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Judge's Corner: Zendikar Rising

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Hello Magic players! With another new set coming out, it’s time for another installment of Judge’s Corner. This time we’ll be discussing Zendikar Rising, and some of the interesting mechanics that come with it.

What is Zendikar Rising?

Zendikar Rising is the newest Standard legal Magic set from Wizards of the Coast. The set releases September 17, 2020 on Magic Arena and Magic Online, and September 25 in paper. Prerelease events will be held from September 18-24.

Sounds great! Since Zendikar Rising is a new set, does it contain any new mechanics?

It sure does! Zendikar Rising has 2 new mechanics, as well as 2 returning mechanics which we haven’t seen in a while. The first new mechanic is modal double-faced cards. We’ve seen double-faced cards before, but modal double-faced cards are something fairly different. Let’s take a look at an example from the set.

As with all double-faced cards, modal double-faced cards have a face on both sides of the card, thus the name. In this case, the front face is the Sorcery spell Emeria’s Call, while the back face is a Land called Emeria, Shattered Skyclave. Unlike the double-faced cards we’ve seen in the past, you don’t cast the front face and then transform it into the back face later. In fact, these cards can’t be transformed at all. Instead, you choose which face, or mode, of the card to play from your hand.

In Zendikar Rising, the front face of each double-faced card has a single triangle in the top left corner, while the back face has a double triangle in the same spot. When playing with modal-double faced cards, the converted mana cost and other characteristics of the card are based only on the face that’s face up when it's on the stack or the battlefield, and are based only on the front face of the card in all other zones. Keep in mind that this is different from how we determine the converted mana cost of a transformed double-faced card. Similarly, when determining if you can legally play a modal-double faced card, consider each face of the card separately and look only at that face when determining if it can be played.

For those of you playing in paper events with modal-double faced cards, Wizards has included helper cards in some booster packs. These cards have a regular Magic card back, with the front looking like this:

You may use one of these helper cards to represent a single double-faced card while it’s in a hidden zone, such as your hand or library. You must also have the card represented by the helper, and must clearly write on the helper showing which card is being represented. When the double-faced card is played or is otherwise in a public zone, such as the battlefield or graveyard, the represented card must then be used instead of the helper.

That seems like an interesting new take on double-faced cards! What’s the other new mechanic in Zendikar Rising?

The other new mechanic is a fun one, and it’s called “party.” Drawing on the adventure themes of Zendikar, and the plane’s thematic connections to Dungeons & Dragons and adventuring parties, the party mechanic rewards players for controlling Creatures with the subtypes Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard. Let’s look at an example so you can see what I mean.

As with many Creatures, Seafloor Stalker has an activated ability. In this case, if you pay 4 generic mana and 1 Blue mana, then Seafloor Stalker gets +1/+0 until end of turn and can’t be blocked. However, this next part is where the party mechanic comes into play. Seafloor Stalker’s ability costs 1 generic mana less to activate for each Creature in your party. So, if you control Seafloor Stalker while also controlling 1 Cleric, 1 Rogue, 1 Warrior, and 1 Wizard, then the ability only costs 1 Blue mana to activate. And Seafloor Stalker counts itself, so even if it’s the only Creature on the battlefield, as long as it has the Rogue Creature type then the ability already costs 1 less to activate!

Each Creature under your control may only be counted once toward your party, and no role in your party may be filled more than once. So, if a card refers to the number of Creatures in your party, that number will always be between 0 and 4. Also, if some of your Creatures could be counted as different Creature types, then the highest number will always be used when calculating the number of Creatures in your party. For example, if one of your Creatures is a Cleric Rogue then it may count for your party as either a Cleric or a Rogue, but not both. If you also have another Creature that is a Rogue, then the number of Creatures in your party will be 2, since the highest number is always used.

Some cards, such as Linvala, Sheild of Sea Gate, refer to a full party.

A full party must contain exactly 4 Creatures, 1 each that is a Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard. In the case of Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate, she has an ability that checks if you have a full party at the beginning of combat on your turn. If you do, then the ability triggers, and you choose target nonland permanent an opponent controls. Until your next turn, that permanent can’t attack or block, and its activated abilities can’t be activated.

