By Roberto Moser • July 13, 2016
Where we left
Eldritch Moon is the second expansion in the Shadows over Innistrad set, the first block entirely conceived with the new two-set-per-block structure. For the first time, Wizards of the Coast had a chance to completely devise a story and develop a set with a “Part One” and a “Part Two” in mind, with no need to balance story, card design, mechanics and cycles over a “Part Three”.
So where were we? Shadows over Innistrad ended on a very sour note, with Jace, Unraveler of Secrets investigating a mystery in the wake of Tamiyo, Nahiri, the Harbinger seeking vengeance on Sorin, Grim Nemesis and, most importantly, the vampire Planeswalker forced to the Anguished Unmaking of his daughter and pupil, Archangel Avacyn. For months, our heroes attempted to tie pieces together: was Avacyn’s madness the cause of all the mysterious events happening on Innistrad? Or was the Archangel no more than a pawn in the hands of someone – or something – more powerful?
Were the werewolves involved in this madness? What was Arlinn Kord’s secret agenda? Was she just a fine looking and elegant women sporadically transforming into a werewolf, or was she involved into bigger plans?
Moreover, where were the other beloved characters from the first Innistrad block? We just had a new, beautiful version of Sigarda, Host of Herons with the printing of Sigarda, Heron’s Grace, but what about Bruna, Light of Alabaster and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight? What about fan-favourite Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded? Most importantly, what happened to Grimgrin, Corpse-Born?
Many crucial element of the story were still unknown. The few things players did know were very dramatic, with hate, scorn, pain and regret among the strongest feelings in the emotional palette of Shadows over Innistrad.
As it customary for many Magic expansions, things were looking very grim at the end of the first chapter of the set. Sacrifices were made, chaos was spreading and hatred was flowing. Most of the events seemed to be happening according to Nahiri, the Harbinger’s plan, which was never clearly detailed to the audience, aside for general concepts involving Sorin’s suffering and a devastating sense of resentment towards the Lord of Innistrad.
This, at least, was the overall idea. The set itself and all the contents gravitating around Shadows over Innistrad were filled with clues, red herrings, leads and mysteries to tickle our meddling kids sense. “What are these shadows lurking over Innistrad?” asked some. “Is Nahiri, the Harbinger bringing someone to the Plane?” wondered many. “What could cause the madness on Innistrad?” shouted others.
“It’s Marit Lage!” proclaimed some players. “No, it’s Nicol Bolas!” declared others. “Trust me, it’s the Phyrexians!” argued some others.
“It’s Emrakul!” replied a good majority of the players.
Day after day, story after story, clue after clue, the players argued, discussed and even fought over who was behind all this. Was an evil mastermind plotting against the Plane of Horrors? Was an ancient evil sailing the Blind Eternities to corrupt a new world?
“It’s still Emrakul!” now replied the vast majority of players.
With the complicity of Wizards of the Coast, players kept analysing flavour texts, arts, names and hints, hoping to find an answer. “There’s a giant sea monster in the art of Engulf the Shore, wondered some. “Epiphany at the Drownyard depicts a ship surrounded by stone spikes, could that be Skyship Weatherlight?” asked nobody.
“Guys, Emrakul!” replied almost every single player.
Wizards decided not to reveal the set symbol for Eldritch Moon. Evidently, the strategy was to stay as secretive as possible regarding everything that surrounded the set.
So what was in store? What could be the answer to this unsolvable mystery? What could be the key to unravel all the secrets hiding under the peaceful façade of Innistrad?
“First of all Innistrad is not really peaceful, and also Emrakul” replied pretty much everyone in the world, including people with no prior knowledge of Magic. When even my casual set review of Shadows over Innistrad mentions Emrakul, you know even the foolest among the fools are seeing it coming.
The mystery is solved (and a brief dissertation on the two-set-per-block structure)
Then the reveal happened. On June 20th, the first piece of Eldritch Moon-related narrative was released, alongside the revelation everyone was eagerly awaiting. Aside for all the players who had already figured everything out. Which is pretty much everybody on the planet.
If you haven’t read the beautiful piece of Magic Story behind the reveal, I encourage you to do it right now. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s beautiful, extremely majestic and very reminiscent of Cthulhu-esque flavours. Speaking of which, I really recommend, while you’re reading this installment of Magic Story, to listen to “Cthulhu” by Iced Earth. It’s a fairly recent track that I think really embodies the spirit of the story.
