It’s that time again, the full Eldritch Moon spoiler has been released and we can now examine how the various EMN Draft archetypes will look. You can also think about which archetypes from triple-SOI will change completely with EMN, and which ones will be similar but updated with new cards. Today I’ll cover the allied-color pairs, followed by the enemy-color pairs next week, so that you’ll have a feeling for where the format is headed with release weekend drafts.
Previously: Midrange with combat tricks. Human and equip subthemes.
Now: The same, but with a less pronounced equipment subtheme.
GW does what it does in most sets these days, which is get on board and then cast combat tricks to go big on a creature or go wide with a team pump spell, and it gets quite a good one in Borrowed Grace this time around.
The color pair doesn’t look to be super focused around any key cards, though Hamlet Captain is going to pump almost every creature in your deck when you attack. A 2/2 isn’t particularly likely to survive combat, so that’s when you save it with a combat trick while dealing a good chunk of damage with your other creatures.
My biggest concern with this deck is that the combat tricks look quite bad. In SOI, the green and white tricks were very good—possibly too good because they were cheap and even gave you value. You either untapped to block something, got a Clue, or a bonus 1/1 Human and always for the low cost of 1 or 2 mana. Now in the first two packs, your options are Woodcutter’s Grit, Give No Ground, and Borrowed Grace. As you can see, the first two aren’t exactly standouts, and so you’ll have to work more for your pump spells.
There are two main ways to do this: first, prioritize solid creatures in the first two packs and then pick up those good combat tricks I mentioned in pack 3. You often don’t want more than about 3 of those in your deck anyway, so as long as the rest of the table isn’t that interested in them, this tactic will work a good portion of the time.
Second, you can use a few of the more unassuming new cards that can help in combat. Crossroads Consecrator doesn’t look impressive on paper. After all, it costs mana and doesn’t pump all that much, but that threat of activation is quite strong, especially in the early turns and in the midgame where it can represent up to 3 or 4 added power since it lets a 3/3 attack into another 3/3 with impunity.
Another thing you’ll want to remember is that both Inspiring Captain and Intrepid Provisioner are all-star 4-drops in the deck, which means that picking up Swift Spinner, Backwood Survivalists, or Spectral Reserves isn’t very important, though you’ll still want to take Courageous Outrider early because that card is bonkers.
If there’s one card I’m excited about in GW, it’s Lone Rider. It plays well with the plan to pump up your creatures, and most importantly will flip on a +2 pump spell rather than a +3, which would really limit when it would be playable. If you ever manage to flip it early it will simply run away with the game, and it’s the perfect creature to bluff attack with because your opponent won’t want to block it only to lose a creature and let it flip. It’s much better to let it through and at least force a pump spell to transform. The subgames around the card seem very fun to me and the upside on the card is off the charts.
Now: The same, but less focused.
RG Werewolves was one of the scariest decks from triple-SOI, mostly due to turn-2 Hinterland Logger or Duskwatch Recruiter immediately transforming due to a missed turn-2 play by the opponent. At that point it would usually just run away with the game on the back of those powerful creatures. Now that won’t happen since the Werewolf mechanic has changed a variant on monstrosity from Theros. Simply pay the appropriate amount of mana and transform your Werewolf into its super-scary version. This maintains the same feel that Werewolves had before in that they’ll be some of the biggest creatures around in the late game, but without the swingy early-game variance that could be frustrating at times.
But of course, there’s still pack 3 for a little of that early Werewolf variance, and the newly-printed Waxing Moon to add some new disgusting starts. Waxing Moon is mostly intended as a combat trick, which saves you a lot of mana and deals a ton of damage, but it’s capable of also ramping up your game way earlier than your opponent was expecting. Ulvenwald Captive is a very good green common on its own, but imagine casting Waxing Moon on it turn 3 and either attacking for 4, or casting another 3-drop, then untapping next turn and casting a 6-drop turn 4! Waxing Moon grants an absolutely enormous tempo boost and might close games before being down a card matters in the slightest.
Outside Waxing Moon and the Werewolves themselves, RG has substantially less focus than it did before. Now you’ll be cobbling together a mix of other red and green cards because there simply aren’t enough Wolves and Werewolves to build a deck around them like you could in triple-SOI. This means that some RG decks will have a madness or delirium subtheme and that drafting it will focus less on a linear goal after the first few picks. As long as your picks make sense with each other though, you should still end up with a cohesive draft deck.
Now: The same.
Stensia Masquerade nicely summarized RB’s plan before, and that plan is similar now though things have shifted. Both the Masquerade and Indulgent Aristocrat really paid you for having a ton of Vampires and also happened to combo nicely with Call the Bloodline. Now there aren’t really any actual Vampire payoffs unless you count Stensia Banquet, but that card just looks too narrow to me. Markov Crusader is pretty amazing though and will certainly swing a ton of games, but it’s a Vampire payoff that doesn’t need a deck filled with Vampires to be great.
