Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Set Review – Artifacts and Lands
(Hive of the Eye Tyran | Art by Johannes Voss)
The Article of Artifacts and Lands
Like many other Magic content creators, I'm going to give a D&D disclaimer: I'm in the middle of my second ever D&D campaign (as a Tempest Cleric – so fun!) so I have very little experience in that area and will only be evaluating cards based on what I think about them in Magic: the Gathering.
So with that, let's talk about these lands and artifacts, and how good they are in Magic: the Gathering!
This card is wrinkling my brain. I love Treasure tokens. I'm imagining an artifact deck sacrificing this and then recurring it because it is an artifact itself, just to do the whole thing over again! Hello, Daretti, Scrap Savant! The more mana you sink into it, the better, meaning it's going to be great both at more casual tables that make mana the wholesome way, and also great at higher-power tables that wanna make infinite mana, too. One of these days I'm going to make a Treasure deck and have a whole lot of fun with Revel in Riches, Academy Manufactor, and Marionette Master.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King has new free nom-noms, as does Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest. Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer has a burst of tokens if he needs it. Osgir, the Reconstructor loves it too. And if you just need another artifact land to buff up your Bronze Guardian and Akiri, Line-Slinger, that works too!
[Location] of the [Monster] Lands
These come into play tapped pretty often in a format that produces games as long as EDH. We can look to the popularity of dual lands like Spirebluff Canal to see how players feel about that downside. Still, some of these have pretty fantastic upsides for the casual meta. Den of the Bugbear matters for decks that like to make tokens, for instance, and Lair of the Hydra is technically an outlet for decks that can produce lots and lots of mana.
Let's compare these to some other creature lands. Some of the dual land versions range from Lavaclaw Reaches at 2,800 decks all the way up to Lumbering Falls in 6,400 decks. A more accurate comparison might be the mono-colored versions: the least popular is Spawning Pool, which shows up in only a paltry 600 decks, and the most popular is Faerie Conclave in 3,200. All of these have pretty low-to-moderate inclusion rates, so how do the new versions stack up?
Let's go through them one-by-one.
Cave of the Frost Dragon
In my opinion, this is the worst one, but I think that's a testament to the fact that the others are better, rather than a specific indictment against this card itself. I think its best home is in 'Flying Tribal' decks, which sometimes like to use cards like Faerie Conclave as emergency flyers to poke extra damage through.
Hall of Storm Giants
A 7/7 creature with protection is no joke. That's a great blocker and attacker, and nice cover if you want to hold up mana for an instant. Do they have a Cyclonic Rift or are they just holding up mana to activate their Hall of Storm Giants? I think 'go big' decks like Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle will love this as a way to punch in with extra damage even after a board wipe.
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Incidental grave hate on a land can come in real handy. Most creature lands show up in decks that make use of the land's combat ability - Creeping Tar Pit in decks that care about unblockability, for example - so this is most at home in a deck that cares about the evasive menace ability. Massacre Girl might like this as a creature that avoids continuous removal.
Den of the Bugbear
This is the first manland that creates another creature that sticks around! That's a slam dunk in both Goblin decks and token decks. It might not survive combat, but cashing in your land in the late game for two attackers could be clutch, and I don't use that word lightly.
Lair of the Hydra
I think it goes without saying the Hydra tribal decks are turning all of the heads towards this one. Beyond that, 'big mana' decks can use this as a great mana sink against any opponent who leaves their defenses down. Don't forget about this card on the battlefield, it could totally end a game. Yurlok of Scorch Thrash might not mind a personal place to put mana so they don't lose life to their own mana production, too!
Temple of the Dragon Queen
This is a great option to help fix colors in five-color Dragon decks. In non-Dragon decks, it doesn't feel good at all. You'd be better off running the Thriving lands, which are in roughly 5,000 decks each. It might be an easy one to toss in if you're building a new deck and have one around, just to get playing and upgrade later. But yeah, this is definitely one of the "and Dragons" parts of the D&D set.
The Book of Vile Darkness / Eye of Vecna / Hand of Vecna
The Book of Vile Darkness was already covered in the black card set review earlier this week, but let's discuss the Vecna cards together! If you're playing one of these, I'm really hoping you're playing all of them, because who doesn't like a sweet "achievement unlocked" like the Kaldra set of Equipment or flipping Westvale Abbey?
