Here we go! It's Rivals of Ixalan time! The set has been fully previewed, and that means it's time to find the best and most interesting cards. Here are my rankings for all the Rivals cards that caught my eye!
Top Four Weird Rivals Cards (AKA Interesting, but probably not good enough)
I like Journey to Eternity a bunch and it has a lot going for it despite being an enchant creature and a little clunky. The biggest thing you can do is just cast it on a good creature for value and hope it dies in combat. As a combo card in Standard, it's lacking support.
There's a bunch of stuff that kind of works with it including Hope of Ghirapur, Siren Stormtamer, Hidden Stockpile, Restoration Specialist, Start, Yahenni, Undying Partisan, but nothing amazing along the lines of Sakura-Tribe Elder. Once it flips you're then faced with the question of what you were even trying to reanimate anyways.
Does it compete with The Scarab God? Likely not even close with what's available.
If you compare Form of the Dinosaur to Form of the Dragon you get pretty much exactly what you'd expect since a Dinosaur is basically just a beefier flightless Dragon. Setting your life total up (hopefully) to fifteen is the big appeal here, since that's an effect you don't see too often. If you're able to get ahead on the battlefield at the cost of your life, then Form of the Dinosaur can act as some major life gain. Then you start taking painful bites out of your opponent's side of the battlefield.
One issue with the card is that you have to keep eating your opponents creatures, effectively giving them haste and unblockable. The card isn't very fast, so you risk just getting run over before you can gain enough of an advantage.
Yo ho, yo ho! A pirate's life, draw three. Or four. Or five. Or more.
For such a low mana investment Dead Man's Chest is potentially powerful "card draw" even though it's your opponent's cards you're getting access to.
Another bonus is that even if your opponent kills the creature you're trying to enchant in response to casting Dead Man's Chest, at least they're killing their own creature.
Once you're in the territory of two mana to draw five cards you're looking at an awesome card. The Dead Man's Chest is appealing because it's easy to imagine getting access to bountiful and wonderful treasure.
The worst case scenarios for Dead Man's Chest are pretty poor though. You can whiff if you hit all lands, and sometimes you might be forced to enchant a two-power creature and wait for it to die of more natural causes in combat rather than immediately casting removal on it. You're also reliant on your opponent having a creature at all though, since you can't enchant your own, which makes it a risky main deck card to run if there are any control or combo decks in the format.
Hadana's Climb should be pretty easy to flip in the right deck, and if not, it just keeps producing little bits of value every turn in the form of +1/+1 counters until it does flip.
Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra are some creatures boasting +1/+1 counters that come to mind that wouldn't mind being able to fly either. Merfolk are the new candidates that should make flipping Hadana's Climb a…breeze.
Is the flipside, Winged Temple of Orzaca, really worth it? It's not necessarily that impactful, but in a creature filled deck it should still be great. The real upside is that Hadana's Climb is only three mana, ramps you when it flips, and should provide plenty of value over the course of a game.
Not bad for Pearl Lake Ancient 2.0. Pearl Lake Ancient was initially overlooked, and it might take some time for Nezahal, Primal Tide to be fully appreciated as well. Nezahal appears to be a real nice looking win condition for any control deck--it's just a matter of if those will exist.
Drawing a card whenever your opponent casts a non-creature spell is a really nice ability, especially since any time your opponent is trying to kill Nezahal with removal you get to draw a card. Discarding three cards to keep Nezahal alive is a bit of hefty price, but it's totally worth it. If you have enough cards, Nezahal isn't dying.
The real issue is will there be a decent control deck that wants to play Nezahal? Right now control decks are running Approach of the Second Sun, which I think line up better against Temur Energy by dodging their removal entirely. Of course, Temur Energy could play Nezahal as well...
Top Four Rivals Artifacts (AKA Dies to Abrade)
You just know everyone is going to try and get this to work somehow…I doubt it will, but it will be fun trying! My personal choice would be to try and cast Sphinx's Revelation with it in Modern.
Golden Guardian is kind of a roadblock, kind of ramp, and kind of a late game win condition, though it isn't particularly good at any of these things. It's also pretty hard to flip. You're investing at least six mana to flip it, not including the cost of the other creature you're playing.
The big limiting factor on Golden Guardian is defender, since a four mana 4/4 isn't that bad otherwise. That means it's going in slow defensive decks…but they also need to have beefy creatures. I could see some sort of weird ramp deck that wants Golden Guardian…okay, this card is probably way to much of a longshot, but it's really cool.
Speaking of weird ramp cards…Orazca Relic fits the bill nicely.
Kind of unassuming, but three mana for a mana rock is the going rate nowadays, and the city's blessing bonus seems nice.
A ramp deck wants the early ramp and late game life gain and card draw so Orazca Relic could easily show up in ramp, or even control decks.
Nothing flashy, but some much needed decent graveyard hate for Standard.
Even if it just hoses a specific subset of cards, namely Refurbish and The Scarab God, it's nice for players to have access to.
Not as powerful as Relic of Progenitus, and it doesn't have to be, it just needs to be playable, and I think it is.
I like this card a lot, unfortunately, it doesn't pass the "dies to Abrade" test, which is kind of this Standard's version of "dies to Doom Blade." There's also Confiscation Coup floating around at the moment, but we need to look past these road blocks and stare directly into the potential of The Immortal Sun.
