Let's get right down to brass tax. This past weekend, Wilderness Reclamation didn't make much of a public appearance. Outside of me having a few cool feature matches at SCG Indianapolis, there were no copies in the Top 8. But the Standard Classic and Magic Online MCQ (formerly known as PTQ) was a different story entirely.
There's a reason Wilderness Reclamation is setting off my alarm bells. The first time you cast the card and get to untap your lands, you realize it's actually free. The opportunity cost of playing Wilderness Reclamation is that your opponent can kill it or counter it to negate the four mana you invested into it. After that, it effectively doubles your mana every turn so long as you're casting things at instant speed.
When I first started brewing with Wilderness Reclamation, the obvious start was Nexus of Fate. When you can generate a bunch of mana and you need to cast instants, Nexus of Fate is a no-brainer. But when you start to look at sequences involving Teferi, Hero of Dominaria alongside Wilderness Reclamation, you start to see lines that generate exactly seven mana. And when you start forcing your opponent to play around Settle the Wreckage, you buy yourself enough time to assemble Wilderness Reclamation plus one of your engines.
My gut told me that fog effects were bad. Instead, I wanted to play removal like Shock, Lightning Strike, and Lava Coil to contain creatures until I could combo-kill them with Explosion. And since the front half, Expansion, was so good by itself, I figured Explosion was the best win condition for Wilderness Reclamation. Casting an Explosion for X=6 on the fifth turn by only casting Wilderness Reclamation and Explosion is pretty disgusting. It's what drew me to the color combination in the first place.
But what I found playing fourteen matches this weekend was that engines like Wilderness Reclamation don't need a lot of help. Primal Amulet, while insanely powerful alongside Wilderness Reclamation when transformed, was just a bit too clunky. You need to play Radical Idea, which is not a good Magic card, for it to function. And if you draw too many copies of Wilderness Reclamation or Primal Amulet, you're operating a lot at sorcery speed while not actually progressing your overall gameplan.
In the Indianapolis Open, I went 4-3 with this.
If you want to see the deck in action, you can check out some of the sweeter games here.
The more I played with the deck, the more I started learning about the malleable pieces inside the archetype. I would regularly sideboard out Wilderness Reclamation and/or Primal Amulet, turning into more of a Temur Control strategy. And at a certain point, the deck started to feel a lot like Splinter Twin. In the first game, you have a solid gameplan that's difficult for your opponent to interact with. After sideboard, they get access to a lot of pinpoint interaction that can disrupt your combo, but you juke them by going hard on Murmuring Mystic and Niv-Mizzet, Parun.
When your opponent is guessing on whether you have creatures in your deck, chances are they're going to lean toward against. That's where both Murmuring Mystic and Niv-Mizzet, Parun shine. They're so insane if left alone for more than a turn, and particularly devastating should you ever combine them with an active Wilderness Reclamation. Both reward you for playing a lot of spells. One is more defensive (Murmuring Mystic) while the other closes the game quickly (Niv-Mizzet).
The sideboard games often felt a lot easier than the pre-sideboard games, which means that Primal Amulet just isn't good enough. I felt a lot better when my deck was just Growth Spiral, removal, card draw, Wilderness Reclamation, and threats that are tough to kill. But what I should have recognized earlier is that the games felt easier because my opponents didn't have much, if any, removal in their deck that could take care of these threats.
I knew that if I played those creatures in my maindeck, there would be a good chance I'd just be exposing myself to the likes of Vraska's Contempt, Ravenous Chupacabra, and even Cast Down when they would otherwise be dead cards. I wasn't ready for that just yet, so I decided to go another route.
Here's what I ended up playing in the Standard Classic the next morning.
What Went Wrong
Again, I started off strong with a 4-1 record, only to lose the next two.
Again, I thought I needed another engine, when in reality I just need a card, or cards, that are powerful enough on their own to help me catch up when I'm behind or push me super far ahead when I'm at an advantage. I keep trying to play cards that are only good when I have an active Wilderness Reclamation when I should be trying to play cards that are solid at all stages of the game, and then turbo-charged when I have an active Wilderness Reclamation.
Expansion//Explosion is a perfect example of that. Firemind's Research is a perfect example of the opposite. It's a bit too mana-intensive, and was never all that good even when I did get it going. I only had a few games where it did much of anything, as I rarely ran out of stuff to do thanks to both Chemister's Insight and Explosion.
I also found myself losing games by running out of win conditions against control decks in the first game. If they're smart and just use their counterspells on Explosion, there's a very good chance they deck me. It happened in the sixth round of the Classic. And one of the sideboard games had me losing to Thief of Sanity and missing land drops.
What Went Right
I found my deck functioning a lot more like a control deck and less like a combo deck until I was ready to kill my opponent. I would regularly need two copies of Wilderness Reclamation plus an Explosion to actually get the job done, but that wasn't hard. I was constantly digging through my deck, killing creatures, and ramping up a bit thanks to Growth Spiral.
Overall, I felt like my deck was giving me enough time to set everything up. When I won, it was because everything fell into place. When I lost, it felt like my opponent's deck was just better than mine. Too many counterspells, Mortify to kill my Wilderness Reclamation in the wrong spot, or just a fast clock that I wasn't able to race. The burn-heavy versions of Mono-Red were a bit tougher than I expected, forcing me to play very aggressive when I wasn't necessarily set up to combo off. And without some sort of life-gain effect, there's a good chance I'm just not set up to do much about it.
