I can’t help myself. I love civil rights documentaries.
Working almost 30 hours a week and with a full schedule of grad classes on my plate, it’s rare that I get a respite and a chance to write. How did a big set prerelease coincide with a lull in my schedule? I think it’s probably connected to some fortuitous astronomical event.
I headed to the venerable Philadelphia Convention on Saturday for Philly’s prerelease. It’s funny going to prereleases and actually being able to have complex conversations with people about the cards before opening; I didn’t have that luxury after years and years of playing in Japan. And I still think I’m a pretty quiet guy at the prerelease. I spent a good amount of time talking to people at the prerelease, and most of the newer players looked wall-eyed after opening and even a few rounds into the tournament. The mana requirements for Rise of the Eldrazi unnerve people who expect most deck curves to cluster around the three to four mark. Playing land no longer does cool things on the table, it just allows you to bring out a fattie or make your men harder. Be ready to play more than two spells that cost five or more, and in many cases a lot more than five. You could point to the player in the lead on turn seven in most Zendikar era Limited games, and you’d usually be right. But Rise has big, swingy creatures, and life totals tend to start dropping by increments of six or eight.
As I see it, Rise of Eldrazi’s environment centers around the tensions of three disparate strategies. The first is rushing to get through first with cheap guys and evasion. Black/Blue flying decks with bounce and removal can get there. Red weenie rush can sneak together some surprisingly fast wins with the right commons in multiples. This is the same tactic that we’ve seen to be so successful in Zendikar, and to a lesser extent in Shards, and Shadowmoor, and Lorwyn. There are a few synergistic strategies that allow you to win with cheap aggro decks in Rise, but most of them will be relegated to draft strategies. Sealed decks will more likely focus on two other approaches. The next approach is making incremental investments in cards that gradually increase in power (the levelers), and coupling that with removal to clear away the inevitable fatties. These decks will usually win with evasion ,but have a chance to overrun slow opponents by turn seven when paired with timely removal. And the last approach is committing to reaching and winning the late game, using Eldrazi Spawn and other mana accelerants to ramp up to giant fatties while gumming up the board with clunky 2/4s and disposable 4/1s and 6/2s, then blowing the opponent out with overwhelming force.
Most of the newbie players I watched in action went with the first strategy coupled with a few levelers and got blown out. They missed land drops and got crushed for it. Zendikar may have been the fastest Limited format since Tempest, and Rise of the Eldrazi is the slowest since Onslaught / Legions / Scourge.
There is a lie in this article. I’m not telling what it is.
First Pool: The Building
2 Eel Umbra
Hada Spy Patrol
2 Bloodthrone Vampire
Consume the Meek
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Perish the Thought
2 Zof Shade
2 Zulaport Enforcer
Beastbreaker of Bala Ged
2 Daggerback Basilisk
Might of the Masses
2 Ondu Giant
I’ll start the pool with the colored spells, because we’ll have to see what the support for our quite substantial Eldrazi contingent looks like before we can determine their viability.
Dawnglare Invoker’s an excellent card to splash for in big mana decks. You don’t want to play it early in the game, when cheap removal like Wrap in Flames or Staggershock runs rampant. But late in the game, when you’ve got your splash ready to go, he’ll rock the house. Of course he’s perfectly fine in decks with a major White component, too. I would never run more than one out on the table at a time, though. I saw one guy bust out two of these in a rush and get blown out.
Oust is not a real solution to an Eldrazi. (Except for that Hand of Emrakul. The Hand hates being Ousted.) In Sealed, it’s fine, but it’s not great, primarily beating up on decks that make use of Umbras. It’s a reasonable solution to levelers as well. But Eldrazi decks for the most part rely on locking down the board then winning over time. Oust will only delay the inevitable, and the life gain isn’t pleasant either. I’d rather be playing Narcolepsy.
Is Totem-Guide Hartebeest playable when you’ve only got one Aura? I like its sizable posterior. I say, yes. Of course, the more, the merrier.
