Magic History: Zendikar

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Innistrad.

After 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 Zendikar, the first set in Magic: The Gathering's original Zendikar block. 

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Video Transcript:

The 50th expansion in Magic: The Gathering history, Zendikar introduces not just a bunch of new cards, but wholly new plane and story to the game as well.

That story can be experienced by reading the Robert B. Wintermute novel, Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum, which (like with the previous Magic block) contains the entire story of not just the set of Zendikar, but of the other two sets that make up the Zendikar block as well: Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi.

Nissa Revane is a Joraga elf from the area of Bala Ged.  A planeswalker, and therefore “different” from the rest of her kind, she has been exiled and resides in the company of a Tajuru elf friend of hers named Hiba.

The elves head to a meeting in the Home Tree where they are informed of a blight of some sort threatening the forest.  Nissa is ordered by the meeting’s speaker to investigate.

On the way towards this blight, Nissa and Hiba are attacked by vampires of the area’s Brood Lineage.  Despite her fear of vampires, Nissa dispatches them.  Sensing something wrong, the duo return to the Home Tree whereupon she finds numerous Brood Lineage vampire corpses littering the area.

She ventures inside to discover many slain elves.  Among the dead is the speaker.  In her hand is a pearl, which Nissa slips into her pocket.

She and Hiba then get word that a nearby village is being assailed by more vampires.  The pair head there, with Nissa gathering allies along the way.  Unfortunately, shortly after their contingent arrive, the vampires lay waste to most all of them – Nissa’s friend, Hiba, included.

Nissa, herself, was fated to be slain were it not for the intervention of a mysterious person.

This person, a man who calls himself Sorin, easily wipes out the broodish swarm, save for one: a slave known as Anowan who is quite obviously different from the rest.  Sorin learns that the vampire is quite familiar with a region of Zendikar known as Akoum.

Sorin, as it turns out, is in search of a place known as the Eye of Ugin and recalls that it lay in Akoum, but (thanks to a spell he cast on himself) cannot quite put his finger on exactly where.

He enlists Anowon as a guide in exchange for his life and also enlists Nissa for her familiarity with the plane.  Nissa agrees to accompany him on two conditions:
1.    They help her bury her late friend, Hiba, and;
2.    Sorin keeps Anowon bound due to her fear and hatred of vampires.

As they travel, the trio stop make camp from time to time.

During one of these breaks, Sorin discuesses about the Lineage as well as the legitimacy of a mythical race known as Eldrazi.  Nissa scoffs at Sorin for such foolhardy notions.  Sorin, meanwhile, admonishes Nissa for thinking he is little more than a human with interesting abilities.  Over the next few nights and the experiences during, Nissa begins to think differently of Sorin, thinking he may be more than human, as she first thought.  And may even be a planeswalker like herself.

Soon, the trio venture into an area known as Graypelt.  The area appears nearly deserted as tattered tents and only a handful of people are around.

Nissa leads Sorin and Anowan to one tent in specific.  Inside is a land-dwelling merfolk known as Khalled.

He recognizes Nissa, who informs him of the two “friends” with whom she is traveling.  Khalled retorts, saying that the other two seem more chummy with one another than either does with her.  He then informs her that the bound one, the one known as Anowan, is, indeed, a vampire.

After being reassured that Anowan is safely bound, Khalled agrees to assist the trio.  Nissa informs him of their destination and asks if he happens to have a map of Akoum, which the merfolk, indeed, does and will give it to them… for a price.

Sorin offers up an orb of dark energy, but Khalled refuses due to the evilness within.  Rather, he’d like to have a copy of the Anowon’s notes about Akoum.  The merfolk then tells the group that he’s unsure if it’s Eldrazi they’re dealing with, but that all signs point towards the fabled Eye of Ugin.

Before the party leaves, Khallid pulls Nissa aside to warn her that, like a parasitic plant, Eldrazi pose a real, unseen threat and that it’s best she stays with her party despite her reservations.  He also cautiously reminds her that vampires live on blood.

The trail from Graypelt proves perilous.  A vicious storm hits and Nissa warns her companions that a roil is upon them.  They attempt to take cover, but roils are not your average storm.

Nissa is thrown against the roots of nearby foliage, stones and hedrons – mysterious floating geometric shapes of unknown origin – begin to fall, and the piece of land that Sorin and Anowon are on begins to float.

After the storm, the trio find themselves within a crevice.

