Throne of Eldraine Set Review

Throne of Eldraine Set Review

A new set is here, with a lot of exciting cards. Some are expected to shake up the most powerful formats, whilst others are flavourful and fun designs to spice up a promising limited format. With new mechanics and themes, a new plane and a fresh start for the overall story line there’s a lot to dig into.

As is the standard for my reviews this is my personal take on cards that I like, for what ever reason. It could be art, flavour, game play or elegance of design. There are twenty-four cards of all rarities, so please join me for a tour of the weird and wonderful world of Eldraine.

Top Rares and Mythics

The Great Henge

The biggest splashiest cards in Throne of Eldraine are part of a mythic cycle of expensive legendary artifacts with cost reduction mechanics. The great Henge becomes a huge bargain when you play with huge creatures. Rotting Regisaur and Lovestruck Beast are some interesting ways to quickly do this in recent sets. Once in play the great henge does everything except kill your opponent. Your creatures get bigger and replace themselves whilst the henge even gives extra mana to help cast all your extra cards. This is an incredibly powerful engine that can take over a game with ease.The other cards in the cycle are a mixed bunch. The Magic Mirror is very slow, with almost no impact the turn it hits the battlefield. For such a great card name, this design isn’t very exciting. On the other hand Embercleave is a flash equipment that turns almost any creature into a monster. It functions as a huge combat trick that permanently affects the board. Each of these mythics is really fitting for the colour, and a clear sign of how far Wizards is willing to push coloured artifacts.

Once Upon a Time

One of the most talked about cards in the set is fascinating. Most cards are named after they are designed to fit the flavour of the set. Once Upon a Time was clearly designed to fit the name and it fits perfectly. Just like in a story, it gets better if you start with ‘Once Upon a Time’. You don’t even have to play it on turn one, giving you much more information before you act. The effect digs deep, much deeper than I would expect for a free cantrip, and will make green decks very reliable in any format. Paying full price for this effect isn’t very painful if you draw it later in the game.

Once Upon a Time has a partner in crime Happily Ever After. Another card design that originated from the name which could have only been an alternate win condition. I prefer win conditions that demand that you play the game very differently to normal. What makes this card great is that it marks a shift in the colour pie. White has been lacking in card draw, which is especially painful in Commander where card advantage is essential. White now has symmetrical card draw, which plays into white’s sense of fairness and balance.

I think this is a great idea. White has the best sideboard cards in the game, with cards like Rest in Peace and Stony Silence able to nullify entire strategies. To even things out, white struggles to find the right answer at the right time. Symmetrical card draw lets white dig through its deck to find such a silver bullet, but whilst giving their opponent the chance to play more threats. This tension will lead to many interesting game play situations.

Emry, Lurker of the Loch

In the past Wizards produced many broken cards unintentionally. Over time wizards has learned that the riskiest designs involve a few common factors. Cost reductions are a recurring theme, as are artifacts and graveyards. Emry somehow combines all three at the same time. For this reason Emry was the most shocking and surprising card in the set. In older formats it’s very easy to imagine these abilites being abused to recur one-use artifacts like Ichor Wellspring and Mox Amber.

My favourite use of the card is with Mishra’s Bauble. This artifact is only used when doing broken things. On its own it does almost nothing, but a free way to trigger other cards is very powerful. Combined with Emry and Jeskai Ascendancy, the bauble can be cast over and over again, thus drawing your entire deck and making your creatures massive. With this set following the planeswalkers in War of the Spark and the powerhouse that was Modern Horizons, 2019 has been a year of incredibly strong cards.

Irencrag Feat

Dark Ritual is an absolute classic card and was continuously reprinted until Wizards realised how powerful fast mana can be. The temporary advantage rituals give you can be easily become a permanent advantage. Rituals have since been shifted into red, and even weaker versions like Pyretic Ritual have seen play over the years in explosive combo decks like storm.

