As part of the transition process to bring Explorer closer to Pioneer, Wizards last week announced Explorer Anthologies 1 — the first product in a series of bundles that promise to bring important Pioneer cards to Magic Arena, legal both in Explorer and Historic.
But let's be honest: did Explorer Anthologies really insert so many important Pioneer pieces? No.
Were our expectations too high? Probably.
But the absence of some critical pieces, like Treasure Cruise and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx makes me consider the possibility that this isintentional — we know that Delve spells (Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time and to a lesser extent, Temporal Trespass) have a troubled history in virtually every eternal format, so it would be a logical decision to avoid inserting these cards into Magic Arena so soon if they are on a "watchlist" with a not yet established long-term future at Pioneer.
That is, the absence of some cards in the first bundle can either mean an absolute disconnection of Wizards and the Magic Arena team in relation to Explorer's needs in its migration to Pioneer, or might represent their concern to add some "dangerous" cards and take the risk needing refunds on Wildcards later and/or even having to patch out the product due to bans.
But our question here shouldn't be, "why did certain cards haven't made it into this bundle?" — there will be others in the future — but if Explorer Anthology 1 is worth buying based on how important the cards in the product really are to the format and/or to Historic.
To that end, let's evaluate its additions to Magic Arena and how much they might impact the Metagame.
Heroic/Magecraft decks appear frequently at Ranked Best of 1 in both Explorer and Historic, and Favored Hoplite is also an essential part of that strategy in Pioneer — so I believe it will become a staple for any archetype based on auras or targeted spells, and can help leverage Boros Heroic into the Best of 3 competitive scene as well, despite the notorious absence of Monastery Swiftspear and/or Boros Charm.
In Historic, Favored Hoplite can also appear in Auras as a powerful one-drop that's easy to protect and reusable with Lurrus of the Dream-Den.
However, being an uncommon card, it's relatively easy to craft with Wildcards — so it doesn't add much value to the bundle.
Rally the Ancestors
Rally the Ancestors features a few interactions with Aristocrats or with ETB effects, but it's never been very successful in Pioneer since relying entirely on the graveyard is a huge trouble.
In Explorer, the entire foundation of Rally strategies is present — with Stitcher's Supplier and Mire Triton guaranteeing the self-mill while Cruel Celebrant, Corpse Knight Woe Strider and Yahenni, Undying Partisan guarantee payoffs and sac outlets. But it also suffers severely from the absence of a 2-drop that sacrifices creatures for free — in Pioneer, we have Cartel Aristocrat — making it impossible to resort to the entire combo with copies 5 to 8 of the new spell: Return to the Ranks, added to the digital platform on JumpStart.
In Historic, while we have even more payoffs with Blood Artist, we suffer from the same ailment of the absence of a low-cost sac outlet that can repeatedly sacrifice creatures at no additional cost, but I anticipate much more interesting interactions with ETB and Rally the Ancestors in the digital format than in Explorer.
How much Rally the Ancestors really adds value over the bundle depends solely on how impactful it can be on Historic, as its results on Pioneer are negligible, and I believe we will have the same problem on Explorer.
With Darksteel Citadel arriving alongside Ensoul Artifact, it obviously means the arrival of Azorius Ensoul (since Izzet still needs Shrapnel Blast), but where I'm really excited to try the enchantment is in Historic, alongside Esper Sentinel, the Bridges and a series of other artifacts that already make up, today, one of the main Best-of-One decks of the format: Azorius Affinity.
Again, costing four uncommon wildcards, Ensoul Artifact doesn't add as much value to the bundle purchase.
Mono Blue Spirits is one of the most important Explorer archetypes in both Best of 1 and Best of 3, and the only piece that was really missing for its core to be exactly like Pioneer's was Mausoleum Wanderer.
Now that the Explorer version is complete, this will make it faster and more consistent on the disruptive plan, but I don't think the addition of this card will do enough to take the Rakdos Midrange space as the best deck in the format — despite significantly improving the response window against sweepers like Anger of the Gods.
As an instant staple of one of Explorer's top competitors today, Mausoleum Wanderer adds a lot of value to the bundle, as you'll necessarily need four copies of it to play any Spirits variant.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Another Pioneer staple, mostly present in the Midranges and in some Control variants, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet comes to Explorer as the most important addition to the best deck in the format today — Rakdos Midrange, where Kalitas entirely changes the course of some games since it has a function very close to Sorin the Mirthless, but interacting better with the proposal to remove creatures from the battlefield to grow your board with Zombie tokens while also being another incidental graveyard hate against Cauldron Familiar and Arclight Phoenix.
