Throne of Eldraine Draft and Sealed on MTG Arena
Throne of Eldraine is coming on Magic Arena, and with it comes an exciting Limited format - as well as a host of complexities that are part of any non-Core expansion. Core 2020 had five primary Limited archetypes; Eldraine has the full ten, one for each color pair. Eldraine also has new mechanics, an updated removal suite, and different color-fixing options. Let’s dive right in!
Mechanics and Themes
Magic loves its split cards, and Eldraine brings its own variation: Adventures! Adventures are all creatures that have an instant or sorcery attached. You can cast the instant/sorcery side of the adventure first and cast the creature later - or just cast the creature, but forego the possibility of casting the instant/sorcery.
Adventure is a card advantage mechanic with some built-in limitations regarding both the kind of advantage you’re getting, and the sequencing of your actions. For Limited purposes, Adventure means that you’ll play with - and against - the type of effect that’s normally relegated to the sideboard so keep an eye out for those. 2W for a middling combat trick is bad, but it becomes far more reasonable if it comes with a 2/1 two-drop creature. Some of the Adventure cards like Lonesome Unicorn are more straightforward 2 for 1's and seem to be pretty powerful.
The Adamant mechanic gives you a bonus when casting a spell - as long as you use at least three mana of a specified color. This can be quite the restriction in a Limited deck, which is typically a minimum of two colors. For that reason, the aim should be to play Adamant cards where the base effect is useful, and the bonus is pure upside. Slaying Fire is a good example: 2R for 3 damage is fine, and the opportunity to do 4 damage pushes the card above and beyond!
Food is an odd mechanic: what’s the point of having a token that gives you three life? The answer lies in how other cards can use Food. Some cards like having artifacts around. Others, like Gilded Goose, can sacrifice Food to produce an effect. Still others might ask you to sacrifice an artifact, and Food tokens are an ideal target. And… sometimes you just need three more life to survive one more turn!
Knights and Non-Humans
Finally, there are a few tribal themes running through Eldraine. Knights are a supported creature type, found primarily in White, Black, and Red, but also spattered in the other colors as well. There are a host of cards - such as Belle of the Brawl - that work well with Knights by doing things such as buffing their stats or giving them abilities.
The other tribal theme is actually more of an anti-theme: cards that care about non-Humans. Cards such as Mistford River Turtle are found primarily in Blue, Red, and Green, but all colors have non-Humans.
Note that there are cards that are both Knights and non-Humans: Ogre Knights and such!
The Color Pairs
Those are the mechanics and themes of Eldraine, but what will Limited decks actually try and do? The answer lies in the signpost uncommons: two color cards that provide a guide to the strategy of each color pair. Each color pair also has a hybrid card that is ideal for a deck in those colors. Let’s look at each of these in turn!
White/Blue: Artifacts and Enchantments Matter
White/Blue has an overt theme of caring about artifacts and enchantments. Shinechaser goes from being bad to being great if you control an artifact and an enchantment, and Arcanist’s Owl is a great way to find those cards. Artifacts and enchantments aren’t really a great plan by themselves, however. The real key to White/Blue is through the classic strategy of dumping a bunch of flyers onto the board and flying above the head of your helplessly flailing opponent.
The intersection between flyers and artifacts/enchantments lies partially in Equipment and Auras, which quicken your clock; and partially in White/Blue removal, which is almost all Enchantment or Artifact based. Nothing in White/Blue feels particularly novel or new - but its strategy is undeniably effective.
White/Black: Grindy Knights
White/Black Knights play for the long game, focusing on defense over attack, small and repeatable pings over large swaths of damage. The color pair relies on creatures that are hard to remove and damage that is difficult to prevent in order to grind out a slow but inevitable victory.
This strategy requires you to make selective draft picks, and also to be patient during games. You need creatures that synergize with each other, removal spells, graveyard recursion, and the instinct to cast the right spells at the right time. White/Black is difficult to play, but the payoff can be well worth it!
Blue/Black: Down in the Graveyard
Neither of Blue/Black’s two signature uncommons are creatures, and that should tell you a lot about how this color pair likes to win games. In Eldraine Blue/Black is focused on mill - primarily against the opponent, but there’s some self-mill synergy as well.
