Throne of Eldraine Set Review – Black
(The Cauldron of Eternity | Art by Tomasz Jedruszek)
Going on an Adventure
Welcome to the black portion of the Throne of Eldraine EDH set review! Eldraine ended up being such an interesting plane, with flavor coming out from everywhere and lots of new toys for us EDH players. This review will cover some of the most interesting black cards of the set.
Rankle, Master of Pranks
We're starting off with a powerful card! Rankle's versatility is what makes his kit so good - we always get to make the best possible use for him. Having haste is just the icing on top, which means that we're likely to get an attack off at least once. Even though we get to decide which modes to trigger (if any at all), we should try to stay within the same play pattern, as having our opponents discard a card and then draw one might make the previous mode a bit pointless.
As a commander, I can see Rankle players wanting to invest more heavily in one of the first two abilities. Going for the discard theme seems like the more powerful option, for the same reason symmetrical Group Hug effects can be so dangerous in games with multiple players; if it's detrimental for every opponent to draw cards, then it must be quite powerful to make them each discard cards. Thus, cards like Waste Not can help break parity and other new inclusions like Bone Miser can also help pull ahead of the game.
This playstyle might not be for every playgroup, since it involves heavy discard themes and may therefore lead to grindy games. If that's the case, you might be interested in a more 'Group Slug' type of build, with cards like Underworld Dreams to punish people for drawing those extra cards you force them to draw. In a non-blue deck, this kind of thing isn't as ideal, because we lack the counterspell protection to keep our pieces around as we make our opponents draw extra cards (and therefore more potential answers to our board), but this might be a way to get to play with Rankle in more casual metas.
Ayara, First of Locthwain
Ayara, first of Locthwain is a spin on the newcomer from Core Set 2020: Corpse Knight. Triggering only on black creatures and costing three black mana, Ayara's kit is quite restrictive, but when she does find a home she'll surely do work. The quasi-loop that her kit presents is a quite powerful grinding tool(creature enters the battlefield, it's sacrificed for Ayara ability, draws into another creature).
As a commander, Ayara, First of Locthwain is pretty combo-leaning (for instance, by using Phrexian Altar + Gravecrawler with another Zombie in play). Being mono-black means that she won't have trouble triggering her abilities, but it comes with the loss of some possible enablers. Thornbite Staff is great with Ayara, allowing her to draw a card for as long as she's able to sacrifice a creature, a loop that can easy become infinite with the right pieces. Another simply straightforward way to get tons of value from her is simply to use massive reanimation spells like Twilight's Call to get back a bunch of creatures and trigger her ability.
If combo is not your thing, there're some ways to build a fairer version, such as classic Aristocrats, Zombie tribal, mono-black token strategies with Ghoulcaller Gisa or Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, or perhaps even Shadowborn Apostle or Rat Colony strategies. There's a lot of fuel available for Ayara, so be careful if she chooses you to be her next suitor.
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Syr Konrad, the Grim is even more of a combo machine than his master! There are so many cases where his ability triggers that it'll happen quite reliably, without having to do much. It's also damage, not life loss, which makes it even stronger with Infect enablers like Phyresis. In the 99 he's kind of expensive to cast and rather unfocused. He's a pretty interesting alternate finisher for mill decks, for instance. Generally, though, Syr Konrad truly shines when leading a deck.
As we can see, there's a lot of potential interactions within a Syr Konrad deck. Mindcrank can provide a non-deterministic loop that will only end when no opponent mills a creature card. Using the weird spell Morality Shift will net us a rather insane number of Konrad triggers as creatures both leave our graveyard and get put into it from our library. We can even self-mill and then exile our own graveyard with a Bojuka Bog to dish out a huge burn on the rest of the table. The possibilities are endless, which makes this easily one of the most interesting commanders from Throne of Eldraine.
The Cauldron of Eternity
The Cauldron of Eternity is a grinding tool for decks that can fill the graveyard up with bodies, and then slowly put them back on the field. While the mana cost might seem like it's too much, we only need five creatures in the graveyard to reduce that cost to just two black mana. The second clause is what "balances" the card; not being able to use creatures that die after The Cauldron of Eternity came into play is pretty much a dealbreaker for most graveyard-based decks. The reanimation ability is somewhat slow by traditional reanimator standards and can only be used at sorcery speed, but the biggest problem with the card is still that second clause, which makes sure that eventually we run out of targets (unless we have another ways to put creatures in the graveyard).
