It's almost time for Rivals of Ixalan, and preview cards are rolling in like crazy. Just today, I've seen fifteen or so cards, and the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together. While it will still be an uphill battle to topple the various energy decks that are currently dominating Standard, there is an amazing amount of potential.
I'm not going to waste any more of your time, so let's get right to it. Here are my Top 8 cards from Rivals of Ixalan. First up, here's a card that I want to try out immediately.
Many of you probably haven't played Magic long enough to remember creatures like Nekrataal or Flametongue Kavu, but those effects can be very powerful in creature-heavy formats. We've already seen a little bit of this with Sand Strangler in Ben Stark's Treasure Red deck at GP Atlanta last year, as well as from the sideboard of many Ramunap Red strategies.
This card seems pretty disgusting if you can re-use the effect. Black means The Scarab God. Pairing it with blue means Vizier of Many Faces. And pairing it with artifacts means yet another tool for God-Pharaoh's Gift. While some might argue that Hostage Taker is potentially better, since you can actually cast the card you steal, I want my effect now. I don't want to wait until the seventh turn or later to cast Hostage Taker and the card I take. I want to curve out and kill something on the fourth turn, then follow it up by copying or reusing said ability.
Ravenous Chupacabra, while only a 2/2 after its effect, should be a fine addition to a lot of strategies in Standard. While the body isn't going to be hugely relevant, I think pairing it alongside some raid abilities also sounds like a fine idea.
My first pet project with the card:
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Ruin Raider
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 2 Tetzimoc, Primal Death
I thought pairing Ravenous Chupacabra with stuff like Ruin Raider would be a good start. Not only does it come down and kill off an early opposing threat, but the body can be relevant later in the game by attacking and drawing a card off Ruin Raider. While Ruin Raider isn't a card that sees a lot of play at the moment, this deck pushes it pretty hard. Is this list good? Probably not, but I think it is a fine place to see if both Ruin Raider and Ravenous Chupacabra make a good pair.
Alternatively, you could play Sultai instead of Jund, which gives you access to a better mana base with Botanical Sanctum. On top of that, you could play stuff like Vizier of Many Faces and/or Rogue Refiner to keep the juices flowing. And to top everything off, splashing for The Scarab God doesn't seem like an awful idea.
The downside of playing this combination of colors is that you lose Harnessed Lightning, which is a big deal in a format featuring Glorybringer. And, to be honest, Glorybringer is a card I'd be very worried about for any creature-based deck that can't kill it before its effect goes off. While black does have Vraska's Contempt to help in that regard, four mana is a lot to leave on the table in preparation for getting hit by a Glorybringer.
The alternative solution, which I think might be fine, is to have a bunch of insanely good creatures that overwhelm your opponent's removal (and Glorybringers). If your deck is packed with Ruin Raider and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, as well as a slew of other must-kill threats, it might not even be necessary to play something like Harnessed Lightning. Just let that Glorybringer resolve and kill something. You can always deal with it on the next turn with Ravenous Chupacabra, Vraska's Contempt, or some other removal spell. The one thing I know that I don't want to do is play Winding Constrictor and Walking Ballista.
Is this card good? Probably. Of all the big Dinosaurs I've seen so far, this one is actively enticing. The effect is unique and pretty cool. But still, I don't know if it's better than something like Vraska, Relic Seeker. Six mana is a lot, and investing more than that to get a sweet effect might just be too costly.
The problem is that you still can't really kill either The Scarab God or Bristling Hydra, two threats that have been tearing through Standard over the last few months. And, even if you're killing Whirler Virtuoso, you still have to grind through all of those tokens. Regardless, I'm excited to try this card out, but I'm not exactly getting my hopes up.
Holy moly is this card good. To be honest, this card reminds me a lot of Vengevine, but you can't do a whole lot of cool graveyard stuff with it. It's just a four-mana 4/3 flier that requires back-to-back removal spells to deal with it. Or you could just exile it I guess. But the same could be said for The Scarab God in a lot of circumstances.
At the very least, even if cards like Whirler Virtuoso threaten to invalidate this card, I would look for it being absolutely busted by this time next year. The stats alone are reasonable, but the ability to threaten returning it to the battlefield, with haste, puts it over the top for me.
I wanted to put all the Merfolk from Rivals of Ixalan onto the list, but that would make it quite long. Suffice it to say that with Silvergill Adept, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, and the slew of powerful Merfolk already previewed, you stand a chance of becoming a real deck. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca singlehandedly turns Deeproot Waters into a real Magic card. It gives you something to build toward. And, most importantly, it acts like a real "lord." And yes, I do realize that Merfolk Mistbinder has already been previewed.
The only downside to Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is that it's legendary. Traditionally, cards like this one are fine in multiples, because they have effects that help pump your whole squad. And when you're playing a tribal deck based around deploying a bunch of creatures to the battlefield, all you want is ways to make those creatures better. Time and time again, when sets are based around tribal mechanics, the only way to make them viable is to have marquee creatures that can reward you for playing a whole bunch of creatures of the same tribe. Before Rivals of Ixalan, I just don't think any of the tribes gave you enough reason to be a tribal deck.
