Plane Shift Your 5E D&D Game Into Magic: The Gathering — Zendikar
On July 16, 2021 Wizards of the Coast releases Adventures in the Forgotten Realms — the first Dungeons & Dragons themed expansion for Magic: The Gathering, which lands in place of what would typically be a Core Set. The D&D expansion for MTG represents a true collaboration between these two Hasbro teams. But did you know there’s six times MTG crossed over into fifth edition D&D even before Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Odysseys of Theros? Amonkhet, Dominaria, Innistrad, Kaladesh, Zendikar and Ixalan all Plane Shift-ed over to 5E D&D through terrific titles available free from Dungeon Master’s Guild. Let’s get into it.
MTG chocolate in 5E D&D peanut butter
Crossing over the worlds of D&D with the planes of MTG thrills me as a card flopper and if I’m honest it’s equally exciting to see the crossover move in the opposite direction too. My favorite tabletop game by far (next to D&D) is MTG. My affection for the seminal CCG may even surpass the world’s greatest roleplaying game. The official entry of MTG into 5E D&D came in the form of Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica and remains one of my favorite titles for this iteration of the game. Another MTG plane in the 5E D&D sphere comes through Mythic Odysseys of Theros and unsurprisingly it’s another favorite title.
In preparation for GGtR’s release back in 2016 and 2017 WotC game designer and writer James Wyatt put together several fantastic digital books as 5E D&D supplements to represent various MTG planes for gamers who love rolling those funny shaped dice. It’s been several years since those releases and with tremendous numbers of new players discovering 5E D&D along with the imminent Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set on the horizon (with an MTG revisit to Innistrad right behind!) it feels like a terrific opportunities to revisit 5E D&D Plane Shift ourselves and rediscover all the awesome material within.
“From the beginning, Magic’s plane of Zendikar was conceived as an “adventure world” where parties of explorers delve into ancient ruins in search of wonders and treasures, fighting the monsters they encounter on the way.”— James Wyatt, Plane Shift: Zendikar introduction
World of Zendikar
I don’t follow the lore of MTG much at all but I’m familiar with the various planes and their main themes through the cards. Zendikar remains largely mysterious to me even more than usual and my suspicion is this MTG plane’s focus is on the land itself. There’s certainly lots of land cards in the expansions and no small number of references to the Landfall keyword. I’m a big old nerd for land-based deck interactions mostly due to Tatyova, Benthic Druid, a longtime favorite card of mine.
The gorgeous illustrations straight from the MTG cards and the introduction to Plane Shift: Zendikar go a long way to illustrating the focus for this particular plane. I love how Zendikar is meant to be an adventure world from the start and this concept carries through in my own 5E D&D experiences. Gimme those ancient ruins and uncharted fantastic wilds any day! Floating landmasses and strange polyhedral stone monoliths feature prominently in all the Zendikar art and really draw me into the setting.
In fact Zendikar is very strongly focused on the land itself and the challenges it presents. Perilous terrain and natural disasters represent some of the greatest dangers of adventuring in these lands. This translates as powerful support for the exploration pillar of 5E D&D and there’s even a manifestation called the Roil to further enhance this aspect, which causes spontaneous magical phenomena anywhere and any time. But the land isn’t the only danger in Zendikar. Terribly powerful entities called Eldrazi inhabit this plane as well.
Plane Shift: Zendikar provides a great overview of this plane and the adventuresome possibilities, touching on potential villains and adversaries along with hints at many locations and a handful of details to spark imaginations for new 5E D&D scenarios. In general these Plane Shift documents are wonderful resources for developing a campaign setting. They’re easily digestible and contain so many great ideas without being a cumbersome source with too much information.
Races of Zendikar
The planes of MTG are populated by all manner of creatures. Much like Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica and Mythic Odysses of Theros in 5E D&D context there’s curated options for playable character races. Sure, most people ignore these and play whatever they want but nevertheless the material does exist for those seeking to stay within the design parameters. In Zendikar players can choose from the following race options for their 5E D&D characters:
- Human. Mechanically the humans of Zendikar are identical to those found in the 5E D&D Player’s Handbook — notably not the variant human clone found in Amonkhet. There’s also wonderful details to explain how humans fit into the Zendikar plane.
