Guest Article - Throne of Eldraine Set Review By Peter van der Ham

The following is a guest article from Peter van der Ham, also known as @PVDH_magic.

Peter is a professional engineer, statistics mogul, and has a love of brewing that is unrivaled. He recently did a full metagame breakdown of GP Atlanta, which you can find here. We are honored to have Peter on MinMax delivering a fun, well-articulated, and in-depth set review for Throne of Eldraine for Legacy! Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we analayze new cards fron Throne and review results from the last few Legacy events!


Greetings, fellow degenerate.

This is my first Legacy set review, as I figured I’d give it a shot since I’m typically pretty vocal about my opinion on cards anyway; and now I get to spew a bunch of my thoughts in a single review. I might’ve gotten a little carried away along the path, but nobody told me to follow an alignment of yellow bricks, so it’ll be fine. You might occasionally come to think there’s no way this card could be this good/bad. But you should just trust me, because I’m a Goblin Engineer.

On a more serious note, I had a really hard time evaluating the Adventure cards, as this effect is strategically just unique enough that I had have trouble finding good existing analogies. Especially because it has so much to do with both versatility and how they play out in the flow of a game, rather than about straight power level. This entire set has a lot of unique designs, that made my head spin, so let us get on our merry way. But first, the rating scale.


These rating criteria are blatantly copied from Max’s Modern Horizons Legacy Set Review with some updated examples. It might not be a perfect scale, but I believe it would be inefficient if each review would handle a different scale.

5/5: Format Warping. The format revolves around these cards, either playing them or answering them. (Brainstorm; Chalice of the Void; Griselbrand; Wasteland; Lion’s Eye Diamond)

4/5: Archetype Defining. Archetypes exist in order to play these cards. (Delver of Secrets, Show and Tell; Karn, The Great Creator; Wrenn and Six; Thought-Knot Seer; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben)

3/5: Archetype Staple. Auto-includes in decks that can effectively utilize these cards. (Dreadhorde Arcanist; Swords to Plowshares; True-Name Nemesis; Thoughtseize)

2/5: Legacy Playable. This card is strong enough for legacy, but may not see play in every deck that can fit it. (Force of Vigor; Liliana, the Last Hope; Reality Smasher; Karn, Scion of Urza; Ice-Fang Coatl)

1/5: Not Competitive. These cards are unlikely to show up in a tuned deck aiming to win a big tournament. (Sword of Sinew and Steel; Yawgmoth, Thran Physician; Crashing Footfalls)

0/5: Unplayable. You have to be out of your mind to register this card in Legacy. (Colossal Dreadmaw, Shock; Mox Tantalite)

Onwards, to the cards!


Acclaimed Contender

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Rating: 0/5 (Unplayable)

I’ve included Acclaimed Contender as a proxy for all the Knight themed cards. Sadly, Knights aren’t as disruptive as Humans, not as powerful as Merfolk, and aren’t Legacy power-level combo enablers and/or grindy like Elves. So, while they may become interesting in the future, the support cast to enable this tribe just isn’t there. If it ever becomes a competitive tribe, a versatile 3/3 card-advantage card might just be one of the reasons why.


Charming Prince

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Rating: 1.5/5 (Barely Playable) Charming Prince has gotten some mentions by the Death & Taxes crowd, as a two-mana addition to the Flickerwisp /Toolbox family. And it scores high on the versatility scale. That being said, I believe each of its modes to be a bit too far below par, even in the right situations. Gaining three life is nice, but typically won’t be enough against an aggressive deck, as it’ll rarely net you more than a turn of respite; Exiling another creature you own is nice, but this version the effect is significantly more narrow than Flickerwisp – both because it doesn’t hit your opponents permanents, but also because you can’t reset a Batterskull , untap your land, etc.; The fall-back case of Scry 2 also seems lacklustre, as a 2/2 that scries for two is too far below Legacy playable.

That being said, some credit has to be given for its versatility, so I’ll give it a 1.5/5 – Just crossing the bar above ‘Not Competitive’ as I won’t be shocked if it ends up in Death & Taxes, but I’m sceptical of its inclusion in a tuned list. Note: This article over on SkullclampMTG by Zak Kirby goes a bit more in depth on why this card could be good, but also acknowledges that fact that there’s probably no room in Legacy D&T for the sweet prince.


Deafening Silence

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Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable)

The effect of Deafening Silence has historically been Legacy playable at two mana (e.g. Ethersworn Canonist), just like many other combo-hate from creature decks, which have seen play in white creature based and control strategies.

For example, from the Storm perspective versus Death & Taxes the following has been the prime focus evaluating post-board opening hands: ‘can I reliably win before my opponent’s turn two, or do I have an answer to their hate-piece(s)’. Death & Taxes players have been trying to side-step this match-up defining take by including cards like Chalice of the Void in their sideboard, which can be deployed for 0 on turn 1.

