In many ways, Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms feels more like an adventure in waiting for Standard to finally and mercifully rotate.
Once Innistrad: Midnight Hunt comes in September, Standard will only have that set, this set, and the past three: Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, and Strixhaven: School of Mages. You don't need me to tell you how much that iteration of Standard will look different from this one. No more Yorion, Sky Nomad, Emergent Ultimatum, Bonecrusher Giant, Edgewall Innkeeper, Lovestruck Beast, or Lurrus of the Dream-Den. No more Throne of Eldraine cards that look like Vintage staples next to 99% of the previews from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.
Keep this in mind as you evaluate cards from this set. A lot of these cards won't impact Standard right away, and most of them are underpowered compared to the format's top staples, but we're only about two months away from Standard losing nearly all of its key cards. Couple that with the slow return of in-store play, and many of these cards will see a surge in price as the leaves begin to change this September.
It's also worth remembering that summer sets are often slow sellers, and their key Commander playables can maintain higher-than-average price tags because of it. D&D is taking the place of a Core Set, and its sales figures are likely to be similar. Because of that, some of these future Commander staples are going to be better buys than they would be if they were released in a fall or winter set.
With that in mind, let's begin the set review! Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms might not be the most high-octane set ever released, but there are some incredibly cool new cards that I can't wait to pick up. Speaking of:
Lolth, Spider Queen is incredibly cool. Passive "draw a card" abilities are underrated, and we know that Phyrexian Arena is a very powerful card at three mana with only Lolth's 0-loyalty ability. Her -3 is also very good, as she can immediately make a couple of solid attackers or blockers. She lacks the removal ability that defines most black planeswalkers, but that's not a dealbreaker. Heck, in a go-wide deck, Lolth can run away with the game.
My worry with Lolth, Spider Queen is that she'll fall through the cracks a bit. Five mana is a lot in Standard, and Lolth isn't quite at the power level of previous elite five-mana planeswalkers. In Commander, there are quite a few other planeswalkers that do similar things. It has been a while since we've seen planeswalkers like this dominate a competitive format, and I'm not sure Lolth will mark a return to form.
As with most cards in this set, I'm going to wait and see. If Lolth, Spider Queen is doing anything at all in an Eldraine-dominated Standard format, I'll probably buy a playset before rotational hype begins. Cards that see a little bit of play this summer might become new cornerstones this fall, and Lolth has a shot at that kind of dominance. I just don't know how likely it is, and odds are this will be a $5-$8 planeswalker instead of a $30-$40 one.
On the other hand, look how powerful Lolth, Spider Queen feels next to Zariel, Archduke of Avernus! Haste is definitely the most underrated keyword in Magic, but you need to spend four mana to play your Zariel and then play a creature that could benefit from haste before that ability does anything. If you've ever played an aggro deck—the play-style that benefits most from haste—you know exactly how impossible it is to take that kind of tempo loss. Combine that with a truly mediocre +0, and you realize that you're pretty much running Zariel for her emblem.
Is that enough? I don't think so. Zariel, Archduke of Avernus just does nothing if you're behind, and playing Zariel is going to put you behind in any of the decks where she'd shine the most. Planeswalkers like this rarely see much Commander play, either. Future $2-$3 card.
Ellywick Tumblestrum playability lives or dies on the strength of the dungeon mechanic. Right now, that mechanic seems incredibly underpowered, and is unlikely to see much Constructed play. Venturing generally costs too much, most of the dungeon rooms only provide marginal benefits, and the cards that get better when you've finished a dungeon simply aren't good enough.
This might change in the future, of course. Ellywick Tumblestrum is exactly the kind of card that might spike in three or four years when WotC revisits this mechanic during one of their cyclical flirtations with high-powered Standard sets. It's also possible that I'm underrating this mechanic, or that we just haven't had the best dungeon payoff card previewed yet.
Right now, though, I don't see where Ellywick Tumblestrum sees play. You're definitely not running her for anything other than her dungeon ability, and I just don't expect people to care all that much outside of casual play. Future $2-$3 card that's probably worth picking up if WotC hints a future return to the mechanic.
Ebondeath, Dracolich is really good. It's the combination of flash, flying, and recursion that makes it work, because late in the game you can return it to the battlefield at instant speed (as long as any creature dies) and threaten 5 points of evasive damage. If your opponent doesn't have a way to deal with this creature multiple times, it will eventually take over. It's also a Zombie, which bodes well for synergy with Innistrad in the fall.
