On Saturday, April 3rd, 2010, the Eldrazi were officially unleashed on the plane of Earth…
So what’s my take on Rise of the Eldrazi? Overall, it resembles something close to an alternative “Core” set, stapled to the backdrop of Zendikar. White gets protection stuff, blue gets counter and card-draw, black gets hand disruption and creature-kill, red gets burn, and green gets big creatures and creature support. Many cards are reprints, functional reprints, or “fixed” reprints of past staples. Naturalize, Smite, and Heat Ray are in the set, Terramorphic Expanse is reincarnated as Evolving Wilds, Inquisition of Kozilek gives Thoughtseize some competition in the running for best seek-and-destroy discard spell ever, and even Ancestral Recall rears its ugly, overpowered head… except it’s only sorcery speed, and you need to have four untapped creatures to play it. >.>
Of course, this is all ignoring the 800-pound gorillas in the room: The titular Eldrazi. They’re the big enchiritos, no doubt, and levelers are different from any other creature we’ve seen before (except Figure of Destiny, of course). And in case you didn’t notice from cards like Overgrown Battlement and Vent Sentinel, Rise packs an unusually high number of Walls. So really, what I should be saying is, while all the staple support cards look a little too familiar, the creatures are pretty unique. And that means a lot in the Limited environments, where 99% of the decks that win use creatures to do it. The difference in Rise of the Eldrazi’s Limited environment is, the creatures that win you the game will most likely not be a team of White Weenies or Black Vampires, but rather a bunch of big fat walls, a bunch of seemingly overcosted D&D characters, or a couple of destructive giants who are unhappy over Cthulhu kicking them out of the Chaos God Club.
So how does Limited feel, exactly? Well, I’m going to be honest with everyone: Rise of the Eldrazi Sealed is as slow as you think it is. -.- When given six packs’ worth of Rise of the Eldrazi cards and expected to build a cohesive deck with them, a lot can depend on you getting lucky and getting the creatures and the support cards to match up correctly. The unfortunate, sad truth about this set is that most of the rares are either niche cards or just total jank. One of the rares I got in my pool was Kor Spiritdancer, a 0/2 creature that gets +2/+2 for each Aura attached to it and lets you draw a card for each Aura you cast. And how many playable Auras did I get from my packs? A resounding three. Whammy. Another one I got is Dormant Gomazoa, a 5/5 flyer that starts its life on the battlefield tapped and won’t ever untap unless you become the target of a spell. No, not abilities, just spells. e.e So if you ever wanted to use this lazy Jellyfish in combat, you’d have to yoink a Crab Umbra – which grants the enchanted creature an untap ability for 2U – from one of your packs as well. And since Crab Umbra is uncommon, the odds aren’t good.
Rise of the Eldrazi Draft, on the other hand… That’s a Limited environment that can get interesting. Suddenly, all those niche cards that are total crap in Sealed become playable “build around me” cards in Draft. ^^ That’s not to say narrow-focus rares aren’t a problem in Draft. After you get your first rare, you’re probably going to end up passing all the other rares you come across in favor of consistent support cards. The support cards are great, though. Broodwarden is an awesome pick if you’ve already drafted a lot of Spawn token producers, and Prophetic Prism is a welcome sight if you’re trying to break into a third or fourth color.
Oh, and if you’re looking to Draft Rise of the Eldrazi for the money, go back to Zendikar/Zendikar/Worldwake right now before I mop you. <_< The only true “utility” rares are the Eldrazi, the two planeswalkers, and for some reason (*cough*Jund*cough*), Vengevine. All the other good rares (of which there are like nine or ten) are $7, and like I said before, the vast majority of rares in this set are niche or jank.
So what are some of my favorite cards in Rise? Well, to answer that question, I’ll have to look back at two of the cards that helped me out tremendously during my time at prerelease, and one that helped me out while experimenting with Rise cards in Constructed.
The first card I wanna highlight is one who ought to silence complaints about Level Up creatures being inefficient mana dumps. Say hi to Beastbreaker of Bala Ged.
Why, hello there, you Karl Kopinski-illustrated beefcake. :3 Move over, Gatekeeper of Malakir. You’ve got competition.
Beastbreaker of Bala Ged is one of those creatures who worked out exactly as I predicted he would. Rather than try and “curve out” with a three-mana creature on turn 3, I found myself wanting to level Beastbreaker up as soon as I could. A vanilla 4/4 for five mana is pretty efficient, but when I can spread out that mana payment over two turns and get that creature to start swinging for 4 as early as turn 3? That’s hyper-efficient.
Sadly, at Levels 1-3, Beastbreaker is still within kill range of Flame Slash. But even with that knowledge, I kept wanting to level him up more and more to preserve card advantage. Despite the hefty mana investment, Beastbreaker as a 6/6 trampler gave my opponents big problems.
Another leveler I really like for its impact on Limited is Knight of Cliffhaven:
I’m not going to lie to you. When I first laid eyes of Knight of Cliffhaven, I thought it was an overcosted piece of crap. But you have to look at level creatures not from another pespective than just their total cost, because again, you’re not paying 5 mana for that 2/3 flyer all at once. Ideally, you’re dropping the not-yet-airborne Kor Knight on turn 2, then leveling it up the very next turn so you can swing for damage from above. But in the molasses-slow Limited environment of Rise, any form of evasion becomes absolutely necessary. Think about it this way: The only Eldrazi in the entire set who can fly is Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. If you need to break through a team of enormous walls to get to your opponent for the final points of damage, don’t be afraid to play this seemingly crappy card! The odds of you pulling a Knight of Cliffhaven are much better than those of you pulling a much more efficient flyer like, say, a Coralhelm Commander.
But as an ever-loving sucker for creature-based strategies, I can’t finish up this article properly without confessing my undying adoration for Artisan of Kozilek:
In a Constructed environment overflowing with spot removal, Artisan of Kozilek singlehandedly makes an Eldrazi-themed Constructed deck a viable (if not remotely so) prospect. With the proper amount of acceleration, Artisan can come in and resurrect that big nasty you worked so hard to put into play before for your opponent decided to be a buzzkill and show you his Doom Blade. The annihilator 2 ain’t too shabby, either. ^^
That said, the jury is still out as to whether the Eldrazi in general will break out of the super-slow Limited environment. Several of the enablers for the fastest decks in the format will be rotating out of Standard this fall – the demise of Jund and Naya in particular should give slower decks some breathing room – but we have yet to discover what will escape from the Pandora’s box of Scars of Mirrodin. Will the Artisan find his place in a new age of Green Ramp, or will he be left behind on the kitchen table as better colorless cards – most likely artifacts – take his place? What I said about levelers goes opposite for Eldrazi on the level of Artisan of Kozilek; You do have to pay all 9 mana for him at the same time to get both the 10/9 and the Zombify. It’s a temptingly powerful reward for that 9-mana risk, but time will tell if 9 mana is still too much for Spike’s blood, or even Johnny’s blood, come October.
It’s this kind of philosophical judgment call that leads me to marvel at how well Artisan of Kozilek was designed as a card. The same could be said about his progenitor, the Butcher of Truth himself, as White-Blue Control continues to consider using him as a 10-mana draw spell that forces his opponent to play removal or lose.
So how many questions am I gonna write that begin with the word “so?” This is the last one. I promise. :p