D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR)
UPDATE: The Book of Exalted Deeds has been banned from Standard 2022. It remains legal in regular Standard.
The newest card set, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, was released on MTG: Arena today, and along with it, Wizards of the Coast also added a much anticipated play queue: Standard 2022. There has been a lot of discussion about one card from the set in particular, The Book of Exalted Deeds, and the interaction that it has with the existing card Faceless Haven.
The way this interaction functions is fairly simple: once a player controls both The Book of Exalted Deeds and Faceless Haven, they can activate the Haven (which becomes an Angel due to the “all creature types” clause) and then activate the Book of Exalted Deeds targeting Faceless Haven. Haven then gains the “You can’t lose the game and your opponents can’t win the game” ability, which it retains even when it becomes a land again. If the opponent doesn’t have a removal spell to destroy the Haven while it’s still a creature, or somehow destroy Faceless Haven after it becomes a land at the end of the turn, there is no way for the opponent to win the game. Even if the player who controls the Haven runs out of cards in their deck, they still won’t lose the game. This means that the Book/Haven combo player doesn’t really even need to run win conditions like large creatures or oppressive planeswalkers since eventually the opponent will run out of cards. Interestingly, if both players have executed the combo, the game should result in a draw (although it seems Arena does not have support for this at the moment).
There is even a card from Kaldheim, Search for Glory, that can tutor for either of the combo pieces to increase the deck’s consistency. If you’d like to see some decklists featuring this combo, along with some other decks featuring cards from AFR, check out this article written by DoggertQBones.
Dealing with the Combo:
The easiest way to stop the combo is to remove the Faceless Haven while it’s still a creature on the turn where the enlightened counter is placed on it. There is no reason why the player who controls the combo would activate the Haven again after that turn since it would be open to creature-based removal again. Therefore, if the Faceless Haven becomes a land with an enlightened counter on it, it must be removed with land destruction- something that hasn’t seen much play recently in Standard.
In the current Standard format, which includes cards all the way back through Eldraine, the only land destruction card that has been played much is Field of Ruin. Field of Ruin has typically been run by decks like Azorius that have little to no access to instant speed removal as a way to deal with opposing Crawling Barrens or Faceless Havens. Field of Ruin is a viable option for many decks, although since it’s a land that only produces colorless mana, it can be extremely clunky in decks with multiple colors. Even in mono color or two color decks, Field of Ruin definitely isn’t “free” in terms of deckbuilding- especially for decks that also run Snow lands for cards like Frost Bite or their own Faceless Havens.
A even bigger problem becomes apparent when one considers that Field of Ruin was most recently reprinted in Theros: Beyond Death, a set which is scheduled to rotate out in the fall and is therefore not legal in the new Standard 2022 queue. While it’s certainly possible that we could get more land removal options in the fall set Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, where does this leave players who are playing the Standard 2022 queue now?
There are only a handful of niche land destruction cards that are legal in Standard 2022, and they’re all red. A quick search finds that the only cards in Standard with the text “destroy target land” are Cleansing Wildfire from Zendikar Rising, and Smashing Success, Gnottvold Slumbermound, and Waking the Trolls from Kaldheim. None of these cards have seen much if any play at Magic’s higher levels, and there are no land removal options at all for decks that aren’t playing red. Even black decks that are stacked with creature-based removal will not always have instant speed spells at the necessary time to stop this combo from going off. [EDIT: Astute reader Nic Paolini pointed out in the comments that Lithoform Blight is also an effective tool for shutting down the combo. Thanks Nic!]
In short, it seems that there really isn’t a great solution, at least for non-red decks, to the Book/Haven combo in Standard 2022. The format is brand new, so we will have to wait and see how powerful this deck actually is, and whether it’s truly a problem in the format that Wizards will need to address. It does take a total of six mana to activate the combo, so it’s not a given that the Book/Haven decks will be fast or consistent enough to constitute one of the best archetypes in the format. If they are, however, Wizards may be forced to respond with some kind of banning or suspension to keep the much-hyped Standard 2022 format fun for players.
Here are some sample decks from streamers that featured the combo: