Standard-legal expansions very rarely offer much to the Eternal formats. We’ve been comparatively wealthy in recent years, however. The Delve reboot in Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged added a ton of new cards to the format, although some were short-lived. Khans block also brought us Monastery Mentor which made their mark on Vintage and Legacy, and a few years before that Return to Ravnica single-handedly rebuilt the GB core with Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay which changed the face of Legacy. But these sets are generally exceptions rather than rules, and most of the time we’re lucky to get one fringe playable card out of a given Standard set.
I’m telling you this because while I don’t necessarily think the Shadows over Innistrad cards of this article are a game-changer or even format staples, but I think it’s important to highlight cards that have a shot of breaking through and analyze what a card needs to make it in the cutthroat world of Legacy. New cards that enter the format are, almost always, unique effects. They do something that no other card does in quite the same way. They’re mana-efficient, have alternate costs, or have cost reducing mechanics. While they might fall into overall archetypes (removal, undercosted threat, countermagic, graveyard hate) the cards that we see make the jump do their jobs in a way that’s different from all the other cards in Magic’s history. You need something to make your resume stand out after all!
Let’s look at Monastery Mentor. His effect at first glance isn’t entirely unique, as we’d just seen Young Pyromancer a year before. But the Prowess mechanic makes him play significantly differently. He triggers off of artifacts and enchantments as well as instants and sorceries, including Moxen and Sensei’s Divining Top. You don’t need to play all your spells the turn before you attack like you do with Pyromancer because Prowess means you’re not missing out on damage. If your opponent has toughness-based sweeper effects, you can play around them by pumping your team at instant speed. All of these things contribute to making the card play differently than anything that came before it. And while 3 is expensive for Legacy, we can probably agree that this type of effect is reasonably costed. So a card like that ended up making an impact in Eternal based on those factors.
The card I want to talk about today (and, in fact, have been talking about for the last week to whoever would listen) is The Gitrog Monster. Anyone who knows me from when I was playing Lands knows that my favorite card in Magic is Life from the Loam. Wizards of the Coast can print almost anything and if it has the words “land” and “graveyard” on it, I’ll pay attention. I’m always a big fan when they print cards that are what I like to call “smart” green cards. In Limited formats and often Standard as well, green only ever provides large creatures, ramp spells, and combat tricks. While often effective, these cards don’t make you think about deck construction or contribute to interesting lines of play like cards of other colors do, and they never give you access to card advantage that doesn’t rely on creature combat. But every once in a while they throw me a bone and print something really cool in green, cards like Knight of the Reliquary, Oracle of Mul Daya, Green Sun’s Zenith, Courser of Kruphix, and Bring to Light have been examples of green cards that scratch that itch. And I’m not alone in loving these cards: almost always, we see these green cards that offer the possibility of card advantage being played competitively in various formats. The Gitrog Monster is the Toad King ascending to the vacant throne of Sweet Green Cards.
This card has a lot of text and a lot of abilities crammed in to such a small box, so let’s break it down somewhat. First, it’s a 5 mana legendary creature card. This already violates the general rule of “be mana efficient,” but green decks are generally the ones best equipped to play a 5 mana creature so it doesn’t automatically disqualify the card. Being legendary is basically always a drawback in competitive Magic as it means your guy is vulnerable to Karakas. Next, you’re getting a 6/6 deathtouch body for your investment, which is definitely ahead of the curve for Standard but not super impressive otherwise. Why a 6/6 needs deathtouch I cannot explain, but note that it does not have any evasion ability or any way to protect itself from common removal like Swords to Plowshares, although it dodges Bolt, Decay, and Dismember. This means that you probably need a plan to protect it, either using Chalice of the Void to keep your opponent from Plowing it or proactive discard to strip their removal away.
Now we get to the interesting parts. On each upkeep, you have to sacrifice a land. Ordinarily this would be seen as a minor downside, but we can counteract the downside effect by playing it alongside the Toad’s Best Friend, Life from the Loam. There also exist some corner cases where you might want to sacrifice a land but they’re few and far between, like sacrificing Riftstone Portal to access its ability or Bojuka Bog to replay it. The Gitrog Horror makes up for that ability with the next, letting you play an additional land each turn. We’ve seen this effect before on cards like Oracle of Mul Daya but this never really ramps you on its own because you’re losing one land each time. It does mean you can play a land immediately after resolving the Toad to get value, so keep that in mind.
