Once upon a time...
(Don't worry we'll get to that one real quick.)
Throne of Eldraine is almost here! We're eating food and going on adventures and meeting all sorts of interesting fairy-tale inspired friends, and apart from the exciting flavor there's a bunch of power in the set waiting to be released on the Standard format. With four sets also leaving Standard this is one of the biggest Standard shakeups in a long time, meaning Throne of Eldraine is likely to make a huge impact!
So without further ado, here are my loves and hates for Throne of Eldraine!
Hate - Once Upon A Time
Where better to start! Don't worry, despite what the internet may be telling you, every game of Magic until the end of time in every format isn't going to start with the words "cast Once Upon a Time."
Yes, Once Upon a Time is a free spell, and yes, free spells tend to be problematic. However, this is not just a free Ancient Stirrings. Once Upon a Time costs two mana, which is what you're going to be paying for the card the majority of the time. It also only finds creatures or lands, further limiting its usage. So we need to be playing a Green deck with a good amount of creatures that doesn't mind drawing random Impulses over the course of a game. Typically creature heavy decks tend to be aggressive or tempo-based, meaning spending two mana to not affect the board is a death-knell; think about what a tempo black hole a card like Discovery // Dispersal is.
So that's the bad part, what about the payoff when it's actually in our opening hand? We get to cast Commune with Dinosaurs off of our turn one Temple of Malady. That's it. Sure, Commune with Dinosaurs is great and early game cantrips help to sculpt your gameplan and make your deck more consistent, but at the cost of putting what's essentially a Leyline into your deck. And there's the rub, Once Upon A Time has more in common with Leyline of Void than Ancient Stirrings.
For some broken Modern or Legacy decks that are intensely interested in their opening hands and not much more, sure Once Upon a Time is a reasonable option. For fair Green decks in Standard that are slow enough to not mind casting an Impulse? Sure. But the default thought on this card is going to be "does my deck want this card?" not "I'm playing Green so I'm playing four Once Upon A Time!"
Once Upon A Time will see play, but the hype around this card is astoundingly overblown.
Love - Murderous Rider
There's really not much to say here.
The adventure cards are pure card advantage and Swift End would have been playable if it was just a instant with no extra text. Hero's Downfall was a format defining card when it was last legal and two life is a paltry price to pay for a Hero's Downfall that always cantrips into a spell. Sure a 2/3 lifelink Knight isn't the best creature of all time for three mana, but it's literally just a free bonus on top of your Hero's Downfall. Furthermore, if you're playing a matchup where you don't need removal spells, a 2/3 is far better than a dead card.
Murderous Rider is one of the best cards in the set for Standard play. However good you think it is, I promise you it is better.
Love - Bonecrusher Giant
It's a little weaker on the front side and stronger on the back side, but everything I said about Murderous Rider applies to Bonecrusher Giant as well. Kill a creature, take your card advantage, and then cast a creature that may have been playable even without the adventure side. While Shock is certainly weaker than Hero's Downfall, you can also look at it as Bonecrusher Giant having a sort of pseudo-haste as the Shock can always go upstairs when there are no good targets.
Again one of the best cards in the set; even if you like it you're probably underrating Bonecrusher Giant.
Love - Savvy Hunter
Okay, let's talk food.
In some ways, food is similar to energy from Kaladesh in that it's somewhat parasitic. Cards that make food or care about food are mostly only going to work with other cards that make and care about food. It's certainly a better design than energy because you can interact with the food tokens and they can do other things (like trigger artifact or sacrifice synergies), but for the most part food cards are going to want to stick together. Making food can't be too difficult and there has to be something very good to do with your food.
How about drawing cards... is that good?
Savvy Hunter is food's Tireless Tracker, so far looking like the best reason to want food tokens in your deck. Its 3/3 body is already respectable and it can help with food creation as well, but it's going to get turbo charged once you start adding other food cards to the mix. Oko,Thief of Crowns looks very good with Savvy Hunter in play, while Gilded Goose helps to cast either card on turn two while also providing a great enabler and payoff for food synergies.
But make no mistake; if there's a food deck, Savvy Hunter will be the most important card in the deck.
Love - Slaying Fire
Here's a real easy one.
Mono-Red Aggro is always a deck.
Flame Javelin was a format defining card for Mono-Red when it was legal in Standard.
Slaying Fire will be too.
Hate - Questing Beast
Haven't we heard this song before?
Questing Beast is cut from the same cloth as other Green mythics like Nullhide Ferox- it's big, it's Green, and it has a lot of words on it; So many words that it evokes a feeling of "how could they print this!" However like Nullhide Ferox, Questing Beast will see some play but not be anything close to what it's hyped to be right now.
Yes, haste is very good. Yes, it can't be chump blocked by tokens and random small creatures. Yes vigilance and deathtouch are nice additions. However, that's mostly it. The planeswalker redirection text is a nice touch, but if you're in a position to kill their planeswalker with your haste creature you're already in a good spot regardless; Questing Beast doesn't help you get out of the bad spot where you can't get through. Nor does it provide much aid when your opponent has a good board presence.
And that's the crux of Questing Beast- it's just a medium sized idiot. It still dies to removal spells, it still can get stalled on a gummed up board, it still trades with other midsized creatures for no benefit, it has no relevant creature types or synergies, and it's in the awkward spot at four mana of being a bit too big for aggressive decks and a bit underwhelming for midrange decks. It's also legendary, which can be a significant deck-building constraint.