Greven, Predator Captain could have a lot of fun with all of these, particularly Hand of Vecna. Liesa, Shroud of Dusk also can make good use of all three and loves getting a huge buff from the hand to deal some damage with lifelink. Zombie Tribal decks don't tend to have too much life loss built into the mechanics of the deck, but the tokens and assemble-Vecna mini-game are fun and thematic. Lord of Tresserhorn does lose two life when he hits the battlefield, for instance, so gets a Zombie friend with The Book of Vile Darkness.
Outside of decks where they all fit, I do think Eye of Vecna is a pretty sweet cantrip and can find a home in artifact decks or mono-white/Boros decks that want some card draw on an artifact. Then again, those decks have Endless Atlas and Mazemind Tome already, and those don't cost as much life. Hand of Vecna could be a pretty big buff akin to a Blackblade Reforged, and might be friends with Alrund, God of the Cosmos, Syr Elenora, the Discerning, Wyleth, Soul of Steel, or other such Voltron commanders.
The Deck of Many Things
Ooph! I want to like this card... but I don't. You know who does? All 84 Malfegor decks!
Kidding aside, seven mana for a Regrowth is yucky, and seven mana to draw two cards is also yucky, so, for this to work, we'll need to be in a deck that is pretty consistently Hellbent or wants to discard our hand for Madness or reanimation purposes. The natural 20 is pretty neat, but just like a Planeswalker ultimate, we can't evaluate a card based on that.
Rielle, the Everwise gets around the downside really nicely by just Windfalling herself. Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Daretti, Scrap Savant, and others don't mind pitching cards to reanimate them. Anje Falkenrath, Chainer, Nightmare Adept, and Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar are all fans of discarding as well for Madness or reanimator purposes.
I'm sure some decks will like this Deck, and it will be hilarious when it does its thing, but it will also often not do its thing at all.
This is easy to write off as a Limited card, but having the option to turn it into an evasive creature with minor protection could make this card a solid role-player in an Equipment deck. It's often hard to find a balance between creatures and Equipment, so anything that does double duty can pull a lot of weight. Halvar, God of Battle has already found its way into 2,200 decks on the site, although he does give us a bit more control over when and whether he's a creature or Equipment. However, Dancing Sword might just turn into a creature at exactly the right time, such as after a board wipe, which will give us a creature to swing in with on our next turn.
How funny is it when we equip the animated Dancing Sword creature with other Equipment? If you're not chuckling yet, I've prepared a visual:
Instrument of the Bards
Full disclosure, since so many of these artifacts are in specific colors, some of these may have also been covered by my colleagues in the other reviews. I'll just add some color commentary to a few of the interesting trinkets contained in this set.
Anyway, Reki, the History of Kamigawa says hi! The floor on this card in a Reki deck is a one-mana cantrip, so tutoring as gravy on top of that is awesome, and you're almost always going to get the Treasure token.
I do love the flavor of getting better at the harp and being able to attract bigger creatures, but outside of Reki, this is a hard sell. Even Kethis, the Hidden Hand is wary. There's an upside to the fact that this card can be activated at instant speed, but it also only puts the creature to hand. On the very first turn this card comes down, for a total of five mana it can find a zero-mana creature, so... a Dryad Arbor? This is really slow to accumulate counters, even if you do Proliferate it, especially since you still have to cast the creature.
Sphere of Annihilation
Sphere is akin to a Pernicious Deed (9,900 decks) or Gaze of Granite (8,900 decks), allowing you to pay X and hit everything below a set mana value. It has some advantages to these cards because it's only one color, it exiles, and it hits graveyards. However, it has one significant downside–it takes a turn to pop off, giving opponents time to remove it and dodge the board wipe. Since it doesn't solve the problem immediately, that will hurt its inclusion rate - see Scourglass, which only appears in about 1,700 decks - but you know what, sometimes it's fun to light a fuse and watch what happens.
The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
I was excited about this until I read "nontoken" and "activate only as a sorcery". I was really looking forward to animating Treasures, Clues, and Food as surprise attackers and blockers. Even though I am sad, you might not be! The Blackstaff has several infinite combos with Isochron Scepter and some instants, producing infinite colored mana or infinite card draw.
