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How to Think About Venturing into the Dungeon


This year's upcoming Core Set, Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is adding a Dungeon mechanic to Magic's many dragons.

Dungeons are a new kind of card that can act like an extra resource for decks that play with this new Dungeon mechanic. Venturing into the Dungeon the first time will give you one of the following triggers, depending on which Dungeon you choose to enter:

  • Scry 1
  • Each player loses 1 life
  • Gain 1 life

As you venture further and further into the Dungeon more exciting things will happen for you. I can already envision my most common path of making a Goblin token, draining my opponent for one, and finishing off the mini-adventure by drawing a card.

No individual event in any Dungeon is that singularly devastating. Even making a 4/4 God is within the realms of the reasonable (and to do so quickly will likely cost you). But part of the value here is that it's all extra. All of it. There is no particular deck-building cost. You don't have to concede your sideboard entirely to Wish targets. Or even devote a handful of sideboard slots to Lessons. You don't have to shave numbers to make room for main-deck bullets or narrow your land selection to accommodate specialty choices. You don't have to play eighty cards or any particular color or combination of colors. You want the option of a Dungeon? You want the option of any of the three Dungeons? You want a pathway to a Deathtouch God or an ever-deepening grind to card advantage? All you have to do is play a single venture into the Dungeon card anywhere in your deck and sideboard and the options are all yours.

I mean, getting some consistency out of the mechanic is another question... But the barrier to merely enter [the Dungeon]? Almost non-existent.

Remember about a year ago when everyone and their kid sisters were playing with Companions? Companions at the outset were just a free card (and sometimes a very good free card). Paying particular deck-building costs was justified for some great Companions (say, Lurrus of the Dream-Den)... And even in the "nerfed" Companion era we see decks running Jegantha, the Wellspring or Zirda, the Dawnwaker simply because of how cheaply they can.

A deck with no non-land permanents can just devote one sideboard slot to Zirda and have access to an extra card in Game 1. That card can pay for a discard effect; chump block to buy a turn, or, I guess, in a really narrow pinch, actually attack for three. Zirda nevertheless costs that sideboard slot.

Again, Dungeons don't.

This should have your eyebrow raised a little. There is no additional cost to participating in Dungeon crawls beyond simply playing cards that venture into the Dungeon in your deck.

Remember these?

Attune with Aether
Harnessed Lightning
Longtusk Cub

The trick of the Energy mechanic is that you would probably have played some of these cards without it. G.O.A.T. contender Kai Budde certainly won a Grand Prix or two by casting Lay of the Land; Attune with Aether was a Lay of the Land-plus.

I think that venturing into the Dungeon might be flirting with that kind of a space. Some of that Companion-esque opportunity to play with an extra card (or three). A smidge of that Energy something-for-nothing. Which means that...

Well... Some of these cards aren't very good.

Imagine you had a one-time shot at venturing into the Dungeon. Would you play Cloister Gargoyle if it said you could Scry 1 or gain 1 life when it entered the battlefield?

You actually have to reach the Temple of Dumathoin to draw a card via the Lost Mine of Phandelver. Would you play Shortcut Seeker if it went full-on Scroll Thief with every strike? Probably not, right? At four mana it is not compelling even if you drew a card each time... And venturing into the Dungeon is generally weaker than drawing a card off the top of your deck (again, unless you're entering the Temple of Dumathoin, which is exactly drawing a card off the top of your deck). Shortcut Seeker is going to do far less impressive things with 75% of its successful hits! Wow, that's kind of a big ask.

These cards are probably in the set for Limited play, not Constructed. But if you want to have a high concentration of cards that can help you venture into the Dungeon (i.e. to support your bombs) it's nice to know some exist. But playing even one of them in your forty gets you a whole extra resource! For Constructed, though? Let's look at the Rares.

How do you feel about a 3/3 Vigilance for three mana? That is not the best return in the world; and considered on that basis, Nadaar, Selfless Paladin is a Baneslayer Angel. But that's not the extent of the card or its text.

