It's here, and it's glorious!
We have the full set list for Ixalan and I am getting ready for the incoming brew blitz in release week. My usual process, as regular readers will know, is to wait until I have had a chance to play with the cards before I try to build around them. That doesn't mean I haven't looked at the set, not by any means. I have a bunch of ideas that I quite honestly cannot wait to try, all in the name of fun and maybe stumbling across something powerful. Because let's be honest: we brew to be creative, but deep down, we hope that we find something that others have missed.
Before we start looking at some of the cards that have caught my eye, I really wanted to touch on how gorgeous and evocative this set is. I may have mentioned this before, but I actually feel like an explorer in Latin America, treading warily through the jungle and being terrified of running into giant freaking dinosaurs. I'm also really excited about finding treasure, in case you had forgotten.
This card is really, really weird. I feel like it's probably bad, but I cannot shake the idea that a six-mana mythic enchantment with a unique effect is just waiting for someone to really find a way to use it. Can a control deck use this to stabilize against aggro after sweeping the threats away? Could this be an answer to arbitrarily large life loops? Maybe we want to win with this and Phyrexian Unlife? I'm not going to pretend I have the answers here, but this is the kind of card that sits in bulk boxes doing nothing until someone (or some card) comes along and breaks it clean in half.
I knew Sun Titan, and you, madam, are no Sun Titan. Not even close. With that said I am intimately familiar with the power of recursion that Sunny T offers, and although this lacks the ability to recur noncreatures, there is still a lot of utility to be had here. Even repeatedly returning something like Filigree Familiar is going to get you a long way ahead in most situations, let alone Pia Nalaar or Rishkar, Peema Renegade. The fact that it's an attack trigger puts us squarely in Raid territory, so any creature in the right range with a Raid enters-the-battlefield trigger will warrant a second look. If we're currently experiencing an intentional powering-down of Standard as it seems we might be, Bishop of Rebirth could be a key player.
Not a great deal to say here, but a 2/2 for three mana that gets you a land has historically been playable, which is an interesting baseline for this card. First strike is generally better than a second point of toughness, so the question becomes whether or not the ability to make a 3/2 and either know your next draw or clear away a poor draw is worth the uncertainty of finding that land you may need. Emissary of Sunrise looks pretty medium on the surface, but I cannot help but feel it might end up being something of a Thraben Inspector-style card that sees play just because of the value it provides. Don't ignore it for the unimpressive stats in the bottom right.
I was sure when I first read this card that it only gave double strike to other Dinosaurs. That's utterly unplayable for a 3/3 at seven mana. Granting it to all creatures (though it would only be relevant to those who are attacking in most cases) is far better, especially if we have no intention of paying 5WW for it. I'm looking at you, God-Pharaoh's Gift and The Scarab God.
This card shares my aesthetic, though I am fully prepared for it to be mostly a Limited and sideboard player. The stats are average but the lifegain is a healthy chunk, and the Vampire creature type is relevant. If there is a real lifegain strategy (please, please, please, I love it so much), then I can see this being an important part of it. Maybe we will see more rewards in the next set, but for now I want this to shore up the Ramunap Red matchup.
I am intrigued by the possibilities of this card. It certainly looks a lot like a defensive card that can level early onslaughts at the price of ramping the opponent, and I do not doubt it will see play as such. It also has another potential use: turning a bunch of tokens into basic lands for us to cast giant Dinosaurs. If we can make enough Servos and/or Vampires with lifelink, we can both gum up the ground early and make for a surprise ramp from four to easily eight or better. If the format does have an effective way to go wide with tokens, Settle the Wreckage could be a great bridge to a powerful late-game that can also keep you alive if you draw the wrong half of your deck in the early-game. Oh, and it exiles too, so Gods are not a concern.
Watch this card. We might not have much in the way of powerful Equipment right now (Dowsing Dagger aside) but we have plenty of Vehicles that we might want to find. Four mana is a steep cost, but the reward is high enough to keep this in my sights. At the very least, Dowsing Dagger on an evasive threat is going to make you very happy in short order.
I am very likely to write a lot more on Dungaree Jace in the upcoming weeks, but good grief am I excited for this card. I am even more excited to see people dismissing it as bad. This Jace is such a change from all the others that I actually think he wants to be in an aggressive or tempo-based deck that can make that +1 ability really sing. That he can make himself a blocker lends credence to the idea that this Jace is meant for beating.
The other exciting part is that third ability, which conveniently can be activated immediately under a Doubling Season to make four more Jaces...who can also immediately make you four more Jaces each. God, I love this game sometimes. Once you have enough Jaces (and really, when can you ever say you have enough?), just start making Illusions to kill the opponent. The Doubling Season planeswalker deck needed more ways to win the game, right?
