by Phoenix Desertsong, Old School Duelist
Every so often, we come across cards that seem to only see play at the fringes of competitive play, but seem to have far greater potential on paper. One card from Hour of Devastation that has shown clear signs of being such a card is Wildfire Eternal. It has been one of those cards that still show movement on various popular card selling platforms that don't show up often in competitive play. Cards like these that we come to term “casual hits,”
So, for a card that’s seen little Standard play outside of an occasional Red/Green Energy deck, what’s so special about Wildfire Eternal? First of all, Wildfire Eternal has a very interesting conglomeration of creature types: Zombie Jackal Cleric. There aren’t a lot of Red Zombies running around, so he has that going for him. Second of all, he has the Afflict mechanic. This allows him to pair well with a Legendary Creature from Hour of Devastation, Neheb, the Eternal.
Wildfire Eternal's Afflict 4 means that if he is blocked, that defending player loses 4 life. That’s pretty powerful. The fact that Wildfire Eternal only has 1 power isn’t really that big of a deal, since he has 4 power. He also has a very powerful second effect.
While it’s hardly a unique ability, being able to cast an instant or sorcery card for free from your hand is very powerful. This can happen whenever Wildfire Eternal attacks and isn’t blocked. There are plenty of good cards that you can threaten using this ability. It makes an opponent have to decide between losing 4 life and potentially having you cast a powerful card. All this for 4 mana is not a bad deal at all.
This is a far more powerful creature than the last one that had a similar ability, Oracle of Bones. That Minotaur had this ability when it entered the battlefield if its Tribute wasn’t paid. What’s a Tribute, you ask? In this case, it meant that the Tribute ability didn’t activate if an opponent decided to let the Oracle gain two +1/+1 counters.
The Oracle was a fragile 3/1 without the Tribute, so making it into a 5/3 was a fair trade-off most of the time. While the Oracle of Bones did see some play in Standard, it didn’t really make many waves as it was a vanilla 5/3 most of the time - although it did have haste.
While Wildfire Eternal doesn’t have haste, you can potentially get a lot of value from his attacks. But his lack of being able to immediately attack is probably why he saw little Standard play. This by no means makes him a bad card overall.
Was There a Deck in Standard for Wildfire Eternal?
There was a deck for Wildfire Eternal in Standard, however. It’s a variation on some of the Approach of the Second Sun combo decks which enjoyed some success. Here’s one variation of it on Deckstats called Second Eternal Sun:
3 Aether Hub
1 Blighted Cataract
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Approach of the Second Sun
2 Essence Scatter
3 Glimmer of Genius
2 Harnessed Lightning
3 Hieroglyphic Illumination
2 Reason // Believe
3 Saheeli Rai
4 Slip Through Space
4 Wildfire Eternal
2 Commit // Memory
1 Essence Scatter
3 Fevered Visions
2 Hour of Devastation
2 Sphinx of the Final Word
2 Sweltering Suns
3 The Locust God
This is a pretty cool deck that Wildfire Eternal plays a big role in. Approach of the Second Sun is a pretty cool win condition if you can happen to cast two copies in the same turn. Wildfire Eternal allows you to potentially cast at least one copy for free. Slip Through Space, in particular, is a cute way to get him through without being blocked. Saheeli Rai is a great way to copy your Eternal and give that token haste so that you can get instant value from him. Reason / Believe is a great way to dig through your deck in its first half, and Believe can help you cheat a Wildfire Eternal into play.
Is this Wildfire Eternal & Approach of the Second Sun combo deck any good? It has the pieces to be good, certainly. We’ll see how it actually performs in the long run.
Wildfire Eternal in EDH
Of course, if Wildfire Eternal is not going to see much play in Standard or Modern, why not EDH? After all, casting an instant or sorcery for free in EDH is a big deal. Unsurprisingly, he’s been included in a few Neheb, the Eternal decks so far. But he hasn’t been an auto-include in any EDH deck yet. Still, there are some very powerful cards that he can allow you to cast for free.
In the early going, Wildfire Eternal saw play in some Nicol Bolas and Nekusar, the Mindrazer decks in order to cheat in some very useful spells. He'd later find a home in Neheb, the Eternal EDH decks, as well as Jodah, Archmage Eternal and Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge decks.
In Nicol Bolas, casting Dark Intimations, a five-mana spell with three colors in its casting cost, for free, is very strong. Slave of Bolas is a fun card to cheat in, as well - stealing a creature, giving it haste, then sacrificing it. Dropping Cruel Ultimatum, a seven-mana spell with lots of color requirements, is even better. While nowhere as exciting in Nekusar, dropping a Past in Flames or Reforge the Soul for free is certainly useful.
While you won’t see him in a competitive Modern deck any time soon, and probably much in Standard, either, Wildfire Eternal is a useful card nonetheless. Its foil price is around $3, which is not a high number for a useful rare. It could rise over time if it finds more permanent homes, but clearly it already has some demand.
Whenever you have a free card attached to another card, it’s going to see play somewhere. If it’s a casual hit, you should be sure to hold onto it. Wildfire Eternal is definitely a keeper.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Early returns on Hour of Devastation indicated that it wasn't one of the most “valuable” Magic the Gathering sets of recent years. Of course, there are some good, playable cards in the set that trended positively when it came to singles sales. One of these is the Red mythic rare Legendary Minotaur, Neheb, the Eternal.
Neheb, the Eternal was an important card from Hour to Devastation to watch. The raw power of this creature was explored right away in Commander / EDH. It showed promise as both a Commander and as one of the “other 99” cards in a variety of EDH decks.
Not every Magic the Gathering set has them, but Hour of Devastation has a number of cards that could be termed as “Kitchen Table Magic all-stars.” Neheb, the Eternal is definitely one of these. As a mythic rare in a small set, he was poised to be valuable in both the near future and the long-term.
How Does Neheb, the Eternal Work?
A five-mana Mono Red Minotaur with 4 power and 6 toughness is a good start. Having “afflict 3” puts him into contention for Standard playability. Essentially, Afflict means that whenever an opponent blocks a creature which Afflict, the defending player loses a certain amount of life. In this case, that’s 3 life, or 15 percent of a player’s starting life total. That’s a lot.
But for 5 mana, this isn’t quite enough to find a home in competitive play. It’s what his final ability reads. At the beginning of your post-combat main phase, you get 1 Red mana for each one life your opponents have lost this turn. This means that if you play Neheb, the Eternal before combat and deal damage after his summoning, you can gain Red mana in the same turn.
Typically, unless you have a creature with haste, or need it to satisfy some other condition, you play creatures after combat. But, because Neheb, the Eternal can offer you a benefit in the same turn that he’s cast, he can help pay for himself.
How to Use Neheb the Eternal in Standard, Modern, and other 60-card Competitive Formats
Typically, for cards with a converted mana cost of 5 or more to see consistent Standard play, they must have an immediate effect on the game as soon as they enter play. The same is true for Modern, as well. But, the bar is set much higher for the potency of the card’s effect. While Neheb, the Eternal can start paying for himself in the same turn, he would have to be able to attack immediately (i.e. have Haste) to plug into that higher echelon of the mana curve.
While Neheb is probably too slow a card for Modern, in the right deck, he could fit into certain strategies in Standard. You would need to build a midrange sort of deck that has a strong life-loss engine. If you play a lot of creatures with Afflict, for example, Neheb would fit at the top of that curve.
A deck with Neheb, the Eternal would also have to lean towards predominantly Red mana, which is probably not a problem. There is the ability to build a Standard deck that could play a copy or two of Neheb, the Eternal to be an endgame finisher. But, his true strength would be in a Mono-Red deck, where his mana production will be most effective.
Neheb, the Eternal did enjoy some competitive Standard play. The decks were typically Gruul Ramp, red/green decks that focused on bringing out big efficient creatures like World Breaker quickly. Neheb definitely fit the bill. Another deck that had some success with Neheb was a rather creative Gruul Historic deck featured at a PPTQ in Northglen, Colorado. In both cases, only one copy of Neheb, the Eternal was played. He never really saw real success in any mono-Red decks.
Neheb, the Eternal in EDH / Commander & Kitchen Table Magic
As soon as you enter the multiplayer world of EDH, Neheb, the Eternal’s power level expands incredibly. Red mana acceleration stapled on a 4/6 creature with Afflict 4 becomes pretty relevant. There are so many ways to “ping” players in EDH that Neheb can generate a large amount of mana in a hurry.
Turning that mana into direct damage can end games quite quickly. Think of the mana that he could generate as part of a Heartless Hidetsugu strategy. That Commander has an ability to halve players' life totals on a regular basis!
Even in one-on-one EDH, you can set up Neheb, the Eternal in such a way to be a powerful mana generator, as well as a strong attacker. He’s a better multiplayer Commander than a 1-vs-1 Commander, but he’s still a solid creature. There are so many decent 5-mana Red creatures in Commander, however. Neheb, the Eternal needs to be part of a greater life loss/direct damage strategy (such as Purphoros, God of the Forge) to be effective.
In casual “Kitchen Table” Magic, Neheb, the Eternal is definitely worthy of attention. He’s a force in casual multiplayer games. But, even in traditional one-on-one Magic, he’s just a really fun card to play with and build around. This is a good creature that definitely has a future in the EDH and Kitchen Table Magic world that enjoyed his day in the sun in Standard.
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