There are so many Merfolk coming out of the woodwork that could make the cut that I honestly have no idea how I would even start building the deck. It's been a long time since a tribal strategy has gotten this much love, but it shouldn't take long for people to put the pieces together. Eh, why not. Let's take a crack at it!
- 4 Deeproot Elite
- 2 Forerunner of the Heralds
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Merfolk Mistbinder
- 1 Seafloor Oracle
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 1 Kopala, Warden of Waves
- 4 Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Seems pretty cookie-cutter to me. I'd like to potentially get some more support cards in the mix, but you need a lot of creatures to power some of your synergy-driven Merfolk. And even though Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is legendary, I want to start off playing four of them and seeing how often its drawback is relevant to early-game development.
Wedge did a pretty great job on this card already, and I'd recommend taking a look at that video if this card interests you in a more casual setting. Yes, this card is pretty mediocre against a creature-based deck, but its sideboard potential is unbelievable.
While it might look a lot like Carnage Tyrant, at least you could deal with that via a sweeper effect. Against control, this card will singlehandedly beat them unless they outright win the game with Approach of the Second Sun. While seven mana is a lot, control mirrors will be defined by who draws this alongside seven mana first. You can't kill it. You can't cast spells without getting buried. You can't really match it without casting one of your own. It's absolutely terrifying.
Another strange card that looks pretty sweet on paper, but I don't know how good it will be in practice. Legacy Weapon had a similar effect at a much higher cost and saw some fringe play way back in the day, but I think this card could end up being pretty good. While it is slow and still doesn't really deal with Bristling Hydra, I'm a pretty big fan of it actually exiling the creatures it targets. That means you get an instant-speed (ish) way to interact with The Scarab God.
The problem with this card is that I don't see anywhere it really "fits." It's a powerful tool for control, but I don't know if it's worth the splash (or just playing B/W). This card is so intriguing to me, but I'm also just curious what other people end up doing with it. You don't often see a permanent that can continuously remove creatures from the battlefield. And, after all its "charge up," you actually get to use those creatures against the opponent. A removal/card advantage engine is always something to take a second look at.
Have y'all ever played with Verdant Force before? Because this card reminds me a lot of Verdant Force. And the cool thing about Ascend on permanents is that it constantly checks, so the moment you hit that Saproling that gives you your tenth permanent, it's time to send in the botanical army!
I like this card. I like any card that can singlehandedly win the game if your opponent doesn't interact with it. I especially like those types of cards when they cost five or less mana. Yes, it "dies to removal spells" just like any other creature, but imagine if your entire goal is to stick one of these and ride it to victory? I could see this card playing a similar role to Ishkanah, Grafwidow in midrange decks, but the threat of it coming back over and over is even more terrifying.
You know what? This card is probably bad, but I don't care. It gives me a "Mirari's Wake" vibe, and I'm digging it pretty hard. As an Izzet mage, making my spells cost less is already attractive to me. And I get to draw extra cards? And the permanents I hate most won't be effective against me? And my creatures, should I decide to play any, get a permanent boost?
There's a lot going on here, but the main point of contention is the prohibitive mana cost. For six mana, I expect a lot, and this card is right on the cusp of being good enough (I think). Unfortunately, this will take some splash damage from Abrade, so I don't know how much of a major player it will be in Standard, but it is cool as all hell so I'm willing to give it a shot. The fact that it's legendary is also a bit of a bummer, but I'm already over it.
While The Immortal Sun probably won't be tearing up your local FNM anytime soon, this will be a hot card for Commander. Artifacts with splashy effects always are.
Is Rivals of Ixalan going to change everything in Standard? I doubt it. But hey, that's why Modern exists! I don't know about y'all, but I'm ready for Kaladesh to rotate out of Standard. But to be fair, I was saying the same thing about Gideon, Ally of Zendikar around this time last year so...
I'm not going to bash Standard. In fact, I think Standard is actually a lot of fun. The games are interactive, the cards are powerful, and there are quite a few decks to choose from. The problem is that if you're choosing anything except some form of energy deck, you're probably going in at a disadvantage. And since Attune with Aether and Aether Hub make splashing colors so easy, you can play virtually any card you want. That why it was so easy for Temur to adopt The Scarab God and Vraska, Relic Seeker.
I think this set is pretty awesome, and in a normal world I'd be having an absolute blast building new decks. I just think that Temur Energy (and its ilk) are too oppressive. The energy mechanic is too good. The Scarab God is too good. Time and time again we see energy being the glue that holds everything together in the most dominant Standard decks. In Aetherworks Marvel, it was pretty obvious because the marquee engine was built around the mechanic. But before that we still had to contend with Four-Color Saheeli, which was basically an energy deck with a two-card Splinter Twin knockoff jammed into it. Sure, you could beat the combo with a removal spell, but you still had to deal with Whirler Virtuoso and Rogue Refiner.
I'm just sick of energy. But until it rotates out of Standard or randomly has some stuff banned from it (which I don't recommend), we're just going to have to deal with it.