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By: oraymw, Oraymw
Jul 18 2013 12:55pm
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On Rise of the Eldrazi Limited

I have been turning in some general strategy articles, and I intend to do some more of those, but now that I have gone through several drafts in the Rise of the Eldrazi release events, I feel like I need to talk a little about the format. There is a lot being said about the Rise of the Eldrazi format, but I feel like the major issues have not really been addressed, so I felt like I should do that here.

Within three weeks of when I started playing Magic, Urza’s Saga was released. I didn’t play much limited back then, but I did play enough to get a good foundation about drafting. I’ve drafted enough of Urza’s Saga to be familiar with the format, but the first set I drafted heavily was Onslaught. After Mirrodin block, I took a hiatus from Magic until Time Spiral, when I started drafting heavily again. Zendikar Block is the set that I have drafted the most, but that is because I have finally gotten good enough at the format that I can play as much as I want within a limited budget. The point is that I have played a lot of draft formats, but Rise of the Eldrazi is not really like any of them. A lot of people have been comparing RoE to M10 limited, but I think that is a gravely mistaken notion. RoE has been a tough nut to crack, but I feel like I have the format felt out pretty well, and I am going to make a claim for what I think is the strongest deck in the format.
RoE Limited in General
Anyone who has been in the loop about Rise of the Eldrazi knows that it is supposed to be “Battlecruiser” Magic. The idea is to build up a few very powerful threats, and end the game with those spells. This is seen through three important features: Eldrazi, Levelers, and Totem Armors. It is a format with good defensive creatures and lots of mana acceleration. It has been touted as a slow format, and this is definitely true, but I believe it can be misleading. In any case, there are a lot of decks that are able to hard cast an (Ulamog’s Crusher) or Artisan of Kozilek. The games are complicated, the cards are hard to evaluate, and the games can sometimes be frustrating, but there is also the thrill of having 10/9 creatures that just aren’t big enough on the board.
            The first thing I want to address is the “slow” nature of the format. I have heard lots of people say that Rise of the Eldrazi is slow, and it is if you compare it to Zendikar block, but I think that people are just misunderstanding the format. There are two things that they mean to say: Rise of the Eldrazi allows players to play high-costed bombs, and it is decision intensive. But, because of the swingy nature of the set, I would hesitate to call the format slow. No, this is a set where you can find yourself falling behind very quickly. Nearly every turn is ripe with so many decisions that people who understand the format are quickly going to find themselves getting serious edges over their opponents. It is also a format where you need to find ways to seal your wins quickly, because any turn could see your opponent draw something that will turn the board in their favor. It is just as important for players to be aware of the early turns in this format as in others, and it is just as important that players build their curves appropriately. While the sweet spot on the curve is higher than the turn 2 in Zen Block, if you aren’t doing anything in your early turns, you will be sitting dead in the water.

The slowness in the format is not the real difference between Rise of the Eldrazi and other sets. The difference is that the format is full of good threats, but is light on good answers. First, let’s look at the removal available in the format. We see things like Smite, Guard Duty, Narcolepsy, Flame Slash, Vendetta, Last Kiss, Staggershock, or Regress. Some of these spells, like Narcolepsy, Vendetta, or Staggershock seem to be very strong. I am not going to say that they aren’t good, but it is important to understand that they are not as good in Rise of the Eldrazi as they would be in other sets.

Let’s go through that list. Smite is a cheap removal spell, and there is a lot of blocking that goes on in the format, but Smite hits after Annihilate, and it is bad against evasion creatures. Guard Duty is bad for aggressive decks without much evasion, and it doesn’t do much against utility creatures like Invokers or Brimstone Mage. Narcolepsy is better than Guard Duty, and it is one of the few removal spells that can deal with Eldrazi, but it can’t remove a blocker before combat, and it also doesn’t really stop utility creatures. By the way, each of those spells can be dealt with by enchantment removal, or by sacrifice outlets. Flame Slash kills a lot of things, but only at sorcery speed, and it has the same problem as a card like Shock, they are very good early, but in the late game they don’t kill the things that you have to deal with or die. Vendetta does, but it can carry a hefty price with it, making it sometimes become very awkward. Last Kiss gets outclassed even faster than a lot of these spells, and it is bad against green, though it is decent against UW. Staggershock is like Last Kiss in that it isn’t much good against the bigger threats, but at least it can hit two things and it can go to the face. Regress is one of the most unbound removal spells in the format, except that it doesn’t deal with things permanently.

