Throne of Eldraine is finally here! While rotation causes us to leave behind a great deal of what has given Standard its identity for the past two years, it also provides us with a full set of brand new themes and mechanics looking to make their mark on the format. While some of these mechanics may never break through in Standard, confined to the unsleeved ranks of Limited, I believe that Throne is bringing along something that has an ominous parallel to a mechanic that once upon a time caused several cards to be banned in Standard.
Food is a new token in Throne of Eldraine that is generated by various cards in the set. Usually they are created incidentally alongside a greater effect, or come into play alongside a creature that can then consume the Food to activate an ability. They also always have the ability to be cashed in for three life if you have two mana to spare. This may seem innocuous enough, although I can’t help but remember the last time we had spells and creatures incidentally creating an additional resource that fed back into all the other cards that cared about said resource.
Anyone who played back during Kaladesh knows how powerful Bristling Hydra, Servant of the Conduit, and the entire Energy package was. Everything created resources to fuel everything else, so if you couldn’t leverage your Energy through one source you could do so from another. Energy was what I like to call a Schrödinger resource because it simultaneously represents everything you could possibly spend it on until you actually spend it on something. That flexibility made it so you could always have your Energy turn into whatever it needed to be to trade profitably with whatever your opponent was doing, or even just funnel it all proactively into a big threat like Bristling Hydra.
So does all this mean that we are once again doomed to play midrange mirrors centralized around a superfluous additional resource until Wizards of the Coast bans something? Almost certainly not. There are a few key things that stand out when looking through the Food cards in Eldrain that make it clear WotC was conscious of this parallel and learned from their past mistakes with Energy. The most important difference is the lack of “freeroll” Food generation that Energy had via the ultimately banned pair of Rogue Refiner and Attune with Aether.
Those cards gave you so much additional Energy at such a low opportunity cost that it altered the rate of each other Energy card, pushing them all over the edge. Food has no such equivalent, which forces you to evaluate each card (mostly) at face value.
There is also the matter of card density. Kaladesh block had three full sets pouring cards into the Energy mechanic whereas Throne of Eldraine is a standalone set with a very limited number of cards that generate or care about Food. On top of that, Energy was found across all five colors in Kaladesh whereas in Throne of Eldraine Food cards are mostly limited to green and black. This is all important because with a Schrodinger mechanic like Energy or Food the power of the resource fluctuates based upon its possible applications and when you are left with a narrow selection of ways to spend it the flexibility matter much less. All of that said I think there is still plenty of room for Food to be much less powerful than Energy on the whole, but still be a potent element of the format and potentially better than Energy in some contexts.
The biggest thing Food has going for it over Energy is that it’s not as narrowly applicable. Energy was a new thing that only interacted with other cards from Kaladesh block whereas Food is creating physical tokens that can synergize with existing cards and themes in various ways that do not specifically reference Food.
The simplest way to get value from Food tokens into value is using cards that just want to sacrifice permanents of any kind like Bontu or Vraska to turn them directly into cards. Vraska in particular I think will play very well in Food decks as a solid plan B for the strategy that comes at very little deck building cost. Although you certainly have the ability to go deeper with cards like Rampage of the Clans of Mayhem Devil the reward you for amassing a large amount of Food to enable a potentially game ending combo.
This is all before we really dive into the main Food payoffs, one of which I’m particularly high on.
I compared Feasting Troll King to Bristling Hydra earlier and while the inflated mana cost is certainly notable all of the core things that made Bristling Hydra so good all exist within Feasting Troll King with a few relevant keywords tacked on for value. Just as with Bristling Hydra when you play Troll King your opponent will be put into the bind of either walking their removal right into the recursion ability, or holding back in which case the Food can be cashed in for a different effect. Troll King may be weak to exile effects in a way that Bristling Hydra wasn’t, but there are very few exile effects after the departure of Vraska’s Contempt from the format, Troll King is protected from sweepers in a way Hydra was not and, even if it does get exiled you are still left with the three Food for your trouble. Six mana is a lot to pay for a creature in 2019, but Troll King checks all the boxes.
I’m on record with the hot take that Gilded Goose is better than Birds of Paradise, but I would like to amend that take in a way that gives more clarity as to why I think that is. In a format where cards that are able to extract value from Food tokens are powerful Gilded Goose is much closer to Deathrite Shaman than it is Birds of Paradise. I’m aware that may sound hyderbolic, but the only other mana creature we’ve seen that can generate repeatable value in the way Gilded Goose can is Deathrite Shaman. Now there is a fairly high deckbuilding cost you need to pay in order for the Goose to truly get loose, but if you can pay it the power level of this card is incredible. Just consider the floor of playing this on Turn 1 and having it get shocked and still being left with a Food token. That’s not fully a two-for-one, but if it was any other mana creature you would just be left with nothing. The biggest drawback people will point to is how poor this card can be curving 3 to 4 or 5, but once again if you build your deck in consideration of this its not a huge issue. You can play Goose alongside two-drop mana creatures so you don’t have to spend your Food and then still get to Nissa or whatever your five-drop of choice is on Turn 3. You also have the option of pairing the Goose with powerful three-drops that you can snowball off of, like the last Food card I want to talk about, Oko.
Three mana planeswalkers have a long pedigree of being exceptionally powerful and I do not believe Oko will be an exception. In the context of out Food decks Oko serves as both a Food generator and a Food payoff. Turning stray Food tokens into 3/3 Elk on the plus is already quite strong, but the ultimate ability of stealing an opposing creature in exchange for a Food token pushes this card over the top in normal games of Magic.You can only steal something with power three or less, but that’s fine considering that if your opponent plays something large you can use the +1 to turn it into a 3/3 and then steal it next turn. Just picture casting this Turn 2 on the play off Goose. Your opponent simply can’t play onto the board and all the while you’re amassing Food tokens. This is another card that I believe requires a sizable deckbuilding cost to reach its ceiling, but it’s a cost well worth paying because that ceiling is sky high.
I’m very excited to dive into this new format and explore the specifics of what a Food-centric deck would look like! If you want to see the process I will streaming every weekday from Twitch and mostly be working on Food decks this week. I have high hopes for the Troll King and his friends and can’t wait to see what they can do.
Editor’s note: Frank played this version of Simic Food in Fandom Legends and has continued to tune the deck on his stream.