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Exclusive Strixhaven Preview: Wandering Archaic // Explore the Vastlands


Strixhaven is all about five colleges, but today (thanks to Wizards!), I've got a somewhat strange preview card to show off for you all—a card that isn't associated with any of the colleges. That isn't the only thing that makes Wandering Archaic unique—it's one of a handful of non-artifact colorless creatures in all of Magic. But that's not all. The backside of the MDFC is a colorless sorcery, which is something we haven't seen much at all in Magic outside of a handful of Eldrazi-themed removal spells! Take a good, long look at Wandering Archaic and Explore the Vastlands, enjoy the weirdness, and then, we'll break down the potential of both sides of the card!

Wandering ArchaicExplore the Vastlands

Wandering ArchaicExplore the Vastlands

Discussing MDFCs is always a challenge. On one hand, an MDFC is really two separate but usually related cards stapled together, which means looking at an MDFC as two different cards makes some amount of sense. On the other hand, part of the power of MDFCs is their flexibility. If you put Wandering Archaic into your deck, you're essentially getting the possibility of casting Explore the Wastelands instead as a free bonus, which means only viewing MDFCs as two separate cards typically undersells their power. As such, let's start by looking at both sides of Wandering Archaic individually, before putting both sides together and talking about the cards as a whole.

Wandering Archaic

Wandering Archaic

Wandering Archaic is one of the more interesting creatures we've seen in a while. It's essentially an expensive, colorless hate bear for spells. Adding a tax of two mana to every spell your opponents cast (or, even better, getting a copy of that spell for free if they can't or don't pay) is extremely powerful, assuming Wandering Archaic sits on the battlefield. However, as far as Standard is concerned, there are some reasons to be worried about how playable Wandering Archaic might be.

First, a 4/4 for five mana, even five colorless mana, is pretty below the curve as far as 2021 designs. Five mana is buying things like Elder Gargaroth, Goldspan Dragon, and Yorion, Sky Nomad these days, all of which offer more immediate and / or more guaranteed value than Wandering Archaic does. Second, the spell-taxing / -copying ability is unlikely to be all that effective in our current Standard format for a couple of reasons. For one, some decks just don't play many instants or sorceries. Decks like Naya Adventures, Mono-Red Aggro, and Mono-White Aggro would be thrilled for you to spend five mana to cast a 4/4 that doesn't really do anything against their deck because they are essentially all permanents. Meanwhile, spell-heavy decks like Azorius Control are overloaded with answers, so there's a decent chance that they can just Shatter the Sky or even Essence Scatter Wandering Archaic before it does much. All in all, I'd be surprised if Wandering Archaic became a top-tier Standard card—maybe five or 10 years ago but not today. Cards are just too powerful and too snowbally, and games end too quickly, to play a five-mana 4/4 that may or may not be anything other than be an overcosted colorless body, depending on the matchup.

Wandering Archaic  $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

On the other hand, Wandering Archaic seems absurd in Commander. Since it's colorless, every deck can play it. And if you can protect it and keep it on the battlefield, it's either going to slow your opponents down greatly as they pay the two-mana tax on every spell they cast, or generate a lot of value as you get free copies of your opponents' spells. Plus, you might run into someone like me who refuses to pay for Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe triggers on principle, which means you're probably going to get a lot of spell copies for free if you stick a Wandering Archaic at my table. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

I'm not sure if Wandering Archaic will become a true staple in the Commander format, mostly because the backside (which we'll talk about more in a minute) doesn't seem great in the format and Wandering Archaic itself does need to sit on the battlefield for a while to generate much value (and there's always a risk your opponent will just pay three mana for a Swords to Plowshares or Nature's Claim to kill it before it does anything). In many ways, Wandering Archaic is more of a Baneslayer Angel than a Mulldrifter—it's super powerful and can take over the game, but it's going to have to stick on the battlefield for a few turns to do it, and you don't really get any return on your five-mana investment right away. I expect that it will see play—it seems really fun to have on the battlefield, and you might be able to politic your way into some extra value by convincing your opponents not to pay for some spells, on the promise that you'll use your copy in a mutually beneficial way. But I don't think it's a Sol Ring or Arcane Signet that will show up in basically every deck. Being colorless opens up a ton of possibilities for Wandering Archaic, but not every deck will want the five-drop or have room for it.

Explore the Vastlands

Explore the Vastlands

As for the backside of the card—Explore the Vastlands—by far the most interesting aspect of the three-mana sorcery is its colorlessness. Throughout Magic's history (and discounting one of the worst mechanics ever created in devoid, which made colored cards colorless), there have been eight colorless instant or sorcery spells (and two of those require actual colorless mana, rather than generic mana like Explore the Vastlands does), with all of them being Eldrazi-themed cards like Titan's Presence, Gruesome Slaughter, and All Is Dust. Nearly all of those cards are removal or counters, with the one exception being the seven-mana Eldrazi Spawn–creator Skittering Invasion. So in a very real sense, Explore the Vastlands offers something we've never seen before in Magic's history. 

Explore the Vastlands  $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

While the uniqueness of Explore the Vastlands means there isn't really a direct comparison, perhaps the closest we can get are two blue cards in Peer Through Depths and Pieces of the Puzzle, with both allowing you to dig five cards deep for an instant or sorcery and Pieces of the Puzzle allows you to grab two spells. Both cards have seen play all the way back to Modern, typically in Storm-style decks (or other spell-heavy combo decks), where they can dig five cards deep to find combo pieces. 

