While a lot of the conversation around Ixalan began centered on its tribal themes, the legendary flip enchantments quickly proved to be the more impactful element of the set. Four out of five have been showing up, with Search for Azcanta and Legion's Landing shining particularly brightly.
Rivals of Ixalan has its own cycle of legendary flip enchantments, spanning the five enemy color combinations. Each sort of suggests one or more new archetypes using it, though they each have some compatibility with existing themes.
The one that jumps out at me the most is, without a doubt, Profane Procession.
I know most people are probably assuming it costs too much to activate or it's too slow in a world with Ramunap Red. I can't help but wonder, however, if we can just play enough fast cards to make up for the tempo, won't Profane Procession just take over the game?
Just imagine you're playing some kind of Energy deck and your opponent draws a Profane Procession on turn 4. Isn't that really devastating? They can answer Glorybringer or The Scarab God at will, without using a card and without any loss of mana compared to you. It's not the fastest answer to Rogue Refiner or Whirler Virtuoso, and they do get some value; but Profane Procession can solve a problem a turn for several turns and then keep the gas coming later.
How about Ramunap Red? Surely they are just too fast, right?
Well, if you untap with it, don't you have Hazoret the Fervent and Glorybringer pretty well dominated? You can even use it at instant speed, so you don't have to worry about exiling one Hazoret and then getting hit by another. It's actually pretty solid against haste creatures, in general, and Earthshaker Khenra (as far as two-drops go, anyway), in particular. That it exiles tokens without ticking up matters. Take note.
Okay, so where can we put it?
One possibility is in some kind of Esper control deck, whether winning through traditional means like Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God, or one that wins (game 1) with Approach of the Second Sun. For instance:
Profane Procession does have a little bit of tension with Search for Azcanta, as both are greedy for your mana. Additionally, I worry that an approach along these lines may be an inefficient use of the card, making good matchups even better.
At least we pick up Moment of Craving as an early removal option:
While Essence Extraction was only so-so, Moment of Craving is easier to cast and is exactly the cost we actually want. It seems like an excellent sideboard card at the very least, but I think its rate is compelling enough that we could easily be interested in some (or a lot) maindeck. Amusingly, we can even use two to kill Hazoret.
It kind of seems better in a creature deck, though, where we can potentially take advantage of the -2/-2 to win creature combat. That said, creature decks often have two-drops worth playing, whereas U/B/x control decks are often desperate.
I considered Mastermind's Acquisition, but I think something's got to give, and we can only make room for so many slow cards.
Mastermind's Acquisition is more than just a Diabolic Tutor. Its ability to get cards out of your sideboard means a copy or two can really add a lot of powerful but narrow dimensions to your deck.
It also means that when you're sideboarding, you've always got at least some hedge against opponents trying to transform, trying to switch up their game plan.
Azor's Gateway looks great to me. It's quite a bit more efficient than most artifacts or enchantments that let you loot, assuming you don't need the cards to end up in the graveyard. It's probably going to surprise people how hard it is to flip; however, it may also surprise people how often you don't necessarily want it to flip. Don't get me wrong: a land that frequently taps for double digits can be absolutely crazy, but all the mana in the world means nothing if you have nothing to spend it on, and Azor's Gateway can help dig you to something to spend it on.
It's not that I'm super into Approach of the Second Sun or anything. It's just that the way the format is shaping up, it seems like there's some edge to be gained from blanking opposing removal spells in game 1. If enough people have stuff like Azor's Gateway, Champion of Wits, Chart a Course, and Cathartic Reunion, this advantage can quickly dissipate (and that's to say nothing of post-sideboard games). Because of this, I imagine it's more likely than not that we'll end up wanting to win with traditional threats instead.
It's not just control that can potentially jam some Profane Processions. For instance, what if we used it as part of our Vampires deck?
