Welcome back to my Throne of Eldraine set review, where I put my opinions on record, so you can tell me how wrong I was in six weeks. Or six days. Whichever works for you!
Let’s jump right into it!
Simic Flash has been a roughly Tier 2 deck in the current Standard format for a while now, and doesn’t stand to take any major losses outside of Hinterland Harbor (which does matter, mana always does) and Merfolk Trickster (the loss of which might make the loss of Harbor a little less painful, as we now no longer need double blue on Turn 2 as often as before). There’s absolutely a world wherein this card just slots on in, and does exactly what it was printed to do – bounce permanents and beat face. I’d imagine passing the turn with this and a counterspell in hand is one of the best feelings you could possibly have.
This card could do a lot of things, but the flash deck is the most obvious spot for it – there was a while where people were splashing black in the deck for more removal and ways to come back when you were behind on board, and this fills that role, albeit in a less permanent manner than something like Cast Down. Simic Flash feels like it’s a good place to start on Day 1 of the new Standard format, but spoilers, it’s not the only Simic deck you’ll see if you watch my stream during the Eldraine Streamer Event on the 24th.
This card has drawn a lot of comparisons to Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord which are largely fallacious. I’m not sure how many times we get to cast this before Turn 4, which is about when we need to start worrying about things like Kaya’s Wrath and Witch’s Vengeance, both of which prevent us from doing the things we want to with this. In addition, I’m worried that an aggressive Knights deck won’t necessarily have the ability to cast too many legendary spells, which means that we’re basically looking at an anthem that asks us to overcommit, and I’m not sure that’s what we’re trying to do. There’s a chance that this is similar to Sorin in the sense that it allows the Knight decks to achieve a realistic long game plan, but in terms of raw power, it doesn’t come very close. I’m absolutely going to try to play it, but there are certain permutations of the format where it is unlikely that this is a card I’ll want to be registering. All I can see with this card are fail states – getting bounced by Teferi, getting board wiped and having this stuck in hand, the Knights that I make not mattering too much when I’m only making one a turn…there are just a lot of situations that I’m worried about, and I’m not positive it actually wins us that many games. It could just be one of those cards that I don’t really understand until I actually see one in play, but my instincts with this card are fearful.
To me, this card reads as “If your opponent is tapped out and you have some idiots on board, you win the game.” I am generally less than enthused about 4 drops in a hyper aggressive Mono-Red Aggro deck, and especially ones not named Experimental Frenzy, but I am 1000000% going to put this in a Cavalcade of Calamity deck and just go to town with damage in the early part of the format. Weirdly, the existence of Teferi, Time Raveler feels like it might be beneficial for this card, even if getting this bounced feels pretty bad. Teferi pushing counterspells out of the format and incentivizing answer based decks to go a more tapout route means that you’re more likely to actually get this guy on the board and have him live to the combat step, by which point you are presumably doing a large amount of damage.
The fail state for this guy is pretty bad, though. He’s a ruthlessly awful topdeck when you need reach – functionally a vanilla 4/4, although there are play patterns that involve you using him as a very expensive shock in that scenario when combined with a burn spell (IE, you play Torbran, they remove him, and you cast your burn spell in response to the removal so his ability applies to it).
Overall, I’m optimistic that I will play him, although not optimistic that it will last beyond the initial honeymoon phase. I hope it does – I’d really like to see a red deck that is not focused on abusing Experimental Frenzy and Runaway Steam-Kin, and there’s a chance Torbrann is a part of that deck.
I feel like everyone is trying to break The Great Henge, and that makes a ton of sense, and I hope they manage to do it. That said, I want to take a look at the opposite of that, and ask “What if we just play large idiots and then play The Great Henge?”.
Syr Faren might be too cute here – I’m thinking of him basically reading as “Make your The Great Henge two mana cheaper post combat” , but a curve of something like Pelt Collector into Faren into Yorvo into Questing Beast or Nullhide Ferox is just monstrous. My main problem when sketching this out was a lack of good one drops outside of Pelt Collector. Gilded Goose as a Llanowar Elf replacement and the starting point of introducing food synergy like Wicked Wolf could work, and is something I intend to try out. I worry that Goose is much more Arboreal Grazer than Llanowar Elf in a deck like this, however. This is just a core to keep an eye on – there’s a ton of power here, although it’s very directly applied.
Speaking of Gilded Goose and cores to keep an eye on…
This just feels like a ready made deck. I want to talk about each of these cards individually for a brief moment before examining what they do together.
