We're arriving at a plane unlike one that we've seen for a very long time. Unlike prior sets such as Battle for Zendikar (RIP, hallelujah!), Shadows over Innistrad, or anything since then, Ixalan is a tribal set. While there might not be any cards with the "Tribal" card type, one only needs to take a peek under the hood of this amazing set we're about to be gifted with and its mechanics to see why they're so important for any Standard enthusiast like me!
Usually a set is filled with its typical storyline involving many iconic or newly iconic characters we've grown accustomed to, with some new mechanics that are pretty hit or miss when it comes to Constructed playability.
Meld was an interesting one in theory but aside from a few standouts didn't really scrape the surface of Constructed play. Even then the only ones that really saw much play were the ones that were individually powerful and not often used for their unique ability.
Delirium was a beautiful mechanic that played into a normal game quite simply and offered a big payoff for just playing Magic. We've seen how Tarmogoyf has proven to be all-time great, since it's slightly above the curve early in the game and only gets better the longer the game progresses.
Energy has been a fantastic mechanic allowing players to manage an additional set of resources in the game, giving more flexibility to the power level of cards that they can print. Do you think that they could print an instant that read "1R: Deal 6 damage to target creature?" No, probably not! That is just an example of what Harnessed Lightning can do with all the energy synergies working in tandem with each other. It's a well-balanced mechanic once you remove potentially broken mistakes from the equation such as Aetherworks Marvel.
Sometimes Wizards gets things horribly wrong and an abomination such as Affinity is born. We've seen similar disasters in the past with mechanics such as cascade and storm. Typically a mechanic is a bit broken when it violates the fundamental basis of Magic, which is mana. Things break when there is any way to cheat on mana, either by offering a cost reduction, resulting in "free" cards, or simply a card that allows you to cast something for free.
We've experienced our fair share of broken mechanics in the past and it seems like we've learned valuable lessons to build a more stable environment for the future. Ixalan has a few mechanics that, while powerful, don't cross the border of being broken, if only just.
Raid is a returning mechanic from a time since past. Raid's return couldn't have come at a better time, since it fits right on-theme with Pirates making their debut as a force to be reckoned with. The key factor for making Raid a very interesting ability as far as gameplay goes is that it can be viewed as a bluff.
For example, I have a Falkenrath Gorger on the battlefield and I'm attacking with it into your freshly cast Sylvan Advocate. Does this mean I have a combat trick ready to use in order to kill your Sylvan Advocate, such as Brute Force? Or am I willing to throw away my measly 2/1 Falkenrath Gorger just to enable a card in my hand with Raid? This scenario is likely to come up very often over the coming two years, where you might be bluffed out of blocking because of a seemingly obvious trick your opponent might have when their true intention was to just enable a Raid! It's going to be a tough time and take a lot of skill, knowing when it's right to call your opponent's bluff or see it for what it really is.
Enrage is an extremely elegant mechanic that gives a glimmer of light to one of the more problematic matchups that we're likely to see in Standard. It's no secret that Ramunap Red loses very little with the rotation and it's proved to be one of the biggest threats to any tournament you might enter.
Enrage is likely to be the kryptonite to that strategy, as it lines up against almost everything that they want to do. Any form of removal you'd use on a creature with Enrage printed on it that's damage-based triggers a benefit for the controller. Raptor Hatchling replaces itself with a much larger creature, Ripjaw Raptor gives you an additional card, and Ranging Raptors ramps you a land ahead of schedule. All of the creatures with Enrage are fine as chump blockers while you're behind or snowball you ahead when your opponent is forced into chump blocking your dangerous Dinosaurs.
I've spoken rather highly of many of the Enrage creatures and what I think of the Dinosaur tribe earlier this week. They're a tribe that I'm certain is only a card or two off, if that, away from catapulting itself into the top tier of the new metagame.
Another mechanic I'm more than thrilled is in this set that I believe is severely underrated is Explore. It either reads "Draw a random land from your deck" or "Put a +1/+1 counter on this creature and scry 1, but instead of putting the card on the bottom of your library, put it into your graveyard." While that seems like a random happenstance and wildly uncontrollable, the value of being able to either draw a card or effectively scry 1 with upside is a solid role-player for any deck wanting to play out a normal gameplan.
While we have one more card to see in what seems to be a cycle of rare enchantments that give you value on the front side and become a legendary land on the back, each of these cards has my brain brewing with possibilities. Transforming gives a card much more depth and makes any deck they're in have more versatility and flexibility without taking up a deck slot, effectively getting two cards for one in a nontraditional sense.
Growing Rites of Itlimoc and Legion's Landing make me wish that Magic was an entirely digital game so that Felidar Guardian could have been given errata to have a "nonplaneswalker" clause on it, to be used as a value creature and not a combo piece. Despite that, all of these cards are likely to see play with potentially broken upsides. We all know how good Gaea's Cradle is in Legacy. Walking Ballista is the obvious place to go in Standard, and from there, who knows what else we can do!
