Around the time I started to get really big into Constructed Magic there was a cycle of creatures known simply as “The Titans.” These creatures completely and utterly dominated Standard for the period of time they were legal, with the most powerful of the mix being Primeval Titan, who also ended up terrorizing Modern until the Amulet Bloom deck finally received a ban to keep it in check. Even though Primeval Titan was king, all of the Titans saw play. Sun Titan had his moment in the sun and Inferno, Frost, and Grave Titan all had some brief flashes of brilliance as well.
The Titans may have been too powerful for Standard, but the Standard format where they were legal was still a lot of fun to play, regardless. Since they stopped reprinting the original Titans, WotC has on a few occasions tried to print “fixed” Titans, such as the Souls from M15. Those didn’t really pan out, but Kaladesh brings about the most recent attempt at printing fair Titans in the Gearhulks.
Personally, I am super excited for the Gearhulks. I mostly enjoy casting powerful, midrange-y creatures, and so I’m looking forward to seeing what these big bads do to Standard. I have seen a lot of people ranking them from best to worst, and I disagree with a lot of the rankings I have seen, so I figured I’d throw my own hat into the ring.
#5: Combustible Gearhulk
Poor red. Red often finds itself getting the worst of any given cycle, and I’m afraid this doesn’t look to be any different. The red Gearhulk has a reasonable ability, even if it is just a Browbeat on a stick. Milling the top 3 cards and going upstairs with the combined CMC threatens to do a lot of damage, and drawing 3 cards is a very powerful ability.
The problem is twofold. For one, a 6/6 first strike for 6 mana isn’t doing it for me. This Gearhulk just doesn’t have a big enough impact on the board. Secondly, it doesn’t really fit what red does as a color. Red tends to do a few things successfully. It can play a bunch of efficient, cheap creatures mixed with burn spells and win the game quickly. It can play very few creatures and a lot of spells that deal damage, and just throw burn at the face. It can also utilize the haste mechanic to pair up a bunch of potent, midrange haste creatures (Dragons, basically) with the best cards of another color.
It’s hard to imagine a deck where both the body and the ability are relevant. In a removal-heavy strategy, the body would be relevant, as it’s hard to imagine the opponent having much in play. In those decks, however, the direct damage from milling 3 cards isn’t relevant, because you aren’t pressuring your opponent. In a deck that pressures the opponent, 6 mana and not having haste is a huge drawback, and your opponent having the option to choose which ability you get means you will never really get exactly what you want.
Now if this Gearhulk had haste… then I’d be singing a different tune.
#4: Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Much like how Combustible Gearhulk would be so much better if you got to choose which of the two abilities happened, Cataclysimic Gearhulk would also be a lot better if you got to make the choices. People have been comparing this card to Tragic Arrogance, a card that had a huge impact on the last Standard. They cost the same amount of mana and have a similar ability.
I don’t really see them the same way, though. The power of Tragic Arrogance was that you got to make all the choices. You got to pick the best things on your side of the battlefield and all the worst things on your opponent’s side of the battlefield. Now that both players just get to pick their best things I think it will be a lot worse. Instead of your opponent keeping a tapped Reflector Mage, they now get to keep that Tireless Tracker. Instead of choosing Gryff’s Boon as the enchantment and an unenchanted Thraben Inspector as the creature, they get to keep a giant Thalia’s Lieutenant and Always Watching. Giving the opponent choices really sucks!
Stats wise, I love this creature. 4/5 vigilance is a good rate for 5 mana, especially on a creature that reduces both player’s boards by a lot. I do think this card will see play, I just don’t think it will be nearly as good as most people seem to think. It also competes with Archangel Avacyn, and that’s a tough act to follow.
#3: Noxious Gearhulk
This is the “boring” Gearhulk. All of the other Gearhulks come with a bit of variance in that you’re never exactly sure what they’re bringing to the table, but this one is really straightforward. It’s going to do what it does every time.
What it does just so happens to be good, though. Gilt-Leaf Winnower saw a bit of play, and this card is better on almost every single front. It kills any creature, it has a bigger body, and it gains you life. Menace is also an extremely underrated ability, especially on a creature that reduces your opponent’s ability to block it by slaying their best creature. Anyone who has tried to fight through Goblin Dark-Dwellers flashing back removal spells knows how hard it is to block and trade with Dark-Dwellers, especially when double- or triple-blocking comes with a lot of risk that they blow you out with instant-speed interaction in combat.
I expect this to see a lot of play, but I don’t expect it will ever be the best Gearhulk at any given time. It does something good, and it does the same thing every time, but the rest of the cycle has the potential to do something broken. This has the highest floor but also the lowest ceiling.
#2: Torrential Gearhulk
It feels weird for me to rank this one second, because I don’t expect it to see much play—at least not initially. This is a long-term investment. I think this one has an absolutely absurd power level. There aren’t that many great instants in Standard right now, but that’s not to say that won’t change as new sets get released. And if that does change, then watch out, because this card is just insane.
One does not live on stats alone, but on paper, this Gearhulk is an absolute monster. A flash 5/6 is huge. It’s big enough to ambush basically anything in combat, especially when combined with whatever great spell it is flashing back. It’s hard to play around, because you never really know when it could be lurking in hand, especially in a deck that can play at instant speed. Having flash means that it can also flashback countermagic, so in addition to being a 5/6 removal spell in a lot of situations, it can also be a Draining Whelk too.
Flash has always been an extremely powerful ability. Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, Vendilion Clique and so forth prove this. A lot of Magic’s best creatures have had flash. I look forward to seeing how good this card ends up being by the end of its tenure in Standard. If nothing else, it might be Modern playable.
#1: Verdurous Gearhulk
This is the Hulk Smash of the Gearhulks. It reminds me of two cards that have both seen play in the past, Spectral Force and Wolfir Silverheart. I think it is way better than either of those cards by a significant amount. I also believe it is the best card in the set, so there is that, too.
Verdurous Gearhulk gets to spread the love around. It’s hard to express how much better it is to spread counters around instead of just having to pile them all on one creature. For one, it makes sure all of your eggs aren’t in one basket. It can also make your entire team able to attack or play around certain cards, like pushing everything out of Kozilek’s Return range. For example, if both players have a few smallish creatures in play and you play a Wolfir Silverheart, you can attack with the creature you soulbonded onto, but none of your other creatures. With Gearhulk, however, you can potentially spread counters around well enough to attack with every creature. That can be a giant swing. You also don’t have to risk getting blown out in combat by a removal spell.
Gearhulk also plays really well around removal, because you don’t expose any individual creature to being a perfect target for a hit. I also like that it really gives complete control of combat to you. You get to survey the board, see the size of every creature, and then spread counters around in the way that best beats everything your opponent has. Sometimes, that might mean making your Sylvan Advocate a 6/7. It might mean just making an 8/8 trampling Gearhulk. It might mean turning three 2/2s into 3/3s and making a 5/5 Gearhulk. Whatever it is, you have complete control.
I also like that it costs only 5 mana, and plays very aggressively. I’ve always loved midrange cards that don’t mess around and end the game quickly. See Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino. This card seems great at any stage of the game, especially on turn 5 where it probably just puts your opponent immediately on a one-turn clock, but even so, later on it can still influence the game.
Get ready to play against this one. Or if you’re anything like me, get ready to play with this one.
It’s gonna be good.