Ixalan Tribal: Who Needs It?

Not Ari! He says the set’s impact on Standard is based on cards rather than themes like Merfolk or Pirates, and he’s building the SCG Dallas decks to prove it!

I’m not here to tell you Merfolk are good. Or Vampires, or Pirates, or Dinosaurs.

Standard is open, but it’s still brutal. The tribal payoffs in Ixalan were explicitly designed to not be hyper-linear, so many fall into the realm of “build an existing playable card,” much like The Gitrog Monster was always a jump-through-hoops way to build a Tireless Tracker.

That doesn’t mean that Ixalan isn’t a very interesting set. We are coming from a Standard that was defined by threat-answer balance and dances around what existed and what was played. Those two sets of cards just changed a lot, and so will everything else.

Winding Constrictor

B/G Energy was a great deck at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation but it rapidly became unplayable as the metagame shifted. I think the shifts from Ixalan and some easy rebuilds will again push it to the spotlight.

This is just the easiest port ever, with the list largely being based on Ben Stark’s Top 8 list from Grand Prix New Jersey. Old B/G Constrictor lost two major reasons to remain two colors in Hissing Quagmire and Grasp of Darkness. The format has more must-kill larger threats, so a good hard removal spell is needed. The Jund list only played two Hissing Quagmires to begin with, so that swap out for new multicolor lands is easy, and the only other rotating card was Tireless Tracker, with Ruin Raider as a direct analogue.

I’m unsure if changing the Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration split to a more complex mix of removal is right. Early red mana was a bit of an issue and I’m unsure if one or two more multicolor lands can fix that.

I’m unsure what the right Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Greenbelt Rampager, and Ruin Raider split is. Ben’s list had Rishkar, Peema Renegade, which is just not a playable Magic card, so there was room for a couple of maindeck Siphoners. I’ve biased towards Greenbelt Rampagers to start to combat Ramunap Red and shorted myself a bit on Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, as I expect too much Walking Ballista plus Ripjaw Raptor to start.

Glorybringer may be better than Verdurous Gearhulk in some metagames. I have a distinct memory of getting bashed in Pro Tour Hour of Devastation testing by someone playing full-on Jund on Magic Online because Glorybringer was so good in B/G mirrors.

B/R Aggro

B/R Aggro is an archetype I first brought up when Ruin Raider was freshly revealed, but I put off making a list until I saw the full set of creatures available.

I still don’t have a list.

I have a list of cards to consider, but not a playable 60. Maybe I’ll get to one at the end of this discussion.

Right up front, you have a decision to make. Are you Mono-Red splashing black, B/R “Vehicles,” or just good old B/R “aggro stuff?” Black mana early for Dread Wanderer and artifacts for Inventor’s Apprentice are both real costs, as is only playing one-power one-drops.

If you play Heart of Kiran, I actually think you aren’t going to play Inventor’s Apprentice. You need an extra three-power creature to crew it, and that role can only be played by…

This is the weird one. Hazoret the Fervent is the best card but doesn’t work well with Ruin Raider. I think a split on four is the best option as a result. In turn, that points towards Heart of Kiran, as you then have a planeswalker, which in turn makes that split into maxing out on said planeswalker.

I hadn’t considered Syndicate Trafficker until just now, so let’s see where that goes.

A few notes here:

Walk the Plank is in the sideboard over Never // Return because taking seven when you Ruin Raider the second one up is dumb.

I hate Bomat Courier, but it might be worth exploring the mid-game rebuild synergy of haste creatures and Ruin Raider a bit more. This implies a list with Earthshaker Khenra, though, and Heart of Kiran doesn’t play well with that card and is already a way to immediately Ruin Raider post-sweeper.

I think the majority of people putting Captain Lannery Storm in their deck are just forgetting that Pia Nalaar exists and is better, but I think the specific interaction between the extra Treasures she generates and Syndicate Trafficker is too good to pass up here. That said, I’m already offended my three-drop legendary creature doesn’t crew Heart of Kiran on the spot.

Unrelated to this deck, I think the future of Mardu Vehicles lies in Veteran Motorist, Cultivator’s Caravan, and a heavy W/R base. Without Thraben Inspector, an early Spire of Industry just isn’t reliable, so wider three-color mana needs more help.

Actually, on second thought, I’m not even sure the mana works for Veteran Motorist. Glory-Bound Initiate, anyone?


I am really unexcited by the idea of a true midrange Dinosaurs deck. I tried, but there are a lot of issues.

Issue 1: You need a third color. There isn’t a single card in green or red that faces down Hazoret the Fervent, The Scarab God, or even an opposing Ripjaw Raptor. I splashed white here, but there is way too much four-mana removal. Black isn’t much better on that front, though I like Cut // Ribbons and green cards.

Issue 2: The whole archetype folds to removal. Removal on your mana creatures is a Time Walk and you don’t have a good three to bridge the gap. I almost think you need to play Temur if you are G/R to get to play Rogue Refiner, but blue doesn’t pass the “killing stuff” test.

