Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast announced expansions for Arena intended to support the Explorer and Historic formats, Explorer Anthology II and Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered. I could not be more HYPED. Explorer was created as an Arena-only analog to Pioneer and will eventually be replaced by Pioneer once Wizards backfills enough format staples into the client. These updates bring us one giant step closer to that end goal.
Presumably, the remastered set will include most major hits from Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon like Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror and Emrakul, the Promised End. While these are among my most anticipated cards, I'm leaving anything likely for this product off my list. Fret not, I'll put out my top 10 for that product as we get closer to its release date in early 2023.
With that out of the way, let's get into my top 10 cards I want to see in Explorer Anthology II!
10. Springleaf Drum
Springleaf Drum is a bit of an innocuous role player, but it's often an MVP. As a cheap artifact, it supports artifact-matters archetypes which need a critical mass of low-cost game pieces. For example, Springleaf Drum combined with Ornithopter, allows a player to cast Emry, Lurker of the Loch as early as turn one. Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy can use the Drum to tap for 2 mana, meaning a Drum on turn one and Kinnan on turn two leaves up mana to play additional spells or hold up countermagic.
As it stands, there is a fringe combo deck in Pioneer focused around these cards as well as Meria, Scholar of Antiquity and Paradox Engine that's just waiting to bust loose. I'm hopeful we'll have a chance to see it in action in the lower-powered Explorer format.
9. Day's Undoing
Day's Undoing is a nerfed version of the Power Nine spell, Timetwister. The Power Nine is a select set of overwhelming powerhouse cards from the earliest days of Magic. Spoiler alert, even a weakened version of Timetwister is still exceptionally powerful and it's not the only Power Nine variant on this list.
On its face Day's Undoing is symmetrical. It gives both players a full redraw to seven cards and even gives the opponent the first crack at using them. In reality, the card is rarely fair. Day's Undoing combines with Narset, Parter of Veils to give the player a fresh hand of seven, while the opponent loses their hand and gets just one measly card. It's been putting up some recent numbers in Modern in various UW Control lists, so I'm excited to see what that innovation would bring to Explorer.
8. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Back in 2015, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound was a scourge in Standard, reaching upwards of $100 per card. It was the centerpiece of nearly every deck in the format thanks to its high power and easy casting cost. Today, the power level of the game has increased drastically, and Jace doesn't see quite as much play, but with The Brothers' War confirmed to have Unearth as a returning mechanic, a cheap looting planeswalker seems like it might be just what the planeswalker ordered.
Presumably, Jace wouldn't be the only flip-walker included either. Kytheon Iora currently sees some play in Pioneer MonoW Aggro. The others, Liliana, Heretical Healer // Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh // Chandra, Roaring Flame, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer // Nissa, Sage Animist, would all be welcome additions to Historic Brawl and Arena Cube.
7. Monastery Mentor
Earlier this month, Rei Zhang brought a brilliant Jeskai Mentor list to the 2022 Season 2 Magic Online Championship Showcase (MOCS), an invitation-only event more exclusive than a Pro Tour. The center focus of the deck was Monastery Mentor supported by cheap removal and card draw. Given the right shell, Mentor decks can go tall and wide, and can shift seamlessly between aggro, tempo, and control. Although Rei's deck was Jeskai-based, I would not be shocked to see some sort of Esper version with Sedgemoor Witch and Can't Stay Away put up some numbers.
We've gotten some great removal in recent sets. Leyline Binding, March of Otherworldly Light, and Portable Hole all come to mind. However, we're still missing some of the classics. Dreadbore in particular is a staple of the RB Midrange deck at the top of the Pioneer leaderboard. The flexibility of unconditional creature and planeswalker removal at that low of a cost is hard to come by. The next best options, Bedevil and Baleful Mastery just don't hit the same.
