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Eldritch Moon Week 1: What We Learned


After a long wait, Eldritch Moon has finally arrived, and hope springs eternal! Will we finally see the end of the dominance of decks like Bant Company and GW Tokens? Do any of the Eldritch Moon tribes have what it takes to compete in Standard? Will delirium be a thing? What about the emerge cards, like Elder Deep-Fiend and Distended Mindbender? There are so many quesions, so today we are going to be breaking down all the happenings of the first week of Eldritch Moon in search of answers! Of course, like every discussion of a set's first week, it's important to realize that our sample size is small and our analysis is preliminary. While this weekend's SCG Open in Columbus will set the stage for the next couple of weeks, it will be Pro Tour Eldritch Moon that really solidifies the meta for the next couple of months leading into Kaladesh and rotation. Let's start off our exploration of Eldritch Moon week one by looking at the metagame at SCG Columbus and examining how it compares to the Shadows over Innistrad Standard meta. 

The Meta's Changing

Leading up to the release of Eldritch Moon, three decks dominated Standard. Bant Company decks made up over one-quarter of the meta, with Wr Humans coming in at just over 20% and Green-White Tokens at just under 15%. All together, the top three decks in the format took up a whopping 61% of the meta, forming a clearly defined tier one. After that, we had one 5% deck in Sultai Control, and then a bunch of 3% decks forming the second or third tier of the format. Now, let's compare that to the day two metagame at this weekend's SCG Columbus, the first big tournament of Eldritch Moon Standard. 

The good news is that the overall percentage of the meta taken up by Bant Company, GW Tokens, and Wr Humans dropped by nearly 15%, so the day two field at SCG Columbus was (at least theoretically) more diverse than the Shadows over Innistrad Standard meta. It's also exciting to see a strong performance from Spirits. While we don't have a day one metagame breakdown to check things like conversion rate, having a new deck be the second-most played in the day two meta of its very first tournament is a pretty strong statement that people at least think the deck is good. The bad news is that Bant Company—already the most played deck in Standard—consolidated its hold on the format, jumping all the way from 25% at the end of Shadows over Innistrad Standard to over 39% of the day two meta at SCG Columbus.

Bant Company Is Better than Ever

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As I just mentioned, heading into this weekend, Bant Company decks made up about 25% of the format; now, it's up to 39%, and I wouldn't expect to see a huge drop in the near future. While it's silly to make any definite statements about Standard after only one weekend of play, it's pretty clear that Bant Company is the deck to beat moving forward, possibly until rotation this fall, but at the very least until Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in a couple of weekends. 

When Spell Queller was printed, I was really hopeful that it would push UW Spirits into tier one, and while we'll talk more about Spirits in a bit, the one thing that Spell Queller clearly managed to do was make the best deck in Standard even better. Reflector Mage is already an annoyingly powerful card, and the addition of Spell Queller means that Bant Company now has access to eight copies. Sure, they function slightly differently, with Spell Queller interacting with the stack and Reflector Mage with the battlefield, but for all intents and purposes, the cards do the same thing. As far as innovations to Bant Company, Spell Queller was not only the most popular but the most meaningful. 

The other Eldritch Moon card that showed up in a reasonable number of Bant Company lists was Thalia, Heretic Cathar. While not nearly as universal as Spell Queller, some lists added the Human as a one or two of. The mirror-breaking potential is real, as many of the Bant Company mirrors (which were unfortunately all too common this weekend) tend to get bogged down on the ground, and keeping the creatures your opponent hits with Collected Company tapped down for even one turn can be the difference between winning and losing the game. Moving forward, I'd expect that a lot of Collected Company decks will have a copy or two somewhere in the 75. 