If you’re playing this strategy, your focus should be on mill enablers and payoffs, removal, and some way to survive to the late game. An ideal game involves playing some early defensive drops, saving your removal for threats that you can’t defend against, and finishing a grindy game by milling your opponent out or casting a single hard-to-deal-with threat.
Blue/Red: Did You Know Drawing Cards Is Good?
The Blue/Red strategy of drawing cards will appeal to almost all Magic players who have a degree of experience, as they know that the answer to my rhetorical question is: YES. Drawing cards is very, very good. And when drawing cards has a secondary, positive effect… oh, bliss!
I expect Blue/Red to be an extremely popular strategy, so if you’re drafting the archetype, make sure to take the draw-enablers - draw spells, looters, and rummagers - early. Remember, you can afford a lower ratio of quality cards, simply because you will ideally draw enough cards that it won’t matter. That being said, it does take time for the benefits of drawing cards to manifest on a board state. Make sure you have enough two drops and ways to defend yourself - in other words, ways to buy yourself time to unleash the cards in your hand!
Black/Red: YOLO Knights
So far we’ve talked about a bunch of slow, reactive strategies. But sometimes you want to win quickly (maybe you forgot to eat dinner and want enough time between rounds to grab a slice of pizza). If so, Black/Red is the perfect color pair for you! Black/Red is another color pair that focuses on Knights… only the archetype is far far FAR more aggressive than Black/White. Your creatures are smaller but faster, enabling you to race out to an early life total lead and buying you the momentum to close out a quick victory before your opponent’s more expensive creatures and bombs come into play.
Defending often means losing for Black/Red, so finding ways to push the attack is extremely important. Cards like Steelclaw Lance are perfect for turning all your smaller Knights into big threats, and Elite Headhunter is a reasonable way to simplify the board and get in those last few points of damage. Remember: winning a game isn’t always about having the better board state - it’s about who gets to 0 life first.
Black/Green has a rather strange mechanic: Food matters. The color pair can use Food directly - cards that sacrifice Food for an effect - or indirectly, with cards like Deathless Knight that benefit from Food’s life gain. Beyond that, Black/Green looks like it will play out as in other Limited formats: Green’s efficiently sized creatures paired with Black’s excellent removal and capability to grind.
Because of that, Black/Green strategies are likely to be reasonably effective even without a ton of Food synergies: after all, you can’t go too wrong if you pair good creatures with good interaction. But if you want to turbocharge your Black/Green deck, make sure you pick up cards with a Food payoff early and often.
Red/White: Go-Wide Knights
The final Knight-focused color pair probably captures a child’s dream of knights the best: rows upon rows of noble paladins, lances at the ready as they charge towards the enemy. Red/White Knights goes wide with creatures that strengthen each other and create an unstoppable force.
Red/White plays similarly to Red/Black in that it’s also an extremely aggressive archetype: if you’re not attacking, you’re losing. However its endgame differs: an enormously wide board that wins simply because the opponent has too few creatures. Token makers work well for Red/White, as do mass pump spells. And keep combat tricks in mind: they pull double duty as weak removal - and as a way to sneak in the last few points of damage.
Red/Green is traditionally the archetype for people who like to stomp their way to victory… and Eldraine maintains that tradition. This color pair laughs at puny two drops and goes right over the top with big beaters such as Rampart Smasher. In addition, Red/Green favors playing non-Human creatures. Fortunately, that’s exactly what you’d want to do anyway, since most Humans are far too puny for this archetype’s tastes.
Creatures are king for Red/Green: although removal is always good, shortage of threats is a big problem for this archetype. If you find yourself low on removal, well, combat tricks (like Barge In) are not a terrible substitute for removal. You will often win if an opponent double- or triple- blocks your big threat, only to get blown out by a surprise buff.
Green/White also likes its big creatures, although it strikes an odd balance between growing tall and going wide, with the wide part often buying you enough time to do the tall part. The Adventure synergy helps both, with cards like Wandermare that become humongous as more and more Adventures are played; and Oakhame Ranger, a single Adventure card that represents three bodies.
