How Does Dreadhorde Butcher Stack Up?

Will Dreadhorde Butcher run over control decks? Get stymied by green midrange creatures? Be the card Judith, the Scourge Diva needed to unlock its potential? Dylan Hand checks out those possible futures!

War of the Spark previews have been kicked into full gear following the first handful from PAX East, and so far, we have seen a slew of exciting and unique cards coming our way at the beginning of May. The focal point of the set is planeswalkers and everything to do with them, which means it’s on me to talk about a powerful yet challenging-to-evaluate new card featuring not loyalty, but good ol’ power and toughness.

Immediately upon its reveal to the masses, Dreadhorde Butcher quickly went under the microscope to determine if it would be powerful enough for Constructed play, what shells it would best fit in, so on and so forth. One comparison many made to the card was to a card printed well before I ever first received my DCI membership:

To my understanding, Slith Firewalker saw a good amount of play in Standard and Extended in its heyday in part due to Chrome Mox also being legal in the same format alongside it. I’d imagine this card won a lot of games coming down on the first turn of the game and quickly garnering enough +1/+1 counters to become virtually impossible to keep up with if not removed.

Now, back in the year 2019 with War of the Spark Standard, there will be no such thing as Turn 1 Dreadhorde Butchers, so we’ll have to settle for analyzing it from the second turn on.

Format Context Means Everything

A card like Dreadhorde Butcher is difficult to evaluate as things stand in the early days of preview season, as the viability of a card such as this one is very much dictated by the environment of the format surrounding it. Dreadhorde Butcher’s number one enemy, above all else, will be blocking creatures too high in toughness.

Let us take a quick look at some of the format’s most popular Turn 1 and Turn 2 creatures that would give Dreadhorde Butcher fits:

This short list still covers four to five of Standard’s most popular decks, meaning Dreadhorde Butcher will quickly find itself stonewalled against these creatures. In a metagame full of decks like these, it’s likely the Butcher will not be able to thrive.

Not all is doom and gloom, however, as there are plenty of decks in the format where the card will likely shine:

Esper Control and Wilderness Reclamation decks of various flavors would struggle greatly with a Dreadhorde Butcher left unanswered, as it certainly will not be stopped by blockers in a large percentage of cases. Additionally, the card’s triggered ability happens when it connects with either an opposing player or a planeswalker, meaning it can continue to increase in power and toughness while attacking either with impunity.

After examining what type of potential environment Dreadhorde Butcher might exist in, the next natural thing to do is to begin to develop shells that it could fit into. The first card that came to mind that would pair well with the Butcher is a card that sees very little sunlight in current Standard:

Decks utilizing Judith never quite ended up cutting the mustard in Ravnica Allegiance Standard, and it was likely due to the surrounding cast around it not being very good without Judith on the battlefield. The Mardu Aristocrats deck is a great example of this:

What can only be described a motley crew of relatively low-power creatures across three colors tied up in a Judith-shaped bow felt much more disjointed when the Scourge Diva was nowhere to be seen. However, when this deck curved out to Judith, things quickly became dire for anyone unable to answer Judith swiftly, as it turned every single other creature on the battlefield into a serious problem.

The nickel-and-dime approach that Judith promotes meshes well with what Dreadhorde Butcher is trying to accomplish. By revisiting this strategy with Butcher and some new cards included, this deck’s power might reach an appropriate level compared to the rest of the format.

This list encompasses some other cards that I won’t dive too much into today but help really bring this deck’s identity into its own as a deck that benefits greatly from its creatures dying. Cruel Celebrant serves as a Blood Artist effect the deck was previously lacking, helping provide some solid lifegain to help in racing situations. This list in particular is likely too inundated with two-drops, so the numbers would likely need some tweaking, but all of the two-drops in question have some merit for being there. Hero of Precinct One may be one such card to bow out of the above list, as it serves as sort of another card that synergizes well with the rest of the deck but may not be required now that more pieces that fit into the Aristocrats engine have been printed.

The biggest question I have is whether a more aggressive shell than Mardu Aristocrats could fit Dreadhorde Butcher. The Mono-Red Aggro deck in Standard already has a solid cast of creatures with a converted mana cost of two that likely would not be worse than Butcher, so it seems like it would have a hard time fighting for a spot in a list that splashed black. On the other hand, I do see it being solid in a deck featuring a full set of Shocks or otherwise to help ensure that, play or draw, Dreadhorde Butcher can come down onto an empty battlefield on Turn 2 and start spiraling out of control. The number of times that a Dreadhorde Butcher runs away with any particularly game will be much higher when on the play compared to on the draw, but I’m not particularly sold on a card that might have far too low of a floor when being on the draw for it to be worth it.

To reiterate, the success of Dreadhorde Butcher will almost entirely depend on what the early plays in War of the Spark Standard looks like. If it’s all Wildgrowth Walkers and Goblin Chainwhirlers like it has been for the last handful of months, Dreadhorde Butcher will likely not make the cut. If the format is heavy on decks looking to control the battlefield via sweepers and the like, Dreadhorde Butcher is likely to steal many a game. It’s entirely possible that Dreadhorde Butcher fills a similar role to Legion Warboss in current Standard in the sideboard, as a threat that can come in against the right matchups and demands an answer immediately. Costing less than Warboss may make it a consideration for that role if a deck already utilizing red and black is interested in such an effect.

As is true for many cards in any given preview season from now until the end of time, only rigorous testing will give us the information necessary to decide if Dreadhorde Butcher has what it takes. My initial gut feeling is that this card will be polarizing. On one hand, I can see the card warping every deck’s early game plays to deal with it, because, make no mistake, the card must be answered relatively quickly and still provides a benefit on death. On the other hand, I can very much imagine a world where some dumb green midrange deck makes it practically impossible to attack with, rendering it a bulk rare for the rest of eternity.

Only time will tell.