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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Sep 24 2015 12:00pm
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Hello!

Welcome to another Modern Musings!  It's been a while since I wrote an article for the site and that's mainly because I have not been playing much Magic lately.  I've just had a bit of negative feeling towards the game with some changes to MTGO that I did not like and just generally being a bit burnt out on the game.  As such I took a break but I felt like it was worth chiming in on the new set.

Battle for Zendikar marks the return to the popular world of Zendikar, which was first featured in the Block aptly named Zendikar Block.  The first two sets, Zendikar and Worldwake, featured a land matters theme and we saw a series of interesting lands printed in these sets and some interesting mechanics, such as Landfall.  The third set of the Block took things in a dramatically different direction.  Rise of Eldrazi saw the unleashing of the colourless Eldrazi onto the plane of Zendikar and the race of colourless creatures was the main focus of the final set of the Block.

The Eldrazi are back as they look to take over the plane.  Meanwhile the Zendikar residents are joining together with Planeswalkers looking to stop the Eldrazi menace.

CONTENTS

1). Themes, Mechanics & Keywords
2). Cards for Modern
       
a). White
        b). Blue
        c). Black
        d). Red
        e). Green
        f). Colourless
        g). Multicoloured
3). My Top 8 Cards for Modern
4). Reader's Poll
5). Conclusions

Themes, Mechanics & Keywords

I don't want to come from an immediately negative place on this set.  However, I have to say I am not a big fan of some of the design choices for the set.  The set feels a bit like a revamped Fifth Dawn - a colourless set that cares about colour, which was never a concept I really got behind.


Converge

The ability word Converge is very much like an expansion of the Sunburst mechanic from Fifth Dawn.  I always thought it was awkward to have a colourless focused set that also encourages you to play five colours as those two things seem like opposite goals.  I guess it is supposed to be a part of the Zendikar vs Eldrazi concept, with the Allies using the colours of mana to combat the colourless Eldrazi.  I'm not sure how other people feel about it but I never liked that as a concept.

Modern works well with this type of mechanic as the powerful manabases make it easy to put together a variety of colours.  Engineered Explosives remains a powerful card in the format.  Unfortunately, there isn't anything particularly exciting with the Converge mechanic in the context of Modern.


Devoid

Devoid
is a keyword that I have a real problem with.  Mostly because it is a blatant lie.  It basically says that despite all appearances and the fact you must pay coloured mana for this spell this is a colourless spell - which defies all ordinary logic.  Mark Rosewater in announcing the set explained that the Eldrazi are an ancient race that predate the colours of Magic, hence they are colourless.  However, in explaining Devoid he stated that Mirrodin taught them that giving everyone access to everything caused problems so they created Devoid

Though I can understand the reasoning I think from a Design standpoint Devoid lacks flavour and hurts the 'colourless' theme of the set.  I mean if I was creating an All-Red set and just took an existing set and put the keyword Red-oid (This card is Red) on all the cards in that set would I have made an All-Red set?  Would I have made a tribal set if I took an existing set and put the keyword Goblinoid on all the red creatures, Elfoid on the green creatures, Humanoid on all the white creatures, Merfoid on all the blue creatures and Vampoid on all the Black creatures?  If you can't make a colourless set work then don't make a colourless set.  Making a coloured card 'colourless' kind of defies the point of it being colourless.  Ghostfire was a nice one-of and a way around Protection from Red - on a larger scale I just don't really like it.


Eldrazi Scions
The Eldrazi Spawn were another big part of the original Zendikar - helping build to the bigger spells in the set.  The new Eldrazi Spawn are a bit more powerful now as 1/1s but still have the same ability to boost your mana.  I don't really have an issue with the Scions but obviously as 1/1s rather than 0/1s they are more expensive to produce, which lacks the fun of the cheap ways you could net Eldrazi Spawn.


Ingest/Processors
Ingest is a keyword ability on Eldrazi creatures exiling the top card from your opponent's library whenever they deal damage to that opponent.  In itself it's not a very exciting ability but the ability combines with the Processor creatures in the set, who provide a benefit when you can send a number of cards from exile back into your opponent's graveyard.

