There have been a lot of Zendikar Rising previews thus far, but few have garnered my curiosity as strongly as Magmatic Channeler.
When I saw this card on Friday, I immediately messaged Cedric and asked if I could write an article about it. Considering my article doesn’t usually go up until Thursday, “calling” a card this early is rare. After all, there are multiple more days of previews ahead of me before my deadline. Why wouldn’t I wait a day or two and pick something else? Must be a pretty damn good card, eh?
First, let me start by saying that Magmatic Channeler has a lot of text, so I’d recommend reading it another time or two before we begin. One of the coolest parts about this card is how well it functions both early- and late-game. The static effect of getting bigger when you have four instants or sorceries in your graveyard means that this baddie will be a reasonable topdeck at most points of the game. Much like with Runaway Steam-Kin, the ability to generate an advantage by untapping with it is the most important aspect of this card, but being a large body for a small amount of mana makes it better in more situations. It isn’t the main draw, but it’s certainly an important aspect of the card.
Second, Magmatic Channeler is a great way to turn extra lands into spells. The ability to discard and continue playing cards from the top of your deck means you’ll almost always have something to do. If your opponent has a large blocker, just rummage with Magmatic Channeler and find a removal spell or another threat. Red decks naturally play cheaper cards, which means they will eventually be invalidated if the game goes late. Having a way to discard those mediocre one-mana spells and turn them into fresh resources is huge!
Thirdly, Magmatic Channeler can do some really cool stuff with madness or the graveyard. Discarding cards for zero mana to gain a small advantage while punishing the opponent when it sticks around reminds me a lot of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. You have to use the cards more immediately, but red decks tend to be proactive more often than not. Using that extra card shouldn’t be that difficult.
Like Light Up the Stage, Magmatic Channler allows you to play lands off the ability. That means you can keep more land-light hands with draws that feature Magmatic Channeler. Turning expensive spells into something more manageable seems exactly like something I’m in the mood for. It also means you can turn expensive or worthless spells into extra lands as a net break-even for mana. Having the ability to draw cards or gain an advantage over time without spending mana is pretty huge.
Red is traditionally very good at putting pressure on the opponent with cheap creatures. Oftentimes it takes casting a one-mana creature like Soul-Scar Mage or the like to “lightning rod” your opponent’s removal spell. If they burn their removal on your early threat, that means the likelihood of them having a second removal spell for Magmatic Channeler is smaller. That means you can continually generate that card selection, all while finding juice to keep the heat coming.
The Horror, the Madness
Like Merfolk Looter and others before it, Magmatic Channeler can go in a number of archetypes, but some of the coolest strategies are those that utilize the graveyard and/or madness mechanic. A two-mana discard outlet that gives you the ability to turn dead resources into actual resources is huge in an archetype like Hollow One. There’s a reason they haven’t given us Merfolk Looter proper in quite a long time. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was one of the last ones I can remember and it was absolutely broken in quite a few different archetypes.
In Pioneer specifically, there are a ton of uses for Magmatic Channeler in decks featuring Prized Amalgam or Fiery Temper. I’ve been looking for another creature to play in Izzet Phoenix besides Thing in the Ice. Maybe Magmatic Channeler is the perfect pairing with Young Pyromancer in the early turns with Izzet Phoenix. It’s large and in charge in a hurry, and doesn’t die to Wild Slash or Stomp. It helps find cheap spells and provides you with a discard outlet for Arclight Phoenix. That’s sick.
Thing in the Ice has gotten a lot worse over the course of the last year. A lot of people replaced it with Young Pyromancer and have had success, but I think having two different two-drop creatures that synergize with each other and the Arclight Phoenix archetype is pretty sweet. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy just wasn’t doing it for me, so now we have something arguably better for it to use.
Here’s where I’m going to start.
This version of Izzet Phoenix focuses on killing creatures. Now that we don’t have Thing in the Ice, in order to focus on creatures that work well together instead of at odds with each other, our removal has to do a lot of heavy lifting.
One important aspect of both Young Pyromancer and Magmatic Channeler is that they both play defense quite well. While Thing in the Ice can bounce your opponent’s creatures and present a big clock, both of your two-drops instead gain incremental advantage over time. Thing in the Ice was always quite risky because your opponent had two or so turns to kill it before it came online. That isn’t true with Young Pyromancer or Magmatic Channeler, as both are online much more quickly.
In this deck, Magmatic Channeler isn’t just a face-value spell. Sure, the abilities are all still there, but this is one of the very specific archetypes where it can truly shine. Being able to discard a Fiery Temper to use the ability is ridiculous. Having all your spells be cheap means Magmatic Channeler will almost always be able to trade in a dead spell for something useful.
This is also one of the only decks that can consistently and quickly make Magmatic Channeler a 4/4 without jumping through hoops. Due to the nature of the archetype, Magmatic Channeler is right at home and frankly a perfect card for the archetype. Even if Thing in the Ice becomes viable again, it will replace Young Pyromancer well before it replaces Magmatic Channeler.
The additional untapped two-color land on the first turn is outrageous for this archetype. I’ve been asked a lot over the last week or so where these new lands stack up. I think there’s a good chance they’re the fourth-best set of two-color lands ever printed. Ultimately, they’re going to be better in decks that feature a wide array of one-mana spells that cost differing colors, but they’re excellent in any archetype that can play one or the other. Because we’re playing Opt and Wild Slash, Riverglide Pathway is perfect for Izzet Phoenix and I’m very glad to have them in Pioneer.
I don’t know if Shatterskull Smashing is actually good or not, but I figured I’d try one out over a Mountain to see if I ever actually want to cast the spell. Given enough mana, this thing fries. In the early turns, you might be able to find a spot to play it tapped so you don’t deal yourself damage, but in a pinch it enters untapped.
It’s pretty difficult to figure out which of these modal DFCs are playable just yet, but my gut says most of them are at least pretty good. Spikefield Hazard, for example, really rustles my jimmies. In a deck like Izzet Phoenix, there’s a chance that playing a bunch of spell/land hybrids is incredible because it means you’ll never run out of spells or miss land drops. The fact that most of them enter the battlefield tapped makes them somewhat terrifying to rely on for mana, but I do love the versatility.
Decks like Izzet Phoenix would often play fewer lands than other archetypes, relying on stuff like Opt to smooth out their draws while also being an enabler for Arclight Phoenix. Having a handful of spells that double as lands when you need them to could be invaluable, and especially so when the format is a bit more constricted, like Historic or Standard. While Arclight Phoenix is about to rotate out of Standard, these land/spells are excellent when the spell half is actively playable or good. Just think of them like the Charms. No one ability is efficiently costed, but having it be either of two solid effects is really nice.
One of the ways to utilize Magmatic Channeler is to go full Merfolk Looter and use the whole graveyard. Pioneer has had a few cool archetypes using various graveyard cards in interesting ways. Since the recent bannings, a lot of oppressed cards have been mostly unlocked. Some of the graveyard decks we had at the beginning of the Pioneer format might be worth exploring again. Since Magmatic Channeler is so awesome at putting things in the graveyard, why not pair it with a bunch of cards that also want to go to the graveyard?
Lately we’ve seen a few different Young Pyromancer decks start to pop up in both Historic and Pioneer. One in particular that I played last week was jamming Rix Maadi Reveler, and my gut instinct said I’d rather be playing anything else. Why not this new toy from Zendikar Rising?
- 4 Young Pyromancer
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Dreadhorde Arcanist
- 3 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Magmatic Channeler
This is a mostly plug-and-play version from an existing archetype. Rakdos Pyormancer (Lurrus) has become a staple of the current Pioneer metagame and this mostly stock list is just incorporating a significant upgrade. Rix Maadi Reveler was never good in the archetype. It was just a body/enabler with a unique ability. Red doesn’t usually get too many good Merfolk Looter creatures, so Magmatic Channeler really is something special.
In this iteration, Magmatic Channeler can discard mediocre removal spells; a dead Thoughtseize; or Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Those dead cards can become more removal against creature decks or just more of whatever is good against the opponent you’re paired against. Removal-heavy decks getting a Merfolk Looter is pretty rad, and reminds me a lot of when Jeskai Black got to play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Not only was it a core part of the archetype, it helped sculpt draws and could even win the game with a little help from your support cards.
Like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Magmatic Channeler becomes pretty messed up if your opponent doesn’t kill it. It either gets really big and can pressure their life total or you eventually find enough useful resources to bury them with the potent card selection. There’s isn’t as much immediacy here to kill Magmatic Channeler as there was with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, as the transform on Jace was quite strong, but the similarities are striking. This is pretty obviously supposed to be one of the marquee red cards in the set, and might end up being one of the best red cards printed in the last few years. Any spell that immediately makes an impact on Pioneer or Historic has to be pretty damn good.
Lurrus and Yorion were the two companions seeing the most play, so it’s only fitting that they’d be two of the companions seeing the most play after the nerf. Here, the addition of Lurrus is mostly free, as the converted mana cost on all your creatures is already low and you don’t want more expensive stuff gumming up the works. Lurrus also gives you some solid late-game potential, which this deck sorely needs.
