Jumpstart: Historic Horizons Set Review: White

Welcome to the white segment of our Gladiator Jumpstart: Historic Horizons set review! Let’s get to it!

Abiding Grace

One life or a one drop? Doesn’t seem like much at first blush, but for some decks this is surprisingly powerful. Aristocrats and Soul Sisters are both decks with plenty of one-drops that are worth getting back from the graveyard, and can even make use of the option to gain one life. For Aristocrats, this card will usually return creatures that are good at dying, such as Hunted Witness or the new Nested Shambler, which means you get two more bodies to use for sacrifice shenanigans. Soul Sisters, on the other hand, expects to return the likes of Soul Warden or Alseid of Life’s Bounty. Aristocrats makes a bit better use of this ability, but Soul Sisters takes much better advantage of the life gain option. Aristocrats can have incidental life gain synergies with cards like Dina, Soul Steeper, but the entire Soul Sisters deck is built with this in mind. If you have the synergies to support it this card can be handy, but if not it will end up being a three mana do-nothing enchantment.

Abzan Falconer

Unlike its friends Abzan Battle Priest and Ainok Bond-Kin, this has the advantage of letting you immediately kill your opponent when you play it. Counters decks usually don’t have a huge number of fliers, and even the biggest Wildwood Scourge gets blocked by a 1/1 from Castle Ardenvale. Abzan Falconer is a huge help, as it often may as well read “Creatures you control gain flying” in a deck built specifically around counters. Being attached to a body is nice too, since on its own it will at least be a 2/3 that can turn itself into a 3/4 flier. The Outlast ability probably won’t be useful that often, but it can help your creatures get big enough to get around blockers against other Midrange decks. This card does well both as a synergy piece and a surprise finisher, and will likely see play in most Counters decks that include white.

Baffling Defenses

What if, instead of traditional removal, you played a card that just permanently makes their threat much worse? In some ways this is better, especially for recursive Aggro cards like Scrapheap Scrounger, but on the other hand no one’s playing Prime Speaker Vannifar because she can attack for two. This card is at its best against Aggro, since those decks have tons of cards that are useless at zero power. If you expect a lot of Aggro, especially with difficult to remove threats, this card is worth consideration as a meta pick.

Barbed Spike

Who doesn’t love a 2/1 flier for two mana? Probably the people that die to them, but they’re not important right now. This one has a small but significant upside, coming with an admittedly pretty underwhelming equipment. For Artifact Aggro and Equipment decks this card is exactly what you want, an evasive, on-rate threat that gives you two artifacts for cards like the new Nettlecyst. Other decks looking for a high density of two power fliers for two mana, such as Azorius Fliers or Mono-White Aggro, can use this too, though they won’t be taking as much advantage of what the card has to offer.

Battle Screech

Four Birds from just one card, what could be better? You can expect to flash this back the same turn you cast it from your hand; since the two Birds from the initial casting can contribute to the Flashback cost, you only need one more creature to flash it back. While that cost isn’t negligible, it isn’t much to ask in return for two more evasive bodies. Essentially, you’re paying four mana for four 1/1 fliers, which is way above rate. Any decks that play a large number of creatures and anthems will want to keep this in mind, including Tokens decks, Aristocrats, and more White-Weenie styles of Mono-White Aggro.

Blade Splicer, Kor Skyfisher and Restoration Angel

Three great cards for Blink in white alone; the only way this could be better is if they were insane enough to add Mulldrifter. Oh wait, they did. Blade Splicer is an excellent creature to target with cards like Ephemerate, giving you a 3/3 first strike creature each time it comes back. It also provides good stats for its mana cost on its own, so playing it without having a blink spell in hand is perfectly reasonable. Kor Skyfisher does something we currently don’t have in gladiator, as a two mana creature that can bounce cards to reuse their enter-the-battlefield effects. This can work on anything from Thragtusk to Baffling End, and it comes attached to a 2/3 flier. However, this can be a downside too. Playing this without anything else on the battlefield will either set you back on land drops or just return itself to your hand. Restoration Angel, however, is pure upside. A 3/4 flash flier is a good body, and it can blink a creature, either getting another enter-the-battlefield trigger or even protecting it from spot removal. These three cards give a major boost to Blink decks that already get played occasionally, plus they open up the option for a blink sub-theme in other white decks. Mono-White for instance certainly doesn’t mind blinking a Skyclave Apparition or Ranger of Eos, and the great stats on these cards make them perform well even in more aggressive decks.

