Six Predictions for Ixalan Standard

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
8/31/2017 11:01:00 AM
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Preview season has begun, and the release of Ixalan in under a month away. Standard will soon undergo a rotation, and that means big changes in the metagame. Now is the time to start thinking about what the format will look like with the old cards removed and the new cards added. We know everything leaving, the entirety of the Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad blocks, and we have plenty of newly spoiled cards to think about. We can already form some picture of what the future metagame is going to look like, so today I'll share my predictions about Ixalan Standard.

Pirate Aggro Will Be Competitive

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Zombies is nearly completely gutted from rotation, and Mardu can't survive as anything looking like its current form, so that leaves room for Ixalan's Pirate tribe to fill the niche of synergy-centric aggressive deck. Pirates are an alternative to Ramunap Red's “good-stuff” approach of high individual card quality but no synergies between its cards, and will force the metagame to disrupt its elements or be overpowered.

There are some spoiled Pirates that have some excellent Pirate synergies, specifically Dire Fleet Captain and Admiral Beckett Brass, but there are also some individually powerful Pirates that will help the deck push through even the heaviest disruption. Ruin Raider, for example, looks like the best Clone of Dark Confidant since the original. It doesn't require any other creatures to function, but will certainly benefit from them, and will be a perfect fit into any Pirate deck. Fathom Fleet Captain is another Pirate that demands an answer or threatens to take over the game, and it looks like a fantastic staple two-drop for the tribe. Hostage Taker is reminiscent of Sower of Temptation, and Dreamcaller Siren of Mistbind Clique, so that makes Pirates look something like the new Faeries, and that's high praise to be compared to the tribe with the most dominant history in Standard.

Pirates could also be the best home for Jace, Cunning Castaway. Beyond the artwork clearly depicting Jace as some sort of seafarer, potentially a Pirate, its +1 ability gives creatures the ability to draw a card and discard a card when they hit the opponent, an ability historically referred to as “looting,” a very pirate-like ability that is even found on a Standard-playable Pirate in the set, Daring Saboteur. This ability needs cheap aggressive creatures to be worthwhile, and Pirates provide that. The -2 ability to create a flying threat is also ideal in an aggressive deck. The ability essentially turns Jace into a Wind Drake with upside, and that's a great start for a deck that can follow it up with further pressure and disruption, like Pirates looks like it will be able to do.

Ramp Decks Will Survive as Dinosaur Ramp

The loss of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and World Breaker means that ramp decks are losing their payoff cards and their identity, but Dinosaurs could serve to Refocus the deck and give it a viable payoff for ramping. The key card here is Gishath, Sun's Avatar, which beyond being a huge vigilance threat that can take over the battlefield, comes with the ability to play Dragons for free from the top of deck. It doesn't have the immediate game-winning capability of an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but its body combined with putting a Dragon or two into play for free and threatening to do it again next turn will be enough to win many games.

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Gishath, Sun's Avatar doesn't work by itself, so it needs support of removal to help push it through, which elevates Hour of Devastation to a staple in a world without Kozilek's Return, and it needs a deck with enough Dinosaurs to make its ability consistently effective. There are a few Dinosaurs that look like promising support cards. Perhaps the best card to hit with the ability is Verdant Sun's Avatar, which converts it and any other Dinosaurs into huge amounts of life. It will trigger any other Dinosaurs entering play at the same time, so it does a lot to help Gishath, Sun's Avatar stabilize the game. Another support card is Burning Sun's Avatar. It's a large threat that can destroy a small creature and damage planeswalker or the opponent, and it survives Hour of Devastation. Carnage Tyrant is another large threat that survives the sweeper and is generally very difficult opponents to deal with, so it's another potential staple for the deck.

The Dinosaur Ramp deck will want to play more creatures than the traditional ramp deck, but it does receive particularly strong payoff for doing so with Pillar of Genesis, which is a two-mana accelerator in Standard that doesn't come attached to a creature and thus survives removal and the deck's own sweepers. One downside of the card is it doesn't work well with traditional ramp like Hour of Promise, so there is tension there that might push it out, seeing as Hour of Promise is still the best way to ramp in Standard and a perfect way to curve into Gishath, Sun's Avatar. With Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Sanctum of Ugin gone, the deck has room for Deserts to turn on the Zombie-producing ability of Hour of Promise with lands like Hashep Oasis and Ramunap Ruins, which look great in a Dinosaur deck that's relatively more aggressive than the Eldrazi ramp deck.

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There are some other things going on in Dinosaurs too, like Ripjaw Raptor as a threat lower on the curve, and a potential card-drawing engine with Walking Ballista, which is right at home in a ramp deck. Walking Ballista is also quite interesting with Bellowing Aegisaur. Its Enrage ability puts +1/+1 counters on all other creatures, meaning it will grow the Walking Ballista too, at the net expense of zero counters. It's not an infinite combo because the Bellowing Aegisaur will die after five activations, but pumping the rest of the team up to four times a turn would quickly be game-winning. There's also the potential to have two Bellowing Aegisaur, which would allow each one to pump the other and go truly infinite with Walking Ballista. Priest of the Waking Sun gives the Dinosaur deck a life gain engine that would be strong against a deck like Red, and its tutor ability is a way to find Gishath, Sun's Avatar in a ramp deck or a Bellowing Aegisaur to combo with. If more even cheaper dragons like Kinjalli's Sunwing are spoiled, there is even the potential for an aggressive tribal Dragon Zoo-style deck.

