More than once in my life, I've been accused of being somewhat excitable . Guilty as charged, your honor – and nowhere is this more true than during preview season. The cards we've seen so far have secured me a first-class carriage on the Ixalan Hype Train, and it's an express service. Toot toot, all aboard – next stop, more drafts than a misaligned door frame on a windy day!
Merely based off the cards that have already been previewed so far, this set is shaping up to be truly excellent. Engaging mechanics, interestingdesign, and above all, tremendously resonant and exciting flavour. Ixalan is set to enjoy success across a wide spectrum, from gameplay to flavour to just plain fun – here is a selection of cards that augur the success we can expect.
This is one of the strangest cards we've seen in awhile, and an effect that has no direct analogue in any printed card so far. It's very difficult to evaluate, because it offers an incredibly powerful effect at a reasonable price – but then this downside tags along like an annoying little brother when your friends are over after school to play Mario Kart. But just like how you could always give him a controller that wasn't plugged in and trick him into thinking he was doing a great job, I believe the downside to Settle the Wreckage is equally surmountable.
Giving your opponent free lands is no joke, but sometimes it's a cost you're happy to pay to remove creatures – just look at Path to Exile in Modern! Given, Settle the Wreckage is a lot less valuable against utility creatures that are unlikely to attack, but the power to exile multiple creatures with one card – at instant speed – just can't be ignored. Further, downgrading your opponent's beaters into tapped basic lands is not the steep cost it appears to be.
Let's put this idea into practice. The two decks that are likely to remain relatively unaffected by the upcoming rotation are Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. Settle the Wreckage shines against both of these decks, and for different reasons respectively! Against Ramunap Red, a turn-four Settle the Wreckage will hit upwards of three creatures almost every time, has immediate impact in contesting haste creatures (a traditional weakness of sweepers), and, to slather an inch or so of icing onto this already delicious cake, is a clean answer to an attacking Hazoret!
Equally, on the draw against a vicious Temur curve-out, Settle the Wreckage knocks Glorybringer out of the sky, ignores Bristling Hydra's defense mechanisms, and cleans up the odd two- or three-drop that's still around. With neither deck benefitting enormously from having more than five or six lands out total, the downside of Settle the Wreckage may not be as punishing at it seems at first blush. It's great we're seeing card designed pushed into areas like this, and I'm excited to see what this card can do!
Tribal sub-themes have been behind some of the most successful and beloved sets in Magic's history (Innistrad immediately springs to mind) and Mark Rosewater commented recently on how well tribal mechanics are received by players . As a more competitively-oriented wizard, however, it's cards like Kopala, Warden of Waves that really get me up and about when it comes to tribal cards.
Merfolk have one of the strongest tribal pedigrees in the game, and fromModern all the way to Vintage the fish provide more fresh beats than LMFAO. Kira, Great Glass Spinner, often finds her way into Merfolk lists as a way to protect the creature-heavy strategy from spot removal, and now there's a better option for blue mages. Unlike Kira, Kopala gets pumped by lords, can be cast off Cavern of Souls, and triggers Merrow Reejerey. Admittedly, Kopala isn't the automatic two-for-one that Kira is, but can still severely disrupt an opponent's removal plans and help to protect key lords.
I'd be surprised if Kopala was the only worthy addition to the Merfolk deck. Given we have pretty strong tribal themes in Ixalan, you have to imagine there's a chance we're yet to see other cards that will find themselves battling alongside Lord of Atlantis in older formats. It's exciting to see Merfolk pushed into green, and intriguing to see Vampires make a stronger appearance in white. And to put competitive considerations aside for a moment – Pirates and Dinosaurs!
Door to Nothingness, Barren Glory, Hedron Alignment – there is a rich and storied history of silly alternate win condition cards, and even today a card like Approach of the Second Sun is actually able to make a name for itself in competitive Standard! Like so many mages around the world, I'm an absolute sucker for this type of card, and am very happy to have Revel in Riches join the crew.
I don't know what a treasure tribal deck might look like; e'll need to see more of the set before putting together a full sketch. But already there are some strong enablers. Captain Lannery Storm bravely takes to the high seas to seek out booty, and Treasure Map can get you 30% of the way there by itself. Obviously tapping out for a five-mana "do-nothing" enchantment is a risky venture, but the payoffs don't come any higher than winning the game!
It's excellent that Wizards continues to print cards like these. There's something about them that is so enticing, so fun; sometimes, they end up spawning incomprehensibly weird but sometimes competitive strategies – I'm looking at you, Laboratory Maniac in Oops, All Spells! Even when they never quite get there, it's still such a blast to experiment and Tinker while trying to break them. It's not guaranteed that Treasure Token Tribal will rule the Standard format, but it's definitely guaranteed that people will try to get there!
The world building and flavour we've seen so far from Ixalan seems to be getting under the skin of even the most hard-nosed and story-agnostic players. Pirates and dinosaurs, Mesoamerican lore, familiar characters innew setting; an exciting and rich world is unfolding through the cards of Ixalan, and just begging to be explored. Yes, yes, I know it's hard to look past the fact that the ankylosaur depicted in Bellowing Aegisaur and the diplodocus in Verdant Sun's Avatar lived about 85 million years apart in reality, and that the Pteranodon in Kinjalli's Sunwing has been incorrectly classified as a Dinosaur. Much harder, for some reason, than accepting that a small helicopter like a Thopter Token can successfully pilot a larger helicopter in Smuggler's Copter.
All the same, there are some red-hot slam dunks in this set, with cards like Hostage Taker and Star of Extinction oozing that delicious flavor that Vorthos loves. But different cards will resonate with different people for different reasons, and for me, I was completely taken by Rowdy Crew. The art on this card instantly reminded me of the hours I spent slogging through The Curse of Monkey Island as a kid in pre-internet days, and conjured up fond nostalgia for pirate stories of old. It's not just pirates, either. So much of Ixalan hits on my personal cultural mainstays throughout my childhood, from poring over dinosaur posters to burying myself in Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun, I have to imagine I'm not the only one who is amped as all get out to be exploring such a novel and unfamiliar setting in Magic!
Under all the hype of the Ixalan previews – and indeed during any preview season – everyone from fiercely competitive tournament grinders to madcap brewers are examining every card to determine what might be made of it. In raw playability, it's difficult to overlook Ripjaw Raptor, a card that I predict will make a strong showing in Ixalan Standard. This Dinosaur will crash into a Standard format driven by damaged-based removal spells, and further, where the most damage a single card generally does on its own is four (Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glorybringer). This means that from the outset, a 4/5 is already in a great spot.
It gets so much better, however. Enrage is not a difficult thing to trigger, as few very games of Magic ever end without creatures beingdealt damage. Rewarding you so strongly for playing a natural game of Magic means Ripjaw Raptor is poised to make a big impact in constructed Magic. Outside of cards like Vraska's Contempt, it will be rare for Ripjaw Raptor not to at least replace itself, and from therethe sky is the limit. Your opponent can't attack into this creature or block into it without giving up a card, and again, that's just the baseline!
Ripjaw Raptor offers the potential to be a very potent draw engine. It allows you to cycle burn spells like Magma Spray, and with Walking Ballista it allows you to pay four mana to draw a card. It's great against red,requiring a chump attack and a burn spell to remove, and it's great with red, too - just imagine playing Sweltering Suns with this chap out and about!
The ceiling is unbelievably high on this card, and the fail-case is also absolutely fine. A four-mana 4/5 is playable but unexciting: if it draws you one card, however, it's pretty good. If it draws you two, it's great, and if you draw three or more cards from your four-mana 4/5 you'll be so far ahead your opponent will have to call long-distance just to offer their concession!
It doesn't end here! We're not even halfway through the preview season for Ixalan, and when thinking about what's still to come I'm more excited than a butcher's dog at dinner time. Which cards have got you on board the hype train? What sort of cards are you still hoping to see? As ever - it's always great to hear your perspectives!
- Riley Knight