Black Magic – Discussing Rise of the Eldrazi

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Tuesday, April 13th – The Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease is on the horizon, and the huge and wobbly monsters are getting everyone excited. In today’s Black Magic, Sam Black brainstorms around a selection of the more seductive cards, suggesting where they might find a home in the coming Standard metagame.

I’ve heard people say they don’t think Rise will change things in Standard, but I think it’s pretty clear at this point that things are going to look substantially different for the National Qualifiers and Grand Prix: Washington DC than what we’ve been seeing. I agree with Patrick Chapin that the main contributors to change from what we’ve seen so far are Wall of Omens and Vengevine, due to their particular strengths against Jund, playing excellently against Sprouting Thrinax and Blightning respectively. Jund has far more tools at its disposal than is needed, so it will be interesting to see how it adapts to deal with these challenges. Will people just play the same list, and accept that sometimes they Blightning their opponent in the mirror and that player discards Vengevine and then casts Bloodbraid Elf, hits Sprouting Thrinax, returning Vengevine, and the game’s basically over? That sounds pretty bad, but can you really just cut Blightning?

I don’t have a good answer to that, and I don’t intend to be one of the people making that decision, since I still have no interest in playing Jund. Wall of Omens, on the other hand, is a card I want to be playing. Wall of Omens feels like a card that will let me start casting Jace, where before I’d felt it was too hard to protect, so I’ve been casting Divination instead. Thinking about playing Jace, I start to think Jund really can’t afford to cut Blightning. Imagine a world in which Wall of Omens can stop Bloodbraid Elf and Jund can’t kill Planeswalkers with Blightning. Just how are they beating Jace? Sure, there’s Lightning Bolt and Maelstrom Pulse, but neither of those cards gets you ahead, particularly if Jace has already Brainstormed.

I feel like this is slightly undirected. I’m bouncing from idea to idea, but I think that’s something to try running with for a change. Usually I write articles to make some point, but this is about my initial reactions to a new set, and I think it’s a fine time to do some brainstorming of my own.

I’d love to be able to play a more refined version of a deck that looked something like:

4 Path to Exile
4 Wall of Omens
4 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Luminarch Ascension
2 Oblivion Ring
3 Jace Beleren
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Gideon Jura
3 Day of Judgment
4 Baneslayer Angel
3 Fieldmist Borderpost
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Tectonic Edge
6 Island
7 Plains

All is Dust is a real deterrent for a dedicated Planeswalker Control strategy, particularly one without countermagic, but if that card ends up seeing substantial play in Standard, it wouldn’t be hard to work some Negates or Cancels into a deck like this. I really like the idea of being able to curve out different Planeswalkers with random cheap blockers that give you value. Luminarch Ascension works here as essentially a two-mana “Planeswalker,” in that in further complicates the opponent’s decisions about who to attack.

Vengevine is another card I’d really like to take advantage of, and I think it’s a card that will really reward people who work to make the most of it. When Vengevine is in your deck, you have to carefully consider whether you want to cast any given creature. This is particularly true of accelerators early. If you have 2 Birds of Paradise and a Vengevine, you’re probably not playing the second Bird on turn 2, since you’ll play the Vengevine on turn 3 either way, and you’ll want that Bird in your hand so that you can rebuy the Vengevine later. People will get used to making plays like this fairly quickly, but most of maximizing Vengevine is in building decks that can consistently return it. The best ways to do this are clearly Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos, but aside from that, you want to look for creatures that cost little enough mana that you can afford to play two in the same turn, but that you won’t necessarily mind holding in your hand if you have a Vengevine. Personally, I love the way it plays with Wall of Omens and Elvish Visionary. Even if you need to cast them early, they’ll help you find more creatures to rebuy the Vine with, and if your hand can develop comfortably without them, there’s no real reason you need them to be in play early a lot of the time. It’s not like they’re really doing anything, and you can just get the card out of them later. I love the idea of a G/W based midrange deck that starts with 4 Knight of the Reliquary, 4 Wall of Omens, 4 Elvish Visionary, 4 Noble Hierarch, 4 Vengevine, 4 Ranger of Eos, and some Students of Warfare. It may not be the fastest way to build G/W, but it has a lot of resilience, which sounds like a great way to go if I’m still trying to beat Jund. I imagine a base like that could work very well toward defending some Ajani Goldmanes, Garruk Wildspeakers, or Elspeth, Knight-Errants.

A card we’ve recently found out about, and therefore hasn’t had time to build a lot of hype, that I’m very excited about is Coralhelm Commander. This card is exactly what I think Legacy Merfolk needed. Another Blue two-drop that can actually clock someone. The fact that it’s a lord and can do something with all the mana your not spending because all your spells are free is just bonus. This guy seriously has me thinking about playing Merfolk again. In Standard, I don’t think that the help is there. Merfolk Sovereign is a passable lord, if you’re desperate, but we don’t even have the basic troops. Despite the fact that it didn’t see a lot of play this season, I think Merfolk is very close to good enough for Extended, and this card might actually give it the push it needed there. The rare and mythic levelers were just pushed so hard. This thing is a 3/3 flier for 2UU at worst, but it’s clearly actually miles ahead of that (although, it’s only fair to note that unlike a 3/3 flier for 2UU, it does die to a Shock… or a Smother).

On the subject of levelers and Smother, with so many levelers being pushed so hard, Smother and other cheap, instant speed removal are looking really good. I’ve read concerns that, now that creatures are bigger, Vendetta will cost more life than it did the first time around, and it might not be that good compared to all the other excellent options available. Personally, I hate losing life, but I’m pretty excited about Vendetta. Killing a creature for only one mana is such a huge tempo play, and when you’re killing a Kargan Dragonlord in response to its 4th level, it gets even better.