Another card I have seen people dismiss as "just bad" that is actually likely to be a staple once control decks find their lane in the new landscape. I will happily grant that five-mana countermagic needs to do a lot to earn a spot in any deck, but I am certain that Spell Swindle passes that test. I am not exaggerating when I say that this card feels like Mana Drain with upside. Yes, of course it costs 150% more, but Ancestral Recall would still be busted at three mana. This not only gives you the mana right away, you can use it as needed and it can be mana of any color. The artifacts stick around to enhance your Unlicensed Disintegration or to use for improvise. Heaven help your opponent if you get to cast this a second time with a Torrential Gearhulk!
My thinking is that this card will be a one- or two-of in the maindeck of Grixis Control, going up to four against other control decks. Stopping an opposing Gearhulk with this card is going to cause concessions, let alone a Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh or a large Pull from Tomorrow. This is better than Confirm Suspicions, and that saw play.
If Merfolk Aggro is to be a thing in Standard, these two cards will be an important part of it. Blue is never going to be best at going big, but it can be the best at getting blockers out of the way. Remember how infuriating it was to play against U/W Delver with Vapor Snags and Mana Leaks? These two could easily join that party. Hilariously I think Slither Blade might be part of this deck, enabling Raid without fear of being blocked. Tempo is often a solid plan after Week 1, and this is where I would be looking.
I am not the person to argue with the likes of Gerry Thompson, who is convinced this card is bad. From his perspective, it very likely is, as it costs too much and gives your opponent too much power to influence what you get back. Fortunately, I am not a Pro Tour player and have no aspirations thereunto, and I cannot wait to try this card.
Let's keep the hype at a realistic level and remind ourselves that, although technically we are guaranteed to be able to take three creatures (assuming we have five targets), we aren't likely to get the three best ones. However, if we are playing this in a deck that already wants to load up the graveyard with reanimation targets and solid, castable midrange creatures that perhaps help us reach seven mana, we're in business. I try very hard not to dismiss any card with this sort of potential power level, so even if my opponent does get to choose what I get for seven mana, I am going to ensure they have no good choices.
Altar's Reap has been close to playable many times, so perhaps a strictly better one will finally crack the code? With Treasure tokens around to cash in for two cards, we end up in card advantage territory fairly easily. We also have Scrapheap Scrounger that likes to be in the graveyard, and Filigree Familiar that doesn't mind dying for the cause. Maybe not an exciting card, but perhaps an enabler? Worth noting that we have access to this.
I used to love Megrim, but the problem with it was that you had to play discard spells with it for it to do anything, and those spells became dead fairly quickly. Although you will still want discard spells with Raiders' Wake, it does have that Raid ability to keep the hand destruction rolling even when you draw a Swamp. Worth keeping an eye on this one, especially if we can make the opponent draw cards.
This could be one of the cards that helps make Revel in Riches a playable deck. One thing that strategy appeared to be lacking was a repeatable way to make Treasure, and although this cost is relatively high, the payoff is a solid one. Dire Fleet Hoarder is a fine choice to sacrifice, as is Doomed Dissenter. The cost might price us out of this, but the potential is there.
Who knew Vampires played so well with Horses? With all of the 1/1 lifelink tokens running around and this lovely card adding to the slow bleed, I can see some cooperation with Crested Sunmare in the near future. Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle also wants us to attack with Vampires and rewards us quite handsomely for doing so, giving us that synergy we crave. Or should crave.
Quite apart from the equine synergies, we are essentially giving our Vampires an extra point of power when attacking, only better because that point is unblockable. Getting that reach can make the difference once the slower decks start to stabilize, and it can also come down to win a game before the opponent thought they were in danger. Just be glad Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Drana, Liberator of Malakir are rotating.
Yes, it's a punisher card. Yes, the argument I am about to make has been heard many times before. Yes, I am going to make it anyway.
This one is different, because neither option is good for the opponent.
Now, bear with me. I am not for a moment suggesting that we will see Sword-Point Diplomacy as a black deck staple. It will take a specific type of deck to make this anything other than a card the opponent can ignore. In decks that are aggressive and playing off the top of the library, just looking for those last few points of damage after having their team blown up, this card might as well read "Draw three cards" because the opponent won't be able to spare the life. Whether or not such a deck exists is certainly up for discussion, but the one-mana two-power creatures are approaching critical mass. With afflict and plenty of Falter effects available to us, it seems foolhardy to bet against it.
To Be Continued...
Alas, my friends, deadlines are a real thing and I must leave it there for now. As always, thanks for stopping by. I will have Part 2, containing the rest of the set, with you as soon as possible. I will be jamming the Prereleases all weekend so as to get my hands on as many of these new cards as possible, because that's often where most of my sense of the power of the set comes from. With such an upheaval coming to Standard, it isn't really practical to get to brewing without an idea of the environment. Soon, friends! Until next time...Brew On!