The Ugly Monster
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The Ugly Monster

Spoils of Adventure | Zezhou Chen

Magical Thinking: Zendikar Rising

Welcome back to Magical Thinking, a look back at the cards and art of Magic: the Gathering, set by set, from the beginning, through the eyes of a casual fan.

We started this series with the very beginning of Magic: The Gathering, and we are fast approaching the end. We only have seven more sets to cover before we are up to date on the Magic timeline. Maybe nine sets, if Unfinity and New Capenna come out between now and when we finish up, which they probably will. I intend to keep the series going in one form or another, but I think we should take a moment to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come.

With that out of the way, it’s time to dive into our next set: September 2020’s Zendikar Rising.

For those who don’t remember, Zendikar is a plane of wild, turbulent, and actively hostile geography. Powered by something called the Roil, it’s almost like the land itself is trying to destroy its natives. The Eldrazi are long gone, but the damage they did remains. To further complicate matters, Nahiri is back, and she’s got a plan to get rid of the Roil, damming the long term consequences of her actions and how they may harm the land. Will she succeed? Or will heroes rise to oppose her? Let’s find out.

Hey, you know what’s fun? Angels. You know what else is fun? Life gain. You know what’s really, really fun? Alternate win conditions. Let’s hear it for victory through massive life gain!

Here we have the main mechanic of Zendikar rising; The party mechanic. Remember, Zendikar was originally meant to be a DnD style adventuring plane with tombs and traps and adventuring parties, before the Eldrazi showed up and it became all about them.

This set has you assembling a party consisting of a cleric, a wizard, a rogue, and a fighter, and having certain cards give you bonuses if you have a full team. I honestly struggled with the mechanic. I never found the rewards worth the work of getting them, but I appreciate the flavor of the mechanic.

Oh, right, and landfall. Can’t forget that. Remember that Zendikar is also the “land matters” plane. Of course we’re gonna see a return of the iconic Zendikar ability landfall, seen here with this cute little mouse…who is able to easily kill and survive battle with a 1/1 soldier. Magic makes a lot of sense sometimes.

Double sided cards are back, and in this set, fittingly enough, they are land. I really appreciated this particular take. There’s nothing worse than having a dead hand with a bunch of cards too expensive to play. Well, now those expensive cards are lands.

Remember Angry Birds? This is the failed follow up Panicked Birds.

I guess it’s good the party is there to clean up what’s not left of the guy. They’re gonna be fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops their mind from wandering.

Part of the fun of the party mechanic is that each color specializes in a particular class, but lacks one specific class. For example, White has plenty of clerics, but no rogues. As a result you need to mix and match colors to get a proper party.

Of course, being the adventuring set, we also need some new equipment, like this bad boy. This set introduces equipment that auto-equips to your creatures when played, so you can get straight to the smashing.

It looks like opposing Nahiri’s violent landscaping planes is our favorite Gatewatch nerd Jace Beleren. Unfortunately, Nahiri is about to give Jace a few pointers on how to conduct a fight in Zendikar.

Yeah, this one is only slightly less annoying than Ajani’s Pridemate, and only because it costs a bit more mana. But still, this is another one of those creatures that can really snowball out of control.

Okay, whenever you play this card you are required by law to go “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” I don’t make the rules…okay I do make the rules but I don’t care. Do it.

Hey, Kicker is back. That’s always a fun ability. Kicker lets you pay extra for a card for an extra effect. Use it to bubble up your problems for a later day.

Now that’s what I call a giant enemy crab. The thing is, after a certain point it’s impossible to use their 3 cost ability without killing them, so it takes some careful planning to use. I know if I accidentally killed my Charix it would make me crabby.

For the purposes of party members, Blue specializes in wizards (obviously) but lacks warriors. I can relate. I’d rather read a book than go out swinging a sword, and with wizards the reading has the bonus of giving them magic powers.

Of course it wouldn’t be Blue without ways to maliciously abuse your creatures that have come into play effects. The potential land is a nice touch, with quite the eerie effect on the reflection.

And here’s our hero Jace, the planeswalker so nice that he comes out twice. Basically scry with the real one and then draw cards with the clone for safety purposes (or vice verse, maybe just alternate which one you use for what).

Ah yes, one of the bread and butter cards of my mill deck back in the day. Funny thing is that often by the time I got to the point I could play the kicker they were so depleted I did more damage playing the normal version.

Speaking of mill, and giant enemy crabs, you may remember this guy’s cousin from the first Zendikar set. Well now he’s back and better than ever. So drop your land and mill them cards.

Blue isn’t just about milling. It’s also about drawing. Drawing a ton of cards and being able to hold all those cards. And if you can’t do that you can at least get a land out of it.

I like to think he just comes in and gives an attacking creature a boot to the head for the -2/0, then steals two enemy cards in the confusion because that’s how he rolls.

For Black, their primary class are rogues, but they don’t get any wizards. Not really sure why Black doesn’t get wizards. I guess it’s just to keep symmetry.

