Next Monday can't come soon enough, as on September 25th Ixalan will finally be available to play in Standard on Magic Online. With #SCGDFW looming only four days later as our first dip in the waters of Ixalan Standard, the time to figure it all out is short!
One of the most dangerous things in the brewing process is getting caught up in an echo chamber, where an idea about a card or decklist looks good to you so you stop thinking critically about it. We spent a large amount of time working in formats that are mostly defined, so typically what "works" already works for a reason. This is the exact opposite of a new Standard season, as we have no idea what actually works. This lack of results and empirical data means we need to experiment with a wide variety of cards and ideas, something that is often alien to us.
Aside: I just want to show some love to fellow SCG premium writer Sam Black, who is perhaps one of the best "outside the box" thinkers in the game. Sam does a phenomenal job identifying and examining the not-obvious cards in every new set and is able to see creative ways to use them very quickly. It's frustrating sometimes following him every week, as he will often hit a card I plan to write about and have twice as many awesome ideas for it than I did (hello, Legion's Landing), but you've gotta respect excellent work when you see it.
There are a lot of exciting cards in Ixalan, and because so many of them are synergy-based rather than power-based it's not going to be easy to figure out exactly where everything goes.
There are a number of cards that haven't made it into our Ixalan Standard decklists, and today we are going to look at a potential game-changing card for many of the possible Ixalan Standard archetypes.
Let's start with the Elephant… I mean, Dinosaur in the room, G/R Dinosaurs.
Deck: G/R Dinosaurs
Missing Piece: Rile
Most G/R Dinosaurs lists we've been seeing (aside from Gerry Thompson's, who is also high on the card) have either been short on or completely eschewed Rile, which feels like a huge error.
Most of the G/R Dinosaurs lists we've seen so far have looked more like G/R Monsters decks than tribal decks.
There's no question that super-pushed cards like Regisaur Alpha are absurdly powerful, and slamming all of them together with some mana creatures and removal is a path to a reasonable decklist. Most of the Dinosaur cards get there on rate alone, but there's more to the Dinosaur deck than Siege Rhino-level stats. There are still tribal and Enrage synergies to be had, and when you have individually powerful cards working together with synergy as well, the result is often a Tier 1 deck.
It also pushes Ranging Raptors, a card that is already underrated, into a major role in the deck. Ranging Raptors joins Ripjaw Raptor to form a great Enrage one-two punch, which also have fantastic synergy with the also excellent Savage Stomp. The card advantage that Ranging Raptors and Ripjaw Raptor provide will be a major factor in ensuring that G/R Dinosaurss can win a long game and overcome cards like Fumigate.
- 3 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Drover of the Mighty
- 4 Otepec Huntmaster
- 4 Ranging Raptors
- 2 Raptor Hatchling
- 4 Regisaur Alpha
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
Raptor Hatchling may be a bit too cute for the maindeck, but it's hard to imagine a better card against Ramunap Red. It's also possible to get some insane value from it in concert with Savage Stomp against one-toughness creatures. Frankly, most of the deck seems fantastic against Ramunap Red, with great blockers, some cheap removal, and a fast clock.
The Dinosaurs will actually deal the lethal combat damage in the games G/R Dinosaurs wins, but the synergy cards like Rile, Savage Stomp, and Commune with Dinosaurs will be the glue that holds it all together.
Missing Piece: Dowsing Dagger
We talked about Dowsing Dagger briefly last week, but let's look at it more closely with the tribe that's most likely to wield it: Pirates.
Evasive attackers are an absolute must to ensure flipping Dowsing Dagger on the first hit, and the only tribe that sports them is Pirates. The Pirate cards are also disruptive enough to be able to protect your attack, which you can do with counterspells or discard. Then we need to make sure that we can use a Gilded Lotus well enough to be properly paid off for our trouble.
Draw cards and leave up instant-speed spells, that's what.
The Pirate cards of Ixalan are never going to be able to go toe to toe with the Dinosaur cards. On an individual power level, the Pirate cards are cheaper and require more finesse, and as such you are going to need more of them to overpower your opponents. Chart a Course and Ruin Raider are simple but effective cards that help to keep the cards coming, with Ruin Raider in particular an excellent play after flipping Lost Vale as it also adds to the battlefield.
Hostage Taker is a little different but offers the same sort of card advantage opportunity that only needs mana to get going. A lot of the time, Hostage Taker is just going to be a Faceless Butcher, but with extra mana lying around from Lost Vale, we can cast whatever card we take immediately. Stealing your opponent's creature or artifact while also getting a 2/3 creature is a monumental value play, and Lost Vale can help fuel it.
