Rivals of Ixalan previews are coming in fast and furious, so let's get on in and check out the cards I really like from the new set. I think Wizards of the Coast has been doing a wonderful job with both Amonkhet and Ixalan blocks, and I'm excited for Standard's outlook after Kaladesh block rotates. That's the future though, and it looks like we already have some cards from the small spring set that will impact both Standard and Modern alike, so let's see what we're working with so far from Rivals of Ixalan with the cards that I believe will make the biggest Constructed impact. I won't be touching on any of the same cards from the Fact or Fiction article I wrote earlier in the week, only new ones I'm excited about for Constructed.
There isn't a better place to start than with the three-mana green value creature of the set, Jadelight Ranger, which I also happen to believe is the best new card in the set so far for both Standard and Modern (sorry, Silvergill Adept). There are so many different options of play patterns when it comes to Jadelight Ranger besides the starting point of a 2/1 for 1GG, so let's evaluate them in comparison to Rogue Refiner, one of Standard's best cards:
-Each explore trigger reveals a land, netting you two cards to go along with your 2/1 body which can still trade with a Rogue Refiner, and instead of gaining two energy you drew another card.
-The first explore trigger reveals a land and the second trigger reveals a spell. You now have a 3/2 that drew you a card, like Rogue Refiner, but instead of two energy you have the choice whether or not you would like to leave the card on top or put it in your graveyard.
-The first explore trigger reveals a spell that you don't want to draw and you put it in your graveyard, and the second explore trigger reveals a land, so that again you have a 3/2 creature that drew a card but also put a spell you didn't want into your graveyard.
-The first explore trigger reveals a spell that you don't want to draw and you put it in your graveyard, with the second explore trigger revealing another spell. You now have a 4/3 creature that didn't draw a spell and still trades with Rogue Refiner, but you also moved one unwanted spell from the top of your library into your graveyard with the ability to do it again.
-The first explore trigger reveals a spell you want to draw, and therefore the second explore trigger does nothing but put another counter on your creature. You now have a 4/3 and have the spell you want to draw on top of your library.
For a new three-drop in Standard to be printed to have the potential to out-value a Rogue Refiner is huge considering how much it has dominated Standard recently, and Jadelight Ranger can do just that. Just like with the two energy from Rogue Refiner being a big part of its value in Standard, Jadelight Ranger using the explore mechanic which places spells in your graveyard as well as gains +1/+1 counters is critical to the synergies of the current format.
You can place creatures with embalm (Vizier of Many Faces or Champion of Wits) or spells with aftermath (Dusk or Never) straight in your graveyard to effectively "draw" another card. Or you can simply add graveyard fuel for God-Pharaoh's Gift, Liliana, Death's Majesty or The Scarab God while transforming Search for Azcanta earlier. Being able to place specific cards in your graveyard instead of drawing them can be worth plenty if built around correctly. As far as the +1/+1 counters go, besides the obvious positive interaction in a Winding Constrictor deck, Herald of Secret Streams can make Jadelight Ranger unblockable in a Merfolk shell. I fully expect Jadelight Ranger to see plenty of play in a variety of different Standard decks, not only in Merfolk strategies, but Standard's not the only format for Jadelight Ranger.
Modern has plenty of options as far as three-mana green value creatures are concerned from Tireless Tracker to Eternal Witness to Courser of Kruphix, but I honestly believe Jadelight Ranger can still see play in the right deck over some of these other options. Jadelight Ranger could work well with Courser of Kruphix in a Collected Company deck, as you'll be able to know at least the top card before you start exploring.
But that's not where I think it will really shine.
The best thing Jadelight Ranger has going for it over these other options is that it has a non-conditional enters the battlefield trigger to get value right away, no matter what. Eternal Witness is close to this, but if there's a Rest in Peace in on the battlefield then the Eternal Witness is blanked, so anything short of a Torpor Orb and Jadelight Ranger will help out. The upside to having this kind of ability is in a deck designed around Eldritch Evolution, which not only wants to find creatures that have an immediate impact but also wants to sacrifice creatures that won't have a lasting value in order to find others with said immediate impact. Using Eldritch Evolution to sacrifice Jadelight Ranger to find a Reveillark, for example, which when it leaves the battlefield will return the Jadelight Ranger and another creature to the battlefield, is the type of value that other midrange decks can't handle. There's plenty of competition in Modern for Jadelight Ranger, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited to try it out!
Well before I turn this entire article into a Jadelight Ranger highlight reel, there are plenty of other previews to touch on. I'll go with some quick hits now so I can get on to more cards!
There are two downsides with Etali, Primal Storm that may keep it down. First off, being legendary never helps the playability of creatures, but even still, you shouldn't expect a six-drop to be played as a four of unless it's Primeval Titan good, so I'm not too worried about that one. The other downside is that it doesn't have haste, and therefore your six-drop won't provide any impact if you don't untap with it. Thankfully, Otepec Huntmaster can reduce Etali's cost while giving it haste. Even Regisaur Alpha is the perfect card to play just before Etali, also giving it haste and allowing you to use its triggered ability right away. Speaking of that triggered ability, being able to cast up to two spells for free when attacking is strong enough for Etali to be a welcome addition to the Dinosaur tribe. I wouldn't expect it to see play outside of Dinosaur decks, and within them this competes directly with Carnage Tyrant, but I could honestly see this card putting in more work than Carnage Tyrant, as the triggered ability is that powerful.
Making an aura playable that only enchants your creature and also doesn't do anything unless that creature dies is a tall order, but Journey to Eternity certainly fits the bill. Both the enchantment and land part of the card are legendary, so don't expect this card to be a four-of anytime soon, but there's a lot to like here. I'm most excited to use Journey to Eternity in a B/G Explore shell with both Merfolk Branchwalker and Seeker's Squire as two-drops that can be enchanted nicely on curve, or with Jadelight Ranger as mentioned before. Even though it would be nice to have a sacrifice outlet to make sure your creatures don't get exiled, these are the kind of creatures that are perfect for chump blocking and are able to come back and provide value again. They also fill your graveyard with other creatures while exploring to return to the battlefield with Atzal, Cave of Eternity! If you haven't noticed yet, I'm very excited for the rest of the set in order to start building a B/G based explore/reanimate deck around these cards. I can't wait to use Atzal, Cave of Eternity to reanimate a Gonti, Lord of Luxury or a Ravenous Chupacabra!
Wait, what's this card? Ravenous Chupacabra, affectionately known as Nekratail, doesn't have the drawback of its famous predecessor and can destroy artifact and black creatures along with everything else. Oh how I wish Eldrazi Displacer was still in Standard with this Beast Horror, but I digress. Ravenous Chupacabra is not only a key piece for the type of B/G deck I was mentioning before, but it also pairs incredibly well with The Scarab God which can bring it back onto the battlefield after trading with a Rogue Refiner or dying to an exerted Glorybringer. That being said, with a mana cost of 2BB, Ravenous Chupacabra competes directly with Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Vraska's Contempt, two incredible good cards in Standard already. There's no reason to count out a built in two-for-one, and Ravenous Chupacabra should be a nice role player to many Standard decks.
I don't have much to say about the two tribal lords other than they will be key parts of their respective decks and both will see play. Merfolk in particular has received plenty of support so far from Rivals of Ixalan, but Vampires were the more successful tribal strategy moving over from last Standard season and have access to Oketra's Monument to help fulfill the new ascend mechanic. We need to see the rest of the set before being able to build the two tribal decks, but so far they each look promising with the addition of these two lords.
Speaking of tribal decks, Daring Buccaneer is throwing its hat in the ring to help bring Pirates into contention as a successful Standard strategy. Having a solid one-drop is absolutely a good start, and the addition of a two-mana lord would also be quite the booty for the plundering pirates. Ixalan had plenty of good Pirates to build around in an aggressive shell, with Kitesail Freebooter, Fathom Fleet Captian, and Ruin Raider being high quality cards. The biggest question is whether the Standard manabase would be able to support a three-color deck and allow cards like Admiral Beckett Brass and Hostage Taker to be part of the top end, or if we go just two colors with Rowdy Crew and Hazoret the Fervant as the heavy hitters. We still need to see more from the Pirate tribe, but there is plenty of potential here.
I'm not much of a fan of Admiral's Order, as the three mana counterspell with slight upside has been printed in many ways over the last couple years and has never been too impressive. What sets Admiral's Order apart is that I believe it could be a solid sideboard card against control decks. Sure it can help a post-combat threat, like a planeswalker, resolve, but that's not what I'm excited about. Settle the Wreckage was one of the best cards in Ixalan and a big part of the success of current control decks. Having a one-mana answer for that card in particular is very appealing, and it's so efficient I could see this being a sideboard card for Settle the Wreckage and Torrential Gearhulk decks. Negate is in the format and answers Settle the Wreckage for two mana, but having that counterspell also able to answer anything else, including The Scarab God or Torrential Gearhulk, could turn some Negates into Admiral's Orders.
Enter the Unknown is an aptly named card, as we definitely are when trying to imagine its power level. There's not much investment in a one-mana sorcery, and being able to play an additional land as early as the second turn of the game is appealing, but I just go back and forth in my mind about this card. You need to have a creature out for it to target, the creature can't die in response, and then at that point you may be paying a mana just to put a counter on your creature. Right now I don't expect this to see much Standard play, but it sure is close to being really good, and I could be dead wrong later.
The last card for me today will be the return planeswalker from Ixalan, Huatli. The Warrior Poet is now the Radiant Champion, using the strength of the creatures you have on the battlefield to place loyalty counters on her. At first read through it looks like Huatli may not do very much, but I'm willing to give Huatli a chance in a deck that has the ability to go wide with plenty of creatures, such as in a tokens type deck. The first ability is still a +1 ability, so you'll add one loyalty and then add a loyalty counter for each creature you control, meaning with four creatures on the battlefield you'll be able to threaten the ultimate ability the very next turn. The ultimate ability is certainly worth it, as an emblem that draws a card every time a creature enters the battlefield under your control will almost assuredly bury your opponents in card advantage, especially if you're able to create creature tokens with ease. The minus ability in the middle doesn't do much for me, and the plus ability doesn't do much without some creatures on the battlefield so there is a low floor when talking about the impact Huatli has on the game, but the ceiling of that ultimate ability is so incredibly high that I expect Huatli, Radiant Champion to be a role player in go-wide creature decks moving forward.
The first couple days of Rivals of Ixalan previews are complete, and already I can't wait to try out some of these cards. After the past couple months it's easy to say that nothing will compete with Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, but I don't believe that to be true. Instead, I believe that with another additional set that there will be some new decks that will be able to knock Standard's big two down a few notches. Right away we're starting to see U/G Merfolk as the tribe to watch out for, and I'm ready to start brewing B/G based decks with Jadelight Ranger. As I'm writing this we've seen less than twenty percent of the set so far, so there's still plenty to come. By this time next week we'll know the entire set, and I'll start working hard on brewing new decks for Rivals of Ixalan Standard!