Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Is Exploring in Magic?
Some Magic creatures, particularly from the Ixalan set, possess the rare explore ability. These effects usually trigger when a creature enters the field, at which point you reveal the top card of your deck. If it's a land, you add it to your hand; if not, you either place it back on top of your deck or in your graveyard (your choice), then your creature receives a +1/+1 counter.
While a bit unpredictable, this means you're either gaining extra draws or boosted creatures alongside deck manipulation, making exploring a versatile ability. Yet only a few dozen cards utilize the mechanic as of this writing; which reign supreme? These are the ten best explore cards (and supports) in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Tishana's Wayfinder
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 3
Wayfinder's 2/2 power and toughness aren't great, but she automatically explores upon arrival. This either buffs her to a respectable 3/3 or grants you a free land, both useful benefits.
Additionally, Wayfinder possesses the handy merfolk subtype and has several slots to accept any color, blending well in green/blue merfolk decks.
9. Emperor's Vanguard
Vanguard has decent 4/3 stats, but unlike most of today's troops, he doesn't automatically explore when he enters the arena. Instead, he explores whenever he inflicts combat damage to a player, granting a rare reusable exploration.
While I wish Vanguard had better subtypes, he can be a valuable long-term tool, especially when given blocker-deterring traits like trample, flying, and menace.
8. Shadowed Caravel
This vehicle requires you to "crew two" (tap creatures with total power of at least two) whenever you want it to attack or block. Additionally, Caravel itself won't explore. However, whenever any of your other units explore, Caravel receives a +1/+1 counter, gradually gaining strength.
In devoted explore decks, Caravel quickly becomes a looming threat, pressuring foes to spend a removal despite its low mana fee. Remember to keep an ally untapped and ready to crew when necessary.
7. Lurking Chupacabra
Chupacabra's subtypes aren't especially useful, and his 2/3 stats are disappointing. However, he offers several colorless slots, and while he himself doesn't explore, he weakens an opposing creature by -2/-2 for the turn whenever one of your other creatures does.
That's a significant drop that can kill several monsters outright, activate multiple times each turn, and since it specifically targets enemy units, you're never forced to activate it on yourself (in cases where you explore while opponents don't control any creatures).
6. Merfolk Branchwalker
Branchwalker has one less toughness than Wayfinder, but maintains the same power, subtypes, and exploration upon arrival. In exchange for that lost toughness, Branchwalker needs less mana, making her more accessible in the early stages of your game and the generally-superior choice.
5. Deadeye Tracker
Deadeye Tracker is a weak 1/1, but he only costs one mana and carries the pirate subtype. Plus, by spending two mana, tapping, and exiling two cards from an opponent's graveyard, he explores, another continuous exploration that simultaneously prevents graveyard revivals. Be sure to mill cards into opposing graveyards to continuously activate the trait.
4. Path of Discovery
Though it needs a fair chunk of resources, this enchantment simply has your creature explore when they enter the field. This works best when swarming tokens with cards like "Tendershoot Dryad" and "Leonin Warleader," rapidly overwhelming foes with boosted creatures and draws. But note the effect isn't optional, so you can't decline in the rare cases you'd want to (perhaps if you're getting milled), and it won't impact units already fielded.
3. Jadelight Ranger
Yet another green merfolk scout, Ranger is a bit color-locked, and her stats are a poor 2/1. However, she explores not once but twice upon entry, potentially arriving as a fierce 4/3.
If you reveal a non-land with the first explore, but you'd like a land, send it to the graveyard, giving your second venture a chance for a land. Alternatively, if you'd prefer the counters, simply keep the non-land on top to guarantee your bonus.
2. Wildgrowth Walker
Walker himself won't explore, but he's the mechanic's best support yet. For two mana, he starts as a decent 1/3 who can tank early hits, but Walker automatically gains a +1/+1 counter whenever a creature you control explores, quickly skyrocketing in strength. He also grants you life, providing a handy lifegain tool (especially for a non-white faction).
1. Enter the Unknown
Enter the Unknown offers a nice low-cost sorcery that works well even outside dedicated explore themes. For a single mana, you have any creature you control explore. Additionally, you can play an extra land during your turn.
If you end up drawing a land, you've basically gotten a cheaper version of "Growth Spiral" (in itself a good card), and if not, you boost a creature and gain an extra land play. Either way, you're getting two benefits for a single mana while filling your graveyard with a sorcery, useful for meeting "spell mastery" conditions on cards like "Nissa's Pilgrimage."
A common member of my own green commander decks, Unknown is a bargain value, costing less than fifty cents!
Exploring in Magic: The Arena
Most of today's cards are available in Magic's online Arena game, so be prepared to combat the occasional explore-based deck. More commonly, you'll see explorers sprinkled throughout other themes, from merfolk to white/green lifegain builds.
Exploring offers potential hand advantage (particularly helpful for green) plus boosted creatures, and I hope to see the mechanic spread in future sets. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of exploring creatures, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill