Constructed Impact Of Rivals Of Ixalan

That’s the big question, isn’t it? How much sway will these cards have in established metagames that aren’t willing to budge? Todd Stevens thinks they’re going to move plenty! Clear the way for Rivals of Ixalan!

Rivals of Ixalan
previews are coming in fast and furious, so let’s get on in and check out
the cards I really like from the new set. I think Wizards of the Coast has
been doing a wonderful job with both Amonkhet and Ixalan
blocks, and I’m excited for Standard’s outlook after Kaladesh
block rotates. That’s the future though, and it looks like we already have
some cards from the small spring set that will impact both Standard and
Modern alike, so let’s see what we’re working with so far from Rivals of Ixalan with the cards that I believe will make the
biggest Constructed impact. I won’t be touching on any of the same cards
from the
Fact or Fiction article
I wrote earlier in the week, only new ones I’m excited about for

There isn’t a better place to start than with the three-mana green value
creature of the set, Jadelight Ranger, which I also happen to believe is
the best new card in the set so far for both Standard and Modern (sorry,
Silvergill Adept). There are so many different options of play patterns
when it comes to Jadelight Ranger besides the starting point of a 2/1 for
1GG, so let’s evaluate them in comparison to Rogue Refiner, one of
Standard’s best cards:

    -Each explore trigger reveals a land, netting you two cards to go along
    with your 2/1 body which can still trade with a Rogue Refiner, and
    instead of gaining two energy you drew another card.

    -The first explore trigger reveals a land and the second trigger
    reveals a spell. You now have a 3/2 that drew you a card, like Rogue
    Refiner, but instead of two energy you have the choice whether or not
    you would like to leave the card on top or put it in your graveyard.

    -The first explore trigger reveals a spell that you don’t want to draw
    and you put it in your graveyard, and the second explore trigger
    reveals a land, so that again you have a 3/2 creature that drew a card
    but also put a spell you didn’t want into your graveyard.

    -The first explore trigger reveals a spell that you don’t want to draw
    and you put it in your graveyard, with the second explore trigger
    revealing another spell. You now have a 4/3 creature that didn’t draw a
    spell and still trades with Rogue Refiner, but you also moved one
    unwanted spell from the top of your library into your graveyard with
    the ability to do it again.

    -The first explore trigger reveals a spell you want to draw, and
    therefore the second explore trigger does nothing but put another
    counter on your creature. You now have a 4/3 and have the spell you
    want to draw on top of your library.

For a new three-drop in Standard to be printed to have the potential to
out-value a Rogue Refiner is huge considering how much it has dominated
Standard recently, and Jadelight Ranger can do just that. Just like with
the two energy from Rogue Refiner being a big part of its value in
Standard, Jadelight Ranger using the explore mechanic which places spells
in your graveyard as well as gains +1/+1 counters is critical to the
synergies of the current format.

You can place creatures with embalm (Vizier of Many Faces or Champion of
Wits) or spells with aftermath (Dusk or Never) straight in your graveyard
to effectively “draw” another card. Or you can simply add graveyard fuel
for God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Liliana, Death’s Majesty or The Scarab God while
transforming Search for Azcanta earlier. Being able to place specific cards
in your graveyard instead of drawing them can be worth plenty if built
around correctly. As far as the +1/+1 counters go, besides the obvious
positive interaction in a Winding Constrictor deck, Herald of Secret
Streams can make Jadelight Ranger unblockable in a Merfolk shell. I fully
expect Jadelight Ranger to see plenty of play in a variety of different
Standard decks, not only in Merfolk strategies, but Standard’s not the only
format for Jadelight Ranger.

Modern has plenty of options as far as three-mana green value creatures are
concerned from Tireless Tracker to Eternal Witness to Courser of Kruphix,
but I honestly believe Jadelight Ranger can still see play in the right
deck over some of these other options. Jadelight Ranger could work well
with Courser of Kruphix in a Collected Company deck, as you’ll be able to
know at least the top card before you start exploring.

But that’s not where I think it will really shine.

