Magic History: Rise of the Eldrazi

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Rise of the Eldrazi.

After nearly 30 years of Magic: The Gathering, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Rise of the Eldrazi, the third and final set in Magic: The Gathering's original Zendikar block.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:

Rise of the Eldrazi released on April 23, 2010, and is the 52nd expansion for Magic: The Gathering.  The set concludes the game’s original Zendikar block in a manner much different that how things began.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

As for the story of Rise of the Eldrazi, it can be found in the block’s one and only novel, Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum.  You could say it’s all found in the latter part of the book.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, we have a complete summary for you in our Magic History: Zendikar video here on Magic Untapped.

As for Rise of the Eldrazi itself, it had a design team headed by veteran designer Brian Tinsman and a development team that was led by former Magic: The Gathering World Champion and Pro Tour winner, Matt Place.

Rise is a large-sized set at 248 cards (which is one card fewer than Zendikar).  Typically at the time, Wizards of the Coast employed a large-small-small block structure in terms of set size.  This time around, they went unconventional with a large-small-large structure.

<Maro DTW ROE1, 1:32-2:30, 10:01-23 “It turns two sets.” “So, Bill’s plan…in the same world.”>

Which, in a nutshell, is how the Zendikar block came to have a third set that wasn’t just a large set, but, if we’re being honest here, completely different that the two that came before it.

And it’s all thanks to the release of an ancient evil known as the Eldrazi.

And who, or what, are the Eldrazi, you might ask?

<Maro DTW ROE1, 5:29-32, 5:34-53, 6:04-36,   “They’re a cross between Cthulu and Galactus.” “Cthulu was a…drive a man insane.” “The creatures…to consume.”>

Essentially, the idea of the Eldrazi was of ancient creatures (so old, in fact, that the pre-date the concept of colors of magic – hence why they’re colorless as a race) who that are unfathomable, but hungry with a need to consume for consumption’s sake.

<Maro DTW ROE1, 8:11-28 “They’re causing havoc…lithomancer”>

We now know the lithomancer to be Nahiri.

<Maro DTW ROE1, 8:28-49 “The three of them…was in Worldwake.”>

Of course, as we know (spoiler alert for those who aren’t aware of the original Zendikar story), the lock was weakened (thanks to the invisible hand of Nicol Bolas, of course) by Chandra, Jace, and Sarkhan Vol, then obliterated completely by Nissa, and the Eldrazi titans – Kozilek, Ulamog, and Emrakul – made a run for it (much to the detriment of the plane and beyond).

But, getting back to the set, Rise of the Eldrazi, itself…

The set, despite taking place the same location and, really, the same time as Zendikar and Worldwake, featured very little similarity to its two predecessors.  In fact, the land-themed focus and various mechanics of the block’s first two sets are all but non-existent in this new set.

Instead, Rise of the Eldrazi has a focus on this new, colorless Eldrazi creature type, as well as new concepts such as the ability to “level up” creatures through the new level up and rebound mechanics and a new line of aura enchantments known as “totems.”

Level up, which is found on a number of creatures throughout the set, such as Transcendent Master, Jorga Treespeaker, and Nikara Cutthroat, is a very RPG-type concept that lets players give such creatures they control a permanent benefit (well, permanent so long as the creature stays in play) in exchange for a certain investment of mana.

Rebound is a mechanic designed to allow players to get more play value out of their instants and sorceries.  When an instant or sorcery with rebound is cast form one’s hand, the card gets exiled upon resolution rather than being sent to the graveyard.  Its controller can then cast it again for free at the beginning of their next upkeep if they so choose.

Totem enchantments are auras that target creatures, providing them a boon while also protecting them at the same time.  This is thanks to each totem enchantment having the rules text of “If enchanted permanent would be destroyed, instead remove all damage marked on it and destroy this Aura.”  It’s almost like having an aura as a bodyguard.

The set also had a sub-theme of walls.  Or, at least, creatures with the defender ability, which walls have by default.

The idea here is that they provide defense for players against smaller threats as they build up to bring out the big baddies of the set, the Eldrazi.

As for those Eldrazi, the big hitters come complete with a big price tag – many costing upwards of eight mana or more.  Thankfully for Eldrazi players, mana-creating Eldrazi Spawn token creatures that can help you ramp up to be able to actually cast something along the lines of the 12-drop It That Betrays (or, better, one of the 10-15-costed titans themselves).

<Tinsman DTW ROE, 27:33-48 “And, we had…then keep going.”>

Rise of the Eldrazi, for the purpose of Eldrazi-focused spells, also brought back the tribal subtype for the first time since the Lowryn/Shadowmoor mega block in the cards Not of this World, Skittering Invasion, Eldrazi Conscription, and All is Dust.

With the exception of the tribal artifact card, Altar of the Goyf, found in 2021’s Modern Horizons II, the tribal subtype hasn’t been seen since in black-bordered Magic.

The set also introduced one other, Eldrazi-specific, thing: Annihilator – a new mechanic made to represent the Eldrazi’s hunger.

<Maro DTW ROE1, 16:03-33 “So, what Annihailator…really, really strong.”>

So strong, in fact, that Wizards of the Coast has yet to make another new card with the ability.

Despite being a large set, Rise of the Eldrazi, surprisingly, only has a pair of cycles:

  • Invokers, a common cycle of creatures that each have an activated ability costing eight to use, such as Wildheart Invoker granting a creature a temporary +5/+5 boon at the cost of eight generic mana, and;
  • NC rare levelers, each of which have a level up cost of one and one of that creature’s respective color as a level up cost, such as the card Echo Mage, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the now-disgraced rapper Kanye West in a “WTF” pose, costing 1 and a U to level up, gaining additional toughness and abilities along the way.

Beyond the set’s two cycles, Rise of the Eldrazi boasted a good selection of notable and valuable cards, including:

  • Coralhelm Commander, a one time staple in Merfolk decks;
  • Eldrazi Constricption, which is not only the first purely colorless enchantment ever created for Magic: The Gathering, it remains the only one, period;
  • Eldrazi Temple, a must-include in Eldrazi Tron decks in Modern;
  • Enatu Golem, an (honestly) underwhelming artifact creature, but holds the distinction of being a part of a rather unique series of cards – all of which are creatures that gain you life upon death and are inspired by the “O.G.” MTG card, Soul Net:
    • Onulet, from Antiquities, which was supposed to be an anagram of Soul Net (which was originally supposed to be “Onulets,” but the “s” had to be removed due to the artist only including one creature in the artwork);
    • Anodet Lurker, from Fifth Dawn, which is an anagram of “Darker Onulet,” and now;
    • Enatu Golem, which is an anagram of “Mega Onulet.”
  • Gideon Jura, the first appearance of the popular planeswalker character;
  • Inquisition of Kozilek, which is considered to be amongst the game’s top tier of discard spells and is a frequent inclusion still today in Modern and Legacy;
  • Khalni Hydra, which (even now) bares the distinction of having the largest amount of mana symbols within its casting cost of any Magic card yet printed,
  • Realms Uncharted, a card often seen in Commander and has artwork that seems to take its cues from the Champions of Kamigawa card, Gifts Ungiven;
  • Sarkhan the Mad, the second iteration of the planeswalker Sarkhan Vol and a card that is supposed to show Vol under the influence of Nicol Bolas’ schemes;
  • Splinter Twin, a powerful creature aura that was a key part of its deck namesake in Modern until its power and prevalence proved too much for tournament play, leading to the card being banned in the format in 2016;
  • Training Grounds, and enchantment that gives a good discount to your creatures’ activated abilities, and;
  • Vengevine, a creature card that can get easily get out of hand thanks to its built-in recursion and haste.  It’s been fairly popular the niche-yet-formidable Hollow One deck.

Of course, we couldn’t talk about Rise of the Eldrazi without putting a spotlight on each of the three Eldrazi titans:

  • Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, which is found in a number of EDH and Legacy decks, as well as the occasion deck in Modern;
  • Ulamog, the Infinate Gyre, also a good inclusion in certain EDH decks, not to mention some Modern Tron decks and 12-Post in Legacy;
  • and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, a card banned in Commander and a key finisher in a number of Modern and Legacy decks, including Legacy Sneak & Show and Omnitell, as well as Modern Through the Breach, Tron, Creativity, and Calibrated Blast decks.

<Tinsman DTW ROE, 14:30-52, 15:06-30 “I’m super happy…powerful they were.” “It was just…to this set.”>

Speaking of Emrakul, the card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn also served as the set’s prerelease promo, making it once of the best prerelease promo cards yet printed for the game.  A foil, alternate art Lord of Shatterskull Pass was given out as the set’s launch party promo.

Additionally, Rise of the Eldrazi’s buy-a-box promo was a foil, alternate art Guul Draz Assasssin, while participants in the set’s Game Day event were all given a full-art promotional Staggershock.  Winners of the event also received a foil, full-art Deathless Angel card.

And those who visited Wizards of the Coast’s booth during the PAX East convention that year were treated with Eldrazi Death Hug, a silly commemorative card promoting Rise’s prerelease and launch party events.

Finally, if after all this, Rise of the Eldrazi seems a bit of an oddball set to you… well… MTG’s head designer would have to agree with you.

<Maro DTW ROE 1, 28:33-53 “They made a…that worked.”>

So, did it work?  Did you like Rise of the Eldrazi?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Thank you for watching.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.