Storytelling in Magic is something that has been around for a long time but didn't really start to kick into high gear around the original Innistrad set, at least in my amateur opinion. Top-down design is a great way to incorporate the story that the Creative team was weaving into the cards along with the cards the design team were dreaming up, and with a set that was 100% focused on top-down design we had a smashing hit. The original Innistrad block was a fan favorite, not only for the flavor of the world that was created, but because the cards and gameplay made it feel like we were more connected to them because of the story.
The block format changing to be two sets now instead of three will make for an environment similar to the original Innistrad, even without all of the top-down design, and while I really enjoyed the Battle for Zendikar block from the story to the cards, I have been anticipating what was going to happen here in Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon ever since I read the first story.
Now, don't get me wrong. We all knew that it was going to be Emrakul. Whether it was intentional or confirmation bias, the clues in the Clue token flavor text leading us to “Remember this: they came as three” really got me excited. Not so much for battling another Eldrazi -- I mean, there really are only two outcomes when it comes to plane-destroying beings -- but for just how awesome these hidden clues were and how much work had to have gone into staging all of it.
Again, Emrakul was obvious, but just how it was all going to play out was really what had my attention. The story being weaved was great. Avacyn is mad and all of the Angels are turning against humanity. Jace is going mad from whatever is affecting the plane, and we have hints telling us that somehow and for some reason Nahiri is behind it.
Shadows over Innistrad was very good. The story was riveting. It set the stage for something really big. The cards all did a great job of telling this story while also being unique and feeling very powerful. Nahiri, the Harbinger is making waves in older formats; Sorin, Grim Nemesis is an incredibly potent card; and Declaration in Stone has roots in some of the most powerful removal spells in the history of the game.
The story was gripping too. While we “knew” that it was Emrakul, we still didn't have the whole picture. Just why is this madness affecting Innistrad?
The "Stone and Blood" story is really where everything started to click. We still didn't have the confirmation'mrakul, but we get to see just what was the impetus for Nahiri being the harbinger for the fate of Innistrad. I'm not going to try to understand just what a millennia-old Vampire could be thinking, but the writers do a very good job of painting Sorin Markov for us through the eyes of The Lithomancer and he really is hate-able. I mean, you would likely hate him too if he put you in the Helvault for a thousand years while your plane was being destroyed by Ulamog and Kozilek.
From there, we get to learn that Emrakul is indeed here on Innistrad now that Avacyn is destroyed and that Sorin has teamed up with Olivia to try to get revenge on Nahiri while forsaking Innistrad. Liliana, on the other hand, just can't let “cloak boy” go off to die in his madness, and it all leads us right to this beauty.
This card right here, while being playable, is a piece of flavor genius. With the advent of the Gatewatch, all of the planeswalkers are having their personalities fleshed out in cards, be it mechanics, story points, or flavor text. The flavor text on Oath of Liliana is more fitting for any one character in Magic than anything else I have ever seen, and it's great.
You may say that you are disappointed that we have to fight an Eldrazi right after the block where we fought Eldrazi, but Liliana getting her much-needed crux of entering into the Gatewatch, and the fact that Gideon has to fight alongside freaking Zombies since Emrakul doesn't warp things without minds is just brilliant.
Can you imagine the look on everyone's face in the meeting where these ideas are first envisioned? Nahiri bringing Emrakul to Innistrad to punish Sorin for not answering his phone. Sorin being forced to destroy his creation, Avacyn, who weirdly did look a lot like Nahiri, which broke down the plane's defenses and allowed Emrakul to travel there. And finally, Liliana taking the Oath and joining the Gatewatch, still to fill her own purpose of not having to rely on the Chain Veil, and playing her role as Innistrad's last hope against a mind-warping Emrakul because freaking Zombies don't have minds?!
We are getting to experience something amazing, and I really hope that this paves the way for future storytelling in Magic.
Tell Us How to Win at Magic Already!
Enough of the Vorthos stuff, though, let's get down to business. There are no Huns to defeat, but we have plenty of foes to overcome in Standard!
Of all the excitement of the Fourth of July weekend, the hotdogs and hamburgers, the fireworks that are way too loud because I'm getting old, the thing that has me the most excited is Deploy the Gatewatch.
Besides having great art, this card is just about all I've ever wanted to do in Magic: put planeswalkers onto the battlefield en masse.
I'm not a math wizard, but I think that if we can get about twenty planeswalkers in our deck, then we can be about 70% to hit two of them when we play this thing, so finding the right mix of planeswalkers is going to be key and there are quite a few of them that will be legal in Standard.
There have also been two planeswalkers spoiled from Eldritch Moon so far:
Building a deck around Deploy the Gatewatch means that we're going to want cards that interact favorable with planeswalkers along with ways to keep ourselves alive until we can start taking over the game with our powerful permanents.
Oath of Nissa seems like a slam dunk as it will let us actually cast our planeswalkers when we aren't finding them with Deploy the Gatewatch. Oath of Gideon also seems like it might have some potential as a way to super-power our planeswalkers and even give us some tokens to help protect them from an aggressive start. I also like the idea of using some sweepers to try to keep the battlefield clear.
