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All Roads Lead to Embercleave

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Well... Three do, anyway.

With the recent bannings of Oko, Thief of Crowns; Once Upon a Time; and Veil of Summer the most powerful card [left] in Standard may well be Embercleave.

Embercleave

Embercleave is powerful once it's on the battlefield. But what do you expect for six, or even nine, mana's worth of material and abilities? Of course you don't actually have to pay that six or nine, but we'll get to that in a second. Before discussing the implications of the card's synergies in metagames past or present, let's just review the implications of all that text.

Flash.

Thanks to Flash, Embercleave often feels more like a combat trick than a traditional piece of Equipment. I mean, it gets all the usual bonuses you associate with an Equipment - particularly durability past the current combat phase, and portability from creature to creature - but it's nice that it also acts like a Giant Growth.

Speaking of a Giant Growth, what kind of Giant Growth is it? +1/+1 and Double Strike means that the recipient of an Embercleave buff will essentially get +2... and Double Strike. In addition to winning more fights outright due to the First Strike half of Double Strike, the total damage output is twice the ostensible +1 to power (the defensive +1 is capped per normal, sadly). What is more interesting is that, again thanks to Double Strike, all future buffs are magnified by 100%.


At Mythic Championship VI, the highly decorated Javier Dominguez continued his tour of Gruul 1-drops that did not include his own, otherwise highly played, Fervent Champion. Though Pelt Collector started his ball rolling towards the Mythic Championship V title, Dominguez went with Edgewall Innkeeper, exploiting a mild synergy with three cards that all see play in non-Adventures linear decks. Of most interest to us is this one:

Rimrock Knight

The Boulder Rush front half of Boulder Rush // Rimrock Knight does a great job of highlighting the synergistic power of Embercleave's Double Strike. Both cards are very cheap (and we'll get to how cheap Embercleave itself can be in a second), but Rimrock Knight is essentially +4 damage for a single mana. That is an unreal conversion for Standard, and better than most of what you will see in Modern!

Typically you will get the most damage for your buck (or mana) from an unblocked creature getting through; which is another reason the Flash on Embercleave is so valuable. You can often just wait to see who isn't blocked and throw it down on even a zero power Gilded Goose or Arboreal Grazer (really!)

But clearly - and we see this across so many successful Embercleave lists - the strongest recipient is the Legendary Questing Beast.

Now any creature wearing an Embercleave gets Trample, but the Deathtouch on Questing Beast makes for a unique synergy. Imagine the opponent were blocking with a high toughness defender like Kenrith, the Returned King. If you somehow had a Gilded Goose wearing the Embercleave, no amount of Trample would help you because - Double Strike or no - the Goose isn't going to get through Kenrith's 5 toughness.

On the other hand, Questing Beast has Deathtouch as well as high power. Questing Beast can apply a single point of damage to Kenrith and then Trample over for nine. Write that down!

Note to self:

The creature I really, really, want to carry the Legendary Embercleave into battle is Questing Beast.

LOVE

SELF

Rimrock Knight offensive ability modification is still great if you have a stray R; and even moreso given the ability to largely ignore toughness. Multiple blockers are really ineffective against this combination, and you typically need more than five (or at least some really doughy first strikers) before even having a conversation about actually taking the Questing Beast down in combat.

What was that I was saying about Gilded Goose and Arboreal Grazer a minute ago?

Elk Blade!


I considered this deck, from just before Mythic Championship VI, to be the height of Embercleave technology, or Standard technology generally.

Just after Mythic Championship VI, it had become old hat to talk about the combination of Once Upon a Time and the London Mulligan to craft unbeatable opening hands. Elk Blade was even nastier than other Oko, Thief of Crowns decks. Not only did it play twice the 1 mana accelerators that most did - Arboreal Grazer in addition to Gilded Goose - it added Legion Warboss at the three (or in this deck, faux two).

What happens when you have Legion Warboss on the second turn - which can only happen via creature-based acceleration - is that you just have more monsters in play. In some matchups they're actually quite filthy. The opponent might not have a lot of actual defensive material and the Mentor text on the Warboss might start exerting pressure.

But in specifically an Embercleave deck... Now there is something to talk about. All those bodies - INCLUDING the Arboreal Grazer that got the party started - can contribute to Embercleave's most important line of text.

