The Early Results from Rivals of Ixalan Standard

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
1/18/2018 11:02:00 AM
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The Standard bannings of Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon have gutted the top tier of the metagame, and that means huge question marks now hang over the future of the format.

● Will these formerly dominant decks survive without their key cards?
● What decks will take their place?
● Will other decks that we already know about finally rise to the top?
● What brand-new decks will emerge?

There's also the question of Rivals of Ixalan, which enters Standard as the bans hit. It means Standard has the potential to head to a completely different place if the set has a big impact, and the bans have made it much more likely that it will. It all comes together to make Standard a lot more exciting now than it was a week ago, and all eyes are on tournament results to see what players are using successfully. The set isn't officially released until Friday, but it has been on Magic Online all week, and that means there are already decklists available! There's a wide assortment of lists that have finished 5-0 in leagues, including some familiar faces and some wild ones we haven't seen before, so today I'll dig into them to paint a picture of the very first days of the post-ban, Rivals of Ixalan Standard metagame.

Temur Energy

You didn't think you'd get off the hook that easily, did you? Temur Energy may be down, but it isn't out, and a league 5-0 finish shows that it's competitive in the new metagame even after the bannings.

Aether Hub and Servant of the Conduit are still fantastic mana fixers, and along with Spirebluff Canal and Botanical Sanctum, the deck can still consistently access blue mana in the absence of Attune with Aether. Double blue spells are forced to take a backseat, so Vizier of Many Faces is missing from this list, which makes sense now that there will be less mirror matches to worry about, but it does include Confiscation Coup, which may prove to be greedy but is certainly still viable as a late-game card.

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 Jadelight Ranger
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The most important new addition to the deck is Jadelight Ranger, which has replaced Rogue Refiner and serves much of the same role as a piece of card advantage, whether it is providing extra land or a scry trigger or two. It doesn't produce energy, but it's potentially even more powerful, because sometimes it will draw two cards or draw a card and then scry, and it will sometimes be an even bigger body as a 4/3.

The more things change, the more things stay the same, so don't take apart your Temur Energy deck quite yet. I know I won't.

Red-White Aggro

Banning Ramunap Ruins may have taken its namesake, but Ramunap Red, now to be known as Mono-Red Aggro or Red Deck Wins, is still alive and well. Rampaging Ferocidon was a nice tool, but it can easily be replaced by the Ahn-Crop Crasher that the deck originally included as a four-of to sneak in haste damage and wreck blockers. What's interesting is that removing Ramunap Ruins means the deck now has the option to remove Sunscorched Desert, and that opens up room for a splash. Frank Karsten, who takes a very mathematical approach to the game and is someone that I specifically turn to for mana bases, summed it up well.

Another approach, which has been used to 5-0 an early league, splashes white for Path of Mettle.

Path of Mettle doesn't have a big impact on its own, although it does shut down tokens, which is useful against plenty of cards including Whirler Virtuoso and any new tokens decks with Anointed Procession or Oketra's Monument. The real payoff is when it flips into Metzali, Tower of Triumph – its ability to repeatedly deal damage to the opponent is akin to a supercharged Ramunap Ruins, which the deck is very interested in, and the ability to destroy attackers allows the deck to dig in its heels, assume the control role, and grind out the opponent.

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 Path of Mettle
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Supporting Path of Mettle means loading up on creatures that can trigger it, and the red deck conveniently already has plenty of those, but it needs to go a bit deeper. Relentless Raptor is another nice white splash that provide a great threat that doubles as a blocker. The most interesting addition is a set of Fanatical Firebrand. Mogg Fanatic used to be a staple of Red Deck Wins – and Frostling saw some play – but Fanatical Firebrand is a new and improved version of both, which hits as a haste creature before converting into a burn spell when the time is right. It seems like a very viable creature for the red strategy, even without Path of Mettle, so it could be a new staple in mono-red.

The deck also includes Dire Fleet Daredevil, which is reasonable body by itself but also an excellent card advantage play that sometimes rivals Snapcaster Mage. The deck sideboards into a full playset against decks where there will be plenty of spells to target, and it allows the deck to assume more of a grindy and controlling role, which will pay dividends against other red decks in particular.

Splashing also opens up the sideboard, and this deck includes the new Slaughter the Strong as a Wrath of God-style effect, but one that it can break the parity of by playing around with its small creatures. It doesn't need to have a huge impact to be relevant, and even destroying a creature or two for the bargain price of three mana may be enough to win the game.

Also notice that the deck supports its splash with Shefet Dunes, which is essentially just a Plains with upside, but is important because it gives the deck a new utility land to replace Ramunap Ruins and adds a dose of late-game power the deck has become accustomed to.

Mardu Vehicles

A year ago, Mardu Vehicles was the deck to beat in Standard, and it proved to be the perfect foil to the Saheeli Rai-Felidar Guardian combo and then Temur Marvel, but the banning of its prey combined with the rotation of Shadows over Innistrad removing cards like Thraben Inspector was a major blow. It was still able to earn some early success, even finishing in the top four of Pro Tour Ixalan, but over time the deck failed to perform in the new metagame defined by Temur Energy and Ramunap Red. With those decks taking a blow, it would seem now is the time for Mardu Vehicles to prove itself, and it's already off the races with a 5-0 finish in a league.