Bonds of Faith

I wouldn’t play Pacifism, and I wouldn’t play Knight’s Pledge, but I might play a card that’s both of them. In a deck with a high density of humans this card acts as both an aura to push damage, and a Pacifism to deal with any Elder Gargaroths you run into. This upside can occasionally backfire when you want to play this on an opponent’s Seasoned Hallowblade, so if decks with lots of Humans are common keep this in mind. Both modes are a bit mediocre on their own, but the flexibility makes it worth considering.

Boros Elite

A one-drop that attacks as a 3/3? It’s too good to be true! No, really, it is too good to be true. Even with the potential for White Weenie to branch off into its own kind of Aggro deck with this set, Boros Elite still just isn’t consistent enough in this format. In order for Boros Elite to be worth it, you need to get three bodies on the board very quickly, and make sure none of them die. If you can jump through the hoops this card still won’t have done a whole lot more than just playing one of the many Savannah Lions variants, which are much more reliable. If we get a high enough density of one drops in the future this card might find its home, but for now it’s just too much to ask.

Doomed Traveler

Few are better at dying than good ol’ Doomed Traveler. This little friend is so great at it that it learns to fly when it kicks the bucket. Before this set the best option at one mana for a card that dies and makes another body was either Hunted Witness or Grim Initiate, and flying on the token makes this easily better than those. You can expect to see this traveler having a bad time as a staple of many Aristocrats decks to come. In decks without a sacrifice theme though, this still isn’t enough. Most of the time it will just be an underwhelming 1/1 that your opponent will be happy to leave on the board. Even if they play Wrath of God and give you the flier, it won’t be enough advantage to make up for how little pressure the vanilla 1/1 puts on your opponent.

Esper Sentinel

Apparently Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Reidane, God of the Worthy weren’t causing enough suffering for Control decks against White Aggro. This card may be a humble one mana 1/1, but it either makes spot removal far less efficient, or they lose out on card advantage for daring to kill your creatures. And really, doesn’t it just seem fair that Brainstorm should draw you a card too? On top of that, it’s an artifact creature. This means Artifact Aggro decks running the likes of Tempered Steel and the new Nettlecyst can take even more advantage of this already fantastic card. It might not hit as hard as other threats, but the tax effect is enough to make it a staple in many white creature decks.

Hanweir Militia Captain

This card is a real success story. From her humble roots as a Grizzly Bears variant, to a giant cult leader that pumps out creatures on your end step. The floor for this card is pretty underwhelming. That’s fine though, since in a deck that can reliably flip this, such as Aristocrats, Tokens, or even a version of Mono-White looking to go as wide as possible, this unassuming 2/2 becomes a huge problem. Upon transforming, this card will be at least a 4/4, and it will likely grow even larger. It also generates tokens, which all of these decks are looking to do, either as sacrifice fodder or just attackers that get buffed by anthem effects. Not many decks will be able to reliably take advantage of this, but for those that can this will be a must-kill threat for the opponent.

Healer’s Flock

We talked about four Birds flying side by side earlier, so how about three Healer’s Hawks stapled together? The triple white pips means this is only really up for consideration in Mono-White, but that’s fine since this is exactly the kind of card that deck wants. A 3/3 flying lifelinker might seem a bit underwhelming at a glance, there are only two words in the textbox after all, but those words work great together. Against other Aggro decks this card makes racing a nightmare for the opponent, since its a big enough flier that most non-white Aggro usually won’t be able to block it very well, and a six point life swing every turn is a big deal. Against Midrange or Control this won’t be as much of an all-star, but in a deck that plays Silverbeak Griffin it will still do just fine.

