Battle for Zendikar comes out in a week! The prerelease is this weekend! Theros block and Magic 2015 are rotating out of Standard! We are in the middle of the most exciting time of the year for Magic. I love the month-long sequence of prerelease, release tournaments, limited grand prix (this time Grand Prix Madison), and the Pro Tour. So much changes and the game abounds with opportunities to explore and discover the hidden treasures of the new set.

We also say goodbye to Theros. I loved that limited format. It was my favorite since Innistrad, and I’ll draft it again whenever I get the chance. Scholar of Athreos, you are forever in my heart. Fleshmad Steed, we had some good times. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, I’m glad I got to cast you a few more times at a Standard PPTQ last weekend. Temple of Everything, you were great. Thoughtseize, enjoy your long retirement from Standard while you continue to ruin plans in every other constructed format.

Now it’s time for Battle for Zendikar! I’m not totally enamored with the set aesthetically, but I’m super excited to discover the limited format. I have high hopes and can’t wait to start competing with the new cards in PPTQs and Grand Prix. This week I will share a few cards that caught my eye.

It’s hard to evaluate limited cards until you have a feel for the format. The abstract spoiler gives plenty of clues, and the best limited theorists can predict a good bit of the future metagame, but you really need to play the games and feel the subtleties before knowing what the format is like.

That said, I have one prediction that I am pretty sure will bear out: two drops will be playable. One of the best ways to predict what R&D will do with a new set is to consider their public criticism of their prior sets. For Rize of Eldrazi, the number one complaint from within R&D is that two drop creatures, especially 2/2s, were unplayably bad. They don’t want to repeat that mistake, because it alienates a lot of newer limited players who don’t understand how their cheap curve fillers could be bad. Take it to the bank: early curve outs will be a viable strategy in Battle for Zendikar draft. Maybe not the best, but one you have to consider.

On to the cards!

Ruin Processor

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is an Eldrazi? Is this a teaser for the much-fantasied Phyrexia vs. Eldrazi battle of the future? I assume not. Weird art, though. This card’s nothing special, but big creatures that gain a chunk of life when they hit play are generally solid in control decks.

Ondu Rising

Lifelink is very powerful and underrated in limited. Pure lifegain cards aren’t versatile enough to earn a spot in your deck, but cards that can do that while also providing value in other situations are quite strong. Here, the base mode is to cast this on turn six, make a 4/4 with haste, and attack with as many creatures you can to beat down and gain a bunch of life. For two mana it’s mostly unplayable, but there will be times when you have a lot of power on board and really need to gain 12 life but can’t afford to devote all your mana to casting this with awaken. In those situations, you’ll be happy to have the option. And it’s not even that bad when you need to block. A five-mana 4/4 that “costs a mana” to have enter the battlefield untapped is acceptable at times.

Halimar Tidecaller

Yes please! Blue usually can use a 2/3 for three, and the two bonus abilities here are fantastic. Awaken cards are great. You will want to play a few for sure and probably as many as you can get. Like bestow, awaken lets you play a creature and a spell in one card slot. That is very very powerful in limited, where your biggest limitation is the 23-ish card slots in your deck. Redrawing one of your powerful cards is great. Randomly making your awoken lands fly is great. Sometimes you’ll just run this out on turn three to block, but when you need that you really need that and you don’t complain about losing value. I hope to have this card in a lot of sweet decks.

Culling Drone

This is miles better than Fleshmad Steed. See, I told you they were pushing two drops to be respectable. I think ingesting will be useful, and this card at least looks decent when you want to win with damage as well.

Silent Skimmer

This card might suck, but something calls out to me. Black can usually use some defense against fliers, and this is an unappealing but available option. Really, though, I just want to kill my opponent exclusively by attacking with zero-power creatures. What more could you want from a control deck? How’s that Ensnaring Bridge treating you? This is basically an unblockable two-power creature while also being a solid blocker. Control decks like that combination. Returned Phalanx was a sweet card with very different stats that played a similar dual role in decks that want to block early and attack late. This one can’t kill planeswalkers, but usually that doesn’t matter in limited.

Turn Against

Ray of Command? Talk about a beating in limited. Between this and Rolling Thunder, red got some sweet callbacks to some insane old cards. At least this costs five mana, so you don’t have to worry about it when they don’t have that much mana. Five is a lot for Act of Treason, so you only really care when they can blow you out during your attack. Act of Treason is still going to be good in a set full of giant creatures (and more than a few sacrifice effects) so I expect this card will be very strong in a lot of situations.

Void Attendant

Another 2/3 for three with a great ability. Sure, green isn’t happy with 2/3s for three, but the ability to turn exiled cards into scion tokens will be strong. We shall see how many cards you can realistically expect to exile for processing, but I suspect you can get enough to make this card amazing.

Blighted Fen

The full cycle of these uncommon lands are so good. There will be a little tension between cashing these in and getting to 8+ mana to play giant spells. In Magic Origins, I had a few games where I couldn’t sacrifice my Foundry of the Consuls because I needed seven mana for Mage-Ring Responder. But that’s a good place to be, and I won all those games. Lands that give you a free spell ability in the late game are amazing if the format is slow, incredible in sealed, and some of my favorite cards. Again, like awaken, you get to add extra spell effects to your deck without losing a card slot. Even if this turns out to be an 18-land format (which seems quite possible) you’ll still be happy you got a free spell out of your eighteenth land.

And that’s what caught my eye heading into prerelease weekend. Crack some expeditions and have a ton of fun exploring the new limited format!

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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