Chandra, Acolyte Of Flame Will Be The Best Core Set 2020 Chandra

Forget the flashy six-mana version of Chandra. Three-mana Chandra, Acolyte of Flame has the best chance of making waves in post-Core Set 2020 Standard, and Ari Lax shows off several possible approaches.

War of the Spark Standard is dominated by three-mana planeswalkers, namely Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils. The other really good planeswalker in the format is Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and you’re trying to cast that card as if it costs three mana.

Listen, of all people I should get it.

A good six-mana planeswalker is really, really good. Like Carnage Tyrant, but better good. Chandra, Awakened Inferno has a lot of really splashy text.

But come on, it’s 2019, you all should know better by now.

Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is going to be the best Chandra from Core Set 2020, and it won’t even be close.

A Quick Inferno Teardown

Really quickly, here is why you overrate Chandra, Awakened Inferno. It’s a good card, but there’s a lot of whatever text pretending to matter on it.

  • Counterspells are banned from Standard due to Teferi, Time Raveler, so her static ability is blank.
  • A one-damage emblem isn’t more immediately threatening than a random token. In fact, the token is more threatening because it blocks and you can use your planeswalker more! Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was insane because she let you block three times per activation, and three blocks is infinitely more than zero.
  • The –X ability is just Sorin, Grim Nemesis but you don’t gain life. Be honest, did you even remember that card before I pointed this out?

Chandra, Awakened Inferno is going to be good for the -3 sweeper effect, but the other abilities are just unexciting.

But this article is about Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, not some other mythic rare.

Line by Line

Let’s break down Chandra, Acolyte of Flame.

[0]: Put a loyalty counter on each red planeswalker you control.

Her first ability is approximately +1: Do nothing. Any upside that relies on you having two planeswalkers on the battlefield largely reads, “If you have already won the game, then…”

That’s fine. It’s not like Teferi, Time Raveler does much with the +1 ability either. Let’s step down the list.

[0]: Create two 1/1 red Elemental creature tokens. They gain haste. Sacrifice them at the beginning of the next end step.

While temporary tokens don’t seem like a tangible advantage, we are coming off the heels of War of the Spark. Any way to deal immediate damage to an opposing planeswalker without losing a piece of cardboard to do it is a tangible advantage. This finishes off a Teferi, Time Raveler through a blocker or takes an activation off Narset, Parter of Veils.

These are also two creatures. You can convert two creatures into more value in a lot of ways, or you can get additive bonuses from the fact you have multiple bodies attacking.

[-2]: You may cast target instant or sorcery card with converted mana cost 3 or less from your graveyard. If that card would be put into your graveyard this turn, exile it instead.

Here’s the fun part.

First off, you do have to pay the mana cost of whatever you are targeting. This is Snapcaster Mage, not Dreadhorde Arcanist. That isn’t necessarily a downside, though, as you can utilize X-spells like Finale of Promise or Banefire in later-game scenarios.

Sadly, you can’t target split cards. Or at least split cards where the total cost is more than three.

Second, check that four starting loyalty out. Chandra starts with two activations of this ready to go.

But most importantly, notice the lack of the word “red” anywhere in that ability. We aren’t just talking Lightning Strike and Shock here.

This is full-on Snapcaster Mage that leaves behind a planeswalker.

Easy Mode

What does a basic Chandra, Acolyte of Flame deck look like?

There’s a wide variety of good options in Grixis for Chandra, Acolyte of Flame to recast. You can hit their hand, their creatures, their planeswalkers. You can exile stuff, really anything. Notably your one- and two-mana removal is much better than in Esper Superheroes, so your deck doesn’t have the horrible on the draw issues I mentioned last week. Or maybe it does, just not as bad, because the whole format has those in planeswalker land.

The core issue with Grixis is solving the traction problem. Relative to Esper Superheroes, you give up, well, the actual Hero of Precinct One. Your creatures start on Turn 3, so they’d better be really good at pressuring planeswalkers.

