A Brewer’s Glimmers Of Hope At Pro Tour Ixalan

The Top 8 of Pro Tour Ixalan didn’t excite Chris Lansdell, but he found cool decks lower in the standings! See his Standard hidden gems ahead of SCG Baltimore!

Well, that was a relief. I watched a lot of coverage from Pro Tour Ixalan and for a while I was convinced that there would be nothing to write about for my usual post-mortem brew review. I saw Energy decks everywhere, a smattering of tokens, some Ramunap Red, and then even more Energy. My previous article was Halloween-inspired satire, but it sure did seem to be coming true. Then the fun started to show up, with Cats and Vampires getting some camera time and rumblings of R/W Approach and Grixis Control decks.

As ever, I have scoured the top-performing Standard decks from the Pro Tour to find the most interesting and innovative ones for you, my friends. And we start with an absolute humdinger of a beauty.

Wow. Absolutely gorgeous. This deck is just a model of consistency with all the cycling, but the genius is in the fact that the cards we are cycling also have value as spells in a pinch. Abandoned Sarcophagus has been screaming at me from Day 1, and I am excited to try it out here along with another card I love in Drake Haven. With 24 lands, some of which we want to cycle, we might sometimes have trouble being able to pay for a Drake, but it shouldn’t take too many to win the game.

Concerns? Yes, I have concerns. We have one win condition, so an Ixalan’s Binding leaves us in a pretty rough place. My initial thought was to add Curator of Mysteries, but the concern of turning on removal is real when Harnessed Lightning is everywhere. My mind does keep going to another place, though: The Locust God. The removal aspect is less of a concern there, and the card will just win you games if you are able to start the cycling train with it on the battlefield.

Another option is to add one or two copies of Approach of the Second Sun, especially if you plan to sideboard them out after Game 1. With Search for Azcanta and a fast plan to churn through the deck, getting to the Approach should not present too much of a challenge.

Looking at the deck, it seems confusing, but it feels like a U/W Control deck with a combo finish. Sometimes you can win by pecking away with one or two Drakes, but most games will be won on the back of a turn where you make a bunch of Drakes at once. I like the sideboard plan of becoming a The Scarab God deck, but I do worry that people will be prepared for it. I’m surprised to see no Archfiend of Ifnir in the sideboard, as it seems tailor-made for this strategy.

The deck that gave us all hope. We were well into the Standard rounds before we got to see any real innovation, and when it did show up, we grasped at it and held on tight like Tom Hanks to a raft. Looking at it now, it seems a lot less impressive, but it’s new and that means it’s at least somewhat exciting. Small white creatures, resilience to sweepers, some library thinning, aggression…it’s all here. We even have the important “army in a can” cards that demand removal on their own, like Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. That aspect is often overlooked when building aggro decks, and it’s the reason I love Mayor of Avabruck so much.

Duskborne Skymarcher feels weird here. I get that it is a one-drop with evasion that makes every combat decision more difficult for the opponent, but it just feels like there has to be a better option in this slot. Bishop’s Soldier, maybe? I might be underrating the value of an evasive combat-altering one-drop, but there are only two copies here, which suggests the role it plays is not a major one.

What impressed me most with the feature matches I saw from this deck was the ability it has to grind out wins. Far from your typical white weenie aggressive deck’s threats, Oketra’s Monument and Adanto, the First Fort combine to provide an easy way to repair your battlefield after a sweeper, and Legion Conquistador promises to keep your hand stocked. Aviary Mechanic is an interesting addition that I wish had flash, but as it stands is largely there to make a 1/1 Vigilance token for a single white mana over and over again.

The only changes I would want to make are to include more army generators. Oketra the True and Master Trinketeer may not make Vampire tokens, but that is a limited resource anyway. They do demand an answer right away, and in the case of Oketra, that answer is not trivial to find. We might not want these in the maindeck, but they would likely have a home in the 75 for me.

