The Eldrazi invasion is upon us! Players around the world will be getting their first crack at exploring this brave new world in this weekend’s prereleases, and I know I’m really excited about getting my hands on a lot of these new cards. If you’re coming to the StarCityGames.com prerelease in Richmond, make sure to tear yourself away from battling gunslingers Mike Turian and Brian David-Marshall long enough to stop by the administration table and say hello to yours truly and tell me what you think of the new set!
A lot of writers here and around the Internet will be doing complete set reviews, but my column is going to be about how Rise of the Eldrazi impacts the color Green. Green spent many, many years as the undisputed worst color in Magic, and while Wizards has come light years since then in terms of better balancing the colors, there’s still need to have a strong advocate for the color. I think a lot of the reasons why the color suffered in power has been infused into what some designers still think is Green flavor and function. I imagine it’s a peculiar challenge to make a card feel Green and not just be inherently less powerful than it could be. My goal is to provide a critical eye and spark discussion in the forums that will hopefully prove useful to both those who play the cards and those who make them.
Before I get into my evaluation of what I’d like to see in Green cards from each set, let’s go over what Wizards R&D views as Green’s flavor and function, as articulated by Mark Rosewater way back in 2002. Really, 2002? Mr. Rosewater, perhaps an update is order!
From It’s Not Easy Being Green:
“…Green’s ultimate goal is growth. Green would be happiest in a world where nature has been allowed to run rampant.
“The growth theme runs rampant throughout Green. Green has the ability to temporarily enlarge its creatures… [and] can permanently enlarge creatures… In addition, Green’s growth is seen through its token generators… Green also has many creatures like Maro or Terravore that naturally grow over time. Green’s growth can also be seen in its ability to speed the amount land/mana available to the player… Mechanically, Green overwhelms the opponent by constantly producing more and more resources and thus more and more threats.”
“…Green is the “creature color.” This is reflected numerous ways in the game. First, Green has more creatures than any other color… Green also has proportionately larger creatures, especially at common. Most importantly, Green has the most efficient creatures from a mana standpoint.”
“The downside to Green’s way of life is that it relies completely on its instinct to gauge danger. Green is fundamentally trusting. With subtlety, its enemies can exploit this naivety to its own ends.
“This plays into Green’s greatest weakness, its inability to deal with creatures. Green has no qualms with destroying artificial things. It will blow up artifacts or enchantments. It will even sever opponent’s ties to their mana by destroying their land. But it just cannot bring itself to destroy the opponent’s creatures. There are a few exceptions, but in general, Green does not kill other living things.”
Okay, now on with Rise of the Eldrazi Green! The grades I hand out are entirely subjective, based on how I feel about Green’s strengths in each category relative to what I expect out of Green, or how it compares to other colors. It’s by no means a reflection of whether Rise of the Eldrazi is a good or bad set overall, just how it looks through the lens of a discerning green mage. I’m sure others will have their own opinions, and I definitely hope to hear them in the forums.
Efficient Creatures? Grade: B-
Green is generally known as the color of efficient creatures, though I also think Wizards has weakened Green’s position by making efficient creatures readily available in all the other colors up and down the mana curve. The best creature in Magic right now at five mana is certainly not a Green creature, is it?
While I was scanning through the Green creatures in Rise, I found it interesting that there didn’t seem to be many creatures that were what we’d traditionally consider “efficient” — high power-to-cost ratio, lots of relevant abilities compared to mana cost, etc. I think slotting creatures as Levelers impacted this to some degree, because Levelers don’t fit the efficiency norm, but rather take value by translating available mana into card improvement. Green did get a couple Levelers that I would consider “Level-efficient” but I’ll talk about them later.
Let’s consider Nest Invader and Kozilek’s Predator; these creatures are interesting because they produce a creature and spawn tokens, in effect paying you back an immediate dividend on your mana investment. Just in terms of power and toughness, Nest Invader gives you a 2/3 for two mana, which is pretty good, but in effect you’re getting a 2/2 for one mana since the Spawn token gives that mana back. Predator is a 3/5 for four, which isn’t anything to write home about, but in terms of mana it’s effectively a 3/3 for twoâ€”which sounds better.
Check out Ondu Giant. We used to pay three mana for this effect for typically a 1/1 or a 2/x, and we’d gladly do it. For one mana more we get a 2/4, which nicely blocks and kills a Bloodbraid Elf. Now, we played the other guy to accelerate from 3 to 5; do we have a need to accelerate from 4 to 6? If we do, this fellow might be surprisingly helpful.
