Friday, 9 April 2010

Rise of the Eldrazi - All the new legends

Rise of the Eldrazi is finally here, only 5 days to wait for your pre-release and it seems that we've been spoiled all the new legends due for this set if the Orb of Insight is to be believed. There are 3 Eldrazi, an Angel, a Vampire-Shaman & a Goblin/Golem. All of us in the EDH community wait with baited breath to see what is going to be the next big, fun general to build around. Let's have a look at what the set has given us, starting with the triumvirate of Eldrazi Legends.

Lets go over the basics. The Eldrazi, long forgotten scourge of the Zendikar plane, have become worshipped as Gods by the native populace. The only small fly in the ointment is that they are not the benevolent EDH-Group-Hug-Purple-Hippo type of God, these guys are the eternal embodiment of horror and destruction. To be fair to them, they probably aren't even the "fire and brimstone" type of Gods either. They fall more into the we-will-devour-your-plane-and-every-living-thing-on-it category. That's not going to go down well with the faithful. Now, these beings have been kept imprisoned within (or by) the Eye of Ugin for a few Aeons, so you can understand that some people/merfolk/goblins, who only live a few decades at most, have forgotten who or what they really are. Waking up in the morning, you don't honestly expect to meet your chosen god on your way to your job at Tuktuks Adventuring Emporia ("For ALL your adventuring needs!"). It's got to come as a shock. To discover, in addition, that the beings you venerated on your knees by your sleeping pallet every night weren't exactly here to reward you for your prayers but rather here to sound the knell that heralds the apocalypse, well, that sort of thing can get you down, really ruin your day. You may be distraught and flee. You may be pissed. You may even decide that a little deicide is in order. (Heh!).

Either way, there will be blood. Most likely yours.

What of these fearsome beings? Well, you know the way your Grandma's skin got a little pale and lost its pigment as she got very old? Well, imagine that process multiplied by aeons.

And add tentacles. (This might not be necessary if your Grandma already has tentacles, delete as appropriate.)

So, these guys have lost all colour (but, very importantly, are not artifacts), which is extremely important for us as EDH general choosers. This hugely restricts what you can and cannot play in your EDH deck when you choose them as generals including basic lands (that is to say: none). If you want to bring the thunder with the Eldrazi, you're bringing it colourless Karn-style with all the associated restrictions. This, more than any other aspect of the Eldrazi (though probably in conjunction with their mana cost), will preclude them from seeing widespread play as generals.

What have they gained despite losing their colour? First of all, they have gained a lot of resiliance. Each has a clause that forces them to skip the whole death thing (what do you expect, they're Gods?!) and return to the burdgeoning potentiality that is just another card in your library. Why would they even need such a clause? Well, it's because they are kind of kick-ass. Each is huge, weighing in at 10, 12 & 15 smackers. Pretty much par for the course for something that would devour a plane. Now this is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good thing: They will shuffle the entire graveyard into the owner's library when they hit it from anywhere, putting a pretty big stick through the spokes of any graveyard recursion deck. Players won't get to abuse the graveyard as a resource and get juicy Eldrazi God goodness in addition. It's one or the other. There is a pretty significant loophole however, it's not a Darksteel Colossus replacement effect, it is a triggered effect so people with instant speed reanimation will get to shoot for the hoop before the buzzer sounds.

Bad thing: If they can't abuse the graveyard easily, then neither can you. It also means that you have to make some pretty big deckbuilding choices as regards graveyard removal and cards that thrive on having targets in the grave to choose from. Reveillark is not their friend. Black and Green, which like to zombify and recycle a little more than the other three colours, are grinding their teeth!

In addition, each has an ability that allows them to ANNIHILATE YOU! It's their very own keyword: Annihilate, generally followed by a little number that tells you how much you wish Stifle was in the format. "Annihilate 4" means you really wish you had a Stifle, "Annihilate 6" requires at least a full box of tissues to dry your eyes! When each of these monsters attacks you, you get to sacrifice X permanents, where X is their "Annihilate" number. Our Eldrazi Legends aren't the only ones with Annihilate, but they are the highest Annihilate indexes. Fitting really.

Hum, let's pause there and take stock:
Don't stay dead: Check
Humongously large: Check
Will devour you when they attack: Check

That's pretty good, but that's not all. When you cast these bad boys/girls/things/Gods, there's a super-extra-bonus round. Yes, they have cast triggers! A very important thing to note is that these are not "comes onto the battlefield" abilities, but bona-fide enchantress/cascade-style Cast triggers: you resolve the effect before he/she/it comes into play. Unless of course, someone has a Stifle. This hankering after a Stifle may become a recurring theme....

Ok, enough with the vague plane-devouring generalities, on to the meat and two veg. I'll start with the the lightweight first. Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (Source: MTG Visual Spoiler)

This is the lightweight?! >laces on sneakers, starts warming up.....<

In terms of his base stats, yes, this is the runt of the trio. A mere 10/10 for 11, Ulamog is decidedly underwhelming but he does make up for a lot of that weight in his cast trigger (Destroy a permanent) and his keyword ability (Indestructible) Let us compare him to another 11cc Indestructible, Darksteel Colossus:

Ulamog gains on the "Destroy target permanent", draws on "Indestructibile", looses out on P/T (though not by much) and, in my opinion, loses out hugely on Trample. There's a slight advantage in the afforementioned graveyard trigger being a trigger rather than a replacement effect but, in essence, you have to decide between: "Destroy target Permanent" or "Trample" on your Indestructible fatty. Each to his own but Ulamog gets blocked by 0/1 brood tokens all day.

Silly me, I forgot that he also eats your plane!! Where were we? Oh yes, I cast Ulamog, destroy a permanent, get an Indestructible 10/10 and then get to go Pac-Man on you whenever I attack even before I deal damage....... Farewell, poor DSC, we knew you well.

Ulamog Rating: As a huge beastie? Pretty hot. As a general? Probably not.

The other "runt" is Ulamog's slightly bigger brother, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth (Source: MTG Visual Spoiler) Now, I'm not sure why anyone would hate a butcher, they provide a valuable community service. Indeed, Kozilek has made it his mission to re-educate the deziens of Zendikar to the essential nature of their so-called Gods. It's not his fault that these puny beings have been deluding themselves for so long, he's basically a good kid who just wants the record set straight.

>....Starts stretching and gets ready to run....< Ok, fair enough, he's using methods that are, shall we say, heavy-handed, but it can be tough for a big kid like him to guage his own strength. He's better than Ulamog on the cost-to-beef ratio, then again he is a butcher. 12/12 for a measly 10 mana is nice. He shares his brother's appetite, annihilating at a rate of 4 per attack. Where he shines is when he's cast, netting you 4 new cards. On the flip side, he is more fragile and lacks the indestructibility his brother is always flaunting. There's not really much more to him than that, like I said, he's a simple boy who just wants to learn (and learn you!).

Kozilek Rating: As a huge beastie? Hot, hot, hot. As a general? Probably not.

Both boys are overshadowed by their big sister, Emmy:

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Source: MTG Visual Spoiler)

>Runs like hell..<

OOoooohh, Boy! Houston, we have a problem!

There's a joke on MTG Salvation about Magic R&D basically deciding to make the most stupid fatty they could without simply printing "You Win the Game" on it. Bearing in mind that they had just brought out Progenitus, how were they going to top "Protection from everything" on a 10/10?

Well, they started by making her the biggest printed P/T in the business at 15/15. If you're paying 15 mana and casting 1 spell that doesn't win you the game right there, well, you want it to resolve, don't you? So she can't be countered. Fine.

Unwilling to stop there, they tacked on her Annihilate index at a monstrous 6 and a cast trigger that makes it highly likely that you're going to get to benefit from it by granting you an extra turn. She doesn't have haste, she has pseudo-haste!

She slices, she dices AND she flies, neatly side-stepping the biggest drawback on her smaller legendary brethern: the inability to steam-roll a 0/1 brood token. R&D REALLY, REALLY want you to smash face with Emmy when you have spent your pocket-money on getting her into play.

Oh, I forgot, silly me!! What if some smart opponent has some mana open and decides to ruin your plane-devouring fun by bouncing her or otherwise removing her at instant speed? That would be disappointing, so our friends decided that she also has protection from coloured spells. Why not, she already has everything else?! Basically, if there's not an on-the-table response (and in the case that there is, you'd be a bit silly to run her out into the firing line) she is going to attack and she is going to kick puppies and steal teddy-bears from cute children. What a *****!

What can you do about her? Any instant speed, untargetted removal, either global or spot, will do the trick. An effect that tricks Auras into play will slow her down. Other than that, you're just hoping that she really wants to kick Rofellos hard in the fork rather than your general. (Mental note: build a Rofellos deck to lend out within the playgroup!) Just hope she's not being played alongside Rafiq & Finest Hour..... Once you get to untap, there are numerous other options, I just hope for your sake that you have them in hand!!

Emrakul Rating: As a huge beastie? Well, there's loads of keywords that she could have had... Only joking!! She's a stone cold beast, blessed with the ability to take over the game completely from the moment you have 15 mana and a way to bounce her every second turn. Choose your moment right and it will be time for the next game as everyone shuffles up in disgust. As a general? Here's the thing again: if you play her or her brothers as a general, you need to be able to generate lots of mana which any artifact deck can do in multiple ways even excluding the powerful Tolarian Academy. Infinite mana is something artifact decks can achieve in multiple ways so casting them shouldn't be a problem, however infinite mana or other infinite loop decks take us right into the heart of the debate about douchbaggery in EDH: Can an infinite mana or other infinite loop be anything other than DB-ery? Following on from there, where do you draw the line on other card like Channel for which the least (if you can believe that) DB route would be paying 15 life to cast Emrakul. EDH is going to change in a way that's freakily similiar to the plane of Zendikar itself with the introduction of the Eldrazi and all their associated cards: Some will run, some will stay true to their beliefs and carry on the good fight, some will sell their soul to defeat this new menace and more yet will be conscripted as agents in the return of the Eldrazi Gods. Shockwaves will be felt reverberating long into the next block! So, for a general Rating, I'd have to say: DB.

And who stands in opposition to the Eldrazi? Who rallys the races of this besieged plane to face this dedly foe?

A Vampire Shaman
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief (Source: Star City Games)

Drana is actually a really good general if your thing is mono-black. She's a decent evasive body attached to an acceptable cc but, most importantly, she has built-in removal and self-pump. Sure, this is limited and restricted to your available mana but very few things aren't so that't an acceptable restriction. In a normal progression when you hit your land drops up to the turn after playing her, you can kill an x/4 (potential blocker) and get in for 8 general damage. As EDH is rife with artifact mana, this can be achieved earlier than turn 5 as all that's needed for both her ability and to cast her is BB and an ever increasing quantity of X to pump her. This lack of a colour requirement also allows her to kill someone with 21 general damage in one shot should she have a source nearby that can produce that mana. Arbitrarily large, or infinite, mana loops once again rear their heads here. The one drawback to her ability, however, is if there's no legal target to point the -X at, she can't benefit from the +X, but that's a small fly in otherwise very sweet ointment.

Drana Rating: As a Creature? Very solid and a good compliment even if she's not heading your army, just a footsoldier in any B/x build. As a general? One of the better Mono-Black Generals and, while not the best, definitely in the top 3 or 4.

Two more to go and let's start with Tuktuk!

Tuktuk the Explorer (Source: MTG Visual Spoiler)

Here we have a flavour- and storyline-driven legend that really works well as a cardboard representation of his character, he literaly gets turned into a legendary Goblin Golem! When you're looking for 6 power from 3 mana, he's a pretty decent investment but there's a rather huge snag when it comes to selecting him as a general for EDH: He must go to the graveyard to trigger and give you the 5/5 Golem replacement. Normally that wouldn't be an issue except that in choosing Tuktuk as a general, you're restricting yourself to Red & artifact cards (and colourless I suppose now!), neither of which contain an abundance of cards that will allow you to recover your general. In fact, red has one card, Search for Survivors, that will allow you to bring him back for another go around and even that puts restrictions on what you can play in your deck. The only other viable options are cards that exile your graveyard allowing you to move Tuktuk to the command zone to start a new life as a normal Goblin. This is a pretty circuitious route to take however so think seriously before choosing Tuktuk!

Tuktuk Rating: As a creature? Once again, as with all the Legends in this set, an excellent creature with a role to play. Tuktuk will shine in a deck that allows you to bring him back from the dead to die again (Goblins seem to get targetted for this treatment quite often!). As a general? Once again, probably not. The format colour limitations are huge for Tuktuk and Red has it's fair share of playable legends not to need to turn to what will often amount to a one trick poney and an effect non-commensurate with the importance of his role as your general.

Finqlly, we'll finish on an uplifting note, an angel: Linvala, Guardian of Silence (Source: MTG visual spoiler)

Linvala is an intriguing Legend to have access to as a general: She's in the right colour for rules setting and can be surrounded by a lot of cards that can make life very uncomfortable for the rest of the table, restricting them in what they are allowed do and dishing out severe punishment should those new rules be enfringed. Her effect is not sweeping but it's impressive on a rising scale. I'll explain: If your playgroup revolves around a lot of creature interaction and generals with activated abilities, she is a house. If your playgoup echews creature-centric synergies for big-spell control, dumb beaters or even activated abilities on other permanent types, she will be less impressive. At a certain point you'll have to decide if she's 1.) worth going mono-white for and 2.) worth choosing as your general, i.e. a card you have quasi-guarenteed access to all throughout the game.

Who doesn't like her? Rofellos and Azami spring to mind. "Rofellos? But his ability is a mana ability!" you say. Guess what? With Linvala in play, you have a Null Rod set to creatures. If someone were to play, say Kormus Bell and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, (even the Linvala player, as the Tomb doesn't contain a black mana symbol) no land could be tapped for mana as all lands are swamps, all swamps are creatures and Linvala would stop them fro using their activated "Tap: add one mana" ability. Quite apart from such screwy interactions, have a run through your favourite deck and put aside all the creatures that would be turned off by Linvala being in play. You may be surprised by how many there are and that's quite apart from General centric decks like the afforementioned Rofellos and Azami who would need to find a solution very quickly or be overwhelmed by the rest of the table.

Linvala Rating: As a creature? She has a stout body, evasion and is at a good spot on the curve. Her ability ranges between very relevant and crushing depending on your matchup and she exudes an aura of "build around me!". As a general? This is one to watch and will be very metagame dependant. I hope to see her one day so I can flex my decks against her restrictions!

That's all for my pre-release Rise of Eldrazi information. More after when we've seen the rest.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

New Banner

I'd like to thank Megabug from Kracked Graphics over on MTG Salvation for the excellent new banner! Much appreciated!