King of the Pride and Shapeshifters

As much as it pains me that this section is about Cats instead of the far cuter tribe, Dogs, I have no choice but to cover these. King of the Pride is another card that buffs all your cats, and rather than the usual +1/+1, this adds an extra point of power, making Adorned Pouncer a 3/2 double-striker. Impostor of the Sixth Pride and Irregular Cohort are also cats, in addition to being Clerics, Vampires, and, most importantly, Dogs. These Shapeshifters aren’t the most powerful cards around, but tribal decks struggling to get enough density in their tribe of choice are happy to have them. While these cards won’t push Cat Tribal into being competitive, it does put the tribe in a position where it’s more able to take advantage of its payoffs, which is great to see for niche archetypes like this.

Ranger-Captain of Eos

People say white doesn’t get card advantage, but this set seems to be out to disprove that. In addition to Esper Sentinel we also have this bad boy. White aggressive decks are already playing Ranger of Eos, and while this only searches for one creature, it also has a better body, a cheaper cost, and an ability that can prevent a Wrath of God every now and then. The usual suspects for both rangers are Stonecoil Serpent, Selfless Savior and Giant Killer. These options let you get a big threat, protection, or removal depending on what you need most. In Boros you have even more options with Grim Lavamancer and Soul-Scar Mage. The incredible flexibility this card offers makes it a great option for aggressive white decks with lots of one-drops to pick from.

Return to the Ranks

Return to the Ranks? More like Return to the Deckbuilder. Ahem. Anyway, this card is a little finicky, even in a deck like Aristocrats. If we compare it to Call of the Death-Dweller, which in Aristocrats typically gets back a one-drop and a two-drop, we need to cast this for X equals three for this to be better. This is also ignoring Call’s counters and the flexibility of being able to return an important three-drop such as Woe Strider or Mayhem Devil. This card requires a very low curve to shine, but those kinds of Aristocrats decks are often more aggressive, so convoking this means you’re not attacking. There are times where Return to the Ranks lets you sacrifice your whole board and get it back immediately to sacrifice again, but that requires either a large amount of mana or a lot of creatures that leave behind bodies you can use to convoke when they die. This card seems just a little too unreliable, though it might still see some niche play as a finisher in Orzhov Aristocrats.

Serra’s Emissary and Late to Dinner

Reanimate ‘er? I hardly know… how to contain myself, reanimating this card seems very strong. Serra’s Emissary joins the esteemed company of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite as one of the best reanimation targets we have access to. Choosing creature stops most Aggro decks in their tracks, making their creatures unable to damage you at all, and against Control naming instant makes it annoying to remove. Because many decks run a diverse suite of instant, sorcery and planeswalker based removal, the card isn’t impossible to get rid of, but the major headache of naming creature in Aggro and some Midrange matchups makes it worth it. Similarly, Late to Dinner is one of the best reanimate spells in the format. Most of them cost five mana, so a four mana reanimate with a bonus Food token is great. Reanimator decks usually already splash white for Unburial Rites and the aforementioned Elesh Norn, but with these and Priest of Fell Rites coming to Arena I expect the white will start to be more prominent.

Serra the Benevolent

Serra, Bird Mom is a great planeswalker for Gladiator. Azorius Fliers and Mono-White Aggro both have a focus on cramming as many flying creatures into their decks as possible, and Serra fits right in. Upon playing her you can immediately get a Serra Angel for four mana, plus you still have a planeswalker. Her loyalty also goes up very quickly using the +2 ability, which in decks that wants this card will consistently be able to push damage. The -6 ability is unlikely to come up, as these decks would usually rather use the -3 to pump out angels whenever they can, but she does get into range for it quite easily if necessary. Serra both keeps up pressure when you already have the advantage, and recovers by pumping out Angels if you’ve started to fall behind. You can expect to see a lot of her in decks that love Birds as much as she does.

