Throne of Eldraine has hit the shelves in local game stores and online, and by now we’ve had a chance to consume some food and send our creatures on plenty of adventures. While Standard is seeing out what I estimate to be the last days of Field of the Dead‘s dominance, I’ve been choosing to spend my time playing a lot more Limited. In this article, I’m going to share my views on some of the new cards in Throne of Eldraine with respect to its draft environment. I’ve done a mixture of drafts in person, on MTGArena, and on Magic Online in preparation for Mythic Championship VI, and have found the format both engaging and challenging. Instead of providing you with a list of cards that I think are ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ I’ve instead chosen to focus on cards that I’ve discovered to be a bit better or worse than they might first appear – I find the archetypes and the ways games play out in this format to provide an intriguing context for evaluating cards. While some of the cards in the lists below are expectedly weak or strong, I’m placing more emphasis on how the format makes them even weaker or stronger than they look beyond generic Limited heuristics.
For ease of reference, I use the Ravnica guild names to describe colour combinations in this article – I promise I’m not still stuck on the wrong plane!
Five cards that I think are WORSE than they appear
All That Glitters
All cards are context-dependant, and this is a very good example of that philosophy due to its potential to be either a bomb or a complete miss depending on the context. If you are playing the Azorius ‘artifacts/enchantments matter’ archetype, then this card can reliably give +3/+3 or more, at which point I would say you’re getting a decent payoff for this card. The card is also obviously great when placed on creatures with flying, as a huge evasive threat can win a game all by itself (as it happens, white and blue have plenty of these!). However, when either the enchanted creature is only getting +2/+2 or lacks evasion, it’s often getting blocked fairly effectively or might only trade with a single larger creature. Add to this the fact that there is common removal in every colour that can easily 2-for-1 you, and I think this card’s true colours start to become apparent.
Summary: high potential, but such potential is realised less often than 2-for-1-ing yourself when played into removal spells from your opponent. It can be good in Azorius due to its artifact/enchantment theme and access to flyers.
Adventure cards are often a bit of a 2-for-1 when it comes to both deckbuilding (with only 22-24 spell slots) and in-game flexibility (with the potential to provide up to two relevant spells). Having said this, I don’t think Tuinivale Treefolk is a good example of this theory. In general, it’s quite a slow card and Oaken Boon is a sorcery, making it easier for the opponent to respond to it. Remember, you can only play Tuinvale Treefolk from exile if the adventure resolves, so if the target of Oaken Boon is removed in response, that spell will be countered due to a lack of a legal target and the creature side becomes uncastable. The potential for a 6/5 AND two +1/+1 counters may persuade you to rate this card as a decent ‘finisher’ with a ‘free’ buff spell, but neither a 6/5 for six mana or two +1/+1 counters for four mana are good on their own, and meaningfully implementing both parts in a given game is a tall order in my view.
Summary: looks good because adventure cards are good value, especially when one of the halves is a ‘finisher.’ Getting full value from it often doesn’t happen, and that ‘full value’ is medium at best.
This card makes the list not because it’s a bad card, but because I think it existing as a ‘payoff’ for the ‘drawing a second card’ archetype makes it seem more attractive than it actually is. Turning your 2/1 into a 3/2 first strike each time you draw your second card is fine, but just remember that unless you also have a trick, it can be favourably blocked by multiple 2/2’s even after its trigger has resolved. This card needs to be attacking to be effective in games, and I’ve found that the Izzet ‘drawing a second card’ archetype doesn’t always end up being particularly aggressive (unlike Knights or Selesnya Adventures, this archetype promotes more controlling options) and it’s hard to find ways to reliably draw a second card outside of this archetype. While it’s a serviceable card, don’t assume the archetype is ‘open’ if you see this a bit late in a draft, and it’s almost Goblin Piker in non-Izzet archetypes.
Summary: appears to be a great payoff for Izzet and a good creature in any red aggressive deck. In reality, it’s only a serviceable payoff in an aggressive Izzet deck and is hard to trigger in other colours.
