As Throne of Eldrane preview season begins to hit its stride, it feels like more and more of our questions about the set are being answered.
Every new set feels like it poses an entirely new set of questions for Magic to answer, and Throne of Eldraine is certainly no different. In fact, I've had one big question on my mind since War of the Spark that I have been silently waiting to see answered. Namely, this hard-hitting question has been how creatures can stand their ground in the face of a world of planeswalkers?
Well, it seems that when you ask a hard-hitting question, you tend to receive a hard-hitting answer.
Possibly the most lines of upside I've ever seen in a text box, Questing Beast is the card which, to me, ushers in a new era of how creatures contribute to controlling the battlefield.
Sporting a whopping three keyword abilities, relevant evasive text, some obligatory "Get Bent, Root Snare" text, and possibly one of my favorite lines of text to ever be printed on a creature, there's a lot to unpack here.
Of course, we have the evergreen bunch, vigilance, deathtouch, and haste. Of these, the one that's really important to me is haste, as when it comes to keeping planeswalkers in check, haste is by far the most necessary.
Before the release of Core Set 2020, we saw a fair amount of success from Gruul decks taking advantage of the versatility of Riot creatures in outsizing the aggressive decks and pressuring the control decks. In my testing with Esper for that Invitational, one of the scariest things I found that could happen to me would be finding a window to cast a safe Teferi, Hero of Dominaria only to have a Gruul Spellbreaker or a Skarrgan Hellkite come down and clean up before I really had a chance to defend it.
Nothing too revolutionary there, but it's the foundation of why this card is so good, so I have to point it out.
I'm not going to spend any words talking about the damage prevention text really, mostly because it seems so strange and tacked on that I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but the other two abilities are what really tie the room together. Often, the pattern of play promoted by planeswalkers is for players to either fight for a stable battlefield on which they can deploy and protect their planeswalker, or for players to cast them to gain some sort of immediate value while making the opponent decide how to commit their resources to answering it.
Questing Beast is equipped to punish both plans easily. Being able to high step over some chump blockers isn't exactly new or unexpected, but it's important as we've seen with decks like Jeskai Superfriends leaning on the defensive capabilities of Saheeli, Sublime Artificer to gum up the battlefield. Cards like Augur of Bolas that once looked promising as defensive creatures for control decks will have to be re-evaluated, but I'm sure they'll get by. The real thing that sets this card apart though is its last ability.
If you've ever been in a spot where you've had creatures facing down a planeswalker, you know exactly how strong this text really is. One of the biggest binds you constantly wind up in is the decision of whether to attack your opponent or attack their planeswalker. It's often a game-defining moment where you commit to giving your opponent a full turn of breathing room rather than keeping the pressure on.
It's the same kind of decision that Burn decks have to make on a smaller scale. Do they trade their Lightning Bolt with a creature, or should they just put their head down and commit to what they started? Questing Beast is so good for the same reason that Searing Blaze is one of the best cards ever printed for Burn decks, by fully eliminating the decision and doing both – it lets you have your cake and eat it too.
Even if clearing off a planeswalker takes more than a hit from Questing Beast, your opponent will still be taking four damage in the process, which is not a small sum in the slightest. It entirely flips the dynamic between creatures and planeswalkers on its head, instead of asking the question "Does this creature pass the Teferi, Time Raveler test?" We're going to have to ask ourselves the question "Does this planeswalker pass the Questing Beast test?" Which, as a fan of creatures, is a question I'm excited to have to ask.
Naturally, no beast is an island, and even with all those words, Questing Beast can't just waltz into a fresh Standard format alone to get the job done. Finding the right supporting cast for a card like this will probably take some time as we pick up more previews and see the format take shape, however looking at what we already have, I have an idea of where I want to start.
One of the first things I looked into when I saw that Questing Beast had deathtouch was how I could give it trample. One of the only ways I found to do so was with Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, so now I've got a hunch that it's exactly what I should be doing.
Vivien was already a card that had my attention last Standard season as a possible way to circumvent combat and retain the role of aggressor while throwing my weight around in Green decks, but it never came together with how the format shook out. Now, however, I think will be Vivien's time to shine for a few reasons.
The first is that Llanowar Elves is rotating out of Standard, paving the way for some big structural changes to the format. As has always been the case, Llanowar Elves is a format-warping card that capitalizes on the strength of three-drops surrounding it, which can lead to a real suffocation of cards higher on the curve. Green decks over the last few months have all gravitated towards simply ramping into three and five-mana spells as fast as possible, with the payoff of Hydroid Krasis looming in the distance. Risen Reef and the rest of the Elemental package really put these plans over the edge and kept out most opportunity for other green contenders, but that time is over now.
With Llanowar Elves gone, we're left with the Druids Three to accelerate us into the Standard format of tomorrow. Now the big jump will be from two mana to four mana, just in time for both Questing Beast and Vivien to shine in the most important spot on green's curve.
The second and third reasons I think Vivien is well positioned both have to do with Questing Beast, although not one that's on your side of the table. For starters, Vivien can go up to five loyalty the turn she hits the battlefield. This, of course, means she's passing the first part of the ever-important Questing Beast test, and will be able to live for a turn even if your opponent plays a beast of their own. She also can come down and immediately provide an answer for your opponent's Questing Beast provided you have a large enough creature like a Lovestruck Beast, passing the second Questing Beast test.
The other reason I believe so much in Vivien is that with two turns of Vivien activations, you can have a Paradise Druid stand up to the bully of a beast in combat, and work towards invalidating its evasion. It also naturally synergizes with some standouts sticking around for another rotation like Barkhide Troll and Growth-Chamber Guardian, spreading out your strength along the battlefield.
Branching out into other colors could be an option as well. Green is one of the colors poised to have the best mana to base itself out of thanks to having both Temple of Malady and Temple of Mystery to take advantage of.
It wouldn't be too much of a stretch for me to believe that one of the best decks in Standard was based around this triumvirate of brand new mythic rares rather than something more combat oriented. Questing Beast could play the Siege Rhino to Garruk's Elspeth, Sun's Champion, or be the card that keeps opposing copies of Oko in check as you're busy fighting Food wars.
As we're still early in preview season, it's difficult to have the entire picture, but a deck starting from that much raw power and good mana certainly seems like an early frontrunner to me, though I'll have to see everything before I get down to building it. That's the magic of preview season – as we get more answers to our questions, we always seem to have more questions to ask. My next one is going to be "What's the best Questing Beast deck?"
I can't wait to find out.