Sperling's Sick of it Throne of Eldraine

Sperling’s Sick of It – Throne of Eldraine Edition

Sometimes, even I get swept up in the hype for a new set. This was not one of those times.

So many of the cards they were spoiling were obviously powerful, but in a way where the supposedly interesting thing that’s going on is that the card is an easy 2-for-1 and/or costs 1 mana less than it would have 3 years ago. This is a common theme in recent sets, and no amount of animated gingerfolk in a trailer changes it.

Let’s dive in.

Questing Beast

Questing Beast

Imagine for a moment that in a Great Designer Search challenge, entrants were asked to design a green card that is good against planeswalkers. If someone submitted this card, they would probably be banned from ever contacting Wizards of the Coast again. That’s how inelegant this card is.

Vigilance, deathtouch, haste. You know it’s an elegant design when you have to read it 100 times before you start to memorize what random abilities it has. It probably has haste because of Teferi. Every color except blue gets haste in this set, (blue gets it too if you consider Kenrith’s color identity rather than casting cost), and I suspect Teferi is to blame here. Who wants to invest 4 or 5 mana just to be bounced for 3. But why does it have vigilance? My theory is that they want to get more 4/4 green vigilance creatures into print to make the 4/4 flying vigilance for 3GB test question from years ago seem less absurd. But honestly, I don’t know why.

No trample, but it can’t be blocked by 2 or less power. I suspect this is because trample and deathtouch have a special interaction that would make the card almost impossible to block profitably with a planewalker out. But rather than return to the drawing board, they use a pseudo-trample ability and were probably patting themselves on the back about it. But look at the text box. It’s an actual mess.

…and we haven’t even talked about “Combat damage that would be dealt by creatures you control can’t be prevented.” This is a green ability? Is this a necessary addition to this extremely overcrowded text box? Is this smart to print when you brought back Protection From X rather than hexproof (Protection from X has a hidden line of text that prevents damage, but aren’t you now playing off of something that was the major drawback of the keyword in the first place, which is part of what made it go away?)?

Fine, Little Teferi was a mistake that nobody saw coming despite the fact that Reflector Mage was banned in the very recent past. This is how you’re going to get us back on track?

Lastly, for years now the legendary creatures have mostly had proper names. Thus, “Ilgharg, the Raze-Boar” and not “Questing Raze-Boar” is what we’ve been getting and what we’ve come to expect. Here, we have the legendary “Questing Beast” which is even more generic than a Question Raze-Boar. Do these stylistic departures matter? Well, I saw Huey cast a second copy of this card in his first stream with the new cards, not realizing it was legendary, and I suspect I know why.

Even more “random card generator” keyword collections

Wildborn PreserverStonecoil SerpentBrimstone Trebuchet

I’ve never played a Limited format before where it was more likely that a player would at some point attack a flyer into a reach creature they didn’t realize had reach. Two red creatures have reach, one of them is a wall and one doesn’t throw rocks like most red reach does.

And wait a second, Robin Hood is red? The dude is an archer who lives in the forest. Why would you take this from green?

In any event, they need to put some dying flyers in the art for these cards.

Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig

And why do your trebuchets that throw stones mostly laterally have reach, while your Giants that can swing a hammer through the clouds don’t?

Brawl Deck Exclusives

Alela, Artful Provocateur - Collector Pack Exclusive

These aren’t Nexus of Fate (we’ll get to him in a minute), but some of these are certainly playable. And they are exclusive to preconstructed decks for a dying format (Brawl) that a total of 5 people worldwide enjoy playing? This is the kind of stuff that gives me pause about whether Wizards needs a Commissioner of Common Sense. You can’t build a Brawl deck out of the cards that are normal boosters? Why not? What’s wrong with Grumgully, the Generous? What’s wrong with putting Alela in the booster packs? What’s wrong with admitting Brawl is stupid and resigning as a game designer?

Box Topper Playables

Kenrith, the Returned King - Collector Pack Exclusive

 

They did it again. After the amount of frustration caused by Nexus of Fate, they printed another buy-a-box promo that is clearly Standard-playable. They don’t listen to the fans. And they either don’t care or don’t know how to fix it. They’re like the Game of Thrones showrunners after the book plots ran out. And that’s why they let Bran spoil the card.

“But Matt, you can now pull this card out of their Collector’s Extortion Booster Packs!” Thanks for reminding me.

Collector’s Extortion Premium Top Shelf Booster Packs

Fine. Rake your whales over the coals, see how many times you can skin them before they leave, do what you gotta do. But I don’t want to hear about how this is another way to get access to the box topper.

Even for those of us who are somewhat reluctant to treat loot boxes and booster packs as gambling are sort of out of excuses when the prices and prizes start to climb. If this is “collector” stuff, then why sell a full set? It’s not aimed at Draft, right? Doesn’t this mean one of your thin rationales for buying booster packs rather than singles go out the window? The lottery effect helps sales, some of your whales are problem gamblers, and eventually you’re going to kill the golden goose.

Gilded Goose

Gilded Goose

It’s golden goose. It lays golden eggs. It doesn’t have gold plating. But even setting that aside, they totally botched the flavor here. The card itself should have type food! A) it’s a bird, and I assure you a goose can be eaten. B) if you had the chance to sacrifice itself as a food, then the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs would be possible in-game, in a natural and top-down card design that made perfect sense.

Instead, you get something that is evocative of the fable in name and art, but fails to deliver. Eldraine in a nutshell.

Limited Games that Never End

I had actually spent the last several months explaining to other people with fulltime jobs and/or kids how great it is that you can fire up Arena, play a game in 15 minutes, and then go back to whatever you were doing. Oh how sorry I am to have mislead so many.

Here is a screenshot of a game I recently played:

Sperling's Sick of it Eldraine

It’s a little (okay maybe a lot) hard to see, but both players have 0 cards in library, Food aplenty, no way to attack, and no chance of winning other than by decking. This type of thing, whether having to resort to decking, or simply deal 35 damage over a 60-minute game, in order to win, is fun occasionally. But it’s absolutely miserable at the rate that Throne of Eldraine limited delivers it. In this game, even when my opponent and I both still had 15 cards left in our decks, we only had 2 or 3 relevant ones and I also had a recursive food generation engine going that required several clicks a turn. Fun stuff.

Limited is at its best when a 2/2 for 2 is good because you might be able to get far enough ahead that a 4/4 for 5 with an ability doesn’t get to trump. If you add random lifegain to every deck, things don’t really play out that way. I don’t want to play Commander when I signed up for Sealed Deck, and I certainly don’t want it to take an hour to finish the first game.

Revenge of Ravens

Revenge of Ravens

Fun and reasonable at uncommon!

Venerable Knight, Worthy Knight, Youthful Knight

Venerable KnightWorthy KnightYouthful Knight

Trailer: Gingerbread massacre mystery

Set: “[Adjective] Knight” x330, 20 basic land.

Adamant

Locthwain PaladinHenge Walker

Adamant is an ability word, not a keyword–meaning that it doesn’t actually have rules text, it just signals that the ability is spelled out elsewhere on the card. That’s good news for Wizards’ rules team, because the way they’re using it isn’t consistent. On a card like Locthwain Paladin, adamant means spend 3 mana of this particular color and get the bonus, and on Henge Walker it means spend 3 mana of any one color and get the bonus. That’s confusing, because if the first adamant card you cast was Henge Walker, which happened to be true for me, then you might think that casting Locthwain Paladin for RBBB would satisfy the condition. So the ability word means two different things on two different cards, which is super helpful. They could have made it adamant for black, adamant for green, adamant for any color, but that’s not great either as now your ability words are long and clunky. But at least that’s not misleading and inconsistent.

Not using the ability on artifacts might have been the cleanest approach, but I think I would have advocated for just omitting the ability word from all the cards. It’s not needed, it wasn’t always there, so if you can’t use it the right way, don’t use it (They are capable of this on a smaller scale, see, e.g., Tireless Tracker not having the word landfall on it).

Inquisitive Puppet

All the “interesting players” that receive exclusive previews and special invites and get to talk about how excited they are (while never saying a bad word about corporate daddy).

Tournament Grounds

Tournament Grounds

Similarly, Tournament Grounds can’t be used to cast the adventure spells on Knight cards. This presents an annoying challenge to template differently, just like adamant for black would. But in the end, they just threw up their hands and stuck us with something slightly confusing and mightily awkward–the hallmark of great design. (Design space is vast; you don’t have to use the ideas that don’t have a clean implementation).

Also worth noting that if this is truly a Magic: The Gathering Tournament Grounds, there is only 1 bathroom.

Knight Tokens

Wildwood TrackerKnight Token // Food Token (015) - Foil

Knight tokens and Soldier tokens usually depict human subjects, usually have the flavor of humans, but with rare exception such as Kor Soldier tokens, don’t have that racial creature type. It all works out perfectly fine as long as you make the tribal exception tokens when you have to, and don’t when you don’t. Well…. Eldraine has Human Knights, Knight tokens that are by accident non-Human, and literal non-Human tribal effects.

This is counterintuitive, anti-flavor, and easy to miss. Hallmarks of good design.

Sorcerous Spyglass

Sorcerous Spyglass

Similarly, nothing wrong with Pithing Needle or Sorcerous Spyglass being reprinted for Standard. Useful cards with interesting upside, real downside, and they give every color a way to check planeswalkers in case, I don’t know, they get printed with too much loyalty.

All you have to do, the only thing really, is try not to print them in sets with fetchlands (which creates a “gotcha” feel-bad that they absolutely try to avoid nearly everywhere else), or in a set with a ton of cards making tokens that have activated abilities (tokens aren’t cards, this is confusing, but it doesn’t matter unless you print the Needle effects…). So of course they put Sorcerous Spyglass in the Food Token set. The Commissioner of Common Sense is again sorely missed.

Rankle, Master of Pranks

Rankle, Master of Pranks

If I was DM for a D&D session and read this text out to my players, here’s how it would go.

DM: “Choose any number…”

Player 1: Fifteen! Now what?

DM: “… Each player discards a card.”

Player 2: So… we have to discard 15 cards? Or like the number 15 translates to that ability?

DM: “Each player loses 1 life and draws a card.”

Player 1: I said 15. Not 1.

DM: I have to be up early tomorrow, let’s just call it here and we’ll pick this up next week.

Fervent Champion

Fervent Champion

When they made a card out of Kai Budde’s likeness all he got was a belt (which was overworked), Javier gets a Lightsaber? Is this a Star Wars crossover? Nah, it was down to either Star Wars or My Little Pony for the crossover budget and the choice was clear.

Edgewall Inkeeper

Edgewall Innkeeper

Aether Gust

Aether Gust

This card is from Core Set 2020, but I don’t waste my time doing a whole review of core sets. The card has two ambiguities in only 2 sentences, which is pretty impressive. Does “that’s red or green” modify the spell part or just the permanent part? Who chooses whether it goes to the top or the bottom? I realize you can disambiguate in the comp rules or the Gatherer rulings, but is this is the way we want to word our cards? They had room on the card to be clear. They often do modal in a clearer way. Commissioner of Common Sense job description can’t get posted fast enough.

Brazen Borrower

Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft - Foil Prerelease Promo

Many people pointed out when this card was spoiled that it’s weird for a borrower to bounce things instead of steal them, and then an internet detective concluded that it must have been something different in design but then changed last minute to bounce not steal. And everyone sort of accepted this as the consensus. And then nobody revised their opinion when the card Stolen by the Fae was spoiled…

Mythbusters: Sick of It Edition.

Wishful Merfolk

 

Wishful Merfolk

Greg Hatch, who is tormented every couple of months by the fact that Merfolk isn’t Modern-playable in part because of how good Humans is, pointed out to me that this card really speaks to him.

Giant’s Skewer

Giant's Skewer

Every set has a reminder that equipment is the more logical place to have a power qualifier than vehicles. In this set, 2 mice or 2 baby boar can pilot the carriage, but 1 can’t. And either can wield the Giant’s weaponry. BS.

Memory Theft

Memory Theft

Image of the Play Design team’s knowledge about 3-mana planewalkers and bounce effects that leave behind value.

Murderous Rider, Bonecrusher Giant

Murderous Rider // Swift EndBonecrusher Giant // Stomp

What removal should I play in my deck? Oh, they printed these. Nevermind. This is fun and tests my creativity.

Standard

Great job crafting the user experience with Field of the Dead, Play Design team.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

Why are we making free spells in the template of a card (Ancient Stirrings) that has nearly been banned in Modern. Why? How is the upside commensurate with the downside?

The Arena Priority System

It’s impossible to yield for the entire turn, even with an irrelevant ability up like Blast Zone, add 0 counters. It’s impossible to credibly bluff Shock or Opt, even in full control. Full control doesn’t always work. It doesn’t hold priority in response to Wicked Wolf and Brimstone Trebuchet, both of which are obvious clear feel-bads for sure the first time you use them and forget to hold control. The whole thing sucks. The lowest hanging fruit is a “No Really, Yield, Seriously, I Yield for the Turn, I’m not joking, Full Yield” button, and a “Bluff an instant until my Next Turn” button.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

Oko, Thief of Crowns

Last but certainly not least, we have Oko, Thief of Crowns. The crowning achievement in learning no lessons and also getting the numbers wrong. This is a 3-mana planeswalker that somehow punishes small creatures (steals them), large creatures (transforms them), and no creatures (beats down with 3/3s), oh and burn spells (gains life, has a ton of loyalty). You don’t have to invest other resources, but you can (in the form of other things to transform), and all you have to invest is 1UG. It’s mythic, it’ll sell packs, it will make gameplay into a series of similar-feeling planeswalker subgames, and then they’ll do the same thing 2 sets from now, if not next set.

Blue just had Teferi, Time Raveler, and now it gets this too, and the other 3-mana walker in the set is also blue… so they aren’t even spreading around the nonsense. Black gets a 6-mana walker that can’t tick up. Garruk’s a cool card, but I’d rather just pay 3 to win than 6.

Conclusion

The Great Designer Search receives many applications every year. I regret to inform the entire Throne of Eldraine and M20 design and play design teams that they did not make it to the next round.

All the best in your search,

Matt Sperling

(Postscript: check out my new YouTube series Magic: The Gathering for Advanced Players if you want more strategy content and less stupid humor, but not zero stupid humor.

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