Morningtide in Elder Dragon Highlander

Hello, all! It’s that time of year again--snow, cold, and the excitement of opening those Morningtide packs and taking in that new card smell. And, like all good sets, Morningtide lends itself to some interesting set analyses. I am sure that by the time this is printed, several articles on the set in Standard, Limited, Extended, and Legacy will have made an appearance.

Rules of Elder Dragon Highlander:
-All cards other than basic land and banned cards are restricted to one copy per deck.
-When constructing decks, each player chooses a legendary creature to be their general.
-No two players in the same game may have the same general.
-A general's mana cost dictates which color mana symbols may appear in in the deck.
-All generals are removed from the game at the beginning of the game.
-If a general would be put into a graveyard by an effect, its owner may remove it from the game instead.
-While a general is removed from the game, its owner may play it by paying its mana cost plus 2 for each for each previous time it has been played this way this game.
-Players begin the game with 40 life.
-If a player takes 21 points of combat damage from a single general, that player loses the game.
Don’t get me wrong: those formats are all well and good. But there’s another format, much closer to my heart, that just craves set analysis. To those who have read some of my posts in the Variant Formats forum, I’m sure this format will be obvious: Elder Dragon Highlander. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the format, I would suggest that you check out the "official" Elder Dragon Highlander site. Frankly, I'm not sure that the article will make much sense if you haven't read this link.

Now, I know that an EDH set analysis kind of works against the point of the very casual format. Normally, I just encourage people to look at the set and see which cards they like most. But while the format is casual, let’s face facts. That urge to win is still there. No one likes to lose all of the time: even the most hard core Bruce likes to take the occasional game. Also, if you’re constantly improving your deck or are just getting started with the format, basing all one's choices on testing can get downright depressing. The format’s large decks and Highlander restrictions will make it unlikely that you’ll draw a card regularly enough to make a strong choice based on testing, and this issue will only be amplified for newer players who don't know what results to look for.

The Legends

Any EDH set analysis will need to begin with the legendary creatures. These guys can define your deck and the format: they are what set the format apart from other highlander variants. So, who looks good in this set?

My early favorite for the set’s top general is Maralen of the Mornsong. Maybe I’m overrating her, but I think that she shows a lot of promise. Here’s the card’s breakdown. First, it’s a 2/3 for 1BB. Unimpressive, but respectable enough. At the very least, that will avoid an annoying Aether Flash or Pyroclasm. What really draws me to the card is its first line: “Players can’t draw cards.” In a format defined by card advantage, that ability can really mess things up. Normally, this would make Maralen (and likely her controller) a surefire target. But her second ability can go a long way towards fighting the heat. Sure, an opponent can tutor for a removal spell, but do they really want to? Who wants to be stopped from finding what they want to play every turn? Many decks may make an attempt to keep Maralen alive so that they can find their tools and tricks each turn; and they will probably shift their attention elsewhere, likely towards the guy trying to ruin their fun by killing her. She’s powerful; she’s diplomatic--I think that she’ll be a big hit. Even if she doesn't make a splash as a general, color combinations which get their cards through other means than draw (WB and BGW come to mind) will likely want to give her a shot. And if you want to be the only one tutoring, try out everyone's favorite: Aven Mindcensor.

Next up is Rhys the Exiled. Frankly, I’m unimpressed. As a 3/2 for 2G, his stats are pretty average, and his abilities don’t do much to compensate for it. Life gain is usually pretty useful in EDH, but Rhys’s ability also requires an attack, which makes you an easy target once the slower decks get rolling. As an EDH rule of thumb, you don’t want to be picked out as the aggressor unless you can back up an early show of force with solid defense, as the more defensive decks tend to gain up on the most aggressive one. His regeneration ability isn’t bad, but it’s not good, either. The “official” rules won’t let you use it; but even if your house rules allow it, it’s just not that relevant of an ability when most of the top spells that would kill it, like Wrath variants and Slaughter, don’t allow regeneration. With at least one better Elf general (Nath of the Gilt-Leaf is bigger, allows for two colors, and has a stronger ability), I just don’t see a reason to run this guy.

