Landing On Ixalan In Modern

The lands and potential of Ixalan have caught Adrian Sullivan’s eye! Explore the Modern format as the best minds converge on SCG Charlotte weekend!

I keep getting more and more impressed by the depth of Ixalan. While most of my time, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been spent working on various Search for Azcanta decks in Standard, especially U/B Control, I’ve also been hunting down ways to affect the new Modern.

Modern has seemed to overtake the Constructed world as the de facto favorite format for tournament players. For players like me, who tend to focus on whatever events are shaking on down the pipeline, Modern is just a part of the landscape that is Magic. It’s never really grabbed hold of my imagination, even if, in some moments, I’ve had a deck I really love. For all of those times that people hate Standard, I’m often thinking, “My, this is a great Standard.” For all of those times people are expressing their love of Modern, I’m often thinking, “Sounds like they are talking about Legacy!”

And yet, as a function of always playing Magic, I’m basically also always playing Modern. Currently, my Magic Online account has 42 decks in, ready to play. Some of those decks I’m not really excited about at this moment – like my Soul Sisters variant I nicknamed “Heartbreakers” – but I’m always hanging onto the concept in case some new card really makes me want to consider the deck again.

Getting a new card into Modern is pretty difficult. While we legitimately might be seeing Opt as a part of the new Modern landscape, the truth is, it takes a lot for any card at all to make the cut. There are only about a thousand cards currently legal in Standard, a number utterly dwarfed by the cards in Modern. In fact, the number of spells that seem reasonable to consider feels a bit small.

However, there are a few lands we should be thinking about…

Of course, to get to a few of these cards, you may have to put in some initial work.

Let’s start with the card that might be the least dramatic of them.

This is an incredibly dangerous card, to be sure. In Modern, paying these kinds of resources for a card-draw enchantment could be reckless in the extreme. Still, I think it has a place.

Check out this deck:

Did you see it hanging out there in the sideboard?

As it is, though, I don’t see Arguel’s Blood Feast as a card I’d be interested in in any of the maindecks I’m thinking about, but I do find it an intriguing card to consider insideboards of Death’s Shadow decks.

In the mirror, it can be very easy to have every critter get torn up. Whether they’re discarded or falling victim to a Terminate or Fatal Push, oftentimes, all the creatures die. In other games, Death’s Shadow can stare down Death’s Shadow, with choices to attack or not determined by the life total.

Arguel’s Blood Feast is a hard card to mess with in the mirror. It isn’t an artifact or a creature, so it is basically going to sit out on the table, being a huge pain. There will even be rare moments where you want to flip it to mess with combat pacing. I could easily see this card being a devastating tool against Grixis builds.

Of course, one matchup isn’t enough for Modern.

The card also seems like a powerful option against any deck which gives you time. Slow decks are abundant, whether they are various Snapcaster Mage-based controlling decks, Lantern Prison or other Prison decks, or some rogue deck you didn’t expect. In addition to the clear utility in those matchups, it is arguable that you might find use for it against Burn. While I’m not confident there is room or need for the card in that matchup, it is worth noting that it might be a potential weapon to either mess up the pacing of an opponent who is trying to slow-roll their burn to slow up your Death’s Shadow kill or as a means to have a Hail Mary insurance policy against that kill.

There are probably other similar applications elsewhere, but only in a Death’s Shadow deck does it feel like it has significant synergies to make it worthy of likely inclusion.

If there is any card I hate seeing in a Modern deck more than Think Twice, I’m not sure what it would be.

Here, though, in Search for Azcanta, we have everything that Think Twice is hoping it can be: an incidental card to receive card advantage from.

One of the cards that makes Search for Azcanta feel quite trivial to flip over is Thought Scour. I’m probably still leaning to heavily on cards like Cryptic Command (expensive!) for this deck to be operating at full speed. Ideally, I’d be a bit lower to the ground, perhaps more like this:

The Search for Azcanta here are both fueling the delve mechanic as well as fighting it, but even so, that feels largely okay. In addition to the payoff with easily potentially flipping, the card works quite well in fueling Snapcaster Mage and making Delver of Secrets into an Insect. Kolaghan’s Command and Tasigur, the Golden Fang are the most expensive commitments of mana, in either the casting or the activating, respectively, leaving plenty of opportunity to make use of Azcanta, the Sunken Ruins.

Of course, since we’re making good use of Thought Scour, another deck springs to mind as well:

Hell, maybe you could run both Search for Azcanta and Arguel’s Blood Fast in the sideboard. They both share some of the same strengths, being enchantments that are good for a grind. Search for Azcanta adds in the extra benefit of being free to get use of during the lead in to a flip.

Let’s shift over to something a bit different.

The thing I love about this card is that you can get an absurd payoff with it. Pyromancer’s Goggles is a pretty absurd card. Modern, unlike Standard, isn’t rife with anti-artifact cards in maindecks. Kolaghan’s Command exists, and other sideboard hate exists, but it is such a wildly diverse format that making such choices can often be foolhardy.

My first thought, then, when I started thinking what I’d want to do with a Primal Wellspring is to contemplate just what it was that I’d been “Fork”ing in the past. I was immediately reminded of my favorite Twincast target:

After that, it was easy to figure out what I wanted to try out.

There is a way in which Primal Wellspring is just so utterly powerful, I start to wonder if Howling Mine is even necessary. For that matter, it makes me wonder if Dictate of Kruphix is even necessary. The likelihood is, of course, that Dictate of Kruphix can’t be cut unless you are going crazy. However, Howling Mine does strike me as potentially much more on the chopping block.

One of the exciting things about this deck is that, even if you don’t flip into a Primal Wellspring, Primal Amulet still does impressive things. In a slower matchup, Primal Amulet absolutely threatens to create rough moments for the opponent, where you are casting undercosted spells at a rate faster than the opponent would want to deal with. In one game, with no Dictate of Kruphix going, I followed up a Primal Amulet that I resolved with a Time Warp, Jace’s Defeat the counter, Unsubstantiate my Jace’s Defeat to counter the new counter, resolved the Time Warp, flipped into Primal Wellspring, and then just took over the game completely.

I don’t think there is another deck that can legitimately use Primal Amulet, but it’s still exciting that it can power up this deck.

Todd Stevens talked about this card earlier this week in his exploration of Modern, including it in a Humans deck. My immediate thoughts, however, went to one of my favorite aggressive decks, Allies.

This deck isn’t using a ton of Unclaimed Territory – only two – but that’s only because it has a few other cards that are quite similar to do the same work. Reflecting Pool gets a nice boost from ten cards to work with to make the mana be whatever it needs to be. If there weren’t a pressing need to cast a few actual-factual noncreature spells, there would likely be a full twelve-pack of “ally” lands.

There are a lot of allies to choose from – 93 if you don’t count cards like Adaptive Automaton and Metallic Mimic. How you choose to build a deck like this can actually be a bit of an interesting dilemma. I’ve built Allies lists with every combination of Aether Vial (or no) and Collected Company (or no). I’m still honestly not sure which way to build it is the best. In a pure goldfish situation, the non-collective company decks tend to be best, but I think realistically, you need to bite the bullet and play the powerful cards.

This had been one of my favorite decks in the past; even with something as simple as just slightly better mana, I know it is higher up on my radar than its been in a while.

Of course, that does immediately make me think about this deck:

I haven’t personally worked on Slivers, but maybe someone out there will try out Unclaimed Territory in the deck and see how it plays out.

While perhaps the least dramatic, I think that this land might be incredibly impactful on Modern.

When the most recent bannings were announced, my friend JP called me up full of anger and frustration. “How could they leave Modern alone!” he exclaimed. “Tron is a problem. It’s not that you can’t beat it, but its that some decks are so bad at it, they barely ought to even try!”

When Ixalan came out, he basically was all smiles. Field of Ruin was enough.

Everything you didn’t want to do with Ghost Quarter and can’t do with Tectonic Edge, Field of Ruin does. Using an early Ghost Quarter on a Tron land is a painful experience, as your relative mana loss is intense. Tectonic Edge, on the other hand, can’t be relied upon to stop the land until they get the full set. Field of Ruins, on the other hand, might cost the investment in time to set off, but it doesn’t have either of these two problems.

Importantly, it could make things much simpler for the set of decks most hurt by Tron: B/G/X Midrange lists.

Here is my newest build:

I’m still working on the mana in this deck. There is a way in which I’ve started to think that what I really need in the deck is more basics to make better use of Field of Ruin, but the exact count is hard to get a handle on. One of my favorite things that I’ve done is to use the Field of Ruin on my main phase going into a one-cost discard spell. Simple stuff, but it feels great.

Another card that feels like it might not be nearly as necessary is Spreading Seas. While many decks have gotten great use out of Spreading Seas as a means to chop down the mana of decks that can’t make use of the blue, such that it is an incredibly efficient pseudo-land destruction spell, it is also a card that puts you at risk when you cast it early. Between Field of Ruin and Tectonic Edge, I have a feeling U/W Control might no longer need to rely on Spreading Seas excepting if they really are looking for that pseudo-land kill side of the card – a rarity, but certainly a real thing.

The more I think about it, on another path entirely, perhaps there will be a blue-based deck that will make use of Field of Ruin, Tectonic Edge, and Spreading Seas, though maybe that is pushing things too far. I know I’ll spend some energy exploring it just to see.

I’m always a fan of being ambitious with one’s brainstorming; you go a lot further with a big idea that you scale back than you do never exploring the wild idea. I often think about the year that Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa broke out the Seismic Swans deck at his Nationals. It was a wild idea, and he almost didn’t go with it, but he put in the work, and the wild idea ended up being what it took to win Brazilian Nationals that year.

I’m still putting in the work on these ideas. However, my initial thoughts are that all of these Ixalan cards could make a splash.

This weekend is US Nationals, so sadly, I won’t be able to put any of this to the test further in Modern, as I’ll be playing Standard, but I hope you’ll be rooting me on. I may be playing a few of the cards mentioned in this article. If they’re good enough for Modern, you can bet they make the cut in Standard.

See you in Richmond – wish me luck!