Looks like fun! You also mentioned a couple of returning mechanics?

I did indeed! The first returning mechanic is Landfall, which was introduced in the original Zendikar set.

As we see here, Landfall is a triggered ability which appears on permanents, and triggers whenever a Land enters the battlefield under your control. Although the event triggering the ability is always the same, each Landfall ability has a different effect, so make sure you read each of your cards to know what your Landfall abilities do. In the case of Dreadwurm, whenever a Land enters the battlefield under your control, Dreadwurm gains indestructible until end of turn. That can be pretty dangerous on a 5/4 Creature!

As with all enter the battlefield triggers, Landfall will trigger whenever a Land enters the battlefield for any reason, whether it’s played from your hand or is put into play by a spell or ability. This includes when a Land is flickered, or exiled temporarily and then returned to the battlefield, since the Land has changed zones and is now entering the battlefield again. It will not, however, trigger when a Land phases in, since the Land has not left the battlefield and is thus not entering again. Landfall will also not trigger if a permanent already on the battlefield becomes a Land, since it’s not entering the battlefield.

I’m so glad to see Landfall returning! I hope the other returning mechanic is just as good!

The other returning mechanic is an oldie, but certainly a goodie. It’s one we see pop up in sets from time to time, and it can be very powerful since it makes cards a lot more versatile. That mechanic is Kicker. Let’s take a look at some of the new cards with Kicker.

Kicker is an ability that allows you to pay an additional cost when casting a spell. You can always just cast the card for the normal casting cost, but if you also pay the Kicker cost then you get something extra. This allows cards to be useful both early in the game and late in the game, since they get better if you pay a higher cost for them.

Using the Roil Eruption as an example, we see that if you cast it for its normal casting cost of 1 generic and 1 Red mana, then it deals 3 damage to any target. However, if the spell was kicked, meaning you also paid the 5 mana Kicker cost for a total of 6 generic and 1 red mana, then instead of dealing only 3 damage it will deal 5 damage instead. This versatility is pretty great, since it means that early in the game you can kill a Creature with 3 toughness for only 2 mana, but at the end of the game you can kill a larger Creature or deal the final 5 damage to your opponent for 7 mana. Let's also look at a Creature with Kicker.

We see here that if you cast Gnarlid Colony for 1 generic and 1 Green mana then it will be a 2/2 Creature – Beast with the static ability “Each creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it has trample.” This is a decent 2 drop Creature, especially if you have ways to give your Creatures +1/+1 counters. However, if you also pay the Kicker cost of 2 generic and 1 Green mana, for a total of 3 generic and 2 Green mana, then it enters the battlefield with 2 +1/+1 counters on it. And, since it now has a +1/+1 counter, it also gets trample from its own static ability. So, essentially, Gnarlid Colony can either be cast as a 2/2 for 2 mana, or a 4/4 with trample for 5 mana, making it decent in both the early and mid-game. Although you might not always want to play a 2/2 for 2 or a 4/4 trampler for 5, having the flexibility to use the same card to cast either of those versions makes it quite a bit better.

Paying the Kicker cost for a spell is always a choice, and never something you have to do. If you do choose to pay a spell’s Kicker cost, then you may only pay it once and must pay it when you cast the spell. If a spell is copied, then the copy is also kicked and the Kicker cost doesn’t need to be paid again. Whether a spell was kicked or not, the converted mana cost is always calculated using only the mana cost of the spell, and not factoring in the Kicker cost.

Those sound like some great new and returning mechanics, and Zendikar Rising looks like a super fun set! Is there anything else I need to know?

Nope, that’s about it! If you live in an area where there are paper events being held this weekend, enjoy yourself and play as safely as you possibly can. Otherwise, have fun playing on Magic Arena or Magic Online from the safety and comfort of your home, or just crack some packs and see what you pull! Whatever you do, have a good time, and let us know how you like the set!

If you have questions, feel free to ask them in our Discord, leave a comment below, or email us at with the subject “Judge Question.” We may feature your question in a future article!

Until next time: Keep it fair, keep it fun!

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