Vendilion Clique is interesting. Of the three generals in the set, it is certainly the most likely to kill via the general rule, as a 3/1 flash flyer for the price of 1UU is fairly reasonable, if unexciting, in this format, where anything smaller than a 4/4 is only barely a creature. However, the card’s third ability is unlikely to be useful as anything other than a really bad bargaining chip or a surefire way to make you a target by a somewhat unharmed opponent. Overall, I think that the Clique is a poor general choice, as more aggressive generals generally draw more fire; and it limits you to Blue for no real reason. But I could see it as a backup guy in many Blue decks.

New Mechanics

After legends, it’s usually a good idea to check out the new mechanics. First, prowl. Obviously, the mechanic lends itself to a Blue/Black Rogues deck, with rare Notorious Throng leading the way. If properly played, the Throng could very well take at least one player out of the game, and it seems like the mechanic’s poster child in EDH. Earwig Squad also looks very strong in the format. Jester’s Cap isn’t bad in EDH, and a cheaper version with a 5/3 body attached seems like a hit. Finally, Knowledge Exploitation recreates a powerful EDH effect (Bribery) for instants and sorceries. I would expect that one to be played with or without prowl; but I would expect all of these cards to see some play together, especially in decks that allow for a lot of bounce for the Squad.

Really, the mechanic seems pretty powerful, if you can find enough playable Rogues. While none of the other prowl cards are as spectacular as those three, none of the cards with the mechanic are truly “unplayable”; with many of them offering either some form of card advantage (Latchkey Faerie, Morsel Theft, Noggin Whack, Auntie's Snitch, and Thieves' Fortune) or a boon to a more aggressive strategy (Stinkdrinker Bandit and Morsel Theft). Heck, some decent generals are Rogues, if you want to guarantee some damage. Note, however, that this mechanic requires some aggressive play to make many of the cards worthwhile and that it will likely make enemies unless the initial target is carefully chosen each time. I think that the deck would need to be played properly and would likely work better in duels than in a multiplayer environment, but the mechanic shows promise.

The same cannot be said of kinship, however. The problem is that the kinship mechanic just fits horribly with the very chaotic nature of EDH decks. It’s easy to picture cards like Leaf-Crowned Elder rocking the house in the right deck, but is it really that likely? Even in a focused Treefolk/Shaman deck, there will be a number of cards that support neither type. And your guy is going to draw a lot of hate and is unlikely to make it to your upkeep. So, ask yourself: do you really want to take up a deck slot with a card that will likely not even make it to the first activation and which only has a maximum 40-50% chance of working if it does? Maybe I’m just too cautious, but that seems like a wasted slot to me.

Besides that, all of the non-rare kinship cards seem to have abilities that are just too small for the risk of the mechanic and the likely hate that they will draw from other players. This mechanic simply doesn’t prosper in EDH. The only card that I can see finding play in the format is Sensation Gorger in Goblin decks, which can help many people at the table, making it more likely that he’ll survive for more than an upkeep or two. Of course, the guys who want him gone will usually be able to kill him, so I wouldn’t count on him becoming a huge presence either.

Finally, reinforce. This one’s pretty easy: it’s not a very good mechanic for EDH. It doesn’t provide very much card advantage, if any at all, and combat tricks are often suboptimal in the format. Also, the cards that have the mechanic are pretty mediocre. The two that I can see maybe seeing use are Rustic Clachan, which at the very least taps for a W and is useful in the late game, and Swell of Courage, which can swing the game without reinforce and which can save a relevant beater with it. Both seem unspectacular but occasionally useful.


Rustic Clachan brings us to the topic of lands, which are always a hot commodity, especially for players like me who like to build our decks with only one of EACH card, including basic land. Thankfully, this set has some good ones. Primal Beyond is clearly the least spectacular outside of an Elemental deck, but I’ve actually heard some good things about Horde of Notions as a general. Murmuring Bosk, on the other hand, seems strong even without a Treefolk and appears like a solid addition to the fairly powerful BGW color trio. The Cachan seems decent but unexciting. Mutavault seems like a possible staple for years to come, offering all of the power of Mishra’s Factory in the format with the added bonus of being in every creature type. Some cards are much worse in EDH than they are in other formats. Mutavault is not one of them.


