M20 Booster: Ferocious Pup

The Throne of Eldraine has been officially unveiled as the next Magic set along with some exciting changes to booster packs and the introduction of the Brawl format to MTG Arena. You can catch up on all of that news over on my Discord community but today I’m going to take a brief look at a common card:

Ferocious Pup

Ferocious Pup is a 2 Generic ManaGreen 0/1 wolf creature that creates a 2/2 green wolf creature token when it enters the battlefield.

That’s it.

So why am I looking at a common card? Well first of all this isn’t actually too bad; creating two bodies with one card is always good, even if you only use the little pup to chump block1 in the hopes of stabilising on your next turn.

The real reason, though, is that I’m fairly sure we’re about to see some wolf love in Throne of Eldraine. I’ve said for a while that it was curious that Arlinn, Voice of the Pack in War of the Spark specifically mentioned werewolves when there aren’t any in Standard and then this continued in Core Set 2020 with Nightpack Ambusher. It was always possible that this was just to satisfy Modern players but it seemed a little off to me. Beyond that, we’ve seen the wolf archetype slowly go from nothing prior to Core Set 2019 to now being a fairly strong tribe to the extent that I was soundly beaten by a wolf deck at the Core Set 2020 pre-release2.

At present, there are only 10 cards that either are a wolf or have some wolf interactions. This doesn’t seem many but some of them are exceptionally good:

  • Arlinn, Voice of the Pack: A planeswalker that causes all wolves to enter the battlefield with an extra +1/+1 counter and she can reduce loyalty to create a 2/2 wolf token (which is effectively a 3/3 wolf token)
  • Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves: A legendary creature who creates a legendary 3/3 wolf token and gives all wolves an ETB trigger that gives you 3 life and allows that wolf to fight another creature
  • Wolfrider’s Saddle: A legendary equipment that gives +1/+1 to a creature and it can’t be blocked by more than one creature; it creates a 2/2 wolf token with which it is pre-equipped when it enters the battlefield
  • Nightpack Ambusher: The best card for a wolf deck, this 4/4 creature has flash and gives other wolves +1/+1; if you don’t cast any spells on your turn, it creates a 2/2 wolf token on your end step

All of these paired with some mana ramp and an Icon of Ancestry3 can lead to a pretty decent deck. It isn’t quite competitive yet but with a few new cards it could definitely take shape. When rotation hits, only two wolves will be removed from Standard; Skalla Wolf (which was confined to the Vivien Planeswalker deck) and Thornhide Wolves, neither of which will be particularly missed.

Now that Throne of Eldraine has been announced as a “Camelot meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales” setting, it seems highly likely to me that there are going to be both wolves and werewolves in the near future. It’s not hard to imagine that The Big Bad Wolf might make an appearance from the fairytale side of things whilst the story of Melion from King Arthur would bring a werewolf from the Camelot aspect. It is also perfectly feasible that we may see more from such stories as The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids and The Wolf and The Fox.

The hinting thus far just seems too strong for there to be anything other than a good showing of wolves in the upcoming set and with those I think that a wolf tribal deck might just start to take shape for use in a more competitive environment…

  1. Seems a wee bit harsh I admit. ↩︎

  2. Nightpack Ambusher, Ferocious Pup, Wolfkin Bond, and Icon of Ancestry are a ferocious (sorry) matchup. ↩︎

  3. Which gives +1/+1 to your wolves and lets you pay 3 Generic Mana and Tap to search the top three cards of your library for a wolf to put in your hand. ↩︎

M20 Booster: Grafdigger's Cage

It’s only a day until we’re going to find out more about the upcoming set due for release in September1 but for now there are still plenty of Core Set 2020 Boosters to open. Today I’m going to be talking about “graveyard hate” thanks to this little gem:

Grafdigger's Cage

Grafdigger’s Cage is a 1 Generic Mana rare artifact with two static abilities:

  • Creature cards can’t enter the battlefield from graveyards or libraries
  • Players can’t cast cards in graveyards or libraries

This is what is known as “graveyard hate”, a way to stop your opponent from using cards directly from their graveyard. There are many reasons in the current meta why you might want, or be able, to cast cards directly from your graveyard. For example, Arclight Phoenix can be returned from the graveyard if you cast three or more instants in your turn; Brought Back can fetch two cards that were put in the graveyard this turn back to the battlefield; Gravedigger can bring a dead creature onto the battlefield with it.