Of course, Explore the Vastlands comes with a meaningful drawback: it affects every player, which means that while you should be able to draw a land and a spell and gain three life, your opponent (or opponents) might be able to as well. Making matters worse, Explore the Vastlands is a sorcery, which means that—especially early in the game—your opponents will likely be able to cast the cards they find with Explore the Wastelands first (I like to call this the Mana Flare problem, where if you just slam a Mana Flare on Turn 3, you often end up super far behind or even dead as your opponent gets the first turn with double mana). The nightmare scenario for Explore the Wastelands is that you cast it and find a spell and a land, while your opponent finds a Duress and a land and takes the spell that you found with Explore the Wastelands, and you end up down a spell and the mana you spend on Explore the Vastlands mana, while your opponent is plus one card and down one mana. Not exactly a very good exchange. 

That said, in some matchups, there isn't much downside to Explore the Vastlands. Let's say you are playing Azorius Control or Temur Ramp in Standard (decks that could—at least, in theory—want to dig five cards deep for a land and a spell while also buffering their life total). Your deck has a bunch of powerful spells and plenty of lands, so you're likely to draw two from Explore the Vastlands. Meanwhile, your opponent is on Naya Adventures, Mono-White, or Mono-Red Aggro, decks that typically play almost no instants or sorceries (and in some cases, literally no instants or sorceries), so your opponent likely only finds a land with Explore the Vastlands. This is a fine exchange, and doubly so considering you are a slower deck while your opponent is aggressive, which means the three life each player gains from Explore the Vastlands are very likely more beneficial for you than for your opponent.

This problem becomes even worse in Commander. With three opponents, you are technically allowing your enemies to draw six cards and gain nine life, while you draw two cards and gain three (while also being down a card). The good news is that the front side of the MDFC—Wandering Archaic, which we talked about a few minutes ago—is great in Commander if it sits on the battlefield, either slowing down your opponent or generating free value as you copy spells. But Explore the Vastlands isn't a card I'd want to cast in Commander unless I'm playing a group hug strategy, like Phelddagrif, Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, or Kwain, Itinerant Meddler. My guess is that in Commander, outside of group hug, you play the card for its Wandering Archaic side but will occasionally use Explore the Vastlands to desperately dig for a sweeper or combo piece to finish the game.

All in all, Explore the Vastlands is a hard card to make sense of. In general, cards that benefit every player equally aren't worth playing in 60-card formats (or in most Commander decks) because you are the one spending the mana, yet your opponent will get just as much value out of the card, which means you lose in the exchange. But there could be enough creature- / permanent-heavy decks running around in Standard that spell-heavy decks can take advantage of the effect without two-for-oneing themselves too severely. 

Putting Both Sides Together

Wandering ArchaicExplore the Vastlands

One of the things I like most about Wandering Archaic // Explore the Vastlands in 60-card formats is that the backside of the card is good in matchups where the front side is bad (against decks with few spells, there's much less downside to Explore the Vastlands), and the front side is good in matchups where the backside is bad (Wandering Archaic is more likely to generate value against decks with a lot of spells if you can keep it on the battlefield). That said, I'd still be surprised if Wandering Archaic saw much Standard play. And in older formats, most decks playing Wandering Archaic would be doing so for the backside, and most of these decks would likely be blue-based, which means Pieces of the Puzzle or even Peer Through Depths would offer most of the value that Explore the Vastlands does without any of the drawbacks. 

On the other hand, I do expect Wandering Archaic to see play in Commander. Being colorless means anyone can play it. The front side is just generically powerful if it sits on the battlefield (which is a big if, but still), and the backside seems like a staple for group hug–style decks that don't mind drawing cards for opponents or gaining them life.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wandering Archaic is that, in Commander, Explore the Vastlands offering support to non-blue spellslinger decks. While blue is—by far—the most popular spellslinger color in Commander, if you want to build something wacky like Mono-Green or Orzhov Spellslinger, Explore the Vastlands gives you a brand new and very powerful effect that, until Strixhaven, mostly was limited to blue. While giving all of your opponents free value is troubling, it still might be worth it, just because there aren't other colorless spells that do anything similar to Explore the Vastlands.

So, in conclusion, is Wandering Archaic a good card? My guess is that for Standard, the answer is mostly no, although it could have a home in a very specific deck or meta. Meanwhile, I think the answer is most likely yes in Commander, with the asterisk being that it doesn't do anything immediately and that if you're up against opponents trying to cast a bunch of spells, it will likely eat a removal spell before you get too much value out of it, unless you can find a way to protect it.

Is Wandering Archaic an interesting card? For sure! We've really never seen a card like it before, especially the backside, as a colorless sorcery that is more than just an Eldrazi-themed removal spell. Its uniqueness is what gives it a chance to be much better that it looks at first glance. Giving any deck the opportunity to do something that generally only blue can do (albeit in a worse and much more group-huggy way) could be extremely powerful in the right deck. Maybe a mono-red or black Storm deck could use it as its version of Pieces of the Puzzle. Maybe some off-color spellslinger deck in Commander will give it a home. The possibilities are endless because we've never really seen a card like Wandering Archaic/Explore the Vastlands before!

Wrap-Up

Anyway, that's all for today. Thanks again to Wizards for hooking us up with a sweet and potentially powerful preview card! What do you think of Wandering Archaic and Explore the Vastlands? What decks could take advantage of its unique effect? Let us know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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