The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Rise of the Eldrazi

Read Brian Kibler every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, April 2nd – The new set is coming, and Brian Kibler is excited! In a set that seems packed with massive monsters and effects, the Dragonmaster is looking forward to picking up wins in dramatic fashion. Today, he looks at a collection of the cards spoiled thus far, and discusses what they mean to Constructed Magic. Warning! Contains Spoilers.

You might know me as the kind of guy who gets excited by big creatures. You also might have heard that there’s a new set coming out that has, oh, more than a few big creatures in it. You might imagine, therefore, that I might be a little bit excited. And you’d be right.

What can I say? I love winning in dramatic fashion. It’s not just big creatures, but anything worthy of a windmill slam. Whether it’s Armadillo Cloaking a Rith, attacking with a Baneslayer Angel, or casting Martial Coup for 10, I love big, powerful effects. If the spoilers we’re seen so far for Rise of the Eldrazi are any indication, this is going to be my kind of set.

The obvious big cards to look at first are the Eldrazi themselves.

Even the ridiculous Progenitus pales in comparison to these in many ways. “Protection from Colored Spells” isn’t far off from “Everything,” and 15/15 Flying is just about as difficult to race as a 10/10 unblockable — especially when it comes with Annihilator 6 attached! In decks that are looking to cheat these creatures into play, like Hypergenesis, it’s hard to imagine losing when you’ve had a chance to actually attack with them, since forcing your opponent to sacrifice a boatload of permanents is pretty difficult to come back from, Baneslayer Angel or not.

Despite the fact that you don’t get the sweet “when you cast” triggers from these creatures when you cheat them into play, you still get a gigantic monster that is likely to essentially end the game in a single attack. I would not be surprised to see Emrakul and Ulamog showing up in Extended Hypergenesis decks or Vintage Oath decks, although the fact that they cannot be fetched with Tinker may make them less attractive than Darksteel Colossus in the latter.

But of course any kind of gigantic monster is going to be pretty awesome if you can cheat it into play. The bigger question is just how viable it is to actually cast the Eldrazi. The U/W Tap Out Control decks have shown us the power of Everflowing Chalice at powering out Martial Coup, Mind Spring, and Iona, and it seems obvious to look toward a fairly similar shell if we’re going to be trying to pay full retail price for these enormous creatures.

I’ve cast my share of Martial Coups for 13, so it’s certainly possible to generate the sort of mana that it takes to cast these guys, but unlike Martial Coup and Mind Spring, you don’t get partial credit for getting partway there. Emrakul is just going to sit in your hand doing nothing until you can pay for him up front, while Martial Coup is already clearing your opponent’s board and making you an army of soldiers when you’re less than halfway there. As I mentioned in my GP: Kuala Lumpur report a few weeks ago, the U/W deck isn’t in the market for more power — while perhaps it could play the Eldrazi and even cast them now and then, adding them seems unlikely to actually improve the deck.

The draw of the U/W deck for playing the Eldrazi, more than anything, is Everflowing Chalice, which is neither Blue nor White at all. The fact that it is colorless not only opens potential Eldrazi strategies up to more options, but also works pretty well with this little number…

I have a feeling this card is going to have one of the biggest long term impacts in the set. Remember Akroma’s Vengeance? This is an Akroma’s Vengeance that any color can cast that also happens to let some permanents stick around — like Everflowing Chalice. Yes, it costs seven mana, but it gives an incredibly powerful sweeper effect to anyone willing to pay that much.

All is Dust reminds me a great deal of Nevinyrral’s Disk, which was the go-to panic button of choice for those colors and strategies that may not have had ways to deal with everything they needed to kill. It’s important to note that this card also kills Planeswalkers, which makes it a very attractive sweeper effect for control strategies that might otherwise have trouble with cards like Jace.

Interestingly, the fact that Shards block gave us so many colored artifacts means that this card is positioned much differently than it would be in another context — and I have to wonder if Scars of Mirrodin will follow suit with Shards and feature largely colored artifacts, or if this card will turn into a monster with the new artifact block coming up…

Regardless of what the distant future holds for All is Dust, this card has important implications for the soon-to-be-present, which is that you don’t have to play white to get powerful mass removal. This means that you can dip into green mana acceleration — paired with Everflowing Chalice, of course — to power out your Eldrazi monstrosities. Rampant Growth plays much better than Borderposts with All is Dust, since the latter wastes away with all the other colored permanents when you decide to pull the trigger. It’s also important to keep in mind that All is Dust is a Tribal Sorcery — Eldrazi, which means Eye of Ugin gives the spell its two mana discount.