So madness itself is unleashed in the form of one of the most despicable horrors ever seen in the history of the Multiverse. An unfathomable entity that defies any mortal logic has been summoned to the Plane. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
In truly epic fashion, Wizards manages to deliver an insanely epic reveal that, yes, everyone saw coming. Nevertheless, the article by Kimberly J. Kreines is so good; I felt the need to read the juiciest parts to my girlfriend. Who is by no mean into Magic and probably still hates me for that.
But let’s get back to the story. Emrakul is now on Innistrad and the corruption of the living is her business. Too bad our beloved Black Planeswalker has no agenda with the living, but is deeply proficient in anything regarding the dead. Can you see where we are going?
Since the release of the absolutely epic and stunning Eldritch Moon trailer, we have been able to enjoy the twist behind this expansion and the main difference with most of the storylines we saw in recent Magic history. This time around, it’s not good versus evil. It’s not just our heroes against the bad guy. This time it’s unspeakable Lovecraft horror versus borderline evil necromancer. Liliana is no good girl material, but it is also true that she was rarely the true villain of Magic. And when she was, she was still a very enjoyable and relatable character.
For the first time in recent Magic history, the salvation or the downfall of a Plane are in the hands of two factions that are definitely not good, but also not really evil. While it is easy to consider Emrakul, the Promised End as the bad girl, Wizards has insisted on the fact that the Eldrazi are a race of unfathomable creatures that transcend the concepts of good and evil. Sure, she is into corrupting entire worlds, but her true nature is beyond our comprehension. She doesn’t enjoy inflicting pain; she doesn’t actively seek others’ sufferings. She just does what she does. Unfortunately – blame it on Nahiri, the Harbinger – this time Innistrad was on her path.
With the original Gatewatch failing to defeat the ultimate Eldrazi, the people of Innistrad found their last hope in someone else. Someone who rarely stood up to save the masses. Someone driven by pride and desire.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and a never-ending horde of Zombies is the definition of a desperate measure. Fortunately for Innistrad, this Zombie horde is not a brainless mass of hungry corpses. This is not another battle of good versus evil, of life versus death. This time, death is all that is left. This time, evil fights evil – sort of, but not really. And the world on Innistrad is at stake.
Wizards did it. Wizards managed to surprise us with a new perspective on a consolidated trope. After so many Magic sets of “heroes battling today’s great bad guy”, Wizards raised the bar with what I consider a great design choice: in times of desperation, when all seems, it is not the heroes who prevail. No more knights in shiny armour, no bold and daring plans, no coalition of brave warriors. It is a grim and dark slaughter, one final act of pure violence, between an army of undead creatures and a single, devastatingly powerful entity. It is a carnage of blood and mud, a desperate stance of a world torn by madness. It is death.
But on Innistrad, with death always comes something else. With death comes the last hope for the Plane. Liliana herself is unleashed, her powers unbound to protect a world that is like home, to her. A world that will be forever in debt with the necromancer. Not with Avacyn, its guardian. Not with Thalia, Heretic Cathar, its hero. Not with Sorin, its lord. But with Liliana, its last hope.
Ultimately, the story has Emrakul Imprisoned in the Moon, the Gatewatch victorious and Innistrad saved. A happy ending for a storyline that could have taken a bigger toll on our main characters, but an ending that brings so many implications for future stories.
With this act of pride and power, Liliana has taken her place in the Gatewatch. Love them or hate them, the Origins Five are now a group of comrades, greater than the sum of its parts, united to face those adversities that no Planeswalker could face alone – does this motto ring any bell?. Much like the Avengers, the Justice League, the Power Rangers or any other super-team you might want to link them to, they are now an institution of the Multiverse.
To us, casual players and flavour lovers, the Gatewatch will be an opportunity to progress the story in new directions. Who else will join the Gatewatch? Will we see an Oath of Sarkhan, or an Oath of Ajani in the near future? What new evil entities will raise to the challenge? Will the Gatewatch try to battle Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker? Will this alliance last, or will they disband in the face of internal conflicts? Will Liliana develop a plan to defeat the entire Gatewatch, just as Batman did in the “Tower of Babel” story arc from DC Comics? Will Jace try to put a leash on the team, as Iron Man did in the “Civil War” story arc from Marvel Comics? Will bad guys from Magic’s lore also unite, forming a team of super-villains?
Only time will tell.
What is sure is that the Gatewatch is a fantastic opportunity to move beyond the “good versus evil” storylines. Come what may, the Gatewatch will likely play a crucial part in future Magic stories. May they all be good.
On a side note, I think it’s interesting to note that the first two blocks conceived with the new two-sets-per-block structure really feel like a single four-set storyline. While spanning over two different worlds and involving many different characters, it is hard to feel the impact of Eldritch Moon without the sense of anticipation that came after Oath of the Gatewatch. Had the two blocks been inverted, the whole experience would have felt extremely random and inconsistent.
