Shiver me timbers—I am so excited for Ixalan spoiler season. There are always so many interesting new cards for various formats and players of all types. I have seen one new card posted all everywhere, accompanied by huge amounts of hype.
I can understand the hype. A single mana for a 3/3 is nothing to scoff at. But this card is a trap. More than that, I’d like to discuss how to evaluate cards like this in the future to elevate your game. After all, that’s why I personally come to ChannelFireball.com—to get better at Magic!
The rate on the card is fantastic. A single green mana gets you 3 power and 3 toughness, and there’s nothing stopping you from dropping this on the first turn. Let’s look at some powerful cards from Magic’s history that have seen play because of their stellar rate, and in spite of their drawbacks.
Goblin Guide was originally scoffed at because it had the potential to give card advantage to the opponent. Almost immediately, though, players learned how much damage a turn-1 Goblin Guide could apply, and this little fellow has long proven his worth as a powerful damage dealer.
The card is undercosted at WW for a 3/3 flyer with vigilance. But the drawback meant that it could never apply pressure right off the bat. It saw play in Standard decks because the cheap cost let you cast it in the midgame while holding up powerful counterspells (RIP). In Legacy, Serra Avenger has been adopted by Death and Taxes because of its excellent synergy with Aether Vial and the deck’s ability to capitalize on flying.
Tarmogoyf doesn’t seem like it has a downside at first glance, but it certainly does. The card stands to be an embarrassing 1/2 or even 0/1 if there is nothing going to the graveyards. Luckily, this monster grows just from a game of Magic naturally being played, so he is rarely overcosted for his size. Despite being a vanilla creature, good old Tarmogoyf sees play in almost every format he is legal and remains a powerhouse to this day.
Creatures aren’t the only cards with spectacular rates. Path to Exile offers a powerful effect in exchange for giving the opponent a basic land. Very similar to the Dryads in its downside, the cards are worlds apart for their effects. The effect you get for Path to Exile mimics that of Final Reward (a 5-mana spell) while the Old-Growth Dryads mimic a Trained Armadon (a 3-mana spell).
By looking at the past, we get an idea of what kinds of drawbacks are acceptable. I see some players arguing against Old-Growth Dryads because of the “it just dies to removal” argument. That isn’t a reason to dismiss the card at all, as each creature above folds to the cheapest removal spells available.
Clearly, this creature’s only real downside is the triggered ability that gifts the opponent a basic land. I will go into why I believe this to be the death knell for this card later, but right now I want to look at some creatures from Magic’s history that have excellent rates, but missed the bar in Constructed—and even Limited formats.
Talara’s Battalion was equally hyped when it was spoiled in Shadowmoor. A 4/3 trampler for just 2 mana seemed like a steal, and players immediately started looking for a home for this $20 card. But despite the presence of powerful synergies like Llanowar Elves and Boreal Druid, the Battalion never saw a wink of play. The drawback was too great due to its conditional nature and the effect it provided was only useful on curve.
Yes, this is a terrible Magic card, but what went wrong with Scythe Tiger? A 3/2 with shroud is powerful on the first turn. Well, the issue is that sacrificing your land is too steep a cost at that point of the game. It stunted the caster from developing the board in time for the 3/2s tempo advantage to fully take effect. You got an excellent rate, once. After that, you were forever behind. Heaven forbid you draw two of these.
Here is another undercosted green card, but this one is much more recent. This cycle of cards, ones that prevent you from untapping lands the following turn, should still be fresh in players’ minds. What’s the issue with this spell? 2 mana for a 5/4 is a great rate, but that was hidden by the fact that it could cost you 4 mana or more over the course of two turns. The setback is too great and losing a turn after casting this on turn 2 undoes the tempo advantage you gained from a 2-mana 5/4.
So after looking at these types of cards, ones that have failed and ones that have proven their worth, what do you think of Old-Growth Dryads? Let’s break it down.
What is the Main Reason the Dryads Are a Trap?
