Shadows over Innistrad brought a very linear approach to drafting, with defined archetypes and payoffs for sticking to a theme. Eldritch Moon continues some of those themes, but adheres more strongly to the core color pairing archetypes that we’ve come to expect from less focused sets. Whether or not that appeals to you, it definitely changes the drafting landscape and how each color is weighted in power and flexibility.
White / Blue
The weakness of this deck in Shadows was its abysmal common 2-drop slot. Eldritch Moon has shored up that weakness handily with aggressive cards like Tattered Haunter, Steadfast Cathar and Guardian of Pilgrims. The new Wind Drake and improved Watercourser pull a lot of weight in the 3-drop slot, and the deck even has a few good defensive options to gum up the ground between Faithbearer Paladin and Geist of the Archives. Even Geist of the Lonely Vigil does a solid job of playing both sides of the fence, assuming you can get Delirium active in a timely manner.
Not only does EMN bring aggressive curve-fillers to the fliers deck, it also continues SOI’s theme of aggressively costed tempo spells. Drag Under is a premier tempo play, setting your opponent back on the board without costing you a card; Spontaneous Mutation does a great Tightening Coils impression in any deck with a moderate number of non-creature spells; Unsubstantiate, Chilling Grasp and Repel the Abominable do a marvelous job of fogging your opponent when you just need a little more time to let your fliers finish the game. And once you’ve gotten their life total low enough, Borrowed Grace and Subjugator Angel allow for all-in alpha strikes that quickly slam the door on most games.
In Shadows it was difficult to assemble an actual “spirits deck,” but with the inclusion of both aggressive and defensive spirits in both white and blue, old payoff cards like Spectral Shepherd, Rattlechains and Apothecary Geist become much more consistent than before, and that’s not including the powerful Nebelgast Herald from Eldritch Moon.
Word of Caution: UW fliers is, at its core, a tempo deck. Your attackers don’t rumble well with bigger creatures, and your blockers tend to be low power, high toughness. Build your curve so you can get out into the lead fast and early, and try to leverage your non-creature spells in such a way that it minimizes your card disadvantage.
Cards to watch for:
White / Black
WB is one of those colors whose identity seems to change with every set. In SOI the theme was Delirium, but EMN parts ways with that slightly and strays a bit closer to generic control. Value creatures that play defense early and offense late like Geist of the Lonely Vigil, Gavony Unhallowed, Desperate Sentry and Haunted Dead push this deck more toward its classic control roots. Defensive cards like Drogskol Shieldmate and Faithbearer Paladin are great stabilizing plays against aggressive opponents, and gaining a life cushion with cards like Vampire Cutthroat, Blessed Alliance and Spectral Reserves makes Lone Rider a great payoff card with a little effort to build around it.
However, what really makes a control deck is its removal suite, and WB has always had that in spades. Boon of Emrakul is the new small-stuff removal spell and hits almost anything under 5 mana, Blessed Alliance and Borrowed Malevolence serve as situational or creature-based removal, then you have the big boys; Choking Restraints, Faith Unbroken, Murder, Ruthless Disposal and Certain Death are all essentially unrestricted removal in one way or another that just take a creature off the board, no questions asked. Of note, several of these removal spells are auras, making Ironclad Slayer a great way to double your value by letting you cast them a second time.
Delirium is still an active player in EMN, but the payoffs aren’t as game-changing as they were in SOI. Thraben Foulbloods is statted as an aggressive creature, but by the time Delirium kicks online, the 4/3 body isn’t going to be nearly as difficult to deal with. Whispers of Emrakul is reminiscent of Hymn to Tourach, but once again, by the time Delirium comes online the effect will be far less useful. Extricator of Sin looks interesting, but a closer reading of its ability reveals that its effect doesn’t do much more than reducing the impact of removal; strong in some matchups, but not especially exciting in most. The best payoff by far is going to be Dusk Feaster, which serves as an aggressively costed body once you’ve gotten Delirium online, and still manages to be an evasive beater even if you have to play her for the full mana cost. There will be Delirium payoffs in the single SOI pack, but the non-creature spells being split evenly among card types should go far enough in activating it that you shouldn’t go out of your way, given the lack of payoffs in ⅔ of the packs.
Word of Caution: Both white and black have a glut of small creatures that hold the board early game but have a steep drop-off in the late game, and do nothing in a topdeck situation. Make sure your creatures are flexible enough to play early defense and serve some utility in the late game; ideally they can serve as a win condition (like fliers).
