Welcome to my set review for Throne of Eldraine! I’m breaking down my review into three parts: The Command Zone, Artifacts and Land, and The Rest, including Food and Adventures. Part 1, The Command Zone, looks at Legendary creatures and Planeswalkers. While the focus is on Commander, there will be some nods toward Brawl, Oathbreaker, and other formats. The cards reviewed here will be considered for both Command and the 99. If a card is only available in a specific release, it will be noted. Enjoy! Covered below are:
- Kenrith, the Returned King
- Brawl Commanders
- Legendary creatures alphabetically, following MRUC (Mythic, Rare, Uncommon, Common)
*A word about rarity. Rarity matters. Kenrith is the Buy-a-box promo, which hopefully isn’t a problem. It didn’t turn out to be much of an issue with Firesong and Sunspeaker, but Kenrith could be very popular. If he is, his rarity may cause a high price tag. This would suck, because this is exactly the kind of card that players new to Brawl and Commander should have easy access to. And existing players, too.
What do I like about Kenrith, the Returned King? A lot, actually. I like that his abilities are a wide variety that don’t synergize to break stuff. I like that he’s five colours. I like that he doesn’t suggest mechanics so much as he suggests flavour. Kenrith can be built as a generic 5 colour Commander, for any sort of strategy, and you won’t be disappointed. The abilities suggest a politics game as well, so this could be a really good ‘Votes Matter’ commander, playing cards like Capital Punishment and Council’s Judgment.
From a flavour perspective, Kenrith is big game. The most obvious choice is King Arthur and etc. You can do the Knights of the Round Table, the bromance with Merlin, the nomance with Guinevere (and the say-it-ain’t-somance with Lancelot), or even some take on the Sword in the Stone. Some wilder takes on this are doing Monty Python, or Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.’
Kenrith can also stand in for any other King you might want to build a theme around, from Aragorn (returned!), to Joffrey (gamed!), to Henry VIII. He’s even the new best choice to play the White King in a chess-themed deck, as you get black in his colour identity as well. You might even get a kick out of doing some take on Monarchies in general, from the favour and fawning of the British Royals, to flops, fops and royal flushes. Peter Pevensie, Theoden, King Friday, or even the Burger King are fair targets for theme decks.
I’m thinking of building a deck around Kenrith that plays cards that generate the kind of token creatures you might find around the kingdom (humans, soldiers, etc) but plays no actual creatures. It would, however, have things like equipment to buff them up. The theme of the deck would the King’s favour elevating the common tokens. It would be sneakily strong against boardwipes.
What I don’t like about the King are the possible financial pinch point from his being the Buy-a-Box promo, and the fact that we have another really huge human. The King is 5/5. That’s bigger than a Bonecrusher Giant, and many other Giants besides. I get it, you don’t want a piddly, fragile King as your Commander. But maybe 1/4 would have been more appropriate. Then maybe we can shave some of the CMC down. I don’t feel this card would be broken if you made it 3W or even 2W and brought the stats back to human levels. It would make it more castable, and give slower Kenrith decks some game against the ones that like to wipe the board a lot.
These four cards may suffer from slightly less of a pinch point than King Kenrith, but considering their limited availability, they may be expensive. These cards are only available in the Brawl precons.
Alela, Artful Provocateur looks like a great choice for Faerie Tribal going forward. Adding a third colour to what is usually limited to Dimir is great, and while it might not add many new faeries, it does add a lot of answers. White’s value creatures, changelings, powerful flyers, and suite of enchantments will all play well here. My first take on Alela would be to play a lot of cheap artifacts and enchantments that would help my Faerie tokens get the job done. Favorable Winds jumps out immediately. Even Ornithopter could be good value. Since Alela is the engine, and will probably eat some removal, playing a high density of mana rocks would be great. Backing them up with some powerful late game mana sinks would round out the deck. I would also make something of Alela’s lifelink ability, and do a bit of a lifegain subtheme. I think it would work well.
