The plane of Zendikar splits open as the once captive Eldrazi awaken! Can the hearty inhabitants repel such a titanic threat?
Many of our readers play Magic: The Gathering, and greatly enjoy the game, but are not always willing to invest their cash money in a new set. This is especially true if they feel that the new cards will not match their play style. So now that I’ve gotten a chance to play around with Rise of the Eldrazi I figured I’d give you guys some of my thoughts. Then you all can decide whether to pass on the Eldrazi or to jump on their giant, colorless, non-euclidean bandwagon.
The biggest (literally) highlights of RotE are the Eldrazi themselves, and although most players may focus on their ludicrous power/toughness arrays, it is mostly their colorlessness that interests me. Flavorwise the Eldrazi transcend color, they are so big both physically and spiritually that the usual mana alignments are inconsequential to them. This means that Eldrazi can find a home in decks of any color, although not necessarily in any deck of any color. You are unlikely to see Eldrazi show up in super-fast red decks (except maybe for the biggest ones, which make a good trump card against mill decks.), but big creature decks and even control decks that rely on aggro finishers can benefit from these enormous beatsticks. Of course as if their size and versatility weren’t enough, the Eldrazi also come equipped with their own devastating proprietary mechanic.
When a creature with Annihilator enters the battlefield you start playing a different game. The defending player is put on a clock, and is pressed to respond before the attacking creature slowly (or not so slowly) strips away all his defenses and resources. Add on to that the fact that all creatures with Annihilator are Eldrazi, and thus, huge, and you’re likely to see your opponents fold right quick. As a sacrifice effect, Annihilator gets around a lot of defenses. Shroud, Indestructibility and Protection are automatically circumvented. How? Rather than targeting and/or destroying permanents, this mechanic forces the defending player to sacrifice their own creatures, lands, enchantments and artifacts. A truly brutal thing to see, I’ve been both on the offending and defending position of this ability, and it is always, always a game changer.
I love auras, so when I first started seeing cards with Totem Armor I realized this set would likely bankrupt me. Totem Armor was reportedly created to offset some of the inherent disadvantages of auras, specifically that, if the enchanted creature is destroyed, the aura spirals down the toilet as well. Like adult diapers, Totem Armor provides an added layer of protection. This way if someone doomblades your creature, you can choose to have the aura take the hit instead. Of course Totem Armor only really gets around two problems, damage and direct destruction effects. Furthermore, it only gets around those if the aura actually sticks to begin with. That’s right, if you cast you Boar Umbra on your Glory Seeker and an enemy hits your critter with a lightning bolt in response, the aura will go straight to your graveyard as usual. Likewise Totem Armor doesn’t, in any way, address exile, bounce or creature-specific sacrifice effects. I’m not knocking it though, Totem Armor goes a long way to make auras more attractive and playable, but it’s important to note that there are still plenty of ways to disrupt them.
I’m torn about Level Up. One the one hand, it compliments the set’s “POWER UP!” play style, as well as being a mechanic that opens up a lot of doors… On the other hand, though it also feels strangely out of place to me. I think this might be a sign that I’m starting to get old, but mostly I feel that a mechanic that is complex enough that it calls for the actual frames of the cards to be altered needs to be either simplified, or given more attention, like planeswalkers. And maybe that’s why this mechanic feels weird to me, because now you have planeswalkery creatures with a similar counter-based economy. In the end there are some awesome critters that level up into awesomer critters, but as far as I’m concerned Level Up is going to get the squinty eyes from me for a while.
And let’s go ahead and talk about the set’s planeswalkers while we’re at it…
Ok, I don’t have much to say about them, other than they’re cool experiments. One planeswalker without a “plus” ability, and one that turns into a giant creature. They’re good, further mechanical exploration into what planeswalkers can do, but don’t really do much for me otherwise.
I’m not too crazy about Rebound either. I’m all for trickiness and for casting spells for free, but although cool and fairly elegant, Rebound doesn’t really do it for me. I blame the ponderous (pwnderous?) awesomeness of Cascade for that, though.
The last mechanic I’ll talk about, although not directly keyworded is the “Defender Matters” theme. Another bit of tech meant to reinforce the set’s slower “POWER UP!” playstyle, these are high toughness creatures with secondary effects that key off of other defenders. Now you can actually deal damage to an opponent by casting a lot of highly defensive creatures… timid players rejoice!
Rise of the Eldrazi had one huge advantage as far as flavor: It takes place in Zendikar, the same plane as the previous large set. This means that RotE comes in with a back story that has already been explored in the previous sets, an advantage most modern large sets in magic do not share (although I hear we’re all heading back to Mirrodin for drinks after this). That said, RotE’s eponymous badasses make enough noise to at least skew the set’s look and feel.
I talked a little about the flavor for the Eldrazi, but they’re worth focusing on a little more. Mark Rosewater, the head designer for Magic: The Gathering said that the Eldrazi were pitched as Galactus meets Cthulhu. Of course a game in which you actually control the creatures in question is unlikely to inspire the sort of horror the elder gods are supposed to engender, but the “aberrant monstrosity from beyond time” aspect certainly comes across. Magic’s creative team waited a relatively long time to dip into the non-artifact-yet-colorless design space created by Ghostfire back in Futuresight, and I think that this set was worth the wait. The only thing that seems strange, however is the surprising absence of Ghostfire as a reprint in the set. Personally, I was really hoping to see it printed in its ‘non-timeshifted’ frame. Clearly the design team made a decision to keep all colorless, non-artifact spells with the Eldrazi subtype (marking the first tribal spells we’ve seen since Morningtide), but Ghostfire’s absence is a little bit like going to a concert to hear a one-hit wonder who refuses to play the song you’re there to hear.
Zendikar, Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi have an intriguing storyline, which ties in with the ongoing saga of the planeswalkers first introduced in Lorwyn. However, it’s not the most evocative world I have seen come out of Magic’s multiverse. In fact, compared to the last cataclysm-prone world we saw in Alara, Zendikar and friends just do not reach the same level of drama. Especially with a few of the (presumably accidentally) comical choices they made to foreshadow the Eldrazi. The first is that Vampires were a slave race to the Eldrazi back when they first arrived in Zendikar, and to mark them as their property the big colorless baddies made them grow curved, horn-like protrusions from their shoulders… you know, suitcase handles. Likewise, the only real resistance to the first attack of the Eldrazi back in the day came from the plane’s angels. And so, in a move reminiscent of an Abbot and Costello routine The Eldrazi grabbed the angels’ halos and pulled them down over their eyes, presumably leaving the angels waving their fists around, yelling “Put ‘em up! Put ‘em up!”
The art direction follows a similar path as Zendikar’s, with the added punch of the Eldrazi thrown in, of course. Magic’s art and art direction is always meticulous, intelligent, cohesive, and, quite frankly, brilliant. Usually the only complaint I’ll have about Magic card art comes down to my dislike for certain artists’ styles. So far I haven’t found a card in RotE that causes a negative reaction though. Also of note is the prominence of the color gray, something that I find excellent. Whereas most sets use gray as a way to highlight brighter colors, RotE’s big non-blue meanies make graytones a central art choice for the set, and one that is masterfully executed.
That Is All (plus “All Is Dust”)
I suspect that, although the big colorless Eldrazi are the fancy new thing, they are not going to be getting a lot of play outside of limited. However, I would not be surprised to see the ‘Eldrazi facilitators’ like Growth Spasm and Overgrown Battlement in a myriad of decks as soon as the next Standard season rolls around.
Personally though, I don’t play in many tournaments, but I am glad to see this set take off. I am a fan of creature-based decks and now Rise of the Eldrazi has given us more ways than ever to get enormous creatures onto the battlefield.
When we calculate it out and round up (because we likes Magic) Rise of the Eldrazi walks out with a solid 3 1/2 stars! Definitely above average, and definitely fun.