The Ixalan Beginnings

Somewhere between the Pirates and the Dinosaurs, Tom Ross got excited for Ixalan! Today he focuses on the single cards he’s seen with the power to shape the new Standard!

Ixalan previews are in full swing and a few cards have jumped off the page at me and have gotten the gears turning in anticipation of the upcoming Standard rotation. Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon are leaving us September 28, 2017, when Ixalan drops.

Today, I’ll be going over a few of the new cards that stand out to me.

I can really get behind a red card that generates value. Typically, with red decks, you’re expending resources so quickly that you’ll often end up getting the bad end of a two-for-one or worse in spots. A rare card advantage source is very welcome. This competes with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hazoret the Fervent in the current iteration of Mono-Red and I don’t consider Rowdy Crew to be necessarily worse than either.

If your curve remains low, then you’re either casting this with an empty hand or are stuck with unusable removal like Abrade or excess copies of a legendary creature, meaning you’re likely to upgrade your cards from the random discard of Rowdy Crew. If you’re playing this in a deck with Glorybringer and other high-end spells, then you’re more likely to worsen your hand if you’re not looking for more land drops specifically.

I don’t know the numbers on getting the +2/+2 bonus, but I consider that a freeroll that is very hard to micromanage if you aren’t sandbagging three lands or something similar. It probably happens enough and is outrageous when it does. When those stars align, that mythic rarity symbol will be felt.

I figure Rowdy Crew to be a niche Mono-Red card in Standard that’s likely to come out of the sideboard when things get grindy and the opponent is prepared to fight off small creatures. As far as older formats go, Bedlam Reveler has this market already locked up.

Jace somehow finds his way aboard a ship exploring yet another plane. I’m sure I’m not the only one sea-sick of seeing Jace sail into every set.

Jokes aside, three-mana planeswalkers are dangerous territory and they more likely than not end up being very powerful. Let’s look at what each ability really does.

The +1 fits well if you’ve cast a creature on turn 2. Looting is fine, but usually better later in the game unless you have a reason to fill your graveyard. With God-Pharaoh’s Gift not losing much after rotation, this could be a thing. Also note that if your deal both first strike and normal combat damage in a combat step, you get two triggers of looting. Perhaps Adorned Pouncer could be a fit here.

The -2 to make a Phantasmal Bear should be about as good as any other token, like a 2/2 Knight Ally or Wolf. There aren’t typically many incidental ways to target creatures in Constructed that aren’t using a spell or a significant effect like a planeswalker activation.

The -5 is cool and hard to evaluate. It can happen as early as turn 6. If an opponent couldn’t deal with the first Jace, Cunning Castaway, then they won’t be in very good shape to deal with two. I can see this line getting under control decks and being the focus of the game until they find an Hour of Devastation or Revelation.

A gold star goes to the designer of this card, because it has more flavor than a box of Fla-Vor-Ice. But is it playable?

The answer looks like no, though Star of Extinction isn’t far off from being a better Hour of Devastation. If things shake out a certain way, whatever G/R ramp deck that exists post-rotation that wins with Sandwurm Convergence, a big Dinosaur, or whatever could be interested in casting this around turn 5.

Land destruction has been watered down so much that it’s not even looked at anymore. However, land destruction that’s just tacked onto another powerful effect can really shut out games. Imagine how often Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; World Breaker; or Karn Liberated hits land to shut the door on the opponent. Heck, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss is a Modern staple now!

Crazy as it sounds, once the format rotates and slows down because there are fewer sets, sweeper-plus-resource-denial cards like Star of Extinction could find a home or two. Of course, then Ramunap Red will reality-check people goofing off with seven-mana sorceries.

Walk the Plank looks decent, but it’s unclear if there will be a heavy black deck after rotation. Mono-Black Zombies will be left in shambles, but black decks may survive with an influx of new Vampires.

I figure Walk the Plank to be close to unconditional removal, as I don’t have much faith in Merfolk without two-mana lords. Even if Merfolk is a thing, it’s unlikely that there will be enough playables to avoid playing non-Merfolk creatures.

Walk the Plank is a significant step down from Grasp of Darkness, since Glorybringer and Hazoret the Fervent will undoubtedly be everywhere still in Standard. Walk the Plank is probably a touch better on average than a Never // Return would be, though.

I think Entrancing Melody will be a huge player in Standard for the entirety that it’s legal. It does enough of what Threads of Disloyalty did while not being nearly as narrow or falling off to a Disenchant effect or a Cast Out.

Entracing Melody steals tokens for only two blue mana. It scales up to take anything later in the game. It’s creature removal that answers even the most problematic of creatures, like the Gods. It’s an answer and a win condition rolled into one. Previous “Control Magic” like Kefnet’s Last Word and Confiscation Coup had a hefty drawback or deck construction restrictions.

Entracing Melody goes in any blue deck, no questions asked. It also gets stronger in older formats where the creatures are cheaper and better. It’s not a bad answer to Death’s Shadow.

Ever been Clue-flooded before because of Tireless Tracker or opposing Declaration in Stones? I know I’ve have more than ten on the battlefield before just from playing a normal game of Magic. Assembling ten would be a breeze if you tried.

Revel in Riches could win you the game through just normal Magic play. It probably won’t, so you play some Treasure makers to get the flow going. I imagine many of these will be creatures, like Captain Lannery Storm.

Revel in Riches does cost five and takes a turn cycle to trigger. At least it does something, though!

