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Zendikar: First Impressions September 6, 2009

Posted by James in : all, reviews, previews , trackback

If you thought Magic 2010 was a money grab, then you have yet to see Zendikar, the biggest money grab I’ve seen since Urza’s Saga.

Zendikar comes out in a little less than a month, and we already know a lot about it. I don’t think the official previews have even started, but that’s not stopping anyone. Take a look here to see the incomplete Zendikar spoiler.

This article contains spoilers.

Zendikar will have dual lands, mythic rare staples, and a huge power creep. This is a great set for Spike (tournament addicts) and limited players because there will be a lot of money cards.

I will discuss three things. One, the new abilities. Two, the power creep. Three, the money grab.

The new abilities

Some of the new abilities are keyworded, and some aren’t. There are new kinds of land abilities, traps, quests, and landfall.

New Land Abilities

This is the most interesting of the new abilities in Zendikar. We like nonbasic lands with abilities, but we also find that they can do some damage to the overall feel of the game. Many people don’t like lands with abilities because they over-complicate our mana base. We want lands to tap for mana then be ignored. But we can give lands abilities and ignore them quite a bit. We just haven’t seen it done much yet.

teetering peaks

Teetering Peaks is the perfect example of what we should have seen for a long time. It’s a cool nonbasic land common. That almost never happens. It’s ability is conveniently only used on the first turn it comes into play so it can then be ignored.

However, Teetering Peaks is still not the best design. Why? It comes into play tapped. This has been overdone. Comes-into-play-tapped lands has become a running gag that is no longer funny.


A good ability for a red control deck, which also might not mind that it comes into play tapped.


whiplash trap

Traps were partially stolen from Yu-Gi-Oh. Wizards thought, “Yu-Gi-Oh has traps. Could we also have them but make them different?” The answer was yes.

Traps get cheap when they have met a certain threshold. Not sure what I think about this yet, but I would be pretty annoyed if I played two creatures and got ruined by Whiplash Trap.


soul stair expedition

Quests are stupid. A quest is something like, “Save the princess from the evil demon lord!” Then you actually have to do it. Quests in Magic are pretty much just trigger-based enchantments that are stolen from the Warcraft card game. They still don’t make sense.


rampaging baloths

One major issue with Magic ignored by the game designers is getting mana flooded. You draw all lands, you lose. Eventide already had the perfect solution: Retrace. Landfall isn’t the best solution, but at least it will help a little bit.

Power Creep

Cards keep getting more powerful and Zendikar is no exception. Let’s take a look at some of the more powerful cards.

vampire lacerator

Vampire Lacerator is an example of the power creep because we haven’t seen a 2/2 for one black mana for a long time. Carnophage was the last card we saw like it, but it always required you take a damage.

Wizards of the Coast has been making one casting cost creatures bigger and bigger. Now a 2/2 for one mana with this drawback doesn’t seem so great, but it will be decent with lots of lifelink creatures around.

Why were one casting cost creatures so terrible throughout history? Wizards of the Coast thought for one colored mana you should get a 1/1 with an ability, like first strike or haste. For two colored mana you would get a 2/2 with two abilities. Seem fair? Well, it’s not. Why? Because there is a hidden cost to every card: It’s taking up a slot in your deck. Whenever you cast a spell, you lose a card. The card itself is worth something. We might get 1/1 creatures for 0 mana at some point.

Of course, there have been points of lucidity when they made decent creatures for one mana: Mother of Runes, Grim Lavamancer, and Goblin Lackey come to mind.

goblin guide

A 2/2 haste for 1 mana that doesn’t require you to make a big sacrifice. This is the perfect wall, and it’s weakness is almost non-existent when you have multiples in play.

Goblin Guide is also an example of the power creep. We’ve never got a 2/2 creature with haste for one red mana before.

warren instigator

Warren Instigator is a card you want to have four of in every Goblin deck, which means it shouldn’t be a mythic rare. (Game-winning cards shouldn’t be mythic rares because it drives up the price to play Magic competitively. That’s not fun.)

The fact that you can put two Siege Gang Commanders into play with it by turn three doesn’t sound like a good thing to me because it is a bit over-powered.

