Just yesterday, we received a delightful gift: Battle for Zendikar spoilers! Let’s dive right in with a card that tells an amazing story, both for the Melvins and we Vorthoses: Dominator Drone.

Dominator Drone

First of all, just looking at the casting cost and card border, we’re getting colorless cards which cost colored mana, which strongly suggests a reprinting (or finally the actual printing) of Ghostfire. Looking at the text box, we see Devoid, a keyword of Ghostfire’s unique ability (well, that and Ghostflame Sliver and Ghostly Flame and some other cards). So, Eldrazi are colorless (as they were before), but even the lesser broods are colorless (Nest Invader, Emrakul’s Hatcher, and the like had colors last time).

From the third line of text, we know that there are going to be some number of colorless-matters cards and that they’ll likely all be Eldrazi (excepting Ghostfire? Perhaps Ugin shows up with non-Eldrazi Devoid friends?), whereas Zendikari forces will likely all have colors. If so, what does this mean for artifacts? Will there be few to no artifacts in Battle for Zendikar? Or will this not matter much and there’ll be normal artifacts?

Phyrexian Ingester

Dominator Drone‘s second line of text introduces a second keyword mechanic, Ingest. As suggested by the previously-spoiled Oblivion Sower, Eldrazi will have an exile-matters mechanic, something we’ve never really seen before (but has often been requested). Ingest does not have a number associated with it, so every creature (without Double Strike) will only mill one card per turn. Accordingly, mill will likely not be the strategy of (Limited) Eldrazi decks, because damage accrues so much faster than Ingest mills (this was the problem of Poison before Infect was created). Instead, we should expect to see cards that care about your opponent’s exiled cards, like Oblivion Sower.

I love Ingest as a replacement for Annihilator. Annihilator was only on expensive creatures (and an enchantment) that heralded the sudden end to the game if not answered immediately. Ingest suggests a slower, subtler kill—the Eldrazi are steadily devouring the entire plane and will inevitably win, even if halted briefly (since you’ll be decked and your world will end). It’s on common, inexpensive creatures, so you’ll get to see Ingest in action over the full course of a game, rather than merely at its end.

Pawn of Ulamog

Perhaps my favorite thing about Dominator Drone is in the artwork and the type line. This is a Zendikari Vampire (it looks a fair amount like Pawn of Ulamog) that has been turned into an Eldrazi drone. Its creature type and identity have been wiped away, and now it loyally (mindlessly?) serves Ulamog (I think the faceplace ties it to Ulamog). How terrifying is that? The Eldrazi aren’t just destroying and obliterating, they’re converting? It’a a shtick we’ve seen not too many years ago in New Phyrexia, but it was effective and horrifying then and it’s still that now (and done with a very different aesthetic).

Oh, and did you notice that Dominator Drone has full card artwork, just like the colorless Eldrazi spells from Rise of the Eldrazi?

Forerunner of Slaughter

Another Ulamog spawn. I wonder if this is also a reference to another card? It looks like a slimmed down version of Pathrazer of Ulamog. I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see what Ingest interacts with at low rarities. I’m excited to play with this card in Limited, but I’ve not nearly as much to say about its design, given how much Dominator Drone spoiled.

Veteran Warleader

To few peoples’ surprise, Allies are back! This ally works differently than most allies from Zendikar, since it doesn’t care about Allies entering the battlefield (although… Sea Gate Loremaster, Jwari Shapeshifter, Vastwood Animist, Stonework Puma, Harabaz Druid, and Agadeem Occultist either had tap abilities like Veteran Warleader does, were a clone, or were a rock cat). This doesn’t tell us too much about how allies will work, since it’s a rare (like most of those exceptions). However, it does tell a good story about allies—how do you know this person has allies? They help her by giving her an ability!

Sheer Drop

Holy keywords, Batman! We’re seeing a bunch of keywords and no ability words. Interesting.

In case you’re curious about the differences between keywords and ability words: keywords are not italicized, have italicized reminder text, and always work the same way; ability words are italicized, have no reminder text, and don’t always work the same way. If you’re just learning this for the first time, check out the thirteen mechanics in Khans block and figure out which are keywords and which are ability words.

I love mana smoothing mechanics. I love morph, I love Bestow, and I love Flashback. They’re great for Limited, since they give you things to do when you’re mana light and when you’re mana flooded.  Sheer Drop is no exception and seems pretty awesome. Assassinate is generally a very strong card, and getting an extra 3/3 is pure gravy.

Spearpoint Oread

Awaken is an interesting mechanic. It could create 0/0 elemental creature tokens, but animating lands highlights a defining trait of the world of Zendikar: that the land itself is alive. Awaken leads to a bunch of neat situations:

  • If you have Awaken +1 mana, then you can awaken an untapped land and attack (or block) immediately.
  • The more that you Awaken your lands, the harder it’ll be to Awaken any more (perhaps Landfall/Awaken decks will play extra-high amounts of land, like 19 or 20).
  • Awakened lands dodge removal spells with non-land clauses, like Perilous Vault.
  • On Magic Online, you’ll need to pay attention to your land drops—you don’t want to accidentally animate the one land you have with summoning sickness.

Awaken works well with Landfall, since it rewards you for playing out your lands. It’s also a bit awkward with Landfall, since there’s a tension between holding your lands back to trigger Landfall when you’ll need it and playing out your lands to be able to Awaken and swing immediately. I’d guess that Battle for Zendikar overwhelmingly rewards players for making each and every land drop, rather than saving their 5+ land drops for when they have their landfall cards.

Retreat to Kazandu

Grazing Gladeheart is back as an enchantment with options! This looks subtly powerful, as the Gladeheart was already a strong common (that rarely got into tussles, so Retreat to Kazandu not having power/toughness matters less), but now you can aggressive with it, as well. Landfall’s a returning mechanic, so I have less to say about it.

Perhaps with Awaken in the format and Ingest being a longer-game mechanic, Battle for Zendikar will be a slower format than Zendikar was. This’ll allow us to see how Landfall works in a slower Limited environment.

Braidwood Cup

Spoiler season is my favorite time, and this crop of common spoilers have made for an excellent birthday treat. Hopefully I can get birthday spoilers next year, too!

Here’s looking forward to more spoilers and Limited reviews of cards, in addition to design reviewing. And as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer. He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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