I don’t feel Alela is particularly powerful or broken, however. The 2/1s created don’t have haste, and don’t share her deathtouch or lifelink. Chaining artifacts and enchantments is tougher than cantrips, but can be done. It does feel like a lot of work, and I expect to see Alela played fairly when I see it played. In Brawl, this card is probably a house. Without a lot of mass removal options, creating lots of tokens, particularly flyers, is a huge headache for opponents. It would be the best option from the four if not for the next entry.
I hate Chulane, Teller of Tales. I haven’t played against it, but I hate it already. This is going to enable either long, drawn out turns where someone tries to play their whole deck in halting fashion, or fast games where the Chulane player does something like Cowardice, Lightning Greaves and Ornithopter, and plays the whole deck. Note the lands come in untapped.
I’m sure I’m going to see a lot of players argue how fair their Chulane deck is, right before they draw 40 cards and plop down Laboratory Maniac or Craterhoof Behemoth. Probably turn four, maybe five or six if we’re lucky. Chulane is built to accelerate you to Lab man or Craterhoof. I call this ‘The Simic Problem,’ where a deck is too efficient at drawing cards that it runs into pinch points, like one combat per turn. Many decks that will be built around Chulane will be unable to win via much more than Lab Man or Craterhoof because they’d deck themselves if they had to actually go through all those combat steps. Playing mana dorks into Craterhoof, or cantripping/comboing into Lab Man are too efficient and effective as kills and take minimal effort in playing and deckbuilding. Groan.
I really hate Chulane because I think it’s head and shoulders above the other Brawl options. Pretty much all of them, including the options from previous sets. It plays ramp and removal colours, backed up with blue. I know I’m going to see a lot of this card going forward, and I’m not looking forward to it.
Korvald, Fae Cursed King is a much more fair option than Chulane, although taking into account the vast wealth of cards in Eternal, this could be dangerous. In Brawl, it seems like there wouldn’t be enough powerful sacrifice payoffs other than Korvald’s own card draw, and you would run out of things to sacrifice quickly. It certainly seems a big step below Chulane, and less powerful than Alela without the right backup. There’s some novelty to be had from playing a ‘hungry dragon’ and the colours are right for some payoffs. Devour jumps to mind immediately, and that could easily include Food.
I’m worried that Korvald will get stuck in the Command zone when there’s only lands in play, maybe after a boardwipe, and will slowly eat away at your ability to do anything, including attack. The best way to approach this card would be to always have useful things to sacrifice, like Bladewing’s Thrall or Phytotitan. Things that give you a death trigger, like Midnight Reaper, would work well, and easily recurred permanents, like Rancor, could make your life a lot easier.
Since Korvald is in red and black, using Threaten effects or reanimator effects pair well with a reliable source of sacrifice. Cards like Hardened Scales or Retribution of the Ancients make use of the +1/+1 counters. Smothering Abomination doubles up your draw triggers. There are a lot of ways to attack an opponent with Korvald, and putting a few of them together seems like the recipe for a flavourful, powerful deck with a lot of repeat value.
Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale seems fairly weak, and it’s for a single, glaring, obnoxious reason. Syr Gwyn is somehow another one of these massive 5/5 humans. Maybe the horse counts for a lot, but it doesn’t add the type, so I’m not counting it here. Why does being a 5/5 make Syr Gwyn weak? Because it requires a 6CMC. Actually, it was probably the other way around. They probably felt the abilities required a higher CMC, and added P&T to compensate. What we have is an overcosted, combat-oriented creature in the worst possible colours to have an overcosted, combat-oriented creature: Mardu. Mardu can struggle to get to 6 mana, and can’t even draw cards easily to help. I imagine in Brawl this is borderline unplayable. By the time you can do anything useful, the Chulane deck is turns ahead, if not already on another game.
Could Syr Gwyn lose vigilance, menace and +2/+2 and come down to 1WRB, or even WRB? I think so. It would be a massive boost to the card. At 6 CMC the equip discount may be too late to matter. The card draw from attacking might be too late, too. Playing some knights and swords over the early turns, and then Syr Gwyn, is the obvious play pattern suggested. If that appeals to you, or you have a tribal Knight thing going already, Syr Gwyn is probably your jam. Argentum Armor will even the odds for you if it survives long enough, as will stuff like Heartseeker and Colossus Hammer. Assault suit would be great fun, allowing your knights to go on mini-missions on your opponents’ turns.
