A First Look at Ixalan

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
9/7/2017 11:02:00 AM
submit to reddit » Print «

Ahh yes. Pirates and Dinosaurs. We've been clamoring for it for quite some time and our dreams of having eye-patched sea-based plunderers and giant prehistoric land beasts together is at long last coming to a forced fruition. Ixalan is like a weird crossover between Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Davy Jones has been keeping some Pterodactyl paraphernalia in his locker along with a poster of Jack Sparrowsaurus walking a dinosaur's plank. I'm not sure how pirates and the dinos really mix, but there's no denying that it's certain to be an interesting set at the very least. Chip away at them with some Pirates and then finish the job with a Dinosaur. It's a classic trope, brought to life.

At least I can say that my love of drafting “The Dinosaur” strategy of Scars of Mirrodin Limited is back in full swing – now with actual Dinosaurs. But I'm not here to talk about Limited, as, to be completely frank, nobody really cares. I'm here for some of that sweet, sweet, Constructedy goodness. The cream filling of the Magic Oreo. Sixty card decks with 15-card sideboards.

I'm going to take a look at some of the more important-seeming cards from Ixalan and talk about whether I think they'll be good in Standard or not.

Ripjaw Raptor

I think R.J. Raptor is one of the best cards in the set. It will occasionally die to Fatal Push or a Fumigate without providing much value, but for everything else, it's a master card. Even ignoring blatant yet still powerful synergies with cards like Walking Ballista, this gangster Raptor gives you a card whenever it trades in combat or dies to something like Harnessed Lightning, which will likely be the single most powerful removal spell in the new format. Five points of toughness means it also doesn't just up and die to Glorybringer, and even though it does bite it to Hour of Devastation, you still do get a fresh card out of the deal. Ripjaw Raptor also lets you draw a card whenever your opponent has to chump block it, which is super relevant. A lot of games devolve into board states where one player is sending in a big bruiser and the other player is throwing crappy value creatures like Minister of Impediments or Whirler Virtuoso thopters in the way to buy time. Ripjaw Raptor punishes that hard.

The question for cards like this is always the same. Are there better creatures in the same slot that it has to compete with? The answer right now is yes and no. Bristling Hydra is at the same mana cost and is likely better in decks designed around it. Drawing cards isn't necessarily better than just being untouchable and large enough to end the game ASAP, which is what Bristling Hydra does. The difference is that Bristling Hydra requires an energy shell to truly thrive, whereas R and R can see play in any green deck, really. It's that versatility, and the number of nifty combos with cards like Walking Ballista that will push this card over Bristling Hydra in many decks. Ripjaw Raptor will be good. I like green creatures that provide value, so I imagine you'll see me piloting this card quite a lot.

Rowdy Crew

I'll pass. We see red creatures like this fairly often. They cost four mana, have pretty good stats and pretty relevant abilities, but they are just too slow to cut it in Standard. They aren't fast enough to do anything in aggressive red decks, and they don't provide enough value in midrange or controlling red decks. Without haste, a creature like this is unlikely to be good enough to see serious Constructed play. This is especially doubled when we consider that Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are both very powerful four-mana red cards that are pretty likely to push something like this out.

Jace, Cunning Castaway

It's growing on me. At first look I thought this Jace was mostly unplayable, but I've since revised that to think that it's situationally playable. If Jace gets to -2 twice, then that's probably worth it. Making two 2/2 flying creatures for 1UU is a pretty good rate. The problem is that Jace will be difficult to protect and the +1 ability is very much a coinflip as to whether you will actually get value out of it, and the value isn't even necessarily that great. At some points of the game, a loot is essentially equivalent or even better than straight up drawing a card, but there are also many points, especially early in a game, where it's only generating a marginal upgrade. I do like that -2, +1, -2 is a natural play pattern for this card, but being able to loot with the +1 ability means that you have to attack, which leaves Jace defenseless. This makes it pretty unlikely that you'll consistently see Jace live for that last -2.

I think Jace fits fairly well as a value card for an aggressive or tempo-oriented blue deck, but those decks are very rarely a part of Standard. Merfolk are a good tribe to potentially facilitate this kind of thing, and Pirates too, but I remain skeptical that they will break through, and thus I remain skeptical that this Ace of Jace will see much play.

Bellowing Aegisaur

This card combos with Walking Ballista to be able to put four +1/+1 counters on all of your creatures every turn. Shoot Bellowing Aegisaur with Ballista to trigger its ability, which resets the Ballista back to its original size and grows the rest of your team in the meantime. You can only do this four times, as the Aegisaur would die with the 5th activation (which still triggers it if need be). This combo might be too cute to see any legitimate Standard play. It requires a healthy enough board to benefit from this combo as well as the cost of putting a six-mana 3/5 into your deck, which is a fairly hefty cost. Still, I think there might be something here. There are other powerful Enrage creatures, like the aforementioned Ripjaw Raptor, such that it might be possible to build a value-centric creature combo deck utilizing Enrage and cards that synergize with it.

Star of Extinction

Only 20? Longtusk Cub can get bigger than that. Easy. Easy.

Carnage Tyrant

Ohh yeah. Now we're talking. This Tyrant-osaurus Rex is right up my alley. That alley being destroying control decks and getting satisfaction out of the sounds of their wailing and the taste of their tears. I think this card is very good and it will see play. I don't even think it only has to be an anti-control card either. It has pretty acceptable natural stats and hexproof is no joke. I can see this also being a pretty reasonable card against removal-oriented midrange strategies. They might not be able to match it in combat and they sure can't kill it with their removal.

