Here’s a confession: When Wizards started leaking the Eldrazi spoilers, it felt like I was biting tin foil. I hated this set.
“But Ferrett!” you cry. “Aren’t you the penultimate SpikeTimmy, the king of casual, multiplayer joy? Shouldn’t you be happy they’re making ludicrously large stompy monsters for your tabletop games?”
And the answer is, “I’m afraid it’s going to be Onslaught Block all over again.”
From a sales perspective, Onslaught Block was a fine release, bringing us many multiplayer staples and ushering “casual” players back into the fold. It was the dawn of a new era of Magic where Wizards realized that Timmy and Spike could enjoy the same cards, if they toned down removal and amped creatures enough that Spike wasn’t forced to play 2/1s all the time.
But from a Limited perspective, Onslaught Block was a mess. There were too many bomb rares that had no common answers; if someone laid down a Visara the Dreadful, there were whole decks that just folded. They couldn’t do anything but race. And maybe not even that.
Yes, skill counted, even in Onslaught Block. You couldn’t just open up a bunch of dumb rares and expect to win â€” heck, I proved that myself. Still, some days you sat down to Onslaught Block and either opened sucktastic cards that nobody could really work with (even more often than other Limited formats), or you got run over by the H-Bombs in your opponents deck where, even though you knew about them, you could do nothing because your deck had given you zero outs for that card.
So when I heard that Wizards was slowing down the format so we could concentrate on big, stompy monsters, all I imagined was a dull Timmy-clash, where the board bogged up and nobody did anything until one player drew their giganto-monster and the mana to cast it. Then, HURF DERF DERF, one player would ride to victory while the other wept.
Yet Wizards had one thing going for them: despite the fact that everything they promised Rise would be like sounded like industrial death bagpipe metal to my ears, I trusted them. They’ve been churning out good sets for years â€” yeah, some are better than others, but Wizards has been surprisingly consistent at creating fascinating Limited sets.
So I held my breath and muttered, “Wizards knows what they’re doing… They know what they’re doing…”
And lo! On game day?
It’s Onslaught Block. But improved.
But still Onslaught Block.
The whole “big stompy monster” thing is actually done quite well; there’s a lot of interaction, and the rank-and-file Eldrazi don’t trample, so despite the Annihilator mechanic you can still chump block ad infinitum while trying to race.
And Wizards has really worked on trying to get past the two inherent design frustrations in Magic â€” manaflood and manascrew. If you’re mana-flooded, well, have these Levelers! And if you’re mana-screwed, well, let’s give you some Eldrazi tokens! They’ve very much tried, and largely successfully, to minimize the swingy effect that “land” has on the game, but it’s been established for so long that you just can’t change it.
Still… There are rares to which you just lose. Deathless Angel? Hope you’re playing Black or Red, and have the removal that turn. Gideon Jura? Kozilek, Butcher of Truth? And my pick for the most broken rare in all of Rise of the Eldrazi, which is mentioned below?
They’ve minimized the effect of losing to a broken rare, but the broken rares are still out there, and they feel swingier than in Zendikar. At least in Zendikar (or any other format, really), if someone had a big stupid rare you could just try to race them. But we’ve been specifically told that “swarming isn’t going to work any more,” so some games seem to come down to “please don’t draw that please don’t draw that please don’t draw that.”
Which is not fun.
Also, despite the fact that they’ve tried to get rid of mana issues, there are still games where you get mana-screwed in stupid ways, because you need that eighth mana to stay competitive, and it’s not there. And somehow, that’s almost more infuriating than just the “I never drew my fourth land” issue â€” Wizards made you put these stupid huge creatures in your deck because you have to, and now because you haven’t drawn mana or enough spawny guys, you lost.
Whuffing your fourth land? Well, maybe you mulliganed wrong. But whuffing on your eighth land is barely within your control.
I’m not willing to say that I hate the format, because I don’t. It seems to reward careful deckbuilding more than even Zendikar did, and a lot of the interactions are weird. I’ll be playing for a bit.
But I don’t think it’ll hold my interest the way that Zendikar did. And I think a lot of PTQ players are going to be aggravated by this format, simply because when you lose, it doesn’t always feel like skill. Sometimes, it feels like you got run over by a truck with “ELDRAZI INDUSTRIES, INC.” emblazoned on the side, and there wasn’t much you could do about it.
