All good stories must come to an end. Hopefully, they'll be paced better than Game of Thrones's was. The Throne of Eldraine prerelease is this weekend and the spoiler is finished, so it's time to wrap up my set review. There haven't been many interesting individual cards spoiled since my last article, but a number of minor themes have gotten cards. Today we'll examine some of these themes for potential viability.
Food hasn't really panned out as Modern playable. I was somewhat skeptical that it could in the first place, given its power compared to clue tokens. There isn't an efficient way to continuously generate them, and the payoffs don't payoff enough. Witch's Oven is good at making tokens, but there are better ways to sacrifice creatures and better effects for doing so. If Feasting Troll King made tokens whenever it entered the battlefield, it would also be playable. Having to cast it means that won't happen. Savvy Hunter remains the best food producer and consumer, but she's too much worse than Tireless Tracker to earn a place.
However, that's not all there is to Eldraine's artifacts. There is a minor artifact and enchantment theme running through the set (which is very appropriate) and some of those cards may make it. I've already covered the flagship card Emry, Lurker of the Loch, but there's another card that may revive a dead archetype. And a sting of others that are traps.
I can't decide if Dance of the Manse is a reference to Sword in the Stone or Beauty and the Beast. I'm picking Sword since it's the less popular movie. Dance harkens back to Eggs, and could potentially revive the archetype. The front side is considerably worse than Open the Vaults or Faith's Reward, but the upside is that Dance is also such a deck's win condition, which potentially increases the combo's consistency and frees up deck space. Considering that there's now an actual Golden Egg, it seems like an Eggs deck could exist in Modern again.
However, it remains a long shot. The cheap enablers, card drawing, and recursion are all there and have proven power, but there's no engine; Eggs continues to lack a sacrifice outlet or mana generator within sight of the banned Krak-Clan Ironworks, which has always been the key card for the strategy. Lacking that card, it is very hard to generate the mana or critical mass of in-grave artifacts to make such a combo work. The best I've come up with is to continuously cycle Terrarion and other eggs, spinning the wheels and hoping to just keep cantripping into a lethal Grapeshot. The deck tested worse than Storm.
Nonetheless, I'm not willing to give up on the idea. The core of the deck is strong enough that it may be worth stretching to find the mana to make it work. Urza lands are the best option for making mana for artifacts, but there's nothing to keep the mana flowing during a combo turn. Wizards has been leery of mass land untapping since Candelabra of Tawnos. The best option I could find is Early Harvest, which could only generate the necessary mana alongside Heartbeat of Spring, and at that point the combo looses its artifact identity. Paradox Engine alongside signets and Mystic Forge can generate the mana and velocity, but they can't get the critical mass of artifacts into the graveyard for Dance to animate. There wasn't enough deck space. I feel like the deck is within my grasp but not my sight. Here's how far I've gotten:
When I've gotten perfect hands, the deck has gone off on turn three. The problem then is that the combo then wins the next turn. Playing a longer game lets you slowly build up artifacts and "Dance off" naturally, but that's not a winning strategy against aggro decks. The problem might be that Dance just isn't the right win condition, but it feels so close that I won't give up yet.
The other big artifacts are the cycle of story-relevant legends. I've covered Embercleave already, and its playability hinges entirely on Stoneforge Mystic. The Circle of Loyalty is also plausible in the unlikely event knight tribal is playable. Anthem effects are always decent, but Circle would be particularly good because it makes more Knights, and in several ways. However, the remaining three are traps to avoid.
It's not that their effects aren't powerful or desirable. The problem lies in the setup. All these cards are too expensive alone, and need their cost reduction online to be playable. The Magic Mirror and The Cauldron of Eternity are easiest to enable, since blue and black are the colors of self-mill. With Thought Scour or dredge, it's not that hard to fill a graveyard by turn three. It's not a guarantee given that lands could be the only hits, but it's highly plausible.
But why would you want to spend a turn and play either spell? Cauldron fits into Dredge's strategy of dumping creatures into the graveyard, but the relevant creatures are already getting reanimated, and Dredge doesn't want to put them back into the deck. Mirror does nothing the turn it comes down and is slow to get going, which is not what velocity decks want. Control wants a steady stream of cards and is willing to wait, but it could also just play Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Jace, the Mind Sculptor to accomplish that task and more. I can't see why any deck that could enable these cards would want to.
If The Great Henge counted total power among controlled creatures, it could be a bomb for Elves. It still may be if a very combo oriented version comes along that needs pump effects and velocity. As-is, the abilities tend to come online after they're relevant. Getting out a 7/x creature early is hard. The deck that's best at it is Death's Shadow, and it doesn't want to be gaining life when it taps Henge for mana. Additionally, no version plays that many creatures, so once Henge is out the second ability is pretty weak. Other decks don't have the means to drastically reduce the price without using up all their cards, so I don't see much use for Henge in Modern.
The Fair Folk
The other big disappointment goes to Faeries. There just isn't anything that will help UB Faeries recapture its glory days. Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft, Hypnotic Sprite // Mesmeric Glare, and Stolen by the Fae are close, but slightly too costly and narrow. I imagine that this was intentional. Given how long Bitterblossom was banned in Modern, Wizards is still very cautious not to print pushed Faeries. The enthusiasts apparently still have to pay for their dominance all those years ago.
The Quiet One
Adding insult to poverty, the best faerie in the set is completely at odds with the Lorwyn-introduced Faerie strategy. When first spoiled, I thought Hushbringer's art was a placeholder. I thought it might be an unused design from Pan's Labyinth. Or from anything by David Cronenberg. However, once past the creep factor, this is an upgraded Hushwing Gryff, and a promising sideboard card.