            On the flip side, nearly any deck can play an (Ulamog’s Crusher), which can take over games by itself. Of course, so can a Dawnglare Invoker, or a Wildheart Invoker, or a Kiln Fiend with Distortion Strike backup. There are plenty of uncommons that some decks have a terrible time dealing with. Blue decks can get (Drake Umbras), and black decks can get Nirkana Assassin. Also, any deck has a good chance of opening a rare that has to be killed immediately. We also have Artisan of Kozilek that can negate removal and can win the game all by itself. Every color has good evasive creatures, and some of them are very difficult to deal with, especially when they pick up a Totem Armor. My point is that this is one of the first formats where the threats are better than the removal.
Think of BREAD for a moment. For those of you who don’t know what this means, it is a drafting heuristic that helps you decide what to take for you deck. The first three are Bombs, Removal, and Evasion, in that order. The last two are up for debate, but whenever someone defines what the A and D stand for, they generally mean that you want good creatures that are able to get the job done, and cards that allow your deck to run more smoothly and gain incremental advantages against your opponent. The most important part, though is BRE: Bombs, Removal, and Evasion. After drafting for years, most players just think of bombs as the best rares and uncommons, and they take good removal over everything else. I have been watching other RoE players draft, and they do this consistently. What they don’t understand is that there are many more Bombs in this format than in other formats. Now, my definition of a bomb is a threat that if left unanswered can take over a game by itself. Otherwise, it is something that generates an overwhelmingly large amount of card advantage. Cards like Dawnglare Invoker, or Artisan of Kozilek fit this description pretty well. So do cards like Nirkana Assassin or Drake Umbra. Even Wildheart Invoker, or (Ulamog’s Crusher) come pretty close to being bombs. That means there are several commons that are incredibly strong threats. In short, this is a bomb driven format.

This is one of the reasons why RoE is compare to M10, which was also a format that was defined by its bombs. However, while that was a bomb driven format, the bombs were things like Overrun, Sleep, Mind Control, Baneslayer Angel, or Siege-Gang Commander, etc. In M10, these cards had answers that were powerful enough to deal with these bombs. You had Blinding Mage, Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade, or Pacifism. The best common answers were able to deal with the best rare and uncommon bombs. This is just not the case with RoE. Many of the removal spells in RoE are just ineffective answers against too many bombs. Some removal spells are good against some cards, and others are better against a different set of cards, but you just don’t know when you are going to go up against a deck that has the threats for which you have the appropriate answers. The answers in M10 were good against nearly any deck they went up against, but the answers in RoE are good against some decks, but bad against others. They have the feel of rock, paper, scissors type spells. Also, the treats in RoE are so good, that what would have been good removal spells in other sets are just not as good in this set. Staggershock would have been a full out bomb in Zendikar, but in RoE there are just too many cards with three or more toughness for the spell. Flame Slash is even a card that gets outclassed by the time the late game comes around. This is a format where there are lots of good questions, but not enough good answers.

Because of this, I have found myself picking the best threats over inadequate removal. I still take Narcolepsy, Staggershock, Flame Slash, or Vendetta pretty high, but I don’t automatically take it as a first pick. And just because I get passed on as a third pick, I don’t immediately assume that it is a signal to go into that color. I think that Dawnglare Invoker is the best common in the set, and I think that Wildheart Invoker is pretty high up in the list. I think that Flame Slash is better than Staggershock (except in certain situations), and I can see situations where I would take an Overgrown Battlement, Wildheart Invoker, or (Kozilek’s Predator) over either. Simply put, I have shifted removal slightly down in my heuristics, and I have been getting good results.

I understand that lots of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I have changed my drafting strategy to good result. Now, don’t think that I don’t pick removal highly. But I have seen people taking Last Kiss over cards like (Kozilek’s Predator) in early picks, which is a critical mistake. I have seen people taking Guard Duty over Knight of Cliffhaven, which is just wrong. If you disagree with me then you probably have your reasons for doing so. However, different people favor different strategies, so I won’t fault you for using strategies that work for you, but the low quality of removal in this set is worth bearing in mind.

