The Lost Caverns of Ixalan releases today on Magic Online and MTG Arena, and there are plenty of great cards to experiment with. Some cards, such as the reprint of Cavern of Souls, are relatively straight-forward inclusions, in this case for a wide variety of kindred strategies. However, there are plenty of cards that showcase immense potential, but take some work to build around them or don’t have an obvious home right away.
One of the more underrated build-around cards is none other Tarrian’s Journal. Tarrian’s Journal has two very relevant abilities, each of which can be strong in the right shell. While finding ways to transform the card and start reanimating Creatures every turn is definitely the flashiest use of the card, Tarrian’s Journal can be used as a consistent form of card advantage, too. This is, of course, as long as you have a wide range of sacrifice fodder.
Fortunately, there are lots of format staples that help enable Tarrian’s Journal, especially in Standard. The key is knowing how best to build around and utilize the powerful Artifact. Let’s start by taking a look at one of the more impressive interactions available in the Standard format.
Tarrian’s Journal and Oni-Cult Anvil
One of the styles of decks that never quite broke out in Standard is Rakdos sacrifice. Back in September, one player did put up a solid performance with the archetype at the Magic World Championship. The goal was to maximize cards like Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester that made Artifact tokens when they entered the battlefield. These cards helped enable Oni-Cult Anvil, an elite value engine that could slowly churn out tokens and drain the opponent.
Part of the issue with the deck was that it was rather reliant on Anvil as a grindy element. Well, Tarrian’s Journal is an absolutely perfect addition to this strategy. First, being able to convert all of your Blood tokens into card advantage is a great way to pull ahead without sacrificing much board presence. With Oni-Cult Anvil out, things can start to get out of hand rather quickly. Every turn, you can sacrifice an Artifact to draw a card, immediately netting you a Construct in the process. This Construct can be used as sacrifice fodder too, since sacrificing the Construct with Anvil in play simply generates another one.
Tarrian’s Journal and Urabrask’s Forge
If that weren’t enough, this deck already played a playset of Urabrask’s Forge, which synergizes incredibly well with Tarrian’s Journal. Urabrask’s Forge is naturally decent against midrange and control decks with lots of removal or board wipes. The thing is, the token created typically only holds value if it can connect in combat. If your opponent has a blocker with high toughness, such as Raffine, Scheming Seer, Urabrask’s Forge takes a long time to have a meaningful impact on the game.
That’s where Tarrian’s Journal comes into play. Every turn, you can choose whether to attack like normal with the Phyrexian token, depending on your opponent’s board presence. If you choose not to attack or your Creature successfully survives combat, you can freely sacrifice it on your second main phase for card advantage, since the Creature would be sacrificed at the end of the turn anyway. The fact that Tarrian’s Journal can sacrifice either Artifacts or Creatures makes it surprisingly versatile, and while the Sorcery-speed restriction does prevent you from sacrificing Creatures in response to removal, it’s not too difficult to set up situations where you are gaining card advantage every turn.
Rakdos Sacrifice in Pioneer
Beyond Standard, there seems to be a bit of a debate regarding whether Tarrian’s Journal has what it takes to show up in Rakdos sacrifice in Pioneer. Unlike in Standard, the Pioneer variant has minimal room for flex slots, and the inclusion of Witch’s Oven alongside Cauldron Familiar means that there’s less of a need for sacrifice outlets. That being said, outside of Deadly Dispute, this archetype has lacked a source of card advantage, and playing a couple copies of Tarrian’s Journal helps make Claim the Firstborn more consistent.
Getting to sacrifice Blood and Treasure tokens as well as Unlucky Witness to start churning through your deck is a nice bonus. None of this even factors in the fact that, in some attrition-based matchups where you are running low on resources, transforming Tarrian’s Journal can be pretty powerful. Getting to bring back a copy of Mayhem Devil or Bloodtithe Harvester in a grindy game is a great option to have.
Abusing the Transformation
In general, the best time to transform Tarrian’s Journal would be on your opponent’s end step when you have no cards in hand. Since Tarrian’s Journal needs to tap to transform into a Land in the first place, you can’t activate the Land right away regardless. The thing is, this directly conflicts with the card advantage Tarrian’s Journal normally can provide, so typically transforming Tarrian’s Journal will be done later in the game when necessary.
Some Commanders, though, actually encourage you to transform Tarrian’s Journal ahead of schedule. Toluz, Clever Conductor, for example, actually allows you to recoup the resources you would normally lose when you discard your hand when it dies. In this sense, you get the full benefit of the powerful, transformed Land without the risk of running out of cards to play normally.
Importantly, while the ability to sacrifice Artifacts or Creatures for card advantage can only be done at Sorcery speed, transforming Tarrian’s Journal can be done at Instant speed. This means that if you cast a card like Windfall, you can hold priority, activate Tarrian’s Journal to transform it and discard your hand before Windfall resolves. This way, you reap the rewards from Windfall without falling too far behind on cards.
Some Commanders also benefit from you having a minimal number of cards in hand. Transforming Tarrian’s Journal guarantees an immediate buff to all of your Minotaur Creatures with Neheb, the Worthy in play, for instance. Additionally, this minimizes the effect Neheb has on you when it connects in combat, as it forces everyone to discard cards but you are already Hellbent. From there, you can continue to return Creatures from your graveyard to play over time. These Creatures do enter the battlefield with finality counters on them, though, so they can’t be continuously reanimated under normal circumstances.
Still, having this continuous effect on a Land is awesome. The fact that both sides of Tarrian’s Journal provide value in different ways is nice, and there’s no pressure to transform it if you’re content just drawing extra cards. In the right shell, Tarrian’s Journal threatens to take over the game, and this upside gives it multi-format potential.