Magic The Gathering: Eldritch Moon Set Review

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Ever since 2010’s “Rise of the Eldrazi,” Magic the Gathering fans were cry­ing out for more of Magic’s gar­gan­tu­an Lovecraftian an­tag­o­nists. It had a lot to do with how unique the set was, and how fond­ly peo­ple re­mem­ber that lim­it­ed en­vi­ron­ment. With Eldritch Moon the Eldrazi are back again, and this time they mean it gosh darn it! Eldritch Moon has been out in the wild for some time now and it’s been a set I’ve had a hard time mak­ing up my mind about.

This may be be­cause Eldritch Moon comes at a chal­leng­ing time in Magic’s his­to­ry. There have been a num­ber of poor­ly re­ceived sets in the past cou­ple of years for one rea­son or an­oth­er, and in­creas­ing­ly Wizards of the Coast is fail­ing to meet the ba­sic qual­i­ty mark­ers we’ve come to ex­pect from their prod­ucts. Wizards has re­spond­ed by reach­ing into their back cat­a­logue to en­tice play­ers with promis­es of the glo­ries of Magic the Gathering’s past. But we’re not here to talk about the over­ar­ch­ing state of the game, we’re hear to talk about Magic’s lat­est ex­pan­sion: Eldritch Moon.

Eldritch Moon Limited

Straight away I want to talk about Meld. Whilst a lot many of the Meld cards are com­mon, even from the pre­views I knew this was go­ing to be an is­sue in Draft. You need two spe­cif­ic cards in your hand at once to get the bonus Meld pro­vides, mean­ing hav­ing mul­ti­ples is the safest way to make this more likely.

In Sealed this is less of an is­sue since you know your en­tire card-pool right away, but hav­ing Meld avail­able is the dif­fer­ence be­tween some cards be­ing playable vs. un­playable. Whilst many of the cards are still playable on their own, mit­i­gat­ing the prob­lem some­what, Meld hasn’t re­al­ly bro­ken out in Constructed in a big way — a place that would be a more nat­ur­al home for this me­chan­ic that re­wards hav­ing con­sis­tent draws. It’s also a great way to get two for one’d and per­haps that’s a big rea­son why we don’t see it in Constructed that much right now.

A me­chan­ic I do re­al­ly like in Limited is Emerge. Having small­er crea­tures that are use­less in the late game be­come fuel for your big­ger mon­sters is a good piece of de­sign, es­pe­cial­ly when sac­ri­fic­ing crea­tures can give you some bonus or ad­van­tage when the grave­yard matters.

Escalate gives us more modal op­tions on our spells, some­things Wizards is very keen on late­ly af­ter print­ing more “Command”-style cards, and this is a shift I very much wel­come. Making cards less sit­u­a­tion­al in­creas­es their chances of be­ing playable. The added cost also en­sures they feel fair. In terms of de­sign phi­los­o­phy this some­thing I hope they con­tin­ue doing.

I en­joyed the lim­it­ed draft­ing time I’ve had with Eldritch Moon a great deal, the set feels flavour­ful and com­pe­tent­ly de­signed, and it com­pli­ments Shadows Over Innistrad whilst not com­plete­ly over­shad­ow­ing it. Madness and Flip cards make a re­turn giv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment a fa­mil­iar yet tweaked feel. Maybe I’m just grate­ful that I won’t have to play Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) Limited ever again.

Eldritch Moon Standard

After the Pro Tour in Sydney ear­li­er this month, the metagame had set­tled down into its groove for the next bit. Eldritch Moon has had a mod­er­ate, but no­tice­able im­pact on the metagame with decks like Temur Emerge us­ing cards and me­chan­ics from the set to great ef­fect. It’s very nice to see Emrakul, the Promised End him­self in top-tier stan­dard decks as it can be un­cer­tain if the splashiest look­ing cards in any giv­en set will ac­tu­al­ly be playable. Emerge es­pe­cial­ly fits in nice­ly when fu­elling your grave­yard can be im­por­tant, or when sac­ri­fic­ing a crea­ture mat­ters to your deck. It’s those syn­er­gies and small mar­gins that make a card or strat­e­gy playable in Standard.

The Eldritch Moon card mak­ing the biggest im­pact on Standard right now is Spell Queller, due to its pow­er­ful abil­i­ty to ex­ile any low cost spell at in­stant speed as it en­ters the bat­tle­field. Aside from the Queller, the only cards we are see­ing con­sis­tent­ly are: Ishkanah, Grafwidow with its abil­i­ty to grind out games, Liliana, the Last Hope be­cause it’s a de­cent black Planeswalker, and Selfless Spirit be­cause of its util­i­ty against blowouts and board-wipes.

I say it has had a mod­er­ate im­pact be­cause in terms of top ten most played cards, the list is still pret­ty bar­ren when it comes to Eldritch Moon. I think we’ll see a lot more of Eldritch Moon cards when Magic Origins and Dragons of Tarkir fi­nal­ly ro­tate out. But for now the for­mat is just filled with too many tried and test­ed pow­er­hous­es that go into a large va­ri­ety of decks. This is still Collected Company’s world; we just live in it.

Impact on Eternal Formats

The good news is this set hasn’t bro­ken Modern, so guess Wizards R&D ac­tu­al­ly test­ed the set this time. With the tool­box­es to abuse Eldrazi be­ing firm­ly in the banned pile I sup­pose there wasn’t much risk of that. That’s a bit of a two-edged sword though, to the best of my knowl­edge no card has re­al­ly “bro­ken out” in Modern as such, but there is still a lot of brew­ing to be done and a lot of po­ten­tial in the set.

I know a lot of peo­ple are talk­ing about Emerge in Modern, but quite frankly I think most of that is com­ing from the big card re­tail­ers who want you to pur­chase new sin­gles. As I’ve said be­fore, I think the cov­er­age of Magic is very geared to­wards sell­ing cards and lack­ing in ob­jec­tive ad­vice. There re­al­ly isn’t a “go out and buy this be­fore the price spikes” pick in Eternal for­mats for Eldritch Moon. There are al­ready more op­ti­mal tools in the decks that might want Emerge cards.

I sup­pose Harmless Offering is kind of cute (pun in­tend­ed) in a do­na­tion style strat­e­gy, but those have al­ways been niche “fuck with your op­po­nent” type decks. I’ve seen “Imprisoned in the Moon” talked about as un­con­di­tion­al re­moval but like all en­chant­ment based re­moval it can it­self be re­moved mean­ing in a case where a card is valu­able enough to risk ramp­ing your op­po­nent, your op­po­nent is prob­a­bly will­ing to use a card to get it back. Feels like niche side­board tech to me.

I hate to be a down­er, but I don’t see much to get ex­cit­ed about in the cur­rent Modern meta.

How much Value is in Eldritch Moon?

Eldritch Moon’s strengths lay in its over­all con­sis­tent qual­i­ty, even if that’s with a slight­ly low pow­er lev­el — as well as its sat­is­fy­ing lore. There isn’t a huge about of val­ue in this set out­side of cards like Liliana, the Last Hope and Emrakul, the Promised End, which serve as the nor­mal “spendy” cards in any giv­en set. Don’t ex­pect these to hold val­ue post ro­ta­tion be­yond their cool factor.

Eldritch moon insert

I would ar­gue the val­ue comes from what game­play you get out of this set. It’s kind of de­press­ing we’ve got­ten to a stage in Magic where we can say sim­ply not be­ing a steam­ing pile of junk is a real as­set to a new set… but here we are.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In terms of a fol­low up the Rise of the Eldrazi, Eldritch Moon fits the bill a lot bet­ter. It’s a fi­nal set in a block where the Eldrazi emerge in an al­ready es­tab­lished world, much like they did on Zendikar the first time they ap­peared. Its play-style, as we will get to in more de­tail lat­er, is also a lit­tle more rem­i­nis­cent of the “Battle-cruiser Magic” that made Rise of the Eldrazi such a clas­sic set.

It’s as I sus­pect­ed; Wizards of the Coast are us­ing nos­tal­gia as a crutch, we’ve re­turned to two well-loved planes back to back. I can’t help feel­ing MtG’s best and most cre­ative days are firm­ly be­hind it. Admittedly, Eldritch Moon uses that nos­tal­gia bet­ter. Enough time has passed that I think I can say the Battle for Zendikar block was an ex­treme­ly poor set. Eldritch Moon es­sen­tial­ly ren­ders Battle for Zendikar point­less. We should have gone straight into Eldritch Moon from Khans of Tarkir. Boom, Innistrad is back! And sur­prise, Eldrazi are back too! Having a bun­gled Return to Zendikar sand­wiched in-between takes a lot of the wind out of what could have been a much bet­ter re­ceived set.

As it stands, it just makes me think “Oh look more Eldrazi, I won­dered why they skipped Emrakul in the pre­vi­ous two sets. Guess they just want­ed to pad this out.” To para­phrase a worn out meme: “The amount of Eldrazi is too dammed high!” I’m all Eldrazi’d out, they don’t feel re­mote­ly spe­cial any­more as three out of four of the lastest sets have fea­tured them. Wizards des­per­ate­ly needs to in­ject some new ideas into the game.

With the bash­ing I’ve giv­en its val­ue and Eternal for­mat show­ings, you might find it odd that I’m ac­tu­al­ly giv­ing a tepid rec­om­men­da­tion to Eldritch Moon. I think it’s a fun set, and af­ter all that’s what this game is about. It would be re­miss of me not to also praise all of the weird and won­der­ful art in this set. After some of the frankly ugly Eldrazi cards we saw in BFZ block it’s a world of dif­fer­ence. If you buy a set just based on val­ue or pow­er lev­el maybe give this one a pass. Those as­pects of the game are im­por­tant, but I don’t want to give Eldritch Moon the same bash­ing I gave to Battle for Zendikar be­cause it doesn’t de­serve it. Overall it’s an okay set in an okay block.

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John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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