Chalice of the Void is then also the card this has to compete with, with Deafening Silence card being stronger against Storm specifically. I say this as Storm can often win through a single Chalice of the Void, if given enough time or if their cards line up against it – but would definitely have to answer Deafening Silence to win. However, it does not have the same versatility against Delver or Elves decks. I also believe that Chalice of the Void on zero is stronger against than this card is, as it stops more of their deck.

Because of the creature clause it can’t really be sided in against fair decks with Dreadhorde Arcanist or Snapcaster Mage. I’d say that from a D&T perspective, this card is only applicable against Storm and Bomberman. If Storm is big enough, I can see this narrower but more powerful card make the cut over Chalice of the Void, and could even imagine a split. For now, I’d stick with Chalice in the Death & Taxes sideboard.

Another application for this card is in blue control decks, where it can be used to the same effect versus a deck like Storm, but can do more. Since this card specifically doesn’t hamper our ability to utilize Snapcaster Mage, it does little to stop the fair deck from using its cards. Additionaly, the effect is very strong against spell-based combo decks like Sneak and Show, as Deafening Silence shuts off their ability to protect their combo on the stack. Since the fair blue decks often have more ways to interact early (Force of Will, Force of Negation, and one mana counter magic like Spell Pierce) bridging the gap to turn two seems less important, but it does help to protect it from Discard spells or when casting cantrips into it. We should keep in mind though, that there’s a trade-off versus putting a clock on the opponent with a two-powered creature like Meddling Mage or Ethersworn Canonist.

I’d expect that Deafening Silence may show up as a one off in UW decks here and there, specifically because it doesn’t hamper Snapcaster Mage. But keep in mind that these decks only sporadically play Ethersworn Canonist to begin with, so I don’t expect it to show up too much.


Hushbringer

Rating 1/5 (Not Competitive) Hushbringer is cute with cards like Phyrexian Dreadnought, and its effect could hamper some specific decks. Overall, I think it is too vulnerable purely as a combo enabler. This means we’d have to find a specific spot where we have a card like Phyrexian Dreadnought to enable in our own deck, want a creature in the slot, and/or this hampers our opponent significantly (e.g. against Dredge). As it doesn’t seem to warrant an inclusion on those individual aspects alone.

Maybe I’m missing some significant applications for the card, but I don’t expect this to do too much work.

When’s the last time you’ve seen a Torpor Orb in a competitive Legacy match?


Brazen Borrower

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Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable)

Petty Theft: The Adventurous tale of Brazen Borrower, is a two-mana instant that returns a permanent to their owner’s hand. This is an effect that only interests a small group of archetypes in Legacy. These archetypes typically want it to answer massive permanents like Marit Lage; but also require it to hit Chalice of the Void. This means that the two mana price tag is actually not that bad, and often something these decks strive for.

The spell of choice for these decks, typically in the Temur colours, has typically been Echoing Truth, which recently saw some mainboard play in Izzet Delver. Petty Theft has two big drawbacks over Echoing Truth; It doesn’t target your own permanents, and as such is a lot less versatile against reactive decks; and it doesn’t answer a wide board of tokens such as the Goblins from an Empty the Warrens.

Fun fact: You may play Petty Theft et al. from your graveyard with Kess, Dissident Mage.

Brazen Borrower: As a three drop this creature has two main comparisons that see Legacy play, both of which are clearly stronger: True-Name Nemesis, which serves a significantly different role but does give us some insight in how the mana-cost performs; and Vendilion Clique. It should be noted that Vendilion Clique has largely been pushed out of the format due to decks getting more efficient overall, and its weakness to Wrenn and Six.

That being said, I’ve been a large proponent of having a small number of cards that answer archetypical problems, such as the aforementioned Chalice of the Void and Marit Lage, in the mainboard of a deck like Izzet Delver. And while Echoing Truth has never truly passed the bar for me because it’s been too narrow, I have higher hopes for Brazen Borrower. One of the main strengths I see in Brazen Borrower is that, when you’re low on cards, using it to return a Tarmogoyf to its owners hand in order to gain tempo – a situation I really disliked being put in with Echoing Truth – and get a Brazen Borrower of back of the adventure later is actually a decent tempo play. Which seems to me that it makes Brazen Borrower something I expect to be a lot happier with, and could easily see as a two-off in Izzet Delver if Marit Lage and Chalice of the Void remain issues for these decks.

Also note that the new Adventure mechanic is another way to side-step having to Cascade into your cheap spells with a card like Shardless Agent. They're probably not good enough for Temur Rhinos, but a card like Brazen Borrower is definitely an option to keep in mind for such decks.


Emry, Lurker of the Loch

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Rating: 3.5/5 (Archetype Enabling)

Affinity for artifacts: Emry, Lurker of the Loch might finally give us a reason to bust out our sweet artifact land again, as a single Seat of the Synod paired with any zero mana artifact makes it such that Emry can be cast on turn one. This card being online this early in the game means that it can be used to cast lock-pieces against combo-style decks before the game is decided.

Mill four: Milling the top four cards of our library means that we don’t necessarily require Emry to combine with cards in our hand (such as Urza’s Bauble or an important artifact that got countered) but that she can also find the cards that she synergises with. If a card is a four-off in your deck, and you don’t already have it in your hand, Emry is approx. 28% to find the missing piece on your first turn. For perspective (and disregarding mulligans) this increases the chance of a turn two Chalice of the Void from about 40 to 60%, given that you can cast Emry, Lurker of the Loch on turn 1.

Recurring Artifacts: One of the main strengths of Emry is that she both helps us find important pieces, as well as gives the decks she goes in a way to grind value over the course of multiple turns. She could also be combined with tutor effect such as Entomb or (more likely) Goblin Engineer, though I expect that to be more of a Modern application.

To be clear, the rating I gave is based on the deck that Emry enables to be good in the meta. I’m always more hyped about such decks then they turn out to be, but I believe that if it gets there, Emry, Lurker of the Loch large part of the reason why.  


The Magic Mirror

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Rating: 1/5 (Not Competitive)

What do you see, Harry?”

“I see myself holding a lot of cards.

The value of this shiny Magic infused object radiates so powerfully that it drowns the lowly howl of the mines forever. I mean, if you get to untap with it.

Cards like The Magic Mirror that don’t give any immediate value and required enabling are hard to get into competitive play, but there is a cute application for this card: Taking Turns. The fact that this card ramps up for each turn you take, means that it’s very easy to go infinite without having to get a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or multiple other card draw permanents onto the battlefield, which may leave more room for cantrips or, ideally, more extra turn spells.

Challenge, anyone?  


Mystical Dispute

Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable)

As I see it, there are two modes to Mystical Dispute: The first is that it acts as a significantly less powerful Red Elemental Blast variant for fair non-red decks. By comparison, it doesn’t destroy blue permanents, which takes away on of the bigger modes on Red Elemental Blasts. That mode makes Red Elemental Blast not necessarily a bad card if you’re behind on board, and that it takes care of cards like Delver of Secrets. Secondly, the counter target spell part is conditional on your opponent not being able to pay three generic mana. Paying thee mana is a lot, but this does mean that it can’t be used to counter a late-game Brainstorm, an often-correct use of Red Elemental Blast.

Now, it does have upsides when compared to Red Elemental Blast as well; It can counter non-blue spells, though not very efficient this does give it some flexibility against blue decks that also have big late-game non-blue plays such as three or four mana Planeswalkers, or Kolaghan’s Command. Most fair decks would also like their sideboard counters to be good against stompy-type decks such as Blood Moon Stompy, however, and I suspect this won’t make the cut over Spell Pierce in most cases – but it’s definitely worth the test in such decks – as it also hits True-Name Nemesis and early game Delver of Secrets. I suspect that decks that purely want to use it to protect their combo against blue decks are better off sticking to Flusterstorm.

It’s second upside is that, despite often only costing one mana to cast, Mystical Dispute’s converted mana cost is three. This means that it can be paired with Chalice of the Void. In the past I’ve been a big fan of trying to include small blue splashes in Chalice of the Void decks in order to gain a non-permanent way of interaction in Flusterstorm, but I suspect that this strategy may become even stronger with access to Mystical Dispute. So be sure keep this card in mind when constructing your Emry, Lurker of the Loch deck.

I’d expect this card to pop up here in there as a small upgrade, especially in somewhat unique, and non-red blue control decks.


Vantress Gargoyle

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Rating: 4/5 (Archetype Defining)

Vantress Gargoyle is Tarmogoyf, in actual factual blue, with flying.

Slam four of them into your deck, as they can also enable each other. Done!

True rating: 1.5/5 (Barely Playable)

Look – I was incredibly hyped for this card – and I’d say understandably so as it’s a 5/4 flyer for two mana, and it’s blue! Then I started thinking about the attack/block clauses some more, and now I’m getting increasingly sceptical.

Defending player has seven of more cards in their graveyard: Reversed threshold, interesting mechanic, hard to evaluate. First off- this isn’t as trivial to hit as normal threshold – get that out of your mind. Getting cards in your opponents’ graveyard can be trivially easy, if they play a deck that is does that anyway. If they don’t however, it’ll cost you resources to get them there. I don’t think we can rely on Vantress Gargoyle’s activated ability to do the work for us either, as this would mean we have it in play and doing a whole lot of nothing. It might even be a risk to activate, as it both fuels your opponent their graveyard-based cards (like Snapcaster Mage) and they might respond with a Brainstorm to clear some cards they don’t want.

If testing leads us to a point where we know that a large enough part of the meta will make Vantress Gargoyle able to attack naturally, and we just have to board it out against a handful of decks that don’t, it might yet surprise me.

