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Dragonlord Atarka Art by Karl Kopinski

Explorer Anthology 2 Wishlist: What Could It Look Like?

Explorer Anthology 1 released a couple of weeks ago, and I’m already thinking about the future once again. The first Anthology did a decent job of adding a few necessary cards to the Explorer format, but many felt it wasn’t the ideal selection for the competitive meta.

Given the release rate of the early Historic Anthologies, my instinct is that the next Explorer Anthology will be ready sometime in mid October, roughly when the sale window of the first Anthology ends. If that cadence holds true, we’ll be seeing roughly twenty new cards added to the client in about two months, so why not speculate what makes sense?

For starters, let’s go over what I would call my guidelines for my picks. I’m trying to reduce the number of new mechanics that need to be programmed onto Arena’s client with this release, since they said that would be a goal for the early Explorer Anthology releases. I’m also aiming to offer roughly even support for all five colors, and leveraging multicolor slots to try to support different decks. Building up a plethora of decks that are viable makes a lot more sense than locking it down to a handful, after all. That was one of the complaints leveraged against the first Anthology. Without further babbling, let’s dive right in!

1. Chained to the Rocks

Chained to the Rocks is a card that has been a staple of Pioneer for quite some time. It’s a powerful card that sees play in a lot of the greedier decks based around Enigmatic Incarnation. A 1 mana removal spell that allows them to clean up an early threat while later on acting as a target for Enigmatic Incarnation to leverage? Sign me up. This one would help that deck become relatively close to the Pioneer equivalent, as would another card further down this list. People love greedy, slow, value-based decks, so giving this card a slot makes a heck of a lot of sense.

2. Knight of the White Orchid

Knight of the White Orchid is potentially the most interesting choice I’m making in this list. It’s not a card that sees a ton of play, primarily sitting in sideboards of decks like Humans and White Weenies. That said, it’s a card that does something unique amongst these cards that I think is noteworthy: It rewards you for going second to a degree, and it also ensures you can catch up if you miss out on land drops. The mana system in Magic is something that can be excruciatingly punishing, and I’ve always been a big fan of cards and mechanics that can solve for that. This one is a winner, I think, especially for Best of One play, and one that would likely see heightened play in Explorer’s smaller card pool.

3. Pore Over the Pages

Pore Over the Pages is a card that sees a ton of play in Pioneer, but would likely see almost zero play in Explorer at first. The cards for the deck that leverages it, Hidden Strings Combo, just aren’t available on the client at present, and they require too many new mechanics to really get on there this early. On top of that, it’s a super powerful combo that would likely be unfun to play against for most, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s held back in case the deck gets banned out of Pioneer. That said, Pore Over the Pages is a solid choice here, because it’s a safe inclusion into the format that shows a vision towards the future. It acts to assure players that Explorer is only temporary, and the future is Pioneer.

4. Thing in the Ice

Thing in the Ice is a card that seems to ebb and flow in terms of play rate. Right now, it’s in vogue once more, seeing play in Izzet Phoenix and other decks in Pioneer. It’s also a relatively iconic card of it’s era, so it has some value in terms of attracting players to try out Explorer. Without Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, both of which I think are more likely in a later Explorer Anthology, this would be super safe to add to the client. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it sees more play in Historic than Explorer for the time being. That being said, once again, the goal with these Anthologies is to add in played staples and also assuage fears about the Anthology releases. Thing in the Ice is a slam dunk inclusion.

5. Bloodsoaked Champion

Mono Black Aggro was the boogeyman of Pioneer at one point in it’s life. When Smuggler's Copter was banned, the deck fell by the wayside, and Vampires largely took it’s spot within the meta. Now, even Vampires is more of a niche, lower-tier deck. That said, in Explorer, Vampires has still been seen as relatively viable by some, especially after the addition of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet so adding in Bloodsoaked Champion opens up the possibility for those players to try out the other “version” of that archetype. Will this card make waves in Explorer? I’m honestly unsure. It’d really benefit from Smuggler's Copter being unbanned in Pioneer and added to Explorer, but that’s neither here nor there, really. The Champion is the current missing piece for these decks in the format.