Green/White games can play out in a variety of ways. Sometimes you’ll go wide and quickly overwhelm a stumbling opponent. Other times you’ll end up in a board stall and rely on big Green creatures or evasive White fliers to punch your way to victory. What does this mean? You’ll need a good understanding of board states, so that you know when to be aggressive - and when to hold back and wait for the long game.
Green/Blue has historically had a bit of an odd color identity. In recent years it’s often been the color of ramp, and so it is in Eldraine, with Maraleaf Pixie and Thunderous Snapper providing obvious benefits for the color pair. This archetype will often fall behind early, only to slam the door faster than an opponent expects by playing big creatures ahead of curve.
The color pair is also quite good at splashing, with Green providing color fixing in Beanstalk Giant or Rosethorn Acoloyte plus a handful of Manalith look alikes with Heraldic Banner and Spinning Wheel. Blue gives you the draw with which to find either the fixing or the splashed card with cards like Witching Well and Unexplained Vision. . As a result, in draft I’d look to splash bombs aggressively. Just make sure you have enough defense to survive the early turns!
Common and Uncommon Removal
Let’s do a quick rundown of the common and uncommon removal in the set.
White does not have the best removal. Outflank is unreliable, and both Trapped in the Tower and Glass Casket are conditional - a far cry from Pacisicm or Divine Verdict. This suggests that White is less controlling than in other Limited formats.
Blue has less removal than White, but both Charmed Sleep and Frogify are very strong. Frogify neuters any threat, and Charmed Sleep does nearly the same (excepting creatures with static abilities or non-tap activated abilities). Identical to Claustrophobia, last printed in Magic Origins
Unsurprisingly, Black has the best non-rare removal spell in Bake into a Pie. Reave Soul and Epic Downfall are also great, if conditional; both will find targets against almost all Limited decks. Festive Funeral is quite poor in comparison, although slow and grindy Black decks will find it very useful. Finally, there’s Bog Naughty, which has an incredible repeatable effect - at the cost of needing Food. Still, a five mana 3/3 flyer is not bad, and I’d play a Bog Naughty even if I only had one or two ways of generating Food.
Fling is not really a serious removal spell, as it is a guaranteed 1-for-2 that leaves you down resources. Still, if your deck features a lot of pump, it could be a way for your small creatures to trade (badly) with bigger creatures or cheese out a game. Scorching Dragonfire, Searing Barrage, and Slaying Fire are far better, and high picks for any Red drafter. Joust may seem situational, but it’s good in small Red decks (which are likely to be Knight-focused) and in big Red decks (where you can simply punch an opposing creature out of existence). Finally, there’s Redcap Melee. It may seem too situational to be of use, but aggro Red decks may love its sheer efficiency, and not care about losing a land.
Outmuscle is Green’s inevitable fight spell, and it’s nice: removal plus a permanent buff for your creature equals a pretty good deal. Kenrith’s Transformation is sketchier - leaving behind a 3/3 body is nothing to sneeze at - but benefits from its card draw, and the fact that you can always drop it on your own creature as an upgrade. Its flexibility makes it pretty strong.
The usefulness of Drown in the Loch depends entirely on how well you can shove cards into your opponent’s graveyard. Having the choice of counter or kill is very appealing, however, as it guarantees that the card will be useful in any situation. Elite Headhunter is far more situational, and it’s probably better viewed as an alternative method of closing out a game.
Scalding Cauldron isn’t terrible. Although the activation cost is steep, it does deal with a multitude of early game threats while also giving a defensive deck - one with creatures with low power and high toughness - a way to eliminate creatures that try to attack through.
How’s the fixing? In a word: terrible. Outside of Green, there are no efficient ways to repeatedly find your splash color:
What does this mean? Unless you’re Green, do your best not to play three colors.
So… What to Do?
Here are some of my initial thoughts:
- Stay out of three colors unless you’re Green.
- In Sealed, try to stay out of the aggressive color pairs unless your pool is extremely tilted in that direction. Otherwise you may not be able to compete with any sort of midrange deck with reasonable removal.
- If you want a busted Draft deck, grab the enablers - the draw-two or mill or Food payoffs - early, and do your best to prevent sending signals that the archetype you’re drafting may be open.
- If it’s not possible to lean heavily into a two-color archetype, lean into a classic strategy: White/Blue flyers, or strong removal (Black or Red) paired with big Green beaters.
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