There's really nothing new about the list – it revolves around Heart of Kiran and uses Hazoret the Fervent as its haymaker in a world without Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It's fast and powerful, and it has the potential to replace Ramunap Red as the format's best aggressive deck.

Black-Green Constrictor

Another deck at the forefront of the metagame a year ago was Black-Green Constrictor, which used Winding Constrictor to supercharge its +1/+1 counter theme on cards like Walking Ballista, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, and Verdurous Gearhulk. It was essentially a classic midrange deck that combined robust green creatures and black removal, including the then-new Fatal Push. It was great at what it did, but it was outclassed by decks like Saheeli Combo and Temur Marvel that simply overpowered it, and Temur Energy proved to be a more well-rounded midrange deck.

Now the metagame is open, and Rival of Ixalan has provided some excellent new options for the deck.

Jadelight Ranger immediately stands out as a perfect follow-up to Winding Constrictor, as it doubles the +1/+1 counters and gives the potential for a three-mana 6/5 creature – quite impressive. On the removal side of the equation, Ravenous Chupacabra gives the deck a value play that disrupts the opponent while providing a body on which to apply +1/+1 counters with Verdurous Gearhulk. Combine all this, and you have a deck with the ability to deploy a devastating curve of creatures capable of beating just about anybody when supported by a wealth of disruption.

Abzan Tokens

Legion's Landing brought about a renaissance in Token decks as the perfect card to support Anointed Procession and Hidden Stockpile, and the deck had a period of success where it seemed like it was going to become a big part of the metagame. But its success was squashed by Ramunap Red adopting Rampaging Ferocidon as the perfect foil to lifelink tokens. The tokens strategy is the biggest winner from the Dinosaur being banned, so there's an expectation that the deck will return and may finally have its chance to ascend to the top of the metagame. It is already putting up results with a league 5-0.

Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift

Another archetype that played second fiddle to Temur Energy and Ramunap Red was God-Pharaoh's Gift, whether the White-Blue Refurbish version or the Esper Gate to the Afterlife version. Both did a fine job of competing, and were considered by many to be the third best deck, but the increase in disruption like Abrade and Appetite for the Unnatural made their lives very difficult. There is still this disruption to contend with, but it will be more manageable when coming from weakened opposition.

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 God-Pharaoh's Gift
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The strategy has also gained some excellent new tools of its own from Rivals of Ixalan. Ravenous Chupacabra is an ideal creature to Reanimate with God-Pharaoh's Gift or The Scarab God. I've also seen discussion of Dusk Legion Zealot fitting into the deck to help increase the creature density for Gate of the Afterlife while functioning as another way to generate value when eternalized. The deck is a big winner from the bannings and the new set, and an early 5-0 is a great start.

Madcap Gift

A novel take on the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck takes the White-Blue Refurbish base, but adds Madcap Experiment as a quick and dirty way to get its namesake into play.

There's a risk of taking a ton of damage from Madcap Experiment, but the upside of what is essentially a one-card combo is clear. Dipping into red has other advantages too, like Cathartic Reunion as a great graveyard enabler. Combat Celebrant is an excellent card to eternalize with haste, and it gives the deck an almost combo-like element because generating a new combat step means another trigger for God-Pharaoh's Gift, and with a set of Vizier of Many Faces potentially copying Combat Celebrant for yet another trigger, the deck can legitimately “go off” and win the game on the spot. There's something to be said for the Jeskai strategy, given its league 5-0, but it's also a reminder that the more simplified white-blue version is also back in the picture.

Grixis Energy

The banning of critical green energy cards has driven many to explore alternative energy colors, and I keep hearing about Grixis. The trend of Temur Energy splashing into black turned the deck something into Grixis Green, and some players even cut green altogether to make a Grixis version. It never had mainstream success, but it makes sense that now is the time for the deck to shine.

The Grixis Energy deck makes full use of the best energy cards in the colors, like Whirler Virtuoso and Harnessed Lightning, while fully embracing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It also gains Ravenous Chupacabra, which the deck can squeeze extra value out of with The Scarab God. This particular version, which earned a league 5-0, adds Torrential Gearhulk to give it a bigger and more controlling element, which it goes deeper into with Hour of Devastation and Search for Azcanta in the sideboard.

Dinosaurs!

Tribal synergy is the Rivals of Ixalan theme, and the new set along with the bannings promised to make the tribes competitive – or at least give them a fighting chance. It appears to have worked, as Dinosaurs, which hardly made a splash before, has put up a league 5-0 with plenty of new cards included.

The biggest dinosaur of them all, Ghalta, Primal Hunger, is the centerpiece of this deck, which is quite hasty alongside Otepec Huntmaster and Regisaur Alpha. Thunderherd Migration gives the deck an additional piece of acceleration, which is critical for a deck that relies on its four, five, and six-mana creatures.

Merfolk

Of all the tribes, Merfolk seems to be the most supported by the new set, and has the most potential for truly breaking into the top tier of Standard, and a 5-0 on the first day of leagues is a great sign.

There's nothing too out of the ordinary about the list – it's all of the great new Merfolk added to those we already had – but it's interesting that the deck is supported by Unsummon as a removal spell perfect for the tempo-oriented deck, while Hashep Oasis in the mana base gives it an extra dose of power to help push over blockers or provide the last points of damage it needs to close out the game. You can see the deck in action here.

What do you think the bannings and the arrival of Rivals of Ixalan will do to the metagame? What are you playing? Share in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.

- Adam

- @AdamYurchick




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