Tocatli Honor Guard

Nope. Players always get hyped over creatures like this and they never turn out to be good in Standard. Without playable stats, this won't see play. A 1/3 for two mana is not going to be good enough to be worth playing, even if it can shut out a few opposing cards. Consider Thalia, Heretic Cathar. That card only saw occasional play and had a much better ability and actually good stats. I would be surprised if this creature did anything in Standard. This feels like a hate (maritime) guard for Modern, and even then I'm not sure you'd want this over Hushwing Gryff, which already sees basically no play.

Deeproot Champion

Opt being reprinted certainly boosts the value of a card like this. This card is almost, but not quite, a reprint of Quirion Dryad, which has seen play in the past. Those cards are almost always driven by playable cantrips. Without the ability to chain spells together, this ends up being something like a 4/4 for two mana that you have to work really hard to put together. That's just not good enough, especially in a format with cards like Fatal Push and Harnessed Lightning that don't really care that much about how big it gets.

Opt helps, but I'm not sure it's enough. I think this card is fairly comparable to Longtusk Cub, the difference being that Cub fuels itself and Cub is way easier to get big enough to run away with a game quickly. Longtusk Cub can also use existing energy, whereas this card only benefits off spells cast after it enters play. I think Longtusk Cub is a way better snowball threat than Deeproot Champion. It's possible that there is a deck that utilizes both, though. Attune with the Aether is a nice spell that fuels both cards.

Ruin Raider

I could actually see this card seeing play. Ruin Raider doesn't have great stats, but in an aggressive deck, it can replace itself immediately, especially if following up one of the two-mana menace Pirates like Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider or Fathom Fleet Captain, which can usually safely attack on turn three. If Pirates end up being kind of a tempo-disruption shell, then having a source of continual card advantage to keep things flowing is going to be pretty important. Tempo decks have less powerful cards than other decks but they rely on keeping the opponent Off Balance long enough to win, and you need to have enough resources to be able to accomplish that.

Ixalan's Binding

This card looks very good. It's an inflexible version of Cast Out but in lieu of cycling and flash you get to also get a free Nevermore out of the deal. This is a pretty strong answer to powerful cards that people play multiple copies of, such as Glorybringer, Oketra's Monument, or Hazoret the Fervent. Being able to answer one of those cards and then never have to worry about it again is actually extremely important because one of the biggest flaws of trying to kill a creature like Hazoret is the risk that they just untap and play another copy. Likewise, when faced with the choice of using something like Abrade on an Oketra's Monument or a creature, you face the risk that they just have an extra previously dead copy of Monument in hand. Ixalan's Binding is also a superb answer to planeswalkers, especially ones that players will play a lot of copies of, such as Chandra, Torch of Defiance.

I'm not sure if this will end up being better than Cast Out or not, but it's different enough and has enough jump in power to potentially make up for the loss of play to it. I suspect that certain decks will want one or the other, but I do think this will see play, even despite Cast Out's presence.

Huatli Warrior Poet

The 0 ability on this card made me immediately compare it to Garruk, Primal Hunter, which was an extremely powerful planeswalker that saw a great deal of Standard play. Unfortunately, the other abilities aren't nearly as good as what Garruk, Primal Hunter had to offer. That said, I think the -X ability does has the potential to be a huge game swinger. It's basically equivalent to casting Magmatic Chasm, but that requires a pretty solid board presence to matter. While this effect may win a lot of games, there are going to also be a lot of games where it is simply irrelevant. The +2 ability is relevant in some matchups, like against Ramunap Red, but otherwise seems pretty weak, other than to pump the loyalty up on Huatli to facilitate a more powerful -X. Having a planeswalker in play long enough to be able to +2 it a few times to set up for a big -X is kind of a pipe dream most of the time. I feel like Huatli is generally going to be a five-mana 3/3 Dinosaur token generator, and I'm not sure that's good enough. Gideon was powerful because all three abilities were so strong, and I think Huatli only has one really great ability, one decent ability and one pretty weak one.

Regisaur Alpha

Seven power for five mana, three of it with haste. It also has a relevant ability that gives future Dinosaurs haste, meaning that the next Regisaur Alpha can send in for seven damage on the very first turn. This card is quite good. There is one problem with it, however.

That problem is that it doesn't seem great when you compare it to other green and red options at five mana. I don't think this card is better than Glorybringer, which hits harder on the first two turns, has evasion and can kill creatures. I also don't think it's better than Verdurous Gearhulk, which has trample, can also send for four points of damage on the first turn by pumping another creature, and has a lot of synergy with Winding Constrictor and Walking Ballista. None of those cards might be better than Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, which is both huge and repeatedly kills creatures or planeswalkers. Unless Dinosaur tribal is a real thing with real benefits, or making two creatures is extremely important, I don't expect this to see a whole lot of play over Glorybringer or the G-Hulk.

Overall, this set looks fairly low powered when compared to the Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks. There are some cards that look pretty sweet, and mechanics that I'm looking forward to playing with like Enrage and explore, but overall the power level seems to be down. Most cards in the set are either seven-mana bombs or cheap cards that provide small amounts of value over time, but neither of those kinds of cards are usually that impactful in Standard. I'm okay with a reduction in power level – Kaladesh was too strong – but it's possible that Ixalan won't have a huge impact on Standard until those sets are gone. At least they are still printing sweet green creatures with built-in card advantage. I can get behind that all day.

- Brian Braun-Duin




submit to reddit » Print «