With that part aside, I wanted to address the critical size and mana slots for this set. This is something that I think is useful in any set, and helps define the format. For size, we can see that 3 toughness was critical in Zendikar, while 4 was critical in Shards of Alara, due to the nature of the removal spells and creatures in the environment. For mana cost, we see Zendikar decks hinging on 2cc, M10 decks hinging between 3 or 4 cc, and Shards of Alara decks hinging on 3cc. This doesn’t mean there weren’t important spells in the other slots, but you needed to be aware of what your decks were doing at those mana costs.
For Rise of the Eldrazi, I have found that size is a much different beast than other sets. Three toughness is pretty critical, because you can avoid spells like Last Kiss or Staggershock, as well as live through combat with quite a few creatures, but in the late game your toughness matters a lot less. Much more important is your power. Four power is much better than three power in this format, and not just because of the removal spells that hit three or less powered guys. There are also plenty of defenders with 4 toughness that are hard to get through without four power. As for mana cost, I have found the critical part of my curve ranging between three and five depending on my deck. For UW, the mana curve definitely hinges on 3 mana, but green decks are much more dependent on their fourth mana. Spells upwards of five are generally late game spells, but you can play far many more of them than you would in other sets.

Now, I would like to go into my favorite archetype of the format. I am prepared to say that is the best deck in the format, though it is not as good as RB aggro was in Zen Block limited.
UG Tempo
The most obvious archetypes coming out of RoE limited right now are the RG Eldrazi ramp decks, and the UW Leveler decks. Both of these decks are very strong and they are very focused, but there are decks that have the right answers for them. There is also the Kiln Fiend deck, which is also good, but focused. All three of these decks have the drawbacks of having Achilles’ Heels, and of needing the draft to go a certain way to be successful. They are decks that cannot play every card simply because they are so focused. Because of this, you often have to be somewhat reactive to get any of these decks; very reactive in the case of the Kiln Fiend deck.

UG Tempo is a very different deck. It combines the best two colors of the format to create an incredibly deep and versatile deck. The deck is powerful and resilient, and it plays the best cards in the format. It is relatively fast, though not as fast as some of the fastest UW decks, but it also as a strong defense. It is strong enough to compete in the late game as well. It plays the best threats and the most versatile answers. More than any other deck, UG Tempo takes advantage of the idiosyncrasies of the format.

The idea behind this deck is to play efficient, powerful, and resilient threats, while also playing versatile answers. The great thing about the deck is the synergy between the two colors which allows each color to play deeper into its picks, and allows the deck to get strong cards late into each pack.
I came upon this deck when I realized the idiosyncrasies with removal in the format. I had been drafting UW decks, or decks with red, and I had been picking removal quite early, but I kept finding my removal practically dead in my hand while my threats just couldn’t outclass my opponents. I quickly realized that I needed to play a deck that could get out good threats, while still having answers for my opponent’s bombs. I then stumbled into the UG deck. I had originally started getting a blue deck, hoping to go UB because I had opened a Drana. Unfortunately, the black dried up quickly, but I started getting good green creatures, and I started to pick them. I ended up taking the draft handily on the back of green creatures and blue removal.
, let’s start with the green. Green is simply the deepest color in Rise of the Eldrazi, with 13 playable cards, and four decent niche or sideboard cards. It has the best common threats, and one of the best threats in the set in Pelakka Wurm. The UG Tempo deck especially likes playing cards like Wildheart Invoker, which is an incredibly efficient attacker, as well as (Kozilek’s Predator) or Stomper Cub. In addition, green adds a good evasive creature in Aura Gnarlid, which is especially strong in UW, where you have a good supply of versatile auras to power it up. When you are pairing Aura Gnarlid next to Narcolepsies, Domestication, Eel Umbra, and Drake Umbra, it gets big very fast. There are powerful accelerators in Overgrown Battlement, Ondu Giant, (Kozilek’s Predator), and Nest Invader. Like any deck in Rise of the Eldrazi, UG needs lots of mana to fuel and these guys make sure that you have it. Because it has the accelerators, UG can make use of Eldrazi very well, but it does so without losing its good aggressive edge. Finally, if the ground does get clogged, green’s creatures make very good defenders because they are generally bigger than their opponent’s creatures.
 for blue, blue is also a very deep color. It clocks in with another 13 playables, though the truly good blue cards don’t stretch quite as far as the green cards. For example, you are generally more happy playing a Nema Siltlurker than a Jwari Scuttler, even though they both are at the bottom of their color’s list of playables. But blue brings some essential qualities to the tempo deck. First, it has the most versatile answers in the format. Narcolepsy, Regress, and Deprive are the three answers that blue brings to the table, and each of these spells is useful against a broader range of cards than the other removal spells in the format, excepting possibly Vendetta. Blue also brings good evasion creatures which are important for helping the tempo deck close out its final turns.