It's kind of like a planeswalker that turns off all other planeswalkers, which against planeswalker-heavy decks, is potentially the most powerful ability. It's especially nice that it turns off Vraska, Relic Seeker, preventing her from turning your Sun into treasure.
All your spells cost 1 less? Amazing, especially when you're drawing a card every turn. Creatures you control get +1/+1, also gravy, and makes it fit into any midrange deck as a nice curve-topper.
Top Four Rivals of Ixalan Tribes
All the tribes in Rivals of Ixalan got some decent tools to work with, but I think Vampires are the least likely to see the light of day.
Legion Lieutenant is potentially very potent when the idea behind Vampires is to swarm with lifelinking tokens, and Radiant Destiny acts similarly. Vampires is one of the few tribes capable of supporting it.
Paladin of Atonement and Shefet Dunes is a nice little combo and drawing a bunch of cards with Champion of Dusk might be a decent payoff, but other than that things just seem a little lackluster, non-interactive, clunky, and underwhelming.
The difficulty with Pirates is going to be juggling the aggressive nature with the color restrictions. Even going straight U/B or U/R seems like a difficult sell when you could just be playing Ramunap Red instead.
Pirates do have some tricks up their sleeve, but I think they lack the raw power and efficiency necessary at the moment.
Ghalta! Etali! Zacama! Sounds like the noises you make when start choking after swallowing water down the wrong pipe. Thunderherd Migration seems a nice addition for ramping into your big dinos, joining the cards you already had for that in the form of Drover of the Mighty and Otepec Huntmaster.
Ghalta, Primal Hunger is especially potent in a world lacking in mass removal. Regisaur Alpha into Ghalta, Primal Hunger is just nasty, since your Ghalta is at most a five mana 12/12 trample haste. If you have just three power on the battlefield, you can even play Regisaur Alpha and Ghalta on the same turn for seven mana total and attack for fifteen trample damage!
Zacama, Primal Calamity also seems particularly underrated to me, which makes sense since it's a nine-drop, but I think it might be worth it. The main reason being you untap all your lands when you cast it and then get a built-in mana sink with some solid versatility.
Untap all your lands after playing Zacama and you can start machine gunning down your opponent's creatures, gaining life, or blowing up artifacts and enchantments at will.
Merfolk were definitely the big winners from Rivals of Ixalan and their tribe has already been extensively covered here. Make no mistake though, Merfolk are going to be a force at some point in Standard.
Jadelight Ranger is potentially one of the strongest cards in the set before you take into account that it's a Merfolk.
Top Four Powerful and Unique Rivals Cards For Standard
Very solid removal but nothing all that special.
Baffling End doesn't mind eating creatures with enter the battlefield abilities like Rogue Refiner's, even when it gets destroyed, since it will only spit back out a boring 3/3 Dinosaur.
Baffling End still needs a card spent on it for an opponent to get that 3/3, and it will often be eating something better than a 3/3 or be unable to be removed at all, like against Ramunap Red.
I could see a world where Azor sees almost no play, and one where it is prevalent and as annoying to play against as Dragonlord Ojutai was.
It's got solid stats, it flies, it dodges sorcery-speed removal for a full turn entirely, and you can protect it from instant speed removal with something like Negate. It's pretty much a card your opponent must deal with as soon as you cast it, which is nice.
In a midrange deck similar to Temur Energy that could support the double white, it would be a nice top end, or it could be a finisher in control.
Decent stats for a flying body and, if your opponent can't exile it outright, it essentially takes two removal spells to deal with it: one to burn it out of the skies and one to break the egg.
The real sweet aspect of Rekindling Phoenix is that it gains haste when it hatches, which makes for a very annoying clock. Rekindling Phoenix is best when you're pushing damage but completely reasonable defensively as well since it can trade in combat and will still require a removal spell from your opponent.
Angrath checks a decent number of boxes to be playable in Standard.
Semi-decent removal, lots of incidental damage pushed through to your opponent, and interacts with your opponent's hand. The +1 ability in particular seems like it adds up quickly the longer Angrath sticks to the battlefield, not only in disrupting your opponent's hand but in chipping away at their life total, too.
Threaten effects aren't often playable by themselves in Standard, but when attached to a planeswalker and hard removal, it seems like a winning combination.
Angrath may look like a totally aggressive planeswalker, but there's a lot of hidden value packed in.
I might be way out to lunch on this one, but Curious Obsession seems really good to me. It's innocuous at first glance but potentially packs a big punch for such a low mana cost.
Once you smack your opponent's face with it once, it's paid for itself and your opponent still has to deal with that now buffed creature or you'll keep drawing cards.
Sixth Sense, Curiosity, Keen Sense: we've seen similar cards before, the big difference being the +1/+1 bonus Curious Obsession gives. The other being blue is a good color for pushing this tempo effect right now.
The drawback of having to find a creature and an opening to cast it is negligible if you're playing a deck full of cheap creatures that supports it, like Merfolk with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca or Mist-Cloaked Herald. It also fits in the Pirate theme of cheap, evasive blue creatures and works especially nicely alongside Siren Stormtamer and Storm Fleet Sprinter.
Is Curious Obsession the best card in Rivals of Ixalan and going to turn into a Curious Oppression on the Standard format? Time will tell…