Wizards of the Coast owns two powerful properties under its belt, between fans of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering, it seemed inevitable that a possible campaign setting or at least a play on the concept of merging of the two. Despite what some would deem as a big “duh” moment, the idea of the two merging today or having a MtG-esque roleplaying experience has not been a new idea at all. While there were rumors and stories from Ex-WotC employees of such a concept, the environment for Dungeons & Dragons has been odd and (in regards to its player base) unstable. But finally, according WotC, the rules were easily malleable and the climate seem appropriate to introduce a supplement for adventures in the Plane of Zendikar (found here).
Let’s take a moment to look at the myriad of rule sets of D&D and whether Magic the Gathering could have found a home anywhere. Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR in the mid-1990s, in 2000, we got D&D 3rd Edition. In 3 years time, the rules for D&D got a revision in regards to its lexicons and mechanics, which resulted in D&D 3.5 in 2003.
I had my first game in 2003 with 3.5 when I was still in middle school, it was a one-shot game where half of us did not take any of it seriously. Looking back, I felt back for the DM then when half of the players were complete immature brats. I got my official play of D&D in 2004 (along with my official return to Magic: the Gathering that same year) and played my very first epic level campaign in the spring of 2005. The point here is that D&D and Magic: the Gathering for me were two huge parts of my late teenage life.
Fast forward to today, we underwent the identity crisis with D&D 4th Edition and arrived at the current 5th Edition, and the complete cultural and economic boom within Magic the Gathering. It’s now practically mainstream to talk about D&D and watching live streams, and Magic the Gathering has live streams of pro-tours along with other big events (though the quality is still lacking which is honestly questionable of WotC).
In WotC’s article regarding the Plane Shift: Zendikar supplement, they expressed that the 5th Edition ruleset as “flexible” to model any sort of fantasy world. On of that statement, the survey at the bottom of their article asks questions regarding viability of this as a potential business venture from readers and not shockingly asked the community to vote for a potential plane to have such an adventure (here’s hoping Ravnica). My impressions would rationalize that this is WotC testing the waters for potential new IPs using the D&D banner and where else has there been plenty of lore and backstory developed than in a Magic the Gathering planes during each new set? From a creative and business venture it makes sense, it’s really a matter of how fans feel about a merger of two of their beloved nerd properties.
Back in 2010 (which was the last D&D campaign I physically played at a table), I had the pleasure to play in a D&D game where the players discover themselves to be Planeswalkers that needed to save the mulitverse and travel the Blind Eternities. The campaign took play in the primordial MtG plane of Dominaria, the party went to find Urza’s Legacy Weapon and found my character, which I played as a golem/construct. Long story short, the party had to face against the lich lord, Dralnu and defeat him. The party managed to defeat him but at a great cost, my character became a true legacy weapon reshaped into a blade of temporal might. The golem’s consciousness would journey along with the party paladin to other planes and other times to combat against the evils within the mulitverse. So there is some nostalgic significance for this newly released supplement to me, it’s something that I always wanted to get back into but never found the opportunity. WotC seems to believe we’re ready and as a huge fan, I’m seriously stoked. But we need to be level-headed when analyzing the content.
I’ll let you ruminate about it while I break down the supplement for Zendikar.
Welcome to Zendikar, where the mana is irrelevant but the magic is real
The first segment within the Zendikar supplement offers moods and details for different eras within the vast history of the plane, from pre-Eldrazi eras to Eldrazi eras dealing with the three gods and later in their awakening from Rise of the Eldrazi to the current narrative with Oath of the Gatewatch. There is mentionings of Planeswalkers and mana, which explained that colored mana does not mechanically fit within context of D&D spells. That’s honestly a personal and thematic opinion, on the matter. But in order to make the experience painless for the DM, I can understand the need to address it. If the DM felt inclined to separate the myriad of spells within the Player’s Handbook and various supplements to their 5-color relations (or dual/tri-color origins), that is up the DM. I will warn that’s a grueling task, and sort of violates the free form flexibility of 5th edition. If you wish to implement some sort of mana relationship to spells, I would suggest that mana be an alternative resource for spellcasters, using the magical leylines to fuel the spells instead of their own personal reserves. Granted there would be still some restrictions so that it wouldn’t get out of hand, and now that we have established spells as colorless in MtG, I can see spells like Wish being a powerful colorless spell.
The flavor and feel that Zendikar is a vast world filled with ancient ruins that remain largely unexplored and full of dangers. When I first read some of the lore for Zendikar and the flavor from the cards in the game, I felt as if I was in some Indiana Jones world but with goblins and elves. I enjoy this idea immensely as it reminds me a bit of Eberron’s Xen’drik since various portions of Zendikar is depicted in deep jungles (as well as within heldrons).
