Visiting with Vorthos: Battle for Zendikar
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Hi folks! I’m back once again and this time I’m looking at something a little different. Usually I look at some casual cards or decks that you can use to help make your next night of kitchen table Magic more fun. However, today I’m going to look at some of the story behind the game. Most specifically, I am going to be looking at the story for the very next set we’ll be seeing in a few weeks. That’s right, we’ll be looking at the story for Battle for Zendikar.
I really enjoyed the stories chronicling the trials on Tarkir and the characters that we met. I have to admit, I got far more invested in the block and the cards as a result of being aware of the story behind the characters, and the same thing is starting to happen again with Battle for Zendikar. I have a far better idea of the characters, the setting, and the plight of Zendikar facing down the Eldrazi.
I won’t go into the stories posted on the WoTC website for Uncharted Realms in too much detail because that is something you can do on your own time. However, it is enough to say that the stories are very interesting, well written, and well worth the read. However, what I take from the stories is a growing understanding of the mindset of the main players in the set and why they do some of the things they do on their cards.
Perhaps the most intriguing personality that we meet through these stories is Gideon. He’s a focal point in the story and you can clearly see how conflicted he is. For starters, with an eye towards the Origins story we saw back in the summer, we can clearly see that Gideon feels beholden to others and seeks to protect them at all costs, perhaps as a response to the deaths of friends back on Theros. He obviously feels compelled to stay on Zendikar and protect the people and lead the battle against the Eldrazi regardless of how fruitless it seems at times. What I find most interesting is that he is clearly at odds with his own abilities as a leader. Gideon is doubtless the most powerful warrior in and amongst the collected group of refugees that we encounter and could flex his powers and seize control of the war effort, but is clearly deferring to the General of the Zendikari. He is even prepared to defer to the General’s second in command while the General is injured and bedridden. His own internal sense of order and respect for the chain of command prevents him from seizing the mantle of leadership. The fact that he would be willing to play “second fiddle” is a fascinating internal dilemma and a role I doubt many of us could play in our own lives . Other planeswalkers would be totally prepared to just seize the leadership, but it takes the General, on his deathbed, anointing Gideon as the new leader of the Zendikari before he truly accepts what seems fairly obvious to the reader. In my eyes this makes Gideon extremely interesting because he has a tragic flaw despite all his powers. He seems to be unable to do whatever it takes to win. Yes, he wants to win. He is extremely powerful. But, he is still constrained by the rules and norms that govern how people co-exist instead of seizing what it is he needs to achieve his ultimate victory. This makes him a quintessential “white” planeswalker, in every sense of the word, and one that you can sense is likely doomed to fail. Oh, poor tragic White planeswalkers. I hope they don’t kill him off the way Elspeth was!
Conversely, we meet an updated version of Drana in this new Zendikar story and immediately can see the difference between her and Gideon. Where Gideon is constrained by his code of honour and right and wrong, Drana has created a Brigade of Children and uses young children in the battle against the Eldrazi. The juxtaposition of Gideon and Drana is intriguing and one that can’t be ignored. However, as much as part of you wants to hate Drana for using the Children in the upcoming battle, you can’t help but admire her to some degree because she is so fiercely protective of her band of refugees and refuses to let them be abandoned and slaughtered. Clearly, she too has her own “code”, but it is somewhat more flexible in its interpretation than Gideon’s.
The second interesting thing with Drana is her experience with the Eldrazi sire. She tears open the sire and starts to feed on the heart of the beast and draws on the energy and life force of the creature. As part of this experience she encounters what can only be described as the “consciousness” of the Eldrazi and their ceaseless drive to consume and devour. The Eldrazi tries to corrupt her, but is unable to do so, but in the battle of wills between the two there are even initial signs that Drana is changing. Clearly the Eldrazi have the ability to corrupt people and physically change them, and change them very quickly! That is terrifying! However, Drana re-asserts her dominance over the exchange and draws upon the power of the Eldrazi to power her. This immense influx of power gives her the ability to rejuvenate her forces and lead the rout of the Eldrazi. This ties in directly to her new card where she grants other attacking creatures a +1/+1 counter if she deals combat damage to a player. That makes her new version an amazing flavour “win” on top of being an extremely powerful card. It is always very engaging when the abilities on the cards match the abilities of the characters in the stories.
The third thing that starts to appear is that Drana’s experience with the Eldrazi and the ancient consciousness of the Eldrazi creatures is that she becomes aware that there are other worlds apart from Zendikar. That spark, the realization that there are worlds out there that she could travel to and new powers to achieve, is clearly enticing to her and serves as a potential impetus to see her become a Planeswalker of her own in the next set or in a future period. Much like there were allusions to Narset becoming a planeswalker, it would appear as if Drana is being set up for a similar trajectory. That is very cool and I hope it comes to fruition becomes she seems like a very intriguing character. I just wonder if she would retain her truly “black” demeanor or if she would follow in the lines of Sorin and become a “black and white” planeswalker. Only time will tell on this matter. However, it is the “how” she ascends to become a planeswalker that is truly interesting. I can only guess that since she consumed the life force of the Eldrazi sire, a powerful and immense Eldrazi creature, and achieved unparalleled power that she will want to attempt to consume a larger and more powerful Eldrazi in her attempt to become a planeswalker. This means we could see Drana confront Ulamog or one of the other Titans in an effort to propel herself to the abilities of a planeswalker. Wouldn’t THAT be a story.
There are a few other really interesting things that I am noticing because they mesh together with the story so very well. For starters, the Ally mechanic of Rally feels like it is truly an effort to assemble the collected might of the Allies to defeat the Eldrazi. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts and Rally brings that all together in an interesting and relevant way.
While the mechanic for the Allies is interesting, I feel like the Ingest mechanic on many of the Eldrazi is a terrific flavour addition to the set. To me, Ingest is a terrific way of showing how ravenous the Eldrazi are. They are prepared to not only do damage to you, but are able to attack one of your other sources of power: your deck. Once your source of power has been consumed and all your cards have been exiled you are beaten AND they have used your own “life force” and knowledge against you. Nothing seems more insidious and pervasive as slowly having your deck stripped away from you as you are consumed. You start to run out of weapons and ways to defeat the Eldrazi as your spells are slowly removed and exiled, much like the refugees of Zendikar are running out of time and tools to be able to defeat the oncoming horde. No, Ingest seems to be a very playable mechanic, but is also one that captures the essence of the Eldrazi remarkably well and also mirrors the relative sense of panic that the increasingly cornered Zendikari must feel as they run out of safe havens.
I really feel like the flavour and story line for this particular set is tremendous. It seems like it is true to the original Zendikar block that makes established players reminisce about our previous visit to Zendikar. However, it provides enough new twists and turns that newer players won’t feel out of place or like they are missing part of the story. We have engaging and interesting characters and intriguing possibilities for them as we move forward. And we have relevant mechanics that really seem to represent the various factions of the story and attempt to have them play out in our cards in a way that makes them feel fun, but more importantly feel “right”.
I can’t wait for Battle for Zendikar to be released because the combination of a powerful story, powerful cards, and strong and flavourful mechanics that have so much appeal. I hope all of you are having amazing pre-releases and we lucky enough to pull an Expedition !!! We have less than a week until the big day and then…Bring on the Battle!
Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a read. Until next time, have a great MTG day.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter