In his supremely deft and forthright handling of the alleged Ixalan card theft, Blake Rasmussen promised us all "some fantastic reprints you probably didn't see coming." If the new cards coming our way from Ixalan weren't enough, we're having all manner of old favorites join us - previous Constructed staples, powerful sideboard cards and even a new cantrip worth exploring in Modern!
When evaluating the offerings of a new set, reprints immediately set themselves apart from the new cards as we already have a huge amount of data on cards we've seen before. The debate rages on about R.J. Raptor's place in Standard, but we take it as a given that the return of the Magic 2010 check lands will strongly impact mana bases in the same way that Duress will see a ton of sideboard play from black decks.
With so many intriguing reprints coming our way, it's worth revisiting the roles they played in previous formats so we can contextualize them and get a better understanding of what kind of influence they'll have once Ixalan arrives. Will these reprints become format staples? Will some of them warp the format around them, like Thoughtseize in Theros? Has their time to shine already passed, and will they be relegated to the draft chaff box as a result? Let's get into it!
Duress is a Magic staple that will celebrate its 20th birthday next year, along with things like the Pixar classic A Bug's Life (just in case you didn't already feel ancient enough). First printed in Urza's Saga, Duress has maintained a quiet presence in more or less every format it's legal in. Today, it's typically found in the sideboards of Legacy combo decks to snipe a Force of Will. Its most recent printing in Magic 2014 saw it play second fiddle to Thoughtseize, offering black decks an incredibly strong discard suite through Theros Standard.
One of the most interesting tensions with Duress is its relationship with control decks, as it's excellent when playing both with and against control. When learning Duress was to be reprinted, control players around the world would have been pumping one fist in triumph while shaking the other in frustration due to their love-hate relationship with this card.
Duress excels against control since the overwhelming majority of control decks are non-creature spells, although its impact will be slightly diminished as Torrential Gearhulk as today's favored win condition rather than something like Elspeth, Sun's Champion. But control decks themselves will want to leverage Duress, given how tidily it answers noncreature threats in post-board games, when threat portfolios have diversified.
With all that in mind, what position will Duress adopt in Ixalan Standard? After a few years of Transgress the Mind as the premier discard spell, Duress is poised to change the game entirely. Lay Bare the Heart costs twice as much and with the recent rule change now cannot snag a planeswalker, and Harsh Scrutiny is just generally a lot worse than a Doom Blade-type effect. Duress does its job with sleek efficiency, and most importantly, has a proven track record. You'll find this card in black 75s everywhere moving forward!
First printed in Magic 2010, this cycle of "check lands" enjoyed four back-to-back years bolstering the mana bases of Standard decks. There's not too much to argue about here – these cards are welcome reprints, but generally speaking the rare dual lands of every set will see a lot of play. From shock lands to scry lands, from fetch lands to pain lands – mana fixing is too important for cards like these to fly under the radar, and the check lands are no different.
Let's have a look at their track record. The last time the check lands were Standard-legal, they could be paired with the Ravnica shock lands, which of course maximized synergy as the shock lands have basic land subtypes. We're in a similar situation here with Amonkhet's cycling lands; playing Irrigated Farmland into Glacial Fortress is a strong way to open a game with a mana-intensive deck.
For this reason, three-color decks will have smooth and consistent mana – although the cycling lands necessarily coming into play tapped will still result in basics being an important part of the puzzle. This marks a point of difference between Ixalan Standard and what we saw during Innistrad-Return to Ravnica, where many lists played zero basics. Nonetheless, the return of the check lands – with such exceptional art, too – is a great sign for those looking to leverage three- or even four-color decks after rotation.
Other than offering an interesting draft direction for players during Avacyn Restored, Favorable Winds never really took off in Constructed. Things don't look to be different this time around, especially given that all the constructed playable flying Spirit cards – Selfless Spirit, Spell Queller, Bygone Bishop – are departing the format.
So far, Ixalan Standard isn't Overrun (or overflown, I guess?) by first-rate fliers. You could get spicy with something like Aven Wind Guide in conjunction with Angel of Invention, or even go super deep on The Locust God and card draw, but I don't see it. Anthem effects like Favorable Winds require a critical mass of cheap and efficient early threats, and the current card pool just doesn't offer us that. Unless you're really determined to smash face with juiced-up Ornithopters, that is, and no-one can blame you for having that kind of urge.
