Greetings, and welcome to the Creature Carnival for this Set Review! While the events of Crimson Vow are mostly focused on the Vampire wedding, plenty of Wolves, Humans, and Oddities have decided to make themselves known. Let’s dig into these delightful critters, shall we?
We’ve come a long way from Jackal Pup in the history of Magic, haven’t we? Ascendant Packleader is great on its base level as a 2/1 with no downside for one mana, unlike certain other canines, but its ability to grow amplifies this card’s potential further. Packleader can, in the late game, potentially enter as a 3/2, removing some of the problems in running one drops in higher curve decks. And in those higher curve decks, Packleader presents a dangerous threat to the opponent. The fact that it gains counters on cast instead of on ETB means that counter magic doesn’t prevent it from growing, meaning an early Packleader snowballs later in the game if unanswered.
Expect Packleader to see play in creature-based green decks of all stripes, whether they’re Aggro or Midrange. Aggro decks love an early threat that has the potential to grow off of the few four drops they play. Midrange, meanwhile, can make the card grow consistently, allowing it to be a great option at all stages of the game.
Avabruck Caretaker // Hollowhenge Huntmaster
More like “Shalai, Voice of Awoo”! Avabruck Caretaker is expensive at six mana, which prevents it from seeing play in Aggro, but it’s undeniable that the card is a beating. While the card is weak on an empty board, it skyrockets in value if you have even one other creature out. As with any Werewolf, the question is always if you’d like to play the front half by itself. I think the potential to ramp out Caretaker using mana dorks, and have it buff your Paradise Druid or Gilded Goose into a relevant threat is potent, especially since it can’t be hit by traditional removal.
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Once Avabruck Caretaker flips into Hollowhenge Huntmaster, though, it’s almost guaranteed to be game over. While both sides lack trample, giving your entire board two +1/+1 counters and hexproof makes it near impossible to miss lethal if you have any kind of board presence. I’d expect Caretaker to see play in Stompy Midrange decks and Counters decks, or in this handy moonlit article.
Cemetery Prowler is easily one of the most powerful green three drops in the format. A three mana 3/4 with vigilance is already a great card; people play Thrashing Brontodon for that statline, with the Naturalize sacrifice instead of vigilance. However, Prowler also acts as graveyard removal, hitting a card upon entering and then continuing to do so every time it gets to attack. And then on top of that, if you or your opponent have the correct card types in their graveyard, Prowler can act as ramp, allowing you to cast your cards one turn early. There’s nothing quite like casting an Elder Gargaroth a turn early and attacking for three.
Prowler is far and away one of the best cards in the set, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it sees play in almost every creature based green deck. Mono-Green and Gx Aggro can play it without too many concerns mana-wise, and even three color decks might be willing to squeeze their mana base somewhat to allow for this card.
Dig Up provides us with a rock-solid amount of versatility thanks to Cleave, either acting as a Lay of the Land or a costly Demonic Tutor. While we have Demonic Tutor in the format thanks to Strixhaven, there’s still plenty of reason to run Dig Up. Redundancy is certainly a factor, but Dig Up has an advantage over DT in one specific use case; tutoring for a land. Casting DT for a land is a begrudging play, but correct and common enough to the point that it’s become a meme, and Dig Up performs that same functionality at half the mana cost.
Outside of that situation, requiring two colors does limit the decks it can go into, but expect Dig Up to see play in combo decks running black and green. Golgari Citadel is the front runner for the kind of deck that wants to tutor for specific pieces in these colors, and some variants of Oracle Pact Combo could use the extra tutor and help with lands, where the card is usually better than Mastermind’s Acquisition thanks to the versatility it offers. Decks like BG Control (Also colloquially known as “The Rock”) might also run it to mana fix and get access to win condition planeswalkers or answers to dangerous threats.
The Spartans had a saying about coming home either with your shield, or upon it. This card obviously decided it’d be clever and do both. Hamlet Vanguard is a dangerous threat with defenses to back it up. Ward for two mana prevents on-curve removal, requiring the opponent to spend their turn four using a two mana removal spell to kill it. But the biggest detail is that Hamlet Vanguard has no cap on how big it can grow. Rather than simply entering as a 3/3 with ward for two mana if you control another Human, something that would have made the card fine but not spectacular, the card can grow to huge size depending on your board state. We have a lot of low curve Humans that smoothly play into this card, allowing it to be a potential three mana 5/5. The only situation in which Hamlet Vanguard is bad is just after a board wipe, if it’s the only card you have to play.
