It was just another rainy day in the Waterfront District when she strolled into my office. She was a Cephalid dame, the kind with webs that go all the way across her fingers and bioluminescence that could light up a gal’s heart. She tossed a folder on my desk, sending the pile of Gathering Throngs I’d drafted tumbling to the grimy hardwood floor. “What are these, colorless cards?” I asked as I thumbed through the folder’s contents.
She pursed her lips. “Look again.”
“By the Angels, three cycles of lands?”
She shrugged. “It’s a three color set, these are the only things holding the Limited format together. I need you to assess them for Gladiator. You in?”
There’s something nostalgic about these lands. They remind me of my college days, when I would look out across the verdant murk of the Witherbloom Campus after a long day of classes, and pay four mana to scry 1. Ah, those were the days. The campuses from Strixhaven have seen some niche play here and there as tapped duals that can do a bad Castle Vantress impression, but have mostly just been a budget option for folks short on wildcards. So will these newer common dual lands fare any better? I do think they’re an improvement, but only barely. Being able to play this early and then trade it in for a card later on is great, but four mana for this effect on a land that enters tapped is a steep ask. Still, it’s nice to give players with limited wildcards more options.
Life Gain Fetches
What do you get when you cross an Evolving Wilds with a Dismal Backwater? Another cycle of common lands from New Capenna! In any two or three color deck these will usually be better than Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse, but again these are mostly only used in budget decks. The exception here is in a dedicated Lands Deck, where the multiple Landfall triggers and ability to recur your Wilds with cards like Ramunap Excavator makes up for the land entering tapped and only adding one color. For this reason I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Brokers Hideout in a Bant Lands deck for Gladiator. The life gain also means these could be played in something like Selesnya Soul Sisters, where it will synergize with cards like Ajani’s Pridemate. Beyond these specific archetypes, however, you’ll usually prefer to prioritize lands that can add multiple colors or enter untapped over these.
The Triomes from Ikoria are long-time Gladiator staples, even in two color decks. Basic land types paired with the ability to cycle them if you don’t need a land is amazing, and makes them one of the best cycles of tapped lands ever printed. All of that still holds true for New Capenna, which rounds out these lands with the Bant, Naya, Jund, Esper, and Grixis cards in the cycle. So play these in your decks, easy peasy, next card, right? Well, what’s really interesting here is how this opens up deck-building options for four and five color decks in Gladiator. While these decks have seen fringe play already, doubling the number of triomes is a big help to the mana issues that often plague them. They do enter tapped, however, so running a large number of them will slow down your deck. This is a small price to pay for being able to reliably have access to all your colors, but don’t expect Five Color Aggro to win any tournaments.
Get in, loser, we’re rebuying your ETB effect. Three mana for a 4/3 Vehicle with haste and crew 1 is a very aggressive baseline. Driving your creature from the battlefield into your hand, however, is a tempo loss that most decks won’t be happy with. The one place this isn’t as bad is in a Blink deck. Crewing this with a Blade Splicer or a Clone Crafter lets you accrue value while attacking or blocking. However, Blink decks are usually looking to be grindy, slowly piling up their advantage with their ETB creatures over multiple turns, so they’ll be less interested in the aggressive body. For now I don’t think there’s a deck that wants this specific combination of abilities, but the stats are good enough that I wouldn’t write it off.
Luxior, Giada’s Gift
Happy birthday! Giada got you a sword! Isn’t she sweet? So, do we actually want this, or are we going to slide it out of our deck as soon as Giada isn’t looking? Ignoring the ability to equip this to planeswalkers for the moment, this card could work in a deck built around +1/+1 counters. Doubling the stat boosts from the +1/+1 counters can get out of control very quickly, and sometimes you might get a little benefit from equipping it to a Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate token. While the sword itself is cheap, equipping it to a creature costs three mana. This means you’ll be investing four mana to pump up your creature, and if you ever want to equip it elsewhere that’s another three each time. This is enough of an issue to make this an unattractive option, especially in a deck that has more efficient ways of beefing up its creatures. I would much rather play something like Shadowspear, which is cheaper and makes it so a 1/1 can’t just chump block your Wildwood Scourge.
So how about slapping this on a planeswalker? This is only really an option for dedicated planeswalker decks, since you won’t reliably be able to equip it without a high density of walkers. Equipping it allows you to turn something like The Royal Scions, with its cheap cost and high loyalty, into a massive threat. Losing its planeswalker type also means your opponent can’t attack it, and taking damage won’t remove loyalty counters. You can also use this as a combo piece with Saheeli Rai, as it allows her to create an artifact copy of herself, which can then also copy itself. Pairing this with a Reckless Fireweaver or an Oath of Teferi lets you kill your opponent. Although you get the perks of being a creature, in exchange you also get the drawbacks. The main one being it allows Doom Blade to kill your Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. This is made worse by the fact that these decks typically don’t play that many creatures, so Luxior can turn what might have otherwise been dead cards in your opponent’s hand into excellent spot removal. While it’s still worth trying, I think it’s unlikely it will find a home. Maybe someday we can regift it to a Devoted Druid Combo deck.
It scuttles and buttles? Incredible. A three mana 4/1 isn’t very appealing, but throw double strike on it and that’ll kill your opponent faster than you can say Buttling Scutler. So are there any decks with the density of multi-colored permanents that want a very vulnerable, high power double-striker? Probably not. This card is mainly aggressive since it can only gain double-strike on your turn, and two color decks won’t have enough multicolor cards, while three color decks won’t be aggressive enough. I might still play it for the name alone in a deck with Hero of Precinct One, but I doubt it will have any significant impact.
A two mana artifact that grows as it exiles cards from graveyards, this card is in competition with format all-stars Scavenging Ooze and Lion Sash. This one has two unique advantages: it doesn’t require any mana to activate, and it gets bigger regardless of the type of card exiled. These perks make this very effective as a graveyard hate-piece, allowing you to keep playing on curve while exiling the scariest cards in your opponent’s graveyard. Where it runs into issues, however, is as a threat. Being a vehicle means that you need another creature to attack or block with this, which can be awkward at times. Tapping in order to exile is also a major issue when using this aggressively, since you’ll have to choose between attacking or eating up cards from the graveyard. For these reasons I think cards like Lion Sash, Scavenging Ooze, and Graveyard Trespasser will usually be better choices. In red and blue decks without access to these options, however, you can expect to load your opponent into the back of this hearse.
“That oughta do it.” I said, sliding the last rare back into the folder. “Now that we’re done with business, maybe I could get your name?”
She laughed and tucked a stray tentacle back into place. “Sorry doll, but I’ve got other plans.” She raised her right hand and a gentle blue glow washed over her. Her ethereal form popped like a bubble, leaving me alone in my dingy office.
I wondered if I’d ever see her again, or if she was lost to the mists of time. I looked to the angel statues perched outside. Remnants of what could have been, existing only to keep the flickering hope for a better future burning. As I listened to the drizzle of the rain outside, there’s only one thing I know for certain: that cheapskate didn’t pay me.
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Long before Elle tapped her first plains, a teacher made the mistake of telling her she could write. Now you must bear witness to the consequences.