Shelter

Getting a Doom Blade blanked by Gods Willing is annoying, but getting it blocked by Shelter is brutal. Protection spells like this usually trade one-for-one with removal, saving a key creature while staying at parity in terms of card advantage. The most powerful of these cards gain card advantage instead, like Fight as One, which often protects two creatures with a single card. Shelter does this more directly, drawing a card to replace itself, which also means that it can be cycled if the protection effect isn’t useful. It is a bit more expensive, but its benefits out-weigh this drawback. In decks like Auras this is excellent, since one of their main drawbacks is their vulnerability to spot removal. In other decks it will be more of a meta call, but this is high on the list for this type of spell.

Skyblade’s Boon

Speaking of Auras, here’s one that shores up the typical weakness of the card type. Two mana for +1/+1 and flying is a good start, since flying is one of the most important keywords for this deck. Making a huge creature is a whole lot better if the opponent can’t block it, and flying does just that. Even better, if your creature dies this card can return to your hand, so once you rebuild you’ll still be able to give your creature flying, though admittedly it will cost five mana. Outside of the dedicated Auras decks this probably won’t end up making much of a splash, but for this archetype it’s a huge Boon.

Teyo, Aegis Adept and Lumbering Lightshield

Teyo and his little friend are a nightmare for Aggro decks. Four toughness? Might as well throw in the towel, this thing is unkillable. And if that weren’t enough, it also messes with the opponent’s curve. Glorybringer looks a lot worse as a six drop. Teyo’s other abilities are irritating as well. The +1 has flexibility, either making the lightshields from his -2 into 4/4 beaters or making any of the opponent’s one toughness creatures like Seasoned Hallowblade a whole lot less intimidating. The -6 is more relevant than many planeswalker ultimates as well, since if left unchecked you can use this only two turns after playing Teyo, and reanimating a creature for free every turn usually means you’ll win the game. On its own, Lumbering Lightshield could slot into Control or Midrange decks who want a creature that will slow down Mono-Red and survive Lightning Bolt, and it’s really annoying if you Ephemerate it. Teyo himself is less niche, and while he’s at his best against Aggro, he’s worth trying in a variety of decks instead of just as an Aggro hate-piece.

Thalia’s Lieutenant

So a Human that cares about other Humans. Human Tribal, moving on, easy peasy. Well, not quite. This card is amazing in that deck, but there are a couple Aggro decks that already happen to run quite a few humans too. Boros and Mono-White aggro are already incentivized to run a large number of Humans because of cards like Fight as One, Winota, Joiner of Forces, and Resplendent Marshal, so Thalia’s Lieutenant could be a good fit here. Current decks tend to run an approximately equal number of Humans and non-Humans. While I don’t think this card is enough to warrant changing your build to suit it, if you happen to have a high enough density of Humans in your Aggro deck it’s definitely worth considering.

Thraben Watcher

This card is no Benalish Marshal to be sure, but then again, nothing really is. There are some unique advantages though; being a flier and giving vigilance in addition to the +1/+1 are both great. If this just died to Lightning Bolt it would be a great card, but it dies to Shock too. With other cards like Hanweir Militia Captain and Paladin Class, I think there will start to be a difference between White Weenie and Death & Taxes in Gladiator. This card can work well in the former, but is a bit too vulnerable for the latter.

Vesperlark

Unfortunately there aren’t any good cards with one power or less in Gladiator. Well, except Blood Artist I guess. Oh and Priest of Forgotten Gods is alright. Maybe getting back Soul Warden or Prosperous Innkeeper wouldn’t be so bad. Hallowed Priest and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose are decent options too. Hey, wait a second, I’m starting to think this card is alright, especially in Aristocrats or Soul Sister decks. If we’re really stretching, there’s also a seldom-used alternate casting cost, where you pay three mana instead of the normal two mana Evoke cost, which lets Vesperlark stay on the battlefield. This gives the option to play it as a 2/1 flier, so it is technically an upside. Oh, I almost forgot, this and Davriel’s Withering combo to get infinite enter-the-battlefield and death triggers by having Vesperlark return itself to the battlefield. If you were to do that in one of these two decks that already want this card, then I suppose you could get infinite Soul Warden or Blood Artist triggers. So yeah, this card might not be the worst.


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