Honored Hierarch has been extremely divisive within the Magic community. Half of the player base got hyped on it and the other half explained to them why it was bad. None of the Pros defended it, the price promptly tanked, and its fans went into hiding. But while the initial excitement has faded, the love is still there, ready to give this guy a second chance.
Magic cards that divide the community in half are very rare. They only come around when a card is unlike anything we have seen before and is thus very hard to evaluate. Honored Hierarch is hard to evaluate. Like Tarmogoyf was. A lot of people thought that card was bad and they weren’t immediately proven wrong by the people who scooped them up for $1 each. But now we look back and wonder how it took us so long to figure out how good that card was.
The reason Honored Hierarch has slipped under the radar is because we have been comparing it to the wrong cards. So far it has been put up against green mana accelerators like Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. If the goal is to ramp to a 3+ drop in a green deck then we can agree that Honored Hierarch doesn’t stack up to the premium mana dorks. But that shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.
Honored Hierarch looks totally different when compared to non-green creatures. A good point of comparison is actually Delver of Secrets. Both cost 1 for a 1/1. Both might sit in play doing nothing, or flip into something amazing—either a 3/2 flyer or a 2/2 vigilance that taps for any color. Neither of these cards are consistent, but both have a large upside. Most importantly, both require a dedicated deck be built around them to maximize their power.
Imagine Honored Hierarch in a Delver deck full of Lightning Bolts and counterspells. Burn and counters can force it through, and the mana it provides can fuel more burn and counters while pressuring the opponent. In a deck like this, our mana curve will be concentrated around 1 and 2 mana. This is a totally different take than the green ramp-to-3 deck. And the blue Honored Hierarch seems MUCH more competitive.
After reevaluating Honored Hierarch as a blue Izzet card we get a totally different impression of it. Here is a card that goes from a dud to a potential multi-format all-star.
Standard Honored Hierarch
Honored Hierarch is good in Standard. Ken Yukihiro placed at Pro Tour Magic Origins with Honored Hierarch plus Hardened Scales. I wrote about this card in Jeskai Ascendancy combo, and it already took 2nd place at Maine States over the weekend. It’s proven competitive as a mana dork to power Jeskai Ascendancy, but I’m interested in talking about Standard Delver.
The first consideration is how many “enablers” we need. There will be times when it struts in unopposed, but it needs help. While Delver of Secrets needed something like 24/60+ instants and sorceries to flip reliably, Honored Hierarch would like 10+ removal spells to force it through on the second turn.
From here, counterspells work well with the vigilance ability to keep us in control.
I will be back later to write about this strategy in depth, but here is my current list to give you an idea of the potential:
Modern Honored Hierarch
Honored Hierarch may actually have the most potential in Modern. The stats still hold up but the support is better. The same removal + counter shell that works well with Delver works great with Honored Hierarch.
Honored Hierarch plays well with many of the existing threats, so the question is which to match it with. Most amusing is how well Honored Hierarch plays alongside Noble Hierarch. Noble helps Honored through, and from that point we hit for 3 damage a turn while still making 2 mana. Really crazy.
The biggest drawback of this archetype in Modern is the absence of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, which are very important for the Standard version. This will lead us to play some of the best delve creatures.
This is another archetype I will return to cover in depth, but here is a teaser:
Modern Honored Delver
Legacy Honored Hierarch
The biggest obstacle for Honored Hierarch in Legacy is Deathrite Shaman’s second point of toughness. That’s an annoying blocker. But wait! Imagine if Deathrite Shaman could use the mana ability AND the damage ability together every turn—that craziness is the upside of Honored Hierarch! Of course, Honored Hierarch isn’t nearly as consistent and versatile as Deathrite Shaman, but in the best-case scenario it does it all.
In Legacy we have all the same tools as Modern with a few notable additions—Daze and Force of Will. Leading with Honored Hierarch on the play with Daze backup seems ridiculous. Following up with Wasteland would be brutal.
I neither have the Legacy experience nor any intention of playing Honored Hierarch here, so no list for this format. But it seems like a good fit and I’d like to see some lists from Legacy players.
Honored Hierarch as the New Delver of Secrets
Honored Hierarch has tried and failed as a true mana dork, but his story isn’t over. The card is getting its second chance—as a new Delver of Secrets. It will require some work and innovation, just like with Delver, and it will take us some time to come around to it, just like with Tarmogoyf. Time will tell if it lives up to the comparison to these cards. Most likely it will remain a notch below, but it is more at home in a conversation with these cards than with the cards it has been previously compared to.
For those of you that started off excited about this card, I hope that excitement is back. The card is good and it’s now up to us to continue proving it.