Welcome to the blue part of our Gladiator Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set review!
Let’s get to it!
The matching name and creature type is simple and clean. The effect is mainly desirable in Tempo decks and Control decks.
The five toughness is capable of stonewalling most Aggro threats. The ability to tap down a key attacker against Aggro is also relevant and strong (consider Hazoret the Fervent or a live Robber of the Rich). However, tapping itself down is a major downside. This means that even flashing it onto an empty board, you have to wait a turn and a half before you can begin attacking or blocking with it.
However, Dragon Turtle also has a neat trick- if you remove the target of Dragon Turtle’s triggered ability, the ability will fizzle and Dragon Turtle itself will not be tapped! Notably, if you cast this on your opponent’s turn, your Dragon Turtle will untap before your opponent’s creature untaps, providing you with a choice to chip in for three or to stay back and block.
Ultimately, this card warrants testing in variants of tempo that want to go a bit longer, mono blue, Dimir, and Simic, as well as Control decks as long as Aggro remains prevalent.
Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar
Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar is exactly the kind of card that Tempo wants.
I believe the first ability will frequently be irrelevant. If you choose to return the creature to your hand, it will typically force you to use your mana inefficiently to replay your threats. Additionally, the majority of your creatures have evasion in some form anyways.
The second ability, on the other hand, is quite good. Curiosity effects are very important in Tempo, helping you keep the flow of answers and pressure against your opponent. Grazilaxx can also trigger the turn it comes down if you already have a creature on board too! Note, the effect is worded such that it only triggers once per combat.
Grazilaxx also has a passable body – three power is a lot, though two toughness leaves it open to almost all forms of red removal.
This is likely playable in variants of Tempo that comfortably play UU spells, though three color Tempo decks likely don’t want this effect at its difficult cost.
Demilich is an obviously powerful card with an incredibly restrictive casting cost that essentially limits it to mono blue. (While there is an argument that you could attempt to cast Demilich in a two color base blue deck with a high density of one mana spells, it would still be exceedingly difficult to cast it on curve.)
With a lack in variety of mono blue decks, Demilich will really only see play in mono blue Tempo.
While Demilich notably does not have evasion or true protection, the capability to Flashback spells to clear the way combined with a four power body enable it to swing in with relative ease. Typically, Demilich is best on turn 4 with another threat in play and some bounce interaction in your graveyard.
Contact Other Plane
This card is worth testing in control decks that play up to 4 four mana draw-twos (Behold the Multiverse, Chemister’s Insight, Hieroglyphic Illumination, and Glimmer of Genius, in order of best to worst), swapping it for Glimmer of Genius.
Guild Thief’s ability to grow and provide late game evasion is usually an effect Tempo decks want.
However, while the ability to grow early on is powerful in the early game, casting this turn four is less than ideal, and casting this on turn six is laughably bad.
The rate at which this grows is much slower than the rest of the threats you play (see Deeproot Champion), and it doesn’t have evasion in earlier turns to get past utility creatures and mana dorks.
If you’re on a budget, this card is likely fine in mono blue Tempo until you can get a higher-power rare. Outside of budget, I don’t think this card should see play in Tempo decks.
In Tempo decks, your creatures have built-in evasion, so the flying is less important. More relevantly, you need multiple attacks with a creature enchanted with Fly to receive a game-impacting benefit.
In aura decks, this may see a little bit of play due to the low aura quality in the current card pool.
If you plan on playing Fly in either Tempo or Auras, I believe the correct dungeon to choose most of the time is Lost Mine of Phandelver. This dungeon enables you to accelerate on mana briefly- in Tempo it enables you to cast a spell and hold up interaction, while in auras it enables you to drop auras and hold up protection. The final stage of the dungeon’s draw ability can also give you a little push in the midgame, though it will take four turns of attacking to get there
In the end, I believe Fly will not be playable in Gladiator decks.
Iymrith, Desert Doom
While Iymrith does have an on-rate body that blocks well and a strong ability, there’s not many decks that want to play a card like this. Control decks want stickier and more impactful threats, while Tempo decks want relatively few fives. Combo decks aren’t in the market for a 5 mana dragon, there aren’t any blue Aggro decks, much less any that would play Iymrith. In ramp, the fives slot is so incredibly powerful and loaded that I don’t think you play Iymrith (think of Golos, Elder Gargaroth, Thragtusk, the various Nissas).
