What a week it's been in the world of Magic! Ixalan preview season is upon us and there's no lacking in the wow department here! From revisiting a tribal-themed set, the likes of which we haven't seen since the days of Kithkin and Faeries back in Lorwyn, to some of the most shocking reprints to happen in the past several years, Ixalan seems poised to have a major role to play in Standard and I couldn't be more thrilled!
First things first, let's have a brief moment for the following cards that will no longer be with us in Standard and will have to leave the safe shores of Standard and make their way across the Multiverse to the stranger tides of Modern and perhaps into the realm of Legacy.
The list of cards that made an impact in Standard that are finally leaving us could go on and on for quite some time, but these are some of the more notable ones. While several hold a special place in my heart, others I've been holding the door open for to get the heck out for quite some time now. We won't dwell on the past, as we've been given a laundry list of new toys to "explore" (see what I did there?) with the arrival of Ixalan.
First, I'd like to highlight a few cards that I believe are being undersold by the masses and that you'll likely see me slinging at some point over the next few months in an attempt to regain my slot atop the Standard metagame.
The first and most important thing to get out of the way here is that this card costs three mana. While that's bluntly obvious, since the 1UU casting cost is printed clearly in top right of the card, people seem to be forgetting that when I've been reading or listening to people's feedback about the card. There's a short list of planeswalkers that haven't made an impact in Standard that cost only three mana, and I'm pretty certain Jace, Cunning Castaway won't find himself it.
With Gideon, Ally of Zendikar leaving us, Heart of Kiran needs to find a new home. While several comparisons have been made between Pirates from Ixalan and Faeries from Lorwyn, I don't see why Heart of Kiran couldn't be the next Bitterblossom-grade annoyance for this format. Perhaps a U/W or Esper Vehicles deck exists using Toolcraft Exemplar and Heart of Kiran into Jace as its curve!
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 3 Glory-Bound Initiate
- 3 Hostage Taker
- 4 Nimble Obstructionist
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
It's unclear if playing blue in this type of deck is worth a departure from Veteran Motorist and Pia Nalaar, but Jace might just be the payoff we need to do that.
While the design of this card's "ultimate ability" made way for the change in functionality of how planeswalkers work, now having them follow the same rule that legendary creatures do, Jace packs two highly relevant abilities in his own right. The seemingly innocuous "+1" ability is worded in such a way that it doesn't require a target in order to work with his token-generating "-2" ability, which creates an Illusion creature. Now, of all the decks in the format that survive rotation, can anyone think of a deck that benefits from a looting ability?
More toys for what's become one of my favorite decks that will survive rotation! While Jace, Cunning Castaway doesn't fit all too well into the maindeck configuration as we've come to know it of various God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, it seems like the perfect semi-transformational sideboard card to pair with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer, giving the deck an additional angle of attack!
The most common way people have been fighting such a strategy is by loading up on cards like Abrade to simply undo all your hard work. What happens when you eschew that avenue and simply slam a Jace, Cunning Castaway on the table and get to work sculpting the perfect hand to play a normal gameplan?
I can also see Jace having a similar role to what control decks were trying to do with cards like Thing in the Ice or Dragonmaster Outcast in mirrors as a relatively cheap threat that can take over the game if left unchecked. Being able to generate multiple 2/2 creatures while developing a planeswalker feels like it could be lights-out for unprepared opponents.
The biggest argument against Jace I've heard is that the 2/2s he creates are Illusion tokens, meaning they've even more susceptible to being removed, leaving your planeswalker unprotected. While that's certainly true, outside of Walking Ballista, there aren't that many cards that your opponent could play that deal with your Illusion token that wouldn't have been able to kill any 2/2 creature as-is. There's even the small upside that if a Harnessed Lightning targets the Illusion, they don't get the additional energy they would have if the spell simply resolved.
Speaking of looting, there's my pick for the most underrated card in the set so far!
This card is a mythic for a reason, people. Yes, the random clause on the discard element of this card makes it a little inconsistent, but in decks where cards in graveyards are the same as cards in hand, this card looks amazing! Also, mind you, just imagine Rowdy Crew without the random aspect of its discard-two on it. It becomes an Oath of Jace for one more mana that also would likely be attached to a 5/5 trample creature. If that's not the most broken creature ever printed at four mana, I don't know what would be!