Abrupt Decay is a similarly flexible removal spell that can be substituted by Assassin's Trophy, but that's not a substitution I'm happy about in the early game. With the rise of Ward, the uncounterability clause has only gotten more relevant.
Finally, Chained to the Rocks is an oldie but a goodie. As a white spell that needs a Mountain to play, it used to struggle due to the fetch land-less environment. Thanks to the full cycle of tri lands like Raugrin Triome and the recent support for Domain, it's become a free inclusion for decks already attempting to support Leyline Binding.
5. Oath of Nissa
Alright, alright, I know we got Elvish Mystic in the first Explorer Anthology and I shouldn't be greedy, but I'm going to be. Oath of Nissa is a critical piece of the Mono-Green Ramp deck dominating Pioneer. Not only does it help dig for the right lands and action spells while fueling devotion, but it also allows the player to cast off-color planeswalkers in their deck. Some builds have chosen Nicol Bolas, Dragon God, and others have included Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset.
I'm not going to litigate whether or not casting five pip Grixis cards in your green deck is a healthy choice for the color pie, but I will agree that it's cool. I have no doubt if we get Oath, it will certainly see heavy play.
4. Monastery Swiftspear
I was surprised we didn't get Monastery Swiftspear in Explorer Anthology I. It's a heavily played common with two evergreen keywords that are already programmed into Arena. There's no heavy lifting from a developer standpoint, and filling out a bundle with commons instead of rares and mythics is good for Wizards' bottom line.
We did, however, receive Favored Hoplite which slots into the RW Heroic deck where Swiftspear also sees play. It's possible Wizards did this with the intention of fleshing out the archetype more before just handing over Swiftspear. In a way, it's saving the best for last. I'm hoping all the Magic-playing Swifties get to celebrate more than just the release of Midnights this season.
3. Brave the Elements
Brave the Elements is a card that really hits above its weight. It's a one-mana counterspell and Overrun, allowing a Mono-White deck the flexibility to defend itself or close out a board stall from nowhere. While upgrading to the next best Savannah Lions variant is always helpful for Mono-White Aggro, this is the missing piece for it to be the player in Explorer that it is in Pioneer.
2. Delve Spells
The Delve mechanic is a pillar of the Pioneer format, mainly because it's been banned everywhere else. Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are powerful card draw spells that singlehandedly enable spell-slinger playstyles. It's the main reason to play UR Arclight Phoenix, or any non-tribal blue deck in the format. Explorer missing these spells is one of the major dividing lines between it and Pioneer. If the goal for Explorer is to eventually merge into its paper counterpart, these deserve to be at the top of the priority list.
I've also included Temporal Trespass in this batch. Although it's weaker than the other two, it's a major support piece for the above-mentioned Phoenix deck. Thanks to Galvanic Iteration, Trespass can become a five-mana Time Stretch, which is more than often enough to win a game from even the worst position.
1. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
No surprise here, my top hope for Explorer Anthology II is Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Nykthos is the backbone of the Mono-Green Ramp deck that also features Oath of Nissa as mentioned above. A fixed Gaea's Cradle of sorts, this land is capable of generating absurd amounts of mana. Thanks to untappers like Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, the mana train can just keep on running.
Nykthos certainly sits at the top end of the power level of Pioneer, and I understand others may not want it in Explorer quite yet, but there's so much more to explore! (Pardon the pun.) There have been interesting builds of Mono-Blue Devotion here and there that feature Gadwick, the Wizened, Leyline of Anticipation, and Thassa's Oracle, all of which culminate into a fascinating and refreshing play pattern.
While Nykthos may have a bad reputation and deservingly so, it offers a major payoff for mono-color decks that we simply don't have otherwise. I'm curious about what builds may spring up with it as a motivator.
That's a wrap for another week! I'm super excited for something to shake up Explorer and bring some of Pioneer's heavy hitters into the upper echelons of the metagame. Once the official list drops, feel free to shoot me some spicy decklists. They might just end up on a future Adam Plays Magic!