Anowon is unbound and questioning why Sorin is having Nissa helping them.  Sorin is in a daze, asking for someone named Lysene, before snapping back to reality, though is initially too weak to walk without assistance.

Soon enough, things normalize for the party and they climb out of the crevice, only to find some three hundred Kor before them, weapons drawn.

The nomadic Kor looked a bit worse for wear.  In fact, Nissa gathered that they all seemed to be fleeing from something.  Nissa extends her palms, which is a Kor sign of courtesy.  The Kor hookmaster, or leader, takes the three into his audience.  He explains to them that his Kor had recently encountered a large group of Brood Lineage and were fleeing eastward away from them. 

The group rests for the night before resuming their trek to Akoum.  On the way, they notice a group of goblins seemingly keeping prisoner an unkempt female Kor who carrying a strange crystal as she busily mutters nonsense to herself.

The Kor falls to her knees and began chanting.  The goblins, too, kneel and chant.  Anowon, listening to the Kor lady’s babbling, recommends that they join their traveling party.  Sorin, noticing that the babbling is all in Ancient Eldrazi, agrees.

The Kor then switches her speech to Ancient Vampire, informing Anowon and Sorin that she, herself, is Eldrazi, and that the key is requested.  The goblins find themselves to afraid to speak.

Sorin is intrigued.

As their travels continue, they encounter many dangers, including giants, more intense roils, more of the Brood Lineage, and fewer and fewer goblins in their party (as they seem to be mysteriously disappearing one-by-one over their travels’ various overnight stops).

Eventually, the group enter the town of Zulaport.  Sorin tells Anowon that, while they’re in the town, he would regret it if he tried to feed on any of the residents there.  The group checks in to an inn and calls it a night.

Nissa, though, is suddenly stirred awake by some stranger.  She attacks the man and ventures outside, noticing the rest of her party seems to be absent.

Soon, she finds the men who had captured her traveling companions, noticing (to her chagrin) that they’re all vampires.

Anowon explains that they’re not just vampires, but that they also control the area through extortion of the weak.  Apparently, two men of Indorel, the head vampire, were found dead, drained of their blood.  Despite Anowon’s claims that he didn’t do it, Nissa thinks he did.
Indorel begins interrogating the group.  Sorin answers each question with a mocking remark.  Insulted, Indorel shoves Sorin to the ground.  Angered, Sorin uses his magic to reanimate one of the vampiric corpses, sending it shambling towards the vampire boss.  Anowon and Nissa use this opportunity to attack Indorel’s henchmen.

The group ultimately wins their freedom and decide that it’s probably a good time to head out of town as they resume their trek towards Akoum – this time by sea.

While sailing, Sorin comments that, if not stopped, the Eldrazi will devour all planes in the multiverse.  To prevent this from happening, they will need to kill all of the Eldrazi Brood in order to prevent the Eldrazi from escaping their prison.  Nissa wonders why Sorin is suddenly being so open about all this, questioning his motives.  Sorin simply informs her that he will need her power and that she simply cannot decline.

Finally, they reach the shores of Akoum.  Scaling up its cliffs and hedrons, the group soon find themselves before Tal Terig, which is where the Eldrazi bury their dead.  Sorin wants to avoid the place, but their route takes them right through the area.

There, the group notices a number of Brood waving their tentacles around.  Samara, the mad Kor woman mutters “The titans stir…”

Just then, the group is taken in by a band of elves who were on patrol.  They are arrested for trespassing too close to Tal Terig.  They’re brought to the band’s leader, who asks them if they’re working in league with the Brood.  When nobody in the disgruntled group answers, he orders them locked away with their guide thrown out into the salt flats and the vampire, Anowon, to be thrown from the tower. 

Now locked away – Samara, the remaining goblin, Nissa, and Sorin in one cell and Anowon in another – the group tries to think of a means of escape.  Nissa tells Sorin that, despite her reservations about vampires, Anowon is the only one capable of leading them to the Eye of Ugin.  That’s when the goblin speaks up.  Apparently, he also knows the way.

Shortly thereafter, the door to their cell opens and a half dozen elven guards enter.  Sorin uses a magic spell and easily slays the guards.  The goblin finds the jail key and opens their cell door before then freeing an extremely perturbed Anowon from his.