I am disappointed by the lack of Shand Tsung and Quan Chi here. But still, this is a great piece of flavor. Get the gang together and kick the crap out of a guy like that one Jojo meme.

This is a fun card because Drana actively pillages your opponent’s graveyard for creatures to be turned into vampires. I hope you don’t have anything good in your graveyard. Don’t worry, it won’t be there much longer.

Oh, you think this is a swarm? Wait till we hit Green, then we’re gonna see some swarms.

By the way, there is an entire cycle of these inscription cards, where you can either pick one or kick and pick them all. They were pretty fun cards to say the least.

Surprising no one, Nahiri recklessly forging ahead turns out to have dire consequences. Is there a plane she hasn’t messed up yet?

This is one of those cards that really confuses me, but at the same time they have deathtouch so who cares what their power is?

Yeah, call this the absolute desperation final play of the game demon right here. Play him when you got nothing left to lose and your opponent is also almost dead.

Yeah, the giant mosquitos kind of turn me off too. I mean, I’m getting itchy just looking at them.

They say every dog has their day. Well this dog is saving up for the very last day to be theirs.

Lastly we have Red, which focuses on warriors, but has no clerics. They don’t pray, they don’t have the tongue for it. But rest assured someone is praying when these guys head out.

I’m not gonna lie, I really dig the moose minotaur. If you didn’t know, moose in real life are super ornery and nasty creatures who are huge and will kick your ass, so I can definitely get behind the moosataur.

I think we last saw the coward mechanic back in Future Sight. Well now it’s back on a new warrior, ready to make cowards out of your opponent’s creatures. Of course, like most bullies, a stiff breeze can knock him over.

Once again we get the story cards out of order, so spoiler warning, Nahiri: This will not work out like you want it to.

I really love the flavor on this card. It may be my favorite card of the set. An overeager goblin steals something they shouldn’t, so then have to pawn it off one someone as soon as possible because it’s super cursed. So your opponent gets stuck with the cursed artifact draining their life, and they can’t even block with it.

Another fun card. I like that without the kicker he just wanders off after attacking. This big bruiser isn’t here for a long time, just a good time (Actual good times may vary).

Yikes! That’s gonna need some iodine, and like a ton of band-aids. I mean, at least it didn’t go through the bone, right?

This was one of my favorite brawl commanders from this era. You can pull off some truly broken stuff with this elemental if you put your mind to it.

If you can play this, especially kicked, odds are you already won and are just showing off.

Guide to Designing a Magic Creature 101: Take a preexisting creature, and give it more; more tusks, more spikes, more anything. Works every time.

Now HERE is your swarm. I had a lot of fun experimenting with this card in Arena. Fun fact: if you mutate a card onto this bad boy (remember, Ikoria was the previous set) the tokens it makes will be mutated as well. It’s a great way to get like ten billion Gemrazers out on the field at once.

Unlike the other colors, Green doesn’t specialize in a single class, having access to all the classes so you can support the other classes. The Paragon here exemplifies this because they count as all the classes. They’re basically like a DnD bard; they can be slotted into any role.

Oh, aren’t they just the cutest little refugee from a Miyazaki movie? They are a mana dork, so you’re gonna have extra mana either way, but there are situations where you would play one side over another. It’s a surprisingly flexible card.

Oh yeah, the Kor. They exist, and they are still obsessed with equipment. The flavor here seems to be that they can get out of danger by just dropping their equipment at the right moment. I did try to make a Boros equipment deck, but it didn’t do so good.

Speaking of, here’s our well-intentioned extremist herself. Nahiri always fascinates me because Nahiri is one of the few White mana based antagonists. She’s also immensely arrogant and entitled in that way old school planeswalkers were, convinced she’s right and not caring who gets hurt along the way.

It looks like Nissa is handling the break up with Chandra by going full goth and embracing Black mana. Is that healthy? Probably not, but it is entertaining.

The best part of any adventure: Seeing whose still alive and divvying up the loot. Anyone mind if I roll need on that epic drop?

And here is probably the last sign of the Eldrazi on Zendikar at the moment. They were pretty thoroughly driven off, there are absolutely no Eldrazi left…that we know of.

This is the MacGuffin that Nahiri is using to eff with the Roil. I am having serious Mirari flashbacks. If you have been following along, you know this is a bad thing.

Another must-have for any mill deck. They are big, undercost, and depend on your opponent having a big graveyard. Paired with the crab up there, this bad boy can be combat ready almost immediately.

Last but not least we have these flip cards with two different lands of two different colors on each side. Six in all, and we will be getting the last four next time.

And that’s where we have to leave our Zendikar adventure. But fear not, the adventure will continue next time. Dress in your warmest fur, crank the Swedish death metal, and knock back a stein of mead. Next time we’re trekking to Kaldheim. But until then, stay Magical.

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Jessie Staffler

Jessie Staffler

Creative Writer looking to make money writing. Prefers to write stuff based on fantasy, Sci fi and horror