Before there were Pirates and Dinosaurs, before there were Treasure tokens and double-faced cards, there was Vraska.
At least, for me.
When I heard that Vraska was on the plane of Ixalan, the prospect of getting a green, black, and gold planeswalker (at least I hoped, based on her previous printing) eclipsed everything else that would’ve otherwise excited me about the new set. I couldn’t wait! We Golgari mages have gotten some gifts in the recent years, but the one thing that we haven’t had is a multicolored planeswalker. With Liliana, the Last Hope, Ob Nixilis, Reignited, and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar rotating out of Standard, I had worried that we might not even have much to be excited about in our monocolored planeswalkers.
But Vraska is here, and she doesn’t disappoint!
At 6 mana, you should start out by looking at Vraska, Relic Seeker as a useful tool rather than a format-defining card. It might be too much to hope that Vraska will match the dominance and widespread appeal of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. But even weaker planeswalkers like Ajani Unyielding get a bit of sideboard love. Perhaps we can hope that Vraska will step into the shoes of Sorin, Grim Nemesis—a 2-of curvetopper in the decks that really want her—or a 1-of bullet to consider for any midrange deck in the right colors.
For a 6 mana planeswalker, Vraska has everything you’re looking for. First, she has a high starting loyalty—with the ability to tick right up to 8, she’s exceptional in this category. Second, she protects herself by producing blockers or by killing an opposing threat (potentially two back-to-back). Exceptional. Third, she can have a big immediate impact when you cast her—I’ll get into this in depth, but rest assured that she checks this box as well. Fourth, she provides a long-run advantage if she stays in play. This is mostly due to her deadly and easily-reachable ultimate ability. Fifth, she stabilizes the board if you’re in trouble by killing your opponent’s best threat and soaking up some damage.
In the last two categories, Vraska earns passing—but not exceptional—marks. Generating tokens is fine, but since Vraska does not draw extra cards, she doesn’t generate quite as irreversible an advantage as Ob Nixilis or Sorin, Grim Nemesis. It’s within the realm of possibility that you could have her in play for 2 turns before your opponent topdecks an answer, and you could still lose a close game after that. Finally, she can stabilize the board, but not your life total. I would’ve really loved some lifegain or the ability to neutralize multiple attackers to make her a bit better against Mono-Red.
All in all, Vraska, Relic Seeker strikes me as being on par with Sorin, Grim Nemesis. I’ll go in with the optimism that she could be a bit better! But who knows? The bottom line is that Sorin was a great card, and Vraska looks to be a great card as well.
My favorite thing about Vraska is her ability to kill noncreature permanents. In this way, she corrects a big weakness of the black color. Green has reasonable options for dealing with artifacts, but it requires some commitment to that cause before you’re willing to main deck Dissenter’s Deliverance or Manglehorn. Killing enchantments is much harder, and I’m particularly excited by the prospect of freeing my permanents from underneath Cast Out. In a control or midrange mirror match, there’s a big difference between an opponent using Cast Out or Ixalan’s Binding on your Verdurous Gearhulk and knowing it’s gone for good, versus having that question mark of one or two answers to enchantments waiting somewhere in your deck. And as is always the case in Magic, having an answer to unexpected threats is invaluable. (There’s even a cycle of powerful enchantments already previewed in Ixalan!)
Now that I know that I want to use Vraska, the question becomes how should I use Vraska?
The most obvious way is to insert her into an existing G/B Energy shell.
Energy builds of G/B lose very little in the rotation. Hissing Quagmire, Grasp of Darkness, and some sideboard options are the bulk of it. In the meantime, it gained Duress, Vraska’s Contempt, and of course, Vraska herself. A good deck that goes mostly unchanged is likely to still be a good deck (perhaps a great deck) in Ixalan Standard.
But a 6-drop value card is more at home in a defense deck than an aggressive one. Unfortunately, defensive B/G decks took a much bigger hit, losing Traverse the Ulvenwald, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Tireless Tracker.
Merfolk Branchwalker is an unassuming card from Ixalan, but might be just what value-oriented green decks are looking for. When you get a 2/1 that draws you a land, you have a great card that helps you get the resources you’ll need to get up to your 5- and 6-mana spells. When you miss a land, you get a 3/2 that effectively scrys, which is a totally respectable play that can trade off with an opposing creature or pressure a control deck.
Nonetheless, what grindy G/B decks are really missing is a midgame source of card advantage to fill the shoes of Tireless Tracker, Courser of Kruphix, Dark Confidant, and the like. Perhaps the best home for Vraska is in a multicolored planeswalker deck like Sultai or Jund.
There’s still a bit of work to be done before we find the best home for Vraska, Relic Seeker. But I do believe that we have a strong card on our hands, and that she’s well worth the trouble.