On my third or fourth game with Throne Of Eldraine, I realised I was going to shed if my opponent just kept stuffing his personal damn cat into an oven once more and once more.
Throne Of Eldraine is the newest Magic: The Gathering set, coming to each the physical game and, extra importantly for our purposes, Magic: The Gathering Arena. It is a mix of Arthurian higher fantasy and fractured fairy tales. The barrow witches at RPS sent me on a quest to play it in a preview occasion arranged by Wizards, and I have come back with a wealth of 1st impressions.
I constructed various decks utilizing Eldraine cards and played them against a variety of journalists and streamers taking component in the exact same preview on Magic: The Gathering Arena, ahead of the set’s release on September 26. We got in a handful of games of sealed (in which 1 opens six packs of random cards and utilizes the contents to construct a deck), as nicely as draft (in which several extra packs are presented to the player, who chooses 1 card out of every single pack).
Eldraine’s guarantee of remixing fairy-tale concepts came up virtually quickly, and it definitely delivers on its theme — even if the nature of a card game leads to that theme becoming jumbled in unpredictable, dark, and often amusing techniques. In 1 match, my opponent was gradually draining me to zero hit points, by way of a combo of a creature card that knocked my life down by 1 when played, and an artifact card that sacrificed a creature. It took us in a decidedly Lynchean path with the aforementioned exceptionally and completely baked cat. In one more I was beaten to death by a redcap wearing a pair of glass slippers.
But theme is not adequate to carry a Magic set, and Eldraine played nicely, top to intriguing games with intricate choices. There have been lots of close, satisfying games with players jockeying for position. 1 of Eldraine’s key mechanics is “food,” tokens which are made by a variety of cards and can be sacrificed to acquire life. Ahead of playing with the actual cards, I anticipated meals to either not matter pretty a great deal, or to lead to grindy games only ended when 1 player at some point accomplished an overwhelmingly superior position on the battlefield.
In practise, even so, I usually discovered myself playing aggressively, hoping my opponent would hit life just before I did. Life matters a lot in Eldraine, extra than in the typical Magic set, usually acting as a ticking clock pushing you to act. Much more than when I felt I had to make riskier plays and push for a win.
I get the sense that Eldraine will definitely please diehard fans of Magic who delight in understanding the intricacies of a format. There are a lot of incremental benefit and tiny plays adding up to huge shifts. Games are not defined by who has the greatest, bombiest, higher-influence uncommon cards, but by who can assemble the deadliest machine out of innocuous-searching commons. Take Garruk, for instance, a marquee planeswalker and Cursed Huntsman. Garruk was in my second sealed deck. On paper, he appears like a positively monstrous card. And some of the time he was. But it didn’t really feel like I had slammed the door shut on my opponent just by playing him, or that the game now revolved about this planeswalker. This bodes definitely nicely for the format.
Playing draft permits for a great deal extra focused and strong decks, letting players discover synergies and deck archetypes inside a set. It also lets Eldraine definitely bloom, presenting uncommon approaches and some ill-advised garden paths to adhere to. It is difficult to say how viable these lateral approaches are going to basically be, but I had exciting attempting to place them collectively, even if they hurt my win percentage in the moment.
1 deck I drafted had cards that gave me a variety of utilizes for meals tokens other than sacrificing it for life. This deck led to the most memorable match of the entire day: Me and my opponent desperately attempting to handle our life totals against every single other simply because we each had various copies of Tempting Witch, a card that generally turns meals tokens into weapons.
Every single Meals that hit the table was potentially a projectile we could launch at every single other, but we each had to figure out no matter if we believed we could win the meals fight, or if it was far better to use it to acquire life, and hope to win by other implies. If these sorts of games are frequent in Eldraine, then drafting this set need to please obsessive puzzle solvers.
Eldraine also brings back a mechanical theme that is close to and dear to several Magic players whose hearts are as shrivelled and black as mine: Milling. Milling is magic slang for placing cards from your opponent’s deck straight into their graveyard in Magic, if you would draw from an empty deck, you shed the game. This silly lateral tactic has usually shown up at a low level in Magic sets, and I will not boldly claim it is a viable, strategically sound issue to do in Eldraine draft. But did I attempt to make a deck that stalled out the game and won by milling? Yeah, of course I did.
Now, hold in thoughts this is nevertheless all on Magic: The Gathering Arena. So rather than drafting in a pod of eight genuine players, I was passing packs about with virtual ones. This leads to altogether stronger and extra focused decks, as Arena’s “draft bots” will resolutely not choose a strong card that wouldn’t match in the deck they’re drafting, rather passing it on to be grabbed by one more player who can make use of it.
Quite a few Magic players who are extra applied to the complicated give and take of drafting with genuine humans obtain this unsatisfying, and it can quickly lead to formats feeling stale or unbalanced, specially as you then go on to play against other humans who drafted entirely separately from you in their personal virtual cocoon. If a distinct strong tactic is undervalued by the bots, you can finish up seeing a ton of it, and players finish up with various copies of important frequent cards. This undoubtedly hurt the enjoyment of drafting the preceding set, Magic 2020, on Arena.
On the other hand, drafting on Arena is logistically easy, as you do not have to wrangle eight players, wait for them to make picks, or even draft your complete deck all in 1 go with restricted time to make selections. And as it leads to smoother drafts and strong decks, it is also pretty excellent for showcasing the approaches buried inside the card set.
Of course, Magic sets get judged more than the course of months and hundreds of matches played. I cannot speak to what Eldraine will be like to play on your 50th draft, or what Constructed formats will appear like with Eldraine in them. Initially impressions can be deceiving, and I was playing in a amazing atmosphere, given that absolutely everyone else was also attempting to do weird nonsense, and no one had any concept what was excellent. Caveats aside, I came away from Eldraine feeling delighted by the theme and intrigued by its systems. There’s each strong Magic fundamentals right here, and odd small tangents to get lost in, and I cannot wait to take one more bite of the poisoned apple.