Sometimes it is easy to predict a certain set having a bigger impact on older formats than is the norm. When a set like, say, Scars of Mirrodin releases, we can expect that its central theme of artifacts is going to mingle with the Modern card pool in a much more pronounced way. A larger card pool leads to more interactions, and more interactions lead to a higher likelihood that one of them is broken. Sets themed around the graveyard often have marked effects in Modern and Legacy. Meanwhile, tribal sets, or sets based around big-mana things, tend to have less of an impact, save for the occasional Goblin or Griselbrand one-offs.
For these reasons, based on theme alone, one might expect Ixalan to primarily impact Standard. It is built around tribes which have not had much or any support throughout all of Magic history. There are three total Pirates currently in Modern, and before the creature-type errata takes place, there are zero total Dinosaurs. On top of that, the new keywords in the set don't really seem primed for Modern, Legacy, or Vintage either. Somehow, in spite of all of this, Ixalan looks to ripple across Modern largely on the back of individual cards that don't necessarily fit the linear themes of the set. While there are always a few cards from each set that make it into older formats based on inflated power level or uniqueness, Ixalan seems to be quadrupling those normal efforts.
With only a little over half of Ixalan previewed thus far, there are a couple dozen cards that all have a fighting chance to see play in Modern. Some of these cards are shoe-ins with homes already in mind, while others have the potential, but we will need to see if that potential can be realized. Today, I wanted to go over the cards previewed thus far that I think can have an impact on Modern. Along the way, we will do some brewing and see what sorts of lists might arise after Ixalan.
Ixalan has a few reprints and a few new cards that feel custom-built for Modern. It isn't really a question of whether these will see play, but more of where they will see play. The first card to jump out from this list has to be Opt.
The hype around this card seems warranted as it should provide some more consistency to blue combo decks. With Preordain and Ponder both banned, that opens the door for the slightly weaker options. Serum Visions is widely played at this point, but Opt seems to compete with Sleight of Hand, Thought Scour, or even Remand when looking at a Modern Storm list, for example. In that role, some storm players might choose not to Opt, but I suspect it will ultimately find its way into most blue combo decks.
Sentinel Totem is a new card that sort of feels like an old card just because we have had so many variations of it over the years. Relic of Progenitus has spoiled us a bit, but Sentinel Totem notably costs a mana less to use, making it faster, as well as providing us with a scry immediately, allowing us to smooth our draws while saving the exiling for a more opportune time. Everyone has had the Tron player break a turn 2 Relic just as a cantrip, and in doing so they open the door to your graveyard; we can avoid that with Sentinel. It also happens to make for a pretty solid addition to Eggs strategies, as they get the scry effect over and over again as they blink it in and out of existence.
I still think we want Tormod's Crypt around, as it tutors up for zero instead of one and can be aimed at a particular graveyard. That said, Sentinel Totem looks pretty reasonable sitting alongside it. We had Nihil Spellbomb before to mimic the one-sided nature of Crypt, but the free and reusable scry while going off may be worth the swap.
Of course, Duress and Spell Pierce will both continue to see play in Modern, not that you would expect anything to change from just a reprinting. Still, easier access to Modern staples is nice and both of these cards have proven their worth. Duress keeps falling lower in the ranks as more and more discard options present themselves, but Spell Pierce is top of its class and should remain there for a while.
While Ixalan might have Pirates and Dinosaurs as its focal point, the set appears to lend a hand to some other linear lists in Modern. For example, I have been toying around with a Goblin deck for a while now that tries to utilize Kuldotha Rebirth as the hyper-efficient token maker it is. Up until now, I have always felt low on the number of artifacts I could get away with running while still having the Goblin synergies realized. In Ixalan, there just so happens to be a Wily Goblin who seems to help here.
While a two-cost 1/1 is hardly exciting, it brings with it both a relevant creature type and an artifact to turn on our Rebirths or Mox Opals with. After updating my list a bit, I figure it might look a little something like this.
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 1 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 1 Goblin Wardriver
- 4 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 4 Wily Goblin
Along the linear pipeline, Merfolk are certain to gain some new options with Ixalan. Currently, I don't think any Merfolk has been previewed that is a must-play, but quite a few at least have a chance. Kopala, Warden of Waves is a little worse than Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, but it does gain the Merfolk creature type, so that choice now exists. Deeproot Champion and Kumena's Speaker at least tease the idea of incorporating green into existing lists, which could be really interesting to see. To help the mana out there, Unclaimed Territory now exists as Cavern of Souls five through eight, or perhaps as a budget replacement for them, not just in Merfolk but in any tribal setting.
Don't Hate the Hate
Modern has no shortage of hatebears, or small creatures that have a disruptive element to the opponent. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Leonin Arbiter; and Gaddock Teeg are a few of these creatures, although they don't always have to be two-cost 2/2s. Ixalan gives us Tocatli Honor Guard, for example, which is definitely a hatebear, even if one point of power ran to its toughness somewhere along the way.
Torpor Orb is a reasonable card that beats strategies like Collected Company, or did until Vizier of Remedies saw print, but it's still a highly disruptive piece against them anyway. Moving that effect to a creature allows for new interactions, such as Chord of Calling to find the Honor Guard, or even your own Collected Company can do the trick. Expect this to see fringe sideboard play with perhaps some combo applications as well (I'm looking at you, Hunted Horror).
While coming from a very different place, but a hate card nonetheless, Rampaging Ferocidon seems strong as a means of hate and potentially as just a new addition to aggressive red decks. The ability to shut off lifegain is a notable one and you don't give up much in the process. Ferocidon attacks more than just lifegain, though. Consider old Splinter Twin decks, or my Intruder Alarm deck, or even Collected Company. These decks either take a lot of damage to play their normal gameplan against Rampaging Ferocidon, or they are shut off altogether. I think this will give the Dino all the legs it needs to pop up in some lists alongside Eidolon of Great Revel or perhaps even in Zoo, considering how easy this is on the mana.
Prison in Modern, specifically Mono-White Prison built around powerful enchantments, has picked up some play recently due to Solemnity's interaction with Phyrexian Unlife as well as a critical mass of combo/aggro decks rising up to be preyed upon. Prison players might be happy to know that Ixalan is still providing them with even more options.
Ashes of the Abhorrent is the first new toy, and while it is generally going to be worse than Rest in Peace, it brings a couple of cool features into play. The first is that it is arguably more maindeckable, considering it brings with it that lifegain kicker ability that can secure you with a few extra points of life. The second is that this does rid the graveyards of their stash. If you wanted to pair this with Tarmogoyf; delirium; Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; Goryo's Vengeance; or even Dredge (minus Faithless Looting) you end up in a much better place than trying to do the same thing with Rest in Peace. I would expect this to see some fringe play as a result.
Next up is a card that might not have jumped out as a prison card, but Sorcererous Spyglass actually seems like a card that some maindecks might want to work in. First of all, Pithing Needle has always seen play to stop specific things from working and it will continue to see play, but tacking on just one mana certainly does not push this out of viability. In exchange, you get a massive upgrade of information, which is critical to prison strategies such as Lantern Control. Lantern's entire gameplan revolves around knowing what it going on in your hand and on top of your deck and then controlling that.
Currently, the list plays Pithing Needle and a lot of hand disruption, but Sorcerous Spyglass allows them to combine those effects (sort of). This allows them to make more informed decisions on when they should play that last Thoughtseize or whether they should Ghoulcaller's Bell away a questionable card on top. Pithing Needle does cost one less mana and that is always a factor, but I think that the deck is generally cheap enough with plenty of other one-drops that it can upgrade in this case.
Transforming into Lands?
This is a tough cycle to fully wrap one's head around, but not necessarily because of complexity. The thing to keep in mind is that this is basically a blue Rampant Growth in Modern, under obvious conditions. Fetchlands and cheap cards like Thought Scour make it not too unlikely to play this on turn 2 and then have it flip on turn 3. Street Wraith, Faithless Looting, Mishra's Bauble…all of the same cards that have been enabling graveyard strategies and paying delve costs can be used here for some mana acceleration that can draw you some cards if you have the time.
I think Storm has too many vital two-drops to really consider more than a single copy of this (it is legendary, after all), but it could make for an interesting eight way to accelerate their mana a bit (albeit much more tame). This seems a little slow for Dredge or Griselbrand reanimation strategies, but it could be a useful tool to take over long games against control.
The natural home for this kind of effect in Modern would be Death's Shadow, as it already gets itself into the red with ease. Now, Death's Shadow doesn't exactly want to gain a bunch of life when they have the namesake card on the battlefield or in the hand, but there are plenty of situations where you are just on Tarmogoyfs or Tasigur and would like the five life to fuel whatever cards might be stranded in your hand.
