Rise of the Eldrazi promises to offer a dramatically different game play experience from those you've seen during the lightning-fast games of Zendikar / Worldwake Draft and Sealed.
While I haven't gotten the chance to play any Rise of the Eldrazi Limited, or see the set in its entirety yet (I have to wait until the Prerelease just like everyone else), I did get a chance to talk to Mark Rosewater, who was nice enough to share some of the insights that he and the rest of the R&D team can give us regarding the set.
And while I can't share everything that Mark told me (yet), he did key me in to one of the defining features of the format that I'm more than happy to share:
Games Will Go Longer; Plan Accordingly
"The environment of Rise of the Eldrazi is much slower than an average environment and significantly slower than the Zendikar / Worldwake environment. Strategies that win quickly will find endless obstacles woven into the set. For example, Glory Seeker (a 2/2 for ) is a reasonably good attacker in most environments. It is not one in Rise of the Eldrazi."
While Magic 2010 Limited was slow when compared to Shards of Alara block or Zendikar / Worldwake, two-mana 2/2s were still quite good. You could get out far ahead of your opponents by curving out properly, and there were some very aggressive decks that looked to capitalize on quick starts to bury their opponents before they got a chance to cast their best spells. No, not every deck would necessarily want to play a Runeclaw Bear or a Coral Merfolk, but some decks could put them to very good use.
Unfortunately for Grizzly Bears' descendants, it sounds like cheap aggressive ground creatures are going to have a lot of trouble consistently punching through for damage in this particular Limited environment
Instead, people are likely to look to win through big creatures, evasion, and other unique win conditions. If you want a sense of how different this format is going to be from formats in the past, instead of regularly winning with 2/2s for two, people are going to be regularly winning with defenders.
The Best Defense Is ...
Back during Ravnica Limited, blue-black mill control decks were all the rage. They would muck up the board and gradually grind away at their opponents' libraries with Vedalken Entrancers.
The archetype was so resilient because it got to play the best defensive cards in the format, and its signature card, the seemingly innocuous Vedalken Entrancer, was able to do double duty as an excellent blocker and a primary win condition.
When a card is reasonably costed and is able to both do a great job blocking and kill your opponent reasonably rapidly, it tends to be an excellent card to build your deck around.
Are you ready to see a new card to build Limited decks around?
Yes, that's right. Vent Sentinel is a common. That means that you stand a good chance of getting multiple copies of it in your deck.
If Vent Sentinel were the only creature with defender in your deck, it would be pretty underwhelming. You might play it if you were short on cards, or if you desperately needed an extra defensive creature, but otherwise it would be best off sitting in your sideboard. But if you have a single additional defender on the battlefield, Vent Sentinel becomes quite good. If you have a bunch of defenders out, Vent Sentinel becomes pretty fantastic.
If you have multiple copies of Vent Sentinel on the battlefield, along with any other defenders, your opponent will be dead pretty fast. With two Vent Sentinels and just a single other defender, your will be hitting your opponent for 6 a turn. With two other defenders, your opponent will be taking a whopping 8 damage every turn.
From your defenders!
And Vent Sentinel isn't the only good defender in this set. Not by a long shot. From what I've been told, there are a lot of good defenders in Rise of the Eldrazi. Take, for example, Overgrown Battlement:
If Overgrown Battlement tapped for a single green mana, it would be very good. Heck, Vine Trellis was a staple for years. But when it has the opportunity to tap for gobs of mana, survive most burn spells, and block Hill Giants with ease, you have a pretty great card on your hands.
Imagine what would happen if you opened on turn two Overgrown Battlement, turn three Vent Sentinel. Not only would you have the ground mucked up for the foreseeable future, but on turn four you would have access to as much as six mana. If you cast another defender that turn, you could bust out a monstrous Eldrazi creature like Ulamog's Crusher. While your opponent is busy finding a way to deal with your Ulamog's Crusher, you will still have a ton of mana, some really good defenders, and you will be able to start hammering away at your opponent with Vent Sentinel.
Even if you don't have an Overgrown Battlement, being able to play a 2/4 that can hit your opponent for 2 to 3 damage a turn is quite a good way to bust out of a stalemate.
Just because Rise of the Eldrazi Limited is a "slow format" doesn't mean that games can't end in a hurry. Overgrown Battlement is a great way to end games quickly. While you ultimately want to use your Overgrown Battlement to power out giant Eldrazi creatures and the like, you have to make sure that you have enough good defenders to support it.
You don't want to be in a spot where your opponent kills your Overgrown Battlement, leaving you with a bunch of completely innocuous defenders on the battlefield and some uncastable monsters in your hand.
Not at all.
Instead, you need to make sure that your deck will be able to work even if your Overgrown Battlements get killed.
If games in this format are going to go as long as I think they will, then Vent Sentinel should be a pretty fantastic win condition. Even if it takes you a little while to draw into other defenders, if you've been able to lock up the board, you should have no problem buying the time that you need to nibble away at your opponent's life total.
And even if your opponent gets down an Ulamog's Crusher that you can't handle, you'll have a few turns to hammer away at your opponent. And if your opponent hasn't done much damage to you in the early parts of the game (thanks to your fantastic army of defenders), then you will often be able to finish the job before his or her 8/8 annihilator is able to annihilate you.
When 2/2s Don't Matter
I more than welcome the opportunity to play a radically different Limited format, especially after the fast-paced world of Zendikar. And while I find it a little bit shocking that 2/2s for two are not going to be anything special, or necessarily anything even worth playing in many Rise of the Eldrazi Limited decks, I am very glad that Mark Rosewater took the time to let me know. Had I not gotten that message, I can assure you that I would have shown up to the Prerelease and put pretty much every 2/2 for two I saw in my sealed deck.
And I almost assuredly would have paid the price for that.
Keep an eye on this space for some more exciting previews and key tips on playing this Limited format from members of R&D!