When evaluating a new card, the first thing I look for is versatility. There’s nothing I like less than having a hand full of dead spells. One card from Champions of Kamigawa intrigued me from the start, but I figured, like many other players with their pet cards, that it could be ignored until Ravager Affinity rotated into oblivion. Due to Ravager Affinity’s speed, versatility was thrown to the winds. It’s not just that Naturalize ousted Creeping Mold; Naturalize itself was trumped by the single-minded Oxidize. The era of Ravager was one of brute efficiency. And now, we can start playing smart Standard again.
Otherworldly Journey is one of the most versatile cards to be printed in some time. However, unlike other champions of flexibility like Desert Twister, Counterspell, and Devour in Shadow, Otherworldly Journey doesn’t even serve a single archetypal purpose. The aforementioned spells can remove a wide variety of threats, but that’s all they can do. They’re solid, not tricky. The same can’t be said of Otherworldly Journey.
In Limited, Otherworldly Journey is usually used as a creature save spell, kind of like Candle’s Glow, and I fear that Limited experience has colored many players’ views of the card for Constructed. Certainly, save spells have their uses in Standard, but they’ll basically never get you anything better than a one-for-one. In combat situations, it’s difficult to imagine how Otherworldly Journey would be a better save card than even Test of Faith or Indomitable Will.
The point, of course, is that Otherworldly Journey is more than simple damage prevention; it also serves the role of Mage’s Guile. With Eradicate’s return into an environment that pushes for basing decks on a single creature, the need to “counter” removal has never been greater. The death of Ravager Affinity will also lead to the re-emergence of some form of White-based Control that uses Wrath of God and Final Judgment. Neither Mage’s Guile nor Healing Salve could ever do much against these types of absolute creature sweepers. Indeed, the only widely-played creature than can dodge Wrath of God is Darksteel Colossus, and not even the Colossus can withstand Final Judgment. Whether or not that Wrath of God or Final Judgment is played by you or your opponent, Otherworldly Journey’s salvation of your most significant creature will often finish the game just as surely as a Myojin would. Otherworldly Journey is, furthermore, one of the few cards that helps you survive an opposing Obliterate or a large Death Cloud. As if that weren’t enough, it can also (in desperate enough circumstances) work as a mini-Fog, buying you an extra turn by removing from combat a rampaging Darksteel Colossus or Fungusaur.
Of course, it needs to be mentioned that all of the functions described above could have been performed by Invasion’s Liberate, a card which was hardly format defining. The reason why Otherworldly Journey is so eminently playable today is that the cards with which it best interacts are the format definers. There’s been a lot of talk recently about Hokori, Dust Drinker, and there are few images I find more pleasing at the moment than that of Hokori on the table, two open mana, and an Otherworldly Journey in the hand. Here, Otherworldly Journey could serve not only to get Hokori, Dust Drinker out of trouble but also to untap all of your lands. The ability to dodge trouble isn’t as boring as it sounds; today, the standard for cheap, Red direct damage is two damage for one or two mana. A single Otherworldly Journey can, therefore, take Hokori, Dust Drinker out of the fire more than once; Red opponents will often have to throw away a further two pieces of removal if they want to finish off the Spirit.
The next big recipient of Otherworldly Journey’s favor is Eternal Witness. Although the Crystal Witness decks never made the splash in Block that some expected them to, I can still recall my shock when I noticed that players had begun cutting Crystal Shard from their builds but leaving the rest intact. The lesson was that Eternal Witness is so good that it’s worthwhile playing Echoing Truth primarily in order to return it to your hand. Now, assuming that you don’t end up assembling that elusive Echoing Truth + 2 Eternal Witness + infinite mana combo, playing Echoing Truth on Eternal Witness in order to draw from your graveyard costs five mana and nets no card advantage. Converserly, playing Otherworldly Journey on Eternal Witness still gets you a card from the graveyard, costs only two mana, and turns Eternal Witness into a 3/2 monster. With enough patience, you could even pump Eternal Witness every turn by simply recurring Otherworldly Journey.
One can imagine a White/Green deck featuring Otherworldly Journey; Hokori, Dust Drinker; Eternal Witness; Ghostly Prison; Nature’s Will(!); and cheap fliers. Although Hokori + Ghostly Prison + Nature’s Will + Small Flier may appear to be a peculiarly unappealing four-part combo, all of its “pieces” are rather pleasant on their own. Except for Nature’s Will (it being one of my central precepts, however, that any deck which can run Nature’s Will should run it, just to mock everyone who said it couldn’t be done). Viridian Shaman also has a place here as a fine target for Otherworldly Journey.
It’s easy to see that Otherworldly Journey wouldn’t be key to this deck’s strategy but would merely compliment it. And that’s precisely the point. At this juncture, I have trouble thinking of a White deck that shouldn’t at least consider Otherworldly Journey. It may not seem like a big deal in White Weenie where creatures are generally expendable, yet the elimination of Ravager Affinity will decrease the amount of artifact kill in the environment, consequently increasing the value of Sword of Fire and Ice. Lantern Kamis become significantly less expendable when complimented by a sword with an Equip cost of two. White Weenie has no lack of desirable two-drops, but just how redundant should you make a deck? When a deck is already running 20+ creatures that can be played by turn 2, the substitution of Otherworldly Journey for four of them leads to no practical reduction in redundancy. Aether Vial greatly decreases the prospects for tapping out each turn, and if your creatures aren’t being threatened by combat or removal, you’re probably winning anyway.
White Control has, perhaps, the best reason of all to use Otherworldly Journey. If you play the instant on your best creature during the end of your opponent’s turn and play Wrath of God during your next turn, Otherworldly Journey will bring back your creature (improved). All this necessitates just four lands. Pairing Green and White again, a deck can recur Wrath of God with Eternal Witness and maybe even make room for Troll Ascetic. Hikari, Twilight Guardian, although unlikely to be a better choice than Troll Ascetic, does have a fun interaction with Eternal Witness; for just a single Otherworldly Journey, you can remove both creatures from the game at will, every turn. Here’s a deck I’ve been testing on a low level:
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Genju of the Fields
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Rampant Growth
4 Otherworldly Journey
4 Eternal Witness
2 Troll Ascetic
4 Wrath of God
4 Plow Under
3 Final Judgment
1 Myojin of Cleansing Fire
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
An exact build is hard to come by here because there are so many options. A battle is going on between Rampant Growth and Birds and Paradise. The latter is your only method of playing a Turn 3 Plow Under, but the former allows you to play a Turn 3 Wrath of God followed up by a Turn 4 Plow Under. Even though Sensei’s Diving Top is a perfect fit in a deck with 8 shufflers, if you choose to switch out Rampant Growth for Birds of Paradise, you’ll probably want to knock the Top’s count down by one, possibly replacing it with a Reciprocate. Against decks like Kiki-Jiki Control and Tooth and Nail, however, using Birds of Paradise to play Plow Under a turn earlier could be a great help. However (again), if you want to keep the monstrous Myojin of Cleansing Fire in deck, you’ll definitely want to have Rampant Growth.
Genju of the Fields and Troll Ascetic both play about the same roll, the differences being that the enchantment can survive Wrath of God and Final Judgment unaided while the creature can be taken out of harm’s way by Otherworldly Journey. It’s also significant that Genju of the Fields can help you rebuild your life total if you’ve just been forced to Reciprocate a Darksteel Colossus (Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Minamo, School at Water’s Edge means that you won’t always be able to wait for a Main Phase Final Judgment). Finally, it may sound ridiculous, but don’t ignore the ability to eternally recur Otherworldly Journey with Eternal Witness. This will allow Eternal Witness to not only escape your mass removal but also to act as an infinite chump blocker and eventual finisher.
Some cards that didn’t make my cut are Naturalize (a sure thing for the sideboard considering that White Weenie’s Aether Vial can ruin your day) and Revive. Unfortunately, despite Revive’s wonderful collaboration with Plow Under, it can’t do much else beside grabbing an Eternal Witness which can be used, in turn, to pluck back Wrath of God. I also looked at Terashi’s Verdict, but especially considering the presence of Genju of the Fields, I couldn’t see myself often hoping for the Verdict over Reciprocate. Going down to only two Reciprocate was quite painful, and extra copies are necessary in the sideboard against Tooth and Nail and Big Red (Arc-Slogger and Kumano, Master Yamabushi). The sideboard should also include Isao, Enlightened Bushi which is hardly fantastic but might just be the deck’s only hope against Mono-Blue Control, a deck that won’t suffer letting Troll Ascetic go un-countered. While I’ll make no claims to my list being perfect, I believe that some form of G/W Control could a lot of game against the field, such as it now stands.
In general, then, look to Otherworldly Journey to become a surprise addition to many of the new Standard metagame’s White decks. It may not have a deck of its own yet (Isochron Scepter is powerful enough without Otherworldly Journey), but it will likely make an impact simply because of its wonderful all-around utility.