Kaldheim: An Elves All The Way Down Review – Part Two

Welcome back to the Elves All The Way Down review of Kaldheim – Magic the Gathering’s Norse mythology-themed expansion. Last time, we went over all of the Elves in the set and discussed their application in formats ranging from Standard to Modern. This time, we’re covering the cards with Changeling and other supporting cards.

I’d recommend having a look over Part One before reading this article if you haven’t already. Remember, all of this is from the point of an Elves player. If a card would be great in your Goblins or Homarids deck, that’s great and all, but we want to know how good it will be for Elves.

I’ll be going through the cards in Collector’s Number order again and giving every card a rating out of five trees (because who doesn’t like the Green mana symbol?)

Part Two


Doomskar

Doomskar {3}{W}{W}  Sorcery  Destroy all creatures.  Foretell {1}{W}{W} (During your turn, you may pay {2} and exile this card from your hand face down. Cast it on a later turn for its foretell cost.)

What’s this, a three-mana wrath? That’s really not what I wanted to hear. As a player who loves tribal decks and playing to the board, Doomskar terifies me. I’m including it in this review because it’s just such bad news for Elves. In fact, it almost removes points from all our other cards just by being in the same set.

The problem here is that a lot of Elves lists I’ve played can go under a normal four-mana wrath effect. When we can’t, we can often have a counter ready in time – like Heroic Intervention or Selfless Spirit. When our opponent uses turn two to foretell Doomskar and then turn three to cast it, we’re probably doom(skar)ed.

I don’t have a graphic for negative Trees, but this card earned them.


Glorious Protector

Glorious Protector {2}{W}{W}  Creature — Angel Cleric 3/4  Flash  Flying  When Glorious Protector enters the battlefield, you may exile any number of non-Angel creatures you control until Glorious Protector leaves the battlefield.  Foretell {2}{W}

Now here’s a card that can help us beat a boardwipe. While I’m most likely to be playing Green-Black Elves in Standard, I have dabbled with White in other formats. If a Green-White list does pop up, I can see this Angel making it into the sideboard for the Control match-up. The double White cost is a bit difficult, but foretelling it removes this hurdle.

The way Glorious Protector can help is by casting it in response to a boardwipe. We can effectively hide all of our (non-changeling) creatures under the Angel so that when it’s destroyed by the wrath, we get our creatures back.


Rally the Ranks

Rally the Ranks {1}{W}  Enchantment  As Rally the Ranks enters the battlefield, choose a creature type.  Creatures you control of the chosen type get +1/+1.

I’m including Rally the Ranks for completeness’ sake, but I’m not going to be running it in my Green-White Elves lists. We really need a critical mass of creatures for a lot of our other payoffs. As a result, a non-creature anthem effect isn’t what we’re looking for.


Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector’s Shield

Reidane, God of the Worthy {2}{W}  Legendary Creature — God 2/3  Flying, vigilance  Snow lands your opponents control enter the battlefield tapped.  Noncreature spells your opponents cast with converted mana cost 4 or greater cost {2} more to cast.

Another potential sideboard option if we’re playing White, Reidane has a multitude of applications. On her front side, she can preemptively slow down boardwipes and decks with a snow manabase. Her ability to slow down big spells is worse against boardwipes than Glorious Protector, but having access to a mix of these two cards in the sideboard could be interesting.

Valkmira, Protector's Shield {3}{W}  Legendary Artifact  If a source an opponent controls would deal damage to you or a permanent you control, prevent 1 of that damage.  Whenever you or another permanent you control becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, counter that spell or ability unless its controller pays {1}.

Valkmira, on the other hand, provides utility against some damage-based sweepers and slows down targeted removal. As a bonus, it also messes up combat maths for our opponent.

All told, the two faces of this card aren’t the best at what they do. However, using a single sideboard slot to have access to both faces might still be worth it.


Littjara Kinseekers

 Littjara Kinseekers {3}{U}  Creature — Shapeshifter 2/4  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  When Littjara Kinseekers enters the battlefield, if you control three or more creatures that share a creature type, put a +1/+1 counter on Littjara Kinseekers, then scry 1.

Getting to Blue means we’ve hit our first Shapeshifter. Now, Kinseekers are a card intended purely for limited, I realise. However, I’m contractually obliged to cover every Elf in the set and these Shapeshifters have Changeling – making them Elves.

I don’t see Littjara Kinseekers making a splash outside limited, but I do enjoy drafting it, so that’s a plus.


Mistwalker

Mistwalker {2}{U}  Creature — Shapeshifter  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  Flying  {1}{U}: Mistwalker gets +1/-1 until end of turn.

Here’s another faux-Elf for our Elf review: changeling strikes again. I’m definitely more excited for some of the Shapeshifters that we’ll cover in Green, but the Blue ones really aren’t cutting it.


Mystic Reflection

Mystic Reflection {1}{U}  Instant  Choose target nonlegendary creature. The next time one or more creatures or planeswalkers enter the battlefield this turn, they enter as copies of the chosen creature.  Foretell {U} (During your turn, you may pay {2} and exile this card from your hand face down. Cast it on a later turn for its foretell cost.)

Now this is an interesting card. Most of the cool applications I can think of for it will never be good enough for a serious constructed deck. However, I enjoy some of the theorycrafting I’ve seen around this card. You can cast Mystic Reflection on a Shaman of the Pack and then cast Collected Company and guarantee two more Shamans.

This is probably worse than just having another Elf in your hand to play, but it’s definitely cool. I kind of want to try and live that dream at least once, just so I can say I have.


Orvar, the All-Form

Orvar, the All-Form {3}{U}  Legendary Creature — Shapeshifter 3/3  Changeling  Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, if it targets one or more other permanents you control, create a token that’s a copy of one of those permanents.  When a spell or ability an opponent controls causes you to discard this card, create a token that’s a copy of target permanent.

Orvar is another cool card, but this time I’ve got no cool applications in Elves decks to talk about. I guess if some weird Blue-Green list turned up, we could use bounce spells and protection spells to both save our Elves and make additional copies. The best thing I can think of is having Orvar in hand when our opponent casts Kroxa and discarding it to make another Lord.


Reflections of Littjara

Reflections of Littjara {4}{U}  Enchantment  As Reflections of Littjara enters the battlefield, choose a creature type.  Whenever you cast a spell of the chosen type, copy that spell. (A copy of a permanent spell becomes a token.)

Here’s a card I intend to do fun stuff with in EDH Elves. Doubling all of our Elves sounds really powerful, especially with enters-the-battlefield effects and Lords. Five mana is probably too much for this in 60-card formats. That said, I might throw it in the silly Mystic Reflection version I’ve got half brewed.


Crippling Fear

Crippling Fear {2}{B}{B}  Sorcery  Choose a creature type. Creatures that aren’t of the chosen type get -3/-3 until end of turn.

Crippling Fear is a really interesting sideboard option. If we’re struggling with aggressive creature-based decks, we can play our early turns as normal and accelerate into this rather than a Lord. I considered playing Eyeblight Massacre when Origins was in standard, but -2/-2 was never enough. Maybe -3/-3 is what the effect needed to be good enough?

Interestingly, we could even use it in Elves mirror-matches when we’re behind on board, by naming a different creature type. I expect pinpoint removal is better in that situation though.


Haunting Voyage

Haunting Voyage {4}{B}{B}  Sorcery  Choose a creature type. Return up to two creature cards of that type from your graveyard to the battlefield. If this spell was foretold, return all creature cards of that type from your graveyard to the battlefield instead.  Foretell {5}{B}{B} (During your turn, you may pay {2} and exile this card from your hand face down. Cast it on a later turn for its foretell cost.)

This is the kind of card that I really want to be a good answer to boardwipes. However, getting to seven mana after all our Elves are killed is a tough ask. Costing two more mana than Patriarch’s Bidding is a lot, even if it is one sided. I’ll still be trying it for the grindy/controlling matchups because getting all of our creatures back is really appealing. I just think we’re better served by other ways of beating wraths.


Raise the Draugr

Raise the Draugr {1}{B}  Instant  Choose one —  • Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.  • Return two target creature cards that share a creature type from your graveyard to your hand.

When Modern Horizons came out, I took note of Return from Extinction. While that card was never going to make the cut in Modern, it was worth remembering for formats like EDH. In the late game, drawing your best two dead Elves is nothing to sniff at; and if you’re ever trying to assemble a two card combo, this gets it back all at once.

Still, I don’t think Raise the Draugr will make the cut in any of the formats we’re looking at. It is a common though, which is worth remembering for Pauper.


Return Upon the Tide

Return Upon the Tide {4}{B}  Sorcery  Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. If it’s an Elf, create two 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature tokens.  Foretell {3}{B} (During your turn, you may pay {2} and exile this card from your hand face down. Cast it on a later turn for its foretell cost.)

I’m mostly bringing up this card because it makes some Elf tokens. We don’t really have any big Elves we want to bring back in Standard; nor can we afford the space for a slow card like this in our deck just to bring back a Canopy Tactician or Skemfar Shadowsage in the late game. If we had Craterhoof in Standard and could mill it with Harald Unites the Elves to bring back with this, that might be interesting. Still not worth the slot though.


Rise of the Dread Marn

Rise of the Dread Marn {2}{B}  Instant  Create X 2/2 black Zombie Berserker creature tokens, where X is the number of nontoken creatures that died this turn.  Foretell {B} (During your turn, you may pay {2} and exile this card from your hand face down. Cast it on a later turn for its foretell cost.)

I’ve always liked Caller of the Claw effects for beating boardwipes in more casual environments. While something like Skemfar Avenger can draw us a bunch of cards when all our Elves die, cards like this give us an immediate board presence to end the game. Both Caller and Rise of the Dread Marn might not make Elves, but the fact that we can probably swing for lethal the turn after a wrath is very interesting to me.

What adds to this card’s utility is the fact that it only needs one mana on the turn when it’s relevant. Caller of the Claw and Fresh Meat need you to leave up so much mana, so it can be really hard to do while also advancing our boardstate. Rise of the Dread Marn, on the other hand, can be foretold and then cast for a single Black mana. If Doomskar becomes prevalent, this is a card I’m sure to turn to.


Basalt Ravager

Basalt Ravager {3}{R}  Creature — Giant Wizard  When Basalt Ravager enters the battlefield, it deals X damage to any target, where X is the greatest number of creatures you control that have a creature type in common.

This FTK call-back is the only Red card I’ll be covering in the review. Ravager does a similar thing to Skemfar Shadowsage (killing an opponent) or Thornmantle Striker (killing a creature or planeswalker). I won’t be running it over Shadowmage in any deck that’s running Black. I just wonder if there will ever be a Red version of Elves in Standard in which this could be a weird off-tribe include.


Blessing of Frost

Blessing of Frost {3}{G}  Snow Sorcery  Distribute X +1/+1 counters among any number of creatures you control, where X is the amount of {S} spent to cast this spell. Then draw a card for each creature you control with power 4 or greater.

I’m always looking for more ways to draw cards in Elves decks to keep us going after we dump our hand onto the battlefield. In Snow-based versions of the deck, Blessing of Frost could provide that kind of utility.

I’m just worried that our Elves won’t be big enough to make this draw more than two cards. If we had more Lord effects, it could be interesting. However, Lead the Stampede was in Ikoria and is much more reliable than this.


Blizzard Brawl

Blizzard Brawl {G}  Snow Sorcery  Choose target creature you control and target creature you don’t control. If you control three or more snow permanents, the creature you control gets +1/+0 and gains indestructible until end of turn. Then those creatures fight each other. (Each deals damage equal to its power to the other.)

Fight spells are handy when you need to kill off a utility creature. While our Elves don’t tend to get big enough to kill midrange threats, the indestrucible bonus on Blizzard Brawl allows us to kill other small creatures without losing our Elf. This gives it way more utility than previous cards like Prey Upon. It only really fits into the dedicated Snow versions of Elves as a sideboard card, although I do wonder how often Primal Might will just do more in that slot.


Elven Bow

Elven Bow {G}  Artifact — Equipment  When Elven Bow enters the battlefield, you may pay {2}. If you do, create a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token, then attach Elven Bow to it.  Equipped creature gets +1/+2 and has reach.  Equip {3}

I probably should have mentioned Elven Bow last week because it’s effectively a three-mana Elf in the set. I’ll be honest, I kind of overlooked it because it’s an equipment. If anything, it’s limited filler at best. Our Jaspera Sentinels already have reach for when we need to block things in the air, so an equipment that provides this utility is not going to make it.


Guardian Gladewalker

Guardian Gladewalker {1}{G}  Creature — Shapeshifter 1/1  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  When Guardian Gladewalker enters the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.

Our first Green Shapeshifter is a bit of a miss. I’ve played weird Green-White builds of Elves in Standard before with Pollenbright Druid. However, that card was mostly used for the Proliferate mode. Our two-drop slot isn’t really lacking at the moment. Even it it were, two power for two mana with no other abilities isn’t really what we’re looking for.


Jorn, God of Winter // Kaldring, the Rimestaff

Jorn, God of Winter {2}{G}  Legendary Snow Creature — God 3/3  Whenever Jorn attacks, untap each snow permanent you control.

Jorn might not be an Elf, but if our Standard decks revolve around Snow-matters cards, he’s worth considering as an include. Being able to tap all of our mana in our first main phase and then getting to use it again after combat seems pretty strong. Jorn can even untap any of our Snow creatures, like Sculptor of Winter and Boreal Outrider, effectively granting them vigilance. While Jorn probably won’t be making it into many of my lists, I will probably try him as a one-of in my Snow variants.

Kaldring, the Rimestaff {1}{U}{B}  Legendary Snow Artifact  {T}: You may play target snow permanent card from your graveyard this turn. If you do, it enters the battlefield tapped.

Kaldring won’t be played very often. For starters, in the Mono-Green Snow lists, we’d need two Jaspera Sentinels to make the right colours. However, once in a blue moon it might enable us to keep replaying Sculptors and Outriders from our graveyard.


Littjara Glade-Warden

Littjara Glade-Warden {3}{G}  Creature — Shapeshifter 3/3  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  {2}{G}, {T}, Exile a creature card from your graveyard: Put two +1/+1 counters on target creature. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

Another limited card that I need to cover due to the word ‘changeling’, Glade-Warden can be a real beating in draft or sealed. It’s not going to make it in constructed though. A four-drop 3/3 that doesn’t do anything immediately and can only be used at sorcery speed (rather than in response to a burn spell) is nowhere near good enough.


Masked Vandal

Masked Vandal {1}{G}  Creature — Shapeshifter 1/3  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  When Masked Vandal enters the battlefield, you may exile a creature card from your graveyard. If you do, exile target artifact or enchantment an opponent controls.

While Masked Vandal is very much a sideboard card, it’s a pretty good one. We don’t have access to Reclamation Sage in Standard at the moment and the next best best options are at three mana. They also aren’t Elves, which is a big deal when we need a critical mass for our synergies.

There will be games where we don’t have a creature in our graveyard to power the Vandal, but with the rate my Elves are dying on turn one or two at the moment, we’ll be fine most of the time.


Realmwalker

Realmwalker {2}{G}  Creature — Shapeshifter 2/3  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  As Realmwalker enters the battlefield, choose a creature type.  You may look at the top card of your library any time.  You may cast creature spells of the chosen type from the top of your library.

We finally get to the card I’m most excited for in Kaldheim. While Elvish Warmaster might be the best card for improving Elves in multiple formats, Realmwalker has to be my favourite card from the set. I love cards that let you play with the top of the library. Oracle of Mul Daya, Courser of Kruphix and Vizier of the Menagerie have been great cards for me in the past. Realmwalker combines my love for playing with the top of the library with my love for tribal decks. Finally, an Elf that lets me play Elves from my deck!

Combined with cards in older formats like Birchlore Rangers of Heritage Druid, Realmwalker can just let us completely ‘go off’. We can build our deck with shuffle effects so that we can reset when there’s not an Elf on top. We can even name Beast on a second Realmwalker so that we can cast Craterhoof off the top (once they fix a bug to allow the second Realmwalker to work on MTGO).

To be honest, Realmwalker should probably get a lower rating than I’m giving it, but it’s my favourite Elf to be printed in a while – and it doesn’t even say Elf anywhere on the card.


Toski, Bearer of Secrets

Toski, Bearer of Secrets {3}{G}  Legendary Creature — Squirrel 1/1  This spell can’t be countered.  Indestructible  Toski, Bearer of Secrets attacks each combat if able.  Whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, draw a card.

If anyone tells you they don’t love Toski, they’re lying. Toski is the best Legendary Squirrel they’ve ever printed. It might not be an Elf, but we can draw a card for every Elf that hits our opponent? Sounds great to me.

In all seriousness, I will be trying Toski out because I’m reminded of Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Drawing cards whenever we hit our opponent is good, but we might struggle to get attacks in against some decks. As a result, Toski is most likely going to end up tested in the sideboard.


Moritte of the Frost

Moritte of the Frost {2}{G}{U}{U}  Legendary Snow Creature — Shapeshifter 0/0  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  You may have Moritte of the Frost enter the battlefield as a copy of a permanent you control, except it’s legendary and snow in addition to its other types and, if it’s a creature, it enters with two additional +1/+1 counters on it and has changeling.

Moritte of the Frost is a cool card, but double Blue mana is a lot to ask. Had it been a clone that could copy any permanent – one that also counted as an Elf for our synergies -for only a single Blue, it might have been interesting. The flexibility to copy a Lord, Harald Unites the Elves or Skemfar Shadowsage based on what we needed more of at any given moment would have been handy. As it is, Moritte will just be too hard to cast and is probably too expensive at five mana anyway.


Bloodline Pretender

Bloodline Pretender {3}  Artifact Creature — Shapeshifter 2/2  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  As Bloodline Pretender enters the battlefield, choose a creature type.  Whenever another creature of the chosen type enters the battlefield under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on Bloodline Pretender.

For Elves players, this is an Elvish Vanguard that starts one power and toughness bigger, for one more mana. Unfortunately, the one place that Elvish Vanguard is relevant is Pauper and this card is an uncommon.

Also, three mana compared to two mana is a huge difference for a card you want to play before all your other Elves. All-in-all, this isn’t Elvish Vanguard and this isn’t making our decks.


Maskwood Nexus

Maskwood Nexus {4}  Artifact  Creatures you control are every creature type. The same is true for creature spells you control and creature cards you own that aren’t on the battlefield.  {3}, {T}: Create a 2/2 blue Shapeshifter creature token with changeling. (It is every creature type.)

There have been a few effects like this in the past. Conspiracy, Xenograft and Arcane Adaptation were all cards that enabled some pretty wonky combos. For us, the effect will be picking up a Wirewood Symbiote to untap a creature and then just replay the Symbiote. This allows us to get around the once per turn restriction on Symbiote. However, as fun as this interaction is, I’ll be keeping it exclusively to EDH. In other formats, a four-mana play that doesn’t do anything immediately is not good for a deck that needs to be as assertive as Elves.

I guess it lets Harald Unites the Elves reanimate a Craterhoof in Historic.


Pyre of Heroes

Pyre of Heroes {2}  Artifact  {2}, {T}, Sacrifice a creature: Search your library for a creature card that shares a creature type with the sacrificed creature and has converted mana cost equal to 1 plus that creature’s converted mana cost. Put that card onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

Something I haven’t mentioned in these reviews is that my favourite card of all time is Birthing Pod. I was playing KikiPod decks in Standard and then Modern before I ever cast a Heritage Druid or Ezuri. Now Wizards of the Coast have given me a special Elven Birthing Pod back after banning the original years ago!

However, there’s a catch – this Pod only works for a single creature type at a time. I really want this to be good, but the power of Pod lay in gaining access to a bunch of different utility creatures. That deck was often called a toolbox because it had access to so many different effects, and I don’t think we can emulate that with just Elves. Sure, we can play Dwynen’s Elite, leave the token behind and turn the Elite into a Reclamation Sage to destroy their stuff. We can draw a card off an Elvish Visionary and turn it into an Elvish Archdruid. I just don’t think there are enough Elven tools to fill a whole toolbox.

I want it to be good, but I don’t see it getting there.


Faceless Haven

Faceless Haven  Snow Land  {T}: Add {C}.  {S}{S}{S}: Faceless Haven becomes a 4/3 creature with vigilance and all creature types until end of turn. It’s still a land. ({S} can be paid with one mana from a snow source.)

Has a face. Who commissioned this?!

Facelessness aside, this is a cool snow land that could potentially go in the Mono-Green Snow variant of Elves. However, I’ve never put Mutavault in my Elf decks, so I don’t have high hopes. Utility lands take a premium spot in Elves lists because we really need Green mana on turn one and two. Drawing two of these as our first two lands would be devastating.


Gladewalker Ritualist

Gladewalker Ritualist {2}{G}  Creature — Shapeshifter 3/3  Changeling (This card is every creature type.)  Whenever another creature named Gladewalker Ritualist enters the battlefield under your control, draw a card.

Our last card is one final Changeling. It gets a place here for technically being an Elf and having a kind-of-cool effect. A bigger, greener Faerie Miscreant is an interesting design (and this one scales if you have multiples), but I don’t think it’s going to do enough in the three-drop slot for us. I do want to Collected Company into two of these at some point. That’s more of a meme deck than anything though. I guess the joke is that you’re meant to make copies of these with the copy effects on Moritte and Mystic Reflection.


That’s all

So, we’ve covered all the Elves and Elf-adjacent cards in the set. I have a newfound respect for people who review the entire set.

I hope my insights into some of these cards have been interesting and potentially informative. I’ll be sure to cover future sets as they come out. Let’s see what they bring for fans of our little Green friends!

I’ll be back to Elves All The Way Down articles next time. For now, thanks for reading.

Kaldheim: An Elves All The Way Down Review – Part One

Welcome to Kaldheim, Magic: The Gathering’s Norse mythology-themed world. It’s full to the brim with Gods, Dwarves, Berserkers, Giants, Trolls and (most importantly) Elves. For the first time since Dominaria rotated, Elves might be a viable deck in Standard. I’m not saying my Elves deck from back then was good in that meta, but at least there was one. What’s more, the set introduces some new cards that are in consideration for inclusion in Modern Elves lists, which is a pretty rare occurrence.

In fact, the set is so full of cards that are worth discussing, I’m going to have to split it into two parts just to cover everything. Given that an Elf review for a recent set like Core 21 would have been 4 cards long, this is quite a big deal for Elf fans.

Part One will discuss the actual Elves in Kaldheim and other cards that directly reference them. Part Two will cover the Shapeshifters, general tribal-matters cards and other supporting cast.

We’re going in Collector’s number order if you want to skip ahead to the cards you’re curious about (that’s the number in the bottom left of the card). I’ll talk about each card in turn and finish things off with a rating out of 5 Trees.

I’m going to cover every elf in the set. A lot of them are meant for limited rather than constructed, but I wanted to go over them for the sake of completeness. Talking about limited…

Part One


Deathknell Berserker

Deathknell Berserker {1}{B}  Creature — Elf Berserker 2/2  When Deathknell Berserker dies, if its power was 3 or greater, create a 2/2 black Zombie Berserker creature token.

This angry elf seems pretty good for a 2-drop. Any pump effect means you’re left with a body when they die. While this makes the card an interesting inclusion if there are any good lords around, the token is a Zombie, not an Elf, so it’s not too useful for us in constructed.

1/5 Trees

Duskwielder

Duskwielder {B}  Creature — Elf Berserker 1/2  Boast — {1}: Target opponent loses 1 life and you gain 1 life. (Activate this ability only if this creature attacked this turn and only once each turn.)

This little guy reminds be of Thornbow Archer, but with an activation cost. Thornbow Archer never made it in Elf decks, so I don’t have high hopes for Duskwielder.

0.5/5 Trees

Elderfang Disciple

Elderfang Disciple {1}{B}  Creature — Elf Cleric 1/1  When Elderfang Disciple enters the battlefield, each opponent discards a card.

Here we have a reverse Elvish Visionary, which is a card very close to my heart. While the body left behind isn’t much to write home about, the effect isn’t too shabby. While I’m not excited about playing the Disciple, I’ll definitely try it out. Although it probably isn’t good enough, I do want to try using Collected Company to put one or two of these into play in my opponent’s draw step in Historic, but I expect it to mostly stay in Standard if it sees much play at all.

2/5 Trees

Koma’s Faithful

Koma's Faithful {2}{B}  Creature — Elf Cleric 3/1  Lifelink  When Koma’s Faithful dies, each player mills three cards. (To mill a card, a player puts the top card of their library into their graveyard.)

While this card is mostly for limited, there is some synergy with cards like Harald Unites the Elves and Raise the Draugr that is worth being aware of. Lifelink is nice too, but we don’t really want three-mana 3/1s for our constructed decks without a better ability.

0.5/5 Trees

Skemfar Avenger

Skemfar Avenger {1}{B}  Creature — Elf Berserker 3/1  Whenever another nontoken Elf or Berserker you control dies, you draw a card and you lose 1 life.

I like what Avenger is doing: giving us a way to refill our hand when we get boardwiped is great, and the two-mana 3/1 body is quite aggressive. If there’s a more aggressive version of Elves, this will slot right in. I really wish that the card didn’t say ‘another’, though. Given the way it’s written, our opponent just needs to kill the Avenger first and then boardwipe us, and we’ll get nothing.

2.5/5 Trees

Skemfar Shadowsage

Skemfar Shadowsage {3}{B}  Creature — Elf Cleric 2/5  When Skemfar Shadowsage enters the battlefield, choose one —  • Each opponent loses X life, where X is the greatest number of creatures you control that have a creature type in common.  • You gain X life, where X is the greatest number of creatures you control that have a creature type in common.

I love me some Shaman of the Pack, and while this isn’t Shaman of the Pack, it’s close enough for Standard that I’ll be putting some of these in my lists. I do like the ability to gain life when you can’t kill an aggro opponent and need a bit of a life cushion. Shadowsage won’t replace Shaman in any formats where the latter is legal, but in other formats it will do a good impression. Maybe you just need a 5th copy of Shaman in Modern, even if it can’t be hit off Collected Company.

3/5 Trees

Boreal Outrider

Boreal Outrider {2}{G}  Snow Creature — Elf Warrior 3/2  Whenever you cast a creature spell, if {S} of any of that spell’s color was spent to cast it, that creature enters the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter on it. ({S} is mana from a snow source.)

While a three-mana 3/2 without an immediate effect isn’t great, I find Boreal Outrider interesting and start to wonder if there is a snow version of Elves that could show up in Standard. The problem is that mana produced by mana dorks doesn’t help with the Outrider’s ability unless they’re snow creatures. I just really like how these work in multiples.

1.5/5 Trees

Elderleaf Mentor

Elderleaf Mentor {3}{G}  Creature — Elf Warrior 3/2  When Elderleaf Mentor enters the battlefield, create a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token.

It seems like Dwynen’s Elite has grown up since we last saw them. Paying two more mana for an extra point of power and always getting the token probably isn’t worth it. The two separate bodies you get would work well if we had a cheaper lord effect, but the Elf lord of the set is 4-mana, which is unfortunate. The Mentor probably isn’t going to make it, but I’ll keep them in mind in case we find ourselves needing a critical mass of Elves rather than efficiency.

1.5/5 Trees

Elvish Warmaster

Elvish Warmaster {1}{G}  Creature — Elf Warrior 2/2  Whenever one or more other Elves enters the battlefield under your control, create a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token. This ability triggers only once each turn.  {5}{G}{G}: Elves you control get +2/+2 and gain deathtouch until end of turn.

A lot of people are talking about this card being the actual new Dwynen’s Elite. It makes up for being less immediately explosive (Heritage Druid + Dwynen’s Elite is a tried and true combination) by being better in the long run. Effectively, it’s giving you an Elf every turn as long as you can play one first; and a game-ending activation is quite a lot for a two-drop. This guy will definitely be a staple in the Standard list and I’ll be sure to try him out in other formats, too. I don’t think he’ll replace Dwynen’s Elite, but he might be a good include alongside it. I just wish he wasn’t limited to triggering once a turn.

4/5 Trees

Grizzled Outrider

Grizzled Outrider {4}{G}  Creature — Elf Warrior 5/5

Vanilla five-mana 5/5s are never going to make it into a constructed deck. I do like how this Bear-Elf team-up reminds me of HexaGorgon draft streams though. It’s an Elf and a Bear versus the world (sometimes with other friends coming along too).

0.5/5 Trees

Jaspera Sentinel

Jaspera Sentinel {G}  Creature — Elf Rogue 1/2  Reach  {T}, Tap an untapped creature you control: Add one mana of any color.

My kingdom for Elvish Mystic. I know a one-drop mana dork has implications for Standard beyond our little tribal bubble. I just wish Wizards of the Coast would give us a Gnarlroot Trapper or something. That way, it doesn’t work for other decks and doesn’t mess up Standard. I’ll be playing Jaspera Sentinel because we need one-drops and it does accelerate us, but I won’t be happy about it.

2/5 Trees

Sculptor of Winter

Sculptor of Winter {1}{G}  Snow Creature — Elf Rogue 2/2  {T}: Untap target snow land.

This card might not be the best ramp ever as two mana is -strangely -a lot more than one. However, I’ve played Paradise Druid and Incubation Druid in my Elves decks before and they fulfil a role. If there is a snow version of Elves, this fits right in. To be honest, it’s a likely include even if snow doesn’t matter much. We’re likely to have plenty of Forests and making those Snow-Covered Forests isn’t very difficult.

2.5/5 Trees

Tyvar Kell

Tyvar Kell {2}{G}{G}  Legendary Planeswalker — Tyvar  Elves you control have “{T}: Add {B}.”  +1: Put a +1/+1 counter on up to one target Elf. Untap it. It gains deathtouch until end of turn.  0: Create a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token.  −6: You get an emblem with “Whenever you cast an Elf spell, it gains haste until end of turn and you draw two cards.”  Loyalty: 3

The first thing I heard about Elves in Kaldheim was that we were getting an Elf-centric Planeswalker. I was not disappointed. While Tyvar doesn’t fit into the recent trend of three-mana broken Planeswalkers, he packs a lot into one card.

His passive turns all of our Elves into mana-dorks. This probably enables a second play on the turn we cast him. The +1 ramps immediately by untapping an Elf (which is a mana dork because of the passive) or gives that Elf deathtouch to make attacks easier if we don’t need the mana. The 0 ability gives us a steady stream of Elves and is possibly the mode we’ll be using the most. The ultimate is powerful, but we’ll be using the 0 so much that it often won’t be neccessary. However, I do like the fact that you can use Tyvar’s ultimate immediately when combined with Doubling Season on Legs.

All in all, Tyvar will be one of the main reasons to be trying Elves in Standard and I’ll be even trying him out in Modern at some point (whether or not a four-mana Planeswalker is any good in that format).

4.5/5 Trees

Harald, King of Skemfar

Harald, King of Skemfar {1}{B}{G}  Legendary Creature — Elf Warrior 3/2  Menace (This creature can’t be blocked except by two or more creatures.)  When Harald, King of Skemfar enters the battlefield, look at the top five cards of your library. You may reveal an Elf, Warrior, or Tyvar card from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Harald reminds me a lot of Tajuru Paragon, a card that I’ve enjoyed trying in Pioneer Elves. While Harald costs one mana more at base, you don’t need to pay anything extra to get the card draw/selection. Harald seems like a bigger Elvish Visionary and that’s no bad thing. He’ll add to our board while digging deeper into our deck. They even let him hit Tyvar if we’re lucky. I’ll be trying Harald out in Standard and Historic and look forward to seeing him when I cast Collected Company.

4/5 Trees

Harald Unites the Elves

Harald Unites the Elves {2}{B}{G}  Enchantment — Saga  (As this Saga enters and after your draw step, add a lore counter. Sacrifice after III.)  I — Mill three cards. You may put an Elf or Tyvar card from your graveyard onto the battlefield.  II — Put a +1/+1 counter on each Elf you control.  III — Whenever an Elf you control attacks this turn, target creature an opponent controls gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

A four-mana saga isn’t really what Elves in older formats like Modern are looking for, but I really like this as an include in Standard. The fact that the first chapter immediately puts the Elf you want into play rather than your hand is a big deal. The pump on the second chapter might be better than the lord I’ll be talking about in a moment. Finally, the last chapter will be quite useful for clearing away blockers on what will hopefully be our alpha-strike turn. That’s a lot of value for four mana, and being able to get Tyvar with this is just gravy. This card also gets me thinking about what the biggest hit possible with the first chapter is. Maybe a Morophon, the Boundless or Gladehart Cavalry in Commander.

3.5/5 Trees

Darkbore Pathway // Slitherbore Pathway

I’m including this land here as it is one of the best bits of Green-Black fixing we’ve seen in a while. It will be a big help to us, seeing as we’re most likely going to be playing Green-Black in Standard. The pathways are good enough that we might see them popping up in Elves decks in other formats too.

4/5 Trees

Skemfar Elderhall

Skemfar Elderhall  Land  Skemfar Elderhall enters the battlefield tapped.  {T}: Add {G}.  {2}{B}{B}{G}, {T}, Sacrifice Skemfar Elderhall: Up to one target creature you don’t control gets -2/-2 until end of turn. Create two 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature tokens. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

The drawback of this being a tapped land in the early turns of the game is probably too much. It’s worth keeping in mind though, in case we have space for some utility lands. Clearing a creature from our opponent’s board while getting more Elves is a powerful effect from a land. I’m glad it makes Green mana, rather than Black, because that’s what we’ll be using most often.

2/5 Trees

Canopy Tactician

Canopy Tactician {3}{G}  Creature — Elf Warrior 3/3  Other Elves you control get +1/+1.  {T}: Add {G}{G}{G}.

While Kaldheim doesn’t have any Elf lords in the draft environment, the Theme Boosters provide us with one. Unfortunately, it costs four mana, which is probably too much. I’ll be giving it a go, seeing as it both pumps Elves and makes three mana. However, this one won’t be getting beyond Standard. Our four-drop slot is going to be quite competitive already. Tyvar, Shadowsage and the Saga all fill that slot. If we can go wide enough, a lord might still be worth it, whatever the cost. I do like the fact that the mana ability works really well with Tyvar’s untapping +1 ability, though.

2.5/5 Trees

Elderfang Ritualist

Elderfang Ritualist {2}{B}  Creature — Elf Cleric 3/1  When Elderfang Ritualist dies, return another target Elf card from your graveyard to your hand.

Another card from the Theme Boosters, this one is less likely to make the cut. While getting an Elf back when it dies is good, the immediate value when played is just a three-mana 3/1. What’s worse is that, if this is the first Elf to die, it might as well have been a 3/1 vanilla creature.

1/5 Trees

Thornmantle Striker

Thornmantle Striker {4}{B}  Creature — Elf Rogue 4/3  When Thornmantle Striker enters the battlefield, choose one —  • Remove X counters from target permanent, where X is the number of Elves you control.  • Target creature an opponent controls gets -X/-X until end of turn, where X is the number of Elves you control.

I really wish this Theme Booster card cost one mana fewer, even if that meant it had a smaller body. A removal spell for a Planeswalker or a Creature on a body is really powerful; I just wish it were more efficient. I might try it in the sideboard as an answer to specific threats, but I don’t think it’s making the maindeck.

1.5/5 Trees

Elven Ambush

Elven Ambush {3}{G}  Instant  Create a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token for each Elf you control.

The last Elf Theme Booster-exclusive card is an instant-speed Elvish Promenade. Now, I like Promenade and have played it as a one-of in a few older (and probably not optimised) Modern lists. It was never really good in those decks, mostly functioning as a win-more. However, I still liked it as a pet card. Now, for Standard, the card might be good enough. While it’s still bad against removal and sweepers, the instant-speed version of this effect allows us to turn a medium boardstate into a big one on our opponent’s end-step.

There are a few other tricks to look out for, like casting this in response to Harald Unites the Elves’ second chapter trigger to make all tokens immediately become 2/2s. This is the sort of card that works well with a lord or Craterhoof Behemoth-like effect. The issue being that this, Tyvar, the saga and the lord we’ve been given all compete for the 4-drop slot. I’ll still be giving it a try though.

2/5 Trees

Next Time

That’s all the Elves and Elves-centric cards in Kaldheim covered. Next time, I’ll finish up by diving into the Shapeshifters and supporting cast. If you’re wondering where the best card in the set for Elves is, it’ll be there.

Join us then for more Elves (or at least some strange masked creatures that apparently count as Elves).

A masked figure walks among fallen statues and trees.

Cuties of Kaldheim

Alrund foretells cuties

Magic: The Gathering – Kaldheim’s Cutest Creatures Ranked


Gather round, young and old, for here’s a tale freshly told: Magic: The Gathering is off to Norse-land! The new set promises Viking-inspired sagas and ten whole realms to explore. What better way to mark the occasion than by introducing our cutest new friends from Kaldheim?

Lore-lovers and art-fanciers alike are in for a treat, because Kaldheim has its own series of showcase art treatments. To match the Norse theming, the special versions have their own frame, styled after the interlace designs found in Viking art.

But the resemblance is more than skin deep: read on to get a glimpse into the impressive world-building behind Magic’s latest plane. Because while the cuties are hogging the limelight here –out there? –there are sure to be dragons.


In Magic, even cuties have rules

If you were with us for the Zendikar leg of the trip, you know the drill:

  • No snakes
  • No spiders
  • No humanoids

Just so you know, Koma isn’t a snake…

Damnit Jamie, serpents are snakes!

Top vote with non-zero legs? Scorn Effigy

I specifically said no humanoids!
Also wow, that flavour text.

I guess, but look how cute he is!

But you don’t have to be good to be cute?

That’s not a rule, no-

…Congratulations to our Honourable Cutie of Kaldheim, Infernal Pet!


Kaldheim’s Cutest Spells

Now, not all of the cutest creatures live on creature cards, especially with all the rune-magic and seidr going on in Kaldheim.

(Although they weren’t cute enough to make the list, it’s worth checking out the art on Kaldheim’s Saga cards. See if you can tell which ones were actually carved in wood!)

Before we dive into the top ten creatures, I’ve rounded up the three cutest non-creature spells from Kaldheim. I think you’ll agree they’re too lovely to exclude.


A wolf is lifted by magical white wings. The rest of its pack look on.

3. Wings of the Cosmos

“Argh, why am I doing this? Did you know we could fly?” I love how the rest of the pack is posed like a Renaissance tableau, with each wolf frozen in its best reaction pose. Bonus points for the wolf pups hiding at the edges.


A wolf bows its head to greet a squirrel with an immensely long tail.

2. In Search of Greatness

In Search of Greatness offers two cuties for the price of one. Toski and Sarulf (of Realm Eater fame) are definitely up to something here. It’s all a bit troubling: should this make me feel kinder towards Sarulf, or suspicious of Toski with his wee Viking braids?


1. Esika’s Chariot

If the glowing fluff-balls in the normal art are ‘how I think I look in the morning’, the showcase Viking art is more ‘WHO DARES DISTURB MY SLUMBER?!’ Raoul Vitale has also contributed this very fluffy cat token to match the draught cats.

Esika is the god of the World Tree, with a chariot based on Freya’s one from OG Norse mythology. I like to think we’re seeing Esika’s viewpoint as she despairs of getting the cats out of the chariot so she can get back on the road.

We’re calling it the Catmobile, sorry.


The Big Ten: all the cutest creatures in Kaldheim

The results are in! By which I mean “I made a spreadsheet.” Buckle up for a whistle-stop tour of the cutest creatures we’ll be meeting on our trip to Kaldheim.


An immense spirit bear prowls a snowy mountainside by night.

10. Spirit of the Aldergard

Sounds suspiciously like ‘spirit of the elder god’, so possibly not cute in the scheme of things, but certainly bear-like. Its home, the Aldergard Forest, boasts scenic spots such as “The Cursed Tree, a massive oak that is perpetually covered in snow” and “The Skelle Mire, a dreary swamp”. No wonder he looks miffed.

You know a list is good when it starts with a bear!

(Don’t worry folks, I looked up the etymology of Aldergard. No old ones here! Alder: from root *el- (2) “red, brown,” used in forming animal and tree names; Gard: from PIE root *gher- (1) “to grasp, enclose.” Don’t say Hexagorgon isn’t educational.)


A stocky red dragon sits atop an ornate golden bridge.

9. Goldspan Dragon

Wings? Four. Antlers? You bet. Talons? Fabulous. I initially thought the goldspan part referred to its wings, which are very much not gold. On closer inspection, the dragon is guarding the span of an ornate golden bridge. Probably helps deter tourists.

The most likely location for the bridge is Axgard, since the dwarves managed to build their city on top of an inexhaustible lake of molten gold, which they use like concrete.

I’m a fan of tiny dragons, but this certainly isn’t the cutest example, so it’s down at #9.


A grey puppy howls beside a bonfire with animal skulls.

8. Fearless Pup

“Awoo”. From the background, our pup could be living among the Tuskeri, a boastful tribe of red-flavoured humans.

Is that a pile of curse-sticks he’s guarding? Has he been taught to play fetch with short stories? Wizards, if you want Fearless Pup to top this list, these are the questions you need to be answering.


A regal hawk with golden armour flies away from an explosion.

7. Battlefield Raptor

Not that kind of raptor. This battlefield bird won me over with its rad composition and filigreed wings. At a glance, the armour could be mistaken for barred feathers; on closer inspection, it looks like beaten gold inlaid with rubies.

I’m no ornithologist, but I do know eagles are a type of raptor, which leads me to think this feathered friend might be aligned with Halvar, the white-flavoured god of battle. Conveniently, he was found as a baby in the nest of a giant eagle, so perhaps this is a long-lost nestmate. Either way, be glad the raptor has your back.

(FYI, pseudo-Odin-god Alrund spotted baby Halvar in the nest, named him, then left him to be raised by dwarves for twenty years because he had other stuff going on. I have a lot of time for Halvar.)


In a forest, a strangely-dressed elf rides a reindeer whose antlers glow blue with magic.

6. Boreal Outrider

You know how reindeer look really cool as mounts but always require a six-month scavenger hunt and a severed head to unlock? What I’m saying is, don’t mess with Boreal Outrider.

From a lore perspective, the elves of Kaldheim are a particularly hardy bunch (read not to be messed with). They survived losing a war against the current gods, being kicked out of the pantheon, and even having their race cut in half with a magical axe* (that’s why some are Green-aligned tree-dwellers and others Black-aligned tunnel-dwellers.)

It takes otherwordly resilience to wake up every morning and decide to stay in the forest realm where your former leaders are eternally imprisoned in trees. The scenery is pretty nice, to be fair.

*Surprise! This one’s on Halvar.


A barred white hawk with a glowing eye perches on a snow-laden branch, magical talisman clasped in its beak.

5. Pilfering Hawk

I don’t think this stone-cold badass cares what you call it. The flavour text refers to the Beskir, a white-flavoured tribe of humans working to bring peace to Bretagard (the human realm). I like to think she has a Robin Hood pilfering situation going on, whereby her controller benefits from her canny ways.


In the rafters of a Viking longhall perches a white lion, green eyes alert.

4. Gods’ Hall Guardian

Surprise surprise, it’s another cosmos monster.

The best ratter in the ten realms, depicted here chilling in the rafters of the Gods’ Hall in Istfell. All the souls of animals end up in Istfell, so this cat probably has its work cut out.

Funnily enough, the gods surrounded Istfell with a river-moat and a stonking great wall specifically to keep the cosmos monsters from getting in and nibbling the roots of the World Tree. Was the Guardian too cute to keep out?


3. Vega, the Watcher

It’s a magical owl (yes, and a cosmos monster.) What were you expecting at this point?

Bonus points for the showcase art, which manages to look metal as all Hel without losing the fluffy owl texture. I think that’s what makes me look at a winged predator with a revolving head and go ‘awwww!’

Vega hangs out near the Gods’ Hall, presumably clearing up any ghostly mice that evade the Gods’ Hall Guardian.


2. Toski, Bearer of Secrets

Cutie with a prosthetic arm and a mystical scroll-tail. Will keep your secrets super safe on account of being unable to talk.* Apparently he communicates telepathically with Esika, god of the World Tree… So why is his tail covered in writing? Does he have trouble remembering the secrets?

Despite his diminutive size, Toski is actually one of the cosmos monsters –you know, like the world-eating serpent Koma. So that’s a bit less cute.

*Except that one time Alrund beat him up and took his secrets for some epic quest chain.**

**Yes, Alrund was busy punching the secrets out of cosmos monsters when he could have been raising Halvar.

Wait, number 2? What did you think was cuter than Toski?!


Against a backdrop of ice and explosions, a very happy-looking goat carries its dwarven rider into battle. Both are armoured with gems.

1. Axgard Cavalry

Tally-ho! Look at the face on that charger! Who else will carry you so joyfully into battle, in that getup?

Surprising nobody, the dwarves brought the cutest cavalry to the cosmic battle.* You’d be mad not to. This goat is having the time of its life, and you’re going to love hearing about it at the afterlife-party in Istfell. Somebody get this hero a drink.

*Did I mention dwarves are cool? Their currency is iron, which is both metal and something of a flex.


Oh, what stories will be told! This set is one for the skalds. We can’t wait to get our hands on pre-release packs, but in the meantime you can find all your new friends on Arena.

Elves All The Way Down Episode 3: Pauper

Welcome back to Elves All The Way Down, the Magic: The Gathering series about playing Elves in as many formats as possible. Last time, we tussled with Modern using a Green-White combo list. This time, we ventured into Pauper, the format where you’re only allowed to play cards printed at common.

Pauper

Without the ability to play Rares and Uncommons, we don’t have access to our normal suite of lords and finishers. We get to keep our core of mana-elves to flood the board, but what can we field to actually finish the game?

Pauper Elves

Creatures (37)
Birchlore Rangers
Elvish Mystic
Elvish Vanguard
Essence Warden
Fyndhorn Elves
Llanowar Elves
Lys Alana Huntmaster
Priest of Titania
Quirion Ranger
Sylvan Ranger
Timberwatch Elf
Wellwisher

Spells (9)
Lead the Stampede
Distant Melody
Gruesome Fate

Land (14)
13 Forest
Island
Sideboard (15)
Gleeful Sabotage
Hydroblast
Moment’s Peace
Scattershot Archer
Spidersilk Armor
Viridian Longbow
Weather the Storm
Wrap in Vigor

Wincons

Fortunately for us, Pauper has a bunch of cards that care about playing Elves, or the number of Elves in play. Lys Alana Huntmaster, Timberwatch Elf and Elvish Vanguard all turn our mass of Elf cards into more power on board, be it in the form of tokens, counters or temporary pumps.

Huntmaster also feeds the other wincons by increasing your Elf count. The additional tokens it generates make it easier to get an attack in, too. If even one of them goes unblocked, it makes the perfect target for a Timberwatch activation.

It’s also worth mentioning Gruesome Fate and Wellwisher here. Gruesome Fate is only a one-of in the deck, but it kills our opponent without even going to combat. We can only make the Black mana it requires with Birchlore Rangers, but with only one copy, that isn’t really an issue. This slot could be filled by Mob Justice, but Gruesome Fate specifically gets around Prismatic Strands, a card that could otherwise ruin our day.

Wellwisher doesn’t exactly win us the game on the spot when we activate it, but against some decks in the Pauper metagame, an active Wellwisher can put us completely out of reach. If a deck is trying to beat us through combat or pointing Lightning Bolts at our face, gaining a big chunk of life a few times is effectively Game Over in our favour.

Mana

Here we have the usual suspects: one mana 1/1s that tap for G. Pauper has access to all three versions of this card. Here, we run a mix of them in order to make things harder for Echoing Decay.

Birchlore Rangers and Quirion Ranger are familiar to anyone who has played Legacy Elves. Birchlore Rangers are an auto-include because they generate mana from our Elves that can’t make it themselves. They also give us access to non-Green mana for our off-colour spells. What’s even better is that the ability on Birchlore Rangers is similar to Heritage Druid, which we were playing in Modern. We can tap Elves to use the ability even if they’ve just entered the battlefield. Often, that’s enough mana to put our entire hand into play.

Quirion Ranger might not make mana by itself, but it untaps Elves that can. Also, in land-light hands, picking up a Forest and replaying it as our land for turn gives us access to an additional mana if we didn’t have a spare land already. The Ranger also has synergy with our wincons: untapping Timberwatch Elf and Wellwisher gives us additional activations.

Priest of Titania is Pauper’s equivalent of Elvish Archdruid. Having a two-drop Elf that can make multiple mana enables truly explosive starts. (Especially when untapping it with a Quirion Ranger.) To be honest, I’d play Priest of Titania in Modern Combo Elves builds if I could. While the more beatdown-oriented build of the deck really loves the Lord effect, being one mana cheaper is a huge deal.

Card Draw

Now, if we were just playing Elves with no support cards, we’d probably have our entire hand in play by turn two or three… And be out of cards in hand to follow up. To avoid this, we need to play some spells that can refill our hand and keep the Elfball rolling.

For this purpose, we play Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody. Some builds also opt for Winding Way, but there’s only space in the deck for two of these options.

Generally speaking, Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody fill the same utility slot in the deck. However, Melody opens up the possibility to draw the majority of our deck when things are going our way. It can also help us dig for important sideboard cards. Lead the Stampede, on the other hand, can only find them if they also happen to be creatures.

Sideboard

While I won’t go into every card in the sideboard as that would require an overview of the entire Pauper Metagame, there are two cards I would like to address.

Hydroblast seems like a strange include in our deck and Spidersilk Armor is just a strange card in general, so why are we playing them? Well, the card we are the most scared of in this format is Electrickery. There aren’t many sweepers in Pauper, but this one is one-sided and at instant speed. A well-timed Electrickery can wipe our entire board, letting our opponent use their spot removal on the few Elves that survive.

What helps Spidersilk Armor even more is that a lot of the tempo decks in the format are trying to kill us with a 3/3 flyer and some 1/1 friends. Turning all of our Elves into at least 1/2 creatures with reach makes it very hard for those decks to punch through.

The Games

Let’s get straight the point: the games did not go well. Essentially, we played against three copies of Blue-Black Tempo and a near fourth copy in Blue-Red Tempo. At least we managed to get our revenge on Blue-Black right at the end. Worse still, the only other deck we encountered was Black-White Pestilence; probably our worst matchup in the metagame. (No, it didn’t end well).

Despite how badly things went, I know Elves are viable in Pauper. So our record here tells us more about the spread of other archetypes in the meta than about the Elves themselves. We didn’t really get a good cross-section of decks to find out what different matchups are like. I hope that, when we return to Pauper, we get a wider spread of matchups to really showcase what the deck can do.

Next Time

When we next come back to Pauper, I’d like to break out an old Land Grant variant of the deck and push our land count as low as it can go. I certainly hope we can do better than we did this time around.

As for next episode, we’ll be going over our first revisit of a format – Historic – with an updated Combo Elves list and a more aggressive Beatdown variant. See you then.

Hexagorgon’s Games of the Year for 2020

Hello and welcome to 2021. Now that 2020 is well and truly behind us we can probably all say one thing: “it sure was good to have some video games to play this year!”

I’m sure you might also feel like you still need some gaming relief as we move into 2021. So get comfortable and sip your gaming beverage of choice, because here are Hexagorgon’s games of the year 2020, some of which even came out in 2020! Check them out if you need some new stuff to play, by yourself or with friends.

“The silliest take on the Battle Royale format!”

#3: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys hit it big at launch with their silly bean models and truly insane naming convention (looking at you Big Yeetus.) Whilst you could get caught up in the usual competitiveness of the Battle Royale genre, you’ll be missing the point of Fall Guys if you do.

Each game of Fall Guys takes place over a series of rounds, each consisting of a different mini-game, eliminating a number of players each round. Each mini-game is designed around the wobbly models and their unreliable balance, resulting in a large chunk of time spent flat on your face. The joy of Fall Guys comes from these moments, during the sheer madness where 20 beans (players) attempt to execute the same action simultaneously, and all get in each other’s way. A healthy sense of humour goes a long way in this game.

Mediatonic (the developers of Fall Guys) have been very active with their care of the game. They’ve released 2 major updates already (including 8 completely unique new game modes), and a bunch of smaller updates in between. Despite what Twitter says, Fall Guys seems like it’s here to stay.

I had a tonne of fun with this when it came out. These beans are so cute. Best bean game of 2020! (sorry Among Us)

Steam PS4

“Board games without all the troublesome hassle of meeting up with people.”

#3: Tabletop Simulator

In a year where isolation was prominent, most hobbies and social activities had to adapt. A hobby which is dear to my heart is boardgaming, which has been on hold due to social distancing. Enter Tabletop Simulator, a physics simulator designed around flinging dice, shuffling cards and table flipping (my personal favourite).

The reasons why Tabletop Simulator shines above the handful of other online boardgaming services boil down to a few things. Firstly, the catalogue of available games is outstanding. The vast majority of user-submitted content is very well presented. Often, there are helpful scripts to speed up the set-up and gameplay. Secondly, it is such good value, especially since it’s included in a Steam sale every other week (plus, there’s a 4-pack!)

A lot of the games suggested in Family Games: Hexagorgon Approved! were played by Hexagorgon throughout 2020 thanks to Tabletop Simulator. I am grateful to the dedicated and talented community that put so much love and care into the games they share.

Without Tabletop Simulator I couldn’t have played some fab boardgames with my friends who live hundreds of miles away, and that’s why it’s one of my games of 2020.

For years, this has been a platform for a game here and there. This year was quite different, and Tabletop Simulator has been a major factor in my being able to play board games at all in 2020!

Steam

“A fantastic Rhythm game that just happens to be a Kingdom Hearts game.”

#3: Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

There’s lots of fantastic music in the Kingdom Hearts series, from quiet piano melodies such as Dearly Beloved and Musique pour la Tristesse de Xion to the lively themes of Destiny Islands and the music of the Disney worlds, often taking melodies from the films themselves.

The story of the game is essentially a recap of the plot of the Kingdom Hearts games up to and including Kingdom Hearts III. If this had come out as a recap game before Kingdom Hearts III it would’ve been much better, as this would then be a way of bringing people up to speed on the convoluted plot.

If you’ve played games in the series before, you’ll find yourself humming along to the 143 tracks in the soundtrack. You may well discover some new favourites from the side games you didn’t play (has anyone actually played Dream Drop Distance?) The fact they’re asking full price for this is also a hit against it: there is a decent amount of content here but you might want to wait until it comes on sale. A demo is available, so it’s worth trying that to see whether the rhythm game part works for you before you commit.

Xbox 1 PS4 Switch

The perfect little creative relaxation experience.

#3: Townscaper

Townscaper is very different to the other entries on the list. It’s devoid of action or multiple interacting layers of simulation. Instead, Townscaper brings one of the most relaxing and genuinely joyful experiences I’ve had from games this year.

All you do is build a Venice-like island town, one house storey at a time. With a single click you add or remove a building piece. You control colour and location, and the game handles the rest. Roofs, gardens, clothes lines, stilts, stairs and railings – they all appear and disappear based on the particular arrangements of buildings that you set up. Despite its simplicity, Townscaper can absorb swathes of your time as you discover each thing you can make in this cute little town builder.

Steam

The other vampires are way too cool: a millennial story.

#2: Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York

I tried something new and it wasn’t horrible. Here’s the game that made me wish I’d got into visual novels a decade ago, in the dying laptop years.

Shadows of New York thrusts us straight into the hindbrain of Julia, a freshly-minted blood-sucker trying to hack out a niche in New York’s byzantine vampire society. The conceit pays off: like Julia, I’d never heard of the Camarilla. How many of us have considered what happens when vampires meet their ‘final death’? I was worried my complete ignorance of the role-playing system that provides the setting would get in the way, but that soon evaporated into the night like one of Julia’s awfully smug superiors. Yes, all the other vampires are achingly cool, own fancy bits of New York and generally have their un-lives together. Each deviates enough from the source-book stereotype to make them interesting, while hinting at the shape of all that background lore. 

But the main attraction is Julia herself. I love swashbuckling and/or stabbing my way through games as much as the next person, but playing as a grumpy millennial was strangely empowering. Julia is miserable, out of her depth, and afflicted by fast-food cravings. She has a favourite table at the diner and a complicated relationship with her roommate. I love her for it. The existential worries are what keep the character from being an all-out snarkster. (That and the fact that the older vampires have precisely no time for it.)

At times, the world of the Masquerade seemed breathtakingly harsh, but it was always a heartbeat away from direct social observation. Yes – you realise – vampires suck, but what’s our excuse?

After my first playthrough I was blown away by how accessible and engaging the format was, by the quality of characterisation, and by the game’s neat inclusion of the pandemic. The latter two are what I was hoping for by poking my nose outside the AAA space; but I had always feared they would come at the cost of the first.

Available in January 2021’s Humble Choice Steam

“The team at Crowbar Collective show off their level design chops and expand Xen into some of the best Half-Life gameplay I’ve ever played.”

#2: Black Mesa

What starts off as a faithful remake of the first Half-Life game blows you away when you reach Xen, which was seen as the worst part of the game in the original. By completely re-designing this part of the game, Crowbar Collective have made Half-Life into the game it always wished it could be.

Xen felt like an anticlimax in the original game. Here, in contrast, it looks beautiful and has really varied puzzle and combat designs in it. In 2020, when we haven’t had a main series Half-Life game in 13 years, this filled that itch. (Half-Life Alyx might’ve filled that itch if I had access to a VR rig, but I don’t.)

Since I played this, the developers have provided yet another patch that improves the graphical detail of the game, so I’m probably going to play it again some time in 2021. If the graphical detail of the new levels are
anything to judge by, I’m in for a treat.

Steam

“The God-like Rogue-Like where you literally go to Hell.”

#2: Hades

It’s hard to call Supergiant Games an indie developer any more, given their track-record. Every release has been a strong contender for Game of the Year for just about every reputable source. Hades is no exception, with a compelling story, fluid gameplay, and easily 100 hours of entertainment if you want to 100% the game.

Despite being a rogue-like where you run through essentially the same dungeon every time, the wide variety of build options and semi-random dungeon generation makes each run feel unique. The between-run progression compounds with your improving mechanical skill and understanding to give the player an even greater sense of progression outside the story.

Compelling story, dynamic gameplay, fluid mechanics; Hades has it all. We expect Hades to feature on many “Game of the Year” lists, not just our own.

Bosses that you once found almost impossible become easy as your skill at the game improves. Fantastic progression and amazing characters.

This was high up for me, too. The characters and the story were great, and the combat was enjoyable, so I wanted to get better at it and do everything!

I’m a mythology nerd, so this game sucked me in from the start.
If you’re remotely interested in anything Greek Mythology you need to give this game a go.

Steam Switch

The latest Grand Strategy Game from Paradox is a big step forward in approachability and character.

#2: Crusader Kings 3

I’ve always enjoyed messing around in Paradox’s games, but I’m the first to admit I don’t know all the details. Many of their games, such as Europa Universalis 4, have multiple deep systems interacting with each other. Generally, I have only taken the time to understand the parts that interest me. As a result, previous games from Paradox have generally been quite hard for players who are new to the series to get into.

Crusader Kings 3 remedied these problems and quickly became my favourite game of the genre. It manages this by focussing on your personal Dynasty of characters and offering varied playstyles for different characters. I’ve gone from a scheming mass-murderer to a well-loved diplomat to an expert tactician.

Seeing your own alternate-reality Europe play out as a result of your choices is always a joy.

Steam

50+ hours of bizarre but enthralling story.”

#2: Death Stranding

Death Stranding is about connections. Between people, settlements and the veil between the living and the dead. It’s also about trundling up a mountain in a blizzard to deliver toilet paper to someone.

The game has a solid sense of progression, which is aided by a cool network feature. This allows you to contribute towards structures and roads built by other players. Death Stranding was an experience which, for me, made a connection between gaming and film, and I recommend you check it out.

PS4 Steam

Horse Simulator 2019: The Guns Update.”

GOTY: Red Dead Redemption 2

The tragic demise of my old computer paved the way for some exciting gaming moments in 2020. Red Dead Redemption 2 came into my life as a happy conjunction of three things: the Steam sale was on; I wanted something with epic grass to give my new computer a workout; and a friend had made a surprisingly factual comment about the game’s modelling of pony plums.

I haven’t looked back. The horses are indeed second to none. The dogs are pettable. In fact, I’ve been having a shockingly lovely time just spying on farm animals (there are points for that, too). The PC version has prominent accessibility options. I found that, on the lowest difficulty, combat didn’t get in the way of enjoying the missions. You can even choose to skip checkpoints if you find yourself struggling.

After hours mucking about in the online portion of the game, it’s hard to remember how grim the West is when you’re playing as Arthur Morgan. I won’t spoil the story, but the themes of human failure and the death of an age play out beautifully. 

If I’m honest, I’d like to award Game of the Year 2020 to the world Rockstar have coaxed into existence. Covering five ‘states’, the game delivers pastiches of American ecosystems that feel genuinely diverse. This is the best historical tourism on offer. 

Steam PS4 Xbox One

“A step forward for the series that has a nostalgic place in my heart.”

GOTY: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time

My games of the year for 2020 seem to have a common theme: nostalgia. Half-Life 2 was the first First-Person Shooter that clicked with me, and introduced me to the genre; Kingdom Hearts is a game from my childhood that I revisited as an adult and found a welcoming, positive story; and Crash Bandicoot was one of the first video games I ever owned, and was my favourite for a long period of my childhood.

This game could have easily been forgettable. I don’t have much love for the sequels that came after Naughty Dog stopped developing the series. However, this game adds a bunch of new original design elements that really make the game shine. The levels are fantastically vibrant and (in its default mode) don’t care about how much you die. This means they can up the challenge significantly without adding extra frustration with a “game over” screen.

There’s a lot of content in the game after you’ve “completed” the game. The level sets get re-used in N. Verted Mode, and there are optional harder challenges (such as completing each level with fewer than 3 deaths) as well as the traditional box gems and time trials.

The last level has platforming that reminded me of Celeste, bringing together the skills that you’ve practised across the entire game. Every death seems fair though, and you get the challenge of trying to pull off the tricky platforming sections that you almost did that last time.

PS4 Xbox

“A pure exploration and discovery game with incredible payoff.”

GOTY: Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds released on Steam just before my birthday, so I bought it as a present to myself. And oh boy was I in for a treat!

In Outer Wilds you play a first-time astronaut discovering a universe stuck in a time-loop. If I tell you much more than that it would be a spoiler. You travel around a unique solar system uncovering its mysteries and figuring out what has happened, and what will happen. The game is expertly crafted to feel like a race against time, only to realise that – once you know what you are doing – each journey can be completed at a surprisingly leisurely pace.

Outer Wilds is genius in its design, in that you are theoretically capable of doing anything (even completing the game) immediately. But –my word –you need to discover just about everything before you really understand what you need to do. This game will make you feel like a genius and a fool at the same time; you’ll feel overwhelmed with joy and endlessly melancholy with the same discovery; simultaneously terrified and excited by every new step. Outer Wilds is definitely a contender for my top game of all time, and one that I would recommend to everyone, regardless of their prior experience with video games.

My only regret is that I can’t wipe my memory and play this game for the first time again.

I’ll agree with Eddie here – Outer Wilds is in contention for best game of all time. It would have definitely topped my list if HexaGorgon had been doing this back in 2019.

Steam Xbox1

Ubisoft’s time-trotting murder-simulator comes home (for me.)”

GOTY: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Having skipped out on the Assassin’s Creed series from Unity to Origins, I never got the chance to experience the series visiting my own country during Syndicate. However, this changed in November when the games visited Saxon England during the Danelaw.

Now, I’m a history/mythology nerd and a sucker for games set in the real world across different time periods (as you’ll see with my second place choice), and getting to experience these different places at different times is what keeps me engaged with the Assassin’s Creed games. But getting to visit home this time pushed it to the top of my list.

Honestly, it’s not just the setting that made me enjoy this instalment, but the characters and story too. I had learned not to get too invested in the Assassin’s Creed games’ overarching plots, but Valhalla managed to pique my curiosity. Sure enough, I found myself caring about individual characters’ arcs and how they fitted into a period where the Assassins and Templars were still in the process of becoming the Orders we know so well.

PS4 PS5 Xbox1 PC

“A surprisingly accessible couch co-op RPG.”

GOTY: Divinity 2

When pitching this game to my girlfriend, I had my doubts, she had her doubts, but oh boy were we wrong! Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an excellent entry point to RPGs for the uninitiated: the story is fantastic and all the NPCs are voiced. There are lots of characters to meet, towns to explore, dungeons to loot, spells to learn and evil do-ers to squash.

For a year when the outside world was daunting, being able to get thoroughly immersed in the world of Divinity made it my Game of the Year 2020.

I’ve only heard positive things about the Divinity series, and I’m very excited to try this one!


Console Steam

Jamie’s Top 10 Magic Cards of 2020

Hello everyone and well done on surviving 2020. With the year finally coming to a close, I thought I’d look back at my personal highlights and favourite cards of the last 12 months. I’ll get to the main list momentarily, but first…

Dishonourable Mentions

Skyclave Apparition

Skyclave Apparition {1}{W}{W}  Creature — Kor Spirit 2/2  When Skyclave Apparition enters the battlefield, exile up to one target nonland, nontoken permanent you don’t control with converted mana cost 4 or less.  When Skyclave Apparition leaves the battlefield, the exiled card’s owner creates an X/X blue Illusion creature token, where X is the converted mana cost of the exiled card.

I know Skyclave Apparition is a good card and I accept that it’s probably better for the game that it exists. However, as a player whose favourite deck is synergy-based and plays to the board, my strategy is easily dismantled by the Apparition’s ability. The fact that when the Apparition dies (often from having to trade with one of my Elves) I only get back a rubbish 3/3 rather than my Elvish Archdruid really hurts me on a personal level.

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Omnath, Locus of Creation {R}{G}{W}{U}  Legendary Creature — Elemental 4/4  When Omnath, Locus of Creation enters the battlefield, draw a card.  Landfall — Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you gain 4 life if this is the first time this ability has resolved this turn. If it’s the second time, add {R}{G}{W}{U}. If it’s the third time, Omnath deals 4 damage to each opponent and each planeswalker you don’t control.

Omnath mirrors were a guilty pleasure of mine. While I understand that the card was probably a bad idea for Standard and put a lot of players off, I will miss being able to have two of these decks jam huge turns against each other. Omnath, you will be remembered, for better or for worse.

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath {1}{G}{U}  Legendary Creature — Elder Giant 6/6  When Uro enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless it escaped.  Whenever Uro enters the battlefield or attacks, you gain 3 life and draw a card, then you may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield.  Escape—{G}{G}{U}{U}, Exile five other cards from your graveyard. (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its escape cost.)

Blue-Green is my favourite colour combination. If you’d told me a year ago that they would print a recurrable threat in my favourite colours that drew cards, ramped and gained life and was legendary to boot, I’d have been pretty stoked. What we got though, was a card tuned up so much that it became a ubiquitous include across multiple formats and made everyone even more sick of Simic, especially after the Oko debacle. I should be happy that my favourite colours get the best toys. Instead, I’m just tired of them breaking formats and making everyone sad.


Now, a note on the actual top 10. This is an extremely subjective list – I’ve picked cards that exemplify high points of the year for me in terms of Magic. This includes cards that represent favourite draft archetypes, novel mechanics, great art and new cards for old decks. Anyway, without further ado:

#10: Chromatic Orrery

Chromatic Orrery {7}  Legendary Artifact  You may spend mana as though it were mana of any color.  {T}: Add {C}{C}{C}{C}{C}.  {5}, {T}: Draw a card for each color among permanents you control.

We start with a costly colourless card from M21. However, it’s not Ugin. Instead, it’s the 7-mana mana rock, Chromatic Orrery. This card hasn’t made much of a splash in competitive formats, but it has become a pet card of mine.

In Magic: The Gathering Arena, it lets me build what can only be called nonsense 5-colour Green decks: a bunch of ramp, Karn, the Great Creator and some big X-spells to finish things off. Need to draw more cards off your Orrery? Fetch Sphinx of the Guildpact from your Karnboard. Need to kill your opponent dead? Electrodominance will do the trick. Need to hit more lands and spells? Escape to the Wilds costs 5 mana and that’s exactly the amount Orrery makes. I’m not saying this deck or Chromatic Orrery were good, but I sure did find them fun, and that’s why it’s one of my favourite cards this year.

Unfortunately, a lot the key pieces I was using didn’t survive rotation, but the Orrery itself did. Maybe it’ll make a comeback later on this year, but for now, it’ll live on in my memory.

#9: Miara, Thorn of the Glade

Miara, Thorn of the Glade {1}{B}  Legendary Creature — Elf Scout 1/2  Whenever Miara, Thorn of the Glade or another Elf you control dies, you may pay {1} and 1 life. If you do, draw a card.  Partner (You can have two commanders if both have partner.)

They made my favourite tribe a draft archetype in a Commander product, you say? Count me in. It’s been a long while since I was able to draft Elf tribal in any format (last time Lorwyn flashback drafts were on Magic Online, to be exact). As a result, I was very happy to find out that this year’s multiplayer product was an EDH draft format called Commander Legends. The very first time I got to draft the set, I managed to pull together a very strong version of the BG Elves archetype with Miara and Kamahl, Heart of Krosa as the commanders. Kamahl might as well be an honorary Elf as far as I’m concerned.

My experiences playing the deck were a blast and it was Miara who led the charge. Let’s hope that BG Elves make the upcoming Kaldheim an enjoyable draft format.

#8: Indulging Patrician

Indulging Patrician {1}{W}{B}  Creature — Vampire Noble 1/4  Flying  Lifelink (Damage dealt by this creature also causes you to gain that much life.)  At the beginning of your end step, if you gained 3 or more life this turn, each opponent loses 3 life.

Indulging Patrician wins my award for best art of the year. Does that award count for anything? Not really, but it’s how it made this list. Miranda Meeks really knocked this one out of the park. The visual storytelling in the piece combined with the strong use of colour hit me immediately. It only got better the more details I spotted.

It also helps that the WB archetype that Indulging Patrician is the signpost uncommon for is quite fun. (Even if it isn’t my favourite archetype in the set – more on that later). I drafted the set a lot and had fun with multiple copies of Indulging Patrician closing out games with alarming speed.

#7: Dreamtail Heron

Dreamtail Heron {4}{U}  Creature — Elemental Bird 3/4  Mutate {3}{U} (If you cast this spell for its mutate cost, put it over or under target non-Human creature you own. They mutate into the creature on top plus all abilities from under it.)  Flying  Whenever this creature mutates, draw a card.

Dreamtail Heron is here as a poster bird for the Mutate mechanic. Despite initial concerns that the mechanic would lead to too much rules complexity, the designers at Wizards of the Coast kept things manageable. In part, that meant ensuring cards with Mutate didn’t come with a pile of additional complications. (I’m looking at you, Characteristic Defining Abilities.) The mechanic played a lot better than expected, especially with this year’s Magic mostly being played on Arena, which handled all the details of the mechanic for players. I found the mechanic itself extremely enjoyable, despite the risk involved with going all-in on one creature.

So, why did I pick Dreamtail Heron? Well, my favourite thing to do in the format was to mutate a Dreamtail Heron onto a Thieving Otter. Not only do you get draw cards from the interaction (the best thing to do in Magic), you also get to give a cute otter some majestic wings. That’s a win-win from me.

#6: Llanowar Visionary

Llanowar Visionary {2}{G}  Creature — Elf Druid 2/2  When Llanowar Visionary enters the battlefield, draw a card.  {T}: Add {G}.

I’ve always said that my favourite card in Elves was Elvish Visionary (to the point where I’m a little sad most Modern lists have cut it). Such an innocuous card at face value, Elvish Visionary has been the glue holding together a lot of the decks I’ve played over the years. This year, Wizards decided to mash together my favourite elf with one of the best mana-elves from the very beginning of Magic: Llanowar Elves. What we got was a card that, while not the best in either slot, fulfils two key roles.

Llanowar Visionary made it into my Historic Elves decks for a short while before Jumpstart made Elvish Archdruid legal in the format. I even tried it in Pioneer, where Archdruid isn’t available, and it managed to advance the board state while digging for key pieces. However, I think Llanowar Visionary‘s time to shine has yet to come. Kaldheim is just round the corner and I’m hoping for my favourite tribe to make a foray into Standard for the first time since Dominaria rotated.

#5: Sprite Dragon

Sprite Dragon {U}{R}  Creature — Faerie Dragon 1/1  Flying, haste  Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, put a +1/+1 counter on Sprite Dragon.

When I’m not playing Elves, I enjoy playing a vary wide range of decks in all sorts of formats. A pet deck style of mine is ‘Miracle Grow’: you play cheap creatures that grow as you play spells and protect them with light disruption while they finish the game for you. Sprite Dragon, along with M21’s reprint of Quirion Dryad, rekindled my interest in the deck and I’ve been jamming it in Historic alongside Deeproot Champion from Ixalan. I’m happy that the faerie dragon has given me another chance to play the deck, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it make it all the way back to Vintage as a threat that benefits from all the restricted cards.

#4: Sublime Epiphany

Sublime Epiphany {4}{U}{U}  Instant  Choose one or more —  • Counter target spell.  • Counter target activated or triggered ability.  • Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand.  • Create a token that’s a copy of target creature you control.  • Target player draws a card.

As mentioned previously, I drafted a lot of M21. I found the format extremely fun and my favourite archetype was UR spells. I wanted to include Sublime Epiphany here as a representative of that draft format, but also as my favourite card combo to try for when drafting the set. It might be a little Magical-Christmas-Landy, but I managed it multiple times.

All you need is a Sublime Epiphany and as many copies of Shipwreck Dowser as you can get. Now you can lock your opponent out in a manner similar to the Modern Eternal Command decks of old.

Counter your opponent’s spell, copy your Dowser and get back your Sublime Epiphany. Also, draw a card and maybe bounce a thing. The world is now yours. Opponent tries to get round this by not doing anything on their turn? Just bounce their best thing, copy your Dowser, draw a card and get back your Epiphany. Congratulations, you’ve most likely won the game.


Best New Old Card: Bramblewood Paragon

Bramblewood Paragon {1}{G}  Creature — Elf Warrior 2/2  Each other Warrior creature you control enters the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter on it.  Each creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it has trample.

Before we move on to the top 3, I wanted to give out a Best New Old Card award. The ‘Best New Old Card’ award is given to a card that’s been out for a while already, but found new use in my decks due to other new cards’ being printed or changes in formats and metagames.

Bramblewood Paragon is an elf that gives a payoff for playing Warriors in your deck. I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind, but it’s never seemed good enough to include in my elf decks because the warrior count has never been high enough.

However, this changed in 2020 when a new version of Modern Elves was brought to my attention by a viewer. This new variant has a warrior and +1/+1 counters subtheme going on. Bramblewood Paragon pairs perfectly with Growth-Chamber Guardian, turning them into 3/3 Squadron Hawks with trample rather than flying. Joraga Warcaller spreads the benefit to your whole team. A card that will show up later on in this list gives +1/+1 counters to the creature it finds.

This new version of Elves is great fun and brings a new angle from which to attack the Modern metagame, with a more aggressive bent. Being able to pick from multiple variants of the deck is always an advantage.


#3: Turntimber Symbiosis//Turntimber, Serpentine Wood

Turntimber Symbiosis {4}{G}{G}{G}  Sorcery  Look at the top seven cards of your library. You may put a creature card from among them onto the battlefield. If that card has converted mana cost 3 or less, it enters with three additional +1/+1 counters on it. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

When the Modal Double-Faced Cards were announced, there was a lot of scepticism surrounding them. It has been dangerous in the past to allow decks to run low lands counts and still be able to cast spells. Goblin Charbelcher and Oops All Spells can utilise these new cards to cast their combo pieces that rely on the decks’ not having any actual land cards in them. As a result, these styles of deck have had a resurgence in Modern.

Turntimber, Serpentine Wood  Land  As Turntimber, Serpentine Wood enters the battlefield, you may pay 3 life. If you don’t, it enters the battlefield tapped.  {T}: Add {G}.

However, I’m here to talk about the more fair uses of the MDFCs. In a deck that only wants lands that make Green mana (Elves), the opportunity cost of including Turntimber, Serpentine Wood is extremely low. The upside in the lategame is huge. Instead of drawing another land, we effectively draw the best creature in the top seven cards of our library. We can hit a Craterhoof, we can hit a Lord and even if we hit a less-than-stellar creature, it gets to come in with three +1/+1 counters, making it a threat by itself. The best ‘miss’ I’ve had is Steel Leaf Champion, for a 8/7 elf that’s hard to block. The counters even synergise with Bramblewood Paragon and Growth-Chamber Guardian in the Bramble Elves deck to give trample or go fetch another Guardian.

Turntimber Symbiosis is the best sort of card a tribal player such as myself could hope for from a set which doesn’t include your prefered tribe as a theme. It joins other favourite cards like Collected Company and Chord of Calling as great options for Green-based creature decks.

#2: Conspicuous Snoop

Conspicuous Snoop {R}{R}  Creature — Goblin Rogue 2/2  Play with the top card of your library revealed.  You may cast Goblin spells from the top of your library.  As long as the top card of your library is a Goblin card, Conspicuous Snoop has all activated abilities of that card.

Despite my love for Elves, I’m not a purely one-tribe kind of person. I really enjoy tribal synergies wherever I find them. From Merfolk to Elves, from Cats to Scarecrows, if I can find some lords and/or some payoffs, I’ll give it a go.

Core 21, in addition to making a bunch of early entries on this list, gave my second favourite tribe a new toy to work with. Conspicuous Snoop made me hopeful for Goblins in Historic and gave us some great new combos to work with in Modern. While Jumpstart pushed Historic Goblins too far with the addition of Muxus, Goblin Grandee, Modern Goblins have been a blast. Snoop allows us to combo off almost as if we were playing Splinter Twin – getting to play our normal strategy (a tribal deck, rather than a tempo deck in Twin’s case) with a combo that can immediately end the game always looming for the opponent to worry about.

To top it off, Conspicuous Snoop also has great art. A characteristically comedic goblin, Snoops can’t help but fail at sneaking around, but we love him anyway.

#1: Allosaurus Shepherd

Allosaurus Shepherd {G}  Creature — Elf Shaman 1/1  Allosaurus Shepherd can’t be countered.  Green spells you control can’t be countered.  {4}{G}{G}: Until end of turn, each Elf creature you control has base power and toughness 5/5 and becomes a Dinosaur in addition to its other creature types.

There is no other card that I could give my #1 card of 2020 to than Allosaurus Shepherd. The best elf printed this year – in the Jumpstart Elf pack no less – brings so much to the table that I’m sad I don’t get to play it in the formats between Legacy and Historic.

Allosaurus Shepherd provides insurance against counterspells for all of our spells (even cards like Collected Company or Green Sun’s Zenith) while also giving us an alternate win-con by mounting all our elves onto dinosaurs and mauling our opponent. This activation also provides safety against damage- or toughness-based sweepers and a way of attacking for chip damage by threatening to use it.

All in all, it’s probably no surprise that Allosaurus Shepherd is my favourite card of the year, seeing as I’ve even tried jamming it in Vintage (to little success so far, but I have high hopes). Let’s hope that 2021 provides us with as good an elf as 2020 did. Here’s looking forward to Kaldheim.

Family Games: Hexagorgon Approved!

Present hanging from tree

It’s that time of year again. As the traditional family games are being dusted off , you can almost predict that only one person will enjoy the 3 hour slog of dice rolling and slow player elimination. But fear not, Christmas can be saved! The elves at Hexagorgon have compiled a definitely-not-naughty list of family games and their personal tips on how best to enjoy them.

There are quite a few recommendations, so to help you narrow down your perfect family game, we’ve split them into the following categories:

Quick and quippy – These family games are quick to pick up and play; everyone can get involved!

Lying to your loved ones – Games that have an element of deception.

Teamwork makes the dream work – Ramp up the competitiveness by splitting your loved ones into teams!

Games with a board?! – An unusual concept, but these family games are mostly centred around a square piece of cardboard…

Showing off your artistic flair (or not) – Games that require no artistic talent to play, but still involve the use of a pen.


Quick and quippy

These family games are quick to learn, easy to play and a great laugh for all:

Illustrative photo of the contents of the family-friendly board game Just One. A deck of prompt cards is shown alongside erasable boards and matching pens.

Just One

3-8 Players ⬢ Word Game ⬢ Easy to learn ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Cooperative

What: Just One has one player, guessing one word, using one-word clues, one from each of the other players, which must also be one of a kind!

How it brings good cheer: As a cooperative game, Just One requires you to work as a team and understand your teammates in order to give the best clues possible. The simplicity of the game will lead your group into a deeper level of thought than they realise, making it a great way to draw together a varied group. The dynamic of the game comes from understanding the players, and as long as you are trying, there is no way to play the game poorly.

This one’s a Hexagorgon favourite that we often play together!

Serving suggestion: Teach as you play and be lenient with any ambiguous rules until everyone has played a few games. This is a great game to be playing as people are arriving; until you get above 8 people you can add players as they turn up!

Available on Amazon


Illustrative photo of gameplay for Concept. A colourful board showing commonly-used symbols is surrounded by prompt cards and 'idea' tokens in the shape of lightbulbs.

Concept

3-12 Players ⬢ Word Game ⬢ Easy to learn ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Semi-cooperative

What: Concept has similar vibes to traditional parlour games (such as Charades) in that one player uses a wide-yet-limited array of clues to help everyone else guess a specific thing. In Concept, this is done by placing different coloured cubes down on a selection of pictures, while the remaining players try to figure out what they mean, and how they’re all connected.

How it brings good cheer: Concept feels like a more traditional game, making it an easy segue for groups who aren’t so familiar with modern board games. The gameplay is naturally cooperative, encouraging players to support one another when clues don’t work out, and will build a sense of collaboration and togetherness if your group is open to it.

Serving suggestion: Concept technically has a scoring system, though unless you need competition in your games, you can easily do away with scores and just play until you want to move on. Whilst there is still some pride in being the one who gets the correct answer, it removes any negative feelings around ‘stealing’ someone else’s point by building off their answer.

The rules also recommend playing with two clue-givers, but I generally play with only one. It makes the clues more personal, but you still have the option of roping in another player to help with the clues if you are really stumped.

Available on Amazon


Box art for the family-friendly card game, Exploding Kittens. A doodle of a cat holding a bomb is captioned 'a card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams...'

Exploding Kittens

2-5 Players ⬢ Card Game ⬢ Easy to explain ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Small size ⬢ Competitive

What: Exploding Kittens is a pure card game themed around Kittens that may or may not Explode. Use all the cats at your disposal to make sure you are the last one to explode!

How it brings good cheer: Aside from the theming, Exploding Kittens is a game which doesn’t require much strategy to master. Though it is heavily luck driven, it’s set up to keep most players in the round for as long as possible. The takeaway feeling is the escalating back-and-forth “I don’t think so!” laughing match which occurs at the end of the game, as the last couple of players are desperately trying not to draw the last card of the deck (which they both know is an Exploding Kitten). 

Serving suggestion: Sometimes the correct move is playing cards not to win, but to increase the tension and make the other players nervous. Also the art is aggressively wacky.

Available on Amazon


Illustrative image for the Jackbox Party Pack. The titles of mini-games include 'You don't know Jack', 'drawful', 'Word Spud', 'Lie Detector', and 'fibbage'.

Jackbox

3-8 Players ⬢ Group video games ⬢ Easy to learn ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Play on your phone

What: The Jackbox Party Packs (there are seven of them!) are party games played on your phone (you will need one computer/console to host them). They are heavily steeped in humour and often involve making jokes or silly scenarios, though many of them also allow you to play it straight and do just as well!

With over thirty games amongst their seven packs, there’s something for everyone in there!

How it brings good cheer: Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter! The games are designed to bring out the sillier side of things, with even the more serious games leaving things open to a touch of the ridiculous. Though every game has a winner, the games never feel like they are about winning. Whether you need something to kick-off and loosen the crowd, or you want something to wind down with for the evening, Jackbox is always welcome in a group setting.

Serving suggestion: You play using your smartphones, so perhaps avoid trying this with people who are totally unfamiliar with modern tech. Otherwise, you’ve got to be a real grumpy-guts to not enjoy some Jackbox!

There’s a lot of variety, and different games suit different crowds. Drawful 2 and Jackbox Party Pack 7 have a ton of variety and are easy to get into, so consider starting there!

Available on Amazon


A photo of the contents of the board game Dixit. Large cards showing fanciful illustrations surround  a scoring track designed to look like rabbits hopping along a path.

Dixit

3-6 Players (3-12 with Dixit Odyssey) ⬢ Great art ⬢ Easy to learn

What: Put one of your art cards face down and say whatever you like. Everyone else adds a card to try to fool the other players. Then, out of all the pictures, they try to guess which your original card was. You want to come up with vague but meaningful hints, so that somebody – but not everybody – guesses correctly.

How it brings good cheer: Making fun references, gently misleading your friends and looking at beautiful, surreal art! It’s easy to start, easy to drop in or out of, and you can play for exactly as long as you want if you ignore the points.

Serving suggestion: Give everyone a hand of cards, slam down a card with a hint, and get playing! People will usually understand most of the rules once they’ve played a single turn. If it’s a hit, start getting expansions (which provide more art cards)!

Available on Amazon


Lying to your loved ones

If bluffing and deceit are more your thing, check out these deception-based family games:

A photo showing cards in the eight 'suits' of Cockroach Poker. Each card is taken up by a colourful cartoon of the animal in question: bat, spider, stinkbug, cockroach, toad, fly, rat, and scorpion.

Cockroach Poker

3-6 Players ⬢ Bluffing game ⬢ Competitive

What: Players pass around creepy crawly cards while making claims (truthful or otherwise) about what they are. When you receive a card, you can bet on whether the claim is true or not, or look at it and make a claim to the next player. The loser of the bet keeps the card, and when one player has too many creepy crawlies, they lose!

How it brings good cheer: The game creates so many fun bluffing moments. One person passes a card to another, who looks at it and confirms, they both say it confidently… They were both lying; you feel like a fool. The games are fast and there’s only ever one loser, meaning it’s very easy to reshuffle and play again and losing doesn’t feel bad because everyone’s having fun.

Serving suggestion: Cockroach Poker Royal (sold under its German name Kackerlakenpoker Royal) is a newer printing that swaps one of the suits for ‘royal cards’. I’ve found that this version is a bit faster as the royal cards are also cards of their original suit, adding to the bluff potential of the next player. If you were going to pick one of the two for your collection I’d recommend the Royal version over the regular version, but both work well.

Available on Amazon


Illustrative picture showing role cards and tokens alongside the neat velvet pouch of Love Letter.

Love Letter

2-4 Players ⬢ Deduction game ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Rules summary on one card ⬢ You get to call everyone “Princess” ⬢ Small size ⬢ Competitive

What: Love Letter is Guess Who with power-ups. In Love Letter, you’re attempting to ‘court the Princess’ with your letters of love, by getting your letter into the hands of the person closest to the Princess. However, if any of the other players discover who has your letter, they will immediately confiscate it!

How it brings good cheer: A very light-hearted game with quick rounds which doesn’t leave enough time for hard feelings to develop. When someone gets you out, it’s usually by a good guess rather than poor play, so the excitement of the action is the overwhelming feeling you will remember.

Each round lasts a few minutes at most (and each turn only a few seconds), so you’re never waiting around for long!

Serving suggestion:Do not play with knaves who cheat at fun light-hearted games” – Love Letter rule book

Available on Amazon


Illustrative photo of the circular playing cards used to play Skull. Each of the six piles features stylised drawings of flowers and one skull.

Skull

3-6 Players ⬢ Bluffing game ⬢ Competitive ⬢ Spooky art

What: Skull is a simple but visually stunning bluffing game. Each player starts with 4 disks – 3 flowers and one skull. Players play disks face down until somebody makes a bid, suggesting they could flip over a number of disks without finding a skull. Other players can raise the bid or sit out, and once nobody wants to raise, the winning bid has to pull it off! If they do, they get a point, and only two points wins the game! If they fail, they lose a disk.

How it brings good cheer: The game looks very pretty with its sugar skulls, and often entices people to join in from the design alone. After a demo round, people learn the game quickly in my experience.

Serving suggestion: Although the game says 3-6, I’ve found it’s best with 4 – 6 players: otherwise there’s often too little good bluffing to be done.

Available on Amazon


Teamwork makes the dream work

Divide your loved ones into groups for these team-based family games:

Photo showing three examples of prompt cards from the family card game Monikers: 'The Loch Ness Monster', 'Beyonce', and 'Tinder'.

Monikers

2+ Players ⬢ Revitalised charades ⬢ Team game

What: The love child of Articulate and Charades.

How it brings good cheer: A silly game that brings the humour and silliness of an uncle trying to act out Kate Bush without the awkwardness of no one younger than thirty knowing who Kate Bush is.

By keeping the same set of cards throughout each of the game’s three rounds, the final round is more of a memory/connection game, as you have had two rounds of finding out who or what each card is. A true spark of genius.

Serving suggestion: Although you can play by splitting into two teams, the game can simply be played as an activity, removing the competitive aspect. One of the main obstacles to my extended family’s trying new games is a fear of losing or letting team members down, which Monikers dodges.

Available on Zatu


Illustrative image showing the wheel used to play Wavelength. It's a dial with 'hot' and one end and 'cold' and the other. A speech bubble reads 'coffee'.

Wavelength

2+ Players ⬢ Team game ⬢ Easy to pick up ⬢ Get an insight into your loved ones’ psyches

What: Wavelength is a game of reading your team’s mind and hoping you’re on the same, well, wavelength! You’re given two things which sit on opposite ends of a spectrum, like light and dark, hot and cold, fad or classic. The psychic has to come up with a word that they hope will help their team guess where the big points are on the Price-is-Right-style wheel.

How it brings good cheer: It’s a simple game that gets the conversation flowing. The game itself is very well presented and if you are up for it, you can make family game time into more of a game show.

Serving suggestion: As with all party games, the more the merrier. When it’s not your team’s go, you can also sow discord among the opposing team by giving unhelpful suggestions.

Available on Zatu


Photo showing the contents of a box of Trapwords. There are secret word lists for both teams, an egg timer, torch and monster tokens, and a deck of cards -all laid around a dungeon-crawler-style board.

Trapwords

4-8 Players ⬢ Word game ⬢ Easy to learn ⬢ Deeper than it seems ⬢ Little-to-no downtime ⬢ Team game

What: Trap Words is the evolution of Taboo (which is the evolution of Articulate). Each turn, one player will be given a word to describe to their team; meanwhile, the other team will have written a list of words which they must not include. The twist? The describing player can’t see that list.

Do you avoid the obvious words because surely they would have written THAT? Or have they avoided the obvious words because they’re so obvious, surely you’d avoid THAT anyway?

How it brings good cheer: Even when you get ‘trapped’, it’s usually more entertaining than annoying. The game makes things harder for the team that’s ahead, and you’ll learn what your opponents think about you and gradually learn how to avoid their traps.

The dynamic between players is the exciting part of this game: you’ll be guessing what the other team will write/say, and more often than not, second-guessing yourself!

Serving suggestion: Don’t take it too seriously, and don’t overthink it. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the perfect set of traps, but the game flows a lot better and will see significantly more plays if you go with your gut and keep the game moving.

While both teams are writing their traps this doesn’t matter too much, but once one team has finished their traps the other team should try to wrap up shortly. Don’t force this rule, but making it a polite suggestion – perhaps setting the example yourself – will keep the game flowing without feeling rushed.

Available on Amazon


Photo showing box and contents for the physical version of Spaceteam. Two decks of cards sit alongside an egg timer.

Spaceteam

3-6 Players ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Cooperative ⬢ Realtime ⬢ Kobayashi Maru-ish

What: A cooperative game of trying to repair your spaceship with limited tools, against the clock. Each player has a stack of ‘malfunctions’ to clear before the spaceship can proceed. However, the instructions might show a picture of the tool, or just its name. All players have a stack of unique tools that must be passed between players to solve malfunctions. But everyone has malfunctions to solve, and there are no turns, just shouting!

How it brings good cheer: You have work together to solve a variety of ridiculous problems with even more improbable tools. It’s loud, fast and exhausting: you will succeed or explode as a team.

With scalable difficulty, it works well for both experienced groups and newcomers, although it does require some encouragement to get people to call out their requests over each other.

Serving suggestion: I recommend curating the deck to include the more interesting Anomaly cards. These require players to stop what they are doing to solve an immediate problem or to play the remainder of the game with a new rule (e.g. all players must change seats).

The Spaceteam website has some some cool .mp3 timers which beat the old alarm on the phone for theming. If you are playing with a smaller group of players, all with smartphones or tablets, then the original app (which the game is based on) is also worth a look.

Available on Amazon


Games with a board?!

These family games will require a flat surface on which to place a new-fangled invention: The Board Game Board™:

Photo of a game of Blockus in progress. A grooved central board is covered in tetris-like shapes in colours representing four players.

Blockus

2-4 Players ⬢ Tile-laying game ⬢ Easy to explain ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ Small size ⬢ Deeper gameplay than apparent ⬢ Competitive

What: Blockus is a bit like competitive Tetris. Each player attempts to play as many of their pieces as possible whilst also trying to prevent the other players from playing as many of their pieces as possible. The player with the fewest pieces left wins!

How it brings good cheer: Everyone can place down shapes, and the bright colours help it to feel like you’re creating a mosaic despite the competitive nature of the game. The game is self-balancing, in that if one player appears to be doing rather well for themselves, the other players will (or at least should) invade their space and naturally level out the playing field.

It’s difficult to tell who is going to win until the last few turns of the game, so provided you don’t have any sore losers, nobody is sitting out for very long.

Serving suggestion: Blockus is a competitive game (and a very pure competitive game at that) so you should consider what your group enjoys about games before bringing out Blockus. If they enjoy some low-stakes competition, then Blockus could be a winner!

Available on Amazon


Photo showing a game of Sagrada in progress. Three boards in the shape of stained-glass cathedral windows are being covered in multicoloured dice.

Sagrada

1-4 Players ⬢ Modular expansions ⬢ Aesthetic ⬢ Low-level competitive ⬢ Turn-based ⬢ Drafting

What: Essentially, Sagrada is a game about making pretty patterns with dice. You get a great big bag of them in six colours and take it in turns to place them into your grid, following simple placement rules. Randomised decks of tools and techniques ensure replayability. There’s even a mechanic to fix placement mishaps that’s neatly tied to the difficulty rating of your chosen pattern.

If the sack of multicoloured dice hasn’t sold it to you, the theming is also charming: players take on the role of artists competing to design the most beautiful stained-glass window for the Sagrada Familia. Sagrada has bags of flavour, which helps to disguise the fact that it’s also introducing your family to the drafting mechanic.

How it brings good cheer: Sagrada is glorious to behold. Possibly not as impressive as visiting the real thing, but most of us won’t be spending Christmas in Barcelona.

It’s sometimes possible to force another player to take a die they can’t play, but rarely profitable: the focus is very much on creating the best possible version of your own window.

Serving suggestion: This is that rare game with a two-player experience that’s arguably better than a full house. Find a table out of reach of wagging tails and sticky fingers, and enjoy some quality time with a loved one. Reassure them that all stained glass windows are lovely in their own right, even if you did double their score.

Available on Amazon


Illustrative picture of the contents of Splendor. Various cards show people, buildings and places. Piles of tokens themed as gems sit beside them.

Splendor

2-4 Players ⬢ Card game ⬢ Great art ⬢ Low-level competitive ⬢ Difficult to get ‘locked out’ of the game

What: Splendor is a pure but simple engine-builder game about gathering and trading gemstones. There is no money mechanic, and no trading between players: you pick what you want, and provided you have any specific prerequisites, you acquire it. You gradually build up an collection of gemstones which allow you to impress nobles or to acquire even greater assets, until you have enough points to win.

How it brings good cheer: A very pretty game that highlights one of the purest joys in gaming: seeing your strategy work. Splendor takes engine-building down to its core in a way that all but ensures everyone will be able to create an engine.

Whilst it is competitive, each player will feel like they are making progress and (provided you have no sore losers) finish the game feeling like they have accomplished something.

Each turn is very quick, keeping the game flowing, and without any elimination mechanics everyone will always have something to do (typically thinking about their next turn.)

Serving suggestion: Again, this is a ‘read the room’ game: if your group is up for a bit more thought, then Splendor scratches that itch quite nicely. It isn’t the most socially involving game, as less experienced players will need to spend time thinking about their decisions.

Available on Amazon


Hey, That’s My Fish!

2-4 Players ⬢ Board game app ⬢ Quick to teach and play ⬢ Hidden depth

What: Slide your penguins around to collect fish and block other penguins! Get the most fish, whether by greedily grabbing or bullishly blocking.

How it brings good cheer: It’s frosty fun and super easy to learn, but has a real depth of strategy in its simple moves. Every move shrinks the board, so it’s quick and visually appealing.

Serving suggestion: Play 3-4 players for fun chaos, or play 2 players for a tight zero-sum strategy game. This is the rare board game where playing on a tablet is kind of better than the real thing, saving time on setup, as well as offering alternate board setups!

Available on Android and iOS


Illustrative photo of a game of Settlers of Catan in progress. A hexagonal board shows a stylised island smattered with wooden game pieces. Various hands of cards surround the board.

Settlers of Catan

3-4 Players ⬢ Board game ⬢ A classic ⬢ Gateway game ⬢ Good expansion options ⬢ Competitive ⬢ Has hexagons

What: Settlers of Catan is often considered the gateway game for people transferring from ‘traditional games’ (e.g. Monopoly, Scrabble) to modern board games. It keeps a lot of traditional ideas (luck of the dice, trading, building) but also improves upon several ideas (player interaction, building placement, and – most importantly – hexagons).

How it brings good cheer: Catan finds its way onto this list as a game my family thoroughly enjoys. Seeing their understanding of strategy grow, and even coming up with some new tactics by themselves more recently, has been thoroughly rewarding for me. Catan is a longer-term investment, but if your group is interested in trying some more ‘proper’ board games, it’s hard to go wrong with Catan.

Serving suggestion: Test the waters with some simpler family games on this list first, and if your group is interested in seeing what more serious games can offer, suggest Catan. Assuming your group is not familiar with the wider spectrum of board games, it might take a couple of plays for Catan to ‘click’ with them (my family needed a second play before they were comfortable with the rules). Be patient, because if they enjoy Catan it’s only a matter of time before you can break out your heavy Eurogames!

Available on Amazon


Illustrative photo of part of the racetrack used to play Formula D. Polyhedral dice sit in the bend.

Formula D

3-10 Players  ⬢ Competitive  ⬢ Test your luck  ⬢ Roll to move  ⬢  Scalable

What: A fast-paced roll and move racing game where players drive around a race track. Each turn, players need to choose whether to stay in gear, go up, or go down a gear. The current gear a player is in determines which of the six different dice you roll for movement (ranging from a d4 in first gear to a ridiculous d30 in sixth).

How it brings good cheer: Due to its ‘roll and move’ mechanic, Formula D is very approachable to those who have only played more mainstream board games, nearly all of which incorporate ‘roll and move’ to some extent. The additions of different dice choices, resources to spend throughout the race, and risk-taking create a game which is both engaging for younger audiences and subtly complex enough for older generations.

Serving suggestion: For a speedier game with a tad more excitement, I add some realtime rules. You are driving a racecar, so you need to make choices quickly!

  • You only have 6 seconds to choose your gear.
  • Once you have rolled, you need to begin moving your car: no moving back to retry your route. There are no time travel mechanics in this game!

Available on Amazon


Photo showing gameplay of Meeple CIrcus. Wooden objects are stacked in a cardboad circus ring: a strongman stands on the back of a horse, lifting a plank with another performer on top.

Meeple Circus

2-5 Players ⬢ Board game ⬢ Balance & dexterity ⬢ Putting on a show

What: Pile up and balance meeples, elephants, horses and balls to put on a circus show, accompanied by silly music!

How it brings good cheer: The core mechanic of the game is a lot of fun. Each round ramps up what you’re doing with new pieces, so you get some practice in before the big show in the final round. Also, someone will definitely knock over their entire structure during the game and then rush to rebuild!

Serving suggestion: Play it on a sturdy table and prepare for laughs!

Available on Amazon


Showing off your artistic flair (or not)

These family games require you to mark whiteboards with pens. Whether those marks can be interpreted doesn’t really matter:

Picture showing the contents of a box of Telestrations. Eight spiral-bound notebooks, a deck of prompt cards, an egg timer, felt pens and cloth erasers.

Telestrations

3-8 Players ⬢ Drawing ⬢ Easy to explain ⬢ Quick to play ⬢ No art skills needed

What: Telestrations is Chinese whispers with pictures instead of words. 

How it brings good cheer: The whole room will be filled with snorts, giggles and possibly some embarrassed sighs as you all see how a drawing of a balloon gets transformed into snake (or probably something a lot ruder).

Serving suggestion: Once you’re comfortable with the concept, leave the pre-packaged words and go off the beaten track; come up with your own words to draw.

Available on Amazon


Photo of the contents of Railroad Ink. Miniature whiteboards show grids waiting for train tracks to be laid.

Railroad Ink

1-6 Players ⬢ Small Size ⬢ Low-level competitive ⬢ Play at your own pace ⬢ Train-themed!

What: In this award-winning game, you and up to five family members take on the challenge of planning out a transport network. Each round, you’ll roll special dice to determine the shapes of railway track, road and intersection available, then spend a minute or so drawing them onto your own mini whiteboards. At the end, layouts are scored according to the number of stations and roads connected, with players losing points for dead-end routes.

How it brings good cheer: Although you’re competing in the sense that someone’s network will receive the highest score at the end of the game, players cannot interact with each other’s boards. That means that if you get stuck with sections of railway you can’t use, it’s your own fault for trying to recreate the Underground instead of connecting the stations like a normal person. Plus, everyone’s playing from the same dice rolls; you can’t say fairer than that!

Serving suggestion: Hand out the little boards and erasable markers, and enjoy entire minutes of peace and goodwill as everybody beavers away drawing out their tracks. The game is simple enough to appeal to puzzlers and train aficionados alike.

Available on Amazon


Colourful photo of the components of A Fake Artist Goes to New York. Numerous felt-tip pens surround a drawing of...an elephant?

A Fake Artist Goes to New York

5-10 Players ⬢ Hidden role game ⬢ Cooperative ⬢ Drawing game

What: Hidden role games have been gaining fans thanks to the explosive popularity of Among Us. In this artistic take on the genre, everyone is given the same word to draw, except for one person, who is given a blank card. They are the ‘fake artist’. Everyone takes turns until they’ve each contributed two lines, and then the group steps back to admire the drawing. The players vote on who the fake artist is, but if the fake figured out the word, they can still win!

How it brings good cheer: The tension in the game comes from having to draw enough that people don’t mistake you for the fake artist, without giving away enough information for the imposter to guess the prompt.

Like all good drawing games, drawing skill isn’t strictly necessary as you’re only contributing one line. Plus “I’m bad at drawing” is a good bluff when you’re the fake artist.

Serving suggestion: If you have people in your group who know Among Us, just swap the words ‘fake artist’ in the rule description for ‘imposter’ and they’ll probably pick it up even faster.

Available on Amazon


If you enjoyed this article, checkout our Halloween videogame edition: Overspooked.

Elves All The Way Down Episode 2: Modern

Welcome back to Elves All The Way Down. Having enjoyed our stint in Historic last time, we’ve moved to Modern for a look at a personal favourite variant Elves deck from a few years back. That deck is Green-White Combo Elves.

Modern

“Combo Elves, huh? What combo are we using?” I hear you ask. Well, let me introduce you to Devoted Druid. Devoted Druid taps for mana, like so many of our other Elves. However, Devoted Druid can also be untapped at the cost of placing a -1/-1 counter on it. If we can either remove that counter from the druid or mitigate the cost of putting the counter on it (with a toughness boost), we can potentially make an arbitrarily large amount of mana and do what all combo players desire – go ‘infinite’.

Devoted Druid had been around in Modern since the format’s inception with a few inconsistent or fringe combo decks built around it over time. These often included cards like Quillspike or Morsel Hoarder and Necrotic Ooze. However, we Elves players hadn’t really been looking for a way to exploit Devoted Druid until Amonkhet released and gave us Vizier of Remedies.

Suddenly, Devoted Druid had a card that it made infinite mana with easily without jumping through any hoops. Unlike cards like Melira, Sylvok Outcast that prevent the -1/-1 counter being placed on the druid and therefore stop it being untapped, Vizier of Remedies reduced the untapping cost from 1 counter to 0, effectively making it free.

This combo immediately had multiple people trying to find the best way of utilising it. A Green-White combo deck that used Walking Ballista to actually end the game was the main deck to come out of this, but as Elf players, we realised that this combo could easily fit in the Elves shell we were already playing. We already have a game-ending outlet for infinite mana in Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

As an aside, fortunately for us, Ezuri already goes infinite with two Devoted Druids. This was never enough on its own to include Devoted Druid in old Elves lists, but is a nice bonus if we’re including the druid for other reasons.

