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Eldritch Moon Spoilers Week 1: The Unsubstantiated Evolution of the Deep-Fiend Whispers


The first week of Eldritch Moon spoilers is in the books, and I have to say that the set looks amazing. Sure, I'm not thrilled about our return to Innistrad being Rise of the Eldrazi Two—or is it three or four? I can't keep up anymore. I'm also a little disappointed that the set looks like it will continue the dominance of White and Green, with pretty much all of the best cards in the set being focused on those two colors. However, even the bad cards are spicy, and the good cards are really, really good. 

So, today, we are going to break down the first week of Eldritch Moon previews. We'll spend most of our time talking about a broken card, a very good card, two overrated cards, and one massively underrated card; then, we'll wrap up with some quick hitters on some of the other sweet cards spoiled this week. Let's start with my pick for the most busted card in the set: Eldritch Evolution!

Eldritch Evolution

Let's start with the best card in the set. Eldritch Evolution is broken. Absolutely, completely, irreparably broken. A month ago, when Eternal Masters was first released, I sat down to talk with local Pauper expert Jake Stiles about the best new Pauper card in the set. He had Peregrine Drake as number three on the list. While he knew it was the best card in the set, he said he couldn't put it at number one because he was convinced it would be banned in the near future. Well, that's how I feel about Eldritch Evolution in Modern, and I've heard some people question whether or not it could be banned in Standard (which seems like a stretch to me, but you never know). I literally cannot believe that Wizards printed this card. When it was spoiled, "fixed Natural Order" was one of the first comparisons I heard, but this card isn't a fixed Natural Order; it is a more broken version of Natural Order. In the very worst case, it's one of those "Wasteland is a fixed Strip Mine" or "Yawgmoth's Bargain is a fixed Necropotence" type situations. Sure, technically, the second version is less powerful than the first, but it's still so powerful that calling it "fixed" seems silly. 

Just why is Eldritch Evolution so broken? Personally, I'm mostly concerned about Modern. The big problem here is the "X + 2" clause and the fact that, unlike Natural Order, it can search out creatures of any color. Knowing me, I immediately went for the magical Christmas land scenario:

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The most all-in thing to do with Eldritch Evolution in Modern is to get a Turn 2 Griselbrand or Iona, Shield of Emeria. You simply play a mana dork on Turn 1, exile a couple of Green cards on Turn 2, cast an Allosaurus Rider, and sac the Allosaurus Rider to Eldritch Evolution to search up either Griselbrand or Iona, Shield of Emeria, depending on the situation. While this scenario is likely too all-in to be anything more than an Against the Odds deck (getting Eldritch Evolution countered means you 1,000-for-one yourself), there are slightly less all-in builds that are a turn or two slower but much scarier, due to the fact that they don't have to play bad cards. 

I can't even count the number of times I've gotten hit by a Turn 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang in Modern. I mean, you crack a fetch, Thought Scour yourself, and you have a Turn 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang. If you crack another fetch, you can do the same thing with Gurmag Angler. The thing is, while strong, Turn Two Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler is not unbeatable. 

What is unbeatable, in many cases, is turning that Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang into a Griselbrand or Sundering Titan on Turn 3. Running this combo takes up very few slots in a deck: four for Eldritch Evolution and three for creatures to evolve into. Most of the time, you'll just search up a Griselbrand and draw some cards, hopefully including a Not of This World for your opponent's Path to Exile. Another option is getting a Sundering Titan, which can put your opponent back down to zero lands and make it extremely difficult for them to recover. 

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Admittedly, the first example of Eldritch Evolution's power was magical Christmas land, and the second one was still pretty all-in, but perhaps the scariest use for Eldritch Evolution is as a Birthing Pod-esque card to assemble combos in regular decks. I think there's at least some argument that Eldritch Evolution is better than Collected Company in a deck like Abzan Company, since you can get more expensive creatures (allowing for the Archangel of Thune combo, alongside the Melira, Sylvok Outcast / Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit combo) and because there is no danger of whiffing. Remember: the tutor ability searches for a creature that has a CMC of X + 2 or less than the sacrificed creature's CMC, so if you sacrifice a Kitchen Finks, you have the option of not only getting a Melira, Sylvok Outcast but an Archangel of Thune or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as well. Here's the first draft of an Abzan Evolution list for Modern.

