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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 05 2023 9:10am
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After the end of a massive event, we’re going back to fairy tale land with our second trip to Eldraine in Wilds of Eldraine: This Time We Didn’t Break Multiple Formats (Beseech the Mirror aside). It also continues the trends of recent sets with yet another bonus sheet, as well as a mechanic that offloads a bunch of text to tokens. This is a very interesting design that kicks off yet another busy year of Magic—more on that after the Limited talk. For now, let’s start with the mechanics.

 

Mechanics:

Roles:

This new Aura token type is the heart of Wilds of Eldraine’s design, which is the only reason why it has so, so many words hidden on it (comparable to “the Ring tempts you” in Lord of the Rings). There are six different new auras (with a seventh exclusive to the Commander set) with minor abilities: five of which help your creatures and one that either hurts your opponent’s or serves as a drawback. They’re all nicer than you’d expect, both because they’re cheap (equivalent to a +1/+1 counter cost in most cases) and because they synergize with everything in this set: the enchantment theme, Bargain, and Celebration. It’s also spread throughout the set, with at least three commons in each color. You won’t draft around roles specifically, but you will use them with all their synergies and raw strength, notably with how Wicked Role and Monster Role help push through damage.

 

Bargain:

Kicker variant number 58 is a strange batch with a lot of redundancy: artifact, enchantment, or token. While the obvious combos are excess roles (or your own Cursed Role on a Cursed Courtier) and food tokens, it can also sacrifice rat tokens, a saga with a bad ending like The Princess Takes Flight, or an unneeded Prophetic Prism. There are a wide range of effects, from scaling effects you won’t always need (Kellan's Lightblades, Candy Grapple) to effects where it’s the main reason to play the card (Hamlet Glutton, Tenacious Tomeseeker). It’s also spread through all the colors, though there’s less of a focus in white and red. The biggest question is how easy it is to bargain. It seems easy with all the tokens, but with how powerful some of these effects are, it might be harder than it looks, especially if you’re playing all the bargain cards.

 

Celebration:

This is a mechanic that wouldn’t be given a name in past years, but has been fully fleshed out to be the red/white theme (and only red/white). Again, it’s mostly a synergy-focused mechanic as it’s extremely easy to trigger in a token-filled set. Most of the effects are minor combat-related effects, so you’ll play the cards and build around it in red/white, but it’s not a big deal overall.

 

Adventures:

The most broken mechanic of original Eldraine has to return, but there are a lot of changes to stop it from overpowering the rest of the (non-ban-worthy) set again. The main reason is that there isn’t much tying the Adventures together other than a Commander-focused mythic and a couple random cards like Chancellor of Tales, so they’re mostly just cards with added value. There are also a lot of off-color adventures at higher rarities, so it takes more effort to play the cards at full strength—but there’s also a lot of fixing to make that possible, like with the off-color kickers in Dominaria United.

 

Food:

Food tokens had similar problems to Adventures in Limited (mostly slowing down the format), so Wizards has narrowed its focus exclusively to green and black (along with non-token food artifacts and The Goose Mother) and designed the Golgari archetype around it. There isn’t much new (especially since we just saw food in Lord of the Rings), but it’s a dependable archetype overall.

 

Enchanted Tales:

Another set, another bonus sheet, this one with a bunch of enchantments. However, it feels like Wizards had to stretch a lot more than normal to find enough good but not broken enchantments, including multiple downshifts (including Hatching Plans to uncommon, which seems absurd in a format with Bargain as a featured mechanic). Furthermore while some like Knightly Valor, Dragon Mantle, and all three Doubling Season variants fit the set well, others like Griffin Aerie (remember, there’s no food in white), Ground Seal, and (Historic ban-worthy) Spreading Seas feel out of place at best. If March of the Machines was the most overbearing bonus sheet so far, I’m wondering if Wilds of Eldraine is the most underwhelming, and if that effects bonus sheets going forward (at least in 2025 or later).

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Tapping Tempo (The Snow Queen)

The unknown fairy tale that somehow spawned a phenomenon brings an interesting new archetype based on tapping things. I’m worried this is the kind of archetype that can’t be strong because of how annoying it can be, but individually pushed designs like Bitter Chill (a massive power creep on the typical Claustrophobia) and Snaremaster Sprite make me wonder. The problem is that I don’t know how this deck wins other than with boring creatures. There are no common synergies, and while Sharae of Numbing Depths is a good build-around, others like Solitary Sanctuary and Icewrought Sentry feel very clunky. Frostbridge Guard feels like the lynchpin as the only common repeatable tapper, but I don’t know if it’s pushed enough.

 

Blue/Black: Faeries Typal (Sleeping Beauty)

I thought the return to Lorwyn was still a couple years out? It’s even a similar take built around casting spells on your opponent’s turn (down to a near-functional reprint of Dreamspoiler Witches in Dream Spoilers, though uncommon this go-around), along with multiple “threshold one” cards. However, the raw power of Snaremaster Sprite, Barrow Naughty, Spellsworn Coven, and Obyra, Dreaming Duelist makes me like this deck even ignoring the synergies. Maybe it’s hurt by a lot of its cards being more for Constructed than Limited like Spell Stutter and Ego Drain, but the creatures feel like they’re good enough to make up for it. There are a lot of creatures with tacked-on Reach in this set, but I don’t think that affects the archetype too much.

 

Black/Red: Rat Swarm/Sacrifice (Pied Piper)

Sacrifice is a normal archetype for Rakdos, but it’s in a strange position here since Bargain only works on tokens and most death payoffs are non-token. However, since the rat tokens can’t block, you can get a ton of them very efficiently from Lord Skitter's Butcher, Edgewall Pack, and Ratcatcher Trainee. Don’t forget the bonus sheet, as Vampiric Rites is a great way to use excess rats (or ones that get blocked), while Impact Tremors and Raid Bombardment let them kill your opponent more quickly. In addition, while there’s no common Threaten, you get both Twisted Fealty and the shockingly powerful Eriette's Tempting Apple (which I think is good in any aggressive deck) at uncommon, though there aren’t many non-Bargain sacrifice outlets (just Vampiric Rites and Lord Skitter's Butcher). This deck looks good, but I don’t know if it’s the best way to use rats in the format.

 

Red/Green: Big Midrange (Little Red Riding Hood)

With how much Ferocious (“if you control a creature with power 4 or greater”) in particular gets used, I’m surprised it didn’t get upgraded to deciduous like Landfall. Admittedly it’s not used that much here (only on five cards counting Garruk's Uprising, only one of which is common), but it’s the only thing tying together a color pair that’s been left behind in recent sets. However, the big creatures seem better than they look. There are a lot of ways to push through damage, as Bellowing Bruiser is a decent finisher and Ferocious Werefox is an early contender for a sleeper Guard Change is an instant, and instant-speed trample with that and Monstrous Rage will swing races). Grabby Giant also fits the archetype well while being efficient, and that’s before you dip into green’s bigger ramp targets like Hamlet Glutton and Stormkeld Vanguard. The early game is a concern, as Territorial Witchstalker is underpowered for a defensive creature (notably it always has only two power on defense) and Torch the Tower doesn’t have much fodder in this archetype, but it could work if it’s a slower format.

 

Green/White: Enchantment/Roles Matter (Beauty and the Beast)

How many auras can you shove into a deck? Roles help, but since the number of roles you have corresponds to the number of creatures you have, it’s hard to stock up on them as a card like Slumbering Sleepguard wants. It’s also hard to know how good the average creature where you’re playing it just for the role (Besotted Knight, Redtooth Genealogist) is. Yes, they’re good with the synergy pieces like Tanglespan Lookout and Rimefur Reindeer, but inefficient without them. So when they kill your build-around you’re left with a lot of bad creatures with minor benefit, and that isn’t good enough. This feels like a bad version of the next archetype.

 

White/Black: Bargain Value (Snow White)

This deck is built around the most powerful aspect of Magic in general these days: producing lots of pieces of cardboard and using them to get lots of value either directly or through other cards. While Food and Rats help you get critical density for your bargain cards (letting you take full advantage of the more marginal Bargain effects like Rowan's Grim Search and the scaling removal spells), the build-arounds are focused on enchantments hitting the graveyard. This works a lot better than green/white’s version of a Role deck for multiple reasons: you don’t need critical mass of Roles at once (and thus creatures, even though you have spare Rats), you get the Roles on already okay cards (compare Shatter the Oath and Not Dead After All to Unassuming Sage and Return Triumphant, before you get to something like The Witch's Oath), and Wicked Role (black’s main role) is just better than most of the other roles. The pair of Hopeful Vigil/Hopeless Nightmare are also shockingly efficient, even before you consider Stockpiling Celebrant. This looks like a very strong archetype overall.

