I'm happy to finally get a chance to dig into Ixalan, and it appears that there are going to be a lot of sweet creatures in the set, largely with a tribal focus. I want to try to go over some of the more important creature types in Ixalan, and how they could potentially create new Standard decks.
For many players, this is going to be the most exciting tribe, and for good reason. This is essentially a brand-new creature type (if we discount a card like Pygmy Allosaurus) so it's hard to know exactly what to expect. Of course, when thinking of Dinsosaurs we think of them as being very large creatures, and it appears they will live up to expectations. The casting cost on the ones previewed so far is high, but you also are getting a lot of bang for your buck.
This is one of the most exciting Dinosaur creatures yet, as it is nuts in a deck with plenty of other dinos. It would be really cool to see a Dinosaur tribal deck in Standard, and this card could be one of the centerpieces to that strategy. However, there is a major issue with trying to play all the Dinosaurs, since all the creatures have a high mana cost. Perhaps there will be some cheaper Dinosaurs that can go in a deck alongside Gishath, Sun's Avatar.
This was the perfect time for Wizards to start printing more large creatures, with the Eldrazi creatures rotating. We no longer have a card like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to ramp to, and we need to have some big threats to provide a payoff for those decks.
Ripjaw Raptor looks like one of the strongest Dinosaurs with a relatively low mana cost. This card is going to shine against smaller creature decks without a lot of hard removal spells. Being able to block an opposing creature, kill it, and then draw a card is pretty awesome. A deck like Ramunap Red has no good way to get Ripjaw Raptor off the board without allowing Enrage to trigger multiple times.
We're seeing Dinosaurs in Naya colors, but it still makes sense for some of the stronger ones to be in green. Green has always been the color with lots of huge monsters, and that is exactly what Dinosaurs are. It also makes sense for Carnage Tyrant to be in green because green typically has the un-counterable creatures. This card is going to be an absolute nightmare for control decks.
Over the past few sets, Blue-Red Control has been the overall best performing and most popular of the control variants. That deck relies heavily on Torrential Gearhulk to close out games, and that card's stats match up very poorly against Carnage Titan. This Dinosaur is going to be incredibly difficult to get off the board. There are really not many good edict effects, so it may be that control decks are forced to turn to a different color pair for sweepers. White-Blue Approach, for instance, seems much better equipped to deal with a Carnage Tyrant with the likes of Fumigate and the fact the win condition is Approach of the Second Sun rather than Torrential Gearhulk.
This is going to be one of the cheapest Dinosaurs in Ixalan. Dinosaurs with flying actually makes some sense, with the tradeoff that the ones that fly aren't as large. This could see play in very aggressive decks that really want opposing creatures to come into play tapped. In a format with lots of haste creatures, like we see in Ramunap Red, an effect like this is going to be better.
Pirates are another sweet new tribe, and hit a different part of the color pie. Dinosaurs seem to be primarily in Naya colors, while Pirates are Grixis. We have not seen too many Pirates printed in the history of Magic – Pirate Ship was quite a while ago. Pirates certainly seem to fall under the category of being trickier creatures that gain their power from abilities rather than raw stats, and these creatures will be reasonably costed.
This is signature mythic rare for Pirates. The Admiral also benefits from playing a deck full of Pirates, as that really is the way to make him good. The nice thing about Admiral Beckett Brass is that in a Pirate deck you can play him at the top of your curve, and he only costs four mana. If you are able to gain control of an opposing permanent with the Admiral, most of the time it will immediately spell doom for the opponent.
We haven't seen many traditional lords that give an entire tribe a bonus in power and toughness, but Admiral Beckett Brass certainly is one. It seems clear that Wizards is going to make a push for more tribal decks to be playable in Standard, especially now that Zombies and Humans strategies are no more.