A 1-mana 3/3 is being played for its rate of damage. How fast can this card kill your opponent? The answer is: fast. 3 power on the first turn has had success in the past…
But the reason these cards are able to kill quickly is because the opponent hasn’t yet had the chance to develop their mana or board. Giving the opponent a Rampant Growth for free will often undo the tempo you gained from playing a 1-mana 3/3. This is the main reason I think this card is a trap. It is designed to look flashy and cool, which it does, but won’t actually apply well in any format.
What about against decks that have no basics?
In Standard, all decks have basics. So this argument will mostly apply for older formats.
In Modern, the prevalence of Ghost Quarter and Blood Moon has forced most decks to play basics. Even decks that don’t actually want basic lands, like 3-4 color Death’s Shadow decks or Eldrazi Tron, play at least a couple basics to play around the format’s most popular spells. Even aggressive decks like Affinity and Burn play basics to fetch off of Path to Exile.
For Legacy and Vintage, you have access to Delver of Secrets, which adds flying for a much more manageable drawback (needing to play instants/sorceries). If you are playing green and not blue, you have access to Wild Nacatl, which comes almost devoid of a drawback at all. These cards are far superior to Old-Growth Dryads and I can’t see them being played alongside each other.
A Quick Aside on Mana
Mana is the most important resource in all of Magic. It isn’t close. It is far more impactful than your life total, and without mana, you can’t even utilize card advantage properly. There is a reason many players take Sol Ring over Ancestral Recall in Cube, and it isn’t just because it’s colorless. If you look at Legacy, white decks have access to both Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. Which one sees all the play? Swords to Plowshares, of course, but why is that? Despite many decks being light on basics, giving mana to the opponent is too great a cost. Even relatively aggressive decks don’t mind giving precious life to the opponent in lieu of giving them access to free mana.
Magic is a battle of resources (mana). Don’t give it away for free.
What would Be Some More Acceptable Drawbacks?
Since I am speaking hypothetically here, there is no way for me to determine if these versions of the card would see play/be too powerful, but these cards would certainly intrigue me more than Old-Growth Dryads the way it stands.
When New-Growth Dryads enters the battlefield, each opponent draws a card.
When Old-Life Dryads enters the battlefield, each opponent gains 3 life.
When Old-Lens Dryads enters the battlefield, each opponent may Scry 2.
When New-Start Dryads enters the battlefield, if an opponent controls fewer lands than you, they may search their library for a basic land and put it onto the battlefield tapped.
The first time Sorta-Old-Growth Dryads becomes the target of a spell an opponent controls, counter that spell. When Sorta-Old-Growth Dryads enters the battlefield, they may search their library for a basic land and put it onto the battlefield tapped.
Obviously these cards aren’t polished or tested, but I hope it gives you some insight on my thought process. Some of these cards are too strong, but there are much more acceptable drawbacks attached to a vanilla 1-drop than Rampant Growth.
Quick Tips for New Card Evaluation
- Don’t immediately jump to find cards that work with the new card—rather, decipher what the card can do alone.
- If you come across powerful synergies, weigh the costs. Is the drawback worth the reward?
- Look at history. Look at similar cards and what they had that made them fail or allowed them to succeed.
This article is mostly to serve as a thought exercise when evaluating a new card. I am in no way advocating that you don’t purchase this card and I am all for getting hyped about a potentially cool new card. I just saw so many elated responses to this card, and it reminded me how quickly Magic players jump at flashy effects without taking a moment to think about its implications.
In Modern, we even see a card as ridiculously powerful as Mana Leak seeing less play in white decks with Path to Exile. Pathing an opponent’s early play increases the chance that they can pay for future Mana Leaks. This is a recipe for disaster and doesn’t show the folly of playing Path to Exile, but rather the detriment of giving the opponent such a powerful free resource. Ask yourself, does Old-Growth Dryads justify this gift?
My answer is no.
The only way to find out for sure is to see what happens over the next few months. What do you think about this card? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading, and until next time, may your Delver of Secrets always flip.