[Welcome to Fact or Fiction ! This week, SCG Tour® mainstays Todd Stevens and Ross Merriam take on five pressing questions about Rivals of Ixalan . Read their answers and vote for the winner in the poll at the end!]
1. While being a Minotaur Pirate is really cool, Angrath, the Flame-Chained coolness factor can't overcome its low power level.
Todd Stevens: Fiction. 2018 is already starting off well as we're talking about Minotaur Pirates! What's cooler than that? Angrath, the Flame-Chained may seem underpowered at first, but I think we're looking at the best Rakdos planeswalker ever printed, being the perfect top end of a Rakdos Aggro deck. Generally speaking, aggro decks tend to get out in front of the opponent with the opponent trying as hard as possible to stabilize. Do you know what makes it harder to stabilize? Losing a card from your hand every turn at the cost of two life or having your best blocker taken from you for a turn, with it being gone forever if it cost three or less.
Starting at five loyalty after one plus activation, your opponents will have to spend their time attacking Angrath to get it off the battlefield before it rips their hand apart, which also helps lower their shields for your offense. I also like how Angrath pairs with Chandra, Torch of Defiance to give you another planeswalker that finishes off the opponent on its own, and with that I think Angrath will fit nicely into a Jund or Grixis planeswalker control shell.
Ross Merriam: Both. Angrath, the Flame-Chained is indeed underpowered, but I disagree with the assumption that being a Minotaur Pirate is really cool. Why would that be cool? It's just two things put together. Is there any reason for them to be joined? Not really. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Get off my lawn.
As for the card itself, compare it to Ob Nixilis Reignited. All of its abilities are worse and Ob Nixilis was a role-player in Standard, albeit a good one. There is potential in the Threaten ability since that lets you pressure other planeswalkers more effectively, and all of Angrath's abilities can reduce your opponent's life total in a meaningful way. In sum, there may be something there in a big aggressive deck, but at the five slot you're competing with Glorybringer. Additionally, this is another card that dies to Chandra's Defeat. I'll pass.
2. The printing of Kumena, Tyrant of Oraca and return of Silvergill Adept make Merfolk a viable option in Standard.
Todd Stevens: Fact. The big printing here is Silvergill Adept, as that card is arguably the best card in Modern Merfolk and is a huge addition to its Standard counterpart. Merfolk Branchwalker and Silvergill Adept pair together to give U/G Merfolk built-in card advantage that I believe will be strong enough to make Merfolk a playable tribe in Standard on its own, despite a weak supporting cast around them. The other card I'm paying attention to with every new Rivals of Ixalan preview is Herald of Secret Streams - a card that has the ability to dominate games with enough efficient ways to put +1/+1 counters on your creatures. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca can achieve this if you have enough Merfolk to tap, but asking for three Merfolk to draw a card or five Merfolk to put the counters on your creatures is certainly asking for a lot unless you're creating Merfolk tokens. All in all, though, I believe there will be enough for a Standard U/G Merfolk deck after Rivals of Ixalan.
Ross Merriam: Schrodinger's Fact. The printing of Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and Silvergill Adept means that Merfolk has a viable shell to build around. The question of whether that shell is going to be fully fleshed out depends on the rest of the set. In order to have a good swarming aggro deck, you need a critical mass of quality Merfolk to completely fill out the curve.
Remember that several of the key pieces in the Zombies deck from last summer had been around for a long time before the deck finally took shape after Amonkhet. Merfolk can also leverage Metallic Mimic as an underpowered final piece, but I need to see at least another one-drop and a card that can create multiple bodies as an enabler for Kumena before I declare there is a deck. Another good tribal payoff wouldn't hurt either.
I'm optimistic that those cards will be printed, mainly because I'm going to hope for anything to dethrone Temur Energy so Standard can be a real format again; that's why I'm going with Schrodinger's Fact over Schrodinger's Fiction.
3. Tetzimoc, Primal Death will help put midrange black decks back on the map in Standard.
Todd Stevens: Fiction. I played a lot of various U/B midrange decks this Standard season with The Scarab God being one of the best cards in Standard, but unfortunately I don't believe Tetzimoc, Primal Death would have fit into any of them; therefore, I don't like its chances of seeing Standard play. The best case scenario is that you have Tetzimoc in your opening hand, or close to it, and are able to use an excess mana to reveal it early and put a prey counter on a creature your opponent controls. This will likely cause your opponent to slow down the rate at which they deploy their creatures (assuming they believe you will live until turn 6 while using mana for each creature they deploy) to play around the Wrath effect that they know is in your hand.
