Are you ready for Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms? Personally, I'm not quite there yet, as there is still so much to take in. This D&D crossover set looks like it will provide a one-of-a-kind experience. Let's look at the most unprecedented mechanic to come out of this unprecedented set, "venture into the dungeon."
AFR is the first set to include dungeon cards, which start outside of your deck and are divided into rooms. When a card effect causes you to venture into the dungeon for the first time in a game, you pick a dungeon you own from outside the game and enter the first room. After that, you move to the next room every time you venture, and once you reach the last room, you can start a dungeon again the next time you venture.
With those basics out of the way, let's cover a few crucial point:
There are three dungeons.
In Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms there are a total of three Dungeon cards. Including all three in a deck with the ability to Venture into the Dungeon is essentially mandatory.
Dungeons start in your sideboard but don't count toward your 15-card limit.
Playing Dungeons in your deck is essentially "free." There is no downside to having access to Dungeons, as unlike something like a companion, the Dungeons don't take up any space in the sideboard.
You choose which dungeon and rooms to enter.
This is where strategy comes into play. When you venture into the dungeon you must select which dungeon you would like to enter. Once you choose to enter one dungeon you must complete each floor in that dungeon before entering a new one. Each dungeon has several rooms, and there are different paths you can choose on each dungeon card. Based on the path you choose various effects will trigger. You have a venture marker that tracks your path as you move throughout the dungeon.
It takes time to complete a dungeon.
There are cards that get better if you have completed an entire dungeon, but that task isn't an easy one. Due to the amount of rooms in a dungeon, it will always take venturing into the dungeon several times in order to complete a dungeon. This is what makes the mechanic so difficult to evaluate, as you really are planning out many turns in advance by venturing into the dungeon. Also, the big payoffs normally don't happen until you get toward the bottom of the dungeon.
Lost Mine of Phandelver has four floors, which means you will need to venture into the dungeon four times in order to complete it. Compared to the other dungeons, this is the best first room. Scrying 1 is a more powerful effect than gaining a life, or each player losing a life. It feels like more often than not getting a Treasure token is going to be more important earlier in games, but if you are fine on mana a Goblin that can chump a big creature or even be sacrificed to something could be the better bet. Once getting to the third floor honestly you aren't getting that much, but drawing a card at the bottom is quite nice.
The nice thing about Tomb of Annihilation is that you can complete this dungeon by only venturing into the dungeon three times, if you choose that path. The issue is that going into Oubliette negatively impacts you in a very significant way. Reaching the bottom of the dungeon quickly has a very real cost here. I don't expect to use Tomb of Annihilation that much, because the payoff at the bottom of getting a 4/4 doesn't feel worth the sacrifices along the way.
To get to the bottom of Dungeon of the Mad Mage you are going to need to venture into the dungeon seven times, which is so much more than the other two dungeons. However, there is definitely a nice reward at the bottom if you are able to get there. I like how the scry rooms get progressively better as you go further down in the dungeon. Runestone Caverns seems like a super powerful room, and that sort of effect is what I would expect at the very bottom, as in many ways it's actually better than the bottom of the other two Dungeons. Mad Wizard's Lair is easily the best room in any of the dungeons though, so I expect players to do everything they can to make it there if Dungeon of the Mad Mage gets chosen.
I really only like two of these dungeons. I think in Standard Lost Mine of Phandelver will be the one used most often because of time constraints. It makes sense given the payoffs that exist for completing a dungeon, alongside Lost Mine's rooms being generally better than the rooms in Tomb of Annihilation. Dungeon of the Mad Mage will only be the correct choice when you believe you'll have enough time to venture into the dungeon seven times and want to do a lot of scrying.
The key to answering this question is going to be the cards that feature the venture into the dungeon mechanic. This comes down to gauging power levels accurately, and having enough cards that have venture that you want to play. There is a payoff for having multiple different cards that can venture into the dungeon together with cards that benefit from you completing a dungeon.
Let's look at some individual cards we know about at this point.
This is a sweet card that is about the right power level to be worth playing in Standard. The key is that you get to venture into the dungeon as soon as Nadaar, Selfless Paladin hits play, so even if it gets hit by a removal spell you get to at least move your venture marker. The ability to venture into the dungeon every turn is certainly appealing. The bonus after you have completed the dungeon is a nice add-on, but not why you should play this card.
Ellywick Tumblestrum looks pretty awesome. It makes complete sense to have venture into the dungeon on a planeswalker, as you really need to be able to venture into the dungeon a number of times during the course of a game, and this card allows that to happen. Honestly though, ticking this down is also quite strong, to grab a creature and potentially gain some life.
Varis, Silverymoon Ranger pairs very well with Ellywick Tumblestrum, so I fully expect to see them in the same deck together. Getting triggers here off each creature or planeswalker cast can add up quite quickly, and that payoff Wolf token is worth trying to get to. Varis is an Elf, so it could go into a tribally oriented deck as well.
Of the cards previewed so far that can venture into the dungeon this is my personal favorite. Yuan-Ti Malison could even be a sideboard card as a threat out of blue control decks that will be good in matchups where the opponent doesn't have much removal. The big vulnerability is it's a low toughness creature, but it's not too difficult to build a blue deck where this is a creature happy to be attacking alone.
Dungeon Crawler has good enough stats that even if you aren't able to return it to your hand it can be good enough, but you want to have the potential to complete a dungeon in your deck, even if it won't happen every game. The interesting aspect is that completing a dungeon often takes a while but this is an aggressive card, so it's hard to find the right home for it.
Cloister Gargoyle really isn't good enough, unless you can reliably complete a Dungeon in most of your games. This is the type of role player that some decks might go to for another synergistic card, but it will never be a card you really want to play in Standard.
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Venture into the dungeon is a crazy cool mechanic, but I can't tell yet whether it will see play outside of AFR Limited. That being said, we are far from having all the cards from Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms previewed so far. It would be foolish of me to post a Venture into the Dungeon based deck as there aren't enough cards yet to make it work.
There is a lot of potential here. My concern is that the biggest rewards for dungeon delving lie at the bottom of those dungeons, and in an aggressive format it may be tough to actually reliably complete dungeons. The ability to repeatedly venture into the dungeon is going to be crucial for any deck trying to make this work in Standard.