Most high pro­file set reviews of Magic the Gathering tend to fol­low a for­mat of doing an exhaus­tive card-by-card com­men­tary of the entire set, and then talk­ing about the use­ful­ness of each card in turn. This is not one of those reviews.

I’ve not­ed in this past that there is a lack of “Should you buy this?” advice out there, or even some­thing as sim­ple as “Will this set be fun to play in Limited?” My reviews will fol­low more of an overview, and will be closer to a tra­di­tion­al pro­duct review. There is a wealth of infor­ma­tion out there in terms of just com­ment­ing on the cards present, but very few offer actu­al judge­ment on the set as a whole. There so much bulk in Magic sets that this process is often tedious and repet­i­tive as well; both to read and write. So expect this review to have less minu­tia, but more crit­i­cism. So with­out fur­ther ado here is our Battle for Zendikar set review, and my first review of a mag­ic expan­sion.


If a set can’t work in its own Limited envi­ron­ment then it fails the pri­ma­ry test of mod­ern Magic sets. I’m pleased to report that Battle for Zendikar isn’t a dis­as­ter. Limited hap­pens to be where its bet­ter ele­ments shine the bright­est. It’s impact out­side of Limited, how­ev­er? Well, we’ll come to that lat­er.

So yes, the set does work rather well game play wise from the games of Sealed and Draft I’ve man­aged to play and observe. Heavy drafters may have a dif­fer­ing opin­ion as the sea­son wears on, but so far I don’t see signs of an obvi­ous “solved” deck. We went over the mechan­ics of Battle for Zendikar in our pre­view, and I am hap­py to report many of the fun inter­ac­tions I was hop­ing for have more or less tak­en place. I was able to draft an ingest deck to some suc­cess, and allies are very enjoy­able if you man­age to get the good ones. In the drafts I’ve been in I think a few play­ers were try­ing to force Allies, so I may have a false pic­ture of how high­ly val­ued they will be. If some­one keeps pass­ing you them go nuts; it’s per­son­al­ly my favourite arche­type. Landfall is also a very pow­er­ful mechan­ic once again. If the stars align you can absolute­ly crush in Limited with a few Makaindi Sliderunners, Valakut Predators, and some stacked land­fall trig­gers. Most of this deck is com­mon too, so it’s not too hard to build.

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Of course, it’s pos­si­ble to draft a solid deck just tak­ing good cards in a shell you are com­fort­able with. You aren’t hemmed into cer­tain decks, and whilst every­one is scrap­ping for the obvi­ous syn­ergies I’ve come up again­st play­ers who were just able to be build a good solid, pow­er­ful deck. The set also has a weird power-level dis­par­i­ty, where many of the com­mons and uncom­mons are high­er pick than many of the rares. This is not a for­mat where you just take the rare and move on. Many of the cards that come in with Eldrazi scions are of great val­ue, and those cards can bring their own syn­er­gy. Like Drowner of Hope or Brood Butcher which are amongst the best cards in the lim­it­ed for­mat.

Something I was dis­ap­point­ed by was the lack of colour­less cards that mat­tered. Devoid is every­where, and it seems like it was just used to denote “this is an Eldrazi spell,” rather than have much game play rel­e­vance. There are almost no cards that care about a spell being coloured or not, and this rel­e­gates Devoid from being a mechan­ic to just kind of being there — devoid of con­text. It’s the same with Awaken. Their design is “This is an old spell but you can awak­en it now,” which is not exact­ly one of the most imag­i­na­tive Magic cards ever print­ed. There is also no real flavour rea­son, or mechan­i­cal rea­son that the­se should be awak­en cards beyond Zendikar being more based around land. Almost any card ever print­ed could have awak­en tacked on and it would fit about as well.

Impact on Standard

It could all change at the pro-tour, and I gen­er­al­ly like to wait until then to form a final judge­ment for Standard. But Battle for Zendikar has been out in the wild long enough for its impact to be felt. Exert Influence is see­ing play in few side­boards, and with fix­ing being so ide­al Radiant Flames is see­ing play in vary­ing amounts in both side­boards and main­boards.

