As one of the staple baddies of fantasy and myth since olden times, the mighty troll gets a bad rap in Magic. Since Sedge Troll debuted in Alpha, these hulking menaces have been constantly on the sidelines, while fairytale contemporaries like goblins, elves and giants have flourished. Even the troll’s signature ability, regeneration, has been removed from modern Magic design; the last time we saw a regenerating troll was in Magic Origins.
But as Throne of Eldraine takes the game deep into the realm of fairytale folklore, it’s time for that to change. We’re crossing the bridge into Troll Town, baby – and you best be sure you can pay the toll.
ONE GRUFF CUSTOMER
Clackbridge Troll isn’t just a formidable threat here to redeem the reputation of the troll tribe. It’s a great example of everything I’m enjoying about Throne of Eldraine so far. Most of the compelling cards we’ve seen spoiled are creatures, many of them combat focused. Clackbridge Troll is supremely threatening, offering a trampling, hasty body big enough to kill an opponent in three hits. But it’s a body you have to work to really take advantage of, which will make it a very interesting challenge for Standard.
I also want to stop and talk about the brilliance of the Troll’s top-down design. As Mark Rosewater explains, most Magic cards start as rules text that fills a hole in the set, then gain art and flavor later. But top-down design starts with the flavor and concept of what a card “should” do, then tries to fit that into a Magic-ese rules text.
This style of design was extremely prominent in early Magic sets, when the designers didn’t yet have a clear idea of what effects a set “needed” or which would work well. In recent years, top-down design has been used to great effect in worlds like Theros to connect them to their inspirational concepts in myth. Throne of Eldraine might have the most excellent top-down designs ever, and Clackbridge Troll is leading the charge there, too.
The idea of a troll living under a bridge is one of the most familiar concepts in folklore. Like many Eldraine cards, Clackbridge Troll captures these stories in a single card! Here, the Three Billy-Goat-Tokens Gruff must risk their luck against the ravenous bridgekeeper to reach their green meadow beyond! It’s hard not to smile and think of the story as you summon the Troll, or make a chomping noise when someone feeds it – even if you like goats. That’s the emotional power of top-down design.
WHEN IS A TROLL NOT A TROLL? WHEN IT’S A DEMON
Fun top-down designs are even better when they’re playable, and Clackbridge Troll absolutely looks like it will pack a punch in Standard. Obviously, the effectiveness of your 8/8 will depend on your ability to get the goats out of the way quickly. But don’t be scared off – there are a good number of ways to off those tokens even if you are playing mono black.
When evaluating or building around Clackbridge Troll, it makes sense to look back at a close historical comparison. Desecration Demon had a long and defining run in Standard, and bears many resemblances to our new Troll. Desecration Demon decks were almost entirely black due to the mono-color theme of Theros, and the current Standard seems to be heading back in that direction as well. Packing a ton of early removal and hand disruption around a premium threat like Clackbridge Troll will be the foundation of many black decks as multicolor manabases lose consistency in rotation.
HOW A BIG TROLL MAKES A LITTLE SPLASH
The choices in how to specifically enable Clackbridge Troll will come down to what secondary color, if any, you want to play. A mono-black build can clear a path over the bridge with Ritual of Soot, Cry of the Carnarium, or even fellow five-drop Massacre Girl. But the mono-black Desecration Demon decks of 2013-14 had Thoughtseize providing industrial-strength hand disruption. All we have today is Duress and the new Specter’s Shriek, which don’t feel like quite enough to bank on against control and combo decks.
So, what other color can we turn to? Desecration Demon decks often splashed green to access Abrupt Decay, which solves black’s issue removing non-creature permanents. We happen to have a parallel in current Standard with Assassin’s Trophy, so that could be a decent start. Green also entices us with Find//Finality, which is another great follow-up to Clackbridge Troll and gives us more staying power with its front half.
Black and green give us access to mana ramp, which can help speed up deployment of the Troll and thus our overall clock. We can also ramp into the new Garruk, Cursed Huntsman. While not directly synergistic with Clackbridge Troll outside of being able to destroy a creature, he does provide a complementary threat. Being able to win through both creatures and Planeswalkers makes removal and sideboarding choices harder for your opponents.
White could be another, less obvious splash option. Apart from being able to deal with any permanent type and protect the Troll from harm with instants, W/B has the one of the best enabling cards. Ethereal Absolution is already backbreaking against creature decks, and now it turns Clackbridge Troll into an immediate nine-damage swing! Whether or not that combo is worth trying in Standard is subjective, but you should at least be ready for it to steal a few games from you!
HAVE YOUR GOATS, AND EAT THEM, TOO
Ethereal Absolution might be a bit far for some players to go in Constructed, but there is another sneaky way to get your Troll in for damage right away. Clackbridge Troll generously gives your opponent the opportunity to feed it in order tap it down – but nowhere does it say “cannot attack.” Therefore, if we can follow the resolution of that ability by untapping the Troll at instant speed, we can proceed to attack immediately and trample over the remaining goats!
Instant speed creature untapping is a bit scarce in Standard, but both white and green have ways to do it. White offers Rally of Wings – perhaps good enough with incidental flyers like Pilfering Imp – as well as repeatable trickery through Gauntlets of Light. But green is where the real gas is.
As we saw, one of green’s strengths is the mana dorks which allow us to ramp into Clackbridge Troll early. The combo of Incubation Druid and Stony Strength has already helped the utility instant see fringe play in Standard, and now we have a second incredible use for it! With Steady Aim also available should we want to go deeper, and strong B/G cards like Savvy Hunter (AKA “Tireless Snacker”) already spoiled for Throne of Eldraine, this feels like the core of a powerful deck. I know I’ll definitely be testing it out! Hopefully the big bridge boy comes through for us, and we can all enjoy asking opponents “who’s that clickety-clacking on my bridge!?”
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.