It's a critical Game 3 and you're playing for Top 8 against Ramunap Red. You won Game 2, but now you're going to be on the draw for Game 3. You look at your opening hand; it's not great, but it's a keepable seven. You say an internal prayer for them to not have a one-drop and keep your hand.
They lay down a Mountain, look up at you, and pass the turn.
No Bomat Courier! No Soul-Scar Mage!
We did it!
That could just be the whole article right there— everyone knows that feeling, and that feeling is the perfect explanation for why one-drops are so important in aggressive and tribal decks.
...okay, fine, I guess we can go a little bit deeper.
If you want to play an aggressive or tribal deck, you have to start on Turn 1.
Aggressive and tribal decks are underpowered on a card-by-card basis by definition. They use a collection of cheaper and weaker cards that come together to be more than the sum of their parts, either by killing your opponent before they get to deploy their objectively more powerful cards or by coming together to form powerful synergies. One-drops aren't as flashy as big finishers like The Scarab God or cool planeswalkers like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but they are just as important.
This is also why it's so important that aggressive and tribal decks have good mana— they need to be able to cast their spells starting on Turn 1! Lands that enter the battlefield tapped won't do that for the most part, and as such aggressive and tribal decks often end up as mono-colored decks. Think Ramunap Red, Zombies, and various Humans decks from recent Standard formats.
Unfortunately, we aren't getting any good mana-fixing lands in Rivals of Ixalan, so we will have to work with what is currently available. Fastlands and buddy-lands are serviceable if unexciting, and tribal decks get an extra boost with Unclaimed Territory. Despite it just being a watered-down Cavern of Souls, we should be very thankful for Unclaimed Territory if we're going to play any of Ixalan's tribes, which is looking more and more likely.
Rivals of Ixalan
There are only seven one-drop creatures in Rivals of Ixalan, but the average quality is very high. When combined with the one-drops and tribal effects already available, we are likely hitting the critical mass necessary for these cards to start making a big impact.
Let's go right through all seven of them and see how they are going to impact Standard.
The only Vampire one-drop in Rivals of Ixalan, Skymarcher Aspirant, is a good one.
The Savannah Lions / Elite Vanguard / Expedition Envoy school of one-drops has always been solid if unexciting. Any combat-based one drop must attack for two damage to have a chance in Constructed. Skymarcher Aspirant checks off that most important requirement while also providing a relevant creature type.
If Skymarcher Aspirant were nothing more than a Vampire Savannah Lions, it would be perfectly serviceable, but it also has a nice little bonus on top. Ascending in an aggressive deck likely won't be the main plan, but adding some reach if the game goes long is a very nice bonus to have on your one-drop. The biggest concern with one-drops is them losing their value later in the game, and I can imagine Skymarcher Aspirant flying over for those last few points fairly often.
It's also highly relevant because the only successful tribal deck in Standard so far has been a mono-white Vampires deck based around Oketra's Monument. If you're looking to Ascend quickly in Standard, Oketra's Monument is a fantastic way to do it, and Skymarcher Aspirant slots nicely into that deck.
When one thinks of huge dinosaurs, one-drops don't really come to mind, but they do get one in Rivals of Ixalan.
The prospect of a one-mana 3/3 is extremely appealing, but Snubhorn Sentry comes with a bit too much baggage to take over Wild Nacatl's throneany time soon. You naturally want to attack with your one-drop early and often, which means zero power is not usually going to get it done. By the time Snubhorn Sentry is ready to attack, it will almost assuredly be too late, meaning you could just play a better and more expensive creature instead.
Unless there's some sort of crazy token deck that is going to vomit permanents onto the battlefield extremely quickly, I don't see a reasonable home for Snubhorn Sentry in Standard (or otherwise).
The Merfolk tribe gets two one-drops in Rivals of Ixalan, and they start to look quite nice when you look at all the other great support Merfolk is getting.
In a vacuum, Mist-Cloaked Herald is pretty underwhelming. After all, we had Slither Blade recently in Amonkhet and nobody is rushing out to put that Naga Rogue in their Constructed decks. Unsurprisingly, however, being a Merfolk is going to be much more fruitful than being a Naga once Rivals of Ixalan hits.
Mist-Cloaked Herald is the kind of synergy one-drop that can see play despite its surface-level shortcomings because of what it can do in the context of a Merfolk deck. Mist-Cloaked Herald is a great place to dump +1/+1 counters from Deeproot Elite; can tap to draw cards with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca; gets pumped by Merfolk Mistbinder, pumps Kumena's Speaker, reveals to Silvergill Adept, and more.
For one mana, that's a lot of possibilities!
With Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca being the main draw to Merfolk, the deck is going to want a nice low curve, and Mist-Cloaked Herald is the second-best Merfolk one-drop available. If there's a Merfolk deck, Mist-Cloaked Herald will likely be in it.
Our other Merfolk one-drop is an awkward one.
Like Rigging Runner, Jade Bearer is a one-drop that you really don't want to cast on Turn 1. This is often a death knell, as unless you're packing the power of something like Cryptbreaker which will be relevant at all points of the game, your investment is better-suited towards just playing a two- or three-drop on the appropriate turn.
Jade Bearer is technically two power for one mana, which is the gold standard, and the ability to put it on something like Mist-Cloaked Herald is nice, but the 1/1 left over has to mean something. There may be enough good Merfolk payoffs where you want more than eight one-drops, in which case Jade Bearer is next in line, but it's nothing special.
Pirates got the real haul in Rivals of Ixalan, with three one-drops that are all very playable.