Spell Pierce was quite good after sideboard, both against control, opposing Wilderness Reclamations, and Mono-Red. With them focusing more on burn cards like Skewer the Critics and Risk Factor, Spell Pierce saved my life on multiple occasions throughout the tournament. It was the perfect complement to Negate to help me win counter wars, and often caught my opponent off guard.
Something Old, New, Broken, and Blue
In order to move forward, we must go back a bit. At this point, most people aren't on the same train as me. Nexus of Fate has people feeling powerful, and their opponents feeling like the card should be banned. I'm inclined to agree, but not really for power level reasons. It's ludicrous that the (only foil) box-topper constantly requires tournament legal proxies issued by the head judge. They're straight up marked cards, and no one really seems to care. Nexus of Fate also just straight up breaks Magic Arena. Just a few nights ago, Shahar Shenhar's opponent demonstrated just how dumb the card can be by looping it for 90 minutes straight.
Regardless of what you think about Nexus of Fate, we can still play it in tournaments, and there's a good chance I'm just wrong about Expansion//Explosion being the best thing you can do with Wilderness Reclamation.
As we move into the digital era of Magic, week one decklists become more and more advanced. One copy of Dawn of Hope alongside Wilderness Reclamation might look innocuous, but I can assure you it becomes insane in just a short period of time. When people first brought up Dawn of Hope as a win condition in Bant Nexus decks, I shrugged it off because I felt that it costs too much mana to use. But Wilderness Reclamation changes everything. The first time my opponent cast Dawn of Hope with an active Wilderness Reclamation, I was done for. So many creatures in such a short amount of time, all with the ability to draw a bunch of cards should I run them out of resources.
I talked a little about Root Snare last week, and how I thought it might end up making Wilderness Reclamation overpowered. It can buy you so much time, and protect your Teferi, Hero of Dominaria from the most common way of interacting with planeswalkers. But again, I very much dislike fog effects, so I'm still fighting it. But at this point, I don't know if I can anymore. With decks putting up a lot of pressure in the first five or six turns, making sure you get that crucial untap step is key in the first game. Then, after sideboard, feel free to cut all the fogs in virtually every matchup. It's just one of the best things you can do to protect yourself and your Teferi in the first game.
Removal is nice and all, but have you tried gaining life and cycling through your deck? Revitalize is quite annoying to play against as a red mage, as the lifegain effectively counters one of their burn spells while drawing a card. I constantly find myself at the mercy of the top card of the red deck, and boy let me tell you that it isn't kind. While Revitalize doesn't really "do" anything, there's a very good reason it keeps showing up in these decks. When your opponent can't actually attack you anymore thanks to Root Snare, one of the easiest ways for them to kill you is to burn you out. Revitalize might not seem like it does a lot, but I'm positive it does more than you think.
Frilled Mystic and a Creature-Based Sideboard
You put your opponent under the gun by casting Wilderness Reclamation, effectively walking them into whatever defenses you have. If they don't attack you, you get to cast Chemister's Insight and start digging through your deck. Eventually, they're going to die to all the excess mana generation and infinite extra turns. If they do attack you, you get to hit them with Settle the Wreckage.
But against decks that don't use the attack step much, cards like Frilled Mystic are exceptional. Wilderness Reclamation puts them under that same pressure, but you also get to hit them with the exploit.
Frilled Mystic might be the most underrated card from Ravnica Allegiance. It saw a little play in testing, but ultimately kept feeling like it didn't have a big enough impact, or that the opponent could easily play around it. But holy hell, let me tell you, Frilled Mystic is absolutely disgusting with Wilderness Reclamation.
People keep trying to use Frilled Mystic in beatdown decks that don't have any other instant-speed cards. It's telegraphing, and people can usually play around it easily. Or, at the very least, they can mitigate the effects. That's a major downside of playing Frilled Mystic as your only instant-speed card with a significant impact. But luckily, Wilderness Reclamation encourages you to play all your stuff at instant-speed. Do you know how hard it is to play around both Frilled Mystic, Chemister's Insight, and Settle the Wreckage? It just gets worse and worse as the game progresses.
The goal for cards like Frilled Mystic is to get a good use out of the body. As a beatdown or tempo deck, having that body is important for helping turn the corner and close games. But it's significantly more difficult to use something like Frilled Mystic in a control deck because putting that body to good use is a bit more challenging.
Here we're trying to leverage the body of Frilled Mystic to buy us time against aggressive decks, but we can turn on a dime against control and steal games. Frilled Mystic also gives you a way to interact against an opposing Wilderness Reclamation deck without getting absolutely destroyed by a Negate or protective Expansion. And I should know because that exact thing happened to me this past weekend.
As a fleshed-out archetype, Temur Reclamation still has a way to go. We need to explore being more controlling and less of a combo deck. We need to see if having some number of creatures in our deck is worthwhile, even if they are prone to dying. We need to stretch the limits of what Wilderness Reclamation can do. We need to continue pushing it to its limits to see if it's as broken as I think it is.
That's the question people keep asking me. The only response I've been able to muster so far that accurately projects my feelings on the card:
"Have you cast it yet?"
Because in that moment when you first cast Wilderness Reclamation, you'll understand what I'm talking about. You'll empathize with me struggling to bring to life all these ideas and thoughts that have been running through my head for weeks now. But I'm not the only one brewing. Before we go, I'll leave you with some of my favorites over the last week!