With Rivals of Ixalan right around the corner, it's time to dust off the card evaluation books and prepare to figure out how good each new card is. So until I can get my hands dirty with the set, I'll be taking a crack at evaluating these fresh new cards. I know many players were frustrated with Ixalan, so here's to hoping that Rivals changes it up a bit (although I like Ixalan just fine).
As always, when evaluating cards prior to playing with them, take it with a grain of salt. These are my expectations, but context means a lot, and we are lacking in that department at the moment. Without further ado, let's take a look at the new mechanic:
Ascend is a mechanic that rewards you for having ten or more permanents. It's a little odd, as you can't really interact with it, but there appear to be plenty of cards with the mechanic.
Secrets of the Golden City is quite the interesting common. Divination is a fine, yet unexciting Magic card. It's not something you prioritize in Limited, but it makes your deck some percentage of the time. One issue I have with Secrets of the Golden City is the double-blue mana cost. You see, one of the important aspects of Divination is the ability to cast it early in order to hit your land drops. It's not going to be so easy to do this with Secrets of the Golden City. However, the upside of drawing three cards instead of two if you have the City's Blessing is quite powerful, so the question is: how much better (or worse for that matter) is Secrets of the Golden City in comparison to Divination?
I expect Secrets of the Golden City to be better than Divination, but not by too much. I expect that many players will overrate this card. It's not going to be one of the top blue commons, but you'll always be fine to put a copy in your deck.
In a recent article by Ben Hayes, the Lead Game Designer for Rivals of Ixalan, he mentions that this set is really going to hammer down on the tribal aspect of the world. And luckily for us, this means that tribal lords are back!
Both of these cards are pretty great. Two mana for a bear with very significant upside is always a card I'm happy to play. But how early are you supposed to take these lords? My guess is that Legion Lieutenant is going to be one of the best possible cards for the Vampire deck, as I expect that archetype to focus on making tokens and going wide.
Merfolk Mistbinder, however, I don't believe will be as good. Yes, it will still be a great card in the Merfolk deck, but it will depend on how much that archetype changes from where it was in Ixalan. Merfolk focused on going tall with cards like River Herald's Boon and One with the Wind. Don't get me wrong, you'll still happily play the card, but it just won't have the same impact as the Vampire lord.
I've always been a fan of cards like Bloodrage Brawler and Wanted Scoundrels. They have a much better body for their cost, but come with a relevant downside. Given how combat-oriented Limited is, this downside rarely overrides the upside of an early aggressive body. These cards often are disregarded by many early, but seem to overperform. And there are a couple in this set.
Daring Buccaneer is better than you think it is. I mean, remember how unbelievably good Kumena Speaker was? Sure, you need the Pirate in your hand when you cast it, but that shouldn't be a problem on turn 1. It's a Kumena Speaker that fits into two archetypes instead of one! In Ixalan, I would be content first picking a card like that. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be that good in Rivals of Ixalan, but I find it hard to imagine the card should go late in the draft.
Famished Paladin is a little harder to evaluate. The fact that it doesn't always untap is a pretty big liability, but given that the Vampire archetype synergy is pretty much centered around lifelink, it also may function like a 3/3 vigilance for two, which is quite the rate if you ask me. I'm going to start out taking this card early because the ceiling is so high, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out not to be so great.