It has begun. And in the case of Emrakul, maybe it’s also the end. The Promised End. The end of my chances to ever win another game of Standard until it rotates. Spoiler season started up fresh last week with a bang. Emrakul was the first card spoiled, and I have to say, I was shocked by how lukewarm a reception it received on social media.
Don’t sleep on Emrakul. And not just because she’ll take control of your mind and turn you into a mini-tentacle monster. Stay alert because the card is going to be really good and I, for one, am actually afraid of how good it might be.
The year is 2010 or 2011. I’m playing Caw-Blade in an SCG Open before Batterskull was printed. This is long before I started writing articles or anyone knew who I was. I’m just some random dude playing Caw-Blade and here I am in a win-and-in for Top 8. I’ve never Top 8’d an SCG Open before. The best I’ve ever done is a few PTQ Top 8’s. It’s a big deal to me.
I’m playing against Ali Aintrazi in a win-and-in. I had never beaten Ali before, and this includes a Sealed PTQ earlier in the year where he splashed True Conviction off of 4 Plains and beat me with it both games. He just has my number.
It’s game 3, and I have complete and utter control of the game. I have a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, a Gideon Jura, a Stoneforge Mystic attached to a Sword of Body and Mind, and a Celestial Colonnade. Ali’s life total is in single digits. Ali has a bunch of mana, a Thrummingbird, and no cards in hand. I milled a Mindslaver with Sword of Body and Mind earlier in the game. I’m feeling pretty good about my chances here.
Ali untaps and draws—well, I guess context clues gave it away. He draws a second copy of Mindslaver and activates it to take control of my next turn. On that turn, he attacks with Stoneforge Mystic, then uses Gideon Jura to destroy it. He uses Jace to bounce the Wolf token, he destroys my Celestial Colonnade with my own Tectonic Edge, and then he plays a second copy of Gideon Jura, which under the legend rules at the time destroyed both of them. On his next turn, Thrummingbird killed Jace and he drew a Wurmcoil Engine to take control of the game.
I had everything, and then I had nothing. It’s pretty disgusting the amount of damage you can do to a board state with Mindslaver. Another favorite Mindslaver story of mine is when I won a game at a Pro Tour in Modern by Mindslavering Storm and then combo killing him with his own deck. That was a delight. I also got to troll people by going around telling them about how my Storm opponent had cast a lethal Grapeshot targeting himself. Watching as they struggled and failed to figure out why he would ever do that was great.
Imagine playing against a deck like BW Control in Standard. You cast Emrakul and take their next turn. Ob Nixilis kills Kalitas. Sorin uses all of his remaining loyalty to finish off Ob Nixilis. Ruinous Path sends Gideon packing for a one-way trip with no connecting flights to the Blind Eternities. They get to go from everything to nothing while facing down a 13/13 flying, trample, protection from instants, tentacled horror. Match slip please.
I think a lot of people are undervaluing Emrakul because they get to take their normal turn after you control a turn of theirs. Many are viewing this as “2 turns cancelling out” when the reality is far different. At the very least, you get to run their best creature into your Emrakul when you control their turn. That’s the baseline amount of value you can get off of it. At worst, Emrakul is going to be a removal spell for their best creature. But in all likelihood, it’s also going to be so much more. You get to cast Collected Company and brick. You get to play Hangarback Walkers for 0, waste Dromoka’s Commands, play Secure the Wastes for 0, activate Westvale Abbey sacrificing 5 good creatures and then Declaration in Stone the Ormendahl, etc.
Mindslaver translates into “Plague Wind + Mind Twist.” You waste every card in your opponent’s hand to destroy their own board state. I don’t really care that they get to take their normal turn afterward. Sometimes the damage done will take 5-10 turns to recover from anyway. Or, at least, it would if they had that many turns. They won’t because they are going to die very quickly to a 13/13 with two forms of evasion.
A common argument against Emrakul is what I call the Stasis Snare/Clip Wings argument. While those 2 cards do take care of Emrakul in a way that other instant speed answers cannot, I think people are overestimating how good those answers will be and how often that is actually going to come up.
To start with, Clip Wings is at best a sideboard card—not even a very good one at that in the current metagame, and it’s kind of a marginal card to bring in against an Emrakul deck that could very well have 0 other flying creatures. Stasis Snare is a much more reasonable card, but even if you do happen to have the Stasis Snare on hand and mana open to blow it on Emrakul before the next turn begins, you still are going to potentially get Plague Wind + Mind Twisted, depending on how good your hand is at destroying your own things. If you don’t have the mana open to play Snare on Emrakul before your turn happens, then they can just use your Stasis Snare on one of their other creatures during the stolen turn, and they still get to make you run your best creature into Emrakul where it will meet its Promised End.
I think Emrakul is better than Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. In decks built to use Emrakul, I imagine it is regularly going to cost between 7-9 mana. That’s not a lot. That’s barely more than World Breaker. And Emrakul is going to frequently end the game when its cast. Even if they can deal with it in some form, the Mindslaver effect will set them back quite a bit, and there’s no real reason the Emrakul deck can’t just follow up with another Emrakul or other threats afterward, when their defenses have been depleted.
I equate Emrakul, the Promised End to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. It’s an 8(ish)-mana threat that just wins the game on its own a large percentage of the time. Personally, I did not like Ugin. I found it made games of Magic unfun, and turned a lot of games into “Did they draw Ugin? If yes, I lose. If no, I win.” I don’t really enjoy games of Magic that get reduced to 1 card being the only thing that matters, especially when a lot of decks or strategies simply have no feasible way to play around that card. I’m hoping that Emrakul ends up being a lot more fun, and because of the interesting and swingy nature of Mindslaver, it’s possible that it will be.
I’m not sure exactly what kinds of decks Emrakul will fit into yet. I think it may be worse in a traditional ramp shell than Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but I think it will slot into a lot of slower midrange or control decks. Those decks tend to play a lot of instants, sorceries, creatures, planeswalkers, Evolving Wilds, and so forth. Reducing Emrakul down to 8 mana shouldn’t be too hard in a deck like Grixis or GBx decks.
Emrakul could also work in a deck like the GR Goggles deck that Team Eureka played at the last Pro Tour. That deck can achieve delirium thanks to cards like Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight, and Traverse the Ulvenwald can find more lands for Emrakul or can just search out the Emrakul itself with active delirium.
I don’t know exactly what home or homes Emrakul will settle into. I’m just banking on it happening eventually. In the meantime, I’m just going to settle down, grab a drink, and wait patiently for the Promised End.