How Zendikar Rising Changed Magic

By | September 28, 2020

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Zendikar Rising Brought The Serious Innovation

Zendikar Rising snuck up too fast to cover the set before it came out, and I don’t draft enough to have a good sense of the whole card pool. But there is one aspect of the new set I think needs to be discussed.

And that’s the modal land cards. I know that it feels like a gimmick aspect of the set, but, like Companions from Ikoria, they are something that cannot and should not be underestimated.

Because the ability to play a land that’s also a spell disrupts one of the core aspects of Magic. Though it has many variations, the long-standing rule is most decks play 20-28 lands, depending on how low to the ground they are. Aggro decks want very few lands, and control decks want to be playing a land every single turn. It was a very learnable metric, easy to think with, and predictable.

Zendikar Rising Changes Deck Building Forever

But now you might see a deck with a land count of thirty or more, or sometimes much less. It depends more on what you even count as a land anymore. Spikefield Hazard/Spikefield Cave or Jwari Disruption/Jwari Ruins are often just played as lands but can be spells. 

And this does a lot of things to the game.

  1. It makes the game much harder for new players, as now they have to think with both their lands and their “potential land” counts. 
  2. It makes high-level decks even more full of brutal cards. By the time you read this, Uro may be banned and the deck might not exist, but Sultai Control can run as little as twenty actual lands—making the density of rares even higher. It might also make Magic even more expensive to play.
  3. It gets around the part of Magic that’s the most boring: the lands.

And that’s the big one.

Because, though very necessary for the game, no one likes basic lands—except the artwork. Top-decking them at the wrong time is frustrating and loses games in a way that’s not interesting. Zendikar’s one change fixes it in a revolutionary way.

With this change, lands become a risk/reward system that increases the excitement of any game. It leads to a game flow that feels more like there’s always a chance to recover.

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The Odds Of Dead Draws Is Decreased A Ton

And that last part is super important.  

With the pandemic, Magic is an increasingly digital game. Games on Arena go quicker, and there’s little penalty to just conceding when you think you can’t win. Arguably, it’s better to concede from a time perspective. You can always find a new game in seconds. 

And that reduces fun. You don’t get the satisfaction of the killing blow. There’s less reason to attempt to turn a game around. 

Any way to mitigate those mindsets is impressive. 

Though the developers have made many, many mistakes with the game lately, this does not seem like one of them. It’s a masterstroke of design that fixes a long-standing problem without changing much the game we all love. I’m genuinely excited to see what happens with it and what they do next.


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