- Kor. A culture adapted to life in Zendikar the athletic kor people developed supreme skill at traversing the challenging landscape of the plane. Kor receive some great features and traits along with evocative lore and I suspect many 5E D&D players find this character option appealing.
- Merfolk. These aquatic humanoids are a staple in MTG planes and in Zendikar there’s two distinct subraces. One aligns with the Wind Realm and gains some social skills plus a druid cantrip while the other speaks to the Water Realm with exploration skills and a wizard cantrip. A third variety self separates and aligns with chaotic forces to gain some roguish skills and a bard cantrip.
- Vampires. One of our more popular posts provides several tips for playing a vampire character in 5E D&D but between the dhampir in the upcoming Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and the vampires of Zendikar players can choose from several takes on these fantasy favorites. Interestingly the vampires in Zendikar are not undead but instead suffer from an eldritch disease.
- Goblins. A huge part of MTG lore goblins show up all over the planes. In Zendikar goblins are represented by three subraces. Not much comes from these options but the core goblin race itself boasts some nifty features like two types of damage resistance and natural armor.
- Elves. On Zendikar elves vary slightly from the base 5E D&D race option and further differentiate themselves through three subraces with some interesting features. As if we don’t already have plenty of elf subraces! But elves have always been super popular and these are a slightly different take. From a flavor or mechanical perspective I’m sure the elves of Zendikar appeal to lots of players.
A Zendikar Bestiary
I really appreciate how these Plane Shift documents not only include new monsters for 5E D&D with both stat blocks and the evocative lore we’ve all come to expect but also how they include guidance for using existing monsters for these special campaign settings.
I’m of a mind it’s a super useful idea for a Dungeon Master to create their own curated list of monsters for a campaign setting. It’s kinda ridiculous to assume all the creatures from the Monster Manual exist on the same world. It’s an incredibly fun and rewarding exercise to comb through your favorite monster books and make a list of the creatures featuring most prominently for your setting and adventures. This lends a lot of flavor and serves as a helpful guide.
- Angels. Excellent lore and how to represent Zendikar angels in 5E D&D using existing monsters with a few tweaks.
- Archons. There is a stat block for these celestial creatures but they also illustrate the power of reskinning monsters. Sometimes a great description sells the sizzle more than funky new mechanics.
- Griffins. Flying mounts make a tremendous difference for Zendikar adventurers and while these cat-bird hybrids are short on lore and mechanics they illustrate an important aspect of the setting.
- Felidars. Basically celestial beasts felidar are catlike creatures with unicorn like features and I’m totally here for it. On a side note the art looks very reminiscent of some of the monsters from the Ikoria MTG set. I love the Mutate keyword and it wasn’t until going over this Zendikar stuff I realize maybe some of the monsters from the Lair of Behemoths expansion are felidar. At any rate the stat block is awesome! Felidar feel like they’d fit right in with the good monsters we came up with too.
- Sphinxes. Amazing monsters that don’t get nearly enough credit or use in 5E D&D this entry includes Zendikar specific lore of course.
- Drakes. In Amonkhet these staple MTG creatures are basically dinosaurs but here in Zendikar they encompass not only dinos but other beasts as well.
- Krakens. Yep you read this correct — there’s more than one lurking in the deepest reaches of Zendikar’s seas. These krakens share more similarity with storm giants than the creature of the same name in the Monster Manual and there’s a stat block to prove it.
- Surrakar. I’ve never heard of these critters and based on the very brief lore coupled with advice to reskin lizardfolk I’m guessing they never caught on and weren’t very prominent to begin with.
- Gomazoa. Scant on info and pointing towards reskinning a roper these very unusual creatures showcase one very important aspect I hadn’t thought of yet when it comes to Zendikar. Because of the Roil on this plane the seas and skies blur together and creatures often found beneath the waves sometimes float through the clouds above.
