Top 20 Constructed Cards From Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
Six mana is a lot for a planeswalker; recently, six-mana planeswalkers like Liliana, Dreadhorde General, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, and Chandra, Awakened Inferno have seen fringe play as 1- or 2-ofs. Unlike cheaper planeswalkers, six-mana walkers won’t typically pull you back from a losing boardstate, instead serving to cement an advantage or eke out a win from a tight game. When playing this role, it’s their repeatable, free card advantage combined with being a hard-to-interact-with card type that makes them preferable to creatures.
Mordenkainen is cut from the same cloth. The +2 brings him to 7 immediately, making it quite likely he’ll stick around for another turn. From there, it won’t be uncommon to alternate between the +2 and the -2, building card advantage both in-hand and on-board, while making your Dog Illusions larger and larger.
I envision this card as a healthy win condition for spell-heavy, traditional control decks as a 1- to 2-of. If the board is stable on Turn 6, the opponent will not be able to come back from a Mordenkainen. More often, this walker will come down a few turns after 6 to close the game.
Iymrith, Desert Doom
In the last five or so years, a new breed of control deck emerged in Standard. Blue decks that could certainly play prolonged, traditional control games, but could also just auto-win on Turn 5 by playing a powerful, hard-to-interact with creature that can block until it abruptly turns the corner with protection up. I’m talking, of course, about Dragonlord Ojutai and The Scarab God.
Control players were comfortable tapping out for these because almost nothing could kill an untapped Ojutai, and if the opponent wanted to spend their turn killing The Scarab God, down he’d come again the following turn. With Ojutai, the control player could then swing once they had counterspell mana up, and upon connecting once, the game was usually over, as they could chain counterspells, other interaction, or more Ojutai. With The Scarab God, the control player could just leave up mana before dumping any that was unused into making Zombies with the God.
Iymrith looks to have a remarkably similar play pattern to Dragonlord Ojutai. If played on Turn 5, Ward 4 is equivalent to Hexproof. It has an extra point of toughness as compared to the Dragonlord, serving as an even more effective blocker. When played on Turn 5, it will draw only a single card per hit (though, like Dragonlord Ojutai, it kills remarkably quickly), but in the late game, this dragon can gas back up the Blue player. One other strength of Iymrith is, in mulligan situations, keeping lands + Iymrith is a very real way to get back into the game.
I’m optimistic that this dragon will see play, likely in Blue controlling decks and the UR tempo Dragons deck alongside Galazeth Prismari and Goldspan Dragon.
In Modern, we’re currently seeing a resurgence of UR Delver-style decks brought about by Modern Horizons II all-stars Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon’s Rage Channeler, and Murktide Regent. Demilich looks to continue that trend. While some decks have experimented with Dreadhorde Arcanist, Demilich looks to be a substantial upgrade. The ability to recur itself, be regularly cast for one or two U mana, and the option to flashback spells that cost 2 (such as Manamorphose ) are all attractive reasons to include this card in UR.
There is certainly tension between wanting instants and sorceries in the graveyard to flashback and enable Delirium for DRC while simultaneously exiling them to Murktide Regent and Demilich. However, these anti-synergies always sound worse in theory than they are in practice (see the current build of UR Murktide), particularly giving the turbo-fueling that DRC provides. I’m optimistic that Demilich will be a powerful upgrade to UR decks in Modern.
The Book of Exalted Deeds
This card is on the list for a single reason only: Faceless Haven. Placing an enlightened counter on Faceless Haven, and then never animating the land for the rest of the game, makes it nearly impossible for an opponent to win the game. This is particularly true post-rotation, when Field of Ruin exits, and we’re just left with Cleansing Wildfire as a reasonable option.
The combo only requires six mana; Faceless Haven can tap itself to animate, and then three more W is required to place the counter. This threatens to lead to play patterns where, once a Book is on-board, an opponent can never tap out, being forced to hold up removal should the Book player play a Haven and animate to go for the combo. Similar to Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian back in Kaladesh days, the mere threat of the combo warps gameplay around it.