Well, I guess technically the best case is drawing it on turn 20 and having enough mana to wipe your opponents battlefield, since we're still alive and they have a lot of creatures in play.
Anyway, point is, giving the opponent information is almost always a downside in Magic, and even when Tetzimoc is doing its thing it gives your opponent more information on how to proceed with the game, ultimately lessening the upside the card truly has. Given the strength of other Standard cards at similar mana costs, I don't expect Tetzimoc to see much Standard play.
Ross Merriam: Fact. This is my favorite of the early preview cards, and I think it compares favorably to Noxious Gearhulk, even if you have to put some effort into it. Not dying to Abrade or Glorybringer is a big game, as is the sixth point of toughness so it rumbles with The Scarab God and lives. If it's in your hand early, you can always make use of excess mana and any time you can get two creatures with its trigger you'll be in great shape.
It also plays nicely with The Scarab God and other reanimation effects, especially if you can get one copy in the graveyard and another in your hand. At six mana you're not going to want a bunch of copies, but it's a very powerful effect in creature-centric midrange matchups, so it should perform well against Temur Energy variants.
4. Ascend is a Constructed-level mechanic.
Todd Stevens: Fact. It's pretty hard for me to say a mechanic that can't be interacted with by the opponent won't be Constructed-playable right now with how we've seen energy dominate Standard. Now, obviously, there's no reason to believe that ascend will be anywhere as powerful as energy, but receiving the city's blessing for the rest of the game, no matter what, has plenty of potential. Currently, Vona's Hunger looks to be the most playable of the ascend cards from Rivals of Ixalan, and plenty of instant speed three-mana sacrifice effects have seen Standard play over the past couple years, such as Foul-Tongue Invocation and To the Slaughter. I expect Vona's Hunger to see Standard play, and I have my eye out for other ascend cards that will also have an impact on the format.
Ross Merriam: Fiction. I'm going to take a more abstract view of this question rather than simply evaluate whether or not I think a card or two with ascend will find their way into Constructed. There's always the potential for the latter since any given card could simply be good outside of the potential with ascend, but as for the power level of the mechanic itself, I'm not seeing anything that piques my interest.
Ascend looks like a classic "win more". Putting permanents onto the battlefield is the primary way to win games of Magic, so having a lot of them generally means you're ahead and probably don't need the boost that the City's Blessing provides. Conversely, when you're behind and don't get the advantage is when you most need it. It's a tantalizingly cruel mechanic, depriving you when you're in want while inundating you in times of plenty.
Since ascend counts lands, there is the potential to use the City's Blessing to recoup material when you're flooded, but in what percentage of games is the bonus enough to overcome that disadvantage? It's non-zero, but it's small enough that this mechanic doesn't excite me by itself.
5. Form of the Dinosaur, while a cool design, won't see Constructed play.
Todd Stevens: Fiction. Just like I was a big fan of Sunbird's Invocation, I love Form of the Dinosaur and hope it sees Constructed play, but I'm not holding my breath. I wanted to say "fact" here, but since I like the card and Sunbird's Invocation sees play, I'll go with "fiction," why not!
Let's start with a positive: Form of the Dinosaur provides life gain in a color that traditionally doesn't have access to it, meaning it could be a way to gain plenty of life for a U/R control deck and help them stabilize. It could also be a way to reset your life total and provide a couple removal spells while using Approach of the Second Sun to win the game. As for a downside, unfortunately, fighting the creature your opponents control during your upkeep is not a "may" ability, and therefore Form of the Dinosaur may come back to kill you even after resetting your life total.
So, again, I'm not holding my breath here, but if Naya Ramp with this and Overwhelming Splendor becomes a real thing, is anyone actually mad? I'm sure not!
Ross Merriam: Fiction. I'll shift gears on this one and take the most generous interpretation of the question. Will Form of the Dinosaur be in any successful Constructed deck during its time in Standard? I think so, because it's a powerful effect that pairs well with planeswalkers, removal, and sweepers, a proven core of cards in a midrange-control strategy.
If you land this on an even battlefield and have some lifegain to back it up, you're going to win the game before it kills you most of the time so the onus is on your opponent to act. You can trade resources appropriately, whittle down their battlefield, and then clean the rest up with your dinosaur powers. At that point your opponent is forced to play creatures as inefficient burn spells, a plan they are likely ill-equipped to execute.
This isn't something you want to flood on, and it's only good against certain decks, but not every card can be a staple powerhouse or cool build-around. Role player cards are essential to every deck, and I think this one is good enough to break through.
Just don't make any weird dinosaur sounds when you play it. And stop leaving your skateboard on the floor. I'm going to trip over it and break my neck.