Thirst for Knowledge – First Impressions of Rise of the Eldrazi Sealed

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Wednesday, April 21st – Allow me a moment to make something very clear: I don’t like Limited much, specifically Sealed. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like to play Limited, but rather that I’d always choose the Constructed format if given the choice. That being said, Prereleases for me are usually just a formality that I undertake every four months, mostly because it’s kind of a given that all players try to attend and that it’s a way to get new cards before they’re released.

Allow me a moment to make something very clear: I don’t like Limited much, specifically Sealed. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like to play Limited, but rather that I’d always choose the Constructed format if given the choice. That being said, Prereleases for me are usually just a formality that I undertake every four months, mostly because it’s kind of a given that all players try to attend and that it’s a way to get new cards before they’re released.

When I woke up early on Saturday morning, I actually had high hopes. Rise of the Eldrazi looked to be a totally different experience than any other Limited format before it, and I for one was certainly looking forward to the change of pace. I predicted a much slower format than we’ve been used to in recent years (at least for Sealed), and that the high-costed Eldrazi would be the focal point of the format.

Once I started tearing into my packs, I began to notice just how few of the Eldrazi Spawn generators that I was opening. I mean, looking at the spoiler it seems like there are tons upon tons of them, but in reality only Green, Red, and Black get them, meaning that White and Blue get the shaft in that regard. Green, White, and Blue are the only colors with Umbras, however, which I would also consider to be game-breaking in most cases. Green runs away with the best of this trade-off, of course, since it gets to utilize both types of cards… and even gets the only rare Umbra!

My pool had a moderate amount of power cards, but the deck I should build was pretty simple in my opinion. My rares were: Realms Uncharted, Tuktuk the Explorer, Angelheart Vial, Momentous Fall (foil), Mul Daya Channelers, Nomads’ Assembly, and Tajuru Preserver. My Blue was very unexciting, my Red only sported a Heat Ray and a Brimstone Mage, and Black was even worse than Blue. I ended up with this deck:

1 Joraga Treespeaker
2 Nest Invader
2 Kozilek’s Predator
1 Tajuru Preserver
1 Wildheart Invoker
1 Dawnglare Invoker
1 Kor Line-Slinger
1 Stomper Cub
1 Mul Daya Channelers
1 Wall of Omens
1 Totem-Guide Hartebeest
1 Makindi Griffin
1 Lone Missionary
1 Ulamog’s Crusher

1 Nomads’ Assembly
1 Prey’s Vengeance
1 Momentous Fall
1 Ogre’s Cleaver
1 Hyena Umbra
1 Boar Umbra
1 Puncturing Light

1 Evolving Wilds
6 Plains
10 Forest

(Aside: Would you have played Angelheart Vial? I felt my deck was too fast to make use of it, but I’m also more or less wondering how good it is in general. Anyone have the card this weekend and try it out? Let me know in the forums!)

As you can see, I played a fast deck in a moderately slow format. The only card that sticks out from my beatdown strategy is Wall of Omens, but I’m quite sure that I could never actually cut the card, since even if all it does is block and die one time, at least you get to replace it and soak up some damage. It’s still very, very good in this format, even if a lot of creatures can get through it.

When building my deck, I had a few concerns. First and foremost, I was unsure on how effective Kor Line-Slinger and Puncturing Light would end up being. In a format revolving around very large creatures, how good would these two cards be? Kor Line-Slinger was pretty worthless to me all day, but that probably isn’t the rule — it’s more likely the exception. If you look at the number of creatures that have less than four power, the card can definitely do some serious damage — I just was unfortunate enough to never get to fully utilize it. Interestingly, though, Puncturing Light is a spell I found myself casting quite a bit, so I think it ultimately was just random that the Line-Slinger performed poorly for me. You won’t be taking down Eldrazi with either card, but bringing down a flier or a leveler that isn’t maxed out yet is certainly appealing, and I think that both cards are efficient enough to be good. I’d wager that they are probably much better in draft, too, so that just helps their case.

Ogre’s Cleaver was another card that I was unsure of, but it only took a single game for me find that my decision to play it was excellent. In my first round, I led off game 1 with a Treespeaker, an then leveled him up and dropped a Cleaver right after. I played a Mul Daya Channelers on turn 3, suited it up with a Hyena Umbra, and then spent the next three turns beating with an 11/6 first striker (we won that one). The Cleaver is absolutely superb on a flier, and, more specifically, on an Aura Gnarlid (that card is one of the best Green cards, for the record). Heck, it turns even an Eldrazi Spawn into a monster, and I think it is a perfect fit for this format. I’ll be playing it in probably all of my decks from now on.

