Throne of Eldraine Set Review - Red
(Embercleave | Art by Joe Slucher)
Fire, Brimstone, and... an Archer?
Hello and welcome to the set review for the red portion of Throne of Eldraine! If you don't already have strong feelings about this set, then obviously you're not a red mage... or maybe you just haven't started feeling some type of way about our baked goods heroes because you haven't met them yet. Whether it's a boiling pot that's got you hot under the collar or just a love for all things burn, there's plenty for every Timmy, Jenny, and Vorthos out there when it comes to the red cards in this set. Let's dig in and see what we have to work with!
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
Whatever format you're using him in, Torbran is guaranteed to hit the turbo on finishing out your opponent's pesky life totals and board states. While just using him to go full aggro is certainly an option, finding sources that can deal repeated single points of damage that will then be multiplied for your opponents but not for you is probably more lethal.
Don't worry, that sampler doesn't even scratch the surface.
I've held off so far on mentioning my pet format of Brawl, but if you're looking at Torbran right now and it doesn't get your juices flowing to think about how easy it'll be to aggro your way through a 30-life EDH-lite all with the help of that wondrous red beard... well, then you probably play Standard and are sick of the annual big dumb red deck.
Torbran's a solid entry for mono-red, both in the command zone and in the 99. This much extra damage boils up those 40 life points much quicker than you think. Also, obligatory "And my axe" reference.
Syr Carah, the Bold
While pingers have always been a theme that is near and dear to my heart, this is the first one we've seen since Jeska, Warrior Adept that has the magic words of Prodigal Sorcerer printed right onto it, and then they went ahead and stapled some card advantage on as well in case you weren't on board.
While in all likelihood Syr Carah will see more play in the 99 than in the command zone, there is a lot of upside to her in a deck that can untap her several times, which means that if you do build around that theme she'll be even more devastating, while probably flying under the radar as a five mana 3/3. Don't get it twisted, however: she won't be making any waves at competitive or more tuned tables, but given the fact that you can play lands you find with her and then "draw" more cards when you do find your burn spells (which will then burn players some more) means that the more mid-tier pyromaniacs are going to have a field day with this little Uncommonder.
Red's mythics start out on an aggressive note with a combat trick stapled to an Equipment (or maybe it's the other way around). All in all, it's a really good deal when it comes to aggressive decks. Fireshrieker already sees play in 6,717 decks, including half of all Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion, Lu Bu, Master-at-Arms, and Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor decks. This neatly replaces or gets stacked on top of all of those decks, along with being a strong contender in anything in red that's trying to win with combat damage or that likes to go Voltron.
For two red mana, adding on a minimum of two extra combat damage along with the ability to trample over the top is pretty huge. Even if you end up paying four or five mana for this thing, Embercleave is still going to do work in any deck where your commander says "combat damage" on it. At last check, there were twenty-three of those, so I'd say the chances you'll be seeing this across a table soon are fairly high. Being able to reuse Temur Battle Rage turn after turn will eventually be too much for your opponents, whether it be due to the sheer damage output or the value you'll be able to accrue with double combat damage triggers that roll right over the top of would-be blockers.
Robber of the Rich
Hmmmm... Human Archer Rogue that steals from the rich. Seems familiar...
Impulsive drawing is red's new means to card advantage, and we've been seeing it over and over again in newer sets. As such, there's a lot to compare to here.
At first glance, Dire Fleet Daredevil jumps out as the most comparable. It's a two-mana creature that allows you to exile a card you can play the turn it comes down, at least under ideal circumstances. While Robber does require you to have less cards in hand than the player you're attacking, I do prefer it to the Daredevil, given its repeatable nature. here given its repeat trades off a bit with the repeatable nature you get from Robber. Comparing to Etali, Primal Storm, Etali is ultimately a much bigger threat that will be harder to kill in combat and which casts multiple cards for free. As an Etali-lite, then, Robber does do some work, and is a bit more flexible with its lower mana cost and ability to hold cards in exile while you decide on the right moment to cast them.
That just leaves one last bit: the word "Rogue". There's an argument that Robber blows Grenzo, Havoc Raiser out of the water in the 99 of a Rogue deck, since his trigger doesn't require you to deal damage. In all likelihood, however, you probably play both in that situation, especially since Grenzo counts each creature, whereas Robber can only trigger once per turn, and also because Rogue decks that include red are pretty minimal in number.
Despite all the similarities, Robber is his own man. Swinging in, robbing from the rich players at the table, and hopefully surviving the day to give you some card advantage. He's not going to wind up in every red deck, but if you're combat-centric or have a means of giving your creatures a bit of evasion, he's certainly worth a look to see if you can pull some magic out of thin air over a few turns. Just keep in mind that if he dies, you might be sitting with a couple cards exiled that you'll never actually get to use!
On the mythic versions, the already rather busy Adventure cards didn't have room for an explanation of the mechanic itself, so perhaps a quick run-through is in order before we start discussing our hefty friend here. Adventure cards can be cast for their Adventure cost or their regular mana cost, each casting that particular portion of the card. In the case of the Adventure-bound instant or sorcery, however, instead of putting the card in your graveyard you exile it. You can then at a later time cast the creature portion of the card from exile, as if it was still in your hand.
In the case of Bonecrusher Giant specifically, that "free" spell you can cast as you curve up to his big 4/3 body is a two-mana spell for two damage that also prevents damage prevention. Put it all together, and you get... well, something that probably actually won't see a lot of EDH play. While this particular stomper may make a splash in quicker environments, at most Commander tables the general response to a three-mana 4/3 is a shrug. The fact that he might be able to Shock a mana dork or utility creature on the way in isn't useless, but it's not anything to write home about, either. As for his punisher mechanic allowing you to deal two damage to anyone who targets him with a spell, I wouldn't go so far as to say it won't ever come up, but I can't see many people deciding to point a Swords to Plowshares at our friend here, either.
Even without being able to block flyers, a four mana 4/3 flyer is not the worst deal in the world. Certainly not good enough to be played on its own, but not anything you'd immediately dismiss in a low-powered aggro deck, either. Add in the ability to give all of your creatures +3/+0 every turn for three mana, and you've really got a possible star in the decks trying to go wide. Having your swarm of tokens from Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin or Assemble the Legion become a real threat to players and blockers alike is bad enough, but Skyblazer itself flying over the top for seven every time you pump it is also going to make a dent.
Sure, it's a combat ability, it doesn't give any sort of evasion to your hordes of creatures, and a lot of the time it's going to be hard to spare the expensive activation cost. However, the number of Overrun effects available to red is rather small, and this one comes on a competitive body that will keep you in the aggro game whether or not you have the right conditions to use its attack trigger. This might end up ultimately being one of those cards that sits right at the edge of the 99, but in the right go-wide decks it should find a place to shine.
Rejoice, for Champion cards are back once again! For those not familiar, in the past the winner of the annual Magic Invitational tournament would be permitted to design a new card that would actually be printed into an upcoming set, usually with the likeness of the player represented in the artwork. From 1997 on, we saw at least one of these cards printed all the way up until 2007, when the tradition was retired with the printing of Tiago Chan's Snapcaster Mage. Staples of competitive formats were heavily affected by these cards on a rather routine basis, and as such, many of them have bled over into EDH as staples as well. From 1996's champion Olle Råde and his delayed printing of Sylvan Safekeeper all the way through to household names like Jens Thoren's Solemn Simulacrum and Bob Maher's Dark Confidant, last year's World Champion is in good company with his inclusion of Fervent Champion.
What isn't clear yet is how much this version of the card differs from what Javier originally submitted to Wizards, as each card does still have to go through the design process. I for one would guess that it did not start with Knight synergy. That said, I would also imagine it hasn't hurt the power level of the card any, and has probably made it an auto-include in all of the new Knight tribal decks we'll be seeing in the wake of the Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale Brawl deck. Outside of that, however, this blazing little one-drop will also be all over Equipment decks at a table near you, attaching swords, axes, and who knows what other types of armaments to himself for the low, low cost of probably free. I don't think I'm exaggerating there, either... Taking a look at the top 60 equipment per EDHREC, 47 of them equip to Fervent Champion at no cost. Add to that that he comes down and swings in the same turn with first strike, and this guy could turn a game on its head quickly, all at the cost of a single red mana.
Fires of Invention
Fires of Invention has me a bit torn. The obvious synergy is with decks that have a lot of activated abilities that cost mana on the board, that way you can cast your Aggravated Assault and Hoard-Smelter Dragon for free and still have the mana to use their abilities in the same turn. The problem with that plan is that if you're not also in green, you might have some trouble getting eleven lands into play before turn eleven, as ramp in red usually means using mana rocks, planeswalkers, or maybe a Brightstone Ritual under extenuating circumstances. That makes the window for this particular card rather narrow, although there are still some specific commanders that make for decent contenders with this card:
The most interesting use case might be the infamous Zedruu, the Greathearted, who has both a mana-hungry activated ability and might just find the right board state to Donate this to an opponent who's playing a bit too much solitaire after you've cast your two free spells.
Speaking of red rituals, we've got a new one that creates the same amount of mana as Geosurge and Soulbright Flamekin, only in a much more readable fashion. Don't believe me? Well good, because I read the number of mana symbols wrong; Soulbright Flamekin actually makes eight mana, not seven.
Regardless of the new formatting, Irencrag Feat presents an interesting dilemma with its restriction. Only being able to cast one more spell after you've just added seven mana to your mana pool would seem to eliminate the usual Storm shenanigans you see with most of the Seething Songs of the world... but does it? Usually in a spells deck, you're looking for that huge blast of mana to cast more and more spells, but if you can get most of the way there before pulling the trigger on the feat here, it can provide a nice ending bang in the form of an X spell. I know I see spellslinger decks end a lot of games by copying a big Jaya's Immolating Inferno or Earthquake three or four times, as well. Then again, our new red ritual would prevent us from casting any copy effects. Like I said, it's a dilemma.
The more common usage for Irencrag Feat will probably be to use it at face value to cheat out a big threat early, or to put it alongside Fires of Invention in a deck that is mana hungry for activated abilities and needs an extra copy of Braid of Fire. While that may not discount some niche use in the spells decks of the world, it's still where I'd put my money when it comes to seeing this one across the table, if it's seen at all.
Speaking of narrow use cases, Irencrag Pyromancer is probably about as good as it gets in a Jori En, Ruin Diver deck. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that she'll be seeing initial play in a lot more decks aside form Jori, decks which probably won't get the trigger as often as they're thinking they will. While I wouldn't go so far as to call this little Wizard the trap card of the set, I would definitely advocate for going in with an experimental mindset when trying her out. There will be some decks that can reliably get a free Lightning Bolt during every player's turn while also having a beefy blocker on the ground to keep them alive during their shenanigans. There will be others that assume they can get a Geier Reach Sanitarium or Staff of Nin onto the battlefield reliably every game that will find Irencrag Pyromancer not doing a whole lot.
That said, if you are playing Group Hug, have a commander with the words "draw a card" on it, or are playing a deck with a copy of Underworld Dreams in it, this is a direction that very well might be worth looking into.
Both Pacifism and Oblivion Ring are a weird shtick for red, but here we are with a strange combination of both stapled onto a 4/3 flyer for four. Given the tenacity with which many brewers are constantly cutting mana costs down in their EDH decks, I do think this Dragon will see quite a bit of play as a cheap means of both removal and aggro. While it is tempting to also see it as a means of Control Magic in red, that's a bad way of approaching it, given that the card will most likely not do much for you outside of ensuring that it doesn't do anything for anyone else.
All that said, there are definitely ways to be an Opportunist with Opportunistic Dragon. If you find ways to copy it you may find yourself stealing many of the relevant items at the table, including anything that might be able to block a horde of flying Dragons. If you stretch the blink deck into Jeskai (and if you do, I'd suggest Pramikon, Sky Rampart as your commander), then you might include a sacrifice outlet a la Goblin Bombardment so you can steal everyone's best creatures and then throw them at opportune targets. All that said, I think many people are looking for a grand combo from this little Dragon, when what it really is is a removal spell stapled on to an aggressive body, and that ain't nothin'.
There's not a lot to say about this seven-mana rare that deals various increments and quantities of seven damage, other than if you're in mono-red and you think you can swing the full seven mana for it, then it's probably worth considering. Outside of that, it's just some wicked art. Thanks, Stanton Feng, usually I've gotta just imagine how my Dungeons & Dragons Barbarian abusing Great Cleave works!
Best of the Rest
Ferocity of the Wilds
While not quite on the level of the Gruul powerhouse that is Rhythm of the Wild, perhaps we should take Ferocity's flavor text to heart and not underestimate this particular anthem. While a conditional +1/+0 might not seem that great, the inclusion of trample can make this effect absolutely lethal. Don't believe me? Peruse this list of combat damage triggers that usually have you wondering if you'll ever actually be able to actually use them.
Hey, didn't I just get done talking about how good giving all your creatures trample for cheap was? How about two-thirds of a Giant Growth, and all at instant speed?
Yeah, unless you're quoting the Kool-Aid man, don't play this.
I'm not gonna lie, I was as confused to find this particular fairy tale in red. That said, there are more than a few decks out there that are looking for yet another copy of Swiftfoot Boots and won't mind the footwear leaving it a tiny bit more fragile (and dainty). Then again, why wouldn't you be playing Chariot of Victory or Haunted Cloak?
Depala players rejoice, for there are now seven more Dwarves you can play!
But seriously, you've seen the ridiculousness that can happen with all of the various Rats you can play multiples of. While being restricted might mean not quite as many Thrumming Stone shenanigans, I bet you'll see enough Snow White alters to make up for the slack.
Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off to Brew We Go
So, what do you think of the impulsive side of Throne of Eldraine? Which red spells can you just not wait to get your hands on? Did the analysis send steam out your ears, or is that you just bursting at the seams about the fact that there's been a functional upgrade of Tormenting Voice in the form of Thrill of Possibility? Whatever the case may be, let us know in the comments, and we'll see you out at the fairy tale fable tables!