If you like the art and want to see bigger versions of the the pieces, this is for you. If you are on the fence, read on.
Its a huge tome. Its only 240 pages with full color (obviously). Since the heavy paper stock used is pretty thick, its weightier than one might think (which actually makes the reading experience a little bit awkward).
Most of the book consists of art pieces from cards as well as promotional material, but there’s also plenty of context. The places, the people, the other inhabitants and the story is explained. Maybe not in great detail, but enough of it to know what’s going on. And Zendikar seems to be the place for this. Being a world where ‘land matters’, there’s plenty of nice, sweeping landscaped not only on the land cards, but other cards as well. Seeing those in larger form works quite nicely, although it does seem to favor certain colors more than others.
The text makes a pretty good world guide. You could ostensively run an RPG campaign on Zendikar based on this book alone, if you are inclined to use a system where the numbers aren’t everything or you are inclined to do the numbers yourself. It might have less text than most such books for RPGs, but the additional art brings the world alive in a much more visceral way, although the fact that this basically explains two different versions of the same world (pre and post the rise of the Eldrazi) might cause problems. Also, in some cases you still probably need knowledge of the cards to understand some of these things, especially magic, which is often just mentioned off-handedly.
In some cases the descriptions lead to me feel some of the stuff in there isn’t actually needed to make the world work and only exists because of color pie requirements. Kor and Elves just seem like “different humans”. Pretty much all non-humans humanoid are described as being slender.
The book definitely changed my view of the world. Maybe I should’ve known the Goma Fada is a huge self-sustained caravan, which even brings along some of its own crops, but I didn’t. This is partly, because I wasn’t playing at the time of the original Zendikar block, but I’ve seen plenty of those cards and still wasn’t aware of many things. There just isn’t enough room on the cards to convey everything and some of the stuff is lost on the flavor text, since it is there for flavor and thus from a point-of-view of someone.
Maybe adding more insight from planeswalkers would help. The thing is, people living within in the world can’t really compare it to others, because to them, its the World, whereas to the planeswalkers, its just another world. The limited perspective sometimes makes some of the opinions seem hollow.
But, hey, I would recommend it. They have things to learn from this, but its a good start.
This isn’t actually the first such book. There was The Art of Magic: the Gathering – Rath Cycle printed in 1998. That time it didn’t catch on, but now they are coming out with a similar book for Innistrad in July, a couple of weeks before the release of Eldritch Moon, so apparently, this is going to be a thing. On the other hand, they probably weren’t able to gauge the success of this book when the decision to do another one was made, so its hard to say how long they are going to be doing this. After all, the block after the new Innistrad is going to be on a new world (at least one that hasn’t had its own block before), which means it won’t have the depth of material to draw on.
Of course, Innistrad version will do great. It is everyone’s favorite world and everyone is already drooling over the set in a never before seen way, as the only a handful of cards has been spoiled (as of this writing). The world doesn’t have a similar wealth of landscapes as Zendikar, because its a much more intimate and claustrophobic world, but it does have other interesting illustrations. How they choose to lay them out remains to be seen.