Last week, we looked at how the addition of a second (albeit small) set's worth of tribal cards might finally help to get tribal archetypes into the realm of competitive playability. Put most simply, there just wasn't a critical mass of playable cards in any one tribe in Ixalan – despite some very powerful flagship cards like Regisaur Alpha and Hostage Taker, the support just wasn't there and filling out a full 75 was too much of an ask.
Things will be different in the coming weeks, now that we have the full picture of what Rivals of Ixalan will look like! We've already discussed how both Vampires and Merfolk got a huge shot in the arm with the new set. Specifically, these aggressive decks benefit from Legion Lieutenant and Merfolk Mistbinder, respectively – these tribal lords are emblematic of what both lists are attempting to achieve, and were accompanied in Rivals by many other exciting and powerful options.
Before we get into the new tribes, I want to update what we talked about last week. Seth Manfield shared his characteristically top-notch analysis of various Merfolk cards, and it's obviously worth reading – I was surprised to hear that his pick for "strongest card" was Jadelight Ranger!
As for Vampires, our list from last week needs an update since the world was introduced to Champion of Dusk – a sizeable beater that will regularly draw three to five cards! This card is the perfect top-end for an aggressive deck with plenty of life gain, and as a result we cut Vona and the two Metallic Mimics to add two Champions and another black source.
This week, we're going to look at Pirates and Dinosaurs. In Ixalan, some individually powerful cards were printed and continue to see play (Kitesail Freebooter and Hostage Taker), and in Dinosaurs, it always felt as though the deck were just a hair away from being a real contender in Standard. Regisaur Alpha, Ripjaw Raptor, Savage Stomp… these cards had us starry-eyed like kids at a museum, but again, we could never quite thread the needle.
Now we've got a stockingful of shiny new toys, however, let's see if we can flip this particular script!
Despite three colors from which to choose when building a Pirates deck, I think the best approach here is to stick to two. When approaching an unknown – or at least somewhat unknown – format, the best thing to do is be aggressive. As Rivals Standard settles, we'll have a better opportunity to twist, tweak and Twiddle with a third color – perhaps as a splash – but to begin with, it pays to be focused, streamlined and low to the ground.
The immediate thought, therefore, is to base the Pirate deck in black-red, traditionally a very aggressive pairing. Not so here, however! The options available in blue allow a tempo-like aggro game plan, and opens all sorts of tricky avenues for interaction and disruption. Both blue and red received some stone-cold killer aggro cards, and I'm as keen as mustard to try them out!
At first blush, this is a simple, honest aggro deck. Cheap, aggressive creatures and a smattering of burn, with a classic larger post-board plan. Take a second look, however, and there's a lot going on under the covers.
For instance, Storm Fleet Aerialist becomes so much better now that there's a second playable Pirate one-drop – playing a two-mana 2/3 flier on turn two will happen all the more often thanks to Daring Buccaneer, leading to extremely quick starts that will leave an opponent reeling. Daring Buccaneer is a welcome and highly necessary addition to an aggressive Pirate deck – for all intents and purposes, it's a one-mana 2/2 with no downside in this deck.
Another tribal card you're paying less than retail for is of course Lookout's Dispersal. This card generated a lot of hype when previewed in Ixalan, and in this list will be an upgraded Mana Leak almost all the time. Further interaction in the form of Lightning Strike is of course very welcome – the fact that it goes upstairs will be very relevant as they attempt to stabilize in the face of your fliers.
Speaking of which – Warkite Marauder is another important addition that allows you to play a tempo-oriented game without giving up anything in the way of pressure. An evasive two-drop that casts Turn to Frog on their best blocker each turn – this card will help to push through a ton of damage before forcing them into chump-block mode.
At the top end, a split of Hazoret, the Fervent and Dreamcaller Siren means that you have good options between leaving up interaction before flashing in a 3/3 or smashing in for five when hellbent to finish the job. This "go big" gameplan is expanded post-board, with access to Glorybringers, and difficult-to-deal-with threats like Chandra and Vance's Blasting Cannons.