Other than that, Hamlet Vanguard is a solid attacker and defender, with the potential to become even better. Hamlet Vanguard obviously slots in best in GW and Abzan Humans lists, but given the high density of humans in GW decks in general I wouldn’t be surprised if generic Midrange and Aggro decks play it. It provides a strong reason to play green in your Humans lists, instead of Orzhov or Mono White, and I’m curious to see where Human Tribal lists settle after this set’s release.
Howlpack’s Piper // Wildsong Howler
Ironic that a Werewolf would be using a Quicksilver Amulet, but I guess it isn’t a bullet. Howlpack’s Piper seems like a powerful card at first glance, being immune to countermagic and having the ability to pull any creature from your hand onto the battlefield. And it even flips into a 4/4 that can find more cards to play! Unfortunately, Howlpack’s Piper is a 2/2 for four mana, and can’t be activated immediately without granting it haste. On top of that, we already have effects similar to Piper that haven’t quite taken off. Ilharg the Raze-boar has this effect on a way better recursive body and sees play in RG Stompy variants…because of the body. Champion of Rhonas is in a similar position, being green and having the same casting cost.
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Piper’s main saving grace is that it’s more resilient to counterspells, allowing you to cheat creatures onto the battlefield with ease if your opponent’s only interaction is counter magic, and untapping itself if you put a Wolf or Werewolf into play. To that end, this card should see play in the fringe Werewolf Tribal deck, where it instead goes from ‘cheat a big thing into play’ into “Get a mana discount on all those werewolves in your hand, and it doesn’t count as casting a spell so you get to maintain Night.” Otherwise, steer clear of her wild tunes.
It’s been a long, Winding Way, but we finally have Mulch in Gladiator. Mulch is less flexible than Winding Way. However, the card offers redundancy for this kind of effect, which we still need more of to make graveyard-heavy decks work. Self-Milling Midrange decks have been on the periphery for a while, and with this and several other new cards we might be seeing the deck get the tools it needs to properly operate at a competent if not meta defining level. Outside of decks that are running green and want to fill up their graveyard with extreme efficiency, don’t expect this card to see play, but it’s a key card for those decks as a way to fuel their effects.
I can’t even call this a Werebear, what with all the Werewolves running around! Reclusive Taxidermist is a fun new inclusion for decks running two mana creature ramp, replacing Druid of the Cowl or Drover of the Mighty. It produces colored mana, making it better than Druid of the Cowl for multicolor Gx decks.
Meanwhile, it has a better statline than other two mana multicolor creature ramp like Drover or Ilysian Caryatid. Drover of the Mighty primarily sees play because of its ability to produce colored mana, and Taxidermist is in most situations essentially a strict upgrade; not a lot of decks are running Dinosaurs to activate Drover’s stat buff, whereas incidental activation is possible for Taxidermist. I’d still call the card too slow for Aggro decks, but for Ramp and Midrange lists, I can see Taxidermist finding a comfortable home. Hopefully one without glassy-eyed Wolves staring at you.
Oh hey it’s the guy from Putrefy! Retrieve is almost like two Regrowths stapled together, but it has two major issues. First, it exiles itself, preventing any kind of recursion of the effect. Secondly, Retrieve cannot return non-permanents, meaning you can’t get other recursion effects or removal. In addition, the permanents you can select are limited to specifically a creature and then one other noncreature permanent, meaning that the deck this slots into wants to have enough creatures to make the effect worthwhile.
To that end, the best home for the deck I can think of is The Rock, due to its ability to recur a creature and a planeswalker. With actual Regrowth effects in the format, we simply have better options for most decks.
Ulvenwald Oddity // Ulvenwald Behemoth
Ulvenwald Oddity is like Questing Beast’s more reasonable brother; separated at birth, but a heck of a card regardless. Ulvenwald Oddity doesn’t have the insane array of abilities Questing Beast has, but it has the most important details down. Being a 4/4 means it eats a lot of threats and dodges Lightning Bolt. Furthermore, the Oddity also shares two important qualities with Questing Beast that allow it to kill your opponent out of nowhere: Haste and the ability to get damage past 1/1’s. Decks play cards for less; Crocodile of the Crossing sees play in Green Aggro decks as a way to push in quick damage, and Crocodile tends to have weaker stats and no evasion at all.
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In addition, while transforming into the Behemoth is unlikely to occur in most games (and I would not play the card for the Behemoth side), it provides an impactful mana sink that can end the game on its own. Oddity will see play in G/x Aggro and Midrange lists, and will see play in competitively-minded Elf Tribal lists that play cards like Questing Beast, where it is most likely to transform.
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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.