Speaking of Eye of Ugin, this little number is an interesting way to take advantage of the variety of powerful lands in the Zendikar block (or is that the Zendikar plus Rise block?). Essentially Gifts Ungiven for lands, this number can set your Eldrazi deck up with Eye of Ugin or the rumored Eldrazi Temple, or bolster your resources with Raging Ravine, Tectonic Edge, and Quicksand. This card certainly increases the value of Grim Discovery as well, since the lands you don’t get to keep head to your graveyard. This card certainly won’t have the same sort of ability to set up combos that Gifts has, since it can only get lands, but I imagine it’s likely to cause at least some people to look at putting together Extended Tron decks once again. That, and because there are a few really powerful things to do when you manage to generate a whole lot of colorless mana.

The two other big effects that caught my eye from the cards spoiled so far are the two new Planeswalkers:

Sarkhan is clearly the flashier of the two, since he keeps his focus on dealing with dragons even in his new, somewhat-less-sane incarnation. His first ability is the most “mad” of the three, providing a card draw effect with the same sort of deckbuilding influences that we saw in Dark Confidant. The second ability seems to push along similar lines, encouraging a deck of low cost creatures that can turn into much deadlier dragons with Sarkhan’s help. The “Ultimate” ability — which is actually available right away, and can only ever go off once, since Sarkhan has no plus ability to let him regain Loyalty — serves as a finisher that can let your newly spawned dragons break through even a wall of Baneslayer Angels for the kill.

I don’t see an immediate home for this new Sarkhan. I’m hard pressed to see Jund making room to fit him, since the deck is not exactly hurting for card advantage effects, and a five mana spell that only conditionally impacts the board doesn’t seem terribly exciting. While the dream of sacrificing a Sprouting Thrinax for a dragon and then getting two more dragons out of the deal over the next few turns is tempting, the fact that the ability is targeted means that it’s very likely that you can end up spending five mana and two loyalty just to get your Thrinax Pathed or Bolted. If he does find a home, I imagine it will be in a deck more like B/r Aggro Vampires, but I don’t see that happening while Jund is still king.

Gideon, on the other hand, is very exciting to me, and seems like the sort of card that will find a home immediately. Planeswalkers are a very powerful card type in part because of the way in which they can divert your opponent’s attention away from attacking you in order to kill them, and Gideon takes this to the extreme with his +2 ability that actually forces all of your opponent’s creatures to attack him. This has obvious synergies with his -2 ability to destroy a tapped creature, but can also just serve as a buffer for your life total when you’re trying to build up your resources.

In my last article about U/W Control, I talked about how Elspeth could often provide that same sort of buffer effect, and it seems like Gideon could be an excellent addition as well. The two Planeswalkers actually work remarkably well together, as well, since Elspeth’s token creation can help block the biggest incoming creature and keep Gideon alive to pick it off while he absorbs the damage from the smaller threats. They both obviously play well with Wrath effects, since your opponent has to commit additional resources to the board to try to overwhelm them. And with the two of them teamed up together… maybe it’s even enough to keep Jace alive now and then! Of the cards I’ve seen from Rise so far, Gideon seems the most likely to become a big ticket item. I wouldn’t expect him to go to Jace or Baneslayer levels, but Elspeth range is not out of the question.

I’ve decided to hold off my look at the Level Up mechanic until there are more cards revealed — so far I’m not impressed by the implementation, and feel like it’s a very complicated and messy looking way to do an effect we’ve already seen on Figure of Destiny. That being said, I feel like the cards offer a ton of decision space in Limited and probably play very well there, but I have to wonder if the huge cost of using such a different frame is really worth it unless they’re intended to be a permanent part of Magic. You only get so many opportunities to get the splash value of a dramatic new treatment like that, and so far I’m not convinced that Level Up is splashy enough to deserve it. It’s sort of like the way the Eldrazi use the Planeswalker trick of extending their art outside the box. It makes sense — they’re larger-than-life entities that don’t follow the same rules as mere mortal creatures – but we’ve already seen that effect on Planeswalkers, so it’s both less special and somewhat undermines the specialness of that treatment for the cards that were getting it already.

To get back to the gameplay front, my gut feeling right now is that the Eldrazi themselves won’t have a big impact on Constructed play, since I really can’t imagine a format in which you can generate that kind of mana and not be able to have won any number of ways already. I think there are some definite power cards in what has been revealed so far, like All is Dust and Gideon, and I’m excited to see more. It’s pretty cool that we get a whole big expansion’s worth of new goodies this time around, so there’s still a lot left to reveal. I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time…