Hello again everyone,
I am really excited to finally have a new set to play and create guides for! I am particularly enthusiastic about Eldraine because conceptually this is one of the most interesting sets Wizards has ever come up with. I absolutely love the deep dive they are taking into fairy tale lore, and the new mechanics and card types feel really fresh. I also appreciate Wizards taking their pun game to the next level with some of these hilarious card names. Whether or not all of this will translate into a fun and/or competitive gameplay experience remains to be seen, but I am optimistic.
The overall power level of this set seems high. So much so that Standard is looking to be completely reshaped by it. Typically this means Limited players are going to have to suffer through some obnoxiously powerful cards, which can be especially oppressive in the Sealed format. On the other hand, War of the Spark has shown that even sets that are filled with strong cards can still be conducive to awesome Limited environments. Relative to War of the Spark, Eldraine only has a few cards that are downright Bombs. The high power level in this set comes down to strong synergy between its Archetypes and Mechanics. Wizards has been on quite the Limited roll from Dominaria through Core Set 2020, with the only clear miss being Guilds of Ravnica. So, at this point I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt.
This article is going to be a deep dive into the Mechanics and Archetypes of Eldraine. I will be giving you my first impressions of them, and speculate some on which types of decks seem more or less viable. Finally, I will be linking and discussing my initial Tier List for every card in the set. After I play a bunch of Sealed and Traditional Drafts upon release I will be revising my Tier List and writing a Draft Guide for the set that will be posted in time for Ranked Draft. Let’s get into it!
Welcome to Eldraine – Prepare for Adventure!
This set has three new mechanics to take note of, and each of them add an interesting twist that will hopefully add variety to the types of decks players put together in Limited. In the following sections I will be primarily using common and uncommon cards as examples, since they are going to be seen more frequently. For each mechanic and archetype there are Rare cards that tend to be similar in theme but have a higher power level.
Adventure is a brand new mechanic that enhances certain creatures with an optional instant or sorcery that can be played before casting the creature itself. Every color has some adventure cards, but White and Green have the majority. For Blue, Black, and Red there are fewer adventure cards and they are primarily uncommon and rare. Each type of adventure has a name, and they are on theme for their color. There are also some adventure payoff cards such as Edgewall Innkeeper and Lucky Clover that provide an added benefit for running multiple adventure cards in your deck.
From a Limited perspective, adventure is a very powerful mechanic because you are essentially getting two cards in one. If the game goes long enough to go on adventures and play the creatures, running these will provide card advantage. Some of the uncommon ones such as Hypnotic Sprite and Order of Midnight seem particularly good because their mana costs are efficient and their adventures are things you would typically want in your deck anyway, so getting a 2 power flyer is a nice bonus. They are in a similar vein to something like Cloudkin Seer, but the adventure mechanic feels fresh, goes well with the lore, and I really like it.
Food is another new mechanic that reminds me of Treasure, but instead of the artifacts producing mana they can instead be sacrificed to gain life. While that ability isn’t particularly exciting, there are some really cool payoffs that take advantage of having food in the set. Although White and Blue can make a little Food, Green and Black are the key colors that enable and payoff this new mechanic. Cards like Bog Naughty and Giant Opportunity are two powerful examples that could make players start fearing those humble Food tokens. At this point I think that Food will only be a complete build around in Black-Green decks, but I could see incorporating a Food theme if you are playing at least one of those colors and find some decent payoff cards. Even Blue-White decks benefit from artifacts, so incorporating cards that create some Food may end up being a good strategy.
Of the three new mechanics, Adamant actually has me the most excited. From a design standpoint this is such a great idea. Mono colored decks in Limited have been a rarity up until this point, but this mechanic may just change that. Granted, the bonus for spending 3 of the same colored mana may not end up justifying playing only one color, but the possibility of it is fascinating to me. Overall, every color has a common creature that gets a +1/+1 counter for the Adamant bonus, while Red seems to have some of the best Adamant cards such as Slaying Fire. The kicker is that there are several artifacts with Adamant that could slot into any deck. Clockwork Servant for example is a great deal if you can reliably cast it with 3 of the same-colored mana. Even if mono-colored decks are still a rarity in Eldraine, this mechanic is going to force players to think harder than ever about their mana bases.