Once we get all past that, though, we have to figure out which planeswalkers we actually want to be using. Protecting themselves is important, especially on turns where we will be able to put two onto the battlefield. Being able to remove opposing threats with our planeswalkers will help ensure that we can untap with them and keep going crazy.
Fortunately, most of the planeswalkers have the ability to either remove or shrink an attacker or put blockers onto the battlefield. Liliana, the Last Hope and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar are the only three-cost planeswalkers, but neither of them actually seem like they would be very good in this sort of deck. Nissa wants to go pretty wide, although she can generate her own Plants to put counters on, but Liliana, the Last Hope will likely have no creatures to get back with her -2 ability. Kiora, Master of the Depths also seems pretty poor in this type of strategy. I'm not too thrilled about Arlinn Kord, but she can at least generate a blocker and then transform and utilize her Lightning Bolt ability.
What if we started with something like this:
This puts us at 30 cards already, which doesn't really leave a lot of room for sweepers. Maybe we just rely on spot removal and use the planeswalkers to clean up the rest? Maybe we just play fewer than twenty planeswalkers to give room for some other cards? When going through the actual list of planeswalkers to use, it really felt like they all did something pretty interesting, but they didn't really work together properly, and without really wanting to play the three-mana planeswalkers, the deck just looks too clunky.
What if we made the focus about a deck that could use Nissa, Voice of Zendikar along with Deploy the Gatewatch? My gut tells me that we wouldn't even need twenty planeswalkers to make the card playable and can just use it as our top-end.
26 land with four Evolving Wilds
This seems like it might have a bit more promise. We may want to diversify a little more and add another planeswalker or two to the mix, since we really only have five individual hits for Deploy the Gatewatch with this setup, but we still want to be able to play a game of Magic when we don't have our six-mana bomb.
It may be that Deploy the Gatewatch is a trap, but it sure looks like one hell of a trap and I wanna try it. There are a lot of other awesome things going on in Eldritch Moon so far too.
The new Liliana, the Last Hope looks like she can be great. Three-cost planeswalkers are always underestimated and generally end up being powerhouses. Trying to break down all of her abilities and in what instances they will be great is a bit tricky. It really depends on what the format looks like post-#MTGEMN, but as long as people are playing one-toughness creatures, I think she will be great. I also want to use her -2 when I have The Gitrog Monster on the battlefield. Ding! That's value.
The Emerge creatures all look awesome and now we actually have some flexible red removal that can also go up top when you need it in Incendiary Flow and United Resistance. In particular, I think that Incendiary Flow is going to be really important. It gives us a clean answer to Hangarback Walker, and with all of the apparent Zombie love in the set, it also gives us a clean answer to Relentless Dead.
Eldritch Evolution has also been getting a lot of hype and seems like it's likely to be completely busted in older formats, but we do have some awesome targets in Standard, like the new Decimator of the Provinces or quickly jumping into a Dragonlord Atarka or Dragonlord Silumgar.
Comments from Last Week
Last week I talked about the new meld cards: Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light and how I thought they were pretty bonkers. Let's pick a few comments and respond to them right here in this week's article!
Perhaps there will be a new Reanimator deck in the future including Ever After. Ever After with those two Angels looks sweet, because once you have Brisela, Voice of Nightmares on the board it's practically game over.
- Wolfgang Bach
This is definitely true, and if we went the route of Ever After we could also include some nice Dragonlords to go along with them. I remember a Reanimator deck making the rounds at the end of the last Standard format, and having the flexibility of getting our new Angel combo out of the graveyard or even just getting something nice and a Dragonlord Atarka seems pretty good.
This might even be a deck for those Mindwrack Demons that are sitting in everyone's trade binder.
Well, drat. I was hoping I would be able to scoop up all the Thalia's Lancers before people realized it was a tutor for some insane Legendary stuff like Dragonlords and Eldrazi Gods. Like Jitte, Gaea's Cradle, and Tabernacle.
- Donald R Schamun
That's quite true, and we even have a Standard-legal legendary land now with Geier Reach Sanitarium if we need to find a land, although I think finding Nissa, Vastwood Seer can do the trick quite well too. Thalia's Lancers is one of the cards on my list of cards to try out when Eldritch Moon hits the shelves!
Make sure you comment on this week's article and let me know what your favorite Eldritch Moon cards are so far that have been spoiled. Feel free to even ask me what I think of them, and I will pick a few for next week's “Comments from Last Week!”
Good luck to everyone battling Legacy at #SCGWOR this weekend! I will be doing coverage with Andy Boswell on SCGLive®. I recommend you check out (on Premium) Todd VS. The Boss playing Infect VS. Miracles, especially if you're planning on playing Infect. I would say that getting Premium just to watch that video is well worth it if you're planning on poisoning out your opponents at #SCGWOR! You can't do better than learning from Tom Ross!