Eldritch Moon: Dangerous Knowledge Review (Part 1 of 2)
If you were asked what Magic: the Gathering set most resembles Howard Philip (HP) Lovecraft, and your answer was Eldritch Moon, few could fault you for your choice. After all, the latest turn taken on the plane of Innistrad was inspired by the cosmic horror prevalent in Lovecraft’s work, of which Call of Cthulhu is perhaps best known. The creature of the story, initially published in 1928 in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, could easily stand in for Emrakul.
But a just as defensible case could be made for Scars of Mirrodin as well. No, Lovecraft never wrote any stories about a ‘glistening oil’ containing the viral blueprint for biomechanical horror. But that very concept itself could serve as an analogy for the life Lovecraft actually lived. The corruption of Mirrodin started from humble origins, just as the tremendous influence of HP Lovecraft emerged from a life very modestly lived.
By the time Lovecraft died of cancer in 1937 at the age of only forty-six, he was known only by a very few, fans who devoured the pulp magazines in which he was published. He’d seen little commercial activity from his works, being first published only fifteen years prior, and lived in poverty. But as they tend to do, ideas can live on after the mind that has conceived them has gone still.
While Lovecraft’s commercial endeavours may not have enriched him, he did enrich his life through correspondence with his fellow authors and contemporaries. His ideas gained purchase. Themes and concepts about great supernatural horrors and inscrutable unknowns, of the frailty of the human mind when facing terrifying truths, were seeds to the fertile ground of others’ imaginations. Like the stirrings of madness on Innistrad or the proliferation of the Phyrexian oil, Lovecraft’s influence grew over time, encompassing modern literature, music, gaming, and art.
The set today’s deck is from, Eldritch Moon, owes no small debt of gratitude to HP Lovecraft, and it seems only fitting to mention the man’s life as we kick off the reviews of the set’s Intro Packs. Today we begin with the spell-heavy, Red/Blue- and fittingly titled- Dangerous Knowledge.
A Wildfire Untamed
The creature complement of Dangerous Knowledge jumps out right away for its relative paucity. The overwhelming majority of Intro Pack decks have tended to reflect the creature-centrism of modern Magic, so the spells typically take a supporting role behind the creatures. This isn’t always the case, and while no deck is ever likely to have as few creatures as Stronghold’s The Sparkler (which had all of four), it does echo the superb Mirromancy from Mirrodin Besieged.
And if you’ve noticed that all three decks are Red/Blue, that’s not a coincidence. No other color pair comes together so well in a noncreature overlap, and tend to feature creatures that care about spells.
The deck opens with a singleton Sanguinary Mage. When we last saw this card, it was an option in the Vampires-n-madness deck, Vampiric Thirst. Here, the tribal element is gone, but the Mage’s prowess earns it a call off the bench. Not only that, but her 3 toughness is fairly robust for an early card, helping congest the red zone while you assemble your strategy.
If there was any doubt that this deck will be happy to apply some speed bumps to the creature corridors, the next two-drop card, the Thermo-Alchemist, should dispel them. Don’t be fooled by the cheap cost or defender, the pair of these can do some real work in this deck if deployed early enough. That’s because they’re a pinger, albeit one that’s limited to your opponent (or opponents, as the case may be). That wouldn’t be enough on its own, but they also will untap every time you cast an instant or sorcery. And when just over one-third of your deck is an instant or sorcery, it doesn’t take much to get your mana’s worth.
Moving into the three-drops, we open with a pair of Ingenious Skaabs. Like the Sanguinary Mage, these feature prowess, getting temporarily larger with each noncreature spell you cast. In the Skaabs’ case, that’s an extra benefit because you can pump their power at the expense of their toughness, and if they have more toughness to spare, you can push the needle even further up. With three Islands up and just a single spell cast, you could turn a Skaab into a sort of non-trampling persistent Blue Ball Lightning. That turns the Skaabs from a 3-power defensive-minded card into two-way player, since they can threaten as a must-block option with just a handful of open mana.
Another Shadows over Innistrad singleton, the Niblis of Dusk, gives us some reach in the air. Like the Sanguinary Mage, the Niblis comes from a tribal-themed construction the first time around, appearing in Ghostly Tide. And like the Mage, prowess makes this a fairly unsurprising inclusion.
The final three-drop is Weaver of Lightning, and this card checks all the boxes. Not only does its 4 toughness ensure you have lots of ways to slow down incoming attacks, but its reach does that one better. Not only that, but its ability to tack on an extra point of creature-targeted damage each time you cast a spell synergizes perfectly with the deck. Your opponent will be wary of playing a 1- or 2-toughness creature, knowing they could depart at any time.
As we ascend into the four drops, I’m delighted to see the Pyre Hound make a reappearance. The Hound was featured in the Angelic Fury deck and, like a number of other cards, seemed out of place there. Like the Kiln Fiend I compared it to, it’s a card that needs a deck tuned to its strengths, and its potential is largely wasted in your traditional 24-12-24 environment.
