Emrakul has descended upon Innistrad and she’s transforming its already scary denizens into Lovecraftian abominations. Time to have a look at all the things the Flying Spaghetti Monster is bringing to the world of Magic this time.
Liliana has finally joined the Gatewatch, adding a black Oath to an incomplete cycle (finally satisfying all pattern completionists who have been feeling vaguely uncomfortable for months now). And in a cruel twist of fate her hordes of Zombies are now rallying against the Eldrazi intruders. I don’t think I am alone in wondering when we will return to a more normal, less reality-warping villain, but I guess we have to live through one more Eldrazi season. Let’s have a look at what the cards and mechanics of Eldritch Moon mean for the Battle Box format. Like last time, I will spend some time discussing the new mechanics, after which I will give you my Top 20 Eldritch Moon cards for inclusion in your Battle Boxes.
Emerge is an interesting mechanic. At first glance, you are looking at some horribly overpriced creatures, but the ability to sacrifice an existing creature to cast an Emerge creature on the cheap makes the power level quite strong. In principle, I would say the mechanic has a great fit with the Battle Box, because both the alternate cost as well as the decision of which creature to sacrifice mean there are a lot of interesting choices to be made. My only worry is with the specific cards. It seems the rares and mythics are all quite strong and have some power concerns, while the common and uncommon ones seem generally underwhelming. I think the mechanic is interesting to test because it is hard to judge how these cards will actually play just by looking at a card picture on the internet.
Another good Battle Box mechanic. In general, options are a good thing, and having the option to stack your options is a bit like a super-option. As with all of these mechanics, whether the actual cards are playable will largely depend on their relative power level.
This is arguably the flagship mechanic of Eldritch Moon. It is certainly out there. Being able to meld two cards into one gaint Eldrazi monster is not only novel and exciting, it is also reminiscent of the Big Furry Monster, which in turn is inspired by the classic Doom weapon B.F.G. 9000. But although it appeals to both gaming lore historians and Magic novelty seekers, it is just not a good mechanic for Battle Box. It requires two cards to work, where in two of the three pairs that have been printed at least one card is too powerful or not a good fit with the format. You could include a meld pair if you like the abilities on both separate cards and want to entice your players with the possibility that once every 25 games you will have a melded Eldrazi. Personally, I think this will just frustrate players most of the time and I will pass.
Finally, there are a few returning mechanics: madness, delirium and double-faced cards. Madness and delirium are both fine abilities that do tend to rely on some amount of synergy but can be great in Battle Boxes that support them. Double-faced cards are generally good, but I’ve always been making an exception for the werewolf mechanic because it just doesn’t line up well with how Battle Box games play out. In Eldritch Moon, werewolves have mostly abandoned the day/night mechanic of previous Innistrad sets, instead transforming into Eldrazi Werewolves. So if you have been waiting for a good time to add some werewolves to your Battle Box, this may be it.
The Eldritch Moon Top 20
Pouring over all the Eldritch Moon cards to compile this Top 20 list, I must say that the card quality in Eldritch Moon seems to be generally high. I think the set will have a big impact on most formats, certainly including Battle Box. But enough talk, on to the list.
20. Blood Mist
I have some difficulty in evaluating the power level of this card. If you compare it to Rage Reflection you get a relevant discount, but you can only give one creature double strike and only on your attack. Unlike first strike, I consider double strike to be an offensive ability mostly, so I’m OK with players not having double strike on defense. And most of the time, giving one attacker double strike could be enough. It would have been nicer if there would be some sort of surprise to which creature gets double strike before your opponent declares blockers, but regardless I think the card could be a nice generic Battle Box addition.
19. Blessed Alliance
The first escalate card on this list. Its modes are all useful if not very exciting, and I predict that the “gain 4 life” rider will be used far more than you would think at first glance. Sure, gaining 4 life is not worth a card, but gaining 4 life attached to another effect is a different story altogether.
18. Savage Alliance
Another useful escalate card. The first mode (team trample) pushes the card towards offensive use, and both other modes can certainly help with that. And because you will usually play it after your opponent declares blockers, the 1 damage to each of your opponent’s creatures will be relevant to push through slightly larger blockers (each point of damage means one more trample damage will go through to your opponent).
17. Fortune’s Favor
An interesting Fact or Fiction variant that plays out more like a guessing game. I’m hoping the hidden element will make the splitting of the cards a little less serious resulting in less thinking time (one of the biggest issues with the original).
16. Faith Unbroken
A Journey to Nowhere with a +2/+2 bonus attached for an extra 2 mana seems like a good deal, but unfortunately it is a trap. Normally, these exiling enchantments are quite strong because they are hard to remove. Tacking them onto an aura means they can be removed by just killing the creature, which is much easier to do. So why is it on the list? Because it creates interesting tension, which is exactly what Battle Box is about. Cards like Oblivion Ring are actually a bit boring in the Battle Box, and making them into an aura could very well be an improvement for the format.
