Gimmick, Good, or Gold: Dungeons in D&D Standard

Ellywick Tumblestrum Art by Anna Steinbauer
Ellywick Tumblestrum Art by Anna Steinbauer
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
Constructed Review
Limited Review
Limited Guide

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to talk about one of the weirdest (if not the weirdest) mechanics I’ve seen in a very long time: Venturing. Venturing allows you to enter a dungeon or go forward a room in the Dungeon, simple enough. However, the strangest part about dungeons is that they have distinct tokens, but don’t use any slots in your deck to be played, they just kind of hang out in your Command Zone. Before I continue, let’s take a look at the 3 dungeons available to us.

So as we can see, the dungeons (mostly) grant small advantages as you traverse through them. Furthermore they can’t be interacted with and there are cards that gain bonuses when you complete them as well. This is a comparison that’s been made several times already, but this feels very similar to Energy from Kaladesh, one of the strongest Standard mechanics in a long time.

So what made Energy so strong? It was the perfect storm of no way to interact with it and the enablers and payoffs all being excellent. Let’s take a look at the enablers, then the payoffs.

ENABLERS

PAYOFFS

Holy moly. The card quality of a lot of these cards are super high and functionally all the payoffs worked as enablers as well which made the mechanic super powerful. So what are the parameters we’re looking for in a busted mechanic? Cards that are good by themselves, enable strong enough payoffs, and accrue reasonable advantages.

With that, Energy was both a busted Limited and Constructed mechanic. Dungeons are likely going to be great in Limited, but will they be able to shine in Constructed as well? Before I can answer that, let’s first discuss the dungeons themselves.

DUNGEONS

DUNGEON OF THE MAD MAGE

Out of all the 3 dungeons, this one takes the longest to complete with a total of 7 rooms. That may seems egregious, but the prize does seem to be worth it. The first few rooms are definitely not the most impressive, but once you get halfway to the Lost Level, it starts ramping up. Both of the next room choices are quite powerful as well as the Scry 3.

Finally, the final mode is incredibly powerful assuming you hit anything remotely good off the top of the library. This is easily the most powerful dungeon, but if you care about completing a dungeon, this can be a pretty large detriment as well.

TOMB OF ANNIHILATION

The Tomb of Annihilation is unique for two reasons. One, its the dungeon that can be completed the fastest in only 3 steps (although at a great cost), and it affects both players equally until the end. This is a strong dungeon if you’re looking to tax the opponent or beat the opponent down, but is definitely not great if you’re already behind.

Although the payoffs are there, if you have to venture you’ll be forced to keep moving, even at your detriment. This is the only dungeon you have to be careful with if you decide to choose it. However, with the new Mythic Acererak, Lord of Undeath, completing this dungeon is significantly more enticing.

LOST MINE OF PHANDELVER

The final Dungeon of the 3, the Lost Mine is pretty much the middle ground between the other two. None of the effects are particularly enticing, even the final one, but all of the effects are small advantages and you can clear it reasonably quickly. This seems to be a solid one to start off on assuming you want to complete a dungeon quickly, but don’t want the downsides of the Tomb of Annihilation.

ENABLERS AND PAYOFFS

So we got through what the Dungeons themselves do, but what about the cards that let us venture into the dungeon? This is where I’m going to start rating the cards as there’s no point judging the dungeons when you don’t see it with the context of the cards that allow us to venture inside.

NADAAR, SELFLESS PALADIN – GOLD

The first card out of the gate functions both as a dungeon enabler and payoff, exactly what you’d be looking for in a card. To start, a 3 mana 3/3 Vigilance isn’t terribly impressive, but with both an ETB and attack trigger of venturing into the dungeon, this card is absolutely no joke. Furthermore, completing a dungeon turns this into a Benalish Marshall as well! The major downside to this card is that it’s Legendary, but these are the cards the mechanic needs to be successful.

ELLYWICK TUMBLESTRUM – GOOD

This may look like a home run for dungeons, but I was actually really on the fence about it. I think it is good enough as cards that repeatedly adventure seem really important for the mechanic and she has an ok ultimate as well. Her -2 is a tad disappointing, but it’s not terrible or anything. Lastly, she has a decently high base loyalty which makes her harder to attack down and can allow her to ultimate somewhat quickly. I don’t love her, but I think she will definitely see play assuming the rest of the cards line up.

ACERERAK THE ARCHLICH – GOLD

Acererak the Archlich

Now we’re talking! There weren’t many good Dungeon payoffs, but this one definitely fits the bill. Whether it helps you start venturing into a Dungeon or being a huge threat once you cleared the Tomb of Annihilation, this definitely is one of the best cards for Dungeons, if not just the best one.

YUAN-TI MALISON – GOOD

The hits keep on hitting! Although this isn’t as good as Nadaar, this is still a very solid enabler for dungeons. Unblockability is huge when it needs to connect to do it’s thing and helps mitigate the low toughness. My main gripe with Malison is that although it isn’t legendary, it doesn’t play well in multiples barring you can force them all through. That’s a very small downside though and this card is definitely solid.

VARIS, SILVERYMOON RANGER – GOOD

Varis is quite comparable to Nadaar as both are 3 mana 3/3s and both give a decent benefit once a dungeon is complete. Nadaar works more towards the mechanic as it allows more times to venture and has a buff as long as a Dungeon is complete rather than when one is completed which is definitely better. However, Varis has Ward 1, can trigger it’s dungeon completion ability multiple times (even if it’s unlikely), and doesn’t need to attack to Venture. All in all, I would say this is definitely worse than Nadaar, but still quite good for the mechanic.

ZALTO, FIRE GIANT DUKE – GIMMICK

I don’t think a 5 drop that trades down with everything and gets hit by most removal is clearing the bar in Standard.

CLOISTER GARGOYLE – GIMMICK

As good as this card likely is in Limited, this is not a Constructed power level card. A 3 mana 3/4 Flier would definitely be powerful, but it’s likely going to take too long to complete a dungeon to make a 3/4 flier good enough.

ECCENTRIC APPRENTICE – GIMMICK

Similar to Cloister Gargoyle, this card is going to be great in Limited, but slightly better Wind Drake is not Constructed playable. We definitely need better enablers than this and the payoff is also very underwhelming.

DELVER’S TORCH – GIMMICK

Delver's Torch

This card was so close to being solid for Dungeons, but the upfront cost is way too prohibitive. If this equipped to a creature as it came in then I could see it being worthwhile, but it’s not even close as is. Furthermore, that’s not even Delver of Secrets on the art! What a ripoff!

DISPLACER BEAST – GIMMICK

I don’t think you need me to tell you that this isn’t a Constructed playable rate. It’s way too expensive to recur and the body is too small.

WANDERING TROUBADOR- GIMMICK

Wandering Troubadour

Man oh man this card is going to be disgusting in Limited, but it’s not there for Standard. The 2 toughness is definitely killer as it can’t be that meaningful in combat, a death blow for a Standard playable 4 drop.

VETERAN DUNGEONEER – GIMMICK

Veteran Dungeoneer

Don’t need much explanation here. Solid Limited card, but Standard card.

FLY – GOLD

Fly

This card has really flown under the radar, but it actually seems quite good. When you compare this to Curiosity, I would say they’re actually pretty close. Sure, drawing a card is definitely much better than Venturing into a dungeon, but Fly also gives evasion which definitely makes this more worth considering. For one mana, I think this does a surprising amount of work.

PLANAR ALLY – GIMMICK

No.

INTREPID OUTLANDER – GOOD

I could be wrong about this, but I think it’s pretty decent. The Dungeon deck is going to predominantly be a creature based deck anyway and you can even start triggering this as early as turn 4. The biggest thing that the Dungeon deck is going to need is a lot of different ways to trigger venture quickly and this seems to be a reasonable way to do it.

DUNGEON CRAWLER – GOOD

Now this is a real tough one. On one hand, this is hardly a Dungeon card and the effect is kind of mediocre. On the other hand, this is a solid 1 drop as Diregraf Ghoul saw plenty of play in the past. I’m assuming that if the Dungeon deck is at all playable in Black, this will be a great part of it.

SECRET DOOR – GIMMICK

Secret Door

No.

PRECIPITOUS DROP – GIMMICK

This card was so close, especially as a 3 mana common. If it did -3/-3, it would probably be good enough to see at least sideboard play, but a super overcosted Dead Weight is not what Standard is about.

CLATTERING SKELETON – GIMMICK

Unfortunately, this isn’t close to a Constructed rate.

RANGER’S HAWK – GIMMICK

If this didn’t have to tap another creature, this definitely could’ve been a solid enabler for the Dungeon deck. Unfortunately, this is not nearly good enough to see play.

