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(Author’s note: This article contains spoilers for the upcoming set in the Magic: The Gathering card game.  If you wish to remain unspoiled on cards, please do not continue reading)

Ask any good Magic: The Gathering player what the most important cards in their deck are and without any doubt their answer will be “lands.”  As lands produce mana, the cost required to play the cards in your deck, having the right number and type of lands present in your deck is something that often requires almost as much thought as putting the rest of the deck together – if not more.

As details of new sets are tantalizing, agonizingly leaked to the general population, the new cycle of dual lands – lands that, for a price, can be tapped for multiple colors of mana – are eagerly dissected for their viability in Magic’s various constructed formats.  And as, historically, the Zendikar world contained some of the most useful lands, a return to this particular plane in Battle for Zendikar sparked countless discussion on what lands would be present, or if any reprints would be seen in the set (as was the case with the Khans of Tarkir set).

Basic Terminology

For the sake of clarity, the author assumes that the reader is relatively new to Magic and isn’t aware of formats beyond Draft or Standard.  If the reader is, then this section is entirely skipable, unless you need a refresher on land types.

Basic lands: Lands that can be tapped for only one color of mana, and have no additional effects or costs to generate mana.  These are your Plains, Islands, Swamps, Mountains, and Forests, and unlike the other types of land that follow, you have no limitations on the number you can have present in your deck.

Dual lands: Historically, this refers to the original ten land cycle present in Magic’s first few sets, but has become a catch-all for any two-color generating land.  Dual lands are subdivided into two groups based on what colors they can be tapped to produce; “Allied” lands are lands that, when looking at a specific color on the Magic mana color pie, tap for both one color (such as white) and the color immediately to that colors left or right (blue or green in this case).  “Enemy” lands are those that tap for one color and a color that isn’t adjacent to that color (such as white and black, or white and red).

Shock lands: The name for the land cycle in the Return to Ravnica block, these lands enter the battlefield tapped unless you pay 2 life.  Despite the requirement to sacrifice life in order to be able to immediately usable, these lands see a lot of play due to the next land type.

Fetch lands: Originally printed in the Onslaught set, and returning in Khans of Tarkir, these lands don’t tap for mana – instead, by sacrificing them and a single point of life, you can search your library for either of the basic land types listed on the card and put it onto the battlefield.  Thus, the reason that shock lands see so much use despite the drawback is because they are legal targets for a fetch – a card like Steam Vents is listed as Land – Island Mountain, meaning it can be targeted by any fetch land with either Island or Mountain in its search parameters.

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Battle for Zendikar: New land cycle

On August 29, Wizards of the Coast started leaking spoilers for Battle for Zendikar (release date October 2) following coverage of the annual World Championship event.  Spoilers have included some very interesting cards that may see coverage in later articles, but as always the lands take precdence.

Magic’s newest land cycle has yet to be named, but consists of five allied dual lands that enter the battlefield tapped, unless you control two or more basic land cards.

These five cards – Prairie Stream, Sunken Hollow, Smoldering Marsh, Cinder Glade, and Canopy Vista – can all be targeted by fetch lands, due to being listed as Plains Island, or Mountain Forest.

As the Zendikar world is also well-known for its full art lands – artwork that encompasses the entirety of the card, rather than half – full-art variants of the cards will also be printed.

Eagle-eyed observers will note that the set symbol and rarity color of these full-art variants are different than the regular cards above, and that’s because tonight more than one land cycle was announced.

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Battle for Zendikar: Zendikar Expeditions

Zendikar Expeditions is a set of roughly 20 land cards that will be available in packs as “premium” (also known as “foil”) mythic rare cards.  These cards can be played in Limited formats, if someone happens to pull one, but are not legal in the Standard format.  However, they will be legal in formats where they already are legal – such as Modern.  They have a rarity slightly more common than the current rarity for foil mythic rare cards, but other than the two cards spoiled tonight – Steam Vents and Arid Mesa – we haven’t seen any of the other cards from the cycles that will be printed in Zendikar Expeditions, although Mark Rosewater confirmed that the Zendikar Expeditions will contained the full cycles of shock lands and fetch lands.

Curiously, this follows only weeks after Rosewater announced that that the Enemy-colored fetchlands from the original Zendikar set wouldn’t be reprinted in Battle for Zendikar.  This new mini-set of dual lands from past sets may be a way for the Magic team to please both those wanting to see less expensive versions of highly sought-after cards, as well as new contributions to the available land-base.

While Rosewater’s announcement led to a minor panic in the secondary cart market, driving prices up on the Zendikar fetchlands, it’s unlikely that the Zendikar Expeditions cards will have any noticeable effect on the prices after the spike, due to the rarity of the cards.

Looking forward

The Zendikar Expedition is an interesting concept, but one that will mostly likely not be reused when the block is finished.  Thematically (and mechanically), the Zendikar plane in Magic is one that is highly associated with land.  It would make no sense to continue the practice in future blocks that don’t have such strong ties to land – especially if the block doesn’t return to a plane previously visited, but instead focuses around a new storyline.

Interestingly enough, whether the Zendikar Expedition mini-set of 20 cards is something that only the Battle for Zendikar set will have, or if the second half of the block will have a mini-set as well is an unknown quantity.  If the second half of the block gets a mini-set like this, players may be able to have access to a number of hard-to-acquire lands for use in the Modern format.  However, as stated above, the impact these special reprints will have on the secondary card market is low – especially if enough Battle for Zendikar products are opened, leading to a similar situation as with the Onslaught fetch lands in the Khans of Tarkir set.