“Surprise Emrakul on Innistrad!” Wait, what? “Now let’s go to Zendikar!” Wait, why?!”
Transitioning from Battle for Zendikar to Shadows over Innistrad, we enjoyed two different setting for an overall similar story. It is great to see how the two settings led to different repercussions. On Zendikar, the ultimate – for now – defeat and annihilation of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion. A classic story of good guys uniting versus the bad guys. On Innistrad, a story of mystery and horror, with an invading entity summoned by a cult and a horde of Zombies unleashed to contain it, with madness spreading everywhere.
What I find extremely fascinating is that Mark Rosewater revealed that the decision to have Emrakul on Innistrad was taken before deciding to return to Zendikar. Much like Innistrad is famous for being a top-down design set, Shadows over Innistrad was such a huge top-down design effort that it led to the need for a “Return to Zendikar” before it, to better set up the mood. This is but one of the reasons why Magic is the greatest game in the world.
Before I move to the next section of the article, there is a very brief story I want to tell you. A personal memory that can help you understand why Shadows over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon and, in retrospect, Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch resonated so much with me.
A couple of years ago, Mark Rosewater asked on Twitter for random ideas regarding the structure of Magic sets. Out of the blue, I replied that I would’ve loved to see a four-set-block, maybe squeezing the releases in September, December, March and May, leaving some room for the annual Basic Set in July (the Basic Set at the time, was nowhere near to be replaced by a fourth expansion). I thought the idea was cool, because it would have given us a chance to see more of a world. More than the typical setting-development-ending structure of the three-set-block.
When the two-set-per-block structure was announced, I felt like my idea had somehow made an impact. Don’t get me wrong: I am pretty sure Wizards was already toying with the idea of a two-set-block before I tweeted my random suggestion. And I am also pretty sure my Tweet had little part in the decision process. But somehow, I felt like that random Tweet of mine had not been ignored. Imagine my pride, when we found out that Eldritch Moon was all about Emrakul and that, one way or another, Shadows over Innistrad was kind of the continuation of Battle for Zendikar. Maybe this wasn’t really a four-set-block, but we surely came close enough to make me very happy.
Eldritch Moon: the hits
The most polarizing piece of gameplay news coming from Eldritch Moon is probably the new meld mechanic. Love it or hate it, Wizards explored a fairly untouched design space, by mixing the transform mechanic and Big-Furry-Monster-style card merging. The result? A hit or miss mechanic that is sure to be a hot topic at Prerelease and Release events.
Do I like the mechanic? Let’s take it for what it is: from a flavour perspective, the mechanic is absolutely gorgeous. The fact that it tackles some previously unexplored design space helps it feel very new and original. Bruna, the Fading Light and Gisela, the Broken Blade meld into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares and the impact is beyond amazing. The arts on all the three “cards” are amazing and help the transition from desperation to true horror. A fantastic concept put into practice thanks to the meld mechanic.
That said, it should be mentioned that the mechanic might play a little clunky, especially if you are not a fan of transform in the first place. It looks great, but it also looks like something that should mostly happen on kitchen tables, rather than serious Magic. Fortunately for us, we – almost – never discuss serious Magic on this column, so we can judge meld for what it is. Awesomeness in its purest, casual form.
Brisela, Voice of Nightmares is such an awesome concept that it made me want to build a brand new Commander deck around her. And, despite being a huge fan of Commander, I am also the kind of player who always thinks twice before building a new deck. This time around, the art is what captured me. Mixing scary awesomeness and an imposing presence, Brisela feels like an excellent card for a disturbing-Angels-themed Commander deck – which will likely be captained by Bruna, the Fading Light, with Gisela, the Broken Blade as one of the other ninety-nine cards. Stay tuned, a more in-depth description might come in the near future!
Speaking of transforming cards and Brisela, Voice of Nightmares, one true hit from Eldritch Moon is the way transform is used to display the corruption brought by Emrakul. What is amazing, here, is that Wizards managed to move from the original transforming cards – most of which were Werewolves, with some notable exceptions – to a more varied system. Everything can transform, if there is a good reason to do it and a good way to portray it.
Therefore, Eldritch Moon manages to wrap up almost everything we know and love about transforming cards: we have the Werewolves, we have the sporadic card transforming for its own reasons, we have meld and we have cards transforming under the influence of Emrakul. We are seeing the full range of transforming cards, aside for the Creature-to-Planeswalker take of Magic Origins. While I feel like transform will not become an evergreen mechanic anytime soon, I think there is a good chance we will see it on some other Plane in the near future. Maybe depicting other forms of transformation, therefore separating transform as a mechanic from the world of Innistrad, where it was originally introduced.
But let’s move from the general perspective to a more focused, card-by-card scope.
As it happened in Shadows over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon is really overflowing with flavour wins. Tree of Perdition is an amazing callback to Tree of Redemption, providing a twistedly symmetrical approach to an already creative design. Definitely worth checking, with some interesting implications on kitchen tables – and maybe even in Standard.
Gisa and Geralf finally unite in a single card, testifying the need for unison against a greater evil. What I love about this card is that the two characters have no title. We have already seen Stitcher Geralf and Ghoulcaller Gisa, but this time around, much like Pia and Kiran Nalaar, there is no title to the characters. It would have been easy to create a tacky card called “Gisa and Geralf, Necromasters United”, but Wizards decided to go for the simple aesthetic of the names. It is just them. And it is amazing. Because they are amazing.
One of the best flavour wins of the set, however, comes in the form of a Common: Grapple with the Past is a callback to Make a Wish and the story it tells is just phenomenal. Whether the girl from Make a Wish lost her teddy bear and a horrific Eldrazi is coming to the rescue, or – and I prefer this second option – the girl actually turned into a horrific Eldrazi and is coming back to retrieve her teddy bear. Whatever the explanation, the visual cue is astounding and the card manages to tell a story, even with a flavour that does not explicitly refer to the mysterious girl from Make a Wish.
Let’s stay in Green for one more flavour hit. If you like spiders, we will never be friends. Nevertheless, you will be happy to know that Ishkanah, Grafwidow is the Legendary Spider you have always wanted. It is a Legend, it is Golgari, it does stuff with Spiders and it is an amazing build-around-me card for any fan of Spiders. Which I hope is not a thing, because I am terrified already. The only flavour miss, here, is that her (his? Its?) name is not “Shelob”. Which would have resulted in a copyright rules infringement, but maybe an anagram would have been cool. Lebosh? Boshel? Oshelb? Nope, they all sound awful. Ok, fine, I will take Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Which means I will stay as far as possible from it.
Green, of course, is not the only Colour with some great hits: Thalia, Heretic Cathar is a very good card that not only provides players with a new version of the popular Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, but also showcases an amazing art and plays very well with her “tax theme”. I can’t say if Legacy players will love her alongside the original Thalia in Death-and-Taxes lists, but she is likely to find a place in formats where a 3/2 with first strike for 2W is already a good bargain. Flash this card in with Collected Company, if you really have to be an awful person.
Red has an amazing piece of art with Harmless Offering. Much like a gift that keeps giving, the art of the card gets better and better. It is a cute cat with many very disturbing things happening. And I mean mouth-in-the-tail level of disturbing. Never trust strangers offering cute things, kids.
I might spend hours and pages discussing the amazing pieces of art depicting the corruption brought by Emrakul. Let’s just say that the idea behind cards like Grizzled Angler, Lone Rider, Vildin-Pack Outcast, Smoldering Werewolf, Ulvenwald Captive, Voldaren Pariah and all their twisted counterparts is just fantastic. Let’s not forget that a whole town – and its inhabitants – have been merged into Hanweir, the Writhing Township. That is some scary stuff for all architects around the world.
The only Eldrazi-based transforming card that I find somewhat awkward is Docent of Perfection and its transformed side, Final Iteration. I adore the flavour of Delver of Secrets progressing through so much disturbing research and self-experimentation, but it’s kind of weird having the card implying that the “ultimate goal” of the research had always been something Eldrazi-ish. Had Emrakul never come to Innistrad, would Delver of Secrets have never completed its transition towards the Final Iteration?
We should obviously mention Incendiary Flow and Oath of Liliana for having two of the best flavour texts of the whole set. With very brief quotations from our favourite characters, the flavour texts perfectly capture the essence of two proud, but very different Planeswalkers, one famous for her burn-everything-down attitude and the other for her reluctant cooperation towards the Gatewatch.
Eldritch Moon: the misses
Not all the mechanics of Eldritch Moon, unfortunately, deliver as much as meld does. Escalate and emerge – first revealed on Blessed Alliance and Wretched Gryff, respectively – suffer for a “design problem” that is unfortunately very known to design enthusiasts: mechanical repetition. Escalate feels very similar to kicker, multikicker or entwine, and emerge is very reminiscent of champion or, to some degree, exploit. While the mechanics are not exactly the same, the concepts themselves play very similarly despite some unquestionable differences. Emerge does not give the sacrificed creature back the way champion did. Escalate does not allow the caster to copy the same effect multiple times the way that multikicker did. On the other hand, it is a bit more flexible than entwine was, providing more choices in a single card.
