With half of Ixalan revealed so far and many of those cards looking like they were meant for Standard play, I can make some reasonable conclusions.
1: Dinosaurs and Pirates are going to hit. Merfolk will be a fringe choice. Vampires will miss.
Obviously any of that could change with some new reveals, but given what we have now, it's safe to say that this is the world we live in. It seems like Wizards of the Coast is revealing fire every single day, though, so who knows.
2: There are going to be multiple versions of decks featuring Dinosaurs, Pirates, and possibly Merfolk.
Some of the creatures are aggressive, some are midrange, and some focus on the late-game. It might look like their identities are scattered, but in reality, it looks like there will be multiple decks for each tribe.
3: It's going to be difficult to compete with Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, especially since both decks also get some new toys.
That last one is a tough pill to swallow, but all we can do is try to build the best decks with Ixalan that we can, and we'll see what happens.
Let's start with Merfolk, or, more accurately, with Growing Rites of Itlimoc.
In order to evaluate a weird card like this, you have to think about whether the front side is worth playing on its own merit, and how many hoops you have to jump through to transform it. Also, what's the upside of going through all that work? Is it even worth it?
For a card like Gaea's Cradle, let's just assume it's worth it and we'll figure out what to do with it later. We're going to play a bunch of creatures and are definitely in the market for something that helps us find them, so having a pile of mana lying around at the end of it is going to only be beneficial.
So, how mediocre is a 2G sorcery-speed Impulse for creatures? Well, it's slow, and three mana is a lot. In the early turns, it's going to be rare that you get to develop while also casting Growing Rites. If that's an important part of your curve, it could potentially be even more devastating if you don't start with at least a two-drop.
If Growing Rites of Itlimoc is one of the last cards in your hand, then it's probably fine as long as having it stuck in your hand rather than a creature in the early-game won't significantly hamper your development. Maybe you could beat your opponent down a bit, eventually cast Growing Rites (hopefully finding a mana sink), and go from there. It should be your end-game, at least in Merfolk, and therefore you don't want all four copies.
As for mana sinks, we have Walking Ballista who already cares about +1/+1 counters, but the big payoff might be something like Tishana, Voice of Thunder. Similarly to Growing Rites, Tishana is a card that you don't want to draw early or in multiples. Even if you don't find Tishana or Walking Ballista, there are several reasonable mana sinks available to G/U Merfolk, such as Shapers of Nature and Waker of the Wilds. They don't win the game immediately, but having Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun is going to turbo-charge them.
Merfolk are the Elves of Ixalan.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Herald of Secret Streams
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 3 Shapers of Nature
- 4 Tishana's Wayfinder
- 1 Waker of the Wilds
- 2 Tishana, Voice of Thunder
It looks like, in order to be a fully-fledged Merfolk deck, it needs to go as big as Tishana, Voice of Thunder. Otherwise, you run the risk of not getting enough out of your Merfolk and you end up being a mediocre B/G Constrictor deck that isn't even playing the Snake. Maybe I'm underestimating the power of Metallic Mimic and Herald of Secret Streams, though.
The overall card quality in the deck is dubious. Are the Explore creatures really all there is going to be to fill the curve? Merfolk Branchwalker and Tishana's Wayfinder aren't bad cards. Civic Wayfinder would fit right into this deck, and if Tishana's Wayfinder ends up being a 3/3 with some card selection, that's not the worst. It just doesn't read as strong, but will probably end up overperforming.
Our Merfolk "lords" aren't exactly what we'd be looking for in a typical Merfolk deck, but the Standard version likely won't have the same gameplan you'd expect from a Modern or Legacy Merfolk deck. The Standard versions will probably a little taller and less wide than Modern Merfolk. Maybe we could go wide with Deeproot Waters, which would play nicely with Itlimoc, Cradle of the Suns, but it would probably be unimpressive in most normal game states. With Metallic Mimic, it does a nice Diregraf Colossus impression, though.
You are probably going to see me put Chart a Course in a bunch of different decks from here on out. At its best, it's Divination for two mana, which is aggressively costed. At its worst, it's Catalog, which is reasonable. All it asks you to do is attack, which you should be trying to do in Standard anyway. I'm sold.
If we wanted to play aggressive Merfolk, it would likely involve splashing Winding Constrictor and perhaps Fatal Push. Having only Unsummon for interaction is a bit worrisome, but Walking Ballista can pick up the slack going long. Verdurous Gearhulk is incredibly powerful with Herald of Secret Streams, but again, is mixing the two decks better than simply building a G/B deck?
Aside from potential Gaea's Cradle shenanigans, the other thing that's exciting about Merfolk is the fact that there are so many sweet G/U cards that never found a home, and they could slot in here. Nissa, Steward of Elements and Reason // Believe could be nice, and even things like Commit // Memory, Majestic Myriarch, and Champion of Wits would be excellent in G/U. If you're looking for non-Merfolk payoffs for Cradle of Itlimoc, you could do worse than Rhonas the Indomitable or Vizier of the Menagerie, but those would likely be a different deck.
