Welcome to the Rivals of Ixalan Ari Lax Awards, back after a brief hiatus due to being chased by a Dinosaur or ten. Okay, there weren't actually any Dinosaurs, just crazy Thopter Vedalkens and some energy stuff, but it's time to move along and see what gems the next set has to offer.
The "Hidden Treasure" Award
While there are a bunch of new and flashy things in Rivals of Ixalan that draw the eye and many just obvious on-rate cards, there's a few weirdos that are masking their power.
Honorable Mention: Deeproot Elite
Metallic Mimic was a much maligned necessity of last season's Zombies decks. It was an awkward, slow, sequencing-dependent lord.
Deeproot Elite looks like a lot of the same, but it is going to play out way differently.
First off, the +1/+1 counters have "haste." You can immediately put them on a creature that can attack that turn. Huge upside compared to the slow boost of Metallic Mimic.
Second, you can stack counters to make sizing matter. Make that 2/2 a 4/4 that survives Sweltering Suns or Rogue Refiner. Keep your two 2/2s so you can keep multiple creatures through Slaughter the Strong.
Third, this is actually a Merfolk in zones other than the battlefield. The whole Relentless Dead or Diregraf Colossus thing with Metallic Mimic was a pain, and Merfolk will feel the same way about Metallic Mimic plus Silvergill Adept.
Winner: Kumena's Awakening
Wait...it only triggers on your upkeep so your opponent never gets the traditional huge kill Howling Mine, go-up-a-card play? That's nice.
Wait, is this a Howling Mine that's a built-in win condition?
Nice. Real nice.
The "15 Years Too Late for Mono-Black" Award
This is how things worked.
Or maybe the later version with Eternal Dragon finding half the lands in your deck is more your jam.
This was a viable end game in Standard at one point. Not even casting it most of the time, just doing the thing over and over until you could do stuff.
Honorable Mention: Profane Procession
If we have learned anything about Magic in recent years, it's that paying for value is stupid. You can just get a free card on a creature for basically no upcharge in whatever form you want.
Why would I pay three mana to do nothing, eight to break even, or thirteen to get a two-for-one?
If I lived in a world where I had ten mana basically every game on time, that might be my jam. Right now? I could use The Scarab God so many times...or at least as many times as my opponent let me before picking up their cards.
Winner: Mastermind's Acquisition
I literally played Death Wish in a Vintage deck around 2004 and it was good at the time.
Please invent a time machine so I can send this card back to 2002. Past me would really appreciate it.
The "Stupid Good" Award
Rivals of Ixalan doesn't have anything stupidly good in the traditional sense (Siege Rhino), but it does have a few cards I think are good for comically stupid reasons.
Honorable Mention: Tilonalli's Summoner
The way this card works is just so stupid to me.
Oh, I attack. I pay some mana. Oops now I just have the city's blessing out of nowhere with really no effort. Oops I also just made a bunch of power that sticks around. Oops even if I didn't I just made a bunch of sacrifice-able tokens, which we all know are a super easy to convert resource.
I don't know quite where this card will fit. It could be an Aristocrats-style enabler. It could be a nice cheap standalone threat for a control deck to sideboard into or for a tempo deck to run with. It could just be a generic good card that goes in a bunch of stuff.
It's just weird that a red two-drop does so many things that don't feel super red and it does them all well.
Honorable Mention: Thrashing Brontodon
Thrashing Brontodon is super obviously good. Wow this has a bunch of power and toughness for the cost and an ability that is super relevant. Great job!
You see, Qasali Pridemage and Wild Nacatl are both Cats, but Qasali Pridemage has a respectable profession. He clearly spent five years at Wizard school learning how to do Wizard junk, while Wild Nacatl just kinda meandered into the jungle and started beating people up for a living. In exchange, Qasali Pridemage gets to break stuff if he wants.
Now you are telling me some Dinosaur gets to come along and do the Pridemage's job with literally no training?
The Warriors all ride Dinosaurs on Ixalan. Maybe Qasali Pridemage was better off hitting things until he got a cool dino ride.
Winner: Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
When I first saw Zatalpa, Primal Dawn, my immediate thought was "Man, remember when Akroma, Angel of Wrath was all we got for eight mana?"
Then I did a comparison, and Zatalpa is basically just Akroma. Three attacks of eight damage is the same as four attacks of six damage, given haste. Indestructible is basically the same as protection from black and red.
Of course, Akroma was pretty good. I hardcast the card the first time around in Legions and Dread Returned it the second time around in Time Spiral. As a Dinosaur, the virtual third time around I see nothing wrong with trying again. Giant trample flier still gets people dead. If there's a way to cheat an eight-drop onto the battlefield, this is a good one. I'm unsure casting an eight-drop is valid anymore, but I wouldn't doubt that the deck that tries to cheat this in also can't cast it some percent of the time.
The "LOLadesh" Award
As evidenced by the progression of Standard and the fact that literally three cards were banned from two sets, Kaladesh block was crazy overpowered. There's a ton of pure nonsense going on, both in "how can this possibly exist" and "great job trying to make something new and cool, it's just worse than what we have."
Honorable Mention: Zacama, Primal Calamity
Yeah, sure, let's just let the Aetherworks Marvel player spin into a 9/9 that untaps all of their lands and has a million insane abilities. I'm sure that everything will be fine if Emrakul, the Promised End... I mean Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger... I mean Aetherworks Marvel wasn't in the format.
Honorable Mention: Thrashing Brontodon
Two mentions for the same card? Wow, that's a big game.
Remember when artifacts mattered? When we were all complaining about how the fact that there was no good Shatter in Kaladesh was going to doom us all?
Do people even play artifacts anymore? What is Thrashing Brontodon even doing? What happened?
Oh they just had to ban the good ones. Nothing to see, move along.
Winner: Tetzimoc, Primal Death
One of these takes zero extra mana to destroy things. And works off a topdeck. And gains life. And has menace.
The other one might let you kill two things... if they walk into it... or if you have the mana...
I don't want to pitch this as Tetzimoc being a bad card. Or even that it won't see play even with Noxious Gearhulk as competition.
But wow is that a lot of upside to have to overcome.
The "Uhhhh What?" Award
Honorable Mention: Polyraptor
Excerpt from team chat:
Person A: I think it's 8 copies.
Person B: That's not right, it's 12.
Person C: No it's 7.
Person D: Regardless it sounds like enough.
I'll let you do the math yourself. I think both C and D were right, but I'm not super attached to my answer.
Edit: I've been told it's actually eight. I don't actually know what to believe anymore, but "D: It's enough" is definitely right still.
Honorable Mention: Admiral's Orders
So I need to be playing a deck that wants Cancel.
That is attacking with creatures.
That is trying to stop some spell that is being cast after I attack.
That then is concerned about not casting multiple spells that turn.
That wouldn't just be better off with Negate.
Why am I opening this as my rare?
Winner: Path of Mettle
Double-faced cards are super awesome and let you do a lot more with a single card than you could in any other way. Because, duh, you get two cards. You can tell cool stories about finding a Demon in the jungle (Arguel's Blood Fast), or of people ascending to planeswalkers (Liliana, Heretical Healer), or of mad science experiments gone wrong (Delver of Secrets).
Sometimes the story could have used some editing.
I've read this card at least three times. I have no idea what it is doing. Did they accidentally print the wrong front and back together? Why is it a random destruction of an attacker? Why do I want to be destroying attackers after I attacked to transform this? What do cool abilities have to do with a weird grindy tower thing?
Maybe it's like the mobs taking over a tower defense thing after it fails to stop them? That's the best I got.
The "It's a Funny Story" Award
On the flip side, it would be unfair to just call out the misses in a set that is so full of solid to great cards. Again, the set is designed in a way where all the cards get to tell cool stories if they want, so let's pull some of the best out. What is this set's Caught in the Brights?
Great things about RIX:— Ari Lax (@armlx) January 5, 2018
-Smart IXL reprints.
-Full 10 color pair draft set up
-Well balanced tribal payoffs
-Cool build around rares
-Lots of card names that are euphamisms for farts
Honorable Mention: Resplendent Griffin
Current favorite part of RIX: Goofy looking parrot-griffins being described as "resplendent" pic.twitter.com/GXJiIFdvIF— Ari Lax (@armlx) January 5, 2018
Winner: Sea Legs
This one is so obvious I don't even need a Tweet.
The "I'm Mentioning Limited and No One Can Stop Me" Award
To quote Andrew Brown, former Platinum Pro and now Wizards of the Coast employee: "Buy sealed product."
To paraphrase: "Buy sealed product from StarCityGames.com® (yes that's Star City Games DOT Com) and draft with your friends!"
Honorable Mention: Crested Herdcaller
Contrary to the One with the Wind enhancement-fest that was Ixalan Limited, there aren't a ton of ways to build a giant idiot in Rivals of Ixalan Draft. Better yet, the removal is much better and scales to take care of big things. Even blue gets a Claustrophobia "reprint" in Waterknot!
That means value is big, and judging by Ixalan creatures, sizes won't be. Crested Herdcaller is a clean two-for-one that plays to the battlefield. No nonsense, just two good doofuses here to have a good time.
Or a better comparison: Regisaur Alpha was really good. This isn't far off. If Ravenous Chupacabra's Shriekmaw effect isn't the best uncommon in the set, this probably is.
We are back to an actual ten color pair format. This gives me hope that Rivals of Ixalan won't be the scripted format that Ixalan was, giving it a bit more quality after the fifteenth or so draft.
Things are definitely better than they were in Ixalan as the auras are a bit worse and in turn, require specific setups, but you can definitely still get cheesed out of Rivals of Ixalan games. Instead of it being a format-defining thing, I would argue that cheesing people out is a U/R thing. You can even just Sea Legs your two-drop Kitesail Corsair and go to town with 4/1 flying beats on turn 3.
Used sparingly, I think this is fine to have exist, but we will see again in two months if I'm sick of dying to unblockable 5/2s.
That's all for today. Before we leave, I would like to thank the show sponsors for this set:
Okay, I got nothing. Enjoy the national treasure that is Patrick Sullivan instead.