So why is this card so good? Yes, it does have a lot of competition in red at the moment, with such powerhouses as Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Hazoret the Fervent; and Glorybringer all giving red the mid-game punch they've been lacking for a long time, but I don't think we're talking about your grandfather's red deck here. We've been graced with an influx of looting effects in Standard as of late, and this card gives us the critical mass we just might need to abuse those effects.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Cathartic Reunion and Champion of Wits, they've just been given a new best friend in Rowdy Crew to potentially abuse such powerful enchantments as Drake Haven and creatures like Hollow One. Those two cards have flown pretty under the radar this past season, mostly because lack of inherently good cards you'd like to pair alongside them. We've seen Hollow One do some broken things alongside Vengevine and Street Wraith in Modern, and it's only a matter of time before it gets its time in the sun in Standard.
While it's true we're losing the best enabler for a deck that wants to loot a bunch, Insolent Neonate, we're gaining a powerhouse threat that churns through its deck at an alarming rate. Similar to Jace, Cunning Castaway, I fully expect any God-Pharaoh's Gift deck to take advantage of a creature that can put more creatures into its hand and graveyard for free, giving it more of a mid-game punch when its primary gameplan isn't operating as intended. In all seriousness, when a Gate to the Afterlife is on the battlefield, does that deck really care about any of its cards in hand? The short answer here is no! I fully expect this card to appear in more decks than people will give it credit for initially.
While those are the two cards I'm picking for making the biggest impact in the format that people haven't been giving them credit for, I'm most excited for the big bad Dinosaurs we're getting!
When Ripjaw Raptor was initially revealed, we hadn't seen all too many of the Dinosaur tribe and I was evaluating it in the context of a normal deck that might want a four-mana body that survived Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. While it's true that this hungry Dinosaur is immune to those two Standard powerhouses, it also has the added upside of being able to be used as a draw engine in conjunction with Walking Ballista. While I don't think that you should build your entire deck around using Walking Ballista to draw cards, it is a happy coincidence that those two cards pair quite nicely.
The beauty of the Enrage mechanic as a whole is that it's a perfect check against Ramunap Red. Any damage-based removal triggers it, any chump blocking you have to do leaves you better off than you were before, and any time where you're able to press an advantage and start attacking and they're in the unfavorable position of having to throw their creatures under the bus gives you an added bonus turn after turn!
If you want my unbiased, unsolicited advice as to what card is going to be new Standard's card to jump in price more than any other, it's Walking Ballista. Controlling the early-game and being a powerhouse late in the game with a ton of excess mana while enabling all the Enrage goodies we've been given makes me want to start every deck with the full four copies.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Drover of the Mighty
- 4 Ranging Raptors
- 4 Regisaur Alpha
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
Now this is what I'd hoped when I first heard that Dinosaurs would be a thing in Magic! They've certainly given us all the tools to make the battlefield feel like a prehistoric time period; it's just on us to find the right combination of cards.
This was the second Dinosaur we saw after Ripjaw Raptor, and it's more like "Jaw-Hit-the-Floor" Tyrant! I've heard many opinions of this card; those who enjoy playing non-Magic and believe that playing draw-go and ending the game with whatever is left over or casting an Approach the Second Sun twice is enjoyable seem to have been the most offended of the bunch.
There aren't all too many cards that have the text of "can't be countered" as well as "hexproof." One of the only cards that comes to mind is Thrun, the Last Troll, and he had his day in the limelight fighting the good fight against Jace, the Mind Sculptor with relative success. The big difference here is the additional line of text, "trample." Trample can make all the difference when it comes to a fatty in Magic, and this one certainly ices the cake just how I like it.
There are answers to cards like this, but they're few and far between, so you'll have to work to fight it, which is perfectly fine in my books. The sixth point of toughness on this card is just as relevant as the fifth point on Ripjaw Raptor, allowing Carnage Tyrant the ability to survive Hour of Devastation as well as survive blocking a Hazoret the Fervent in combat. All in all, this is one of the cards I'm most excited about in the set, and come the first week of new Standard in Dallas, this is the card I most want to include in my deck.