With the potential to also have some impact on Historic, Kalitas adds a lot of value to the bundle, as it is one of the few mythic-rares of the product with a true competitive impact.
I did a quick search, and it seems that the best options to go with Shadowborn Apostle in Historic are Razaketh, the Foulblooded and Lord Xander, the Collector — neither of which are impactful enough to be competitive.
Therefore, Shadowborn Apostle is just a fun addition to Historic Brawl and shouldn't have been included in this bundle.
Tainted Remedy doesn't see practically any play on Pioneer, but its proposal is interesting and even necessary for the Magic Arena environment: it's not uncommon for players, especially in the Best of 1 ranked games, to bet on strategies aimed at Lifegain — and they're a huge nuisance to deal with in an environment where games tend to be or should be completed quickly.
Tainted Remedy is an extremely linear answer, but perhaps necessary to deal with these situations. Is it worth the four rare wildcards? Definitely not because it's too conditional, but it's a useful "bonus" as part of the bundle.
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
I don't think Alesha, Who Smiles at Death does enough to appear in the competitive Explorer or Historic scene, but this card is incredibly fun as a commander for Historic Brawl.
It's a shame it was included in this bundle instead of on another product, as it definitely doesn't add much to the product's investment.
Practically unique to Mono-Red, Searing Blood has always been an effective Sideboard card for dealing with archetypes with small creatures and/or the Mirror Match.
It will probably have space on lists in this category, but its potential is reduced without Monastery Swiftspear — and the fact that it counts as uncommon makes crafting easier.
Temur Battle Rage
In the absence of Boros Charm, I can imagine Boros Heroic, or even a variant of Izzet Prowess looking to take advantage of Temur Battle Rage alongside pumps like Titan's Strength and the like to attempt a combo-kill, this is a viable tactic which will likely get many complaints in Best of 1 games.
But where I'm really excited about Temur Battle Rage is in Historic, where we have Death's Shadow and Kiln Fiend to turn this spell into a combo kill at the right times. I don't think this will be enough to make Death's Shadow a top tier of Historic, but I'm excited to make the same absurd plays with it that I did in Modern.
As a common card, Temur Battle Rage is easy to obtain without buying the bundle.
Like Temur Battle Rage, Titan's Strength will likely see play for the absence of some better option or to fill gaps that the transition from Explorer to Pioneer hasn't covered yet — and could also be present alongside Kiln Fiend in Historic.
I point out that Titan's Strength interacts exemplary well with Dreadhorde Arcanist as a good top filtering alongside a relevant power boost on a creature with Trample, this will likely make it a mighty option in Best of One games.
Like any other common card, you will have no problem crafting Titan's Strength if you don't purchase the bundle.
Back to Nature
Although not great in Explorer these days, Back to Nature is an important answer in Historic to deal with Selesnya Enchantress and its other variants.
Since it's an uncommon, you'll have no trouble adding it to your collection.
As strange as it may seem, I think the most impactful card in the Explorer Anthology is a common — Elvish Mystic — and it's a piece that fits into the largest number of decks in the format.
Among the archetypes that can benefit from Elvish Mystic, we have Gruul Aggro - which needs this consistency increase in the possibility of increasing from one to three mana on turn 2 -, Mono-Green Ramp, Stompy, the Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy and Fight Rigging lists along with a host of other possibilities that are enhanced by the mere presence of an extra mana dork.
Its utility also extends to Historic, where decks like Selesnya Company and obviously Elves can take advantage of yet another mana dork to streamline their strategies.
However, as Elvish Mystic is a common card in the bundle, it doesn't add much value to your purchase.
Tireless Tracker was, for a few years, a massive Midrange staple, but over the years, it has become obsolete as more efficient options have emerged for both Modern and Pioneer.
In Explorer, I suppose it's even pretty decent currently, as we still lack an environment where certain combos make it too slow, or where better Goodstuff options exist - so we might see it in Selesnya Company lists (both in Humans and non-tribal versions), and perhaps also Golgari Midrange variants that might try to play it and Kalitas in the same shell, as they did in Modern's classic The Rock back in 2016/2017.
