Tribal Update Report: Throne of Eldraine

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Good news: I’m still keeping up with these silly reports! And the latest set is Throne of Eldraine. I’ll say up-front that I find this to be a fun, gorgeously illustrated set with interesting mechanics and great flavor, but overall a bit of a drop in power level from the amazing sets we’ve been seeing for most of 2019. I say this not to criticize the set or to dismiss it. I’d think that most casual players would have a blast with this set. And it’s even got some notably relevant cards for more competitive players too. But the sets leading up to this, particularly War of the Spark, Modern Horizons, and Core Set 2020 really set the bar for sheer power. Throne of Eldraine is not weak, but it isn’t packed with quite so many gamebreaking cards.

If anything, this shift toward, well, normalcy is probably good for Tribal formats. Writing this part before I make a full analysis, my suspicion is that most contributions from Throne of Eldraine will improve the positions of some existing (reasonably strong) tribes within their existing tiers, such as we (I) have already placed them. But we do also get some new tribes to play with...

New Tribes
This set introduces four tribes that weren’t already on the tier list. Since I started doing these reports, I believe that four is a record number. So this time around, I’ll dedicate a bit more space to new tribe analysis. Maybe it’s the most important change this set brings to Tribal formats. Or perhaps not. I don’t really know.

Mouse: This is another Tier 8 tribe. It seems like every set has one! In this case, the card Enchanted Carriage makes two tokens with this type when it enters the battlefield. Get it, because of Cinderella? You get it, right? Anyway, the creature type has no cards that are members of it and doesn’t function as a tribe. Not noteworthy yet, although it does seem like this is a type that might see use in a later set. Or maybe it’ll just get ignored in favor of Rat Tribal, which is already quite developed. We’ll see.

Peasant: The establishment of this tribe does help flesh out the world of Eldraine. Unfortunately for Peasant Tribal, WotC did not bother to retroactively add older cards to the type. That means the only members we have to work with are 5 new cards from this set. So you’re automatically stuck with two green creatures, two white creatures, and a red creature to fill your Tribal slots. Technically, there is a synergy here, but it’s so pathetic that it’d frustrate any prospect Peasant Tribal deckbuilder. Edgewall Innkeeper has an ability that synergizes with the “Adventure” mechanic, and all of the other peasants have that mechanic. Despite the technical presence of a Tribal synergy, I’m tentatively throwing these guys in Tier 6. They seem to be virtually unplayable.

Warlock: There’s long been a weird distribution of spellcaster-based creature types in different colors. Historically, white got the most clerics, blue got the most wizards, red got the most shamans, and green got the most druids. Black was kind of divided across multiple types, with some clerics and some wizards. They’d had a few witches, but those were retconned into wizards or shamans. Black even got a druid on rare occasions. Mechanically, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Not everything in the game needs to fit into neat grooves on a wheel of five colors. Except, well, WotC have generally wanted to do just that. They have an affinity for trying to color-balance every aspect of the game. And since it was established that each of the other four colors had a primary “spellcaster” creature type, they needed to make black have one. The trouble is that they didn’t get around to it. I was a bit puzzled that they hadn’t. And now they finally have, but it’s way too late. Personally, I think that this is a sloppy choice. They allegedly chose “warlock” over “witch” because “warlock is “gender neutral” but historically, it’s the opposite. You can’t cite “Dungeons & Dragons” as your source for this! And that’s quibbling, but they didn’t even bother to retroactively type old witches and witch-like creatures as warlocks. The only old creature to get the type is Dread Warlock. Nearly all of the old cards that could have been placed in this tribe are wizards instead. A monoblack Wizard Tribal, even one that thematically favors witch/warlock creatures (it could even run Dread Warlock, as that card is also a wizard) would be vastly superior to a Warlock Tribal deck. A black cleric deck would also easily be better. Even a black Shaman Tribal deck would outclass anything warlocks can do. WotC ostensibly corrected a longstanding imbalance in their color wheel thing, but black will always have the weakest primary spellcaster type. Anyway, most of the new warlocks have a tribal synergy with some other tribe. Specifically, we’ve got synergies for Faerie, Rat, and Knight. There’s really nothing to work with here. Sadly, Warlock Tribal is relegated to Tier 6.

