The worst thing you can do in Throne of Eldraine Limited is to play a normal game of Magic. High-toughness blockers, lifegain from food, and the accumulation of small advantages via adventure and other two-for-ones lead to games stalling and neither player being able to overcome the other. A common experience is to find yourself in a deadlock until one player draws a rare to win the game. Even more extreme–someone might get decked.
You want to have a plan for winning these types of games. Of course, if you’re the one with powerful rares to draw into, everything’s rainbows and candy canes. But this won’t always be the case. The first thing you should do is look for powerful build-around cards to offer you a focused gameplan.
In many Limited formats, if you finish a booster draft with five or six premium removal spells (think Murder, Lawmage’s Binding, Shivan Fire, and the like), you might feel confident in having one of the best decks at the table. Throne of Eldraine is not one of those formats. With ample opportunity for card advantage–adventure being the best example–players rarely flood out, and games can go very long. Trading one-for-one, no matter how efficiently, won’t win you the game all on its own.
Make no mistake, removal is still good. It’s an important part of a complete package, and I’m perfectly happy to start my draft with Bake into a Pie. However, it’s more important than ever to keep your eye out for build-around cards that will help you win a stalled game.
In the rare slot, there’s an endless number of these cards.
But as previously mentioned, mastering a Limited format involves learning how to win when you’re not gifted your favorite cards. I’ve found that prioritizing the uncommon build-arounds is one of the best ways to be successful.
These cards are engine-like cards that allow you to build a coherent deck, and ensure that you’ll bury your opponent when the game stalls out.
Of them, Edgewall Innkeeper is my favorite. Nearly every creature with an adventure is pretty good, and the efficiency of the Innkeeper is second-to-none. This is a card advantage engine that doesn’t slow down your deck and can pair with any color.
I’ve highlighted Syr Conrad, the Grim as opposed to other great cards like Syr Carah, the Bold and Grumgully, the Generous. The reason is that black has tons of ways to recur creatures–particularly Knights–from its graveyard. Syr Conrad will win you a stalled game, and if your opponent is prepared with the removal spell, then you can turn every copy of Barrow Witches and Forever Young into more win conditions.
Which brings me to the two common cards that I think of as ways to win a board stall. Forever Young and Merfolk Secretkeeper can both put you on top when games stall out, and they’re both simply great cards! What’s remarkable about them is that they come at such a low cost.
One mana for a 0/4 is a solid defensive body for a blue control deck, and even if you don’t win by decking the opponent, Merfolk Secretkeeper can turn on things like So Tiny and Drown in the Loch. In a format where natural decking isn’t uncommon, giving your opponent that final nudge of 8-10 cards can be a big deal. You can even reuse it with bounce spells and graveyard recursion.
The floor on Forever Young is a cycling card, or a two-mana Raise Dead. The ceiling is a way to recur five or more game-winning threats, or a way to prevent your opponent from decking you. I treat my first copy as a premium card; and I’m happy to maindeck two and sideboard more if I can get them.
Revenge of Ravens
Revenge of Ravens is a unique card that requires special discussion. It’s a defining card in the format. It’s a great card that deserves a high pick, and all players should constantly ask themselves what their plan is going to be if they wind up facing it on the other side of the battlefield. All that said, it’s not a win condition.
Revenge of Ravens a stone-cold killer of certain archetypes and is great when you already have a strong lategame with a build-around win condition. However, if you’re lacking in those things, then sitting behind Revenge of Ravens can often mean that you’re just waiting to lose to your opponent’s rare or non-combat route to victory. I prefer not to maindeck it in my W/B and R/B Knights decks.
Answering Build-Around Cards
In some drafts, you won’t even see any of the uncommons that you want. The fallback plan (or a great way to supplement your already-good deck) is to look for ways to neutralize your opponent’s win conditions.
Didn’t Say Please is a great card. Sometimes you use it on turn 3 to defend yourself. Other times you can see the way the wind is blowing and save it for the crucial long-game cards.