Luckily, this combo has far more stringent requirements for inclusion than Saheeli Rai/ Felidar Guardian . A critical mass of snow lands is required, being able to afford four copies of a colorless land is required, and a critical mass of white mana is required. Realistically, this means that only a monowhite deck or a heavily white deck splashing a second color could play the combo. Regardless, this is a wildly powerful interaction in Standard, particularly if the Book’s static is able to be taken advantage of. Not being able to tap out while the opponent makes an Angel every turn is not going to make it hard to win the game.
This card harkens back to Seasons Past, a base-BG control deck that used its namesake card to generate enormous card advantage and never die. Of course, Long Rest exiles itself whereas Seasons Past could be looped, but Long Rest is far more flexible in the types and number of cards that it can return. Additionally, Seasons Past was forced to play Nissa’s Renewal, certainly because it was mana-hungry, but also because its control game was weak enough that it desperately needed lifegain in the main. This is where Long Rest has potential; returning the control player to their starting life total as a stapled-on upside to drawing three or four cards will place many games out of reach for the opponent.
Like Seasons Past, the card is slow, durdly, and needs to be built-around. Nonetheless, the potential for high upside is there.
We’ve seen a card somewhat like this in the past, with Knight of the White Orchid.
The Knight is likely better, as First Strike tends to be superior to Vigilance in aggressive decks, and it puts the (not necessarily Basic) Plains onto the battlefield untapped. However, even a weaker version of Knight is worth considering; incidental ramp is always a powerful tool for aggro decks to have access to, and the easier mana cost means that the deck doesn’t have to be monowhite. This might not be an exciting card, but it’s worth considering for aggressive White decks in Standard, particularly if cards like Pack Leader can find slots to make this dog an even better attacker.
I like to think of this as a reasonable version of Questing Beast. Five mana for a 4/4 with both trample and haste is powerful, but not absurd, and it’s exiling ability is almost always fantastic. The ability for a Trampling creature to grow itself is a great piece of self-synergy, and interacting with the graveyard is a powerful upside stapled onto an already-powerful card. Particularly with Innistrad creeping up on us, this Frog Horror promises to be a staple of Standard, both in aggressive and midrange Green decks.
The closest analog to this card currently is Skyclave Apparition. The advantages of Skyclave are that it can answer non-creatures, even if it dies, they don’t get the permanent itself back, and it costs three mana. Cube, however, has a more impactful stats line, can answer any creatures with mana value greater than four, and has the potential to permanently answer creatures with its Dissolve ability. Taken together, Ooze is fine, but not as good as Apparition.
Where Ooze really has the potential to shine is with blink shenanigans, as it blinks far better than Skyclave Apparition does. With Yorion, Sky Nomad or even Teleportation Circle, Ooze becomes a must-answer threat lest it devour away the opponent’s entire board. Without blinking, Ooze is still likely to see some play in grindy Black decks, but within a blinking shell, this card has the potential to be an all-star.
Werewolf Pack Leader
This card is straightforwardly fantastic. GG for a 3/3 is a great rate, and we’ve seen Green Stompy decks play cards like that before. The ability of this card to become a 5/3 is gravy, and the card draw ability is unbelievably easy to turn on. In a Green Stompy deck, you only need to attack with one other creature with at least 3 power to draw a card, which, typically, close to every other creature in your deck satisfies. A two mana chonky threat that draws a card every time it attacks promises to be the premier two-drop of aggressive Green decks in Standard.
Sphere of Annihilation
We’ve seen Shadows’ Verdict be a breakout hit in Standard, with its exiling from graveyards being particularly powerful. Sphere of Annihilation has the downside of essentially having Suspend 1, but the upside of being more flexible than Verdict. Sphere allows you to fine-tune your sweeper in an advantageous way. Perhaps you want to leave your three-drops sticking around while taking out your opponent’s two-drops. Taking out multiple one-drops against an aggressive deck for only two mana is a great rate, and being able to use it as an expensive removal spell in the late game for an opponent’s Froghemoth is an unexciting, but acceptable, floor.