Cards to watch for:
White / Red
With so many synergistic decks available, this classic aggro pairing suffered during SOI. In Eldritch Moon, card quality is once again at the forefront, and WR capitalizes by running lean and mean. Deranged Whelp, Furyblade Vampire, Steadfast Cathar and Brazen Wolves allow you to come out of the gate swinging, while Subjugator Angel and Fiend Binder let you punch through your opponent’s board as they try to stabilize. Even durdly-looking cards like Thermo-Alchemist and Weaver of Lightning pull their weight, giving you reach and board clear potential (respectively) for playing the spells you want to play anyway. And if things start to really stall out, beaters like Vildin-Pack Outcast and Smoldering Werewolf can serve as one-wolf wrecking crews against all but the biggest bodies.
Aggressive decks call for aggressive spells, and WR is full of them. Blessed Alliance allows you to attack with impunity and punish your opponent for thinking they could get a free attack in return. Abandon Reason, Borrowed Grace, Ride Down and Savage Alliance all punish defensive opponents who are trying to set up profitable blocks. Incendiary Flow, Choking Restraints, Faith Unbroken and Galvanic Bombardment can remove blockers for a pittance of mana, allowing you to keep the pain train running (honorable mention to Alchemist’s Greeting if you have a handful of cheap discard outlets).
There’s no real archetype for this color pairing, but red comes with a few Madness cards, so keeping an eye out for discard outlets is advised. Mad Prophet is always great if you can snag it in the single pack of SOI, but Furyblade Vampire and Thraben Standard Bearer from EMN both do a decent job as discard outlets, turning on your madness cards and giving you something to do with extra lands.
Word of Caution: There are some great cards in white and red that just don’t fit in this deck; cards like Spreading Flames and Bruna, the Fading Light are both bomb-tier spells, but if your deck wants to close out the game before you hit 7 mana, they’re going to be dead in your hand more often than not. A midrange version of WR is going to happen quite often, but don’t fall into the trap of playing 7-drop and 8-drop spells in a deck that obviously wants to top out at 5 mana. There are better ways to use your mana than running a “bomb” that rots in your hand until you get mana flooded.
Cards to watch for:
White / Green
WG continues one of its archetypes from SOI, toning down Delirium in exchange for and aggressive Humans deck. Sigardian Priest, Hamlet Captain and Courageous Outrider are the major payoffs this time around for grabbing every human you can get your hands on. Don’t be afraid to dip outside of your synergies though, there are plenty of non-human creatures that will had some much-needed punch to your deck; Somberwald Stag offers flexible removal attached to a big body, and new werewolves like Kessig Prowler and Shrill Howler, while no longer human, are very aggressive in the early game and give you a mana sink later in the game to beef them up and continue beating down.
White’s removal suite isn’t as powerful in EMN as it was in SOI, and green’s never been a color that comes with great removal, so it’s important to leverage your creatures to your advantage. Combat tricks like Borrowed Grace and Woodcutter’s Grit are a little expensive, but have the flexibility to be used in multiple situations, both offensively and defensively. Creature-based removal spells are this deck’s bread and butter though, between Blessed Alliance, Clear Shot, and the very vanilla Prey Upon. Choking Restraints is always going to be a high pick, but high risk removal spells like Faith Unbroken better leverage the deck’s aggressive nature against removal-light matchups. If your deck is especially Human-heavy, Repel the Abominable can be a beating, serving as a one-sided Fog much of the time.
Human synergies from SOI still apply, but of note is that the new set still works surprisingly well with equipment. There are no real “equipment matters” cards in EMN, but Faithbearer Paladin and Lone Rider get exponentially better with equipment, Hamlet Captain’s largest drawback - his low toughness - is negated, and it’s no secret that Vigilance is better on bigger creatures. With only a single pack of SOI - and thus a lesser chance of picking up any number of True-Faith Censer - keep an eye out for Cultist’s Staff as a replacement.
Word of Caution: WG’s deck is more creature-dependant than any other color pairing, due to the form most of its removal takes, so it’s important that you have some number of big dumb beaters on the top end. It doesn’t do you any good to have 2-3 Fight cards in your deck if your biggest creature has 3 power. This also means that you’ll want to have closer to 16-17 creatures and a number of mana sinks, rather than 14-ish creatures with a bunch of creature-based removal spells.