Now, why would I choose Combo Elves over a more direct aggressive version or a traditional tribal deck? Well, Modern as a format is increasing in speed and efficiency over time. While there are still decks that want to drag things out, the decks that can kill you quickly are getting more and more tools with which to do so. And the decks that want to combo off or establish a game ending boardstate as soon as possible are becoming more optimised. As a result, I moved towards playing Combo Elves so that I would always have a quick route to victory in the face of these other fast and optimised decks. The deck can still play the long game with Collected Company and a wide board of Elves backed up by a lord, but if your opponent is trying to kill you by turn four, having a turn three potential win is always an available out.

This sets the stage for the deck we’re bringing back today, so let’s take a look at it.

Modern GW Combo Elves

Creatures (34)
Elvish Mystic
Heritage Druid
Llanowar Elves
Nettle Sentinel
Devoted Druid
Dwynen’s Elite
Spellskite
Vizier of Remedies
Elvish Archdruid
Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Instants (8)
Chord of Calling
Collected Company
Lands (18)
Cavern of Souls
Forest
Horizon Canopy
Razorverge Thicket
Temple Garden
Westvale Abbey
Windswept Heath

Sideboard (15)
Veil of Summer
Collector Ouphe
Gaddock Teeg
Phyrexian Revoker
Scavenging Ooze
Selfless Spirit
Wheel of Sun and Moon
Yixlid Jailer
Aven Mindcensor
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Knight of Autumn
Magus of the Moon
Setessan Petitioner
Shalai, Voice of Plenty

Some of the deck will look familiar to the list we were running in Historic last time and will overlap with a lot of our decks going forward. This comes from the fact that the core of Elves decks stays mostly the same across formats, making use of the best parts of that core that are available in whatever format you’re playing.

Let’s go over what’s different from the Historic list we played before:

Mana

Here in Modern, we get access to a Llanowar Elves clone in Elvish Mystic, letting us run effectively 8 copies of that effect. We also get one of the most important pieces of what makes Elves viable in Eternal Formats – Heritage Druid. This card effectively allows us to turn all of our Elves (in groups of three) into mana dorks and also to be able to circumvent summoning sickness as she lets us tap Elves who have just entered the battlefield. I have also included Nettle Sentinel here, as the interaction between Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel allows us to make mana to cast green spells that then untap the Sentinel so we can make more mana to cast green spells etc.

The final new piece of the mana puzzle is Devoted Druid, who we discussed above.

Win Conditions

Now that we have an infinite mana engine in the deck, Ezuri, Renegade Leader becomes a lot more powerful and, as a result, we are running the full four copies.

We only have to run a single copy of Vizier of Remedies as we have both Collected Company and Chord of Calling to find it. The same is true for finding the other pieces of the combo: however, all the other pieces are Elves that further our backup plan – playing a bunch of Elves and attacking our opponent for a non-infinite amount of damage.

Sideboard

The sideboard, as always, is a constant work in progress. As metagames change and evolve, the right cards to include will change with them. For this sideboard, I settled on 12 singleton creature to tutor up with Chord of Calling when they are needed, two Veil of Summer to beat counters/removal and a singleton copy of Wheel of Sun and Moon which has a lot of utility against graveyard-based decks and can save us from mill or lantern decks in a pinch.

The two cards I want to talk about individually are Magus of the Moon and Shalai, Voice of Plenty

It may seem weird that a deck that can only generate Red mana from an off-brand Cavern of Souls would include a card like Magus of the Moon (the same goes for Yixlid Jailer), but the key part here is the interaction between the Magus and our instants – Collected Company and Chord of Calling. For starters, these two cards put the Magus directly into play rather than having to find Red mana, but more importantly, there isn’t a window between those spells resolving and the Magus being in play. If we cast a Chord or Company and our opponent doesn’t tap their non-basics for mana in response, they will only be able to use them for Red mana once the spell resolves. They don’t get to know we’re playing a Magus until it’s too late. If they do tap their mana ahead of time, we can always go get something else if it’s relevant (or still get Magus in the matchups where the card is most impactful).

Shalai, Voice of Plenty has a similar instant-speed interaction that is worth keeping in mind. She is still a good sideboard card against decks that want to target you or your stuff, and is an infinite-mana outlet to boot. However, where she shines is at instant speed (via Chord of Calling) in response to a flurry of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers targeting you or all of your Elves. Fetching Shalai in response means that, unless your opponent can remove her immediately, all of the triggers that have already had their targets chosen will be invalid upon resolution, effectively countering them.

The Games

So, how did we do? Well, we went 3-2 across the League. Our biggest enemies haven’t changed since last time either – we’re most scared of control decks and decks that pack a lot of cheap removal.

Our losses were to Rakdos Aggro and Bant Reclamation. The former presented a fast clock while using its burn spells to make short work of our small creatures. The fact that cards they include to point at their opponent’s face double as removal for our key pieces allows them to make us stumble long enough for their prowess threats to close out the game. We can kill them fast enough, but it’s pretty much a race whatever we do.

Bant Reclamation, on the other hand, packs a ton of interaction with our creatures and on the stack which we have to punch through to beat them before they lock us out entirely with Cryptic Command and Mystic Sanctuary. This matchup felt a lot harder than the race with Rakdos Aggro because we can’t really interact with them where we need to (on the stack). However, our Sideboard plan of Magus of the Moon did pull out the win in one game for us, which gives me hope.

Next Time

Next time we return to Modern, we’ll be giving Shaman of the Pack its chance to shine with Green-Black Elves. Beyond that, we’ll see what Elves can do in the Modern metagame and, over multiple iterations, how our Green friends can best attack the format.

However, for the next Episode of this series, we’ll be heading to Pauper, where we’ll get to compete with a 14 land deck, including Legacy Elves staples Birchlore Rangers and Quirion Ranger. Join us then to see if a 2-mana Elvish Archdruid is any good.

Overspooked

A colourful Grim Reaper from Death and Taxes.

The best non-scary video games this Halloween

Spooktober is upon us, and all about are terrifying titles: Amnesia: Rebirth, Phasmophobia, Remothered: Broken Porcelain, and even Lust From Beyond: Scarlet have recently launched. The spooky colon brigade is out in force this year.

Here at Hexagorgon, we’re channelling a different Halloween vibe—one that’s much more relaxed. We’ve got spooks and skeletons, trivia and taxes, witchy wanderers and undead fresh from the underworld.

The key characteristic these games share is that they’ve nailed the Halloween theming without raising the fear factor.

So if you’re sick to the teeth with jump scares and can’t face surviving another horror, read on for the team’s favourite spooky-not-scary Halloween video games.

We’re serving up three flavours:

  • Single player spooking—games that are designed to be played alone.
  • You are/not alone—spooky games for 1-8 players.
  • Multiplayer: the more the freakier—multiplayer games without single player content.

Single player spooking

The Witcher III: WIld Hunt. Promotional image for the spooky video game. A flock of crows swirls around a horned monster,

The Witcher III

What: Be a cool monster hunter going around the world being bad-ass. Also features incredible story-telling.

Spooky credentials: Meet all sorts of monsters, some of which you won’t have heard of!

Non-scary angle: Steeped in single player RPG goodness. Your character is literally designed to kill the spooky things. It’s single player, so play how you want to. The spookiest missions are optional side quests (though they’re still incredible so don’t miss them).

Serving suggestion: Remember every now and then that this isn’t real, and appreciate the incredible world-building and effort that went into this game. Also complete every quest you can get your hands on, they are AMAZING! Also play Gwent.

Single player, ARPG, AAA, Narrative

Amazon Direct ⬢ SteamGOGHumblePS4SwitchXbox One

Return of the Obra Dinn. Black and white image shows detailed ship's rigging with a full moon in the sky.

Return of the Obra Dinn

What: Uncover just how the entire crew of the good ship Obra Dinn ended up dead, and work out which body belongs to who.

Spooky credentials: You’re exclusively seeing the end of people’s lives and the few seconds run up to it and trying to piece together the awful series of events on board everyone’s favourite seafaring vessel.

Non-scary angle: Strong stylisation cuts the teeth of the gorier scenes, and it’s very much a “take at your own pace” game.

Serving suggestion: Great to play with a friend; bouncing ideas off each other and trying to solve the mystery together is super satisfying and rewarding.

Single player, Backseat help, Mystery

Direct ⬢ Steam ⬢ GOGHumblePS4Switch

Hades, a spooky video game. Skelly, a cheerful non-scary skeleton man, addresses the player: "No, I'm worried you'll be wasting your time! If you give that stuff away, don't expect to get anything back. Well, not after the first time, anyway. Usually! I'm just saying...don't get your hopes up."

Hades

What: A rogue-lite where you play the son of Hades, god of the Underworld, which you’re trying to escape from. The game just escaped early access, and it’s by Supergiant who made Bastion, Pyre, and Transistor.

Spooky credentials: Filled with ghouls, skeletons, and your favourite Greek gods. You’re either interacting with dead things (spooky) or the gods themselves (powerful).

Non-scary angle: The art style is just lovely, and there are no jump scares or anything. Just some ghostly things and plenty of Greek mythology.

Serving suggestion: Get the audiobook of Steven Fry’s Mythos and learn about the gods as you try to escape.

Single player, Action, Suggestive Content

Direct ⬢ SteamSwitch

Death and Taxes. Image shows a headshot of a skeleton called Bonehead, marked Stone Cold Classic; a desk covered in the Grim Reaper's paperwork; and a spectacled man with a bow tie and evil villain cat.

Death and Taxes

What: You take on the role of a Grim—a drone in the office of Fate—tasked with reading the profiles of living humans who are in unknown near-death situations. You choose whether they should live or die. It’s not so simple, though; Fate gives a daily quota and additional instructions about who should die. If you follow them to the letter you’ll be rewarded, but the consequences of your decisions ripple out through society. Is this just a job, or do you want to take matters into your own, bony hands?

Spooky credentials: You literally play as the Grim Reaper in a safe, clean office environment! You can choose from a variety of spooky appearances while you have strange conversations with your mirror, and Mortimer the pirate skeleton in the basement has a variety of extra outfits and desktop gadgets for you.

Non-scary angle: There’s no horror aspect to the game. All the questions posed are existential, and through your conversations with Fate this can lean towards hopeful.

Serving suggestion: Play through it in 2-4 hours, and if you want to try some different outcomes, do it again!

Single player, Choices matter

Direct ⬢ Steam GOGSwitch

Plants vs Zombies video game promotional image.

Plants vs Zombies

What: Tower-defence style comedy game, in which you play a botanist saving yourself from a zombie invasion.

Spooky credentials: Full of zombies!

Non-scary angle: It’s a comedy game in a cartoon style. There are no actually scary moments in it The appearance of the zombies is the scariest thing, and they look super not-scary. They also sometimes wear funny hats!

Serving suggestion: Fire this up for a relaxed time. Choose the 2009 original for some serious nostalgia.

Single player, Casual, Tower defence

AmazonDirect ⬢ Steam ⬢ HumbleAndroidApple

Vampire: The Masquerade -Shadows of New York. A long-haired woman in gothic clothing sits high above a city thoroughfare. The narrator, Julia, is saying "Wow. What a night."

Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York

What: Investigate a murder among New York’s labyrinthine vampire underworld in this visual novel set in the Vampire: The Masquerade universe.

Spooky credentials: Since everyone you meet is either a vampire or a tasty snack, the action takes place at night. The narrator is a canny blend of self-conscious noir and downbeat millennial.

Non-scary angle: The art shies away from the gory aspects of vampirism. Death occurs off-screen. The story is more about identity and inequality than things that go bump in the night.

Serving suggestion: Treat it like a murder mystery film: get comfy, get snacks (of the human variety), but also get in the right head space to confront (vampire) politics.

Single player, Visual novel, Adult themes, PEGI 16

Direct ⬢ Steam ⬢ HumbleGOGPS4Switch

Helltaker. One image shows dialogue with a stylised demon girl named Judgement, the High Prosecutor. The other shows a red-on-black ouzzle level.

Helltaker

What: A short and free lighthearted puzzle game about breaking into Hell to build a harem of demon girls.

Spooky credentials: You break into Hell to build a harem of demon girls.

Non-scary angle: If you defeat all of Hell’s challenges, you might get to make pancakes and coffee for your harem of demon girls.

Serving suggestion: Depending on how you fare with the puzzles, this might take 1-2 hours solo to complete. The final section took me a good few retries!

Free-to-play, Single player, Puzzle, Suggestive content

Steam

Undertale. Composite image featuring screenshots from the spooky video game. 8-bit characters include Flowey the Flower, Froggit and a punning skeleton.

Undertale

What: You, a child, fall into the world of monsters underneath our own. Fight for survival, forge unlikely friendships, and make permanent enemies on your quest to return to the human world.

Spooky credentials: Monsters, especially skeletons, are the main characters. There’s even a (shy) ghost!

Non-scary angle: It’s a comedy game with 8-bit graphics. Character design focuses on personality rather than creepiness. The closest thing you get to a jump scare is the Pokémon-style random encounters in a few zones, and even those are often a delight.

Serving suggestion: If you haven’t had Undertale spoiled for you yet, try to avoid it; the game is designed to be played multiple times. Be prepared to feel some things you didn’t think would be possible with a game that takes itself so un-seriously in places.

Single player, Retro graphics, Narrative, RPG, Parody, Action

Direct ⬢ Steam ⬢ HumbleGOGPS4Switch

Disgaea. Etna, a demon with spiky red hair, exclaims "Hey, you're right. How nice of them to be so patient." In the background, Etna is confronting hooded figures.

Disgaea

What: Tactical RPG in the style of Fire Emblem where you play as a cast of demons and monsters in an anime-like setting with a focus on comedy and the ridiculous.

Spooky credentials: It’s about demons and monsters and is set in the Netherworld (read: underworld).

Non-scary angle: Following on with my theme of overcoming the spook by playing the spook, this is another game series where you play as the bad guys.

Serving suggestion: Make sure you have a good serving of spare time because these games are styled after the JRPG time sinks of old. Released in multiple instalments across a multitude of platforms across the 17 years since Disgaea 1, you can play it however you want, wherever you want.

Single player, Tactics, RPG, Comedy

AmazonDirect ⬢ Steam ⬢ HumbleAndroidApplePS4Switch


You are/not alone: spooky games for 1-8 players

Mysterium. A virtual tabletop holds mysterious cards.

Mysterium

What: A digital board game in which a ghost (one player) sends visions (weird art cards) to psychic mediums (the other players) to get them to solve a murder. It’s like a co-op version of Dixit!

Spooky credentials: The game takes place in a séance, with a limited time in which the ghost can give out clues only through the use of strange visions. The players work together to interpret these clues to identify suspects, locations, and objects related to the crime.

Non-scary angle: The “crime” only exists as disjointed cards in different categories. You’re not hunting down a murderer on the loose, just working together with a friendly ghost!

Serving suggestion: Play the solo campaign in the official app or play with 3-7 players in the app, on Tabletop Simulator, or with the physical board game.

Single player, Local multiplayer, Online multiplayer, Co-operative, Board game, Mystery, Mobile

AmazonDirectSteamAppleAndroid

Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The player character, dressed as a skeleton with green skin and orange eyes, sits on a pumpkin.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

What: Escape to a surprisingly popular island with Tom Nook’s latest bargain. Decorate, landscape and dress up to your heart’s content.

Spooky credentials: Seasonal content includes decor (pumpkin furniture!), new options for character customisation (green skin and/or eyes!), and a host of spooky costumes ready for the in-game event on October 31st.

Non-scary angle: Animal Crossing’s cute style is maintained throughout. It’s rated PEGI 3. As such, the Halloween content is all about simulating a Halloween celebration; it doesn’t engage with any of the themes.

Serving suggestion: Grab your slippers and a mug of something hot, and curl up with this digital candy floss.

Single player, Online play with friends, Local multiplayer, Seasonal event, Casual

AmazonSwitch

Dungeon Keeper. A stylsed, top-down view of a dungeon.

Dungeon Keeper (1 & 2)

What: Strategy/Dungeon Sim/Base Builder classic from 1997. Play as the monsters underneath your typical fantasy kingdom as you tunnel out your extensive base and plot to kill or convert the heroes of the land.

Spooky credentials: Tired of being spooked, scared and assaulted by the monsters of the season? Take your turn as the bad guys as the lord of your own Evil Dungeon.

Non-scary angle: Being on the side of the monsters takes a lot of the sting out of them being scary and the older graphics and slightly comedic tone defang any remnant of fear.

Serving suggestion: With a twirl of the moustache and a maniacal laugh.

Single player, Online multiplayer, Strategy, Simulation, Adult themes (Torture chamber, Casino), Mobile

AmazonEAGOGAndroidApple

Crawl. Composite image showing screens from non-scary video game Crawl. Colourful pixel graphics show a three-headed dragon, burning magic hand knives, and mysterious portals.

Crawl

What: Arcade-style multiplayer (competitive) dungeon crawler.

Spooky credentials: There are lots of weird monsters, with spooky scenery in the dungeon, and heavy monster theming all round.

Non-scary angle: 8-bit graphics without jump scares. If you’re playing with friends, they’re the ones controlling the monsters, so your mileage may vary.

Serving suggestion: This one is great with friends. Find one of the slippery monsters and wait for the inevitable game of Cat & Mouse you play when that’s the last remaining monster in a room!

Competitive multiplayer, Online multiplayer, Play with friends, Dungeon crawler

DirectSteamHumbleSwitchPS4Xbox One

Monster Prom. Composite image shows cartoon monsters in high school.

