Insider: Evaluating Early Eldritch Moon for Modern

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Last week, you read my article either in the hours before the big Eldritch Moon reveal, or right when it was hot of the presses. I know some players and story buffs were disappointed to see the Eldrazi back so soon, but as I wrote about on the Nexus, I was a pretty happy camper. A cool new Emrakul is still a cool new Emrakul, and my recently built R/G Tron deck will be happy to try out a few copies in the Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger slot.

Today, you'll again be reading this article either right before some official previews hit the web, or immediately after. Oh, the trials and tribulations of a Monday author! Thankfully, this time around we have a full week of scattered spoilers to get excited about. Doubly excited if you're sleeving up Urza's lands and Eldrazi Temples.

Big mana on tap for Eldritch Moon

Between three official previews and two unofficial spoilers, we're at a promising start (Emrakul pun intended) to the Moon season. I'll assess all of them for Modern playability and financial outlook, making this one of the few weeks we can do a Modern breakdown of each and every reveal for the five-day period.

Preview season is a prime time to get ahead of impending spikes and invest around newly minted technology. Although no one gets excited about Wizards' nth attempt failure to update Clone variants, there are at least two cards in last week's Eldritch Moon batch that have me interested.

Emrakul, the Promised End

Eldritch Moon's inaugural reveal didn't disappoint. Bitter #TeamMaritLage or #NoMoreEldrazi fanatics should put down the torches and enjoy this dangerous new monster coming to Modern tables near you. Modern players historically complain about the lack of format playables in new sets (and then complain again when the playables don't meet their opaque expectations), and Emrakul is the rare set poster-child that is both flavorful and powerful.

Then again, if you hated playing against the Tron strategies before Moon, you're going to hate them even more after.

Emrakul the Promised End

As I mentioned earlier, I posted my full Emrakul, the Promised End analysis last Wednesday on Modern Nexus, which I encourage you to (re-)read for the analytical steps I took in testing out the biggest, baddest new legend in the format. In summary, I stuck Emrakul into a stock R/G Tron list and then tested her, comparing her performance in every boardstate to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger's performance in those same situations. I also evaluated her on her own merits.

Testing showed that Emrakul was at least as strong as Ulamog in the vast majority of tested scenarios, with significant upsides when she was stronger. Further testing since Wednesday has only confirmed these points, which I'll lay out here to summarize the pro-Emrakul case:

  • Emrakul and Ulamog frequently land on the same turn. Her cost is not an issue with the cost reduction, particularly in lists packing Lightning Bolt.
  • Emrakul's Mindslaver imitation almost always meets or exceeds Ulamog's double-exile, averaging four cards removed. Note this is up from the 3.5 I calculated in my sample on Wednesday.
  • The ceiling to Emrakul's on-cast trigger is very high, sometimes ending the game on the spot with 6+ card blowouts.
  • As a flier, Emrakul gives you a critical defender against Infect and Affinity players looking to close out a game. Ulamog cannot do this on certain boardstates where opponents have three or more critical threats.

Taken collectively, those are strong selling points for a hyped new mythic and a great starting point for Emrakul.

Because R/G Tron typically plays only 6-8 creatures, with many slots already committed to threats like Wurmcoil Engine and World Breaker, Emrakul competes directly for Ulamog as the curve-topper. Post-Eldrich Moon, my testing suggests Emrakul will take at least one of those slots in most metagames, either splitting 1-1 with Ulamog or edging him out completely.

Of course, it's also possible Emrkaul finds a home in other Tron or Eldrazi decks. Blue-based Tron, for example, plays more instants and can use discard outlets to reliably fill graveyards. Emrakul could certainly have a home here, although I generally shy away from the old "This card will make my Tier 3 deck Tier 2!" arguments; they rarely pan out in Modern. Even so, keep these blue decks in mind as you consider Emrakul's prospects.

Blue Tron and Emrakul

If Ulamog does fall out of fashion in favor of Emrakul, or if Emrakul starts sharing deckspace with Ulamog, then Emrakul's price tag is all but guaranteed to settle around Ulamog's. Post-Moon Emrakul would see about as much Modern play as Ulamog sees now, not to mention enjoying additional demand from Standard and casual formats (where she will also assuredly see play).

This means she's over-valued at $19.99 when Ulamog is down in the $12-$14 range, but a good pickup once she drops down to where Ulamog is today. It's very unlikely she'll be worth much more than Ulamog (given that Ulamog's prevalence should be largely predictive of her prevalence), but I could see her creeping a bit higher due to her Nahiri synergy in Standard. If so, that would still put a ceiling around where she is today. Invest accordingly.

