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.

CNn7EU3WIAAMIrh

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.

Game Review: “Shenanigans” by Kazam Games

IMG_3224

At first blush, the cards in “Shenanigans” look a lot like a standard set of playing cards, with one major difference: there’s only one “suit,” and that’s lucky clovers. As luck would have it, the good folks over at Kazam Games gave 3-Sided-Die the chance to playtest and review a prototype of this new card game.

How do you win?

The goal of “Shenanigans” to have the least number of points among all players by the end of the game.

How do you play?

Each player is dealt nine cards. You arrange the cards into a three-by-three grid and turn any two of them face-up. The rest of the deck is put into the center of the table and becomes the “draw pile.” The top card of the draw pile is turned face up and put into a separate “discard pile.” The person to the dealer’s left starts the game.

When it’s your turn, you choose a card from the top of either the draw or discard piles. If you take a card from the draw pile, you can swap that card with any one of yours or put it into the discard pile and pass the turn to the next player. If you take a card from the discard pile, you have to swap it with one of yours. The card you swapped goes into the discard pile, and you pass the turn. It doesn’t matter whether you switch one of your face-up or face-down cards, but your new card is always turned face-up.

The three-by-three grid for a two-player game of "Shenanigans," with the draw and discard piles in between.

The three-by-three grid for a two-player game of “Shenanigans,” with the draw and discard piles in between.

Each of the cards in has a point value of 1 through 10. Kings, queens, and jacks are each worth 10 points, and the aces are worth one point. Jokers not only serve as a “wild card,” but have a negative value of -2 to drop your overall points. There are two cards unique to “Shenanigans”: a “pot of gold” card that’s sort of a “super joker,” worth -5 points as well as a wild card; and a “mischief” card that’s literally “good for nothing” … it’s worth zero points and is not wild.

The “pot of gold”: one of the unique new cards in “Shenanigans.”

Three cards with the same value across, up, or diagonally in your grid is a “three-of-a-kind,” which cancels out the points of those cards (totaling zero). To keep your points low, swap out your higher-point cards for lower-point cards, make as many three-of-a-kinds as you can, or (why not) both.

“Three-of-a-kind,” with the joker helping as a wild card. Together, these cards are worth -2 points (zero for the three-of-a-kind and -2 for the joker).

What can’t you do?

You can’t turn a card face-up without swapping it from the draw or discard piles, you can’t look at any of your face-down cards (sorry, this isn’t Magic: The Gathering, folks), and you can’t choose among the cards in the discard pile; you can only draw the one on top.

When does the game end?

The turns, or “rounds,” end when one of the players has swapped out all of their face-down cards. At that point, each of the other players gets one last chance to swap a card from the draw or discard piles. They then turn up any other face-down cards they have and count the total points on all of their cards. Whoever has the lowest number of points is the winner.

The end of a two-player game. My cards, at the bottom, totaled 5, while my opponent’s totaled 8.

We do enjoy making shenanigans!

Overall, we found “Shenanigans” to be a fast-based and rousing alternative to traditional card games. The setup and rules may sound daunting, but the game is deceptively simple, quick to learn, and a lot of fun to play.

What’s delightfully unexpected in “Shenanigans” is the tension. In the test games we played, there were a few times one of us drew a 10-point card and had to make the hard choice of soaking up the extra points or discarding it and give the next player a three-of-a-kind. Then there was the hope of pulling off a three-of-a-kind by swapping a card from the discard pile, only to find that the face-down card we swapped was the exact same value. These “shenanigans” had us howling with laughter, especially the turns of fate late in the game. The games went fast; a two-player game can easily be finished in five to 10 minutes, and rules say an average game lasts seven rounds.

The box top promised us “skill, luck, and frustration,” and it deftly delivered on all fronts. Give “Shenanigans” a go in your gaming circle … it might just be the “pot of gold” you’ve been questing for!

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.