Most importantly, the two colors do a lot to complement each other. Blue plays some of the best Auras in the format, which makes Aura Gnarlid that much better. Green doesn’t bring as many levelers as white does, but it brings enough that the UG deck can sometimes build a strong sub-theme in that direction. Blue has Distortion Strike, Drake Umbra, and Frostwind Invoker, all of which are extremely good on green creatures. Much has been said of Distortion Strike on Kiln Fiend, but casting it on Stomper Cub is practically as good, but Stomper Cub doesn’t die to Staggershock. One of blue’s problems in the format is that its answers are mana intensive and best used on the opponent’s turn. Specifically, Regress and Deprive are both pretty reactive, Deprive more so that Regress. Often, a UW deck just cannot find the mana to leave up to make Deprive worth the card slot. But in UG, you supply enough extra man that you can find room to leave up a couple of blue for deprive, or an Island and two Eldrazi Spawn for a Regress. This makes both of these cards stronger. It even makes levelers better because you have more mana to spend making them better. Finally, UG have a special way of making room for each other’s mana slots. Blue is more intensive from 1 to 3, while green is more intensive at 4 and 5. This makes the deck run more smoothly than most of the decks in the format. Because the decks complement each other so well, they are both able to play more of their cards, which means that you can see good cards for your deck late into a draft.
            The UG deck does have one big difficulty;  it has a problem with good utility creatures like Invokers. The UG spells cannot really kill these creatures outright, so it often has to beat the other player quickly before these cards get active. To remedy this, I generally like to splash into black or red, which both have excellent answers for creatures like Dawnglare Invoker or Brimstone Mage. Splashing is pretty easy in UG; you have (Ondu Giants) and (Growth Spasms) to find lands for you, plus both the colorless fixers. Splashing does make the UG decks more mana intensive, which means that you need to be careful of being color screwed.
I have found UG Tempo to be the strongest deck in Rise of the Eldrazi draft, mainly due to the differences between the RoE format and other formats. The UG deck plays the best threats and the most versatile answers, and its cards complement each other extremely well. It is a deep deck that can easily get enough playables. It is fast enough to compete with the fast decks in the format, but it has a strong enough late game to play against the slow decks. And, unlike a niche archetype like the Kiln Fiend deck, if your deck doesn’t come together correctly, you are still playing strong cards.

I guess I should say something to the people with strong opinions about the format. Remember that everyone’s perception of the format is based on their own limited experience. No one really has a big enough sample size of drafts to have a perfect view of the format, nor will they ever have that big of a sample size. The best way to get better at the format is to take the perspectives of others, find out what you can take from what they have to say, and incorporate the good bits into your own view of the format. With that said, I am confident in the statements I have made, and expect to see them proven true in the course of the RoE season. If you get the signals for the UG deck, give it a whirl and see how it suits you.



Article by oraymw at Sun, 05/23/2010 - 22:26
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Article on RoE limited.

hmm by oraymw at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 15:14
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Here is a great example of a good UG deck in RoE. Went 3-0 handily, and took down some pretty strong decks to do it.

The article is well written, by laughinman at Sun, 05/30/2010 - 00:55
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The article is well written, but the formatting destroys all the fun.
Especially those card pictures disrupt the flow of reading.

But still, a good article, even though i gave up on limited.

For future articles, do work by andreFM at Sun, 05/30/2010 - 11:08
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For future articles, do work on formatting, this article, though interesting, is *ugly*.

Also, since you're analysing a draft archetype, what about some sample decklists? You link to a draft replay in the comments, but honestly, that's not enough if you want to grab people's attention.

In terms of the actual content, your claim of UG Tempo being the strongest deck in RoE limited is not very useful. Whilst I haven't tried the deck myself, let's be realistic, green and blue are likely the two strongest, most drafted colours (albeit not necessarily in conjunction) in this format. And while my experience with RoE is still limited (only play online), it seems so far like a bit of a rock-paper-scissors environment, with some archetypes completely smashing others and in turn being destroyed by another kind of deck. So to present a draft archetype as strongest in this format seems a bit futile.

Sorry if I'm appearing harsh with all the criticism, but that's the only way to improve :) and well done for writing a good article, I look forward to more stuff from you.

Never drafted UG, though I by RexDart at Fri, 07/19/2013 - 13:06
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Never drafted UG, though I did like Ondu Giant, and you make a good case for the curves meshing fairly well. I adored UG in Scars/Scars/MBS for the "Dino-Go" archetype, and of course it was the nut combination in triple AVR and is looking pretty solid in M14 draft too.

This is interesting. I by ScottBivona at Fri, 07/19/2013 - 19:42
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This is interesting. I learned good stuff here. - Michael Courouleau

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