Aside from obvious printed mechanics, the tribal theme to this set will make for a very interesting environment. While normally there are good cards and bad cards in Draft or Constructed and they exist to show us what a good card looks like in context, when you introduce the tribal theme to a set, many cards have almost no use to one deck while being an all-star in another. Even within the same color, decks will look wildly different and card evaluation will vary based on how well the tribal aspect of them interacts. There aren't very many traditional "lord" effects giving a bonus to all creatures of the same type, but there are cards such as Tilonalli's Knight, which receives its own bonus, as well as a card like Imperial Lancer gaining double strike.
We could take a trip down memory lane to the last time we had a full-on tribal set. It was in the lofty plane of Lorwyn, and the Pro Tour that consisted of entirely of Draft was won by none other than Jon Finkel himself. If that's not a sign to the skill needed to succeed in a Limited format that's Tribal-based, I don't know what is.
Enough about Limited and the past; we're here to set our sights on SCG Dallas a mere two weeks away. While many of you will find yourselves en route to SCG Louisville to try your hand at Modern, due to the recent Hurricane Irma, I've been left without a way to attend, and thus I can focus my attention to a brand new Standard I'm overjoyed to finally be able to play in.
Sets are generally previewed in waves of excitement and are there to generate hype, as all the flashy rares and mythics are spaced out, with many commons and uncommons trickling down the pipeline and often flying under the radar. We've seen some of the most important cards in the past year be commons and uncommons, cards that have shaped the landscape for almost every competitive deck that's seen the light of day.
It's not always the ones that get the most hype that see the most play. We've learned how powerful a slightly buffed-up Lay of the Land can be; we've also seen how some cards that are initially hyped up, such as Tezzeret the Schemer or Ajani Unyielding, could fall virtually flat on their face, seeing little to no play.
Merfolk Branchwalker has received almost no attention as far as I can see, and I could see it being one of the most impactful cards in the entire set. Revisiting what I previously stated about the Explore mechanic, having that effect be on a card so efficiently costed as a 2/1 for 1G could have it rival cards such as Rogue Refiner in power level. Ignoring the potential for any tribal synergies, this Merfolk Scout could be just what green decks are looking for to not only get on the battlefield early against aggressive decks but also generate an advantage against any control decks attempting to grind you to a pulp.
A Flying Man with upside! Again, a card with a relevant creature type as well as a crucially relevant ability, Siren Stormtamer looks like it's perfectly fitted to find its way into any deck looking to play a God-Pharaoh's Gift or two, since it protects the powerful artifact from Abrade regardless of how much mana you opponent has untapped, unlike the previously played Mausoleum Wanderer.
I'm not sure why people haven't been freaking out about this card like I have. I've completely ignored the Raid aspect of this card and analyzed how powerful a simple "Draw two cards, then discard a card" for two mana is. We've never had an effect like this in Magic for this mana cost, if my gatherings are true, and what a powerful effect it is.
For the most recent Pro Tour, I played a straight U/W variant of God-Pharaoh's Gift deck that contained zero copies of Gate to the Afterlife and was allin on casting Refurbish on a God-Pharaoh's Gift that had been put into the graveyard. One flaw the deck had was a lack of ways to discard cards, and with this niche card draw effect being added to the arsenal, it could put the deck right to the forefront of the tournament scene.
You can have additional reanimation targets for this deck such as Cataclysmic Gearhulk to help against go-wide decks that might arise, but as far as a Game 1 plan is concerned, Angel of Invention is the best there is still.
I'm now certain, after seeing what tools this kind of deck has been given, that the card Dispossess wasn't made to target Gearhulks or even Metalwork Colossus but to help fight God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, as next to no deck can keep up with the late-game inevitability that it can provide with the right setup.
One final card I'm sure will play a major role in the months to come to help the fair and honest Dinosaur decks people will play with is Deathgorge Scavenger. At a the base rate of 3/2 for 2G, you're getting a Kitchen Finks trigger, gaining two life if there happens to be a creature you've killed out of Ramunap Red or a creature put into the graveyard via Strategic Planning or even Chart a Course.
There are cards like Sentinel Totem that do the job of fighting graveyard decks quite well, but all-stars like Deathgorge Scavenger not only help fight someone trying to do something broken, they are also are reasonable cards you'd include in your decks as-is. They are the true winners and will see the most play. The fact that it can just exile any card for a +1/+1 bonus when you're on the offensive truly makes this one of the hallmark cards of the set and another card that can be added freely to any deck looking to attack that can cast it!
Those are the cards I believe haven't been given nearly enough credit where it's due and some that you'd best be on the lookout or at least be aware of when it's finally time for a the dawn of a new Standard! We're due to have the full set revealed around the same time as this article goes live, and you'd better bet I'll be scouring every single card for all the fascinating synergies we have to unravel here on Ixalan! Good luck to all in Louisville!