Friday, 23 October 2015

MTGO: a look at the new Devoid mechanic in Battle for Zendikar

Magic: The Gathering's new expansion has brought several interesting game mechanics into the mix including the brand new Devoid mechanic. Actually in some ways it's not new at all as "Devoid" simply means devoid of colour, colorless in game terms, and that's a trait that has been a property of artifacts and land since the start of Magic. And that in turn leads to other interesting mechanic opportunities as lands, awakened lands, morphs, artifact creatures and items are all subject  to interactions with the new cards.

In addition some of the Devoid cards have a secondary mechanic system going: the Ingest/Process system. The way this works is that Processors can apply powerful effects by moving a card from the exile pile into the graveyard pile. However normally the exile pile is empty. That's where the Ingest mechanic comes in, a special ability on some creatures that moves the top card of an opponent's library into exile. This has the appealing and probably accidental side-effect of causing distress in an opponent when a vital card is consumed. (Actually it all averages out in that end, the Ingest is just as likely to bring a key card to the top by clearing trash out of the way).

Let's start by looking at each colour's Devoid spells. (By the way you won't be able to search them out by colour on the Gatherer database as quite properly they're not tagged with any colour). If you want to see the cards while reading this just use the search term "Devoid."

Black: Black has lots of Ingest creatures although they lack the evasion of the Blue Ingest creatures.  It's worth mentioning how good the humble Sludge Crawler is at getting though as it comes down on turn 1 and threatens to pump, perhaps without actually needing to.

Ingest/exile creatures:

Culling Drone B1 - averageDominator Drone B2 - average
Fathom Feeder BU - ridiculously good.
Sire of Stagnation BU4 Very strong.
Sludge Crawler B - really effective

Spells that exile a card.

Complete Disregard B2 Strong
Grave Birthing B2 Useful cantrip. +1 scion.
Grip of Desolation BB4 ridiculously good.
Trangress the Mind B1 average

Processor/consumer creatures 

Mind Raker B3 Average
Ulamog's Nullifer BU2 Excellent
Wasteland Strangler B2 Very strong

Other Devoid creatures.

Brood Butcher BG3  Very strong
Catacomb Sifter BG1 Strong
Dust Stalker BR2 Decent aggro creature, can be used as a Dash creature.
Forerunner of Slaughter BR - Strong aggro creature, can Haste your whole team as they come in. 
Silent Skimmer B3 Strong
Skitterskin B3 Decent aggro creature.
Smothering Abomination BB2 Strong, requires sacrifice creatures.

Devoid spells

Swarm Surge B2 bit of a win more card imo.

Blue. Has the best Ingest tech.

Ingest/exile creatures:

Benthic Infiltrator U2 - outstanding for Ingest decks, probably the best Ingest creature.
Fathom Feeder BU - ridiculously good.
Mist Intruder U1 - decent Ingest creature.
Ruination Guide U2 - Very strong, anthem for colorless creatures (+1,+0)
Salvage Drone U - Weak.
Sire of Stagnation BU4 Very strong.

Spells that exile a card.

Brutal Expulsion UR2 - Very strong, worth noting that this can bounce your own processor creatures so they can be dropped again to apply the effect a second time. (It even feeds you the exiled card you'll need).
Horribly Awry U1 - mediocre counter spell that exiles.
Spell Shrivel U2 - average counterspell.

Processor/consumer creatures 

Cryptic Cruiser U3 - Decent. Process to tap.
Murk Strider U3 - Strong. Process to bounce a creature.
Oracle of Dust U4 - Decent. Process to loot.
Ulamog's Nullifer BU2 Excellent. Flash flier, process to counterspell.
Ulamog's Reclaimer U4 - Strong, regrows an instant or sorcery spell.

Other Devoid creatures.

Drowner of Hope U5 - Decent. +2 scions, consumes scions.
Eldrazi Skyspawner U2 - Strong. +1 scion.
Herald of Kozilek UR1 - Strong. Reduces cost of all colorless spells by one colorless mana.
Incubator Drone U3 - average. +1 scion.
Tide Drifter U1 - decent, anthem to colorless +0,+1.

Devoid spells

Adverse conditions U3 - Average +1 scion.

Green. Green Devoid tech is more often built around the Sacrifice a Scion mechanic than the Ingest/Process mechanic and is a strong colour to include if you want plenty of bodies to sacrifice.

Processor/consumer creatures 

Void Attendant G2 Strong. Pumps out scions.

Other Devoid creatures.

Blisterpod G. Decent. 1 scion.
Brood Butcher BG3  Very strong. Eats scions, starts with one.
Brood Monitor GG4 Strong. 3 Scions.
Catacomb Sifter BG1 Strong. 1 Scion
Eyeless Watcher G3 Decent. 2 Scions.

Devoid spells

Call the Scions. G2. Decent. 2 scions
Unnatural Aggression G2. Average.


From Beyond G3 - Excellent, gets bonus points for the HP Lovecraft reference. Pumps out scions.


Ingest/exile creatures:

Vile Aggregate R2 - Excellent.

Spells that exile a card.

