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

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! ↩︎


M20 Booster: Leyline of Combustion

Core Set 2020 is finally here! I may have got a little carried away at pre-release as I ended up purchasing 85 boosters with a further 10 arriving at the weekend1. That gives me an awful lot of opportunities to write about cards though so without further ado I’ll crack open the first pack and pick a card to discuss:

Leyline of Combustion

Would you believe it by my first pack netted me not only Drakuseth, Maw of Flames2 but also a foil leyline!

Leyline of Combustion is a 2 Generic ManaRedRed enchantment that deals 2 damage to an opponent if they target either you or one of your permanents with a spell or ability. Like all leylines, you can choose to have it start on the battlefield at the beginning of the game.

As I mentioned in my Core Set 2020 Primer, there is a leyline in each colour and they all work in the same way with the ability to start the game on the battlefield if they are in your opening hand, a trick which is much easier to pull off with the London Mulligan3. The white, blue, and black leylines are all reprints from previous sets but the green Leyline of Abundance and this red Leyline of Combustion are completely new to M204. There are several people who think that the advantage of a leyline is too good with it starting out on the field for free but I disagree; most of these enchantments have a very narrow scope (i.e. making the player hexproof) and they don’t usually become useful until the later game5. As with all Magic cards, there is a balance as enchantments are relatively easy to destroy with cards like Broken Bond, Disenchant, and Thrashing Brontodon. They also have a fairly tricky casting cost if you’re in anything other than mono colour and at a stage where the ability they provide likely isn’t good enough to make you want to cast it on curve. Finally, whilst it is easier to get at these leylines with the London Mulligan, that means you are likely going to start the game several cards down especially as one of your cards is now on the field and likely not terribly useful. That isn’t to say leylines are bad – they most definitely aren’t – but they aren’t some big bad game breaking piece either.

With all that said, damn this card looks good! When I first saw the card I thought it was just spells that targeted creatures so my mind was instantly drawn to control decks with their bounces and counters. The fact that it is spells and abilities and that it isn’t just creatures but permanents instantly makes this way more powerful. For one thing, it protects itself; even if it does nothing but get destroyed by Mortify it will still do 2 damage to the opponent. Ideally you want to do a lot more than that but at the base level it is still good if you managed to cast it for free. It is also important to note that the ability triggers whenever you or a permanent becomes a target, not when it’s resolved. This means you can counter a spell targeting you and you’ll still do the 2 damage.

The best way to think about this leyline is as a massive deterrent. You’re basically daring your opponent to sling spells at you as every time they do they’ll get hit. Sometimes they’re going to take that risk as they may straight-up lose the game if they don’t use removal or hit you with a burn spell. Whilst not particularly useful against creature heavy decks, any kind of control or burn deck is going to suffer heavily at the hands of this leyline.

Note that the leylines are not legendary enchantments6 so you can have multiples of these in play at the same time; this helps prevent you from getting bounced and countered (as with two on the field this would do 4 damage when one gets bounced and another 2 damage when the second one is countered on the way back in) but it is also a good way of doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling that threat level.

In terms of combos, there are a few nice things that can be done with this:

  • Chandra, Awakened Inferno, widely regarded as one of the best cards of M20, pairs up nicely. Chandra will always be able to generate at least 1 emblem that starts dealing 1 damage to opponent every turn but she can be destroyed or bounced in response; she needs to be removed quickly though as otherwise her abilities are bonkers so your opponent is always likely to do something meaning you get a free 2 damage on them.
  • Jaya, Venerated Firemage will add 1 extra damage from any red source which includes this leyline. If you manage to have two leylines out then that means 6 damage!
  • You’d think that spectacle would be useful with this leyline but the reality is that all ten spectacle cards in Standard currently are either creatures or sorceries; if your opponent uses an instant against you on your turn then of course the 2 damage can activate spectacle to get you cheaper creatures or spells, especially in the early game, but this isn’t going to be of any use if they sling a spell during their turn.
  • Angrath’s Marauders will double the damage of your leyline(s).
  • Immolation Shaman will help lock down activated abilities from your opponent even further by adding an extra 1 damage.
  • If you can time it right, The Flame of Keld could be a good way of getting 4 damage in to an opponent. Just wait until section III of the saga to bring in something you know your opponent will want to counter and see if they go for it; if they do, you hit them for 4 damage, if they don’t, you have something good on the field.
  • Wildfire Elemental is great if you have several creatures as they’ll all get +1/+0 until end of turn for every time the leyline does damage.

