Throne of Eldraine Brings Power Creep to the Next Level
Throne of Eldraine is the latest set to be released for the card game Magic: The Gathering. The set came out on October 4, 2019 and has already been format-defining for Standard. All of the top decks are largely made up of Throne cards which is quite telling as I have never seen a single set have this much of an impact on Standard immediately upon release.
The biggest issue is the power creep from this set is off the charts. Power creep is the idea that as the game ages, developers have to add more and more powerful cards in order to keep people interested and sales up. It is natural for games that are as old as Magic: The Gathering to have power creep (MTG was first introduced in 1993). Perhaps the greatest example of power creep is Questing Beast. For two colorless and two green mana, you get a 4/4 creature with haste, vigilance, and deathtouch, which can't be blocked by creatures power two or less, makes it so combat damage dealt by your creatures can't be prevented, and whenever it deals damage to a player, you can also have it deal that much damage to a planeswalker they control. This card is insane.
Compare that with Mungha Wurm from Prophecy, which costs the same amount of mana, is a rare, and is a 6/5 creature that says you can only untap one land during your untap step. Back then a 6/5 creature with a four converted mana cost might be worth that downside. Nowadays, that would never be played.
As good as Questing Beast is, at least it still dies to Doom Blade. But planeswalkers have also gotten out of hand. Wizards of the Coast keeps printing format-warping planeswalkers at just three converted mana cost. Teferi, Time Raveler, Oko, Thief of Crowns, The Royal Scions, and Narset Parter of Veils are all played in Standard right now. These planeswalkers all have an immediate effect on the pace of play and can completely turn a game around on their own. Teferi doesn't even allow people to counter anything just by his very presence on the battlefield!
Compare the above with planeswalkers from Lorwyn, when the card type was first introduced. The only three mana planeswalker was Jace Beleren that you could tick up to have both players draw a card or tick down to draw a card yourself. In comparison, little Teferi not only draws you a card on tick down, but also allows you to bounce something! Jace Beleren didn't ultimate until he was on the board for five turns unperturbed and his ultimate only milled someone for twenty - it didn't instantly win the game like many 'walkers can do nowadays. Garruk Wildspeaker saw a lot of play when he came out and his uptick merely untapped two lands and his down tick gave you a 3/3 creature. His ultimate allowed you to Overrun for the turn. Again, this didn't necessarily mean you instantly won. What if you only had a few creatures? Or you opponent had removal spells in hand? It wasn't like ulting Teferi, Hero of Dominaria which basically just wins you the game. Now, the Standard format is basically defined by which planeswalkers are being played and Throne of Eldraine is no exception. Oko is pretty bonkers as a three mana 'walker. You can uptick him to remove any threat and make it a 3/3. Why wouldn't this at least be a minus ability?
Too Many "I Win" Cards
There are too many bomb cards in Throne of Eldraine that might as well just say "I win" on them. For example, Fires of Invention allows you to cast things without paying for them. In an episode of his Drive to Work podcast, game designer Mark Rosewater talked about how one of the biggest design mistakes they made during the Urza's block years ago was that there was too many ways to get around paying costs for cards. So why, then, do they make cards like Fires of Invention that allows you to cast things for free? In the very same set they also released Once Upon a Time which can be cast for free. Also in the format are Golos, Tireless Pilgrim which allows you to cast things for free and Bolas's Citadel which allows you to cast things by paying life instead of mana. It would seem WoTC didn't actually learn the design lesson that Rosewater claims they did.
Another "I win" card is Dance of the Manse. If this card goes off, you had better either have a counter or a board wipe or you just lose the game immediately. That is pretty silly in a format where Teferi, Time Raveler makes counter magic unplayably bad.
One of the biggest issues in standard right now is the Lands deck that utilizes Field of the Dead. While Field itself is not in Throne of Eldraine, Throne did nothing to address this card or include any efficient ways to deal with lands. Field of Ruin, Alpine Moon, and Blood Sun all rotated out of standard and nothing replaced it. How did they not think this would be an issue? Incoming ban announcement!
Adventures Give Too Much Value
One of the new mechanics in Throne of Eldraine is adventures. Adventures are cards that have two sides to them. If you cast the adventure side, an instant/sorcery, you then put the card into exile and can cast the creature side later on in the game. It sounds like an interesting mechanic in theory, but the way it was implemented in design is problematic.
First of all, all of the adventure cards are under-costed mana-wise. An adventure should take time, right? There should have to be a conscious decision when playing an adventure card to determine whether or not you have time to go on the adventure or if you just need the creature now. The way these cards are costed, there's no decision point. Both sides are simply on curve, every time. For example, Murderous Rider allows you to kill a creature or planeswalker at three CMC by casting Swift End, and then cast a 2/3 with lifelink at three CMC later. So it's basically a better Murder (since it hits planeswalkers while Murder doesn't) with a creature added. Perhaps Swift End should have cost four mana?
Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off is another card that provides way too much value. At five CMC you can destroy all non-giant creatures (which pretty much makes it a one-sided board wipe). Then later on, you get to cast a 7/7 creature with vigilance for seven mana. Again, the first half of the card seems like it is under-costed by one. It should probably cost six mana. After all, previous board wipes like Fumigate and Cleansing Nova also cost five mana but didn't then give you a 7/7 creature later. To be sure, Fumigate allowed you to gain some life, and Cleansing Nova had the option to destroy artifacts/enchantments (which was almost never used) but Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off isn't just a board wipe, it's also it's own win condition. Therefore, the board wipe side probably should cost more than previous board wipes in the format did. It's just bad, lazy design.
Even the common/uncommon adventure cards are busted. For example, look at Smitten Swordmaster // Curry Favor. It's a 2/1 with lifelink for two mana, which is a Child of Night. Fine. But also for a mere one black mana, you can gain X life and each opponent loses X life where X is the number of Knights you control. Generally you see people casting this when they have four or more Knights which means you are getting drained for four or five life for one single black mana. Remember when Lava Axe cost five mana to deal five damage and you gained no life from it? And Lava Axe doesn't have a creature on the back end of it, either. Smitten Swordmaster / Curry Favor made playing two-headed giant in this format not very fun. Drain us for 10 for one black? Seems legit!
WoTC either should have upped the cost of the adventure side of these cards to create an interesting decision point, or limited the amount of time / the number of cards which could stay in adventure exile.
The Set Has No Value
In his video titled "Side Effects of Flashy Cards" Rudy from Alpha Investments talked about how the EV of a booster box of Throne of Eldraine had fallen below $100 just 24 hours after its release. The reason behind this is all the special cards in the set like showcase borders and extended art is where all the value is. For example, a foil extended art The Great Henge is currently $140 at the time of this writing. A foil borderless Oko, Thief of Crowns is also hovering around $140. All the value in the set is in these uber rare lottery cards and the regular rares carry almost no value. The most valuable non-mythic, non-special bordered card according to TCGPlayer listings is Murderous Rider // Swift End at just $6.75. That's not good for Magic and neither was this set.