Patrick Dickmann has flown under the radar for a while but had a solid showing in Constructed with this G/U Pummeler offering. It might look like Temur Energy, but it eschews the top-end for Electrostatic Pummeler, pump spells and evasion. Pummeler as an archetype is not new, but Ixalan has encouraged the addition of blue for One with the Wind and Dive Down to help push damage through and protect our main threat. Oh, and that Rogue Refiner card is okay, I guess.

Although the concept of the deck is not new, this particular execution is. One with the Wind has steadily risen in the ranks of Draft cards, and we have seen Spectral Flight in Constructed before. I was convinced we would first see it in combination with Jade Guardian, but I am not at all sad to be wrong here. It’s only one copy, Dickmann preferring to draw a card with Cartouche of Knowledge instead of getting the extra point of power and toughness, but I do think the inclusion is worth signalling.

I understand why we need Larger Than Life, as it provides an unmatched boost for the mana cost, but playing a sorcery pump spell makes me shudder. That trample is the main selling point, so I guess we will have to suck it up for now. What really sets the version above the old G/R ones is the high volume of protection: Dive Down and Blossoming Defense join the innate protection of Bristling Hydra. Is there room for a white splash for Sheltering Light or Built to Last? The latter might be a stretch, to be fair.

The black in the sideboard for Cartouche of Ambition is clearly a concession to the presence of Ramunap Red, but it feels very clunky. Could Rush of Vitality work there? Maybe in addition? While not providing a permanent lifelinker, it does also protect a threat.

My biggest worry with this style of deck is that sometimes you just draw the wrong part of the deck. We are on twenty land, but we do also have four Attune with Aether to help somewhat. The more pressing concerns are the hands with all pump and no threats, which seem to happen depressingly often to me at least. Unlike the G/R version, we do mitigate that to some degree with the card draw of Rogue Refiner and Cartouche of Knowledge, but at the cost of Harnessed Lightning. Can’t have it all, of course.

Something else I never would have expected to see: a Mono-Black Aggro deck with three maindeck sweepers. What a world we live in! This crazy strategy is of course made possible by playing Heart of Kiran, Aethersphere Harvester, and Bontu the Glorified in the list, which will all survive Bontu’s Last Reckoning. Yahenni, Undying Partisan will almost always find something to eat to live through it and should pick up some counters in the process. It’s an unusual plan, but one I can definitely see working. This is my kind of aggro deck.

Our removal suite in Standard has got a lot better with the last few sets. Fatal Push and Walk the Plank are mere blips on the curve for this deck, and the singleton Vraska’s Contempt is more of a concession to cards the deck cannot beat than it is to needing another removal spell. With evasion, reach, cheap removal, and recursion available to us, I am surprised more copies did not place well.

I still think Sword-Point Diplomacy fits in here, if nowhere else. The deck both empties its hand and puts pressure on the opponent, and forcing them to choose to lose life fits the gameplan. I know as a rule we avoid punisher cards, but in this deck, I like it. I’m also surprised, though less so, to see no copies of Wanted Scoundrels in here. I will admit that the prospect of giving someone an early Glorybringer or, heaven forbid, fixing their mana for The Scarab God goes a long way to providing that explanation. Going with just seventeen Swamps and a few Ifnir Deadlands does seem to be leaving some utility lands on the table, but the relatively heavy mana requirements contribute there.

I could not have predicted that Raiders’ Wake would be a card seeing play at the highest level, but there it is in the sideboard. I can only assume it comes in against decks like U/W Approach that keep a full grip, but that damage clause sure does mess with the first deck we discussed above. Gifted Aetherborn would have made my maindeck but seems like a solid option otherwise. Essentially the sideboard makes sense, and the deck itself is intriguing.

There’s Still Hope

While nothing here has the power level or consistency of a tuned Temur Energy deck, we can take comfort in the fact that there is still fun to be had in creating new tools.

That’s all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by, and until next time…Brew On!