FATE’S REVERSAL – GIMMICK

Another case of an amazing Limited card, but not good enough for Constructed. 

FIND THE PATH – GOOD

This card isn’t super flashy, but it’s definitely solid. Compare this to Gift of Paradise which has seen play before. This doesn’t color fix, but venturing into the Dungeon is quite the solid ability.

ZOMBIE OGRE – GIMMICK

Once again, solid in Limited, bad in Constructed.

SHORTCUT SEEKER – GIMMICK

Obviously this is awful compared to Yuan-Ti Malison.

KICK IN THE DOOR – GOOD

I love these effects generally more than I should, but this is a pretty good card. A slightly worse Hammerhand that gives you a Dungeon ability as well is not to be underestimated, but I don’t see much Red support for venture. Card is solid, but I doubt it’ll see play.

TRIUMPHANT ADVENTURER – GOLD

Strong when you’re ahead and still ok when you’re behind, Triumphant Adventurer is a super solid rate. It’s super hard to block and when you combine that with an accruing advantage every time you attack, you have yourself a very solid card.

BARROWIN OF CLAN UNDURR – GIMMICK

I know I say this a lot, but great in Limited, nowhere near good enough in Standard.

DUNGEON MAP – GIMMICK

ONCE AGAIN, good Limited, bad Constructed.

HAMA PASHAR, RUIN SEEKER – GIMMICK

Take a guess, take a WILD GUESS on what I think about this card. Although triggering rooms multiple times does seem appealing, the effect is not strong enough to justify the weak body on a 3 mana creature.

DUNGEON DESCENT – GIMMICK

I’m surprised this is a Rare honestly and looks way more like an Uncommon. Maybe if it came into play untapped it would be playable, but even then that would be a stretch.

CONCLUSION: IS VENTURE GOING TO BE GIMMICK OR GOLD IN STANDARD?

Unfortunately,  I think Dungeons is going to be pretty gimmicky. The best card by far is Nadaar, and I think that’s only on the precipice of a playable rate in Standard. Unfortunately, most of the cards are simply too weak and the Dungeon effects are likely not strong enough to really justify playing in Standard. Could there be a good enough Venture deck? It’s possible and if you want to know what that’s going to look like, I’ll have a list later this week!

All in all, Venture looks like it’s going to be a super cool mechanic for Limited, but will mostly fall short for Standard. However, I think that’s ok. I much rather a mechanic fall short than it being overbearing like Energy was. That being said, who knows what rotation will bring and if the power level drops, we may be venturing into a dungeon yet.

Thank you for reading!

DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is the content manager of MTGAZone and a high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8 and pioneered popular archetypes like UB 8 Shark, UB Yorion, and GW Company in Historic. Beyond Magic, his passions are writing and coaching! Join our community on Twitch and Discord.

3 Responses

  1. Damian Cohen says:

    Unfortunately it seems like they never wanted this mechanic to be good in Constructed. Some of the cards are laughable, like the land which is a contender for worst land in the story of the game. 5 mana and tap a creature (legendary!) as a sorcery for an effect that sometimes will be worse than draw a card is completely absurd.
    The other thing that makes it almost impossible is that even when some of the cards are good, they are all over the place in terms of colors. You would need a 4 color deck to play all the good cards, or at least a 3 color deck, which is not possible with the mana base in standard for a deck that wants to curve out.
    You missed the red rare which is not only in the worst color for Dungeons but is also terrible as well.
    Such a shame since the mechanic is definitely pretty cool, but they tried hard to make it only limited (at that point they could have saved some rares or mythics for other things)

    • DoggertQBones says:

      First off, thanks for letting me know I missed Zalto! That was amended. Second, I agree that they really spread Venture out and I’m not really sure why. I think that Orzhov may be able to host the dungeon theme, but even then they only have 3 good Venture cards so I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be better than expected once rotation comes, Standard may be weak enough then.

      • Damian Cohen says:

        Yeah that spread reminds me of party in ZNR, pretty strong in limited, almost impossible to build in standard. This is even worse since the enablers are only from this set, not like party that you can play rogues, clerics, wizards or warriors from other sets as well.
        Anyway, in limited it should be fun, and in standard might be at least a casual fun deck to try post rotation or in the current Standard 2022 queue, it does have pretty good cards even if they are not enough to make a competitive deck.