Whither Mul Daya Channelers? If you play mostly creatures, this will be a 5/5 for three mana about half the time. When it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, it’s okayâ€”tapping for two mana is decent enough if it survives, and being an elf can often matter too. Another downside is that you’re letting your opponent see what you draw. The 5/5 option gets it mentioned here in this section, but I think the downsides are going to keep it from being something you’ll see played in Standard.
Card Advantage? Grade A+
Since Magic is a battle of resources, players looking to win games will look long and hard at ways to achieve card advantage. Green is often lacking in this department so Rise is particularly shocking in how many card advantage cards available!
Momentous Fall has generated some deserved buzz. First off, keep in mind that you’d need to be sacrificing a creature with at least 3 power in order to make up for the 2 cards you’ve invested for the effect, unless of course you’re casting this in response to a removal spell. Anyway, today’s Standard is chock full of 3 or more power creatures, often before you even get to the four mana you’d need to cast Momentous Fall. I’m envisioning casting a turn 2 Leatherback Baloth off a Noble Hierarch, and then when I attack next turn and my opponent hits it with a Terminate, I cash it in for five cards and six life points. Go ahead, bring on your Blightning!
Pelakka Wurm is… intriguing. Seven mana is a lot, and if you’re bothering with ramping, aren’t you going to go for Eldrazi gold instead of fiddling around with a 7/7 Green creature? Still, I keep coming back around and looking at this fellow, and his trample ability, that huge seven point swing, and how he replaces himself if your opponent manages to kill it. Assuming your opponent isn’t hitting him with a Path to Exile, you’re getting two-for-one if he uses a removal spell.
I talked about Realms Uncharted last week so I won’t repeat myself, but it certainly falls in the card advantage category.
Snake Umbra is also intriguing, since you a few things need to go right for you to actually start generating strict card advantage with this card, but that said the Umbras are certainly high-quality Auras and this one can put your opponent into a box when he doesn’t necessarily want to block the enchanted creature.
Irresistible Prey as card advantage is stretching things a bit, but if you’re playing larger creatures than your opponent you might be able to make this work.
Last, but not least, Green (and every other color) has Kozilek, Butcher of Truth for a Tidings plus a 12/12 Annihilator 4 for just five more mana. Since Green is the color of mana acceleration, it’s probably the best positioned to take advantage of this and some of the other Eldrazi spells.
Cleverness? Grade A
Magic at its best is an interactive game, where each player acts and reacts to each other in surprising and fun ways. Each player’s turn consists of phases where each player gets a chance to play spells or abilities, and it’s that give and take that really makes Magic such a great experience. My biggest beef with the way Wizards typically makes Green is how they mostly lock the color into the main phase. Most of Green’s exciting cards tend to be creatures, and you usually cast creatures during your own main phase. Green will sometimes have kick-ass sorceries, but again that’s only during your own main phase. Every other color is given good cards that interact with your opponent at instant speed, which lets you fully engage with your opponent no matter what phase it is or whose turn it is. Green’s instants are usually limited to combat tricks, which are inherently clunky because they require you have creatures in play that you want to attack or block with, and sometimes that doesn’t always work out. And again, combat tricks happen during the main phase.
Guess what? I’m not sure if someone’s been listening to my gripes, or whether it’s a coincidence, but whatever the reason I hope it’s not a fluke because Rise Green is the most clever I can ever remember seeing!
I’ve talked about the cleverness of Realms Uncharted and Momentous Fall last week, but now that the full spoiler’s out there are two more clever cards. First up is Haze Frog, a creature with flash that Fogs when he comes into play. Pretty handy overall, and particularly nice when you have ways to bounce and reuse him. What really pushes him over the top on the cleverness scale though is that he only Fogs everyone else â€” he himself can still deal damage! While he won’t be killing Vengevines or Baneslayer Angels, he may very well take down Bloodbraid Elves, Lotus Cobras, or Goblin Guides.
Then there’s Living Destiny, a card that would normally provoke a shoulder shrug from me in normal times… but we’re not in normal times here, we’re in the end times, when there might be Eldrazi lurking in your hand ready to make 10, 11, or even 15 life points for four mana at instant speed your Living Destiny. That’s a huge chuck of life!
Green Power in the Cycles? Grade: B+
It’s often telling to look at the various cross-color cycles in a set to see where the colors rank within the cycle, and again in Rise green gets the goods!
Auras: ROE has a strong Aura theme, and green gets some high quality Umbras in Bear Umbra and Boar Umbra, and while the supporting Aura cards aren’t as good as White’s, Aura Gnarlid isn’t something to forget about, especially if you consider turn 2 Journey to Nowhere or Spreading Seas the turn before you play your Gnarlid as a 3/3 for three that will just continue to get bigger and more difficult to block.
