Welcome to my Eldritch Moon prerelease primer! Since you don’t have to choose a color before the tournament starts, I’m not going to make them the focal point of this article—instead, I’m going to talk about general things in the format, such as the new mechanics from Eldritch Moon or how the old mechanics from Shadows over Innistrad have changed.

New Mechanics

Emerge

Emerge is a weird ability that works more like an aura than an actual creature, except it’s not really an aura because it doesn’t care about the creature’s base stats. When you have an aura, you want to boost a creature that is strong enough so that it’ll actually beat anything—it makes no sense to give +2/+2 to a 1/1 because 3/3 is simply not good enough. As a result, when they deal with your creature, you lose both the aura and a reasonably strong creature. With emerge, you can turn a very bad creature into something great, so you don’t get 2-for-1ed as much. On top of that, almost all of the emerge creatures offer some sort of enter the battlefield advantage (and some have flash, so they can eat an attacker), so in practice it’s going to be at best a 2-for-2 for your opponent.

The rare emerge creatures are generally going to be pretty good no matter what, as their bodies are reasonable and the effects strong enough that you’re willing to sacrifice a creature. The common and uncommon ones are going to be more deck dependent—I think you’re going to want them if you’re in the market for a big creature (i.e., you can see yourself hardcasting them at some point), or you have creatures that work particularly well with it (such as Foul Emissary or Desperate Sentry).

If you play cards with emerge, you should be wary of bounce spells—there are 2 common ones and 2 uncommon ones in blue in this format so it’s almost guaranteed that your opponent will have access to one if they want it.

Meld

Meld is rarely going to come up, but when it does come up, you’re going to win the game. Obviously Bruna and Gisela are great, and the Hanweir duo is also very good. The big question is the black meld pair, which is common.

Most of the time, you’re not going to run Graf Rats by itself in your prerelease because Goblin Piker is not very good in Sealed. Midnight Scavengers, on the other hand, should see play in virtually all black decks, whether you have the Rats or not. I believe that the meld is good enough that, if I have a single Midnight Scavengers, I’ll already play multiple Rats in most of my decks (unless I really don’t want a 2/1 for 2). So, basically:

  • If 0 Midnight Scavengers, play 0 Rats
  • If 0 Rats, play all Midnight Scavengers
  • If 1+ Midnight Scavengers, play up to 2 Rats in most decks
  • If 2+ Midnight Scavengers, play all Rats

Escalate

Escalate is a great ability that really rewards optimal timing. Cards with it are hard to evaluate on a vacuum, because they are like charms except with more modes (a card like Blessed Alliance can cast for 7 different effects, for example). Most of them are going to be good enough to see play in Sealed, so the key part to evaluate is when to play them.

From my experience, I’d say that most beginners are going to err on the side of casting them too early—in general, players that have just started aren’t patient and like to cast their spells whenever they can. If you’re a new player, my recommendation is that you consider whether you can’t easily get more value out of an escalate card in the future when you can use the extra modes.

More experienced players, however, do the opposite—they err on the side of trying to get too much because the advantage is too tempting to pass up. It’s always the case with mechanics like kicker —people play a turn 3 Ghitu Slinger like 5% of the time, when it’s actually correct to do, say, 15% of the time. If you’re more experienced, my recommendation therefore is that you consider whether you really need to get more out of it, because a portion of the time getting the important effect now will give you a snowball advantage that will culminate in more power later on than if you had gotten an extra escalate effect (or will stop your opponent from reaching said snowball).

Werewolves

While not a new mechanic per se, the Werewolves from Eldritch Moon do not follow the same Werewolf pattern that they did in SOI. Now, instead of demanding a turn without spells being cast, they all morph for a certain mana cost and never morph back. This is basically the exact same as “Monstrous”, and I’d say that most of the new Werewolves are good, because having early drops that can actually do something in the late game is very important. If you have enough mana sinks, you can consider playing an 18th land more often.

Because there are less traditional Werewolves going around, instants and flash creatures become better, as you’re no longer so heavily punished for having to pass the turn with no play. You’re also more incentivized to keep a hand that doesn’t have early action because the chance you’re going to get killed before you can do something is smaller.

Creatures

Shadows over Innistrad was a set of small creatures, and Eldritch Moon seems to have followed in its footsteps for the majority of the early game. 2/2, 2/3 and 3/2 seem to be the most common sizes, so 3/4 is about the bar where a creature starts dominating 1-on-1 combat, and creatures with 1 power (like 1/3s) are quite bad because they don’t trade with anything. 5/5 is quite big, and should be able to kill most creatures double-blocking it.