Grafdigger’s Cage stops all of these interactions but it falls short of other better options. Firstly, this only stops creature cards from entering from a graveyard; it doesn’t stop abilities like undergrowth2. Secondly, it only stops items that can be cast; lands are not cast and so a card like Fall of the Thran or Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar is still effective. Finally, whilst jump-start cards such as Chemister’s Insight can’t be cast when this is in play, it’s fairly trivial to remove with something like Smelt and then those cards are available again.

To do proper graveyard hate, you need to permanently remove items from the graveyard. Fortunately that is rather easy with the following cards:

  • Phyrexian Scriptures: A saga that eventually exiles all cards from all opponent’s graveyards
  • Remorseful Cleric: A creature you can sacrifice to exile all cards in a target player’s graveyard3
  • Sentinel Totem: Tap and exile the totem to exile all cards from all graveyards (including your own)
  • Ashiok, Dream Render: My personal favourite, mill target player for 4 cards then exile all opponent’s graveyards4

Each of these is far more effective at graveyard hate as they prevent phoenixes from returning, get rid of all jump-start cards, reduce the casting cost of undergrowth to 0, and they prevent any lands being bought back or counting towards a creature like Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar. There is also no way to get cards back from exile. Whilst Grafdigger’s Cage is effective graveyard hate, it is relatively low level as should be expected from something that costs 1 Generic Mana.

Fortunately, it doesn’t only stop graveyard interactions but library interactions5 as well. There are plenty of cards that allow for playing cards directly from the library such as:

  • Bolas’s Citadel: An artifact that lets you play the top card of your library at any time using life instead of mana
  • Mystic Forge: An artifact that lets you play the top card of your library so long as it’s an artifact or a colourless nonland card
  • Prime Speaker Vannifar: A creature that uses the library to trade up from a sacrificed creature to one that is slightly bigger

Grafdigger’s Cage is probably good enough to use in a limited environment if you’re up against an artifact deck running Mystic Forge and is very effective against dealing with those annoying Bolas’s Citadel decks. In terms of library searching, Ashiok, Dream Render is once again the better card as it has a static ability preventing that thus stopping Prime Speaker Vannifar in her tracks.

In short, Grafdigger’s Cage has it’s uses but there are probably better cards that can achieve what you want in a better way. On the flip side, this only costs 1 Generic Mana and can be used in any deck so it is often something you’ll want to keep on hand for use in a sideboard just in case you end up facing a graveyard heavy opponent. You might also get lucky with it on Arena and find your opponent misplays due to forgetting about the static effect but it likely isn’t competitive enough for regular play, especially not in best-of-one matches.

  1. Codenamed “Archery”. ↩︎

  2. For example, Rhizome Lurcher↩︎

  3. I make use of this in my mill deck↩︎

  4. If your planeswalker doesn’t suffer any damage, you can activate this five times as well! ↩︎

  5. It’s important to note that, whilst Grafdigger’s Cage can stop players from casting cards from their library, it doesn’t stop Light Up the Stage and friends that exile cards from your library which you can then play. ↩︎

M20 Booster: Chandra, Awakened Inferno

I’ve been having a lot of success on MTG Arena this week using a Temur Elementals deck. Whilst it was easy to acquire digitally, the deck still needs another £220 or so from me if I want to replicate it in paper. Fortunately I was able to burn £16.51 off of that cost when I found this card in today’s booster:

Chandra, Awakened Inferno

Chandra, Awakened Inferno is a 4 Generic ManaRedRed mythic rare planeswalker with 6 loyalty and several abilities:

  • Static: This spell can’t be countered
  • +2: Opponent receives an emblem that deals them 1 damage at the start of their upkeep1
  • -3: Deal 3 damage to each non-Elemental creature
  • -X: Deal X damage to creature or planeswalker and then exile it if it dies this turn

There’s a large amount to unpack here but I want to begin with a brief overview of the stack mechanics behind this card. Usually, there are three ways of dealing with planeswalkers; counter them, bounce them, or destroy them. Planeswalkers operate at sorcery speed so they can only be cast in your main phase and similarly their loyalty abilities can only be cast within your main phase. As a planeswalker can use it’s loyalty ability as soon as it lands, this means countering either the planeswalker or the activated ability is your only option to stop one from firing. That Chandra can’t be countered is huge. In essence, as you have priority upon playing her, you are almost guaranteed to be able to trigger one of her abilities; if your opponent tries to use Blink of an Eye or Vraska’s Contempt, this can only be done in response to one of the abilities being activated and is therefore already too late as the ability is on the stack (and will resolve even if Chandra is bounced or destroyed). The only way to stop one of Chandra’s abilities is to use one of only two cards in Standard that allow you to counter activated abilities; Repudiate // Replicate or Tale’s End2.