I’m not really sure what’s going on here. Is Questing Beast supposed to be from a fairy tale? What makes it Legendary? Why is it 4/4 as a three-headed creature? It’s not the Beauty and the Beast beast, because that’s already a card. Without flavour text, it’s hard to tell. This feels like your standard green beater, not a Legend. I don’t honestly feel like this is worth suiting up as your Commander. There are some sneaky tricks you can do with Fog, or Spore Frog, but winning derpy combats seems like a negligible payoff for green. Green usually goes over the top. As a Brawl Commander, however, this is probably pretty strong if you can protect it. Having haste means it’ll get to attack a lot, and being green means you can probably cast it a few times if necessary. Stuff like Challenger Troll, and various equipment will make this big dumb fun. As a 99er, this can shine in Beast tribal, but overall is outclassed by a lot of green stuff. It does a lot, but scales poorly.
Rankle, Master of Pranks is an odd card. If ever there was a card that screamed ‘Break the Symmetry’ this is it. The art itself is very asymmetrical, which I like, but I’m disappointed it doesn’t look more like Christine Sprankle. Maybe it’ll be a cosplay staple going forward, but it feels like a missed opportunity. While mono-black can seem narrow, it actually offers a lot of depth, and there are plenty of cards that make it easy to break Rankle’s symmetry. Something like Grave Pact or Dictate of Erebos will double their sacrifices, and you can run Ophiomancer and such to keep creatures around to make them pay. Fate Unraveler will make them pay for drawing. I think the best payoff for Rankle is Waste Not.
There are obvious issues with Rankle. If you can’t afford the discard, or don’t have a creature to sac, or can’t let your opponents draw cards, you’re not doing much. Same if you’re stonewalled in the air. Pack unblockable stuff, and maybe a few sources of indestructible, like Rush of Vitality. Make sure you can profit from Rankle’s abilities. Have a backup plan, as many players do not like discarding cards. As a flying, hasty creature, Rankle could actually do okay in Yuriko decks. I doubt there are enough support cards to make Rankle a thing in Brawl, however.
I can’t look at Ayara, First of Locthwain and not see a vampire or zombie. Something undead. It’s the pose, and the goblet, and the CMC. I struggle to see Elf Noble. Noble sure, but Elf? Alright, I’ll give it to you, but this sure seems like a typical black zombie vampire lich wizard.
I’ve actually played a game against Ayara (testing via proxy), and the pilot killed the table with Dread Summons.
It’s pretty obvious, but you want to make tokens. Being mono-black narrows your options somewhat, but those options include Grave Titan, Skeletal Vampire, Army of the Damned, Bitterblossom, Noosegraf Mob, and lots more. You can play a bumpin’ devotion game too, with Erebos, God of the Dead, and everyone’s favourite Gary, Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Dawn of the Dead hits both the devotion note and gives you reanimation for lots of Gary triggers. Knowing you have lifegain available opens up cool options like Sanguine Bond and Well of Lost Dreams. Having repeatable card-draw stapled to a sac outlet makes this just a great choice for Black goodstuff in general. This and Syr Konrad, the Grim (reviewed below) make an excellent pair, and both play up a lot of black’s strengths.
Emry, Lurker of the Loch might be a big player in Legacy or Vintage or Modern. Cost reduction, plus incidental mill, plus a recursion ability looks like it’s made to be broken. In Commander, your artifacts will help pay Commander tax, and you can self mill and recur your artifacts, but I’m not sure what exactly the payoff is that makes this worth running as a Commander. Something like Winter Orb, or Omen Machine, plus a sac outlet? This could be all about Stax, which would suck a lot. From a flavour perspective, bringing sunken treasure up from the lake bed would be a great fun theme, and could involve all sorts of weird and wonderful artifacts. If you want to be a weird blue deck that plays from the graveyard, the blue Zombies from Innistrad might be what you’re looking for. Pairing them up with mill support, or equipment, or something like that, might be a lot of fun. Geralf approves!
Gadwick, the Wizened is like a Blue Sun’s Zenith on legs. I’m glad he stops at 3/3, and isn’t an X/X human wizard, when you draw X cards. While he’s a great budget commander option for blue goodstuff, and a fine inclusion in any blue deck that wants to draw cards at sorcery speed, he really suffers by not being a good blink target. Not great, but not bad either. The tapdown is a nice bonus, and would play well with a spellslinger subtheme. Gadwick would do okay in Noyan Dar, the Roilshaper decks, once you get past the UUU in the CMC.
Linden, the Steadfast Queen disappoints. Especially compared with King Kenrith. She’s an okay chess deck inclusion as a white queen, and maybe in a white devotion deck, but this is hardly worth the spot in any 99. I don’t think Brawl wants this.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is spicy! Super spicy! That casting cost is meant to invoke Furnace of Rath. Clearly the plan here is burn, but I really like how Torbran buffs all your red sources. He’s like a red creature lord, as well as burn-buffer. I think the power level here is really high, though Torbran is going to be public enemy number one while he’s in play. Protecting Torbran requires stuff like Darksteel Plate, but that’s pretty Dwarfy, so I’m for it. This might be the best red commander out there, all things considered. As far as Brawl goes, I’m sure this is big time spice, and probably nice and budget friendly. Torbran will probably make more than a few 99s as well, though the casting cost is tough. Purphoros, God of the Forge would love this, as would Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, and maybe even multicolour nasties like Nekusar, the Mind Razer.
Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig is a big great beater with a payoff for other big green beaters. He plays in the same kind of arena as Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma. Yorvo can grow big quickly. He’s kind of like an evolve creature. Great rate. Good with Pir. Good for devotion. …. I’m struggling here. This seems really boring. Doubt it’ll see much play, except maybe in Standard.
Grumgully, the Generous is the Commander in Eldraine that scares me the most. Even more than Chulane. I expect to groan at Chulane. I expect to see a quick, nasty infinite combo out of Grumgully. Which one? The one involving a persist creature, a sac outlet, and oh let’s say Impact Tremors.
Being green means lots of creature tutors for Grumgully to find one of the six or so playable persist creatures. You can also run lots of Faithless Looting and Gamble style cards to churn to the gold. Purphoros, God of the Forge and Altar of the Brood are among the many possible payoffs. Phyrexian Altar or Ashnod’s Altar make infinite mana with a persist creature and Grumgully. The combo pieces are so cheap, and so findable, that I expect this to be a potentially reliable turn 3-4 kill. Yuck.
It’s hard to say anything else about Grumgully because other than that, he’s just a minor enabler. He’d be great in Hallar, the Firefletcher decks, and stuff like that. You could also take advantage of the wacky art and flavour text and build something psychedelic. Maybe using Adapt, Evolve and Graft cards. In Brawl, Grumgully suggests big time agro. Doubling the power on your low curve dorks and pumping the team might work out as a budget option.
Syr Alin, the Lion’s Claw is pretty basic. Even as a budget Commander, you can do a lot better. Same with Brawl. Too slow and doesn’t do enough. As a 99er, this mostly adds flavour.
Syr Carah, the Bold is anything but basic. This kind of reminds me of old Ice Age and Alliances cards that would have you exile a bunch of cards off the top of your library to do something or other. Yikes.
But here, we can turn them into a sort of pseudo card draw. There are a lot of red cards that function like Syr Carah’s static ability. Things like Outpost Siege. The best do like Syr Carah does, and allow you to play the cards, not just cast them. That means Lands, too. With Syr Carah? You might be able to ‘draw 4’ on red cards like Rain of Embers that damage each player.
It’s tough to figure out what the ideal payoff might be. I’ve run mono-red burn before, and Repercussion was the card that killed more opponents than anything else. Syr Carah looks to be a really ‘techie’ burn deck, and that might be really cool. You might have to try and string spells together for a kill. It would at least be very inexpensive to put together. I would look into cheap mana rocks to run with this, and stuff like Experimental Frenzy and Mystic Forge. Things that untap Syr Carah, and make the damage she does a payoff, like Puppet Strings and Basilisk Collar, would be essentials. Syr Carah is a good Brawl choice as well, being so cheap. A great entry point, like red burn is to so many formats. Syr Carah is probably a fine inclusion as a 99er in anything that wants to burn out the opponent, like good friend Torbran.
Syr Elenora, the Discerning kind of reminds me of Shu-Yun, Silent Tempest a bit, in that it might have the potential to kill out of nowhere. The fact that it has a bit of protection makes it a decent Voltron commander on a budget. It could also be the same in Brawl or Oathbreaker. Cards that fill your hand to 7 are ideal, as they are 1/3 of the Commander damage necessary for a kill. Double Strike is probably a must. I don’t hate this.
Syr Faren, the Hengehammer is a pretty decent Grizzly Bear. Since he’s depicted with a Grizzly Bear mount, I guess his own power and toughness are somewhere around 0/0. He also doesn’t like words. What a derp. But suit him up with some decent equipment, and send him into the red zone with a buddy and the buddy gets swole. If the buddy is an unblockable commander, you’re swole, too. This is okay in whatever knight tribal plays green, and might be an okay standard card. In Commander and Brawl, this is pretty flat across the board.
Syr Konrad, the Grim does a lot of work, for a number of different strategies. His static ability is one of Magic’s most awkward sentences. It’s got so many commas in it, you’d think I wrote it. But it actually kicks butt. Opponents get pinged for all other creature deaths, tokens included. They also get pinged when creatures are milled or discarded or even Processed. And they get pinged when somebody Bojuka Bogs your graveyard, or your Bloodghast reappears. That’s a lot going on in one sentence. You can see why I changed some commas to periods in this paragraph.
The fact that Syr Konrad has an additional mill ability is gravy. No tap makes it even better. The only thing holding Syr Konrad back is being another giant human, at 5/4, and costing 3BB as a result. Syr Konrad could be a Commander, or a valuable part of a lot of 99s, including Ayara and Rankle. Mill decks, like Phenax, God of Deception, and Mirko Vosk, might love Syr Konrad as a backup wincon, or a deadly combo with Mindcrank. I’m kind of amazed that this is an uncommon.
I don’t play many planeswalkers in Commander. I find they often get a single activation off before being killed, or else I’m far enough ahead anyway that I don’t need them. Some planeswalkers do offer multiple dimensions to my decks, or cover a glaring weakness, but they’re rare. Even if a planeswalker is simply good value, but not specific to my strategy, I usually pass. I can’t speak much for Oathbreaker, or use of ‘Walkers in either Commander or Brawl. Some people love them.
Garruk, Cursed Huntsman is a typical ‘too generically good to play’ planeswalker for me. If I got one in a pack, it would probably go into my binder with the others. The first ability naturally shines best in Superfriends. Interesting that it doesn’t specify Garruk ‘Planeswalker’. I guess if they do a Garruk that becomes a creature like Gideon…. Two wolves is cool, but 6 mana for that is too much. Same with killing a creature and drawing a card. I expect this to get hate, and for me to only get one ability off. Pass. Looks great for both Brawl and Oathbreaker, because you can build around it with wolves, Garruks, and committing to defending the walker. If the -3 becomes repeatable, it’s much better.
Oko, the Trickster is actually kind of useful in a few 99s. The +1 and -7 abilities are useful, but a bit lacklustre, but that middle ability is pretty interesting. I don’t know exactly what you want to copy for 4UG that 3U isn’t going to do better (Clone, etc.), but adding damage prevention is cool, and not costing loyalty is cool, too. Being a Planeswalker deck Planeswalker might keep the hate off. Probably not good enough for Brawl or Oathbreaker.