Daring Buccaneer is reminiscent of Cedric Phillips's favorite card, Goldmeadow Stalwart, but it's actually better in two ways. The fail state is three mana for a 2/2 instead of four mana, and perhaps more importantly, Daring Buccaneer is red. White creatures are typically more durable than red ones, meaning that a red 2/2 is going to be a little better than a white 2/2 with all else being equal. That extra point of toughness is very important when compared to the other one-drops we're looking at today. Cards like Walking Ballista and 1/1 tokens can make life tough for X/1 creatures, and Daring Buccaneer's extra durability gives it an edge over the other options available.
If there's a viable red aggressive Pirate deck in Standard, it will start with four copies of Daring Buccaneer.
Still, despite its shortcomings, Grasping Scoundrel is very playable in its own right. Obviously worse against decks without blockers than something like Vicious Conquistador or Night Market Lookout, Grasping Scoundrel is much better against decks that are also playing creatures. Vicious Conquistador and Night Market Lookout get brick-walled by a Runeclaw Bear, while Grasping Scoundrel can keep on trucking, and that ability to trade up is valuable.
Grasping Scoundrel isn't amazing, but if you are in the market for an aggressive one-drop Pirate, it does the trick nicely.
The last one-drop Pirate doesn't hit has hard as the first two, but it has a surprising amount of utility.
Fanatical Firebrand is an obvious callback to Mogg Fanatic, with a little bit of Raging Goblin along for the ride. Mogg Fanatic was a Constructed staple back in the day, but creatures have gotten both better and bigger over the years, making one damage not as effective as it used to be. Still, it's a nice bit of utility you don't normally see on a one-mana creature. Most current playable one-drops attack for two and that's basically it, but Fanatical Firebrand can get in for a few points and do so much more.
Fanatical Firebrand forms a nice little combo with the underrated Warkite Marauder, offering you an early creature that can become a Terminate later in the game. Both cards are very reasonable on their own and these sorts of cross-card synergies are important in allowing weaker synergy creatures a chance to compete with more expensive and powerful ones.
Fanatical Firebrand also stands to gain value if the Ixalan tribal decks start to see more play with the release of Rivals of Ixalan. Having your reasonable tribal one-drop creature also be a removal spell is effective, and Fanatical Firebrand will be strong against various Vampire, Merfolk, and Pirate decks.
All tribal decks require a critical mass of good tribal cards to function, so let's look back at the overlooked one-drops of Ixalan for some hidden gems for each tribe.
We've talked a bit about Vicious Conquistador already, but it's a very solid one-drop for any aggressive deck, Vampire-themed or not. It's possible however that Vampires will want to be more of a token based, Aristocrats-style deck rather than a full-on aggressive deck, which would ultimately leave Vicious Conquistador on the sidelines.
Duskborne Skymarcher saw a little play in the Mono-White Vampires deck that appeared at Pro Tour Ixalan, but it was mostly just filler. It would be interesting without the mana cost on the tap ability, but as it stands it's far too clunky to be exciting.
Amusingly enough, there may be enough red and white aggressive Dinosaurs to make some sort of Dinosaur Aggro deck, which would make Imperial Lancer a very reasonable one-drop. Still, despite new cards like Relentless Raptor, that does seem like it's a stretch.
Priest of the Wakening Sun is actually a pretty powerful Magic card if there's some sort of deck that can cast it on Turn 1 and wants to play a big Dinosaur Ramp strategy. Two life a turn is no joke, and being able to tutor up different Dinosaurs in the mid-game also feels powerful. This is totally dependent on there actually being a playable shell, however, as Priest of the Waking Sun is basically worthless otherwise.
Kinjalli's Caller also interests me a bit, in the same way that Priest of the Wakening Sun does. An Elvish Mystic for Dinosaurs is pretty solid, especially as a reasonable blocker too. Again, though, like Priest of the Wakening Sun, Kinjalli's Caller would need a very specific deck to be reasonable.
Jungle Delver on the other hand is a Limited filler card that would only be playable if the deck desperately wanted more one-drops and there were no other options available. With Mist-Cloaked Herald and Jade Bearer now in the mix, Jungle Delver is one Delver that's not going to make it in Constructed.
Siren Stormtamer is actually a really awesome Magic card that hasn't found a home yet. Duskborne Skymarcher has already shown us that a tribal Suntail Hawk is already on the edge of playability, and Siren Stormtamer has a relevant ability and is in the tribe that wants to trigger raid. U/R Pirates seems like it may have some sea legs with all the great red creatures, Lookout's Dispersal, and Chart a Course.
If that deck wants to really overload on cheap card draw and one-drops, then Rigging Runner does make sense as a good cheap threat despite not really being a good Turn 1 play. The question is if there's enough support to run a deck in Standard that's mostly one-drops, utility, and card draw, as that style of deck is usually more in line with Modern or Legacy.
Deadeye Tracker feels more like a sideboard card than anything else, but could be an effective tool at keeping cards like God-Pharaoh's Gift and The Scarab God in line. It's not exciting but it's available.
There are a few other one-drops in Ixalan, but they are essentially unplayable or irrelevant creature types.
[Aside: I understand that you don't want the decks to build themselves, but why bother making Fire Shrine Keeper an Elemental instead of a Pirate and Blight Keeper a Bat Imp instead of a Vampire Bat? It feels frustratingly nonsensical in the context of a tribal set.]
One-Drops Are the Best Drops
I know it's always fun to look at the huge payoff cards when you are considering your tribal deck, but the real nuts and bolts are the one-drops. Without them, you'll never get off the ground quickly enough to compete with other decks' more powerful cards.
I've always loved tribal decks.
Putting together decks that are more than the sum of their parts just feels right to me, and I enjoy tribal decks much more than good-stuff midrange decks like Temur Energy (or Abzan Control, or Jund, or whatever else before it). There's something great about playing cards that are objectively crappy by themselves but come together to do something great, and that all starts on Turn 1.
What's your Turn 1 play for Rivals of Ixalan Standard?