Ingesting the Flavor and Mechanics of Battle for Zendikar’s New Eldrazi

A rugged vista of Zendikar, showing the otherwordly, leached latticework of Eldrazi corruption.

Numerous cards for Magic: The Gathering’s upcoming expansion set, “Battle for Zendikar,” were revealed at this weekend’s Pax Prime event. The setting, a mana-rich and volatile plane called Zendikar, is Ground Zero for an epic battle between the races and nations of that plane and the Eldrazi, otherwordly and terrifying abominations that look as though they walked straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel. Much like the Terminator, the Eldrazi can neither be bargained nor reasoned with, and their very existence comes at a terrible, brutal price: the complete and utter elimination of everyone else’s.

We last saw these lurking horrors at the conclusion of Magic’s first visit to Zendikar, the self-evident “Rise of the Eldrazi.” What set the Eldrazi apart from other antagonists is their immense size, colorness nature, and ability to erase anything standing in their path.

The key Eldrazi mechanic in “Rise” was “annihilator,” which forced your opponent to sacrifice a specified number of permanents (lands, creatures, artifacts, or enchantments) each time an Eldrazi with this ability attacked. “Annihilator” was a nasty mechanic that made victory only a matter of (often very short) time whenever Eldrazi made their way to the battlefield.

In “Battle,” the terror of annihilation has been replaced with an exile mechanic called “Ingest.” Several of the nonlegendary Eldrazi revealed thus far show this is a fixed mechanic: whenever an Eldrazi with Ingest deals combat damage, the defender exiles the top card of their library.

“Ingest” showcases how the warped nature of the Eldrazi not only distorts the landscape (see the vista at top and the detail on “Mist Intruder” below) but tears the very fabric of reality itself.

Mist Intruder

Ulamog, the first legendary Eldrazi previewed in this set, has a much more intense version of Ingest, where the top 20 cards of your library are wiped from memory each time it strikes.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

In the game of Magic, the library has been described as a planeswalker’s “memory,” which is why mill effects are found in Blue’s part of the color pie.

To have the Eldrazi steadily and relentlessly pull your library into exile (the game’s “point of no return”) versus condemning them to an untimely demise in your graveyard (where they could be recovered), to me, speaks more to the sense of dampening helplessness and crushing inevitability that these horrors are supposed to evoke.

The other new mechanic for the Eldrazi is simply a status keyword called “Devoid.” Cards with “Devoid” have no color identity, even if they’re cast using colored mana.

Barrage-Tyrant

In “Rise,” several of the lesser Eldrazi were actually colored cards in the Jund spectrum (green, red, or black). For “Battle,” the design team use “Devoid” to retain the colorless nature of the Eldrazi, which cleanly illustrates them being beyond the boundaries and characteristics of colored mana and further separates them from “normal” reality.

The unique identity of Eldrazi cards is further marked with a hard-lined meander design (reminiscent of their former hedron prisons) at the top of “Devoid” cards.

The last well-placed artistic stroke to come out of the Pax Prime reveals was the haunting painting below, depicting three statues.

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While not identified in the Wizards of the Coast Twitter stream, players of the original Zendikar block will recall that the Eldrazi made their way into collective myths and legends on that plane.

The statues here show Emeria at top, Ula at left, and Cosi at right.

These deities are blurred racial memories … echoes of recall thousands of years old from when Emrakul, Ulamog, and Kozilek first rampaged across the land. You can see attributes of each Eldrazi in these statues, such as Emrakul’s fleshy, domed hemispheres and trailing tentacles in Emeria’s wings and coattails.

We still have several weeks before “Battle for Zendikar” gets its full reveal, but the rich flavor of the set’s artistry and setting have already proven captivating and suitably unsettling.

All photos and artwork in this post are copyright ©2015 Wizards of the Coast.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.