Battle for Zendikar looks to be pretty deep with a ton of different strategies, but I’m going to start simple with the baseline strategies for each color pair rather than talk about every little niche strategy possible. As the set matures and the metagame develops these deeper strategies will become apparent and I’ll be able to discuss them then. Allied colors are up first!
This color pair is all about aggression. You have a bunch of little white creatures, some with evasion and some without, backed by efficient white removal. Gideon’s Reproach is especially strong here because it’s cheap enough to keep attacking into blockers and use it on a key turn where you can continue to develop your board. Blue provides more evasive threats, but is also a little schizophrenic because it contains a bunch of ingest and processing that white simply isn’t interested in. My guess is that in more straight-white decks, that aspect of blue won’t matter, and the heavier blue decks can look to take larger advantage of the Eldrazi mechanics.
Clearly some creatures are better for this archetype than others, like Eldrazi Skyspawner, but really it’s more about its tempo spells than its creatures. UW wants to beat down, and the key cards listed all help accomplish that goal. Lithomancer’s Focus is particularly efficient and will always get its 1-for-1 in the early stages while maintaining a strong effect into the midgame. I happened to get blown out when I double-blocked a creature at the prerelease and the colorless prevention clause kept my opponent’s creature alive when it would have died otherwise. This spell is the real deal.
As for Clutch of Currents versus Rush of Ice, Clutch is going to be better in most decks, but I think Rush of Ice might be better in UW. By tapping the creature down for the following turn cycle you prevent it from simply being cast again which allows you to continue attacking with your now awakened land. Of course I still imagine picking Clutch higher because it will be a scarcer resource, but even that could change over time if my prediction is correct.
Looking through all the green and white cards together I have to admit I’m worried about the playability of this color combination. Sure it has some creatures and some pump spells but for the most part it just looks like an inferior UW deck. You don’t have quite as many tempo plays so you’re now incentivized to win later in the game. The problem is that that’s when the big Eldrazi come down and go over the top of your deck. The good news is that white at least has Smite the Monstrous to try to foil that plan, but I wouldn’t exactly call putting a Smite or two into your deck security. At the end of the day GW is all about just playing good old fashioned Magic: creatures, combat tricks, and a little removal. Hopefully that’s enough to get the job done.
Any hope of synergy rests on the back of these two cards, but with Tajuru Warcaller being one of the frontrunner mythic uncommons you’ll have to open it or be passed it later on in the draft. Once you do have a couple of these though you have access to a ton of white Allies to mini-Overrun each turn. There are 11 white cards that produce Allies, which creates a pretty solid late-game plan for GW.
Ampryn Tactician ended up being one of my favorite white cards from Magic Origins because it just did enough in every department. The pump was surprisingly effective at getting smaller creatures through and the 3/3 was big enough to stop many creatures on the board. I don’t think a 5/5 for 6 will make quite the same impact mostly because +1/+1 means a lot less at that point in the game, but still, Tajuru Beastmaster could be much better than it looks.
This color pair looks to be everything that GW wants to be. It’s very aggressive, but gets to back that aggression up with strong removal and bigger creatures in both colors. While curving out, its creatures all get landfall bonuses, and with big expensive creatures you want to be playing 18 lands much of the time anyway. Curving Snapping Gnarlid into Valakut Predator into turn-4 land-plus-Unnatural Aggression is a nice way to get your opponent to 10 life while killing a relevant creature, and I know I personally don’t want to be on the receiving end of that exchange.
Feel free to fill out your curve with what’s available, but getting an early start and applying pressure is very important for this deck. Sure, Akoum Stonewaker and Oran-Rief Invoker aren’t the most exciting of 2-drops, but they still can attack for 2 to 4 damage early, and backed by combat tricks or other creatures that number can be a whole lot higher.
Additionally, this deck wants to hit its land drops and deploy threats through the early and midgame which means if that fails to kill the opponent, it will quickly run out of steam. Mana sinks then become even more important and these creatures act as serviceable late-game threats that still need to be dealt with.
I also want to highlight how strong Swell of Growth is in GR landfall. It can essentially pump multiple creatures since you’ll get a landfall trigger in combat while also giving a key creature +2/+2. In certain board states this card is just going to be a 1G Plague Wind, and is a key card to always have in mind against green opponents who have shown more than a couple landfall creatures.
Historically BR has been one of the most consistently dominating color pairs, and for good reason. Both colors get the best removal, and when your opponent has no creatures any route to victory is good enough. In BFZ this color pair looks even scarier because in addition to strong removal, its creatures are efficient, and on top of that there’s a lot of strong devoid synergies.
These cards are just the tip of the iceberg and there are a bunch of role-players that can fill out a deck that is almost entirely devoid cards. Kozilek’s Sentinel can play both great offense and defense and once you’re finished dumping your hand Swarm Surge can be a potent finisher. I missed the mark on Kytheon’s Tactics in Magic Origins, but I think that card was bad because there wasn’t any synergy in the set. Here, all your colorless creatures are working together, and the times when your opponent finally thinks she’s stabilized you have Dominator Drone, Silent Skimmer, Nettle Drone, and Swarm Surge to just close the door. The first strike bonus on Swarm Surge makes sure you win combat, and this card feels pretty similar to Joraga Invocation except that it costs 2B instead of 4GG.
Our last allied color pair is quite impressive. One of the aspects of UB I’m most interested is that it looks flexible. There are elements of a more aggressive deck with a bunch of 2-drops and ways to maintain tempo. There are cards more suited for midrange and control shells. I haven’t quite figured out where the larger Eldrazi fit in, but playing a 7- or 8-drop in a deck looking to prolong the game seems perfectly reasonable and there are a few ways to generate Scions at affordable mana costs. Despite UB’s many options there is one deck here I’m most excited for:
Ingest and processors! The insular nature of blue pairs nicely with black. The abundance of blue processors matches with blacks enablers, at which point you have some great above-the-curve creatures. I was crushed by Ulamog’s Nullifier in 2 different matches at the prerelease, and I didn’t feel like I could really even do anything about it. Once I had two cards exiled what am I going to do, not cast a spell? Even eating a mediocre spell with the Nullifier is huge since the 2/3 flash flier is worth a whole card. If you’re able to consistently process then this deck will feel like a well-oiled machine, and it hopefully will be as fun as drafting the exploit deck was in Dragons of Tarkir. Finding the right balance of enablers and processors should be rewarding, and will keep drafts deep into the format more interesting.
Magic Origins left us desperately looking for synergy-driven decks and it looks like BFZ will deliver exactly that experience. Each color pair so far looks distinct from the others—except for poor GW, which again just looks like it’s trying to curve out and do… something. I’m still unsure exactly where those big Eldrazi fit in, but between the Scions, some green ramp, and slower decks like UB, I’m confident they’ll be smashing Zendikari and taking names.
Hopefully you had a fantastic prerelease and next time I’ll discuss the enemy color pairs!