Tuesday, June 28, 2016

New Mechanic Review—Emerge

WotC revealed the new keywords in Eldritch Moon Monday and I'm killing time until the Prerelease by reviewing them from a Design perspective instead. Today, we'll take a look at emerge.

Official spoilers follow, but no custom cards do.

Emerge owes its pedigree to offering, a keyword that appeared on just five rares in Betrayers of Kamigawa.

Emerge lets you sacrifice any creature to reduce its cost, but doesn't give you flash. It also sets its own cost, which is less expensive on our preview card but more color-intensive. Given the story behind the mechanic—and the intentional choice to start it with the phoneme 'em'—I'm betting we'll only see emerge on colorless Eldrazi, and that all emerge costs will follow the same pattern: cheaper but colored.

Offering was a miss as keywords go. It wasn't used enough to really be worth keywording; It asked you to build a tribal deck, without helping that tribe; it asked players to make sacrifices; it was a lot of text; and it had relatively weak flavor. It wasn't all bad, of course: being the first effort at upgrade-a-creature-with-a-creature keywords, and creating some surprise moments and bluffing opportunities.

Still, WotC wouldn't bring offering back without addressing as many of those issues as possible. They've removed the tribal element entirely; reduced the text from 5 lines to 4; and nailed the flavor with grisly Eldrazi corruption. A sacrifice is still required, and players—especially new ones—will never thank anyone for the privilege of killing their own creatures, but exploit showed that an optional sacrifice with a distinct reward can work just fine.

How did they shed a line of reminder text? By removing the tribal component and dropping flash. The former opens up the cards possible uses and that's a big win as long we don't need to support the set's tribal component and limit the mechanic's power level, so we can assume Eldritch Moon either shifts focus away from tribal or supports it in other ways. Removing flash means players don't have to fear attacking into huge emerge creatures they can't see, which is nice. That reduces the mechanic's power level since you can't surprise-block and kill an attacker your opponent thought was safe.

So we've gained some power and lost some. The other gain that helps push the mechanic to a sacrifice-worth-considering is the lower mana cost. I would happily pay {5}{U} for a 3/4 flyer and a card in Limited. Using the {2}=card rate, that's like a 3/4 flyer for {3}{U} which is notably better than a Cloud Manta. If I can sacrifice a Furtive Homunculus who can no longer skulk effectively to cast that flier on turn 4, I'll barely miss the little guy. Better yet, a Harvest Hand or Relentless Dead.

The colored mana in emerge's cost is no coincidence. Wizards' still has scars from affinity's {0} chain of brokenness. All cost reduction mechanics now set some minimum. That's why there were no delve artifacts (or Eldrazi). Colored mana is a very elegant way of enforcing a minimum cost, since it can't be reduced generically. And because it's colored, we get to enforce the color pie a little bit, so players can't cast Wretched Griff for {R} in a mono-red deck. There's so much smart there.

On that subject, Wretched Gryff's normal mana cost is entirely colorless, giving all decks access to a flier with card advantage at common… provided they're willing to pay 7 mana. I wouldn't splash that in my aggro RW deck, but I would totally splash that in my G mid-range or ramp deck, or my BG control deck. Except it's not a 'splash' unless I pay attention to the emerge cost.

Concerns? Well, offering and champion both fell flat, so it would be naive not to look on emerge with a cautious eye. That said, the sacrifice here is more optional than it was in either of those keywords. And it's a big improvement for Limited that you can merge without creatures of a specific type.

While it's a bit early to state that all emergers will have some card advantage to offset the disadvantage of your sacrifice, the fact that Wretched Gryff is doing it at common shows R&D is aware of the impact of this downside and taking steps to offset it. If that is a common theme—and I'm quite optimistic it is—then I predict a positive reaction to emerge once we start playing with it. Just like exploit.


  1. I also think it's important to note that Emerge serves a very vital role in an Eldrazi set - it lets them make massive big dudes without having to worry about being able to cast those dudes normally. A {7} creature in a normal Limited set is very tough to make playable; but when you give it a cost-reduction mechanic, then you'll get the feeling of casting huge creatures, without the inconvenience or warping of a format.

    In addition, sacrificing to cast a large Eldrazi monstrosity captures both a feeling of 'transformation', and/or a feeling of you being some mad cultist. For example, if you sacrifice a Gryff to this, that's transformation; if you sacrifice a Human, that's some eldritch rites.

    I love this mechanic, and its flavor, and its role. It is perfect for the set.

  2. Extort, used twice in the review, should be exploit, yes?

  3. Jay, I'm surprised that you didn't make mention of the first thing I thought of when I saw this card - They referenced "converted mana cost" in a common keyword. Wow! Either this is the only common with emerge or there are few enough to not use up all the red-flags they allow themselves (20% of commons, I believe,) OR they are relaxing on CMC as a red flag.

    1. I suspect that the red-flagging percentages are somewhat offset by it being a uniform (save for cost) ability. When you figure out how one Emerge card works, you've figured them all out.