Having escaped from the tower, the group continues their trek.  As they travel, they join a caravan.  In the protection of the caravan, Anowon and Nissa converse.  The vampire says that he knows of other worlds beyond Zendikar and that the Eldrazi come from one of those worlds.

The caravan eventually encounters a roil bloom that had been consumed by lava, hardened.  The caravan sees it as a sign of good fortune.  Nissa, however, sees it as an abomination of nature and promptly destroys it.  Pissed off at hear action, the caravan exiles Nissa and her companions from their company.

Once again traveling on their own, Anowon begins to get more and more edgy.  He begins volunteering to take watch every night.  Soon, Sorin confronts him, saying that he knows their party is being tracked by vampires and that Anowon knows it, too.

Not too long after, the party is, indeed, attacked by a number of vampires and their thralls.  They all fight well, but the vampires end up getting the upper hand and Nissa finds herself captured.

Bound and being denied food and water by her captors, she is lead through the mountains for three days before being allowed to collapse onto the ground.  Shir, the vampiric band’s leader, informs the elf that her friends are alive, but that she is to be used as bait as they’re looking to use her to lure Sorin into a trap.

Shir then tells Nissa that, generations ago, Sorin, also known as “The Mortifier,” sold Zendikar’s vampires into servitude to the Eldrazi, thus why they’re after him now that he’s shown back up.

Sorin and Anowon, of course, take the bait and arrive on scene.  Shir and his vampiric band, however, seemed a bit ill-prepared for what they’d be facing when they did arrive as Sorin and Anowon easily handle their advesaries, Shir taking his own life in the end rather than allowing Sorin to take it from him.

The group resumes their travels.  As they venture forth, another of Zendikar’s roils kicks up.  Hiding from the storm, Anowon confesses to Nissa that the roils never existed before the Eldrazi were imprisoned and the various mysterious floating hedrons appeared across the land.  The vampire then theorized that allowing the Eldrazi to escape and, thus, be able to leave Zendikar might be a good thing for the realm.  Nissa retorts, saying she’d rather break her own teeth than assist the Eldrazi, causing Anowon to storm off in a hissy.

Not long after, the band arrives in a different town.  While there, their goblin friend, Mudheel, mentions that there is a spirit with the crystal the crazy Kor woman, Samara, carries and that the spirit wishes for the Eldrazi to be freed from their prison, which is in direct conflict with Sorin’s plans.

That’s when Samara begins ranting and screaming, which draws a bit of a crowd around her.  Sorin approaches, and Samara’s rants become focused upon him.

Not rants.  A conversation in an ancient tongue.  The two, as well as Anowon, who has also approached, argue.  In the end, Samara stomps off in frustration with Mudheel in tow.

The scene calmed down, Sorin goes in search of supplies for the final stretch of their journey.  Nissa and Anowon, meanwhile, chat.

It seems Anowon has played guide to the Eye of Ugin before (and recently, at that) to a woman with fiery hair and a mind mage who traveled with her.  He said that, while he was locked out of the Eye’s chamber, the fire and mind mage somehow managed to weaken the lock on the Eldrazi’s prison.

Sorin returns and tells Nissa and Anowon that the supplies they need can be found at a nearby tent.  There, Nissa notices a sleeping man as they begin taking what they need.  She marvels at how the man never stirred.

That’s when Sorin tells her to stop being naive, as he drank him dry of blood.  That’s when it finally dawns on Nissa that, this whole time, she has been traveling with not just one vampire, but with two.

The trio then begin to venture up Akoum towards the Eye, trusting on Anowon’s memory of the place now that they are without Mudheel and Samara.  Despite occasional roils and other perils, they manage to make it up safely enough.  They decide it’s time for a rest and Nissa takes the first watch, during which she smells the smoke of another’s campfire and decides to investigate.

She spies Samara and Mudheel at their own camp.  Mudheel mentions to Samara that Nissa and her companions are probably not far from the Eye at this point at that, once they reach a fork in the road, should take the narrower of the two paths.  Nissa, seeing no reason to distrust what the goblin is saying, takes note.

The following day, the trio make it to the fork that she had overhead the goblin telling of the night before.  After a skirmish with some more of the Brood, the group takes the trail to the right and makes their way towards the Eye, avoiding some dangerous lava drakes along the way.

The trio reach a cave.  On its walls are writings that even Anowon cannot decipher.  Sorin chimes in and speaks of atrocities the Eldrazi have committed on other planes.

That’s when Mudheel pops back onto the scene.  He points the way to the Eye, but warns the group that Samara is there and antagonizing her might not be the best decision.

As the group descends into the cavern, Nissa notes a scratching noise that seems to grow louder and louder the deeper they venture.  Sorin tells her it’s the “Three Kings” clawing for their escape.

That’s when Nissa questions him about everything he knows in regards to these Eldrazi.

He tells her that Zendikar was always a wild place – even before the Eldrazi arrived.  Nissa also learns that the mysterious hedrons found around the realm are full of condensed mana designed to keep the Eldrazi’s prison strong.  The Eldrazi can never free themselves, as the hedrons act in complete contradiction to the Eldrazi’s nature.

Sorin then commands that everyone stops talking as they enter a chamber with a single hedron in its center, a dragon etched upon it, and the crazy Kor woman, Samara, striking it over and over again in an attempt to shatter it.

Sorin begins singing, which gets Samara’s attention.  She launches herself off of the hedron towards him.  Sorin is knocked to the ground.  That’s when Nissa takes off.

She sprints towards the hedron and places a spell upon it.

Sorin, meanwhile, gets up and slays Samara, then resumes his song.

Nissa falls to the ground, her spell spent.  The hedron then cracks in two and Sorin falls silent.

He turns towards Nissa, calling her a fool as the force she’s releasing is far worse than anything he could do to her – she has sealed her own punishment.

The cavern rocks and begins to cave in.  Nissa and Anowon flee as fast as they can.  Looking back, Nissa sees the largest tentacle she could ever have imagined filling the fissure left behind.

They reach the cave’s entrance to witness the drakes they were trying to evade earlier were flying away as fast as they could.  That’s when they witness three immense, alien beings emerging from the ruined mountain – the Eldrazi Titans, Kozilek, Emrakul, and Ulamog.

Nissa turns to Anowon, who is gazing back at her with an insatiable hunger.

The three Eldrazi Titans begin to make their way across the landscape, all of which seems to wilt and turn dead as they move.

Sorin catches up with the duo and tells them they are at fault for everything that happens here out.

Anowon tells Sorin that he will need to accompany him back to Guul Draz, Zendikar’s vampiric homeland, to face his own justice for being the Mortifier.  Sorin laughs at him, then tells Nissa that the Titans are headed towards her own home – the Turntimber Forest.

A new roil builds up, toppling a nearby mountain and distracting Anowon.  Sorin gives Nissa a wink, and the two planeswalk away, but not the elf pins Anowon down and binds Anowon’s hands, saying that she is done with vampires.

Sorin goes one way and Nissa another.  She returns back to Bala Ged and the Joraga elves there.  She and the elves set back out to where the Eldrazi Titans were, finding it nothing more than a wasteland.  They plant seeds, hoping to see it thrive some day once again.

Nissa then vows to find Sorin and get him and as many other planeswalkers as she can to help re-imprison the Eldrazi she had unleashed on the multiverse.

And that pretty much does it for the story of the Zendikar block, though there’s still much more to tell about each of the block’s three sets.  And that includes, of course, the block’s namesake set of Zendikar.

Designed as the game’s “adventure world,” Zendikar is a “lands matters” set.  Sure, lands matter in every magic deck, but Zendikar made them matter in a whole new way.

First off, the set features full art lands.  While full art lands are nothing new to Magic as a whole as they were previously found in Magic’s humor sets Unglued and Unhinged, this would mark the first time that they would be available in a tournament-legal, black-border set.

Then there’s the new ability word “landfall,” which triggers each time a land enters play under your control.  And, to help players not only achieve multiple landfall triggers, but also to help with some color fixing in their decks is the cycle of brand new enemy-colored fetch lands.