Last week, I posted some bigger Dinosaur decks, but now we have all the tools for a pure midrange version.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 2 Drover of the Mighty
- 4 Otepec Huntmaster
- 4 Ranging Raptors
- 4 Regisaur Alpha
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
Otepec Huntmaster is the mana accelerator we wanted, even if we didn't know it. Haste makes late-game Dinosaurs, even if it does seem to overlap with Regisaur Alpha. You can still give the Regisaur Alpha haste, though, which is relevant. Being able to effectively add mana while still giving haste is also excellent.
Being able to give haste to a later threat is a great way to circumvent the "flooded on Elvish Mystics" issue. Drover of the Mighty has a similar benefit, but one that feels slightly worse to me. Maybe we're supposed to max out on both, but Ranging Raptors remove the necessity of ramping from two mana to four mana.
With all these mana sources, it might be silly to not play at least some copies of Gishath, Sun's Avatar. With a couple of copies of Unclaimed Territory and a Plains to fetch with Ranging Raptors, there would be plenty of sources, and that's not even counting Drover of the Mighty sticking around.
The question of whether or not Glorybringer belongs in a Dinosaur deck has yet to be answered, but it will probably end up somewhere in the 75. For now, I want to try being full tribal. If it turns out I want more top-end cards, I would look into adding some Gishaths. Once we get to the tuning phase, that'll be when Glorybringer might make an appearance.
One of the newest cards to be previewed is Commune with Dinosaurs, and it is absolute perfection. Five cards is incredibly generous, and it can help you find whatever it is you might need. It might be a good idea to include some copies of Raging Swordtooth just to find an Enrage enabler from it.
Rile is an incredible enabler and one I think people are going to sleep on. It seems so innocuous that I can't blame them. Is a sorcery that lets you draw two cards for a single red mana any good? What about one for the same price that Rampant Growths and draws a card? Obviously those are the best scenarios, and there will likely be times where your Dinosaur gets killed in response, but the upside is huge. Rile may end up too situational to be a four-of, but I doubt it.
Thanks to Ranging Raptors, we now have enough early Dinosaurs to reliably cast Savage Stomp. Make no mistake. That's a game changer.
Maybe Samut, the Tested still isn't very good, but I've been wanting to try it ever since @jcdepina pointed out to me on Twitter that it is a card that exists. Obviously you could live the dream of double enraging, but I'm pretty sure the card is a miss.
It wouldn't surprise me if people experiment with Growing Rite of Itlimoc in Dinosaurs as well. After all, you're in the market to draw creatures and you have the mana sinks. The only difficulty, and it might be a big one, is getting four creatures onto the battlefield.
Aggro Dinosaurs is a possibility with cards like Rampaging Ferocidon, Kinjalli's Sunwing, and Sky Terror. With Tilonalli's Knight and Raptor Hatchling, there are reasonable cards for R/W Dinosaurs at most parts of the early stages of the game. G/R might be stronger overall, even in an aggressive shell, so maybe those aggressive white Dinos are just plants for Limited.
We could also try the Growing Rites of Itlimoc engine here, since we're already green, have a bunch of creatures, and want to play Walking Ballista. There are also some giant Dinosaurs that need casting, and that might be the way to do it. I'll likely explore that next week.
As for Pirates, I think that's a tribe that's going to have the biggest lack of consensus. With Pirates equally supported between blue, black, and red, you're going to have no shortage of options.
You could likely build R/B Aggro, U/B Aggro, or a disruptive U/B deck, but I'm not sure which one will end up on top. If I had to guess, I'd say R/B will be the best deck, but won't be as strong as Ramunap Red. Therefore, the people playing Pirates will likely end up with a U/B deck.
I personally favor the disruptive aggro version, but that's almost certainly me clinging to a past that doesn't exist.
- 2 Fathom Fleet Captain
- 4 Hostage Taker
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Ruin Raider
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Storm Fleet Aerialist
This doesn't look like much, and maybe it isn't, but I like what's going on here.
You have disruptive elements in Siren Stormtamer, Kitesail Freebooter, and Lookout's Dispersal. Those, combined with your cards that interact with the battlefield (Fatal Push, Unsummon, Hostage Taker) should be able to protect your tiny army until they can deal twenty damage.
I'm a big fan of evasion in Standard, and I'm an especially big fan of having a low curve while also being able to generate velocity. It ensures that I'll be able to enact my gameplan in most games while also feeling less pressure from being land-heavy or land-light.
The biggest reason to play a more disruptive (or aggressive) version of Pirates is Ruin Raider. On my first read-through, I thought it was merely a one-time Dark Confidant trigger, but no! It's every single turn you're able to trigger raid. Given that Pirates have a ton of evasive creatures, that shouldn't be too difficult.
Jace, Cunning Castaway and Chart a Course round out the card selection capabilities of Pirates. Combined, it feels like those cards are going to be the key to your success. You will rarely overwhelm your opponent with the power level of your cards, but consistently being able to use your mana every turn and put pressure on your opponent is going to win you games.
Dinosaurs look like the best tribe by a mile, but Pirates are certainly my favorite.
And finally, here's a fun deck: