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There is a lot to love about Ixalan, but one of the things I absolutely love is the way it plays upon history: the conquistador versus Aztec/Inca elements make for intriguing imagery. This is especially made more intriguing by the feathered Dinosaurs and their aesthetics with the Humans of Ixalan. As a stealthy (read: white-looking, like Louis CK) Mexican-American, I'm always partial to anything that evokes classic iconography of Mesoamerica, and as a former child, I'm partial to anything that involves Dinosaurs. Win-win!
Towards the end of the Pre-Ixalan era, I was pretty solidly focused on U/R Control decks, despite the power that was clear of things like The Scarab God and U/B Control. Friends of mine, like Zac Elsik, were trying to convert me over to "the dark side," but I remained essentially faithful to the U/R core that I'd been playing for months.
This faithfulness was mostly predicated on a lack of truly extraordinary standouts in U/B Control that had any pedigree in their results.
Well, by now, there have been more than a few top finishes with U/B Control. I'll focus on two:
Robin Dolar's win at GP Turin and Hall of Fame member Gabriel Nassif's finish in the Top 4 of French Nationals with essentially the same deck cements something important:
The U/B Control deck is likely to be a powerful force in the upcoming metagame.
The big reason is that the deck is wildly powerful, and is losing almost nothing. It loses some mana – Choked Estuary and Sunken Hollow – but at least gets to replace them slightly with Drowned Catacomb. It loses a fair number of sideboard cards, but some of those – like Summary Dismissal – are likely not that big of a loss when cards like Eldrazi are leaving the format as well.
Robin Dolar's list loses:
Gabriel Nassif's list loses:
First, what does it mean to have such a small set of losses to the deck?
One of the most important things is that you have a core deck that is incredibly dangerous right at the beginning of the format. While the format will get more explored and refined in the coming weeks and months, it is fairly reasonable to suggest that the 34 spells that these two decks are running is, roughly, 85% secure.
The control core based on countermagic is deeply difficult for decks to overcome right now. Cards like Tireless Tracker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are going away; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will be no more; and the quiet threat of creature-lands will largely depart. While the red aggro decks will only suffer a little pain with the departure of Falkenrath Gorger, the world has suddenly shifted quite nicely for controlling decks.
Losing Grasp of Darkness is big deal, but as for the rest of it, it is painless. This is not an irreplaceable series of losses. In the purity of two colors – blue and black – there isn't a neat replacement for Grasp of Darkness, but the end of the world isn't here.
There is no solid, excellent replacement for Grasp of Darkness. Ultimately, your two-mana options that are "pure" removal aren't great, but they exist:
We could stretch and included Gifted Aetherborn as among the "removal," but I prefer not to indulge that sophistry. Another choice, still slightly stretching, but not absurdly so, is to run a tiny touch of bounce; Consign // Oblivion is a real potential choice, and as a player who has run Disperse to success in the past, it's one that I can fervently get behind.
Replacing Flaying Tendrils really begs the question: what are you hoping to accomplish? Do you truly need this sweep spell? Exiling an Earthshaker Khenra is great, but the card still leaves behind creatures like Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, as well as other threats.