Abilities and Mechanics in Zendikar Block

Hey, guys and gals. Today, we’re going to get into the meat of the Zendikar block. This block is part of a generally accepted resurgence in quality of set design, mechanics, and card quality, and it had a few mechanics that were really innovative and playable. This block also had quite a few all-star cards, which I will do my best to highlight in their respective mechanics sections. Let’s get to it!



Intimidate is a mechanic that has been reprinted and is in fact the replacement for the old “Fear” mechanic. Intimidate on an object means “This creature cannot be blocked except by creatures that share a color with it or artifact creatures.” Multiple instances of Intimidate are redundant. This is a great evasion ability in Limited; cards like Bladetusk Boar were really high picks as they were almost unblockable and probably more evasive than flyers.


This ability was used to great success in both Limited and Constructed. Landfall was printed on most every card type, and it gave an extra effect or triggered an ability if a land came into play that turn or when a new land came into play under your control. Cards like Lotus Cobra, Bloodghast, and Emeria Angel gained immediate popularity in Constructed formats, especially paired with the fetch lands that were in the Zendikar block. This let you set up turns where you could trigger Landfall multiple times in one turn and really do some degenerate things.


This was a new “tribal” mechanic in Zendikar where Allies had abilities that made your other Allies better or were extra-effective the more Allies you had on the battlefield. Cards like Nimana Sell-Sword got a +1/+1 counter on them every time an Ally entered the battlefield. These triggers act like regular triggers and can be responded to. For instance, Nimana Sell-Sword is a 2/2 that triggers to get a +1/+1 counter when it enters the battlefield; you can Shock it in response to kill it. The Ally triggers that take the number of Allies you control into account use this information when the trigger actually resolves, not when it goes onto the stack. Allies was a popular deck in Standard, using cards like Kabira Evangel, Talus Paladin, and Hada Freeblade to pump out some aggressive and evasive strategies.


Traps were a new type of instant and sorcery that would have a lower alternate cost if a certain condition was met. Most players think this is a nod to Yu-Gi-Oh trap cards where you can capitalize on the actions of your opponent and gain from them. Popular Trap cards were Baloth Cage Trap, Archive Trap, and Refraction Trap. One thing to note is that the Trap cost is an alternative cost; you don’t have to choose to use it, and you can only choose one alternate cost when casting a spell if an avenue for another alternate cost exists. A Standard deck using cards to make players draw multiple cards and hit them with Runeflare Trap was also popular, and some Vintage and Legacy lists make use of Mindbreak Trap against Storm combo decks.



Please refer to my Time Spiral, Part 1 article for information about Kicker. Multikicker works the same way except you can choose to pay the Kicker cost as many times as you wish and get the effect for each time you paid the cost. There weren’t a lot of popular Multikicker cards, although it was popular in Limited. Comet Storm was used in a few ramp strategies at the time, as it was a one-sided Wrath in Red. That strategy unfortunately was abandoned, thanks to our friend Kor Firewalker, who could laugh off a Comet Storm.


Worldwake had a cycle of enchantments that turned lands into creatures. These were called Zendikons. They were very popular in Limited; examples are Corrupted Zendikon and Wind Zendikon. An important rules note about these is that they don’t overwrite any abilities that the land had when they resolve. For instance, if you place a Corrupted Zendikon onto a land that already has a Wind Zendikon on it, it will still have Flying and now be a 3/3. When you turn a land into a creature, if you played the land that turn, it still has summoning sickness. The same is true for lands that have an activated ability that turns them into a creature; there was a cycle of these as well in Worldwake, and all of them were Constructed-playable. Some of the notables from that cycle are Celestial Colonnade, Raging Ravine, and Creeping Tar Pit.

Rise of the Eldrazi


Annihilator is a triggered ability printed on creatures that functions in the declare-attackers step. Annihilator X means “When this creature attacks, defending player must sacrifice X permanents.” Pretty sick, right? This mechanic was printed on all of the high-costed fatties called “Eldrazi.” If a creature somehow gets multiple instances of annihilator, usually through Eldrazi Conscription, they all trigger and resolve independently. This trigger goes onto the stack in the declare-attackers step; the defending player will have to sacrifice permanents before being able to declare blockers. Some popular Annihilator cards are Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. I also have to add here that Eldrazis are totally awesome and their names totally rock!

Colorless Cards

This is a new mechanic wherein you have colorless spells and permanents that are not artifacts. Examples are the Eldrazis that I named above and spells like All Is Dust. The important thing to note here is that even though their card borders might look like an artifact’s and they are indeed colorless, spells that interact with artifacts will have no effect on colorless cards.

Level Up – Levelers

This mechanic gave us a new type of card frame where you had a creature with multiple power/toughness characteristics and separate text boxes that would correspond with the “level” the creature currently is at. This is obviously a nod toward typical RPGs where you “level up” and become more powerful! Level Up is an activated ability; you pay the Level Up cost and add a level counter to the permanent with Level Up. You can only activate the Level Up ability as a sorcery. Some things to note: Since the level is tied to counters on the permanent and counters aren’t copied, if you clone a max-level Kargan Dragonlord, it will enter the battlefield as a Level 0 Kargan Dragonlord. Level Up cards made a big splash in Constructed Magic. Coralhelm Commander is still played in Legacy Merfolk. Student of Warfare and Transcendent Master were popular in Standard, and Lighthouse Chronologist is a beating in Commander.


Rebound is an interesting mechanic where your spells will do “double duty” for you. Rebound means “If this spell was cast from your hand, instead of putting it into your graveyard as it resolves, exile it and, at the beginning of your next upkeep, you may cast this card from exile without paying its mana cost.” This was a very popular mechanic, especially on instants like Staggershock where you could cast it at your opponent’s end step and then immediately cast it again on your turn for free, potentially killing two creatures or dealing 4 damage to your opponent for a bargain 3 mana. If a spell with Rebound is countered, Rebound will have no effect; the spell will be placed in the graveyard. If you cast a Rebound spell from anywhere other than your hand, like if you gave a Staggershock Flashback with Snapcaster Mage and cast it from your graveyard, Rebound will have no effect. If there is an effect like Leyline of the Void in play that already wants to replace the spell going to the graveyard, you choose which effect to apply. Generally, you want to choose Rebound here, because if you choose the Leyline replacement, the spell won’t Rebound. If you go to cast the spell a second time from exile and you can’t because of something like no legal targets, the spell remains in exile forever and does not attempt to Rebound on your future upkeeps.

Totem Armor

Totem Armor was found on Auras, and it basically gave whatever it was enchanting a free regeneration shield. Totem Armor on an Aura means, “If enchanted creature would be destroyed, instead remove all damage from it and destroy this aura.” Multiple instances of Totem Armor on the same Aura are redundant, and if you have a creature with multiple Totem Armor Auras on it, you choose which one to use if the creature would be destroyed. Another neat interaction is between regeneration and Totem Armor. If you have a creature with Regenerate enchanted with Totem Armor, you can activate the regeneration ability and choose to use that replacement instead of the Totem Armor replacement, keeping your creature alive and still keeping the Aura in play. If a creature would be destroyed by multiple state-based actions, like lethal damage and Deathtouch, Totem Armor will replace all of them at once and save the creature.

Well, that’s the block of Zendikar. As you can see, there is a lot of power in this set, and a lot of the cards are still very popular today in Constructed formats like Modern and Legacy. Stay tuned for next week, when we get into Scars of Mirrodin!