Magic: The Gathering’s latest set has been a decade in the making, but head designer Mark Rosewater believes its new world of fairytales and fantasy is worth the wait. Will Throne of Eldraine give players their happy ever after?
Words by Matt Jarvis | Images courtesy of Wizards of the Coast
Throne of Eldraine is the Magic: The Gathering set that head designer Mark Rosewater has been waiting over ten years to do.
“One of the challenges of making an ongoing game is always finding new avenues to explore,” he says. “Part of this is creating a balance of different sensibilities.”
Taking place on a brand new plane of Magic’s multiverse, Eldraine, the set draws heavily from high fantasy and European folklore, such as traditional fairytales and the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
“I describe it as Camelot meets Grimms’ Fairy Tales,” Rosewater says. “Magic is a fantasy game and all these stories fit perfectly in that setting. We’ve leaned into high fantasy before, but having actual folklore to play off of allows us to make a whole bunch of very endearing cards.”
Magic’s fairytale world hews closer to the Grimm brothers’ darkness than Disney. The classic childhood tropes are here, but in typical Magic fashion they’re twisted anew.
“It’s a Magic plane with our take on the tropes,” Rosewater says. “For example, Flaxen Intruder is a little blonde girl who has a run-in with three bears, but in our version of the story, she’s a bear hunter. Throne of Eldraine is filled with characters, objects, places and situations that the audience will recognise, but not exactly as they’ve seen them before.”
Although most of Eldraine’s inhabitants will be completely new to players outside of their homage to traditional tales, the set also sees the return of two familiar characters. Rowan and Will Kenrith first made their appearance in last summer’s Battlebond, the first Magic set dedicated to the multiplayer Two-Headed Giant format, which allows two teams of two to battle simultaneously.
The ice-wielding brother and electric-harnessing sister call Eldraine home; Throne of Eldraine will give players their first full look at the twins’ story, as they search for their missing father, the High King. The siblings are unique among Magic’s roster in that they share the spark that creates planeswalkers; as such, the two will also share a single planeswalker card in the set.
“In Throne of Eldraine, we’re going to meet Rowan and Will Kenrith, as well as a couple other planeswalkers, and start the next chapter of Magic’s story,” Rosewater says. “We’re going to get a chance to see where they come from and learn about how they become planeswalkers and what’s special about them.”
Rowan and Will are joined by an even fresher face: the multiverse’s latest newcomer Oko, a shapeshifting planeswaker with a penchant for pranks.
“Oko is a new planeswalker, someone up to a lot of mischief who going to cause problems for our heroes,” Rosewater says.
Making a grand return is Garruk Wildspeaker, the warrior-druid turned planeswalker hunter who was one of the first handful of planeswalker characters in the game – known by fans as the Lorwyn Five – when the powerful card type was originally introduced in 2007.
“After many years of absence, Garruk is back,” Rosewater confirms. “He was one of the first planeswalkers in the game, in Lorwyn, and disappeared after he was cursed by Liliana. Well, he’s finally back and his fans will get to see him play a role in the story.”
With just three planeswalker cards (and four planeswalkers) in Throne of Eldraine, the set marks somewhat of a comedown from this spring’s War of the Spark. The climatic finale to the game’s year-long Bolas story arc featured a whopping 36 planeswalkers: the most in any set in the card game’s 26-year history and a significant design challenge for Rosewater and the team. Throne of Eldraine shifts the spotlight back away from the powerful characters to focus on other aspects of Magic’s gameplay.
“The set pushes the gameplay in a different direction – we always like swinging the pendulum to new areas – but has all the fun you would expect of a Magic expansion,” Rosewater promises. “In short, it’s something new, but equally as enjoyable.”
With magical stories and grand quests a prominent part of Eldraine’s lore, the set’s gameplay similarly embraces the storytelling heart of fairytales and folklore.
Throne of Eldraine’s central mechanic is the chance to ‘adventure’, a new way to play creature cards. Adventures take up the bottom left corner of a creature
card, representing the creature’s personal quest. As the creature is summoned from a player’s hand, the player chooses whether to cast them as a normal creature or an adventure, which has its own mana cost, requirements and effects. A Beanstalk Giant could go rampaging over the land as a creature ready to do battle, or instead use its connection with the land to sow fresh lands on the Fertile Footsteps adventure – allowing a player to instantly deploy a basic land from their deck to the field. In the case of the Beanstalk Giant, sending it on an adventure can have benefits later, as the creature draws power and toughness from controlled land cards; cards cast as adventures are set aside out of the game while they embark on their quest, but some may be cast later from the exile zone, bringing them back into the heated duel.