Can’t block unless you have four or more card in hand: This line of text might actually be as big of a concern as the offensive clause. In the early game Vantress Gargoyle will be able to block, but in order to enable it to attack we’re incentivised to use our cards to interact with our opponent. Which means that its unlikely to block in the later stages of the game. Notably, if you’re getting beaten down it’s a horrible draw as it isn’t blocking your opponents’ creatures at that point. While it’s good at racing back at a giant five damage a turn, potentially not being able to block might actually let it lose a race against and on-board Insectile Aberration – as it can’t stabilize against it when you’re lower on life.

There’s potential for a blue aggressive deck that is a lot better at enabling ‘opponent threshold’, such a deck would include a decent number of discard spells, in addition to Wasteland, and such card – it could be blue-black tempo strategy, similar to Death’s Shadow. Such a deck might even run Thought Scour to power out Gurmag Angler, and have the option of enabling Vantress Gargoyle when your opponent least suspects it.

Vantress Gargoyle is also vulnerable to both Red Elemental Blast and artifact destruction. Not that I think this is a huge knock against it, but certainly a small factor. And if Thing in the Ice has thought me anything, it’s that having a card doing nothing some of the time, is an absolute death-sentence for its inclusion in typical Legacy decks. One big disparity between the two however, is that Vantress Gargoyle is actually a good attacking top-deck in the later stages of the game.

I’m interested in trying this card out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it to show up in top 8 lists, as I suspect it’ll fall short.


Witching Well

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Rating: 0.5/5 (potential embarrassing playable)

I don’t expect this card to make any final cuts, but it’s definitely the kind of card to keep in mind. If there’s a non-Chalice of the Void, Emry, Lurker of the Loch/ Urza, Lord High Artificer deck that really needs to hit both its blue count, and needs another cheap artifact to enable Emry and Urza, there could be a niche application for it. But I doubt it.  


Specter's Shriek

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Rating: 0/5 (Unplayable)

Specter’s Shriek definitely looks interesting, and I guess in some future meta the exile clause matters enough that this might warrant a sideboard slot. But that future isn’t here, and isn’t now, and isn’t close. You can’t just two for one yourself for an effect we mostly already get at the same mana-cost.

I’ve heard people mention Food Chain as a potential home because that has cards that also work from exile. But Food Chain decks aren’t actively trying to get those cards (like Misthollow Griffin) into exile, they’re not better when they’re in exile, it’s just great if you can mitigate an exile cost that you already wanted to pay.


Wishclaw Talisman

Rating: 1/5 (Not Competitive) – I guess

I’ve seen a lot of ways to break Wishclaw Talisman, ranging from bad (Karn, the Great Creator), to cute (Voltaic Key), to pretty sweet (Teferi, Time Raveler). None of the things I’ve seen have seemed as efficient as just killing your opponent before they untap with the Talisman.

I think there’s potential to make this card playable, but in all cases when I stop to wonder if it’s actually worth the hassle to include this card and its enablers over other option it kind of breaks down. This is one of those cards where I’ll take a step back and let the crazy people figure it out.

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Bonecrusher Giant

Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable)

Stomp: At face value the adventurous of our friendly neighbourhood Bonecrusher Giant, a two-mana Shock is far below par for Legacy, although it’s unique casting cost does insulate against Sanctum Prelate and Chalice of the Void, especially alongside Goblin Rabblemaster et al. In addition, it provides a situational, but occasionally powerful bonus effect. Some of the more notable cards its prevention cancelling effect work against are: True-Name Nemesis (on defense), Mother of Runes, Giver of Runes, Maze of Ith, Glacial Chasm, and Energy Field.

This card reminds me of Wild Slash, a card I played to a top four finish at a Legacy GP in 2018. One notable change from when I ran Wild Slash was that two damage was a good bar to clear back then, as it killed both Delver of Secrets and he-who-shall-not-be-named (Deathrite Shaman). With Dreadhorde Arcanist in the mix, that lack of a third point of damage can most definitely hurt.

The scenario’s for both the increased mana-cost and the prevention cancelling clause are narrow enough that the intrinsic value of the stapled-on creature should be high enough, without these factors being worth the inclusion themselves.

Bonecrusher Giant: A creature has to be really good to be playable at three mana in Legacy. Bonecrusher Giant is a clear cut or two below that, and really suffers from having only three toughness. I would’ve loved to see its triggered ability target anything – but alas – it only crushes facial bones.

This to me seems like a card where neither side is particularly enticing, but put together might actually make enough of a card to see play somewhere. It’s kind of scary thinking that a deck like Blood Moon Stompy could play this and gain access to interaction with Delver of Secrets and True-Name Nemesis, most Delver decks their best threats in the match-up.