With that out of the way, let’s look at that emblem ability. Emblems are a very special element in Magic as there is absolutely no way to remove them; once an emblem is bestowed upon a player, it remains for the rest of the game. You may be familiar with emblems such as City’s Blessing from the Rivals of Ixalan “ascend” mechanic but there are also 11 planeswalkers currently that can create emblems such as Domri, Chaos Bringer and Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Of those 11 planeswalkers, all of them create emblems for the controller with their ultimate ability and thus can’t be triggered immediately upon casting the planeswalker3. Chandra is the first to get an emblem that targets the opponent, can be cast immediately, and even increases her loyalty!

A nice thing about this +2 ability is that it stacks; if Chandra survives until the next turn, you can tick her up again for another 2 loyalty and another emblem so that your opponent is taking 2 points of unavoidable damage on the start of every turn, even if the planeswalker is destroyed! This can be doubled further should you have a Chandra’s Regulator in play. This seems utterly nuts to me and is the perfect counterpoint to the Esper Control decks that were running riot prior to the release of Core Set 2020. If you have an opponent who is playing the long game, this completely ruins their “go slow” plan.

The -3 ability to deal 3 damage to every non-elemental can certainly be used as a sweeper if you are playing with elementals and your opponent is not. However, outside of that narrow confine this isn’t a very useful ability especially as the toughness of all creatures is likely fairly high by the time you come to casting this planeswalker.

A -X loyalty ability is always good to see as it gives you a huge amount of choice. It is also good when you have a high starting loyalty (6 in this case) as you can easily kill and exile some otherwise tricky creatures and survive; for example, you can permanently kill a Rekindling Phoenix and still have 3 loyalty remaining. The flexibility also ensures that if you need this to be an expensive “kill 6 toughness creature or 6 loyalty planeswalker” then you can; that isn’t necessarily the best use of mana or of this card, but if it’s the only play you have then it could very well save you the game!

In conclusion, this is likely one of the best – if not the best – cards in Core Set 20204. For 6 mana you can deal 1 damage to your opponent every turn and there are only two cards that can stop that from happening; it doesn’t get much better than that!

  1. Emblems remain for the entirety of the game and cannot be removed so this deals 1 damage to the opponent on every upkeep from that point onward. ↩︎

  2. Funnily enough a good friend of mine was asking about this card just the other day; as only one of two cards that can counter abilities, it is insanely good. I’d go so far as to say it is essential for a control deck. ↩︎

  3. OK, they can if you have a lot of mana and Planewide Celebration… ↩︎

  4. That seems to be borne out by current pricing where she is the most expensive card by far at £16.51. That’s 44% more than the second most expensive card, Omnath, Locus of the Roil, which is priced at £11.45. She is also the fourth most expensive card in Standard with the three above her being Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge (£36.05), Teferi, Hero of Dominaria (£24.07), and Crucible of Worlds (£18.24) although it’s important to note that pricing is all over the place at the moment as new decks are tested; I get the feeling she’ll be consistently expensive though due to her strong matchup against control decks. ↩︎

M20 Booster: Cavalier of Night

I spent a lot of time yesterday unpacking and scanning the Spellslinger Starter Kit in order to fill up the missing cards I had from 306/280 to 344/280. Unfortunately it turns out that the starter kit does not fill out all of those numbers; some of them are locked behind the Welcome Decks that you get if you’re a new player and which aren’t available for retail. Damn!

