As you’ve no doubt noticed, the primary antagonist of Eldritch Moon was spoiled last night. If you’re avoiding spoilers, well, be forewarned: there be spoilers ahead.


That’s right, the third, final, and greatest Eldrazi titan is back. Summoned by Nahiri as vengeance against Sorin, Emrakul is on Innistrad. Her new form mirrors that of Ulamog and Kozilek’s latest incarnations: castable, a powerful on-cast ability (related to the last incarnation’s), no anti-reanimation clause, and far less powerful when cheated into play with cards like Show and Tell. The presence of Emrakul on Innistrad creates an enormous design challenge, one which I have faith in Magic’s design team to tackle, but would like to consider at length.

Impact Resonance

Emrakul’s presence demands a dramatic impact on the set. In all three Eldrazi-dominated sets (Rise of the Eldrazi, Battle for Zendikar, and Oath of the Gatewatch), we saw many of the same storytelling and mechanical elements: strong token themes, giant & colorless monsters, plane-wide conflict, and a unification of disparate groups to face a singular threat. The Eldrazi bring enormous baggage with them. However, Innistrad is one of the most strongly themed planes in Magic and also demands the spotlight. This creates a tension; how do you make a set feel like both an Eldrazi set and an Innistrad set?

So far, they’ve done a good job using Lovecraftian elements to blend gothic horror and a looming, not-yet-present elder being. Shadows over Innistrad’s mechanics have set up this conflict well (Madness and Delirium play into the summoning of a Cthulu-esque horror, while Investigate tells a mystery story). But now the mystery is unraveled and the elder being is here. Everything changes.

To summarize the design challenges for Eldritch Moon: Wizards has to introduce Emrakul’s mechanics and make the set feel like a combination of both Innistrad-based and Eldrazi-centric sets, while not making Eldritch Moon feel too similar to every other Eldrazi set. This all must be accomplished in a small set (and the final set of the SoI block). Creating such a synthesis is not easy; Battle for Zendikar block didn’t succeed (by Wizards’ own admission). While BfZ was dramatically successful, it was a return to the Zendikar of Rise of the Eldrazi (the least popular set of the original Zendikar block), while the more popular Adventure World seen in Zendikar and Worldwake was mostly absent. The balance needs to hit a sweet spot that we haven’t yet found for a Return set just yet. Lastly. all of that has to happen in one set, a small set that that both sets up and completes (this chapter of) Emrakul’s story on Innistrad.

Gravitational Shift

Emrakul’s Shtick

Rise of the Eldrazi introduced us to the three Eldrazi titans. They were all awesome, but other than their cards, weren’t terribly distinct. Little distinguished their broods and mechanics other than their visuals. Emrakul’s Hatcher, Kozilek’s Predator, and Growth Spasm don’t mechanically reflect their progenitors. BFZ and OGW improved upon this by adding distinct mechanical and flavor demarcations to the existing visual markers; Ulamog’s spawn are voracious eaters, as seen in the Ingest mechanic and the un-keyworded processing mechanic. Kozilek’s brood bend the rules of physics and mana, as seen in their bizarre abilities and use of the new colorless mana symbol.

Eldritch Moon has to give Emrakul ‘her thing.’ We know that her powers involve warping life and corrupting minds, but Emrakul needs to be mechanically represented in a keyword or ability word. Perhaps Emrakul’s influence will be seen heavily in double-faced cards: infected creatures that transform into horrifying, potentially colorless monstrosities. But is that enough of a ‘thing?’ I expect there to be another mechanic, but recognize that Emrakul already has Madness and Delirium; Emrakul’s direct influence needs to be apparent and distinct from her distant effects in SoI.

So, what will Emrakul’s thing be? Only time will tell, but I’d bet top dollar that Emrakul has one.

Skittering Invasion

Emrakul’s Spawn?

Every time we’ve seen the Eldrazi, they’ve brought with them a wealth of tokens and token shenanigans. Eldrazi Spawn enabled the Battlecruiser Magic of RoE. Eldrazi Scion communicated that the Eldrazi had grown stronger over time in Battle for Zendikar. One would expect for Emrakul to appear with her own brood; so far, we’ve only seen twisted versions of Innistradian creatures.

Now, tokens wouldn’t be out of place on Innistrad; the plane has always had a strong relationship with tokens (Lingering Souls, Gather the Townsfolk, Demonic Rising, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad). Having an Eldrazi token theme would very well make sense, but brings with it a different problem: we just left a plane filled with Eldrazi tokens. Having Eldrazi Spawns, Scions, or something similar could make Limited feel far too similar to that of Battle for Zendikar block. While I have no doubt that years from now, even if Emrakul is killed, we’ll be delighted to see the return of Eldrazi tokens or something similar, now is probably too soon. Wizards has to counterbalance all of Emrakul’s baggage with the fact that it’s fresh in everyone’s minds.


I believe in Wizards’ ability to execute on these design challenges and am excited to see what they’ve done in the coming weeks. I believe that Magic today is better than its ever been and much of that has to do with them taking bigger risks with the story, the worlds, and the mechanics; Eldritch Moon is an enormous risk, given all of its moving parts and disparate needs, and I expect it’ll pay off enormously.

And as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer (currently going for an MFA in Game Design at NYU). He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.