Also noteworthy is that this card requires only a single pip of Black, making it more splashable than Verdict is. However it still “goes off” the same turn as Verdict. If you want to exile all 3’s, you can cast it on X=3 on Turn 4 to have it sweep on T5. While this means the opponent will see it coming and not play out additional three-drops, it also means that on the turn your sweeper resolves, you’ll have mana up to deal with the next threat they play, or the four-drop that they deployed on the turn you played out your Sphere.
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
Much has been written about this card for Modern, and it’s reasonable to expect to start seeing it show up on MTGO on Thursday. This card can single-handedly exile thirty cards or more in decks like Hardened Scales. Against UR Murktide, it’s a high-variance mill card that will have effectiveness inversely proportional to the number of Murktide Regents it hits early. Traditional hate against Mill, such as Eldrazi Titans or Gaea’s Blessing, are less effective because Laughter exiles. Titans in particular could still be included, but you’re just going to have to pray that Laughter hits the expensive Titans early on, and not after it’s exiled twenty other cards.
This will be a huge buff for Mill, so expect to see an uptick in leagues, and have a plan on how to fight it.
Another card that has been the focus of much attention since its previewing, Portable Hole is powerful because it answers a wide range of threats in Modern, both creatures and non-creatures. It is an artifact, which means it can be Whirred for, can make Blue mana with Urza, and power up Urza’s Saga Constructs. At one mana, it’s priced to be competitive in the same way that Spell Snare is, though meaningfully more flexible since it hits 0’s and 1’s as well. Hitting tokens is particularly good, since it can be blinked with Yorion or bounced and replayed with Teferi, Time Raveler.
Fundamentally, Portable Hole is a cheap, broad answer that has synergy with many of Modern’s best cards.
Neverwinter Dryad looks to be a Sakura-Tribe Scout balanced for Standard. If you play this on Turn 3 or later, you can always get a nice chump block + sac and ramp. If you play it on Turn 1, your opponent either spends a removal spell on your one-mana 1/1, which pretty much guarantees you’re trading up, or you get to untap and ramp into 4 available mana on Turn 3.
Because Dryad only finds basic Forest, it will be most at home in a Green-heavy deck, which is a nice way to protect against giving 3+ color decks access to even more ramp.
Dragon’s Fire is a great role-filler. We’ve seen cards like Scorching Dragonfire and Fire Prophecy see play in Standard, and Dragon’s Fire is the latest. Its base rate is entirely acceptable, and its upside can turn it into a Terminate in conjunction with new Dragons like Iymrith or Ebondeath. In a deck not playing Dragons with 5+ power, I’d still default to Fire Prophecy, but if you’re playing any of the new Dragons, then Dragon’s Fire is a great way to kill Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire s.
Contact Other Plane
For a long time now, each Magic expansion has included the spell:
Draw two cards.
This Expansion’s keyword stapled on for upside.
This is not a criticism; it prevents a card type which is often necessary for controlling Blue decks from becoming stale and repetitive in gameplay. Glimmer of Genius and Hieroglyphic Illumination don’t just feel different, they also play differently, and require different types of decisions and shells.
Contact Other Planes is the latest of these. The question is whether achieving its base rate of “draw two” with no upside about fifty percent of the time is too bad to merit playing the card at all. Roughly fifty percent of the time it’s a Glimmer of Genius, one of the best draw two variants printed, but the other roughly fifty percent of the time, it’s an Inspiration, a card that doesn’t ever really see play.
I suspect it will see play in the absence of other options, but players will probably not be excited by it, since there is a vast canyon between the power level of the two options.
You Find the Villain’s Lair
Like the variants of Draw Two, each set carries with it a Cancel variant with some slight upside. At first glance, this looks to be one of the better variants because it’s a modal counterspell. Modal counterspells have traditionally been quite good because, when counterspells are not good, the card still does something. If this card is in your control deck, and you’re in a matchup where counterspells are weak, instead of dying with this card in your hand, you can pay three, pitch it, and sculpt the rest of your hand.
