I don’t know why, but it has just sunk in that the big Standard shake-up is right around the corner. I think I’ve just reached that critical mass of enough spoilers to get excited, and I’m finally done with events from the old format. Either way, I now feel completely, justifiably comfortable with getting excited about the release of Ixalan.

I’m not going to lie—I had very low expectations for Ixalan. I only feel comfortable saying that out loud now because my expectations have taken a complete 180-degree turn for the better based on what I’ve seen so far. My initial response to hearing about the new “Pirates and Dinosaurs block” was a groan of disbelief. Hasbro owns Transformers and Barbie—why not have a Transformers and Barbie plane? Optimus Prime v. Bolas, anyone?

Needless to say, my first impression was not super positive. I’d rather have spent a year on a deserted Island with only a beach ball named Wilson for companionship than be castaway on Ixalan. But what I’ve seen of the new set so far has really flipped my concerns into an expectation that it is going to be straight-up amazing.

My initial concern, that the flavor seemed “ridiculous,” has been diminished by the fact that it feels like WotC has really pulled it off. Ixalan is a tropical lagoon plane and there just so happen to be a bunch of seafaring folk and giant reptiles there. Also, I overestimated how out of place Dinosaurs would actually feel in a fantasy setting. Giant, feral reptiles like Dinosaurs are not all that different from Dragons, Wurms, or Baloths. Dinos are just another category of monstrous creatures.

One more point in the set’s favor: I really like much of the artwork that I’ve seen so far. If I’m digging the flavor of something I’d initially reacted to negatively, a big part of being won over has come from the awesome artwork. A lot of the art is vibrant and engaging. Some of the Pirate cards have a vibe that reminds me of old sets like Legends. It’s a really nice new Magic meets old Magic set that I’m interested in getting to explore in the coming weeks.

Ixalan is Bringing the Heat!

With over half of the set spoiled, I’d like to take a look at some of the cards that are going to put Ixalan on the treasure map.

Interesting and engaging flavor is always a nice bonus, but ultimately Magic players care about whether or not the cards are good. Ixalan has some very good cards.

I get the impression that the Amonkhet block was really a “try and get the ship righted” block that didn’t take many risks. Shadows over Innistrad, Battle for Zendikar, and Kaladesh really pushed the envelope and Standard quickly become stuck in a year-and-a-half long swamp of unlikable, broken formats that ultimately required a half-dozen bannings to sort out.

Amonkhet was purposely tame as WotC tried to get Standard back under control.

Ixalan is a pretty clear return to a higher overall power level.

Ashes is a neat Magic card. It feels unfocused because it’s an enchantment that does two completely different things. On the one hand, it shuts off some aspects of the graveyard, which is always useful. On the other, it allows players to gain life whenever creatures die.

I think this card would be playable with only the first clause. I see Ashes of the Abhorrent as a tool for Collected Company combo decks’ sideboards. CoCo combo uses its own graveyard to execute its “life combo,” which means it is looking to only hate out certain aspects of graveyard usage.

As a CoCo player, I’m pleased that this enchantment shuts down key flashback spells like Conflagrate from Dredge and Past in Flames from Storm while leaving my graveyard intact.

I could see Wakening Sun’s Avatar having a real impact on Standard. I’m assuming that there will be enough Dinosaurs (since they are a centerpiece of the set) to build a deck around them. If that is the case, this is an expensive but highly rewarding Dino tribal spell.

The mana cost is steep, but the effect is extremely impactful for a Standard deck. The usefulness of this card will  depend on how fast or midrange the format ends up feeling. Either way, it’s a sweet card.

The fact that pirate Jace creates an infinite combo with cards like Doubling Season overshadows the fact that it is a pretty decent Magic card on its own. I’m not a fan of two-card infinite combos in Magic. In fact, it tends to be the kind of situation where these combos are either irrelevant or need to be banned, which seems like poor design.

I should also quickly touch on another Ixalan change that helps make Jace even better. Planeswalkers are now legendary! Before, there was a rule that a player could only have one Jace planeswalker in play at a time. Now players will be able to control multiple planeswalkers of the same type as long as they have different, unique names. So you can now have a Jace, Cunning Castaway and a Jace, Architect of Thought in play at the same time.

Aside from the infinite combo, the new 3cc Jace is pretty decent. It impacts the board. The new combo is certainly something that players will be exploring in Modern.

Merfolk are back with a vengeance on Ixalan. I don’t think there is any denying that Kopala is a pretty high impact Merfolk card.

The question becomes whether or not the upside of being a Merfolk is worth replacing Kira, Great Glass-Spinner in other formats. I’d guess that the first Kopala is probably better than the second Kira. It’s always pretty neat when an established Modern deck gets a new potential toy.

For anybody who was sad that Grasp of Darkness was rotating, feast your eyes on Walk the Plank. I love this card from an art and flavor perspective. It’s also just a very good Magic card.

Doom Blade is kind of back!

Walk the Plank will have a huge effect on the landscape of Standard. It’s been a long time since good 2cc removal existed in Standard.

Lightning Strike is also back. The red deck was already great and Lightning Strike will be a slam dunk in that archetype.

It replaces Incendiary Flow, which is rotating, but instant-speed burn is big game that I’m sure lots of players are looking forward to. Don’t forget that lots of decks, like U/R Control, will be interested in cheap removal.

I’m really excited about Burning Sun’s Avatar. The card is expensive at 6 mana, but really powerful. Siege Rhino taught us about how good creatures like this can be, but this Dino deals damage to your opponent and one of their creatures.

Also, 6/6 is pretty large. The card feels very powerful.

Flavor win!

Also, I think this card is quite powerful in the abstract. It’s a Stone Rain that wraths the board.

Hey, do you like cards that are basically impossible to interact with? Enjoy.

You can’t counter it and can’t target it. Also, the card is gigantic (doesn’t even fall to Hour of Devastation) and has trample.

I’m honestly embarrassed for whoever designed this card because it’s so obviously obnoxious and uninteresting. The card doesn’t even make any sense. What about just randomly being a Tyrannosaurus makes this card uncounterable or hexproof?

The card is very difficult for a lot of strategies to deal with based upon how difficult it is to get off the board. I anticipate this being a highly played Standard staple.

I don’t know how good this card will be in Constructed, but it’s so sweet that I had to give it a nod here. Clearly, this is the king of the Dinos and can do some serious damage in a Dinosaur midrange deck (assuming you can live long enough to cast it)!

Dinosaurs definitely have a Naya quality to them.

It’s a Pithing Needle that lets you peek at the opponent’s hand. Great design. Simple but effective. I love that being able to take a look before you name the card makes Spyglass feel a little more maindeckable than Pithing Needle did.

I also like that this card feels more player friendly than Pithing Needle, since players don’t need to know every potential card their opponent will be playing in order to find a good use for this spell. It’s also a great preemptive answer to planeswalkers.

Last but not least:

I’m so excited to see this cycle of lands return for an encore performance. Obviously not as powerful as fetches or shocks, I believe these lands are perfectly designed and great for Standard play.

I’m happy to see these lands back in Standard and look forward to playing them alongside the cycling lands for added synergy bonus!

Ixalan looks to be extremely exciting. Just looking through the spoiler makes me wish it was prerelease time. The Dinosaurs all look fun and flavorful, and I’m happy to see some cards that appear to have cross format appeal.

All things considered, I’m really looking forward to new Standard and getting my hands on some of these powerful spells.