In reality, you don’t need any of these pieces in order to feel the benefit of this leyline; it’s going to serve it’s purpose as a threat to those that would try and target you or any of your permanents. Whilst I don’t usually like the leylines from the point of view that the casting cost isn’t worth it if you find it later in the game, I’m willing to make an exception for this one. It would be nice to have it on the board from the start but I can see situations where I’d still play this on turn 4.

If you’re playing mono-red, this seems like an easy card to take a punt on. I’m certainly going to be trying it out in a few of my red decks.

Update: I’ve been using this card a little on MTG Arena and had a hilarious experience that proves this card is good even if cast in the late game. My opponent played Patient Rebuilding which I followed up with the leyline. The rebuilding is not optional so at the start of opponent’s upkeep it would hit me triggering the leyline for 2 damage. This was further compounded when they played a second Patient Rebuilding so I was now hitting them for 4 damage per turn. The game ended pretty quickly.

  1. 2 x 36 booster boxes, a pre-release sealed kit with 6 boosters, 2 boosters won at pre-release, and 5 boosters total from the Planeswalker decks (that now only have 1 per pack rather than 2 to reduce the cost). The next 10 are coming from the Bundle Box which isn’t available until Core Set 2020 launches fully this weekend. ↩︎

  2. Which is an incredible card and will definitely be discussed later (although I already technically own one from the Chandra Planeswalker deck). ↩︎

  3. Again, see my Core Set 2020 Primer for details on this but you essentially now keep drawing 7 cards but then discard X cards where X is the number of mulligans you’ve taken; this means you see more cards and have more of a chance of getting a leyline in your hand. ↩︎

  4. The older red leylines include “Leyline of Lightning” from Guildpact that let you pay 1 Generic Mana every time you cast a spell to deal 1 damage to a player whilst “Leyline of Punishment” from Magic 2011 prevented all players from gaining life and stopped damage from being prevented. I think this new one is better. ↩︎

  5. This is arguably not true of Leyline of Abundance if you happen to have a lot of green mana ramp creatures… ↩︎

  6. Which is the one thing I would change. Having multiple copies of this on the battlefield at the start of the game seems nuts. ↩︎


Core Set 2020 Primer

With spoiler season over it’s time to take a look through the new mechanics and cards in Core Set 2020 to give you a basic primer on what you can expect both at pre-release and beyond. I’m not going to go through every card but I will try and showcase some of the important themes, returning mechanics, and a few of the really good cards you should be paying attention to.

London Mulligan

Before I get to that, though, I need to mention the Loxodon in the room launching alongside Core Set 2020; the London Mulligan. Trialed at the Mythic Championship London 2019, the London Mulligan switches things up by removing the scry and instead always allowing you to draw seven cards and then place x number on the bottom (where x is the number of mulligans you’ve performed). For example, currently if you mulligan from seven cards you would draw six cards and then choose to stick or go down to five cards, four cards, and so on. Once you’ve stuck with a hand, you then get to scry 1. With the London Mulligan, you would instead go from seven cards to drawing another seven cards but then choosing six to keep; if you mulliganed again you’d draw seven cards but keep five, and so on. There is no scry but you are getting far more benefit as you get to choose the x best cards from a full draw rather than just being given x cards. It seems like a great change and will be especially noteworthy with some returning cards as we’ll see shortly. The London Mulligan is the official way to mulligan as of the launch of Core Set 2020 (including the pre-release weekend).

With that out of the way, let’s jump into some returning mechanics!

Protection

Apostle of Purifying LightCerulean DrakeBlightbeetleUnchained BerserkerShifting Ceratops

Protection hasn’t been seen in Standard for some time but it is back and it sounds like we could be seeing a lot more of it in the future. In a nutshell, protection means that a creature can’t be interfered with by a certain colour. For example, if we look at Unchained Berserker, this card has protection from white meaning that a white creature can’t block or deal damage to this creature and spells with a white casting cost can’t target, deal damage, or enchant this creature. It also can’t equip anything with a white casting cost. This is an incredibly good mechanic against specific colours as it is more powerful than hexproof; you are effectively indestructible if you block a white creature and you act like a River Sneak when attacking against white creatures. There is one creature available for each colour which each have protection from an opposing colour; Shifting Ceratops may as well be called “Screw You Teferi-o-saurus”!

Gods Willing

There is also Gods Willing, a White instant that lets a creature gain protection from a colour of your choice until end of turn (with a free scry bunged on the end for extra measure). This is very, very good; If you get it in sealed, you will play it.

Colour Hosing

Devout DecreeAether GustNoxious GraspFryVeil of Summer

The counter to protection is a concept known as “colour hosing”, cards that do something but only to specific colours. For example, Devout Decree can exile a creature or planeswalker for the low cost of 1 Generic ManaWhite, but only if it’s black or red. Fry can deal 5 damage to a creature or planeswalker for the low cost of 1 Generic ManaRed, but only if it’s white or blue. There is an entire clever pie system that determines which colours oppose each other and which are allied but the important thing with all of these is that they are very rarely going to main deckable; they are tricks you keep in your sideboard so that you can use them should you need them in game two and three. You don’t want a Noxious Grasp in your deck and then find out you’re up against a Rakdos deck!

An important thing to note with both protection and colour hosing; when they mention a colour, the spell they are targeting only needs to have it in the casting cost, it does not need to be only that colour. For example, protection from blue will protect you from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as it costs 3 Generic ManaWhiteBlue and therefore is a “white blue” card. Remember also that there are some cards which are specifically “all colours” such as Sphinx of the Guildpact; these would be blocked by any colour of protection even though the casting cost was colourless.

Leylines

Leyline of SanctityLeyline of AnticipationLeyline of the VoidLeyline of CombustionLeyline of Abundance

Another returning mechanic is Leylines. These are enchantments that can start the game on the battlefield if you have them in your opening hand after any mulligans have taken place. This is one reason why the London Mulligan is so good as you have a far higher chance of finding one of these cards. I’m particularly excited by Leyline of Anticipation for making all your spells flashable (which includes creatures and sorceries) but I also like the idea of using Leyline of Abundance with Llanowar Elves for potentially 4 mana on turn 2…

Planeswalkers

Ajani, Strength of the PrideMu Yanling, Sky DancerSorin, Imperious BloodlordVivien, Arkbow Ranger

Fresh from War of the Spark, you may well have questions about the planeswalkers in this set. How many are there? Do they have static abilities? Are there common ones? For the most part everything is straightforward again in this set with planeswalkers back at mythic rare status with three activated abilities and no static abilities. Each of them looks pretty good with Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer probably being the best of the bunch. I do like that Ajani, Strength of the Pride does just create Ajani’s Pridemate tokens though!

Chandra, Novice PyromancerChandra, Acolyte of FlameChandra, Awakened Inferno

Things get a bit more complicated with Chandra as she has three versions in the main set; an uncommon, a rare, and a mythic rare. However, the lower rarities still have three abilities but they are a lot less powerful1. Again, there are no static abilities2 and these are the only exceptions to the mythic rare rule mostly because the set is ostensibly about Chandra.

That gives us a total of seven planeswalkers in Core Set 2020 which goes up to twelve if you count the versions in the Planeswalker Decks that I’ll get to much later on.