Another place where Tireless Tracker can have a home is on the sideboard of various decks for attrition matchups, as it turns all your land drops into a later draw.
Therefore, I consider it as a possible staple for Explorer and a card of some potential in Historic — in that sense, I think we can see it as a potential staple and a card that players will possibly want four copies of.
The Azorius version of Tenth District Legionnaire might lead players to try Azorius Auras (or some low-cost spell-based version to trigger Magecraft) in Explorer, but the lack of immediate impact leads me to believe that it won't be as relevant in the format.
Regarding Historic, Battlewise Hoplite is worse than Kor Spiritdancer or Sram, Senior Edificer — so it probably doesn't deserve a slot in Azorius Auras.
Siege Rhino is one of the most iconic creatures in Magic of the last decade, and was above the game's standards at the time it was released and has established a veritable legion of fans of the card and Abzan Midrange in Standard and Modern, but it was never successful on Pioneer as, at the time of creating the format, better options already existed.
In Explorer, where we don't have Sylvan Caryatid yet (but we will have Llanowar Loamspeaker soon) and where many of the newer cards dictate the Metagame, I don't see a future where Siege Rhino can actually succeed, but I'd love to be wrong and see one of the most impactful creatures in Magic history finally find a home, despite the noticeable power level increase of the last few years — we definitely have the necessary tools to make Abzan Midrange a potential competitor in the Metagame, but would that make it a better option than Rakdos?
Counting it as a rare whose potential is unlikely, I'm a bit torn about exactly where to place it in my assessment, but considering that it's a high-quality creature, it is a worthy investment in the bundle.
Slaughter Games is a great answer against archetypes that need specific pieces to work — it'll likely see play on Sideboards as needed, but it's never going to be the kind of card you want four copies in your collection unless the Metagame is actually broken and playing around a single combo deck.
Supreme Verdict was the missing piece to make Azorius Control have pretty much all the necessary parts of its Pioneer counterpart (we still lack Dig Through Time, but most lists have replaced it with Memory Deluge) and is a great answer for dealing with Mono Blue Spirits at the time they received their main anti-sweeper tech, Mausoleum Wanderer.
Furthermore, unlike Depopulate or Shatter the Sky, Pioneer's most powerful sweeper offers no additional advantage to the opponent by clearing the battlefield, making it a strategically superior option to any other variant available in Explorer and the putting it on par with Wrath of God in Historic, where the regeneration clause may have some relevance in some rare and occasional games.
Therefore, we can consider it a staple of both formats and a great investment coming from the bundle.
Darksteel Citadel is a necessary addition to the Ensoul Artifact variants, but I'm much more interested in the practical impact it can have on Affinity in Historic, where it interacts positively with Thought Monitor and Nettlecyst.
As I'm not sure Azorius Ensoul really has a home in Explorer and as an uncommon card, it doesn't add much value to the product.
Hangarback Walker was a huge staple during its Standard days, but it never had a home on Pioneer — despite the presence of Hardened Scales and Winding Constrictor — so I don't have big expectations for it in Explorer, and I can't think of any archetypes where it actually fits in Historic either.
However, being a colorless card, a good mana sink, and a creature that replaces itself if removed from the battlefield, Hangarback Walker is the kind of creature I like to have in my collection because you never know when you might need it—but it doesn't create such an urgency factor that it's immediately necessary to craft or purchase.
In the end, my conclusion is that the value of Explorer Anthology 1 depends on how much you want to expand your Magic Arena collection: if you're the kind of person who likes to play with multiple decks and test out plenty of ideas, paying 25,000 Gold or 4,000 gems to get 4 copies of several rare cards, some mythic and several common and uncommon seems to me a good bargain compared to trying to buy booster packs for the same price.
On the other hand, if you just want a few cards to add to your deck, or occasional pieces to complement lists you already have, you probably won't need to purchase the bundle, as I don't see any archetypes needing more than 6 or 8 copies of rare or mythic cards from that package.
In the end, the first Explorer expansion product in Magic Arena leaves something to be desired - many cards could be added, while others don't seem to make much sense to be present in the product when they are barely played on Pioneer - and the consequence is the release of something that only enhances some main competitors but does very little in bringing new archetypes of what Explorer aims to become to digital form, leading to a sort of general disappointment since, deep down, we expected more than that.
However, I can't say I'm not excited to try a new Boros Heroic or Abzan Midrange variants in the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading!
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