From here on, the best path seems to be discussing the various cards in the other colors. Starting things off is White, which doesn’t pick up too much this set. Feudkiller’s Verdict offers the usually potent combination of life-gain and a decent body, but it’s hardly an auto-include, especially following the unbanning of life-gain powerhouse Beacon of Immortality. Idyllic Tutor seems powerful, especially in decks which rely on enchantments for their card advantage. I can definitely see it becoming an auto-include in White/Black decks with Necropotence and Phyrexian Arena. Meadowboon seems good in more aggressive decks, and it’s useful enough if you just have it and another creature. Reveillark also seems good, although decks with it will probably be more aggressive--I know that my EDH decks rarely run more than one or two low-power creatures. Finally, Stonehewer Giant seems powerful, offering a decent body, a relevant ability, and vigilance, which is very, VERY good in EDH. It’s not going to become a staple any time soon, but I think that it will be very powerful in equipment-heavy decks; and it might even make Raksha Golden Cub slightly more popular as a general.


Next up is Blue, the color that everyone loves to hate. Before the rest of the color can be explored, a word must be said about the card Declaration of Naught. This card earns mention only because it single-handedly invalidates generals, who are always known to all players. Other than that, the card is beyond mediocre in the format, offering very little that other cards couldn't do just as well, if not better. While I initially believed that the card would receive an errata similar to that given to Karakas or Riftsweeper, which prevent targetting of generals; it seems that the judges are of the opinion that the card does not need said errata, and actually serves a valuable purpose by preventing abuse of some recurring generals. If the card remains untouched, I believe that it will be a mainstay in Blue for a while, offering an answer to both troublesome generals and bomby must-runs like Mind's Eye and Recurring Nightmare.

Otherwise, the color has some neat options. Personally, I really like Grimoire Thief, as it helps immensely with my dream of building a decent EDH mill deck. That said, the Thief is really pretty mediocre outside of mill (a mediocre strategy itself) unless someone played a Harbinger with him out for some odd reason. Inspired Sprite seems like a card advantage machine in many decks, as Wizards pretty frequently offers good spells, such as the awesome Sigil Tracer in this set. Fork effects are pretty strong in this format, so I’d be sure to keep an eye on that guy if you’re playing a creature-heavy Blue deck. Mind Spring is sure to be excellent, as card advantage in EDH=the awesomez. I don’t know that I’d run it over last set’s incredible Fathom Trawl, but I think that it’s a solid Blue draw spell for the format. Slithermuse isn’t bad either, although if you run much Blue card-draw, I wouldn’t bother. In a more aggressive deck with less card-draw, though, it seems great. Really, this set doesn’t give Blue much outside of Wizards and Rogues, but the set goes a long way towards making both of those tribes very real, very legitimate options.


In Black, Mind Shatter seems like a great way to get back at the guy who’s been picking on you all game. It’s the ultimate kick in the nuts, though, so make sure that you only use it when you know that you can defend yourself. Scarblade Elite seems strong in creature-heavy black decks, as Assassins usually find their way to the graveyard and killing creatures is always useful. Really, Black is pretty weak for EDH this set; but again, it also has access to the best general in the set and the best mechanic in the set, so it’s hard to feel too bad for it.


Next up is Red, which is full of cards that look pretty strong. Boldwyr Heavyweights is a great way to make nice with everyone at the table; but the card is not very competitive and will almost certainly be killed before you can use it. And even if you do get a swing in with it, you’ll quickly draw the ire of the guy you just gave a free huge creature, which likely won’t end well for you. Countryside Crusher is pretty interesting, as it cleans up some draws and gets bigger regularly. Of course, this guy is also a terrible early drop, as no EDH deck tops its curve at three. Late game, I can see this guy being a useful way to clear out annoying land pockets, but the fact that it will be pretty worthless outside of mono-Red decks with low deck manipulation and even useless in those Red decks before turn six (at least) makes me feel that the guy isn’t going to make big waves.