Gilded Goose is parasitic Llanowar Elf. I’m of the opinion that Llanowar Elf is generally the strongest possible thing you can do in a Standard format where the three drops are so ridiculously powerful. We all know the feeling of seeing your opponent shock a Breeding Pool on the play into Llanowar Elf, playing a one-drop and passing, and seeing Sunpetal Grove and Teferi come down at lightning speed. There are a ton of really powerful three drops in the format, and a lot of them are very snowbally once they get down.
Speaking of, Oko reminds me so much of Teferi, Time Raveler that it’s not even funny. We’re lucky he can’t activate his -5 the turn he comes down, but as is, the play patterns with him involve a lot of threatening the -5 and then taking some turns off, making some food, Elkifying some dudes, then threatening it again. This card seems absolutely horrifying to see Turn 2 on the draw, and unluckily for us, it’s specifically built for the deck that can do that. I don’t know how much there is to say about this guy that hasn’t been said already: He’s really strong, hard to kill, maybe format warping, and has great abs. I will be playing this card.
Wicked Wolf is just ridiculous on its face, right? It tells the entire format “You must be this tall to ride,” and most things aren’t gonna be tall enough. It lives through board wipes and grows bigger, at the cost of a resource you mostly use as Energy anyway. You can sacrifice multiple Foods when it enters the battlefield to make it do MORE damage with its fight trigger. There is nothing not to love about this card unless there is a hugely dominant deck that goes WAY over the top of things very early without using creatures, which seems unlikely at this point.
Feasting Troll King. Oof. This thing is a pile of good text. First things first, though – this card costs six mana. That’s genuinely a pretty big ask (wouldn’t it be cool if you had a land that specifically made six green mana?), depending on the speed of the format and the power of your accelerators, which in this deck are things like Gilded Goose and Paradise Druid, likely. That said, this card is the absolute king of midrangey mirrors. When you cast it from your hand, you get three Foods, when it dies, you can sacrifice them to bring it back. I’m not confident this is better than, say, Garruk, Cursed Hunter or Command the Dreadhorde, and I’m not confident this is always something you want to be doing, but in a world of midrange mirrors, this guy is a monster.
These cards are basically what I see as the core of a future U/G/x Food deck. I suspect it looks a lot like your typical G/X midrange decks in 5 set Standard formats – you do strong things that are sometimes too strong (looking at you, turn 2 Oko), but are mostly just consistent 2-for-1s and cards that are above rate.
So, what does this deck actually look like, and, more importantly, how do we beat it? Well, when attacking midrange, I usually like to start with going under, and going over. This deck runs a lot of Food, which gains a lot of life, so ideally I think our ability to go under involves building large wide boards of creatures that this deck might struggle to answer. For me, going under this deck looks like a white based aggressive deck with Venerated Loxodon. Perhaps it’s Selesnya Tokens with March of the Multitudes, perhaps its Boros with some Knight synergy for Inspiring Veteran and perhaps Experimental Frenzy, but both Oko and Wolf push you towards wanting to go as wide as possible, with as few important creatures on the battlefield as possible, and as many replaceable dudes as we can get. Interestingly, this also points us at Cavalcade of Calamity/Torbran based red decks as opposed to Runaway Steam-Kin based red decks, as the important cards in that deck generally won’t die to a Wicked Wolf.
Going over, to me, looks like Yarok, the Desecrated, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead. I strongly suspect that the endgame of the format involves these cards. The rotation of Nexus of Fate reduces the power of Golos activations, but drawing three free cards is still a fine thing to have attached to the card that tutors the most important card in your deck. Are we positive that the U/G/x food deck has the power to hang with that amount of 2/2’s and card draw? I’m not sure that we are.
So, this is a ready made core, and people will play this, but are we sure this is actually a deck that has the ability to beat things that are really trying to go over and under it? Are we sure it can do both of those things at the same time? I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of “these cards are just too strong and this deck will be great, but I think that after it’s done beating people up early in the format, it’ll be forced to adapt as people target it, and that’s what will make or break the deck.
The good news for us is that at least this time, the G/x midrange deck has some flavor to it.
I want you to know I actually winked in real life as I wrote that. I feel that this is important information that I needed to convey.