Cavaliers

Cavalier of DawnCavalier of GalesCavalier of NightCavalier of FlameCavalier of Thorns

Each colour gets itself a “Cavalier” which is an elemental knight creature that usually gets a keyword ability, an enter the battlefield ability, and a death trigger. Each of them is a mythic rare and costs 2 colourless and 3 of the specific colour. They are all fairly good but Cavalier of Gales is probably the best due to it being shuffled back into your library when it dies. Cavalier of Flame is probably the worst as it doesn’t have a keyword ability like the others do and the leaving trigger isn’t really going to be that powerful as you likely didn’t have many cards to discard in the first place as part of the ETB trigger.

Legendary Creatures

Sephara, Sky's BladeAtemsis, All-SeeingVilis, Broker of BloodDrakuseth, Maw of FlamesGargos, Vicious Watcher

There’s a nice cycle of rare legendary creatures which are all massively expensive but share a casting component of three of their particular colour. All of them are very good but the attack bonus on Drakuseth, Maw of Flames seems very good if your opponent has a wide board. It’s also very important to note that Gargos, Vicious Watcher does work with X Generic Mana casting costs so you can use this and pay just GreenBlue to get a Hydroid Krasis where X Generic Mana is 4 Generic Mana; the 8/7 toughness with vigilance was enough for the cost but that hydra price drop and the fight ability make this card crazy good.

Coloured Artifacts

Ancestral BladePortal of SanctuaryBloodsoaked AltarMask of ImmolationWolfrider's Saddle

Yet another thing that has been bought back from the past is the concept of coloured artifacts, in this case a cycle of 5 artifacts at the uncommon level. I really like the look of Mask of Immolation but I can see Wolfrider’s Saddle being very good in a deck with Arlinn, Voice of the Pack.

Chandra's Regulator

There is one further coloured artifact in the form of Chandra’s Regulator, a rare card that we’ll see again when I get to the various promos for this set. If you’re playing with any of the six Chandra’s that will be in Standard then this artifact is a no-brainer.

Double Spells

Brought BackDrawn from DreamsScheming SymmetryRepeated ReverberationShared Summons

This is a bit of a fun cycle with rare instants or sorceries that each do something twice be that searching a library for two cards with different names to go into your hand as is the case with Shared Summons or return two permanents you lost this turn back to the battlefield with Brought Back. I particularly like that the doubling is clearly shown in the artwork for each card and also that each one has an alliterative name3.

Life-Gain Tapped Lands

Bloodfell CavesBlossoming SandsDismal BackwaterJungle HollowRugged Highlands
Scoured BarrensSwiftwater CliffsThornwood FallsTranquil CoveWind-Scarred Crag

Core Set 2020 includes a full helping of dual lands in the form of life-gain tapped lands; they enter the battlefield tapped but you gain 1 life as they do so. They are all commons and of the type “Land”.

Temples

Temple of EpiphanyTemple of MaladyTemple of MysteryTemple of SilenceTemple of Triumph

There are also five “temples”, dual lands that enter the battlefield tapped but they give you a scry 1 when they do so. These lands are all rares and are also of the type “Land”. At that rarity level, I would have liked to have seen these be along the lines of Shock Lands and contain the type of each land they represent i.e. Temple of Mystery would be “Land – Forest Island” so that it could be used in conjunction with something like Nissa, Who Shakes the World. I just don’t think a scry is enough to elevate a tapped dual land to rare.

Notable Cards

I’ve covered some of the core mechanics of the set but there are a few cards that deserve a special mention. I’ll be opening a booster pack a day and choosing a single to do a deep dive into once the set launches, but for now here are some quick thoughts on the cards that caught my eye during spoiler season.

