One of the things I did to prepare for this article was go back over the last two or so years of Magic: The Gathering sets. I executed a couple of simple Gatherer filters to answer this question: What makes for a tournament-viable 5-drop?
I knew, intuitively, of course. But the goal posts have moved over the years. When Brian Kibler won his first Pro Tour, he declared that Baneslayer Angel was the best large creature of all time. That was an Extended Pro Tour, by the way! Not long after, Baneslayer Angel went on to win Worlds in Andre Coimbra's Naya Lightsaber deck, contribute to LSV's record-setting Boss Naya Swiss tear… and then fade into complete anonymity with the printing of Primeval Titan and friends less than one year later.
What makes for a tournament-viable 5-drop today? A Standard-viable one?
I was pretty surprised at what I found. Over the span of about the last two years (everything from Kaladesh forward) there have been fewer than twenty-five actually tournament-viable 5-drops printed. By my count, the number is actually twenty-three, and that is if we pretend that Samut, Voice of Dissent, Crested Sunmare, Neheb, the Eternal, Regisaur Alpha, Vona, Butcher of Magan, and Gigantosaurus all legitimately count. If we don't bend our criteria a little for Regisaur Alpha and Vona, Butcher of Magan, Ixalan doesn't even have a viable five-drop. Regardless, Rivals of Ixalan doesn't at all. Not a one!
I don't know what you thought you would read just there, but I certainly didn't expect zero viable fives across consecutive sets. But since technically right is the best kind of right, we didn't get that anyway.
Big fives have been the backbone of Standard throughout this span. Angel of Invention was an ace that anchored multiple high performing archetypes, not the least of which was God-Pharaoh's Gift. But clearly the three best 5-drops of the last two years are Glorybringer, The Scarab God, and Lyra Dawnbringer. All of them are generalists appearing in more than one kind of deck. All three of them provide tremendous advantages on the battlefield, and either imply or overtly generate card advantage. All of them also ask difficult questions of both players. "Should I attack" is paired with "Will I actually end up in a better defensive position if I attack" in more than one case. Am I better off if I exert? What happens if I reanimate on upkeep for the point rather than leaving up counter mana? If I wait for an open Blossoming Defense here, will I just die instead of the Angel? How does my plan change if I don't draw the sixth land?
Even more challenging questions are asked of the opponent. If you don't think the Red Deck is going to hit five next turn… That might inform whether you play a Glorybringer-able creature, if only for one cycle of service. How aggressively you trade in a creature matchup may be colored by whether you think the opponent is going to make you pay - rather, double pay - for your play style with The Scarab God. Lyra questions transcend format. I've kept in creature-only burn or chosen suboptimal Rift Bolts in sideboarded Modern games where I knew my creatureless opponent would bring in Spell Queller and Lyra, for instance.
We'll come back to these three in a bit because they are, in fact, so special.
And then there were fives that saw essentially no Standard play, but were Staples or even Flagships of other formats… Cards like Horror of the Broken Lands or Hollow One. All together, though? Fewer than twenty-five playable 5-drops by my count.
Why was I even thinking about this?
Because I wanted to make sure.
Because I had to double-take the Titan.
Because there is a five so sick, a five so spicy, a five so absolutely damning… It's the card of both my dreams and nightmares.
I speak, of course, of Doom Whisperer.
Baneslayers are cards like Lyra Dawnbringer and Glorybringer, where the value is in the creature itself. Mulldrifters are cards like The Scarab God, that give you value outside the creature (I think we can all agree, though, that there is a good amount of value in The Scarab God's body still).
Doom Whisperer has a little of that The Scarab God
goodness bad-ass-ness to it. None of the last Standard's 5-drop Trinity could dodge a Doom Blade, though The Scarab God at least made it cumbersome. Neither of that format's Baneslayers was crazy-sized for its five. Doom Whisperer is bigger than almost all of the playable 5-drops of the last two years. Bigger than Gigantosaurus? No. Bigger than Verdurous Gearhulk? Often. But bigger than hella 4/4 and 5/5 creatures with mad abilities? All over the place.
While Doom Whisperer still dies to Doom Blade1 like anybody else, its 6/6 body for five mana is an absolute monstrosity. Of the Trinity member that will remain Standard legal in a couple of weeks, Doom Whisperer kicks the snot out of Lyra's comparatively tiny 5/5 frame and tramples over for one point of good measure. Sheer size is a kind of resilience and Doom Whisperer has that.
This 6/6 body is the first element that, for me, harkens back to Primeval Titan. The last age of the 5/5 first striking, lifelinking, Angel was brought to a close by a 6/6 Mulldrifter. I think today's Baneslayer may give up its throne the same way.
