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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 26 2019 12:00pm
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A new year of Magic is about to begin, but I have strangely mixed feelings about Throne of Eldraine. On one hand the set looks fun, the mechanics are interesting, and Standard desperately needed a shakeup. On the other, the continued pushing towards whales with the endless variants and high-end products and obvious power creep that skews towards higher rarities is concerning, and I wish Wizards had waited a bit longer to do a set that was so similar to Dominaria (a Kicker variant, Knight tribal, an artifact theme, lots of legendary things, powerful mono-color enablers). But you’re not here for that, you’re here for a look at the Limited format, so let’s get to that, starting with the mechanics.

 

Mechanics:

Adventures:

As I said above, this is a strange hybrid of Kicker, split cards, and Aftermath that appears in all colors but is focused in green and white, and like all modal cards it seems very powerful. You don’t need me to tell you the obvious two-for-ones like Foulmire Knight and Hypnotic Sprite are good, but don’t forget that only one side needs to be good—the spells on Ardenvale Tactician and Rosethorn Acolyte are just upside. The question is whether the cards where both sides are mediocre are worth it. I’m leaning towards no unless you have Adventure-specific synergies, but the pump spells like Garenbrig Squire and Silverflame Squire are interesting, as the main problem with pump spells is their opportunity cost.

 

Adamant:

The main expression of the mono-color theme at lower rarities is this extremely tight trio of cycles: a cycle of common creatures (with an artifact) that get a +1/+1 counter when enhanced, a cycle of common spells that get additional effects when enhanced, and a looser uncommon cycle. If you’re playing a balanced two-color deck you can expect to Adamant a card around six mana, but that has a lot of variance. In general the creatures really need to be regularly enhanced to be good, but the spells seem fine to play, especially since you’re more likely to play cards like Unexplained Vision and Outmuscle later.

 

Food:

While each food token is clearly much less useful than their closest analog Clues, but there is a lot of synergy with food, and Clues cost a lot less to produce. All the food also points towards aggro not being nearly as good as in the average format, especially when combined with the average higher creature density thanks to Adventures. I don’t think I’d value Food that highly in isolation, but of course we’ll cover the Food deck when we get into the archetypes.

 

Tribal:

Like most sets, Throne of Eldraine as a bit of tribal in it, though it’s more interesting than normal. The obvious tribe is Knights, which are focused mostly equally in white, black, and red, but some exist in all five colors. The non-obvious one is “non-Human,” and while non-Humans obviously exist in all colors they’re focused in red and green.

 

Archetypes:

While each color pair has two signpost uncommons that point to obvious themes, Adamant points towards consideration of mono-color (or mostly mono-color) decks as well. On the other hand, Mardu Knights doesn’t seem practical as anything other than a splash due to the lack of fixing, so I won’t worry about that.

 

White/Blue: Artifacts/Enchantments

While Arcanist's Owl is a nice value creature, Shinechaser doesn’t seem geared for Limited as it’s really hard to get both an artifact and an enchantment in play at the same time and while a mini-Serra Angel is good it’s not good enough for the difficulty. On the artifact side there aren’t many good artifact creatures and the good ones are all very defensive like Corridor Monitor and Lockthwain Gargoyle. You do get some good removal though with Glass Casket, Scalding Cauldron, and Spinning Wheel. The removal trend continues in enchantments with the common trio of Trapped in the Tower, Charmed Sleep, and So Tiny. Fortifying Provisions also seems interesting as a common enchantment that stays around, though again it’s very defensive. The biggest problem is that the common payoffs like Flutterfox and Moonlit Scavengers don’t seem worth the work, and while the scaling uncommons All the Glitters and Shambling Suit aren’t very powerful. When the specific cards aren’t that powerful and your good cards are generally good, that says stay away.

 

Blue/Black: Mill

Mill feels like it has two different paths in this set. On one hand Merfolk Secretkeeper seems like one of the best one-shot mill cards we’ve seen in a while, as adding a slightly worse Tome Scour on an already-close Kraken Hatchling is a surprisingly good rate, and getting incidentally good mill on cards like Didn’t Say Please helps a lot, so you can just draft a bunch of those. On the other hand, Drown in the Loch points towards a hybrid strategy where you mill your opponent a bit to enhance your spells. This seems like the more reliable strategy, especially since it is helped by discard, including the late-game threat Reaper of Night and the “Coercion with good upside” Memory Theft. Strangely Covetous Urge isn’t directly geared towards this deck, as while mill give you more targets you generally want the two-for-one of taking something from your opponent’s hand. Black has a focus on milling both players to fit cards in multiple decks, and while Syr Konrad, the Grim is the obvious power, both Mystic Sanctuary and Witch's Cottage are less obvious synergies. I know mill never works in Limited, but both seems reasonable here (especially if Arena lets you get a six Merfolk Secretkeeper deck, which I suspect it will at first).

 

Black/Red: Tall Knights?

Steelclaw Lance sure seems like it’s pointing towards an Equipment subtheme in the first of the Knight color pairs, but the only other non-mythic Equipment cards in the set are a relatively lackluster common cycle. Furthermore Elite Headhunter seems good, but it’s disconnected from the rest of the color pair other than the creature type. Eventually you see mono-white doesn’t have many tribal cards while the Rakdos get cards like Ogre Errant, Belle of the Brawl, and Barrow Witches, but none of them are earth-shattering. You also still get great removal like Bake into a Pie and Scorching Dragonfire, but this seems like a synergy-driven format more than a good card format. I’m not going to avoid this color pair like I am Azorius, but I want to see how the other colors pan out before possibly falling back to this.

 

Red/Green: Non-Human Tribal

It seems like Grumgully, the Generous should be more limiting, but most of the creatures you want to play in RG aren’t humans anyway—the only humans I would want in this deck are Syr Carah, the Bold and possibly Flaxen Intruder, and the latter makes non-humans anyway. Then again, on the other side there isn’t much synergy that stands out other than Grumgully and Keeper of Fables, so you’re mostly playing generically good creatures. I’m worried that since you’re incentivized not to play many Adventurers you might lose the long game, but if you’re bigger than your opponents that shouldn’t be an issue.

 

Green/White: Adventurers

Wandermare may be the signpost uncommon, but Mysterious Pathlighter seems like a much better build-around for the color pair, while Edgewall Innkeeper might be going a little too deep. The problem is that other than Lucky Clover the Adventurer build-arounds care about the creature side, not the spell side, and if you want that value quickly you have to give up the value of the spell. I’m worried that you’ll need to run a lot of Curious Pairs and Shepherd of the Flocks to make this deck work, rather than higher-quality Adventurers like Ardenvale Tactician, Lonesome Unicorn, and Rosethorn Acolyte. I’m also not sure how good Oakhame Ranger is for the cost, especially by the standards of other signpost uncommons. A good version of this deck definitely exists, but I don’t think you’ll get it reliably once people (and the Arena bots) realize how good Adventurers are in general.

 

White/Black: Resilient Knights

While the Rakdos Knights didn’t have a clear goal, both Wintermoor Commander and Resolute Rider are Knights that are efficient and hard to kill. The raw power is definitely here, but my worry is that your colors are going to be hard—two of the good common Knights are the Adamant ones, and managing both Ardenvale Tactician and Lost Legion in the same deck is taxing. I still think this is one of the easy decks that can work, but it’s not as simple as it looks at first glance.

 

Blue/Red: Card Draw

Didn’t we just do this in Modern Horizons? Yes, the “draw two cards a turn” deck is back, and it has plenty of enablers both in raw card draw (Witching Well, Thrill of Possibility), and cantrips/looting/rummaging (Merchant of the Vale, Opt, Loch Dragon). My concern are the payoffs, as while Faerie Vandal and Improbable Alliance are good, they’re uncommon, and I’m not sure how Bloodhaze Wolverine and Steelgaze Griffin match up to that. I feel like you need more than the raw card advantage though, since most decks are going to have a ton of Adventurers which draw virtual cards. I wouldn’t draft this my first time in the format, but I think it could work when someone figures it out.

 

Black/Green: Food

Another deck with a pair of obvious signposts, as Savvy Hunter both creates and feeds off Food while Deathless Knight wants you to naturally sacrifice Food. Trail of Crumbs might be the best of them all, especially since you want a lot of land since you’re doing a lot of things on your turns. This also feels like a grindy format, and if people don’t value the random food tokens this does a lot. This feels like a deck to beat on day one.

 

Red/White: Aggro Knights

Boros Knights starts off strangely, as while Fireborn Knight and Inspiring Veteran work well together they point in different directions: Fireborn Knight goes tall and Inspiring Veteran goes wide. I feel like there’s more support for the latter than the former, since the main pump is Joust and Rimrock Knight, while Syr Alin, the Lion's Claw is another mass-pump and Brimstone Trebuchet wants a lot of Knights. This deck feels average, like all the Knight decks.

 

Green/Blue: Ramp

Maraleaf Pixie and Thunderous Snapper clearly want you to go big, and combined with Rosethorn Acolyte, Beanstalk Giant, and Spinning Wheel the focus are five-drops. The problem is that most of the five-drops (and high-drops in general) want to go into other decks. Keeper of Fables is by far the best case since you don’t have many humans anyway (and there are a couple non-human cards in blue), but cards like Steelgaze Griffin, Moonlit Scavengers, and Wolf's Quarry lose most of their value when you’re not building around them, leaving you with more boring options like Garenbrig Paladin and Unexplained Vision. Like most ramp decks, this needs a rare to push it, as something like Gadwick, the Wizened, Stonecoil Serpent, or even The Great Henge is perfect here, to say nothing of a splash for something like Garruk, Cursed Huntsman. If you open an expensive bomb this is how you play it and the support is very good, but use that support in other decks.

 

Mono-White: Tokens???

I don’t think there’s a deck here, as there’s no consistent theme through the color other than maybe a tokens theme. The Adamant cards aren’t worth warping your deck to get their riders either.

 

Mono-Blue: Turbo-Mill

While Vantress Paladin is possibly worth warping your mana, this deck is probably going to be the six-plus Merfolk Secretkeeper deck, as it can get a ton of low picks like Corridor Monitor, Didn't Say Please, and Queen of Ice. It also benefits from Covetous Urge and enhancing Turn into a Pumpkin and Unexplained Vision. This deck may be a gimmick, but I predict it’ll make a splash at at least one major event.

 

Mono-Black: Sacrifice

I was wondering where Elite Headhunter went, and it’s clearly here alongside Malevolent Noble, Deathless Knight, and Syr Konrad, the Grim. This also feels like the best deck for Cauldron Familiar and/or Sorcerer's Broom shenanigans. Locthwain Paladin might also be the best of the Adamant creatures, and enhancing Foreboding Fruit works perfectly as well.

 

Mono-Red: N/A

There’s even less of a consistent theme here than there is with white, everyone’s going to take your Adamant burn spells even as a splash, and Embereth Paladin might be the worst of the Adamant creatures for Limited. Stay far, far away—even you, crazy person who’s going to try to draft the Seven Dwarves deck!

 

Mono-Green: Midrange

One of the cards that’s most under the radar is Syr Faren, the Hedgehammer, and mono-green gets to use it the most effectively, both because you can cast it on turn two and because you’ll be forced to play Tuinvale Treefolk and/or Garenbrig Carver to hit 40 cards. The minor Food synergies like Maraleaf Rider, as you can play cards where the Food is minor upside like Fierce Witchstalker and Gingerbread Cabin and you won’t be in Giant Opportunity territory. This is more of a “good cards” deck than the other two mono-color decks that work, and thus I obviously wouldn’t start here, but it uses a lot of good cards the two-color decks don’t prioritize, which makes it an interesting Plan B.

 

Other Important Cards:

The main cycle I haven’t talked about is the same-color hate cycle, which is strange: the white, blue, and green cards are fine cards that you should almost always play (though the blue one assumes a counterspell is good in this format), Redcap Melee has a harsh penalty but is still very maindeckable, and Specter's Shriek is another harsh penalty that still might be playable in some maindecks (and yet will probably be the best of the five in Constructed). There’s also almost no fixing outside of Green, as you’re reliant on Golden Egg, Signpost Scarecrow, and Spinning Wheel, along with Tournament Grounds for Knights. As for artifacts, Enchanted Carriage seems very good, even if it doesn’t fit cleanly into any deck except Azorius (and Tokens I guess). Prophet of the Peak also seems better than it looks and might be the default ramp target.

 

Conclusion:

It’s been a while since I’ve written an article, and this was an interesting one to come back with. However, the Flashback schedule actually has something interesting on it. No, not Innistrad (which I’ve written a bunch about already): the return of the original Masters Edition sets. I’ve actually written about Masters Edition 1 before, but that was a design article that’s four years old and focused on a possible Masters Edition 5 (before new cards started being added in Treasure Chests). This will be my first time writing Limited articles on these sets other than Vintage Masters (which I’m not sure I’ll write about; we’ll see how busy I am but probably not). Of course, there are also the rumors of another set of some kind launching before the end of the year in the Ultimate Masters slot, and I might cover that too. However, next time I see you will be the original Masters Edition.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter