When War of the Spark finished, I and many others assumed that Core Set 2020 would be a bit of a reset, a palette cleanser if you will. Instead, it turned out to be chock-a-block with powerful cards and helped bring back a number of tribal themes to give them the send off they deserved before rotation struck.

That rotation is finally here and will see Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 disappear into the land where Modern and Commander players lurk. To replace these four sets we’ll be getting Throne of Eldraine, a top-down designed set inspired by a mixture of Arthurian Camelot legend and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. If you haven’t been following spoiler season religiously, then this primer is designed to give you the overview that you need before your pre-release events and help showcase the new mechanics, themes, and cards that you’ll want to know about.

Contents

Untap, Upkeep, Draw

Before we get to the fun stuff, there’s a bit of an overview that is necessary in order to fully grasp the concept of this set. To begin with there is a new story, The Wildered Quest by author Kate Elliott, available only as an ebook on all popular stores. I read through it when it released earlier this month and found it to be a fairly enjoyable read. The basic storyline (without spoilers) follows the twin children of the King, Rowan and Will, as they go on a quest to track down their lost father. We’re introduced to new planeswalker Oko whilst the ever popular Garruk is also along for the ride. The story culminates with details on how Rowan and Will end up with their shared planeswalker spark. Whilst the book is fairly short (taking only a few hours to read), we do get introduced to a number of the characters and creatures you’ll find within the set as well as learning more about the plane of Eldraine1 which is seemingly split between the Human Realm and the non-Human Wilds.

Aside from the storyline, the other important thing to know in advance is that the set numbering system has changed due to a number of new supplemental products. In previous sets, there would be a number of cards that were determined to be the main block of the set and then promos and planeswalker decks would follow displaying a number higher than the set they belonged to (i.e. Nexus of Fate is shown as 306/280). With this set, any cards outside of the main block no longer display the block count which is probably a good thing as there are 128 cards beyond the main block of 269! They are broken down as:

  • 1-269: The main set
  • 270-272: Borderless planeswalkers
  • 273-302: Showcase frames
  • 303: Buy-a-Box promo (Kenrith, the Returned King)
  • 304-313: Planeswalker decks
  • 314-333: Brawl decks
  • 334-391: Extended-art frames
  • 392: Bundle promo (alternate art Piper of the Swarm)
  • 393-397: Promo pack cards

Ultimately this shake up relates to two things; pre-constructed Brawl decks are part of the set2 and “Project Booster Fun” has led to a wide-range of alternate artwork treatments that are only available through the new Collector Boosters. I’m not going to go through this in any detail but I’ll point you to the official article on the subject which goes into it in a lot of depth.

The final thing to mention before we get started proper is that Wizards of the Coast have very kindly sponsored me with a preview account for the Early Access Streamer Event; essentially I’ll be streaming Throne of Eldraine content a day or two before everybody else gets their hands on it. The fun will start at 9pm BST / 4pm EST on Tuesday 24th September over on my Twitch channel. Feel free to drop in to chat about the set or to give me your deck suggestions.

Mechanics

Adventure

Ardenvale Tactician // Dizzying SwoopQueen of Ice // Rage of WinterFoulmire Knight // Profane InsightRimrock Knight // Boulder RushFlaxen Intruder // Welcome Home
Ardenvale Tactician // Dizzying SwoopQueen of Ice // Rage of WinterFoulmire Knight // Profane InsightRimrock Knight // Boulder RushFlaxen Intruder // Welcome Home

Adventure is a new card design that adds an instant or sorcery onto a creature. When you cast the card, you can choose whether to cast the instant / sorcery component (the adventure) or to just cast the creature. If you do cast the adventure, then the card becomes exiled (known as “going on an adventure”) and the creature can now be cast from exile whenever you want. It is important to note that this is a special exile zone and that you can only play the creature from exile if you put it there by going on an adventure. The creature component can only be cast when you’d normally be able to cast a creature so they’ll nearly always be sorcery speed3. If you cast the creature, it is no longer possible to cast the adventure component unless you can return the card to your hand.

I really like this mechanic although I do have a few issues with the text layout on the premium versions (which I’ve shown alongside the regular versions above). Having two spells on one card is always going to be a good thing, especially as the casting costs can vary wildly; in some instances you’ll have a cheap sorcery with a creature you’ll only be able to play in the late game whereas others have expensive sorceries with very cheap creatures that could potentially be played in the same turn. This value doubles if you have a way of getting the item back into your hand or via graveyard reanimation as then you can choose to cast both parts again! The only downside, which is unavoidable, is that when you’ve played your adventure your opponent is now aware that you have that creature ready to drop at any point. Overall though I think this is a great mechanic and cards like Flaxen Intruder // Welcome Home and Lovestruck Beast // Heart’s Desire really play into the storytelling aspect.