Once you get to the mid-late game, then things change, as Eldritch Moon introduces both emerge and flip cards that are bigger than what you’re used to. A card like Grizzled Angler, for example, is average for the format, but its flipped counterpart Grisly Anglerfish is already big enough to beat almost any common. Vildin-Pack Outcast is huge when you originally cast it, and once flipped it probably requires a triple block (and might kill them anyway).

In practical terms, what this probably means is that you want to conserve your big removal for a big threat. There aren’t many things that deal with everything, and there are a number of cards that can flip or emerge into monsters that are very hard to beat in combat. Cards like Sleep Paralysis or Bound by Moonsilver should be saved for targets that can’t be dealt with by anything else.

Flash Creatures

There’s a very high number of flash creatures in Eldritch Moon (more than any set I can remember, really), and I suspect many prerelease games will be decided on whether you can successfully identify which one they have. There are also plenty of madness creatures, and more common repeatable ways of discarding them that you might run into.

This is a list of flash and madness creatures in the set:

Common

Swift Spinner
Weirded Vampire

Uncommon

Nebelgast Herald
Drownyard Behemoth
Drogskol Shieldmate
Insatiable Gorgers

Rare

Spell Queller
Heron’s Grace Champion
Elder Deep-Fiend
Spirit of the Hunt
Stromkirk Occultist
Voldaren Pariah
Bloodhall Priest

Since there are so many flash creatures, instant spells become better, because they can be used to answer those creatures but also because they let you pass the turn with mana up and still have options. On top of that, your opponent never really knows what you have, because there are so many things you could have.

My advice is to memorize those, at least the commons and uncommons (if you get beaten by a flash rare, whatever, you learn for next game). When your opponent passes with mana up in a spot where it’s not too bad for you to just wait, I recommend just not attacking with your small creatures—attack with the big ones and then add to your board. As a general rule, anything that trades is okay to attack, and anything that will just get eaten by a common or uncommon flash creature should stay home.

Removal

There’s plenty of removal in Eldritch Moon, especially commons. Red excels at killing small or medium sized creatures, Blue has a large number of bounce spells, and white and black both have numerous ways to deal with big creatures. My inclination is, again, to be frugal with your unconditional removal, only using it on threats that are very hard to deal with unless you have a lot of them. Your cheap removal, on the other hand, you can start using as early as turn 2. There are not many 1 toughness creatures worth killing, which means you probably want to play Borrowed Malevolence if you need a trick and not if you need a removal spell.

Past Mechanics

At the prerelease, you’re going to receive 4 boosters of Eldritch Moon and 2 of Shadows over Innistrad, which is going to make the environment very different from what you are used to. Here’s how I think this will impact the new mechanics:

Werewolves

Eldritch Moon is a very instant-speed based set, with a plethora of instants and flash creatures, which means the Werewolves from SOI get better on two fronts. First, they are easier to flip, since you can just pass the turn but you’re not losing board presence if you have a flash creature, and you can more easily bluff having something if you pass the turn with no play. Second, they will readily punish your opponent for playing those instants and flash creatures. They also work well with the new Werewolves because you can spend the turn flipping them, and you get an extra flip out of the deal. All the Werewolves were already good in SOI, but now they’re even better, and it should make both green and red stronger as a result.

Investigate

Investigate gets both better and worse. Investigate-based decks such as UG will get much worse, as you have to be incredibly lucky to open enough synergies (i.e., Ongoing Investigation + Illuminator + Graf Mole) to make it worth your time in only 2 packs, and there are also only 2 packs for cards that actually provide Clues. Incidental investigating, however, is likely to get better, as investigate is not a mechanic that scales well—the first Clue is worth more than the fifth Clue, for example, because at some point you just want to cast whatever it is that you’re drawing instead of using your mana to sacrifice more Clues.

Skulk

Probably no meaningful change in this department—skulk is still a nice bonus but in my experience will rarely be a super relevant ability.

Madness

In Shadows over Innistrad, I always felt like madness was meant to be the enabler, and the madness enabler was meant to be the payout, meaning that you didn’t actually get some insane creature at a discount rate, but instead you got to pay the cost of the ability for free. In Eldritch Moon, it’s not very different, as the only card that gives you a great discount is Alchemist’s Greeting—instead, you’re working with 1-mana discounts or the ability to cast a card as an instant as your payoff.

For red, enablers seem to be relatively unchanged—there’s an uncommon one but you have to do it main phase, so it’s not as good for catching someone off-guard. For black, however, you now have a common enabler that lets you discard cards at instant speed for 0 mana (Olivia’s Dragoon) and another that lets you do it for a mana (Skirsdag Supplicant), and that should improve the black madness cards a little bit, because before you usually needed uncommons such as Call the Bloodline. There’s also a green enabler at uncommon.

