A Beginners Guide to Battle for Zendikar Limited – What to Expect by Rodolfo Maia

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battle for zendikar eldrazi

A Beginners Guide to Battle for Zendikar Limited – What to Expect by Rodolfo Maia

This is my first article for Manaleak so I think it would be nice to introduce myself a little. I am not a Magic Pro, MTG streamer, MTGO grinder or something like this, so there is a 99% chance that you do not know me. I am Brazilian and lived in London for 1 year (Aug/2014 – Jul/2015) and in the meantime, I started to play Magic more competitively. This year I went to three limited GPs, Liverpool, Utrecht and Santiago. I made Day 2 in Liverpool (0 byes) and Santiago (1 bye), finishing in the top 64 in the latter. Now, I am not saying this to brag, but to show you that I have made some good results in Limited and that is why you should try to give some attention to my content.

The goal of this article is to discuss the brand new limited format coming with the release of Battle for Zendikar (BFZ). Understanding the specific features of a format goes a long way towards building better Sealed decks and making better pick decisions in Draft. Believe me, in Limited that is where you get the most of your win percentage.

It is worth noting that this format discussion is going to be based mainly in the commons and uncommons of the set because those are the cards that truly dictate the texture of the format. However, I am going to highlight some of the mythics and rares when it is appropriate for the context of the article. Ok, enough introduction, let’s start!

General overview

Endless One magic the gathering

One of the most important things to evaluate about a new format is its speed. Are early advantages easy to recover from or do they snowball in a way that make a 6-drop unplayable? Is the removal efficient or clunky? There are good early blockers? This is especially important for this format when we look to all the Eldrazi that are present in the set with their wide range of mana cost (from 5 all the way up to 10).

At first glance, I would say that the format is not going to be very fast. I don’t believe that Wizards would put effort into designing all these monsters for nothing. Also, there is all the Eldrazi Scion token producers to help cast the big monsters and make games longer. The wide range of mana cost is there to make the cheap ones playables under regular conditions and the more expensive ones “castables” if we put the right amount of effort. Another thing that is telling is that they made just four colored high drops (three 6-drops and one 7-drop), showing that this design slot was “reserved” for the Eldrazi.

Something good about the Eldrazi is that they all cost colorless mana, allowing them to go in every deck that wants them. What this means for us? That almost every deck will have access to a strong late game (this is more true for Sealed than Draft) and we should consider this when elaborating our game plan and deckbuilding. Overall, it is certain that many games will involve some of these monsters.

Here I would like to highlight two of the Eldrazi, Kozilek’s Channeler">Kozilek’s Channeler and Endless One">Endless One. I believe Channeler to be one of the top commons of the format and it will be the most played and important Eldrazi. First, he is a completely reasonable costed creature. 4/4 for five mana is an excellent rate in this format. As we will discuss more later, 4/4 is bigger than most non-Eldrazi creatures. Second, He ramps your mana from 5 to 8. He fits in almost every kind of deck. He can be your curve topper or he will be an important piece of your ramp engine to cast bigger Eldrazi.

Endless One">Endless One is not so efficient but makes up for that with flexibility. It can fill any whole in your curve and is a fantastic topdeck in the late game. It is a safe first pick as you will play this in any deck that you draft. I think Kozilek’s Channeler">Kozilek’s Channeler is a better pick, but Endless One">Endless One is not far behind.

Another important thing to look at is the mana curve density of commons and uncommons within each color. Of course, this does not matter for Sealed since you get to work with what you open, however, for Draft it is important. It can help you find soon which color better fit each other and it is also helpful in very close pick decisions. For example, you are drafting a color that has several 2-drops. At some point, you have to make a decision between a 2-drop and a 3-drop and you have drafted 2 of each so far and let’s also consider they are close in power level. In this case, you can safely take the 3-drop since it is more likely that you will see more 2-drops than 3-drops of that color later in the draft.

For BFZ limited I made the following table to illustrate the mana curve densities we have in each color for commons and uncommons creatures.

White

Blue

Black

Red

Green

CC

n

CC

n

CC

n

CC

n

CC

N

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

3

2

6

2

3

2

4

2

4

2

3

3

2

3

4

3

5

3

6

3

4

4

2

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

5

2

5

3

5

2

5

1

5

2

6+

1

6+

1

6+

0

6+

0

6+

3

CC = converted mana cost and n = number of creatures

We can see some “trends”. White has the highest number of 2-drops while Red has the most 3-drops. This might suggest that white is the most aggressive color and that RW (Red-White) is going to be the most aggressive color pair, although GW (Green-White) has the most amount of 1-drops. Green has the most “fatties” as always. Apart from White’s discrepancy, all the other colors seem to have very well balanced mana curves.

As important as the mana curve is the size of creatures in the format. Usually I like to see how many 2-drops with power 3 or more there are in the set. This gives a good sense of how aggressive the format can be. In general, creatures with three toughness or more start to appear in the 3-drop slot, sometimes even in the 2-drop slot, so it is important to know how fast the 2-drops (and other 2-power creatures) are going to start being efficiently blocked.

