Hedrons: The Drain MechanicEdit
Inhabitants of Zendikar had their first hint that something was up when they laid sight on the innumerable hedrons dotting the land. These large, oftentimes floating blocks of stone were filled with mysterious insignias, glyphs, and runes, none of which the races of the land could decode. However, sometimes the most obvious clues are also the most hidden from sight. After centuries of living in lands adjacent to these gigantic blocks, everyone treated them as part of the terrain and relatively few believed that they would have some ulterior purpose still relevant to life in the present. Hedrons are so common in Zendikar, in fact, that Alternate Rise features the Hedron as a token card.
The hedrons of Zendikar and Worldwake are asleep, as were the gigantic creatures of the past they safeguarded. During all that time no one realized why these artifacts even existed. With the awakening of the Eldrazi, however, the hedrons have awoken as well. Their primary reason for being is to sap the power from the Eldrazi, making it so that the peoples of Zendikar's past stood a chance in fighting these titanic creatures, in the process absorbing the mana that the Eldrazi were known to collect. The peoples of ancient Zendikar had an order of lithomancers, magi of the stone if you will, who used the only magic they knew to combat the Eldrazi when they first appeared from the Blind Eternities. As the war progressed and more of the world's mana was devoured by the Eldrazi, the lithomancers began running out of the mana with which to craft their spells of stone. Having seen the terrible power of the Eldrazi magic, the lithomancers devised runes and glyphs for their artifacts of stone that were basically imitations of the Eldrazi's absorptive auras. This was the turning point in the war against the Eldrazi. Without spending any mana, the hedrons could weaken creatures to the point that they became helpless, all the while storing or channeling the mana absorbed in this way. In a sense, the hedrons' own existence came about because of the arrival of the Eldrazi to Zendikar.
Hedrons primarily have a single mechanic, Drain, which is ": Target creature has -1/-0 until end of turn. Add to your mana pool." This meshes perfectly with the role of hedrons as the prison keepers of the Eldrazi. With the world literally swarming with hedrons, the Eldrazi soon lacked the power to combat them, and eventually were so drained by the hedrons that they fell into an interminable stupor. Meanwhile, because the Eldrazi were so massive and tough, even the forces of Zendikar and the magic of the lithomancers were not enough to destroy them; hence they were content to merely seal away the Eldrazi, either in underground catacombs the lithomancers created and then lured the weakened Eldrazi into, or simply on the plane's surface. Over the course of time, Zendikar grew over the slumbering bodies of the Eldrazi, burying them underneath meters of earth and stone. By the current time, no vestiges of the Eldrazi were left visible.
The ultimate hedron was the Eye of Ugin, the final creation of the lithomancers that ended the war with the Eldrazi. The Eye of Ugin had taken the Eldrazi's absorptive auras one step further to the point of actually trapping away the Eldrazi into itself. Should the Eye ever be broken, hundreds of Eldrazi would be freed. But for the interceding millennia, the energies the slumbering Eldrazi took away from the land would be stolen away by the Eye of Ugin and returned to replenish the land in a perpetual cycle.
However, not all was well with the hedron strategy. Over the course of centuries, more and more of the hedrons became corrupted by the auras of the Eldrazi, an influence which the lithomancers could not have foreseen in their short lifespans. And as the hedrons became corrupted, they began stealing energies from the world and returning them to the Eldrazi, gradually lifting them from their slumber. Also, the hedrons stood guard, waiting for their Eldrazi masters to awaken, when the hedrons could accompany them in the second war for Zendikar.
Given the theme of the set, you'd expect a lot of very large, very powerful creatures, as well as the attendant mana issues. Alternate Rise solves this problem, not by using the Eldrazi Spawn tokens used by canon Rise, but by the use of the hedrons' Drain mechanic, which can essentially give you one colorless mana each turn. (You can't play hedron tokens directly but as you'll see there are plenty of other hedron-like artifact cards that have Drain.) Not only does this make it easier to get out multiple Eldrazi into play in a single game for even more chaos and destruction, but it is also a terrific boon to the level-up creatures widespread in Alternate Rise. Essentially if you're playing Eldrazi you would want to play with hedrons - their weakening powers will prevent opposing players' creatures from doing too much damage to you early game before you have time to play your large Eldrazi, while simultaneously giving you the mana you'll need to put those giants into play as quickly as possible. And for players who aren't using Eldrazi, the weakening powers of the hedrons can be essential in keeping your leveling creatures alive while you stave off enemy attackers and level up your own creatures, not to mention consistently giving you more mana with which to level up - an incredibly mana-intensive strategy!
The Mysterious HedronsEdit
Zendikar's countless hedrons aren't all the same. Granted, many of them are alike, but those are merely the "grunt" hedrons. Here I display some of the larger, improved versions:
The flavor for Hedron Triad is simple. Hedrons are individually too weak to act alone, so they usually establish formations which allow them to be much more powerful. The Hedron Triad here is essentially three hedrons in terms of its ability to nullify an enemy's attacks. Especially once the Eldrazi were freed and began striking down the hedrons, having enough hedrons around to prevent the Eldrazi from doing anything would be essential to stalling them.
Of course, just weakening the Eldrazi isn't enough - after all, they aren't your normal creatures, and can have some pretty powerful effects when they attack (much like in canon Rise). Specialized hedrons could entirely shut down an Eldrazi, freezing them in place with the mana obtained from the draining abilities of the other Eldrazi.
The hedrons could levitate too, as Warning Stones indicates. Oftentimes the hedrons would arrive at towns and cities prior to an Eldrazi invasion and establish a formation. Although the hedrons never fought the Eldrazi directly, could not communicate with the locals, and were often destroyed in the crossfire, their mere presence gave the races of Zendikar ample warning as well as helped in the battle against the Eldrazi, usually with their formations lined up in such a constant way that the defenders below knew exactly where the Eldrazi would be heading from.
Voltaic Hedron doesn't just give you mana. It also allows you to empower your creatures, using the energies that were stolen from opposing creatures (say, the Eldrazi). This is another example of what the Hedron's Drain mechanic and flavor is capable of doing. Even better, no matter how it's tapped (Drain or otherwise), it generates charge counters, so it only has to Drain a creature once to add +1/+1 counters on your creatures continuously! This card gets even better in a deck with leveler creatures, because many of the levelers in Alternate Rise don't gain attack power when they level up, and these counters make them that much more dangerous in battle. While the rest of the set doesn't do much with charge counters, this is still a very good card to have alongside an artifact-driven deck with cards like Magistrate's Scepter, which love charges.
The Eldrazi are mighty indeed, and some of them have power levels that are just phenomenal. Even the mightiest of false gods is, however, rendered no stronger than an ordinary mortal by the Rhombic Capstone. Its static ability sets all the base powers of creatures with power greater than four to just four, and it has a Drain ability on top of that. Include this with a deck full of hedrons, and no matter how powerful the opponent's creatures are, they'll all be incapacitated. Especially if they're playing Eldrazi and have pitifully few creatures out on the board.
The ancient lithomancers knew that for the hedron strategy to work long-term they would need a way of periodically replenishing the hedrons lost to erosion, wear and tear, and accidents. To this end they created special "factory" hedrons that could generate additional hedrons; the strategy worked for an incredibly long time. However, the lithomancers had not expected all of the Eldrazi to have been freed so quickly and suddenly; the replicating stones were after all no substitute for an order of lithomancers. The efforts of these artifact factories were quickly rendered futile once the Eldrazi truly escaped.
Learning from the energies from the Blind Eternities that the Eldrazi brought with them, the lithomancers crafted hedrons that used that same kind of power, sometimes to trap rampaging Eldrazi into an alternate dimension, and sometimes to help besieged lithomancers escape destruction. However, the lithomancers never fully understood how to traverse the barrier between planes and the Blind Eternities - very few ever do - and thus were never able to truly banish the Eldrazi from Zendikar.
Transplanar Hedron is an awesome anti-creature card. Not only does it weaken them when they can attack, but it also prevents them from attacking every other turn by phasing them out. If you then destroy this card while all the enemies' creatures are phased out, they're trapped indefinitely! It'll be interesting to see how players use this card by making sure that they play all their creatures on alternate turns so that once the Transplanar Hedron leaves play, all their creatures will have just returned from being phased out!
Many hedrons were corrupted by the Eldrazi, especially the ones slumbering on the ground that later was covered up by newly grown forests and swamps. The corrupted hedrons turned against other hedrons, rendering them ineffective.
Hedron Field is a good counter to Hedron decks and more generally to artifact-based decks in general (especially Affinity decks) and decks that rely on artifacts to provide mana (especially Hedron decks). Furthermore, because it allows you to untap two artifact creatures each turn, you'll be able to attack with your Eldrazi no problem (you'll rarely wind up with more than two Eldrazi in play and still be getting nowhere towards victory).
Not all hedrons stood by the sidelines and waited for the lithomancers to mop up the war. Some hedrons could change into a form that would be able to attack the Eldrazi - and it certainly helped that the hedrons were made of stone and could levitate. There just weren't enough of them to be able to stop a full-on Eldrazi attack.
Legacies Of The LithomancersEdit
The lithomancers did a bit more than just create hedrons, however. As their mastery of stone grew through the war, they developed a few new tricks, some of which remain to the present day. One spell remained in the catacombs of the Eldrazi as a safety spell, just in case the Eldrazi ever broke free - Lithomorph:
This is the fastest way to get lots of hedrons into play. While this spell isn't powerful enough to strike an Eldrazi, it can target other creatures. This is especially good in a defensive deck, since such a deck will tend to have cards with higher mana relative to power. Against players who aren't using Eldrazi, this can be devastating. Against levelers this can be a game-winner - imagine turning an opponent's fully leveled up creature into hedrons that nullify the rest of that player's enraged army.
Another great legacy of the lithomancers, the Keening Cube watches over the other hedrons. And damn it's powerful! This absolutely shuts down leveler strategies. It is just as effective against many other strategies that involve activated abilities, and levelers end to have lots of activated abilities as well. When opponents have to pay esentially double the mana for everything, you're well on the way to victory. This card is incredibly powerful in Alternate Rise, though particularly more reasonable in other formats. As you'll see later, a good third of levelers don't actually use mana to level up, making certain strategies particularly good counters against decks with Keening Cubes. This is also a good anti-Hedron card, and will definitely prevent your opponents from using Hedrons to speed out their Eldrazi ahead of schedule.
Incredibly powerful against Artifact decks and essentially anyone who plays with colorless stuff (Eldrazi, hint hint), the Stone of Antiquity is going to seal away the Eldrazi for a long time. And I mean a really, really long time. At its cost of a mere four mana, it's a terrifically overpowered colorless hoser. (Hey, Affinity is an uberpowered deck, and that Affinity mechanic is really something.)
Back in the days of the lithomancers, the Eldrazi were destroying their creations constantly with their aura of devastation. After a while the lithomancers discovered the truth behind that aura and began creating artifacts that would counter such powers. The product was a truly fearsome hedron-like stone that prevented the Eldrazi from harming anything by merely staring at it like they could back at the beginning of the war. Note that the Silent Stone only affects triggered abilities and not activated ones, so your level up mechanics still work and your hedrons still work - it just blots out all the background stuff the likes of which the Eldrazi carry around with them.