Ixalan has landed.
I think Standard has been in a pretty good spot lately. We have plenty of different archetypes and decks that are capable of success, and there's nothing that feels completely unbeatable.
It's finally time for Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon to take a well-deserved nap and let some fresh blood in.
Although we don't have a clear picture of how Standard is going to shake out, there are a couple of decks like Ramunap Red and Temur Energy that will have a head start going into the new world and will be solid starting points.
Another option with a solid base, also known as Torrential Gearhulk, that I can't help but look at are the control decks of the future. What might they end up looking like as the format takes shape? Here's my initial take:
First and foremost, how do we beat Ramunap Red?
That's easier said than done.
I played U/R Control to Pro Tour Hour of Devastation and got run over by Ramunap Red pretty consistently.
There might not be an answer for control decks. It might just be hoping to not have a terrible matchup against Ramunap Red, banking on the rest of the format solving things while control beats up on everything else.
The biggest hit to U/R Control is losing Wandering Fumarole, which is kind of a big deal, since Wandering Fumarole played an important role in the deck. Not only was it premium fixing, which U/R Control didn't get a replacement for, it also served as an excellent secondary win condition.
I tried to get creative looking for a secondary win condition and came up with Ramunap Ruins, which could be worth it, since it provides a nice element of inevitability and a way to ding planeswalkers, but it can punish you when you draw it early in matchups where your life total is precious and fragile.
Wandering Fumarole also got much better post-sideboard when opponents would be low on removal.
Losing Wandering Fumarole is actually probably enough to make control decks look elsewhere for a secondary color, now that red isn't meeting their needs, and especially since Drowned Catacomb and Glacial Fortress are in the format now.
The bad news doesn't stop there I'm afraid since U/R doesn't have many ways to deal with Carnage Tyrant, which is potentially one of the scariest cards possible for U/R Control to see: Jurassic Park itself on the other side of the battlefield.
Commit is kind of a solution, since you can buy a lot of time putting a Carnage Tyrant on the stack back into your opponent's library, and it's especially appealing if you're using it with Torrential Gearhulk. But that won't stop Carnage Tyrant for long unless you Commit to casting Memory to try to shuffle it away for good, but even there, your opponent can just draw it again! It also does nothing to help against a resolved Carnage Tyrant.
So I'm painting a pretty grim picture for U/R Control, but it's not all bad. U/R Control doesn't actually lose that much, and the rest of the format is losing cards as well, so who knows what's going to happen.
We also get Opt!
The Opt, Censor, Supreme Will, Glimmer of Genius curve is an appealing mix of versatility, card draw, and power. If control is turns out to be a major player in the upcoming Standard format, it will probably be because Opt optimizes the flow of the deck.
The question is: can other Ixalan Control decks surpass U/R?
U/B Control is looking mighty tempting.
You got fixing, you got removal, you've got lifegain, and you even get Duress!
Vraska's Contempt might just be what pushes U/B Control to the top of the control pile. Gaining two life while getting to scrape pretty much anything off the battlefield is exactly what the deck needs. Vraska's Contempt and Torrential Gearhulk are a match made in heaven and Glimmer of Genius might actually end up getting a little jealous.
Walk the Plank is no Grasp of Darkness, but it might still have a minor role to play. But because it's a sorcery and doesn't kill Hazoret the Fervent or Chandra, Torch of Defiance, it looks pretty unappealing against Ramunap Red.
Field of Ruin is probably one of the most exciting cards for the because since it does a quite a bit and asks for so little. It probably should've been named Field of Dreams instead, because it's such a dreamy card.
To start, it's a way to deal with pesky Ramunap Ruins, which otherwise are entirely unkillable for a normal control deck. Next, it can deal with pesky double faced cards if they flip to their land side, from Search for Azcanta to Primal Amulet to Legion's Landing.
It's also just straight-up fixing if you need it in a pinch, since Field of Ruin replaces itself with a new land when you use it! Blow up one of your opponent's nonbasic lands, perhaps disrupt their mana a little, and you each get to search up an untapped basic land. That effectively makes it cost only one mana to activate if you use the basic you search up. It's also one of the few ways to actually get revolt for Fatal Push in our deck.
I love me some Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge, but I think it's entirely possible Field of Ruin is just better than either in Modern, or at least provides more options. Land destruction lands that don't cost you a land are huge, and not something we really see.
Next we have U/W Approach, which has picked up popularity as the format has progressed.
Settle the Wreckage plays nicely against Ramunap Red because it's effective against haste creatures, in particular Hazoret the Fervent. It's also a nice option to have alongside Glimmer of Genius, since you can punish an opponent trying to play around Settle the Wreckage by just drawing cards instead.
Primal Amulet will probably end up being too clunky, but it does allow for incredible late-game card advantage and a smooth, cheap spell casting until then. For now I'd try it out, and it seems like you can shave an Approach the Second Sun to do so.
Reducing Pull from Tomorrow's or Approach of the Second Sun's casting cost is nice, and casting them with Primal Wellspring is even nicer. Unfortunately, casting and copying your first Approach of the Second Sun with Primal Wellspring doesn't immediately win you the game, so you have to settle for just gaining fourteen life.
The one-, two-, and three-drop slots in the deck are kind of lacking right now, and there's a glut of excellent four-drops, so I'm not quite sure what to do about that at the moment.
All right, I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing with this list, but I might be onto something just jamming a bunch of good red and white cards together in a pile.
Ixalan's Binding is super-solid removal that rewards you as the game goes long and your opponent starts drawing copies of the cards you bind.
Remember Sensei's Divining Top? Framing Treasure Map in that light might help you realize how underappreciated it is right now.
It's a pretty low mana investment to get started with and is all upside from there. Imagine if it provided its full effect immediately. It ramps, potentially ramps a lot if you crack your Treasure, scrys for three, and draws three cards, all for the low, low cost of five mana.
Obviously, the big downside is it takes some time to get full value from. The upside to that is you can sink one mana into it over the course of many turns. Treasure Map is colorless card draw, though, and not a bad card, so it can potentially fit anywhere and I think it will surprise people.
Now that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has mercifully gotten the heck out of the format, we need to look for a replacement. Nope, I'm not talking about Gideon of the Trials; I'm talking about Huatli, Warrior Poet. Obviously we're mainly interested in the 3/3 Dinosaurs, but the rest of her text isn't irrelevant.
I was originally treating Captain Lannery Storm as a kind of Goblin Rabblemaster-style win condition to complement all our removal, but I think the main purpose her is for ramping. Curving out into Glorybringer doesn't seem bad, and you can even use your Treasure with Treasure Cove if the game goes late enough.
Paying the Control Toll
As long as Ramunap Red is terrorizing the format, control decks face an uphill battle, but not an impossible one. I'll fight the good fight as long as I can.
I can't wait to see how Ixalan shapes the format and what new wonders undreamt of in our time emerge in the coming weeks!