The other place I could see it is as a value card, and answer to problematic scenario’s out of Izzet Delver. I suspect it’s just a little too inefficient to make the cut in a generic metagame, but could definitely see it if the situation calls for it.


Fervent Champion

Rating: 0.5/5 (Look mother, I did the thing)

Before we dive in let me clarify that the body, the first strike, and the haste of Fervent Champion are all largely irrelevant and – as cheap as it is – that’s just not worth the card. But then we get to the part we want to brake of course, the cost reduction.

The best thing that’s come up thus far is combining it with Sunforger, which allows us to draw up to four cards by casting all the remaining Manamorphoses in our deck, and then… Then I don’t know, but you did some flashy stuff.

People are going to try this, because it’s awesome and crushing people with this in Legacy has to give you some kind of bragging rights. Not as many bragging rights as Javier Dominguez, but you get to taste a little piece of the Champion’s thunderous glory.

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Fires of Invention

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Rating: 0/5 (Unplayable)

“You can cast spells only during your turn” – Ok, so the Ancestral Visions blue grind is out of the window.

“You can cast no more than two spells each turn” – So going infinite with some Storm combo kill is out of the window.

“Converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of lands” – Ok, so casting some giant spell is out of the window as well.”

So, we have to make sure that we don’t need to cast things in other people their turn, and we want to a lot of turns to pass because we want to play as many free spells as possible. A-ha! Taking turns!

“Eh – most of the extra turn cards cost more than four mana” – Great, so we make three land drops, cast Fires of Invention from an Ancient Tomb, then we cast Savor the Moment. Take another turn, make our fourth land drop, and then we… we still can’t cast Time Warp?!

Ok, ok, so we play this with four lands in play, hope we don’t have to counter anything since that would be the second spell, play Savor the Moment, untap, make the fifth land drop, and chain all the turns and spells! Yes!

What?! I don’t get a cookie for figuring it out? Did Garruk eat all the cookies again?! No, everybody figured this out? It’s bad? Oh – ok then.


Irencrag Pyromancer

Rating: 1/5 (Not Competitive)

It’s a Pyromancer, it rewards us for drawing cards, and it shoots Lightning Bolts – it even survives Lightning Bolts targeted at it – What’s not to like?

I’m looking at this card for a cantrip heavy deck that wants Lightning Bolts, so that’ll be Izzet Delver. When I was testing Saheeli Rai earlier this year I noticed that it’s really hard to have cantrips remaining after you get to three mana and resolve your spell. You’ll often need those cantrips to make you land-drops, or want to be able to exile them to a card like Force of Will not to fall too far behind. My guess is that this is also true for Irencrag Pyromancer, that you’ll be very light on cantrips after resolving this card.

One of the main simplifiers in evaluating this card is that, while the 0/4 body can sometimes block a random small creature, I feel like we can largely dismiss this impact on the battlefield. The question then becomes, how many Lightning Bolts do we need to get out of this creature before it’s worth the risk to run this over a safer card like True-Name Nemesis. I believe the answer to this question to be, at least one Lightning Bolt per turn for the first couple of turns.

The biggest unknown for me is how strong this card will be in cohort with Dreadhorde Arcanist, as getting a Lightning Bolt on the turn we play Irencrag Pyromancer does make it a lot more appealing. That would mean that we need to have played a cantrip on our first turn, since we can’t cast the cantrip on turn three in addition to Irencrag Pyromancer (in contrast to Young Pyromancer).

I really like the effect this card provides, and think that it could be very strong, but expect it to be a little too inconsistent for a three drop, which we really need to be good in the later stages of the game.

I can only imagine being hellbent, drawing and casting Ponder and finding Irencrag Pyromancer on top of my library. At that point I’m not even shuffling, I’m de-sleeving that shit.


Robber of the Rich

Rating: 1.5/5 (Barely Competitive)

First, let me sell you on Robber of the Rich: It’s a two mana Thief of Sanity, with haste. Seriously though – the potential of this card is through the roof.

Reach: The exact opposite of what we’d like on this card. Robber of the Rich’ lack of evasion means that it will be brick-walled pretty easily, which means that you’d have to work around that by utilizing removal or getting out of the gates before your opponent has a board presence.

Haste: Haste is what makes this card interesting, and gives us note instead of throwing it in the back of a trade binder. This means that we’re likely to get a first attack in, and when on the play we can even expect to get a second attack before it gets blocked. Defending player has more cards in their hand than you: This is first restriction clear on the card, and it’s a tough one.

On the play, especially if you played a 1-drop, you’re rather likely to have less cards in hand than your opponent. That is, assuming that our opponent didn’t mulligan, and is playing a fair deck. On the draw, it gets a lot sketchier, as you’ll often be a step behind in deploying your hand, and drew and extra card on your first turn. We could mitigate this by putting this card in a more all-in deck, like Blood Moon Stompy – But I believe this is the biggest hurdle to overcome, as it depends on your opponent their plans as well.

