It’s always awesome when a new set makes an impact on formats outside of Standard. It’s interesting that Ixalan hasn’t made a splash in Standard quite yet, but it’s already boosting archetypes in Modern. In order to see this at work, you don’t need to look any further than the winner of last weekend’s Modern Open in 5c Humans.
What makes a 5-color deck work is its mana. That starts with Aether Vial—a card that has been around for some time. It will effectively make your creatures uncounterable and give them flash, and it even acts as color fixing. Building your deck to consist of all Humans and Vials with no other spells gives you effectively 12 lands that can tap for any colored mana without needing to play nonsense like Mana Confluence, Gemstone Mine, and City of Brass, which all have serious drawbacks. Cavern of Souls and Ancient Ziggurat already let you cast your Humans easily, but now you have Unclaimed Territory out of Ixalan as well.
The incredible thing about Humans is that it is both an aggressive deck capable of winning the game on turn 4, but it’s also a deck filled with a ton of disruption. Being able to apply pressure while disrupting your opponent puts a serious hurt on so many decks. The beginning of the curve starts with the ultra-powerful Champion of the Parish. Every creature you have that enters the battlefield is going to grow your Champions, so you can safely expect to attack for 2 on turn 2 and 3 or more on turn 3. By turn 4, you can attack for 5+.
The other “lords” in Humans are also impressive. Thalia’s Lieutenant has the same effect once on the battlefield as Champion of the Parish for just 1 additional mana, which already makes it an awesome card in this deck. The fact that the Lieutenant will also pump every creature you have on the battlefield when it enters (and even at instant speed with Aether Vial) makes it incredible here. Mayor of Avabruck isn’t as powerful, but it’s another way to pump your team. The Mayor can even take over in the late game when both players are in topdeck mode as it will severely punish an opponent who is unable to make a play on their turn.
As far as disruption, they don’t get much harder to deal with than Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. A Storm deck can almost never go off through Thalia, and trying to combo with Ad Nauseam or anything else is a nightmare. This isn’t even the best feature of Thalia, as Modern is so filled with decks that rely on cheap spells. Making an Anger of the Gods cost 4 or a Wrath 5 is game-winning. Thalia, Heretic Cathar isn’t quite as strong (or cheap to cast), but it does mess up many opposing draws and shuts down blocking at critical stages of the game.
Kitesail Freebooter is another great Ixalan addition to strip a spell from your opponent’s hand early in the game. With decks relying on key pieces such as a planeswalker, sweeper, or just a removal spell, this can really change an opponent’s best laid plans. Meddling Mage can invalidate entire strategies. You want to beat Storm in game 1? How about a Meddling Mage on Grapeshot? If they don’t have an answer, they can’t win. Getting info from Freebooter before casting Meddling Mage is additional upside.
Speaking of combos with Meddling Mage, Reflector Mage can send a creature back to the opponent’s hand and make sure it never comes back. This adds tremendous tempo to the rest of the deck.
Mantis Rider is the “top of the curve” at just 3 mana, but a 3/3 flying, vigilance, haste threat is strong. While Lightning Bolt can hit the Rider, you have a handful of Lords and plenty of other pressing threats early. A hit or two with the Rider ends the game quick.
With 4 Noble Hierarchs to cast early, get through some extra damage, fix your colors and ramp you a bit, the power level of 5c Humans is high. Combining a quick clock, consistency, and disruption is a winning formula in Modern!