Hail, Witches and Wizards! Welcome to Under the Hood, an article series about the mechanics of Magic in which we dig around for the rough gems this game has to offer! This week, we’re talking the Elemental mechanic of Evoke.
Evoke as a mechanic is an ‘Alternative Cost’, similar to Emerge. Only, while it offers a discount, the creature that has been cast gets sacrificed, as opposed to an addition to the cost. This way, you get creatures which can behave like Sorceries (or Instants, as cards such as Offalsnout have flash and can as such be used in response); this gives the creatures an ethereal feel, which is a fantastic way to portray the elementals of lorwyns, which are seen to be not much more than the manifestation of ideas or emotions. Being ETB or LTB effects, these can be manipulated in ways that the spell versions can’t. Panharmonicon (Quickly becoming a force in my local EDH meta) allows the ETB doubling up of some of the Evokes, granting massive value from powerful ETBs such as Shriekmaw, and all of the evoke creatures can trigger Blood Artist effects for grinding out maximal value. As a final interesting point of synergy, flicker effects such as Cloudshift or Ghostly Flicker not only double up the effects of the creatures, but can also prevent their sacrifice even when cast for their discounted cost.
In Standard, despite being an obviously powerful mechanic, the elementals as a tribe proved to be too slow for the aggressive Lorwyn meta. In a meta of Red Deck Wins, Faerie tempo builds, Elves and Goblins, Elementals found themselves swamped by aggro with creatures that only stuck around on 4 mana plus. However, this didn’t mean they weren’t seen. This deck from 2009 is the manifestation (heh) of the Evoke deck in action. Maximising on mana production through Smokebraider, Bloom Tender and Incandescent Soulstoke, the deck could prey on removal-light decks by cheating out large value threats like Cloudthresher (particularly nice for those pesky faeries) or Reveillark as early as turn 3. In the late game, the four of Horde of Notions allows the powerful Evoke creatures multiple extra chances to grind out extra value, straight up beating aggro decks on sheer card advantage.
Being too slow for standard, this unfortunately holds true for other constructed formats. Zero evoke creatures show up in the top 50 most played creatures of Modern or Legacy, putting their overall format dominance sub 2% in modern, 1% in Legacy. Reveillark is mildly popular in certain decks; showing up as a 1-of in some Abzan Company sideboards. As for anywhere else, Mulldrifter is a force to be reckoned with in Pauper, showing up as an abusable form of card advantage in that format.
Implications on EDH
Now, here is where things get interesting. In EDH, with all of the quirky interactions and often random muddles of cards, Evoke creatures are EVERYWHERE. Even in the most competitive decks, you can see Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter or Reveillark, offering their powerful flexibility to help ease the deckbuilding restriction from the Highlander format.
I believe this is probably purely due to the sheer amount of mana production put out by most decks, combined with the need for redundancy in decks. Almost all decks run some form of recursion as well, and creatures are among the easiest card types to recur.
I am disappointed at the lack of evoke commander; but that is remedied by readily available commanders that happen to synergise with them. Brago, King Eternal regularly makes use of Slithermuse, while Karador thoroughly enjoys being able to abuse Shriekmaw and Reveillark.
Before I get into the obvious allstars, I’d like to talk about the great cheap options: Wispmare and Ingot Chewer.These are great examples of Evoke’s utility, their narrow use made up for by costing only a single mana to evoke. Removal for these types are permanent are fairly rare at 1 converted mana cost for cheap (Nature’s Claim perhaps being the exception), Ingot Chewer being my favourite of the two due to the innate reliance on mana rocks that most competitive decks in EDH suffer from. What Wispmare lacks in powerful utility though, it makes up for in its colour identity, white being able to abuse ETB effects like this one using Roon of the Hidden Realm or Ghostway.
Right, onto the meat and potatoes. How great is Mulldrifter? It is never a bad target for a reanimation spell, and its little brother Slithermuse is a powerful part of the creature base of Brago Stax decks in the lofty heights of Tier 1-1.5 competitive EDH. I have a love for card draw stapled to creatures and, while blue decks often aren’t strapped for card advantage spells, any creature-based blue deck such as Sidisi, Brood Tyrant or Roon of the Hidden Realm enjoy abusing these guys to eke out card advantage into a landslide value win.
Finally, the combo piece. I speak of course of Reveillark. This creature is my favourite evoke creature, forming an integral part of the Boonweaver Karador combo. The ability to reanimate creatures on death allows it to form infinite loops with Karmic Guide or Saffi Eriksdotter, killing a table with infinite life loss from Blood Artist triggers or infinite mill with Altar of Dementia. Outside of its combo applications it is also just a great value card, able to command a massive board presence, threatening the reanimation of other fantastic value creatures like Acidic Slime, Gaddock Teeg, Eternal Witness, Loyal Retainers (and, by proxy, something huge like Sheoldred, Whispering One or Elesh Norn), or even something like Mystic Snake when there is a sac outlet in play. This lends itself to an incredibly flexible beast of a creature.
Now the moment you’ve no doubt been waiting for, the deck for Evoke!
This deck was a challenge to get a proper feel for, but I knew from the outset that I wanted it to be a flexible creature-based toolbox that is unlocked by evoke in conjunction with the commander, Horde of Notions.
The deck packs itself full of card advantage, even going so far to include Wheel of Fortune to fill the graveyard with cards for reuse later. It is high on land and ramp due to the expensive nature of the creatures; the win conditions such as Avenger of Zendikar, Omnath, Locus of Rage or Maelstrom Wanderer are very intensive on mana, so I loaded up on rocks and nonbasic land ramp such as Farseek to be able to accelerate and fix the demands of a Five colour deck.
Interesting tech choices in the deck include Crib Swap and Nameless Inversion, pieces of removal that can be recurred ad infinitum with the Horde of Notions. My favourite casual threat Obsidian Fireheart makes a showing, being able to be recast over and over to pressure opponents even on a board empty of nonland permanents. Protection from counterspells comes in the form of niche tech Eyes of the Wisent, threatening to beef up your board presence if somebody wants to counter one of your spells.
That’s it for now, guys! What do you reckon? Like the flexibility of Evoke? Dislike that it’s weak to Humility? Make sure to let us know, and to like us on Facebook if you like this and would like to see more. For now though, Unmistakable out.