Note that I’ve tried to preemptively solve this with maximum Carnage Tyrants and ways to haste them. It is possible I should even have a Samut, Voice of Dissent to hammer this home.

Issue 3: Nice sideboard. I would probably say this about most decks without Duress, but it’s especially bad here. My “sideboard cards” are already in the maindeck because they are the good ones!

If you want to Dinosaurs people, I think there are two end-games. Find the right energy trio and play Ripjaw Raptor and Regisaur Alpha when they outclass Bristling Hydra and Glorybringer, or else play Hour of Promise and the Avatar cycle.

It is also very possible mana creatures are fundamentally flawed in a Fatal Push and Magma Spray format. It might be time to mana rock people until Abrade spikes in popularity. That also makes having a G/B base and playing hard removal with a Regisaur Alpha splash easier, which also gives you a real sideboard, aka Duress!

U/B Control

I ended last season really high on Torrential Gearhulk plus The Scarab God, but I have my doubts about that combination in a post-Ixalan world. Still, it doesn’t mean we can’t try things!

I don’t know how good the Sultai shell is relative to Temur or Grixis, but I want to make a point. Running the Glimmer of Genius shell into a Duress metagame for three games a match is not going to work. The last times Duress was legal against control, you had Dragonlord Ojutai as the finisher it didn’t hit and Sphinx’s Revelation as the big override to topdeck. Topdecking a Glimmer of Genius doesn’t have the same comeback swing of Sphinx’s Revelation, and Torrential Gearhulk at six mana is much harder to scramble to than the five-drop Ojutai. Beyond Duress, we have Spell Pierce this time around, and good luck with your four-mana draw spell there.

My plan is to sideboard into a deck that cares less about Duress. The combination of Hostage Taker and The Scarab God is the backbone of this. Hexproof creatures are merely the backup against more controlling decks trying to Duress you.

This is why there are only two Torrential Gearhulks in my deck. I want to spend my sideboard games as a big midrange deck, not one where I always get to set up a good spell cast turn and Flashback later.

The last thing I want to do is lean on planeswalkers against Duress. I’m not even sure any of them are good enough to play to start, but in a Duress and Spell Pierce world, they doubly aren’t.

Why wasn’t this an issue this year? One-mana discard is a completely different ballgame. Getting Transgress the Mind cast on you sucked, but the opponent often spent a full turn doing it. That often meant an extra draw step for you before you were under horrific pressure, negating a lot of what the discard was supposed to accomplish. Transgress not taking removal when it needed to was also a big deal, and playing Lay Bare the Heart is a good joke.

Now the Duress decks spend a half-turn on their discard, allowing them to both poke a hole in your fairly fragile strategy and force you to react. That is very, very bad. Shaheen Soorani certainly has his work cut out for him this year.

I do realize this list is not good against Ramunap Red. This is likely a strike against U/B as a whole. Grixis gets Magma Spray and Sweltering Suns, but I’m not sure how the additional black spells I want to add mesh with reliable early red. A U/R base does have good creature options with Whirler Virtuoso and Glorybringer, but I really like the idea of Hostage Taker as un-Duressable removal and card advantage. That style of control is maybe third or fourth on my list of things to try, so maybe you will see the list when it wins something in three weeks and I have to admit it was right all along.

Cryptic Tempo

I was all excited to show off some cool deckbuilding here, but Gerry Thompson beat me to the punch.

He probably even did it better than I would have by incorporating Longtusk Cub and Attune with Aether. While he was fairly flippant about the archetype, I think it’s a lot closer to being real.

Chart a Course is a big part of that. Just a reminder: Night’s Whisper is Legacy- and Vintage-playable. This is blue and draws two cards for two mana! Even if it isn’t active, the card is just better than Tormenting Voice, a card that has seen on-and-off Standard play.

I do think this list will avoid a traditional issue heavy cantrip decks have with mana flood. Ever since the mistake of Preordain and Ponder in the same Standard format, there have been many attempts at a “Turbo Xerox”-style cantrip theme deck. They always fail for the same reason: the cantrips didn’t provide enough selection, so you eventually replaced random cards with just more lands because those were the things that didn’t cantrip.

Opt, Strategic Planning, and Supreme Will all see enough cards that this isn’t an issue. Chart a Course is raw card advantage. This tempo deck is capable of going long, much like the Legacy decks it is emulating.

The card Gerry isn’t playing that would 100% be in my deck is Enigma Drake. Maybe the right number is one, maybe it is two, but Deeproot Champion is not a good late-game draw and I don’t want four. I just want a good late-game card to filter to, and a giant flier on the cheap definitely plays the part.

Overall, I think Ixalan is going to have a huge impact on Standard, just not in the most obvious ways. That’s honestly a really good thing. Instead of just four obvious decks coming out of the gate, there’s a real puzzle to solve. I have no expectations that the SCG Tour’s stop in Dallas at the end of the month is going to come close to solving any of it, but I am definitely interested in seeing people try.