 

Blue/Red: Spells (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)

The typical Izzet archetype works well in an Adventure environment since you can have a high density of spells without skimping on creatures, and that’s before you consider payoffs that are also Adventures like Aquatic Alchemist and Hearth Elemental. However, there’s a strange imbalance in the power of the cards here. On one hand, most of the hyper-specific cards for this archetype are mediocre like Flick a Coin, Splashy Spellcaster, and Mocking Sprite. There’s also a lot of Bargain with Johann's Stopgap and Tenacious Spellcaster, with little support to make it work. On the other hand, Johann, Apprentice Sorcerer is a crazy signpost—when Melek, Izzet Paragon was downshifted for Commander Masters I felt it was aggressive, and this is a four-mana version that’s less explosive but has better stats (and is in a normal set). The red removal is also great, but you aren’t going to get all of that (even Frantic Firebolt, the one targeted at the archetype), nor the blue card draw (Faeries wants all the Quick Study’s it can get). This archetype needs high-rarity cards to work, but it’s there if they’re opened.

 

Black/Green: Food Matters (Hansel and Gretel)

This deck takes the idea of being dominated by high-rarity cards and turns it up to eleven. Yes, Tough Cookie, Night of the Sweets' Revenge, and Greta, Sweettooth Scourge are strong payoffs, and you aren’t paying much for the food from Hollow Scavenger or Skybeast Tracker. However, other than strong Bargain cards like Hamlet Glutton, the common payoffs are bad—Hollow Scavenger seems okay, but Sweettooth Witch feels very clunky and fragile. I don’t like this deck at all without multiple uncommon payoffs, so I’d stay away.

 

Red/White: Celebration Aggro (Cinderella)

Like with Bargain, it feels like Celebration must be harder than I think it is to trigger, but when common has Edgewall Pack, Hopeful Vigil, Unassuming Sage, Redcap Thief, and Ratcatcher Trainee all playable (or better) common ways to trigger it with a single card, it feels trivial. Granted, the Celebration effects are minor at low rarities (with Tuinvale Guide both being the exception and the most expensive of the bunch), and I’m not even sure if Armory Mice and Grand Ball Guest are better than other options. Ash, Party Crasher is strong though, and I’m sure being a generic Boros Aggro deck will be good enough in most cases, even if celebrating is incidental.

 

Green/Blue: Adventure Ramp (Jack and the Beanstalk)

While this is technically a Simic deck, it’s more of a green ramp deck that can play any combination of colors. There’s a lot of ramp here, with Rootrider Faun, Return From the Wilds, and Beanstalk Wurm at common and Utopia Sprawl (quietly one of the strongest ramp spells this side of Birds of Paradise and Troyan, Gutsy Explorer at uncommon. That signpost also points to the specific variant of ramp: caring about spells with mana value 5 or greater, and Adventures give you a lot more room to put expensive cards in your deck. The payoffs are there too, as Up the Beanstalk looks very strong, and Tempest Heart is efficient as well. The biggest thing to note is that when the big Adventure creatures like Beluna’s Gatekeeper, Beanstalk Wurm, and Stormkeld Vanguard are strong, it’s harder to put cards that are only expensive in there like Hamlet Glutton, Into the Fae Court, or even Archive Dragon. This is a good deck, especially if format is slower than average like it’s looking.

 

Three-Plus Color Archetypes:

As I mentioned above, green has a lot of fixing available, but there’s also a ton in colorless, with Prophetic Prism, Scarecrow Guide (by far the strongest the “mana-washing” artifact creature has been, since a 2/1 for 2 is fine in a lot of cases), Crystal Grotto (good if you’re mainly splashing off-color Adventures), Evolving Wilds, and the insanely good Edgewall Inn (Uncharted Haven is a fine card, and this adds a free Regrowth of one of your best cards?). Three-color archetypes to look for include splashing white in green/black food for Griffin Aerie, making your sacrifice deck black/white/red, and making a green/white/black enchantments deck.

 

Other Important Cards:

Beyond the fixing, the most notable theme to the “generic” cards is that there is a lot of good enchantment removal. Troublemaker Ouphe, Spider Food, and Stormkeld Vanguard are all flexible green options and Shatter the Oath is black’s simplest enchantment removal yet (even if you’ll rarely use it for that), but Break the Spell is the most interesting design: I think it’s good enough to maindeck (especially if you have combos with it like The Princess Takes Flight or Cursed Courtier), but it might fall into the “Anticipate” slot where it’s always fine but never good enough to take the place of a “real” card. White in general has more good removal than average with Cooped Up and Kellan's Lightblades being decent upgrades on those effects (though note the latter specifically doesn’t combo with all the tapping in white/blue) and Stroke of Midnight feeling like a mistake (last we saw this effect it either cost five mana or made a 3/3). X/1’s are also in danger, with Frolicking Familiar, Dream Spoilers, and Flick a Coin all preying on them. Finally, there are a lot of good tricks in this set, both on Adventures (Obrya's Attendants, Two-Headed Hunter, and Ferocious Werefox) and not (Archon's Glory, Misleading Motes, Candy Grapple, and Royal Treatment), so watch out for them.

 

Announcement Day Recap:

So much for taking a break on writing! I mentioned I wrote the last article before the GenCon deluge of announcements, and while I couldn’t have guessed the crazy ideas for premier sets (especially now that a “backdrop” set gives Wizards a lot more freedom for new themes without always developing a full plane), I did manage to do decently well with my reprint set predictions, as while the official return of Pioneer Masters isn’t much of a surprise (though it being Arena-exclusive is), I did not expect Ravnica Remastered so soon (much less Innistrad Remastered being announced so far in advance). Let’s take each of these reprint sets in turn:

 

Ravnica Remastered:

This is an interesting design, as gold-focused sets with all ten color pairs are difficult to make work. I had a flash of inspiration right after the announcement, as it could take inspiration from both my Return to Ravnica Remastered design and Double Masters 2022 (spoilers: Cryptic Spires-but-a-gate looks to be a crucial part of making it work, along with a ton of hybrid). This design is complete and it’ll be my next article, though it likely won’t be until late September/early October.

 

Pioneer Masters:

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at this—when I did my first design in 2020, we didn’t have Shadows over Innistrad Remastered, Explorer-focused Anthologies, a bonus sheet every other set, or even Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. There’s also more coming before the unspecified 2024 release—the full Khans of Tarkir set release in December is obviously big, even if it leaves some cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang in a strange place. In addition, Wilds of Eldraine is likely the first of many bonus sheets in upcoming sets (notably there are five new Enchanted Tales for Explorer, though the most important is probably Fraying Sanity, so it didn’t do much), and I’d be shocked if there isn’t at least one more Explorer-focused Anthology early in 2024 before Pioneer Masters launches. I started the new version of this design, though it was mostly big picture stuff like cutting everything currently on/known to be coming to Arena, cross-referencing the cards actually used in the recent Regional Championships, and doing initial archetype work (like turning the Black/Green Delirium deck into a generic Graveyard deck more focused on Golgari synergies, or thinking about how Blue/Red Spells is going to have to become the Colorless deck I earmarked for Pioneer Masters 2). I expect this article will come out in early 2024, sometimes after the Khans of Tarkir re-release and ideally after that Anthology I’m predicting.

 

Innistrad Remastered:

This is a strange set for multiple reasons, not the least of which that it was announced extremely early (likely as a hedge against the new horror setting Duskmourn not being well-received, similar to how Ravnica Remastered provides the guilds even though the backdrop set Murders at Karlov Manor doesn’t). There’s also a lot less to work with compared to Ravnica and Dominaria, with only seven sets plus extras instead of nine or twenty-seven (and Avacyn Restored doesn’t provide much synergy with the other three typal/graveyard-focused blocks). It’ll be interesting, though I haven’t started designing it yet and won’t for a while, with the article not coming out until the second half of 2024 (probably in this similar summer lull).

 

Conclusion:

Overall Wilds of Eldraine is a very interesting design. I’m worried about it having too much text and fiddliness, especially for paper, and its Constructed applications being smothered by recent power creep and the lack of Standard rotation this year, but I hope everything is good. I’ll see you next time with my design for Ravnica Remastered.

 

Vincent