Oko, Thief of Crowns looks like it was pushed for Standard, but I’m not sure it gets there. I’ve read arguments for both sides, and I think it’s a matter of building the deck. Overall, Oko looks pretty good, though making food doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble. I’ll break it down in a couple of days, but for now, the artifact aspect of the food token is about as relevant as it gets. The middle ability is great. Kind of like a narrow Beast Within. The fact that it’s a plus ability makes this playable. The -5 is cool too, and makes the food tokens a bit better, but stopping at 3 power can make this anything from game-saving to completely irrelevant. Not really what I’m looking for from the ‘ultimate.’ Simic decks that love artifacts might get the most out of this, but you could run it as a slow removal spell in any deck that could cast it.
Rowan, Fearless Sparkmage is Furious Resistance, Sparkmage’s Gambit, and Insurrection. You could do worse. In Superfriends builds with Doubling Season, this is a great game-winning ultimate with a ‘real spell’ pedigree. Not the worst Planeswalker deck planeswalker, but not original at all. I wonder what happens when they run out of derpy red spells to staple together for these cards? Could be okay in Brawl. If you can do Volt Charge or something a few times, this might be a half decent Oathbreaker option. Tybalt does the same thing for his ult, but this makes it easier to get there.
Speaking of a bunch of cards stapled together…. I don’t feel like this is good. I mean, none of it’s bad. Looting is good, the other thing isn’t great, but it’s a +1 to do when you don’t want to loot. The ultimate is kind of a snore. Draw 4 deal 4 for several turns worth of Looting seems like it’s a bit slow. I could be wrong, and this is one of the all time walkers. 3 mana makes a difference, but I feel like it won’t be made in Commander. Brawl might like the velocity of this alongside a strong Izzet goodstuff deck, and Oathbreaker might like the same.
I want to end on one final note involving Planeswalkers and Faeries. When I last checked in with the main MTG storyline, we were in Ravnica with a piece of apparatus that sucked all the walkers out of the multiverse and sent them to where this apparatus was. Right next to the Immortal Sun. This was a key piece of a thousands of years old plan, by Magic’s #1 bad guy and malevolent strategist, Nicol Bolas. It took the combined weight of dozens of Planeswalkers, most of Ravnica, and some long-standing plans of their own for the good guys to defeat Bolas. Right?
Well, it’s one Standard set later, and here we have several Planeswalkers that didn’t get sucked out to Ravnica. I don’t have to read the current story to assume it’s some variety of ‘faerie magic’ or ‘fey magic’ that’s used as a common Deus Ex Machina (aka narrative cheat) in a lot of works to hide plot holes or bridge a gap that can’t be bridged within the established order of the piece. The explanation is usually something like House Elf Magic in Harry Potter, where it ‘functions by its own rules’ and is any level of power needed. Batman and Iron Man both have gigantic Deus Ex Machina factories working for them these days. In the 60s version of Batman, they did it with humour and irony. Now he just radios Lucius Fox and whatever he needs is catching him in freefall seconds later.
What drives me nuts about this current usage of faerie magic is that it undermines Bolas. Here’re planeswalkers that weren’t brought to Ravnica. Why is that? Faerie magic, or some other power. Is the faerie magic more powerful than Bolas is? How did he not know about it? How did he not exploit it/attack it/see it as a threat/acknowledge it in some way? If it was just an example of a power that’s just out there, just happening to outclass the stuff Bolas built for millenia, where does that stop? Was Bolas really powerful at all if this kind of thing was just out there? Is Oko another Puck character who can do whatever he wants? Where does that stop?
In my ideal world, Magic would lay off the planeswalkers for a while. I don’t know why Rowan and Will and Garruk and Oko need to be the ‘faces’ of the set. King Kenrith is a way more interesting card that any of those, and if the design effort was put into the Queen, Prince or some of the other Legendaries, they wouldn’t be so bland. Planeswalkers also eat design space at a 3:1 clip. Add it all up and you get a steady stream of Rowan, Fearless Sparkmages, where 3 red cards are stapled together in a truly lazy design. More tomorrow.