Cards to watch for:
Blue / Black
Only one word can describe EMN’s UB deck: Value. Between card draw and graveyard shenanigans, this is your typical control deck that wants to bury your opponent under card advantage. Recurring creatures like Advanced Stitchwing and Haunted Dead give you a place to ditch your excess lands and dead spells while Liliana’s Elite grows bigger as your graveyard does. The new Mill Giant fuels your graveyard if you feel the need to dump cards quickly, while Midnight Scavengers fetches back your early creatures that you may have traded off or milled off the top of your deck (yes, that includes your Graf Rats). And with all these cards going to the graveyard, Delirium can turn on early and often, making Dusk Feaster a great top end finisher. Beyond playing with the graveyard, black and blue both have great Emerge creatures, between Wretched Gryff, Abundant Maw, Vexing Scuttler and Drownyard Behemoth. Having a couple of these in your deck can turn less-than-stellar filler creatures like Exultant Cultist and Enlightened Maniac into pure value picks.
With so many cards in your graveyard, you may also want to play a couple other recurring spells like Rise from the Grave and Cemetery Recruitment, though the latter is only best played if you have a lot of zombies or didn’t get any Macabre Waltz out of your SOI pack. Scour the Laboratory is a fantastic draw spell at instant speed that should always make the final cut, and Drag Under allows you to dig through your deck while simultaneously slowing your opponent down long enough to actually draw into your answers. With a strong emphasis on control and the graveyard, high cost removal spells like Ruthless Disposal and Certain Death become indispensable, but cheap options like Spontaneous Mutation are still exceptionally strong.
The Zombie sub-theme from SOI is all but gone with EMN; the only real payoffs here are at the rare slot. That said, the new set has a plethora of new creatures with the Zombie subtype, which means you’re more likely to end up with enough Zombies in your deck to make rare payoffs like Gisa and Geralf, Cryptbreaker, Dark Salvation, Diregraf Colossus, Prized Amalgam and Relentless Dead worth picking highly.
Word of Caution: Unlike most decks, UB tends to skew more toward control than midrange, which means your mana curve is also going to be higher than normal and it’s often going to be correct to run 18 lands. Also there are enough aggro decks in the set that you can easily get run over if you don’t shore up your early game with cheap blockers or removal spells.
Cards to watch for:
Blue / Red
The spells deck in SOI rarely came together, between the payoffs being hard to get and the good spells being wanted by anybody in those colors, but EMN goes a long way to make the color pairing consistently viable. The creature count for UR is going to be lower than most other decks, but cards like Curious Homunculus, Ingenious Skaab, Mercurial Geists, Thermo-Alchemist and Weaver of Lightning help you abuse the higher number of non-creature spells in your deck. With a heavy emphasis on tempo and removal spells to make up the bulk of the deck, small evasive creatures like Tattered Haunter and Deranged Whelp can fill up the holes on the lower end, while Smoldering Werewolf and Vildin-Pack Outcast offer mana sinks on the top end that you can threaten to activate while holding up mana for your instant speed spells.
With fewer creatures to rely on, you’ll be making up roughly half of your deck with non-creature spells. Removal like Alchemist’s Greeting, Galvanic Bombardment, Incendiary Flow, Spontaneous Mutation, and Spreading Flames will keep your opponent from overwhelming you while you set up your win condition. Card draw like Shreds of Sanity, Take Inventory and Scour the Laboratory can keep you constantly stocked with ways to affect the board. Drag Under can do the same while setting your opponent back on the board, and Unsubstantiate is a great way to keep your opponent on the back foot as well. With the heavy emphasis on instant speed interaction, this is also the best deck to mainboard counterspells like Convolute.
Madness was a minor subtheme in the UR spells deck in SOI, and the same holds true here as well. Furyblade Vampire is a free discard outlet which, alongside the more expensive Shreds of Sanity and Advanced Stitchwing, allows you to pitch cards like Alchemist’s Greeting, Insatiable Gorgers and Chilling Grasp for value, in addition to the great Madness spells from the previous set. The payoffs aren’t especially high this time around though, so don’t feel the need to go out of your way to make them work.
Word of Caution: This deck runs best as a low-creature spells deck, but sometimes you just don’t get the payoff cards to make it work. Try to identify if that’s the place you’re in before you get to the third pack, so you can make up the difference by grabbing more creatures. This color pairing can easily pivot into a aggro/tempo deck, simply by changing your pick priority.
Cards to watch for:
Blue / Green
With clues being relegated to a single pack, UG’s identity has become a bit murky. The Emerge mechanic seems to be concentrated strongly in this pairing, between Drownyard Behemoth, It of the Horrid Swarm, Lashweed Lurker, Mockery of Nature, Vexing Scuttler and Wretched Gryff. There are even a few creatures that you’re encouraged to run in order to get extra value out of sacrificing them, like Enlightened Maniac, Exultant Cultist and Foul Emissary, in addition to the oddball synergy card, Grizzled Angler. But with most of the payoffs being uncommons, forming an actual “emerge deck” just isn’t a feasible goal most of the time. As such, you’ll be falling back on the standard UG tempo deck, running a mix of big bodies like Ingenious Skaab, Backwoods Survivalists, Somberwald Stag, Tangleclaw Werewolf, and Advanced Stitchwing.
As a tempo deck, you’ll be leveraging a mix of combat tricks, removal and bounce spells to out-maneuver your opponent on the board. Clear Shot and Prey Upon are your only real removal spells, and like the WG deck, require you have larger bodies in play to leverage them. Woodcutter’s Grit offers a way to punch through your opponent’s board in combat or blank removal spells, as needed. Drag Under is a great tempo card for this deck, since it grants some much-needed card draw, but Unsubstantiate offers an instant speed option for those times when your opponent tries to blow you out, mid-combat.
Without Clues to grant easy card advantage, the Clue generators in SOI shoot up in the pick order. Byway Courier, Ulvenwald Mysteries, Jace’s Scrutiny and Ongoing Investigation were already great spells, but with Drag Under being the only spell in EMN that serves as tempo without costing a card, these all become nearly auto-picks when you see them in pack 3. On the other hand, Clue payoffs are now far worse.
Word of Caution: Blue and green are both very light on removal spells, so it’s important to leverage your tricks in such a way that you can trade them for a full card from your opponent. Bouncing a blocker so you can attack their face doesn’t benefit you unless it means you can close out the game. Knocking off auras, blowing out combat tricks, blanking removal, or baiting your opponent into multi-blocks in your favor are your best ways to generate card advantage.
Cards to watch for:
Black / Red
Madness has made the leap from SOI to EMN, and with it comes a handful of new Madness enablers. Furyblade Vampire, Olivia’s Dragoon and Skirsdag Supplicant offer cheap discard outlets, attached to bodies that are cheap, and grant everything you could ever want in an aggro package: early aggression, and late game reach. As a color pairing that tends to skew more toward an aggressive deck, you’ll also get some mileage out of pure beatdown cards like Deranged Whelp, Brazen Wolves, Insatiable Gorgers, and Markov Crusader.
Punching through is always the biggest concern for an aggro deck, and BR comes with all the tools you’ll ever need to do just that. Since you’ll want to get to the point where you can play 2 spells per turn fairly quickly, you’ll want to stick to the cheap removal and combat tricks like Abandon Reason, Boon of Emrakul, Borrowed Hostility, Borrowed Malevolence, Galvanic Bombardment, Incendiary Flow, Murder, and Savage Alliance. Depending on how many discard outlets are in your deck, Alchemist’s Greeting goes from being clunky and expensive to being one of the best removal spells in your deck. If your curve is especially low, even Blood Mist can put in some work, allowing you to trade your glut of 2-drops up for bigger creatures.
Although Madness is still a thing in EMN, the focus has been shifted from the Madness cards to its enablers. Most Madness cards in the new set don’t offer much of a discount for discarding them first; mostly, the benefit you get is the ability to pick up some advantage attached to your discard outlet, like giving Furyblade Vampire +3/+0 for the turn, or giving your Olivia’s Dragoon evasion so it can fly over your opponent’s blockers. Getting to activate these abilities for “free,” without having to wait to draw into excess lands, adds some extra reach and utility that can be leveraged best in an aggro deck, but you shouldn’t expect the same sort of game-changing, swingy effects we saw from a full-blown SOI Madness deck.
Word of Caution: The question you should be asking yourself while drafting this deck is, “How am I going to punch through a board stall?” Evasion, ping damage, removal, and combat tricks are all important parts that make up a full-throttle aggro deck. BR doesn’t have very many big, beefy creatures on the top end to brute force their way through your opponent’s wall of blockers, so having a way to consistently go through, around, or over that defensive wall is paramount to making this deck work.
Cards to watch for:
Black / Green
Like WB, the Delirium payoffs for BG have been significantly neutered with the introduction of EMN. Although there are a couple payoffs here that are still worth shooting for, the new BG deck has shifted toward a goodstuff deck, leveraging green’s big bodies and black’s removal suite, with the occasional sacrifice/recursion effect thrown in for grindy value. Backwoods Survivalists, Gavony Unhallowed and Somberwald Stag will do a lot of work as your midrange big beaters, while Gnarlwood Dryad, Noose Constrictor and Thraben Foulbloods have the flexibility to hold the board in the early game, then turn into real threats in the late game. Black and green are also Emerge colors, and if you end up with any number of Abundant Maw, It of the Horrid Swarm and Mockery of Nature in your deck, sacrifice-themed creatures like Foul Emissary and Bloodbriar become great value picks.