For BFZ we have just one common 2-drop presenting 3 power and other two that can achieve this via Landfall. Also, we have only one uncommon 3-power 2-drop in Forerunner of Slaughter">Forerunner of Slaughter. To provide a bigger picture, the following table correlates how power and toughness match among the common non-Eldrazi creatures.

Number of creatures with Power or Toughness:

Power

Toughness

Less than 3

35

29

Equal or higher than 3

18

24

Equal or higher than 4

11*

12

*4 of these get to 4 power through Landfall trigger.

As you can see, there are more creatures presenting 3+ toughness than creatures with 3+ power. This tells us some useful stuff. First, 4/4s are very good in this format, 3/4s are very solid as well but 4/3s are not so great as they will more likely trade down with any random 3/2. A card like Summit Prowler">Summit Prowler was good in Khans limited because the abundance of 2/2 morphs, it does not seem to be the case this time around.

Additionally, combat tricks are likely to be more important than usual. Think about how Fortified Rampart">Fortified Rampart blocks well everything and can’t be taken down by any common creature without help. Finally, if the ground is going to get more stalled, any sort of evasion (e.g. Flying, Menace) is going to be very important as well, so prioritize it a little bit more.

This set presents a decent amount of removal, although they are all very situational apart from the super expensive Scour from Existence">Scour from Existence and Grip of Desolation">Grip of Desolation. This is not bad, we just have to adjust accordingly in order to not have the wrong answer. This will create a nice deckbuilding puzzle for this format.

Mechanics

Sheer Drop magic the gathering

BFZ brings Awaken, Converge, Rally, Landfall and Ingest. Even if some of these mechanics are known, this is a completely new format and it is hard to predict the exact impact they will have. That said, I would like to make some comments about the viability and the degree of commitment that each one demands.

Of all them, Awaken and Landfall are the most straightforward ones. In my opinion Awaken is awesome, it gives you flood insurance and flexibility and that certainly improves gameplay quality drastically. Try to get maximum value out of your Awaken spells, i.e. try to build your deck in a way that you plan to cast them as creatures more often than not. For example, treat Sheer Drop">Sheer Drop as a 3/3 creature that when enters the battlefield destroys target tapped creature and costs 5W.

Landfall is a little bit more tricky. I would advise for not playing creatures with mediocre stats just because their Landfall trigger is great. Another thing to keep in mind is that the cheaper the creature is, more likely for you to get value out of the Landfall triggers. Compare Snapping Gnarlid">Snapping Gnarlid and Territorial Baloth">Territorial Baloth, by the time you cast the first you have on average 3-6 land drops to make until the end of the game, but only 1-3 with the latter. That is why Landfall should have varying influence on your deckbuilding decisions. Landfall actually makes the Gnarlid an above average 2-drop, and is a reason to play him over others, while it is not so important with the Baloth, I want to play him due to his base stats (4/4) not because of Landfall (it is just a nice bonus).

I believe Converge is a trap. We just have mana fixing in green and they are not great or plenty. I think we should look at every Converge spell as if it had a green mana at its converted mana cost. They are all very mediocre in 2-color decks and the only way to get 3+ color decks is playing green.

On the other hand, I think Rally to be very good and the “ally” deck is very viable. My first impression is that you want to be base white, since it is the color that gives you the most allies (3 commons and 5 uncommons), and avoid blue (1 common and 1 uncommon). Even the gold allies suggest that as they are all white and the only one that is not, Skyrider Elf">Skyrider Elf, is at his best in a Bant ally deck.

However, you should evaluate them in a “vaccum”, in the context of being played outside of an ally deck. Is the card good on its own? If yes, take it and just think about drafting the archetype in case you end up with a bunch of ally.

This is because some of them are very good and people will draft them highly in spite of going for the ally deck or not so do not think that you will be able to “table” a creature just because you are the only one drafting the Rally deck, it might not even be open or viable. Think Drana’s Emissary">Drana’s Emissary, the card is excellent and I would play it in any deck that can cast her. It is easier for you to get her late because no one is drafting WB (White-Black) than because no one is drafting the ally deck.

Lastly we have Ingest. I think it is worth going for this archetype If you have the incentive, i.e. the good processors like Blight Herder">Blight Herder, Ulamog’s Reclaimer"> Ulamog’s Reclaimer and Murk Strider">Murk Strider. Ideally, you want to be UB (Blue-Black), but being one color or another is also fine as both provide 3 Ingest creatures at common. Though blue seems a more consistent base for Ingest since the blue guys, Mist Intruder">Mist Intruder and Benthic Infiltrator">Benthic Infiltrator, have evasion.

To finish, I would like to say that this seems mainly a 2-color format with medium speed. It seems to me possible to go over or under anything or even grind people out. 3+ colors decks are possible only with green. Everything seems viable as long as it is open enough in the Draft and you prioritize the right pieces of your engine or if you got the right tools in your Sealed pool. If my deck is “regular” I would still play 17 lands, but if I have some Eldrazi topping my curve or too many Awaken/Landfall then 18 lands seems correct.

Well, this was what I had for today. I hope you have enjoyed and that it was somehow useful for you all. Any feedback from you would be much appreciated.

Good luck at your Pre-releases!

Thanks for reading,

Rodolfo Maia

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