With nearly half the set revealed, the way Eldritch Moon Standard will look is clearer. I've been tweeting several individual card combos all week, but today I'll be focusing on clusters of cards that went from unplayable or barely playable… to great! Three tribes in particular have improved significantly: Zombies, Vampires, and Spirits. An existing mechanic also went from fringe to center stage (delirium) while a new mechanic (emerge) and a new card ( Eldritch Evolution) are about to turn a few bench warmers into all-stars!
Let's start with the tribes.
The zombie tribe gained a few really powerful cards that draw the archetype into the realm of playability. The main three revealed so far are:
Gisa and Geralf
Cryptbreaker is a card advantage engine that also keeps the flow of zombies coming. More importantly, it's a strong first-turn play, which was a big hole in the zombie curve that kept the tribe from being anything more than a strictly worse humans deck.
Dark Salvation is a strong card that scales in power as the game goes on. You can cast it for three mana early as a Gatekeeper of Malakir or you can cast it later for five or seven mana as a Cloudgoat Ranger / Flametongue Kavu hybrid card.
Gisa and Geralf is a great setup card that works with the zombie graveyard theme, is a sizeable body, and provides card advantage each turn while increasing your board presence.
Some other cards that might find a role in the deck include:
Liliana, the Last Hope
Given the new zombie tools, the following zombie payoff cards that previously did not have the support are now suddenly much more attractive:
Fleshbag Marauder is also a zombie and works especially well with Gisa and Geralf.
Just as zombies have a graveyard theme, vampires have a discard theme. These are some of the big hits that vampires gain from Eldritch Moon:
Bloodhall Priest doesn't mess around. She likes to be hellbent, which vampires are quite good at accomplishing. Lupine Prototype and Asylum Visitor also love to be hellbent.
Stromkirk Condemned is a discard outlet that can also keep the vampire team ahead in combat. Stromkirk Occultist is very similar to Asylum Visitor. Each has madness, is a reasonable body, and essentially draws cards.
Voldaren Pariah is yet another madness threat and she works especially well in conjunction with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, who also happens to be a vampire.
Given all these great new vampire cards, I expect the following two cards to gain a ton of traction:
Olivia, Mobilized for War
These support cards might also become relevant role-players:
Heir of Falkenrath
As awesome as zombies and vampires are shaping up to be, my vote for most improved tribe goes to… *sniff sniff* do you smell that? It smells like teen SPIRIT!
Spirits have lots of abilities. Most of them have flying. Rattlechains gives them flash. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit gives them bolster. Bygone Bishop gives them investigate. Now Selfless Spirit gives them indestructible!
The biggest problem with the spirit tribe was that there was such a shortage on playable spirits. Now they get two great ones and potentially a third playable one:
Nibilis of Frost
This card is really, REALLY good pic.twitter.com/QTHd4RXdRO— Paulo Vitor (@PVDDR) July 6, 2016
Spell Quellers counters just about any spell and provides a relevant body to boot. Between Selfless Spirit and Rattlechains, it's not going to be easy to get rid of it to get that spell back!
Speaking of Selfless Spirit, it's a small evasive body with a powerful protective ability. You can get it back at instant speed with Ojutai's Command too – a card that works great in the deck since it can also get back Rattlechains to accomplish a similar effect. You can also sacrifice Selfless Spirit to transform Archangel Avacyn or to protect your team from the Avacyn, the Purifier trigger. In conjunction with an upkeep Ojutai's Command you can even do both with the same Selfless Spirit!
Nibilis of the Frost is borderline but could possibly prove good enough. There might be enough powerful synergies without it though. These are the cards that stand to gain the most from these new spirit cards:
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
These are some possible support cards if needed:
Aside from the tribal themes gaining support, some of the mechanics from Shadows over Innistrad have also improved considerably from Eldritch Moon.
I tested for the last Pro Tour with Team UltraPRO and we spent a great deal of time working on various delirium shells. Patrick Chapin and Sam Black, two of the best deckbuilders of all time, each posted to the team forum several different lists based around the mechanic and I was the one who spent the most time testing their decks to find out which parts of each deck were good and which were bad. Luis Scott-Vargas and the other CFB members of the team were also high on a Jund delirium deck early in testing before moving away from delirium and instead toward Collected Company.
Eventually we figured out that the payoff cards for delirium were mostly lacking and that the setup cards needed a little bit of help. We also noticed that the aggressive creatures would be great except that delirium takes time to set up. So there was this awkward tension between the setup cards needing to monopolize the early turns in order to get delirium while the aggressive creatures wanted to get on the board as quickly as possible to start attacking.
Amidst all our testing with all the various delirium-related cards, there were two shining spots that proved to be the absolute best cards in each delirium deck:
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Mindwrack Demon was both an enabler and a payoff card, while Traverse the Ulvenwald was an early mana fixer that got 25% of the way to delirium on its own and that could later become any creature in the deck, all for the low, low price of just one mana!
We originally thought that Gather the Pack would be the best delirium enabler since it looks at five cards, but over time (and after many, many games), we realized that Vessel of Nascency was actually better since putting the enchantment in the graveyard was usually more important than looking at a fifth card.
The deck also could not handle a transformed Westvale Abbey very well unless we splashed white for Anguished Unmaking or Declaration in Stone. To the Slaughter was not nearly reliable enough and Clip Wings would often be too narrow (albeit necessary in the non-white builds).
Given all these problems with delirium, we moved onto Greener Pastures, but not before gaining a very solid understanding of exactly what the archetype was lacking in order to be successful.
Eldritch Moon has two godsends for delirium:
Grim Flayer is exactly what this deck wants. It's a proactive threat that we can play on the second turn and start immediately attacking. It simultaneously gets us closer to delirium. All it has to do is connect for damage! Then once we get delirium, it turns into a 4/4 and is therefore a very relevant payoff card in addition to being a very powerful enabler that sets up delirium.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow is another card that is exactly what delirium needed. It's a powerful payoff card that shores up one of the deck's biggest problems – Ormendahl. Spider Tokens can block Ormendahl, Profane Prince while we race it, especially if we can kill or sacrifice our Spider Token after it blocks to prevent the lifelink. Ishkanah, Grafwidow also provides the bodies to allow us to transform our own Westvale Abbey in order to block or race an opposing Ormendahl effectively. The fact that we can tutor for Ishkanah, Grafwidow with Traverse the Ulvenwald makes it a reliable answer.
Another way to tutor up Ishkanah, Grafwidow, if we so choose, is Eldritch Evolution. This is the third-best card for delirium and likely good enough for the deck, but it's not as vital as Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Grim Flayer. Between Traverse the Ulvenwald and Eldritch Evolution, our library is an open book. Add in a Sidisi, Undead Vizier as a tutor target and suddenly you can tutor up any card in the deck.
Some other cards from Eldritch Moon that might be role-players for a delirium deck:
Grapple with the Past
Liliana, the Last Hope
And these are some cards that might also get in there if Grim Flayer proves able to pull enough weight. Some of them may at least be tutor targets:
The Gitrog Monster
Gather the Pack
Pick the Brain (sideboard)
It will take up some space, but I think Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor might also be good enough for the deck. They each love that delirium fills up the graveyard and Deathmist Raptor is happy being sacrificed to Eldritch Evolution (which can conveniently find the spider). Also we can loop Den Protectors with Traverse the Ulvenwald, using Traverse the Ulvenwald to find Den Protector, which gets back Traverse the Ulvenwald, which finds another Den Protector, ad infinitum.
Fleshbag Marauder is also a strong tutor target for Traverse the Ulvenwald. Seasons Past may have a place, at least in the sideboard, against other grindy decks, assuming we're not already good enough at grinding.
Eldritch Evolution and the emerge Eldrazi each want expendable bodies to sacrifice. Prior to Eldritch Moon, being an easily-dispensable creature was not nearly as valuable as it is now. Between Elder Deep-Fiend, Distended Mindbender, and Eldritch Evolution, the market for sacrifice victims is about to skyrocket!
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Greenwarden of Murasa
Not all of these will be played, but whichever ones prove to be the best certainly will. I suspect that Elvish Visionary and Nissa, Vastwood Seer (and potentially Deathmist Raptor) will top the list in Eldritch Evolution decks while Matter Reshaper and some of the other three- and four-drops will top the list in emerge decks. Eldrazi Skyspawner is probably second on the list since Elder Deep-Fiend is heavier on the blue mana. If your name is Mike Flores, Pilgrim's Eye has to be your go-to MVP, and if you're Reid Duke, I don't think you could register an Eldritch Evolution deck without at least one copy of Greenwarden of Murasa in your 75.
Zombies, Vampires, and Spirits gained a few very powerful new cards that I believe will make each of these decks playable and consequently the key support cards for the respective archetypes viable. Wolves didn't quite get enough to make them good enough and humans were already good, so I don't expect much to happen with the key cards of those two archetypes.
Delirium gained some awesome new cards, enough to make the key delirium enablers and payoff cards that weren't quite good enough… well, good enough. Also due to the emerge mechanic and Eldritch Evolution, I expect expendable-bodied creatures to be in much higher demand.
There are also cards like Kozilek's Return that get much better from the emerge creatures. And of course Collected Company keeps getting richer, this time off Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Spell Queller. And Nahiri, the Harbinger obviously loves Emrakul, the Promised End, but those are specific cards that help existing decks rather than clusters of new cards that usher clusters of existing cards into the promised land of competitive play.
Eldritch Moon opens up all kinds of doors for deck building. I'll start posting decklists next week once the set is fully-revealed. I'm excited to revisit these old decks now that their missing pieces have been unearthed in Eldritch Moon! There's nothing quite like exploring a new format fresh after the release of a new set. What a time to be alive!