But the best ability, and the only reason you would ever put this card in a deck, is the last ability: “Whenever one or more land cards are put into a graveyard from anywhere, draw a card.” This ability is what I mean when I say unique: this is a line of text that hasn’t ever been printed before and probably won’t be for a long time. And there is so much packed into this little ability that gets me excited to play with it. I’m going to enumerate as many of the synergies as I can think of and I still might not have scratched the surface of what he’s capable of.
Obviously the ability is meant to mitigate the downside of the first ability causing you to sacrifice a land, and that’s a pretty good starting place to look for synergies. Any land that sacrifices itself becomes a cantrip with this guy. Luckily, the best lands in Magic happen to sacrifice themselves: the fetchlands. Playing the Toad into a fetch with your extra land drop is very strong because it means that you at least draw a card if The Gitrog Horror is removed. Wasteland is another card that works pretty well with Life from the Loam and the only thing that makes Wasteland better is when it draws you a card. He works excellently alongside Knight of the Reliquary, giving you one or more extra cards for each activation. In Standard you have Evolving Wilds and Drownyard Temple that you can sacrifice each turn, and in Modern you can play this alongside fetches and Ghost Quarter/Tectonic Edge.
The “from anywhere” clause is what really breaks the ability. When you replace a draw with a dredge, any cards that enter the graveyard from that dredge get you another card draw with the Gitrog. That card draw can then be replaced with another dredge if you have another dredger in your graveyard or a discard outlet to pitch one. This means that on average you’re going to be able to dredge your whole deck if you have enough dredge cards going on, and as we’ve seen with Balustrade Spy and friends, winning when your whole deck is milled is probably pretty elementary. Even if you just play this “fairly,” with your only dredge card being Loam, that means that your Loam draws are completely free because you’re not giving up a draw for them. Cards that can enter the graveyard from your hand trigger this, too, so cycling lands draw you two cards and Tolaria West can grab you another card when you transmute it. Any discard effect gets pretty sick with this guy, as you can pitch lands for free. Magmatic Insight becomes practically Ancestral Recall, Molten Vortex or Seismic Assault turn your lands into Shocks that cantrip, Liliana of the Veil’s ability becomes completely one-sided. What’s even more absurd is when you have a discard outlet that’s free and repeatable, like the aforementioned Seismic Assault or something like a Wild Mongrel. Because you can keep pitching lands and drawing cards, you can essentially cycle every land in your hand until you hit a nonland, meaning you can trade your entire hand of lands into gas whenever you’d like (while reaping the benefits of your discard outlet!). On top of that, you can get this effect without a dedicated discard outlet by simply moving to your cleanup step with more than 7 cards in hand. The rules state that no one gets priority during cleanup under usual circumstances, but if an ability would trigger during cleanup, it’s controller puts it on the stack, both players receive priority to respond to the trigger, the trigger resolves and then we have another cleanup step. This process repeats until there is a cleanup step where nothing triggers and then the turn ends. So if we have a hand of 8 cards, we can move to discard, pitch a land and trigger The Gitrog Horror, draw a card, and then have another cleanup, so we can repeatedly cycle all of our lands for free.
That last possibility excites me the most because it’s a problem that Loam decks have historically had. They need a way to translate drawing a bunch of extra lands into cards that effect the board. The Dark Depths combo has helped propel Lands into the limelight but even then you sometimes keep dredging Loam and getting nowhere fast. And when you’re looking for specific nonland cards like Exploration, Molten Vortex, or Abrupt Decay, dredging doesn’t help you. Aggro Loam is another deck where Loam is used as a card advantage engine but you also need to find nonland permanents a lot of the time. Loaming, especially multiple times a turn, often leaves you with 8+ cards in your hand and looking to discard, so the synergy exists to make this possibility a regular occurrence, and being able to trade lands for a full hand of 7 spells at any point is not an ability to discount.
All in all, I’m not sure if The Gitrog Horror’s many downsides overcome its upside enough to enable it to really break through in Legacy. If it sees play, the likely homes are Nic Fit variants due to their ability to casually play 5+ mana creatures and Cabal Therapy to help ensure the Toad resolves and survives; Aggro Loam, due to the incredible synergy with Loam and Knight and the possibility of protecting it with Chalice of the Void; or a strange build of Lands built around using the ability to its fullest perhaps alongside Volrath’s Stronghold. The important thing is to be able to look for new possibilities when a card like this comes along and see where these new opportunities in deckbuilding lead us. I know that I’ll be trying my hardest to make this guy work in the coming weeks, and I’ll certainly be reporting here with my findings. As always, thanks for reading and please reach out in the comments or on social media!
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