Too-Specific Top 10 - Exile A While
(Passionate Archaeologist | Art by Nino Is)
The Prodigal Son Arrives
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the only Chandra with four activated abilities?)
Step aside, Prosper, there's a new exile commander in town, and it's... well, a lot of different commanders, actually?
There's probably only one commander that leaps out at you when you're looking at playing the Passionate Archaeologist Background. Yes, you could pair it with Burakos, Party Leader, which is a sneaky option, given the amount of relevant party creatures that allow you to cast from exile - but that also puts you in Rakdos, and let's be honest, if you're playing red and black, you're probably better off playing Prosper and just shoving Passionate Archaeologist in the 99 and carrying on (as many will do).
No, the most likely pairing for this Background that directly allow you to play exiled spells (and also to get a new color combination outside of Prosper) is Durnan of the Yawning Portal, printed directly alongside Passionate Archaeologist in Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald's Exit from Exile precon.
So let's talk about it.
Top 10 Gruul Cards That Let You Cast Multiple Cards From Exile
Durnan isn't the only card that allows you to play creatures from exile, and you'd be silly not to at least try and include a couple backup commanders in your deck. So:
Top Gruul Cards That Let You Cast (Specifically) Creatures From Exile
- Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
- Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
- The Dragon-Kami Reborn
- Durnan of the Yawning Portal
- Tlincalli Hunter
So, I guess we'll emphasize the "few" part of that statement. Still, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast and Tlincalli Hunter are great pieces of tech for Durnan decks, so this Top Five seems like time well spent.
However, unless you're planning an Umori build, decks aren't built on creatures alone, so what are the options that will let you cast anything from exile?
Criteria: Cards that allow you to cast cards from exile, either in multiples all at once or allowing for multiple triggers and/or activations. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
10. Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
(19,992 Inclusions, 3% of 586,921 Decks)
Well, it apparently doesn't get any more purpose-made for Durnan than Vivien, Champion of the Wilds. Not only does she act as a backup commander, but she'll also allow you to cast your creatures (exiled or otherwise) at instant speed. What's not to love?
9. Chandra, Torch of Defiance
(22,837 Inclusions, 4% of 598,438 Decks)
Despite having covered her several times, I'm not sure that I've ever out-and-out stated that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is my favorite planeswalker. She's versatile, does everything you'd ever want in a Commander game all by herself, and yet flies under the radar enough that you still get to turn on her ridiculous ultimate every once in a blue moon. While you may wish that she could protect herself a little better, let's be honest, there's already more than enough usable text on this card, and she gives you more options than you can handle, so it's up to you to put some blockers in front of her so she can keep on presenting them.
8. Mizzix's Mastery
(23,217 Inclusions, 4% of 598,438 Decks)
The card that got itself soft-banned from Game Knights is still alive and well in the rest of the Commander format, and for good reason. While it can be an absolute pain to resolve, most of the time you don't actually have to bother, as you can just pull the relevant spells out of the stack and point out the Guttersnipe-esque triggers that will close the game out. With that said, since Mizzix's Mastery only cares about instants and sorceries, it's probably not the best choice when it comes to Durnan specifically.
7. Valakut Exploration
(23,595 Inclusions, 4% of 563,015 Decks)
With Chandra, Torch of Defiance already covered, we now move on to my second favorite Outpost Siege variant, Valakut Exploration! While it's harder to trigger every turn, Valakut Exploration can also be triggered several times a turn with ramp spells or fetchlands. It's cheaper than almost every option that allows for this effect, and it deals damage with the cards you don't use, so it'sabsolutely a force to be reckoned with. Plus, given how mana-hungry Durnan decks are likely to be, in all likelihood you'll have several different creatures, like Wood Elves and Rootweaver Druid, that will be ready and willing to grab you more lands to exile more cards to cast more things!
6. Outpost Siege
(24,776 Inclusions, 4% of 593,824 Decks)
Just like the last time we covered it, the OG still lives atop the pile. Outpost Siege is still the most popular noncreature that allows you to impulse draw a card every turn, and while I still believe that there are better options for most decks, I actually think it's a great choice for Durnan. When churning through creatures at a reduced cost, Outpost Siege's "Dragon" mode is likely to finish some games out for you when you already have enough cards to play, and if you don't, you can still always just use it as an expensive Phyrexian Arena, the way Richard Garfield intended!
5. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
(Helms 1123 Decks, Rank #342; 26,858 Inclusions, 6% of 447,188 Decks)
For those keeping score, yes, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is still sitting around $70, the kind of pricetag that makes me not want to cover these pieces of cardboard at all.
If you have to optimize at all costs, then unfortunately, this Monkey is probably on your wishlist for your Durnan deck. As a reverse Jackal Pup that has nothing but upsides where the downsides used to be, this Monkey Pirate will indeed get you both mana and cards for a single mana. I've complained about this card already, but just to state it again and then move on, this is a level of power creep that worries me.
