it to a friend, and challenge them to a battle.

May you always have Allies, especially on the battlefield.

—Chas Andres

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