Irencrag Feat is the latest example of a red ritual and it comes with a unique drawback that should make this safe to print. Being restricted to one spell a turn has appeared on a handful of cards such as Colfenor’s Plans and Yawgmoth’s Agenda. Irencrag Feat a very elegant use of this limitation. The original intent of ritual effects is that you spend two cards to cast a single big spell sooner than you could otherwise. More broken uses typically find a way to cast the spell repeatedly. Irencrag is fascinating because it forces you to use a broken effect in a fairer way. I can’t wait to see how players handle or circumvent this tension.A second Throne of Eldraine card Fires of Invention has some similarities. It boosts your mana production but restricts the number of spells you can cast. Like Wilderness Reclamation earlier in the year, this card is an engine to be built around. The restriction doesn’t apply to activated abilities and stops as soon as the enchantment leaves the battlefield. Standard looks like it will be filled with powerful engines like this, and we will have to wait and see which is the most powerful.

Bonecrusher Giant

There are some many powerful rare adventure cards in this set, I had a really hard time choosing which one to highlight. Murderous Rider is so good it’s the only adventure that stops you repeatedly recurring it from the graveyard. Lovestruck Beast is a flavour homerun whilst Realm-Cloaked Giant is a harmonious combination of sweeper and win condition.

The nomination had to go the Bonecrusher Giant. Aggressive mono-red decks are often decried as being simplistic and too easy to play. The truth is sequencing plays is very important and a single mistake can lead to defeat. Playing Stomp and the Giant on turns two and three is obviously a powerful play, but knowing when to deviate from this plan is the secret to mastering aggressive archetypes. This card gives players options, and this leads to more interesting decisions and intricate game play. As a bonus, this being a giant makes Cast Off from Realm-Cloaked Giant slightly worse, making that card slightly harder to evaluate.

Vantress Gargoyle

The blue-black archetype is a classic one, mill. The twist is that some cards like Into the Story benefit from milling yourself, whilst others like Drown in the Loch benefit from milling your opponents. Normally a two mana creature with five power would have a crippling drawback. Phyrexian Dreadnought and Hunted Horror are classic examples of cheap and big creatures. The creature was always exciting but the additional costs were always a problem.

Vantress Gargoyle is a massive exception. Early in the game it’s a massive blocker since you still have lots of cards. As both players play out their cards, the gargoyle will become a four turn clock. If the opponent’s graveyard isn’t co-operating, it can eventually enable itself and other cards in your deck with the tap ability.

Faeburrow Elder

Standard Legal sets have many missions to accomplish. One of those is to be fresh and different from recent sets. Ravnica has a very strong multicolour theme, so Eldraine pushes mono-colour. Faeburrow Elder stands out as a mechanical design that’s perfect with the united Ravnica theme of War of the Spark. It even reaches its full potential when you cast Planewide Celebration.

So the real question is why is this here and not in one of the three Ravnica sets? Another mission to accomplish is supporting previous (and upcoming) archetypes and themes. If you loved playing gold cards in Ravnica, you now have a reason to open Eldraine packs. It also provides relief for anyone who doesn’t like Eldraine’s focus on mono-colour decks. Giving these contrasts in a set makes the world feel less two-dimensional and draws in a wider audience.

Castle Locthwain

The realm of men in Eldraine is divided into five courts that each champion a different virtue. Their castles are a rare land cycle that are seriously impressive. On face value these cards are designed to support dedication to a single colour, but they are surprisingly easy to include in decks. Shock lands for example all enable these castles, giving you powerful effects at almost no cost. Castle Locthwain has my favourite art, hovering over another castle like a star destroyer from Star Wars. The life loss will be too much in a control deck keeping a fistful of cards but aggressive decks will love having a way to reload every turn.

The other cards in the cycle may be even more powerful. Castle Garenbrig effectively taps for two mana, which is always dangerous. Castle Embereth is also very likely to see play since mono-red is usually a viable deck in standard, and hates to run out of steam after playing out its hand.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Enchanted Carriage

Enchanted Carriage is a perfect example of what this set is all about. Everyone instantly recognises the source material and the clean and simple design matches it perfectly. At first simple and derivative designs sounds like the basis for a boring set, but when you start playing with the cards you start to create new and original stories. Maybe in your games the magic carriage is crewed by a knight, a dwarf or even a troll. Or perhaps your opponent makes pumpkin pie with Bake into a Pie. As always in magic the interactions between cards are just as important as the individual cards.

Another feature of this set is how classic fairy tales appear on multiple cards. We see Enchanted Carriage again in the art for Return to Nature. The wealth of connections between cards makes the set feel more cohesive and whole. Another interesting fact about the enchanted carriage is that mouse is a new creature type added to the game. Rats have appeared many times, but for now, this card is unique as the only way to make mice in the game.

