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Standard with Ixalan is starting to take shape. Magic Online has already begun running Standard Leagues, and with that comes new decklists! Will Dinosaurs break through? Do Pirates really have a shot at overcoming the strength of Whirler Virtuoso? What new brews will we see in the next few days leading up to #SCGDFW?
Personally, I think we're just starting to really understand just how these tribes and new mechanics work. Explore seems like a solid Constructed mechanic, either making your creature a bit larger or drawing you a card. Plus, if the nonland on top isn't all that great, you get a bit of card selection with the option to put it into your graveyard.
That's a lot to unpack on a new ability, because we haven't really had one like it before. Built-in card advantage/selection is tough to evaluate because it mostly relies on how good the rest of your deck/cards are. If you're digging for one specific threat or removal spell, Explore is awesome. If your entire deck is full of tiny Merfolk, maybe Explore isn't all that good.
Plus, you need to actually be able to use that extra land that you draw.
Aside from Explore, the tribes of Ixalan are going to be tricky to build in the early stages of the format. Once we find the right combination of creatures, protection, removal, and other utility cards, the picture will become clearer. For now, I'm just assuming that most people are going to shove thirty or so creatures into their deck with a few removal spells and call it a day. And that (probably) won't be good enough to win the first Open with Ixalan.
A Second Look
There are a few cards from Ixalan that have been mostly passed up but that I believe deserve second looks. While there are quite a few cards that can slot into existing archetypes and a couple of tribal synergy cards worth building around, I'm going over these with a fine-toothed comb.
As we saw in the previous Standard format, every single white creature needs to be evaluated with Oketra's Monument in mind. Bygone Bishop and many other mostly "unplayable" friends decided to rotate with Ixalan, but that doesn't mean we need to give up the ghost. In fact, Legion Conquistador might be the best reason I've seen to play Oketra's Monument in the new Standard.
Unfortunately, we also lost a lot of our flying creatures, but it is possible that there are enough other reasons to justify building an Oketra's Monument deck. Remember, no one thought Squadron Hawk was very good at first. It was cool and could carry Equipment, but ultimately it was just a 1/1 flier. It wasn't until people realized how good it was alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic before it started to see regular play, and then continued to do so even after both of them were banned.
What Legion Conquistador adds to the Oketra's Monument deck is twofold. While three mana is a lot for a 2/2, the ability to reduce the casting cost with Oketra's Monument is the missing piece of the puzzle. No only that, but normal sweeper effects aren't very good here, because we have the ability to reload easily. The big questions for the new version of Oketra's Monument are as follows:
How do we fill out the rest of the deck?
My guess is that most cheap creatures will do, but it is possible that Mono-White or maybe B/W Vampires is the way to go. Cards like Bishop of Rebirth and Marven Fein, Dusk Apostle give you some built-in card advantage should your other creatures stay alive, allowing you to continue alpha-striking turn after turn. If only Sanctum Seeker were a white Vampire...
While a Vampire theme is likely a good choice due to Marven Fein, Dusk Apostle, I could see people getting a little more creative, and especially so if you move into a secondary color.
How do we replace Westvale Abbey and all the rest?
I'll be honest: I don't know if this deck will be even remotely as good as the previous iteration. Westvale Abbey was one of the best cards in the deck, and I won the majority of my games because it could break through battlefield stalls. However, the deck still functions mostly the same, and you can win plenty of games by swarming the ground or killing all your opponent's creatures with Dusk // Dawn. The core of the deck remains mostly intact, because the core of the deck was always Oketra's Monument. The rest was just chaff to make sure we could utilize Oketra's Monument to the best of our ability.
How does the new version of Oketra's Monument line up against the rest of the format?
I'd say that you're generally favored against Ramunap Red, and have a great chance of beating control if you ever get to resolve an Oketra's Monument. Plus, you can make good use of your early creatures to put pressure on them, forcing them to spend their turn playing a sweeper spell. Once that happens, you can use any number of cards to refuel your side of the battlefield. And if they don't have a second sweeper, then you should be golden.
Should we play a second color?
My gut says no, but I wouldn't be surprised if that changes. Cloudblazer is still legal and one of the better five-drops to play alongside Oketra's Monument. The lifegain and card advantage are huge and could be even more important now that we don't have access to Bygone Bishop and a ton of Clue tokens. Blue will also give us some counterspells to help fight off opposing control decks, so I'm honestly not sure. My gut says to stick with Mono-White for now until we get a better idea of what the format is going to look like.