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Playing Around Instant-Speed Tricks in Eternal Masters Limited


One of the first things I do after a new set comes out is memorize all the instant-speed tricks available in the format. By doing so, I can make informed decisions before and during combat, as well as when to cast spells that target my own creatures. I usually start by breaking the tricks down into five categories:

  • Instant-speed creatures: Flash creatures, token generators, and spells that let you play creatures at instant speed.
  • Creature removal: This includes bounce, tapping, and other temporary removal.
  • Pump/protection: Pump spells primarily affect combat by giving a creature +M/+N, while protection spells are primarily used to save a creature from removal or an unfavorable combat by giving it hexproof, protection from a color, or preventing damage. However, +M/+N can save creatures from removal, and protection from a color can help creatures survive combat, so I combined these categories.
  • Sideboard cards: This includes color hosers, artifact and enchantment removal, and conditional removal (e.g., Hydroblast). You don't usually need to play around them in game one.
  • Other: Everything else, including counterspells, card draw, and life gain. While they can sometimes be relevant, I don't tend to play around these cards in Limited.

This process is easier for Eternal Masters than usual since most colors have only a few tricks we care about. A greater number of instants from Eternal Masters are more relevant for Constructed play, and perhaps Wizards of the Coast also realized that people may not want to have to learn a large number of tricks for a format they are unlikely to play more than a couple of times. If we exclude card draw, tutors, and other cards that don't usually affect your opponent's decision process in Limited, as well as cards that typically start in the sideboard (Fog and Nature's Claim at Common, Hydroblast, Pyroblast, and Price of Progress at Uncommon), there are 25 cards left:

These 25 spells consist of three instant-speed creatures (all of which require White mana), 12 removal spells, seven pump/protection spells, four counterspells, and one other card (Dualcaster Mage). These numbers don't exactly add up because Whitemane Lion is an instant-speed creature that can also protect a creature, and Zealous Persecution is both removal and pump.

About half of the instant-speed tricks are removal spells. They include three spells that require a creature to attack or block. The only ones that care about the creature's toughness are Tidal Wave, Tragic Slip, Carbonize, and Pyrokinesis. There are no instant-speed spells that bounce or steal creatures (either temporarily or permanently).

White and Blue have 15 of the 25 tricks (including the White/Blue Thunderclap Wyvern). Colors other than White have all or almost all their cards in a single category. Blue only has counterspells plus Tidal Wave and Dream Twist, Black only has removal spells, Red only has removal spells plus the Rare Dualcaster Mage, and Green only has pump spells.

Zero- and One-Mana Tricks

Although there are four instant-speed spells in Eternal Masters that have zero-mana alternate costs, two are Rare or Mythic, so you won't usually play around them unless you already know your opponent has them. I only expect Daze in aggressive White/Blue decks since other decks won't want to set themselves back on land drops in the early game, and the card is not particularly effective in the late game. Invigorate is the only free spell that I'll usually try to play around.

Furthermore, the only one-mana spells I expect to play around are Swords to Plowshares, Tragic Slip, and sometimes Dream Twist, since the rest are either tutors, sideboard cards, or don't otherwise impact games of Limited.

Card Advantage

Each color has one spell that can affect multiple creatures, and there are two such multicolor spells:

In addition, there are several other spells that can also gain you card advantage. Removal spells can always get you card advantage if played in response to a pump spell, so I won't include them here unless they also draw you a card.

Conclusions

Eternal Masters has 25 instant-speed tricks that we care about in games of Limited, a relatively small number compared to most sets. About half of these are removal spells, most of which don't care about a creature's toughness. Notably, there's no instant-speed bounce in the set, or any way to steal creatures at instant speed.

White and Blue have 15 of the 25 tricks (including the White/Blue Thunderclap Wyvern). Other than White, each color's tricks mostly fall into one category: Blue mostly has counterspells, Black only has removal, Red mostly has removal, and Green only has pump. White has a wider range of instant-speed effects, so you need to be more cautious when playing against it.

There are not as many zero- and one-mana tricks as I would have expected in a set that's designed to provide Vintage and Legacy staples. On the other hand, there are a lot of spells that provide card advantage, either by affecting multiple creatures, by drawing you a card, via an enters-the-battlefield effect on a creature, or by creating multiple creatures.


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