Coming out Oct. 4 is one of the most conceptually interesting and fresh Magic: The Gathering sets Wizards of the Coast has come up with in quite some time: Throne of Eldraine. In it, WotC is taking quite the deep dive into a mix of western fairy tale lore (think Grimm’s, Mother Goose, and Jack tales) and mixing in historical British lore (Robin Hood tales, Scottish myths, and Arthurian legends). To their credit, the set’s designers and developers allowed themselves room for some good humor with Eldraine as puns and playfulness nicely complement the heavier and more “real life” grit that typically dominate the mood of Magic sets.
The overall power level of Eldraine (at least at first glance) is quite high. Maybe not Urza’s Saga high, but still noticeable – even when compared to the Planeswalker-heavy War of the Spark. This means that limited players can expect to have to deal with (or enjoy playing with) some rather powerful cards. This can be doubly true when playing sealed, which is typically more unforgiving than with draft. Then again, the aforementioned War of the Spark proved that WotC can put together a healthy limited environment even with a stronger-than-average set.
Unlike Spark, however, Eldraine has relatively few “bombs” that players will need to worry about. Rather than relying on strong single card strategies, Eldraine’s high power level comes from the well-designed interactions of its new and interesting archetypes and mechanics.
With Throne of Eldraine come three new mechanics: Adventure, Adamant, and Food. Each feel (and, indeed, play) very different from one another and yet they all feel like parts of a natural whole.
Adventure is an extremely interesting new mechanic that is just begging to be exploited. It’s an intriguing new twist on card types without actually doing anything “new” with card types. Appearing only on creatures, it allows players the option to cast that creature as a non-creature spell with a specific effect (eg: “Counter target spell with casting cost three or less”) rather than as a creature. When this happens, the card is put into exile where it can then later be cast as the creature. Of course, players can always just play the default creature half as normal without sending the card on its adventure.
All five colors have adventure cards, though the bulk of them appear in white and green.
The ability offers good card advantage by giving players an optional two-for-one punch, which can be critical in limited formats. This two-for-one also acts as pseudo hand extension with a little added protection as discard and other hand size interactions cannot touch creatures that are on their adventure, thus protecting them from being otherwise taken out of the picture.
Throne of Eldrane has a heavy knight tribal element to it with each color having its own castle and knights of the round (or square, or trapezoidal, or whatever) table. To that mono-colored strategy end, WotC has developed and included in the set the new keyword mechanic adamant.
So, how does adamant assist and reward mono-colored strategies? It gives players a bonus when they spend three mana of the same color towards the spell. For example, each color gets a common creature that gets a +1/+1 counter when adamanted (is that even a word?). Red seems to be the strongest adamant color thanks to singles such as Slaying Fire.
There is some adamant crossover between colors despite the mechanic having a mono-color focus thanks to a handful of artifacts with the ability. Henge Walker, for example, is one which gets the +1/+1 bonus counter if adamanted and Clockwork Servant lets players draw a card when the condition is met.
The one real downside I see with it is that it’s not an early game strategy. Playing off of a normal curve, the earliest an adamant card would see play is turn three. Considering that Eldraine’s other two new mechanics can see life on turn one, take it for what you will.
Adding to the somewhat recent trend over the past few years of WotC making artifact tokens around an overall theme (eg: clues in Shadows over Innistrad and treasure in Ixalan), Throne of Eldraine introduces food tokens. While somewhat ridiculous sounding, food tokens are actually a really nifty thing.
Whereas clue tokens drew cards and treasure tokens made mana, food allows players to gain life. That ability, however, isn’t where the meat-and-potatoes (see what I did there?) of food tokens lay. Rather, it’s with the various cards that create and interact with food.
Green and black have the bulk of the “food matters” cards with the likes of Feasting Troll King, Gilded Goose, Giant Opportunity, Bog Naughty, and Bake into a Pie taking the upper crust. The new planeswalker Oko, Thief of Crowns also supports the mechanic by creating food tokens all on his own as does the artifact , which provides a food-centric sac outlet.
Food also shows up as a sub-type on a few of the set’s actual (non-token) permanents such as on the card Golden Egg.
Throne of Eldraine boasts two-color archetypes for each possible color combination. And (at the surface, at least) it looks like WotC did a rather good job at spreading the wealth.
