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Strixhaven has just come out on MTG Arena and I have gone head first into the set in order to try and figure out what is what with the latest set. Initially, my response to previews was lukewarm. However, having now played a number of events on Arena there are some interesting cards that have not seen much in the way of some love that may be of interest.
As someone who is typically a Green player (I love me some sweet sweet Sultai), I have been very preoccupied with Red and White as of late. I think this stems from the typical assertion that this combination is not very good in Commander and other Casual multiplayer formats and I seek to prove otherwise. However, there has recently been a brand new Red and White Commander that has really caught my attention that has been largely ignored. Today I’m going to point you towards a very intriguing Dwarf Cleric by the name of Hofri Ghostforge!
Hofri was largely ignored during the preview season in part because of the deluge of cards, but also because people became completely absorbed with the Mystical Archive cards. Consequently, Hofri was largely missed or dismissed by most of the Magic community. However, I decided to try my hand at a Sealed league and found myself with Hofri in my pool. I had underestimated the card and was just jamming it because it was Limited and you should jam all your on colour rares and mythics. I really hadn’t given it any thought.
However, all of a sudden I started to notice the effect it had on the game. With Hofri and a Dream Strix in play, I had a powerful tool to go and find impactful lessons in my sideboard. Hofri’s card says that when a non-token creature dies, you exile the creature, then you get a copy back, but it is now also a spirit, and it even gets a little +1/+1 boost. So, when Dream Strix dies, I get to go and find a Lesson and I get my Dream Strix back again. This interaction was immensely impactful in my game, and so I thought to myself… is there something more to explore with this card here?
I turned to Brawl and immediately put together a Brawl deck to see how I could exploit Hofri. My first question was to address how does Red/White keep up with some of the other colours who are better able to ramp? My solution was simple. Solemn Simulacrum, Pilgrim of the Ages, and Farfinder are exactly the sort of cards I wanted. All three go and search up a land and put it into my hand, meaning I can be assured to hit my land drops and advance my board. You can now get double value out of them thanks to Hofri when they die. The discovery of Pilgrim in the Strixhaven set felt like a big win since it was overlooked and brand spanking new. Not to mention it is an integral part of White’s plan to be able to keep pace with the other ramping strategies.
Next, I was looking for some other really interesting Enter the Battlefield (ETB) triggers to exploit with Hofri. Solemn Simulacrum was once again at the fore of that discussion, but Basri’s Lieutenant, Skyclave Apparition, and Charming Prince all fit the bill nicely. The Lieutenant was key in order to power up some of our smaller creatures, while Apparition was very potent removal, and Prince is just good value.
Now, while Hofri likes to exploit all these ETB triggers once the creatures die, I didn’t want to simply rely on my opponents killing my creatures. If I was waiting for my opponents to get the job done the effectiveness of the deck was going to be seriously hampered. So, I went looking for ways to sacrifice my own creatures for value. Normally in EDH we get things like Ashnod’s Altar, Skullclamp, Woe Strider, and Viscera Seer as easy ways to sacrifice creatures. However, in Standard, we aren’t so lucky. What I did find were things like Weaponize the Monsters and Relic Vial to get the job done. I particularly like Weaponize the Monsters as a form of removal to blast smallish creatures out of the way, or to give you that final reach to torch an opponent who has been able to stem the bleeding. I had forgotten about Weaponize, but I will revisit it for Commander as I suspect it has some further utility.
Now, the piece de resistance was yet another Legendary creature from Strixhaven – Quintorius, Field Historian. Quintorius is the perfect teammate for Hofri because whenever a creature is exiled from the graveyard, you are able to net a spirit. When a creature dies, moving to the graveyard Hofri’s ability activates. The creature is exiled from the graveyard, activating Quintorius’s ability. We now make a 3/2 spirit token. Finally, Hofri’s ability finishes up and we get the token spirit copy of the original creature that just died. To get a 3/2 and your token off the death of one of your creatures is tremendous value and can really help pull you ahead in the game.
To make matters better Quintorius and Hofri both provide bonuses to your spirit tokens meaning that you get hasty, trample 5/3’s instead of regular old 3/2’s… but I digress.
Lastly, there are some other really high synergy cards that fit nicely into the strategy that can’t be overlooked. Zephyr Boots is the most underrated piece of equipment I have seen in ages. The fact that it is a 1 mana equipment, equips for a mere 2, and provides evasion and card selection if you deal combat damage is a whole lot of goodness packed into a very affordable Mana Value. Luminous Broodmoth provides a redundant effect should Hofri get removed from the battlefield , but can also be a formidable presence in the air.
Illustrious Historian is another rather anonymous card from Strixhaven that packs some punch. It comes down early and can get aggressive (or be a speed bump), but then when it dies can hop right back out of the yard thanks to Hofri. Then, after the token dies and the original Illustrious Historian is returned to the graveyard you can pay 5, exile it, and make a 3/2 spirit token… all the while playing nicely with Quintorius.
Outlaws Merriment provides a steady stream of fodder to use as sacrifice material for Relic Vial and Weaponize the Monsters. One neat little benefit is that Merriment makes a Cleric token in one third of the time. You can sacrifice them to the Vial for added benefit.