Seven Dwarves

“Bears” or two mana 2/2s are renowned for being the bread and butter creatures of draft, although in modern sets bears normally need to have an upside to be any good. Seven Dwarves has a great bonus that comes online when you play them in multiples. Similar creatures that get better as you collect more of them have appeared before, such as Rat Colony, but they are often very weak. Seven Dwarves looks much stronger both alone and with friends.

The second line of text is also interesting. This distinguishes the card from Timberpack Wolf Cards like Relentless Rats have broken the rules of constructed deck building before. They always had text that is irrelevant in limited play, where you can always play anything you draft. Not anymore. If you some how draft eight copies of this card, you must leave one in the sideboard. As well as being a historic piece of text, this rule is great flavour. The art really goes to town on this theme, where many different things appear seven times in the picture. Triskaidekaphobia did a similar thing with its art for the number 13.

Witch’s Cottage

This humble common land is my favourite art in the set. The use of lights, mist and trees creates a really evocative atmosphere. Part of a cycle of lands that encourage mono-colour decks, they all come with a minor effect when played after three basic lands of the correct type. Witch’s Cottage is my favourite in the cycle since its effect is best later in the game, when recurring a bomb can be game winning. In draft and sealed many games will be ended by a bomb that is returned to play after an opponent’s removal has been exhausted.

These cards also have an interesting feature, they have basic land types. This means they work well in multiples, and are valid targets for some search effects like fetch lands. Letting your fixing tutor for niche effects is very interesting. It doesn’t work with Fabled Passage, the new and exciting upgrade to Evolving Wilds. In my Modern Horizons set review I raved about Prismatic Vista and for the same reasons I love Fabled Passage.

Thrill of Possibility

Hot on the heels of Faithless Looting being banned in Modern comes a new red instant in a similar mold. If you can turn discarding a card into a positive, or benefit from casting spells or filling your graveyard this card can be very helpful. It’s also interesting for limited. This card single-handedly triggers cards like Faerie Vandal and Mad Ratter at instant speed, even on your opponent’s turn, making it into a combat trick as well as helping to craft a perfect hand of cards.

A similar card has a perfect name. Haggle from Merchant of the Vale is a great description of the ability known as rummaging. As a separate card Haggle would be terrible, but adventures are great way to include cheap effects that aren’t worth a card.

Gingerbrute

There are lots of creepy flavour texts in this set, but one card stands out for its art’s spectacular creepiness. What I do like about Gingerbrute is that it does something very novel.

Speed is displayed by creatures in many ways. First strike, double strike, vigilance, flash and haste can all represent a fast moving creature. This is the connection between the list of key words on Samut, Voice of Dissent. Haste is the mechanic that best evokes speed but for a keyword mechanic it’s unusual. It only matters for one turn and cards almost never care if a creature has haste. The only example I can find is Path of Mettle. This is because haste is often given temporarily to reduce the amount players have to remember. Being forced to keep track of otherwise irrelevant abilities in case they suddenly become important isn’t a fun experience. This is why ‘haste matters’ has been used so sparingly in the past. Opening up this new design space for Gingerbrute makes for a flavourful card and a fine new card for aggressive artifact decks.

Clockwork Servant

Adamant is one of the new mechanics and is one of the ways mono-colour decks are supported in draft without hindering the usual two-colour pairs. The focus on draft explains why there are no rares with adamant. Cards like Searing Barrage and Foreboding Fruit are fine picks in one or two colour decks. Unfortunately, most of the adamant cards are underwhelming and quite boring. The mechanic glues the draft format together, but doesn’t excite.

Clockwork Servant is my favourite of the adamant cards. I like building mono-colour artifact decks to take advantage of colourless lands like ??? without worrying about mana screw. This makes getting a free card from Clockwork Servant very easy. There are more artifacts in this set than normal for several reasons. The blue-white theme requires artifacts to work while colourless cards help support drafting all five mono-colour decks. The inter-twining of themes and archetypes is my favourite aspect of set design.

