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Yarok, the Desecrated—Exclusive Core Set 2020 Preview


If you've followed MTGGoldfish for any amount of time, you'll know that there's one specific card that was sort of my obsession while it was in Standard: Panharmonicon. Sadly, like all sweet Standard build-arounds, Panharmonicon rotated a while ago. And although it still shows up in Commander decks, Standard just hasn't been the same since. Well now, in Core Set 2020, Panharmonicon is (sort of) making its return. Thanks to Wizards being super cool and giving us an exclusive preview, I get to show it off for you today. Meet Yarok, the Desecrated!

Yarok, the Desecrated

Yarok, the Desecrated is essentially Panharmonicon, except rather than being on a do-nothing artifact, it comes attached to a legendary deathtouch, lifelink 3/5 body for five mana and triggers from any permanent entering the battlefield, rather than just artifacts and creatures, like Panharmonicon itself. Basically, Yarok, the Desecrated does everything that Panharmonicon does and more while also fixing one of Panharmonicon's biggest drawbacks, with Panharmonicon being a do-nothing artifact that sometimes made it hard or impossible to tap out for without dying. With Yarok, the Desecrated, tapping out for your Panharmonicon will be a lot safer since you're putting a pretty reasonable ground blocker on the battlefield to keep your life total high as you wait to start generating value by doubling up your enters-the-battlefield triggers. Of course, being a creature does come with some downside, with creature removal providing an answer to Yarok, the Desecrated. But thankfully, Yarok, the Desecrated has a surprisingly effective body when it comes to surviving Standard removal, dodging Lava Coil, Cast Down, and most red burn spells. 

The other massive upside of Yarok, the Desecrated is that it's legendary. While this might be a drawback for Standard (outside of Cast Down), in Commander, it means that you can now play a Panharmonicon as your commander! Considering that Panharmonicon itself is one of the 30 most played colorless cards in the Commander format according to EDHRec, it seems likely that Yarok, the Desecrated will be a popular build-around in the format. While color requirements mean that Yarok, the Desecrated won't see as much play as Panharmonicon in an absolute sense, when you consider that the most popular Sultai commanders are Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, and The Mimeoplasm (all of which have a graveyard sub-theme), combined with the popularity of Panharmonicon itself, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Yarok, the Desecrated end up as one of the top three or four Sultai commanders in the game. It works with a popular theme (enters-the-battlefield triggers) and gives Sultai players who want something different than the typical graveyard-value grind something awesome to build a deck around.

So far, we've determined that Yarok, the Desecrated will be super fun in Standard and likely super popular in Commander, but how does Yarok, the Desecrated differ from literal Panharmonicon, and how can we best take advantage of the new legend in both formats? Let's break it down!

Yarok vs. Panharmonicon

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We've already talked a bit about the upside and drawback of Yarok, the Desecrated being a creature rather than an artifact, so let's focus on the differences in the wording between Panharmonicon and Yarok. Both cards work exactly the same, except Yarok, the Desecrated expands on Panharmonicon's ability by doubling triggers caused by any permanent entering the battlefield. While using Yarok, the Desecrated to double up the enters-the-battlefield triggers on creatures like Mulldrifter will still by the most common use of our creature-[[Panharmonicon], triggering on all permanents offers some interesting new possibilities.

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Yarok, the Desecrated triggering when lands enter the battlefield means that we can suddenly double up our landfall (and pseudo-landfall) triggers. Lotus Cobra becomes absurd, with a single fetch land offering four extra mana with Yarok, the Desecrated on the battlefield, Tireless Tracker making twice as many Clue tokens, and Crumbling Vestige becoming a weird ritual, adding two mana when it comes into play.

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Meanwhile, triggering on enchantments opens up a bunch of different possibilities. Enchantment-based removal like Banishing Light or Oblivion Ring technically has an enters-the-battlefield trigger, which means with a Yarok, the Desecrated on the battlefield, you'll get to exile two permanents instead of one! You also get to double up all of your card-draw triggers from something like Eidolon of Blossoms, which could be pretty powerful in some sort of Yarok, the Desecrated enchantress deck. As for Mirror March, who knows what will happen? Imagine a Yarok, the Desecrated on the battlefield when you cast a creature with an enters-the-battlefield trigger. You'll double up your coin flips from Mirror March and then also double up all of your enters-the-battlefield triggers from the creature (and copies of the creature) entering the battlefield. Something as simple as a Viashino Pyromancer could very well end up dealing 20 (or more) damage for just two mana with both Yarok and Mirror March on the battlefield!

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While planeswalkers with enters the battlefield–based abilities are a new thing, it's possible we'll see more in the future. For now, Yarok, the Desecrated allows us to double up on our card draw with Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, but not much else.

Yarok in Standard

As someone who has likely built and played more Panharmonicon decks than anyone else on Earth, I can tell you that the way to build around Yarok, the Desecrated is pretty simple. While Yarok, the Desecrated impacts the battlefield more immediately than Panharmonicon, it's still a relatively under-curve creature for five mana, so the basic theory is to build a Yarok deck in a way where we expect to lose a bit of value on the turn that we play Yarok, the Desecrated but immediately recoup that value the following turn by playing something with a powerful enters-the-battlefield trigger. With Panharmonicon, this meant that powerful five-mana plays like Cloudblazer were ideal; with Yarok, the Desecrated, six is the magic number.