GW Tokens Is Dead(ish)

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Many players considered GW Tokens to be the best deck of Shadows over Innistrad Standard, even though its meta percentage couldn't keep up with Bant Company or Rw Humans towards the end, which makes the archetype's fall from grace even more stunning. We expect to see a massive upheaval during rotational set releases, but there's no rotation with the release of Eldritch Moon. Because of this, seeing a deck like GW Tokens decrease in play by 83% is surprising. Apparently, everyone who was running their Gideon, Ally of Zendikars and Nissa, Voice of Zendikars a week or two ago suddenly jumped ship, all at once. The question we have to answer is, why? 

Likely one of the biggest reasons is Spell Queller, which will go down as the most impactful Eldritch Moon card, at least on week one. Tapping out for a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar only to get it exiled by a Spell Queller is a fairly devastating tempo swing for GW Tokens, especially when you consider that the deck is fairly light on removal, usually relying on some number of Dromoka's Commands and maybe Declaration in Stone, which means you can't just kill the Spell Queller to get back your planeswalker. And this isn't even considering the fact that GW Tokens is already soft to fliers, and even discounting the fact that Bant Company now has access to Spell Queller, Spirits decks are on the rise, and some number of players are going to test our various Gisela, the Broken Blade decks, whether they end up being good or not.

Emerge Isn't Just for Emerge Decks

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Heading into this weekend, the general consensus seemed to be that emerge cards like Elder Deep-Fiend and Distended Mindbender were extremely powerful, but a lot of the conversation around these cards centered around good sacrifice targets like Matter Reshaper and Eldrazi Skyspawner. Well, one of the things we learned this weekend is that you don't really need to be a dedicated emerge deck to take advantage of the powerful Eldrazi. 

Now, to be fair, the number of emerge cards to show up in the Top 64 at SCG Columbus was not stunning. Elder Deep-Fiend was the eighth-most-played Eldritch Moon card, while Distended Mindbender came in outside the top 15. So it's not so much the number of copies that's worth writing about but where the copies showed up. While certainly the minority, some Bant Company players were running Elder Deep-Fiend, and various G/B Delirium decks (which showed up on camera several times during the early rounds of SCG Columbus, but then mostly faded away by the end of day one) were running Distended Mindbender. It seems likely that these cards are just scratching the surface of their potential. Both are powerful enough to be Standard staples, and the fact that players were willing to run them in a wide array of archetypes (and not just dedicated emerge decks) is a vote of confidence for their future—it's just a matter of figuring out where they can best be put to use.

Gisela Is the Most Overrated Card in Eldritch Moon

When Gisela, the Broken Blade was spoiled on the very first day of Eldritch Moon previews, everyone was hyped. I mean, Gisela, the Broken Blade looked a lot like a miniature Baneslayer Angel, with the additional upside of randomly melding into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. Then, in another warning about why evaluating cards in a vacuum before an entire set is spoiled is dangerous, the rest of the Eldritch Moon spoilers revealed some extremely efficient answers to Gisela, the Broken Blade—first Incendiary Flow, then Spell Queller, and then finally Murder—and the mood cooled. 

Well, this weekend's tournament backed up our worst fears for Gisela, the Broken Blade. First, it wasn't very heavily played to begin with, showing up in but a handful of Wx Angel decks. Secondly when Gisela, the Broken Blade did show up (in a sweet B/W Angels deck that looked a lot like our White Jund list, but with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet along with some black removal and sideboard cards), it looked horrible, being repeatedly bounced by Reflector Mage, even after it melded with Bruna, the Fading Light into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares thanks to Collected Company. Now, there are situations where Gisela, the Broken Blade is great—when B/W Angels played GW Tokens, Gisela, the Broken Blade dominated a large portion of the game. But, if 40% of the fomat is Bant Company and another 15% is Spirits, along with some smaller percentage of removal-heavy control decks, Gisela, the Broken Blade doesn't seem great at the moment.

