We went there and we're back again! Zendikar Rising, releasing on 25 September 2020 (17 September on the digital platforms) marks the third time we visit the dangerous and magnificent plane of Zendikar. Last time we were on Nahiri and Nissa's home, the desperate Eldrazi battle still raged on. But now that the eldritch titans have been vanquished, the plane is nicely healing, returning us to the world of wonder and adventure that we experienced the first time around – all the way back in 2009-2010, with the original Zendikar and its follow-up Worldwake.
The core identity of any Zendikar-based set resides in its land synergies. Zendikar is a plane where the land comes alive and takes strange, wondrous forms, simultaneously beautiful and treacherous. As widely expected, Zendikar Rising brings back the signature landfall mechanic, which produces positive effects every time one of your lands drops onto the battlefield. But the land theme takes one step forward, introducing a revolutionary new version of the double-faced cards, the modal double-faced cards (or MDFCs). Unlike their transforming counterparts that debuted on Innistrad, MDFCs can't be turned over to their back side; instead, they are played as either of their sides right away, essentially becoming an advanced version of the split spells, one that allows for more text and for the presence of permanents on one or both sides. This new kind of card will be the leitmotif of post-rotation Standard, linking together the three premier sets of 2020-2021, namely Zendikar Rising (i.e. the Fall set), Kaldheim (the Winter set), and Strixhaven: School of Mages (the Spring set).
There's a total of six complete MDFC cycles in Zendikar Rising (one appearing at mythic, one at rare, three at uncommon), and Zendikar being the land paradise that it is, all MDFCs in the set feature a land on the back side – a fact that alone will change the way mana bases are built since each of these lands carries a spell on the front, sometimes a very powerful late-game play like Agadeem's Awakening and Turntimber Symbiosis. Even more relevant is the incomplete Pathway cycle, six MDFCs with a land on each side, entering the battlefield untapped; they act as the new dual lands for Standard, and the missing four will be released within Kaldheim.
Zendikar is also the world of over-the-top effects and grand adventure. To represent the former, the kicker mechanic is back, presenting the choice of casting the same spell in a much grandiose way, provided extra mana is funneled into it. Furthermore, the world's most daring adventurers and their trailblazing Equipment will gather around the novel party mechanic, a keyword that offers an array of different advantages and bonuses based on the presence on your battlefield of up to four creatures that embody the classic "adventuring party" composition – to have a full party, in fact, you'll need a Cleric, a Rogue, a Warrior, and a Wizard. Incomplete parties still provide some benefits to "party matters" cards, but every Dungeons & Dragons player knows you'd better make sure you have each of those skill sets available before embarking on an adventure. And party definitely looks like preparation for the upcoming Forgotten Realms cross-over between Magic and D&D, releasing Summer 2021 in lieu of the core set.
After the near-apocalypse caused by the Eldrazi, Zendikar might be healing better than anticipated, but its most powerful native daughter, the ancient planeswalker Nahiri, is still not happy. She seeks an end to the Roil, the massive planewide turbulence that causes Zendikar to have violent, unpredictable weather and unstable terrain. With her new incarnation of Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients, she's amassing an army of Warriors, while also returning to her beloved Equipment theme (she's a Kor like Stoneforge Mystic, after all). At the same time, one other prominent Zendikari planeswalker, the Elf Nissa, is both helping Nahiri in her quest, and advising her against playing god with such gigantic forces. Nissa of Shadowed Boughs sees the animist's first incarnation that dips into black, a change that involves getting menace as a new keyword for her animated lands, as well as a more direct interaction with the graveyard. Finally, Jace gets called on Zendikar by Nissa, requiring assistance to face Nahiri's increasingly destructive plans. Jace, Mirror Mage is the first planeswalker with kicker, employed to create his illusionary clone as a double of himself. All the three planeswalkers in the set come with alternative borderless art, while all the landfall cards get the showcase treatment, and the Pathways and basic lands have full-art versions. An extended-art style for Orah, Skyclave Hierophant is the set's Buy-a-Box promo, but Orah is found in regular boosters as well, ending the practice of having Buy-a-Box promos as exclusive cards.
Among the other most notable legendary cards in the set, Omnath, Locus of Creation sees the Elemental acquiring a fourth color, while Ashaya, Soul of the Wild is the first time Nissa's best friend is given a card, after appearing solely as the token for Nissa, Sage Animist.