Last weekend, the Eldrazi finally rose. I managed to play in one prerelease and run another — and I went “undefeated” in both. Good times. I’ll look at my deck and notable cards I faced. I’ll also talk about the cards that confused players, and the common rules issues at the prerelease. It will be relevant when you play at your local launch party.
One of the first things I noticed was that it is actually pretty hard to build decks in this format. I took nearly the entire time to build mine, and a lot of people seemed to be pushing the very generous time limits I imposed at my prerelease. I still wonder if that is an effect of using six boosters, instead of the five we used to have.
Oust: I like! In M10, I loved playing Excommunicate, simply as a way to get rid of Auras. This seems even better — certainly better than Demystify. In a world full of playable auras and umbras, Oust is even better than it might seem at first. It was too bad my White creature base consisted almost entirely of Glory Seekers. White decks seems to rely on levelers, and I only had one. The bad one.
Puncturing Light: An instant that destroys creatures with power of 3 or less. I faced opponents that had this twice, but each time I had ways to pump my creatures. If the target has power greater than three on resolution, the target is illegal and the spell is countered. However, if they don’t have pump, this kills most of the evasive creatures in the format.
Soul’s Attendant: Playing at the prerelease, I had to remember that I was not a judge. When my opponent first missed a trigger, I interrupted to explain how may triggers worked and offered him a chance to gain the life. The second time I warned him that I was not giving him any more takebacks. After that — well, the fact that this version of Soul Warden has a “may” means that he did not get about five life over the course of the match. Not that it really would have helped him. He was four colors and inconsistent. I was not.
Survival Cache: I had a lot of interesting discussions about this card, and players seemed really split. I was not in White, so I didn’t play it, but I can see doing so. The best case scenario is that this is a Divination that gains you four life. The problem is that the best case scenario is by no means the only case. That said, I really wonder about this in a control deck. If you are on the play, and go turn 2 Wall of Omens, turn 3 this, odds are really good that you are going to wind up drawing two cards.
My Blue was amazing, if what you wanted was a way to dig through your deck and draw cards. If you actually needed to win the game, though, I would be relying on 1/3 to beat down.
I had numerous cantrips — although too many of them were bad ones, like Fleeting Distraction and Aura Finesse. I had two Seagate Oracles, to filter my draws, and they are great. I had three Mnemonic Walls, which could get back some great instants or sorceries — if I had any besides the Oust. (I had some in Red and Black, but that comes later.) I had the new and improved Fog Bank — Guard Gomazoa. And I had one 2/3 flier — the only Blue creature that might actually get through to deal damage.
I mentally set the Blue aside, although I did try a few Blue builds later on.
Making this short — I played Black. I had pretty much all the best Black removal, and great creatures. I also had two Black fliers in a format that is very short on evasion.
Consume the Meek was an MVP for much of the night. Consume came through when an opponent dropped Eldrazi Conscription on his Nest Invader and started bashing for 12. Consume the Meek offed the Nest Invader. I also managed a lot of favorable X-for-Ys, including six-for-two.
Induce Despair: This instant gives a creature —X/-X, based on the power and toughness of whatever creature card I revealed. By far, this was the best use of the couple big Eldrazi I ended up playing. When you are giving a 5/5 creature -12/-12, you really do not need to worry about pump spells in response, or any stinking Totem Armors. Amazing.
Suffer the Past: This was interesting. At first glance, I read “XB, empty target Dredge player’s graveyard of interesting cards,” but figured it was way too expensive to compete with Leyline of the Void or Ravenous Trap. It took me a second to realize that this isn’t a graveyard hoser so much as this set’s Fireball. It deals X to the head, provided that the player’s graveyard contains at least X cards. Now my deck was fairly heavy in removal spells, so I may not be typical, but I never had any problem finding enough cards in my opponent’s graveyard to let me cast this for full value. Best of all, it is an instant. You can use this to nail an Eldrazi Mythic that hit the graveyard while the shuffle into library trigger is on the stack. You can also use this as a surprise reversal to an opponent’s supposedly-lethal alpha strike. They calculate damage, swing, cast their pump, then you suddenly gain another half dozen life.
And, finally – Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief.
This is a certified, unquestionable bomb. When I got it into play, they either dealt with it immediately or died. (Spoiler alert — they mostly just died.) The fact that it is a 4/4 flier in a format with few creatures capable of blocking fliers is significant. Drana is a dragon with firebreathing, but not just a dragon with firebreathing. She has firebreathing plus kill your dude every frickin’ turn. This is like Archbound Ravager risen from the grave. Like Ravager, no matter how badly you have misplayed up to then, once this hits play it just wins you the game. It is insane. Once this hit play, I pretty much never cast another spell all game. I simply dumped my mana into her ability, flew over, and won.
