We're in a weird spot as far as Standard is concerned right now as there is so much uncertainty revolving around the newest set release, Rivals of Ixalan. Usually we look to a new set to shake up the current Standard format, but we currently have a strategy that is so incredibly dominant that many people believe the new cards won't be able to shine. Thankfully there is a banned and restricted announcement this upcoming Monday, and not only is some kind of energy ban expected to happen, there could even be a substantial ban across the mechanic hitting multiple cards. With this uncertainty looming of what the new format may look like, and with the full set being previewed just last Friday, I'm not as confident in my list this time as the other seven sets I've written a Top 20 list for.
That's all good though, as remember all of my Top 20 lists are about the life of these cards in Standard, not just their impact on week one. Obviously the formats will drastically change throughout Rivals of Ixalan being Standard legal and it's incredibly hard to predict, but that's the fun of it! Even being a tribal set presents more challenges as I want to group all of the different tribal cards together, but instead cards that are good in tribal decks that will also be able to be played outside of them will get an additional boost.
Enough talking, let's get to my Top 20 Standard Cards in Rivals of Ixalan!
We're starting our list off with a bang! Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is one of the chase mythics of the set, so why is it so far down my list at number twenty? Being a multi-colored creature that cares deeply about tribal synergies means it can really only go in one deck and it doesn't have room to grow from there. Then add in that it's legendary and toward the top end of said deck and I don't see Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca as a four-of even in U/G Merfolk.
What it does bring to the table is three abilities, the first of which makes it unblockable, not too exciting. The second ability can draw cards at the same rate we experienced from Cryptbreaker in Standard not long ago, and this the is the ability that will make or break Kumena as it needs to be very good for multiple Kumenas to see play in U/G Merfolk. Finally you can use five Merfolk to put a +1/+1 counter on each Merfolk you control, or basically insurance you can break any battlefield stall. I do like U/G Merfolk's chances on becoming a breakout deck after Rivals of Ixalan releases, but Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca isn't the reason why and I expect it to be a small role player in the strategy with little chance for overlap into other strategies.
Paladin of Atonement looks like a solid two-drop Vampire with the ability to grow over time and turn into a must-answer threat that pays you back life for your troubles when it does inevitably die. Oketra's Monument is also always looking for more creatures that cost 1W, something Paladin of Atonement fulfills. In order for make our Paladin grow we need to be able to lose life on both turns, something that the desert cards from Hour of Devastation, such as Shefet Dunes and Ifnir Deadlands, conveniently do. You can even use Adanto Vanguard, another good two-drop, to lose life during either turn, but at four life an activation you'll most likely be saving that for when you need it. Overall I'm skeptical of how good Paladin of Atonement will be, but the upside here with both a Vampire deck and/or an Oketra's Monument deck is such that I'm keeping my eye on it.
I'm quite a fan of Seafloor Oracle on the merits of rate alone as I could see it being an amazing payoff for a Merfolk deck, but I'm also skeptical due to the competition it has for the slot it would take up. Seafloor Oracle turns all of your Merfolk into Scroll Thieves, so the potential card advantage gained is incredible if you are able to connect with even just two or three Merfolks with Seafloor Oracle on the battlefield. This is, of course, the scenario where Seafloor Oracle will shine, when your battlefield presence is such that you are able to deal combat damage with creatures without Seafloor Oracle dying.
There are plenty of other scenarios where either you don't have other creatures on the battlefield, they can't profitably attack, your Seafloor Oracle gets Lightning Struck before combat damage, and more where you wish your four mana creature in your aggro deck would have done more. The most aggressive versions of U/G Merfolk probably wouldn't want to play Seafloor Oracle, but a token version that is looking to play a longer game with Deeproot Waters and Jungleborn Pioneer could be looking toward this card for card advantage.
Three of the four Ixalan tribes are aggressively-based creature strategies with Merfolk, Pirates, and Vampires. Golden Demise is a wonderful tool for the midrange and control decks to have access to in order to hold these strategies back from going too wide. We haven't seen Yahenni's Expertise have as much of an impact as I thought after it was previewed, as it turns out four mana is simply too much for the unconditional sweeper so it's nice to have access to Golden Demise at three mana.
This card isn't only for the midrange and control decks however, and I could easily see it being a sideboard card for both Pirates and Vampires that can help them catch up to other aggressive creature decks when they are on the draw or pull incredibly far ahead if they can acquire the city's blessing first. Golden Demise is an interesting take on a small sweeper that will have plenty of impact on the format.
It would be really nice if Etali, Primal Storm had some kind of keyword with it to give it a little more power. Haste would maybe be too good, but even trample would be helpful. As is, the removal in Standard is so good that relying on untapping with Etali, Primal Storm on the battlefield is unreliable at best, and you need to untap with this six-drop unless you can give it haste to make playing it worthwhile. Thankfully, there are two easy convenient and efficient ways to give Etali haste in Standard with Otepec Huntmaster or Regisaur Alpha, meaning going through the trouble of attacking with Etali could be worth it.
