I have developed a bit of a bad cop reputation for telling Luis and others to draft more 2-drops and fewer colors. But in competitive Magic, where your priority is to maximize win percentage and not fun, then I would like to pass that blame to R&D. They do an amazing job designing the most complex game in the world, but it’s the cards they print that make it optimal to draft aggressive decks and 2 colors. I can assure you that it’s not my desire for booster draft to be this way. I grew up playing Limited from Odyssey through Champions block, where creatures didn’t hit hard and value was king.
With that being said, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Eldritch Moon Limited was going to be one of my favorite draft formats.
The first thing I look at every time a draft format comes out is its mechanics. In EMN you have emerge, meld, escalate, delirium, and madness. Meld and escalate don’t affect the format much. Escalate doesn’t interact with your other cards in a meaningful way, and there are just not many meld cards and most of them are rare.
The commons, Graf Rats and Midnight Scavengers, are pretty sweet, though. On their own the Rats are bad, but Scavengers is one of the best black commons. This means the value of each Rats goes up substantially for each Scavengers you have, and the Rats starts out particularly low—a 2-mana 2/1 is completely unplayable in this format.
If there were 5 common melds that were good, that would really alter the format. On the surface, effects that break them up would get better, like bounce and removal. But there also are more latent effects. Midsize creatures that get completely trumped by the melds could get worse.
This is the most important thing to understand when you approach a new draft format. You must look at the mechanics, because will be decks drafted around or heavily influenced by them, and you must figure out how that will influence how good the rest of the cards are.
Some examples are more clear than others. For example, back in Gatecrash, extort was WB’s mechanic. Being able to pay an extra mana or two every time you cast a spell and drain the opponent is an extremely powerful Limited ability. This drastically altered the format. It made it so cheaper cards were much better and expensive spells were much worse, because in some games of Limited you are stuck on 5 or less lands. If you have all cheap spells, you have plenty to do. Other games you draw between 6 and 8 lands, and cheap spells normally become way less effective, but if you can simply spend extra mana to drain the opponent when you cast every single spell, then this drawback of cheap spells is mitigated. In this format, escalate, meld, and delirium aren’t that plentiful and don’t really alter the value of the other cards much. Emerge and madness do.
There should be at least one emerge player and a red (with either blue or black) madness player in every draft. These archetypes can support 2 players per 8-man draft without trainwrecking those players. If there are 3 drafters in one of them, their decks will probably be disasters, and of course if you are the only one drafting one of them, your deck will probably be excellent. Now since these decks should be represented in every single 8-man draft, they greatly effect the format. Small aggressive creatures get a lot worse because emerge is a deck full of small utility creatures that give you value and big finishing creatures. Trying to attack through the utility creatures is tough.
This doesn’t only happen from mechanics. If a set has a lot of reasonably costed/useful 3/2s, then 2/2s will be better in this format than average and 3/3s will be worse, and if a set has a lot of 2/3s, then 2/2s will be worse than average and 3/3s better.
This format has plenty of 2/3s and other creatures that punish 2/2s. Exultant Cultist, Geist of the Archives, Grizzled Angler, Ingenious Skaab, Skirsdag Supplicant, Brazen Wolves, Conduit of Storms, Thermo-Alchemist, Weaver of Lightning, Bloodbriar, Noose Constrictor, and Primal Druid all make my main deck often and excel at making 2-mana 2/1s and 2/2s look really bad. So you really don’t want to play small, non-evasive creatures in this format if their primary job is to attack.
Additionally, using pump spells to get them through isn’t very effective. Pump spells are great when clearing the one tough blocker means attacking turn after turn and winning through constant aggression. But when it means clearing one tough blocker only to have it replaced by another the following turn, it’s not going to be a very successful strategy.
The flip side of this is that 4-5 drop creatures that are bigger than these really shine against such an extensive set of midsized and useful 2- and 3-mana creatures that punish little aggressive critters. Some cards that have consistently overperformed in testing are Laboratory Brute, Gavony Unhallowed, Markov Crusader, Brazen Wolves, Vildin-Pack Outcast, Backwoods Survivalists, Somberwald Stag, and Wretched Gryff. This is a format where midsized creatures like these can be very effective if you are judicious with your removal.
There are a lot of draft formats where the level of aggression compels you to use your removal early, preventing you from getting the most out of it. In this format, however, you are under very little pressure. As a result, in order to get maximum value out of your removal, you often want to save it for their bombs or big emerge creatures. I think it’s usually better to take the hit from a smaller creature and save your removal, even if it means casting nothing for the turn. That is rarely the case in modern Limited formats. Eldritch Moon might be something special.
Along the same lines, I think removal is better than usual. Remember that I’m not talking about the individual cards, but rather about the effectiveness of the type of card. In fact, I think design will do things like push the power level of aggressive creatures in formats where it’s tough for aggression to succeed, or weaken removal in the formats where removal will be most valuable.
In this format, Steadfast Cathar and Guardian of Pilgrims are barely playable. Both have great stats and rates for little aggressive creatures, yet they are totally ineffective. On the other hand, your removal is overpriced. Certain Death and Boon of Emrakul aren’t efficient but are both quite good. I rarely consider inefficient removal to be early picks. Even in Shadows over Innistrad draft, I didn’t like the removal. Of course, now with 2 packs of Eldritch Moon, the same removal I didn’t like then has gotten better.
Shadows over Innistrad Cards
One of the hardest things to do when the second set of a block comes out is to revalue the cards from the first set. After all, you have been playing with them for 3 months already. Based on my analysis of this format, let’s look at some cards that got better or worse.
