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Exploring Your Options

Exploring Your Options

This is the best Standard we’ve had in ages. All it takes is a Ravnica set to rejuvenate a stale format, and while there’s no doubt the impact Guilds of Ravnica has had on the format, it’s often overlooked that Ixalan block has finally gotten its moment to shine. Without having to worry about the broken energy mechanic or the aggressive nature of Amonkhet’s mono-Red decks holding it back, Ixalan and the explore mechanic have finally found the grinding, value-oriented Standard format it was destined to succeed in. The package of Jadelight Ranger, Merfolk Branchwalker, and Wildgrowth Walker is so potent right now that if you’re playing Green you need one hell of an excuse to justify not running them. While the heart and soul of the explore deck remains the same, there are enough options in the format that a number of viable explore variants have appeared, each with their own positives and negatives.


One of the more flexible builds is the Golgari Good Stuff style of midrange deck. This isn’t so much an explore deck as a value deck that uses the explore package as the backbone to all the other juicy inclusions such as maindeck Carnage Tyrant for control matches. With both Find//Finality and Golgari Findbroker this version has plenty of ways to bringing creatures back from the graveyard, so even if you have to dump a Doom Whisperer early on to dig for land drops, you can get it back in the late game when it really matters. Nearly every creature in the maindeck either has an enter the battlefield ability or can net you some kind of topdeck manipulation, so you get a lot of value just by playing bodies and forcing your opponent to react. This deck is better suited for taking on other midrange and control decks as it has such a powerful top end. Where it tends to fall behind is against aggro since it really only has Wildgrowth Walker for life gain. The Dead Weight in the sideboard help, but for the most part having nearly no instant-speed interaction is a detriment against an overly aggressive deck like Mono-Red or an Arclight Phoenix deck.  


One of the other popular Golgari shells opts to live out of its graveyard. The Gruesome Menagerie build of explore opts to use the mechanic to dump bodies into the graveyard that it can reanimate later on with its eponymous card. This deck tends to avoid creatures over three mana, barring Izoni, Thousand-Eyed and Doom Whisperer for their inherent value. This version is ultimately even more grinding that the first build because it has so much graveyard recursion. Without any graveyard hate, it’s easy for opponents to get overwhelmed by the repeating onslaught of small, aggressive bodies. As well, Menagerie enables some positively disgusting interactions with the explore package. Since all the creatures enter simultaneously, Wildgrowth Walker will see Jadelight Ranger explore and trigger itself right away, netting you an automatic six life. This is often just enough to put you ahead against opposing aggro decks. As well, some variants are going even more aggressive with Midnight Reaper over Doom Whisperer in order to drop their mana curve and get repeatable card draw. With this steady stream of card draw the Menagerie deck can dig into their silver bullets and constantly apply pressure, which is something not a lot of aggro decks can accomplish.

While it does an incredible job at grinding away at slower opponents and going bigger than the faster aggro decks, Golgari Menagerie isn’t without its flaws. This deck is, at its core, just a pile of creatures and a bunch of ways to get them back over and over. Any semblance of instant-speed interaction is gone in the maindeck, and the deck can easily get overwhelmed by a token deck that can go wider than it. Furthermore, this deck doesn’t hold up against the more hardcore control decks that can clear them away with Ritual of Soot or Deafening Clarion and counter any subsequent attempts at reanimation. Overall, the Gruesome Menagerie builds of Golgari Explore give you a lot of options long term power, but lack instant-speed options that can often hurt it.


The last explore shell I want to discuss is one that has popped up fairly recently and I think has one of the best ways of pushing the core explore package and Wildgrowth Walker in particular to its full potential. Selesnya Explore is a sort of hybrid between the classic explore decks and GW Tokens, opting to use Path of Discovery to boost up the token side of the deck. Path of Discovery and one of the token makers allow Wildgrowth Walker to get absolutely massive by exploring every time a creature enters the battlefield. Trostani Discordant and March of the Multitudes are some of the best ways to go super wide with Trostani doing double duty by pumping up the rest of the team. Path of Discovery also lets your explore creatures go even crazier by stacking an additional explore trigger on top of what they already have, and multiple Paths can stack on top of each other, turning every creature you play into a massive threat. The deck also runs Shalai, Voice of Plenty to protect your team as well as a whopping three copies of The Immortal Sun simply because it does everything you want. Acting as an anthem effect, card draw, a cost reducer, and a way to stop planeswalkers like Vraska, Relic Seeker or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, The Immortal Sun gives this deck a bevy of options that GW typically struggles to find.

Unfortunately, this deck tends to fall behind when it comes to interacting with the opponent’s creatures. GW Explore excels at forcing the opponent to interact with it by producing a ton of threats, but against another deck that’s looking to do the same thing, it only has a pair of Ixalan’s Binding in the maindeck as answers. Granted, the sieboard is better suited for dealing with other creatures, either through Settle the Wreckage or Baffling End, but for game 1 your best bet is to just go wide and value trade, which sometimes you just can’t put together. Another detriment to this version is that so many of the enabling cards don’t actually do anything on their own. Path to Discovery, for all of its virtues, is a god awful topdeck when you don’t have a creature in hand, and The Immortal Sun is useless in multiples since it’s legendary. Fortunately, the sheer amount of exploring you do with this deck allows you to clear the top of your deck from drawing too many of these redundancies.

As a whole, the Standard rotation has been incredibly helpful to Ixalan and the explore mechanic. With several viable archetypes abusing it, either by filling their graveyard or boosting the stats of their creatures, explore has made itself a mainstay of the new Standard format. Jadelight Ranger, Wildgrowth Walker, and Merfolk Branchwalker are like the Rush of Standard; a power trio that was underappreciated until something monumental brought it to the spotlight. Be it a Standard rotation or the opening chord to Tom Sawyer on Moving Pictures, they made their presence known. And much like Rush, I’m loving every second of playing these explore decks. I’m planning on playing this archetype well into the next set, and I have a feeling that explore is going to continue being a driving force in Standard for quite some time.