The Verdict on Ixalan in Modern

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
9/21/2017 11:02:00 AM
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Every new set adds cards to the Modern card pool, and while the vast majority will never see the light of day, a select few cards from each set will inevitably make their way into the format as a competitive option. Ixalan is fully spoiled and the official release is just days away, so today I'll share the cards that I've identified for their potential in Modern, whether it be as a format staple, niche role-player, or something in between. I've been reading any discussion on the topic that I can find, and I've seen many cards brought up for consideration that I don't view as being Modern playable, so I'll also share the cards that I believe are being overrated and will argue against their viability.

The Yays!

Opt

Mid
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 Opt
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$0.24
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The most important Ixalan card for Modern is Opt, which brings this Invasion reprint into the format for the first time. One-mana blue card selection has proven so strong in Modern that Ponder and Preordain were banned shortly after the format's inception, so the printing of a new version is a big deal. Opt being an instant gives it a distinct advantage over sorcery options Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand currently available, so it even has the potential to Oust these staples and become the single best blue card draw spell in Modern.

Opt will be strong in all variety of blue decks, from the most aggressive to the most controlling, and is an especially big boon to combo decks. It's a shoo-in for Storm, which often plays inferior cards like Peek, and I've seen it discussed for Ad Nauseam-Phyrexian Unlife combo. It's going to be fantastic in control decks with Snapcaster Mage, like White-Blue and Jeskai, which it provides with the instant-speed card drawing option to flashback that it has always wanted, and for this reason it could replace Serum Visions in Grixis Death's Shadow. It's ideal for Delver of Secrets decks because it increases the density of spells to flip it, or to trigger Young Pyromancer. It will even make its way into Infect, and expert Tom Ross recently shared an updated list with a playset and lauded it as breathing new life into the archetype.

Search for Azcanta

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 Search for Azcanta
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$9.50
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Another piece of blue card selection that's positioned to be a player in Modern is Search for Azcanta. The ability to control the draw step each turn will quickly make up for the card invested, and over time will pay dividends. It's also an easy way to fuel the graveyard, which makes it strong with flashback, delve, and other ways to benefit from self-mill. When it truly shines is when flipped, when it transforms into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin as a potent source of card selection that digs four cards into the deck each turn. By the time it transforms the advantage it provides will be nearly impossible for any opponent to beat with attrition, so it represents a fantastic end-game plan for any deck dense with non-creature spells. I've seen it included in the control decklists shared by many writers, and Tom Ross even included it in the sideboard of his Infect deck, so it's only a matter of time before it's a common sight across the table.

Field of Ruin

Mid
Low
 Field of Ruin
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$0.23
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Ways to hose lands are always worth a second look in the Modern format filled with greedy multi-color mana bases, excellent utility lands and lands-as-combo pieces like the Urzatron, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and bounce lands. Field of Ruin has potential as an alternative to Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter because of its unique approach to disrupting land. Replacing itself and the land it destroys with a basic land gives it the distinction of not putting its controller down a mana in the exchange. This is of great importance to mana-hungry decks, specifically control decks, that can greatly benefit from disrupting lands, but aren't interested in stifling their own development.

Unlike Tectonic Edge, Field of Ruin can be used early in the game to disrupt Urzatron before they assemble all three Tron lands, but unlike Ghost Quarter it doesn't set the player back a land, and rather even helps fixes mana to cast something like Cryptic Command. It could be of interest in Death and Taxes decks, especially with Leonin Arbiter to prevent the opponent from searching for a basic. Field of Ruin doesn't have the brutal efficiency of Ghost Quarter or Tectonic Edge, but its unique advantages mean it's going to make its way into Modern in some fashion.

Unclaimed Territory

Mid
Low
 Unclaimed Territory
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$0.69
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Another land with Modern potential is Unclaimed Territory. It's strictly worse than Cavern of Souls, but the ability to fix mana for tribal decks means it's going to be commonly used alongside it. It doesn't make much sense in decks like Merfolk or Elves, but it starts to become a very real consideration in decks with three colors, as well as the Slivers and Human decks that routinely dip into a fourth or even fifth color.

Shapers' Sanctuary

Mid
Low
 Shapers' Sanctuary
$1.89
$0.51
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Efficiency is the name of the game in eternal formats like Modern, so Shapers' Sanctuary costing just one-mana brings it into consideration as a way to fight back against creature disruption. Modern is filled with creature removal to combat the excellent creatures that define the format, and sideboards are filled with even more removal to further contain dedicated creature decks that rely on their creatures to win. Pushing back against this plan by bringing in Shapers' Sanctuary gives these creature decks a way to beat removal by making their threats nearly inexhaustible, as each destroyed creature will be replaced by a new card.

I first saw Shapers' Sanctuary mentioned for Modern as possible sideboard tech for Affinity, which has no shortage of creatures and always finds itself slogging through removal spells. It seems excellent in Elves, which relies on its creature synergies to win, and it could be useful in Collected Company decks, especially combo-oriented versions like Abzan Company that the opponent needs creature removal to beat. Tom Ross also included the card in his new Infect sideboard, where it can defeat the opponents that rely on their removal like Fatal Push, Lighting Bolt and Path to Exile to stop it. Shapers' Sanctuary will surely find a home in a Modern format defined between by the interplay between the best creatures in the game and the most efficient removal spells available.