When you're able to attack with Etali, all bets are off because getting up to two valuable spells that you are able to cast immediately without paying their mana costs, not just draw the spells but cast them right away, is incredibly valuable and has the potential of taking over almost any game. The payoff for Etali can be enormous, but it's incredibly fragile for a six-drop with the available removal in the format, so unfortunately we may not see much from this elder Dinosaur. I have high hopes for Etali though.
Vampires are a tribe that's known for going wide and when that's the case then Legion Lieutenant will shine. Two mana lords are traditionally very powerful in Constructed, and I don't see that changing with either of the two from Rivals of Ixalan. Like I mentioned before though, I'm still skeptical on the power level of Vampires which is why I have the members of this tribe lower than the other tribes, but Legion Lieutenant should be a big reason for Vampires success if they are able to break through.
The first and only planeswalker to make the list, Huatli, Radiant Champion has two potential outcomes for Standard. It's either going to be an incredibly powerful piece of a creature strategy that has the ability to create an abundance of creatures and makes the plus ability from Huatli to be an enormous loyalty generator, or we're going to forget that this was even a card printed in a couple months. The ceiling is incredibly high for Huatli because of the power of the ultimate and the ability to gain obscene amounts of loyalty, but the floor is also incredibly low as Huatli can do actual nothing for four mana. There isn't really too much room for a middle ground either, meaning Huatli will be close to a zero or a ten most games and requires your deck to be built around it. I have it here because of the upside...but the downside is enormous, so Huatli, Radiant Champion will be a fun card to watch in the coming months.
Now this is a Dinosaur I'm interested in ramping into! Zetalpa, Primal Dawn has a full five keywords, most importantly indestructible, to give your eight mana investment protection and plenty of power. I can see multiple homes for Zetalpa, with a G/W Dinosaur Ramp deck being the most obvious, a deck that could use Hour of Promise to help get to Wakening Sun's Avatar and Zetalpa, but that's not what I'm most excited for. Zetalpa fits perfectly in U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift alongside Angel of Invention as another big threat to return with the seven mana artifact. Zetalpa is just as powerful when God-Pharaoh's Gift makes a copy of it, keeping four power and staying indestructible so the toughness isn't a big deal. Gaining haste is a big deal though, and Zetalpa can end the game quickly with only three attacks, not to mention if you have any Angel of Inventions on the battlefield that pump its power and toughness.
There's nothing flashy about Skymarcher Aspirant-well, except for that bright sun in the background--but the fact is a tribal aggressive deck will be built on its one-drops. Skymarcher Aspirant can hopefully get some chip shots in early game as a one-drop, then later when the battlefield gets clogged and your opponent has blockers then it can ascend to the sky, gaining flying permanently when you ten or more permanents at one point. I can see Skymarcher Aspirant as a playable one-drop for other white aggressive strategies, not just Vampires, placing it higher on the list than other members of the tribe.
Not many people are bigger fans of Elvish Visionaries then I am, and I'm real excited for Dusk Legion Zealot. I already expect Dusk Legion Zealot to see plenty of play in and outside of Vampire decks as any midrange black deck will most likely be in the market for a two mana body that draws a card when it enters the battlefield. It's also a good card to try and trade off early and reanimate later with help of The Scarab God, as when it turns into a 4/4 that draws a card it's a real threat. The better the 1/1 body is at trading with another creature, then the better Dusk Legion Zealot will become in the format.
I didn't think too much of Rekindling Phoenix when I first read the card, but I think that was mostly my biases towards the previous Phoenix cards that haven't panned out in Standard. Rekindling Phoenix has the power to buck that trend, with requiring multiple removal spells unless it's exiled. This means that Vraska's Contempt is an efficient way to deal with Rekindling Phoenix, same with many other threats in Standard; but even though it dies to Lightning Strike and Glorybringer that death is short lived, and the Phoenix will be back. Will Rekindling Phoenix supplant Hazoret the Fervant, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, or Glorybringer any time soon? No, probably not, but those cards will all rotate out before Rekindling Phoenix, and I could see this card making its presence felt later.
Another tribe that desperately needed a quality one-drop was Pirates, and they have gotten it with Daring Buccaneer. Now Daring Buccaneer won't fit into any other deck that's not Pirate-themed, unlike Dusk Legion Zealot and Vampires, but I still have it ranked higher as I like the strength of B/R Pirates right out of the gates. Otherwise, there's not too much to delve into with Daring Buccaneer, it's simply a much needed one-drop.