  • Planar Cleansing: A great sorcery that beats Cleansing Nova when it comes to sweeping destruction. Kills everything but lands (so creatures, planeswalkers, artifacts, enchantments, equipments, sagas, and so on).
  • Rule of Law: An enchantment that prevents all players (including yourself) from casting more than one spell each turn. Really great for control decks especially if you know you can counter the one spell you’re allowing your opponent to cast. Note that it is “each turn” so you can cast a spell on your turn and your opponent’s turn.
  • Brineborn Cutthroat: I mention this one purely to reference the fact that tribes are fairly well accounted for across the board. Vampires and elementals are definitely big but there is love for dinosaurs, merfolk, goblins, and pirates as well. This card also seems pretty good for an “end of opponent’s turn” surprise.
  • Tale’s End: This is a great counter spell that is definitely going to see a lot of play; it can stop planeswalkers from landing but can also be used to stop a planeswalker ultimate from going off.
  • Blood for Bones: An interesting sorcery which has an important flow to it’s text; you can sacrifice a creature on the battlefield and then return that one to either your hand or battlefield should you wish to (i.e. if it has a really good ETB trigger). Definitely one to watch out for.
  • Bloodthirsty Aerialist: Did you want an Ajani’s Pridemate in black? Here’s one that flies with a very relevant creature type!
  • Dread Presence: Swamp landfall that lets you draw a card for a bit of life loss or deal 2 damage and gain 2 life. I love the choice and I love the possibilities with a card like this. I’m also really loving seeing landfall abilities in Standard at the moment4.
  • Embodiment of Agonies: Usually the core set is aimed at beginners. The relative complexity of this card (and the spelling out it requires) shows that this is not the case this time around.
  • Rotting Regisaur: A 7/6 dinosaur for 3 mana. Are you insane?
  • Glint-Horn Buccaneer: It’s nice to see a minotaur pirate that isn’t Angrath. His mana sink ability is also pretty good and could feasibly end a game if you have enough mana.
  • Marauding Raptor: After the disappointing dinosaur in War of the Spark, I was overjoyed to see this raptor especially as it effectively replaces Otepec Huntmaster and Forerunner of the Empire. Beware, though; if you use this in combo with a Polyraptor then you get into an infinite loop which will cause the game to end in a draw, not a win5.
  • Nightpack Ambusher: Another tribe that gets a good outing is wolves. This one has a particularly interesting end step condition again suggesting this is not the basic set one might think it would be.
  • Voracious Hydra: Oh, you wanted another Hydra with an X Generic Mana cost you could exploit with Gargos, Vicious Watcher? Here ya go.
  • Kaalia, Zenith Seeker: If you’re running a deck with lots of angels, demons, and dragons, then this is a fine cleric for your deck. Even without those, a 3/3 flyer with vigilance for 3 (albeit difficult to cast) mana is not too shabby.
  • Yarok, the Desecrated: Doubling ETB triggers is always fun as are creatures with both deathtouch and lifelink.
  • Bag of Holding: Looks like the D&D crossover goes both ways! This is also a pretty decent card although you do need to remember to keep track of what you exiled with it.
  • Golos, Tireless Pilgrim: If you’ve read this far and were wondering where the five-mana spells were at, Golos is available for you. Note that his ETB trigger can pull any land, not just a basic land.
  • Grafdigger’s Cage: This is a reprint from way back when but it is going to be insanely useful in the current meta. There is basically no risk at having this in your sideboard at the very least as a way to neuter undergrowth, jump start, and a load of very specific cards.

There is one card that is so special it deserves to be shown and get a bit of extra discussion:

Lotus Field

It’s always nice to see a card that harkens back to the world famous Black Lotus and this one does so with a number of caveats that can be easily circumvented. First of all, a hexproof land is always a good thing and tapping for three mana of any color6 is insane. It does enter tapped, which is fair enough, but the requirement to sacrifice two lands effectively means this doesn’t gain you much extra benefit. You can, of course, sacrifice those lands after you’ve tapped them for mana (which is sensible) but we can go a few steps further…

For starters, try using Brought Back which will allow you to bring back both of those lands straight away. An alternate strategy would be to use Crucible of Worlds to bring the lands back over time or you could just leave them there and buff Elvish Reclaimer. For my money, the best synergy is Blood Sun which removes all non-mana abilities from lands meaning that this card doesn’t have hexproof, doesn’t enter tapped, and doesn’t require you to sacrifice any lands. That works so well I picked up four copies just to be on the safe side for any possible price increase once the set launches!