Noble: Since I’ve started these reports, this is the first instance of the rebirth of an old tribe. This creature type was introduced way back in Homelands and then purged in the Grand Creature Type Update of 2007. Now it’s back. And things are a bit strange. With some creature type revisions, WotC have combed through old cards and consolidated everything that seemed appropriate. Off the top of my head, it wasn’t so long ago that this was done for dinosaurs in Ixalan. With this set, they obviously didn’t bother to do that for the new Warlock type (they retroactively added a single card out of at least dozens of possible thematic inclusions, presumably because it was the one with the word “Warlock” in its name). For nobles, they um, split the difference? They went halfway? It’s strange. They obviously went back and added some old cards to the tribe, but they seem to have done a cursory job of it. I cannot wrap my head around why they chose the cards that they did choose, but not other cards. Anyway, combining old and new cards in this tribe, we’ve got 33 members to work with. No tribal synergies and nothing really spectacular going on here. I’ll estimate that this tribe is Tier 5, but it could easily be a contender for promotion if it got more of the old thematic inclusions to fill its ranks, of if future sets add anything powerful.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
New additions to existing tribes
Archer: Two new cards. They don’t actually work well together, but either one could be a strong addition to some kind of Archer Tribal deck. Maybe.

Archon: Two new cards. This tribe has some major problems, and the new cards might contribute something. One is the cheapest archon so far. The other is potentially a wrecking ball against midrange opponents. It’s tricky to envision, but I’d say that Archon Tribal gains some standing within its tier.

Artificer: One new card. It doesn’t make the cut.

Beast: Two new cards. Desite how strong this tribe already was, Questing Beast very likely makes a strong inclusion. It does everything.

Berserker: One new card. This is a solid “maybe” for the tribe. The “Adventure” mechanic is brand new and it’s unclear how strong it might be in Tribal formats.

Bird: Two new cards. Neither one is a bad card, but I don’t think that they fit into Bird Tribal.

Cat: Three new cards. It is remotely possible that Keeper of Fables could be a decent inclusion in Cat Tribal, but I doubt it. The others aren’t useful for the tribe.

Construct: Three new cards. As is typical for a Tier 1 tribe, these new cards just can’t compete with what’s already available.

Dragon: Four new cards. None of them are good fits for Dragon Tribal.

Druid: Four new cards. I think a couple of these probably do improve Druid Tribal.

Dwarf: Three new cards that sadly don’t do much for the tribe.

Elephant: One new card. It costs seven mana. So no help here.

Elf: Seven new cards. None of them make the cut.

Faerie: Seventeen new cards! Uncharacteristically for a Tier 1 Tribe, some of these are strong considerations. Now, that comes with the caveat that Faerie Tribal was already probably the weakest tribe I placed in Tier 1. And even after this set, it might still be the weakest. But I really do think it gains more leverage against Tier 2 tribes.

Fox: One new card. It would be a boon to a tribe with poor coverage in the two-drop slot, but Fox Tribal has other issues. Still, it might help a bit.

Gargoyle: Two new cards. Uncertain on this one. I think they don’t improve the tribe, but I might be missing something.

Giant: Six new cards. Notably, the versatile Bonecrusher Giant would be a useful card for almost any red-heavy tribe.

Gnome: One new card. I was going to suggest that it might actually be practical in a Gnome Tribal deck, and then I remember how astoundingly bad Gnome Tribal is. Yikes, it’s going to take more than Clockwork Servant to make these guys viable.

Goblin: Five new cards. Pretty much the same deal as elves. A new goblin has to be incredibly good to change anything for Tribal formats. And these are not.

Golem: Two new cards. The curve for aggressive Golem Tribal gets just a little bit better here thanks to Gingerbrute. A more controlling deck probably doesn’t change, though.

Griffin: Three new cards. No real help here. I like Griffin Tribal, but WotC doesn’t. Oh well.

Horse: One new card. It synergizes with the Adventure mechanic, which consists entirely of non-horse creatures. So no real Tribal application.

Human: Sixty new cards. I think. Look, it’s a lot and I had to try to look through them and figure out which ones were new, which is almost all of them. Maybe something in here matters for Human Tribal, but probably not.

Hydra: Two new cards. Probably not relevant.

Knight: Forty-five new cards. Knights are kind of a big deal in this set. Appreciable tribal synergies and some great cards overall. Knight Tribal definitely just got better.

Merfolk: Five new cards. They don’t fit into what Merfolk Tribal is generally doing.

Ogre: Two new cards. They fail to shore up the deficiencies of the tribe.

Ouphe: One new card. Its ability requires you to control an Oko planeswalker before it can do anything, so it’s probably unsuitable for Tribal formats. I’ll note that Ouphe Tribal is Tier 5, though, so the competition might be so weak as to make this viable.