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is a pretty different commander. His ability uniquely interacts with the bottom of the deck, which is not very highly-explored design space, and because of that, he doesn't have that many direct support pieces. The funny part of the Cauldron is that the ability that makes it more difficult to include in reanimator decks is the very same ability that makes the card so great with Grenzo. Being able to put a creature on the bottom of the library, consistently and for free, can make Grenzo very happy indeed, especially if combined with a nice ETB ability and an Ashnod's Altar to repeatedly provide the mana for Grenzo to go infinite!
Scion of the Ur Dragon is a strong commander. However, given the nature of his ability, it's a one-shot type of playstyle. The Great Cauldron can help the deck by providing a way to reanimate the Dragons that we choose, and even by allowing us to put them back on our deck so we can fetch them again.
Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow is a commander with one specific need. Well, two. First, she wants Ninjas. Second, she wants big mana costs to burn people out. Currently, 102 Yuriko decks on EDHREC are playing Draco, a choice made purely on CMC alone. Having an actually playable card that also has a high CMC is therefore pretty nice for the deck. The Cauldron can offer Yuriko decks a little bit of recursion, which can go a long way since it's a deck that wants to get as many hits in as possible with Ninja cards. There aren't too many Ninjas out there, so it's nice to have another way to get them back.
Clackbridge Troll, at first, seems like it's a broken card. Five mana for an 8/8 trample and haste creature? Worst case scenario, we draw a card and gain some life! However, giving that not only are we letting our opponents make that decision for us, we are still giving them bodies. Thinking about this as a five-mana Phyrexian Arena might seem a little bit pessimistic, but it also might even be too charitable - our opponents have final say over what happens here, which is always the problem with punisher effects.
While Clackbridge Troll might not be all that interesting in a vacuum, there are still some commanders that can benefit from having our opponents sacrifice a creature. They may not be commanders that completely break the bank, but they can certainly be fun to build around.
Now this is a card. Having a slightly worse Hero's Downfall stapled (in a weird way) to a creature card is very nice for decks that want to be running high on creature/permanent count. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, for instance, is happy to have a spell that will still make her Zombies if she flips it off the top of her library. The one thing stopping this from becoming an absolute staple in recursion-based decks is the replacement effect when it dies, putting it onto the bottom of the library instead of into the graveyard. This makes it a lot less interesting to decks that seek to reanimate things, like Muldrotha, the Gravetide or Gisa and Geralf. In Knight tribal, Murderous Rider is a great tool, providing utility and a tribal-relevant body, and it's a probably a must-have for those types of decks.
Piper of the Swarm
Piper of the Swarm is for those that want to build a Rat Colony deck. Having a cheap evasion enabler that has late-game upsides will surely help the archetype, but that's about it for this card.
Wishclaw Talisman might seem like a fun political tool to get tutors running (and don't get me wrong, it can be) but it can also ruin many play sessions when players accidentally end up kingmaking the player they give this to. Not a great dynamic.
That said, I suppose Wishclaw Talisman can still be sacrificed in response to its activation to reap all the benefits without any of the downsides. Being an artifact is also an advantage for this, since it's easier to get back from the graveyard.
With the sacrificing-in-response strategy in mind, we have Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, a powerful newcomer that will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. Then again, he's so powerful and draws so many cards that he probably doesn't need this. Perhaps then Glissa the Traitor might try it, since she loves sacrificing things and has a grand old time getting back artifacts from her graveyard. Wishclaw Talisman, together with a sacrifice outlet, can be a reusable tutor that we get to use throughout the game.
Is all this sacrificing worth it to end up paying one mana less than a Diabolic Tutor? Probably not.
Witch's Vengeance is a cheap tribal board wipe. It's not a catch-all tool, nor one that you should play put in a deck blindly. In some metas it might do some work; it stops some token decks or some Elves and Goblins from getting too out of hand. Overall, though, board wipes in EDH can afford to be a bit grander, because you'll much more frequently need them to stop the late-game big bads.
This is a big price to pay to just draw one card. Sure, in an emergency, you could draw a card if you have very few cards left, but even then, is it worth having one less Swamp to use with your Crypt Ghast or help out your Cabal Coffers? Maybe Greven, Predator Captain might use it as a pseudo-combat trick but it's much riskier than it's really worth.
Coming to us from the Brawl decks, Chittering Witch has a pretty mediocre activated ability but a pretty nice ETB trigger. Multiple bodies from one creature is pretty great for the purposes of Yawgmoth, Thran Physician or Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, and maybe even token decks like Ghave, Guru of Spores or Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest. Ayara, First of Locthwain is pretty happy with it too. Oh, and if you like Rat Colony, this might give a pump to those little guys too.
Taste of Death
The Food tokens are just not a great payoff here. This is a more expensive Barter in Blood and even that only shows up in about 1,800 decks. Great art, but don't bother with this in Commander.
Best of the Rest
Epic Downfall is cheap, versatile, exile-based removal, and it's a great addition to non-white EDH decks. Being sorcery speed might seems like its downfall, but, aside from combo, we shouldn't really care about having to wait until our turn to cast it.
Here's a list of the most popular commanders in EDHREC. As you can see, Epic Downfall can hit the first 11 out of 12. If we go further back we can see that, from the 21 most popular commanders, we can hit 19 of them.
If we look outside the command zone and review the most popular creatures in the 99, the first thing we see is that it doesn't hit all that many from top. However, after considering that most of those are mana dorks and scrolling down a little bit further, we can see the versatility coming into play: out of the 30 most popular creatures, Epic Downfall can hit 20, with only two of those non-hits being high priority targets (Viscera Seer and Blood Artist) while the rest are mana dorks.
Foulmire Knight is, in many ways, a lot like Murderous Rider. It's a Zombie, it has a minorly decent ability, and even its body isn't bad since it has deathtouch. The thing that makes this card a little more interesting than it first appears that we can actually cast the Adventure from the graveyard.
All of these commanders have the same reason to appreciate Foulmire Knight: they can cast this card as an Adventure, then cast the creature, and when the creature dies, do it all over again. This might seem slow (and it is), but after considering that we can keep doing it over the course of the game, and that it provides a diverse spell/creature slot for decks that care a lot about card types. This is probably more interesting than it is actually useful, but it might find a home in some decks here and there that like a little incremental value.
Editor's Note: We've been corrected about the rules for Adventure cards, and the interactions described above do not actually work. As a result, please consider the Foulmire Knight section of this review to now instead read, "This card isn't good in EDH, don't play it."
Mortuary Mire shows up in 8,393 decks, which is really quite respectable. Now we have Witch's Cottage, which does have the Swamp land type, and which has a chance not to enter the battlefield tapped. It still enters tapped in the early game, but at that point, you won't have any creatures you want to get back anyway! I've you're in mono-black, this is definitely an upgrade, and if you're in two-color decks that can reliably get enough Swamps out (for example, with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth) you'll probably be happy with this too. Move over, Mortuary Mire, the Witch is back in town.
Knight Tribal Stuff
Belle of the Brawl is a nice boost to knight tribal, a tribe that usually tends to go wide, so that having a cheap way to boost the team is crucial. The evasion on top of it just makes this a great card for the tribe.
Order of Midnight is a neat card. The obvious first comparison is to Gravedigger, since both cost four mana for a 2/2 body. This has more flexibility, though. Then again, Gravedigger only appears in about 2,000 decks, many of which like to take advantage of it Zombie creature type. Order of Midnight may be played in tribal decks for the same reason - taking advantage of its creature type.
Smitten Swordmaster is a versatile threat for the Knight tribal deck. If you need, it can be played as a 2/1 for two mana, perhaps to trigger a Vanquisher's Banner, but on the late game it provides a reasonable game-closing reach. That's about it for this card, but it knows exactly where it wants to go, which is perfectly fine.
Happily Ever After
So many interesting new cards, don’t you think? Those were my impressions on the set, and now I want to hear yours! Did you agree with these assessments? Did I miss any cards or interactions? Please let me know in the comments below.