Thursday, September 3, 2015

First Look: Battle for Zendikar

We've got the mechanical overview from the Mothership here. The list of cards spoiled up to this point here. The official previews start Monday but thanks to the Penny Arcade Expo, we got a few juicy ones to Start The Speculation about!

So I was right about the obvious: one of the big mechanics in BfZ is going to center around exiling cards from people's library. Go me! Ingest is going to have a bunch people hoping that they can mill opponents out before realizing that they can't.

I see where there might be some interesting tension there, with cards like Blight Herder relying on putting those cards into the graveyard from exile, possibly allowing opponents to take advantage. I just wish they'd called the 'processor' mechanic what it should've been called, Excrete! Let's get icky! Still, anything that provides some tension is usually an Interesting Thing.

Buuuut not always.

Devoid is boring. We have colorless objects in the game already and there isn't anything about this quality (it can't really be called a mechanic) that truly contrasts it against objects in the game that have color. Devoid just hums along with other colorless creatures (and possibly spells) instead. On the upside, my Karn, Silver Golem Commander deck is about to become a bit more flexible!

Prediction: There will be a return to Mirrodin within two years to "synergize" with the artifacts.

The contrast to Devoid is supposed to be Converge; this would represent a tension within the block (no colors vs colors).

This mechanic wasn't exciting in Fifth Dawn. It wasn't exciting in the Shards of Alara block (where they tried to call it Domain and yes I'm aware that it isn't exactly the same), interesting in Invasion block because it was new and it isn't exciting now. This is because the mechanic has a hard limit on its scale: The MOST powerful it can be is 5 X, where X = damage or p/t or whatever value they hope to do with it. The places where it will be good (if it actually gets there) will be in Commander, Modern or Legacy where decks that can feasibly run 4 or 5 colors exist. 

Now, in those formats Converge can be something to talk about! And I play in them! So I'm keeping my eye on it, even if I don't think it'll be that good. And it still doesn't provide a mechanical or philosophical contrast to the Devoid mechanic and that's irritating. The contrast is all in the theme. Well who CARES? I can play the Devoid stuff alongside the Converge stuff and lose nothing and to me, that's problematic. The two mechanics should have some way of not getting along, instead of just being about themselves.

Something I don't like that probably isn't a big deal: the Eldrazi tokens are now 1/1s instead of 0/1s. Since tokens can be represented by anything and formats exist where Eldrazi tokens from both sets can be played, this inconsistency bothers me. There really isn't a good reason for those tokens to be different and I don't like the possible misrepresentation of board state.

Something I'm OK with that bugged someone else: Sean wasn't thrilled with the Rally ability because it
"Does absolutely nothing new, just the same old Ally stuff. Because all creatures with the Ally type all doing the same kind of thing wasn’t apparent enough."
I pointed out to him that the new Rally keyword was useful because the ability is different than the previous one. The Zendikar allies only affected other allies, where these new ones affect all your creatures. This makes for more flexible draft and sealed decks, in addition to useful constructed abilities. Having a different name helps distinguish these allies from RoE's allies! And it's a name on the card! That we can read all the time! That can't be just "represented" by any fucking noun we choose! See how that matters vs the Eldrazi tokens?

Sean came around (though he has other reservations).

The Land stuff.

Awaken is neat! I can see this ability being very useful for control decks that would rather ignore any of those pesky Creature spells. I'd like it a little more if you could target any land to make it a creature. The Awaken cost makes something like a land destruction strategy prohibitive but if I could use this in a Commander game to animate and then destroy an opponent's Maze of Ith? I'd dig that.

The downside: Land animation is in Green's color pie and they've cannibalized it for this set because "theme". Well shit: Why can't we cannibalize Blue's countermagic or Black's discard?

I'm sure there are reasons. It's just that it is things like this are why colors like Black and Blue always seem so strong and the other colors don't get to share in it--but only because of "color pie" reasons. You have an opportunity to carve up Green though? Let's have at it.

Still, I think the mechanic is solid and helps give control decks some needed tools.

Landfall is landfall. Players like getting something for nothing and Landfall is possibly the ultimate in that kind of reward. There seem to be some new twists on the mechanic and I'm all for that. How good those twists are, we'll have to see.

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