Ox: One new card. You can eat it, if you want to, I guess.

Rogue: Five new cards. And four of them are good cards. So Rogue Tribal gets a boost.

Serpent: One new card. As serpents go, this one is unusually strong. Still not enough to make the tribe work.

Skeleton: One new card. While I don’t think I’d run it, there is some potential here. A deck needs repeatable lifegain to make this card worth it.

Scarecrow: Two new cards. They don’t seem like they contribute much to the tribe.

Shaman: One new card. Poster child for the bizarre “non-human” mechanic in this set. Since some of the best shamans are also humans, this is a nonbo.

Soldier: Two new cards. They don’t make the cut.

Snake: One new card. Dependent on mana acceleration to be really good, but the ceiling on this thing is spectacular.

Specter: One new card. It shares the common deficiency of the tribe. Overcosted for its size.

Spirit: Two new cards. Probably no improvement to the tribe.

Treefolk: Two new cards. One is unremarkable, but the other could be a nice addition to a polychromatic Treefolk Tribal deck. Although treefolk have always been base-green, they get options from other colors. Going three-color should be easy for them, and I could even see four-color, potentially.

Troll: Three new cards. I like them, but I’m not sure how well they fit into the tribe.

Turtle: Three new cards. This tribe is weird. I don’t think much changes for turtles.

Unicorn: One new card. It’s better than most existing members, but the tribe is still weak.

Wall: Three new cards. I chose to recommend them for demotion earlier and yeah, they don’t get much help this time around to undo that.

Warrior: Five new cards. These may or may not be strong choices in Warrior Tribal.

Wizard: Eight new cards. Nothing that definitively changes the tribe, but some new toys to play with and maybe something in there makes the cut. Wizard Tribal has a ton of good options.

Wolf: Two new cards. The problem here is that both are based around the “Food” mechanic from this set, and Wolf Tribal can’t really afford to go all-in on food.

Wolverine: One new card. Its ability isn’t amazing, but it is a decent two-drop, which is exactly what Wolverine Tribal was lacking up to this point.

Zombie: Two new cards. Either would be a great help to a weaker tribe, but I don’t think Zombie Tribal bothers with them. Both are also knights, and real options for Knight Tribal.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
New tribal synergy cards to look out for
The Circle of Loyalty: While it’s not impressive in tournament formats, this might be a real Tribal powerhouse. It’s tempting to load up a Knight Tribal deck with legendary knights and watch the fireworks.

Shining Armor: Seems underwhelming, but is pretty efficient when used as a Knight Tribal synergy.

Piper of the Swarm: Rat Tribal decks seem like a good fit for cheap creatures and token-generators anyway, so why not throw this guy in and steal your opponents’ best creatures?

Joust: If you’re running red anyway, you probably have access to better spells to do damage to creatures. Still, for Knight Tribal it might be relevant.

Tournament Grounds: I’ve already seen this one in action and it seems practical enough. While perhaps constrained to a white/black/red Knight Tribal deck, it fits the role well enough.

Overall set analysis
Throne of Eldraine as a set for Tribal stuff will be remembered primarily for its contributions to knights and secondarily for its contributions to faeries. Those themes are not subtle. Some other tribes get interesting new cards as well. I actually think that overall, for Tribal formats, the power level of this set seems kind of high. And that’s great.

The “Adventure” mechanic is hard to evaluate at this early stage, but show great promise. In faster formats like Legacy, the mechanic is probably untenable due to tempo constraints. You want potent effects for as little mana as possible. But in a multiplayer pod, pacing is different, and the value gained in being able to cast two spells off one card is worth the extra mana the effects usually come with. Adventures also interact nicely with certain forms of recursion. For instance, one could cast the instant/sorcery side of the card, have the creature side come back from its adventure, have it get killed in combat, use a Raise Dead effect of some sort on the card (it is a creature), and then cast the instant/sorcery side again.

I’ve hardly mentioned another major mechanic in this set, which is the non-human synergy stuff. While the mechanic might not be bad in all casual Magic settings, I think it doesn’t really work in Tribal formats. That’s just how it goes sometimes. We saw that in a different way with War of the Spark. Sometimes, reasonably good Magic cards just aren’t a good fit for a particular format.