Questing Beast will certainly see play across it's time in Standard, but its bark is much mightier than its bite.
Love - Acclaimed Contender
There's a lot of tribal support for knights in Throne of Eldraine, but tribal decks often need more than just good attackers and blockers. Enter Acclaimed Contender. If knights is going to be successful deck in Throne of Eldraine Standard, it will be on the back of Acclaimed Contender.
A sort of Militia Bugler / Goblin Ringleader hybrid card, Acclaimed Contender provides card advantage and board presence all together in one neat, easy to cast package. A 3/3 tribally relevant body is no joke, and Acclaimed Commander is not only always going to find you a spell but it's likely to be a good one. Knight decks will clearly be full of other Knights, but there are also some sub-synergies between knights and equipment that Acclaimed Contender helps to bring together as well.
Acclaimed Contender is the truth.
Love - Smitten Swordmaster
While we're on the subject we may as well ride the knight train (horse?) for a minute.
Smitten Swordmaster is secretly one of the best knight payoffs in the set. Adventure cards are easy to undervalue as a whole because they're so different than what we've seen before, but this is essentially a decent 2-drop creature that also has a one-mana Lightning Helix or better built in to it. Reach is always an important thing for aggressive decks to have, and being able to adventure Smitten Swordmaster on turn four or five for a ten point life drain and then also play it as a creature immediately is quite powerful.
Love - Wintermoor Commander
While the official knight "lord" Inspiring Veteran is , most of the good knight cards seem concentrated in .
Wintermoor Commander is another powerful knight that is more than the sum of its parts. High toughness deathtouch creatures are phenomenal and Wintermoor Commander makes blocking hell for your opponent. In any sort of creature-based matchup Wintermoor Commander is going to be awesome, and if your opponent has a lot of removal it is going to die just like Inspiring Veteran would so there's not much difference there either.
Knights is looking better and better to take over the mantle from Vampires as Standard's tribal aggro deck of choice.
Hate - The Great Henge
I want to like this card, I really do. Making mana, drawing cards, gaining life... I love all of these things! But the upfront cost is just too high.
Even with a 4 power creature in play this still costs five mana, which is going to come down as probably one of the last cards in your hand. The Great Henge has the Vanquisher's Banner problem of just being too expensive and not effecting the board enough to be an engine. We're trained by Ghalta, Primal Hunger to think this will count the total power of all of our creatures (which would be much better) but that is not the case. Also Ghalta was a perfect last card to play because it was a big and game ending curve topper, The Great Henge needs more creatures in hand to make great.
I hope I'm wrong, but this one's probably best suited for Commander.
Love - Shimmer Dragon
Speaking of Commander, you may be asking yourself "what the hell is a Shimmer Dragon? I don't see this one in the set?!" Well, you'd be correct. Shimmer Dragon is not in Throne of Eldraine proper, but rather in the brawl decks that are a complementary product to the set. However... surprise! While Shimmer Dragon is not in booster backs, it is fully legal in Standard and for all intents and purposes a real Magic card.
And you know what? Shimmer Dragon is really powerful!
There's already a good precedent for large, hexproof fliers being good and Shimmer Dragon goes beyond that to provide a card draw engine too. This is all of course contingent on having a good number of artifacts in play, but if your deck meets the criteria then Shimmer Dragon is a phenomenal top end card. Shimmer Dragon may not make an impact immediately, but there is serious potential here if there's a Blue deck interested in playing a lot of artifacts.
Love - Faeburrow Elder
When evaluating new cards it's always important to look at the floor of card as well as the ceiling, because what a cards fail state is will usually define its playability. Well Palladium Myr with Vigilance is quite the fail state and Faeburrow Elder threatens to be quite a bit more.
There's no shortage of amazing top-end cards to ramp into in Standard, ranging from six mana planeswalkers to Hydroid Krasis and friends, and Faeburrow Elder can do some serious damage if you're willing to skew your deck toward it. Even in a three color deck Faeburrow Elder is going far above and beyond what you'd normally get for three mana, making it a very impressive card. Faeburrow Elder with an Oath of Kaya, Teferi, Time Raveler, or Gruul Spellbreaker in play is quite the card.
Love - Fires of Invention
Our last card of the day is perhaps one of the most interesting.
In a lot of ways Fires of Invention is reminiscent of Wilderness Reclamation. It's a four-mana enchantment that can pay for itself immediately and then give you a big mana boost under a certain set of restrictions. While Wilderness Reclamation demanded you play instants, Fires of Invention demands big sorcery speed four- and five-mana cards. Sound like any midrange decks you know?
Fires of Invention is going to pose some pretty interesting deck-building questions, but as long as you can fuel the fires and have enough things to do with it, there's huge potential here.
A Lot of Love
I think that may have been the highest ever ratio of Loves to Hates in a Love/Hate article that I've done, and even the hates we more so based on tempering extreme hype on cards that are playable but not amazing. I guess that means I'm excited about this set!
And it's a good thing to, because next week I get my first crack at it!
I'll be doing my usual ten new Standard brews on my stream during the official MTG Arena Throne of Eldraine Early Access Event, and then writing about them all in detail next week with grades and reports on how they did and what to expect from them in the future. Rotation is here and it's time to get excited about Standard again!