Carnage Tyrant

Mid
Low
 Carnage Tyrant
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$14.00
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Carnage Tyrant might be the best card in Ixalan for Standard, and I see it finding a home in Modern. There aren't any decks that are going to jam a playset into the main deck, but it's reminiscent of Thrun, the Last Troll as a fierce anti-control sideboard card. Control is on the comeback in Modern – and the finals of last weekend's SCG Modern Open even featured two Jeskai Control decks in the finals – so players are going to fight back. Thrun, the Last Troll is worse than ever because it loses to the set of Spell Queller these decks include, but they have no recourse to Carnage Tyrant besides a sweeper like Supreme Verdict, which they only include as a one-of in the sideboard.

Carnage Tyrant seems especially useful for decks with tutors like Chord of Calling and Summoner's Pact can that play it in the sideboard as a high-impact singleton to catch control decks unprepared and beat them singlehandedly. I'm particularly fond of the card as an alternative six-mana option in Primeval Titan decks for when the opponent is ready with disruption for the Titan.

The Nays!

Growing Rites of Itlimoc

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 Growing Rites of Itlimoc
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I've seen a ton of hype about Growing Rites of Itlimoc, but Gaea's Cradle this is not. The biggest issue with Growing Rites of Itlimoc is its three-mana cost, which is quite inefficient when an even more powerful effect can be had for just one mana with Commune with Nature, which hasn't been a competitive card in the format. Transforming into Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun will make up for this mana investment, but waiting until the end of turn to flip makes it quite slow. The requirement of having four creatures in play is also quite steep and will require a turn or two of developing the battlefield. The best case of playing it on turn two and flipping it on turn three will give full main phase access to the mana on turn four, and that's not particularly impressive in Modern when decks can win the game by turn four. I've seen it mentioned for a deck like Elves, but there's no reason to play the card over Elvish Archdruid, and I can't find any convincing reason to design a deck based around the enchantment.

Old-Growth Dryads

Mid
Low
 Old-Growth Dryads
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I have read Old-Growth Dryads being referred to as a new Goblin Guide, but the cards are very different. Goblin Guide sometimes draws the opponent free lands, but the opponent must play them as normal, so it doesn't directly accelerate their development. Old-Growth Dryads always giving the opponent a free basic land directly into play and ramping their development is incredibly dangerous in a format like Modern; the power of free mana acceleration is the reason why a card like Chrome Mox was preemptively banned. A one-mana 3/3 isn't even particularly impressive when there are cards like Wild Nacatl and Toolcraft Exemplar available, and giving the opponent a free mana to accelerate their development makes it more likely they can simply ignore the 3/3 or go over the top of it. The card would be strong against decks with no basics, but these are essentially non-existent, so stay away from this liability.

Settle the Wreckage

Mid
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 Settle the Wreckage
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Settle the Wreckage is being discussed as a new battlefield sweeper for Modern, but there are a few major problems that will keep it from every being competitive. The logic goes that it can completely neutralize cards like Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence that are resistant to traditional sweepers like Wrath of God or Supreme Verdict. Giving the opponent free basic lands makes it something like a super Path to Exile, a card that has proven itself as a Modern staple.

The issues with Settle the Wreckage revolve around the fact that it must be cast on the opponent's turn. For one, it can't be proactively used in direct response to the opponent playing creatures and must instead wait until the opponent's attack step, so it's very poor against cards like Dark Confidant, Primeval Titan, simple mana acceleration creatures, and anything else that will generate an advantage if the opponent gets to keep them around until combat. A bigger issue – which is directly at odds with its advantage against resilient creatures – is that the opponent can play around it. An opponent that is aware of Settle the Wreckage can chose to only attack with a portion of their creatures, which turns Settle the Wreckage into an ineffective sweeper that won't do its job. It may catch an opponent off guard occasionally, but it will never be able to survive as a staple in the format.

Kopala, Warden of Waves

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 Kopala, Warden of Waves
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Kopala, Warden of Waves might look like a shoo-in for Modern Merfolk, but it doesn't do a better job than Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Making spells or abilities that target Merfolk cost two more is relevant, but it pales in comparison to outright countering them and forcing the opponent to cast a second spell. Kopala, Warden of Waves will take three or four mana total to be killed by a removal spell, while Kira, Great Glass-Spinner will take two or three, but in almost any realistic situation the extra card demanded by Kira will be more important than the extra mana demanded by Kopala.

The advantage of Kopala is that it's a Merfolk, so unlike Kira it benefits from the bonuses given by the Merfolk lords in the deck. On the other hand, making the decision to include a card like Kira is to directly hedge against removal spells, and if a deck wants to do this it's best off playing the most effective way to combat removal spells, not split the difference with Kopala, a card that isn't as effective in this role, though some Merfolk players are talking about a 1-1 split to get around the legendary drawback to both cards. I see Kopala, Warden of Waves as a nod to the Commander scene and a great general for Merfolk decks, especially because these decks will include more cards that benefit from having an actual Merfolk, but not ideal for the fast and brutal Modern format where exhausting the opponent's removal is more important.

What Ixalan cards do you see being Modern playable? What cards are being overrated?

- Adam
@AdamYurchick




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