In addition to a huge body for just five mana, Doom Whisperer has flying and trample. A 6/6 flyer for five mana is probably already enough for us to stop and take notice. Mahamoti Djinn was long the standard for large flyers. Hall of Fame legends from Zvi Mowshowitz to the aforementioned Mr. Kibler giddily tapped out for Fat Moti to hold off Blastoderms or kill Control players. Remember what I said about moving the goal posts? Doom Whisperer is bigger and costs less mana than Fat Moti. In addition, it has Trample.
Now Trample is not Haste. If you really want to look at some consistently tournament defining 5-drop Baneslayers… They often have Haste. This is true of Modern Staples like Stormbreath Dragon to cross-format All-Stars like Reality Smasher. Haste ensures that, for your frankly enormous investment, you get something out of the tap and the card. Doom Whisperer does not give you that kind of comfort… But again, it has Trample.
Trample may not be Haste… But it's probably the most underrated keyword ability in all of Magic: The Gathering. Trample isn't overpowered as a concept… But it is certainly underrated; what do I mean about this? People just don't count it. They value it as essentially zero relative to a creature's casting cost. Trample is more valuable than "zero". So if you think of it as a zero, you're mispricing it. By extension, if you're getting it without another mana tacked on? It's under priced. I'm confident it will come up.
All these Baneslayer elements are great. We might see this card appear even without its text box ability… But that said, it would be nonsensical to ignore it.
Pay 2 life: Surveil 2
Doom Whisperer is one of the best cards you can possibly draw after an attrition battle, when you're both in topdeck mode.
Simply, if it sticks, you will always draw gas. When I won my first PPTQ a couple of years back, I was in a topdeck situation with my opponent could conceivably have just killed me. I had Silumgar, the Drifting Death in play clocking him, but we were both otherwise playing off the top. At one point I drew a Dissolve, countered something with that Dissolve, and revealed (to myself) a Hero's Downfall. The scry on the Dissolve let me take a breath. At a minimum, Doom Whisperer will give you that. Need something not land? As long as you've got a couple of life points, you can push lands, and moreover guarantee a topdeck if you see something you like.
This means that Doom Whisperer may be the best card to rip when no one has anything. Not only is it a 6/6 that can conceivably kill in just a few attacks, its Surveil ability helps make sure those attacks keep coming.
Because of the very short clock Doom Whisperer represents, just drawing a few spells will often be enough. One-for-one trades will exhaust the other guy when your threat is capable of winning in just a couple of swings. You know what's coming while they fade maybe 40% of the time.
But when you start mixing in cards like Narcomoeba or anything Jump-Start, the card goes from narrowly highly effective to utterly ridiculous. How insane is Narcomoeba with Doom Whisperer? First of all, you didn't want to draw that thing anyway. But while you're at not drawing it… Free 1/1 flyer? Great for chump blocking, but also handy for a damage in an unpredictable race. One Narcomoeba turns a four turn clock (6x3 is only 18) into a three turn clock while also fixing your draw step. Any of the graveyard synergy card advantage stuff is going to be twice as good with a card that can set them up without having to spend a card, or even mana, to do so.
Unless you're specifically , there is Assassin's Trophy (or any number of other relevant removal spells). Yes, such will kill a Doom Whisperer (and would be a hell of a topdeck on the part of the opponent). But one of the cool things about this card is that you can just dig to your next Doom Whisperer when that happens. You might not be able to get paid off by the Assassin's Trophy's downside, but the now-doomed Doom Whisperer will not leave you helpless. That is because you can use this ability as much as you would like, as long as you have two life. There is no "use this ability only once per turn" clause. Practically? That means you get nine swings at the bat, under normal circumstances. You probably won't even need seven of those to get to a replacement Whisperer! But possibly there is something else good before you go crazy on paying two.
… But what if all you want to do is put a ton of cards into your graveyard? Effectively remove your library from the game?
You probably gleaned from the first 1,500 words of this article that I think the fair version of Doom Whisperer is already one of the best competitive 5-drops in years. It's most of a Titan, for less mana + flying. If you can't win with it once you've got it in play… You probably built your deck wrong. But the unfair version? What can you do? Give your Crackling Drake a huge buff? Ensure that your Lotleth Giant hits really hard? Gaining a ton of life just so you can pay it to destroy your own library seems like a backwards way of doing things, but we've seen crazier. There are a lot of creatures in this set that get very lethal depending on the aggressiveness of your graveyard plan, and there has been no more pushed creature in this regard since Hermit Druid.
My current money is on "fair" … At least fair first. But whether it's creatures, Control, or combo; I'm guessing this card is a slam dunk. Doom Whisperer be the first four singles from Guilds of Ravnica I order.