The Money Grab

An obvious way to make a set a money-grab is to give it a power creep. This is an easy way to make sure a set sells and makes the company money. I don’t know what ever makes Wizards of the Coast decide when it’s time to make a set no one will want with almost no cards worth money, such as Champions of Kamigawa, but they seem to have given that up for the time being. Ravnica had shock dual lands; Timespiral had timeshifted rares; Lorwyn had powerful tribal creatures and planeswalkers; Shadowmoor had powerful filter dual lands; Shards of Alara gave us five color control, Bant, and Jund; Magic 2010 gave us new dual lands, planeswalkers, and lots of other goodies; and now Zendikar has reached the peak with more power creep and enemy colored fetch lands.

Here are a list of reasons that Zendikar is a money-grab:

  1. It has powerful cards.
  2. It has new powerful dual lands.
  3. It takes away Wrath of God and make us buy them again with a new name.
  4. Take away enemy colored dual lands, then make new enemy colored dual lands that we will have to buy.
  5. It has a textless land in every pack.
  6. It has mythic rares that people will need to get four of to use in their goblin deck.

arid mesa

Yes, we will now have enemy fetch lands.

day of judgment

Yes, Wrath of God is back, but they will be worth twice as much because it’s never been printed before and we all need to get them again.

swamp textless zendikar

Yes, basic lands in booster packs will be textless. First there was tokens, and now they are special basic lands.


If you thought Lorwyn was too powerful, then wait until Zendikar comes out. This set is pushing the boundaries.

If you thought you could skip Zendikar, then you thought wrong. This set will have at least 6 cards everyone will pretty much have to have.


1. alexgcuevas - September 6, 2009

I frankly disagree that quests are a bad mechanic. Although they are a stretch from a flavor standpoint, they appear to me to be very interesting during drafting / limited gameplay (particularly the soul stair expedition). I’m rather intrigued to see what types of cards and effects are generated by Quests / Landfall / Traps.

As for power creep, I do agree that many of the cards spoiled appear to be very powerful, notably the dual lands and the goblins. Keep in mind there was also a 3/2 shroud for G at common, which is ridiculous in limited. Also an epic storm hoser in Mindbreak Trap. I’m interested to see if this is as “chase” as the set gets, or if it will have more powerful staple rares / uncommons as the set is revealed.

In terms of Constructed, this set seems to merely be expanding on already existant archetypes in extended / the eternal formats. As for limited, though, I’m glad that they made the chase eternal rares Mythic, in order to minimize their impact on limited. I’d rather have useless limited rares at mythic than insanely powerful bombs at uncommon (cough M10).

2. James - September 7, 2009


Good point with Mindbreak trap. The odds that an opponent with play 3 spells in one turn isn’t exactly too unlikely anyway. Especially if you get into a counterspell war.

My main point about quests was mainly just about flavor, but I’m not very impressed so far. A raise dead that takes at least 2 turns to be used isn’t something I expect to be good.

3. alexgcuevas - September 7, 2009

But a raise dead for two creatures is significantly different than 1… it’s like U: draw a card vs U: draw two cards. One is unplayable and one is amazing. I don’t know what the other quests are yet, but I would definitely play this one and the 5/5 zombie one.

4. DasManuel - September 12, 2009

Stop whining about how much money you’ll have to spend on a new magic set. Should WotC only print bad (means: cheap) cards?

Day of Judgement is ONE card that you actually don’t have to buy. Just don’t play Wx Control. Should be possible.

And the Fetchlands? Hell yeah, everyone and his child was waiting for them. And btw: Good rare lands are and allways will be the best investment one can make regarding Magic.

The best trick: Buy displays of Zendikar (3-4), get 3-4 Day of Judgement in the process (Buy-the-Box-Promo, I think), sell every Fetchland, Instigator (totally overrated!) and DoJ beyond 4 as fast as you can. Then YOU are the one making money.

5. James - September 12, 2009


Thank you for your comments.

I like that Zendikar has good cards. Zendikar is a money grab, but you are right that it can be a good thing. I agree with some other players that Wizards of the Coast uses a power creep to make more money, but I am not against it. I didn’t say it is wrong for a company to try to make money. That is the main reason that companies exist in the first place.

I already gave the example of Champions of Kamigawa as a set that wasn’t a money grab with disastrous consequences. This is an example about why making money can make sets better.

I am going to get 4 Day of Judgment cards. I am the kind of player that wants my Wrath of Gods ready whether or not I actually use them. A lot of other players will do the same. I guess that might be my own fault, but it is still a rude trick to take it away just to bring them back with a new name.

I don’t think we need to kiss anyone’s butt. If a company does something you don’t like, you are allowed to complain about it.