Now, you might be wondering why Eldritch Evolution is better than Collected Company or Chord of Calling. The biggest reason is that Eldritch Evolution comes with far fewer deckbuilding restrictions. Decks like Abzan Company have to play close to 30 creatures to fuel the Convoke cost of Chord of Calling and to make sure they hit creatures with Collected Company. With Eldritch Evolution, you can reasonably play a deck with half the number of creatures; fill the other slots with discard, counterspells, and other, more powerful threats; and still expect to win the game with a creature-based combo thanks to Eldritch Evolution. Imagine a deck that is just as consistent as Abzan Company at putting together the infinite combo, but more resilient because it doesn't have to bog itself down with thirty creatures. That is what Eldritch Evolution offers. 

Basically, my advice is: if you are excited for Eldritch Evolution in Modern, build and play your deck soon. While it might be ambitious to make such statements without having played with the card, I thinks the odds are in favor of Eldritch Evolution being broken and banned in the not-too-distant future. 

Whispers of Emrakul / Unsubstantiate

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I decided to talk about Whispers of Emrakul and Unsubstantiate together because they have one important thing in common: they both resemble extremely powerful, older cards. In the case of Whispers of Emrakul, it's Hymn to Tourach, and for Unsubstantiate, it's Remand. While I hate to be a downer, neither of these cards come close to the originals in terms of power level, and I'm not convinced that either is playable. 

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Let's start with Whispers of Emrakul. The problem here is that turning on Delirium is harder than it looks, and for Hymn to Tourach to be effective, you really want to be casting it by Turn 3. Once you get to the point where your opponent only has two cards in hand, the "random" aspect of the card doesn't do anything. Instead, you're playing a 2-mana Mind Rot

That is not to say that Whispers of Emrakul is bad. It actually has the potential to be extremely powerful in the right build, but unlike Hymn to Tourach, which is good in pretty much any deck that can cast it, Whispers of Emrakul is more of a build-around-me card. In Standard, this design means building a Delirium deck with cards like Gather the Pack, Vessel of Nascency, and Grapple with the Past. The question is whether the deckbuilding restriction is worth it, and the answer is maybe, but not just to turn Whispers of Emrakul into Hymn to Tourach. Instead, you'll need to find a way to take advantage of cards like Traverse the Ulvenwald, Mindwrack Demon, To the Slaughter, Gnarlwood Dryad, and Emrakul, the Promised End. In a deck like this, Whispers of Emrakul is a great addition. The question is whether the deck itself is good enough, and finding the answer will take a lot of testing. 

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As for Unsubstantiate, the comparison to Remand is amazingly misguided. The power of Remand is that it doesn't cost you a card. Disregarding all of the other tricks you can do with Remand (like bouncing your own stuff back to your hand in a counter war), the basic power of the card is that you gain a major tempo advantage. Your opponent spends 4 mana to cast a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. You spend 2 mana to cast Remand. Your opponent loses 4 mana (close to a Time Walk), while you have the same number of cards in your hand. Unsubstantiate doesn't work this way. Casting an Unsubstantiate on a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet isn't that good in most situations. 

Maybe the best way to evaluate the power of Unsubstantiate is to think about the spell you are bouncing and ask yourself, "Would I be happy to Unsummon this spell?" If the answer is yes, then Unsubstantiate is very likely good. If the answer is no, then Unsubstantiate is bad. While it is true that you have some amount of flexibility, Unsubstantiate is only playable in specific situations: 