The best thing Jadelight Ranger has going for it over these other options
is that it has a non-conditional enters the battlefield trigger to get
value right away, no matter what. Eternal Witness is close to this, but if
there’s a Rest in Peace in on the battlefield then the Eternal Witness is
blanked, so anything short of a Torpor Orb and Jadelight Ranger will help
out. The upside to having this kind of ability is in a deck designed around
Eldritch Evolution, which not only wants to find creatures that have an
immediate impact but also wants to sacrifice creatures that won’t have a
lasting value in order to find others with said immediate impact. Using
Eldritch Evolution to sacrifice Jadelight Ranger to find a Reveillark, for
example, which when it leaves the battlefield will return the Jadelight
Ranger and another creature to the battlefield, is the type of value that
other midrange decks can’t handle. There’s plenty of competition in Modern
for Jadelight Ranger, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited to try it out!

Well before I turn this entire article into a Jadelight Ranger highlight
reel, there are plenty of other previews to touch on. I’ll go with some
quick hits now so I can get on to more cards!

There are two downsides with Etali, Primal Storm that may keep it down.
First off, being legendary never helps the playability of creatures, but
even still, you shouldn’t expect a six-drop to be played as a four of
unless it’s Primeval Titan good, so I’m not too worried about that one. The
other downside is that it doesn’t have haste, and therefore your six-drop
won’t provide any impact if you don’t untap with it. Thankfully, Otepec
Huntmaster can reduce Etali’s cost while giving it haste. Even Regisaur
Alpha is the perfect card to play just before Etali, also giving it haste
and allowing you to use its triggered ability right away. Speaking of that
triggered ability, being able to cast up to two spells for free when
attacking is strong enough for Etali to be a welcome addition to the
Dinosaur tribe. I wouldn’t expect it to see play outside of Dinosaur decks,
and within them this competes directly with Carnage Tyrant, but I could
honestly see this card putting in more work than Carnage Tyrant, as the
triggered ability is that powerful.

Making an aura playable that only enchants your creature and also doesn’t
do anything unless that creature dies is a tall order, but Journey to
Eternity certainly fits the bill. Both the enchantment and land part of the
card are legendary, so don’t expect this card to be a four-of anytime soon,
but there’s a lot to like here. I’m most excited to use Journey to Eternity
in a B/G Explore shell with both Merfolk Branchwalker and Seeker’s Squire
as two-drops that can be enchanted nicely on curve, or with Jadelight
Ranger as mentioned before. Even though it would be nice to have a
sacrifice outlet to make sure your creatures don’t get exiled, these are
the kind of creatures that are perfect for chump blocking and are able to
come back and provide value again. They also fill your graveyard with other
creatures while exploring to return to the battlefield with Atzal, Cave of
Eternity! If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m very excited for the rest of the
set in order to start building a B/G based explore/reanimate deck around
these cards. I can’t wait to use Atzal, Cave of Eternity to reanimate a
Gonti, Lord of Luxury or a Ravenous Chupacabra!

Wait, what’s this card? Ravenous Chupacabra, affectionately known as
Nekratail, doesn’t have the drawback of its famous predecessor and can
destroy artifact and black creatures along with everything else. Oh how I
wish Eldrazi Displacer was still in Standard with this Beast Horror, but I
digress. Ravenous Chupacabra is not only a key piece for the type of B/G
deck I was mentioning before, but it also pairs incredibly well with The
Scarab God which can bring it back onto the battlefield after trading with
a Rogue Refiner or dying to an exerted Glorybringer. That being said, with
a mana cost of 2BB, Ravenous Chupacabra competes directly with Gonti, Lord
of Luxury and Vraska’s Contempt, two incredible good cards in Standard
already. There’s no reason to count out a built in two-for-one, and
Ravenous Chupacabra should be a nice role player to many Standard decks.

I don’t have much to say about the two tribal lords other than they will be
key parts of their respective decks and both will see play. Merfolk in
particular has received plenty of support so far from Rivals of Ixalan, but Vampires were the more successful tribal
strategy moving over from last Standard season and have access to Oketra’s
Monument to help fulfill the new ascend mechanic. We need to see the rest
of the set before being able to build the two tribal decks, but so far they
each look promising with the addition of these two lords.