While Embercleave ostensibly costs six, you will only very rarely ever cast it for more than five. Why? The card only does anything in concert with creatures, and attacking with anything brings the cost down. So Zvi could - and would - swing with Gilded Goose! Just to get the cost of Embercleave down!

Turn two Legion Warboss into turn three Questing Beast into Embercleave might sound like Magical Christmas Land... But we're talking about the era of Once Upon a Time here. There are all kinds of nonsense scenarios where you've got some kind of six and you're casting Questing Beast that turn, attacking with it, and deploying Embercleave for rr on the basis of multiple attacking zero power creatures.

Anyway: For my money, Zvi's was the absolute coolest implementation of some now-banned cards plus Embercleave.

So... That ban.

You've probably noticed that neither of the decks discussed above, despite the format being so young, are legal to play. One Hall of Famer even joked that you'd have to add four lands to make up for the loss of four Once Upon a Time in some lists.

But there are still heroes still trying to swing a Legendary sword!

The Basics: Gruul


NotoriousGHP did such a great nuts and bolts port of the Javier Dominguez style. How do you solve the loss of Once Upon a Time? Add a land to start.

And fewer broken 1-drop games? I guess you just have to live with playing Edgewall Inkeeper on the first turn less often... But while you've got these open Once Upon a Time slots, how about conscripting Javier's old 1-drop of choice? NotoriousGHP ran a pair of Pelt Collectors next to the Innkeepers and called it a day.

Mostly.

The Great Henge

The Great Henge is a card that I was really excited to play early on, but has largely been overshadowed by all the cards you play because Oko, Thief of Crowns existed. I mean, why invest in a big guy to facilitate The Great Henge if it is just going to become an Elk anyway?

Now that we are out of the Elk-invalidation phase of Standard, cards like this can make more sense. Lovestruck Beast in particular makes The Great Henge a pretty economical cast, and Questing Beast ain't bad. For that matter Rimrock Knight really ain't bad and the front side of Boulder Rush can play double duty as a Dark Ritual here.

In longer games, The Great Henge actually gives a beatdown player utility against removal, which is great in a universe where the top decks all have inherently card advantageous ways to kill creatures.

Deafening Clarion
Murderous Rider
Massacre Girl


Boin's dek goes for the go-wide angle of Embercleave... But does so while deploying actual creatures with actual different pieces of cardboard. This deck has a ton of cheap offensive one and 2-drops that are actually built to attack; and Fervent Champion is close to its best with so many Knights.

While most of them are small individually, several of these cards can either buff one another or gain power at instant speed to kind of ride the Double Strike on Embercleave.

Knight of the Ebon Legion
Weaselback Redcap

There is one big guy and one mondo combo you might not have noticed in Boin's list as well.

Twenty-nine creatures; twenty-one of whom are Knights... Four motherloving dinosaurs.

Rotting Regisaur is a very nice Embercleave carrier, thank you very much.

And a pump spell?

Blacklance Paragon

Blacklance Paragon is just one of my favorite cards from Throne of Eldraine. Of course I love it from the "Lightning Helix" kind of defensive angle; but in this deck the Flash has new meaning. You can drop Blacklance Paragon at instant speed, mid-offensive combat to give one of his buddies Deathtouch (and Lifelink, I suppose). That Deathtouch can work in much the same way for trample purposes that it does with Questing Beast. The Knight will already have first strike from Embercleave's Double Strike, so can run the "hit you for one" / trample over for n / and survive against a larger blocker.

... While walking away with a few extra life points, of course.

Could There Be Any Doubt?

One deck I bet you haven't seen yet - but probably the closest to my heart - belongs to @marcelMTG of the Brainstorm Brewery.

Marcel ground all the way to Mythic with this build...


And cracked Top 100 Ranked with this one (basically swapping Torbran, Thane of Red Fell for Slaying Fire).


Marcel's implementations are notable because of the inclusion of Legion Warboss, the only deck since Zvi's to the best of my knowledge, to close that particular Embercleave loop. I saw Marcel's lists before some of the other post-Once Upon a Time attempts, which led me to this week's title and conclusion.

We might not be quite there yet.

All these decks have something good going for them... But maybe not all the things good they can potentially be doing.

But this is the new bad guy:

Embercleave

All Roads Lead to Embercleave.

LOVE

MIKE