Adamant

Rally for the ThroneUnexplained VisionForeboding FruitSearing BarrageOutmuscle

Adamant is the only new keyword ability in this set and works by giving you an extra boon if you use at least 3 of a specific colour of mana when casting the spell. For example, Searing Barrage costs 4 Generic ManaRed and deals 5 damage to a creature; if you instead use at least three red mana (so 2 Generic ManaRedRedRed as a minimum) then it will deal an extra 3 damage to that creature’s controller. I really like this novel way of playing with the generic mana cost to reward mono-colour players although it’s interesting that it is locked to being specifically 3 mana. There is another card in the set, Sundering Stroke, that works in a similar way but requires “at least seven red mana”; I can’t help but feel “Adamant 7” would have been a better way of representing this.

Food

Fortifying ProvisionsTurn into a PumpkinCauldron FamiliarGilded GooseWitch's Oven

Food is a new named token type in a similar vein to Treasure. You can pay 2 Generic Mana alongside tapping and sacrificing the food in order to gain 3 life. There are also several cards that are synergistic with this by letting you do alternate things with food tokens i.e. Insatiable Appetite will give a target creature +3/+3 until end of turn but +5/+5 instead if you sacrifice a food to it. This is an interesting mechanic although I’m not too sure about the 2 Generic Mana cost to use a food. There are plenty of other interesting things that can be done with them though and 3 life-gain whenever you want is nothing to sneeze at! It is curious to note that red is the only colour that gets no specific access to food4.

Gingerbrute

And yes, there is a creature with the food subtype that retains the same ability as the tokens. Very clever.

Cycles

Leaders

Linden, the Steadfast QueenGadwick, the WizenedAyara, First of LocthwainTorbran, Thane of Red FellYorvo, Lord of Garenbrig

Each of these legendary creatures is meant to represent the leader of their respective courts; Ardenvale, Vantress, Locthwain, Embereth, and Garenbrig. You may notice that all of them are nobles (a reintroduced subtype) with the exception of Gadwick, the Wizened as the design team felt it was better for Vantress to be ruled by a Wizard. The other similarity is that they all have three of their respective colours in their casting costs, something that will no doubt be important if the return to Theros in January reintroduces the devotion mechanic.

Each of these are obviously going to be good in Brawl and Commander formats but there are also some very playable cards here for Standard. Linden, the Steadfast Queen can quickly get out of hand in a life-gain deck as that trigger will occur separately for each creature that is attacking whilst Gadwick, the Wizened can be very effective at locking down an opponent’s board, especially when you consider that casting an adventure and then the creature is potentially two blue spells. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is definitely my favourite and will be utterly brutal in my Cavalcade of Calamity deck! Ayara, First of Locthwain and Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig are the weakest two with Yorvo looking like a great hulking beast until you realise he doesn’t have trample and can thus be blocked with a 0/1 goat token…

Syr Knights

Syr Alin, the Lion's ClawSyr Elenora, the DiscerningSyr Konrad, the GrimSyr Carah, the BoldSyr Faren, the Hengehammer

Each of the courts has a legendary human knight titled as a Syr5; whilst nearly all of them are 3 Generic Mana and then two of their colours, the green Syr is just a straight up GreenGreen.

Each one of these knights has some potential although Syr Konrad, the Grim and Syr Carah, the Bold have the most in Standard in my opinion. We’ve already seen Syr Konrad, the Grim in Arena thanks to the Brawl event that took place a couple of weeks ago; I’ve used him a few times in Standard 2020 and found him to be a reliably useful card in both sacrificial and reanimator decks. Mill also seems like it might be coming back and this does a nice job of hurting your opponent if they have a heavy creature-based deck. Meanwhile, Syr Carah, the Bold seems right at home in a burn deck as it gives you effective card replacement. I particularly like that it exiles cards for you to play as it means it works beautifully with Experimental Frenzy in a way that straight up card draw would not. The “tap and do 1 damage” ability is also particularly useful if you are reliant on spectacle triggers.

Paladins

Ardenvale PaladinVantress PaladinLocthwain PaladinEmbereth PaladinGarenbrig Paladin

The paladins are the grunts of the courts as a cycle of mid-cost common human knights. Each one of them utilises the adamant mechanic and I don’t think I’d consider using any of them if I wasn’t sure I was going to have that mana available. As a common cycle, these are clearly aimed at Limited play but some of these may find their way into the various tribal knights decks that are going to be big throughout the coming Standard meta.