- Other Creatures of the Seas. Giant versions of otherwise mundane beasts teem in the dangerous waters of Zendikar. In my experience giant versions of creatures from our own world often make for some of the most scary scenarios in 5E D&D.
- Demons. Let’s face it — demons are demons. There’s some associated lore but for the most part it’s universal. Demons are grotesque and exist to bring pain and misery.
- Venomous Vermin. The poison of Zendikar festers in dark places and infuses all manner of creatures with deadly toxin. As long as that stupid Fynn, the Fangbearer doesn’t show up y’all ought to be fine though. I freakin’ hate that card. Poison on the other hand is a topic we recently explored in depth!
- The Restless Undead. I really like how this section explains how undead interact with the Zendikar setting and how various cultures feel about this. Throughout this Plane Shift document I’ve come to appreciate the tips and tricks for presenting what already exists in new ways. This is very informative stuff.
- Dragons. What’s D&D without dragons, right? In Zendikar dragons aren’t the highly intelligent creatures they are in standard D&D lore. Instead this plane only has red dragons and their Intelligence is reduced.
- Giants. It’s all about curating the monsters in your world, reskinning and incorporating fresh storytelling elements. Invaluable skills for a GM to pick up.
- Ogres. There’s some setting specific lore but it seems no matter what plane your adventures take place on ogres are ogres and pretty much the same.
- Minotaurs. The folks at MTG sure love minotaurs and so do we! On Zendikar there’s nothing really special about these classic monsters.
- Hydras, Wurms, Hellions. Monstrous reptilian and insectoid creatures are great! I love these sorts of monsters and at this point you won’t be surprised to learn there’s reskinning guidance along with some Zendikar lore for incorporating awesome monsters like these.
- Trolls. Pretty much identical to standard 5E D&D trolls both in lore and certainly in mechanics.
- Beasts. One of the larger sections this part touches on the ecology of Zendikar and describes some of the native beasts, which you guessed it — they’re reskinned versions of existing creatures with setting specific lore.
- Elementals. Because of the Roil and Zendikar’s overall focus on the land itself elementals feature quite prominently in the setting. In fact they’re so powerfully representative the text suggests reskinning incredibly powerful monsters as elementals like a demilich, empyrean or even tarrasque! If you really want to lean into the elementals for your Zendikar adventures (or any adventures) you’ll dig the Elemental Kin templates we came up with that you can slap on any creature you want.
- Artificial Creatures. There’s even a robust construct population on Zendikar! This plane really has everything doesn’t it? Reskin, reflavor, repeat. Easy peasy.
- Eldrazi. You couldn’t wait to find out more about these horrifying entities right? More space is devoted to the interplanar destroyers than any other monsters in Zendikar and with good reason — they’re so incredibly impactful. In MTG when an Eldrazi hits the board it’s usually time to scoop. Based on the reskinning guidance along with the suggested modifications 5E D&D adventurers may suffer the same fate. For example an Eldrazi SPAWN could be represented by something as simpile as a violet fungus. Except immune to psychic damage and the charmed and blinded conditions, with blindsight, Life Drain and how about a slaad infection like feature for good measure.
You can check out our other delves into the Plane Shift documents for 5E D&D through the Plane Shift category. If you’re interested in Zendikar, any of the other Plane Shift documents or MTG in 5E D&D in general here’s where to find such things. Remember — every Plane Shift document is 100% free at DM’s Guild, which you’ll find here:
- Plane Shift: Amonkhet
- Plane Shift: Dominaria
- Plane Shift: Innistrad
- Plane Shift: Ixalan and X Marks the Spot — A Plane Shift: Ixalan Adventure
- Plane Shift: Kaladesh
- Plane Shift: Zendikar
*Featured image — Zendikar’s riches in mana and other wealth has made it a destination for Planeswalkers to explore and exploit. The promise of this is also enough to lure in various local explorers and adventurers. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]