Control players in particular might find the idea of casting an instant-speed Faithless Looting abhorrent, as it’s card disadvantage without graveyard synergies. But in actuality, the Faithless Looting mode is pure upside, and you’re only using it for card disadvantage when it is advantageous for you to do so.
Players typically underrate modal cards, and I believe this latest version of Cancel is better than it first appears.
Many of the Class Enchantments look playable, but Ranger Class in particular looks strong because you get a card out of it immediately. Is a 2/2 impressive? Not really. But, it is a Wolf, which could be relevant when Innistrad arrives in a couple months, and the enchantment does so much else that you can afford a less exciting creature. In fact, even if you have nothing else going on, you can level up the following turn and the 2/2 attacks as a 3/3. The final chapter is a Vizier of the Menagerie card advantage engine.
I like this card more than Vizier of the Menagerie because it decouples the creature from the card draw engine. You certainly want both; without the creature, it’s not guaranteed to replace itself, but with cards like Vizier, if the creature dies, so too does the card draw engine. This enchantment, on the other hand, does everything. It creates a creature, it pumps up the board, and then it still gives you card advantage. I think any creature-heavy deck will be excited to play Ranger Class.
These cards are particularly exciting for Standard, where creature-lands have always been good and have always seen play. Faceless Haven is essentially worth splashing for in every monocolor aggro deck, and the Battle for Zendikar cycle of Shambling Vents / Needle Spires / Hissing Quagmire / Wandering Fumarole / Lumbering Falls saw widespread play during its time in the format. This latest cycle should be no different.
Cave of the Frost Dragon is a bad Celestial Colonnade, which is a great way to close out a game of Standard for a control deck. Hall of the Storm Giants is similar, in that it’s a great way to just kill an opponent in a couple of attacks once the board is stabilized.
Hive of the Eye-Tyrant is more fragile, but can lead to tricky blocks thanks to its Menace, and the ability to interact with the graveyard is always welcome.
Den of the Bugbear is custom-built as a mana sink for aggressive decks, generating two attackers, one of which has a potentially relevant creature type, for only four mana.
Nest of the Hydra may generate a vanilla creature, but is about the best mana sink a Green deck could ask for. Nothing going on? I guess I’ll make an 8/8!
All five of these lands will see play in Standard.
Asmodeus the Archfiend
Like Griselbrand, this card is great to reanimate. If you can reanimate this for cheap, then for only four black mana, you get to draw seven cards. Unlike Griselbrand, at only six mana, this card is very castable in the midgame. In Standard, this is more likely to be a pure card advantage engine than a combo piece. If this Devil God is not answered on sight, it will run away with the game, refueling your hand. This could even be a nice one-of as an Emergent Ultimatum target in Sultai. Even if it doesn’t quite fit into that shell, this card’s power level is high enough that it is worth building around.
This thing clocks your opponent fast, and, more importantly, it never dies. It’s flash ability allows it to be cast even if an opponent kills a creature on their turn, and if your opponent can’t interact with the graveyard, then the Dracolich is going to get them eventually. While not nearly as broken as The Scarab God, it will likely have a similar feel in that it turns kill spells into bounce spells. This is going to be an annoying one, increasing the value of exile-based removal and cards like Froghemoth, Hive of the Eye-Tyrant, and Scorching Dragonfire.
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms promises meaningful contributions to Standard and Modern, and it offers those without the absurdly high power level of Throne of Eldraine. There’s good reason to be optimistic about the future of Standard!
Ryan Normandin is a grinder from Boston who has lost at the Pro Tour, in GP & SCG Top 8's, and to 7-year-olds at FNM. Despite being described as "not funny" by his best friend and "the worst Magic player ever" by Twitch chat, he cheerfully decided to blend his lack of talents together to write funny articles about Magic.
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