Deathless Knight

A new cycle of ten hybrid cards have very particular mana costs. Usually hybrid mana means cards are playable by most colour combinations. But when a card costs for hybrid mana, the cost becomes more restrictive than a gold card. If you are mono colour or a two colour deck that matches the hybrid mana, these cards are trivial to cast. Otherwise they are impossible to cast. This duality makes them feel very different to gold cards.

Deathless Knight is my favourite of the cycle. It fits a traditional fantasy trope and is a powerful card in the right deck in a grindy match up. Food tokens are the easiest way to trigger this every turn, allowing you to attack with a four power creature every turn. Haste is very powerful here, doubling the amount of damage it deals over a game, even if your opponent kills it every time it attacks.

The other cards in the cycle are less exciting to me. Fireborn Knight is a great target for auras and equipment in the knights deck, whilst Loch Dragon can guarantee that the red-blue card draw theme is active on all your turns.

Redcap Melee

Colour hosers are a necessary evil. They are usually narrow sideboard cards like Chandra’s defeat that exist in case a standard format becomes too warped around a single colour. In draft they appear as a cycle of boring picks that always start in the sideboard. Redcap Melee is one of the best designed colour hosers of all time. If your curve is low enough, this can be played against any colour. Sacrificing a land is a real cost, but is far better than having a card like Hunt the Hunter that is uncastable in most games.

Another feature I like is that these cards hate on their own colour. If blue becomes too powerful in standard, blue decks will run Mystical Dispute in the sideboard which weakens the sideboard against other strategies, giving other colours a chance to catch up. Mystical Dispute is especially interesting because eternal formats revolve around cheap blue spells. When blue is so heavily played, this becomes a very powerful counterspell.

Trail of Crumbs

Food is one of the most interesting innovations in this set. I didn’t expect to be writing that about a Magic card a month ago! Like clues and treasure before it, food helps add little bonuses and incidental value to the essential ingredients in any environment. Bake into a Pie and Turn into a Pumpkin are classic examples of this. Wizards realised how essential food is to many fairy tales, so it became a centrepiece of the set.

My favourite food card is the uncommon build around card Trail of Crumbs. If you can create some food and find a better way to sacrifice it than simply eating it, Trail of Crumbs will kick in and find you more food and sacrifice outlets. Drafting is at its best when your priorities shift and change as your deck coalesces. I’m sure this will be one of the most fun cards to build around in Throne of Eldraine.

Of course build arounds are only as good as their supporting cast. Options include Giant Opportunity, Gilded Goose, and Oko, Thief of Crowns. These cards are my favourites because they can create and use food in a similar way to energy from the Kaladesh block. The cards work independently of each other, so the deck isn’t reliant on a single card, but when working together become even stronger.

Edgewall Innkeeper

Adventure is an super fun mechanic, giving players a constant stream of decisions to make in a game. Adventure combines card advantage, flexibility and the ability to pay for effects in instalments. Usually when we get a new mechanic some designs are pushed for constructed while other cards fall flat and disappoint. Adventure cards are almost universally great, something you can rarely say about a mechanic.

Players who have fallen in love with adventure, will love drafting green-white, the colour pair that rewards you for playing all the cards you already wanted to play. Wandermare is the gold uncommon for the archetype, but it feels like a very generic gold uncommon. Edgewall Innkeeper is my favourite reason to play this archetype. In a deck filled with flexibly costed spells, finding one spare mana is very easy. Played early enough, this grows and grows as it hears of more daring adventures. The innkeeper is a true fantasy staple that has had far too few appearances on cards but this design and this art do justice to publicans across all planes.

Revenge of Ravens

This card is a fascinating one for limited play. It can utterly cripple an army of one power creatures, and partially nullify aggressive strategies. Other decks can ignore it completely. The most obvious deck is a blue mill deck where Merfolk Secretkeeper and Didn’t Say Please can kill quickly whilst contributing to your defences. Tempting Witch is another example of a low powered card capable of ending a boardstall. The number of different ways of winning games makes for an interesting format as well as weakening Revenge of Ravens. This card gets even better in multiples and I look forward to seeing how it plays in limited.

Shinechaser

Last year’s Dominaria set was home to a great design innovation known as batching. The historic mechanic rewarded you for playing artifacts, legendary creatures and planeswalkers. Mystical was an unused idea for a mechanic that grouped faeries, artifacts and enchantments in the same way. Shinechaser is clue to what could have been.