Another card that I misjudged at first read through, I'm starting to be bullish on Baffling End. Cast Out and Ixalan's Binding have been versatile removal spells for white-based control decks to have access to, but they're inefficient when trying to slow down early aggression from the opponent. Baffling End fits a nice slot on the curve and can deal with problematic cards such as Longtusk Cub or Scrapheap Scrounger while allowing those other removal spells or Fumigate to clean up the bigger threats later. Baffling End does have the downside of giving the opponent a 3/3 Dinosaur token if it leaves the battlefield, but that's honestly most likely better than giving the opponent the creature you exiled back, which is what most removal in enchantment form does. I can see Baffling End fitting in as a nice removal spell for its spot on the curve in a variety of decks while also contributing towards your ascend count.
The next three cards on the list all go together and will help bring Merfolk into the Standard spotlight. First up is Deeproot Elite, an even better Metallic Mimic for the deck that allows you to pick which creature you would like to receive the +1/+1 counter instead of placing it on the creature that just entered the battlefield. It's always beneficial to have choices, and Deeproot Elite gives you much more control than Metallic Mimic does. Deeproot Elite should be a staple in Merfolk decks in Standard, which should be very popular after the release of Rivals of Ixalan, especially if there is an energy ban, which is why I have the Merfolk creatures ranked ahead of the other tribes.
Another staple for the Merfolk decks, Merfolk Mistbinder will most likely be a four-of in any U/G Merfolk deck. Besides that there's not much to say here as it's very similar to Deeproot Elite, but I do like it more as it automatically pumps your entire Merfolk team as soon as it enters the battlefield and doesn't need to be played first to give your creatures a bonus afterwards, like Deeproot Elite.
The best Merfolk card from the set for simply tribal purposes, Silvergill Adept is so powerful that it's often referred to as the best card in Modern Merfolk. Now that deck has multiple lords that overlap in power level, so having the cheap body that replaces itself is incredibly valuable. Silvergill Adept won't be any less impactful in Standard, and it's the biggest reason to be excited about the Merfolk tribe after Rivals of Ixalan in my opinion. Unfortunately, like the two cards before, Silvergill Adept is pretty worthless outside of a dedicated Merfolk deck, which is why I have these three listed together here and not at the top of the list. Even still, I expect Silvergill Adept and friends to leave their mark on Standard moving forward.
This is a card I most likely have higher on my list than what other people have, but I really like Dire Fleet Poisoner. In a Pirate shell you're able to attack without fear into large creatures and make blocking very difficult for the opponent, because having a Dire Fleet Poisoner to flash in and allow your Pirate to trade with a Bristling Hydra, for example, is incredibly valuable. Even on its own outside of a Pirate deck you still have a two mana creature that can flash in and block an opposing attacker, acting like a removal spell that pairs favorably with all of the ways to reanimate creatures in Standard.
The ramp spell Dinosaur decks needed, Thunderheard Migration is one of the best ramp spells for Standard in the last few years. If you don't have access to a Dinosaur card to reveal at the specific time you want to cast Thunderheard Migration, then you're paying the same rate that we've been accustomed to in Standard, so it still isn't too bad. If you do have the Dinosaur though, then you're looking at a powerful ramp spell that not only lets you start casting your Dinosaurs a turn ahead of schedule but also fixes your mana as well. I'm real excited to see what Thunderherd Migration can do for both Dinosaur-centric decks and also ramp-heavy decks that just have a few Dinosaurs as payoffs.
There's no denying the power of the Ravenous Chupacabra who will destroy any creature in its way. This card is the biggest reason why I don't have cards like Azor, the Lawbringer or Etali, Primal Storm higher on the list, as playing expensive creatures without an immediate impact will be tough when your opponent can gain such a tempo and mana advantage with Ravenous Chupacabra. This card pairs well with just about everything. U/B Midrange is going to be a key place to start brewing once Rivals of Ixalan releases.
Even still, Ravenous Chupacabra (maybe foolishly) doesn't make the top of my list. That honor goes to Jadelight Ranger, the newest in a long line of green value three-drops that have made a huge impact on Standard in the recent years. I already wrote plenty on Jadelight Ranger last week , and now with the rest of the set previewed it's still my pick for the best Standard card in the set.
So there you have it, my Top 20 Standard Cards in Rivals of Ixalan . The previous seven sets I've written about had a couple flashy cards that were clear frontrunners for the top spot, but this set didn't seem to have it. We've seen the power of value creatures with enter the battlefield effects over the years and how easy it is to put them in multiple decks, which is why Jadelight Ranger and Ravenous Chupacabra got my top two slots.
I won't be playing Standard right away during week one as I'll be the Modern player on my team of Jody Keith and Jim Davis for #SCGDFW, but that doesn't mean I don't have some exciting Standard decks up my sleeves! Next week, when we'll have more information about what will be legal in Standard going forward and I have time to test out some strategies, I'll go over my best brews for week one decks to give you something new to bring to the table.