Finally, look out for True Love’s Kiss and Return to Nature. These are some of the only ways to contend with the cycle of mythic-rare artifacts, as well as things like Improbable Alliance and Trail of Crumbs. Return to Nature is a premium sideboard card that’s worth spending draft picks on. I’m becoming convinced that True Love’s Kiss is simply a great card.
The worst thing you can do in Throne of Eldraine Limited is to play a normal game of Magic.
Naturally, this was a bit of an exaggeration. Just like every format in Magic, there are games where a player curves out and scores a quick win, as well as games where a player misses a land drop or otherwise can’t defend themselves.
You can build creature decks. In fact, the quality of the white and red beatdown cards is quite high. It’s just that this isn’t my recommended strategy, in part because food can get your opponent out of range so quickly if you ever take your foot off the gas pedal.
White and red both have plenty of good cards and can make for good support colors. In particular, U/R is my favorite non-black color combination. However, white and red are somewhat lacking in card advantage and in non-rare build-arounds, and I generally prefer the Sultai colors.
Green has the weakest commons, with Fierce Witchstalker being the only thing that I’d feel good starting a draft with. However, it has the best uncommons, highlighted by Edgewall Innkeeper and Trail of Crumbs. G/B Food might be the single best archetype, and tends to have a great matchup against beatdown decks and anyone lacking in those non-combat win conditions.
Personally, black is my favorite color in Eldraine Limited–but this shouldn’t be surprising, as black tends to be my favorite color in most formats. Still, what’s not to love about black in Throne of Eldraine? It has great removal and discard, tons of ways to recur creatures from the graveyard, and pairs well with every other color.
Blue is incredible also. Unexplained Vision at common allows you to dig six cards deep, and would be a top rare in most formats! (See Precognitive Perception). It’s merely “great” in Eldraine because of the existence of plenty of other card drawing, and a real risk of decking. Charmed Sleep, So Tiny, and effective bounce spells allow blue decks to defend effectively. And the mill archetype checks all the boxes in terms of having an effective, noncombat way to win the lategame. It’s even a trump to some of the other best archetypes like G/B Food and U/R Draw-Two.
Mono-color is a small theme in Eldraine Limited, highlighted by the adamant mechanic. Still, I think there’s a risk of overrating the mono-color theme. Most of the adamant abilities aren’t big enough payoffs to forgo a second color, and you can still get them pretty often in two-color decks.
Sure, once in a while a color will be totally open at the table and you’ll draft a nice mono-color deck. But in my opinion, you shouldn’t start your draft with this plan. For reference, I’d estimate that you should end up mono-color once out of every six or seven drafts. And never in Sealed Deck.
It’s important to understand the cycle of 10 hybrid-color uncommons, which can be tricky when you first see them. These cards are quite strong, and they’re significant payoffs to being mono-color or in the correct two-color pair. However, you should not play with them in multicolor decks that don’t match exactly.
An example for emphasis: do not play with Loch Dragon in your U/W deck. Even with a 10-7 manabase, you usually won’t be casting these cards until you have six or seven lands in play. For as powerful as they are as four-drops, they simply don’t pass the bar when you start thinking of them as seven-drops. And that’s not even to mention the games that you never get to cast them at all.
It can still be nice to pick these cards up early. When you pick Resolute Rider, for example, you can wind up in mono-white, mono-black, or W/B. And in a more practical sense, if your draft starts something like Bake Into a Pie, Resolute Rider, Foulmire Knight–now you can keep taking black cards with the possibility of being mono-black or W/B. And if the signals in the draft are strong enough to pull you into G/B or U/B, that’s probably fine too. You’ll probably wind up with a solid two-color deck where you simply give up on playing with the Rider.
That’s my birds-eye view of Throne of Eldraine Limited. I’m not confident enough just yet to offer comprehensive pick orders or card rankings. And if I cover specific color pairs and archetypes, those will come in future articles. Remember that there’s always plenty of booster draft video content from me and other great players here on Channelfireball. And in the meantime, I hope you enjoy your own adventures with this new format!