That said, these two new abilities do not offer much more than what we already have.
While I certainly appreciate the flavour of emerge, dealing with a creature transmuting into something completely different, the fact that it is a “may” ability and the little restrictions leave me quite puzzled. There’s nothing wrong with an Eldrazi Hippogriff emerging from a Human Scout – well, ok, the thing is very wrong in its own twisted way – under the influence of Emrakul, but the fact that a Zombie – an undead, by definition – could be twisted into “anything Eldrazi” feels kind of random and story-wise pointless. It plays like champion, it feels like morph, it is optional like exploit. I am sure it will play well, but I also feel like it is just not there.
Similarly, escalate is a selective version of multikicker, or a more flexible version of entwine, that plays similarly to the Commands cycle, with high scalability potential, but without the Commands’ distinct flavour. The problem, here, is that multikicker is an extremely general-purpose mechanic, so whenever a new ability plays similarly, my brain ends up comparing it to what feels like “the original version”. It recently happened with strive during Journey into Nyx, but I have to admit this time there seems to be some more depth. The trade-off between the modes to choose from and the mana to spend can lead to some interesting situations, but I have a feeling we will mostly perceive the ability as a Mana sinker, rather than a tight set of beautifully confined options to carefully select.
One of the greatest fails of Eldritch Moon, ironically, comes in the form of a long-awaited card that rather failed to deliver. Ulrich of the Krallenhorde has a fantastic name and it finally provided Commander players with a Legendary Werewolf. That said, the card manages to completely miss the “Werewolf flavour”, with a huge set of abilities that has nothing to do with Wolfmen. Sure, he flips like every other Werewolf. With that out of the way, he does not grant any buff to Werewolves. He does not fetch for Werewolves. He does not check for Werewolves when he enters the battlefield. Heck, Immerwolf feels much more appropriate as a Werewolf Commander, and it is not even a Werewolf. The card is definitely powerful and might see play outside of Commander decks, but I feel he will be perceived as a necessity for Commander players, rather than the piece of a Werewolf-themed puzzle we all wanted to build, at some point.
While many players were extremely hyped over Tamiyo, Field Researcher, I am one of the only casual players who felt partially disappointed by this new version of the Planeswalker. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is one amazing character and this new version of the Kamigawa-born character manages to be extremely powerful and a novelty in Magic, being the first Bant Planeswalker. That said, her stories seemed to heavily hint at some kind of story magic powers, as she displayed abilities based on the knowledge of past events. Not to oversimplify a concept that might be much deeper and more complex, but her ability seemed to revolve around gathering powers from ancient texts and legends of yore. Unfortunately, this does not translate to the card.
Her first ability rewards you for having any two creature attacking, the second is a form of creature impairment ad the third is yet another posterchild for broken ultimate. One might question that her abilities somehow revolve around gathering knowledge – the first and third ability – and ice-blasting creatures – the second ability, which feels reminiscent of one of the spells she used to cast in the stories. What I really wanted to see was a more story-magic-focused character. Imagine her abilities as something like:
+1: Scry 1, then draw a card, then put the top card of your library into your graveyard
-2: Target instant or sorcery card in your graveyard gains flashback until end of turn. The flashback cost is equal to its mana cost
-7: Each instant and sorcery card in your graveyard gains flashback until end of turn. The flashback cost of each of those cards is (0)
Story magic is served. This set of abilities revolves arounds the concept of time, experience and knowledge. Sure, my version would feel very reminiscent of Snapcaster Mage, but her printed version made me immediately think about another very famous – or infamous, depending on how you play Commander – Magic card.
Tamiyo, Field Researcher does so many thing you would expect from a Bant Planeswalker: she taps Creatures, she draws cards and she draws more cards. Her abilities are definitely appropriate for any good Bant Planeswalker. A good one, but not one I am particularly excited for, from a design perspective. I love the character, I just feel unimpressed by the card, flavour-wise.
The ultimate fail of Eldritch Moon, however, comes in the form of a card that just wasn’t there. You knew I was going to complain about this, so bear with me for this paragraph. Grimgrin was not printed in a new form, nor was he mentioned anywhere. He just disappeared from one Innistrad block to the other and, quite frankly, this really let me down. With Gisa and Geralf taking the slot for the Dimir card of the set, some consolation comes with knowing that his creator is still a key figure in the story. Unfortunately, the great masterpiece that Grimgrin, Corpse-Born was is likely to only remain in the heart and souls of many Commander players around the world. May he always untap on our kitchen tables.
