Finally, it’s time to draft Rise of the Eldrazi!
I haven’t been following the release of this set as closely as I usually do. I watched each card as it came out, but I haven’t poured over the spoiler all day like I used to do, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I haven’t switched into the standard deck construction mindset, but I’m sure once I do it will be all I can think about.
When I sat down for my first Rise of the Eldrazi draft, though, I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I knew the general strategies like levelers and Eldrazi, but I had no idea what rarity things were at or what cards I wanted. Opening my first pack was a little…underwhelming? Not in the sense that it wasn’t fun, but I felt like every card I looked at was like a 4th pick. Nothing stood out as a must-take card. There were cards that made mana, there were big monsters, and there were midrange guys. I had no idea how to value each piece.
I ended up settling into UB aggro. My deck was super aggressive with a billion cheap creatures. I had a lot of 2/1s for two and 3/1s for three. I also had fun ways to keep my creatures attacking, like cheap removal spells in Narcolepsy and Vendetta, and cool cards like Distortion Strike, Reality Spasm, and Drake Umbra. I had cool synergies with levelers, Champion’s Drake, and Venerated Teacher. I even had reach with my invokers once I hit 8 mana. Slow format? Pshhhh. I thought my deck would be awesome!
Except nobody told me it was opposite day.
Sure, in Zendikar limited this would have been an awesome deck. I knew something was wrong the moment my first match began. On the draw I led out with Null Champion into a Venerated Teacher. My opponent responded with STAGGERSHOCK! Kablammo! Kazowie! Kill your guy untap kill your other guy WRECK YOU!
It was at that moment that I swore off of two-toughness creatures. Seriously, how can any deck trying to win with a two-drop expect to beat Staggershock? It wasn’t just Staggershock, either. In game two I had three creatures on the table on turn four, and they all died to a Wrap in Flames. Something was wrong.
Now that I look through the set it all makes sense. Small creatures die way too easily in this format. Check out the list of common removal spells:
My goodness! There are only five spells on that list that cost more than two mana. This is not a format of Fiery Fall or Weed Strangle. This is a format of Flame Slash and Narcolepsy. Not only are these spells cheap (which usually translates into efficiency) but some of them, like Spawning Breath and Induce Despair, give you extra value on top of killing a small creature. Brutal.
So that first draft didn’t go so well. I was able to dispatch the UW player using my Distortion Strike and Reality Spasm tricks. Against the aforementioned Staggershock player, however, I was never in the game. The moment he cast a spell I was completely out of the game. I then beat another GR player when he was stuck on two lands two games in a row, but he beat me three games in a row after that, just for good measure. This time it wasn’t two-for-one removal spells, but really cheap and big creatures with defender. What a nightmare.
We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
You win this one, Rise of the Eldrazi! You want me to draft fat, I’ll draft fat! When I sat down for my second draft my strategy was to take cards that made mana and giant monsters.
The strategy seemed to work. I first picked a Growth Spasm, maybe a little too early, but I was happy with the spell. The biggest problem I had throughout the draft, however, was knowing when to take a spell that made mana and when to take a giant monster. Then a Heat Ray would appear in the pack and I had to make a tough choice. I ended up with a deck full of monsters, mana, and removal, but I’m not sure it was the best mix I could have gotten given the cards I was offered.
Here’s the deck I ended up playing:
I beat two UW decks with this list, and it felt pretty easy each time. My opponents played at most two spells I actually cared about per game. I was just powering through their Regress or Guard Duty because they couldn’t get enough pressure on the board to matter, or I was just forced to kill their Dawnglare Invoker and move on. The rest of their creatures weren’t threatening enough to care about. Pelakka Wurm does a pretty good job of catching you up.
I thought my deck was really good, but I lost a game to an Eldrazi spawn-based deck courtesy of my roommate (and Magic Online Limited superstar) Brian Wong. He took nearly every card he saw that made an Eldrazi Spawn, along with two Broodwardens. He could actually defeat my Ulamog’s Crushers in combat, not to mention sickness with Brimstone Mage. I totally thought I had game three locked down with an early Wurm and Crusher, with a second Crusher to come down the next turn, against Brian’s puny pinger. That’s when he cast Virulent Swipe on Brimstone Mage, taking out my crusher. Next turn he rebounded and did the same play, taking out my Wurm. What a jerk!
I found the way my games played out to be really interesting. It usually wasn’t my first Ulamog’s Crusher that did them in, but the second. The annihilator mechanic is also really weird to play with. If Ulamog’s Crusher was just a giant monster my opponents would have been in the game for much longer. Instead, after three attacks they are just forced to scoop because they know they have no more outs left. I find that an interesting way to make games wrap up faster.
It’s important to know, though, that the enemy will be prepared for your giant shenanigans. Like I said, it was rare that my first Ulamog’s Crusher sealed the deal. Sometimes it took upwards of three monsters to finish the game, or at least I had to cast one monster three times against a stream of Regresses. I’m not quite sure what the optimal number of monsters is for the big mana deck, but I think 4 is the bare minimum.
As for quantity of mana, my deck would have preferred more accelerators like Joraga Treespeaker over the blue cards, but I was usually ok. The best cards you can get are the accelerators that also impact the board, like Overgrown Battlement or any of the creatures that make spawns like Kozilek’s Preditor.