I also played Red. I had two Battle-Rattle Shaman. Earlier, when I mentioned that I had pump spells to save my fliers from Puncturing Light, this was partly what I meant. The first time I used it, I had to explain to my opponent that it triggered at the start of combat, before attackers were declared. Since Puncturing Light only targeted attackers, the pump had resolved before he could cast it — and afterwards, the creatures were two big. The Battle-Rattles were great, especially since they do not tap to provide the bonus, so they provide it the turn they enter the battlefield. A turn 3 Gloomdrifter and a turn 4 Battle-Rattle meant that one opponent died to five straight hits from my 4/1 flier. So good.
Heat Ray is Red’s best removal spell in the set. The only bad thing to say about it is that one is sometimes not enough.
Grotag Siege Runner: I really liked this guy. Early on, he got some damage through. Later on, he killed walls. In sealed, he seems fine, but I suspect he is far better in draft, where aggro decks may need his services.
Battle Rampart: This is one of the few Mercadian Masques Limited cards I remember fondly. The ability to give any attacker haste is actually quite good. I almost managed to give my Kozilek, Butcher of Truth haste using it’s ability — but my opponent conceded in response. Equally importantly, I saw lots of 2/1s and 2/2s in the format. That may change, once players learn more about Rise Limited, but it seems like this 1/3 will stop early beats early on, then provide you fatties with haste late game.
Rapacious One: This was a pretty nuts token generator. It was more effective than Emrakul’s Hatcher, but that might have been because I was very careful about using my removal to protect him and force him through. I also got to pump him a lot.
Ogre Sentry: I had two of these 3/3 walls for 1R. I also had Warmonger’s Chariot — equipment that gives +2/+2 and let’s walls attack as if they did not have defender. That equipment let me beat with a wall on rare occasions, although I found it just as valuable on a flier, where it acted like a Vulshok Morningstar.
I think I could have had a pretty sick Green deck, but played the Red instead. The removal spell — Heat Ray — decided things for me.
First off, I had some good Green acceleration. I had two Overgrown Battlements, plus a Growth Spasm. That is pretty good ramping — great if I also ran the Ogre Sentries. However, if I stayed in RG, I didn’t have all that much to accelerate into. (More on that later.) Still, the combo looked so good that I considered splashing Green for just those three cards.
I also had Bear Umbra. That’s the totem armor that untaps all your lands when the enchanted creature attacks. I didn’t get to use him, but a player at my prerelease did, and combined him with an invoker. He would attack, tap all his lands in response to the untap trigger, then tap them all again to provide the 8 mana needed to fire off the invoker. I had to respond to a couple judge calls to confirm that, yes, that works. However, Bear Umbra costs 2GG, so I could hardly splash for it.
I had Beastbreaker of Bala Ged. I didn’t realize just how good that card was, or I might not have been able to avoid Green at all. I did have a couple opponents play them against me. The Beastmaster is a total beating on turn 3, if they dropped it turn 2.
Looking over my card pool, I also noticed that I had Wildheart Invoker. I don’t remember seeing that at the prerelease, but it just cements the whole insane Green idea. Its invocation is basically halfway between Predators Strike and Might of Oaks which can hit every turn. It would be so very good with the Bear Umbra.
Awakening Zone is nuts. I didn’t have one, but I did fight against it. The combination of endless blockers and mana acceleration is tough to beat, unless you have either Sicken or enchantment removal — or both. The worst case, from my perspective, was the combination of Awakening Zone and Broodwarden, which pumps all tokens. I lost to that combo in one fun game between rounds. Equally bad, but more likely than the rare Broodwarden, are the uncommon invokers. The Red one turns them all into in 4/1s, while the Wildheart makes a spawn tokens a 5/6 trampler.
Finally, I was amazed by just how good Momentous Fall was in practice. I didn’t have one, but two opponents did. In each case, my removal spell was blanked, and my opponent suddenly got a bunch of life and a new grip. The only up side was that the card requires a sacrifice, so totem armor does not save the creature.
Colorless / Artifacts / Lands
I had Kozilek, Butcher of Truth; Hand of Emrakul; and an Artisan of Kozilek. I also had a Not of this World, but the odds of both having that in hand and having an opportunity to cast it seemed highly remote. Let’s talk about the real Eldrazi instead.
I mentioned it before, but just to reiterate — Eldrazi Conscription is insane. The best use was dropping it on an evasive creature — as if trample was not enough. I didn’t have it, and I had to have a lot of luck to beat it when my opponents played it, but I saw it win several games at the prerelease.
I did lay out the walls and mana acceleration Green-Red deck. With two Vine Trellises, plus other walls and spawn producers, I could ramp into an Eldrazi fairly quickly. That’s the best case scenario. The worst case is that I ramp up into more ramping. The biggest problem with that deck is that I have no card drawing. If the Eldrazi are hiding in the bottom third of my deck, I just lose.
Adding Blue could let me cycle through my deck to find the Eldrazi, but Blue cards do not produce Eldrazi spawn tokens, so Blue won’t accelerate me into anything. I could probably have built a really good UG deck, with Blue to cycle and Green to provide the mana and fat, topping out in the Eldrazi. I looked at UG, but I much preferred having all the removal available through the RB build, and Drana is a better bomb that Kozilek.
