A First Look at Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
With the Dungeons & Dragons set being the last set to be included pre-rotation, this upcoming Standard format is going to feature some of the most powerful decks since bans were last needed. While unfortunately this means that the bar for entry into some of the top tier Standard decks is quite high, we will fortunately be able to see many of these cards given their time in the spotlight post-rotation. Consequently, even just a few days into this spoiler season, I can already tell that the power level of this set will be quite high, and I would like to share some of the more powerful cycles or cards that may see play in tier 1 Standard decks.
If we look back to Magic’s past there are a few criteria that need to be met for man-lands to be playable in higher tier list decks.
The first of which is evasion. Cards like Creeping Tar Pit and Celestial Colonnade were staples in Standard and still are going all the way back to Modern. Creeping Tar Pit was incredible at efficiently killing Planeswalkers due to its evasion, and Celestial Colonnade was efficient at acting like a Serra Angel and ending the game in various control decks (much like many control decks in the past).
The second is being efficient in its activation cost. Raging Ravine and Treetop Village were both played in Standard while legal, and have seen play in Modern due to just how cheap these cards can be activated and the value they give for that activation. The key here is that these cards can become a good, paced clock against your opponent, while being cheap enough to still hold up interaction. While they may not be the fastest clock, their ability to dodge sorcery speed removal and board wipes would allow players in these colors to not care about rebuilding a board presence. In a pre- Fatal Push world, these two cards were huge threats to your opponent that would eventually end the game if the opponent used all their removal fighting your Tarmogoyf s and Dark Confidant s. Now, with removal spells being so great, even in Standard with cards like Heartless Act and Eliminate, this trait is less appealing to players, but still matters when evaluating how good of a card a man-land is.
The third is serving some niche purpose. Cards like Mutavault, Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Mishra’s Factory can fall into either this category, or the one above it. However, when analyzing the decks that these cards are played in, it is easy to see why they are separated. While activating any of the man-lands previously mentioned is both cheap and nets you a good creature as a result, none of them do much besides offering at the most a 2/2 attacker or a 3/3 blocker. Rather, these cards are used for their tribal synergies as Mutavault can turn itself into a 3/3 unblockable attacker in a Merfolk list and Inkmoth Nexus can turn itself into a 10/10 flying infect creature in any affinity list.
So, knowing what we know from the past, how good are the single-color man-lands in the new set? Even without the Green land having been spoiled yet, I would have to say they seem pretty great at what they are trying to do. Both the Black (Hive of the Eye-Tyrant) and White (Cave of the Frost Dragon) lands have evasion of some kind, Menace and Flying respectively, and the Blue land (Hall of the Storm Giants) offers up pseudo hexproof by using the Ward ability that appeared woefully under printed in Strixhaven. Even the Red land, Den of the Bugbear, offers up a clock similar to that of Raging Ravine as it grows your numbers every turn. There is no question that these cards are high on a base power level scale. Whether or not I think these cards will be meta-defining is a completely other question. With Bonecrusher Giant still seeing top play, any investment into a 2-toughness creature is a hard sell, and paying 4 mana to see your Den of the Bugbear die before it even gets a chance to attack can lead to a loss. Similar things can be said about Frost Bite and 3-toughness creatures as well, but with more cards being introduced into Standard that are not Snow related, the odds of it being played as much are lower.
Adventuring into Dungeons
By now you have already seen all three Dungeons being added into the game with the new set and some of the cards let you venture into them. Generally speaking, this mechanic is strong as it lets you generate different kinds of value, but will be capped by how you can generate that value (I.E how many times and how quickly you can venture into dungeons). Since we are still early into preview season and the cards that let you venture are not fully spoiled, I would like to take a crack at analyzing the only three dungeons we would be getting in this set: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, Tomb of Annihilation, and Lost Mine of Phandelver.
The Journey Versus the Destination
It is very evident to me that these three dungeons were designed to provide their value as you venture through them, or as you complete them. Dungeon of the Mad Mage and Tomb of Annihilation provide most of their value upon completion, and Lost Mine of Phandelver provides around equal amount of value for each step you venture. Therefore, when building your deck with venture in mind, you have to know just how many times you want to venture to finish the dungeon as fast as possible, or if you just want to use creatures with venture not to necessarily complete a dungeon as fast as possible, but to get as much value as possible. For example, Dungeon of the Mad Mage has a last floor that can potentially win you the game by casting a very expensive spell possibly for free, but requires 7 ventures to get to. Contrasted by that, Lost Mine of Phandelver can create a treasure token after only 2 ventures, or a 2/2 goblin token after only 3 ventures. Lastly, Tomb of Annihilation is a lot more varied in how you complete it as it can be completed in as little as 3 ventures and can create you a 4/4 deathtouch creature. However, there are other resources needed for this as some of its steps require you to discard a card, sacrifice an artifact, a creature, and a land. Like all the other dungeons, the strength Tomb of Annihilation is directly tied to just how fast you can venture and how easily you can deal with its ramifications.
While I do not expect venture to be as pushed, the game winning potential of Dungeon of the Mad Mage, or the tempo swing by creating a 2/2 with Lost Mine of Phandelver offer up great tools for many decks. As spoiler seasons has just begun, I can’t wait to see how they go about implementing ventures and just how fast we can do it.
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