Besides rolling a 1, all of these options are pretty good. The variance and inability to control the outcome isn't good - we could get stuck with lots of mana and no cards in hand, for example - but there are awesome commanders that will love to manipulate this card in ways that make up for that high variance.
Artifact decks like Osgir, the Reconstructor or Emry, Lurker of the Loch can recur this card over and over to amazing effect. 'Treasure matters' commanders like Madga, Brazen Outlaw, Kalain, Reclusive Painter, or Negan, the Cold-Blooded (*ducks*) can also enjoy the influx of tokens and won't mind the card draw or tutor instead whatsoever. Plus, token decks like Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer like all those Treasures, too! There are decks where drawing three cards off the Chest is technically a downside, and that's a pretty dang good downside to have.
Not everyone likes alternate lose conditions, but I think they're pretty sweet. The "lose the game" clause on Atemsis, All-Seeing has won me a surprising number of games in my Braids, Conjurer Adept deck, and Strixhaven Stadium has been very fun to see. I like Vorpal Sword in decks with a lot of evasive creatures, like Anowon, the Ruin Thief, Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow, or Alela, Artful Provocateur, to name a few, and I'm sure it will show up as an extra piece of redundancy for the infamous Phage, the Untouchable players out there.
Let's say we only get to activate the Spellbook one time. We're probably not going to get to cast a big spell the first time if we roll 1-9, so we're going to want to exile something small first. Paying eight mana for say, a Ponder, feels pretty bad. But, if we get to activate the Spellbook a second time, we can try to hit a big spell, maybe cast it for super cheap or free, but if not, pay for it anyways. So, we're going to need to activate the Spellbook at least twice to make it worth it, and if we get to activate it three or more times, it is really pulling its weight. I love that the spells keep stacking and if we roll a natural 20 we get to cast them all.
Since it's costly and risky, it'll shine in more casual groups. I'm definitely going to try this out in Zaffai, Thunder Conductor. Overall, though, this book probably ought to stay on the shelf.
Portable Hole is likely going to make waves in other formats like Vintage and Legacy where there are more threats at mana value two or less. In Commander, we usually don't have to worry about threats at that mana value, and we prefer our removal to be more flexible.
I'm pretty high on this one, actually. Three mana to maybe copy something isn't amazing, but this is a cool card if you care about evasion synergy and artifact synergy. In blue decks that are already running a ton of artifact recursion, this is a repeatable copy spell for an evasive creature. Emry, Lurker of the Loch can already recast this herself. How about equipping this to a Triplicate Titan, a Jhoira's Familiar, Sharding Sphinx, Steel Hellkite, or any number of juicy targets? Equipping this to a Solemn Simulacrum means there is no good option for our opponents to either block or let it do damage. Then we recur it with our Scrap Trawler and repeat!
I think we'd also want a critical density of creatures that would be able to get through for damage (I'd start with 8-10 creatures with evasion). This is great fun in Vela, the Night Clad, who can give evasion to her creatures, Sydri, Galvanic Genius, who can give the creature deathtouch to deter blockers, and everyone's favorite, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer, who can certainly make good use of a token copy of lots of things, such as a Triplicate Titan.
Boots of Speed
Like Crystal Slipper, these Boots are great budget replacements for Swiftfoot Boots or Lightning Greaves, but only if we don't care about the protection. Unfortunately, we often do card about the protection. If we just want haste, there are plenty of cards that give all our creatures haste, like Tuktuk Rubblefort, Fervor, Hammer of Purphoros, etc. I'm even a fan of Footfall Crater. I'm glad the boots exist, but most of the time they won't make the cut unless you care very much about having cheap Equipment. Valduk, Keeper of the Flame and Wyleth, Soul of Steel are the main homes that jump to mind.
Equip 0 is nice, even if it's only once per turn. We're playing this in Equipment decks only to draw cards, such as Akiri, Fearless Voyager and Wyleth, Soul of Steel. If you don't want to pay four dollars for Shuko, here you go!
You Just Leveled Up!
You deserve it for making it to the end of this article. When your DM grants you a level for finishing a significant event, it's called milestone leveling.
Which lands and artifacts have you most intrigued? Let us know in the comments!