Eldritch Mooooooon! It seems I may be turning into a werewolf—hold on a second…. okay, phew, back to normal. Which is good, because I have tons to talk about with the new EMN mechanics spoiled on the mothership earlier this week. Emrakul is enjoying this new Eldrazi-themed landscape, and I don’t really understand how anyone is even alive on the plane at all anymore, but what everyone really cares about is how these new abilities are going to affect them game in and game out. I’ve only seen a handful of new cards, but I want to go through the mechanics and discuss how they might change the draft landscape from triple SOI.
Meld is definitely the splashiest new mechanic. We’ve seen the B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster) but that card was mostly a joke. “Two cards stapled together” is very real now with EMN. I think the timing of when you’ll want to meld these creatures has some really nice strategic implications.
Graf Rats is a pretty unassuming 2/1 for 2, but that’s perfectly fine for trading off with opposing creatures or pecking (biting?) in for a little early damage. Midnight Scavengers is a little better since it’s just a bad Warren Pilferers on its own, and almost any type of Gravedigger has always been toward the top of black commons in any set.
This means that during the draft itself I’d expect to take the Scavengers early and pick up Graf Rats later to try and complete the puzzle. This also works because no one will really want the Rats without the Scavengers unless they just really need a 2-drop for curve purposes as it gets late in draft.
Let’s say you do end up with 2 Rats and 2 Scavengers. When would you want to meld into the awesome Chittering Host? I figured meld would give insane payoff, and this one does, but it’s not an immediate 9/10 first strike, vigilance, flying, lifelink. Instead you want to go wide with the menace triggers on Chittering Host and use it as an overrun, or combine into a large creature when there’s relatively little risk.
The problem with melded creatures is that they become one creature and that opens you up to a world of 2-for-1s. I can imagine making a quick Chittering Host and attacking for 6, only to pass my turn and watch my opponent Reduce to Ashes it. With removal, you often have to make a choice whether to kill the current creature that’s causing you problems or wait for something better. In this case, the opponent knows something better is coming and can plan accordingly. This also differs from Werewolves since, if you have removal, you can kill that threat before it even flips, but by killing a melded creature, you’ll net card advantage instead so it behooves you to let your opponents meld their creatures when you have removal at the ready.
Okay, so you can get 2-for-1’d. Does that make Chittering Host bad? Absolutely not! As I was saying, both halves are at least playable, but my recommendation is that you navigate the meld subgame to a place where your opponent can’t gain an easy advantage from it. This means trading off your Graf Rats early and then sandbagging them after you return them with Midnight Scavengers until you have a clear opening, or at least one that will put your opponent so far behind that it’s worth getting 2-for-1’d.
Remember that tempo gains can often outweigh resource advantage and that if you time your meld correctly, it won’t matter if you end up down cards even if your opponent has the answer. The nice design on Chittering Host is that it has haste itself, so it plays perfectly with the plan of casting a precombat Rats at the last possible moment for a huge implied threat your opponent will have to respect. The more I think about it, the more this is like playing with and against Splinter Twin, but in Limited and toned down to a more reasonable level.
One last note is that there will be meld cards like Gisela that create a great blocker, and essentially grant your creature vigilance that turn. You can attack and then meld later on to have a huge melded creature on defense. Though you will be going down from two creatures to one, it’s not quite vigilance, but more of a freeroll since you’ll go down one tapped creature and one untapped creature to one untapped creature. Although I suppose it’s possible to go from two tapped creatures down to one untapped creature, but that is yet to be seen.
There’s a lot going on with Emerge and the first is that the cost reduction is variable based on the creature sacrificed. This usually means the better the creature sacrificed, the cheaper the discount, but that’s not necessarily always the case. Some creatures like Stitched Mangler act more like spells than big creatures for their cost, and these will be some of the absolute best creatures to sacrifice to emerge since you’ll effectively double up on the mana cost of that creature, getting its spell effect and a cheaper huge creature. Additionally, if you have a creature under a Sleep Paralysis, then that will be a great one to throw away to an emerge creature. This also enables any sacrifice effects, and you can get bonus value out of cards like Pious Evangel // Wayward Disciple. It pairs so well that I wonder if there will be some more pseudo-morbid creatures like Emissary of the Sleepless hanging around.
In addition to the cost reduction, remember that emerge creatures offer flood insurance. They’re expensive natural threats that still greatly impact the board if you happen to draw a ton of lands. In the Gryff’s case, tap 7 lands and you get a 3/4 flyer that replaces itself. That’s quite a card if the game naturally reaches that state. Additionally, if the format massively slows down, I could see running an emerge creature or two when you can’t actually pay the emerge casting cost, but I doubt the format will come to that. The other hindrance is that Wretched Gryff just isn’t quite good enough to pay 7 mana for it each timeA. I am excited to play with this mechanic though, and maybe WotC finally made a cost reduction mechanic that isn’t entirely broken? Time will tell, but I’m hopeful on this one.
Escalate allows you to create your own commands. Like multiple modes? Escalate spells do that! This makes them feel a lot like the fuse cards from Dragon’s Maze, except you have even more choices once you get 3 effects. When a card has a lot of flexibility, you’ll be able to find spots where a very narrow mode will be useful. I’d never pay 2 mana to gain 4 life if that’s all a card did, but that’s a very real option on Blessed Alliance since I can more often tap 2 creatures planning on blocking in combat and have my opponent sacrifice their one big attacker. That said, if there is an escalate card with all narrow choices that don’t really do anything, don’t let the fact that you have choices lead you to think the card is playable on its own.
Another tricky part of escalate is trying to decide when to pull the trigger on casting the card. Clearly the longer you wait on it, the more powerful the effect is going to be—but really what you’re looking to do is find the most powerful effect relative to a given board state. This means at times you’ll want to be a bit more aggressive firing off your escalate card before getting full value, since the last ability you could pay for isn’t going to be more useful than the amount of value you’ll get by casting the spell earlier. I imagine this will be the case more often in red or white, since those are the more aggressive colors historically.
That’s all I have for you this week, but the new mechanics open up a whole new world of play and variety, and I’m hopeful that EMN will shake up the current draft format as much as Oath of the Gatewatch did for Battle for Zendikar!