The white tricks completely switched. Before Eldritch Moon, I considered Survive the Night to be unplayable and Strength of Arms to be very good. Now I consider Strength of Arms to be pretty bad and Survive the Night to be a fine trick that I’m happy to include a copy of. In a higher-pressure format, people need to block and trade more often. This means you could often play Strength when the opponent was tapped out and blocked, and run no risk of a blowout while trading a 1-mana card for a creature that costs more.
Survive the Night was dead much of the time because you couldn’t afford to take a hit from your opponent’s creature and take the turn off to leave up Survive, and when things did line up, 3 mana was a hefty price to pay to take out an unimportant creature. Now that some creatures matter a lot more than others, I think you can get good value from it by using it at the right times.
These changing values don’t only affect cards but also whole archetypes. GW beatdown was one of the most effective decks in Shadows over Innistrad draft. I avoid it completely now.
The best decks now are UG emerge and UR spells. I also think BR madness and UW flyers are pretty good but can only support one player per draft, whereas the UR and UG decks can support two.
I don’t think you have to draft an archetype deck like those, though. I’ve already said that aggression doesn’t work, so let’s take a look at what does work, and how to draft them. If I list a card in a deck’s key commons, that’s because its notably better in that archetype than it is in others. That doesn’t mean you don’t want a card that’s just generically good in the format like Galvanic Bombardment. Some cards are good in multiple decks like Alchemist’s Greeting in UR spells and BR madness, so I might list it twice.
This is a synergy deck all the way. You want big emerge creatures, and little creatures that are convenient to sacrifice to them.
Additionally, there are a lot of uncommons that I’m really happy to take when drafting this deck.
All are excellent and reasonable first picks once you are in this deck. Your main goal is to have a good mix of enablers and big emerge creatures. You can flesh this deck out with bounce, removal, and effects that help find or bring back your best creatures. Other cards I usually look to include in the deck are Drag Under, Prey Upon, and Grapple with the Past.
Most of the time you will not get enough spells to make Rise from the Tides or Pieces of the Puzzle work anymore. This deck is now interested in having between 10-13 spells and 10-13 creatures. That’s on the low end for what a draft deck usually wants in terms of creatures, but nowhere near as low as a lot of the spells decks I drafted in triple-Shadows over Innistrad.
Any premium red removal like Galvanic Bombardment, Incendiary Flow, and Savage Alliance can find a happy home here as well. You primarily want to kill creatures and draw cards while taking advantage of easy damage along the way, but not go too far out of your way to deal damage. Then you either win through one or two big attacks or through card advantage.
This is another deck that revolves around enablers and payoffs. Most of the time you are madnessing a card you are just playing it a little cheaper. This allows for some good starts, but doesn’t result in anything amazing. Still, with the ability to have a really good curve by bringing down the cost of cards and plenty of removal in both colors, this is a solid deck.
This is a creature deck, so you will need a lot removal to be able to consistently attack. I generally prioritize Olivia’s Dragoon and removal spells. Prophetic Ravings is a very nice find by Sam Black for this deck. If you are constantly discarding madness cards, it is basically tap to draw a card; and since you can stick it on any little critter and do it while they are tapped and get at least one usage out of it, you mitigate the drawback of playing an Aura. I really like this card in this deck as long as you have 6+ madness spells.
This is a deck that wants to punish utility creatures, and the format being slow in general, by attacking in the air. This used to be a good draft deck in most formats in the “good ol’ days,” but in modern Limited with every creature hitting so hard it rarely is. Maybe part of why I like Eldritch Moon so much is because the games are slower, which reminds me of my youth.
This deck just wants a good curve of flyers to punish slow decks and decks full of ground utility creatures. Flesh this out with Drag Under, Choking Restraints, and any flyers, removal, bounce or tappers.
In some formats you must draft these synergistic decks. I don’t think that’s the case in this format. I think you can easily get by with a deck that has some good removal and some good ways to win.The key here is to make sure you have ways to win even if they aren’t amazing. I call this “a format of do-nothings and do-somethings.” At GP Sydney last week, I 3-0’d a draft with a mostly-white-with-a-little-black creature deck. It looked like a lot of reasonably-costed creatures that did nothing and were unlikely to win the game. So I drafted 2 Hope against Hope along with my Ironclad Slayer to recur them. I also had Abundant Maw, Midnight Scavengers, and Hanweir Militia Captain so the deck had plenty of ways to win.
I won almost every game with Hope Against Hope. This wasn’t because Hope Against Hope was broken. It was because it was easy to clutter up the board with guys so if they couldn’t deal with the Hope, they would lose to it. I had removal to stop a flyer or answer a bomb while riding those to victory. The top priority in this format if you don’t have a deck with great synergy is to make sure you have ways to win.
The Keys to Eldritch Moon Draft
- Red/blue/green are a lot better than white, and black is really bad.
- Even if black is open, I often only expect to play around 8 black cards. Eldritch Moon has way more unplayables than most modern formats so you can’t switch colors as late. While you still want to read the draft and should never worry about throwing away 1 or 2 picks in the process of figuring out which decks/colors are available to you, you don’t want to be switching colors in pack 2 of this format. Look to solidify your 2 colors by the middle of pack 1.
- It’s a very low pressure format, so bounce spells are worse than usual and removal is better than usual. This also makes flyers better than usual, and aggression is worse than usual.
- Tricks that provide positive tempo but don’t always do what you need them to do like Strength of Arms are worse, while more powerful tricks that can take down or save really big creatures are better, like Survive the Night.