Remember the Titans?
It’s honestly pretty hard to forget them.
Primeval Titan is still a major player in Modern, with Sun Titan and Inferno Titan showing up occasionally, but when they were in Standard they basically obsoleted all the other win conditions in the format.
In a vacuum Grave Titan provided the most raw power, but alongside Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Primeval Titan would prove to be the most impactful. Inferno Titan was lights out against any sort of small creature deck while providing an insanely fast clock, and while it had the highest deckbuilding restrictions, Sun Titan was extremely powerful, usually alongside Phantasmal Image. Even Frost Titan, which was originally maligned and looked the worst of the bunch, had its day in the sun; when everyone else was playing Titans, Frost Titan was a fantastic answer.
Wizards of the Coast certainly pushed the Titans from a power level perspective, and I think the general takeaway from them was that they went a bit too far. They were awesome powerful cards that were cool and fun, until basically any deck looking for a finisher really didn’t need to look anywhere else. I doubt we will see the Titans in Standard ever again, but instead Wizards of the Coast has given us a new cycle of mythic finishers in Kaladesh:
While less homogenized that the original Titan cycle, which was all 6/6s for six mana, the Gearhulk cycle is similar in its execution. Wizards has once again given us a powerful top-end finisher for each color with a similar template and design. The abilities aren’t as backbreaking and they don’t snowball like crazy with repeated attack triggers, but the Gearhulk cycle is still quite powerful.
If anything it feels like Wizards of the Coast has found a good middle ground, as last time they tried to do “Titans version 2.0,” we ended up with the Souls:
As easy as it was to remember the Titans, it was just as easy to forget the Souls… yuck.
Thankfully the Gearhulks exist in the space between Titans and Souls, and “being worse than a Titan” is not a bad place to be when the Titans were so absurdly good.
Let’s drive right in.
While it certainly isn’t going to win any awards for “most interesting name in the set,” Cataclysmic Hulk is perhaps the best of the bunch. Costing only five mana is worlds less than six mana, and Cataclysmic Hulk is also the only one in the cycle that can create serious card advantage without any help. Like any Wrath of God effect, you are going to be building your deck with Cataclysmic Gearhulk in mind, which will allow you to take full advantage of its trigger while also reaping the rewards of the very respectable body it leaves behind.
Considering how similar the trigger is to Tragic Arrogance, it’s not hard to figure out what kind of decks will want Cataclysmic Gearhulk. Decks like G/W Tokens and other midrange strategies looking to win with card advantage and a few large threats or planeswalkers can use Cataclysmic Gearhulk to crush any deck looking to go wide on them or any deck relying on a number of permanents to get ahead on the battlefield. This could be planeswalkers, or perhaps even artifacts with Kaladesh now in the mix.
There are two big differences between Cataclysmic Hulk and Tragic Arrogance, the most obvious being of course the Hulk part that gives you a 4/5 vigilance creature attached to the spell at no extra cost. However, the other difference is fairly significant, in that your opponent gets to decide what to keep rather than you making the choice for them. This makes the effect much less backbreaking, as your opponent getting to keep their 8/7 Tireless Tracker rather than their Reflector Mage is a pretty big difference.
This means that Cataclysmic Gearhulk is likely going to be a product of its environment.
If the format is all about getting a bunch of stuff on the battlefield, whether creatures, artifacts, or planeswalkers, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is going to be fantastic. Just imagine trying to curve out and build a battlefield against your opponent, only to watch most of it wash away and have to deal with a very respectable 4/5 body as well. But if the format is more midrange and based around large threats and card advantage, Cataclysmic Gearhulk will likely be looking on from the sideboard, much as Tragic Arrogance has for its stay in Standard.
Final Verdict: Cataclysmic Gearhulk is the Hulk with the highest ceiling and the lowest floor, and how good it is will depend on how the metagame shapes up.
Torrential Gearhulk reminds me a lot of Frost Titan, and of most blue cards in cycles. It doesn’t look nearly as flashy as the others, but it is fairly powerful in its own right while being flexible both in deckbuilding and in play. While it does cost six mana, Torrential Gearhulk is the most nimble of the bunch, as flash allows you to play it at just the right time while holding up mana for other things if necessary. Five power is enough to take down most of the format’s big threats, while six toughness is enough to survive tussling with most threats…and the back side of Kozilek’s Return.
However, like Sun Titan and Primeval Titan, Torrential Gearhulk is at the mercy of the cards available to it in the format. Flashing back something like Grasp of Darkness is not necessarily bad, but also not really worth six mana. Flexibility is nice, and there is a lot of value to be found in being able to play the right spell at the right time; just ask Snapcaster Mage. But it is going to be important to make sure we are getting our six mana worth as well.
There aren’t a ton of good options for cool instants right now, but there doesn’t need to be much if you are already adding in the versatility of getting a Murder or Void Shatter off of the same card. I was a big fan of Scour the Laboratory when it was revealed, and while it hasn’t found a home yet, the tools are certainly there. An instant-speed Concentrate is huge game, and it’s also a fantastic card to Flashback off of Torrential Gearhulk. Throw in some removal, counterspells, and To the Slaughter, and you’ve got something brewing.
Final Verdict: Torrential Gearhulk is much better than it looks, and I would not be surprised if it was one of the most frequently played of the bunch.
Big thing. Kill creature. Gain life. Hulk smash!
This is not to say that Noxious Gearhulk is not good. Quite the contrary, I think that Noxious Gearhulk is the Hulk most likely to see the most amount of play at first. Noxious Gearhulk slots right into delirium decks as at least a Traverse the Ulvenwald target, but it’s also just everything you could realistically want in a finisher: large, card advantage, life gain to stabilize, hard to block, and kills rather quickly. If Standard is all about large creatures, Noxious Gearhulk will rule the day, much like Frost Titan ruled when Standard was all about Titans. If Standard is all about going wide or planeswalkers, Noxious Gearhulk will probably just be a tutor target or sideboard card.
In a lot of ways Noxious Hulk is the Yang to Cataclysmic Hulk’s Yin. When one is good, the other will likely not be. Of course, they do curve well into each other: Cataclysmic Hulk leaves them with one large good creature, and then Noxious Gearhulk eats it.
Final Verdict: There’s really not much to say. Noxious Gearhulk is big and kills stuff; if that’s what you’re looking for, it does it well. Likely to be a tutor target in Traverse the Ulvenwald decks regardless.
The final Gearhulk to be revealed, Combustible Gearhulk was met pretty unfavorably in comparison to the other four (by competitive players at least). The reason for this is not surprising, given the pedigree of most punisher cards:
The list goes on and on, but there is one constant for punisher cards in competitive Magic: failure.
It’s hard to see anything else in the future for Combustible Gearhulk, as its trigger feels a lot like Browbeat. It also shares many of the problems that Sin Prodder has: You want to play it in an aggressive shell so your opponent’s life total is under pressure and you get the payoff, but most aggressive shells have low mana curves, which will make the trigger very not threatening. If you play it in a ramp deck or deck with large spells, it is unlikely you will be pressuring your opponent’s life total that much, which means they can just take the damage and deny you cards.
Of course, the big difference between Browbeat / Sin Prodder and Combustible Gearhulk is that you have no idea how much damage you are even looking at. Maybe they reveal Mountain, Mountain, Incendiary Flow and you take two and laugh at them for playing a six-mana 6/6 first striker in Standard. Or maybe they hit Emrakul, the Promised End; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Distended Mindbender… Oops, you’re dead.
Final Verdict: Combustible Gearhulk’s combination of volatility and giving your opponent choices is not a winning combination for a playable Standard card, and while it’s not necessarily unplayable, it is much better suited for casual play.
Thankfully, we’ve saved the best for last.
Verdurous Gearhulk is the best of the bunch, and definitely the most powerful of the Hulks in a vacuum.
First off… it’s freaking huge!
Verdurous Gearhulk’s fail state is an 8/8 trample for five mana. That’s absurd!
We’ve never really seen such a huge power/toughness to mana cost ratio before, and it having trample makes it all the more impressive. I’ve had discussions before about what I thought a fair size was for a vanilla creature to make it actually playable in Constructed, and a five-mana 8/8 or 9/9 was usually the accepted answer. The problem with big creatures is that they are so easily stopped by any manner of tokens or other garbage, and trample completely mitigates that. Verdurous Gearhulk comes down quickly, hits hard, and ends the game in a hurry.
But the truth is that an 8/8 trample for five mana still wouldn’t be that exciting for Constructed. Five mana is a lot, and a creature that doesn’t affect the battlefield and can’t protect itself against Reflector Mage or Stasis Snare just isn’t that exciting. Thankfully, Verdurous Gearhulk does so much more.
Wurmskin Forger is a bit more modest of a card than Verdurous Gearhulk, but it serves as a valuable lesson. When Mirrodin came out, this card had the look of Chimney Imp or any other unplayable Draft common. Seven mana for a 2/2? Get real. However, after playing it a few times, it was actually a reasonably playable curve-topper if your deck was lacking in that area. Being able to augment your battlefield in just the right spots is very valuable, as you can size up your creatures so they can all rumble or make a big threat and attack right away. You can also pile on to a smaller creature with something like lifelink and really put the game away. You also get to attack with that four power immediately if you choose to do so, giving Verdurous Gearhulk pseudo-haste.
As of right now there are no sweepers other than Cataclysmic Gearhulk revealed, and with Languish leaving the format and Radiant Flames hard to cast, it could be hard to keep up with a solid curve topped with Verdurous Gearhulk. Even more promising is how easily you can play around Cataclysmic Gearhulk with Verdurous Gearhulk.
Final Verdict: There’s a lot of competition at the five-drop slot across most of the colors, but Verdurous Gearhulk is the real deal. I would not be surprised to see it as the go-to five-drop and one of the best cards in the set when all is said and done.
I expect all the non-Combustible Gearhulks to see some significant Standard play, and I think that Wizards has done a mostly good job of making them interesting while still making them powerful enough to play. They aren’t so obviously powerful it’s wrong to not play them, and they operate in a space where some decks are going to want them and some decks are not.
The Gearhulks definitely aren’t Titans, but that’s a good thing.
After a week off last week, it’s time to get back in the swing of Challenge Thursday! Nicole and John are all moved in, and while we’re still crazy busy getting everything set up right, things are starting to return to normalcy.
Today is going to be a long stream day to make up for lost time, and it will culminate in a big Challenge Thursday ending. What will I be playing? You decide!
As always, the poll will end at 6:00pm Eastern time, which will give me one hour to construct my deck and ready the stream. Then you can tune in at 7:00pm for the start of the stream. I will be playing an entire League with the challenge deck, tweaking it a bit, and then playing another League right after.
How many wins can I get? Cast your vote and make sure you’re watching at 7:00pm tonight to see how it goes!