As we move forward in Eldritch Moon Standard, at least until Collected Company rotates in September, Gisela, the Broken Blade look borderline unplayable. Maybe it will find a home in sideboards for the minority of matchups in which it is good, but its best bet for heavy play will likely be this fall. While this comparison might be premature, our current format—specifically, the combo of Reflector Mage and Spell Queller—feels a little bit like the original Innistrad Standard, where expensive, main-phase creatures were horrible thanks to Vapor Snag into Snapcaster Mage, flashback Vapor Snag. You can only lose this amount of tempo so many times before it loses you the game. 

Liliana, the Last Hope Is One of the Most Underrated Cards in Eldritch Moon

The story of Liliana, the Last Hope is almost the exact opposite of Gisela, the Broken Blade. When she was spoiled, the reception was somewhere between lukewarm and downright disappointment, but once the cards actually hit the table, Liliana, the Last Hope was everywhere. While it seemed likely that she would see play in dedicated delirium decks, since she's very good at filling the graveyard and isn't the worst as a three-mana Gravedigger, maybe the more surprising part is that she showed up in decks that aren't really built around stocking their graveyard, like B/W Angel Control and and Ali Aintrazi's super-spicy Sultai control. 

Basically, if a deck was somewhat controlling or had any graveyard synergies and was playing black cards, it was playing at least two copies of Liliana, the Last Hope, and dedicated delirium decks were playing four. So, it seems like Liliana, the Last Hope is indeed much more powerful than she looked at first glance, and may end up being a big part of Standard moving forward. Ironically, while the format was dominated by Bant decks, the much-hyped Tamiyo, Field Researcher fell flat, barely making an appearance at all (only showing up in small numbers, often in the sideboard), while the much maligned Liliana, the Last Hope had her coming-out party on week one. 

The Tribes of Eldritch Moon

One of the biggest questions heading into the release of Eldritch Moon was, "Do any of the tribes from Shadows over Innistrad block get enough help to be competitive?" During spoiler season, it was clear that Vampires, Zombies, and Spirits all got some powerful new cards, but would it be enough for the decks to compete with the top tier of the format? Well, the answers are starting to roll in. 

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Let's start with the good news. Spirits are looking like a potential tier one archetype, based on the early results. As I mentioned before, being the second-most-played deck on the very first week out is a great sign for the archetype. The question is just what the best Spirits deck looks like. My first attempts went the tempo route, playing almost exclusively two-powered flash creatures backed up by counterspells, but it looks like the most successful build of Spirits at SCG Columbus was Jeff Hoogland's brew, featuring four copies of Archangel Avacyn along with two main deck Planar Outbursts to combo with Selfless Spirit into a build-your-own Plague Wind. Unfortunatly, Jeff fell just short of the Top 8, and immediatly tweeted something about how he "hopes everyone enjoys three months of Bant," which isn't exactly the biggest vote of confidence for the deck. That said, it seems likely that there will be a very strong Spirits deck in Standard, but much like emerge, it isn't immediately clear how to build the best Spirit deck. The good news is that Spirits, with their vague resemblance to Faeries, seems like the type of deck a pro team will bring to Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, so it's likely we'll have a well-tuned, default build of Spirits in a couple of weeks. 

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On the other hand, the bad news is that the rest of the tribes from Eldritch Moon had a pretty bad weekend. While Wr Humans is still a deck, it took a major hit compared to where it was previously, dropping from 20% of the Shadows over Innistrad meta to just under 6% of the SCG Columbus day two meta. Not that this really means anything in the big picture, as some players at SCG Columbus (like Tom Ross, who lost a win and in for Top 8) had success with the deck, and there's an argument that going low to the ground (which is Wr Humans' specialty) might be one of the best ways to beat Bant Company, so it's very possible this is a temporary drop and Wr Humans remains near the top of the format over the rest of the summer. 

Werewolves didn't do anything, but that's not really a surprise because no one except the most optimistic of Werewolves fans really expected to see Werewelves on the tournament scene. If there's one thing that we've learned over two Innistrad blocks, it's that the "flipping" mechanic, at least Werewolf style (counting the number of spells play in a turn), isn't really tournament worthy, outside of a handful of powerful, standalone exceptions like Huntmaster of the Fells

Most disappointing were the performances of Vampires and Zombies, with a grand total of zero showing up on day two of SCG Columbus. This could mean one of two things: either no one played these decks at the tournament, or they simply weren't good enough to keep up with Bant Company, Spirits, and all of the other powerful decks in the format. Hopefully, it's the format, and sooner or later, someone figures out the right build and we have some sweet tribal decks in Standard, but I'm afraid it could be the latter. However, there is a silver lining: a sweet Vampire deck and a spicy Zombie deck had success in Japan over the weekend, and they'll both be featured in Instant Deck Techs this week. So, if you are looking for a fun tribal deck to play at your next Friday Night Magic, make sure to keep your eyes open throughout the week!

Three Most Interesting Decks

Considering that a massive 29 of the top 64 decks were Bant (45%) and 10 were Spirits (15%), along with some old standbys like Wr Humans, GW Tokens, and various Eldrazi decks, it might seem like there wasn't much new and exciting going on in Columbus, but fortunately, this isn't true. While it takes a bit of digging, some cool, unique, and new decks made an appearance. Here are my three favorites!

Most Played Eldritch Moon Cards

The below list shows the most played Eldritch Moon cards in the main decks of the Top 64 lists for this weekend's SCG Open in Columbus. As a point of reference, the maximum number of copies one card could have (if every single deck played four of the card) would be 256. 

Eldritch Moon Week One—Main Deck Cards (Four or More Copies in Top 64 Decks)
Card Total Main Deck Copies
Spell Queller 127
Selfless Spirit 58
Mausoleum Wanderer 40
Thalia, Heretic Cathar 37
Nebelgast Herald 31
Liliana, the Last Hope 18
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage 16
Elder Deep-Fiend 14
Foul Emissary 8
Incendiary Flow 8
Unsubstantiate 7
Collective Defiance 7
Distended Mindbender 6
Gisela, the Broken Blade 5
Ishkanah, Grafwidow 4
Grim Flayer 4
Hanweir Garrison 4
Galvanic Bombardment 4
Take Inventory 4
Thermo-Alchemist 4
  • First off, Spell Queller was clearly the biggest winner at the event, coming within a single copy short of being a four-of in 50% of the decks in the Top 64. How did it achieve such dominance? Not only was it a four-of in all but one Spirits decks, but also in Bant Company decks as well. 
  • Selfless Spirit came in a distant second, but benefited from the same decks as Spell Queller. While Selfless Spirit was always a four-of in Spirits, it was also somewhat widely adopted in Bant Company as well. 
  • The rest of the Spirits near the top of the list were exclusively played in Spirits lists. While all of the Spirits lists in the Top 64 played the full four copies of Mausoleum Wanderer, some number left Nebelgast Herald on the sidelines. 
  • Thalia, Heretic Cathar was not played in any of the Wr Human lists, but managed to crack the top five by showing up in about half of the Bant Company lists. Most decks either played two or none. 
  • Liliana, the Last Hope beat out Tamiyo, Field Researcher as the most played planeswalker, which is especially impressive, considering there was a magnituded more Bant-color decks that could theoretically play Tamiyo, Field Researcher than there were black decks that could play Liliana, the Last Hope
  • The biggest dissapointments have to include Gisela, the Broken Blade (five copies) and Grim Flayer (four copies). 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What was your impression of the first week of Eldritch Moon Standard? Is there still hope for Vampires and Zombies, or is the dream already dead? Will the Pro Tour shake up the format, or are we looking forward to two months of Bant Company dominance? Does anything on the most-played list surprised you? What deck are you looking to play for Game Day or your next Friday Night Magic?  As always, let me know in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffonOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.

 


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