Black and green are where players will find a buffet of food options. They’re the primary colors for the mechanic and have the best payoffs for it with cards like Savvy Hunter and Bog Naughty. There’s also a secondary recursion theme thanks to the likes of Feasting Troll King and Deathless Knight.
Who wants to go on an adventure? As mentioned earlier, green and white get wanderlust (the emotion, not the card) the most. On its own, the mechanic has the promise of being the set’s strongest. Playing through a G/W “creatures matter” shell seems to provide its best support. Look for cards like Wandermare, Oakhame Ranger, and Lovestruck Beast if considering this archetype.
Green/blue will be a skateboarder’s dream as it’s the set’s primary ramp archetype. Its success will largely depend on the overall speed of the rest of the format, however. It’s also one of the most generically-supported archetypes. Look for cars such as Beanstalk Giant and Maraleaf Pixie to play a role towards its success.
All hail the non-humans. While not technically tribal, green-red is all about the non-human “tribe.” Because of how open-ended a term like “non-human” is, there are myriad ways to go about this as it doesn’t restrict players into focusing on any one creature type (avoiding humans notwithstanding). This archetype is a casual and novice player’s dream come true. Cards like Rampart Smasher and Grumgully, the Generous stand out.
It’s appropriate that black and white is also known as “salt and pepper,” W/B is going to be all about grinding. Players will find themselves typically playing knight tribal and relying on their synergies and abilities to get things done one attack at a time. Look for the deathtouch, indestructible, and lifelink abilities with creatures such as Wintermoor Commander and Resolute Rider to be widespread within this archetype.
Much like W/B, W/R players will most likely be looking towards utilizing knights. Unlike grinding out a win, however, W/R can afford to be quicker and more effective. Of course, it can also flame out just as quickly if it gets stalled. If W/R players can set the pace for the new standard format, however, the success rate should be acceptably high without being overbearing. Look for cards like Inspiring Veteran, Fireborn Knight, and Slaying Fire.
White/blue is the color combination players will want if they want to take the fight to the skies and there are several cards in these colors that will provide players with all of the firepower they’ll need to take flight. There are also several cards that benefit from players using artifacts and enchantments. It’s up in the air just how good W/U strategies will be in constructed, but in limited play it should be able to hold its own. Cards like Shinechaser, Arcanist’s Owl, and Brazen Borrower should all see play in this archetype.
Blue/black is a “graveyards matter” archetype. Interestingly enough, it’s not the player’s graveyard that really matter all that much. Rather, it’s the opponent’s graveyard. Players looking for control-oriented strategies will be most interested in this color pair out of Eldraine. Look for cards such as Drown in the Loch, Covetous Urge, and Eye Collector to see play.
Much like in Modern Horizons, U/R in Throne of Eldraine is all about drawing extra cards. Specifically, drawing that second card in a turn. Unsurprisingly, drawing that second card isn’t going to be too terribly difficult to do as there are a number of options to allow players to either cantrip or loot. Once that happens, there’re plenty of support cards that will trigger for a nice little payoff. The once concern is that it might wind up being a tad too slow for the format should the more aggressive strategies find consistent success. Look for cards such as Loch Dragon, Improbably Alliance, Opt, and Irencrag Pyromancer to all play a role.
And in conclusion…
Throne of Eldraine (on paper, anyhow) looks like it’s going to be one heck of a set. Overall, the set is quite strong both in terms of flavor and gameplay. The set has a good collection of rather nice singles across all levels of rarity that will most definitely see play. Serious players should definitely look into investing into a booster box and more casual players should feel fine grabbing themselves a bundle at the very least.
Wizards of the Coast is printing Throne of Eldraine in 15-card traditional/”normal” boosters that are available at the normal price, as well as 15-card “collector” boosters that cost a hefty premium (some $30 each). The company is also selling a deluxe collection that comes with 16 collector boosters along with some other superfluous extras for the exorbitant price tag of $450. Just keep in mind that there is a chance to get the fancy "collector" card variants in the normal booster packs.
In terms of options and price, this may be the set that WotC (and, really, parent company Hasbro) finally discover when they’ve crossed the line.
In terms of the cards on their own, players will find that there’s a lot to like about Throne of Eldraine.