With the latest update to MTG Arena, we’ve seen a major change in the functionality of several Arena exclusive Magic cards added in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. Since we did a set review for those cards, it felt appropriate to write a quick update on how much these changes impact the different cards and how that impacts their place in our format. Let’s do this!
Davriel’s Withering/Davriel, Soul Broker
These cards are bundled together because the change made is effectively the same. Davriel’s Withering and the third ability of the planeswalker have been altered so that they can only target your opponent’s creatures. While this may seem like a minor change, this alters a combo that was seeing some play in the format. The original combo involved using Vesperlark, one of the aforementioned cards, and a card that causes your opponent to lose life or take damage whenever a creature dies, enters the battlefield, or leaves the battlefield. Since the effect of Withering and Davriel are Perpetual, Vesperlark would die, be able to find itself to reanimate, and then die again immediately upon entering the battlefield. Since you can’t target your own Vesperlark anymore, the best way to loop it is using Teyo, Aegis Adept to Perpetually set Vesperlarks power to one, and then use a sacrifice outlet like Woe Strider to get infinite relevant triggers, something that makes the combo much harder to assemble. There’s a good chance that the requirement is too much effort now for anyone but those dedicated to using unwieldy combos to win. Any decks looking to play these cards for their intended purpose and not for the combo is unaffected by these changes.
Faceless Agent has seen a stat buff; it’s a 2/2 now instead of a 2/1. That change helps a lot when it comes to blocking 1/1 tokens and dodging cards like Electrolyze, improving its resilience considerably. In addition, Tribal decks tend to run many Lords, and since Faceless Agent is every creature type the improved toughness makes those buffs more potent. With the change in stats, I feel like Agent is now much more tempting; many Tribal lists are primarily focused on combat, with Goblins and Humans being the most dominant examples of how Tribal leans towards creature Aggro. Goblins loves having a Pyre of Heroes card that can generate advantage and receives tribal buffs well, while Humans (which is centered in white but sometimes wanders into other colors) is very focused on having more bodies, and can utilize a colorless card advantage creature to its full effect. Honestly, most Tribal decks are going to want to try Agent out, barring odd Combo focused ones or those that already have lots of tutoring like Elves (Which already has Skyshroud Lookout for a cheaper creature-based Seek effect).
Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv
Sarkhan’s edit continues the trend of a single change in stats that provides a playability buff to a card. The original +0 ability to Conjure a Shivan Dragon has become a +1, which provides more options for being proactive with the card while still keeping loyalty high. Notably, you can have Sarkhan produce value on the turn he enters play while still keeping him above the four loyalty threshold. That makes sure that he doesn’t die to a stray Questing Beast or Crocodile of the Crossing, something that makes him much more effective on the play. With that bonus turn, the play pattern of playing Sarkhan on turn four, Conjuring a Shivan Dragon, and then using Sarkhan’s other loyalty ability to play the Dragon on turn five is feasible even in the face of more aggressive pressure. The additional loyalty also fuels Sarkhan’s removal ability, allowing him bonus utility against decks running smaller creatures. A constant stream of dragons followed by targeted removal is difficult for aggressive decks to handle, making him a solid stabilizing option. Sarkhan was primarily seeing play in Dragon Tribal lists, but the change might push him into Red Midrange lists looking for the combination of removal and value the card offers.
This card has seen some considerable improvements. While the original card was perfectly playable in Mono-Black Aggro at BB, the new mana cost of 1B is much easier to cast making it an option for two color Aggro decks as well. Gifted Aetherborn illustrates the power of a more flexible mana cost very clearly, as despite its powerful stats and abilities the Vampire doesn’t see play in two color Aggro due to how pip dense it is. The bonus toughness has significantly improved the card’s baseline stats. While a point of toughness was removed from the modes the card has to keep it at parity, being a 2/3 makes it considerably resilient against most damage based removal, and serves as a much more effective early blocker against aggressive decks. For comparison, other 2/3 creatures such as Tainted Adversary and Thorn Lieutenant offer similar levels of early game stats while also having the ability to scale into the late game, and those cards see regular play in part due to their combination of high toughness and flexibility, something that Acolyte shares. As a result, Acolyte has gone from a creature that you’d only play in Mono Black Aggro to one you’d play in any Bx Aggro deck. The solid stats also mean it’ll likely see play in Bx Midrange lists that can use the early body on top of the powerful flexibility.
And that’s all the changes! Be sure to let us know if you liked this shorter style, and we’ll be sure to do more of these if any more edits are done to Digital-only Cards! Take care, and we’ll see you in the Arena!
Writer and Editor for the Gladiator Blog and perpetual Green-Black Aggro player. He has a tendency to get distracted by random digressions about food, especially pizza. Don’t get him started on why you should be playing Witherbloom Command.