“[Adventure] captures both the quests of the knights and the many fairytale stories,” Rosewater says. “It attaches an instant or sorcery to a creature and allows you the option to cast the spell before the creature. The creature then sits in exile, on an adventure, waiting to be cast later.”
Another new addition is the ‘adamant’ keyword, a concept that ties into the five courts that make up Eldraine’s realm and the loyalty sworn to each by the world’s inhabitants, such as faithful knights. Adamant cards reward the use of particular coloured mana to cast cards that can optionally be summoned using a mixture of multi-coloured mana. A red knight might gain toughness and power when summoned using three red mana, while a spell may bestow additional keywords or deal extra damage when a player sticks with a single colour.
“Adamant represents the fealty the inhabitants have for one of the five monocoloured courts,” Rosewater says. “By spending more coloured mana when casting the spell, you’re able to upgrade the effect of the card.”
The added benefits of sticking with one colour of mana mean that Throne of Eldraine is the first set in a year to really support mono-colour decks, after several sets where multiple colours were required to build fully viable decks. Players who pledge their own allegiance to a single court and colour should find themselves justly rewarded.
“Each colour has its own court in the story as well as its own style of gameplay,” Rosewater says.
Eldraine’s fairytale theme casts its spell over other parts of Magic, including the game’s artefacts – permanent cards that remain on the field until removed by a specific effect.
“There’s a new artefact counter called food that gains you life and plays into the fairytale flavour,” Rosewater says.
Meanwhile, the set’s Arthurian elements give rise to Eldraine’s roster of knights, which are the star of its tribal theme – the gameplay focus of a Magic set’s creatures. (Last year’s Dominaria was similarly packed with knight creatures.)
“There’s Knight tribal representing the many knights of the world and non-human tribal representing the mystical creatures of the world,” says Rosewater. “We’ll be giving knights their chance to shine, so if you ever wanted to make a knight deck, Throne of Eldraine is your chance.”
Eldraine is what’s known in Magic as a ‘top-down’ set, with the design team putting its fairytale and folklore theme first and creating cards and gameplay ideas that work to bring its world and story alive.
“The set is filled with top-down designs capturing many of the tropes of Arthurian folklore and fairytales,” says Rosewater.
“It’s just a fun set that lets players experience tropes they’re familiar with in a Magic-al setting. It’s the kind of set that I think a lot of players will fall in love with. Oh, and the art is breathtakingly beautiful.”
Eldraine marks something new for Magic, without veering too far away from the fantasy storytelling and constantly evolving gameplay that have been a staple of the collectible card game for decades.
“Magic hasn’t done a set like Throne of Eldraine in quite a while, and it just felt like the right time to explore these themes,” Rosewater says.
Next year sees the game continue to embrace its celebration of folklore and legends, returning to the Greek mythology-inspired plane of Theros for the first time since the world was introduced in the 2013 block of the same name. Eldraine’s questing will carry over to Zendikar Rising later in the year, which returns the game to the adventurous plane twice-visited before.
In-between Theros and Zendikar, the next brand new plane after Eldraine will emerge next spring in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Rosewater describes the unseen setting as a “monster world”, with the set allowing players to create and play their own monsters. Rosewater teases that the set features “one of the craziest mechanics we’ve made in quite a while”.
“Magic has a very exciting year coming in 2020, including returns to beloved worlds and a new world that I think players are really going to enjoy,” he says.
Before then, this month’s release of Eldraine will give players plenty of uncharted world to explore with characters new and old – and no shortage of game-changing mechanics to dive into.
After a decade of waiting to bring his vision of a fairytale and folklore Magic set to the tabletop, Rosewater is confident that the wait has been worth it.
“I haven’t been this excited for a Standard-legal set in a long time,” he says. “It took a while to finally get to Eldraine, but we didn’t waste the opportunity once we got here.
“I think it’s going to go down as one of the most beloved sets in Magic history.”
This review originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.