The Lands of Battle for Zendikar

Posted in Event Coverage on October 10, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

Ari Lax stared down at his board. A careful study of his opponent’s creatures and a quick glance at the top of his deck — and with no cards in hand — he knew he needed exactly one type of card from his draw step.

It’s a common scenario in Magic, but the card the Pro Tour champion needed was anything but.

A land came off the top of the deck, and Lax slammed it on the table — not in defeat, as you might expect, but in triumph as the landfall trigger won him the match.

Welcome to Zendikar.

“You have games where both players have no cards in hand, and either a land or a spell can help them, and both have very disparate effects on the board,” the Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir champion explained. “It’s much more diverse than it would be in a different set.”

The Landfall mechanic is just one of the things that makes Battle for Zendikar different than a trip to Magic’s other planes. Here, lands play a more integral part of the gameplay than ever before. From Landfall to Converge to Awaken to creature lands to spell lands like Mortuary Mire, players care more about their lands than ever before. The impact of that has been clear across the room today, as more than 1,700 players work to get the most of their lands in this unique Limited format.

It begins with Landfall, an ability so popular the first time around it was brought back in Battle for Zendikar. The mechanic does something few others have every done: fundamentally alter the drama of the draw step. When lands are just as good to draw as a spell — and in some cases better — games always have action happening. With a few simple tweaks to “normal” spells, cards like Swell of Growth and the instant-speed Natural Connection add even more punch to combat tricks. Along with the Retreat cycles (Retreat to Coralhelm and friends), ways to put land into play are premium spells for many decks and many players are opting to play 18 lands rather than the typical 17.

Next up is Converge, and it occupies a sweet spot as a mechanic where players are rewarded for pushing its limits but aren’t heavily punished for not forcing it. Skyrider Elf is the best example of this; players can cast it as a perfectly fine 2/2 flier for two mana, but they are truly rewarded for Converge as it scales upward. Other spells like Radiant Flames become downright devastating when properly converged.

But there is a drawback. The more colors you include in your deck to take advantage of Converge spells, the riskier it becomes to run the immensely powerful “Blighted lands.” Blighted Fen and Blighted Cataract may lead the way, but all five of the lands in the cycle provide a critical effect when used, often swinging a match in the late game. The tension between the two goals is a key part of what keeps Battle for Zendikar challenging and fresh.

Another is the spell lands: Fertile Thicket, Looming Spires, Mortuary Mire, Sandstone Bridge, and Skyline Cascade. Not only do these provide what amounts to a combat trick or a powerful ability typically the domain of spells, they also make for interesting gameplay decisions: do you play the land early because it comes into play tapped, or hold it until later when you can maximize the ability? Properly sequencing your land drops has never been so important.

“It’s a cool thing where you play more lands to trigger your Landfall, but it also allows you to change your curve up and play more four or five-drop creatures,” Lax said. “It also lets you splash a color more easily or play one of the special lands, which do a really good job of sort of being half-spell, half-land. It’s a really good balance.”

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