Warning!! – (a little) Math Incoming
If you have never used a hypergeometric calculator, this set may be the catalyst for you (https://stattrek.com/online-calculator/hypergeometric.aspx)!
A quick overview – Plug in 40 for your deck size and you can run some quick calculations to see your probability of different outcomes. For example, let’s say I want to see how likely my deck will be able to utilize Adamant on turn 5. I would put in the number of lands of that type for ‘number of successes in population,’ put in 11 for ‘sample size’ (7 cards in starting hand + 4 cards drawn if I go first), put in 3 for ‘number of successes in sample’ (to enable Adamant)! Okay, so if I had 9 lands of that type in my deck (number of successes in population) I would have a 47.7% chance of hitting 3 or more (x ≥ 3) of those lands by turn 5. So, maybe having a typical 9/8 2-color mana base may not be ideal for Adamant. So let’s try heavily favoring one color so that we have an 11/6 mana base. If I put in 11 for number of successes in population my chances of hitting 3 or more improve to 65%. That seems better, but now my chances of getting color screwed and not drawing my secondary type of mana by turn 4 effectively doubles from 7.6% with 8 lands (40-8-10-1 in the calculator) to over 15.5% with 6 lands (40-6-10-1 in the calculator).
Running these types of calculations is something I highly recommend for a few reasons, but the most important one is it can help you tilt less frequently. Knowing that you have a greater than 15% chance of getting stuck on two lands even when you are running 17 can help you snap back to the reality that the world isn’t out to get you. Secondary to that, they can help you understand the actual repercussions of tweaking your mana base. Knowing that dropping to 16 lands will increase those odds of getting stuck on 2 lands to 20% could save you from making a poor decision when you can’t figure out what to cut in your mid range deck and you figure one less land shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Now, with the Adamant mechanic, we will have to deal with tougher questions than ever before. How far are we willing to stretch our mana base to increase the odds of capitalizing on it? Are the benefits good enough to abandon a second color altogether to increase those chances to 100%? It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out and how much impact it will have on the skill ceiling for the set.
The Archetypes of Eldraine
Sorry if I lost you with the discourse on statistics, let’s get back on the fun train! As usual I am using uncommon cards as my ‘sign posts’ for each archetype as they are going to pop up in your events more frequently. Fortunately, Wizards has done an amazing job aligning their 2-color card cycles to the primary mechanics of their archetypes.
Themes: As I mentioned earlier, Green and White are the primary Adventure colors, and that is on full display here. The secondary theme seems to be creatures matter, which is entirely on brand for these colors. As Adventure seems like a strong mechanic on its own, if you are able to find some Adventure payoffs in these I could see this archetype being very strong.
As we explore each archetype, notice that each gets a multicolored card as well as a 4 CMC split card. These split cards are notable as they are easily cast in 2-color decks compared to the XXYY-costed cycle in WAR while also enabling potential mono-colored decks.
Themes: Black-Green are the primary colors for the Food mechanic, and Savvy Hunter looks like a great payoff for it. Deathless Knight illustrates the secondary recursion theme of the archetype while also benefiting from Food, as sacrificing Food to gain life triggers the ability. BG Food decks look really viable at this point as long as the payoffs are there.
Themes: This archetype is interested in flying creatures and has several cards that benefit from playing artifacts and enchantments. Keep in mind that Food is an artifact! I am somewhat skeptical about how good this archetype is going to be, but flyers are generally effective in Limited and if the artifacts and enchantments are solid on their own, the payoffs could put it over the top.
Themes: I really like what they have done with this archetype in Eldraine. When you play Blue-Black you are going to be most interested in your opponents graveyard. This is a fresh take on the classic control color pair, and I am pretty sure it is going to be good. Control decks are ideally filling their opponents’ graveyard anyway, so getting some payoffs for doing that seems potent. I have to say that Covetous Urge looks downright obnoxious to play against, though. Not only does it eliminate your best card but then they can use it against you! Even when played late in the game it can target the graveyard which is a nice touch.