Special Note For Cleveland EDH Players:
I’ve got an EDH deck. If anyone in the Cleveland area wants to play EDH, please contact me â€” one of the reasons I haven’t been writing here as much is that I haven’t been playing much. And EDH seems like a format I should like.
So if you know someone, contact me at [email protected] Danke!
So how did the actual cards play?
This thing is just crazy good if you have any totem armors â€” because it’ll be an early 4/4 at a minimum that you can’t gang-block. That hurts a lot, and people at the prerelease grew to fear it. Which is appropriate, because it has a kind of pseudo-fear.
However, just so you don’t get blown out, if you have a large board stall (which seems to happen a fair amount in Rise), do not pile everything on the Gnarlid, or it’s going to meet an untimely Oust. It’s okay to spread the love and let the Gnarlid benefit incidentally.
Bala Ged Scorpion
I considered starting with two of this in my deck, and ultimately said, “Dude, this is not Zendikar any more.” In that, I was correct. Bala Ged Scorpion will often off a stray Eldrazi token here or there, but in terms of killing creatures that your opponents actually value? Not that often.
Don’t get me wrong â€” when you want it, you want it. I did side in up to two against certain decks. But this format is largely about fatties, and by turn 4 it’s often going to be just a 2/3.
Battle Rattle Shaman
In a classic case of IAPRSTFC (It’s A Prerelease, So Read The Friendly Card), I did not realize that Battle Rattle Shaman triggers at the beginning of combat. I’m so used to triggered abilities during upkeep that I overlooked this initially. As such, it’s not quite a stellar card, but it’s definitely a solid playable.
This card is insane if you’re pursuing an Eldrazi ramp strategy. I actually did this in my first round:
Cast Hedron Dreamstone, attack with dork. Untap, cast an Eldrazi.
Next turn: Cast another Eldrazi. Attack. Cast a third Eldrazi.
Next turn: Attack with three Eldrazi for twenty-five points of damage, sacrifice five permanents, good game.
The +2/+2 is nice, the totem armor is exceptional, the ability to outrace your opponent? Priceless.
Eldrazi tokens, at least at the Prerelease, were like pennies on a gas station counter; a couple on every board, almost overlooked. And Brood Warden did what it said on the tin: there were more than a few times I pulled a win out of nowhere with five surprise 2/2 tokens. Can’t ask for more than that.
I started with this in my deck, and oh my God was I disappointed. It’s a killer card for Constructed, but in Eldrazi Sealed? This might as well have read, “Destroy two Eldrazi tokens, gain two life.”
As noted, Eldrazi tokens were everywhere, and only a handful of decks didn’t have some random dork to sacrifice when the Vapors came a-callin’. This was my biggest letdown of the day, man; I wanted to kill Eldrazi, and I just slaughtered minions. For four mana.
Yeah, it’s good.
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Let us now go through the entire spoiler to find out what common and uncommon answers exist to this beast:
Black: Can Induce Despair if you have a four-mana card in hand, might be able to Virulent Swipe if you can keep a blocker in the air — which, given that the turn after she comes into play she’ll destroy anything with three toughness or less, seems improbable.
Blue: Can Deprive it if you keep the mana open and is aware it exists, can Narcolepsy it (though it will still destroy your board from the sidelines), can Regress it (but it’ll be back), might be able to Unified Will it.
Red: Can Explosive Revelation it and hope to get lucky, can Flame Slash it, can Heat Ray it.
White: Can Guard Duty it (though like Narcolepsy, it will still destroy your board from the sidelines), can Oust it (though you’ll see it again in a few turns), can Smite it (if you can keep a flier in the air long enough to block it).
Green: Zero answers.
So if Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief hits the board, all the colors in total have five ways to definitively get it off the board. Three of those spells are Red. If you’re playing Green, you’re screwed.
Plus, Drana annihilates any Totem Armors in existence. (According to the FAQ, if the creature is below zero toughness, the totem armor “has no effect.”)
And she’s a rare, not a mythic, so you’re going to be seeing a lot of her in the upcoming PTQ season.
… Yeah, that seems fair. She’s got my vote for Most Annoying Danged Card In The Set.
Surprisingly easy to cast, and absolutely 100% solid. If you have a clogged board, cast that Eldrazi with the extra mana. If you don’t have one, get three cards and clog it up!
Also ludicrous in conjunction with Bear Umbra, since you can cast the Hedron, attack, untap all your lands and have +3 mana.
Didn’t play against it, but I didn’t see a game where he was cast and his controller didn’t win.
Growth Spasm and Ondu Giant
Green land-fetching seems especially vital in this set, where getting to nine mana is often critical, and both of these cards are good — Growth Spasm is a little trickier, since there seem to be a lot of three-drops and nets you no body, but in Limited you gotta work with what ya gotta work with.
Stops Eldrazi in their tracks. A solid answer for most of â€˜em.
Hand of Emrakul
You can get it earlier, yes, but it’s also less effective. Annihilator 2 is sometimes backbreaking; Annihilator 1 is just annoying. And the 7/7 body in a world of 8/8s and 9/9s just really isn’t that great. Good, probably, in a dedicated Spawn deck, but I probably wouldn’t play it outside of that unless I was desperate.
I’m still not sure if this is good. It did save my bacon once or twice, but the Frog isn’t going to kill anything significant, and as Fog effects go it’s really expensive. I’m reasonably sure this is terrible.
The best common I can hope to open, man. It kills pretty much any non-Mythic Eldrazi dead, since by the time he gets to nine mana hopefully you are, too — or at least you can block and trade. It’s so useful at getting rid of beasts that I don’t even care that it doesn’t go to the face.
If, by some chance, you get three of these and a bunch of Eldrazi, use them. Or else you face the fate that one of the local players did, which is to be beaten by his sideboard cards alone in two out of three games.
Pathrazer of Ulamog
The difference between eight and eleven mana is surprisingly intense in this format â€” and since he’s useless until he gets to combat (unlike the Big Three Eldrazi, which have enter-the-battlefield effects), I’m not sure whether I’d play him unless backed against the wall.
I want to marry this card and run away with it. Yes, it’s costly, but if you’re in Green, then this is what saves your bacon. He’s competitive sizewise with Eldrazi (especially with a Totem Armor or two), he tramples unlike most Eldrazi, he gets you back in the game when you’re at five life, and he is the perfect target for Artisan of Kozilek. And he’s an uncommon. Oh, man, I want more.
If you don’t have flying defense, this is the next best thing — it won’t stop the beating, but it will reduce it. All for three mana.
Especially nasty on a Pelakka Wurm. Just sayin’.
Most people wrote this one off early in the day, but by late in the day he was getting more respect. In a world full of critter combat and Eldrazi tokens a-go-go, you’re likely to have five or six creatures hanging about, and then he’s a solid wall.
He does, of course, die to everything. But he’s in that weird nebulous category of “I don’t really care enough about him that I’m sad to see him go, and I’d rather my opponent used his removal on this guy than something else bigger.”
Just as a hint, if someone casts this on an Eldrazi token of yours, sacrifice it in response. My opponent was so casual (“Breath your token, put mine into play”) that he Jedi tricked me into it. And then the second game I went, “Hold on there…”
He just said, “Yep.” With that kind of nod that says, “I was hoping you wouldn’t see it again, but I did get you last time.”
And I felt dumb. Because I was dumb. But don’t you be dumb. Just sacrifice the sucker.
Hey, you know what has four paws and loves Totems? This guy!
At common, you get to use it a lot, and it’s actually better than some of the uncommon options. As mentioned, Annihilator 2 is really annoying, and eight mana is very doable â€” unlike eleven, which you do have to stretch for from time to time. This is a surprising staple of the set, but then again it’s a surprising set.
A surprisingly great answer to the Eldrazi, if you’re at a high enough life total. I won a few games where my opponent put everything into creating his uber-Eldrazi, waiting to suit it up with a Totem Armor and everything, and wham! Vendetta. Yes, I lose nine life, which hurts â€” but it hurts less than getting hit repeatedly.
Then again, in my last played game of Rise, I had an opponent with a 10/9 dude when I was at nine life. Didn’t really help. So there’s risk versus reward here.
A standard piece of equipment that you’ll be seeing a lot. Five mana is a lot in Zendikar, not a lot here, and the wall thing got used all the time.
So as always, I’ll ask my usual prerelease questions:
â€¢ What card was better than you thought?
â€¢ What card was worse?
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