I like this a lot more - Ingest is low impact on its own but the Ingest/Processor combination is a unique effect that belongs to the Eldrazi.  Using the Exile zone as more of a resource is design space that Wizards have stayed away from - which makes sense as it should be a zone that is less easy to interact with.  However, as a special ability for the Eldrazi I quite like it.  The one thing I query is why the Processor element wasn't ability worded as there are some spells which also have a Processor effect and it would have been easier to locate them all if they were ability worded - such as Digest or Process.  I guess it was too difficult to get all the cards to do the same thing wrapped in a single ability word.

Unfortunately Ingest is more of a limited mechanic and there aren't really any Processors that make going to the effort of exiling your opponents card worthwhile in Modern.


Awaken
Land Matters was the big theme of the original Zendikar.  Awaken provides a great way to spend excess mana and turns a land into a serious threat.  I like this mechanic a lot even if it does tend to be quite expensive.

I like the mechanic a lot.  Whether it is going to be pushed enough for Modern play I don't know but in general I think this an interesting mechanic and it has been put on some cool cards.


Landfall
Landfall returns from the original Zendikar and was a real highlight of the set.  I am happy to see the return of the mechanic but they haven't done much exciting with it.  The newest addition is Landfall cards that care about what type of land you search up, as seen on Guardian of Tazeem above.  This is a fairly interesting new take and works well with the new Dual lands in Standard.

In terms of Modern playability cheap Landfall creatures can be very good given that we have access to lots of fetchlands.  The cheapest of the new Landfall creatures are green but the bonus is only a +1/+1 bonus which compares poorly to Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede.


Rally
Allies were present in Zendikar and Worldwake but were not fully fleshed out with Rise of Eldrazi making a marked shift for Zendikar Block.  Allies are back and play a big role in the story of Battle for Zendikar.  I always thought Allies felt a bit like a Sliver rip off but I'm not really averse to new Allies being made.

In terms of Modern there isn't really any new 2-mana or less Allies of interest in the set as far as I can see.  Also, I find the creation of Allies without Rally abilities to be a rather unexciting development.  You really need cheap Allies for any Modern deck and so not seeing more cheap exciting Allies is a bit unfortunate.

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Cards for Modern

White


Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
The latest version of Gideon represents Allies in a big way.  Obviously building a new version of Modern Allies will be an intriguing thing once Battle for Zendikar hits MTGO.  I'm not sure whether Gideon makes the cut for such a deck but he seems cool.  Making Ally tokens is cool as it will trigger all your Ally abilities, so having a repeatable source of Ally tokens is pretty nice.


Stasis Snare
Not really a Modern playable but Journey to Nowhere with Flash is a pretty cool card.  Now if this had been Oblivion Ring with flash I think the story might be different but I think for power reasons that isn't the card they made.

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Blue


Horribly Awry
Cheap counterspells are always interesting.  Horribly Awry isn't bad but is a bit too narrow to see any play I feel as it's worse than Remove Soul.  If it countered  spells with converted mana cost 3 or less - like a Smother counterspell then that is something I could

Also, I can't really think of any advantage to be gained from it being colourless ('counter target blue spell' isn't a common thing in Modern). 


Part the Waterveil
This is a very cool card and will work great in the Modern Time Walk deck innovated by Farfishere.  One of the main problems with the deck was the lack of a finisher for the deck.  Part the Waterveil is a Time Walk effect that also can provide you with a finisher once you reach 9 mana (which is not too difficult as you look to take turn after turn after turn).  A 6/6 beater will finish the game in a hurry and I think this card will be great for the deck.


Retreat to Coralhelm
A potential combo piece when combined with Knight of the Reliquary.  I'm not sure how powerful that combo is but it does seem quite fun.


Ruination Guide/Tide Drifter
Pumping colourless creatures sounds good.  However, the deck that cares about fast colourless creatures is Affinity and these creatures aren't good enough for that deck and also as they are not artifacts don't fit in well with the rest of the deck.  Perhaps they will find a use in the future but as it is these are a nice idea.


Scatter to the Winds
A vastly improved Cancel that I could certainly see playing in a UW or UWx Control deck.  Having a counterspell that doubles as a threat in the late game that these Control decks play for is very good.  A 3/3 in Modern is vulnerable to Lightning Bolt, however, hopefully by that point in the game you will have things under Control and shouldn't be too reliant solely on your awakened land.


Rush of Ice/Clutch of Currents
Another couple of decent Awaken spells.  Probably a bit limited for Modern playability but I do quite like these cards and Awaken makes them nice for the long game.

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Black


Drana, Liberator of Malakir
A very powerful 3 drop, the new Drana is quite exciting, particularly for the Vampire tribe.  I built a Modern Vampire deck some time ago but it ended up feeling quite underpowered.  Drana could do a lot to change that and is a formidable growing threat that can also help strengthen the rest of your team.


Ob Nixilis Reignited
Planeswalkers are always worth a look but Ob Nixilis is not too exciting.  He seems like a very expensive Phyrexian Arena for the most part.  To give him credit he is more flexible than that but a five-mana walker is a struggle for the speed of Modern and this one feels slow and cumbersome.


Ruinous Path
Hero's Downfall has not made a splash in Modern as it is just too expensive and planeswalkers do not see a ton of play, outside of Liliana of the Veil.  Eight mana for the Awaken cost is probably more costly than many decks can hope to achieve in a normal Modern game.

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Red
It's slim pickings in Red as I struggled to find anything really worth talking about.


Crumble to Dust
Sowing Salt was already available for this effect in Modern.  However, the fact that you don't have to commit as much red mana to cast Crumble to Dust means it will probably be the preferred option.  A strong sideboard card against Tron decks and Scapeshift if they happen to run out a Valakut early.  It can also take out powerful manlands like Celestial Colonnade and the new enemy manlands in the set.

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Green


Beastcaller Savant
A two mana Ally with a useful ability, however the lack of Rally hurts quite a lot.  There are a number of cheap Allies in the set but without Rally they are not too exciting.


Blisterpod
Tukatongue Thallid has seen some play in an Abzan Ascendancy/Return to the Ranks deck, which Steve Rubin played to 14th place at GP Oklahoma City.  Blisterpod is essentially better than Tukatongue Thallid and gives you a creature token that can sacrifice itself which is something the deck values.  It's quite niche but there is use for the Blisterpod.

Something I don't applaud is the name, which makes me think of Mortarpod, Living Weapon and the Phyrexians.  There is actually more of this overlap, such as the use of word Blight, which was used for Infect creatures such as Blight Mamba, Blighted Agent and Blightsteel Colossus, and is used on Blight Herder and the Blighted Lands in this set.  Also, Phyrexian Processor is the only existing processor.  This may all be deliberate in some plot twist where the Eldrazi birthed the Phyrexians or something silly but I'm guessing this is just an oversight.  I'm not saying words can't be reused obviously but using similar labels for two world destroying species only assists in confusing them in my mind.


Scythe Leopard
One of the few cheap Landfall creatures in the set.  It's not nearly good enough for Modern.  I think a more exciting design would have been Landfall with the condition that if you fetch up a Forest it gets +2/+2.  I realise that pushes the power level significantly and perhaps too far but that would be a far more interesting design in my book.

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Colourless Spells (the actually colourless ones)


Bane of Bala Ged
Bane is an exciting new addition to the colourless creature suite of Tron decks.  You can cast it as early as Turn 3 with Tron and it basically has Annihilator 2 (actually significantly better than annihilator as it exiles).  The problem is that it has to contend with Wurmcoil Engine which is a tough contest as Wurmcoil offers a lot.  I would be interested in exploring just how good this can be.


Conduit of Ruin
A cool concept for an Eldrazi.  You cast Conduit and search up an Emrakul or Ulamog and then you get a big discount on casting it.  The general expense of the card for just a 5/5 on the board though means it's probably not worth the effort for a Tron deck, particularly when Eye of Ugin already provides a great tutor for the deck.