4. Harnfel, Horn of Bounty
(Helms 1082 Decks, Rank #353; 38,680 Inclusions, 8% of 509,355 Decks)
Speaking of creating both mana and cards, here's Birgi, God of Storytelling and her back half, Harnfel, Horn of Bounty! Weird how you can only do one or the other thing at a time with her and her horn, and not both. Seems like a clever limitation worth exploring.
Both sides of Birgi are great in a Durnan & Passionate Archaeologist deck. With Birgi allowing you to go full Storm once you get enough creatures in hand, and the Horn alternatively filling your 'hand' while pumping out damage, we get two different engines the deck wants desperately, all in one card.
3. Isochron Scepter
(54,377 Inclusions, 4% of 1,242,858 Decks)
Isochron Scepter needs no introduction. The quintessential combo-on-a-stick, it's been abusing cheap instants that were only meant to be cast once since it was printed, from Fire // Ice to Silence to Dramatic Reversal. However, Durnan triggers on attack, meaning that there's probably not a super relevant two-mana instant to get you multiple triggers. Combine that with the fact that this'll already be a creature-heavy deck, and this particular stick is probably best left to the combo players.
2. Etali, Primal Storm
(Helms 851 Decks, Rank #424; 60,000 Inclusions, 10% of 598,438 Decks)
If you were looking for another auto-include in a Durnan deck on the level of Vivien, then you've found it with Etali, Primal Storm. The scariest of the mono-colored Elder Dinosaurs, Etali is a threat to take over any game, even if you have to wait until it loses summoning sickness on turn seven. If you happen to see one in the top four cards after swinging in with Durnan, then instead you're looking at a three-mana Etali, which seems exceptionally scary even before you consider the fact that there very well might be a Passionate Archaeologist in play dealing a half-dozen damage with each attack trigger!
1. Jeska's Will
(92,754 Inclusions, 17% of 542,306 Decks)
Then again, wouldn't you rather have an Etali on turn three? That can absolutely be achieved with a Jeska's Will, whether you have your 'commander' in play or not. Once more, we have a card that gives you access to both mana and cards, although at least this time it has the decency to be priced at three mana. Jeska's Will is at the top of this list for a reason, as anyone that's had it cast against them can attest. Almost always good for six to seven mana, Jeska's Will is probably the best ritual available in the game today, which makes the impulse draw that's tacked onto it feel ludicrously powerful, because it is.
In other words, much like any other red deck, you'll likely be playing this in your Durnan brew.
Any discussion of Passionate Archaeologist is incomplete without at least mentioning the existence of Tavern Brawler, the other Background that cares about exiling cards. While it may not have the raw build-around power that Archaeologist does, it might still be good enough to make the 99 in your average exile deck, although it's probably best in more of a Voltron build that needs to draw some cards.
As for slam-dunks in Durnan of the Yawning Portal & Passionate Archaeologist, be careful not to overlook the keywords that cast from exile, like Suspend, Cascade, and Adventures! Just be aware that Suspend cards without a casting cost (like Sol Talisman, Search for Tomorrow, and Wheel of Fate) don't actually do any damage when they're cast, whereas "discounted" Suspend spells (like Rousing Refrain and Greater Gargadon) do a whole lot!
Finally, if you'd like to really annoy the table, you might try out cards that exile everything on its way to the battlefield, like Possibility Storm, Knowledge Pool, and Uba Mask. Possibility Storm is especially good in this strategy, as it will let you cast spells from exile as normal while everyone else is playing a game of 'Guess Who' with their cast-from-hand spells.
Speaking of which, there's a whole cast of characters you'll want for a Durnan build that went largely unmentioned in our main top ten:
Top 10 Gruul Creatures Not Already Mentioned That Allow You To Cast Spells From Exile
- Dire Fleet Daredevil
- Apex Devastator
- Tectonic Giant
- Squee, the Immortal
- Laelia, the Blade Reforged
- Wild-Magic Sorcerer
- Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
- Atsushi, the Blazing Sky
- Breeches, Brazen Plunderer
- Professional Face-Breaker
Not everything on this list is a slam-dunk, but a ton of them are. If you're looking for a game-ender, then might I suggest casting Apex Devastator from exile, or just doing X to someone's face every turn with Squee, the Immortal and a sac outlet?
Nuts and Bolts
There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.
What Do You Think?
While the Durnan of the Yawning Portal & Passionate Archaeologist matchup was set up pretty clearly in a preconstructed deck, most Backgrounds don't match up quite so obviously or deliberately with any specific Choose a Background commanders, in a way that feels very intentional. With that in mind...
Finally, what are your favorite cast-from-exile enablers? Are you planning on brewing Durnan, with or without Passionate Archaeologist? Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the combination dining room and folding table situation we cobbled together to play a few games at our buddy's house.