Nadaar, Selfless Paladin, like Llanowar Visionary, is technically a Titan. The fact that you venture into the Dungeon when it enters the battlefield is a big game. Now normally it's only going to be a Scry 1 or 1 life... But that is still value beyond Nadaar's physical cardboard. If the opponent trades you one-for-one, you still got a little extra value out of it. Doing that enough times will give Doom Blade guy fits.

And when it starts attacking? Nadaar has the better of Shortcut Seeker. Nadaar doesn't need to actually connect to further venture into the Dungeon. You can aggressively trade your Nadaar and end up ahead thanks to whatever you're getting out of the Dungeon.

Even with all these elements, I'm a little skeptical about Nadaar, Selfless Paladin on rate. We are, after all, a few years removed from Gnarled Mass being the blazing neon sign of expert creature selection. What about the Crusade-esque final clause? That is certainly part of the card's overall package, but even the fastest Dungeon crawl will take you a minimum of three ventures.

You can shortcut that by playing lots of cards that venture into the Dungeon. At present we know of exactly one creature that kind of passes the Longtusk Cub test - that is, a creature you might just play anyway - versus clunkers like Shortcut Seeker. Sadly, that creature is also Legendary, meaning you can't easily double or triple it up, even if you wanted to. Still, I predict that given the presence of three actual Dungeons, the nice people in Renton, WA will give us upwards of three cards to get us venturing into one of them.

At present this leave us with the Mythic Rare:

Remember when we didn't know what a Food was?

When the main thing people had to talk about this Planeswalker was his abs?

Oko, Thief of Crowns

I feel like WotC was very careful with Ellywick Tumblestrum as a result. The card costs four instead of three. The limited card drawing ability - even with a pretty cool life gain clause - costs two actual loyalty instead of gaining loyalty or being loyalty-neutral, as we might expect on a four mana Planeswalker.

Yet, I suspect this card might still be pushed.

Like Food before we got to play with Food, we don't know how impactful venturing into the Dungeon is going to be.

One thing I will say about Ellywick is that she is highly versatile. You drop her. You want life? She can get you three life while drawing a card if you've built your deck appropriately. Selesnya Nadaar combination? That's all kinds of delving into the Dungeon synergy! You know how offense is the best defense? In addition to gaining life, presuming you get to untap with Ellywick still on the battlefield, her defender - a future attacker - will feature vigilance.

You want life but don't want to risk possibly not getting three life? You can get one. That might be less life (and less good, given you didn't draw a card) but at least you're getting the life you were looking for while putting a very obvious sponge to soak up five damage between you and death.

You want to grind?

Ellywick is kind of an amazing card for those Rock-on-Rock or Jund-versus-Abzan kind of games that can go a hundred different ways. You can grind through the Lost Mind of Phandelver in four steps, fixing the top of your deck, making a threat (or a Lotus Petal), defending yourself a little, and actually drawing a card along the way. It will take you seven steps to grind through the Dungeon of the Mad Maze, but you'll draw hella cards along the way. Scrying the top of your deck - not to mention actually playing cards from it - can get you through the Dungeon of the Mad Maze faster if you're picking up cards that venture into the Dungeon. Even better if some block.

Is your opponent on one life? Ellywick can kill such an opponent by venturing directly into the Tomb of Annihilation. It might sound silly, but killing an opponent on one life is 100% in the range of this Mythic Rare! But what if you're actually into one of those Rock-against-Jund kind of grindy games? Your life total might not matter; or it might not matter as much as getting through the current Dungeon. I'm a little skeptical that a 4/4 God - Deathtouch or no - is going to win the day by itself, but if you run through enough Dungeons over the course of a long game, maybe it won't have to.

Not to mention, there are countless cards you might play with Ellywick that actually benefit from being discarded or sacrificed.

Flagstones of Trokair

While not Standard-legal, you have to bet that if venturing into the Dungeon cracks bigger formats this land will make for a very low-cost piece of insurance against the Tomb of Annihilation. It might in fact be playable in non-Dungeon decks just to blunt an opponent venturing into that Dungeon.

In conclusion, I think this card is probably pretty good. No idea if it will be more played in Dungeon decks, or as a 2-power attacker for one mana. Since it only benefits from Dungeon completion and doesn't actually venture into the Dungeon, this Zombie's utility is a little blunted.



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