I’d like to take a moment here to discuss Taurean Mauler. I think that many newer EDH players will throw this guy into their decks and call him an auto-include. And who can blame them? In a format defined by slow games, lots of mana, and many players, it seems like the Mauler would get huge in a hurry. The problem is that that’s all he does. There’s an unwritten rule of EDH deck construction that if a card has an empty text box, it’s not worth running in the format. Sadly, an uncontrolled pump ability might as well be nothing. The same is true of Tarmogoyf, who is really pretty bad in the format. Post-Lorwyn, the Goyf will likely always be an 8/9 for 1G. But it just won’t be worth it, and the 'Goyf will be quickly removed or easily chump-blocked. And even if it isn’t, a strong hit from it will hardly take a player out of the game. If the Mauler had Trample, he could be worth consideration. Otherwise, I’d only run him in a mono-red deck which really likes him for some tribal interactions.

Tired of 'Goyf? Play EDH!
The good news is, Morningtide gives Red some surprisingly good removal. Rivals' Duel seems strong, as tribes aren’t exactly common in EDH; and even when they show up, two decks of the same tribe are rarely at the same table. At the very least, it offers Red a rare shot at card advantage, as does Spitebellows. Usually, I dislike burn spells in EDH, as most of the creatures in the format are too big for burn to be very effective. However, both of those seem very good for the format. Titan’s Revenge also seems great, as X spells are usually pretty strong in this mana-heavy format, and a recurring X spell is nothing to laugh at. On the other hand, Shard Volley, probably the most appealing burn spell outside of EDH, seems poor. It doesn’t kill very many creatures, it usually creates card disadvantage, and it is just mediocre.


Finally, Green gets some nice goodies from Morningtide. Chameleon Colossus is very strong, offering a 4/4 body with weak evasion and great protection on top of an extremely relevant ability. Remember when I said that a pump ability was about as good as an empty text box? Well, throw that out the window when that creature has protection from Black, which will usually let you hit at least one player unscathed. The rapid speed with which the guy pumps himself doesn’t hurt, either. Cream of the Crop seems like a bomb in most Green decks, effectively letting you stack your deck and ensure greatness from every draw. I think that Cream will be pretty close to an auto-include for most Green decks as a method of strong card quality advantage. If you can find a lot of druids, Gilt-Leaf Archdruid is absurd if you can pull it off, but that tribe seems like it might be in short supply. This is especially true in EDH, where the low power and smaller effects of druids makes their inclusion to support a non-general card extremely questionable. For beaters, Walker of the Grove offers a newer addition to the great Penumbra family. Penumbra Wurm he’s not, but he’ll do in a pinch.

On the land fixing front, Scapeshift seems pretty good. In a given Green deck, it can offer some decent color fixing. Cool, but nothing that a Sakura-Tribe Elder can’t do just as well. However, I can definitely see it sacking a bunch of Forests for a complete set of the Urzatron, or maybe Cloudpost and a Vesuva, or maybe just awesome lands like Gaea’s Cradle and Academy. It seems like a pretty strong card if you want to build your deck around it.


Finally, the artifacts. I've got to say that none of these seem very good to me. Obviously, they’re all up for consideration if you’re running a tribal deck, and I think that Door of Destinies is notably better in this format than Coat of Arms, but none really stand out for me. The only piece of equipment that might see play is Thornbite Staff, which, when combined with Visara the Dreadful or Avatar of Woe, can be absurd. Otherwise, I’d ignore this section of the spoiler unless you really, really want to build a tribal class deck.

Overall, Morningtide seems like an interesting set for EDH. While it doesn’t offer too many cards that lend themselves to already existing EDH strategies, it does offer some interesting new cards that almost call for an entirely new deck strategy. I would especially keep my eye open for interesting Maralen interactions (Helpful hint: Necropotence isn’t banned in EDH, and it doesn’t technically draw cards) and Rogues (My pick for a Rogue general? Gwendlyn Di Corci.) The set is not without its goodies; but on the whole, it seems like something of a letdown following the extremely EDH-friendly Lorwyn.


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