Removal is always important in Limited, and that heuristic might sway your decision as to whether to pick this card or whether you think ‘black is open’ during the draft. Here, I recommend caution. Cards like Throttle or Lash of the Whip have been coined as serviceable in their respective formats, but don’t let the potential for this card to kill a Clackbridge Troll fool you. Unless you are playing a reliable ‘self-mill’ deck or know your opponent is going to target you with Venture Deep before you get to five mana, there’s a very high risk of this card rotting in your hand or forcing you to pay a premium for as little as -1/-1 or -2/-2. This gives the card a very low floor in spite of its potential to remove almost any creature in the format. I would only prioritise this card during a draft as a last resort – for example, if I’m drafting black and have no removal spells by pack 3, I might consider picking it up.
Summary: it looks like removal, but it’s overpriced most of the time or doesn’t even work some of the time.
There’s a higher expectation placed on a card if its part of a cycle of hybrid cards or ‘unsplashables’ due to their restrictive mana costs, and I think this one really disappoints as the weakest one of the lot. A 2/3 menace for four mana is quite a poor rate for a creature. Locthwain Paladin provides double the power in a deck that is heavy on black, an important boon for a menace creature. The activated ability is resource-intensive, and I think the best-case scenario for this card is when it forces the last few points of damage through against an opponent who has managed to set up blocks against your battlefield. In that scenario, you still have to invest six mana and one creature or artifact to deal two damage or eight mana and two permanents for four damage. I would recommend staying away from this card if possible.
Summary: it looks like part of a playable multi-coloured uncommon cycle, but it’s much worse than the other nine.
Five cards that I think are BETTER than they appear
Before I begin, I’d like to quickly note that the cat is out of the bag on Revenge of Ravens, so I’ve not officially put it on my list. Enough people now seem to know (at least from my experience) that the card is better than it might have first looked! Just remember, it’s only good when your opponent is interested in attacking a lot. While this will cover a broad range, the decks that win with Merfolk Secretkeeper or play defensive strategies don’t care about playing against it.
I think people do rate this card, but perhaps not highly enough. I’ve been seeing it go late (picks 4-6, pack one) in drafts – but maybe it’s just me that thinks this card is bonkers. During preview season, I thought this was a two-mana artifact that doesn’t affect the board state, but that’s me underestimating the power of free spells! While it’s true that you need to take a few cards with ‘Adventure’ to get mileage out of this card, they appear in every colour, so you don’t have to be drafting Selesnya Adventures to be rewarded by the clover. Just don’t let this card fool you into casting adventures when you don’t need to just because you get a free spell. Turn two Clover into turn three Rider in Need (in a situation where you were going to play it on turn three anyways) is huge, but copying Shield’s Might to force through an extra two damage often won’t be (unless it kills the opponent). In addition, be mindful that copying the spell is mandatory and that any copies resolve before the original spell, so if you cast Alter Fate and have only one creature in the graveyard, the copy will return that creature while the original spell will fizzle, meaning Order of Midnight can’t be played later on. The same is true of Animating Faerie in situations in which you control only one noncreature artifact.
Summary: looks good, but your initial reaction may be that it only provides value in a pure adventures deck (Selesnya). It’s actually great and can go in a deck of any colour really!
Goblin Piker with First Strike isn’t normally exciting, but in reality Fresh-faced Recruit just got promoted! Don’t get me wrong, this card isn’t going to make aggro decks dominate, but I think it’s actually a very serviceable card, especially if you’re playing a white aggressive deck! It trades favourably with other two drops like Smitten Swordmaster, Maraleaf Rider, and Jousting Dummy and works well with equipment and adventures that can boost its power. Being a knight for the purposes of Belle of the Brawl or Ogre Errant raises the floor of this card even further. Turns out there are benefits to having youth on your side!
Summary: it looks so ‘vanilla’ and doesn’t have three power, but it actually works well in the archetypes into which it fits – one of the better white commons.