Monster Prom

What: It’s only weeks until you finish at Spooky High, and you don’t have a date for the prom! Go through a variety of events, each with a couple of decisions, to improve your stats while building a relationship with your monster of choice.

Spooky credentials: You’re at a school for monsters, where non-graphic violence and villainy are part of everyday life!

Non-scary angle: It’s a silly game about over-the-top relationships, not about scaring you.

Serving suggestion: 1-4 players, fun alone or with friends! Don’t worry too much about the ending; it’s easy to replay.

Dating sim, LGBTQ+ friendly, Single player, Local multiplayer, Online multiplayer, Remote play together

DirectSteamGOGHumbleSwitchXbox OnePS4


Multiplayer: the more the freakier

Among Us. Composite image shows bright cartoons of astronauts.

Among Us

What: Hidden-role, semi-co-op game that you play with your friends (and sometimes murder them)!

Spooky credentials: It’s all about deceiving your friends (and sometimes murdering them!) and working out who’s telling the truth. There’s the occasional jump scare when you get killed.

Non-scary angle: Cartoon style graphics mean jump-scares aren’t that bad; it’s all part of the game.

Serving suggestion: Play with as many friends as you possibly can! Hint: be OK with lying. Among Us is free on phones running Apple or Android, or £3.99 on Steam.

Online multiplayer, Play with friends, Free-to-play (Apple/Android), Hidden role

AppleAndroidSteam

Trivia Murder Party 2. Composite image showing example trivia questions from the Jackbox 6 game.

Jackbox: Trivia Murder Party 2

What: In a creepy hotel, answer questions correctly or prepare to be killed by your friends! (Who were forced to do it by the voice-over hotel owner.)

Spooky credentials: The party takes place in a creepy hotel, where you will often “die”. Lots of the theming is around spooky stuff: ghosts, killing people, the usual.

Non-scary angle: It’s a trivia quiz. There’s no gore, the deaths don’t mean a lot (you keep playing as a ghost), and it’s really all about the trivia and gentle mind-games.

Serving suggestion: Play with friends! The questions are meant to be hard so don’t worry about looking like an idiot (most people are guessing most of the time anyway!)

Play with friends, Local multiplayer, Online multiplayer, Casual

AmazonDirectSteamHumbleSwitchPS4Xbox One

Overcooked. On top of a cold nightscape covered in eerie red-eyed slices of bread are two cut-in images: Overcooked! and Overcooked! 2 title art.

Overcooked 1 & 2

What: With this co-op chef game, discover the chaos that kicked off the couch-co-op genre now known as “Overcooked clone”!

Spooky credentials: Spooky seasonal levels with mysteriously moving parts, flashing lights, and dark themes.

Non-scary angle: The spooky levels are only for 1 “world” in each game (approx. 5 levels). Even then, the game is all about the chaos of running a kitchen with up to 3 of your (unlikely to be chefs) friends. You’ll be too busy yelling at your friends to be spooked.

Serving suggestion: Play with friends! Don’t take it too seriously, you’ll probably fail some levels several time before your group finds its rhythm. Best played with the same group of friends so you can build a rapport within the game – also starting a new group means you’ll likely need to start from level 1 again which can become tedious for anyone further into the game.

Co-op, Online multiplayer with friends (Overcooked 2 only), Local multiplayer, Seasonal event

AmazonXbox OnePS4Steam Switch


Honourable Mentions

Crypt of the Necrodancer

A roguelike that’s also a rhythm game. I’m absolutely awful at it but the soundtrack is great fun, and you can also use your own music.

Spiritfarer

A lovely interpretation of the underworld theme: you get to know a collection of ghosts as you ferry them to the great beyond. We’re looking forward to playing it this Halloween after enjoying Khryseis‘ playthrough.

The Yawhg

Basically a precursor to Monster Prom. You make decisions about how to spend your time before a catastrophe occurs. Monster Prom has a greater focus on the events happening as you play, but The Yawhg gives you a bit more about how you fare after everything’s done.

The Ship

This spiritual predecessor to Among Us is the Video Game version of the real-life game Assassin, where you must blend into the passengers of a cruise ship while you covertly kill off your friends one-by-one.

Gat out of Hell

It’s Saints Row 4, but in Hell. What’s not to like about that?

Grim Fandango

A classic point-and-click adventure from 1998 with a 2015 remake. Play as a skeleton travel agent in the land of the dead, and get caught up in an afterlife conspiracy!

Costume Quest

A cute adventure/role-playing game that takes place on Halloween, Costume Quest puts you in the shoes of two trick-or-treating twins who must fight through a bunch of monsters using their Halloween costumes that let them transform into whatever they’re dressed as.

Cuties of Zendikar

Magic: The Gathering card art; Prowling Felidar. A horned wolf-like creature carries a large fish.

Magic: The Gathering -Zendikar Rising’s Cutest Creatures Ranked


A few weeks ago, Zendikar Rising brought a host of new cards to Magic: The Gathering Arena. The new set invites players back for another round of questing on the adventure plane of Zendikar.

With paper Magic off the cards for most of us and controversy rife, we could all benefit from reconnecting with the parts of the game we love.

That’s why I’ve assessed all the cutest creatures in Magic: The Gathering Zendikar Rising and rounded up just the top five.

Need help getting into the spirit of things? This is the only time you get to yell “get in my party!” at the screen without being ostracised. Alright, let’s rope-swing into the fray!

Magic: The Gather card art; Tajuru Snarecaster. A rock-climbing elf throws a rope to the viewer.
Tajuru Snarecaster bids you welcome


New for Zendikar Rising, the Party mechanic (real name) provides payoffs for playing members of the traditional D&D gang:

Your party consists of up to one each of Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard.

Now, I like to party as much as the next Magic player. Possibly a bit more. But if you’ve been focusing on packing party members into your decks, you’re missing out on the best part of the new expansion.

Disregard parties; acquire cuties

Not all cards are created equal: some are objectively cuter, and that’s what we’re here for. Consider, if you will, a new kind of party.

Forget rogues, clerics, warriors and wizards; the folk you really want at your side when the going gets tough are the ones with soft fur and big puppy eyes. 

Honourable mentions

Honourable mention number one goes to our Jamie’s favourite new mana dork, Tangled Florahedron.

Flora, formerly a rune-carved stone hedron, has been stunningly brought to life in this double-sided art from Randy Vargas. And she’s got a lot going for her: those shockingly good looks hide tantalising mysteries. Just check out the flavour text hints about the ‘unfettered wonder’ of new life blossoming on Zendikar.

It’s lovely, yes. But we’ve been around Zendikar long enough to treat mystery with a touch of suspicion, no?

Magic: the Gathering card art; Nahiri's Binding. Spiky hedrons surround Jace. They do not look cute this time.
You’ll be sad when Flora goes all Nahiri’s Binding on your ass

Honourable mention number two is going to be divisive. The latest printing of Lotus Cobra is 60% pretty flowers but the snake still gives me the heebie-jeebies. If it’s your favourite, then I’m sorry, but snakes and spiders are disqualified.

Similarly, I’ve nothing against Skyclave Geopede, but we’re pursuing the maximum cuteness for the maximum number of people here. More than six legs or fewer than two, and you’re out.

So without further ado, here are the cutest creatures you can take for a walk round Zendikar Rising.

Zendikar Rising’s five cutest creatures

Magic: the Gathering card; Veteran Adventurer. A human rides the cutest scaly six-legged beast.

5. Veteran Adventurer

He is a Good Boy. I am of course referring to the six-legged steed, who I prefer to think of as the veteran in question. Perhaps he’s mentoring the tiny human through their first adventure? Either way, I would like more details and perhaps a novel about their exploits.

Adventurer doesn’t make it further up the ranking because it’s frankly hard to see what’s going on. Get that hairy rump out into the sun, friend!

Magic: the Gathering card; Gnarlid Colony. Several of the cutest horned beasts perch in trees.

4. Gnarlid Colony

My only gripe with Gnarlid Colony is that it could do with more gnarlids. These horned hunks look something like a koala (famously grumpy) crossed with an antelope (famously spiky). It’s fair to say there are some questions I’d like answered before inviting a Colony home.

As a result, I’ve had to mark them down for temperament, but there’s no doubt you want them on your side.

3. Felidars (as seen on Felidar Retreat & Prowling Felidar)

These fluffy friends will catch your dinner and cuddle afterwards. Their lush fur makes them perfect fireside companions -and their fangs are bound to come in handy, too. Will watch over you during wild camping adventures.

In your cutie party, I imagine Felidar is going to act a lot like FFXV’s hyperactive groupie, Prompto -although without the hair gel, hopefully. 

I’m a big fan of the showcase art treatments Wizards have commissioned to highlight the landfall theme in Zendikar Rising. Since both Felidar Retreat and Prowling Felidar are featured in that series, I couldn’t pick a favourite: it’s a tie for bronze.

Magic: the Gathering card; Lullmage's Familiar. The cutest spiny blue lizard climbs out of a rucksack.

2. Lullmage’s Familiar

Not everybody is a fan of Simic’s -how can I put this –hands-on approach to evolution. I’ll be the first to admit there have been some spectacular failures in the cutie department. (Hydroid Krasis, I’m looking at you.)

But don’t let that colour your opinion of this Familiar. He’s hitched a ride in your rucksack just to spend the day together and -according to the flavour text -might also charge your phone?

Either way, we can’t get enough of this mischievous stowaway. Welcome to the party, Familiar. Enjoy your silver medal!

1. Canyon Jerboa

The only downside to this card is that I’m no longer going to win any quizzes for knowing what a jerboa is.

Look at that snoot! And those gracious, tufted ears!

Bonus points for the alternative art clinched the victory for Canyon Jerboa. Who wouldn’t want an adventuring companion with Sandshrew’s looks, Raichu’s tail and creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn?!


Cutest groupings: is this a deck?

Now, I did promise you could take these cuties for a walk, but I have to be honest: that’s going to depend on whether you want to win any games. 

All of our picks pull their weight in the Limited format -so no major concerns provided you’re happy taking them out one at a time. But if you want to ramp up the cutie count (don’t call it a draft strat), here are Hexagorgon’s compatibility hints:

Rediscovering the Magic

There’s no denying we have a lot to worry about -as Magic players and as human beings. But, by focusing on things that bring us joy -no matter how small or fluffy -we can build resilience.

I hope this tour of Zendikar Rising’s cutest creatures helped you reconnect with one of Magic: The Gathering’s most underrated attributes.

How are you finding Zendikar Rising? If you’ve scored a handful of cuties, let us know -and yes, pictures are welcome!

Elves All The Way Down Episode 1: Historic

Welcome to Elves All The Way Down, the quasi-fortnightly Magic: The Gathering Stream/Video/Article series where we try to play the best tribe in Magic in as many formats as possible. “What is that tribe?” I hear you ask, as if the title hadn’t already given the game away. Well, my dear reader, that tribe is Elves.

The Elf creature type has always fascinated me as a Magic player. Within Magic, Elves fulfil the role of Green’s ‘characteristic creature type’, but beyond that categorisation, they have one of the strongest mechanical identities of any creature type in the game.

Elves make mana.

Lots of mana.

Once you’ve got lots of mana, it’s somewhat trivial to win the game. Craterhoof Behemoth? That’ll do it. Activate Ezuri, Renegade Leader a bunch of times? That’ll do it too. Cast Finale of Devastation for an X of ten? That’s a lot.

As this series progresses, we’ll tackle a wide swathe of Magic formats, tuning and adapting our Elf decks over time as we revisit formats. On that note, for this Episode, we’re starting in…

Historic

The non-rotating format designed specifically for play on Magic Arena was originally devoid of an Elf deck, but Wizards of the Coast printed a few Elf pieces into the format via the Historic Anthology sets. Then came Jumpstart, a product about mashing together different themes, where Elves were lucky enough to get some new toys. We gained the shiny new Allosaurus Shepherd and had Elvish Archdruid and Craterhoof Behemoth added to the format (both of which are staples of Elf decks in other formats). Finally, Amonkhet Remastered provided the cherry on top – it added Collected Company to the format.

So, where does that leave us? Well, here’s the deck we’ll be starting with for Historic:

This deck is my own take on some Elf lists I’ve seen floating around. Some player prefer to take a more aggressive slant on the deck. They tend to include big beaters like Steel Leaf Champion and more lord effects in Elvish Clancaller. I’m sure we’ll try that version out at some point, but for now we are sticking to what Elves do best. [Editor’s Note: He’s talking about making mana again.]

The decklist falls into a few main categories:

Mana

The selection of mana-dorks in Historic isn’t ideal, but we can make do. We have the original ‘mana elf’ in Llanowar Elves, which is secretly the best card in the deck. The Modern Elves staple, Elvish Archdruid provides us with large amounts of mana from one creature and pumps our whole team for when we want to get aggressive. To supplement these two, we have Marwyn, the Nurturer, who is doing a good impression of being Archdruid copies 5 through 8 and Paradise Druid as a resilient 2-drop mana-dork. If Historic ever gets another 1-drop mana elf, such as Elvish Mystic or Fyndhorn Elves, Paradise Druid will be the first to step down. Finally, we have Llanowar Visionary, which is the combination of my favourite elf (Elvish Visionary) and Llanowar Elves.

Multi-Elves

Now, a lot of the cards we play care a lot about the number of Elves (or creatures) we control. To help prop up these counts, we play two cards that can put two Elves into play at the cost of one card. That’s almost like card advantage or something, whatever that is.

Collected Company also has the additional benefit of being an Instant, which allows us to play around countermagic and boardwipes by playing on our opponent’s turn.

Win Conditions

While playing a bunch of Elves and making a big Marwyn or pumping them all with an Archdruid can lead to some wins, we have a few cards that can really push things over the edge. All three of these cardstake the large number of Elves we’re playing and directly convert them into our opponent being dead.

Allosaurus Shepherd and Finale of Devastation provide additional utility in beating countermagic and tutoring for specific cards, whereas Craterhoof Behemoth just straight up kills people.

Sideboard

The sideboard for the deck is currently a work-in-progress. Hopefully we’ll get a better feel for it after we’ve played some games with the deck and seen what the Historic metagame looks like.

I’ve included some general purpose answers to things like board wipes (Heroic Intervention and Lead the Stampede), graveyard strategies (Loaming Shaman and Scavenging Ooze) and aggressive decks (Primal Might and Setessan Petitioner). We’ll see how well I’ve covered our bases against different archetypes during our games.

The Games

So, how did we do? I’d say pretty well, overall. We achieved 5 wins over 7 matches with our only two losses being to the same deck: Blue-White Control. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t come across any Goblin decks, seeing as people are talking about it being the boogeyman of the format at the moment and I think we have a real chance to compete against them in terms of speed. (I’d also rank our little red friends as the second best tribe in Magic after our Elves).

Grixis Control

Two of our matches were against Grixis Control, which we managed to do much better against compared to Blue-White. I’d put this down to a few factors. For starters, the Grixis board wipes could sometimes be beaten by making our creatures too big, rather than relying entirely on our sideboarded Heroic Interventions. There were situations where an activation of Allosaurus Shepherd would save us from an Anger of the Gods or our Marwyn was too big for Hour of Devastation. Furthermore, the Grixis decks lacked Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, a card that could seal the deal after a boardwipe, and Settle the Wreckage, which is probably the best ‘board wipe’ against us because it beats Craterhoof.

Grixis Pyromancer and Gruul Aggro

We were able to outmatch other more board-state oriented decks, like Grixis Pyromancer and Gruul Aggro, by generally outclassing them in board presence and synergy. Our game loss to Gruul came as our opponent removed a key elf, presenting a very fast clock while we stumbled to rebuild. I generally consider these to be good matchups and, as long as we respect how fast they can be, we don’t need to change the deck too much to deal with them.

Breach Combo

Fortunately for us, the one time we faced a combo deck, we were able to present a fast enough clock before they could assemble their combo in game one. This meant that our sideboard cards only had to pull their weight in one other game. This particular match-up would benefit greatly from more graveyard hate, but Scavenging Ooze did enough this time round to power us through. I don’t want to focus too much on this specific combo deck as there are many variations on the combo archetype that we can face and we need to be able to compete with them all.

Blue-White Control

Blue-White Control presented a near-insurmountable number of answers to what we’re trying to do. We really could do with a second one-mana mana-dork to help speed up the deck so that we can have a board presence AND an answer by the time they’re casting boardwipes. Furthermore, we can consider adding white mana to our deck so that we can run Shalai, Voice of Plenty in the sideboard as a silver bullet against Settle the Wreckage. Finale of Devastation gives us the ability to run a single copy of cards like Shalai and still reliably find them when needed.

White mana can also give us access to better graveyard hate in Rest in Peace and a bunch of additional silver bullets like Aven Mindcensor, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Containment Priest. This greatly improves our sideboard while also giving us the chance to try out some hidden gems like Huatli, Radiant Champion if we want to try and go even bigger than before.

The deck held up extremely well, however the exact numbers of cards can almost certainly be tweaked to make the deck run more smoothly.

Next Time

I’m excited to see how Zendikar Rising can help the deck. Next time we come back to Historic, we’ll be trying out Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood as a way of dropping our land count while increasing our chances of finding Craterhoof Behemoth. We’ll also be testing out the white sideboard plan, with new silver bullets Yasharn, Implacable Earth and Archon of Emeria helped along by the perfect new MDFC (Modal Double Faced Card) land, Branchloft Pathway // Boulderloft Pathway. We’ll also try out the more aggro version of elves at some point and see how that competes with the field.

However, we’re going to step away from Historic for a few weeks. Next time, we’ll be playing some GW Combo Elves in Modern and finding out what’s happened to the format in the last year. Join us then to see how often we can go infinite and make some arbitrarily large elves.