Speaking of cycles, Zendikar features 13 of them.  Some of the more notable ones (beyond the aforementioned fetchlands) include:
•    Expeditions, which is a common cycle of enchantments that get a quest counter on them as their landfall trigger.  Players can then remove three such counters from the card for a payoff;
•    Quests, an uncommon cycle of enchantments.  Unlike expeditions, however, each of these cards have their own trigger for adding a quest counter as well as their own payoffs.  Quest for the Graveyard, for example, triggers each time a creature dies and has a payoff that gives its controller a 5/5 zombie token creature;
•    Ascensions, a rare cycle of enchantments that also get quest counters and have their own specific payoffs in the end, such as the card Bloodchief Ascension, which punishes opponents when a card enters their graveyard from anywhere by causing them to lose two life while you, at the same time, gain two life;
•    Common spell lands, each of which come into play tapped, can tap for a single color of mana, and have an enter-the-battlefield trigger, such as Teetering Peaks providing a creature a +2/+0 temporary boon when it enters play;
•    Rare spell lands, each of which comes into play tapped, can tap for a single color of mana, and have their own extra ability as well, such as Oran-Rief, the Vastwood allowing you to put a +1/+1 counter on each green creature that entered play during the active turn, and;
•    Refuges, which are allied-color dual lands that come into play tapped, but also gain their controller one point of life when they hit the board.

That landfall mechanic mentioned earlier isn’t the only new mechanic in Zendikar, by the way, as there are a few more:
•    Intimidate, which replaces the now-defunct “Fear” ability, makes creatures with the ability unblockable except for by artifact creatures and creatures that share a color with it;
•    Ally, a creature subtype that synergizes with Ally triggers and are either beneficial for, or dependant upon, other allies in play that a player controls, and;
•    Bloodied, a new ability specific to the set’s vampire creature type, that provides the creature with a boost if an opponent’s life total falls to ten or less.
•    Kicker, a returning mechanic, is also in the set.

Additionally, Zendikar introduced a new card subtype called “trap.”  Found only on instants, trap cards have an alternate cost if a specific condition is met.  The card Lavaball Trap, for example, is an eight-costed spell, but can be cast for 3RR instead so long as an opponent has had two or more lands enter the battlefield under their control during the active turn.

As far as individual cards go, Zendikar boasts a nice selection of powerful and popular selections:
•    Archive Trap, an instant that can be cast for free if an opponent has searched their library at some point during the active turn.  It’s a very popular inclusion in competitive mill decks;
•    Bloodghast, a vampire that saw widespread competitive play thanks to its built-in recursion via landfall;
•    Felidar Sovereign, an alternate win condition card;
•    Goblin Guide, a terrific turn-one play for red aggro decks despite its downside;
•    Iona, Shield of Emeria, which is used as a lock and finisher card in some Legacy decks, as well as in Standard and Modern reanimator decks;
•    Punishing Fire, a red direct damage spell that has found itself banned in Modern since 2011 thanks to its loop-encouraging synergy with the land Grove of the Burnwillows;
•    Spreading Seas, which is found not only in merflok tribal decks, but also sometimes in tournament-level decks as an answer to various non-basic lands;
•    Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, a direct damage land that can be a finisher in Scapeshift and Amulet Titan decks in Modern;
•    Vampire Hexmage, which is a key component in Legacy Depths decks, and;
•    Warren Instigator.  The card was, at one time, banned in Extended and can sometimes still today be found in goblin tribal decks. 

Zendikar also introduced to the game a few new planeswalker cards in Nissa Revane, Sorin Markov, and Chandra Ablaze, which is the first new version of Chandra since her debut card in Lorwyn.

And, those who attended the Zendikar prerelease were treated to a foil, alternate art promo version of the card Rampaging Baloths, as well as a Celestine Reef plane card that goes with the then-recently released Planechase ancillary set.  Its release promo card, given to Game Day event participants, was a foil, alternate art Valakut.

But, even beyond all that, Zendikar had one more thing in store for players: Priceless Treasures.

Remember how we said that the plane of Zendikar is the “Adventure World” plane?  Well, what’s an adventure without some treasure to find?

Found only in the original print run of the set, Priceless Treasures is a set of rare and expensive older cards which were inserted randomly into booster packs.  In short, Wizards of the Coast obtained existing, hard-to-find cards from Magic: The Gathering’s early days and snuck them in to a small percentage of packs for players to “discover” like buried treasure.

These cards ran the gamut from the game’s original “Power Nine” like Black Lotus and Time Walk to original dual lands like Bayou and Tundra to reserved list cards like Eureka and Mox Diamond to other, older, notable cards such as Berserk and Sinkhole.

And, because these cards were original printings rather than reprints, their inclusion in Zendikar booster packs did not violate Wizards of the Coast’s reserved (or, do-not-reprint) list.

So, is Zendikar one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  Love it or hate it, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

And if you’d like to support Magic Untapped, please remember to like this video and subscribe to the channel.  Also, we have a tip jar on Patreon if you’re feeling so generous.

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.