Anyway, onto today’s booster which had this mythic rare:

Cavalier of Night

Cavalier of Night is a 2 Generic ManaBlackBlackBlack 4/5 elemental knight with lifelink and two triggered abilities:

  • When it enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice another creature and destroy a creature your opponent controls
  • When it dies, return target creature with CMC 3 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield1

This is one of five cards in the “Cavalier Cycle” that are all mythic rare elemental knights costing 2 Generic ManaX Generic ManaX Generic ManaX Generic Mana (where X Generic Mana is a single colour) and have enter the battlefield and death triggers. Of the five, Cavalier of Gales is the best but this one comes in a close second. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the cycle as the casting cost makes it a little tricky to get them on curve in anything other than mono decks and I’m dubious about some of the triggers.

In terms of the Cavalier of Night, a 4/5 with lifelink and two relevant archetypes in the form of elemental and knight isn’t too bad for 5 mana, even if the elemental synergy likely isn’t there at the moment2. I can easily see History of Benalia working very nicely with this card both in terms of giving you something to sacrifice if you didn’t have anything already and in giving you an anthem effect for your attack; being able to attack with 6 lifelink power is definitely a good thing, especially if you have some life gain shenanigans going on in the form of Bloodthirsty Aerialist or Ajani’s Pridemate!

Whilst not ideal, both trigger abilities are optional so you can use this Cavalier “as is” should you not have anything available to sacrifice. In order to get the best value, though, you’ll want a creature you can sacrifice so you can kill an opposing creature. There are a number of choices available but you ideally want something at CMC 3 or less so you can bring it back when the Cavalier dies; this might be Vraska’s Finisher, Vizier of the Scorpion, Tomebound Lich, or even Embodiment of Agonies. Another option would be to utilise any cards with the afterlife ability so you can gain a creature from your sacrifice i.e. Ministrant of Obligation or Seraph of the Scales. Note that there is no limit on the creature it can sacrifice, only on the one it can bring back when it dies, so in the late game you can sacrifice a Knight of the Last Breath if you really wanted to.

In terms of the death trigger, I’ve already mentioned above the sort of cards you want to be returning from the graveyard; anything with an “enters the battlefield” trigger is going to give you good value but especially Vraska’s Finisher if you plan to die in combat3.

In summary, with this card you should be able to destroy an opposing creature, get some good damage in with lifelink, and then bring back a creature with a good ETB trigger possibly destroying another creature or planeswalker. That doesn’t seem too bad for 5 mana but for that cost I’d probably prefer to use Doom Whisperer or God-Eternal Bontu if only for the simpler deck construction.

  1. I’m almost certain this should be “you may return target creature” but it just wouldn’t fit on the card; you might not have any creatures with cmc 3 or less in your graveyard after all. ↩︎

  2. Most of your synergistic cards are going to be in Temur colours (GreenBlueRed) such as Omnath, Locus of the Roil and Risen Reef↩︎

  3. It’s a real shame that Ravenous Chupacabra is a 4 CMC card! ↩︎

M20 Booster: Marauding Raptor

I’ve always been a sucker for dinosaurs. With the looming Standard rotation and a very poor dinosaur in War of the Spark, it seemed like time was finally up for my favourite archetype but it turns out there are a couple of good dinos lurking in Core Set 2020. Today I was very happy to find this raptor:

Marauding Raptor

Marauding Raptor is a 1 Generic ManaRed 2/3 dinosaur with two static abilities:

  • Creature spells cost 1 Generic Mana less.
  • Whenever another creature enters the battlefield, the raptor does 2 damage to it; if a dino is dealt damage this way, the raptor gets +2/+0 until end of turn.

In many ways this card reminds me of a Forerunner of the Empire crossed with an Otepec Huntmaster. The advantage is that all your creatures cost 1 Generic Mana less rather than just dinosaurs but you don’t get to find your best dinosaur card nor do you get to give your dinosaurs haste. You also don’t get to choose to do 1 damage to all your creatures when a dinosaur appears; you have to do 2 damage to any creature that enters. This is problematic in a number of ways but mostly with the old Polyraptor trick. In my Dino Enrage deck I can duplicate a Polyraptor eight times thanks to the Forerunner of the Empire trigger but with this card you end up in an infinite loop from which you can’t escape1. If you can’t stop the loop, then the game results in a draw as stated in Rule 720.42. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as you could feasibly use this to gain a draw out of a match you were going to lose but that’s a pretty niche piece of deck building!

Enrage triggers are definitely what you are going to be wanting to build around this thing so staples like Ranging Raptors, Ripjaw Raptor, and Sun-Crowned Hunters will definitely make the cut. In the later game, having a Forerunner of the Empire on the field as well will be a boon as you can deal damage to a creature such as Trapjaw Tyrant to exile an opponent’s creature, then opt to take the 1 damage to all your creatures to trigger enrage on the stuff you already have out; the tyrant will survive thanks to it’s large toughness and you’ll get double triggers.

It’s also important not to forget that your Marauding Raptor gets +2/+0 until end of turn whenever it damages an incoming dinosaur. This works especially well with Raptor Hatchling as it will gain you a 3/3 dinosaur and trigger the ability twice turning Marauding Raptor into a 6/3 until end of turn; that’s pretty good as a turn 3 play if you didn’t find a Ranging Raptors or if you’re mana screwed.

Whilst this is clearly designed for dinosaur decks, it’s feasible that you could include this in your big creature deck just for the mana cost reduction. In all honesty, I’m not sure I like that as a concept as you are likely going to be putting any big creature into danger upon entering the battlefield as they can be got at easily by a Shock or Lightning Strike. That said, this is the only card in Standard that gives you a blanket reduction on all creatures so there is something to think about there.

I’m definitely going to be trying to build a deck around this in the near future along with Ripscale Predator and Shifting Ceratops that both appeared in this set3. It might only be good in paper until we hit rotation but the recent announcement of Arena Historic4 means that my love for dinosaur decks can live on indefinitely!

  1. Unless you have some form of removal or counterspell to stop the loop whenever you want to. ↩︎

  2. Rule 720.4: If a loop contains only mandatory actions, the game is a draw. ↩︎

  3. Possibly even splashing Black to bring in Rotting Regisaur… ↩︎

  4. Arena Historic is to MTG Arena as Modern is to regular paper MTG. It’s a new format that will include everything from Ixalan onwards but they may retrofit some of the older sets in such as Amonkhet and Kaladesh at a later date. ↩︎

M20 Booster: Scheming Symmetry

After looking at Repeated Reverberation last week, I found a Drawn from Dreams in a booster pack at the weekend and then Scheming Symmetry today. That is a crazy streak where I seem to be picking up all of the alliteratively named double spells in this set cycle.

Scheming Symmetry

Scheming Symmetry is a Black rare sorcery that allows you and your opponent to search your library for a card and place it on top of their shuffled library. As the flavour text so eloquently states, “One for you, one for me; what could be more fair?”. Of course, it isn’t quite that fair as the card goes on top of the library for both players meaning you are going to need to wait until your next turn whilst your opponent will get their card first. For that reason alone you might be thinking why you would ever want to play this card? Well, you’re going to cheat.

The best thing about this card is not necessarily that it lets you locate whatever combo piece or trick you need right now in this specific game, it is instead the knowledge that you now know exactly where your opponent’s best card is; on top of their library. We don’t want it to end up in your opponent’s hand so we’re going to deal with it right now using a good old fashioned mill. For example:

Any of these cards will do the job1 but I prefer Ashiok for the way she not only discards the card but exiles it as well; she can also be used in mono-black which is very useful.

Whilst I think this “find and mill” technique is best, there is no reason why you couldn’t be more controlling and simply wait for the bomb to drop and counter it with something like Cancel, Dovin’s Veto, or Absorb.

Another thing to consider is how you get your card this turn rather than waiting until the next one. Thankfully the ways in which you can draw cards are numerous and you’ll likely look to a staple such as Opt to get the card for the lowest possible mana cost; late in the game, this should leave you with sufficient mana to cast whatever it is you need. Of course, there is no reason we can’t mix the two halves of this card together and do something like the following:

  1. Play a Psychic Corrosion at the beginning of your turn or have it in play on previous turns
  2. Cast your Scheming Symmetry and find your bomb card (that should ideally cost 2 mana less than you have available for this turn)
  3. Cast Opt; you now have your bomb card and your opponent’s one has been milled by Psychic Corrosion
  4. Profit

The problem with this card is that this trick of milling is predictable in a second or third match up against the same opponent. They may be tricksy and put a card on top that they don’t need in the hope you’ll mill that away instead2. The only real insurance against this is to use Saheeli’s Silverwing to take a peek at the top card of their library and decide if you should mill it or let it sit for a while.

I can’t talk about this card in detail and not mention the beautiful artwork by one of my favourite MTG artists; Seb McKinnon. I’ve mentioned before how much I love Seb’s art but he’s definitely done it again with this card. As with all of this double spell cards in this cycle, it shows a duality but I think this playing card mirror style is definitely the best of the five3.

  1. And there are several more. In fact, there are 17 mill cards in Standard right now. ↩︎

  2. A really clever player will put something like Narcomoeba on top as then if it’s milled it’ll end up on the battlefield. ↩︎

  3. I liked it so much I nominated it for best artwork in my Core Set 2020 Primer↩︎

M20 Booster: Repeated Reverberation

In a rare bit of coincidence, today’s booster contained a repeat of the naming convention of yesterday’s card: two words beginning with R:

Repeated Reverberation

Repeated Reverberation is a 2 Generic ManaRedRed rare instant that allows you to create two copies of the next instant or sorcery you cast, or loyalty ability you activate this turn. If that ability or spell has a target, you can choose new targets for each of the copies should you wish to.

This is one of those funny cards that is absolutely mind-boggling as highlighted by the sheer amount of supplementary text associated with it on Gatherer. There are certain players who will look at this card and think “Can I copy a Repeated Reverberation”? Yes, yes you can and WotC have helpfully outlined the math for that1. There are all kinds of broken things you can do with it mostly surrounding Expansion // Explosion and Ral, Storm Conduit but lets look at some of the more likely scenarios.

Being able to copy any instant or sorcery twice is very useful and in red you are likely going to be thinking of burn spells to try and outright kill your opponent. Sure you can use this on something like Lightning Strike to do 9 damage to a player (which might win you the game at this point) but there are also powerful spells like Lava Axe and Sarkhan’s Catharsis which can do 15 damage. The best burn spell though is likely going to be Banefire as you can pump as much mana as you want into it should you be in the late game; And yes, X Generic Mana spells get copied at the value they were initially set at2.

Aside from burn spells, you can also do some card draw and zombie token creation with Honor the God-Pharaoh3, gain control of multiple targets and deal some damage with Bond of Passion, give a creature +9/+9 and trample with Run Amok, or pilfer your graveyard for three instants and three sorceries that you can play for free with Finale of Promise.

For me, though, instants and sorceries are a bit too tricky with this card. You need a lot of mana for good spells and mana is something you likely don’t have bearing in mind you are already down 2 Generic ManaRedRed. Instead, I think this works better with the planeswalker loyalty abilities which you can also copy. It’s important to note that you don’t get to triple the loyalty counter changes but even so this can work well in a number of cases, especially as you don’t have to pay any mana4:

There is quite a lot of scope there to inflict a game changing amount of damage to your opponent and that is for just 4 mana!

The only other thing I wanted to specifically note about this card is that it’s an instant so you can cast it on your opponent’s turn; just be sure you’re only going to cast another instant to duplicate as you obviously can’t use a planeswalker or sorcery when it’s not your turn. Also, it is worth noting that if your opponent counters the spell you cast after the Repeated Reverberation, the copies are not countered and will still occur. This probably doesn’t matter as in all likelihood your opponent will just counter the Repeated Reverberation in the first place but it might make a difference if they’ve decided to wait for some reason.

  1. If you cast this then cast another one, you’ll have three copies of it which thus give you six copies of whatever you cast next. This can continue on to fourteen copies and thirty copies if you somehow manage to have the mana and the maximum four copies of this card in your deck. ↩︎

  2. So if you cast Banefire for 7 Generic ManaRed, then the copies will similarly have X Generic Mana set to 7 Generic Mana for a total of 21 uncounterable and unpreventable damage to the face. ↩︎

  3. You only have to discard one card to cast this as the copies are created after costs have been paid hence why the X Generic Mana stuff works. This means you get to draw 6 cards and amass 3 for the low cost of 7 mana. ↩︎

  4. Assuming your planeswalker is already on the board which is kind of the point. ↩︎

M20 Booster: Risen Reef

If I’d been drafting with today’s pack I would have been very happy as there was a combo just sitting there: Chandra, Acolyte of Flame and Risen Reef.

Risen Reef

Risen Reef is a 1 Generic ManaGreenBlue 1/1 elemental creature with an interesting “enters the battlefield” trigger; every time you play an elemental, you get to draw a card which can then be played tapped if it’s a land. This is a bonkers ability for a 3 mana creature, especially as it triggers the ability itself when it enters. Yes it’s a 1/1 creature that isn’t going to do you much good in combat but there are plenty of ways to beef it up including Creeping Trailblazer, Overgrowth Elemental, and Omnath, Locus of the Roil.

