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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jul 27 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the—wait, there's no Flashback drafts this week? And since I don't do cube (even though it shares some ideas with my Reprint Set design articles), what's left? I guess I could write an article on Eldritch Moon. I normally wouldn't do this, but I've been doing surprisingly well in Shadows over Innistrad limited this season; most significantly getting second in the Super Sunday Series at GP Minneapolis. While my opens have been insanely good this entire season (that Super Sunday Series sealed had a crazy RG deck with Arlinn Kord and Goldnight Castigator with Sorin, Grim Nemesis in the board, while in the Top 8 draft I opened Archangel Avacyn and got passed a Sorin, Grim Nemesis in pack 3 after settling into a BW deck), I still feel my analysis can be useful.
If you're showing up to this article having only read my Modern Flashback Series articles, we've had a lot of changes compared to the average small set. Most importantly, the draft format includes two packs of Eldritch Moon and one pack of Shadows over Innistrad, and the two packs of the small set are drafted first (a change coming up soon in the Modern Flashback Series). Eldritch Moon also has a different feel than Shadows over Innistrad did: while we've seen mechanics not show up in small sets (Conspire in Shadowmoor → Eventide) and the themes have often shifted (Alara block went 3-color → 5-color → 2-color), Eldritch Moon combines many of those ideas. However, unlike Oath of the Gatewatch (which lost most of its land mechanics to add the large colorless theme), Eldritch Moon is still clearly a graveyard set with a horror theme, just with a lot of Eldrazi shoved in. Now, let's get to the mechanics, starting with the ones new to Eldritch Moon, then covering the returning mechanics.
Emerge is the first way Eldrazi show up on the plane, and make up the vast majority of pure colorless cards in the set. All the Emerge creatures are expensive creatures (and generally overcosted for the price), the Emerge costs are one mana cheaper, while including a colored component. The Emerge costs are primarily in green and blue, with black getting a couple cards. While getting a big creature for cheap is a good thing, the cost of sacrificing a creature is real, and generally you aren't going to want to sacrifice your two-drop or three-drop to cast a Wretched Gryff on Turn 4. While there are some obvious cases for Emerging a creature (sacrificing a creature enchanted by Choking Restraints or one with a death trigger), the themes of the set encourage you to look a bit deeper. For instance, Emerge is an easy way to get a creature into your graveyard for Delirium, or a Raise Dead effect.
While Emerge was an interesting cost-reduction mechanic, Escalate is just a variant of Entwine, which itself is a variant of Kicker. However, this isn't a bad thing, and I really like how Escalate is used in the set. In particular, as a Melvin I like the symmetry: there are eight Escalate cards, three in white and red and two in black. Each color has a common, uncommon, and rare (except the black uncommon is missing), and the common has two options (making it literally Entwine), the uncommon has three options, and the rare has three options and a non-mana Escalate cost (except for Collective Defiance for some reason). The most surprising part is that every Escalate card is very good—only Borrowed Hostility is average, and even that's just costed similarly to an old Entwine card (seriously, all of the Escalate costs are extremely cheap, and almost every one is a removal spell and/or a good combat trick).
Double-Faced Cards/Meld:
The signature of Innistrad has been double-faced cards, and as such they had to return for Eldritch Moon. However, except for Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, every transformation is a one-way transformation into an Eldrazi (even the mana rock Cryptolith Fragment). In particular, that means the Werewolf “day/night” mechanic is gone (again, other than Ulrich), and the Eldritch Moon Werewolves, start as (non-Human) Werewolves and have a “Monstrous” ability to permanently transform them. That isn't all though, as the flashiest twist to the two-sided cards formula is Meld, which combines two cards into one. There are only three Meld pairs in the set, and while two of them will rarely occur in limited (as they require either two rares or a mythic and a rare, all of which are extremely playable on their own), the combination of Graf Rats and (Midnight Scavengers) into Chittering Host is very doable for limited, as while (Midnight Scavengers) is a good Gravedigger-type effect, Graf Rats is just a vanilla 2/1. Do note that Melding Chittering Host isn't optional, and it makes you liable to be two-for-one'd by a removal spell, so do it only on a clear board or if you can get value off the enters-the-battlefield trigger.