6. Collective Brutality

Collective Brutality is a card that isn’t seeing much play in Pioneer currently. It’s also a card that has seen a lot of play in Modern, as well as in MTGO Cubes. It’s hard to say what kind of place it would have in Explorer at present, but it would likely be a solid enough inclusion for Arena’s Cubes, which is why it’s on my list primarily. Any play it sees in Explorer or Historic is basically gravy, and the card itself was a popular one not long ago in Pioneer, so it has some amount of history there. It’s the loosest pick for me here, but I still think it’s fairly reasonably. If you told me programming in Escalate was too much, I could buy it being the odd-man-out here. The obvious replacement would be Zulaport Cutthroat for sacrifice-themed decks, but I’m still picking Brutality here and saving Cutthroat for a later Anthology.

7. Monastery Swiftspear

Monastery Swiftspear was the one card I was almost certain would be in the first Explorer Anthology, but ended up not making the cut. I have a bunch of theories about that, mostly revolving around there being some fear that Mono Red Aggro would be too prevalent in the meta, but sooner or later the bandage has to come off. Explorer Anthology 2 makes sense as the one to finally give Arena players the card they’re desperate for. Monastery Swiftspear is powerful, and a strong boost to both the aforementioned Red Aggro and also random Prowess-based decks.

8. Eidolon of the Great Revel

Oh look, another Mono Red Aggro card. Realistically, Eidolon of the Great Revel needs to come to the client for similar reasons. I don’t have much to say about this one beyond it’s a great threat that also gives fair red a mainboard way to punish combo decks, like the current Grinning Ignus decks running around in Explorer. Makes sense to me to have this one in.

9. Satyr Wayfinder

Satyr Wayfinder is a VERY popular card. I was actually unaware of how popular it was among the player base until fairly recently. It’s current home in Pioneer is in Abzan Greasefang, and it’s the only card that deck is really missing from being complete in Explorer. I like the idea of giving decks that are missing one or two cards their toys for Explorer, so this one is a no-brainer, in my opinion.

10. Oath of Nissa

Oath of Nissa is the other card I mentioned earlier that the value Enigmatic Incarnation decks are clamoring for. It’s also a card that Mono Green Devotion, one of the current best decks in Pioneer, is missing on the Arena client. The ability to dig for a card with selection for a single mana, while also leaving behind a permanent that either can be used by Incarnation or counted towards Devotion is crazy strong. It looks unassuming, but this one would see a TON of play in Explorer. I think this is one of the cards I’m more confident will be on the client sooner rather than later.

11. Spell Queller

Spirits was given Mausoleum Wanderer with Explorer Anthology 1, and giving it Spell Queller in Anthology 2 basically completes the deck. Many versions of the deck aren’t even on this card anymore, of course, opting to be strictly Mono Blue. With Spell Queller, though, you open up both Azorius Spirits and Bant Collected Company Spirits as options for players to consider. It’s a popular deck, so completing it’s major card pool on Arena while also drastically opening up potential variants seems like a win for the client.

12. Catacomb Sifter

Catacomb Sifter was seeing a decent amount of play fairly recently in decks like Jund Sacrifice and Golgari Citadel. Both of these decks are currently viable in both Explorer and Historic to varying degrees, so giving it a missing piece makes sense here. This card’s not a super exciting pick, but I assume many players will feel that way when it comes to some random commons and uncommons that see some play in Pioneer. They’re still necessary to add to Arena for Explorer to grow.

13. and 14. Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore

I’m lumping these two together because they’re basically a pair. Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore are the two efficient midrange removal spells currently missing from Explorer. The former sees a ton of play, whereas the latter sees play as a one-of often. Pioneer staples that also see play in Cubes? Sign me up. Abrupt Decay in particular likely excites a lot of players in both Explorer and Historic, since the “can’t be countered” clause will likely be super relevant in the current metas of both.

15. Jeskai Ascendancy

Jeskai Ascendancy is a combo deck in Pioneer. It was also briefly a combo deck in Modern. Adding it to the client is likely very exciting for brewers, even though a good number of it’s tools for the Pioneer deck still aren’t on Arena. What can you do with this card in the current version of Explorer? It’s really hard to say. My gut tells me that players will try doing something “sweet” with it, though. Maybe this is where Pore Over the Pages sees play until Hidden Strings Combo happens?