Iymrith could potentially be playable in Jeskai midrange, though currently Jeskai has many powerful fives. Most of Jeskai’s fives help stabilize versus Aggro or pressure Control, the prominent archetypes in the current meta, while Iymrith is more of a midrange mirror-breaker.
On the other hand, with the release of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, there could be a new blue red based Dragon themed deck- possibly Jeskai or Temur- where Iymrith might see play there as a dangerous threat that can refill your hand.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t play Iymrith in any currently existing decks, though new decks and archetypes could pop up due to Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.
Mordenkainen may be a powerful Dungeons and Dragons character, but he’s not exactly a powerful Gladiator card.
The types of decks that would want a six mana blue planeswalker are Control decks and Ramp decks.
The ability to filter your cards is strong, and the tokens he produces will generally be sizable in a Control deck. The ultimate is powerful, but it takes three turns to get to it.
However, at six mana, planeswalkers need to be incredibly powerful. In blue Control decks, six drops are usually limited to Shark Typhoon, Torrential Gearhulk, and Commence the Endgame, as well as a bomb in another color- Chandra, Awakened Inferno or Liliana, Dreadhorde General, for example. Mordenkainen is not as game warping as the other six drops in these Control decks, so don’t expect Mordenkainen to show up in Control decks.
Similarly, Ramp curve-toppers should also be impactful, and Mordenkainen] is a slow-and-steady type of card, which is not desirable in Ramp decks in Gladiator. Mordenkainen is definitely not a staple of any Ramp decks.
Ray of Frost
Ray of Frost is a kind of color hoser we’ve seen before, with a base text of a slightly lower power and the potential for a strong upside against red decks.
This effect is mostly desirable in control decks without red or black, where there’s a lack of multiple cheap interaction spells. It’s strong removal against some of the most common decks, red Aggro decks, and can still stop a creature outside of matches against red.
This card will ultimately see play in Azorius and Bant control decks to help them beat Aggro.
This artifact is a rather unique and hard to evaluate card, with a lot of potential for value- it has some very specific synergies with cards like Lurrus, Emry, and Renegade Rallier. If Trickster’s Talisman sees play, it will likely be in a Sultai or Bant blink deck- you can set up some four cards loops with this and Time Warp for extra turns, and it has decent synergies with some of the powerful enter the battlefield triggers in your deck. Regardless, I don’t think Trickster’s Talisman is better than playing a value creature, as it will sometimes be a dead draw
The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
The effect of The Blackstaff of Waterdeep is rather desirable- being able to repeatedly make a 4/4 beater for a low activation cost can help close out games quickly, especially against more reactive decks which may not have an answer for the staff itself.
However, there’s no home for The Blackstaff of Waterdeep, with a lack of blue artifact Aggro or artifact Midrange decks in existence in the format.
Therefore, I don’t think we’ll see The Blackstaff of Waterdeep cast anytime soon, at least not until we have an established artifact deck.
You Find the Villain’s Lair
You Find the Villain’s Lair is an interesting counterspell that may be a new top-tier counterspell in blue reactive decks.
Generally, I rank three mana mono blue hard counters in the following order:
The others usually won’t matter.
I believe that this is worth playing over Neutralize and Saw it Coming in the majority of control decks, as it has the capability of cycling away dead cards in specific match-ups, even if you don’t have the ability to cycle it for two mana to find a third land.
You Come to a River
You lose out on the ability to draw a card in the later game, but you are able to push through damage against some of your harder matchups (creature based Midrange decks), and potentially even swing in for lethal.
You See a Guard Approach
This card is also a card that I would expect to play in both Tempo and Blitz over Dive Down. While you lose the ability to fight against three mana red wraths by pumping toughness, you gain the ability to push through more damage against creature decks which can gum up the board and make it hard for you to deal those important last few points of damage.
Yuan-Ti Malison is clearly a card designed with Tempo decks in mind.
With Yuan-Ti Malison, you will typically be able to Venture only once per turn, which means that even if you drop this down on turn two, it will be turn four before you are rewarded with any real value (again, I believe Lost Mine of Phandelver will be the correct dungeon choice). As I’ve stated before, I also believe Venture will be underwhelming and underpowered.
Because Tempo decks typically have more than one creature you want to attack with, leaving this as a 2/1 without evasion, meaning you will not be able to profitably attack.
Despite obviously being designed as a Tempo card, this card does not fit in Gladiator Tempo.
Interested in Reading More?
Gladiator enthusiast, constant brewer, and self-proclaimed premier UG tempo and blitz pilot of the format.