Delirium hasn't really changed since its debut in Shadows over Innistrad: it's still primarily in black and green, secondary in white, and tertiary in the other colors (just Scour the Laboratory in Eldritch Moon). While there aren't many changes with Delirium itself in Eldritch Moon (though it does have a slightly more aggressive bend—compare Stallion of Ashmouth and Kessig Dire Swine to Thraben Foulbloods and Backwoods Survivalist), the main changes are to how you get there. While some changes are mostly cosmetic (Field Creeper for Wicker Witch, Boon of Emrakul for Dead Weight), the lack of the Vessels makes it more difficult to easily get enchantments into your graveyard—sure, Choking Restraints and Spontaneous Mutation are probably better than a Vessel in the abstract, but they're less likely to go to the graveyard. Another big change is the removal of the “land discard” theme in green, and as such you'll have to get a land in the graveyard naturally, either through self-mill or discard (there isn't even a Warped Landscape analog). The available self-mill is also slightly weaker, as Grapple with the Past, Wailing Ghoul, and Crop Sigil are all slightly worse than their analogs (Vessel of Nascency, Crow of Dark Tidings, and Crawling Sensation) at powering out Delirium.
Madness also hasn't changed much in Eldritch Moon: it's primarily in red and black, secondary in blue (only Chilling Grasp in Eldritch Moon), and mostly used for the instant speed and card advantage rather than the cost decrease (with Alchemist's Greeting being the primary exception below rare). As a Melvin, I'm disappointed we didn't see any Grave Scrabbler-style triggers off Madness, especially since it took a perfect set to get Madness back in the first place. While Madness didn't change, the discard outlets did. In Shadows over Innistrad, you were discarding cards to get big effects, but those were spells, cost mana, and/or were non-repeatable (think Tormenting Voice, Heir of Falkenrath, and Stitchwing Skaab), while in Eldritch Moon the effects are mostly repeatable, even at common with Skirsdag Supplicant and Thraben Standard Bearer. In particular, Olivia's Dragoon and Noose Constrictor both are Putrid Imp-style infinite manaless discard outlets, allowing you to use Madness easily (Olivia's Dragoon into either Weirded Vampire or Twins of Maurer Estate will become the standard curve for Vampire decks), or even obtain Delirium at instant speed.
Now we come to the part of the article where I go over the colors. Unfortunately, as I write this has been dormant for a while (Shadows over Innistrad is the latest set, and rotation never even happened), so I have to use Gatherer for my lists. It shouldn't change much (at least for you—Gatherer is so much slower to make queries for), though I have to use “Power” sort as an approximation for the type sort I normally use (though it serves the main purpose of separating creatures and non-creatures). I also will have all the Emerge cards in the colorless section, as there's no easy way to filter by color identity that I can see. Anyway, let's start with white!
Commons Uncommons
It's kind of a shock to the system to jump ahead eight years when comparing the relative power level of cards—even the “boring” cards like Dawn Gryff, Faithbearer Paladin, and Fiend Binder are at a higher power level than the average card in Magic 2010. Even the top-tier cards are better here: Choking Restraints is more flexible than Pacifism even before you consider Delirium, and while Sigardian Priest is clearly worse than Blinding Mage (though making the activation cost generic mana comes up more than you would think), a tapper is better in a format with Eldrazi than the generic M10 format. Speaking of Delirium, the underrated white Delirium strategies continue to get good payoffs with Desperate Sentry and Extricator of Sin, while Ironclad Slayer gets to piggyback off milling Choking Restraints, Faith Unbroken (one of the swingiest Auras we've seen in a while), and whatever random Equipment you're using to get Delirium. Staying at uncommon, Blessed Alliance is a great removal spell with addition flexibility, Subjugator Angel wins any boardstalled game while having decent stats, and Repel the Abominable is Safe Passage rather than Holy Day (as it mentions sources instead of creatures).
Commons Uncommons
Blue is weird, as its commons Wretched Gryff focus on the enemy-color themes rather than the tribal ones. Emerge gets three cards, as both Enlightened Maniac and Exultant Cultist are good cards to sac (along with Fogwalker to an extent), while the Instants/Sorceries deck loves Ingenious Skaab (which continues the trend of giving already-good blue creatures Prowess started by Jeskai Sage and Jhessian Thief), along with good cantrips like Drag Under and Take Inventory. Moving to uncommon, it's amazing just how much Grizzled Angler synergizes with the set. While there is the obvious synergy with the Emerge Eldrazi, Grizzled Angler also can put Advanced Stitchwing in your graveyard, get you to Delirium (especially since Field Creeper triggers the Angler just as well as Wretched Gryff), and even improve your Take Inventory's, all while being a respectable 2/3 blocker. The other theme that gets a lot of help from uncommon is Spirits, as while Geist of the Archives doesn't exactly fit the aggressive fliers theme perfectly, it still holds the ground and triggers your Nebelgast Herald, all while being a Sigiled Starfish.
Commons Uncommons
While the splashiest card in black is clearly Chittering Host, as I mentioned above you should be playing it mostly for how good Midnight Scavengers is. They play well with the graveyard strategies Zombies want, as do Wailing Ghoul and Gavony Unhallowed. Delirium also gets a large boost, as while Thraben Foulbloods is the only common Delirium card (unless you're going aggressive enough for Strange Augmentation), both Boon of Emrakul and Succumb to Temptation give you quality spells of different types. The removal is also good here—sure, Murder was shifted up to uncommon (where it gets slightly overshadowed by Ruthless Disposal), but Certain Death removes the high end, while Borrowed Malevolence is a great trick paired with the standard -1/-1 effect. Strangely, other than those removal spells, everything at uncommon benefits from self-mill, from the Delirium benefit on Dusk Feaster, to the efficiency of Liliana's Elite, to using it as a resource for Rise from the Grave and Graf Harvest (which is slow, but note the Zombies enter the battlefield untapped).
Commons Uncommons
Amazing—after trying to sort through the dregs of Magic 2010, you can't understand how nice it is to see playable creatures in red. Sure, Bold Impaler isn't any more likely to see play than when we saw it nine months ago (as Lavastep Raider), but something on the level of Brazen Wolves or Vildin-Pack Outcast is a couple years away from seeing print. Even Falkenrath Reaver is a milestone as the first drawback-less Runeclaw Bear for red (even if putting Deranged Whelp at common would probably have been better for the color). There are also a lot of interesting red designs, as Stensia Innkeeper is the first playable “land destruction” card in a while (and I hope to see a version pushed for Constructed soon, just like with rummaging and impulse draw (the Elkin Bottle effect)), and Otherworldly Outburst continues the “cheap big creature that needs a creature to die” trend started with (Skin Invasion). Moving to removal, while Lightning Bolt isn't showing up for a while, both Galvanic Bombardment and Alchemist's Greeting are good commons, while uncommon gets the efficient Incendiary Flow, the Electrickery with the upside of Overrun (Savage Alliance), and the blowout Spreading Flames (it's inefficient, but Instant upgrades this a lot). Red also gets good creatures at uncommon, with Smoldering Werewolf possibly getting a two-for-one even before transforming, Weaver of Lightning being a good creature even before the pings, and Furyblade Vampire being both a good Madness outlet and one of the most aggressive two-drops since Plated Geopede.
Prey Upon
Commons Uncommons
Green continues the Emerge focus, as while Primal Druid provides the traditional fodder (while being surprisingly close to Sakura-Tribe Elder once the creatures get big enough), Bloodbriar supports it while supporting everything else in the block (Clues, white's sacrifice theme, even random things like Warped Landscape and the Vessels). The other big thing is the removal: Prey Upon returns at common, while uncommon has both Clear Shot (which can easily be a two-for-one in either direction) and Somberwald Stag. There also aren't really any bad cards—Emrakul's Influence might be a tad too conditional, and Springsage Ritual is a Naturalize, but even marginal cards like Wolfkin Bond and Woodcutter's Grit have their place.
Gold (Colorless) Common Uncommon
The only gold cards are for the enemy colored pairs this time, and as expected they push the themes (though Campaign of Vengeance feels out of place) and are fine in the colors. The more interesting cards are the colorless ones, as while it looks like there are a lot, there are fewer than it seems (as Emerge cards aren't really colorless, and all the backsides of DFC's are included in Gatherer). I've already mentioned that Field Creeper works well with Delirium (and Terrarion fills the same niche), but Cultist's Staff is one of the better equipment we've seen in a while (especially at common). Moving to uncommon, Geist-Fueled Scarecrow is great, and Cryptolith Fragment serves as both a mana fixer and a win condition.
Now that we've covered the colors, it's time to go over the archetypes, and while having decks based on the ten color pairs isn't new, there actually are archetypes this time! While some of them are mostly “throw good cards of these colors together” (the tribal themes are mostly like that), and there are enough playables to get a coherent deck in most cases (something that wasn't true early in the Modern Flashback Series), to make the most of these decks you need to stay on-theme.
White/Blue: Spirits/Fliers and Flash
Of course, after I talk about how different these archetypes are we start with UW Fliers. Still, Spirits are unique enough from the standard skeleton, mostly because of the Flash aspect. In that way it's very similar to Faeries from Lorwyn block, though with less removal.
Blue/Black: Zombies/Grindy Control
While Zombies are a strong theme, Cemetery Recruitment is the only tribal component at low rarities. There's also a lot of card advantage, though surprisingly most of it's in black.
Black/Red: Vampires/Madness Aggro
As I mentioned earlier, the problem with BR is that while the enablers are a lot better, the Madness cards are worse. The quality of aggressive creatures still should be enough to carry the color pair, but it can't be explosive without cards at higher rarities.
Red/Green: Wolves & Werewolves/Midrange Ramp
With the change of Werewolves into the “Monstrous” transform mechanic, there isn't as much of a theme to build around other than ramping to those activations. Honestly, this feels like the deck that's playing the most fairly, and I don't know if that's where I want to be in this format.
Green/White: Humans
Unlike the other tribes, Humans has the most benefit to sticking with its tribe, both because of the tribal payoffs at low rarities (Crossroads Consecrator, Sigardian Priest to an extent), as well as the density of creatures (most of the creatures for other archetypes like Desperate Sentry and Backwoods Survivalists are incidentally Humans). That's good, because there isn't much of a defining sub-archetype other than “good creatures”, though that obviously isn't a bad thing.
White/Black: Sacrifice/Delirium
The WB deck continues to be the secondary Delirium deck, getting Delirium by sacrificing permanents rather than self-mill. The payoffs in black for sacrificing things continue to be good, and if the white Delirium cards continue to be undervalued, this could be a good deck.
Blue/Red: Instants/Sorceries
The nice thing about the UR deck this time around is that you aren't reliant on a hyper-linear card like Rise from the Tides anymore (though Mercurial Geists fills that role). Instead, cards like Thermo-Alchemist, Ingenious Skaab, and Weaver of Lightning are fine on their own while being greatly enhanced by Instants and Sorceries. The one thing I'm worried about is that the top-tier UR decks might need to win the Take Inventory lottery—not only do you need to be the only one taking them (which will probably be true), enough need to be opened (three or more) to make them better than just a cycler.
Black/Green: Delirium/Self-Mill
The one problem with defining archetypes on mechanics is that I end up repeating myself—it's slightly harder to get Delirium, but the baseline on the Delirium cards is much better, and that's overall a net positive for the Delirium deck.
Red/White: Fast Aggro?
This is by far the least defined archetype (and the one I'm least sure of), but Ride Down points to a hyper-aggressive deck. I feel like this wants to be the Borrowed Grace deck, and tools like Thraben Standard Bearer, Spectral Reserves, and Otherworldly Outburst point in that direction. Still, as an unclear archetype, I'd wait for someone who knows how to build these aggressive limited decks to provide an outline for the archetype.
Green/Blue: Emerge/Ramp
I'm worried about the Emerge deck being reliant on higher rarity cards too much—Wretched Gryff is fine, but It of the Horrid Swarm feels underwhelming (compare it to Wolfkin Bond, which I don't like, even if I might be slightly undervaluing it). However, there is plenty of fodder for your Emerge creatures at common, and that might be the best way to build the deck. However, you need to see the Emerge cards first—unlike the other mechanics and tribes, Emerge isn't in Shadows over Innistrad (though the Clues archetype does have some overlap through cards like Byway Courier and Bloodbriar).
That was fun (at least until I realized I needed to put in 95% of the links and pictures manually)—I've never done something so new other than my Masters reviews (and there I at least had context for the cards themselves). Let me know if you want me to do that again for Kaladesh. As I mentioned last time, I don't really have any material for Conspiracy: Take the Crown or From the Vault: Lore, so next you see me should be in three weeks when we return to the original Zendikar!

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