15. Selfless Spirit
Reminiscent of Dauntless Escort, I think I like the spirit a little more because it fits a little lower on the mana curve, meaning the loss you take from sacrificing the spirit is also more acceptable. I think a 2/1 flyer for 2 mana is nothing to be embarrassed about, and the sacrifice effect creates an interesting tension on the battlefield.
14. Smoldering Werewolf / Erupting Dreadwolf
A 3/2 that pings two creatures when it enters the battlefield seems like an OK deal for four mana. And although the transformation cost is quite steep, don’t forget that transforming a creature doesn’t give it summoning sickness, so you get to attack and deal 2 damage immediately. Be careful to transform the creature before you declare attackers or you’ll miss out on the free Shock.
13. Dark Salvation
Certainly not a cheap card, but it does scale well. Let’s assume you play it for 5 mana; in that case you get 2 zombies and get to give one creature -2/-2 until end of turn. Certainly nothing amazing, but not bad either. And the fact that it’s playable at most points of the curve earns it a spot on this list.
A cross between Remand and Unsummon. I think the 2 mana price tag will be a bit too much for it to see serious competitive play. For Battle Box, I think the 2 mana is fine, and the fact that it has some versatility makes it a good format fit.
11. Subjugator Angel
A 4/3 flyer for 6 mana is certainly overpriced, but you would still be happy to draw it in a lot of situations. I find it difficult to judge the enters the battlefield ability because it is very dependent on the rest of your creatures. It could be the card is oppressive or it could be that it sits in players’ hands. Time will tell.
10. Ishkanah, Grafwidow
Finally, Magic has its Shelob/Aragog. The card is strong, certainly in a deck that can achieve delirium quickly. Because this is less likely in Battle Box, I think the power level is actually quite acceptable.
9. Extricator of Sin / Extricator of Flesh
For three mana and sacrificing a permanent you get 2 bodies. And although the 0/3 is not very impressive, if you manage to achieve delirium, you get an Eldrazi that can turn your weaker creatures and tokens into more Eldrazi. It may be a little slow, but a typical Battle Box game allows for enough durdling time.
8. Elder Deep-Fiend
A very nice creature, with a powerful enters the battlefield ability. Very likely the Elder Calamari is too powerful for a standard Battle Box, but I will certainly be adding it to the Commander Battle Box.
A 3/2 haste creature for 3 mana is nice, and potentially locking down all chump blockers will lead to some nice blowouts. Of course, you will usually not achieve delirium until later in the game, which actually makes this a nice draw both early and late in the game.
6. Collective Effort and Collective Defiance
I’m cheating a little by placing two cards in this position, but they are both part of a cycle. I left out the black card, because I think the escalate cost of discarding a card is a bit too steep unless you have specific themes in your Battle Box that want players to discard cards. I think most modes speak for themselves, but it is important to note that making a player discard his or her hand for a new one is considerably less powerful than in other formats (where you can generally change a four card hand into a hand that suddenly contains at least 1-2 lands).
5. Niblis of Frost
In a carefully constructed deck the power level of the Niblis would be too high for Battle Box. But because you will only draw an instant or sorcery approximately every four turns, I think the card will prove to be strong but fun. Of course, I could be wrong, but the whole point of new sets is that we get to try new things.
4. Identity Thief
I have said before that clones are great for Battle Box because their power level inherently adapts to their environment. The Identity Thief is a bit special. You can exile a blocker and copy it to push through some damage, or you can exile one of your own creatures to trigger an enters the battlefield ability. It is a versatile card, but because it works on an attack trigger, it will probably also be a little vulnerable. I think that makes it perfect for the Battle Box format.
3. Spell Queller
Is this too strong for the Battle Box? Possibly, although the quality of spells is generally more evenly distributed, so the spell you are exiling is unlikely to be an essential combo piece. It may well be too strong, but I doubt it will be boring to play with or against, so I am eager to give it a shot.
2. Kessig Prowler / Sinuous Predator
I know, this looks a bit underwhelming so high up on the list. The fact is that without its mana dorks (which are not a good fit for the Battle Box format), green has very few playable 1-drops. The Kessig Prowler is not only playable, it is actually quite good even later in the game. I think it is a great card, and exactly what a lot of Battle Boxes need.
1. Wharf Infiltrator
This is olympic league durdling. It evades, it loots, it throws out tokens, and all for a relatively achievable cost. And because it is quite vulnerable, there is little danger that it will quickly spin out of control. In fact, its abilities are small enough that players might be tempted to save their removal for a bigger threat (pro tip: don’t!).
That concludes the Eldritch Moon Top 20. This list was compiled without having played with the cards, so inevitably I will have assessed things wrongly. I hope I have nonetheless given you some inspiration to try some of the many fine Eldritch Moon cards in your own Battle Box. And as usual, I am eager to hear what you think. Which Eldritch Moon card is your #1?