- 3 Bishop of Binding
- 2 Champion of Dusk
- 2 Forerunner of the Legion
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Legion Lieutenant
- 1 Sanctum Seeker
- 2 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
- 1 Vona, Butcher of Magan
Rivals of Ixalan has a lot of potential new additions to Vampire decks. For starters, one of the most attractive new dimensions one can add to a Vampire deck, Arterial Flow:
Okay, so the floor is basically a slightly harder to cast Mind Rot. What about the ceiling? Well, compare the Vampire "kicker" with a really messed up Magic card from a few years back:
With Arterial Flow, they lose two life instead of taking three damage; however, us gaining two life is at least comparable to that missing point of damage (and sometimes better). A Blightning-level ceiling is pretty compelling, so it really ends up becoming a question of how often we can realistically stick a Vampire on two that actually lives. Even if they kill it, as long as we've got enough Vampires to eventually get our money, it's not like we're always looking to Blightning on turn 3 anyway. What we really want to do is get their last two cards.
Speaking of two-drops that aren't likely to live on turn 2, Legion Lieutenant is generally going to be better in a tokens deck; however, just playing twenty Vampires is probably enough to make it worth while. It's also not trivial that it is a two-drop you can actually play on turn 2 after a first-turn Legion's Landing (unlike Gifted Aetherborn, most of the time).
I'm not sold on the idea of a Vampire toolbox, but a couple of Forerunner of the Legions might help round out the deck. It might give us a little extra mileage out of our late game cards without us getting stuck with so many in the games we're low on mana.
Bishop of Binding is relatively unassuming, on the surface looking like a more expensive Fairgrounds Warden that's even more vulnerable to cheap removal, like Shock. However, I imagine we're going to find ourselves frequently attacking for 4-6 damage a turn with it; and that's to say nothing of sometimes moving the +X/+X to another Vampire, one with flying or lifelink.
Pitiless Plunderer isn't exactly a paragon of efficiency, but if you are specifically looking to sacrifice a lot of creatures and a lot of artifacts, it has a niche.
I'm not sure what this deck is supposed to look like yet, but there are plenty of sac outlets now, and Sly Requisitioner might provide some redundancy with the whole "getting artifacts and sacrificing them" thing.
While in theory, such a deck could use Profane Procession, it's actually another flip enchantment that has my eye in this strategy.
Storm the Vault is going to take some serious work, as early versions have really come up short as being too inconsistent and are relying on too many mediocre cards. Nevertheless, here's an idea of the types of lists I've been looking at:
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Merchant's Dockhand
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 2 Glint-Nest Crane
- 4 Maverick Thopterist
- 2 Hope of Ghirapur
Storm the Vault asks a lot of you (lots of artifacts, some creatures that will make Treasure for you, a way to spend all that once you get it), but Azor's Gateway actually overlaps nicely. Both give you an insane amount of mana, making it less risky to play with expensive cards or X spells. Azor's Gateway can help smooth out our clunky draws (which are frequent so far), and it's even an artifact.
Cut, Battle at the Bridge, and Walking Ballista are great spells to play for twenty; but I do wonder if we're supposed to be looking at some of these Diabolic Tutors for extra ways to make sure we can convert boatloads of mana into a game-winning advantage?
While Mastermind's Acquisition may ultimately prove more useful, Razaketh's Rite is a lot easier to play many copies of.
While I think the one-drops in the above list are dubious, I am intrigued by Merchant's Dockhand:
It's a cheap artifact creature, sure, but it's also a deceptively potent way to channel tons of mana into an advantage.
While this isn't the normal use case on turn 3, let's start by walking through what happens when you drop Hadana's Climb and flip it immediately. You get a +1/+1 counter on a creature that can already attack. Then you get an untapped land that taps for any color, potentially helping protect your threats, potentially ramping to Verdurous Gearhulk a turn early.
On top of that, you've got a super-charged Kessig Wolf Run. Spend three and tap it, and you're easily giving +5/+5 and flying to one of your creatures. That's an awesome way to turn every creature into a potentially lethal threat.
That's pretty reasonable for three mana, so then the question becomes how often are we going to be stuck with a creature with less than three +1/+1 counters? Well, even in such a case, at least we're getting a Dragon Blood every turn that doesn't even cost mana to use.