Brutal Expulsion UR2 - Very strong, worth noting that this can bounce your own processor creatures so they can be dropped again to apply the effect a second time. (It even feeds you the exiled card you'll need).
Crumble to Dust R3 - Strong in the Standard meta against some decks. Probably unplayable in Limited.
Touch of the Void. R2 - Decent.

Consumer spell

Processor Assault R1 - decent if you can count on early Ingest.

Other Devoid creatures.

Barrage Tyrant R4 - Strong. Eats creatures.
Dust Stalker BR2 Decent aggro creature, can be used as a Dash creature.
Forerunner of Slaughter BR - Strong aggro creature, can Haste your whole team as they come in.
Herald of Kozilek UR1 - Strong. Reduces cost of all colorless spells by one colorless mana.
Kozilek's Sentinel R1 - Decent.
Nettle Drone R2 - Strong
Vestige of Emrakul R3 - Average.

Devoid spells

Serpentine Spike RR5 Very strong in Limited, possibly a bit too conditional in Constructed.
Turn Against R4 Strong.


Molten Nursery R2 Seems weak although someone's bound to come up with an abusive deck in Contructed. 


Doesn't get this mechanic!

Colorless (ie no colored mana in casting cost).

Ingest/exile creatures:

Bane of Bala Ged 7 - Very strong
Oblivion Sower 6 - Very strong
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 10 - Complete bomb, you won't lack for processor fuel if he gets to attack.

Spells that exile a card.

Aligned Hedron Network 4 - possibly unplayable unless you build around it.
Scour from existence. 7 - average.
Titan's Presence 3 - Decent in colorless decks, otherwise unplayable.

Processor creatures

Blight Herder 5 - Strong, +3 scions.
Ruin Processor 7 - Decent
Ulamog's Despoiler 6 - Strong if it gets to process.

Other Devoid creatures.

Conduit of Ruin 6 Strong in ramp strategy.
Deathless Behemoth 6 Consumes scions

Devoid spells

Gruesome Slaughter 6 Needs to be built around, otherwise seems weak.


Spawning Bed 0 - Strong. Sac for+3 scions.

Archtypes summary 

There are 3 main archtypes associated with the Devoid cards. These don't necessarily synergise with each other, for example spewing out Scions won't necessarily help with an Ingest/Processor strategy.

The Colorless strategies.

Many of the new cards synergise with Colorless spells and creatures. These also synergise with artifact creatures and awakened lands.  In Limited note that there is some hate built in for this archtype. There are two artifacts that punish colorless creatures in BFZ. Neither are especially popular but that may change as the meta swings towards the more common use of colorless strategies. I had quite an interesting play in a Sealed match. I ran my 2/2 out with the arrows attached and my opponent blocked with his 2/3. I then moved the arrows to another creature and pinged for 1 damage.

None of the set reviews I've watched had much time for the arrows but pinging has a long tradition in MtG and combos well with some mechanics like -2/-2 or First Strike.

 There's also one artifact creature, a 1/1 flier that's an afterthought of a land draw spell but which becomes a capable aerial threat when Ruination Guide is about. In Standard the cards should synergise in interesting ways, particularly Origins which had a Thopter theme for its Blue Red cards.

The Scion strategies.

A number of cards in the set feed off Eldrazi scions or produce them. The scions themselves are useful comboing well with When a creature dies effects or anthems etc. In Standard Grim Haruspex is a card which is popular with scion swarming decks. The ramp effect of the Scions shouldn't be discounted, a Turn 4 Grip of Desolation could destroy a player who's struggling to get his mana base online. It's very useful for smoothing your curve so if you don't have a Turn 3 play you could get your turn 4 play down by saccing a Scion. In Limited they probably work best if conserved to enable top end spells or powerful turns where multiple spells are cast. They also enable reactive play so if you were almost tapped out but had one Blue up you could Spell Shrivel for two scions or just threaten it.

The Ingest/Processor strategies.

In Limited this is a difficult strategy to Draft and a fortunate strategy to find in your Sealed Pool. You absolutely need both parts of the combo and most of the cards are weak without that. You don't want to be casting 3/3s for 4 mana if you can't activate their special abilities nor do you want to heavily Ingest your opponent's Library if you lack cards that can apply punch. DarkestMage has uploaded footage of his PTQ win which was pretty awesome and relied heavily on a pair of Ulamog's Nullifiers plus several other Ingest/Processor synergies.

In Standard this strategy is very much complicated by the existence of older cards that use the exile mechanic. Annafenza in particular is an amazing Ingest engine. Players will self ingest - in my Atarka Red deck I have Abbots and Delve which fill the exiled pile up very nicely. In fact there's an interesting minigame around Delve versus Ingest/Process. The person using Delve can choose whether to flood his exiled pile which then opens the opportunity for the Processor player to punish him. So good decisions are needed on whether to expose yourself to this. For instance if there are no cards in my graveyard then I cast Become Immense the opponent can counter it with Ulamog's Nullifier using cards that I just paid the casting cost with (I think that's how it works anyway). These complex interactions are the heart of Magic.

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