Speaking of tribal decks, Daring Buccaneer is throwing its hat in the ring
to help bring Pirates into contention as a successful Standard strategy.
Having a solid one-drop is absolutely a good start, and the addition of a
two-mana lord would also be quite the booty for the plundering pirates. Ixalan had plenty of good Pirates to build around in an aggressive
shell, with Kitesail Freebooter, Fathom Fleet Captian, and Ruin Raider
being high quality cards. The biggest question is whether the Standard
manabase would be able to support a three-color deck and allow cards like
Admiral Beckett Brass and Hostage Taker to be part of the top end, or if we
go just two colors with Rowdy Crew and Hazoret the Fervant as the heavy
hitters. We still need to see more from the Pirate tribe, but there is
plenty of potential here.

I’m not much of a fan of Admiral’s Order, as the three mana counterspell
with slight upside has been printed in many ways over the last couple years
and has never been too impressive. What sets Admiral’s Order apart is that
I believe it could be a solid sideboard card against control decks. Sure it
can help a post-combat threat, like a planeswalker, resolve, but that’s not
what I’m excited about. Settle the Wreckage was one of the best cards in Ixalan and a big part of the success of current control decks.
Having a one-mana answer for that card in particular is very appealing, and
it’s so efficient I could see this being a sideboard card for Settle the
Wreckage and Torrential Gearhulk decks. Negate is in the format and answers
Settle the Wreckage for two mana, but having that counterspell also able to
answer anything else, including The Scarab God or Torrential Gearhulk,
could turn some Negates into Admiral’s Orders.

Enter the Unknown is an aptly named card, as we definitely are when trying
to imagine its power level. There’s not much investment in a one-mana
sorcery, and being able to play an additional land as early as the second
turn of the game is appealing, but I just go back and forth in my mind
about this card. You need to have a creature out for it to target, the
creature can’t die in response, and then at that point you may be paying a
mana just to put a counter on your creature. Right now I don’t expect this
to see much Standard play, but it sure is close to being really good, and I
could be dead wrong later.

The last card for me today will be the return planeswalker from Ixalan, Huatli. The Warrior Poet is now the Radiant Champion,
using the strength of the creatures you have on the battlefield to place
loyalty counters on her. At first read through it looks like Huatli may not
do very much, but I’m willing to give Huatli a chance in a deck that has
the ability to go wide with plenty of creatures, such as in a tokens type
deck. The first ability is still a +1 ability, so you’ll add one loyalty
and then add a loyalty counter for each creature you control, meaning with
four creatures on the battlefield you’ll be able to threaten the ultimate
ability the very next turn. The ultimate ability is certainly worth it, as
an emblem that draws a card every time a creature enters the battlefield
under your control will almost assuredly bury your opponents in card
advantage, especially if you’re able to create creature tokens with ease.
The minus ability in the middle doesn’t do much for me, and the plus
ability doesn’t do much without some creatures on the battlefield so there
is a low floor when talking about the impact Huatli has on the game, but
the ceiling of that ultimate ability is so incredibly high that I expect
Huatli, Radiant Champion to be a role player in go-wide creature decks
moving forward.

The first couple days of Rivals of Ixalan previews are complete,
and already I can’t wait to try out some of these cards. After the past
couple months it’s easy to say that nothing will compete with Temur Energy
and Ramunap Red, but I don’t believe that to be true. Instead, I believe
that with another additional set that there will be some new decks that
will be able to knock Standard’s big two down a few notches. Right away
we’re starting to see U/G Merfolk as the tribe to watch out for, and I’m
ready to start brewing B/G based decks with Jadelight Ranger. As I’m
writing this we’ve seen less than twenty percent of the set so far, so
there’s still plenty to come. By this time next week we’ll know the entire
set, and I’ll start working hard on brewing new decks for Rivals of Ixalan Standard!