It's that time again, folks. Rotation is upon us, and while we mourn for those decks we never found the time to play (G/W Humans with Rhonas's Monument, I'm looking at you), we simultaneously rub our little grabby-hands with glee at the forthcoming goodies. Ixalan has taken the flavor win of Amonkhet and somehow made it even better; giving us a world that actually makes you feel like you are exploring South America in the sixteenth century...but with Dinosaurs and Jace in dungarees. More on his eccentric fashion choices and deck viability next week.
As is my wont, I am loath to start making lists until we have the whole set. It's hard to properly digest the power level of some of the mechanics and cards without a good picture of the full environment; that goes double for an environment that is losing four sets of cards. I spent far too much time trying to decide how best to approach all the great ideas and feelings I have so far from this set, and when I sat down, I fully intended to go card-by-card through some of my favorites.
Then I started writing about Treasure, and I couldn't map a course out of the hard lock of cool ideas and hypotheticals. Some of these cards are pure gold, and rather than hoard all the ideas for myself, I "chest" had to share them all with you.
If you have been reading my articles for a while, it should not surprise you that the Treasure mechanic is my favorite from this set. It does literally everything I want: provides nifty tokens that aren't creatures, makes mana, makes artifacts, provides an alternate win condition, draws cards...I was always going to be in love. Because of that love, these cards have me thinking all sorts of fun things.
Ever since Gild was printed, I have been a fan of tokens that sacrifice for mana. My love for Tezzeret the Schemer is at least partially due to his ability to make pseudo-Lotus Petals, and I tried way too hard to play both Gild and King Macar, the Gold-Cursed in far too many decks to be healthy. In reality, these cards have often just not fit in well enough with what the format (and other cards in their colors) have wanted to do, and thus my plans went by the wayside. Fortunately, this time we have (so far) more than half a dozen cards that care about Treasure, and that's not including all of the synergies with existing cards.
Because I enjoy winning in unconventional ways, let's start with the two alternate win conditions that Treasure tokens enable (or improve).
Revel in Riches is definitely the Level 0 plan here. Just with the cards that a black deck wants to play, it seems trivial to trigger this a few times and make some Treasure without much effort. "Kill the opponent's creatures" is generally a good plan anyway, and if we can eschew some number of creatures and replace them with more removal or token-making in order to make this our win condition, so much the better. We're at a little under half the set, and with any luck, we can still get a removal spell that makes Treasure just to really round out the plan.
Treasure Map is the obvious other addition to this plan, though there is some question as to whether it does enough before flipping to warrant inclusion. Once it does transform, we essentially have a personal Howling Mine that sets us back slightly on our win condition. The real key is going to be making sure that we have repeatable ways to make Treasure, which right now means just Revel in Riches and Deadeye Plunderers (and Captain Lannery Storm, but she goes in a very different deck). The issue with Deadeye Plunderers in a deck that is probably looking to be on the controlling side is that it turns on all the opposing spot removal.
Mechanized Production has been on my radar since it was printed, and I have managed to win with it a couple of times in Limited, but in Standard it suffered from first Dissenter's Deliverance and then Abrade being omnipresent. Whether or not we still see so much of one or both of those cards remains to be seen, but it doesn't seem too challenging to reach eight Treasure tokens. I am pretty convinced that we don't want to play Production without Revel in Riches to back it up, and I would expect to play Padeem, Consul of Innovation in here as well. The addition of at least one additional creature makes me less wary about playing Deadeye Plunderers, and if my opponent wants to use their Abrade on a token which I can just sacrifice for mana...well, I will take that trade quite a lot of the time.
I've mentioned the card a few times now, but I think this is legitimately one of the most interesting reasons to work with Treasure tokens so far. In a deck with Tezzeret the Schemer, a couple of mana rocks, a Puzzleknot or two...it is not hard to foresee this card coming down as a 6/6 or better for a mere five mana. The icing on the cake is that activated ability which not only grows the Plunderers but also can be activated multiple times and at instant speed, allowing us to hold up mana for removal or countermagic and then use whatever we have left on an activation.
Such a deck likely also wants Battle at the Bridge as removal, and perhaps cards like Filigree Familiar as some defense that also grows our main threat. There's also a possibility that we can go in the opposite direction and play something a little more aggressive with Vehicles and some fabricate creatures along with Syndicate Trafficker and Yahenni, Undying Partisan. If we can stretch to three colors (and really, the Treasure enables and enhances that possibility), then we might also consider Captain Lannery Storm in this style of deck. Their abilities to kind of work counter to each other, but in the event that only one is blocked, it becomes a lot easier to decide how to proceed.
Treasuring Our Mana
The most obvious use for Treasure is to ramp us up. Wily Goblin might be the most promising card previewed so far for this strategy, allowing a turn 3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance or even Tezzeret the Schemer. Both of those planeswalkers allow us to continue ramping while also providing a real threat that the opponent needs to deal with before it gets away from them.
If we once again consider this Treasure Ramp deck as a Grixis build, we are spoiled for choice of things to do with all that mana. Cut // Ribbons is probably near the top of that list, acting as both removal and a finishing blow. Torment of Hailfire is a card that has impressed me literally every time I have cast it, especially in decks that can otherwise do a good job of keeping the battlefield clear. Pull from Tomorrow and the new Entrancing Melody can both turn a game around quickly, and River's Rebuke is also a solid card that can completely turn a game on its head.
The problem here is that Wily Goblin is distinctly unimpressive as a creature unless you are making use of the Pirate synergies. I'm convinced this was originally conceived as a 2/1 for 1R, perhaps a 1/2 for R, but at RR for a 1/1, it might be too demanding unless our deck is base red and splashing from Treasure and some nonbasics.