Whichever way you play it, this is an incredibly good card and will likely be one of the most expensive on the singles market for this set.

Promos

There are a number of extras for this set beyond the 280 cards in the base set.

Buy-a-Box Promo: Rienne, Angel of Rebirth (#281). You get a free foil version when you buy a 36-booster box. A good card for Hero of Precinct One decks and Commander but otherwise not terribly interesting.

“Fat Pack” Bundle: An alternate artwork foil version of Chandra’s Regulator is included in the 10-booster bundle along with 20 foil land cards and an oversized die.

Planeswalker Decks: There are 5 planeswalker decks to purchase, one for each colour. They each include a foil copy of the planeswalker and 4 cards that are unique to the deck encompassing numbers #282 to #301. As usual, the cards aren’t actually that good (hence the ~£12 price point for a 60-card deck) but they are good for newcomers and for people that need to collect all the cards!

Spellslinger Kit: New this time around is the Spellslinger Starter Kit which encompass numbers #302 to #344. These are two pre-built mono-coloured decks that are designed as a way to teach two players how to play. Interestingly, there are a few unique cards in this kit and there are a number of reprints which are considered to be Core Set 2020 and so will therefore survive rotation. For example, Aggressive Mammoth would have left Standard after rotation but he lives on thanks to this beginner kit!

Tokens

One final thing to note is that tokens have been redesigned in this set and are now full artwork! Here’s a look at all 12 tokens that you can find in Core Set 2020:

Best Artwork Award

Fortress CrabScheming SymmetryVampire of the Dire MoonFry

This is incredibly difficult and I really wanted to pick Vampire of the Dire Moon, but I think for pure comedy value it has to be Fry.

Best Flavour Text

Tale's EndRotting RegisaurSedge ScorpionColossus Hammer

Another difficult choice but I’m going to go for Tale’s End; the attribution to Unknown is just perfect.

Best Card Of The Set

Rotting Regisaur

This card has already sparked a lot of debate and will do for a long time to come. A 7/6 for 3 mana. 3 mana!?!? Add to that some awesome artwork, funny flavour text, and the creature type “Zombie Dinosaur”7 and we have a winner.

End Step

I think that just about covers it. I’ll be back with a report on my pre-release at the weekend and then I’ll be doing regular booster pack openings with a deep dive into a single card each day starting on Monday 8th July. From that date I’ll also be back to streaming MTG Arena regularly on my Twitch channel.

Let me know your thoughts about Core Set 2020 in the comments below and feel free to join my Discord community to carry on the discussion about all things Standard.

  1. Ironically the rare has two 0 loyalty abilities and a -2 whilst the uncommon has a +1, -1, and -2. ↩︎

  2. Chandra, Awakened Inferno is an exception as she can’t be countered but that isn’t really the same as the static abilities in War of the Spark. There isn’t anything crazy like “opponents can’t gain life” or “all your forests tap for double mana”, etc. ↩︎

  3. I really like the quirky naming conventions that sometimes occur in Magic such as the split cards in the recent Ravnica block always sharing the same first three letters on each half of the card. ↩︎

  4. That’s mainly aimed at you Evolution Sage↩︎

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

  6. Although do note that this is three mana of any one colour; you can make it GreenGreenGreen but you can’t hvae it be GreenBlueRed. Also note that three of one colour works very nicely with that legendary creature cycle I mentioned back up the page… ↩︎

  7. I didn’t think we could do better than Zombie Hippo. Guess I was wrong… ↩︎


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