During any turn you attacked with a rogue, cast that card: Other rogues that makes us able to cast the spell at a more convenient time are other copies of Robber of the Rich, but notably also True-Name Nemesis and Brazen Borrower. It’s a bit rough that it doesn’t work with counter-magic unless you find away to attack your opponent in their turn, and it reads cast which means we won’t get to use lands. This makes the card quite a bit narrower than I would’ve hoped.

All in all, I believe this card has too many downsides to truly shine, and while this kid has potential – I doubt he’ll leave a Legacy. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the kid does get adopted and finds a nice home at some point – which is why I put the rating a nudge above ‘Not Competitive’.


Thrill of Posibilities

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Rating: 1/5 (Not Competitive)

Tormenting Voice has a single hit on mtgtop8.com, as a Burning Wish target in a Show and Tell deck by Meguro Masahiko. So, I guessed I’d include this card in my review as well.

Thrill of Posibilities is Tormenting Voice at instant speed, that means Thrill of Possibilities is better. But it can’t be Burning Wished, so it’s not strictly better.

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Once Upon a Time

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Rating: 4/5 (Archetype Defining)

I’m pretty sure Once Upon a Time is good, just not sure how good. I basically see two ways this goes, either it’s a card that’ll be utilized in existing decks that can effectively do so (first places to look would be Depths, 4c Loam, and possibly even Infect or Elves), or it’ll be a card that’s strong enough that it’ll spawn new archetypes.

I for one am most interesting in what new archetypes this could spawn, heavily looking at the possibilities to update my Green Eldrazi (Food Chain) variant to include this card – and seeing if there’s something to be found that’ll break the spaghetti mob from Wrenn and Six their oppression.

I’m very interested in seeing what this card can do for green stompy decks, which are currently non-existent in competitive Legacy, as those decks are in dire need of increased consistency for both their best creatures and most-importantly their manabase. For a lot more in-depth thoughts upon this card I’ll send you guys over to the doctor, Frank Karsten, who broke it down and ran the numbers in his article on Channel Fireball.

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Wildborn Preserver

Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable) (Dutch Rating: 11)

I think that there’s potential here, at the bare minimum Wildborn Preserver is a blocker for an opposing Delver of Secrets, which can help get some breathing room in the tempo match-ups. But it can also completely take over the game once you’re able to generate enough mana to put some counters on it.

It’s potentially too cute, and there will be windows where it’ll just die to Lightning Bolt, but your opponents will be firing that off on every elf-loving insect, and anything with pointy ears anyway.

If I’m looking at it from a Delver standpoint here: If this gets flashed in at end of turn and I don’t have a Lightning Bolt open, I’m probably just dead because it grows out of control and blocks most of my threats. Basically True-Name Nemesis or bust scenario right there. It can even kill a turn two Wrenn and Six after it came down and shot an Elf, potentially even if Wrenn and Six went to four loyalty if you cast an elf on your turn an pump Wildborn Preserver.

Narrow, but powerful. I don’t know if there’s any flex spot remaining within the current Elves lists, or if this card is enough to make room for, but I’d give it a shot. Especially with the current popularity of Temur Delver.


Drown in the Loch

Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Drown in the Loch and this far it’s been hard to figure out how often it’ll miss. I have heard people talk about this card in mill strategies, but here I’m going to evaluate this card for competitive decks.

Counter target spell: This is the mode I believe will miss the most, as there are multitudes of ways to generate more mana than turns have gone by, in which case this Counterspell will mostly miss on what your opponent is playing. Sometimes you’ll hit with it on turn two, but I’d look at this as a mid- to late game counterspell. I expect it to be pretty reliable against fair blue decks. If it hits consistently a two-mana hard counter that’s a bit easier on the mana in most decks is definitely interesting.

Destroy target creature: This mode will almost always hit against the creature out of fair decks that you’d want it to reliably hit against. Meaning that it’ll only miss the creatures out of combo decks (e.g. Griselbrand, Marit Lage, etc.), and some exceptions to this assumption may be decks like Eldrazi and Death & Taxes, which don’t naturally put cards into their graveyard.

I think this is a good versatile card to run in low numbers (mostly as a one-off) if a couple of the following is true:

  • You have some amount of one mana interactive spells that you expect to play on turn 1, ideally discard spells since those almost always hit. And one or more of

  • You’d like more removal mainboard but don’t necessarily need it to hit True-Name Nemesis, Marit Lage, and the like.

  • You’d like another piece of countermagic, and your other counterspells already covers the early turns.

  • You’re concerned with your blue count.

Don’t expect to see a lot of Drown in the Loch, but keep it in mind as it’ll occasionally pop up.


Improbable Alliance

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Rating: 1/5 (Not Competitive)

This was my first response to the card:

“I've played Firemind's Research in my Izzet Delver sideboards before (though it ended up being way worse than Narset, Parter of Veils once that was available), I could see this taking that slot when (and if) control decks like Miracles get big again. Though I'd really have to test it, it looks cute but could be way too mediocre, especially if your cantrips don't get through a Counterbalance or a Narset, Parter of Veils - which is a huge point against this card i.m.o.”

After thinking about it some more, I suspect that most decks will trigger this far less reliably than one would expect. It’s vulnerable to Pyroblast, Spell Snare, but also just seems inconsistent and a horrible top-deck. Chances are low that the deck that might be interested in this, Izzet Delver (since it has 12 cantrips and Dreadhorde Arcanist to flash them back), is going to have and keep 6 mana in play and available.

Being vulnerable to Pyroblast seems like something that isn’t all that important, since Blasts have tons of targets. The problem is that, for this card to generate enough value to be worthy of an inclusion, it has to stay in play for most of, if not the entire duration, of the game. Which means that your opponent has quite a lot of time before they need to have their Pyroblast.

Would love to be wrong and this card to be busted, as I’m a profound enthusiast of drawing multiple cards a turn.


The Royal Scions

Rating: 2/5 (Legacy Playable) Awesomeness: 11/10

I’m not sure if this rating reflects my thoughts or my feelings, since I really want The Royal Scions to be a thing. Not only because they look bad-ass, but also because they’re three mana Planeswalkers in my favourite colour combination.

Draw a card, then discard a card: This looting ability is nice, but clearly low powered. We already have a more powerful version of this effect available on a similar card: Dack Fayden. Dack Fayden currently only sees Legacy play in Punishing Fire control decks, that mostly optimize his first ability. Which is why, for The Royal Scions to get into playability, this is not where we should look – and just consider this as a decent thing to be doing on an empty board.

+2/+0, First Strike, and Trample: In the weeks before this card got spoiled, I had a discussion with Miracles aficionado Anuraag Das about Sevinne’s Reclamation, where it could find a home and the potential it had. During this exchange I noted that I would love for nothing more than to have a playable card that would get Dreadhorde Arcanist to three power, as it could cast Sevinne’s Reclamation out of the graveyard and trigger its copy clause. Behold, preview season comes along, and gives us an on-colour permanent with converted mana-cost three or less, that does just that. I haven’t taken to testing the Throne of Eldraine cards yet, but I can ensure you that I will be brewing the heck out of this combination of cards. It just fits so well.

First Strike and Trample, on the other hand, got me a lot less exited. Both of these abilities can have their moments, and especially trample can do some hefty damage – but I don’t put too much stock in these. I’d have loved for it to grant haste and/or flying, both abilities that would’ve supercharged a card like Dreadhorde Arcanist. And this might be the difference between hit or miss on this card.

The Loyalty: As many of you might have identified, this card starts at a whopping five loyalty, which is a lot for a three mana Planeswalker. In addition, it’s two main abilities both add counters, instead of bringing it down. The combination of these aspects means that, unless it gets hit by unconditional removal, it’ll take a bunch of resources to get off the table. And also means that it might be rather easy for The Royal Scions to get to their ultimate.

An often-heard saying has been that Planeswalkers can typically be judged regardless of the text of their ultimate, as that is just a corner-case thing that usually wins the game. But with a Planeswalker with the loyalty and plus abilities as this, I believe this isn’t true. I expect this ultimate to be a real participant, and it’s a good one. Drawing four cards and killing a creature, Planeswalker, or dealing in the range of five to seven point of damage to your opponent is absolutely game-winning. I think their ultimate hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, and I look forward to how this plays out.

I might be higher on The Royal Scions than I should, but at least I’ll try to be wrong on the most awesome and spectacular hill.  


Stonecoil Serpent

Rating: 3/5 (Archetype Staple)

The rating I gave Stonecoil Serpent is purely based on its inclusion for Steel Stompy and based on the views from MinMax's own Max Gilmore!. Max has played a ton of Steel Stompy and thinks this card is very good for the deck, as it plugs a bunch of holes. It both provides an early play to team up with Steel Overseer, is a blocker for Delver of Secrets and other flyers, and is strong enough later in the game on its own.

I should trust on his judgment on this one, as I am not proficient with Steel Stompy nor have I ever put a significant amount of time into building/testing/tuning it, while he has.

My own assumption was that this card is pretty bad, despite acknowledging that it can block Insectile Aberration. It’ll be hard to get enough data on it as Steel Stompy currently sees little play but, if this card can change that, I’d be happy to see Steel Stompy claim ground in the Legacy meta.


Castle of Locthwain

Rating: 3/5 (Archetype Staple)

About non-basic lands in Legacy: What people seem to miss while evaluating these ‘free’ inclusion is how condensed our Legacy manabases typically already are, and how costly non-basic lands are. With white decks historically often eschewing Karakas despite its limited downsides, it should illustrate that the bar for a playable non-basic land that doesn’t fix mana is rather high. Drawing a non-basic land at the wrong time can mean the difference between winning or losing the game.

With this in mind I believe that the Castle of Locthwain is the only one that has a home in Legacy, in Pox to be precise. Pox it rather good at controlling its hand-size and could really use a late-game draw engine. We should be careful about having enough Swamps to have it come into play untapped reliably, but the fact that it even works with our non-basics like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is good.

I expect Castle Locthwain to be a one or two off inclusion in Pox decks going forward, but I believe the cost of inclusion is too high for the rest of the Castles (i.e. Castle Ardenvale, Castle Embereth, Castle Garenbrig, and Castle Vantress) to find a home.


Mystic Sanctuary

Rating: 3/5 (Archetype Staple)

Tapped unless you control three or more other Islands: In contrast to the Castles; I believe that the cycle of Dwarven Mine, Gingerbread Cabin, Idyllic Grange, Mystic Sanctuary, and Witch’s Cottage; have to be evaluated as filling a spell slot, instead of a lands slot.

This is due to them coming into play tapped, and not offering any additional ability, unless you’ve already established your mana and got into the mid-game. This means we wouldn’t want to rely on these lands as part of the mana we need to rely on. The effects these cards staple to all of your fetches can however create add a decent bit of consistency to the later parts of the game.

Because they’re all so easy to get access to through fetch-land, I believe that they can be largely evaluated as if you’ll access them when the situation is appropriate – especially if your deck has access to Brainstorm. Due to costing essentially a spell slot, I believe that their effect should be worth about a card when you trigger it in the intended situation. All the lands in this cycle are designed such that, by themselves, they aren’t worth a card. This means that we have to include their infects in builds where we can expect to recoup a card worth of value from their effect.

Utility in Control: Mystic Sanctuary is the only card of the cycle I see this consistently happening with, which is why I believe it to see play while the rest won’t make the cut. The most obvious home for it is in UW Miracles, a deck with a relatively high land-count, that looks to drag the game out, and has multiple cards that care about the top of the deck. Using Mystic Sanctuary in response to a Counterbalance trigger lets you counter a spell if its mana-cost matches one in your graveyard, immediately granting a card of value back. It can also be used to put a Terminus on top of your library – which, given the situation, can be used to either clear the board of multiple creatures; or answer a card like True-Name Nemesis – both of which might be worth more than a single card.

We should however keep in mind to evaluate the lands this card is competing with, such as Fiery Islet or Lonely Sandbar for four colour Control decks. This leads me to believe that it’s use will be centred in pure UW control decks, or such decks with a light splash – instead of seeing broad play in every blue control deck.

Power in Combo: Another way to get value back out of a card like Mystic Sanctuary is by putting a card on top of our library that is worth more than a single card. This can be through cards that draw more than one card; like Paradoxical Outcome, Time Spiral, or Gush (in Vintage). Or by putting a card on top of our library that is enabling more than a card worth of value because of how essential it is to the strategy; such as High Tide or Show and Tell.

I expect that this card will be included in High Tide centred decks, but I doubt that it will bring that deck into the higher tiers of Legacy. The higher tier archetype of Show and Tell et al. might be able to utilize this card as well, but I expect that it will require some retooling of those decks to get it to work consistently, due to their regularly high amount of non-Island lands.

Returning to hand to create loops: There is also the potential to combo with Mystic Sanctuary if it can be blinked or replayed over and over. An example of this would be combining it with Ghostly Flicker and a draw two like Mulldrifter in Pauper. I haven’t thought of a clever way to do this yet, though I could imagine it would involve taking multiple turns, and doubt that returning it with Daze is something we’ll see. I don’t have too high of hopes for this to work, but there’s definitely potential here. This also counts for Witch’s Cottage by the way.

Note that you can’t stop the come into play untapped ability by using Wasteland on the Mystic Sanctuary (or one of your opponent’s other Islands) after the Mystic Sanctuary has been fetched into play. If you anticipate your opponent searching one out, and want to stop the ability, you’d have to destroy one of their other lands before the fetching ability resolves. Keep this in mind, and note that your opponent will likely just search for a different land if you do so.


Closing Thoughts

As you may have read between the lines, I actually had a really hard time evaluating the cards in this set. There’s a ton of unique design and interesting implementations. And from looking around during the last couple of weeks I know I’m not the only one, which was exactly why I wanted to write about this set.

After War of the Spark and Modern Horizons I suspected a lull in Legacy power level cards, but this set once again seems to top most pre-2019 sets. Really curious what the spoil is when we’ve separated the trash from the treasure, but I am definitely excited to try out a bunch of our new toys.


Thanks for enduring this review, and I’ll catch you on the flip side!

Did I mis anything, do you disagree with my rating, had a bad day and just want to rage at someone? - You can find me @PVDH_magic on Twitter.