Caravan Guard, can I have a word with you? Take a look across the color wheel and scope out the fine man Zulaport Enforcer. This guy has a better midrange form than you. When he reaches the cap, he’s got evasion. All you’ve got is first strike, and in the land of copious Eldrazi spawn, you’re stuck butting heads while he’s sealing the deal. And he isn’t subject to Vendettas. You could learn a lot from that man.
The removal and evasion is here, but not in force. The creatures are okay, but will crumble to a dedicated fattie assault. White’s a possibility, but I’m not too keen on it.
Solid: Enclave Cryptologist, 2 Narcolepsy, Sea Gate Oracle
Decent: Distortion Strike, Echo Mage, 2 Eel Umbra, Fleeting Distraction, Hada Spy Patrol, Halimar Wavewatch, Merfolk Skyscout, 2 Regress, Unified Will
Poor: Merfolk Observer
You know what’s a superlative Eldrazi enabler? Enclave Cryptologist. As long as you have a reasonably thorough commitment to Blue, he gets you more cards, plain and simple. More cards means more mana and face smashery. Play him and some fine three-drops, and you’ll be up and running towards the top reaches of the mana curve in no time. Yes, he takes more work than Archivist, but the format’s slow enough that it’s certainly feasible.
Narcolepsy solves most Eldrazi handily. That’s enough for me to give it a ringing endorsement. It also works on just about everything else. Why does Blue get such a good removal spell at common?
Distortion Strike’s a lot better in draft than it is in Sealed. Managing a mana curve in Sealed is much harder, and there aren’t a lot of 4/1s or cheap 3/1s to throw this on. Blue’s early drops aren’t that hot, so despite the lure of getting something twice for one mana, I’m not that excited.
You know, Halimar Wavewatch is getting a bad rap these days. If your opponent follows your Wavewatch with Beastbreaker of Bala Ged, one of the finest two-drops in the format, you get to make a 0/6 and stop the Beastbreaker’s next turn cold. Don’t ignore this guy. On the other hand, he’s the world’s most miserable Lust for War target.
Unified Will’s a great card to consider splashing in a three color deck with lots of Eldrazi spawn. The only problem that I have is figuring out why else you’d be splashing for Blue. If a deck was playing four or five big Eldrazi and could get them out regularly, maybe I’d consider splashing the Narcolepsies.
The creatures are too light for my tastes and don’t lend themselves well to long games. I think we’ll pass on Blue.
Solid: Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief; Dread Drone; Vendetta
Decent: 2 Bloodthrone Vampire, Cadaver Imp, Consume the Meek, Escaped Null, Induce Despair, Perish the Thought, Shrivel, 2 Zof Shade, 2 Zulaport Enforcer
Poor: Bloodrite Invoker, Death Cultist, Nighthaze
Drana is insane. You don’t need me to tell you that. She’s also another reason to run lots of mana accelerants.
I played Vendetta on three big Eldrazi at the Prerelease. I never regretted doing so. From Dawnglare Invoker to Soul’s Attendant, it’s superlative. Wrecking the dreams of levelers is also a real joy. It’s a better card now than it was in Masques.
I have a problem with Bloodthrone Vampire. If you’re playing a deck that can churn out Eldrazi Spawn by the boatload, then yeah, this Aristocrat wanna-be can rock the house. With that being said, I believe that a solid big mana deck should ideally rely on not just one shot mana infusions from spawn, but also land searching as well. Bloodthrone Vampire is weaker in those decks, but those decks should perform better.
Decks that want to push Bloodthrone Vampires through for scads of damage also have big problems with Shrivel. Shrivel’s a great way to deal with Red decks in particular and spawn decks in general. I didn’t see a lot of people playing it this weekend, and am surprised. Give it a try.
By way of comparison, Consume the Meek does the same thing, as well as blow out the levelers and a few other utility men. But the cost difference is pretty darned significant.