We'd be silly to be talking about reasons to ramp without also looking at Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. As we mentioned earlier, Treasure allows us both to ramp and to fix our mana, so even if we wanted to stick to two main colors, we could easily add the third on the assumption that we have at least one token to sacrifice by the time we hit seven mana. Doesn't seem too much to ask, does it? Something about the idea of finishing turn 5 with three planeswalkers on the battlefield appeals to me very much.
As it stands we are a little short on early enablers to make this a strategy that I am comfortable calling viable. Wily Goblin into Captain Lannery Storm into Chandra does give us a lot of mana, but ideally I want a one-drop that makes Treasure or a spell that leaves a token or two behind. If we don't end up getting one, we might have to settle for the fixing aspect more than the ramping one and just take the games where we can power out a seven-drop as a huge bonus. And hey, maybe we actually power out a Marionette Master and really put the hurt on our opponent.
Revolted by Treasure
With the exception of the obviously pushed Fatal Push, the revolt mechanic has been pretty much buried in Standard. Sure, we saw Hidden Stockpile doing some work for Sam Black (probably because it has the word "sacrifice" on it) and Renegade Rallier has been played a reasonable amount in Modern, but that's about it.
I look forward to that changing with Ixalan. Sacrificing Treasure to cast the likes of Greenwheel Liberator and Narnam Renegade is definitely powerful and fits in with the aggressive lean of the red Treasure-making cards we have seen thus far. It might seem strange to eschew probably the best revolt card, but I don't think we want to be looking at black cards for this. Our tokens are coming from red, and most of the aggressive revolt stuff is in green, but we do have Solemn Recruit in white that attracts attention. Adding white also lets us look at Renegade Rallier as an option, which in itself gives the deck some much-needed resilience.
Hidden Stockpile provides the option of a grindier way to win and also combines well with the blue cards that make Treasure for us. Well, they aren't exactly plentiful right now, but I have to assume more are coming. The power of Hidden Stockpile to stall, improve draws, and affect the battlefield way more than you would expect has already been proven, especially in tandem with Anointed Procession. Fortunately, Anointed Procession also likes it when we make Treasure tokens, so perhaps this is an angle to consider with the Revel to Riches plan from earlier.
It may not technically have a revolt ability, but Marionette Master really fits well in this sort of deck. Heck, it fits well with any artifacts that can sacrifice themselves. Not only can we use Treasure to accelerate into the six-mana game-ender, the Treasure we have left will quickly make a mess of our opponent's face. Hidden Stockpile will help on multiple fronts, finding us the Master and providing a cheap sacrifice outlet to actually end things.
A card that might end up being more playable than it currently seems because of the ramp provided by Treasure tokens is Call for Unity. I have looked at and dismissed it many times simply because it costs five mana and requires some work to even give your team +1/+1, but those drawbacks are lessened when you can both cast the card a little early and have it get a counter right away. Hidden Stockpile helps ensure you get a counter on it every turn, but when you are making a free 4/4 or bigger Servo each turn you probably don't want to sacrifice it to scry.
(Improv) Eyes on the Prize
Treasure tokens, like their spiritual predecessors the Etherium Cell tokens, are clearly designed to prevent double-dipping with improvise. That does take a tool out of our chest, but it doesn't mean we can't use the tokens to help us improvise. In fact the ability to make blue mana with some and tap others to increase the amount of X actually helps us cast Whir of Invention, arguably the most versatile of improvise spells. What can you tutor up? Well, a Gearhulk is rarely a bad idea, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship has been known to do an impressive job of killing things. God-Pharaoh's Gift might be an interesting idea, especially if we end up with some more creatures that make Treasure when they enter the battlefield.
The other option with improvise is to go with Inspiring Statuary. I have a special love affair with both this card and Whir of Invention after playing both at GP New Jersey earlier this year and can attest to their power when played with things like Puzzleknots...or maybe even Treasure tokens. I did at one point play Tezzeret in the Aetherworks Marvel deck that had that gameplan, but it ended up just being an unnecessary piece of the puzzle. With Treasure in the mix and Marvel out of it, I am more inclined to use Inspiring Statuary and Treasure to ramp us into something big like Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh or Gishath, Sun's Avatar. The problem with this idea is that we cannot improvise away all those colored mana requirements, so we either need a way to make way more Treasure than we currently have or we need to find better top-end options.
One possible option is Vraska, Relic Seeker. I am totally in love with this card. I may be alone in this, but I for one see a call back to a little-played card from the Tempest block, Vhati il-Dal. The artwork is reminiscent of Vraska's pose, and her ultimate is similar to Vhati's ability. Sort of.
Who knew that card was Modern-legal? Anyone?
Throwbacks that may or may not be coincidence aside, the abilities on this card make it more than worth the cost. Unlike her original printing, Vraska enters the battlefield with two Mortify / Putrefy activations available right off the bat. They each come with a "free" Treasure token as well, in case we need help to cast something else. Blow up one creature, make a Treasure, sacrifice the Treasure, Fatal Push another creature? Yes, please.
The most remarkable thing about her is that she protects herself...as a +2 ability. Going to eight loyalty with at least one creature to protect her is very strong, especially with an ultimate at -10 that seems destined to end the game in combination with something like Bontu the Glorified, which we might want anyway, or Marionette Master, another fine card to cast via improvise. Vraska's home might well end up being in Abzan or Jund midrange grindfest decks, but having her as something of a top-end option for an improvise deck is far from awful.
That's all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB. Next week, I really will start going card-by-card through some of my favorites from the set...I hope. I guess you could say that Jace and the Pirate tribe are...on deck. Until next time...Brew On!