This list is an excellent aggressive starting point as we begin our voyage into Rivals of Ixalan. However, in the opening weeks of the format I'll be looking to leverage a different Pirate card. Hostage Taker is one of the only Pirates to have impacted Standard since Ixalan was released, and I don't think its story is over. Whether it's splashed in a list like this or is part of a slower, more controlling Blue-Black Pirate list remains to be seen, but don't think for a second she has sailed over the horizon for good.
With the raw power of many of the Dinosaur cards in Ixalan, it's puzzling to consider the deck never got there. The main reason could be to do with cost - almost all the powerful things a dinosaur deck seeks to do are found at higher points on the curve, which is not a realistic strategy to pursue in a format dominated by Longtusk Cub and Hazoret, the Fervent.
Now, however, one new card in particular is threatening to push this archetype into the stratosphere. Thunderherd Migration - effectively a Rampant Growth effect in this deck - will speed up the arrival of the mighty threats available to Dinosaur players. Opening up the curve like this may be the final element required to get Regisaur Alpha onto the top tables of Standard!
Drover of the Mighty is a great option to bridge you to enormous green idiots, but unfortunately dies to More or Less every removal spell ever printed. By itself, it wasn't good enough to support the Dinosaur deck ramping to its top end, but that's about to change. Your opponent isn't going to be able to Abrade your Thunderherd Migration – Rampant Growth is back!
Thunderherd Migration is an extremely exciting addition, particularly as Rampant Growth is a card identified by R&D as "too powerful" for Standard. Just as with Daring Buccaneer and Lookout's Dispersal, it doesn't really have a downside in a dedicated tribal deck – it's just Rampant Growth with some extra flavor text. Seth Manfield pointed out that "the mana costs on the Dinosaurs are very prohibitive" - Thundy-M is going to help out enormously.
There are some effortlessly strong cards in this list, and we don't need to discuss them at great length. Ripjaw Raptor will almost always get you a card back (if not more), and Regisaur Alpha is the perfect way to leverage an overwhelming, curve-topping threat. These cards will now come out even earlier thanks to the ramp suite – which, notably, now includes Wayward Swordtooth.
The Swordtooth is a little speculative. It could (and perhaps should) be something like Rampaging Ferocidon, Deathgorge Scavenger or Ranging Raptors – but now is the time to experiment with cards like Wayward Swordtooth and find out how good they can be. It may be the first card on the chopping block, but it's worth at least asking the question.
Swordtooth's own ability helps you ascend, and plays exceptionally well with another new addition to the deck: Ghalta, Primal Hunger. BBD discussed GPH and its strengths and weaknesses, and identified its synergy with cards like Regisaur Alpha. Ghalta is of course further supported here by Wayward Swordtooth – the Swordtooth has huge stats for its cost, aiding you in slamming Ghalta ahead of time.
Given that ramp decks will suffer when they don't draw enough action to dump extra mana into, we're including a few ways to ensure we don't run out of momentum. Rhonas turns any creature into a mighty trampling threat, and Thundering Spineback can churn out 4/4s while boosting the rest of the team.
As a concession to this deck's weakness in the face of creature removal, the sideboard includes many ways to play around removal and sweepers. Planeswalkers and vehicles will help in that regard, and Lifecrafter's Bestiary is another way to keep the cards flowing.
This list will require further tuning once a clearer picture of Standard finally emerges in the coming weeks, but I'm confident that Thunderherd Migration will be an absolute game-changer for Dinosaur decks and provide that missing puzzle piece. Curving Commune into Migration into R.J. Raptor is an insanely strong start, and now turn-three four-drops don't need to dodge creature removal. I'll say it again: Rampant Growth is back!
We have a lot to learn about Standard in the next few months. While the professional scene will be dominated by Rivals Limited and of course Modern thanks to the Pro Tour in Spain, Standard is now in a position to be attacked from all-new angles. Tribes will play a large part in the development of Rivals Standard, and the lists we've looked at this week and last are excellent starting points to begin your efforts to dominate the new format!