Revel in Riches makes Treasures that you can use to cast spells if you aren’t close to ten. It also works reasonably well in multiples where other I Win Cards don’t. Every few years, the powers that be in Renton, WA print an alternative win condition that falls flat. I think Revel in Riches has potential.

What can I say? I’m a sucker a 3/3 for one green mana. It all started with Rogue Elephant. Next came Nimble Mongoose. Then Wild NacatlExperiment OneScythe Tiger. Some of these are more playable than others. Nevertheless, I didn’t let a drawback hold me back from trying.

Old-Growth Dryads has a significant drawback. Giving the opponent a land can help them out by fixing a color or ramping them or whatever. It doesn’t feel good to cast Path to Exile on turn 1.

But what if they don’t have anything to ramp into? What if they have their colors already? What if they just can’t beat nine power by turn 2?

A lot of things can go wrong giving your opponent a land. I don’t expect Old-Growth Dryads to pop out at people as power creep. I don’t even think people will consider Old-Growth Dryads to be playable at all. Anywhere.

Goblin Guide can give the opponent multiple lands and it’s considered the best one-drop red creature of all time. Old-Growth Dryads is on the fringe of being really great on its own. If we start talking about older formats like Legacy, where people sometimes run no basic lands, or Modern, where you can pair it with Leonin Arbiter, things can get nasty. In Standard, I could see Aven Mindcensor really frustrating people along with Old-Growth Dryads.

Or with this little critter…

We didn’t see Hushwing Gryff do much when it was Standard-legal. We also didn’t have a one-mana 3/3 whose ability we wanted to shut off.

Magical Christmas Land is a fantasy until there are enough pieces to the puzzle to make it work. Tocatli Honor Guard is cheap enough and has a relevant enough body that it could be decent against random Standard creatures.

Ixalan is filled with some pretty good Pirates, but Fathom Fleet Captain is the payoff that will really make the Pirate deck tick. It’s cheap and reasonable on its own. It has a target on its head even without another Pirate on the battlefield, since you can just cast one pre-combat and make a 2/2. I imagine Deadeye Tracker will be saved until turn 3 for such an occasion.

Deadeye Tracker is one of those cards that you put into your tribal theme deck just to have a critical mass of cheap things that share your creature type. Then you’re amazed when it’s actually doing good, relevant things. Imagine playing against a God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck and seeing the look on their face when you play this “sideboard card” Game 1.

I gotta say, I was a big fan of how Pirates worked in Mercadian Masques. Rishadan Brigand and friends would nab a permanent away if the opponent wasn’t looking. They were underpowered, and sort of a griefer mechanic, but I was a big fan. They sure were a hoot with Opportunity.

Now it looks like Pirates are all about rabble-rousing. Different time, different plane.

One more mana, one less color, and five life of difference from Anguished Unmaking. Probably better than Utter End too. Of course, Vraska’s Contempt doesn’t hit artifacts or enchantments, but there doesn’t seem to be any pressing need to remove those, especially not at four mana.

Vraska’s Contempt will give a healthy boost to control mages. Imagine leaving up Glimmer of Genius, Vraska’s Contempt, and a counterspell all at once on turn 4. Talk about having your bases covered and being difficult to play around! Oh, and Hazoret the Fervent is becoming less of a big deal every day.

Infinitely poor templating aside (as worded, it can target itself), I think Hostage Taker is a pretty good card. There’s less to worry about with Hostage Taker than, say, Fairgrounds Warden, since you can often cast the card before the opponent finds an answer. With enough mana, you can steal the creature or artifact and cast it in the same turn. Heart of Kiran is a pretty good cheap artifact floating around Standard.

Hostage Taker does all of the usual stuff that a “Fiend Hunter” would do too. Gets rid of tokens forever. Kills a Treasure. Makes them use a Walking Ballista. I imagine Hostage Taker will go in U/B Pirate decks and the pilots won’t even really care if its two-for-one potential fully comes to fruition. The tempo of removing a blocker for a turn might be enough.

And then there’s Huatli, Warrior Poet. Huatli comes in at the same time that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar goes out. Both planeswalkers can use all three of their abilities the turn you cast them. The modes are comparable too. Gideon becoming a 5/5 and Huatli making creatures not block both push through damage. Huatli’s lifegain and Gideon’s emblem are better for longer games. Creating a 3/3 Dinosaur or a 2/2 Knight Ally is similar, and of course a 3/3 is better, but it’s unclear if it’s a whole mana better. Hualti’s ability to kill small flyers and thus protect itself another way might be a key difference in the comparison.

Meanwhile, Sentinel Totem is a much better card that Crook of Condemnation. God-Pharaoh’s Gift will still be a thing in Standard and not all decks will have the ability to run Scavenger Grounds. The scry of Sentinel Totem is huge and puts it into the Modern conversation on whether it’s better than Relic of Progenitus or Tormod’s Crypt, although decks with black will still stick to Nihil Spellbomb.

Merfolk, Pirates, and Dinosaurs. Oh My.

With only a third of Ixalan known, I can already get a sense of what new Standard will be like. G/R Ramp will be casting huge things. There will be several different takes on Pirate decks. U/G Merfolk will emerge from the depths. God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Approach of the Second Sun will still be very good. Ramunap Red will be the Level 0 deck to beat. At least I think so.

What’s your favorite card from Ixalan so far?