  • You're a tempo deck. Some decks are perfectly happy playing cards like Vapor Snag or Unsummon. If you are one of these decks, Unsubstantiate may be an upgrade. The downside is that it costs twice as much mana as Unsummon
  • You're looking to answer a specific uncounterable spell in a specific situation. Since Unsubstantiate doesn't actually counter the spell it targets, it gets around "uncounterable" abilities like those on Abrupt Decay, Supreme Verdict, Thrun, the Last Troll, and Counterflux. But let me make it clear: being able to bounce an Abrupt Decay or Supreme Verdict does not make Unsubstantiate good. The problem with bouncing an uncounterable spell is that your opponent will just recast it. What if there was a card that was 1U and said, "Target player taps two lands they control." Would you play it? Now, to be fair, there are specific situations where bouncing an uncounterable spell is amazing, possibly even amazing enough for Unsubstantiate to find its way into sideboards. For example, you're playing Merfolk. You know you can regularly win on Turn 4 if your opponent doesn't have Supreme Verdict, but everyone is playing Supreme Verdict. In this scenario, Unsubstantiate does something unique. Sure, you end up down a card, but you don't care because you are going to win before your opponent gets to untap and cast Supreme Verdict again.  
  • You're hitting really, really expensive things. When you can use Unsubstantiate to make your opponent skip their entire turn (say they tapped out for a Dragonlord Atarka), the tempo swing might be large enough to make the card playable. 
  • The Unsummon mode is good. I think this is the biggest one for Standard. For Unsubstantiate to be playable, there have to be cards that are worth bouncing once they are already on the battlefield. Right now, the most obvious application is to clear away counters from Thalia's Lieutenant or Tireless Tracker, and there might be some situations where bouncing your own Reflector Mage is worthwhile. Most humans are so cheap that, unless you can get additional value by getting in a big attack or fizzling a Dromoka's Command, Unsummon isn't very good. You don't really want to reset Thought-Knot Seer, Reflector Mage, Reckless Bushwhacker, Eldrazi Skyspawner, or Stratus Dancer. Flash creatures like Archangel Avacyn, Bounding Krasis, and Rattlechains are also problematic because your opponent can just replay them if they have the mana up. As such, I'm not sold on Unsummon being very effective in our current Standard format. 

The bottom line for both Whispers of Emrakul and Unsubstantiate is that, unlike Remand and Hymn to Tourach, these are not cards you simply run in any deck that can cast them. Instead, they are answers for very specific situations, or they need to be played in specific decks. While I think there will be decks that play these cards, I also believe both are a bit overhyped at the moment. 

Tamiyo, Field Researcher

I should start by saying that Tamiyo, Field Researcher is an extremely powerful Magic card. However, discounting Nahiri, the Harbinger, the recent history of multi-color planeswalkers in Standard isn't all that encouraging (I'm looking at you, Sarkhan Unbroken, Narset Transcendent, Kiora, Master of the Depths and Arlinn Kord), but I expect Tamiyo, Field Researcher to break the mold and see a lot of play in Standard. Her +1 ability is surprisingly powerful. As long as you have two creatures, you're likely to draw two cards, and it can get really out of hand with vigilant creatures like Archangel Avacyn and Sylvan Advocate because you can attack, draw two, and keep your opponent from attacking, since you would draw two more if you blocked.

Meanwhile, the −2 protects Tamiyo, Field Researcher from any two creatures, while also offering a way to stabilize. Because those creatures don't untap on your opponent's next turn, there's actually a lot of synergy with the +1. You play Tamiyo, Field Researcher and tap your opponent's two best creatures, and then on your next turn, you're free to +1, swing, and draw two cards, since your opponent's two best creatures are tapped. The ultimate? It's just an unkillable Omniscience. While it doesn't technically win the game on its own, it's pretty hard to lose once you can cast all of your stuff for free. Plus, you get a free Concentrate to keep the free spells rolling. 

Abilities aside, probably the biggest reason to expect great things from Tamiyo, Field Researcher in Standard is her colors. White and Green were already the two best colors in Standard heading into Eldritch Moon. Based on the spoilers we've seen so far, if anything, White and Green have gotten more powerful over the past week. In fact, you can argue that the three most powerful cards in the set are Gisela, the Broken Blade, Eldritch Evolution, and Thalia, Heretical Cathar, not to mention the facts that Bant Humans and Bant Company already make up 20% of the meta and that Tamiyo, Field Researcher is a Bant planeswalker. GW Tokens could easily splash Blue for Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Basically, the best and most played decks in Standard will likely remain the best and most played decks in Standard, since Eldritch Moon makes them even better. They can play Tamiyo, Field Researcher if they want, and I expect many will. 