So far, none of the new tribes show much promise. While I wish Warlock Tribal the best of luck, I think it’s doomed to be forever relegated to being the worst of the default “spellcaster” types. Likewise, peasants and nobles have their work cut out for them. If WotC like the tribes, they might push them more in future sets. Until then, I wouldn’t bother building decks based on the new tribes. However, some of the new contributions to existing tribes are superb cards.

With these reports, I’m wary of endlessly repeating a refrain of “the rich get richer.” But this time, that’s not necessarily the case. Knight Tribal wasn’t a particularly strong tribe compared to most of Tier 2, and it is the most emphasized tribe for this set. Giant Tribal benefits in a similar way. And bombs like Questing Beast and Chulane, Teller of Tales could really shore up some tribes that, while not weak, hadn’t been getting much support lately.

Winners and losers for this set? Tier adjustments?
In alphabetical order, the biggest winners for this set are probably…
  • Beast
  • Druid
  • Faerie
  • Giant
  • Knight
  • Rogue
  • Snake
  • Wizard
  • Wolverine
Losers might be…
  • Bears have lost out in the past couple of sets and got no new cards in a set that thematically was a slam-dunk flavor match for them. You can make token bears in Eldraine, but there are no regular bears, for some reason.
  • Demons get nothing this time around. I wouldn’t demote them just yet. But it’s not looking good for them right now.
  • Dragons get new cards in basically every new set, but the new cards usually aren’t viable and the tribe is losing its edge against the competition.
  • Dwarves continue to get cards that they can’t really make good use of.
  • Kithkin are specific to Lorwyn, a plane that might be less likely to be revisited now that Eldraine is a more successful interpretation of similar themes.
  • Vampires have been making huge strides and I had considered that they might be able to outcompete the less prolific tribes in Tier 1. But if Faerie Tribal was a vulnerable target for Vampire Tribal to try to take on, this set has just ruined that.
Treefolk could arguably fit in either category. This was a setting that was a thematic match for them and they were poised to gain something. They actually did gain, but one might be disappointed that it’s not enough. I suspect that Treefolk Tribal gets slightly better in the short term, but if this was all they got, probable neglect in future sets will cause them to lose traction in the long term.

I do not currently advocate for any tier adjustments. All of the tribes that got stronger have done so within tiers, and the ones that are noticeably losing out still seem competitive within their existing tiers. I am tentatively considering some adjustment to the elite tiers, but at this time I think it’s probably not a good idea. Lacking any other space to ruminate on this, I’ll do so now.

This is overanalytical for a Tribal metagame that doesn’t exist and can’t provide data to guide tiers, but that’s kind of where I’ve been going with these reports anyway. My suspicion is that there’s real disparity within both Tier 1 and Tier 2. I set those tiers up because of the obvious gulf between something like Elf Tribal or Goblin Tribal versus opponents running stuff like Rat Tribal and Insect Tribal. But from the beginning, I knew that the strongest Tier 2 tribes should easily be able to compete with the weakest Tier 1 tribes. Lately, I’ve been suspecting that there could be a kind of Tier 1.5 consisting of tribes that mostly outclass Tier 2 but mostly fall short of the most powerful tribes. Possible Tier 1.5 tribes might include…
  • Angel
  • Eldrazi
  • Faerie
  • Horror
  • Sliver
  • Spirit
  • Vampire
  • Wizard
But even for me, with my rampant speculation, this is all really murky territory. Since I started these reports, I saw a few of those tribes, currently in Tier 2, get boosts in power that should put them at the top of Tier 2. If this site had a much larger membership, there’d be some reader who would scathingly call out my belief that Horror Tribal is in a higher tier than Sliver Tribal, for instance. And I have to admit that I might be totally wrong about some of these placements. I’ve been doing what I can with educated guesses, but I know it’s not enough.

For now, I’ll leave the elite tiers the way I originally had them. Despite my awareness that it’s probably wrong, there’s just too much uncertainty. The way to fix it isn’t to introduce even more granularity. My tier lists have too much granularity as it is!

Ban list update recommendations
The tribal hosers of the choose-your-own-adventure variety were targeted for bans when Tribal formats were played on MTGO. In these reports, I’ve been inclined to follow that example. So I’d recommend banning Witch’s Vengeance.

Conclusion
Throne of Eldraine is a nice set for Tribal formats. For a lot of tribes, there won’t be major changes, but you do get some new toys to play with in the form of support cards. Cards from this set will be mandatory for players focusing on knights, faeries, druids, or giants. But mostly knights. Yikes, they sure did get pushed this time around.
 
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