Let's give Favorable Winds some further – and unfortunately rather damning – context. An important thing to remember is this: last time Favorable Winds was in Standard, you could put it in a deck with Lingering Souls, which is perhaps the best generator of individual fliers ever printed. Favorable Winds still didn't get there, even with the powerhouse token generator at its back - and things won't be different this time around.
Lightning Strike is the real deal, proving itself as a staple removal spell throughout its tenure after first being printed in Theros. Efficient, flexible and priced as affordably as they come these days, it's no shock to learn that Lightning Strike will play a prominent role in Standard. Red mages will have already earmarked the slot held by Incendiary Flow for this cut-and-dried upgrade – sure, the lack of an exile clause is a strike against the Strike, but you gain so much more by being able to deploy it at instant speed.
Despite being in a bit of a trough at the moment, the role of Lightning Bolt in Modern gives us a good heading on what to expect from Lightning Strike in Standard. Downstairs when you're contesting the board, upstairs when you're putting on the finishing touches – this card slices and dices and does it all. The sheer flexibility offered by a card that sometimes reads "destroy target creature" and "destroy target player" cannot be ignored.
One question remains: how relevant is three damage? The effectiveness of Theros-era Lightning Strike was somewhat compromised by cards such as Courser of Kruphix and Whisperwood Elemental, which meant that Stoke the Flames was often preferred as it could deliver the full four. Time will tell how the numbers shake out in Ixalan, but it's a safe bet that Lightning Strike is here to stay. Especially given there's essentially an existing archetype for it to slot into - Ramunap Red will welcome this reprint home with its pipe and slippers waiting!
After its first printing in Zendikar, Spell Pierce saw a lot of play during the dreaded Caw-Blade era in 2011 Standard. Over the years it found a home in Modern, as a key piece of interaction in a fast and mana-intensive format, but more recently it has fallen off the radar altogether. Instead, we see Stubborn Denial in Death's Shadow, and straight-up Negate in blue control decks. In Standard, Negate is highly played in blue sideboards right now – will Spell Pierce change that?
As a highly tempo-oriented card, Spell Pierce is at its best in decks that stick an early threat and protect it by disrupting an opponent's plays. At its best in the early game when mana is constrained, Spell Pierce does offer cheap and effective interaction in the face of removal, sweepers or planeswalkers - but it's very easy to play around, embarrassing in the late game, and requires a few things to go right before it will shine in a slower format like Standard.
A lot of arms were thrown in the air when Spell Pierce was previewed – some in celebration, some in exasperation. Ultimately, I think these hands can be safely lowered on both sides without too much of a fuss. Spell Pierce is a useful piece of technology, but it's not clear that it's all that much better than the current sideboard staple, Negate. While Spell Pierce will certainly see play, it won't be an enormous instrument of Oppression for Ixalan Standard.
Perhaps more than any other category of card, one-mana blue spells that draw a card and manipulate your library while doing so have been hit with bans and restrictions over the years. While Opt is nowhere near the level of Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain or Gitaxian Probe, the fact that we now have a one-mana cantrip with a relevant filtering ability is pretty huge, and there's no doubt that Opt will make waves in Standard. This isn't a big, splashy card, but nonetheless it will help to shape the texture of blue decks of all kinds.
Opt isn't just here to shake up Standard, however. As it was originally printed in Invasion, it's also a new addition to the Modern card pool. Seth Manfield has already got across what it means for the format, and he raised some pretty interesting ideas. Rather obviously, Opt has to go toe-to-toe against Serum Visions, but Seth was able to construct an argument that it may not be as clear-cut as some people say. The timing of the scry, the instant speed of Opt and the interaction with fetch lands all bolster Opt over Serum Visions, but the question is far from answered.
Of course, there are other reprints in Ixalan – amongst others, Air Elemental is back with amazing art, and I'm looking forward to rummaging away in drafts with Rummaging Goblin. It's exciting to see some old favorites re-emerge, and there's no doubt that many of these cards will play an important role in Ixalan Standard. Mana bases will rely on check lands, Opt means blue mages will be cantripping more than a drunk in a recycling plant, and Lightning Strike has a purpose-built deck to slot right into. Other reprints seem to be poised to take up their places in sideboards, which has some very intriguing implications for the way the format will develop. Given that you'll be playing with and against Duress and Spell Pierce in games two and three, how will that affect the way your starting 60 will look?
These reprints pose some engaging and exciting questions, and knowing how they functioned in the past will guide the approach taken by those looking to use them to maximum effect. What are your views on these reprints? Are you pleased to see old favorites, or unhappy that certain cards missed out? As always, let me know what you reckon on Twitter or in the comments!
- Riley Knight