Next up is the deck’s premium rare card, Niblis of Frost. This Niblis is an excellent card that is getting a look already from a Constructed perspective. It would be playable here even as a 3/3 flying creature with prowess, but it’s the triggered ability that gives it so much more to offer. Like the Weaver of Lightning, the Niblis gives you an added effect every time you cast an instant or sorcery, in this case a Crippling Chill (minus the cantrip). Don’t just settle for congesting the red zone, the Niblis lets you prevent attacks before they’re even made. This is a superlative card here, and a great inclusion.
The last four-drop here is a pair of Mercurial Geists. We’d mentioned Kiln Fiends earlier in the context of the Pyre Hound, and the Mercurial Geists are what you’d get if you crossed the Fiends with Wee Dragonauts. Evasive flyers that grant a substantial offensive boost whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, this deck will win more than a few games on the backs of these Spirits.
At the top end of the mana curve, we find a characteristic Blue fattie in the Silburlind Snapper, a six-mana 6/6. Sure it has a restriction that it can’t attack unless you’ve cast a noncreature spell, but by now we’ve safely established that that’s what this deck is going to push you to do anyway, so that will be a marginal consideration. The Snapper is still a perfectly serviceable defender, and this deck is one that will want to win in the air (or with direct damage) more than through ground combat anyway.
The deck’s final creature is another that’s generated some constructed buzz, the Bedlam Reveler. Although as printed the Reveler is an eight-drop, you’re highly unlikely to ever pay full retail for this guy, since he costs less for every sorcery or instant card you’ve got in your graveyard. Instead, what you’ve got here is a nice 3/4 body with prowess that can act as a ground-based closer, but also comes with a nifty trick of letting you discard your hand and draw three new cards. Naturally, you’d like to get as close to hellbent (an empty hand) as you can before summoning him, to get maximum card advantage, as the Reveler can add a little more gas to the tank to help you put the game away.
No Shortage of Fuel
Unsurprisingly, there’s a good amount of removal in the deck, with an eye towards not only keeping your opponent’s board under control, but also giving you some range to burn out your opponent.
We’ll start with the trio of Galvanic Bombardments, which use the ‘Kindle mechanic’ to become more effective the more of them you cast. These only target creatures, but the pricier Geistblast can also hit opponents. Although the Geistblast damage is fixed at 2, it can also copy a sorcery or instant spell when it’s in the graveyard, giving it a flashback-like level of utility in the graveyard.
Next up is a miser’s copy of Incendiary Flow. This offers 3 damage for only two mana, and even exiles the target if it dies the same turn. Power comes at a price, though, and in this case, that’s speed: Incendiary Flow is a sorcery. The same can be said for Reduce to Ashes which, while seemingly a powered-up version of Flow, is limited to targeting creatures.
Finally, you get two copies of Make Mischief. This spell is something of a hybrid, doing two different but useful things. First, it pings a single point of damage towards any target, be it a creature or player. Secondly, it lets you add a 1/1 Devil token to the board, which itself pings for a point of damage when it dies. This makes Devil tokens rather useful, as they can be thrown in the path of onrushing attackers to direct some damage where you’d like it to go, or even trade with a 2-toughness creature.
For more devilry, you get a copy of Dance with Devils (fresh out of Angelic Fury). This gives you two Devil tokens at instant speed, which may seem pricey for a pair of 1/1’s, but it’s important to remember that this can essentially act as removal for an incoming 4-toughness creature. And being able to flash in some surprise attackers at the end of an opponent’s turn can also prove useful.
If token creatures are your jam, you’ll also be happy with the inclusion of a copy of Rise from the Tides. Unsurprisingly a sorcery, this six-mana spell gives you a 2/2 Zombie for every instant or sorcery you’ve managed to place into your graveyard. Cast late in the game, it can give this deck the numbers advantage it may need to alpha strike your opponent.
But getting back to removal, Blue somewhat surprisingly offers very little here. Even the Unsummon effect, Drag Under, is at sorcery speed, though on the upside you also get to draw a card. No, Blue’s not here to offer board control, but rather to help keep your hand topped up. A trio of Take Inventory are the Blue version of Galvanic Bombardment, giving you more cards to hand with each successive casting. Pore over the Pages gives an interesting little 3-2-1 effect, drawing you three cards, untapping land, and compelling discard (which, in the absence of any madness cards, is simply a way to throw away an extra land).
Finally, there’s Pieces of the Puzzle, which offers the possibility of up to two instants or sorceries of your limited choice to hand for the cost of three mana and a single card. Red offers a similar effect in Shreds of Sanity, which can get you back one of each from your graveyard for the cost of three mana and two cards.
Wrapping up the noncreature spell suite is a pair of countermagic cards, Turn Aside and Convolute. Turn Aside is a one-mana counter, with the caveat that the targeted spell must be itself targeting a permanent you control. That won’t stop a lot of effects, but is intended to help keep your army safe. Convolute, a reprint from Ravnica, is a stronger Mana Leak.
Beyond that, the deck carries 25 land, all of which are basics. We’ll continue to look at the composition of the decks, then once they are officially released, we’ll be putting them through their paces and return with the analysis and final scoring. See you then!