That said, I have no clue why Tamiyo, Field Researcher is Bant. I think there's a strong argument that she could be mono-Blue and no one would think twice about it. Her +1 is like a one-shot Curiosity, her −2 is Frost Breath, and her ultimate is Omniscience—all mono-Blue cards. I could buy her being UG, mostly because her +1 is quite literally Warriors' Lesson, but I have absolutely no idea why White is thrown into her mana cost. Seriously, is there any reason why any of her abilities are White, even in the slightest? 

Elder Deep-Fiend

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Funny story. I was working on some quick hitters on other previewed cards to wrap up the article, and I started writing about Elder Deep-Fiend. Then, I suddenly came to the revelation that this card is actually Mistbind Clique hiding behind a massive converted mana cost, and I realized it needed its own section. 

First off, figuring out a good way to evaluate the Emerge mechanic has been problematic, but in reality it isn't all that tricky. Emerge is essentially the Champion mechanic, with the upside of not caring about creature types but the downside of sacrificing the creature. All in all, I think this flexibility helps even things out between the two mechanics. Sure, the card disadvantage of Emerge isn't an issue with Champion, but the card disadvantage can be overcome by playing things like Matter Reshaper, Whirler Rogue, Pilgrim's Eye, Reflector Mage, and Eldrazi Skyspawner. As for Elder Deep-Fiend itself, it's even better than most emerge cards thanks to Flash, which means you can play it in response to a Declaration in Stone, Grasp of Darkness, or some other removal spell. 

The real power of Elder Deep-Fiend is as a Time Walk. Let's say you play an Eldrazi Skyspawner or Matter Reshaper on Turn 3. On Turn 4, you pass, and on your opponent's upkeep, you sacrifice your three-drop to Emerge an Elder Deep-Fiend and tap down all your opponent's lands. You untap, attack with your stuff, and hopefully follow up with another Elder Deep-Fiend on Turn 5 to do it again. By this point, you've likely won the game thanks to a huge tempo advantage. When the Time Walk plan doesn't work out, you simply use Elder Deep-Fiend to tap down your opponent's blocker and attack for lethal with Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers. 

I think the problem, and likely the reason why Elder Deep-Fiend has been flying under the radar, is that Emerge cards look bad. If you just take a quick glance at Elder Deep-Fiend, you see eight mana and "sacrifice a creature," and automatically assume the card is for casual play. I mean, this reaction is what I did until I actually took some time to think about the mechanic. I peg Elder Deep-Fiend as one of the most underrated cards in Eldritch Moon, and it wouldn't surprise me if Emerge in general is being underrated for the reasons I mentioned above. Anyway, here's where I'd start with UW Elder Eldrazi. 

Quick Hitters

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  • Lupine Prototype is interesting, but I'm not sure Standard decks have the ability (or desire) to go Hellbent or make an opponent Hellbent. In Modern, I've heard some people mention 8 Rack as a home, but I'm not sure the discard-based deck wants to turn on its opponent's creature removal. It would basically be The Rack 9 through 12, except it dies to removal and can be chump blocked. No thanks. 
  • Collective Brutality seems really good in Zombies; otherwise, I'm not sure where it fits. I guess it's fine with Madness, but not until Turn 4 or 5, which might make it too slow. However, in Zombies, you can cast it on Turn 2, discard whatever Prized Amalgams or Stitchwing Skaabs you have in hand, strip a Collected Company or Declaration in Stone out of your opponent's hand, and kill a Duskwatch Recruiter. Seems good.
  • Distended Mindbender seems worse than Elder Deep-Fiend, but sacrificing Matter Reshaper, Eldrazi Skyspawner, and the like still seems solid. If decks that are playing good sacrifice fodder trend toward Black, it could see play, but I wouldn't build around Distended Mindbender like I would Elder Deep-Fiend. The payoff just isn't there. 
  • Eternal Scourge is either a super hard to kill, on-curve threat, or it's the card that makes you pay 3 mana every turn because your opponent has a Prodigal Pyromancer or Goldmeadow Harrier. The point is, playing it as a regular three-drop is fairly risky. On the other hand, it could be part of a combo, either one that already exists, like Food Chain, or with something that's printed in the future. 

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Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think about Eldritch Moon so far? What cards are you most excited about for Standard? For Modern? For Commander? What cards are currently underrated; which are overhyped? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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