Vampires Will Continue to Struggle in Standard

Vampires were a big part of Shadows of Innistrad and Eldritch Moon and were seemingly heavily pushed for Standard, but they nearly completely failed to compete with other decks as a competitive option. Vampires are back in Ixalan and the spoiler shows some powerful ones, like Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle and Bishop of Rebirth, but I have a hard time seeing them making their way into the top-tier of Standard.

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A tribe needs significant support to be competitive in Standard, and in the case of Zombies that support had to come from multiple blocks. Ixalan isn't going to support Vampires enough to make it worthwhile, and I see the Vampires as more of a nod to the Commander crowd, and a Concerted Effort to push the tribe in conjunction with the Vampire Commander 2017 deck that was released this week.

Don't Hold Your Breath on Merfolk

There have been some appealing Merfolk spoiled in Ixalan, but I don't Foresee them forming anywhere near a competitive Standard deck. Cards like Deeproot Waters and Herald of Secret Streams look perfect for Commander, but aren't anywhere near efficient enough for Standard.

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Kopala, Warden of Waves is a cool commander and a possible replacements for Kira, Great Glass-Spinner in Legacy and Modern Merfolk, but not something to build around in Standard. A card that would definitely be cut out for Standard is Kumena's Speaker, but it's going to need a whole lot more support to be viable.

Treasure Tokens are Not the Spiritual Successor to Clue Tokens

The rotation of Shadows over Innistrad means the loss of Clue tokens, which have been a major part of Standard since their arrival. Thraben Inspector was one of the finest role-playing creatures in Standard because of the card advantage it brought to the table, and Tireless Tracker was the central card drawing engine of green decks for years and has made its way into Modern and even Legacy staple. The new Treasure tokens of Ixalan are similar in that they store a resource in a non-creature token, but converting into extra mana as opposed to an extra card makes them function very differently.

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Clue tokens were a mana sink that a deck could turn to when they ran out of action, but they took a significant amount of mana expenditure, meaning they were best in late-game scenarios. Treasure tokens instead store mana in play, so they help a deck use the card resources it already has more quickly. As opposed to helping beat the opponent like Clue tokens by grinding them out through attrition, Treasure tokens help beat the opponent by giving access to more mana than the opponent has, meaning it converts to a tempo advantage. Treasure tokens will help a deck catch up with an opponent from behind or push further ahead, but won't do anything later in the game when there are no more cards to cast.

The value of Treasure tokens isn't as universally useful as Clue tokens, seeing that they are essentially useless when a deck is out of cards, as opposed to Clue tokens that would keep the action going, so they will be included into decks more selectively. I see a couple main uses: in creature decks on cards like Captain Lannery Storm, where the will help an aggressive deck quickly gain a battlefield advantage and overwhelm the opponent, and secondly on a card like Treasure Map in ramp decks that can use Treasure tokens to accelerate into a large threat that should end the game and thus eliminate the need to play a long attrition game.

Energy Decks Will Rule

Energy is a powerful mechanic that even proved broken on Aetherworks Marvel, so it's very unlikely that new cards will be so powerful as to invalidate Energy as a strategy. In fact, Energy is likely to be among the best things to be doing in the new metagame, and a variety of Energy decks will thrive.

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Temur Energy holds the distinction of losing less cards in rotation than any other top deck in Standard. Nearly the entirety of the deck remains, and that makes it the clear front-runner this fall and the established deck-to-beat that all new strategies will have to be tested against. It presents itself as a versatile midrange deck capable of controlling the game against aggressive decks, getting aggressive against control, and disrupting combo decks, so it has game against every opponent and has plenty of room to adjust itself to any metagame. With high card quality and inherent versatility, I can't imagine it being pushed out of Standard.

Black-green loses all of its delirium cards, so the deck will need to shift to another angle, and its best option is to embrace the energy theme that has been successful for the color combination since the printing of Winding Constrictor. The deck takes a more aggressive approach than Temur, and uses Greenbelt Rampager and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to pressure its opponents and gain an early advantage that the opponent won't be able to recover from, but it retains midrange elements with its suite of removal spells and discard.

Electrostatic Pummeler may be the potentially most broken thing left to do with energy, so it could see a rebirth as a top deck in Standard if the metagame is more susceptible to its all-in aggressive and nearly combo-like stance than the more midrange styles of the Temur and black-green decks. Energy becoming a relatively bigger presence in the rotation means a rise in the value of Solemnity, which is the only card to truly hose Energy itself and thus turn off much of the payoff for playing Energy cards.

What are your Ixalan predictions? How do you see the set shaping the Standard metagame? Do any spoiled cards have potential in Modern or beyond? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.

-Adam
@AdamYurchick




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