Breaking the Mirror
Midrange Red cards have always been very interesting and difficult to evaluate. People tend to look at red cards with low mana cost and keywords like “haste” through the lens of an aggressive deck, leading to some skewed perceptions of how good cards actually are. Goldspan Dragon is a great example of this from recent memory, where it was originally evaluated (in the context of Standard) as a tad too slow to be a great finisher for the Mono-Red Aggro decks of that era, where players instead gravitated towards Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and Embercleave as the way to close out games. While Goldspan Dragon’s presale price was not too low (due to EDH demand), its potential was not fully realized until people threw it into Temur Midrange piles, and it started dominating Standard. It makes sense why we do this, a vast majority of red cards are designed with aggression in mind, that’s just what the color does. Sometimes, however, a red card is able to play the midrange role very well, and that is what leads to designs such as Bonecrusher Giant, a card so ubiquitous in Pioneer as the “Mono-Red Mirror Breaker”, due to how impactful it is when playing against opposing creatures and aggressive decks. Well, with the introduction of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, we now have a new card to take that title (in a very literal sense).
I — Create a 2/2 red Goblin Shaman creature token with “Whenever this creature attacks, create a Treasure token.”
This new Saga comes down on turn three, and provides a slight impact to the board in the form of a 2/2 Goblin creature that tells your opponent, “hey, you should kill me before I get to attack”. Not the most threatening thing, but it does incentivise your opponent to cast a removal spell on it so you don’t gain a mana advantage, so it has that going for it.
II — You may discard up to two cards. If you do, draw that many cards.
The second chapter allows you to discard up to two cards, and draw that many. Again, not the highest impact thing a card can do, but it’s still very good. Since this triggers after your draw step, you will have all of the information you would want before making your decision of what to discard. This mode is particularly powerful in combo/high synergy decks such as Winota, where you really want to cash in your Tolovar’s Huntmasters, and any extra Winotas/Chariots that are rotting in your hand. In this deck, this mode is very close to “draw two cards”.
III — Exile this Saga, then return it to the battlefield transformed under your control.
This chapter is where things really get interesting. Like chapter one, this is another 2/2 Goblin that says “Kill me”, but this little goblin is turned up to 11. Where the last one allowed you to create a treasure token after you attacked with it, once this dude is off summoning sickness, he will be able to start generating an insane amount of advantage – the amount that your opponents are not usually able to come back from.
In a vacuum, it’s easy to see the type of things you can do here: trigger additional ETB effects, attack with disposable attackers, attack with MORE attackers. In the context of Pioneer, however, this side of the card has a LOT of uses.
The Fable of Winota
In what is debatably the best deck in Pioneer, Winota is able to take great advantage of all three chapters very well. It’s obvious to see why a non-human mana-producing creature is good, and we already discussed why chapter two is good in this deck, but the third chapter is super important in the mirrors and other grindy matchups. While you are able to copy your random creatures to attack with, the most powerful interaction is between Reflection of Kiki-Jiki and Voice of Resurgence. In the matchups where the only thing that matters is growing an insurmountable board (against Rakdos Midrange, Niv to Light, etc), you are able to create and sacrifice a Voice every turn, creating an elemental token whose power & toughness are equal to the amount of creatures you control. Unless your opponent is playing some way to go over the top of you, this interaction will almost always lead to victory, and comes up a LOT.
The Fable of Combat Celebrant
Another piece of new tech that Winota has been using to compliment Fable is Combat Celebrant. If you play EDH, you know that Celebrant goes infinite with Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror-Breaker by creating infinite attack steps, but this new version requires an additional mana each time to activate, so it can’t be broken or abused…. right? Well, all you need is a mana producing creature like Elvish Mystic, Llanowar Elves, or if the ground is clear, you can even use the Goblin Token that Fable created three turns ago. When you exert Combat Celebrant, it untaps all other creatures you control, not just the ones that attacked this turn, so you can use an elf and the Kiki to create your infinite combats, and defeat your opponent that way.
The Fable of Fable
If you want a much more all-in version of this deck, look no further than to the deck that myself and MTGO grinder TyrantofTales has been working on, a Gruul beatdown-style deck that plays the combo, and a few pieces to try to execute it even faster. Reckless Stormseeker allows you to haste up your Kiki-Jiki the turn it flips, allowing you to go off one turn earlier, as well as much larger creatures that reward you for attacking and hitting your opponent, mainly in the form of Garruk’s Harbinger and Werewolf Packleader. This strategy might lead itself well to a Collective Company style of deck, leveraging your large haste threats even harder, as you would want to move to cards like Gruul Spellbreaker or even Goblin Rabblemaster. This archetype has looked promising, and with all of the new eyes on Pioneer in the past few weeks, there will surely be a consensus on whether Combat Celebrant is a powerful enough card to see play in this macro-archetype.
The Fable of Rakdos
Lastly, this card fits super well into the generic midrange archetype of the format, Rakdos. This card will generate at least two bodies over the course of three turns, and will allow you to dump whatever you don’t need in any particular matchups, allowing you to play more flexible answers in game one. Throwing away Fatal Pushes against UW control, getting rid of excess lands, and even dropping Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger into the graveyard in matchups where you can’t afford the time to play it from your hand, all of these applications are perfect for midrange strategies, reminding us of why Faithless Looting performed so well in Mardu Pyromancer strategies in Modern. With the last powerful three-drop value engine found for Rakdos Midrange, the deck now has the flexibility to try new answers, which is why we are seeing more copies of Duress and Bloodchief’s Thirst in the maindeck.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is a great design for a slower red card, and pushed one at that. It provides an absurd amount of value for a low one-time mana investment, it’s very easy to see why this card is popping up in every archetype imaginable. Although this powerful new red card will see no play in any aggressive red decks due to how much worse it is than the other aggressive three-drop options, this card will surely shape the Pioneer format for the foreseeable future, being a staple in any midrange red deck you play.