Gryff has never had an impact in Modern. Torpor Orb sees a little play as a Whir of Invention target, but giving it wings didn't make it more playable. The increased vulnerability of creatures is a factor, but the the primary problem is that Gryff is a creature. Creature decks are frequently packed with abilities Gryff shuts down, so it's risky to run Gryff even if their opponent may be hurt more. Control decks generally want the harder-hitting and more versatile Vendilion Clique as a three-mana flier. If they really need the effect, they can just run the Orb. Tocatli Honor Guard is another option, but a 1/3 ground creature needs to be phenomenal to see play.
Hushbringer is better than Gryff. 1/2 looks worse than 2/1 on paper, but Modern has a lot of Wrenn and Six running around. Hushbringer also gets extra text. Lifelink on a 1/2 may not do much, but against Burn, a few points is all it takes. The Faerie also stops death triggers unlike Gryff and Orb. While a nice addition, I can't think of much utility for that ability. Most creature death abilities are activated, leaving persist and Protean Hulk. The real kicker is that Hushbringer is two mana. Gryff is too slow at three to really stop Humans or Bant Blink.
With all that said, Hushbringer still doesn't really have a home. Every white deck is packed with ETB abilities. They're not going to run a card that shuts their own deck down this effectively. Humans is pathetic when Thalia's Lieutenant is just a 1/1, or Kitesail Freebooter a 1/2 flier. It should be noted that Meddling Mageand Phantasmal Image aren't affected because they're "as this enters" and not "when this enters" abilities, which Orb, Gryff, and Bringer don't affect. Given the power of creatures with ETB abilities and the number of decks that rely on them (Bant Ephemerate being the most egregious), I can't imagine many creature decks using Hushbringer.
However, the effect is so powerful at two mana that I wouldn't write Hushbringer off. Again, she neuters Humans, Spirits, and Faeries to a lesser extent, and cripples Bant Ephemerate. Sword of the Meek, Stoneforge Mystic, and Urza, Lord High Artificer are also affected. This is too much of the metagame for Hushbringer not to see play. The only deck that could really benefit from the effect is UW Control, which doesn't have great matchups against any of these decks, doesn't play many creatures, and has lost metagame share to Stoneblade variants. Given that Burn is also a deck, I could see Hushbringer making it in control's maindeck.
Whether that deck would actually be better in the metagame than Stoneblade is uncertain, but I imagine it would have a significant advantage against Stoneblade. Their Squire-with-upside is just Squire against the flying squire with upside, and given the rest of the card advantage, should be enough to overwhelm Stoneblade.
The other playable faerie has an obvious use, though I'm not sure it's so useful. Fae of Wishes // Granted is another adventure creature where the appeal is (mostly) the attached sorcery, Granted. This is the third wish in Modern, and on face, it's not particularly playable. Mastermind's Acquisition already exists, and while slightly harder to cast, it also finds creatures. Looking across Magic, only the cheap wishes have seen consistent play. Especially difficult for Fae is that at the same price, blue combo runs Gifts Ungiven. Gifts will be more powerful more of the time due to Past in Flames and finding multiple cards.
What makes Granted more appealing is that it can be repeated, although not for cheap; you could Gifts three times for the price of two wishes. However, this repeatability opens up a new angle for combo decks. Rather than looking at Fae as a slow Cunning Wish, think of it as a value engine. Combo decks generally don't sideboard heavily, especially tight combos like Storm. Fae of Wishes // Granted gives Storm the option to fill the sideboard with wish targets, never actually sideboard, and still have post-board angles covered. They'd also be able to wish for missing pieces of the combo. Flexibility is rare for combo, and there's a lot of potential of a stream of value wishes. It's just a question of if the time it takes to make it work is a dealbreaker.
Engines of Discovery
The final topic is a theme that Wizards has been quietly sneaking into blue and red for the past several sets. They're trying to make drawing cards that trigger off drawing multiple cards in a turn important. There have been a few cards here and there as Wizards tests the waters, and they're finally taking the plunge in Eldraine. The previous iterations have been Limited-only, and the new cards aren't busted on their own. However, they could be exceptional in the right deck.
The Odd Couple
Specifically, Improbable Alliance has the potential to be better than Bitterblossom. However, Blossom just sits there generating tokens where Alliance requires you to draw two cards a turn. No more: it only triggers for the second card. Thus, Alliance is no Young Pyromancer. However, flying Faeries are better than walking Elementals, and two bodies per turn cycle beats Blossom's one for a life. Alliance will also never be a liability against Burn.
Eldraine seems intent on making Alliance work. The Royal Scions naturally curve out from Alliance and ensure a steady stream of Faeries.
There's also the strict upgrade to Tormenting Voice, Thrill of Discovery, which seems specifically designed to get a second trigger from Alliance. Given that Modern also has Thought Scour, Opt, and Think Twice, it shouldn't be that hard to get two tokens per turn cycle and slowly bury the opponent.
The question is whether that's actually good enough. The velocity decks that are capable of making Alliance good haven't done much since Faithless Looting was banned. I'm unclear if this is because they're actually non-viable or if the metagame shift makes them unappealing. If it's the latter, Alliance may reignite interest. However, it will face stiff competition from faster game-winners Aria of Flame and Pyromancer Ascension. A control deck could make better use of the tokens, but it's also less likely to have the time or mana to make multiple a turn.
Thone of Eldraine looks to be an excellent brewers set. There's nothing obviously overpowered, but tons of options for those looking for an edge. With the metagame still trying to absorb Modern Horizons, now is the time for the weirder decks to make themselves known. Maybe one of them will be the next Cinderella story.