Titan's Presence
This could have been a nice addition to Tron's removal suite but it's just too conditional.  Obviously revealing a Wurmcoil Engine or any of the Eldrazi in the deck will allow you to exile pretty much any creature you like.  However, the Tron decks only run a few of the big bombs creatures to prevent being flooded with uncastable creatures and to fit in the cards required to put Tron together.


Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
The returning Ulamog is an exciting card.  Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre sees frequent play as a 1-of in RG Tron decks.  The new Ulamog seems like a strong challenger to the original iteration.  The Vindicate ability on the original Ulamog is one of the main reasons to use it.  Being able to exile TWO permanents when casting the new Ulamog is huge.  On the negative side, the lack of Annihilator means that the new Ulamog is less impactful once on the board and ready to attack (milling our opponent 20 cards at a time is probably not an ideal of killing them).


Void Winnower
Void Winnower has a couple of really cool abilities, however, those cool abilities come with a rather hefty price tag.  There are simply better options available for large colourless creatures in Modern but this is a really interesting lock piece.  The ability to shut off certain strategies on the basis of the mana cost of the spells they use is quite an interesting one.

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Multicoloured Spells


Brutal Explosion
Modal spells are always worth a look but Cryptic Command this is not.  Bouncing spells, Venser, Shaper Savant style, is quite a cool effect and you can choose to bounce a creature instead based on your circumstances.  The other half is less exciting as a (Molten Spray) that can also be used on Planeswalkers - the lack of an option to go to the dome is what really hurts here.  The real shame is that you can't draw a card off of Brutal Explosion which would make it a lot more exciting.


Herald of Kozilek
Reducing the cost of all colourless spells is pretty interesting.  However, the cost of Herald of Kozilek makes it not particularly useful.  Also if you are in the business of playing cheap colourless spells, they are probably artifacts and in which case you may as well play Etherium Sculptor

The overlap between colourless & artifacts is kind of the thing that makes the concept of 'colourless' being an Eldrazi thing quite awkward.


Kiora, Master of the Depths
A new Kiora and a pretty powerful one at that.  She kind of reminds of Jace, Architect of Thought in that she is a 4 mana planeswalker that draws you cards and has a useful +1.  The ultimate is cool because an army of Octopuses can't really not be cool, though less likely to be achieved.

In terms of Modern playability I doubt she is likely to see much play.  It would be interesting to try and build a deck around her though.  I guess the best use would be in a deck that values the untapping of lands - however in such a deck it is worse than Garruk Wildspeaker.

Lands


Ally Encampment
Very reminiscent of Sliver Hive, except unfortunately it does not give you the chance to make Ally tokens.  Bouncing an Ally back to hand isn't as exciting as making tokens but is a useful safety mechanism and obviously allows you to cast you Ally again to Rally once more.  Clearly if a good Ally deck can be made in Modern this is an auto-include.


The Blighted Lands
The Blighted Lands are pretty cool.  They don't enter the battlefield tapped and can be cashed in later in the game for a useful effect.  Some are more exciting than others but I could see playing these in a deck where the manabase would allow.  They are probably only a 1 or 2 of in a deck to avoid colour problems but I think they have good utility.

As discussed with Blisterpod I have a problem with the naming of these lands but I can let that go.


Sanctum of Ugin
Another potential card of interest for Tron decks.  A land that can tutor up another threat after you have cast an Eldrazi, Karn or Ugin could be useful.  However, there are only so many slots left for colourless lands in Tron decks after the 12 Tron lands themselves and I'm not sure whether this is worth the stretch.  The fact that it can only tutor a creature and not any colourless spell is probably a mark against it, as is the fact that it won't trigger off a Wurmcoil Engine.


The Ability Lands
I'm sure there is a better name for this cycle but this continues from Zendikar Block's Sejiri Steppe and Teetering Peaks.  These lands are unlikely to see much Modern play due to their speed but like the Blighted Lands, any land with added utility is always something worth looking at.  None of these lands particularly excite me but I do like the cycle in general.