I had a hard time evaluating Zof Shade. Yes, it’s a reasonable card in a ramping deck. But I’ll take Wildheart Invoker over this every time, because the pump ability works on anyone on your team. Zof Shade’s extra flexibility on the mana payment side is appreciated, but the card still needs work.
Go big, or go home. That’s the Rise of the Eldrazi mission statement. Bloodrite Invoker didn’t get the memo, though. 3/1 is not going to cut it with the plethora of defenders, and the activated ability just doesn’t do much. Tap all your guys, make your team unblockable, win almost any fight, a mini-Overrun, and … drain for three? One of these does not belong.
A legit bomb that’s surprisingly cheap, removal, men… Black’s a contender.
Every Magic writer worth his salt looks at draft formats in hunt of the Dampen Thought deck. In the days of mono-Champions of Kamigawa draft, many unknowing players walked into a sneaky archetype playing multiples of cards no normal player in their right mind would ever play. As a reusable mill card thanks to Splice, Dampen Thought churned opponents’ libraries out before they knew what hit them. Once people knew about the archetype, the Dampen Thought draft deck was somewhat harder to pull off, but still won big time when people weren’t paying attention. For more information on this archetype, see this classic column by Scott Wills.
“There’s something big coming,” Wizards screamed loudly. 8/8s for eight that chew up permanents! Commons that grow bigger than a house! Slow and steady wins this race, right? Not so fast. Er, let me restate that. Think again.
There’s a lot of little things coming. A Zerg rush. And you can’t stop them. Take a look at Raid Bombardment. This is the new Dampen Thought flagship, and it’s common. How do you get Eldrazi spawn and one drop guys to kill opponents? Give them unblockable power. And that’s what Raid Bombardment does. No one in their right mind would want to take it, right? One-drops are puny in this format. So how is this going to work?
I’m not joking.
Turn 3, play Brood Birthing. Now you’ve got five guys out there. Swing for one.
Turn 4, play Raid Bombardment. Your opponent may have a blocker out at this point. Who cares? Swing in for five and lose a guy.
Turn 5, play another Raid Bombardment. Swing with your guys, lose two, and have them take eight. They’re on four at this point. Even with blockers that kill your men on turn 3 and 4, they’re dead on board the next turn.
See how good Raid Bombardment can be? And if your opponent does nothing but keep men back, you can just keep your team at home and keep creating spawn or other little guys. The only common cards that wreck you are Wrap in Flame and Shrivel. There isn’t anything in the deck that anyone else wants, and that’s why it’s so good.
Red is the home of the early Eldrazi Spawn. Brood Birthing and Spawning Breath. These cards will be seen strictly as fodder in Sealed, and rightly so. But in draft, where unsuspecting players will let a trash enchantment like Raid Bombardment go very, very late, these cards will be a powerhouse. Add to this some cheap one- and two-drops like Goblin Arsonist and Grotag Siege-Runner, who can get a few beats in nice and early. If no one’s drafting Green, Nest Invaders make a nice complement to this strategy. But the better complement to this weenie deck is Black, which has a few cute early drops like Death Cultist, Bloodthrone Vampire, Null Champion, and Zulaport Enforcer. Staggershock’s actually an excellent removal spell for this deck, allowing you to deal the last few points if your board gets swept.
I didn’t have any time to actually practice this strategy yet, but I’m confident that it’s going to break the draft format open. In the Sealed format, not so much. Back to the pool!
Solid: Emrakul’s Hatcher
Decent: Akoum Boulderfoot, Fissure Vent, Lust for War, Grotag Siege-Runner, Raid Bombardment, Spawning Breath, 2 Staggershock, Soulsurge Elemental, Wrap in Flames
Poor: Lagac Lizard
As a player who tends to prefer defensive decks, I do try to build decks to have higher toughness than some. That could be why I’ve been having my head handed to me in Zendikar. But this strategy seems great in Rise, and I do try to keep the amount of guys who die to Staggershock down to the minimum. If it’s Staggershock plus a valuable opponent guy that trades with my guy, then fine. I respect this spell, but in Sealed, I would not feel bad in the least leaving this in the sideboard. The card removes little of note in the grander scope of things.