In terms of elementals to trigger this ability, there are currently 55 elemental creatures in Standard1 plus 13 cards that can create elementals. It is worth noting that abilities that turn lands into elementals such as those found on Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi will not trigger the reef as they are not entering the battlefield, they are simply changing something that already exists.

One of the better combos, and one found inside this booster pack, is using the +0 ability on Chandra, Acolyte of Flame to create two elementals for the turn; these will activate the ability twice giving you a steady card draw and two attacking bodies. There are good synergies to be had with any elemental creature but Creeping Trailblazer, Living Twister, and Omnath, Locus of the Roil are going to be your key combo pieces.

You may be wondering why you are given the option of playing a land card tapped: why doesn’t it just do it automatically? I think the reason for this is that there are some land cards you may want to hold back until later in the game. Field of the Dead is one that comes to mind as you may want to wait until you have six lands with different names before you play it lest your opponent has a way to blow up lands before you get a single activation. If you’re playing with this on Arena, you may notice that if you choose to play a Shock Land it will still ask if you want to pay 2 life to bring it in untapped; this is annoying as if you say yes you’ll pay 2 life but it will still enter tapped2.

Thanks to this card, the Temur Elementals deck is definitely a real thing and seeing a lot of play on Arena. I’ve tried it out myself with the deck from SBMTG and it is definitely fun to play, especially when you get a long combo thanks to having multiple copies of Risen Reef in play. There have been a few people wondering if this card will be banned due to being too broken but I think that is unlikely at this stage. I do think this card should have been set at a higher rarity and should possibly have been made a legendary creature; as an uncommon regular creature it does feel a little too accessible, especially as you can have multiple copies in play.

As is often the case, I’m going to finish off by talking about the physical design of the card. First of all, I love the flavour text on this card so much but the font styling always trips me up on it; the word walked would usually be italicised but instead it is made regular as the rest of the flavour text is in italics3. It’s a great line though. The artwork too is especially good; I adore the bright colours and the level of detail. Take a look at a larger version uploaded by artist Johan Grenier and you’ll see the sheer artistry that is gone into those waves. It doesn’t look like he currently sells prints but if he does in future I would snap this up at instant speed.

  1. Comprised of 15 blue, 4 black, 23 red, and 23 green. The number doesn’t add up to 55 as 9 of them are multicoloured. The basic gist, though, is that elementals work beautifully in Temur (GreenBlueRed) colours. ↩︎

  2. This catches me out frequently with Nissa, Who Shakes the World. The reason for it is that the Shock Land is appended with “put it onto the battlefield tapped” and paying the two life does not cancel this out; nowhere on the card does it say “enters untapped if you pay 2 life”, it just says that if you don’t pay the life you’ll be tapped. It’s a bit of a linguistic nightmare but Arena will prompt you and you can easily end up paying 2 life with no benefit. ↩︎

  3. It’s such a minor thing but it bugs me a lot that flavour text is italicised specifically for this reason. Just use a smaller font! ↩︎

M20 Booster: Blightbeetle

I don’t have a lot of time to write an article today so I decided to take a quick look at this little blighter from today’s booster pack:


Blightbeetle is a 1 Generic ManaBlack 1/1 insect creature with two static abilities:

  • Protection from green
  • Creatures your opponents control can’t have +1/+1 counters put on them

As you’ll likely know if you read my Core Set 2020 Primer, protection is a returning mechanic that stops something from being damaged or interacted with by a specific colour, in this case green1. In practice this means that you can block something like Carnage Tyrant and it won’t die2. This is really the best use of the mechanic as green doesn’t really have any spells that want to interact with a specific creature beyond fight mechanics3 which wouldn’t do anything even if they were able to resolve. It will stop a counter piece like Frilled Mystic but it is still easily bounced or countered by blue unless you happen to have a Gods Willing available to you.