The surprising star of my deck was Ancient Stirrings. Did you know that card grabs lands? Crazy! The card is great at any stage of the game, and I especially loved it in my deck. Early on it is useful for pseudo-mana fixing, and once you don’t need anymore lands you’ve got a chance at finding an Eldrazi. With enough Prophetic Prisms you can essentially cycle Ancient Stirrings at certain points in the game. I was never unhappy to have Ancient Stirrings. I will go so far as to say it’s the centerpiece of this style of deck because of how well it helps you dig for your Eldrazi.
Speaking of the Prism, it is incredibly easy to splash in this format. Not only can green decks do the normal splash through Rampant Growths like Growth Spasms, but even non-green decks have great ways to splash in Prismatic Prism and Evolving Wilds. I probably way overvalue the Prism, but I love that card. On top of these cards, the mana costs in this set are incredibly easy. Very few spells have double colors in their casting cost. Go look at that removal spell list again. See any double-color removal spells? Nope. I think we’re going to see a lot of splashed Heat Rays and Vendettas in this format.
Who’s on First?
I feel like making lists, so here are my top three commons of each color based on what I’ve seen out of Rise of the Eldrazi so far.
This is the hardest color for me to make a list because of how much I dislike white in the format. It doesn’t have removal spells I’m clamoring to get, and otherwise it just has creatures I don’t care about. There’s certainly an aggressive white strategy using Repel the Darkness and Hyena Umbra, and that’s kind of what I made my list off of. Dawnglare Invoker is crazy good. Where else have we seen a common that can single-handedly and so easily win the game on its own if not killed? And it has evasion!
Knight of Cliffhaven is white’s most efficient creature so it gets the nod for second place, but Totem-Guide Hartebeest has really impressed me so far. When your deck has aggressive options like Drake Umbra as well as defensive Guard Duties or Narcolepsy, that’s when the Hartebeest will shine.
Blue’s top common is pretty easy – it’s the Pacifism. Narcolepsy is not ideal since you can’t attack through the creature the turn you play it, but having a removal spell for their Eldrazi is pretty key. That’s also why I put Deprive so high on this list, because I think the way the blue deck is going to survive is by countering their game-winning spell. Deprive is super cheap, and I think we’re going to see it’s stock rise over the format. Lastly I’ve got the levelers bringing up third place. I’m not sure which card is inherently better, but I like the strategy as a whole. Well, what I mean is that I think leveling is blue’s strategy, but I don’t exactly like it. You try letting your leveler get hit by Staggershock.
I also wanted to mention Shared Discovery. This card is going pretty late in our drafts, but I think once the deck happens that wants this card it’s going to be absurd. I think drafting the deck that can actually cast Shared Discovery is going to be very powerful.
To be honest, I don’t think I know what black is doing. It’s easy to put the one-mana removal spell at the top. After that, though, all the spells look like they’re at the same power level to me. We’ve got expensive levelers, awkward removal spells, and semi-aggressive creatures what all die to Wrap in Flames. Anybody want to teach me how to draft this color? In the meantime I’ll be splashing Dread Drone and Vendettta, along with Shrivel to kill some Eldrazi spawn.
Maybe when you draft red just end up taking all the cheap removal over everything, but I’m a big fan of Emrakul’s Hatcher. You can’t get much better than that guy. Still, Staggershock is a good enough removal spell to get the nod. And, if you’re not the deck for him, the Hatcher is going to be worse than Heat Ray. At a certain point, though, you’re probably willing to take a Brood Birthing over almost anything.
Otherwise I really like red and feel like it’s a very deep color. I’ve seen Kiln Fiend absolutely crush people, especially in combination with rebound spells. Now that’s an aggro strategy I can get behind! Not to mention the great tools red has for this format like (can I say it enough) Wrap in Flames, Goblin Tunneler, Grotag Siege-Runner, Ogre Sentry, Spawning Breath, and Vent Sentinel. It’s almost as if I’ve just listed every red common to you, but it’s because the color does so much that is right in this format it’s hard to go wrong.
All of these cards make mana, which luckily is exactly what I want to be doing in this format. What makes these cards so good is that they also effect the board while progressing your mana situation. That’s why I think the top two are what they are while Growth Spasm gets the honorable mention. In the right deck though, given enough Vent Sentinels and other creatures with defender, Overgrown Battlement is going to be the best card for your deck. These are my least important rankings as far as which card is above which other card, but I’m pretty sure these cards are why you go green.
I’ve hated pretty hard on aggro so far, but I bet it’s actually a good strategy. You’ve just got to do it incredibly right. I think the key is in having the right disruption as well as creatures that don’t get wrecked by Wrap in Flames or scoop to Staggershock. Evasion is very important with all these defenders floating around. I don’t think you can afford to kill their Ogre Sentry on turn two every time, no you’re going to have to find another way around. As people learn this format aggro is going to get better, but it’s not what I’m looking to do right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see certain sick aggro archetypes emerge over time, however, and they will probably revolve around Kiln Fiend.
Countdown to Rise
I’m really excited for this set to come out on Magic Online. I haven’t even drafted ZZW online, but I imagine I’ll be doing all kinds of Rise of the Eldrazi release events and drafts. I hope it’s not just the new-set smell that’s making it fun to draft, but I have a feeling this one will be good for a while.
Now please, will somebody tell me how to draft black?
Thanks for reading,
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