The Tango Lands, (are we real­ly call­ing them that? Really?) the new cycle of lands that come into play tapped unless you con­trol two or more basic lands, have also pre­dictably found their place in Standard with their abil­i­ty to be fetched up via the Khans of Tarkir Fetch Lands. They are dri­ving the change we see in Standard right now; with a move towards much more greedy mana-bases, and much more con­sis­tent four and five colour decks. Speaking of lands, the oth­er cycle of cards that is see­ing play are the new man-lands — lands that you can acti­vate for mana to become ele­men­tal crea­tures. As every­one pre­dict­ed, the orig­i­nals of the­se cards were good, and now the new ene­my coloured ver­sions are good.

I know, shock­ing.

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The big break­out card has been Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, with his obvi­ous power-level very much on show. As for the rest? Well, we’ve seen some of the multi-coloured Eldrazi pop – up in five colour con­trol builds; a deck I pre­dict will find new­er and more pow­er­ful iter­a­tions since the fix­ing real­ly is that good right now.

Also worth a men­tion is Bring to Light; a card not many expect­ed to do any­thing and which now has its own deck — just not a top-tier one. The biggest effect of Battle for Zendikar has been to make Standard mana-bases look more like Modern mana-bases. Let me put it this way: you won’t need many basic lands on hand this Standard sea­son.

Hangarback Walker is still Hangarback Walker, and will con­tin­ue to be Hangerback Walker until rota­tion. So I don’t think we’ll be see­ing a top-eight with­out it, Den Protector, and Deathmist Raptor until rota­tion. In a set where you can reli­ably play as many colours as you want there is a ten­den­cy towards power-level and val­ue spells over syn­er­gy. There are top decks that seem to have bare­ly noticed Battle for Zendikar has been released out­side of their mana-bases. I think this is indica­tive of the low power-level of the set as a whole. Its shift­ing what crea­tures and spells get played from oth­er sets rather than bust­ing through with its own. The obser­va­tions made in the sup­pressed but pret­ty excel­lent arti­cle from Channel Fireball, “Everything That’s Wrong with Battle for Zendikar,” are being shown to be more and more on the mark.

Impact on Eternal Formats

We’re mov­ing on from an era where sets had a pret­ty pro­found effect on Modern, and even Legacy; Innistrad, Return to Ravnica, and Khans of Tarkir all end­ed up cre­at­ing sta­ples. In the case of the Khans block some big bans with the blue delve cards. People are quick to point out this is only the first set of the block, but in this new two block for­mat I would expect Wizards to come out all guns blaz­ing. In a world of Siege Rhino and Dig Trough Time, Battle for Zendikar looks like an obvi­ous attempt to de-escalate the sit­u­a­tion, and try to nor­mal­ize card-power — espe­cial­ly in the rare slot. The prob­lem is when you put it in a large card-pool the card pow­er scale looks more like a cliff than a gen­tle drift back down from crazy-town. The por­ridge has gone from too hot to too cold.

In terms of full cycles, it’s still uncer­tain at this stage if the Tango Lands will see play out­side of bud­get decks. I’m still hope­ful they will find a home in slow­er decks, but with the speed of the­se for­mats it’s still up in the air. I would still rec­om­mend pick­ing them up whilst they’re cheap; if only because they have so much poten­tial util­i­ty for so many dif­fer­ent casu­al and com­pet­i­tive for­mats. I think they’re one of the few design wins in this set, and so I would like to see them find a home.

The best bet for a sure-fire Modern playable deck is the green/blue Man Land Lumbering Falls since it fits right into exist­ing arche­types like Scapeshift and Temur Twin. Like I said in the last sec­tion, it’s just the com­ple­tion of a cycle that is already good.

In terms of Commander and Casual it’s always a tough call because those for­mats are always more about what you make them. My rule of thumb is if it looks fun then have a go with it. Ulamog makes a nice rean­i­ma­tion or ramp tar­get, and whilst the mill isn’t quite as bru­tal as it is with small­er decks it’s still pun­ish­ing. Ulamog is also going to see some test­ing in Modern Tron, but I expect it won’t make much of an impact out­side of sideboard-tech.

There real­ly isn’t a huge amount here for eter­nal for­mats.


Battle for Zendikar would seem on the sur­face to be a very good val­ue set with its splashy head­lin­ers and full-art lands. But don’t be fooled; this is actu­al­ly a very low-powered set, and every­one who is inde­pen­dent enough to say so is in agree­ment on this fact. It all depends on how you define val­ue: if you are look­ing for big, splashy high dol­lar cards then yes — you will find them. But if you are look­ing to open a decent amount of playable cards (even in Standard) then look else­where.