Eldritch Moon: first picks
So what cards am I going to pick from this set? Needless to say, Bruna, the Fading Light and Gisela, the Broken Blade will be the two cards I will aggressively look for during the first weeks of Eldritch Moon. The project of an all-Angels Commander deck trying to meld the two sisters together might be quite ambitious, but I really want to build something funny and beautifully disturbing. I might have weird tastes.
So in this upcoming Brisela, Voice of Nightmares Commander deck, there is also a chance I will find room for Subjugator Angel. The card seems powerful, while not completely broken, is far from an auto-include in any White Commander deck. What really made me fall in love with the card, however, is the flavour text. It gives such an amazing glimpse into the souls of those who once swore to protect Innistrad. No more Flight Alabaster, Flight Moonsilver, Flight Goldnight. The Flight of Nightmares is all that is left. How powerful is this?!
Liliana, the Last Hope and Mind’s Dilation are options I am seriously considering for my Grimgrin Commander deck. The first is just beautiful and, while not as threatening as Liliana of the Veil, can still be a good early drop in tight multiplayer games. While I am not completely sold on the card and have the feeling its design was primarily focused on Standard, I would not be surprised to see it played in Black, Black-Green and Black-Blue decks.
Mind’s Dilation feels absurdly fun. It could be either a huge hit or a terrible miss in Commander games, so I will probably see how it plays, before deciding whether or not to commit one slot to it. It surely is funny, but it might be the kind of card you do not want to run, to make sure everyone is having fun. I might start a never-ending digression on the concept of fun in multiplayer Commander, but let’s just sum up by saying this card might make you lose friends.
Nephalia Academy will likely be a new interesting tool for the Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre Commander deck I have finally decided to build. Yes, I am building that deck, too. Sometimes you have to take a stance and just build stuff.
Depending on how the deck ends up playing, I might even consider adding Emrakul, the Promised End herself to the deck, as I am really trying to go for the Eldrazi-themed approach. I know Wurmcoil Engine and Steel Hellkite are amazing Colourless Creatures, but I am trying to keep it as Eldrazi-focused as possible. So, yes, the curve is going to be weird, considering that all the best Eldrazi have pretty high Mana costs and the goal of the deck is to resolve a huge Eldrazi Titan at some point of the game.
My Multicolour Peasant Cube – yup, that is also a thing – will probably find some room for Campaign of Vengeance, Mournwillow and Mercurial Geists. Each of the cards seems to play very well into existing Multicolour archetypes, with Campaign of Vengeance as a potential bomb in Mardu-based Token strategies, Mournwillow playing well into the existing Golgari-based Graveyard strategies and Mercurial Geists functionally working as another Wee Dragonauts inside spell-based decks. Those are very interesting cards, indeed.
Speaking of Cubes, it is absolutely worth mentioning that Eldritch Moon provides an insane amount of interesting Commons that I will take into consideration for my Pauper Cube. Borrowed Grace is an improved version of Fortify and an amazing tool for Aggro and Token-based strategies that tend to abound in White and Red. Tattered Haunter is another functional reprint of Welkin Tern, a card that never fails to deliver in both Blue Aggro, Tempo and sometimes even Control. Definitely a card I’ll look forward to including in my Cube. Drag Under is a Sorcery-speed version of Repulse, one of the most amazing spells for Tempo strategies in Cube. The shifting from Instant to Sorcery is a hard pill to swallow, but it might still be worth a shot in the overall Blue section of the Cube. Succumb to Temptation is an unexpected Instant-speed Black Divination that might turn out to be absolutely stunning or borderline playable, mostly because it has to compete with amazing cards like Sign in Blood and Night’s Whisper. Probably worth seeing how it performs in Limited, before deciding on its inclusion. Another card that might be very solid is Brazen Wolves. Depending on the speed of your Pauper Cube and the archetypes you’re supporting, this might be a straight up 4/3 for 2R.
Choking Restraints is essentially a three-Mana Pacifism, with some additional text that will likely never be relevant in Pauper Cube. Might worth considering, but it is not a card I am too excited about, considering how many amazing removals White already has. Faithbearer Paladin is another card that I am sure will be very appreciated by Pauper Cube players. While personally a non-evasive five-Mana White Creature is not something I might want to include in my list, it is a recommended card for anyone looking for a big dumb White finisher. Fiend Binder is the enlarged version of Master of Diversion, which turns out to be rather slow compared to its aggressively costed three-Mana counterpart. Among other solid cards we have Steadfast Cathar, Skirsdag Supplicant, Gavony Unhallowed, Cultist’s Staff, Otherworldly Outburst and the aforementioned Grapple with the Past. While these might not make the cut in well-established Pauper Cube, they all seem very solid starting points if you’re trying to build a new Pauper Cube from stratch.