Eldrazi Spawn: Black, Red, and Green got cards that make Eldrazi Spawn, but hands down the best of the bunch is Awakening Zone, which will see play regardless of whether you plan on summoning gigantic Eldrazi or not. Awakening Zone is probably my favorite card in this set, easily played out on turn 2, and it gives your either a chump blocker or extra mana each turn. When I’ve been tinkering with post-ROE Standard decks, many of them still have problems dealing with Putrid Leech until I again throw in Awakening Zone. Growth Spasm is another card that might prove surprisingly strong in some decks, practically accelerating you from three to six assuming another land drop the following turn. Let’s also not forget the usefulness in getting a chump blocker to keep your life total high while you fix and accelerate your mana (something Rampant Growth can’t do).
Defenders: Green just gets one defender, but Overgrown Battlement is certainly high quality. I have to admit quite a few decklists that hope to have time and mana to cast gigantic Eldrazi spells begin with four each Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Omens.
Tournament Impact? Grade B
What many players wonder when looking at a new set, which cards are going to have an impact on Constructed tournament decks? Many of the ones I mention above will certainly make the grade, and here are a few more.
Vengevine has been getting a ton of buzz, and deservedly so (though I agree wholeheartedly with Conley Woods and others that no way should this card be a mythic rare). At four mana it’s got some stiff competition even within purely Green cards (Garruk, Master of the Wild Hunt), and I think ultimately his buzz might die down a bit once people realize he’s not going to be omni-present in all Green/x decks. Still, in decks built to maximize his potential (Kor Skyfisher and Ranger of Eos spring to mind), he’s going to be seeing a lot of play.
Ancient Stirrings and Tajuru Preserver are interesting cards for our post-Eldrazi world. Do we want or need a one-mana impulse for colorless cards? Maybe, in decks you’re not interested in cheating Eldrazi out with Polymorph or Summoning Trap. Also keep in mind Stirrings can hunt up artifacts, something that might be worth remembering when Scars of Mirrodin comes around this fall. Then we’ve got Tajuru Preserver, a brave little elf that stands firm against the otherwise devastating Annihilator abilities of the Eldrazi, and thumbs his nose at All Is Dust. In a format where Eldrazi spells and monsters are seeing regular play, I suspect the Preserver will be a sideboard staple if not maindeckable.
Honorable mention goes out to some of the Eldrazi spells that lets Green do things it never or rarely gets to do: All Is Dust for mass creature removal, Not Of This World as a free counterspell to protect your huge and not necessarily-Eldrazi monsters, and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre for the built-in Vindicate.
Fun Cards? Grade: B
Of course, not everyone who purchases Rise of the Eldrazi is looking for the hot new Standard tech card, so let’s not overlook the value of fun cards aimed at the more casual crowd.
Gigantomancer is ridiculously expensive to cast, but incredibly cheap to use and I see making an immediate impact on EDH and other casual formats where you’ll survive long enough to cast this fellow and get to untap with him out there. I love that his ability is so cleanâ€”it’s not limited to your own creatures, it’s not limited to Green creatures, he can target himself… just one mana turns anything on the board into a 7/7.
I know my friend Tom from Monday Night Magic is looking forward to playing Gelatinous Genesis, since his love of Oozes is legendary. If you’ve got large amounts of mana available and are looking to make a memorable play, putting huge numbers of huge Oozes into play definitely fits the bill.
What would Spawn tokens be without a “lord” to get â€˜em riled up? Broodwarden is obviously a great Limited card, but I imagine he will inspire some casual Eldrazi Spawn “tribal” decksâ€”I presume he’d pump up Changelings?
Stepping on Green’s Toes? Grade: C+
One part of evaluating Green in a new set is whether or not other colors push into Green’s color pie territory. Rise of the Eldrazi did a pretty good job of keeping the color pie slices pretty distinct actually, with just a few exceptions. Prophetic Prism and Evolving Wilds stepped on Green’s multiple colored-mana fixing domain, and what’s up with Evolving Wilds being a functional reprint of the already available Terramorphic Expanse? I know Knight of the Reliquary is dancing a jig, but it does seem odd.
Eldrazi Temple (along with Worldwake’s Chalice) gives other colors a good shot at accelerating into casting Eldrazi spells that you’d otherwise need to lean on green to have a chance at using. Still, I suppose the game is probably better if there are a wider variety of “Eldrazi” decks running around.
So What’s the State of Rise of the Eldrazi Green? Final Grade: B+
Averaging all the grades with nothing weighted, this is what I get. Which feels about rightâ€”considering that a significant chunk of the set is taken up by colorless spells, Green got a lot to be excited about in this set! I went in with a friend to buy even more booster boxes of this set, and I’m looking forward to some insane crack-packing not long after Rise of the Eldrazi releases!
What about youâ€”what do you think of Rise of the Eldrazi Green?
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