Two mana and no immediate impact is certainly not ideal, though. Again, with the legendary status, I can see some of the lists adopting a single copy of this, but it is hardly a new staple or anything like that.
It has been called Gaea's Cradle with "suspend 1," and that actually feels kind of apt. At three mana, this is the most expensive of the cycle, but it immediately replaces itself and then flips on your end step, meaning the opponent can't necessarily stop it from happening if they are tapped out or lack instant-speed interaction. So where might this see play?
Elves is maybe the default answer to that, as it should transform with ease and the green mana is well spent. Elves don't really need access to mana, though. Nearly all of their creatures provide mana and they can chain off with Heritage Druid through summoning sickness. I am skeptical if people want to take off turn 3 to play a Gaea's Cradle, but Cradle is powerful enough that one copy might be worth it.
I looked into including this in my Intruder Alarm combo deck, but it feels a bit win-more and doesn't necessarily transform the turn you play it, which can be a bit awkward. So instead, I looked to another Beck // Call list that I have been messing with for years.
The concept is simple: we are Merfolk and we are a combo deck. We can play out like a worse Merfolk aggro deck, equipped with twelve lords and all. However, if we draw Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and now Growing Rites of Itlimoc works too, then our deck turns into a big mana combo deck where we can practically draw our entire deck and generate almost arbitrarily large amounts of mana. The idea is to have a land that produces a lot of mana and then to untap it over and over again.
Kiora's Follower is a Merfolk who specializes in untapping things. Merrow Reejerey will untap your Nykthos with every new Merfolk you deploy, spiraling out of control quickly. Even Minamo, School at Water's Edge can untap Nykthos or Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun to generate huge amounts of mana. Along the way, we can chain some of our cantripping Merfolk and hopefully a Beck // Call to draw whatever gas we need. All of this ends in a giant Walking Ballista gunning down our opponent. Here's a rough sketch of a list.
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Kiora's Follower
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Wistful Selkie
I currently have sacrificed Aether Vial from the list, as it is neither a creature nor blue, so even though the card is crazy powerful, I am not sure it is essential here. Its biggest impact was when it could put Master of Waves onto the battlefield on the turn I cast Beck, but that was relatively rare, if I am being completely honest.
Since we are on a roll with these enchantment-lands, we might as well talk about the newest one. While Legion's Landing might be the easiest of these to trigger in Modern (Affinity could do so on turn 2 much of the time), it also provides the worst payoff. First, a mana accelerant is not as necessary when you are already attacking with a bunch of creatures. That means you are likely aggro and might not even have anything to "ramp" into. The token-making ability is also a bit expensive and, again, not what an aggro deck wants to work for. Maybe this shows up somewhere, but I am not sure exactly where that is.
While different from the rest of the above cycle, I wanted to talk about Primal Amulet for a second. Four mana is a steep starting price for this when the likes of Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance are around. That said, this has a real chance to transform in Modern, and at that point, it offers something neither of those two-drops could.
It seems likely to me that this could be a reasonable sideboard option against decks that happen to have a lot of removal for your two-drops. Primal Amulet cannot be Abrupt Decayed, Fatal Pushed, or Lightning Bolted, and I do think that is a quality that is surprisingly valuable, even if the upfront rate is not so impressive.
I will be giving this a chance in some combo decks, even if Storm is not the right home for it, but do keep it in mind as a means to dodge removal.
Something for This Week?
I did want to include an option for those of you looking to play Modern before Ixalan comes out, maybe for this weekend at SCG Louisville. The Intruder Alarm combo deck I have mentioned a few times today is in solid shape with a few updates to the maindeck and sideboard. While the playing of the deck is a little complex, if you have some time to test it or watch some videos on it, I think you'll be all right. Here is what I would be playing in the event.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Bonded Fetch
- 1 Drift of Phantasms
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 3 Hunted Phantasm
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 1 Kiora's Follower
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Steward of Solidarity
- 1 Thraben Doomsayer
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 The Locust God
- 1 Dryad Arbor
We still have quite a lot of Ixalan to see, but I am quite excited by all of the love it seems to be showing Modern. I didn't even get into some of the cool fringe options that seem perfectly Modern-viable, such as Siren Stormtamer or Kitesail Freebooter, but am keeping them in mind as I brew.
What cards from Ixalan have you excited in Modern? Is there anything I missed that seems brewable? Let me know and keep on brewing!