The Hand That Feeds

Posted in Latest Developments on April 9, 2010

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

Welcome to the end of the second week of Rise of the Eldrazi previews. Next weekend is the set's Prerelease, your first chance to experience the strange and unfamiliar place that Zendikar has become. The plane's denizens must contend with enormous Eldrazi that have begun to ravage their world. Your job will be different: use those same Eldrazi to crush the thousands of other players who came to play Magic's newest set with you.

I wrote last week that Rise of the Eldrazi Limited was a slow format, and discussed why such a world was the perfect place for creatures with the level up mechanic to shine. The levelers are one piece to the puzzle of this format, but they were hardly the inspiration. Lead designer Brian Tinsman's vision was a world in which huge creatures mattered. Not little creatures who turn into huge creatures when you spend mana. Actual honest enormous creatures. Creatures like Ulamog's Crusher.

I will once again direct your attention to the rarity symbol on this card. Ulamog's Crusher is a common. I will now direct you to the card frame and mana cost. Ulamog's Crusher is colorless, just like every other massive Eldrazi. You can put them in any deck you want. The Eldrazi are here for everyone. I suppose that the poor denizens of Zendikar whose world is being ravaged by the Eldrazi might take offense at that statement, but we're all planeswalkers here. The important thing here isn't that that an ancient evil is unleashing terrible atrocities upon a hapless plane, it's that we can use the terrible power of that ancient evil against our enemies, right? Right.

It has been said that more than one colorless Eldrazi creature is a common in this set. There are, in fact, two of them. My preview card today is the second one:

This is not as large as Ulamog's Crusher, but it has the dangerous ability to be cast without mana quite early in the game. It is possible, of course, that you have not seen an Eldrazi Spawn token before. They look like this.

You might then wonder where you would get some of these. Black, red, and green all have cards that create them.

Hand of Emrakul sends a strong message that you should play cards that make Eldrazi Spawn to get the most value from it. This message is true, and was most recently demonstrated to me by designer Ken Nagle. I have made a few mentions of the Tuesday Magic Meeting, a weekly gathering of everyone in Magic R&D and many from other departments who have a stake in Magic in which we discuss big picture issues. On a recent Tuesday, however, Magic R&D received a gift from our director Aaron Forsythe: rather than discuss a big picture issue, we celebrated Magic's continued success by drafting Rise of the Eldrazi many weeks before it was released. Ken Nagle's love of big creatures is well documented, and I expected when he began our first game with a Mountain and a Forest that his deck reflected this preference. What I did not expect was that his turn two and three plays would give him four Eldrazi Spawn tokens and enable a Hand of Emrakul to hit the board before I played my third land. I lost that game.

I came to another terrifying realization on my way home from work that afternoon. Ken's third-turn Hand of Emrakul was produced using only commons. It was an unlikely series of events, but I'm sure that such a start will happen several times over the hundreds of Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease events that will take place across the world next weekend. It even could happen to you. Consider yourself warned. Alternatively, you could go on a mission to do this to someone else. Crack Daily MTG editor Kelly Digges is on that very mission. I'd love to hear from you if you manage to drop a third turn Hand of Emrakul onto someone's face next Saturday!

Let's zoom out a little bit. While Hand of Emrakul explicitly asks for you to have Eldrazi Spawn, those tokens are critical to your ability to get the most out of any of the huge colorless Eldrazi that are this set's main attraction. Artisan of Kozilek is a fine card to cast on turn nine after your ninth land. However, although Rise of the Eldrazi Limited is every bit as slow as we've said it is, games can still be decided by turn nine. Sometimes, your opponent will try to beat you down with small flying creatures, or with level up creatures that will tromp over the defenses that you put up. If those things happen, you may not have time to wait until turn nine.

Eldrazi Spawn tokens, thankfully, are here to help. Let's paint a different picture. On turn five, you play your fifth land and cast Emrakul's Hatcher. On your opponent's turn, you trade the Emrakul's Hatcher for one of your opponent's creatures. Then, you untap, play your sixth land, sacrifice your three Eldrazi Spawn for one mana each, and cast Artisan of Kozilek. Its cast trigger brings back the Emrakul's Hatcher and gives you three more Eldrazi Spawn, and you have a 10/9 creature with annihilator 2 ready to attack on your seventh turn. I think you'll agree this is a much more appealing scenario than the previous one.

At the Prerelease, your Sealed pool will almost certainly have a colorless Eldrazi or two, and you might decide that they are so awesome that you want to play them. We've given you the tools to cast them, but to pull it off you'll need to recognize those tools and put them in your deck. When you're serious about casting fifteen mana spells in Limited, you'll discover that almost anything that makes Eldrazi Spawn tokens is worth playing. And although we know that fifteen mana spells aren't the sort of thing that you normally try to cast in Limited, we think that this time we've made it worthwhile.

Promo card available at Rise of the Eldrazi prereleases. While supplies last. Find a store near you.

Although the Eldrazi in their new colorless frames are the stars of this set, there are plenty of colored cards in the Visual Spoiler that reward you for having large amounts of mana as well.

There are even a few things to do with the Eldrazi Spawn other than cast huge spells.

When you play Limited with Rise of the Eldrazi, you should value your Eldrazi Spawn generators higher than you might have otherwise so that you can get the most value out of all these interactions. This goes doubly in draft, where you can't put them into your deck if you didn't remember to pick them!

Of course, you won't be the only player at your Prerelease hoping to use Eldrazi Spawn tokens to conjure enormous creatures with annihilator. Everyone else has the ability to do the same thing. Your opponents who do build their decks around Eldrazi, however, will be leaning heavily on their own Eldrazi Spawn to cast their huge creatures. You can frustrate them, then, by attacking their tokens.

My favorite weapon against Eldrazi Spawn in the set is a functional reprint of an Exodus common, and there are plenty of other cards in the set that incidentally kill 0/1 creatures. Pay attention when you see them, and value them accordingly. You may find yourself in situations where the only thing you can do to avoid being flattened by a 15/15 is destroy your opponent's Eldrazi Spawn, and you don't want to be caught without a way to do it.

Hand of Emrakul and its colleagues have just begun to devour Zendikar, and you're just in time to harness their strength for your own ends. Go to the Prerelease prepared, and you'll make sure that they feed on your opponent and not on you!

Last Week's Poll

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn 4983 55.7%
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth 1547 17.3%
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre 1122 12.5%
Artisan of Kozilek 799 8.9%
Ulamog's Crusher 290 3.2%
Pathrazer of Ulamog 212 2.4%
Total 8953 100.0%

Presented with this poll, I would vote for Ulamog's Crusher. The mere existence of an eight-mana 8/8 common creature expresses close to everything that is strange about Rise of the Eldrazi, and I won quite a lot of playtest games on its enormous back. However, I like today's preview card even more than Ulamog's Crusher. It gives a Limited deck much more direction, and it can come out quite fast.

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