One strike against madness is that there are a bunch of F\flash creatures in this set, and as a result people are going to be more wary of anyone who passes with open mana. In SOI, it was very easy to ambush someone with something like Lava Axe + madness creature, but right now they might not run into it because they’re playing around a creature with flash.

Delirium

Discarding cards at will in black and green is definitely easier now, so that’s a plus for delirium. There’s also a common artifact that readily sacrifices itself and is actually playable (Terrarion) as well as a Bronze Sable reprint, which is not exciting but should be much better than Wicker Witch. You lose the Vessels, Angelic Purge and Dead Weight, but gain Boon of Emrakul, Lunarch Mantle and Choking Restraints. The biggest loss seems to be Vessel of Vitality—you get Grapple with the Past, but I think it was easier to put an instant there already, and it sees one less card.

Overall, my inclination is that it’s slightly harder to power through delirium, and roughly the same to get it in a normal game, because there seem to be more diverse card types that you actually want to play but less ways to just throw something in the graveyard (like Angelic Purge or Fork in the Road). In any case, I doubt it’s going to be a very big difference. Delirium was a hard ability to pull off in Sealed, and it’s going to remain hard.

As for payoffs, I think they also remain relatively constant—there is no card that is super weak without delirium but broken with it, so you’re just going to play regular cards that happen to get a benefit if you hit delirium. The biggest payoff is probably Dusk Feaster, but it’s weird that you can only get the payoff if it’s early, which is the opposite of other delirium cards. My advice for delirium, therefore, remains the same—don’t push it and don’t play bad cards because you need an extra type. Delirium is a bonus—enjoy it if you have it but don’t go out of your way to get it. When evaluating cards, assume that for most Sealed decks (and exceptions should be obvious) you’re just not going to have it on most of the time.

Colors

Shadows over Innistrad had little fixing, and Eldritch Moon has even less—only Terrarion—nothing not even in green, and no lands. As a result, it should be slightly harder to splash in this Sealed format, and it wasn’t very easy to begin with. My recommendation is that you stick to 2 colors on most aggressive decks. If you have a slow deck that wants to play the fixers (delirium comes to mind), and if you have fixers from SOI, you can dabble into a third color, but make it a splash—a full 3 colors is very unlikely to work. If I opened Tamiyo at the prerelease, I’d expect not to play her.

White

White seems incredibly good to me. It has 2 top tier commons (Choking Restraints and Sigardian Priest) and creatures that are overall solid, including 2 other playable 2-drops. Guardian of Pilgrims should be particularly good because giving +1/+1 to a 2/2 or 2/3 creature should allow it to attack basically unopposed. Borrowed Grace is also a very powerful card, and something that was lacking in SOI (there was Tenacity, but that was uncommon).

I think you can reasonably pair white with anything, because it’s pretty self-sufficient. You have removal, early drops, flyers, and ways to push through. There are a lot of creatures in white, so achieving delirium should be a little harder, as you no longer have cards like Angelic Purge or instant-speed pseudo-removal that you can use to diversify your types, as well as no Vessel.

Most white decks should remain aggressive, and can be paired with anything. BW and UW were bad in SOI, but you can have a pretty good UW Flyers deck in Eldritch Moon Sealed if you open the right cards, and if you decide to go BW, you get extra synergy from Ironclad Slayer returning Dead Weight and Boon of Emrakul.

2 white cards in particular are worth talking about—Geist of the Lonely Vigil and Desperate Sentry. Those are both very defensive cards, they’re good if you can reliably hit delirium, and they’re also good if you’re interested in blocking. In this format, the only white deck that is interested in blocking happens to be delirium, so that’s great. Other than that, though, I’d say that most white decks are very aggressive, and are not interested in creatures that can’t attack or that cost 3 and attack for 1. For most white decks, I’d keep those in the sideboard.

Blue

Blue was the worst color in SOI, and I’m afraid to report that it did not get much better. Most blue decks should be focused on tempo and some spell-matter cards (particularly with red)—you want to play early drops and then some bounce to stall your opponent’s development and kill them before they can recover. I’m sure there are some blue control decks that you can play, but they’re going to depend on rares because the commons don’t really lend themselves to it (Exultant Cultist is the only blue common I’d be super happy to play in a control deck), and the best blue control deck from SOI—UG Clues—is very unlikely to work in Sealed with only 2 packs with Clues. If you do play control, make sure you don’t play all the bounce you have—it’s not actually that good if you aren’t aggressive.