Soulsurge Elemental is a fine Abyss that can double as a defender, but it requires that same critical mass of little guys as Might of the Masses does. Problem is, Red critters are so much worse than Green ones. It may be a reasonable draft card to top out your Raid Bombardment strategy, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Sealed.
Aside from the Hatcher, there’s nothing that really draws me to red. I don’t want to splash for 2 damage removal, that’s for sure.
Solid: Beastbreaker of Bala Ged, 2 Daggerback Basilisk, Kozilek’s Predator, Might of the Masses, 2 Ondu Giant, Pelakka Wurm
Decent: Haze Frog, Momentous Fall, Khalni Hydra, Leaf Arrow, Prey’s Vengeance, Snake Umbra, Sporecap Spider
Deathtouch is the ultimate equalizer in this format. Daggerback Basilisk is an ideal answer to a turn 4 Hand of Emrakul, or any other number of giant threats. Daggerback Basilisk turns so many opponent’s expensive propositions into a waste of time. And it’s no slouch against those pesky defenders like Wall of Omens, either. I love this guy, and we have two of him.
There’s a huge difference between Might of the Masses and Prey’s Vengeance. A lot of people are going to look at Might and say “Oh, that’s just a one-shot spell. Prey’s Vengeance has card advantage built in.” And if this was Zendikar, with its incredibly tight mana environment, they’d be right. But Might of the Masses makes your men stupefyingly big. It lets you fight off Eldrazi handily. That’s what you’re most concerned about. So step back from the two for one formula and allow yourself to indulge in a little greed. Card advantage, schmard schmadvantage. Might of the Masses also is way better at getting the last few points in.
Ondu Giant makes colored mana. He buys us time and allows us to play splashes handily. If we want to splash, or ensure we can reliably cast Pelakka Wurm, he’s a must have. This guy is a true friend to Eldrazi. Since we’re playing lots of land anyway in this format, a guy who speeds you up and slows your opponent down is a godsend.
Pelakka Wurm may be seven mana, but when he hits play, it sure seems like an Ancestral Recall to me. You get a turn’s worth of life, you get a guy who can hit really hard and cuts through spawn like a machete through gauze. And the guy leaves combat and replaces himself with a card. This is the best uncommon Limited seven-drop for Green in forever. I’d definitely draft this guy highly. He’s a great precursor to the Eldrazi in ramp decks.
Sporecap Spider’s a necessary evil against the leveler decks, because you won’t always have a removal spell for those fliers. This card doesn’t make me happy, but it fits a hole that needs plugging.
I don’t care how much the discount is. I won’t run Khalni Hydra in a deck that isn’t 70 percent Green.
I know that using a Momentous Fall to thwart an opponent’s removal spell on my fattie is sweet. Bennie Smith adores Momentous Fall. But it requires having four mana open. I don’t trust myself to get that untap step.
Snake Umbra is obviously awesome in Blue/Green or White/Green decks with a lot of fliers. It’s a prime target for Totem-Guide Hartebeest. This deck, on the other hand, is shaping up to use the ground and pound approach. Does that mean that Snake Umbra can still make the cut?
Yeah, this Green’s utterly awesome. It’s got a mix of decent midrange guys and growth. On its own, the cards don’t seem that hot, but when we pair it with the new colorless kids on the block as backup, Green can kick a lot of butt.
Dreamstone Hedron is the mortar that holds together a solid foundation for the Eldrazi. It’s also peachy with leveler decks, but that usually won’t break the game open in the same way Eldrazi do. In Draft, this card may be too slow. In Sealed, it’s a bomb.
Want to fight off Eldrazi? Use Pennon Blade. Since ROE boards teeter with hordes quite quickly, this card can stalemate even the biggest of men. I looked around at other tables, and didn’t see anyone playing this. Yeah, it’s quite expensive as far as equipment goes. But it’s usually +5/+5, and frequently more. I’d say that’s an investment well worth making.