The Umbras are insane. And, sure, I don’t think that I need to say that, but they are. Crab Umbra and Eland Umbra are really only good on creatures that are already good, and that makes them a lot worse, but all the rest of the Umbras just upgrade dudes into absolute monsters. LSV didn’t rate Hyena Umbra that highly in his review of White, but I’m a huge fan of it. I mean, sure, Boar Umbra is in another league, but Hyena Umbra was more than enough for me to beat most decks I played against. Snake Umbra surprised me the most of them all, however, as every time I played against it (it’s a freaking common!) I felt incredibly awkward. Drake Umbra certainly seems like the best of them all, as flying is so huge in this set. I suppose Bear Umbra is probably a bit better if you have lots of things to spend mana on (which you should — between powering up a huge Heat Ray, leveling dudes, and casting 9/9s you ought to have some action going on), but the fact of the matter is that these cards are ridiculous. My advice, however, is to be very wary of Oust. Having your Umbra’d guy super-Excommunicated is just a total blowout, and I even watched a guy Oust a critter with three Umbras on it. Awkward.

Now, considering how good Umbras are in general, I’d like to make a case for Totem-Guide Hartebeest. I happily played this guy in my deck, as he allowed me to tutor up Umbras, but I’d say he’s probably good enough for any White deck, with or without Umbras. He’s got a sizable body, first of all, but more so I’d play him because the odds of you not having a good aura in your deck are pretty slim. Whether you’re fetching Guard Duty, Narcolepsy, or a Snake Umbra, this guy is pretty amazing. I’d go as far as to say that having one aura in your deck is good enough, but maybe two is the magic number.

The other cards in my deck all performed well. Tajuru Preserver and Lone Missionary are just 2/1s for 2, sure, but four life and immunity to annihilator aren’t awful abilities to have tacked on, and I’d definitely play them again. The Spawn generators were all nuts, but that seems like a given — we’re talking about Hill Giant and Grizzly Bears that also dump mana-making 0/1s into play… for no extra cost. At all. That seems okay, doesn’t it? Makindi Griffin was actually one of my best creatures all day, as if you out an Umbra on it you’ll find it pretty hard to lose any race. I won most of my games with a Boar Umbra on it, and looking back, those games were never close. 2/4 fliers have always been solid in Limited, and this one is probably a notch above given the lack of flying in this set (outside of Blue, which actually doesn’t have that many anyway).

Momentous Fall and Nomads’ Assembly were my “not so obviously good” rares (Mul Daya Channelers is absurd, in case you didn’t figure that out), so let me reflect on them. Momentous Fall is very poor at being a combat trick, obviously, since you can no longer stack damage. However, I used it to off a guy with Guard Duty a few times, and in a stalemate you can sack a useless guy (I found that most times even one of my largest creatures was fine, and I think I sacrificed Stomper Cub at least 80% of the time when I cast Fall) to draw yourself into a way to win. I don’t need to mention how much of a windmill slam it is against removal, but clearly that is where it is simply stellar.

Nomads’ Assembly was very bad in only one instance that day. In every single other situation, it was ridiculous. I averaged five tokens from the initial casting, and you can see how that could quickly get out of hand. If your deck has lots of Spawn generators and at least sixteen creatures, I don’t see how you could ever pass this in draft or not play it in Sealed. It may be a bit more situational than most “bombs,” but it most certainly will win you many games. However, sometimes you run cold, and I lost a game on Saturday where I had 49 creatures in play…

How, you ask? Dawnglare Invoker. Curse that card, and may it burn in Hell for all eternity. Yes, I know that I had one in my deck, but I never got to use its ability — mostly because my deck was winning before I got to eight mana anyway (in retrospect, the lone Eldrazi I played might have been unnecessary, though I had lots of mana and not much to do with it). However, in all but one game that I lost the entire day (I made Top 8, so I played a lot of games), I lost because of this card. Not, like, this card in some amazing deck. No, just this card alone. I would be so far ahead that it was sick, but it didn’t really matter, because I couldn’t attack. That Puncturing Light in my hand sure seemed bad, too, as only a fool would attack with his Invoker. So there I was, multiple times that day, with overwhelming board position and not a thing I could do to stop it. Granted, a deck with more removal might have been okay, but is that really a strong argument? So you slap an Umbra on it or something, and still tap all your opponent’s guys down. My deck’s plan was “play huge guys and smash — quickly,” which was fine, but not against Dawnglare Invoker. The card is so good, in fact, that I think it actually makes Crab Umbra a very playable card.