That said, I think there are some blue cards that got better, namely counterspells. Before, you couldn’t afford to pass the turn with a blue deck because you’d flip all their Werewolves, but now you can. There are also more things to do with your mana on their turn, so it’s less suspicious (though not having Werewolves yourself hurts this a bit too).

Take Inventory is an interesting card, but one that I don’t think really belongs in the aggressive blue deck—you want to kill them, not durdle around. It can, however, be a pretty good card in the spell-matter UR decks if you have multiples.

Also a note on Fogwalker—it doesn’t actually tap the creature! If it did, I’d think it’s a pretty reasonable card, but as it is, it can only stop an attacker that already attacked and can never stop a blocker, which, coupled with a body that I consider to be pretty bad in a format with so many 3/2s, makes it a pretty weak card.

Black

Black as a color is very underwhelming, and there’s no common that I’d say is actually good on power level alone. For a black deck to be good, you need synergy—you need to be a delirium-based deck, or a madness based deck, or a super grindy deck with some Zombies. You can, of course, get some great black uncommons and rares, but if you’re going to rely on the commons, then you should have a theme because otherwise they simply aren’t good enough.

Another issue is that black’s bodies tend to be more on the defensive side (you get more 2/3s and 2/4s than other colors), but what does your defensive black deck look like? The only strategy that actually pairs well with it is some combination of Abzan Delirium, and delirium decks tend to not work in Sealed. If you’re RB Vampires/Madness, for example, you’re not very interested in a 2/4 for 4.

One card I want to highlight is Succumb to Temptation, which is a card that I consider to be completely and utterly unplayable outside of the very specific circumstance in which you need an instant for delirium in your base-black control deck. I know people will play it regardless of what I say, but drawing 2 cards for 3 mana is already not very good—in an aggressive format, it’s even worse. If you lose 2 life it’s even worse, and if it costs 2 specific mana, which means you can’t always play it, it’s somehow even worse. Succumb to Temptation is all of those things. Don’t play it.

Red

To the surprise of nobody, red is a very aggressive color. In this set, it’s particularly full of combat tricks, which should make attacking very easy and gives you a way to defeat surprise flash blockers—you just have to be careful to not have too many tricks in your deck.

Another quality of red is that its creatures seem to be bigger than usual. Brazen Wolves, for instance, strikes me as particularly great, and you also have solid bodies from Stensia Innkeeper and Vildin-Pack Outcast. Red can play with Wolf/Vampire synergies, as well as spells-matter synergies (particularly paired with blue) but, unlike black, it doesn’t actually have to—you can have a good WR deck with no theme other than “killing them.”

The big red winners from the old set are the Werewolves since it’s now much easier for you to pass with open mana and much harder for your opponent to not do it—they’ll simply have to jam their flash threats or instants on their main phase, which is good for you.

One card that I think is noteworthy is Savage Alliance. Casting an MTG version of Swipe is already pretty good, but the trample effect really puts it over the top as you will deal more damage to your opponent by virtue of dealing 1 damage to all of their creatures.

Green

Green was the king of Shadows over Innistrad—it was good with every color and every strategy, and its cards were very efficient. In Eldritch Moon it’s kind of the same—you can still play any green deck except for UG Clues, but it’s worse across the board. The main difference is that your 2-drops aren’t aggressive at all—before, you could have the most explosive starts in the format with the Werewolves, but now your only options are actually 2-mana creatures that don’t attack. This means that unless you’re particularly interested in ramping to 4 mana (or in blocking), you want to make use of the other color for 2-drops. The bodies also seem to be smaller across the board for unflipped cards—there’s no Kessig Dire Swine, Solitary Hunter, or Thornhide Wolves to ramp into. To add insult to injury, your best card (Rabid Bite) just became a little bit worse (Prey Upon).

The big green winners are also the Werewolves, for the same reason as the Red ones. There may be awesome green decks, but most of them will rely on powerful cards from Shadows over Innistrad.

One card that’s worth highlighting is Noose Constrictor—it’s not actually that good. Of course it’s a good 2-drop with a good ability, and it attacks through most 3-drops, but people might be used to Wild Mongrel being the best card ever and they might overvalue this as a result. It’s important to remember that when Wild Mongrel was printed, green was the madness color, and you also had plenty of cards that were better in the graveyard than in your hand (some flashback spells, stuff like Wonder) on top of threshold, whereas right now you only have delirium. Play your Noose Constrictors, but don’t feel like you have to be green because you have 2 of them.

That’s what I got for today! Good luck at your prerelease.