Another card that's been sneered at by many because of its comparison to cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance is Huatli, Warrior Poet. On the surface, it's a five-mana planeswalker that requires you to have a creature on the battlefield for its plus ability to have any text, and the text on it is lifegain, which isn't appealing to most Constructed formats. With that being said, we do live in a Ramunap world and Red is certainly a deck to worry about. The other ability is simply a 3/3 Dinosaur factory, spitting out a green trampler every turn, which may or may not be powerful enough, depending on the battlefield state.
The reason I'm a fan of this planeswalker is actually its versatility and the high impact it has depending on the matchup. Gaining life isn't great against a control deck or even a Temur Energy deck most of the time, but against Ramunap Red, this can be the most backbreaking card you could possibly cast against them.
We already talked about Carnage Tyrant being a huge body that comes down and can take over a game, but imagine following up a play like that with a five-loyalty planewalker that gains you seven life and demands an immediate answer or it can just do it again! The takeaway here is that the plus ability is either almost irrelevant, in which case the zero ability to make tokens is an option, or the lifegain is the most powerful swing you can have and could win a game entirely on its own.
Oh yeah, there's another line of text to this card! While not being able to go to the face or hitting other planeswalkers with this ability is a seemingly big downside, the clause it has of making the creatures it targets not be able to block seems like this is well worth the trade-off. Normally, sitting behind a horde of large creatures and gaining life isn't all that great, since your opponent can surmount a battlefield filled with problematic creatures or just cast annoying chump blockers that can make closing out the game very difficult.
Not any more, they can't! Just take a turn or two off and amass a battlefield of ferocious-looking sharp-tooths and then have Huatli, Warrior Poet let them all dig right in to your opponent's life total. That seems like a winning recipe to me, and we haven't even mentioned how she enables the Enrage mechanic on your own creatures, should the situation call for it!
This Broodmate Dragon impersonator is certainly the built-in card-advantage-type creature that, upon initial review, any Dinosaur deck was severely lacking. The added bonus of giving the Dinosaur you create haste as well as any subsequent Dinos such as, I don't know, Carnage Tyrant is just gravy! This card has my full attention and may be one of the only creatures in Standard that you can hold next to Glorybringer and actually have a decision to make as far as which card to include in your deck.
The last card I want to talk about is the glue to making any Dinosaur deck work. Savage Stomp, to many, seems like it's Limited-only, where a card similar to this such as Hunt the Weak has always been a great removal spell for green decks. I say people are wildly underrating this card and a more accurate comparison to it is Dromoka's Command, which literally defined Standard throughout its legality.
While it's not an instant, Savage Stomp does only cost one mana when used with a Dinosaur. One of the midrange Dinosaurs, Ranging Raptor, will likely see a lot of play because of its ability to Rampant Growth you if it tussles with any creature while it's on defense, but it happens to pair exceedingly well with Savage Stomp to fight cards sure to see tons of play in Standard: Hostage Taker, Whirler Virtuoso, Ahn-Crop Crasher, Winding Constrictor, and many more.
Prey Upon wasn't ever a Standard powerhouse, but the simple +1/+1 counter makes all the world of difference. Imagine a mirror match where one player has access to four copies of Savage Stomp and the other doesn't. You both cast a Ripjaw Raptor, but the one player pays an additional singular mana to kill the opposing one! If that's not a tempo swing, I don't know what is. Much like before, that's all before considering the implications of any Enrage triggers you'd get.
The counter-argument is that Savage Stomp is a card that can lead to you getting the bad end of a two-for-one if your opponent kills your creature in response, but all it takes is proper timing and you can easily avoid that. Not to mention it's hard to be in a situation where you're not able to play two cards in one turn and catch them trying to develop, and when they are tapped out for creatures, you're looking to feed to your Dino pals.
Ixalan is shaping up to be what seems like a powerhouse of a set full of cards for almost every kind of Magic player. I can't recall being this excited about a new set since I first laid eyes on the original Ravnica: City of Guilds way back when. We're about halfway through preview season and I can't wait to see what else this plane has in store for us.