Lastly, but certainly not least, with all the sacrificing of creatures to make good use of Weaponize the Monsters, Blood Aspirant runs the real risk of running away and becoming a must answer threat. All in all, you start to see a collection of underplayed cards that synergize in an interesting way. You can check out the full Brawl list I was running here.
The long and the short of it is that with Hofri, we have a mythic that almost completely fell by the wayside. As we approach the in paper release of Strixhaven, Hofri is available for between $2 and $3 on TCGplayer, meaning he is very budget friendly. Also, based on some early results, Hofri could provide an interesting, flexible, and fun shift for those of us who are tired of playing the same Red and White equipment decks.
Thank you everyone. If you want to hear more about my thoughts on Strixhaven, or any other Commander related topic, check out The Epic Experiment on iTunes, Google Podcast, Spotify, Amazon, and anywhere else you find your podcasts.
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Welcome back to another article from The Epic Experiment!
Normally I like to provide you with budget-friendly ideas to make your next commander game fun, engaging, and a fun night to remember. However, every once in a while we take a break from talking Commander and spend a little time discussing another singleton format. Today, we are going to look at Brawl and how the latest set, Kaldheim, has helped shape the format.
For those who may not be familiar, Brawl is a singleton format that plays similarly to Commander. Each deck has a commanding General or legendary card and the colour identity of your commander dictates what colours can be used in your deck.
The difference between Brawl and Commander are:
Initially, the format was rolled out with Dominaria, in part to capitalize on the cycle of uncommon legends that could be used to add variety to the format. However, Brawl really picked up steam when War of the Spark was introduced on account of all the Planeswalkers giving the format a whole new feel. It also came to MTG Arena around the same time making it a viable online format.
Personally, I have been playing it fairly consistently since then as well and have enjoyed the format. It makes for a refreshing change to the grind of standard and puts other, less well known cards on display in an interesting way. While initially the format was largely panned in paper, the Arena environment is diverse, interesting, and thriving ensuring that the format is alive and well during this pandemic.
Many players didn’t really enjoy the notion of Brawl because of the card pool being tied to Standard. This means that if you built a fun and powerful Brawl deck, it had a shelf life and would rotate out of legality at some point. This irks many Commander players because they like the notion that the deck they build today could be played two years from now. Some of this concern has been resolved with the creation of Historic Brawl, which is essentially Brawl but making use of the Historic card pool.
While Historic Brawl is indeed growing in popularity, I am still very much a believer in the Standard variant of Brawl. The appeal to me is that the singleton nature of the format mimics some of the elements of Commander well enough to satisfy an itch while allowing me to look at new strategies or card options and assess them for their long term viability.
I also like the appeal of the affordability of the format. Since many players buy more than enough Standard legal products each year, we are all stuck with this glut of quasi useless cards that now can be given new life.
While the format is quite varied, it is not without its issues. The first issue stems from the fact that it is now essentially 1 vs. 1 which is quite a departure from Commander. We are given an additional 5 life points, but this still seems to do little to dissuade full on aggro strategies. The fact that these aggro decks can exist forces decks to abandon some of the more high mana value cards in favour of playing efficient threats and counters. This narrows the card pool to some degree and assures that true Standard staples will continue to see heavy play.
The fact that we are incentivized to hurry and get our opponent dead also means that you don’t have the time to build value engines as we would in Commander. Mythics like Koma, Heliod, and Valki are all great engine starters in their own right, and don’t need as much of a ramp up as other decks do. This starts to choke out other less potent cards because you are incentivized to play the high value Mythics.
I have been running two Brawl decks to reasonable success. I think that they highlight the primary difference between the power level afforded some of the mythic legendary options that prevent some of the uncommon’s from having a chance to shine. We will start with Rielle, the Everwise. The velocity this deck generates is considerable and Rielle takes almost no set up in order to be a potent value engine.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum we have Vega, The Watcher, an uncommon from Kaldheim. Vega requires you to set her up with cards from not your hand in order for Vega to be good and is less impactful.
Rielle’s list is very much trying to make the most of her ability to draw cards when you discard. As a three mana play with 3 toughness, she likely survives things like Bonecrusher Giant//Stomp and Shock, so you can pretty much rest assured you can get at least one activation off of her. The ideal scenario is that she goes unchecked and you can land Improbable Alliance, Teferi’s Ageless Insight, or a Teferi’s Tutelage to turbo mill your opponent out of cards.
If the mill strategy doesn’t work, Ominous Seas, Kiora Bests the Sea God, and Shark Typhoon can quickly take over a game. There is very little set up required, you just need Rielle to be active and have ways to discard. The deck has been very good for me and can get the job done against a number of other decks without much trouble.
While Rielle has fared well, Vega, The Watcher has really struggled. My first build was playing very heavily into the Foretell and Adventure mechanics, but the deck was taking too much to set up in order to be able to face down more aggressive decks. Vega is also a card that can be destroyed easily.
In the iteration you see here I have attempted to address the more aggressive nature of the format and turned the deck into more of an U/W Fliers sort of build with less reliance on the recurring card draw feature. This second version has fared better, but is far from being complete.
That’s all for this week folks. Have fun, stay safe, and I’ll catch you all next time!
Do you have suggestions of what to help boost these deck’s potential? Then leave your suggestions in the comments below!
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