16. Dragonlord Atarka

Dragonlord Atarka has a lot of positives going for it. It sees some fringe play in bigger Gruul decks in Pioneer currently. It’s a powerful cheat target for Cubes and maybe for Historic. It’s also an iconic Magic card from it’s days in Standard. If you told me they don’t add this without the other three Dragonlords that saw play (sorry, Dragonlord Kolaghan, you stunk), I’d believe it, but I think it’s a reasonable shot for a singleton Dragonlord, as well.

17. Bring to Light

The primary missing piece for Five Color Niv (apart from Sylvan Caryatid, which I assume will also be added sooner rather than later). It’s the card that is keeping the deck from fully resembling what it does in Pioneer. Being able to cheat out a Niv-Mizzet Reborn or a Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter from your deck for five mana is big game. Make sure you’re manually tapping your lands for this one, so the auto-tapper doesn’t get you!

18. The Chain Veil

The Chain Veil is currently seeing play as a one-of in the sideboards of Karn, the Great Creator decks as a tutor target. It’s also a really sweet card that a lot of Commander players either fear or love. Adding it here does double duty, then, filling out Devotion while also expanding the options available to players in Historic Brawl. There’s not much else to say about this one. It’s role is simple, but it likely generates a decent amount of positive buzz.

19. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

This could easily be Mana Confluence, but I assume Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is easier to code in. It sees play in a lot of black-based decks as a one-of. It also has the side bonus of boosting the Black-based Devotion decks that could potentially exist in either Explorer or Historic. People have played Mono Black Control in Historic for a long time. It’s never a high-tier deck, but it’s popular, because people enjoy casting Ugin, the Spirit Dragons. This allows those decks to more easily make large amounts of mana with Cabal Stronghold, which can only help make those decks better for the players who enjoy them.

20. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Last, but not least, is Nykthos. This one is a card that the Green Devotion players are truly desperate to have on Arena, after Elvish Mystic was added. They’ve been struggling to run things like Nyx Lotus in the meantime, but the addition of Nykthos would make the decks truly viable and, potentially, tier 1. Is a deck like Mono Green Devotion being complete on Arena a real positive? I think so, but your mileage may vary, of course. At worst, it can hang around until Wizards decides that the card is too good for Pioneer, and then we’ll get wildcard refunds, I guess.

Bonus: Sideboard Options

I lumped these all together as a bonus because, at the end of the day, the one players really want is Rending Volley. The other four would just be a neat little treat for players to have as sideboard options. Rending Volley is a card that has seen tons and tons of sideboard play in Pioneer, and arguably was a card that decks were desperate for when Explorer launched to handle Winota, Joiner of Forces. Winota’s banned, but the card hasn’t left sideboards, since there’s still so many white and blue threats that need answers, and they don’t get much better than costing a single red mana.


Anyway, those are my thoughts on what Explorer Anthology 2 could and should look like. I think these twenty five cards as a bundle makes a lot of sense, and likely results in few players feeling unhappy with the overall quality of the Anthology. Launching in early-to-mid October also means they could be on the client in time for Magic World Championship, which will be featuring both Standard and Explorer this year. Explorer is an exciting format, and it’s growth towards Pioneer is highly interesting, and something we haven’t really seen since Classic on Magic Online many years ago. What do you think about these twenty five picks? Do they do the trick, or are they the wrong inclusions for Anthology 2? Let me know in the comments below or our Discord. I love hearing ideas and speculation about the future of Arena.

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My name is Jose Manuel Lopez. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering since 1999. I was previously a paper tournament grinder for several years, but shifted my competitive focus almost entirely to digital with the release of MTG Arena. I also am an avid Cube designer, and I'm relatively active within a niche Cube community which focuses on Spike-oriented Cube design. I've played every major format competitively at one point or another, and I play Commander semi-regularly, as well. I love Magic, it's my favorite game, and I play it and/or talk about it almost every single day. I often say that Magic is like pizza, since even "bad" Magic is still Magic, and that mantra pushes me to engage with the game and the overall Magic community regularly to both keep up with what's going on in Magic, and also try to share my passion for the game with others.

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