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.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Angel of Invention
- 2 Aviary Mechanic
- 4 Duskborne Skymarcher
- 4 Legion Conquistador
- 4 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
If you were to build a blue version, I think the first place to look is Cloudblazer and Trophy Mage. While Trophy Mage isn't white, it could be the card that gives you the consistency you need to cast an early Oketra's Monument. I could also see playing one or two other artifacts to grab with it, but I don't quite know what those should be. Maybe there's a hybrid version of God-Pharaoh's Gift and Oketra's Monument waiting to be found?
I could also be wrong in leaving Fairgrounds Warden off the list. Still, if I were going that route, I would probably want to load up on Dusk. The deck is very soft to Glorybringer right now, but Fairgrounds Warden doesn't help that much. Right now, the focus is on Metallic Mimic boosting up all your other creatures and hoping you get to crash through for lethal after a big, stalled battlefield. Dusk doesn't combo well with either Metallic Mimic or Angel of Invention, as it will push most of your creatures into death range.
This is not a great card. It is, however, a good card. To be more precise, it is a good engine card that can give a control deck some staying power after trading one-for-one during the early turns of the game. As a control deck, your goal is to cast a bunch of spells anyway, so triggering this to flip won't be that difficult. The trick to making Search for Azcanta truly awesome is building your deck so that you can utilize those extra cards as the game goes on.
Will Search for Azcanta break the format? No, but it should play a role as a one- or two-of in most control strategies. The problem with Search for Azcanta is that it doesn't work too well with other engine cards like Dynavolt Tower (which you'll see next week on the VS Series), because you don't want to draw too many in the early turns of the game. That's when you start to stabilize. That's when you need all your resources, and drawing two virtual dead cards can be a disaster.
The upside to Search for Azcanta is that it is much easier to flip than the rest of the gang. Getting to seven cards in your graveyard is comically easy, but the backside still requires quite a lot of mana to get started. Luckily, control decks can actually use that extra land, and Search for Azcanta can usually act like a ramp spell that gives you a minor amount of card selection in the early turns.
If I were to play a draw-go control deck in the new Standard, it would look something like this.
Unfortunately, playing the traditional build of U/R Control doesn't give us answers to one of the more problematic permanents from Ixalan:
I honestly think this card is going to be everywhere. Even as just a sideboard card, Carnage Tyrant is going to put a beating on most control decks, especially those that don't have access to a big sweeper like Fumigate. Magic Online has already produced a few control decks that can handle the beast, so let's start there and break down exactly why U/W Control might be the better choice for control.
What I like about this deck:
People will have removal spells for Torrential Gearhulk, and potentially enough to make it very difficult to win the game without an alternate win condition. Approach of the Second Sun not only gains you enough life to put you out of burn range, it also just lets you win games you have no real business winning. It's a little cheesy, for sure, but it is effective.
Yeah, your opponent will get a few lands when you cast this, but it is an effective sweeper. It also exiles the creatures, so cards like Hazoret the Fervent won't be nearly as much of a problem.
Both sides of Farm // Market are quite good in this deck. Instant-speed removal has been lacking for U/W Control for the last few years. Ever since we lost Condemn, things just haven't been the same, and most control decks have looked to black or red as their support color of choice. Farm // Market isn't spectacular on either side, but the fact remains that it can kill any attacking creature and then gain back some card advantage.
This is the sleeper card that helps you fight Vehicles. I would imagine that, without Aether Meltdown, Heart of Kiran would be a huge problem. My only real problem with the card is that we're not trying to use the energy gained by Aether Meltdown or Glimmer of Genius. We aren't even playing Aether Hub!
If you want to play a control deck this weekend, U/W Approach is your best bet. This list looks clean-cut and ready for action, and the set isn't even out yet! That's just how quickly Magic Online moves.
More Decks from Magic Online
Without any tournaments to go on, the information before this weekend is scarce, and my guess is that Magic Online lists will be the best place to start. While these decks aren't tuned, they are a great starting point.
- 1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Angel of Invention
- 2 Angel of Sanctions
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Fairgrounds Warden
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 2 Trophy Mage
This is one of the better lists of Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift I've seen since Ixalan was fully released. Every card seems meticulously chosen to help you get out of sticky situations. And with the constant bombardment of "exile your stuff" via Fairgrounds Warden and Angel of Sanctions, it will be tough to get your creatures back and beat the God-Pharaoh's Gift that's still on the battlefield. While I would love to see one or two more Trophy Mages in the list, it is quite slow, and Strategic Planning does a fine job at digging for it (while also putting some more creatures into your graveyard).
What I love:
I've wanted to play this card for months now, but people seem to adapt quickly to beating it. But that was before everyone started running Treasure Mage and had more redundancy. You can kill Gate to the Afterlife and God-Pharaoh's Gift all you want, but the deck still keeps pumping out creatures, gaining card advantage, and finding more copies.
While this card has seen some play in the deck, it fell out of favor in the last month or so. I think that was mostly due to having Insolent Neonate to fill the gap of "dig and discard," but I think it will be easy to find room for it now. But Strategic Planning isn't just a way to put creatures into your graveyard. It's a way to dig for late-game creatures that get you out of sticky situations. It's another way to dig for Gate to the Afterlife. It's another way to make sure you're able to find Cataclysmic Gearhulk when the game gets out of your control.
My only concern with the deck is stumbling in the early turns against an aggressive deck. Fairgrounds Warden and Walking Ballista certainly help relieve some pressure, but they won't always be enough. If you don't get your engine online, your deck is just a steaming pile of weird uncommons.
So far, the rest of the format seems to be going in the direction you might think. Ramunap Red is still the best hyper-aggressive deck. Temur Energy is still the best midrange deck. Grass is green and the sky is blue.
But there is a lot of room to explore. Dinosaurs still might be one of the sleeper hits of the weekend, featuring a ton of powerful midrange creatures that control decks will struggle to beat. Pirates, if built right, could become the new U/W Delver. And I might be stretching it just a bit, but there's a chance that Electrostatic Pummeler makes a comeback. We'll just have to wait and see.
At the moment, I'm pretty sad I won't be attending SCG Dallas. I love the opening week of a new format before everyone settles on the three or five best decks. That's when you get to see new decks come to life. That's where you get to see some underground deckbuilders get their time to shine. That's where you get to see deckbuilding as an art form.
And it's also where you get to see hundreds of people flail about with new cards because none of us have any idea what we're doing!
Regardless, I'm going to be watching coverage this weekend, and you should too if you aren't going to attend yourself. Ixalan might just surprise you yet.