Speaking of individual cards to mention, I just want to briefly comment on Falkenrath Reaver. While the card is far from being considered for my Pauper Cube, I just want to mention that this is the first time we get a 2/2 Common for 1R without drawback. It might not seem much, but Pauper Cube enthusiasts will know that with all the amazing two-drops we have – Ashmouth Hound, Borderland Marauder, Gore-House Chainwalker, Kruin Striker, Generator Servant and so on – this is the first time a plain 2/2 for two Mana with no attached condition is printed in Red. It just goes to say, once again, how times are changing.
On a (very) side note and just because I want you all to know that I know competitive formats exist, let’s not forget the set is also seeing the printing of Eldritch Evolution and Grim Flayer, two cards that might see a lot of competitive play and will likely be among the chase Rares of the set.
So how casually good is Eldritch Moon?
The Shadows over Innistrad block received an insane amount of hype as soon as it was announced. Returning to one of the most beloved Magic sets was a huge opportunity to revisit amazing tropes and build maybe something new from a well-established environment. We could have just revisited the Plane, delving into the already popular themes of horrors and monsters. Much like Battle for Zendikar advanced the plot of the original Zendikar block with little new twists; Shadows over Innistrad could have easily been an “Innistrad 2.0”. More Liliana, more Zombies and Werewolves, more Humans struggling for survival. Alternatively, we could have gone in a completely separate direction, focusing on new storylines, new factions, new characteristics and new aspects of the story.
To some extent, Shadows over Innistrad attempted to balance two very different perspectives: on one side, the classic themes on Innistrad and, on the other, a new mystery that intrigued both characters and players.
While Survive the Night is a card that would have played perfectly in the original Innistrad block, exploiting all the classic Gothic Horror themes, Thraben Inspector clearly hints at something new, something unknown, something else.
With that in mind, it is easy to see why I feel Eldritch Moon really delivered on the premise introduced with Shadows over Innistrad: the build-up to the reveal paid off, with Wizards revealing Emrakul, the Promised End on day one of spoiler season. The original world of Innistrad was still there, with its horrors and monsters, but there also was a better perception of the Plane’s role in the Multiverse. The whole cosmos of Magic now links worlds to each other, intertwining storylines and characters. The Shadows over Innistrad block is not just “Innistrad 2.0”, nor is “Battle for Zendikar (Reprise)”. It is a chapter in an all-embracing story, a step towards cohesive and aware storytelling. Magic is moving towards an all-embracing continuity, avoiding episodic narrative arcs, in favour of a linear representation of intertwined events.
With so many amazing opportunities ahead of us, I must say that I was really hyped for Shadows over Innistrad. When the set was released, I was involved, intrigued and very willing to play it, but I failed to really love the set as much as I loved the original Innistrad block. With some big shoes to fill, the set was great, but not as phenomenal as the original.
Flavour-wise, Eldritch Moon is where I was completely engulfed by the hype. The amazing payoff to what was, in retrospect, a fantastic setup really captured me. The story moved from mystery to epic, while keeping horror as it most important aspect. But it was a different kind of horror. It was Innistrad, but it was not just that. It was Innistrad in the Multiverse. It was (one of) the most beloved Planes in Magic history, and it was now part of a clear continuum of stories, adventures, endeavours and struggles. It was the core of Innistrad, wrapped in a new, more mature consciousness.
While a part of me has always wanted to visit a dead Plane – this really sounds like a good topic for another articles, doesn’t it? – I can’t help but notice that Innistrad is too much of an asset for Wizards of the Coast to simply destroy it. While the shock value of a devastated and unrecoverable Innistrad would be very hard to top, it would also mean no more storylines involving the distinct characteristics of this world. No more Werewolves, way less transforming cards, no more Gothic Horror. So while the stakes were extremely high since the beginning of Eldritch Moon, with the Plane risking its ultimate demise, I find it safe to assume that at some point in the future we’ll go back to Innistrad for a third time. Maybe to face new horrors, maybe to meet someone we already know. Nevertheless, Innistrad will return.
Let’s not forget that Emrakul was not destroyed in the process of defending Innistrad. Emrakul is not out of the Multiverse equation. She has been imprisoned and, quite frankly, everything imprisoned in Magic has a habit of escaping, at some point. Ask the Eldrazi, Avacyn and Griselbrand. Either as part of two distinct story arcs, or within the same set, we will hear more from Innistrad and Emrakul.