People are coming around as to how good this card is, but I still see it quite late in drafts (10th pick or later). It really shines in slower Dimir decks that simply want to preserve their health total and don’t care that the enchanted creature can still ‘chump block.’ It’s efficient and can be used in combat to ‘blow out’ someone who thinks they’ve just blown you out with a combat trick. It also scales with the natural progression of the game, growing from -2/-0 to -6/-0 and making it a bit of a potential ‘catch-all.’ It can stem the bleeding from an Order of Midnight that’s pecking away at you in the early game, or it can address a Garenbrig Paladin later on. I think because there’s always a risk that you’re only partially mitigating cards, I can’t quite confirm it’s on the same level as something like Swords to Plowshares. Belle of the Brawl will still have menace and buff all of your opponent’s knights and Lochmere Serpent can still sacrifice swamps to draw cards. In addition, opponents can bounce their own creatures and recast them to return them to their normal size. However, in the majority of cases, it’s very comparable to a one-mana removal spell.
This card doesn’t even have as much toughness as Manic Vandal, but you may be surprised with the number of artifacts that get played in the format. Witching Well, Lucky Clover, Glass Casket, Clockwork Servant, Brimstone Trebuchet, Gingerbrute, and various equipments are widely played, and you can even nab a Food Token (although be warned – if they sacrifice it in response you won’t get the 2/1). One of the main reasons I like this card over previous iterations like Manic Vandal is the flexibility offered by it being a card with Adventure. For example, you can just play it out as a creature if you’re the only one controlling an artifact (you’d otherwise have to destroy it). In addition, if you need to destroy the artifact but need to spend more mana on a better creature than a 2/1, you have a bit of flexibility in committing only one mana for Battle Display and then saving the Shieldbreaker for a future turn (Manic Vandal would require the full three mana that turn).
Summary: looks like a sideboard card, but while Eldraine isn’t Mirrodin, it does have a lot of 2-for-1 potential.
Didn’t Say Please
Cancel has been a variable effect in limited and often depends on the quality of ‘bombs’ and the speed of the format. I’ve generally found three mana to be a bit slow for most draft formats (but better in Sealed), and mainly relegate Cancels to the sideboard, bringing them in if an opponent has a bomb I can’t beat! However, this card is much better than a mere counterspell. Firstly, I’ve found this draft format to be quite grindy and longer games are relatively common, making more expensive and powerful cards (and, in turn, answers to said cards) time to shine. More importantly, being the first player to run out of cards is a legitimate concern in this format. Turbo-mill decks with four or more Merfolk Secretkeepers are legitimate, but more generic Dimir control decks that answer all your spells while ensuring you run out of cards first are also relatively common. I think it’s definitely maindeck material and is actually one of the better blue commons. Definitely play around it if both you and your opponent are trying to win by having the other person run out of cards first.
Summary: it looks like Cancel with ‘mill three’ randomly strapped on. The format’s texture is one where a three mana counterspell is very playable and boosting your ‘milling’ potential can actually be very valuable.
Impressions may change a bit as I continue to do more drafts, but I thought I’d offer a snapshot of how some of my own have changed since my first one. Adjusting my first impressions of cards has been an important step taken in improving my limited play. By better evaluating cards I initially thought were either weak or strong, and understanding the context of the format a bit better (e.g. so that I know that card X performs well in one colour combination but not the other) I’ve been able to draft stronger decks. Even though the games still need to be played out to get that 3-0, arriving at each game with a stronger deck will only facilitate that. I hope you enjoyed reading this and found the broader points or notes on specific cards useful.
It’s WPNQ time, which means Standard is arriving, and I’m going to hit some of these events in the near future. The impending banned and restricted announcement is a bit awkward as, while we can make predictions about what is going to get banned, it’s not fully certain. Field of the Dead has a big target on its head in Standard, but people are speculating that it’s an opportunity to get rid of Teferi Time Raveler or even Oko, Thief of Crowns (already!). We shall see.
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154 or at WPNQ events in the UK (more the north than the south). What cards do you think I missed as being better or worse than they might initially suggest? Feel free to hit me up with any thoughts you might have.
As always, thanks for reading, good luck, and have fun in your next game!