Werewolves in Magic the Gathering gained a mass amount of support for their tribe with the release of the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt set. From Kessig Naturalist, to Tovolar, Dire Overlord, to Tovolar’s Huntmaster, and even to an artifact like The Celestus to control day and night, Werewolves have become not only a potential powerhouse in Standard, but have even showed some serious potential in Historic on Magic Arena and in Modern.
One thing that the Werewolf tribe lacked, however, was a five-drop Werewolf. Modern players, and even some Standard and Historic players, were using the planeswalker Wrenn and Seven to fill that void. While Wrenn and Seven is certainly a good card, and can help the deck’s consistency, it doesn’t exactly fit the theme. Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast didn’t overlook the need that the popular Werewolves had, printing this Volatile Arsonist to serve as a sort of five-mana trump card for Team Tovolar.
On first glance, long-time Magic the Gathering players will recognize Volatile Arsonist’s effect as being remarkable similar, if a bit toned down, to the Inferno Titan. The Titan from Magic’s Core Sets of the 2010’s could railroad players with his ability to deal three damage to anything both when he came into play and when he attacked. Volatile Arsonist can deal up to three potential damage, but can only do one damage to each of up to one target player, one target creature, and/or one target planeswalker.
Of course, pinging things is not to be undervalued, especially on a creature with not only haste – meaning it can attack as soon as it hits the board – but also menace. The fact that you need two creatures to block it, and the fact that the Arsonist can ping down one of your potential blockers, means that your opponent will not enjoy facing this 4/4 Human Werewolf.
In it of itself, Volatile Arsonist is already a very playable creature. But, as a mythic rare, and as a Werewolf, you knew there had to be a little bit more. When the day finally turns to night, the Arsonist transforms into Dire-Strain Anarchist. The Werewolf side is pretty much the same creature, except that he gains a point in each of power and toughness, becoming a 5/5. Then, not only does he retain Menace and Haste, but his ability becomes two damage to each of three potential targets instead of just one.
Perhaps the best part of Volatile Arsonist is that he’s Mono-Red, although you need two Red mana specifically to cast him. Even better, he doesn’t have to be part of a dedicated Werewolf deck at all to be extremely effective. Of course, Goldspan Dragon is a far better creature overall in the Standard environment that the Crimson Vow Werewolf enters, but if the Treasure Token spewing Dragon weren’t around, Volatile Arsonist could find a lot of homes in a hurry.
There have been some rumblings that Volatile Arsonist should have cost four mana instead of five. However, it makes sense for the additional mana cost, considering the flip side of this mythic rare creature. Easily a chase card for the Innistrad: Crimson Vow set, Wizards of the Coast designers created just the missing piece that Werewolves needed to fill on their mana curve. Also, with Kessig Naturalist around to help mana ramp, this will often come down on turn four any way.
While Volatile Arsonist is no Inferno Titan, it could turn out that Dire-Strain Anarchist is actually a better version of the legendary titan, hitting multiple targets. In Modern, where planeswalkers like Teferi, Time Raveler are known to run rampant, the Anarchist seems like a perfect weapon against foes that would otherwise be tricky for Werewolves on their own to remove. In any case, Volatile Arsonist is fine and has the upside of his flip-side. While his front-side has some of the least inspired art in the set, you’re going to want to see his very well drawn back side more often anyway.
What do you think of Volatile Arsonist and his nightbound Dire-Strain Anarchist upside?