Now, the other Invokers are fine. Wildheart Invoker is really good, especially if you notice that it also grants trample. Frostwind Invoker isn’t terribly exciting, but he’s on curve and grants a strong ability to all your guys. But, at the end of the day, he’s just a much worse version of Dawnglare, since Dawnglare lets you be both defensive and aggressive, whereas Frostwind just lets you alpha strike. Lavafume Invoker is also very good at being aggressive, but he can also make it difficult to attack for the opponent. Still, though… wouldn’t you rather just tap all of their creatures? I’m just saying. Oh, and… uhm, Bloodrite Invoker. Yeah, he’s… not as good as the others, Essence Drain is sweet, but not for 8 and certainly not compared to all the others.

A long story short, Dawnglare Invoker is an absolute superstar in Limited. I mean, maybe she’s less awesome in draft, but in Sealed there are few commons that are better. Play it, every single time.

I realize that most of the cards I’m talking about are Green and White, but that’s kind of what happens when you play the Green and White cards. I got to see far less of the other cards, and so I can’t make a valid observation without actually playing with the cards. I mean, Deathless Angel is an unbeatable bomb, but do I need to explain that (ironically, I watched my good friend Joe Karel beat one with two Umbras on it with a Conquering Manticore, which was fairly humorous)? Pelakka Wurm is a sure sign of truly absurd Limited-based power creep, and Dreamstone Hedron is the real deal. I have lots of thoughts like those, but I think I will wait until a future article to go more in-depth on them.

What I will say, however, is how much I adore this format. Yes, I know that we always say that, but this time I’m being absolutely honest. I liked Zendikar, and I liked Worldwake, but this is something truly different. Rise of the Eldrazi was designed to be drafted alone, and after Coldsnap I was definitely wary of that notion. But I was wrong. This set is wonderfully done, and is by far the most fun I’ve ever had with Sealed. I generally loathe Sealed, but I’d honestly rather play this Sealed format instead of Standard or Extended right now, and you can bet that my MTGO account is going to get a lot of use in the next couple months.

But what is it that makes Rise Limited so fun? Well, allow me to share a story with you all. My friend Dan was playing a match in which he and his opponent had full and cluttered boards, and the game was more or less at a halt. His opponent had a 15/19 creature among his horde, thanks to an Eldrazi Conscription. Dan had a Spawnsire of Ulamog in play and a ton of “reasonable” men. Eventually, Dan cracked a smile and tapped all of his mana… and dumped five Eldrazi from his sideboard into play.

That happened in Sealed. He paid ¬20 mana to play an ability on one of his creatures, and saved exactly 20 mana by doing so. I mean, come on. If someone told you on the Prerelease for Worldwake that in four months you’d be able to cast 12-mana guys and use 20-mana abilities, would you have ever believed them?

Say what you will about Rise of the Eldrazi in Standard, but in Limited we’re talking about the most intuitive and enjoyable format I’ve probably ever had the fortune to play. I couldn’t find a single person who wasn’t positively thrilled with their experience, and I think that alone should give Wizards something to be immensely proud of. I love playing Limited with this set. Me. Something awesome is happening here.

Each game is interesting on a number of levels. First, the idea of trading your chump blockers for mana is great because it forces you to make decisions constantly, and the level-up mechanic (which is far better than I thought it would be) does much the same thing — should you advance your board position with that guy in your hand, or level up your two-drop? What if you want to play Kozilek’s Predator, and can use the two Spawn to level-up instead? But then again, would it be better to use those Spawn the next turn to power out a Pelakka Wurm and not level-up your creature? These kinds of decisions make games very enjoyable, and I for one was very much satisfied.

If you didn’t get to play at the Prerelease, do yourself an enormous favor and play in the Release events this weekend. I promise, you won’t be disappointed! I’d very much like to write more about this set in Limited, so once it is released on MTGO (or maybe even after the Release this weekend) I will probably do just that.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO