The most interesting cards in a Magic: The Gathering set are rarely the ones that rise to the top of the competitive scene. What I’m interested in are cards that spin out, that were broken some way in design, or just generally get hated out because they’re too focused on the weird story that accompanies this collectible card game. We’re about to explore the 15 most interesting cards in the Battle for Zendikar, and just like all the cards in this set, things are going to get weird.
15. Gruesome Slaughter
This card is, well, gruesome. Imagine this: there are massive monsters in the middle of a battle. Sometimes they pursue their enemies. Sometimes they defend. But in one moment, they merely stand still and churn up the world around them. They’re monstrous blenders, doing a horrifying amount of damage to everything around them. That’s what Gruesome Slaughter is all about. Playing against this card is a real bummer.
14. Spawning Bed
Magic is all about land as a resource, and the big baddies of this set eat the land itself. Spawning Bed is bit of land destroyed by these giant enemies. In a pinch, a player can invest a huge amount of resources into this land to make it erupt into creatures. It shatters and slips apart, and from the wreckage crawls a skittering mob of Eldrazi Scions.
13. Bone Splinters
The basic idea of this card is that you, a magical wizard, explodes one of your own creatures in order to shoot an enemy creature with the bone shards of your creature. That’s it. I’m serious.
12. Dominator Drone
I honestly have no idea what is going on with this card. The Eldrazi have some domination stuff going on with these little face hugger things. When it shows up in the world, your opponent loses some life? I don’t know. I don’t get it. I like the idea of that little while blobule riding around on a vampire, though, and the fact that it makes you feel bad at the same time works for me.
11. Titan’s Presence
The basic idea of this card is that you reveal a big scary card, and when you reveal the scary card it blows up their creature. Their creature just looks right into the heart of darkness and gets all Halloweened and can’t handle existing into the future. It just skips on out of there, and it is SO SCARED that it gets exiled (or removed from the game) instead of dying. To be clear, the hint of a big scary monster scares them so bad that they skip dying altogether.
10. Encircling Fissure
The other day I was at a card shop playing with this card, and I was talking to my opponent, who was a thirteen-year-old boy, about what the card is showing. I asked if he was familiar with The Return of the King. He was. I suggested that what is happening on this card is very similar to what happens at the end of that film when the One Ring is thrown into Mount Doom (spoilies y’all), except in this case it is the reverse, with the enemies being surrounded. I pitched this to him, and as he was shuffling for the next game he quietly said “I don’t know if I buy that.”
9. Adverse Conditions
I love the story that this card tells. Two allies are wandering across a blighted landscape. One of them gets caught in a hole in the ground. The other gets involved with trying to help his ally out of the hole. While they’re occupied, an Eldrazi Scion crawls toward them. Bad news.
8. Boiling Earth
A big part of Battle for Zendikar is the interaction between the Allies and the Eldrazi’s Scions, little tokens with a single point of Toughness (basically one hit point). Boiling Earth kills all of those tokens, and it’s a pretty rude card overall when you can destroy all of your opponent’s creatures in one turn. Much better is playing the card for its Awaken cost, which means that the earth boils a little bit before it STANDS UP AND PUNCHES YOU RIGHT IN THE MOUTH.
7. Sure Strike
The art for this card is amazing. It’s all about one little goblin rising up against the Eldrazi horde and striking so fast and sure that it kills the Eldrazi to death. It’s metal as hell, and the fact that the flavor text calls the goblin “foolhardy” is even better.
6. Broodhunter Wurm
It’s some kind of weird-ass forest dragon/wurm thing that just rolls around and eats Eldrazi. It appears to be huge in the art, but it’s not really that big. It doesn’t make much sense. It’s a good card.
5. Herald of Kozilek
I like the idea of a creature that makes other creatures cheaper to create, but this one is the best of its kind because the flavor text suggests that no one understands what it does, which makes the speaker “nervous.” It is very apparent to me when this creature does. It hollers. It stands there and screams things. It calls people “chump” and talks mad smack about how you don’t match up to his dad Kozilek.
4. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper
This dude stands on a cliff and shouts at the land. The land stands up and runs around and beats up dudes willy-nilly, and all the while I’m pretending to be a sweet magician being all “yeah, that’s right Noyan, you do that work for me.”
3. Hedron Archive
No joke, I love this card. It’s a neat artifact that helps you out with mana early in the game and grabs some cards for you later. It does exactly what you need it to do. Plus, it is a weird little spinny hedron thing that looks like it might not be out of place in a latter-day George Lucas Star Wars film.
2. Angelic Gift
Some rando is hanging out and then BAM they’re flying around with four wings like a damn seraphim out of a classical Biblical text. They’re getting knowledge, telling the future, and being sassy as hell at the haters who tried to keep them down. They’re blocking fliers now. The dream is getting lived here.
1. Jaddi Offshoot
This card is literally a Plant tree branch. I thought it was a cute little buddy, and during the first time that I drafted this set, the Offshoot handed my ass to me SO HARD that it impacted the way that I will think about this card forever more. Over the course of a Battle for Zendikar limited game, this card can get you upward of 10 life. That’s half your health on top of the health you start with. It’s just a great little rejuvenation station that keeps on giving, and therefore Jaddi Offshoot is the most interesting card in Battle for Zendikar.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released on May 21. It’s available on Steam.