Hybrid Mana

Arcanist's OwlCovetous UrgeDeathless KnightElite HeadhunterFireborn Knight
Loch DragonOakhame Ranger // Bring BackRampart SmasherResolute RiderThunderous Snapper

This is a bit of a peculiar uncommon cycle that covers every hybrid mana combination and produces a card that costs four of that hybrid mana. If there are activated abilities, they too use the hybrid mana. Each card is a hint for what WotC think that combo should be about when playing this set in Limited. For example, the White/Blue card fits the flying and artifacts matter themes, the Black/Red is all about knights and equipments, the Green/White is an adventure, and Black/Green fits into the food theme. Each card is good in it’s respective theme and the use of hybrid mana makes it easy to take some of these and use them in mono-color decks.

Equipment

Shining ArmorMantle of TidesGiant's SkewerCrystal SlipperRosethorn Halberd

Coloured artifacts are currently deciduous after Core Set 2020 and thus return again in Throne of Eldraine in two cycles, this one being common equipments. They’re a real mixed bag with no real thread between them apart from their common rarity6. These are most likely for Limited play but Giant’s Skewer might just find it’s way into Standard; it also has a wonderful flavour in that it turns the creatures it damages into food!

Coloured Artifacts

The Circle of LoyaltyThe Magic MirrorThe Cauldron of EternityEmbercleaveThe Great Henge

The second cycle of coloured artifacts is eminently more playable with each being mythic rare and legendary. Each card has a cost reduction ability – useful when one of them costs 10 Generic ManaBlackBlack – and has a triggered ability in addition to plenty of other goodness. Each one is also modelled on a well known Arthurian legend respectively imitating of The Round Table, Merlin’s Mirror, The Holy Grail, Excalibur, and Stonehenge.

The Magic Mirror looks particularly good here giving you exponential card draw that can be seriously enhanced with some proliferate shenanigans; it also pairs nicely with Syr Elenora, the Discerning. It’s also worth pointing out that there are all manner of broken things you can do with The Great Henge making it very plausible to get this out on turn 47.

However, it’s Embercleave that is the proverbial talk of the tavern as it can be used as a very cheap combat trick; it is easy to imagine a scenario where you are bringing this in for just RedRed and giving something a significant boost in the form of double strike. That is going to be very nice on Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, Drakuseth, Maw of Flames, or even Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin.

Colour Hosing

Archon of AbsolutionMystical DisputeSpecter's ShriekRedcap MeleeOakhame Adversary

This is an interesting cycle of uncommon cards that are designed for hosing the same colour. There is some variation in downside to targeting something of a different colour ranging from none at all (Archon of Absolution), a cost increase (Mystical Dispute and Oakhame Adversary), or a substantial penalty (Specter’s Shriek and Redcap Melee). Each of these cards looks good to me and will definitely see play in the sideboard if not in the main deck.

Castles

Castle ArdenvaleCastle VantressCastle LocthwainCastle EmberethCastle Garenbrig

The rare land cycle this set isn’t dual lands but castles! Each one enters the battlefield tapped unless you own the corresponding basic land and they tap for the colour as if they were a basic land. However, they also have an activated ability which is synergised to the flavour of that court. For example, the white castle will create 1/1 human tokens whilst the blue castle gives you scry 2. The green castle (which looks uncannily like Pride Rock) is interesting in that it effectively taps to give you GreenGreen.

Also, how much does Castle Locthwain look like a Star Destroyer?

I don’t think any of these castles are particularly great but you’ll likely stick one or two in your main deck as chances are you’ll never play one tapped and any extra abilities you can get for a slot are generally worth having. The only thing I’d be wary of is that these are just “Land”; they don’t have any other types so Nissa, Who Shakes the World isn’t going to be able to fetch or double Castle Garenbrig and if you get hit with Deathsprout you wouldn’t be able to search for one of these as they aren’t basic. Personally I really hate rare lands that don’t contain “Forest”, “Mountain”, etc., so it’s a shame to have another set that does this after the temples in Core Set 2020.

Lands

Idyllic GrangeMystic SanctuaryWitch's CottageDwarven MineGingerbread Cabin

If the cycle of rare castles was meant to show “The Realm”, this cycle of common lands is meant to highlight “The Wilds”. Each one is a land with the relevant type attached (i.e. “Plains”) and enters the battlefield tapped unless you control three or more other lands of that relevant type. If the land does enter untapped, then there is a triggered ability.