I haven't seen much hype for Ebondeath, Dracolich yet, and its price tag is pretty low for a mythic rare. I've definitely overestimated midrange black cards in the past—many times, in fact—but I still think this is one of the better cards in the set. If you're a believer like me, I'd snag a copy or four on release weekend.
Flameskull is missing an important word in its text box: haste. With haste, I'd be singing Flameskull's praises from the rooftops. Without it, I just don't see it paying off. A 3/1 flier that can't block is well below the curve for 1RR, and at a certain point it doesn't really matter that you can recast it every turn if it dies. Your opponent is just not going to care about a 3/1 most of the time. The fact that this card is definitely not seeing play outside of Standard makes me even less likely to recommend it.
It's definitely possible that Flameskull ends up as a part of some post-rotation Mono-Red Aggro deck regardless, likely piggybacking off the power of better cards. In that case, it could end up being worth $10-$12 for a brief period of time. That's not bad upside for a mythic that's likely to end up in the bulk range, but I'd at least wait until it bottoms out before buying in.
My instinct is to talk about how hard it is to make Demilich work, and how poor the payoff is going to be most of the time. You really need to cast at least two other spells to make this work, and if they're one-mana spells you still need another two mana to put Demilich in play. After all that, you get… a 4/3. With no evasion. Hooray?
On the other hand, Demilich is a free spell. Historically, free spells have been underestimated on release and they tend to break the game open in ways that no other cards can hope to do. It's not hard to fire off four spells pretty early in the game in Modern, and you can do it on turn one in Legacy. A 4/3 is pretty bad in the mid-game, but it's a house if it's attacking on turn two or three.
My gut reaction is that Demilich is just a little too underpowered to pay off, and that it'll be a future bulk mythic, but there's always the chance that this is the most broken card in the entire set. Monitor the conversation around it, and buy in ASAP if testing looks good.
Mythic Dragons are always going to hold a little bit of casual value, but Old Gnawbone isn't exactly the cream of the crop. It's far too expensive to see any competitive play, and I don't think it's going in too many powered-up Commander brews either. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King definitely wants to run it, and some The Ur-Dragon pilots will embrace it, but it's off-color for most Dragon decks and most treasure decks. Dedicated ramp decks have many better options. Future $2-$3 mythic.
Randomness is fun in casual play, but cards like this are never going to take off in competitive formats. If you can't rely on them to do what you want them to—especially with a seven-mana investment before any sort of payoff—they'd better be way, WAY more powerful than The Deck of Many Things.
The Deck of Many Things is more fun in Commander, but it's the exact kind of underpowered, non-synergistic card that I'm cutting from my 99 late in the deck building process. Don't get me wrong: I want this card to be good, and I want to play with it. I just think we're looking at a future bulk mythic.
It's Gaea's Cradle! On a creature!
Circle of Dreams Druid isn't as powerful as Elvish Archdruid or Priest of Titania in dedicated Elf decks, which tells me that it's probably not going to make a splash in Legacy. That said, this is an absurd Commander card that is going to slot into pretty much every mono-green deck in Magic's most popular format.
To me, Circle of Dreams Druid has the look of a card that's never going to lose quite as much value as you'd want before rebounding and remaining expensive until its eventual reprint. I'd love to buy in around $2, but I'll settle for wherever the bottom actually is. This is an $8-$10 card in 18 months, so buy in before then.
I can't imagine too many players are excited to crack Flumph in a booster pack. It has niche uses in Commander, either in Arcades, the Strategist Wall Tribal decks or in political "group hug" brews, but there will be plenty of copies of Flumph to go around for any who want one. Future bulk rare.
I can imagine a mono-blue or Azorius tempo deck developing in Standard that might want to run Dragon Turtle, but I don't think this card slots into the current builds of Jeskai Tempo or anything else in the metagame right now. A lack of Commander or Eternal playability probably dooms Dragon Turtle to be a bulk rare anyway.
Wight probably isn't going to make the cut in Standard right now, but remember: we're probably getting a bunch of Zombies in our return to Innistrad. My guess is that Wight is easily available for $0.20 this summer before spiking to $4-$5 this fall. Grab yourself a few playsets when this card bottoms out.
Meteor Swarm is going to win a lot of games in Limited. In Standard, it might see a little bit of play in a Jeskai control shell or even potentially in Jund. Three red mana is steep, though, and there are better board wipes in most formats. This is a likely bulk rare with $2-$3 upside if it ends up having a small impact on Standard.
Some cards are for Limited, and Froghemoth is one of them. A 4/4 for 3GG needs far better stats if it's going to make a splash in Standard. Sorry Frog Horror fans, this is a future bulk rare.
Tasha's Hideous Laughter isn't quite a mill spell, since it exiles cards instead of putting them into graveyards, but I don't think it's going to see any play outside of mill decks. The fact that it exiles cards is going to be better in some situations, but worse in others. Regardless, I don't think it'll matter much.
In Standard, mill is kind of an all-or-nothing game. Either this is a four-of in a really powerful deck, or it isn't playable. There are already a few solid mill cards in Standard that don't see much play, but it's possible that Tasha's Hideous Laughter pushes them over the edge. This is going to exile at least 10 cards most of the time, which is a good rate for three mana.
In Commander, this is one of the best mill cards ever printed. So few of them read "each opponent," but this one does, and that makes all the difference. Two years from now, this will be a $6-$8 card. Grab it on release weekend if you believe it'll see competitive play or a few months later if you don't.
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin might gain some Commander popularity as the best general for a "Dungeons Matter" deck, but I think that's likely to remain a niche mechanic for quite some time. Otherwise, Nadaar is pretty underpowered, and a 3/3 with vigilance for 3 isn't that great. Even if you add "scry 1" to this card, which is the most powerful first room of a dungeon, I don't think you're playing this unless you really think you can finish it out. Future bulk rare.
Dancing Sword is definitely powerful enough to become a player in Standard. The equipment itself is reasonably costed, and the fact that you get a choice about whether or not it becomes a creature really pushes it over the top for me. There's a lot of "Equipment matters" stuff in Standard right now, too, and most of it will carry over into the post-rotation metagame. I can't imagine anyone caring about this in Commander, but Standard play means that there's $3-$5 upside here if everything shakes out right.
Wizard's Spellbook costs seven mana, and looks like an overly-complex version of a card that would have been released in, like, Scars of Mirrodin. Maybe there will be enough Commander interest to make this spike to $5 at some point in the far future? I don't know. Future bulk rare.
I can imagine slotting Xorn into some of the same Commander decks that make use of Academy Manufactor, but that card is worth less than $3 right now despite being in $8+ booster packs. Xorn is going to be in $3 booster packs, and you can only play it in red decks. I suppose there's a shot it'll see a little bit of competitive play, but I haven't seen any buzz about that whatsoever. My hope is to pick these up at bulk rare prices and hold them until they're $3-$4 Commander playables in a couple of years.
People are sleeping on Guardian of Faith. A 3/2 for 1WW with flash is a solid body, and this is outstanding one-sided protection against mass removal. It's probably going to see sideboard play in Standard, at least after rotation, but my favorite spot for Guardian of Faith is in Commander. Remember: there are lots of decks that want to keep their tokens and Auras and such around after protecting against a board wipe, and this is, like, a budget version of Teferi's Protection. There are very few cards that work like this, and plenty of different white-based Commander decks are going to have room for both in their 99. I'm surprised that Guardian of Faith is kicking around the same $1 range as most of these other rares, and there's legit $7-$8 upside here somewhere down the line.
Great flavor here, but I'm not sure how playable this is. You're essentially paying three mana for a 4/4, and you need to have another nontoken artifact that you're not using for anything else in play. This isn't powerful enough for formats with access to things like Mishra's Bauble or the artifact lands, and it's not splashy enough for Commander. Future bulk rare.
I've seen some players comparing Sphere of Annihilation to cards like Ratchet Bomb and Oblivion Stone, but those cards let you choose when to pull the trigger. Sphere of Annihilation is really just a board wipe delayed by a turn, which is a lot worse. Most of the better mass removal spells are rotating in the fall, though, so Sphere of Annihilation might see play in some future brew of Standard Esper or Mono-Black Control. That gives it a little bit of upside, maybe in the $4-$5 range. It's also possible that the fact that this hits graveyards is more of a game-changer than I think, though I'd rather run either a better board wipe or a better piece of graveyard hate in Commander or the Eternal formats. $1 rare with a little upside.
Wish seems good enough for Pioneer, Historic, and Modern. It might see play in Standard too, though wishes have historically been better in Eternal formats. Best case, it's a $5-$6 card. More realistically, it's a $2-$3 card. It'd have more upside if it was a mythic or if it had a shot at seeing play in Commander.
Incidentally, I wonder if Wish will finally push the Commander Rules Committee into creating cohesive rules that allow wishes to work in that format. Since there are no sideboards in Commander, wishes essentially don't work outside of house rule games at the moment. If this changes, you can expect all the other wishes to experience some pretty major price spikes.
I don't think that's too likely, though. Wishes are essentially tutors, and tutors tend to make games of Commander less fun, not more. My guess is that wishes remain on the sideline in Magic's most popular format, which limits all of their financial upside pretty significantly.
Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar might have legs in Standard, but it would require the rise of a blue-based aggro or tempo deck. I like it more in Commander, where it's fantastic in any Simic, Bant, or Dimir brew that just wants to go wide with a bunch of small creatures. I haven't seen too many people excited about Grazilaxx yet, but I like it more than a lot of the other cheap rares in this set. There's $3-$4 upside here.
I haven't seen anyone talking about Mindflayer, but I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up seeing a small amount of Standard play. Sower of Temptation was a powerful card in its day, and Mindflayer belongs in the same conversation. It's not as good as Sower, which is one mana cheaper, has evasion, and has a much more relevant creature type, but this is going to be a solid sideboard play that might see some maindeck action if the format leans toward midrange or control. Remember: Agent of Treachery was a format-defining card not too long ago. Granted, there were other circumstances going on there, but it's not hard for me to imagine Mindflayer as a $4-$5 staple.
Instrument of the Bards is very similar to Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, one of the coolest cards in Core Set 2015 and an excellent Commander. It's also still worth less than a buck despite only being printed once, way back in 2014. Instrument of the Bards is likely to see a bit more play since it's an artifact with upside, but I'd feel better about its financial future if the card that it's most similar to were in higher demand. Future $1-$2 rare.
As with most of the other "Dungeons matter" cards in this set, I don't think Yuan-Ti Malison will do much in constructed play. Future bulk rare.
Delina, Wild Mage has an extremely cool ability. It's also a 3/2 without haste or evasion for four mana that doesn't do anything unless you can attack with it and at least one other good creature. Cards like this don't see play. Future bulk rare.
What a cool card! Too bad Treasure Chest isn't very good. You're essentially paying seven mana and a card for either a draw-three or five Treasure tokens, neither of which is worth the cost, and you can't choose which one would be better for you in the moment. Critically hitting with this card is going to feel incredible, but a 1:20 shot isn't close to worth it. Future bulk rare.
How good were the dungeons during Adventures in the Forgotten Realms playtesting? Were they all absurd until late in the development cycle? Or were venture decks running rampant in the Future Future League? I don't know how else to square these wildly high venture costs with the reality that most of the dungeons aren't that great. Sure, this one's repeatable and it's on a land, but holy cow. I can't imagine ever playing Dungeon Descent. Future bulk rare.
Creature lands tend to be pretty solid, and menace is underrated on a card that can sneak in and do some real work in the midgame. The meta has to be right for Hive of the Eye Tyrant to make a splash, but the fact that it comes into play untapped early on bodes well for its future playability. I like this card better than most, and I think it has a shot at being a $4-$5 staple in Standard this fall.
This one's even better. A 3/4 flier is a formidable and evasive threat, and I can see Cave of the Frost Dragon fitting right into a Mono-White Aggro brew. This card is selling for less than $2 right now, and the entire cycle has quite a bit of upside at that price point.
Den of the Bugbear becomes the worst creature in the cycle, but red might be the best color for these lands. Worst case, turning your land drop into two attackers seems excellent in a Mono-Red Aggro brew. As with the others, I think we'll see more of this cycle than you think in tournament play this fall.
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Last week's newsletter was another dive into the Modern cards that are spiking thanks to Modern Horizons 2's influence on the metagame. We took another look at Blackcleave Cliffs, talked about a pair of scorching hot lands from Champions of Kamigawa, gushed over a former bulk rare from Dissension, and even dipped into Commander a bit. Go subscribe so you don't miss out next week!