Themes: Knights are the one of the primary creature types in Eldraine, and this archetype is set to capitalize on them. Typical of these colors, Black and White knights are looking to grind out value and extend the game. Secondary themes in this color include Deathtouch, Lifelink, and Indestructible. These abilities are on full display with these two creatures, and this archetype looks resilient and at least feasible at this point.
Themes: Along with Black-White, this is another archetype that utilizes Knights but it does so in a much more straightforward way. Aggro decks are no stranger to Red-White players, and this is one of the archetypes that feels like it is going to set the pace for the format. I am confident that Eldraine is going to be faster than Core Set 2020, but just how much is going to partially depend on how dangerous this archetype is when it comes together.
Themes: It looks to me like this archetype is looking to pay off drawing extra cards, which on the surface sounds awesome! Drawing extra cards is something you want to be doing anyway, so getting a bonus for it seems amazing. However, it seems like most of the enablers are looting effects (Draw 1 then discard 1 or vice versa in some cases). Looting improves card quality but does not generate actual card advantage, so unless the payoffs are solid I am not sure that a deck that wants to spend turns looting is going to be successful, especially if the format ends up being fast. The jury is still very much out, but this is one of the archetypes I am skeptical of at this point.
Themes: Blue-Green is going to be the Ramp archetype of this format. Once again, the effectiveness of this is going to be largely dependent on how fast the format is. The 5+ CMC spells at common and uncommon in these colors aren’t too exciting, but ramping into Bomb Rares could be extremely powerful. I do tend to like how these colors compliment each other, combining powerful Green creatures with Blue tricks/card draw/flyers. Eldraine looks to continue that premise, but this is another archetype I am a little tentative of at this point unless there are some powerful spells at the top of the curve.
Themes: This is the third color pair the revolves around Knights. If Black-White favors drawn out games and Red-White wants to end them quickly, then Black-Red seems to be the midrange Knight deck. The secondary theme seems to be Equipment/Artifacts. Elite Headhunter seems a little weak compared to the other split cards, but maybe Food Fight will end up being the Eldraine Limited meta and he will live up to his name.
Themes: I find it kind of funny that ‘Tribes’ have devolved in this game to the point that possibly the second most prevalent one after Knights in Eldraine is going to be ‘non-Humans.’ From a strategy standpoint I kind of love it though, as it is going to open up some different deckbuilding possibilities. Both of these signpost cards look great, and I am excited to give this archetype a try. From a flavor standpoint this set seems to be about Knights vs. Monsters, so I have to think that the intention was to make Green-Red competitive against the Knight decks so that games will often play out that way.
I have to say the dynamics between Humans, Fairies, and Monsters in this Fairy Tale setting feels pretty ingenious, and I genuinely hope they pulled it off. Every color pair is on theme classically, yet many of them have been given a fresh new twist. On paper the archetypes seem fairly well balanced and I sincerely hope most of them end up being viable enough to have another diverse Limited format… but time will tell.
I finally caved and created one of these!
I feel like they are a dime a dozen at this point, but I definitely understand their appeal and usefulness despite the flaws. The main issue I have is that when you are drafting it is often better to take a ‘lower tier’ card that is better suited for your deck. After some reflection on this I came to a realization about Tier Lists. Basically, there is always going to be some degree of error in the ratings and so if you think about each Tier as a Standard Deviation, then a ‘perfect’ Tier List would have an error of only 1 Standard Deviation. So in practice for some decks a ‘B Tier’ card may end up playing like a ‘C’ due to a lack of synergy, while that same deck might have some ‘C Tier’ cards performing at a ‘B Tier’ level (but never as good as an ‘A’ ). I think as long as you keep that in mind, Tier Lists can be an incredibly helpful tool and I hope you like mine!
I hope you are all as excited to play the new set as I am. Be on the lookout for my Draft Guide and revisions to the Tier List as I get more acquainted with Eldraine. If you want to see me Draft and play matches on stream you can check that out here: http://www.twitch.tv/compulsion02. I have also partnered with Hello Good Game who has a great YouTube channel and hosts one of my Limited videos every week: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9A1QEVgRm10zVgv0VMNu-A