The really interesting piece is the second ability preventing opponents from gaining +1/+1 counters. That is incredibly good in a number of situations:

  • Simic decks that rely heavily on the adapt mechanic
  • Nissa, Who Shakes the World decks as the +1 mechanic puts counters on a land; those wouldn’t be allowed so it would become a 0/0 creature and die immediately (and they need that to get to that ultimate ability which makes lands invincible)
  • Any deck that is making use of proliferate on creatures
  • Decks that use Simic Ascendancy as a win condition (such as my Ruse of an Ooze deck)

As there are entire decks built around the +1/+1 combo, especially in the Ravnica block, this little beetle is gonna get a pretty big target on his back so you’re going to need to use some tricks to keep him on the battlefield. Fortunately he’s in the dominant colour of graveyard shenanigans so you can likely bring him back a number of times but in reality this is a sideboard piece waiting until you’re up against one of the decks I’ve outlined above.

On a sidenote, there are now 11 insects available in Standard so it might be possible to build some super niche insect deck using Icon of Ancestry as an anthem effect. It might be a bit buggy but it’s worth a try…

  1. Remember that a card is “green” if it contains Green in the casting cost, green in the hybrid cost (i.e. Black/Green), or if the card says otherwise (i.e. Sphinx of the Guildpact which is specifically “all colours”). ↩︎

  2. I reconcile this in my mind as the dinosaur just stomping around trying to kill the beetle whilst it skilfully evades. ↩︎

  3. For example, Rabid Bite↩︎

M20 Booster: Gargos, Vicious Watcher

MTG Manager was updated today to support Core Set 2020 so I had a long morning scanning all of my cards from pre-release and the various planeswalker decks; 392 cards in total! Once that was done, it was time to crack another pack which contained this beautiful creature:

Gargos, Vicious Watcher

Gargos, Vicious Watcher is a 3 Generic ManaGreenGreenGreen legendary 8/7 hydra with vigilance. That is good on its own but it also has two static abilities:

  • Hydra spells you cast cost 4 Generic Mana less
  • Whenever a creature you control is targeted by a spell, Gargos fights up to one creature you don’t control

Reducing the cost of spells is always nice but reducing them by 4 Generic Mana is especially nice. Of the five hydras currently in Standard, two of them have a colourless cost component of 3 Generic Mana whilst the others use X Generic Mana mana1. Being able to follow this up with a Bioessence Hydra for just GreenBlue or using all your available mana on your next turn to cast a Voracious Hydra where X Generic Mana is 8 Generic Mana (giving you a 16/17 trampling hydra2) is crazy good. Oh, and there is Hydroid Krasis as well…

Aside from the hydra cost reduction, the defensive capability is also very nice especially as it protects itself; similar to the leyline I looked at yesterday, the trigger occurs when a creature is targeted so if your opponent tries to bounce Gargos it can take down one of their creatures before it goes. It is also worth noting that the trigger is whenever one of your creatures is targeted by a spell, not an opponent’s spell. If you cast an aura, it’ll trigger. If you add an equipment, it’ll trigger. You can even use a low power spell like Shock to cause a trigger if there is a big creature you need to kill. The only thing to watch out for is that it is the fight mechanic, not “deals damage equal to power”; this means that Gargos will also take damage so you need to ensure you don’t fight a creature that then puts it at risk of being killed by a Shock or similar.

Whilst I was very excited by this card initially, it was only when looking at other similarly priced cards that I realised it wasn’t quite all that. Consider that you can get a Aggressive Mammoth which gives you an 8/8 body and all your other creatures trample, or Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar that will give you a growing creature with reach and trample. If Gargos had trample then I’d be all over it but my excitement is slightly tempered even though vigilance is still a fine keyword ability.

The bottom line is that this is a definite inclusion if you’re running some hydras but there are likely better creatures you could be using in other decks. You also need to be up against a deck with a number of creatures to get the full benefit of that fight ability.

The final thing I wanted to mention about this card is the awesome artwork. This is now the fourth hydra to be created by Mathias Kollros with Bioessence Hydra being the other currently in Standard3. This beats the previous joint records of Chris Rahn and Raymond Swanland who have three hydras each. Mathias also worked on the promo version of Chandra’s Regulator which you can get exclusively in the Core Set 2020 bundle launching this weekend.

  1. And yes this works for X Generic Mana mana by basically giving you an extra 4 Generic Mana to play with. ↩︎

  2. Need I bring up Simic Ascendancy↩︎

  3. The Hydradoodle from Unstable is also worthy of mention! ↩︎

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