Coax from the Blind Eternities

Emrakul is clearly the big early winner in Eldritch Moon, but another Eldrazi-themed storypoint also shows some preliminary Modern potential. And unlike Emrakul, who caters more to mainstream R/G Tron players than other Urza's variants, Coax is all blue, all the time.


Mechanically, Coax gives the different blue-based Tron strategies a number of edges. It lets all of them run an Eldrazi wishboard to tutor answers and outs to various situations. Against combo, it grabs Thought-Knot Seer. If you need to race, Reality Smasher is on the way. For midrange grindfests, Drowner of Hope is there for value. You can also get either Ulamog or Emrakul to seal the game instead.

As an added bonus pointed out by one of my MTGSalvation forumgoers, Coax also synergizes very well with the seldom-played U/R Through the Breach Tron strategies. I don't know if this kind of untiered deck can push into Tier 3 or higher, but Coax would certainly help.

All those upsides aside, Coax has one big problem that has felled many other Modern tutors: a three-mana casting cost. Idyllic Tutor, Fabricate, most of the transmute cards (except Tolaria West in old Amulet Bloom), and other three-mana, sorcery-speed tutors see essentially zero play in competitive Modern. At three mana, Coax seems likely to follow in their forgotten footsteps.

Even one-mana Traverse the Ulvenwald, despite a lot of initial promise and buzz from many players including myself, couldn't cut it!

Failed tutors in Modern

That said, there are a few two-mana tutors which do make the Modern cut. Sylvan Scrying is the Tron mainstay, with Glittering Wish seeing occasional play depending on the metagame. We also know Tron decks push up the curve to make otherwise unplayable cards (Karn Liberated, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon) into virtual three- or four-drops.

If those two principles can be combined, we might see Coax shine in blue-based Tron decks as a "virtual" two-mana tutor. Once Tron is assembled, Island plus Mine/Power Plant gives you all the otherworldly Coaxing power you could want. It does limit you to a turn four play (you'd need four lands on the battlefield), but that turn four Coax into Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher can be very strong.

Despite these strategic possibilities, it seems very unlikely that the sorcery will coax anything more than a $2-$3 price tag once the set is released. Niche rares from widely-opened sets rarely get more, and Coax is unlikely to break the mold. Standard demand could definitely drive this higher (see Standard all-stars like Thalia's Lieutenant and Hangarback Walker with occasional Modern relevance), but I wouldn't bet on it and wouldn't buy too aggressively.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar

I've been putting in lots of Ad Nauseam reps on MTGO, and evil Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has cost me more than a few games and League finishes. Thalia is a name synonymous with "Death and Taxes" in all formats, and those are big shoes for her newest version to fill.

Wizards seems to have identified Thalia's competitive role, trying to keep her new design true to the Death and Taxes history while also sporting new abilities.

Thalia Heretic Cathar

I haven't tested Thalia the same way I tested Emrakul, but it's hard to evaluate this card favorably in Modern. As a three-mana 3/2 with no immediate board impact, Thalia is already failing two of the key "Bolt Test" metrics on the spot.

For review, the Bolt Test is not "Does this card die to Bolt?" Wild Nacatl dies to Bolt. Dark Confidant dies to Bolt. Blighted Agent dies to Bolt. The Bolt test is clearly much more than just the act of dying to the red staple. Specifically, it encompasses a few qualities:

  1. Does this card die to Bolt at parity? If not, what's the resource difference?
  2. Does this card have an immediate impact even if it gets Bolted? If so, is that impact consistent and relevant?
  3. Does this card protect itself from Bolt in any way?
  4. Does this card take over the game if it is not Bolted? If so, how decisive and reliable is that effect?

Something like Nacatl doesn't exactly take over the game if it lives, nor does it do anything if it dies immediately. It does, however, only cost one mana, which means it trades one-for-one with Bolt. Or, to quote one of my favorite apocryphal Modern phrases, your creature didn't die to Bolt. Bolt died to your creature.

By a similar token, Tidehollow Sculler dies to Bolt but can also remove a Bolt to stay safe. Old Thalia, Guardian of Thraben made Bolt cost two mana, making a resource trade at parity with Bolt. Flickerwisp, a D&T three-drop mainstay, always exiles even if it dies. And then there's Eldrazi Displacer which does die to Bolt but also completely shuts down opposing removal and gameplay (in tandem with Flickerwisp) if unanswered.

Passing the real Bolt Test in D&T

Unfortunately, new Thalia doesn't cut it here. She's one-for-four on our Bolt Test standards, with her only upside being an ability to run away with the game's tempo if she isn't immediately answered. A one-sided Kismet-lite is very hard for a lot of Modern decks to deal with, particularly if pressured by attacks or other D&T creatures.

Thalia's problem is that at three mana, she can't hit play early enough for the tapdown to be effective. Another problem is that the lockdown effect is only effective in the midrange and control matchups, with most aggro decks (except potentially Gruul Zoo and its hasted creatures) running right over her early.

That said, the dream scenario of a turn one Noble Hierarch into turn two Thalia on the play is very tantalizing. Few fair decks can overcome that play, although it does gear Thalia more towards Hatebears than Death and Taxes (don't know the difference? Hatebears is the one with all the "enters-the-battlefield" effects).

Overall, these strategic assessments suggest Thalia is unlikely to make it in Modern. She's also a promotional card (potentially the Buy-a-Box promo), which will further devalue her. I do think she's much better in Legacy, where she decisively shuts down Elves and screws with Sneak and Show Emrakuls, but that doesn't put an inspiring ceiling on her price. Expect this to be around the $2-$3 range at best.

Ulrich of the Krallenhorde

Three early previews down, two to go! Unfortunately, these closing cards don't live up to the buzz of the first three, even if Commander players everywhere are happy to finally get the long-awaited legendary werewolf.

Now, if only the Modern werewolf fans can get their long-awaited format playable.

ulrichofthekrallenhorde ulrichuncontestedalpha

Huntmaster of the Fells is disappointed in his boss. Despite passing the Bolt test and even dodging Abrupt Decay, Ulrich just doesn't meet the standards for a Modern playable.

His immediate impact is purely offensive, with no interactive applications outside of a massive ten-damage fight trigger if he does flip. I'm not complaining about the fighting; Huntmaster had a similar effect and was eminently playable. Ulrich just falls flat because his on-enter trigger is too low-impact.

Too bad Wizards didn't reverse the triggers, even if it wouldn't make much flavor sense. That would have at least given Ulrich a fighting chance.

In all honesty, I had low hopes for a long-awaited legendary werewolf---with expectations and design constraints like that, it's hard to hope for a Modern playable. I do think this will be Standard-playable in the right strategy, and I assume the Commander crowd can find a home for him, so the current $7-$9 price tag seems about right. Of course, if you scent any Modern playability, however unlikely that is, this price could get even higher.

Identity Supplanter

We close out the official pre-preview week with a real doozy of a Modern card. Did you think Clone variants were bad? Did you think Thalia was bad for failing the Bolt Test? Well, with Identity Supplanter (or "Identity Thief," depending on the final translation), Wizards hits it out of the park with a bad Clone variant that also fails the Bolt Test.

And I thought I was annoyed with the abysmal Altered Ego!

Identity Supplanter

The newest shapeshifter is the bulkiest of the bulk rares. I saw some talk about this at least being Legacy-playable in Sneak and Show scenarios, but a) the trigger wouldn't activate Emrakul's annihilator even if you exiled her, and b) it couldn't even snipe off an opposing Marit Lage. I guess it pitches to Force of Will?

Let's just say I'm happy previews are starting in earnest this week.

Eldritch Moon Inbound!

I really can't leave you on that last note, so let's actually end with a real monster of an Eldrazi packed with power and flavor. Or rather, half of the monster because the other side (or sides) haven't yet been released.

Hanweir, the Writhing Township

Hanweir the Writhing Township

If you had asked me about Hanweir last week, I would have assumed it had some red or green enchantment on the other side. It fit the number crunch on new cards, and the only other hasted double-faced card was off the non-creature Westvale Abbey from Shadows.

Thankfully, as I was writing this I stumbled across the MTGSalvation post discussing a new Eldritch Moon mechanic: meld. Citing Reddit sources, the post points to a (bizarrely) new way double-faced cards will interact and I'd bet my entire Ad Nauseam deck that Hanweir will fit that new mechanic. That makes Hanweir less likely to be Modern-playable (it's hard to keep small, synergistic creatures around in a removal-packed format), but doesn't detract from the card being awesome.

However it turns out, don't buy Hanweirs for anything less than $1-$2 until you see its meld conditions.


Thanks for joining me today as we took a brief tour of the Eldritch Moon previews up through today. Join me next week as we review more Eldritch action and see how those crazy new mechanics are going. Got questions about these cards or other investment opportunities? Let me know in the comments and I'll see you soon.

One thought on “Insider: Evaluating Early Eldritch Moon for Modern

  1. Typo in last sentence?
    “However it turns out, don’t buy Hanweirs for anything less than $1-$2 until you see its meld conditions.”

    Presumably less is more here. 🙂

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