Is this the most important card in the set? Not by a long shot. Is it the best card in the set? Still not even close. You will see this card, however. There are too many strong 3 mana and up creatures that you’d like to exile unconditionally for this card to not see sideboard play at the least. I’m always a sucker for cards that just solve problems, and this card solves problems. It solves very specific problems, but that’s what sideboards are for. There will be a point in time where I am very grateful for the existence of this card in the format, I’m sure of it.
This card, on the other hand, haunts my darkest nightmares. I first picked up Magic cards when I was a young child, during Onslaught Block. This was formative to me, both in Magic and outside of it. My single favorite type of deck in MTG is Tribal Aggro. I will always try to play it when I can. The first thing I planned on doing with Eldraine was exactly this – Knight Tribal.
All I can say is oof. I don’t know if this card means I can’t play Knight Tribal, or Elemental Tribal with Embercleave, or whatever other Tribal Aggro deck I want to play, but I know I’ll lose games to this. This, like Epic Downfall, is a solution card. It solves problems. It solves me.
BONUS ROUND: Literally All Of These
These are all good.
Yes. All of them.
Every single one.
No, really, they are.
Yes, not just the Castles.
Sure, some of them are better than others.
Yes, not just the Castles.
These cards are just freerolls in so many decks, and they’re freerolls in the truest sense of the word. What does it cost you to include Castle Ardenvale in your white deck? Leeeeeet me just check my notes really quick. Ok, according to these, the answer is “Running Plains”.
Not Basic Plains. Plains. You know. Like the shocklands are. Like the Grimm’s Basic cycle are.
These cards are gross. They’re all going in all the decks you play, and you know it, because the opportunity cost of running them is so low. Sure, your esper deck won’t be playing Castle Locthwain. You’ll probably be playing Ardenvale and Vantress, though. Because why would you not?
I want to analyze each of the castles really quickly before I go, and then talk about the basic land cycle as a whole. :
Castle Ardenvale: Adanto, the First Fort is the obvious comparison to Ardenvale, and Adanto was incredible. Ardenvale has basically zero deckbuilding restrictions by comparison, which means that it can go in your control deck too – 1/1s aren’t just for White Weenie anymore. This card is the best of the cycle, and will see consistent play.
Castle Vantress: Ok. It’s not Search for Azcanta. It is, on the other hand, a functional way of making sure that you don’t run out of gas in the late-game stage. The mana cost on the ability is fairly high, but control decks will use this card in much the same way as they used Azcanta. The really interesting spot for it is tempo decks in blue, like Esper Hero. Esper Hero constantly struggled with running out of gas, and at any point was liable to just draw a couple lands and lose the game entirely from a dominant position. This card goes a long way towards preventing that, in a way that Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, never could, because a) it only got noncreature spells and b) it took up an actual slot in your deck and cost mana to play.
Castle Locthwain: I love the design of this card. Card draw on a land is absurdly strong, and the drawback means that it likely won’t see play in the pure control decks that would abuse it. I’m very excited to play basically every aggro deck that runs black lands because of this. I think it is potentially very strong, and it has me looking at Rakdos Aggro in a way I never really have before.
Castle Embereth: Look. It’s damage, on a land, in red. I’m not saying this is Ramunap Ruins. I am saying that I’m looking very hard at decks that want to play a lot of small haste creatures and this card in topdeck scenarios. The opportunity cost is so absurdly low that even if this is mostly not relevant, you play it anyway for the times when it wins you the game.
Castle Garenbrig: This is the least exciting Castle mechanically, but could end up being very important. It’s basically a Forest that sometimes taps for GG. One of the things that did occur to me with this card, though, is that you can cast a pretty early Feasting Troll King, and that it fixes your mana to do so. I think that could be an important interaction in the format. The Food deck doesn’t have a lot of pure ramp, and a land that taps for GG seems like it could be the kind of edge that a deck like that can really use. I wouldn’t be surprised if this saw the most ubiquitous play – Forest-but-sometimes-Two-Forests is so generically good that I can’t think of a green deck that wouldn’t play this.
Finally, I’d just like to note that I’m really impressed with the design of the common Basic cycle. Normally, common lands in a set aren’t very unique or powerful, but each of these, to me, is both. Incremental effects attached to lands just seem so strong to me. I could be wrong here, some of these effects are *very* incremental, but I suspect the downside is just so low that they can’t be anything but good.
I cannot wait for Eldraine! Wizards knocked it out of the park in terms of design, I’m excited for the format to be shaken up, and there are some really cool archetypes that could be enabled in the new format. As usual, you can follow me on Twitter to see decklists and watch me stream the new format on September 24th.