Emrakul’s Hatcher is another very interesting card. Siege-Gang Commander’s almost certainly better in most decks, but the fact that you can play it off an Eldrazi Temple is potentially a very large selling point. If you’re on a draw with him and 2 Eldrazi Temples, or one and an Eye of Ugin, you can Eldrazi Conscription and attack for 13 trample with annihilator 2 on turn 4. I’m not saying I expect that to be the deck people are playing when they’re trying to cast Eldrazi spells, but it’s a reasonable enough ideal scenario to potentially warrant a closer look.

An aside on flavor with this set and looking back, I love that the natural first thing to think when you see something like Kozilek is, “That’s pretty sweet, but do I really need to spend more mana on something other than Iona to win the game when I could just play Iona?” The reason I love that this is an obvious thought is that the answer is yes, you need to play Kozilek instead of Iona specifically because Kozilek beats Iona. Without Eldrazi, Iona rules the world, but this is a new world, and the new best creatures completely trump the old ruler. Perfect flavorful interaction that I really hope was intentional.

Awakening Zone is a card that I find really interesting. It looks slow, but the card that I want to compare it to is Coalition Relic, and while it’s still slower than that, and it doesn’t fix colors, I’m pretty sure that comparison makes to look pretty good to me. After having spent the last few weeks casting Martial Coup, only to have my opponent Maelstrom Pulse my tokens almost every time, I’m pretty excited about being able to sacrifice an Eldrazi Spawn whenever I want. I like the idea of playing this card and then playing a control game and incidentally casting some giant Mind Springs thanks to the tokens without having to do too much work to accelerate. Its versatility as a source of blockers is a pretty nice bonus. I think this card won’t work out well if people try to put it in Eldrazi Monument/Overrun style decks, but that it will be an excellent accelerator for real control decks, if Green is a reasonable color for them to play.

I like Staggershock and Forked Bolt, and I’m not sure which I’m more excited about. I’ve always felt like Red deserved Fire as its own card apart from Fire/Ice, and I think Forked Bolt is about the right way to do that. Forked Bolt goes a long way to discouraging a creature base like Mythic’s twelve one-toughness accelerators, provided the format has enough one-two toughness creatures that the card sees any play. Honestly, I think this isn’t the right time for Forked Bolt, but Staggershock is a little more timeless. Red will always be happy to do four damage for three mana, with options on killing two creatures or killing a creature and hitting a player for two. It’s a little slow, but not very, and the versatility and power certainly make up for it.

Prey’s Vengeance is another in a long line of cards that I really wish could be Constructed playable. It looks so close. You get a reasonable trick once and then some free damage the next turn. It’s so easy to get so much out of one mana with that card, but unfortunately I think it just takes too much to make a pump spell Constructed playable.

Inquisition of Kozilek feels like an important card to weigh in on, and as much as I’d like it to be awesome, I think it’s just barely not there. I’ve Thoughtseized a lot of Cryptic Commands in my time, and that’s just the beginning. There are so many cards this doesn’t hit. The real problem with it is that while it’s pretty good on turn 1, it gets worse as the game progresses, even faster than Duress. The fact that it doesn’t hit cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Bloodbraid Elf; and Day of Judgment seems like far too big of a drawback. Yes, it will have some targets in your opponent’s deck more consistently than Duress will, but almost everyone will have important cards it doesn’t hit (in Standard), so unlike Duress, it’s never awesome, which means it doesn’t even make sense as a sideboard card. I’m not saying the card is bad, but I don’t think it will see very much play in Standard right now. Thinking about it in Extended – in Faeries, for example – I don’t think I would play it because it doesn’t hit Scapeshift, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, or random monsters from Hypergenesis. Those are very specific applications, but they’re also very important things that my Thoughtseizes are doing. When trying to beat a combo deck, I’ll happily pay two life to get the exact card I want.

I mentioned Gideon above, but I want to clarify that I think that card is really good. I understand that it has the 3WW Baneslayer cost problem, but the fact that it isn’t a creature and the fact that it can have a lasting impact on the board as soon as it comes down (by killing a creature) are both huge in setting it apart from Baneslayer Angel. They don’t do the same thing, and I really like that Wizards has managed to make a card that might convince me to do something other than put a ridiculous angel into play when I tap 3WW.

Oh, I mentioned Eldrazi replacing Iona as finishers, but I didn’t really comment on whether I thought that was actually viable or which ones if any I like. I think Kozilek, Butcher of Truth is the most realistic win condition if you’re not trying to Summoning Trap of Polymorph them into play. Ten is a lot of mana, but tools like Awakening Zone and Consuming Vapors make it seem somewhat realistic to me.

I’m not really sure how to wrap up a brainstorming session like this, so I’ll just leave you with my current picks for five most played cards from this set for the upcoming Nationals Qualifiers:

1 – Wall of Omens
2 – Vengevine
3 – Staggershock
4 – Kargan Dragonlord
5 – Student of Warfare

This is a surprisingly awkward list to make. I had Kargan Dragonlord, and then I realized that there was a good chance that anyone who was playing him would also play Staggershock, and some decks that can’t afford all the Red for the Dragonlord might still play Staggershock. Also, guessing whether those are played more than Student of Warfare is just a matter of guessing if I think there’s going to be more Mono Red or Mono White. Maybe I’ll come up with a better way to make a Top 5 list next time.

Until then, thanks for reading…