What I find most appreciative is the sourcing of various ruins and locales based on the eras within Zendikar the party finds themselves. Of course, time travel would make this an epic and fun campaign, but let’s just stick to single-direction chronological progression. It gives a fair background to the happenings and moods of various races during these eras so the DM and even players can differentiate between the phases of Zendikar’s history.
Vampires, Kors, and Merfolk? Oh my!
We get into the grittier part of the supplement, namely the racial stats for the many denizens found within Zendikar. The Kor felt well represented though the lucky trait felt personally out of place but given their seemliness ability to avoid danger, I’ll let that go.
I enjoyed the Merfolk subraces as creeds, it made sense in my mind that different Merfolk upon adulthood took different philosophical paths which in turn bestowed prowess and proficiency in different areas. While Goblins and Elves received similar treatment based on their regional and tribal origins, the Goblins and their lack of Dexterity ability score improvements felt out-of-place. I original thought of Zendikar goblins were “they aren’t really sturdy but they are nimble like most goblins in fantasy, but sturdy?” This is a miscommunication in flavor, but given that goblins in Zendikar tend to deal with more hazards it sort of made sense. I use “sort of” lightly.
The elves were an interesting in regards to their flavor, I could actually see the color pie for Magic being transcribed onto the flavor and their abilities represented. There was an air of still using the Elf race model from the Player’s Handbook, but it was just distinct enough that these Zendikari elves had their own textural notes implemented. They were probably the best in flavor, followed by the Merfolk.
Now the main attraction, Vampires. When you think about black mana in Zendikar, you almost instinctively think back to Vampires. In Zendikar, Vampires not truly undead but rather a disease replicates the symptoms similar to the undead curse. There was a large segment that explain the difference and similarities within the supplement, which I thought was a good way to keep it level and fair. The stat block felt I was looking at a Tiefling with only a few changes, which made sense from a mechanical standpoint.
The races felt like the races from Zendikar, their abilities even represented their respected color pie and color allegiances. So in regards to the faithfulness of the flavor and the mechanics in relations to the flavor and mechanics from the card game, I can stand behind it as a good representation.
Is that an Eldrazi in Goat’s clothing?
The last portion of the supplement deals with bestiary of Zendikar. For content creators, monsters can be a long developmental process. Granted the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides an entire section devoted to creating your own monsters and has various table and charts to gauge and create monsters to fit specific challenge ratings. But DMs (myself included) like to simply play or DM a session without spending hours balancing out a monster. So I personally enjoyed the notion of reskinning monsters to represent the various iconic creatures that lurk within the ruins of Zendikar.
It’s not just reskins, there were some new stat blocks, including a non-legendary/mythic kraken stat block.
The toughest section, as I flipped the pages closer: were the Eldrazi. The Eldrazi were alien entities that you could almost equate to the Far Realms for D&D, except the Blind Eternities is more like the D&D equivalent to the Astral Sea. The various reskins had similar abilities that represented Eldrazi spawns and the various foot-soldiers found throughout the card game. I especially enjoyed the unique titan stats they gave for the 3 Eldrazi titans using the empreyean, kraken, and tarrasque. The added abilities mentioned further down from the reskin suggestions would have a DM do some work and tweaking but nothing too drastic.
Talk about the Art!
Look, I love Magic the Gathering for its art and the insanely large amount it possesses, but this supplement was literally a giant splattering of Zendikar art. Granted this supplement was tied to the new Art of Magic: the Gathering – Zendikar product so it made sense. But it was virtually everywhere, even in places that already had plenty of art. But that’s just personal beef with it.
While it’s the most finished of supplemental products, this was WotC testing the waters for an idea that has been sitting in the backburner for practically 20 years I would dare say. Granted Magic: the Gathering didn’t always have a plane that was beloved as Dominaria and when we revamped the franchise and featured Planeswalker card types back in Lorwyn, that’s when I firmly believed that Magic: the Gathering was about to become something more than it had ever before. The same could be said when 5th Edition spawned for D&D, it was a renaissance for tabletop roleplaying games everywhere. A combination of these two would bring curious Magic players over to the world of roleplaying games, and possibly vice versa.
I’m excited as a fan of both. Does it need some more thought and tweaking? Yes. As I answered the survey, I wouldn’t mind any new world content. I just want new world content, period. I love the Forgotten Realms (I’ve played in it for at least 5-8 years) and fell in love with it, but I want to back to the other beloved settings and explore new ones too. So I want WotC to take some chances but actually follow through with them instead of half-ass their way like they did during 4th Edition with their character builder and subscription service.
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