This is a very good set for the after­mar­ket, and a money-spinner for the big card sell­ers. But in terms of peo­ple who actu­al­ly like to play the game? We have a prob­lem: an under-powered set being sold at pre­mi­um prices. The expe­di­tions and full art lands have done what I pre­dict­ed; arti­fi­cial­ly dri­ven up the price of the set with­out it hav­ing the con­sis­tent pow­er lev­el usu­al­ly present to jus­ti­fy high­er prices.

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This is some­thing I men­tioned in my very first arti­cle for the site about Magic the Gathering: exces­sive vari­ance. Just like with Modern Masters 2015, there is a mas­sive gulf between a high and low val­ue box — more so than your aver­age set. There are very few chase rares and mythics in this set, and so you either need a good clutch of Planeswalkers. Or you need to open an expe­di­tion; the val­ue of which will most like­ly pay for your whole box. A good exam­ple of this is the Professor from Tolarian Community College’s boost­er box game for Battle for Zendikar, in which he opened a $200+ box and then opened a box that had around $60 in non-bulk.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Battle for Zendikar is a set we won’t be talk­ing about much when it cycles out. Aside from grum­bling about the price of sealed pro­duct for the set due to the full-art lands. It feels like the aver­age Magic play­er is get­ting screwed at every turn with this set; espe­cial­ly if you actu­al­ly like to play Magic the Gathering, and not just stare at some pret­ty land cards. At time of writ­ing, there is very lit­tle here for Modern, or even Standard, and you can pick up what you need for rel­a­tive­ly low prices on their own.

The most enjoy­ment you will get out of this set is play­ing Limited where the cards are bet­ter matched up again­st each oth­er. In lim­it­ed, a low power-level doesn’t real­ly mat­ter as long as there is bal­ance. Limited is also the only place you are going to see the bulk of Battle for Zendikar’s mechan­ics at all. Of course, if you open an expe­di­tion you are pret­ty much oblig­at­ed by law to take it. Not from the box ratios I’ve seen; pure val­ue draft­ing won’t be too much of a prob­lem. Unless you get some deranged prick tak­ing all the full-art lands for some rea­son.

So should you rush out and buy a box of Battle for Zendikar? In my opin­ion, no. My rec­om­men­da­tion would be to pick up the small amount of sin­gles you will need for your respec­tive for­mats, and avoid gam­bling on this sets high vari­ance in val­ue. As any gam­bler even­tu­al­ly learns, the house always wins. I would have rec­om­mend buy­ing a fat-pack just to get col­lect­ing your set of full-art lands out of the way; but between Wizards of the Coast, the big card retail­ers, and local game-stores we aren’t allowed to have nice things. Once again, if some­one tries to charge you above RRP/MSRP on this set whilst it is still in print then kick them direct­ly in the shins.*

There is also a lot of use­less bulk — over and above the norm — that no one will ever need or want again. Limited is about on par with the qual­i­ty of past sets: noth­ing spe­cial, but noth­ing ter­ri­ble either. For a set sup­pos­ed­ly filled with mas­sive Lovecraftian mon­strosi­ties, it sure seems for­get­table. The lesser Eldrazi look more like old school sliv­ers than any­thing. We’ve yet to see many real­ly mind-blowing bat­tle cruis­ers for a set many hoped would be filled with them.

*Please note SuperNerdLand does not endorse shin-kicking and is not respon­si­ble for injuries and/or con­se­quences relat­ing to said shin kick­ings. Neither we nor our affil­i­ates are liable for death, dis­mem­ber­ment, or shin-splints that may occur as a result. As always con­sult your doc­tor before under­tak­ing any form of phys­i­cal exer­cise. If you have lost the use of your legs and are unable to kick said shins we apol­o­gize for our gross insen­si­tiv­i­ty and ableism. SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesBattle for Zendikar,Magic The GatheringMost high pro­file set reviews of Magic the Gathering tend to fol­low a for­mat of doing an exhaus­tive card-by-card com­men­tary of the entire set, and then talk­ing about the use­ful­ness of each card in turn. This is not one of those reviews. I’ve not­ed in this past that there is a…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.