Battle for Zendikar, Magic: The Gathering’s second verse in its love song to Lovecraft, is an odd set when you’re at the mercy of a randomized deck. The set abounds with potential for synergy — ramp into great and powerful monsters, or have your Eldrazi drones chew up the top of opposing decks to fuel your processors’ H. R. Giger dreams — but should you find yourself without a key component, things go south in a tentacular mess. Luckily, such messes further devolve into slugfest.
Which is all to say that Saturday’s pre-release tournament didn’t end well for me. I was dissolved and crushed into little gathering pieces.
The six packs I opened were deep on green — my Giant Mantises, Woodland Wanderer, and a big Oran-Rief Hydra could all pull their weight — but shallow in blue and white (a triple set of Smite the Monstrous was the most tempting of the bunch). Red and black looked roughly equivalent in strength but the former had a bit more in the way of removal: A pair of Stonefuries and a Touch of the Void pulled me down that path, resulting in a red-green landfallian hybrid. To top it off, with all the elegance of a thumb to an eyeball, I jammed in a touch of blue for Kiora, Master of the Depths.
A blistering start with a Makindi Sliderunner didn’t pull me far enough to escape the overwhelming card value of an army of white and blue awoken lands; game one, an Roil Spout followed up an ingesting Mist Intruder sent my Mantis and any chances of winning to the ether. Now uninhibited by my lack of anti-air critters, the Mist Intruder and a Courier Griffen bled me out. Game two, our armies were at a standoff until his Encircling Fissure caught me unawares, letting his 4/4 awoken lands escape combat to fight again while sending mine to the graveyard.
Switching over to black and green, I found a better groove thanks to Culling Drones, a Sludge Crawler, and Dominator Drone in lieu of red foot soldiers. These ingesters enabled my Wasteland Strangler to choke out middle-sized threats. Strangler did its thing against a black and white life-pumping deck, which was piloted by a genuinely pleasant fellow sporting a Misfits backpack and a denim jacket. My band of misfits, drones, and crawlers curved out and whittled his life to zero the first game. Game two, the Strangler once again strangled, but this time paved the way for a beefy 7/6 Plated Crusher to suck down his life in gobs.
A controlling blue-black deck tossed a few counterspells in the way of my Eldrazi drone-processing machine. His Fathom Feeder lived up to its name, making sure his hand was well-fed game one. Game two, we traded piddly creatures until a well-timed Ugin’s Insight locked and stocked his hand, providing the ammo to shoot me down in the form of a hungry Bane of Bala Ged. Even without a name, when Annihilator rears its head, you lose games.
Our decks were evenly matched; our mulliganing decisions less so. The first game I stumbled on Swamps and his Dust Stalker left me coughing in its wake. Game two was a bit closer, with my Wasteland Stranger spewing its gastric juices up over an Ulamog’s Nullifier. After I drew first blood, it was only fair he sacrificed Eldrazi drones with back-to-back Bone Splinters, dashing a few of my creatures and my chances of winning.
Despite being so thoroughly trounced, I’m itching to get back into battle. Still, I admit I’m looking forward to the slightly more controlled chaos of draft. I won’t be surprised that, in addition to Battle for Zendikar’s apparent archetypes (the ramp to slow dumb monsters, the ingest-processing grind, the ally deck) there’s room for aggressive creature decks to thread the tentacles to victory.