This could definitely be a Standard staple. It is very similar to Gonti, Lord of Luxury in that it allows you to cast one of the opponent's cards. It is also similar to a card like Fiend Hunter, as it is a removal spell in the form of a creature. In many ways, it is a better version of both of those cards. Clearly you don't want Hostage Taker to immediately die to a removal spell, but if it doesn't you will be able to most likely cast the card exiled with it. In other spots, you may have a lot of mana so you can exile a card with Hostage Taker and then cast it immediately. Gonti, Lord of Luxury isn't able to take a troublesome card off the opponent's off the board, so its impact is generally not as immediate.
This is a solid two-drop that also has synergy in a deck full of Pirates! Not only that, but it makes more Pirates that aren't easy to block thanks to menace. Fathom Fleet Captain is going to fit right into a Standard Pirate deck that wants to be aggressive and have quality threats to play for the first few turns, which is very similar to the Zombie deck that is leaving Standard right now.
Having good one-drops is critical for any aggressive creature deck, and Deadeye Tracker is certainly strong enough to fit into the Pirate deck. Early in the game he may chip in for a couple points of damage while triggering other Pirate synergy cards like Fathom Fleet Captain that need another Pirate in play. The ability to Explore later in the game means that you can get card advantage out of him.
This is probably going to be my favorite Pirate in Ixalan. A three-mana, two-power haste dude on the surface may seem unexciting, but the Treasure artifact token you can create seems great. This is a form of mana acceleration, color fixing and pump all in one. Pirate decks will have cards like Deadeye Tracker that want ways to generate mana later in the game too, so I'm sure the Treasure artifact token will be put to good use.
Now we have come to a tribe that many players are already familiar with; Merfolk see regular play in Modern and Legacy. However, the Merfolk that will be around in Standard look to be quite different from the Merfolk that we saw back in Lorwyn block. The first noticeable difference is that Merfolk are branching out from blue, and we now have green Merfolk as well. Based on what we've seen, I don't expect a straightforward single-color Merfolk deck filled with lords in Standard, so in order to make Merfolk work with Ixalan it will take a bit more creativity.
We are used to Merfolk creatures being cheap, yet here we are with a signature mythic rare costing seven mana. In many ways, this creature reminds me of Prime Speaker Zegana – It should be the most expensive threat in a deck full of smaller creatures, but I see ramp creatures playing well alongside a card like this. A ramp creature means you will be able to play Tishana, Voice of Thunder more quickly and draw another card off her trigger when entering play.
Deeproot Champion is an interesting card, as it Contradicts the basic idea of a tribal deck wanting to play a ton of creatures, as this is almost like a green prowess creature. Deeproot Champion definitely looks like a strong card, but it may be difficult to find the right home for it. We may not see a full-blown Merfolk based tribal deck if the strongest Merfolk are cards like this.
We are used to seeing Kira, Great Glass-Spinner in Modern Merfolk, and Kopala provides a very similar effect. This is a way of making spot removal spells the opponent might be playing very bad, and needs to be played in a deck with almost exclusively Merfolk. If there are enough good Merfolk to pair with it, Kopala, Warden of Waves will see Standard play.
The last tribe today is the one we have the least amount of information on. As of publication, there are only a few Vampires previewed, so it's tough to say exactly how large a role they will play in Ixalan. What's interesting is we are now seeing Vampires branch out into white instead of the black and red we are accustomed to.
This is going to be very good in a deck with lots of Vampires. Aggressive decks already want to be attacking, and if you already have a Vampire in play when casting Mavren on turn three, the amount of Vampires on the battlefield can spiral pretty quickly. We could definitely use some more ways to gain life in Standard too.
It is definitely weird seeing a flash creature that's a Vampire. Perhaps there will be some sort of sacrificial synergies related to the Vampire tribe. I'm expecting to see some type of sacrifice outlet like Nantuko Husk (but a Vampire) to go along with Bloodcrazed Paladin. The issue with Bloodcrazed Paladin is that even though it only costs two mana, you are unlikely to want to play it on the second turn of the game.
Thanks for reading,
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