If you can get Hand of Emrakul off on turn 4, you have a good chance of winning. But on turn 7 or 8, he’s actually not that big a threat. This is more of a draft trick than a solid Sealed strategy.
Green’s going to let us play our Eldrazi, and comes with decent men and some nice combat tricks. Black has removal and some good midrange beaters. Let’s run with that.
1cc: Might of the Masses, Vendetta
2cc: Beastbreaker of Bala Ged, Shrivel
3cc: Cadaver Imp, 2 Daggerback Basilisk, Sporecap Spider, Induce Despair, Pennon Blade, Snake Umbra
4cc: Escaped Null, Kozilek’s Predator, 2 Ondu Giant
5cc: Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief, Dread Drone
6cc: Dreamstone Hedron
7cc: Pelakka Wurm
The Big Stuff: Artisan of Kozilek, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, Pathrazer of Ulamog
10 Forests, 8 Swamps
Sideboard superstars: Consume the Meek
The deck went 4-0 in matches, dropping two games along the way. I had all the tools to fight Eldrazi one on one, and I had several of the best on my team. The cards that I feared the most were evasion critters, and I kept the removal back for them.
Pennon Blade was an absolute terror in this deck, putting the fear of God into opposing armies. One game saw a 6/7 Escaped Null swinging for the fences, and driving my life total into the ridiculous ranges. A 13/13 Pelakka Wurm crashing into an opposing army is also a thing of beauty. Despite having two landfetching effects, Hedron, and two Spawn producers, the deck constantly needed more mana, and Pennon Blade was one reason why.
Drana was every bit as good as advertised, and I never failed to play Kozilek in a game I drew him. And while he didn’t survive every attack, he did grind the opposition to pieces. Kozilek also won me a game merely by being in my library, thwarting an otherwise lethal Keening Stone. My opponent committed everything he had into milling me out, and he was rudely surprised.
Artisan of Kozilek was also a superstar, bringing back Pelakka Wurm more than once. One epic slugfest saw the Artisan and Wurm dying together in a brutal combat that left the board strewn with defenders and spawn. But my army kipped back up with Cadaver Imp. My opponent was not amused in the least.
Snake Umbra only drew me cards once, but protected a gruesome fattie adequately to take the win home twice. It also performed yeoman’s duty on a Sporecap Spider, buying me lots of time to fend off airborne demises. Totem Armor isn’t quite the second coming of Rancor, but it’s good enough.
I don’t think I made any major mistakes building the pool, but feel free to show me the error of my ways in the forums.
Speaking of the forums, here’s a second pool I opened, in my first flight. I didn’t do as good a job building it, and it looked a lot harder. I’ll post how I built this later on.
Pool the Second:
2 Knight of Cliffhaven
Repel the Darkness
Wall of Omens
Sea Gate Oracle
2 Battle Rampart
World at War
Wrap in Flames
Beastbreaker of Bala Ged
2 Growth Spasm
2 Leaf Arrow
Might of the Masses
2 Ondu Giant
All is Dust
2 Hand of Emrakul
I had a blast at the prerelease, and definitely plan to get in lots of Sealed flights when RoE rolls onto Magic Online. (I’m playing tour guide in Washington, DC this weekend.) The format features board positions that are far more intricate and complicated than Zendikar’s, and newer players will have to deal with one of the most dramatic shifts of Limited ever. There are more onboard tricks in this format than in any I can recall, especially in comparison to Zendikar’s overwhelmingly landfall-based triggered abilities, and that will reward patient, cerebral players who constantly evaluate what opponents can do. Hats off to Wizards for giving us an awesome new set with visceral, epic battles.
Thanks for reading. As always, email me feedback at [email protected] , or post to the forums. I’ll be writing again, hopefully sooner than later.
Props to tcjimbo and the Redcap’s Corner crew