While I’ve gone on record about my dislike of Legion Warboss in other decks like Gruul, I think the card is significantly better in a midrange strategy. Warboss is at its best as a standalone threat, not alongside anything else. The issue with Legion Warboss in maindecks is largely opponents’ dead maindeck removal, but there’s less and less of that these days and this deck plays Thought Erasure. If there’s anywhere I want to start that card, it is here.

The fliers are oddly a bit more a defensive concession. They happen to pressure non-Teferi planeswalkers just fine, but largely they stand up to all the other creatures people play very well. I think it is to be determined whether you want more Rekindling Phoenix or God-Eternal Kefnet based on how many Lava Coils people show up with, but at the least you will be playing some Phoenix because stacking flying threats is great and a legendary Bird God isn’t the best in multiples.

A quick note on the words “draw a card” in Standard. Just like Teferi, Time Raveler banned counterspells, Narset, Parter of Veils has banned most things that draw cards. If it’s a single card at instant speed, that’s your one exception. Recurring Opt with Chandra, Acolyte of Flame only isn’t banned because two Elemental tokens is a valid ability if they control Narset.

Whoa, we were legally allowed to add new cards to this deck? I thought all Izzet Phoenix decks stopped at Guilds of Ravnica.

Boring, next.

Wait, no Mono-Red Aggro list?

Yeah, because Chandra, Acolyte of Flame isn’t a game-changer for Mono-Red Aggro.

Whenever you are building a red aggro deck, especially if there’s a one-mana 1/1 in it, your cards with converted mana cost three or more need to be unilaterally game-breaking, because otherwise you are just matching the midrange decks on cards-per-mana when most of your other cards are garbage one-drops. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame might see sideboard play where Legion Warboss currently does, but that’s about it.

Chandra, Acolyte of Flame into Chandra, Fire Artisan does let you ultimate bigger Chandra the following turn via their “plus” abilities. This squarely fall under the “two planeswalkers uncontested is overkill” rule, but maybe some Big Red or Rakdos scientist can work out the details.

Maximizing Tokens

Let’s get fancy now.

The normal decks leverage Chandra, Acolyte of Flame’s -2 really well. How can we leverage two Elemental tokens?

Option one: pump spells. Heroic Reinforcements, Trostani Discordant, and Unbreakable Formation all turn Chandra, Acolyte of Flame’s zero ability from two damage to four. You can even flashback Unbreakable Formation with Chandra, or just use the flashback to make permanent tokens via Saproling Migration. The Elemental tokens also transform Legion’s Landing on the spot with the initial Vampire.

The only thing better than the first March of the Multitudes is the second. Often, six tokens won’t be enough, but the second one to get to sixteen tokens really is. Using Chandra, Acolyte of Flame to set up the second via flashback is some really nice added consistency. The Elemental tokens from an initial Chandra zero can also be used to boost an initial March cast, which is really useful if you need to block with some of the tokens to get to your second cast.

Yea, this is mostly just Selesnya Tokens splashing a double red spell, but we’ve seen the checkland-shockland manabase support Narset, Parter of Veils and Basilica Bell-Haunt in the same deck, so this is not even a real test.

This is an almost direct port of a Rakdos Aristocrats that won an MCQ early in War of the Spark Standard, only it no longer has to play stupid Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. That card against Teferi, Time Raveler is laughable, where Chandra, Acolyte of Flame does something.

And Chandra keeps making a full Priest of Forgotten Gods payment every turn. And keeps triggering Mayhem Devil and Judith, Scourge Diva with the tokens’ sacrifice. And works really well with Light Up the Stage, both with riot and as a sorcery to give your deck some extra churn.

This deck really just needs one more good instant or sorcery to give Chandra, Acolyte of Flame some range. The amass spells like Toll of the Invasion just aren’t going to cut it, especially when you’re already overloaded on three-mana spells. A Krenko’s Command would just do the trick, but Fungal Infection is the best we have right now.

With the rest of Core Set 2020, that will be the interesting part. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is a broadly powerful card, but it is broadly powerful in the context of the spells and token exploits surrounding that. With another couple hundred cards, we have another couple hundred shots at new interactions that push Chandra, Acolyte of Flame to be a great card in yet another new context.