A creature getting bigger if you meet a condition is an idea that has been used many times before. Shinechaser gives you two separate but easy objectives makes the game play more dynamic than similar generic payoffs in older sets .The art is also by far my favourite art of a faerie in the set.

As shown by Shinechaser, Blue-White is the colour for artifacts and enchantments. Throne of Eldraine has an above average number of artifacts in it, which helps both this archetype and drafting mono-colour decks. The food mechanic also supports this strategy, with Fortifying Provisions meets both of Shinechaser’s conditions. I find it very satisfying when the mechanics and themes of a set are so tightly interconnected like this.

Grumgully, the Generous

The world of Eldraine is divided in two. The realm of men is structured and orderly, divided into five kingdoms that represent a different virtue. The rest of Eldraine is known as the wilds and is home to other races. It isn’t an evil place, but it is a chaotic place. This is represented by the Red-Green archetype which inspires me to build a deck collected together as many fae and mythical creatures as possible. Other payoff cards include Keeper of Fables and Ferocity of the Wilds. These three cards work really well together and having all three in play makes your army very threatening.

Tribal archetypes are often very boring to draft. When drafting Ixalan for example, once you knew which tribe you where drafting, you were only interested in a narrow pool of cards and had fewer interesting choices. Drafting non-humans is very different, because the card pool is wide open and you can easily combine this theme with another one. This would be a great trio of cards for a low powered cube because it adds a new archetype to the cube that changes your priorities without restricting you too much. This gives drafters the freedom to draft whatever they want, which for me is what cube is all about.

Kenrith’s Transformation

Every time I look at this card, I can’t decide if I like this effect in green. Beast Within is a classic colour pie break because it lets green destroy creatures with out relying on its own creatures. Unconditional removal is usually only in white or black. Transforming creatures (see Frogify) is normally in blue and giving compensation to an opponent (see Crib Swap) is usually white. Now the effect is in green, for only two mana and it draws a card.

On the other hand, if you transform your own creatures this is just a pump spell, that is clearly a green effect. When used as removal, the target doesn’t die until you kill it. In mono-green that means you need a big creature to make this true removal. Looking at it through this lens, I understand how this card was placed in green.

There are some other great common uncommon removal spells in this set. Epic Downfall is genuinely epic which together with Glass Casket makes creatures with a converted mana cost of three especially vulnerable to removal in this limited format. Outflank is also interesting as a situational card, half way between combat trick and removal spell. It has been given a simple and clean one word name, which is a hint the design has genuine potential for future reprintings.

Burning Yard Trainer

Elegance is something I rate highly when I look at new designs. Creatures that enter the battlefield and pump other creatures is a very common design, often appearing as underwhelming commons like Cavalry Drillmaster. Adding haste changes the card radically. Attacking and enabling other attacks at the same time lets both halves of the card be relevant at the same time. The trainer lets its trainee benefit from both trample and haste. It’s unlikely that granting haste will be relevant very often, but the symmetry of granting haste is part of the elegance that I enjoy so much.

Smitten Swordmaster

The strongest theme of the set is knight tribal which is found predominantly in red, black and white. The three colour pairs have different play styles but they all care about knights. Red-Black favours equipment, Red-White goes wide and Black-White grinds out advantages in longer games. My favourite payoff is one of the simplest. Smitten Swordmaster tells the story of one of Ayara’s husbands. As shown in Festive Funeral, Ayara sends her husbands out questing to find The Cauldron of Eternity. When they inevitably fail to return, a year later Ayara declares them dead, holds a funeral, marries a new suitor and history repeats itself. This is one of my favourite pieces of lore from Eldraine.

The card itself also plays well. Child of Night has always been fine in limited, whilst Curry Favour can hit for a lot of damage in a stalled out game. The weakness of some knight payoffs like Steelclaw Lance is that they dilute the number of knights in your deck and do nothing if you haven’t got any knights already in play. When building a black knight deck, Smitten Swordmaster is easy to include. It is probably cheaper than any other payoff, so it doesn’t compete for a spot on the curve with them.

The knight payoffs in this set come in many forms. Inspiring Veteran is a very classical payoff, making all your knights better. Acclaimed Contender can find more payoffs, and Blacklance Paragon is a combat trick that still contributes to your tribal synergies.

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