What is still true is that RB pays you handsomely through madness and that many of the enablers and payoffs themselves just happen to be Vampires. Before you had access to some strong madness creatures like Twins of Maurer Estate or Incorrigible Youths, yet it was often difficult to find clean discard outlets on the cheap. Now there is an overabundance of discard outlets, often even costing 0 mana, which is a huge departure from the design of SOI. You even have this featured at common with Olivia’s Dragoon! Sadly, there are only 2 creatures at common or uncommon in RB that have madness so a lot of the usefulness of easy discard outlets will go to waste. Yet if you plan carefully while drafting, you can prioritize the right cards at the right time and have a killer madness deck. Like GW, which has its best tricks in pack 3, RB will have the best madness payoffs in pack 3. Simply take the great enablers in packs 1 and 2 and take your madness threats like Twins of Maurer Estate much higher than you would before.
Where GW downgraded in terms of combat tricks, RB gets a nice boost. A lot of its tricks like Distemper of the Blood and Abandon Reason even have madness such that you can generate some value in addition to winning combat. Borrowed Malevolence looks like a particularly powerful spell that can easily generate a 2-for-1 if not accounted for, and is cheap enough that it can win combat as a 1-for-1 on most turns. On top of all that, it has some strong utility for sniping annoying small creatures like Tattered Haunter. This is a powerful trick to always consider in your matches.
UB was the worst archetype of triple-SOI. It required a ton of uncommon payoffs and even then needed to align the right madness cards with the right discard outlets to keep up with the more powerful archetypes. It also had a Zombie theme, but it wasn’t as pronounced as Vampires or Werewolves were. UB was a linear deck that didn’t have the payoff even if you managed to succeed in following the intended path. Now the deck can branch out much more into many different subthemes and I can even imagine two UB decks at a table that can both be successful if they’re focusing on different strategies.
Zombies are still central to the color pair though most of the payoffs are at higher rarities once again. Graf Harvest does look like the real deal to me if you can draft enough Zombies. Picture having 3 Zombies in play to your opponent’s 3 creatures. Almost no matter what those 3 creatures are, you’ll have profitable attacks thanks to the Harvest, and then you also have a late-game plan making more Zombies to go wide with. This card single-handedly gives UB a late-game plan while also applying a lot of pressure in a curve out.
The one common payoff for having many Zombies is Cemetery Recruitment, which also looks quite good. It combines nicely with value Zombies like Haunted Dead, and plays well with Wailing Ghoul or Laboratory Brute since they simultaneously fill your graveyard for targets and are also recurrable if they happen to die. You don’t even need to be all-in on Zombies to play Cemetery Recruitment since returning a big bomb is good enough in most games, and it will be quite playable in a UB deck with only 6 or so Zombies since you aren’t casting it early.
Madness still exists in UB but suffers from the same problem as RB. There really aren’t very exciting cards to madness out in the color pair, and I think madness is just a light splash and some added value to cards like Skirsdag Supplicant, which can fill up your graveyard to enable madness, delirium, and Zombie bonuses all at once. I wouldn’t try to pick up discard outlets too aggressively because you should be much more interested in value creatures and Zombies that are more pushed at common.
Speaking of value creatures, Wretched Gryff is a real payoff if you have the right support in UB. There are plenty of enters-the-battlefield creatures, and both Gavony Unhallowed and Enlightened Maniac are examples of ways that emerge can combine nicely with the Zombie recursion themes discussed above. UB has a lot going on with EMN,and I’m excited to see what works best.
Now: The same.
I was never a huge fan of UW Spirits in triple-SOI because so much had to go right to execute its game plan properly. The deck had little access to removal and while it had many flying creatures, they were all tiny and required a key card to help you win the race since the UW ground creatures weren’t exactly great at blocking. On top of all this, Watcher in the Web completely invalidated your strategy and you often needed to use a bounce or removal spell earlier in the game so that you could pull ahead, only to get completely brickwalled by the Watcher. I fear some of the same problems may be true, especially since I highlighted Sigardian Priest as a key card when it’s a card that any white deck will pick very early. There isn’t a ton of synergy in UW, but a classic UW flyers deck has been good more often than not, and I’m hopeful that will be true this time around.
Geist of the Archives and Fogwalker both play an important defensive role to let your flyers keep attacking while they hold down the fort. Thankfully, there are a good number of flyers present here so they shouldn’t be particularly hard to pick up. They’re quite small outside of Advanced Stitchwing and Subjugator Angel, which tells me that both Spirit tokens and small reach creatures like Swift Spinner may be stronger than they would be in triple-SOI.
Once you start to get your flyers online, you’ll want ways to keep pecking away in the air with them. That’s where Chilling Grasp comes into play. Madness won’t be particularly valuable in UW, but the effect will be at its best with this type of strategy since you only need a few key turns of evasive damage to close games and that’s exactly what Chilling Grasp offers.
It’s also better positioned within this format alongside bounce spells since there are huge Eldrazi-sized creatures running around, so the tempo you gain will be even more substantial than in your average Limited set. I recommend picking these types of effects up earlier in the draft than you might normally.
The card you most want to pick up early in UW is Nebelgast Herald. I misread it the first time and didn’t realize it triggered on all subsequent Spirits, and that adds up quite quickly thanks to the abundance of Spirits in UW. The power level is really pushed here and I’m already fearful of this card locking down my best attacker and blocker turn after turn with a stream of flash Spirits.
Be sure to join me next week when I cover the enemy colors—enjoy the prerelease!