Flipping Lost Vale also gives us the opportunity to advance our battlefield while also having mana available for our opponent's turn. The turn after we flip Lost Vale is crucial because we will get to untap with a ton of mana, so being able to stifle our opponent's turn right before that happens is huge.
Lookout's Dispersal is the simplest form of interaction to stop whatever our opponent is doing, as counterspells always play well in tempo decks. Dreamcaller Siren doesn't curve perfectly with Lost Vale, yet is a currently underrated card that plays well with this flash strategy.
Perhaps something like this:
With most of our threats being evasive and a focus on card advantage anyway, the two chump blocking Plants shouldn't pose too much of a problem. Dowsing Dagger is a very odd card, and much of its success or failure will likely fall on how prevalent instant-speed removal is.
Missing Piece: Winding Constrictor
Hey wait, Winding Constrictor isn't in Ixalan! It's not even in the Merfolk colors!
I hate to break it to you, but Merfolk is definitely the black sheep of the Ixalan tribes. While the Dinosaur cards practically jump off the card list, you have to really look hard to find Merfolk cards that are particularly interesting.
One thing that is interesting about Merfolk is that their main theme, +1/+1 counters, happens to play well with everyone's favorite Snake.
Hmm, that doesn't compare very well. How about Vineshaper Mystic?
We can put a pair of +1/+1 counters on two of our creatures!
...well, that's just embarrassing.
Truth be told, there's just nothing to do with Merfolk now, and no real reason to be a Merfolk deck. Deeproot Champion and Merfolk Branchwalker are pretty solid cards, but them being Merfolk doesn't really matter at the moment.
We can only hope the next set offers more for Merfolk, but I'm going on the record right now and saying that if there is a successful Merfolk deck in Rivals of Ixalan Standard, it will contain Winding Constrictor.
Let's move on to something less depressing...
Deck: God-Pharaoh's Gift
Missing Piece: Chart a Course
Chart a Course has been finding its way into a good amount of decklists, but almost all of them seem drawn to the idea making sure you can draw two cards for two mana without discarding a card.
Why would we want to do that? Discarding cards is great!
- 2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
- 2 Noxious Gearhulk
- 4 Angel of Invention
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 2 Sunscourge Champion
- 4 Winged Shepherd
Rather than muck around with weak creatures and Gate to the Afterlife, we can skip the middleman with Refurbish, looking to put God-Pharaoh's Gift right onto the battlefield as early as turn 4. This allows us the backup plan of Noxious Gearhulk and Cataclysmic Gearhulk and allows us to play more filtering and fair cards like the exceptional Fumigate.
There's enough power here that switching over to a more "fair" gameplan post-sideboard if we are afraid of graveyard hate also seems very reasonable. Also, with Lightning Strike re-entering the format as well, Abrade is likely to take a backseat, which bodes well for our more "all-in" plan.
Our blue discard package could also go into some sort of reanimator deck as well:
- 3 Noxious Gearhulk
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 2 Demon of Dark Schemes
- 3 Gifted Aetherborn
- 1 Razaketh, the Foulblooded
- 2 The Scarab God
As we can see, we're only scratching the surface here.
Tormenting Voice has seen a good amount of Standard play in various decks over the last year or so, and Chart a Course is better in almost every single way. Everyone's looking at Chart a Course like a Pirate Thoughtcast, but it can do many more things in a variety of decks.
There are just so many options!
There are many synergies currently tugging in different directions, with no super-clear paths beyond Ramunap Red, the usual Temur Energy cards, and the baseline G/R Dinosaurs builds.
We've got tribal synergies, artifact synergies, graveyard synergies, spell/prowess synergies, and more, and the challenge is going to be to figure out what is going to work best together.
(Probably Gideon, but perhaps both? Gotta get Scrapheap Scrounger in there too somehow, right?)
Can control ever exist in a world with Carnage Tyrant?
(Throw me a freakin' bone, Wizards of the Coast, will ya?)
Is it possible for Merfolk to really be that bad?
(It sure looks like it.)
What's the new best thing to ramp into?
(Has to be huge Dinosaurs like Wakening Sun's Avatar right? Is Gishath, Sun's Avatar actually playable?)
Are these new flip lands as good as they look?
(I think so? Should I be racing to them or trying to just play them fairly?)
Every answer always leads to new questions, but it's our job to keep asking them!
And just remember – just because someone isn't talking about a card doesn't mean it's not good. We're operating on an extremely limited amount of data, and the first person to find the great new card that nobody is playing usually reaps excellent rewards. Innovation is difficult; if it were easy, new Standard formats wouldn't be nearly this fun!
I can't wait for #SCGDFW.