One possible home for Hadana's Climb is a Merfolk deck with Metallic Mimic:
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Deeproot Elite
- 4 Jade Bearer
- 2 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Silvergill Adept
The Merfolk tribe has a ton of natural +1/+1 counter synergy, but it also ends up kind of long on two-drops. Would we really not play Merfolk Mistbinder? I mean, +1/+1 counter cards to flip Hadana's Climb is a fine dimension, but how much incentive to specifically play +1/+1 counter cards are we really playing anyway?
See, now this is a powerful card. It is also, sadly, a powerful two-drop. The question we then encounter is "Why not play Walking Ballista?" This quickly pulls us away from Merfolk. However, maybe that's okay?
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 1 The Scarab God
Hadana's Climb isn't exactly a Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, but it might be good enough to spawn a hybridized resurgence of the archetype.
Okay, now we're starting to get down to the nitty gritty.
Journey to Eternity has already turned some heads in Modern, played on Sakura-Tribe Elder for two extra Rampant Growths in addition to the one the Elder was going to give you (one from the Elder a second time and one from Atzal, Cave of Eternity). If we play a land for the turn, we'll actually have seven land on turn 4, meaning an early Scapeshift or even just an ability to start activating the Cave immediately.
As for Standard, it's a lot harder to sacrifice creatures quickly and efficiently. Defiant Salvager, Yahenni, Undying Partisan, and the like can serve as sac-outlets, but then we're talking about being a turn slower, needing a creature to sacrifice, and not even turning a profit up front.
If all we want to do is trigger Journey flipping, we could look at stuff like Hope of Ghirapur and Fanatic Firebrand.
I wonder if they'll really do enough in the games where we don't have a Journey, though. And even if we flip Journey, we still need something worth reanimating and a way to get it into the graveyard.
Geez, where's an Insolent Neonate when you need one...
Liliana, Death's Majesty is another solid way to reanimate fatties, and even if we don't have anything worth bringing back yet, a turn-3 Journey flipping actually ramps us into a turn-4 Liliana, Death's Majesty, which can start making 2/2s and milling us, looking for something sweet.
If we can actually pull everything together, Nezahal, Primal Tide is an interesting fatty, drawing extra cards and having some ability to protect itself.
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn and Zacama, Primal Calamity are a couple more Dinosaur fatties worth considering for a reanimator deck, and who knows? Maybe we can actually do something fancy like tutor the perfect one to the top of our library with Forerunner of the Empire, then mill it with Liliana, followed by reanimating it.
I'm really not sure how to tie the whole room together yet. There's just so many moving parts that we've got to get synchronized with each other. There's powerful stuff going on here, but so far, it looks too inconsistent to me. Maybe we should be a little less ambitious with our Journey and play a little more normal of a deck, maybe with Hidden Stockpile and Walking Ballista?
The final flip enchantment on our little tour is Path of Mettle, which has a lower ceiling than the rest but also costs just two mana. I see basically two primary paths to consider.
First, we could just focus on maximizing our ability to flip it quickly and reliably. If we load our deck up with creatures that have first strike, double strike, haste, and vigilance, we might be able to turn Path of Mettle into a weird sort of Rampant Growth that also functions as a source of offense and defense.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Glorybringer
- 2 Relentless Raptor
- 4 Rigging Runner
- 4 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
We may not be pushing the pedal to the metal, but the two a turn from our land is right on theme, and playing a Path on turn 3 means playing Glorybringer on turn 4. The problem, of course, is that the mana is so hard for enemy color decks that want to play one-drops and can't rely on Unclaimed Territory (it wouldn't help us cast the Path anyway).
The lack of reliable white mana early had me cooler on some of the other options available, but if we found a mana base that works, there are some very different directions available to us. Remember: Oketra's Monument makes 1/1 vigilance tokens(!).
The other way to go with Path of Mettle is to embrace the damage, rather than sidestepping it.
For two mana, we can proc all of our enrage creatures, not to mention pinging our opponent's creatures. Reckless Rage is pretty great when you consider the two damage to your own creature to be upside.
Even if with all this enrage stuff, we're still generally going to want to be able to flip the Path, however. Fortunately, there are plenty of Dinosaurs with the skills to pay the bills. In addition to the aforementioned Relentless Raptor, we've got:
Besides, we're not absolutely required to be 100% on theme...