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This means cards like Demonlord Belzenlok, Dream Eater, and Ravager Wurm are perfect to play alongside Yarok, the Desecrated. Taking a turn (somewhat) off to play Yarok is much less painful when we untap the following turn to draw a new hand with Demonlord Belzenlok, bounce our opponent's two best permanents with Dream Eater, or kill two of their creatures with Ravager Wurm

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That said, the core of any good Panharmonicon deck is card draw attached to enters-the-battlefield triggers, and even apart from Demonlord Belzenlok, we have some very powerful options in Standard. Fblthp, the Lost is in the right colors and only two mana, and if we can somehow get it into play from our library (with the help of Prime Speaker Vannifar, who seems great with Yarok, the Desecrated, for example), we can draw four cards from the two-drop. Meanwhile, both Zegana, Utopian Speaker and Elite Guardmage offer card-draw enters-the-battlefield triggers with additional upside, with the lifegain from Elite Guardmage being another good way to catch back up after taking a turn off-ish for Yarok.

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Finally, we back everything up with the best enters-the-battlefield removal triggers possible. Ravenous Chupacabra and Hostage Taker kill two creatures instead of one with a Yarok, the Desecrated on the battlefield, which offers another way to catch back up after playing our five-drop. With a bit of luck, we can play something like Ravenous Chupacabra and Fblthp, the Lost on the turn after we play Yarok, which would offer a pretty absurd amount of value. Meanwhile, while Massacre Girl will likely end up killing our Yarok, the Desecrated, with a Yarok out, it will probably kill everything else as well, making it a great way to sweep the board in a pinch. Here are some possibilities...

Yarok in Commander

In Commander, probably the easiest and most common way to build around Yarok, the Desecrated is to embrace the value plan by overloading with enters-the-battlefield triggers while also taking advantage of the tricks Yarok offers with mechanics like landfall, when possible. 

Apart from grinding out value, a few Commander-centric combos and synergies that work with Yarok, the Desecrated but not with Panharmonicon are worth being aware of. While they probably won't be the centerpiece of a Yarok Commander deck, they might be worth slotting in as a backup plan.

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With Yarok, the Desecrated on the battlefield along with Carnival of Souls, every creature that enters the battlefield is going to cost two life but make two black mana. This turns creatures that cost one or less into rituals, where they actually generate mana when they enter the battlefield. Toss in Guardian Project, Soul of the Harvest, or some other card-draw engine and some lifegain to offset the life loss from Carnival of Souls, and it could be possible to draw and play through most or all of your deck!

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While Intruder Alarm is powerful by itself, it gets even more powerful if you can double up the untap triggers with Yarok, the Desecrated. While there are ways to go infinite with cards like Squirrel's Nest on a creatureland, even just playing a bunch of mana dorks and tapping them twice for mana whenever a creature comes into play can generate a ton of mana, as a weird sort of build-a-Paradox Engine

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While perhaps not a combo, Yarok, the Desecrated offer some weird stax potential by punishing the opponent for playing things. Remember, Yarok, the Desecrated triggers whenever anything (from anyone) entering the battlefield causes something of yours to trigger, which means with something like Tainted Aether on the battlefield, for every creature an opponent plays, they will have to sacrifice two creatures or lands, while Overburden would force your opponent to bounce two lands back to their hand. If you want to go even deeper, you can play cards that force your opponent to have creatures enter the battlefield, like Seed the Land, for example. If you add Seed the Land to the mix, it's going to be pretty hard for your opponent to do anything since when they try to replay their lands that get bounced (or rebuild after Tainted Aether), they are going to get two 1/1 Snakes, which will then trigger Tainted Aether and Overburden four more times, undoing any of the opponent's progress and then some.

Wrap-Up

I'm super excited for Yarok, the Desecrated in both Standard and Commander. I've been crossing my fingers for the return of Panharmonicon ever since literal Panharmonicon rotated, and Yarok, the Desecrated might actually be a better version of Panharmonicon for Standard. While requiring three colors does limit the number of decks that can play it (one of the sweet aspects of Panharmonicon is that we could play any color combination because it was colorless), for Sultai decks, a 3/5 deathtouch, lifelinker is likely better than a four-mana artifact. So while Yarok, the Desecrated won't show up in as many different decks as Panharmonicon, it can be even more powerful in the right deck. 

Does Yarok, the Desecrated have the potential for top-tier Standard play? That's a tough one. My guess is we'll have to wait for rotation and see, although I plan on trying it right away, just because I love the card so much.

As for Commander, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Yarok, the Desecrated end up as one of the top three or four Sultai Commanders. The fact that Yarok, the Desecrated isn't just another graveyard-based Sultai Commander makes it a unique legend to build around, and Panharmonicon is already a Commander staple. If you like looping endless value from enters-the-battlefield triggers with some cool, janky combo potential thrown in, Yarok, the Desecrated is the Sultai Commander for you!

Conclusion

I love Yarok, the Desecrated. Whether it sees tournament play or not, it has to be one of the most fun cards from Core Set 2020. Thanks again to Wizards for the super-sweet preview! What do you think of Yarok? How good will it be in Standard? In Commander? What other combos does it enable? Let me 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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