Players are getting sick of the dominance of Ramunap Red and Energy-based decks in Standard, and I include myself in that group. We are ready for Standard to change, and I don't mean just tweaking a known strategy by a couple cards. Rivals of Ixalan has the chance to change Standard in a big way. Remember that Ixalan is a tribal-based set at heart, and Wizards can only print so many great cards for a single tribe in one set.
It seems clear that the tribal decks wouldn't be quite powerful enough to compete in Standard, bolstered only by Ixalan cards. Sure, we saw some of the Mono-White Vampires deck, but even that deck wasn't playing only Vampires. Rivals of Ixalan should essentially finish the job Ixalan started, making the tribal strategies more legitimate contenders. This will add completely new decks to the format.
Let's take a look at the Merfolk tribe for instance. While some of Ixalan's green Merfolk saw play in Modern, there simply were not enough quality Standard Merfolk creatures to build a competitive deck. Now there is clearly more of a push to make Merfolk a real Standard deck, as the best ones are in Rivals of Ixalan. Here are the Merfolk that stand out to me so far:
Silvergill Adept is a card that sees play in Modern and Legacy Merfolk decks, and is a reprint. Having a creature that immediately replaces itself by drawing a card is a big deal. This is going to help prevent you from running out of gas later in the game. There will be four copies of Silvergill Adept in any Merfolk deck, regardless of format. It has been a while since Wizards has gone for a full-scale tribal block, and we are seeing a bit of a carryover from Lorwyn into Rivals of Ixalan.
There are other creatures in Rivals of Ixalan that ask you to reveal a card of a specific creature type, like Daring Buccaneer. This cycle looks like it will have creatures that are strong enough for Standard play, and that makes sense. In order to play a card that is only good when you reveal the correct creature type, you have to be all in on that creature type throughout your entire deck.
As of now I have Jadelight Ranger in the running for the strongest card previewed so far. We will see Jadelight Ranger both in Merfolk and in decks that aren't tribal-themed. The power level is high, as at its worst you put a couple counters on it, but sometimes it allows you to draw two cards if there are lands on top of your deck. Certainly, it works incredibly well alongside Winding Constrictor, but it should be strong enough in any Merfolk deck too.
The Standard Merfolk deck will for sure be blue-green. We have been waiting for tribal lords, and here we have one that is quite good! Two mana is a very fair investment for a lord that will see Constructed play. Remember, Lord of the Accursed saw plenty of Standard action, and that card is worse than Merfolk Mistbinder. Lord of Atlantis is a key card in Modern Merfolk, so you can see that Wizards has taken note of what has worked in this sort of deck before. Sure, Merfolk Mistbinder doesn't provide Islandwalk, but it is clearly another staple card for the Merfolk deck.
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca isn't as obviously powerful as the other creatures I'm talking about here, but it fits the tribal theme. Once again, we have a card that is only going to be good in a deck with just Merfolk creatures. This provides a similar card draw effect as Cryptbreaker, but can actually block well. This may end up only being a sideboard card in the matchups where you want to play the long game. We will see.
Another strong Merfolk two-drop. The merfolk deck has a lot of good two-mana creatures, but I have yet to see a strong one-drop Merfolk previewed. Kumena's Speaker is currently looking for a buddy, as good aggressive tribal decks do want multiple one-mana plays. Deeproot Elite is a synergy card that helps your Merfolk snowball even more, as these creatures can get very large very quickly.
I'm honestly not sure at this point whether a deck full of Dinosaurs can be good. The issue with the concept is the mana costs on the Dinosaurs are very prohibitive. Its not that the large Dinosaurs are bad, but that a deck cannot realistically play a ton of them. We already have Carnage Tyrant in Standard, and it is pretty tough to print a Standard-playable Dinosaur better than that at the six-mana slot.
I don't expect the Elder Dinosaurs to see much Standard play, but what is interesting is that Dinosaurs have started to expand outside of the Naya colors. Still, if there is a Standard Dinosaur deck that emerges it will likely be Naya-based. There will need to be cards like Drover of the Mighty as enablers to help cast these huge creatures. There is some chance we see Gishath, Sun's Avatar finally see Standard play, but I don't think it's likely.
Of the four tribes Ixalan revolves around, Dinosaurs is the one that has the best stand-alone creatures. What I mean by this is that unlike Merfolk, you don't need to play a critical mass of them in order to make them good. We have already seen Ripjaw Raptor, Deathgorge Scavenger, and Carnage Tyrant see play in a variety of strategies.
To me the answer to this question is easy: yes, there will be some type of Vampire-themed deck in Standard. There has already been a successful Vampires deck in Standard, and Rivals of Ixalan will definitely boost the amount of options Vampires decks have. Questions relating to whether you want to be super aggressive or go wide with small creatures must be answered. We also should be thinking about if it is correct to stay mono-white, or to include black cards. This is the Mono-White Vampires deck from before Rivals of Ixalan:
Metallic Mimic is one of the key creatures here, and I expect that card to be very important in Standard once these tribal decks take off. There is some Vampire synergy with the likes of Duskborne Skymarcher and Mavrein Fein, Dusk Apostle, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is definitely room for this deck to get better, though it looks like many of the best Vampires in Rivals of Ixalan have black in their casting cost. I expect White-Black Vampires to catch on very quickly, just from taking a look at some of the new hits.
This is just as powerful as the Merfolk lord, as they are essentially the same card, but in different tribes and with different mana requirements. You could actually argue that Legion Lieutenant is going to make more of an impact because it is easier to get lots of Vampires onto the battlefield because of token-generators. We may see Vampire decks include additional ways to pump up the creatures like Radiant Destiny to supplement this guy.
Even if you add black to the Vampires deck, Shefet Dunes should not get cut. Paladin of Atonement works really well with Deserts like Shefet Dunes and Ifnir Deadlands because of their ability to hurt your own life total. With incremental life loss this almost becomes a Death's Shadow sort of creature that can get completely out of hand. Remember you can add a counter to it on both your turn, and the opponent's turn. The fact that Vampires can have lifelink attached to them also makes the life loss easier to handle.
Remember how I was saying the Merfolk tribe needs another one-drop? Well Vampires got one, and this should be a staple creature in any Vampire deck. I do think it is better than Duskborne Skymarcher overall, though I could also see playing both. If the Vampire deck is able to go wide, then the city's blessing should be more easily attainable than it would be in other decks.
I am fairly confident we will see Vampires and Merfolk-based decks make a splash, while I'm still unsure on where Dinosaurs will end up fitting in. I will definitely talk about Pirates in the future, as they are another tricky tribe to evaluate. The tribal synergy from Rivals of Ixalan is apparent, though there are small interactions hidden beneath the surface of the set that still need to be uncovered. For instance, on first looking at Paladin of Atonement I didn't think it was that great, until I realized how good it is alongside Deserts. This is an exciting time, as you need to be able to look at the cards in terms of how they fit with all the other cards available in Standard, not how they are on their own.
Thanks for reading,