So how casually good is Eldritch Moon? On a scale from zero to ten, with ten being my favourite sets ever – Innistrad and Conspiracy – and zero being the worst set ever – Homeland, perhaps? – I think, in retrospect, I would give Shadows over Innistrad a solid eight. The set on its own was very good, most of the Colours were balanced and fun to play, with some room for creativity, but a very ordered and structured idea behind. The main issues I found have to do with some Colour combinations feeling a bit inconsistent – what was Orzhov supposed to be, exactly? Skulk-removal? – and some archetypes feeling very repetitive after a couple of Drafts – Rakdos madness performed almost always the same way, with really little room for variations.
To put things into perspective, I feel like I have enjoyed drafting Khans of Tarkir a bit more than Shadows over Innistrad. That said, this Limited environment gave me a way better impression than Oath of the Gatewatch and Battle for Zendikar did.
While I do not want to give a final grade to Eldritch Moon before having drafted it at least three or four times, I feel like the set could really be fantastic, for a casual player like me. There is a lot of weird fun to have, many strange combinations of cards to try out, and many different mechanics to exploit, many of which are tied to diverse aspects of the storyline. Because there seems to be no clear format-defining mechanic – as it was the case, for example, with Theros, where the whole format was polarized by either heroic or “Enchantments-matter”, depending on the expansion – we might experience something that feels very varied and, maybe, plays similarly to Cube.
Some players might try to meld great cards together, while others will go for the classic Werewolf approach. Some might enjoy emerge to enjoy cost-reductions, while others might keep gravitating around madness. Some might finally go all-in with “spells matter” strategies, while others could keep enjoying the great value of delirium. If the set plays anything like my initial impression, we might really enjoy Eldritch Moon for the great build-round possibilities provided by quite a number of different archetypes. If, on the other hand, the set ends up failing in this attempt, we might end up with something like Gatecrash, with multiple supported archetypes, but only one or two truly viable strategies.
So, to give a very tentative score, I might end up giving Eldritch Moon a solid nine, or even a full ten on my grading scale, if the set delivers as much as I expect. Alternatively, it could be a huge disappointment, ruining the great premise of Shadows over Innistrad and forcing me to lower the score significantly. We will see how it plays out, but chances are this set might be great for a casual player and a Limited enthusiast like me.
There is one final aspect of the story that I think should be discussed, speaking of this particular set in the ecosystem of Magic. Shadows over Innistrad had four different Planeswalkers. Flavour-wise, we got two amazing females and two uninspired males. Nahiri the Harbinger and Arlinn Kord were fantastic and beautifully designed, while Sorin, Grim Nemesis and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets felt somewhat boring. Needless to say, the design of Archangel Avacyn was stunning, while Odric, Lunarch Marshal was very strong, but not as interesting as the fury-driven Angel was. Even Olivia, Mobilized for War and Sigarda, Heron's Grace had some amazing personality to display.
I am happy to say that Eldritch Moon raised the bar, by having all the best, most important characters being female, while the male characters are just there as complementary individuals to an essentially all-female cast. Liliana, the Last Hope and Tamiyo, Field Researcher and strongly tied to the story, as is Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Of course, Emrakul, the Promised End is female, for lack of a better gender qualification for the Eldrazi. Bruna, the Fading Light and Gisela, the Broken Blade have obviously female personalities. Even the brief mentions to Chandra are fantastic, thanks to her famous temper.
On the other hand, Ulric of the Krallenhorde is just sitting there, with a set of abilities that feel appropriate for a Gruul card, but don’t offer much fin terms of creative Werewolf-themed design. Gideon is showcased on some of the art for the set, but he keeps doing what the usually does, punching stuff and being heroic. Sorin has proven to be quite hard to relate to, while Jace keeps suffering from his flat personality.
Coming to think of it, all the most important, most interesting and most fascinating characters from the entire Shadows over Innistrad block are female. I applaud Wizards of the Coast for portraying all these awesome, strong and beautiful female characters. Most importantly, they all feel different. We are not looking at different iterations of the same Mary Sue. We have a science-driven researcher, an arrogant and powerful necromancer, a fire-tempered rebel, a loyal Cathar fighting for her Plane, two sisters driven to insanity and an unfathomable entity from another world. We have amazing first-tier female characters in a game that has traditionally been perceived as strongly male-centric. May this be the moment when even the most sceptical among players realize that Magic is a game for everyone. That no one should feel part of a minority in Magic. We are all players, we are all different, but we are all human beings. We should always welcome everyone in. Let’s make Magic the best game in the world, by making sure that everyone feels at his or her best when playing it.
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