The New Duals
The new duals are an interesting design.  With both land statuses they can be searched up with fetchlands but generally they are significantly worse than the Ravnica duals.  As such I don't think they will see a lot of play in Modern, however, they do provide another strong option.  The real problem is that the mana is so good in Modern that playing basics isn't particularly encouraged.

I think these cards were cleverly designed to be good for Standard but not to improve the Modern manabase, which is already extremely powerful.  They might see some play in Modern but I imagine it will be limited as the flexibility of the Ravnica duals makes them superior.


The Enemy Manlands
The original manland cycle from Zendikar was very powerful and contains Modern staples such as Celestial Colonnade and Creeping Tar Pit.  As such the Enemy Manland cycle is one I am excited about.  There are only two manlands in Battle for Zendikar with the other three presumably coming in the next set.

I'm not particularly excited by either of the two manlands in BFZ.  Shambling Vents is quite a small manland and I can't really think of a deck I would particularly want to put it in.  I guess it could work in a WB Tokens deck or a WB Soul Sisters type deck where the lifelink could be relevant.

Lumbering Falls is perhaps a little more promising as a Hexproof 3/3, however, it's activation cost is quite expensive.  I also question if I am in a green and looking for a manland why I wouldn't just play Treetop Village which is far cheaper to activate and more powerful as a result.

I am hoping the rest of the cycle will provide us with something a little more exciting as these two lands are a little lacklustre.

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MT TOP 8

It feels like slim pickings but here is my Top 8 cards for Modern in Battle For Zendikar:

  1. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
    I feel that the new Ulamog could be a decent replacement for the old Ulamog in RG Tron decks.  The double exile when cast is very strong if it is less scary on board.
  2. Bane of Bala Ged
    Bane of Bala Ged seems like a decent substitute for Wurmcoil Engine in Tron decks.  If you can drop it on Turn 3 it is likely to be devastating.
  3. Lumbering Falls
    I still don't really rate this new manland, primarily because Treetop Village seems just that bit more powerful.  However, if you need the fixing along with the manland then Falls could be useful.
  4. Retreat to Coralhelm
    The combo with Knight of the Reliquary could go far and so happy to hedge my bets on this one.
  5. Drana, Liberator of Malakir
    Although a little small to start with once it hits it grows and grows and can grow your team as well.  I feel like Drana is quite powerful and could work well in the right deck.
  6. Kiora, Master of the Depths
    Kiora has some potential as quite a powerful planeswalker and at a reasonable cost.  I feel like other walkers probably offer more.
  7. Scatter to the Winds
    Cancel is not good enough for Modern but Cancel with upside could find some use.  I like Awaken as a mechanic and this seems like the best of the Awaken cards.
  8. Shambling Vents
    I'm not too impressed with this manland but manlands in general are useful and powerful so still makes the end of the list.

Reader's Poll

I've had my say so now it's time to have yours.  Let me know what your favourite new card is from Battle For Zendikar:

What is your favourite Battle for Zendikar card for Modern?
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Conclusions

Overall it's a bit of a disappointing haul for Modern from Battle for Zendikar.  There are a few interesting lands and colourless creatures and a few cards that might assist some fringe decks but nothing super powerful or likely to have a long lasting effect on the format.

Not all sets can be pushed for power level and so you cannot expect every set to bring something new to the table for Modern.  However, as a Modern player it is disappointing not to find more toys to play with in this set.

Let me know what you think of the new set and if there is anything you have your eye on for Modern.  Perhaps with some more experimenting the set has more to offer than on first blush.

Thank you for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)
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2 Comments

I firmly believe that the by JXClaytor at Fri, 09/25/2015 - 00:46
JXClaytor's picture
5

I firmly believe that the naya ally deck is going to move into Abzan because of the black allies in the set. Blood Artist ally is not a thing to joke with.

I guess I rather overlooked by olaw at Fri, 09/25/2015 - 08:40
olaw's picture

I guess I rather overlooked Kalastria Healer, which is one of the few interest cheap Allies. It could be a good call - along with Drana there are some good reasons to move into Black.

I've yet to play a Modern Allies deck but seems like it could be a solid addition.