Combat tricks like Woodcutter’s Grit and Borrowed Malevolence can do some work here, but the real power comes from your removal suite. Ruthless Disposal is a heavy hitter that can fuel your Delirium and graveyard shenanigans, while Boon of Emrakul offers spot removal for small creatures as well as a less common card type to help get Delirium online. Clear Shot and Prey Upon work well in a deck with a lot of big creatures, and if something goes wrong, Rise from the Grave and Grapple with the Past give you a second chance once your opponent has already burned their removal on one of your bigger threats.
Since there are still some Delirium cards worth activating in the new set, BG Delirium payoff cards from SOI still maintain their old power level. Grapple with the Past does a fine Vessel of Nascency impression, and the card types in EMN’s removal suite is varied between sorcery and instant, with the occasional enchantment sprinkled in, so you should rarely have to spend too many picks in your third pack trying to shore up your Delirium enablers.
Word of Caution: Without 3 packs of SOI to pick up Watcher in the Web, BG is exceptionally weak against fliers. Noose Constrictor, Olivia’s Dragoon and Swift Spinner should be picked a little higher than most decks, even if they just sit in the sideboard.
Cards to watch for:
Green / Red
The GR beatdown archetype was hounded by wolves during SOI, and EMN continues that trend. Early aggro cards like Kessig Prowler, Deranged Whelp, Shrill Howler and Brazen Wolves ensure you hit your opponent fast and hard. The new Werewolves are total monsters on their flip side - both literally and figuratively - but the new flip mechanic is highly mana intensive; beaters like Smoldering Werewolf and Vildin-Pack Outcast won’t flip until late in the game without a little ramp from Conduit of Storms and Ulvenwald Captive.
All the usual rules about beatdown decks and combat tricks apply, which means Woodcutter’s Grit and Abandon Reason are going to pull a lot of weight here. With a heavy focus on werewolves, GR ends up being one of the better decks for creature-based removal like Clear Shot and Prey Upon. All the regular removal spells are still great here, but cards that can open up more attacks with your beaters and clear out chump blockers, like Savage Alliance and Spreading Flames are at a premium here, especially in a deck that wants to get to 7 mana anyway. However, the most important trick for this deck might be Waxing Moon; with the high mana cost of flipping any of the Wolf-drazi, being able to spend a card and 2 mana to flip one before your opponent expects it (or even better, mid-combat!) can blow a game wide open in a way that isn’t usually possible with a regular combat trick.
There are no new Wolf or Werewolf payoffs in the new set, and with SOI being relegated to a single pack, the chances of getting any at all are slim at best. There are a lot of new creatures with the Wolf or Werewolf subtype in EMN, but Waxing Moon is the only card that really cares. You’ll likely pick up whatever card happens to be good in your colors, instead of letting creature types influence your pick, but most of the good creatures are Wolves or Werewolves anyway, so any GR deck in EMN is going to end up with a number of them, just as a matter of course.
Word of Caution: The Werewolves that cost 4 or more mana to cast all have flip costs of 7+ mana, and most of those creatures are a bit underwhelming on their front side. Don’t get too attached to the idea of ramping to 7 and flipping these monsters early, because the green and red ramp cards are good enough that they’re going to be picked by other people running the same colors. The best approach to this deck is to focus on the low-cost Werewolves that are decent cards when they come down early, and still have respectable bodies when they flip at 5 or 6 mana.
Cards to watch for:
A lot of the linearity from SOI has been tossed out of the window for the new set; most of the decks seem to get by more on the power of the individual cards you draft, rather than the synergy of the archetypes you assemble. For some decks, this means going back to the basics of what a color pairing is well known for bringing to the table, and for others it means figuring out how the colors interact with the set’s new mechanics. A lot of payoff cards and build-arounds from the previous set are no longer viable, which means there are going to be quite a few dead cards going into pack 3, but I’ll be keeping an eye open for cards that have jumped in value due to EMN’s change in the density of certain card types.
The monstrous horrors of Shadows over Innistrad kept me enthralled for the entire length of the set, so here’s to hoping the cosmic horrors unleashed by Eldritch Moon can do the same!