It’s Time For Ixalan!

Ixalan previews started with a bang, and Ross Merriam was right there to record his take! Get his thoughts on Pirates-and-Dinosaurs, why Jim Davis isn’t a fan of a certain card, and the brew to beat going into SCG Dallas!

There’s one last hurrah for Hour of Devastation Standard this weekend at #GPDC, and before I officially move on to speculate on the future of the format and the sweet new cards that were previewed this week, I’ll let you know what my plan for the tournament is.

Thursday 1:26 PM

A bearded man, who may or may not be wearing pants, types frantically at a computer. We zoom in on the screen to see the following exchange on Facebook Messenger:

Ross – Brad! What do I play?! Everything is so medium.

Brad – I have no idea but I’m leaning toward Deck X. I’m not confident at all.

Ross – So the deck is perfect. Ship list plz, ok tks.

Whether or not Brad takes pity on me and ships is yet to be determined, but even with a low chance of success, this plan is the best I have. Sadly, this may not be easy to replicate. At this point, the format is well-explored and the decks are known, so I’d suggest playing what you know but with an emphasis toward beating Temur, and don’t completely ignore Oketra’s Monument and God-Pharaoh’s Gift.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we have new cards! A large batch of Piratey goodness (or Dinosaury goodness, depending on your prerogative) has been previewed by our benevolent overlords at Wizards of the Coast, so it’s time to commence speculation.

Brief Flavor Aside: Why do we have Pirates and Dinosaurs together in a Magic set? I’m not complaining per se; I’m just confused. Pirates are cool, since I love aggressive blue decks, and Dinosaurs means big green creatures, which I like, but they just seem so wholly unrelated that I’m not sure how we got here. Also, why male models? These are the things I think about while Brad is busy tuning decks.

Aside over. Here are the cards that stand out to me from the first batch of previews. All predictions guaranteed wrong or your money back.

I’m not sure how valuable individual Treasures will be, but I do know that I like getting things for free, and a Treasure upon attacking with a haste creature is about as free as you can get. I also like getting to my double-spell turns as quickly as possible, and having an extra mana on turn 3 or two extra mana on turn 4 certainly facilitates that.

But most importantly, I’m intrigued by how Captain Lannery Storm is going to play with artifact-centric cards from Kaladesh block. R/B Aggro decks could really use another source of artifacts, as well as some additional mana fixing to make the splash work without tanking the manabase. I’m starting with the following list post-rotation list:

Battle land Smoldering Marsh gets upgraded to Dragonskull Summit, giving the deck a full twelve black sources in addition to Treasures to fix its mana, enough to support a light splash of Unlicensed Disintegration and Scrapheap Scrounger. Fatal Push may be…pushing it a little far, but with Treasures giving the deck such an easy way to turn on revolt and the other removal spells providing excellent reach, I look for the more powerful removal spell in that spot. Being able to cast Captain Lannery Storm, attack, and then kill their three-drop on the draw is a great tempo swing for an aggressive strategy.

The deck also now has access to eighteen cards that make artifacts, enough to upgrade the one-drop slot, one of the weaknesses for Ramunap Red, to Inventor’s Apprentice. As a result, this list is much less vulnerable to Walking Ballista and can ignore early blockers more often.

Pia Nalaar is a great mana sink for Treasure mana, or you can sacrifice the Treasures to her ability (still pumping Captain Lannery Storm, by the way). The extra mana can also help you more effectively leverage Key to the City and Hazoret the Fervent’s ability. There are so many mana sinks here that Treasures should be quite valuable.

I’d look to incorporate some number of Ramunap Ruins, but I’m concerned with the Mountain count to help the multicolor lands enter the battlefield untapped, and I’d prefer to start with the most conservative manabase in that respect, because curving out is the name of the game here.

Of the two tribal payoffs previewed (the other being Herald of Secret Streams) this is the one I find more exciting. It’s not quite on Kira, Great-Glass Spinner’s level, but it’s close, and it will frequently put opponents into tight spots if they’re relying on spot removal. Even against a one-mana removal spell it trades at mana parity, so you’re only going to lose value against a sweeper.

That kind of tempo advantage is exactly what blue aggro decks look to generate and capitalize on, and if you can compound the advantage by countering their first removal spell or bouncing a creature or two, your opponent is going to have a very difficult time catching up, even if your creatures aren’t as imposing in combat.

Merfolk, the other major tribe featured in Ixalan, will take some time to develop as we see more cards revealed. It may also take the second set in the block or cross-block cards released even later to flesh out the deck fully, much in the same way Relentless Dead and Dark Salvation had to wait for almost a year for the rest of the Zombies deck to materialize around it.

So while you’ll be wise to temper your expectations for the fishies early on, make sure you keep your eye on this one so you’re ready to strike when the time is right.

I’m not sure exactly where this card fits, but it’s powerful enough that I’m willing to build around it. You can lose tempo to some removal spells, but your opponent absolutely needs to have it immediately or you can simply cast the card you exiled, generating an additional card of value relative to traditional Nekrataal effects. You can also then reuse the ability with a bounce spell or blink effect for more even more value.

And that window of opportunity narrows as the game goes on and you generate enough mana to cast the exiled card immediately, meaning they have to have the removal spell with the ability on the stack. Note that said window wouldn’t be open had this card been printed under the old templating of this effect as two separate triggers and may have been too good at that point, so it’s interesting to see the potential new design space opened by what is normally considered a cosmetic change.

On top of everything, the ability itself is incredibly flexible, answering Vehicles and Gods as well as creatures. I want to be reanimating this card with The Scarab God or God-Pharaoh’s Gift, that’s for sure.

A solid body with near guaranteed value is a good start. I worry about this card being pushed out of the format by Bristling Hydra, since Temur Energy is the deck that is most in the market for a beefy four-drop, but Verdurous Gearhulk is still around and will always want friends to put +1/+1 counters on, so there should be a solid home for the card.

The real question is how popular red removal will be. White is losing Stasis Snare and Declaration in Stone and black is losing Grasp of Darkness, so I imagine red removal is going to dominate early, which bodes very well for this card in an anti-aggro shell for Week 1. It survives Glorybringer; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Abrade; and plenty of Harnessed Lightnings while making attacking bad for your opponent and blocking difficult.

Good rule of thumb: you want your opponent’s decisions to be hard and yours to be easy.

Nothing too exciting here, but I expect this to be a part of removal suites in midrange and control decks due to its flexibility. At four mana, it’s too expensive to be a second coming of Hero’s Downfall, but it can answer anything, and that kind of versatility is always welcome, even if it’s in small numbers.

The other powerful removal spell revealed, this one is a lot more difficult to evaluate. Most decks in Standard will be able to find two, three, even four basic lands in lots of situations, but how many are able to effectively use that mana? If they can’t, then this often functions as a four-mana Plague Wind, a powerful enough effect that your opponents will often hold back attackers, giving you free value even if you don’t have the card.

Importantly, at four mana, that turn comes at the time when a control deck wants to start casting Glimmer of Genius and Hieroglyphic Illumination, so that’s normally a turn where your opponents want to play more aggressively, a nice little squeeze.

This effect is unique enough that I’m going to hold back until I get a chance to play with it, but the potential here is through the roof and finding the best ways to leverage it (and combat it) could be one of the keys to the incoming Standard format.

I don’t really have anything to say about this card; I just wanted to take the opportunity to dagger Jim Davis because he’s going to lose to it more than any other person on the planet, and he knows it: