Diving Into Post-Rotation Ixalan Block
Diving into Post-Rotation Ixalan
By Steven Boston
Formats and metagames in competitive magic are delicate constructions, with many pieces playing small but important roles in defining what is successful. Each year the Standard rotation brings about big changes for the format; mostly in the form of removing barriers to the previous year's cards, and giving them a chance to make a big impact. Last year was a peculiar case: Kaladesh and Aether Revolt cards had mostly found their footing already, and the changes were small.
Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks leaving couldn't be more different.
This time around, the lingering sets are being suppressed and warped by what came before them. In addition, Ixalan block sits in a odd position of being the final representative for sets being released as blocks, with continuous themes and synergies shared. What cards have we been missing while Gods and Airships have loomed large over the warring tribes of Ixalan?
Merfolk, Vampires, Pirates, and Dinosaurs are all prime examples of Ixalan archetypes that have had very little time in the spotlight. They have all lost virtually nothing in this rotation, but there is one major problem looming over not just these, but all prospective standard deck: mana.
Right from the start, we have to wait until winter for Godless Shrine and Breeding Pool. When you consider the other dual lands that Merfolk and Vampires have access to (Hinterland Harbor and Isolated Chapel), it looks pretty unlikely that Unclaimed Territory will be enough to pull these decks through on the mana front.
The nature of Merfolk as a tempo deck will probably result in having the occasional tapped land particularly punishing, so unless we can reimagine the core strategy, we will likely have to wait another set before much headway can be made on that front.
Vampires is far better equipped to stomach Isolated Chapel, though, right? Well, not exactly. The issue in Vampires is that the deck relies pretty heavily on several cards that Unclaimed Territory simply doesn't cast. Between sorcery-based token production, Legion's Landing, and supplemental removal, Vampires looks as though it will be in need of a boost when Ravnica Allegiance brings us Godless Shrine and some additional vampires.
While their problems are not so pronounced, the dinosaurs of Ixalan are going to need some work to function. In the past, the deck has found scattered success as a red/green beatdown deck with light tribal focus. Sacred Foundry is excellent, and turns on Rootbound Crag and Sunpetal Grove, which makes this a more workable situation, though it also certainly encourages white as a third color. The core dinosaur cards appear to be Drover of the Mighty, Thunderherd Migration, Thrashing Brontodon, Deathgorge Scavenger, Ripjaw Raptor, Territorial Allosaurus, Regisaur Alpha, and Carnage Tyrant. Depending on the direction we want to take, we could also consider Burning Sun's Avatar and Ghalta, Primal Hunger. There is also some value in just going full ramp into Zacama, Primal Calamity or Gishath, Sun's Avatar. The main concern with dinosaurs is how little they stand to gain from rotation; where Merfolk and Vampires can at least count on some tangential support in Ravnica Allegiance, a world that is entirely cityscape does not lend itself to new dinosuars.
The last tribe from Ixalan block - Pirates - seems, on face value, to already have a lot going for it when Guilds of Ravnica hits. Watery Grave and Steam Vents are here to provide a stronger manabase, and with a bit of luck, the tribe that most relies on X/1s will no longer have to be ready for Goblin Chainwhirler every other round.
Pirates actually has so many tools that it isn't completely clear what colors and strategy the deck should employ. The lands we have available lock us into blue for the time being, but do we want black, red, or both as our colors? And should we opt to relentlessly attack our opponent with one and two mana creatures with lords; play evasive beatdown, while holding up countermagic; or try to grind our opponent out with Ruin Raider and Hostage Taker? The most direct aggressive deck would be black/red, but Dire Fleet Captain will presumably have to wait until Blood Crypt appears to make casting both Dire Fleet Buccaneer and Grasping Scoundrel realistic.
4 Siren Stormtamer
2 Daring Buccaneer
4 Fathom Fleet Captain
4 Warkite Marauder
3 Kitesail Freebooter
3 Dire Fleet Poisoner
4 Fell Flagship
3 Hostage Taker
4 Lookout's Dispersal
3 Cast Down
3 Vraska's Contempt
My immediate instinct is to stick to blue/black and try to play a disruptive tempo game, but there are a lot of paths to take here, and even if Fathom Fleet Captain and Fell Flagship aren't at the center of the deck, there are plenty of pirates with wider applications to carry the torch for the tribe.