Similar to the castles, I think these could go into most mono- or dual-color decks as the opportunity cost is pretty negligible; they’ll be untapped most of the time. Depending on how the food mechanic shakes out, it is possible that Gingerbread Cabin will be the best one of this cycle although I can see good uses for Mystic Sanctuary and Witch’s Cottage.

Reprints

There are eight reprints from previous sets:

There are also two cards that are technically reprints with new names:

Planeswalkers

Garruk, Cursed HuntsmanOko, Thief of CrownsThe Royal Scions

After the planeswalker shake-up of War of the Spark and the multiple Chandra’s of Core Set 2020, you may be glad to know that Throne of Eldraine goes back to basics with three9 mythic rare planeswalkers each having three activated abilities. There isn’t a static ability in sight!

Of the three, I find Garruk, Cursed Huntsman the most interesting if only for the fact that he has no way to increase loyalty beyond either proliferate or killing one of the creature tokens his first ability creates. The easiest way to get to that ultimate is likely going to be performing the 0 ability and then on your next turn killing the wolves yourself with something like Witch’s Vengeance before activating the -6 ability and surviving. Certainly some interesting things to be done there!

Oko, Thief of Crowns is also interesting for the way he can effectively turn food tokens into 3/3 elks or swap them with a powerful creature your opponent controls.

Other Notable Cards

I’ve covered some of the core elements of Throne of Eldraine but there are a few cards that deserve a special mention. I’ll be opening a booster pack a day and choosing a single to do a deep dive into once the set launches, but for now here are some quick thoughts on the cards that caught my eye during spoiler season.

  • Charming Prince: Adam Ant himself with a decent selection of effects to choose from when he enters the battlefield. I make a point of saying choice is one of the most important things in Magic and this gives you the pieces you need whether played in early, mid, or late game.
  • Deafening Silence: So you want to cast lots of cheap burn spells? Nope.
  • Happily Ever After: The only alternate win condition card of the set. It’s fairly tricky to pull off and really needs a gates deck or Niv-Mizzet Reborn to be on the table along with some life-gain and a variety of card types. Not impossible and I’m intrigued to see if I can build a janky deck to get just one win this way.
  • Harmonious Archon: This could be a really good way of turning your weenie deck into something far stronger, especially if you’re up against a big creature deck. Just be aware that both you and your opponents non-archon creatures will become 3/3 creatures.
  • Trapped in the Tower: Very similar to the effect of Pacifism but it prevents abilities being activated which is often incredibly important. The downside is that it only deals with non-flying creatures.
  • Emry, Lurker of the Loch: [Insert obligatory Monty Python quote]. A definite player for an artifacts deck.
  • Fae of Wishes // Granted: This card is kind of insane. Pay 3 Generic ManaBlue to get any card from outside the game into your hand, then pay 1 Generic ManaBlue to create the 1/4 flying creature at which point you can pay 1 Generic ManaBlue and discard two cards to return it to your hand ready to repeat the cycle. Incredibly useful for the late game and gives the creature some added evasion as you can self-bounce it easily.
  • Midnight Clock: Another fun card that can be manipulated with proliferate. Note that the counters increase with every upkeep, not just your own, so the payoff can arrive far quicker than you might think.
  • Vantress Gargoyle: Welcome the newest entrant to the mill deck although make sure you aren’t using Ashiok, Dream Render; that won’t work well!
  • Clackbridge Troll: One of the most flavour packed cards, this is an insane almost broken card with very little downside. You’re either going to do a ton of damage or you’re going to gain life and draw a card. One of the best cards in the set.
  • Murderous Rider // Swift End: Another amazing black card, the adventure is essentially a cheaper Vraska’s Contempt but you lose 2 life instead of gaining 2. Of course, this is attached to a lifelink body with 2 power so that life is easy to retrieve! Oh, and when it dies it goes back into your library. This is a very good card.
  • Oathsworn Knight: [Insert another obligatory Monty Python quote]. In all seriousness, well done to the design team for this. Very clever with a +1/+1 for each limb…
  • Wishclaw Talisman: Oh the fun you can have with this enchantment and Teferi, Time Raveler! I could see this being a good early play in a mill deck especially as you don’t have to reveal the card you find.
  • Witch’s Vengeance: You’re playing a tribal deck? Oops.
  • Blow Your House Down: I’m always a fan of wall hate and I love the flavour on this.
  • Claim the Firstborn: You remind me of the babe. What babe?
  • Fervent Champion: This is the card co-designed by and starring 2018 World Champion Javier Dominguez. It’s a good card in it’s own right especially as it can equip 14 of the 16 equipments in Standard (including Embercleave) for free!
  • Irencrag Feat: This is bonkers and is clearly designed to go with Sundering Stroke for turn 4 madness.
  • Robber of the Rich: Another great piece of flavour, this time with Robin Hood stealing from your opponent if they have more cards than you.
  • Seven Dwarves: Clever piece of wording on this one that allows you to have seven of these cards on the field at once (leading to seven 9/9 dwarves). A sure thing for Singleton I’d imagine.
  • Gilded Goose: If the food deck takes flight10, then this is going to be instrumental to it.
  • Once Upon a Time: This card is amazing if only for the fact that you can cast it for free on turn 2 if you did nothing on turn 1. It’s a good card even if you do have to pay for it though.
  • Questing Beast: Another contestant for best card of the set, this beast has a lot of abilities that will prove very useful against superfriends decks.
  • Return of the Wildspeaker: If you have big creatures in your deck, this could give you serious card advantage.
  • Wildborn Preserver: On first reading this might not look impressive but note that you can pay to put as many +1/+1 counters on this as you want. This could be big in Simic Flash.
  • Lochmere Serpent: A potential game ender if you’re willing to sacrifice your islands.
  • Stonecoil Serpent: Artifact creatures with an X Generic Mana cost are often good, especially when they have reach, trample, and protection from multicoloured. This could go very nicely in a Nissa, Who Shakes the World deck.

Tokens

In keeping with Core Set 2020, each of the 20 tokens in Throne of Eldraine have the full artwork treatment:

I particularly like that we get four variations of the food token that is clearly going to be important in many decks; I think it’s mandatory to use the boar’s head version when your boar token dies! I also really like that we got an “On an adventure” marker token just to make it clear which creatures are available to be cast and which are in true exile.

Awards

Best Artwork Award

FrogifyTempting WitchRobber of the RichSeven DwarvesCastle Vantress

My shortlist of artwork for this set was over 20 cards so getting down to just 5 was tricky, let alone picking a single winner. However, it has to be Seven Dwarves due to the commitment to the “seven” theme. If you look closely you’ll see there are seven of several items (i.e. torches, bags, sleepers, etc) hidden in the artwork.

Best Flavour Text

Wishful MerfolkBake into a PieRevenge of RavensWicked GuardianTall as a Beanstalk

Another large shortlist that was hard to whittle down. After much consideration, I’m choosing Revenge of Ravens as it genuinely terrifies me.

Best Pun

Belle of the Brawl

Wonderful card name and the flavour text backs it up. *chef’s kiss*

Best Card Of The Set

Robber of the Rich

It might not be the most powerful card of the set but I love what they’ve done flavour-wise with Robber of the Rich. A 2/2 with haste and reach for just 2 mana is already good but the ability to exile your opponents cards and be able to play them later is great, especially as it doesn’t need to be with the same rogue. There are 31 rogues in the new Standard and I’m almost certainly going to try and build a deck with them for the event tomorrow.

End Step

I think that just about covers it for this primer but let me know if you feel I’ve missed anything. Thanks to a sponsorship from Wizards of the Coast, I’m going to be a part of the Early Access Streamer Event and will be streaming Throne of Eldraine content before it launches at 9pm BST / 4pm EST on Tuesday 24th September over on my Twitch channel. I’m also attending my local pre-release on Friday so I’ll be back with my report from that event followed by my usual daily opening of booster packs. For even more Magic content, check out my Discord community or follow me on Twitter.

Until next time, good luck on your adventures through Eldraine!

  1. The rain in Eldraine stays mainly in the plane! ↩︎

  2. All of the Brawl cards are also Standard-legal although there are obviously some that will have no practical use in Standard such as Command Tower or Arcane Signet↩︎

  3. Aside from Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft which has Flash and can thus be cast whenever you want. ↩︎

  4. Other than via the artifacts. Witch’s Oven would fit nicely into a Judith, the Scourge Diva deck… ↩︎

  5. Syr is pronounced the same as “Sir” but was designed to be a gender-neutral title. ↩︎

  6. That’s what is known as a common thread *rimshot* ↩︎

  7. *cough* Rotting Regisaur *cough cough* ↩︎

  8. A lot of blue players breathed a huge sigh of relief when this was revealed as a reprint! ↩︎

  9. Well, OK, there are five if you include the planeswalker decks but let’s ignore those. ↩︎

  10. Sorry. ↩︎