My only gripe is that Claim // Fame doesn’t return Lurrus to the battlefield like it did with Unearth in Modern. That was some of the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in the last few years, so not being able to translate that to Pioneer or Historic is a little sad, but it’s powerful enough that I can recognize it’s probably a good thing it doesn’t work.
Speaking of Claim // Fame, this card is bonkers in this deck. Returning your two-drop creature that was killed by the opponent for a single mana is ridiculous when those creatures can singlehandedly take over the game if left unchecked. Claim gives you a lot of resiliency in the face of spot removal, while Fame has some utility on the back end. Getting back one of your creatures and giving it haste can make for some really swingy turns with Dreadhorde Arcanist, as pumping the power and giving it haste lets you do some dirty stuff.
Returning Young Pyromancer to the battlefield before chucking a bunch of spells at your opponent is also pretty sick, as the limitation on Young Pyromancer is usually the inability to cast a relevant spell on the same turn you cast it due to mana constraints. Most of the time, Young Pyromancer is one of those cards you cast on the second turn and cross your fingers that you get to untap. With Claim, you often get to cast it for one mana and then generate multiple tokens before your opponent is able to kill it again.
The addition of Magmatic Channeler makes Claim a bit better as well, since you have another staying-power level creature to return to the battlefield. The reason to play four copies of Claim // Fame, a card type that is often bad in multiples, is that this archetype gives you multiple uses for multiple situations. Milling over something sweet with Stitcher’s Supplier lets you have some incredible Turn 2 plays. Just using it to return Kroxa to continuously pressure your opponent’s hand is also very useful.
This is one of your best late-game cards, giving you closing speed while providing utility in the early turns. Kroxa is one legit threat for Radkos Pyromancer, even if it isn’t quite as good as Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. When you combine it with Thoughtseize, the small disruption package starts to constrict the resources of the opponent. And if you add Claim and Lurrus into the mix, you can get your opponent Hellbent without much trouble once you hit the mid-game.
The closing speed of Kroxa is the most important part. Once your opponent is hellbent, each cast, escape, or Claim is one more card they’re down. The escape and following attack usually put your opponent to the test. Do they hold the card to take less damage or cast it and start chump-blocking? Even if they’re able to kill it once, Kroxa can come back for more without much trouble. This deck is excellent at filling the graveyard, and Magmatic Channeler only helps keep it that way by discarding and finding another spell to cast immediately.
There might be a bit of a non-bo going on with escape and Magmatic Channeler, but nothing worse than Treasure Cruise and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. In essence, both cards are just using the same resource, and the strength of Magmatic Channeler doesn’t come from filling the graveyard. It is the backbone enabler of your archetype as opposed to a finisher. The 4/4 part of the card should definitely be secondary here.
At some point in the future, Historic and Pioneer should become the same format. For now, there are decks that exist in both formats that look and feel pretty similar. For example, a version of Rakdos Pyromancer thrives in both formats, and the two versions look mostly the same. Magmatic Channeler should very likely be in both versions. It’s that good. You might have a tough time convincing me that it’s better than Young Pyromancer or Dreadhorde Arcanist, but that’s because the original versions were literally built around those two threats. There might be a different version that utilizes something like Fiery Temper and doesn’t play Dreadhorde Arcanist at all!
For now, I think playing all three creatures makes a lot of sense. Having three different two-drop creatures that work with Claim is sweet, but the truth is that all three of these just work perfectly well in the same shell. Rakdos as the color combination also makes a ton of sense because Dreadhorde Arcanist shines alongside reanimation like Claim and discard like Thoughtseize. I’m definitely looking forward to different spell suites surrounding these three red creatures at the core.
Standard is a bit more up in the air, but I’m confident that Magmatic Channeler is good enough to just spawn its own archetype. Like Arclight Phoenix before it, surrounding Magmatic Channeler with all the “proper” instant and sorcery tools might just be good enough for its own archetype. We might need a few more tools, and the deck could definitely be Rakdos or Izzet or something else. New formats after a big rotation are all about finding the “build around me” cards, and Magmatic Channeler is exactly that. It’s not as easy to utilize as Runaway Steam-Kin, but it’s not that hard to make a Merfolk Looter variant good.
Magmatic Channeler is an excellent card that might help define the new Standard format. Luckily, it isn’t some game-breaking card that buries your opponent in two turns if they don’t kill it. The card economy is net-neutral, and it bottlenecks you into playing some very specific, interactive cards. It encourages the exact type of gameplay that I enjoy, and I will be picking up four copies as soon as they come out. If you’re a fan of the two decks from above, or just like a good Merfolk Looter, I’d recommend doing the same.