This pool, more than any other in recent memory, makes me wish I could play it in an online league. I would love to be able to build a dozen different variations of the deck, and try them all.
I’m going to keep this short, since I was playing in the midnight release, was barely awake, and I did not take enough notes.
Round 1: He’s four colors, and I have to explain how the new Soul Warden works. He chumps my 4/4 with a useful 2/2, while at 18 life, and has no tricks. I win with a Battle-Rattle pumped 4/1 Gloomdrifter, and have to explain that Puncturing Light cannot target it. Etc. He was a new player, and I’m not. 2-0.
Round 2: He had an Aura Gnarlid and a Nest Invader and a Level 3 Beastmaster of Bala Ged and a couple spiders and a ton of tokens. I had Consume the Meek. After that, he had lands, and he drew more. Game 2 I got a fast flier and both Battle-Rattles. I had a scare when he cast a small flier and tried to power it up with Eldrazi Conscription, but I had three mana and Last Kiss. A turn later I had Drana. 2-0
Round 3: He had a couple little guys, and I had a flier. I bashed, while my 3/3 walls held him off. Then he cast a couple totem armors on a little guy, and suddenly the little guy was a fairly large, lifelinked spider. I ripped Induce Despair, and tried to give his super spider -10/-9, but he had Momentous Fall. He went from an almost empty hand and being almost dead to a full grip and a double digit life total. Ouch. However, I cast Drana, and while he was able to kill it, I cast Architect of Kozilek the next turn, returning Drana to play, which got the concession. Game 2 I had a fast Drana, and he could not kill it. 2-0.
For round 4, I asked for an ID. It was after 5am, at that point, and I had been up and working for over 24 hours. I was really tired and punchy, and so was my opponent. We decided not to risk losing the match because of fatigue-induced mistakes. We did play for fun, and I lost 1-2. He had a sweet RGB deck, with double Heat Ray, double Vendetta, and the Awakening Zone / Broodwatch combo, if I recall correctly.
Saturday, I had errands and commitments, and no prerelease. Sigh.
Sunday I ran the prerelease over at Pegasus Games. We had 30 players. It was a very pleasant, laid back event. Pegasus is an area of low-intensity conflict. We gave out five or six new DCI cards, and had lots of open dueling, so I could answer a lot of questions. Having many questions to answer is infinitely better than being bored.
At the prerelease I ran, I handled more questions about totem armor than anything else. That was true even including “where’s the bathroom?” and “how much time left in the round?”
The most common question was what happened when a creature with two totem armors is destroyed. The short answer is that the controller chooses which armor to bin.
Player: “But it has the word â€˜destroy’ right on the card! It should destroy them both.”
Me “The important word is â€˜instead’.”
The word “instead” indicates a replacement effect. You do something instead of doing something else. In this case, you destroy the totem armor instead of destroying the creature. Once you have replaced an event, the original event is gone. You can only replace the event once. Think of it this way. You have a $10 bill. You were going to put it into your wallet, but you spend it on lunch instead. You cannot still put that $10 into your wallet, nor can you use it to buy another lunch. It’s already spent.
Another point – destroy is not the same as zero toughness. A creature with lethal damage is destroyed, per state based actions. Regeneration, totem armor, etc. all replace the destroy effect. A creature with zero toughness is not destroyed, it is simply put into a graveyard as a state based action. Totem Armor does not replace that action.
Finally, the totem armor replacement effect is not regeneration. It does not tap the creature. It does not remove it from combat. If you deal lethal damage to, or otherwise destroy, an attacking creature wearing totem armor, that creature loses the armor and the bonuses granted by the armor, but the creature itself keeps on attacking.
This is the Eldrazi with the ability “20: cast any number of Eldrazi spells you own from outside the game.” At first, I figured I could ignore this guy. However, when I skimmed the 30 pool registration lists, I saw that six players had opened copies. That’s too many to ignore. I explained that, for a tournament, the only cards that ability could fetch were the cards in your sideboard — in other words, the other cards that had been in the six booster packs you opened. Spawnsire could not fetch any Eldrazi you opened in other prerelease pods, nor could it fetch your prerelease card.
Seeing six copies in the card pool also got me wondering if that’s typical, or a fluke. There’s something like 55 rares in the set, plus 15 Mythics. If Mythics appear once per eight packs, and each player opened 30 packs, then we opened about 160 rares. Six Spawnsires were a fluke — the odds say we should have seen three.
My other question, before the weekend, was whether anyone possibly could use the ability in Limited. I mean — 20 mana? However, at least once during play I was bashing with my Rapacious One equipped with the Warmonger’s Chariot, and I was amassing token all over the place. Had I played the lands in my hand, I could easily have hit 20 mana — and done it with about half my library left.
It is an interesting format.
At the Pegasus Launch Party, in Madison, WI, this Friday night. Registration at 6:00pm, play at 6:30pm.