Rivals of Ixalan contains a cycle of 4 uncommons, one for each tribe, that get a cost reduction upon revealing a creature of the corresponding tribe.
Before getting to the ones that excite me, let me mention the worst one for Constructed play: Sadistic Skymarcher. Even if it would cost 3 mana every single time, it would be comparable to Skymarch Bloodletter—a card that is not made for competitive Standard. Sure, Sadistic Skymarcher will be better than Skymarch Bloodletter if you combine it with Glorious Anthem effects, but it’s still not even close to Vampire Nighthawk territory. I don’t have high hopes.
Silvergill Adept is a reprint of a proven Modern staple. It provides value, gets boosted by Lord of Atlantis, and may just be the single best card in Modern Merfolk. The drawback of having to reveal information to your opponent is insignificant. So it’s exciting to get access to the card in Standard. With all the support the tribe got from Rivals of Ixalan, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a competitive Merfolk deck at Standard events soon.
From a deck building perspective, however, Silvergill Adept isn’t constraining. Merfolk decks tend to be filled to the brim with creatures to exploit their Lords, and as a result Silvergill Adept will cost 2 mana nearly 100% of the time.
Thunderherd Migration and Daring Buccaneer are more interesting to me, as they might go into decks that merely contain a modest amount of Dinosaurs or Pirates. Thunderherd Migration in particular could be very powerful, as Rampant Growth has been deemed too strong for Standard. You just need to manage the downside. So let’s take a closer look and run the numbers.
Run at least 13 Dinosaurs to enable Thunderherd Migration in Standard
To get a quick feel for the number of Dinosaurs required for Thunderherd Migration, you could look at simple hypergeometric probabilities. But these wouldn’t account for mulligans or for the fact that at least one “slot” in your hand is already taken by a Thunderherd Migration. To get more relevant probabilities, I coded a simulation under the following assumptions:
- You consider a 60-deck with 24 lands, 4 Thunderherd Migration, and a certain number of Dinosaurs.
- You mulligan a hand if it contains 0, 1, 6, or 7 lands. In case of a mulligan, you ignore the free scry.
- You are on the play and on the draw with equal 50-50 probability.
- You consider the following question: If I have a Thunderherd Migration in hand on turn 2, then what is the probability of also having a Dinosaur in hand? In other words, I determine a conditional probability for settings where at least one of your cards (not necessarily the first one you draw) is already taken up by a Thunderherd Migration. I focus solely on turn 2 because that’s where the cost reduction matters the most.
Having determined these probabilities, the next question is what a “good” number would entail. In my completely subjective view, I’d like Thunderherd Migration to be a Rampant Growth in at least 80-85% of the games. I’ll accept a 15-20% chance of turning into an Untamed Wilds, but no more. This would come down to a minimum of 13 Dinosaurs.
At this point, you might ask “Why would we even use Thunderherd Migration when we already have Drover of the Mighty and Otepec Huntmaster for Dinosaur decks?” That is a valid question, but I can think of four reasons for sticking with Thunderherd Migration:
- Otepec Huntmaster or Drover of the Mighty are easily killed, giving your opponent an easy way to disrupt your ramp strategy.
- If you’re planning to sweep the board (with Sweltering Suns, Fumigate, Hour of Devastation, or Wakening Sun’s Avatar) then you may not want to rely on creature-based mana sources.
- Thunderherd Migration fixes your mana, enabling a 3-color deck. Otepec Huntmaster can ramp but doesn’t fix colors.
- You’re not planning to ramp into the 12/12 Ghalta, Primal Hunger, so creature-based mana ramp is not at a premium.
With these aspects in mind, here’s one home I considered for Thunderherd Migration.
Naya Dinosaur Ramp
This deck only has 11 actual Dinosaurs, but I’m creatively counting 3 Commune with Dinosaurs as 2 Dinosaurs as well. Regarding the creature suite, I selected creatures that could shrug off damage-based removal spells like Shock, Harnessed Lightning, or Abrade. That meant no Deathgorge Scavenger.
I briefly considered a build with 4 Forerunner of the Empire and 1 Polyraptor. The combo would start when Polyraptor enters the battlefield, triggering Forerunner of the Empire and generating another Polyraptor. That would trigger Forerunner of the Empire once more, yielding two more Polyraptor triggers. Once the first one resolves, Forerunner of the Empire triggers, but since it’s optional you can and should decline to ping. After the second Polyraptor creation trigger resolves (at which point you’d control 4 Polyraptors) you again get a Forerunner of the Empire trigger, and this time you should ping all creatures. The end result is a dead Forerunner of the Empire, but the good news is that you’ll control a grand total of 8 Polyraptors. That’s pretty sweet. Nevertheless, I wasn’t convinced this combo would be worth the cost of adding a 4-mana 1/3 to your deck. What’s more, if I’d naturally draw an 8-drop, I’d much rather have the board wipe effect of Wakening Sun’s Avatar against Temur Energy. So I scrapped the Forerunner of the Empire plus Polyraptor combo.
Still, looking at the Wakening Sun’s Avatar deck that I made in the end, the mana curve may still be prohibitively high. There is the classic problem that you have to draw both ramp spells and payoff cards in the right order. Maybe it’s better to stick to red-green, using Sweltering Suns and Burning Sun’s Avatar instead of Hour of Promise and Wakening Sun’s Avatar. Or to build a Jund deck that exploits Tetzimoc, Primal Death—it’s worse against Whirler Virtuoso but easier to cast than Wakening Sun’s Avatar.
But this discussion nicely illustrates the abundance of possibilities. There will be plenty of ways to exploit Standard’s new Rampant Growth!
Run at least 16 other Pirates besides 4 Daring Buccaneer in Standard
Using the same assumptions as for Thunderherd Migration, I also ran the numbers for Daring Buccaneer, taking into account two differences. First: a second Daring Buccaneer can help cast the first. Second, I’m looking at turn 1 rather than turn 2.
Hence, I considered the following question: If I have a Daring Buccaneer in hand on turn 1, then what is the probability of also having another Pirate (including other Daring Buccaneers) in hand? Again, this is a conditional probability, and I focus solely on turn 1 because that’s where the cost reduction matters most.
For Thunderherd Migration, I accepted an 80-85% probability. For Daring Buccaneer, I require a larger probability, closer to 90-93%. The main reason for this is that the fail case is far worse. If you don’t have the Pirate, then the mana cost increases by 200%, whereas the increase was only 50% for Thunderherd Migration. I mean, an Untamed Wilds is semi-playable for a ramp deck—a Gray Ogre is not. A Gray Ogre would be particularly embarrassing in an aggro deck that wants to empty its hand quickly for Hazoret the Fervent.
But 2-power creatures for 1 mana are exactly what aggro decks need to thrive. Ramunap Red is currently lacking such a threat, and in my view that’s the deck’s biggest weakness right now. I was hoping that Daring Buccaneer might solve this, as there are plenty of playable Pirates in red:
Yet after brewing up a Mono-Red deck, I wasn’t satisfied. I felt I had to make too many sacrifices to fit in 16 other Pirates, the overall card quality fell short, and there wasn’t enough payoff for being so all-in on Pirates. I looked at other options and settled on a black splash.
I particularly like Dire Fleet Poisoner. Ambush Viper has never looked so good. Just imagine your opponent is on the play with the dream start of Attune with Aether into Longtusk Cub while you only had a Rigging Runner on turn 1. Then imagine they block your first-striker on turn 2. That thought experiment was enough to sell me on Dire Fleet Poisoner.
Before settling for the above Pirates build, I also toyed around with an artifact theme featuring Inventor’s Apprentice, Bomat Courier, Metallic Mimic, Scrapheap Scrounger, Wily Goblin, Fatal Push, and Unlicensed Disintegration. I eventually decided against it, for two reasons: First, I would have to cut a bunch of Pirates to fit in these artifact-themed spells, which would ultimately make Daring Buccaneer too weak. Second, the addition of black spells would result in mana issues. In my current build, all black cards are Pirates, which means that Unclaimed Territory is the perfect mana fixer. The addition of black spells or activated abilities would reduce the effectiveness of Unclaimed Territory and would require more Swamps.
So that’s how I ended up with this black-red Pirate list. It may just be wrong not to play 4 Hazoret the Fervent, especially when Dire Fleet Neckbreaker easily dies to a mid-combat removal spell. But Hazoret has anti-synergy with Ruin Raider, is vulnerable to Confiscation Coup, and is worse than Dire Fleet Neckbreaker when you’ve gone sufficiently wide. So I gave the 3/2 a shot.
Having treated Thunderherd Migration and Daring Buccaneer in detail, I’d like to give a quick mention to 60-card Merfolk decks with 4 Silvergill Adept and a lot of non-Merfolk cards. For such decks, I recommend a bare minimum of 14 other Merfolk (in which case Silvergill Adept is 90.0% to cost 2 mana on turn 2) or preferably 15 (91.6%).
Finally, I’d like to thank Daniel O’Connor for his question about Thunderherd Migration that inspired me to write this article. You can always reach me on Twitter, and although I can’t promise to answer every single question, I’m always interested to hear your suggestions!