Brazen Buccaneers | Illustration by Joseph Meehan
2017’s Ixalan brought the explore mechanic to Magic. It’s a simple keyword that fits in the set’s themes of hidden cities, treks through the wilderness, and (of course) exploration.
It’s popped up on cards in supplementary products here and there, but it hasn’t been used much since its inception. But what exactly is explore? What are the best ways to take advantage of it?
Let’s jump in and find out!
What Is Explore in Magic?
Jadelight Ranger | Illustration by Jason Rainville
Explore is an action that reveals the top card of your library and puts it into your hand if the revealed card is a land. If it’s not a land, the creature that explored gets a +1/+1 counter, and that creature’s controller chooses between keeping the revealed card on top of their library or putting it in their graveyard.
This mechanic generally shows up on creatures as an ETB effect, but other spells and abilities can cause a creature to explore, occasionally multiple times. The idea is that your creatures are literally exploring new territory (or finding new lands) and growing as they search.
This mechanic is fun, simple, and flavorful. There’s a slog of Draft filler among the good explore cards, but it’s worth, uh, exploring. Shall we?
White Explore Cards Ranked
#3. Sunrise Seeker
#2. Emissary of Sunrise
Emissary of Sunrise is certainly a better Draft card, but that doesn’t transfer over to Commander. Games of EDH just don’t come down to efficient bodies and combat keywords that often.
#1. Seasoned Dungeoneer
Seasoned Dungeoneer is perhaps the best explore card, full stop. It’s also one of the best party, initiative, and protection cards in the game. It’s wild how many mechanics this creature ties together, and explore is more of an afterthought than the main reason to play it.
Blue Explore Card Ranked
#1. Siren Lookout
Siren Lookout is all you get if you’re looking for blue explore cards. Perhaps Lost Caverns of Ixalan will expand this, but I’d be on the lookout for anything better.
Black Explore Cards Ranked
#6. Queen’s Agent
Six mana is way too much for Queen’s Agent. The higher up on the curve you go with explore effects, the worse they get. The mechanic works especially well on cheaper creatures since they can spike a land off the top in the early game or let you double-spell in the late game.
#5. Dire Fleet Interloper
All I can really say about Dire Fleet Interloper is that it exists and you’re allowed to play it. I don’t recommend it, but maybe you just really want an explore creature that works with your Labyrinth Raptor.
#4. Seeker’s Squire
Unlike a lot of filler explore cards Seekers’ Squire is a fine card on rate but still falls short at EDH tables. Extreme budget decks could play this as a graveyard enabler, but there are so many other better options.
#3. Tomb Robber
Tomb Robber isn’t a great card, but it is unique compared to most of the ETB explore creatures. I can envision decks that might be interested in this card as a discard outlet and potential graveyard enabler.
#2. Legion Vanguard
Sacrifice outlets are great in Commander. Even the less exciting ones like Legion Vanguard have a place in dedicated aristocrats decks. There’s better, but there’s certainly worse.
#1. Deadeye Tracker
Slow to get going, Deadeye Tracker provides repeatable graveyard hate, which almost always comes in handy for Commander games. It’s not best-in-class at any angle, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve played this card before.
Red Explore Card Ranked
#1. Brazen Buccaneers
Red, as with blue, only has one explore card to speak of, and it’s not good. Brazen Buccaneers is basically the same design as Dire Fleet Interloper without those sweet, sweet Labyrinth Raptor synergies.
Green Explore Cards Ranked
#7. Ixalli’s Diviner
There’s a better 2-mana explore creature in green. Unless you’re going for a critical mass of explore cards, there’s not much of a reason to pull Ixalli’s Diviner out of the bulk box.
#6. Tishana’s Wayfinder
#5. Enter the Unknown
I like the idea of this card, although I’ve never seen it cast. Enter the Unknown does its best impression of Explore, but it needs a creature on board to target. You can’t always use it early enough in the game for it to have a relevant effect.
#4. Emperor’s Vanguard
Any card that can explore more than once is going to be worth consideration, but Emperor’s Vanguard isn’t the best way to do that. The contact ability is good but it’s a lot harder to get a 4/3 with no evasion through than it may seem.
#3. Merfolk Branchwalker
I’ve seen Merfolk Branchwalker pull its weight in Commander. It’s never going to be close to the best card in your deck, but it sits at a nice cross-section of different strategies including merfolk tribal, +1/+1 counter decks, and self-mill/graveyard strategies.
#2. Jadelight Ranger
Jadelight Ranger is kind of like the cooler out-of-town brother of Merfolk Branchwalker. It does exactly what Branchwalker does, and then it does it again. It’s a fine card for hitting land drops and makes for a decent blink target.
#1. Path of Discovery
Path of Discovery is almost certainly the best explore card right now. Whether you run this in heavy token decks, blink decks, or creature-heavy decks, this does a great job of squeezing extra value out of your creatures.
Ixalan had three build-around cards that explicitly benefitted you for having explore cards in your deck. Wildgrowth Walker made its mark on Standard while Lurking Chupacabra served as a signpost uncommon for an explore deck in Limited. Shadowed Caravel proved to be a complete dud and only ate up the rare slot in your draft booster.
These cards are all a bit disparate from one another and don’t really come together to form an “explore” deck of any sort. They might go up in value if there are more of the mechanic in the future.
You only have a slight bit of control over whether explore is going to put a +1/+1 counter on your creature or draw you a land. You should be hitting nonlands about two-thirds of the time in the average deck, so you can use explore cards to get your counter synergies going.
The nice thing is that you don’t have to put in any extra work. Your creatures come equipped with their own counters if you’re revealing non-lands with explore. Path of Discovery sees a healthy amount of play in +1/+1 counter-based decks for its ability to have your creatures come into play with counters already on them.
Explore might best be used to facilitate filling up your graveyard by milling over cards you don’t need to draw. You have the option to put the revealed card in the graveyard when explore reveals a nonland, which can help your reanimation and recursion spells.
The bad news is that there aren’t a lot of great explore cards that gel with this play style. Path of Discovery works here as well as anything, but there aren’t many compelling cards that repeatably explore outside of maybe Tomb Robber and Deadeye Tracker.
Explore Your Options
Tishana’s Wayfinder | Illustration by Shreya Shetty
That’s all the exploring to be done for now. Explore has been used sparsely since its debut, but I’m confident it’ll return in the future. It’s clean and simple, but it doesn’t feel like any of the current roster of explore cards really push the envelope.
How are you using explore cards in your Commander decks? What types of strategies do you find yourself playing these cards in? Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim on Discord.
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