The White Cards Of Ixalan

Patrick Chapin kicks off his famous set review for Ixalan with the white cards! We’ve already seen hype for Tocatli Honor Guard, but what will “The Innovator” do with the set’s Vampires?

Ixalan is here, but for the first time in a long time, there isn’t a Pro Tour on the immediate horizon. Instead, the pace for Standard will be set by the World Championships. This change coupled with the first four-set rotation in a hot minute makes this Standard format’s evolutionary track a real wild card.

Today, I’d like to start with a look at the white cards of Ixalan!

So, nowadays, it might be tempting to quickly dismiss a card like this; however, we’re talking about a substantially more powerful Mirror Universe. It’s a Mirror Universe from now on.

So? Why would we want to keep switching?

It’s not that we’re switching over and over. It’s that we can put the Axis of Mortality down as soon as possible and then get some value. Not only does this ensure you have something to show for it if they eventually destroy it, but you sort of have most of both players’ life totals to work with. Instead of having to wait to get down as low as you dare risk things, you can just switch and go back up to twenty, setting them at fourteen. Then, a few turns later, set them to eight and go back to fourteen.

Of course, the other big thing you can do with Axis of Mortality is combo people out.

Adanto Vanguard is kind of interesting. It hits above its cost while also being a resilient threat. Having a “combo” piece that’s resilient to removal is kind of nice anyway. It’s vulnerable to cards that make a creature unable to block, along with -1/-1 counters and exile effects, but on the whole, it’s not too bad a deal.

Adanto Vanguard combines with Axis of Mortality with backbreaking efficiency. You can respond to your Axis of Mortality trigger by paying life until you are at four or less. Then Adanto Vanguard, Walking Ballista, or Gideon of the Trials can finish your opponent off.

This list might be a little too liberal with the life payment, but it is kind of nice that we can get turn those costs into upside. The opportunity cost of using Ifnir Deadlands and Shefet Dunes is just not very high, and is especially nice for getting people to one or two instead of three or four. Once they’re that low, Painful Lesson is great, since we can use it as a finisher.

There is some appeal to playing Glorifier of Dusk as an additional way to pay life. It even gives you more control over how much life you pay. However, Glorifier of Dusk is a much, much less efficient card, to start with. Its abilities aren’t nearly as useful for such a strategy. It’s also facing stiff competition at the five-spot. Besides, it’s not like the biggest problem you face is figuring out how to make sure your Mirror Universe combo puts your opponent to two instead of four a little more often.

Vona, Butcher of Magan is a much more attractive five-drop option if you’re specifically in the market to combo people out. Paying seven life is already a huge chunk, plus whatever damage you have already taken during the game. Besides, you also get to hit a nonland permanent for your trouble.

On its own, Vona is a totally respectable threat, anyway. It’s not quite Glorybringer, and the head-to-head is a little rough, but I think it’s flying a little under the radar for people who forget just how much of Batterskull and Blood Baron of Vizkopa came from being a 4/4 with lifelink. This ability is no joke, either. Since you can do it at any time during your turn, Vona can absolutely demolish opponents that attempt to double block you. It also provides an added layer of defense against planeswalkers and really makes outstanding Cast Outs a liability.

Of course, we could also look to go a more Vampire-centric route with our Adanto Vanguard. For instance:

The Vampire tribe isn’t exactly super-long on high-powered payoffs, but there are a couple.

Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle seems like the big payoff for going Vampires in the first place. It’s odd that the best tribal payoff for a tribe with tons of token-making doesn’t even work with all other token-making, but whatever. Even just working with the Vampire cards we do have, it takes very little for Mavren Fein to get ahead (just trigger it even once). This is particularly easy to do (once you have Vampires) because of your ability to drop Mavren Fein and get a token in the same turn by attacking with another Vampire (giving the ability a sort of “virtual haste,” almost “enters the battlefield” quality to it).

The big black payoff in a Vampire deck, Sanctum Seeker is a Hellrider without haste, but one with an extra point of toughness and all that damage coming in the form of drains instead of just damage.

I’m not actually sure if the above list is even getting enough mileage out of Sanctum Seeker to be worth it; however, the more we turned to various token-making options, the more attractive the card becomes. One of the challenges, however, is that the token-making spells can’t be cast off Unclaimed Territory. You don’t need to play Unclaimed Territory, and you don’t need to play cards like Walk the Plank, but you do have to draw some lines somewhere. The mana is just hard in enemy-color combinations at the moment.

Amonkhet Deck Builder’s Toolkit is Standard-legal, FYI, making Forsaken Sanctuary legal.

This is a pretty medium-minus creature, so I hope it doesn’t actually come to this.

This card seems like it’s got potential, but it’s going to take some work finding the right build to consistently take advantage of it in a timely fashion. It’s another pull towards a more swarm-like approach. It can be a defense against sweepers, sure, but it’s also a potential blowout in combat from time to time.

It’s a little underpowered, and I’m not sure Vampires are even in the market for a bona fide combat trick. That said, +2/+2 and first strike for one mana isn’t the worst, and the new format looks like one where tempo plays are at a premium. Gifted Aetherborn is a particularly attractive target.

It would take a pretty respectable ability to get us into a 1/3 flier for two. Skyblade Legion’s “lack of a drawback” is a fair bit short.

Ashes of the Abhorrent has a little bit of Rest in Peace / Grafdigger’s Cage action going on, mixed with a little bit of Authority of the Consuls. Its most likely application is as a sideboard card that aspires to be slot-efficient, targeting both objectives. In theory, it could also just be of value to a token deck in the market for more disruption (though this use seems less likely).

Cool Draft build-around. Compares poorly to cards like Verdurous Gearhulk in Constructed.

While Bishop of Rebirth is a full mana cheaper than Sun Titan, it’s also half the size and missing the enters-the-battlefield ability. It’s not out of the question, but I am really skeptical of Bishop of Rebirth, given how many awesome alternatives there are at the five-spot.

Second Thoughts was never a major player in Constructed, and Bright Reprisal doesn’t even exile. Besides, creatures are stronger than they used to be. Lots of things are, really.

Niche sideboard option, but the price is right when you’re in the market for what it does offer.

We’ve seen 1/1 fliers for one with no other ability prove good enough, and we’ve seen 1/1 fliers with attractive upside fall short. The tap ability here doesn’t bring all that much to the table, but it is something. More importantly, Duskborne Skymarcher is a reliable attacker for triggering Mavren Fein, Sanctum Seeker, and Legion’s Landing.

Legion’s Landing actually seems a little challenging to make good use of in Vampires, given how much it clashes with Unclaimed Territory and Gifted Aetherborn.

However, you can just use it as a Tokens card or as an aggro card, where it functions like a Sacred Cat with a very different second act. You don’t actually need to wait for the token to die, of course, and you can actually cast the Landing on a turn where you already have three attackers in order to flip it immediately. Once flipped, it’s basically a Kjeldoran Outpost you don’t have to sacrifice a land for!

Now, if we wanna get really fancy…

This list is still very rough, but the part I’m particularly interested in is interaction between Oketra’s Monument and Legion Conquistador.

The new “Squadron Hawk” is a little pricier but brings a lot more body to the table if you don’t mind the lack of evasion. What makes it so great with Oketra’s Monument is getting a 4x multiplier on the mana savings, as well as a 4x multiplier on the token generation. What the rest of the deck looks like, I don’t know, although Shefet Dunes seems like it’s got to play a pretty crucial role.

I don’t have enough Vampires for it in this version, but I could also imagine building around Vanquisher’s Banner and Legion Conquistador. There, we’d get a +4/+4 worth of stats, plus basically be assured of never running out of cards in hand, ever again.

Without much of a relevant creature type, Emissary of Sunrise is likely going to fall just a little short. Three mana has a lot of competition, and this isn’t exactly the most efficient distribution of stats and abilities.

I love a Tundra Wolf as much as the next guy, but this ability takes so long to come online, I just don’t see it.

This is just one of those 3/3s for seven that needs to live, and then attack, in order to do anything. And then, when all that goes right, you’re just getting an Overrun of sorts.

Cool card. Just not enough rate for Constructed.

Imperial Lancer is an interesting tribal payoff, encouraging some potential Dinosaur aggro deck going a very different direction from the big mana ramp style that first comes to mind. While a 1/1 double striker for one is under-costed, we’re not actually doing all that much unless we’ve got a few pumps here and there to occasionally get a good multiplier on. Otherwise, we end up like:

Well, I guess…

We sure are working awfully hard to make synergies that probably aren’t as good as just playing Toolcraft Exemplar, or Earthsaker Khenra, or Ahn-Crop Crasher, or Chandra, or Glorybringer.

Okay, so a 2/2 flier for two isn’t necessarily embarrassing, and I’m betting the menace on Sky Terror overperforms. Nevertheless, Sky Terror isn’t the most inspiring foundation for your deck.

I do like that Unclaimed Territory meaningfully contributes to us being able to make the mana work in an enemy-color aggro deck (especially with only one color’s worth of noncreature spells). However, it is awkward, being split between Dinosaurs and Humans. Besides, we’re just not getting all that much of a tribal payoff besides Kinjalli’s Caller, and a Dinosaur deck with green makes much better use of the Caller.

Kinjalli’s Caller is a legitimately exciting tribal reward, promising the dream of Turn 1 Caller into Turn 2 Kinjalli’s Sunwing (or some other three-drop Dinosaur, such as the Rampaging Ferocidon). You can also cast two Dinosaurs in the same turn for some very explosive early turns.

Kinjalli’s Sunwing is a very respectable heir to Thalia’s crown. It doesn’t have the modest mana denial aspect, but flying and the Dinosaur creature type help.

Kind of nice to actually have some real twos, as we don’t always have the Caller. Even with the Caller, however, Raptor Companion works well. You don’t just need to play two two-drops on two. You can also play a three on two and then follow it up with another three and a two on your third turn.

It might look funny, but Inspiring Cleric looks decent to me. It’s a fair bit of Kitchen Finks, and while you don’t get the second body, at least you get the life up front and a relevant creature type. I would guess this card at least sees sideboard play but has chances of actually finding some maindeck homes as well.

Ixalan’s Binding is basically a worse Gideon’s Intervention. It can do a better job of a clearing away a blocker, but for the most part, I would Intervention, if you were in the market for this type of thing.

A sorcery-speed Reprisal for a mana more isn’t likely to do much for us.

Not exactly Indomitable Ancients, is it?

We can (and must) do better.

It’s like a Cast Out that doesn’t cycle; doesn’t have flash; doesn’t stop activated, triggered, or static abilities; and doesn’t hit artifacts, enchantments, or planeswalkers. On the bright side, it does gain two life!

Priest of the Wakening Sun isn’t exactly best friends with Rampaging Ferocidon, but we’ll be looking at it more closely when discussing the green cards of Ixalan.

You know how we weren’t into the 3/3 flier for four with an enters-the-battlefield ability and a relevant creature type? Well, removing the ability and type, in exchange for adding a drawback to the flying, doesn’t quite get us there…

While cute and fun, it seems unlikely that we’re getting enough mileage out of this token-maker to be worth it, at least compared to the other three-cost alternatives. Stranger things have happened, but I wouldn’t start here.

You’re going to have to be pretty into exerting to get your money’s worth from Rallying Roar. I guess maybe you could have lots of tap abilities, too?

This is a pretty attractive card in small numbers, giving useful options to Torrential Gearhulk, though there are lots of alternatives fighting for the slots. Generally speaking, however, it’s not a bad rate at all.

While Ritual of Rejuvenation is a more well-rounded maindeck card, Sanguine Sacrament isn’t necessarily crazy as a one-of. It’s also a pretty exciting sideboard card, giving you a way to sustain against Ramunap Ruins and other aggro reach plans.

It seems a little goofy, but I’m not sure Settle the Wreckage is actually out of the question. Sure, all the usual caveats about instants and Gearhulks aside, the card is still a pretty respectable Turn 4 play against fast aggro decks. They get a lot of land, sure, but you’re kind of Plague Winding them, too. As long as you’ve got a plan for not just getting Ruined, I’d keep an eye on this one.

Sometimes creature-based combo decks or white aggro decks are in the market for efficient ways to protect their key cards from removal. Sheltering Light is a reasonable option for many such purposes, and the scry 1 could even help set up whatever combo we’re talking.

Not exactly the Glorybringer of Dinosaurs.

Slash of Talons is a little underpowered, but it does its job passably, even if it’s a bit narrow. You have to really mean it, though. So many other cards have so many more uses or larger impacts.

This ability is sort of like activatable double strike, but without the option of hitting players as hard. It obviously scales better with a different mix of cards than most double strike creatures, but it’s pretty far into the space of being a Draft-only card.

Would be Draft-only if it cost a mana less.

Probably Draft only, but I guess it’s possible you could want this in a deck that had a lot of heavy rewards for Dinosaurs, needed cheap Dinosaurs, and had a tendency to get into ground stalls.

A plausible “hatebear,” Tocatli disrupts a fair number of popular creatures, but the symmetrical nature of the card really restricts where all we can play it. That said, it could also be cute alongside Exemplar of Strength, Plague Belcher, and so on.

Finally, another Dinosaur best saved for when we return with the green cards of Ixalan. Stay tuned and see you then!