There’s a lot to explore now that the Ixalan spoiler is out, and no I’m not just talking about the explore mechanic. I’m talking about digging in to the archetypes of Ixalan! This time around, it’s a little different than most archetype breakdowns since this set has four factions spread across 2- and 3-color combinations. That means that I’ll talk about each 2-color combination as usual, but wrap things up by discussing 3-color possibilities at the end of next week’s article. What’s also different is that the enemy color combinations pull a lot more focus because the 2-color factions, Vampires and Merfolk, are centered in enemy color pairs. For that reason, I’m mixing up the order and starting with the enemy colors!
U/G – Merfolk
Where R/W was the land of Crop creatures on Amonkhet, U/G is apparently the land of Shapers on Ixalan. We have a real tribal element to U/G right off the bat, which is interesting because U/G is usually a good-stuff deck. In addition, the payoffs are based on having multiple Merfolk in play. Thus, the tribe has a more green feel, though lower to the ground than green typically functions. Blue still makes its presence known, providing key Merfolk alongside a whole slew of bounce spells. In fact, blue has three ways to do this at common or uncommon: Run Aground, Perilous Voyage, and Depths of Desire!
When you’re learning about archetypes, it’s good to imagine the most focused versions, because that gives you a sense of what happens when everything works out perfectly. We all know that Draft hardly ever works out that way, and most U/G decks won’t be 15 Merfolk backed by 8 great noncreature spells. Blue provides some Pirates when you aren’t getting all Merfolk, but there’s not a huge payoff here at lower rarities. What you do get are evasive creatures that can help the aggressive starts. Storm Fleet Aerialist and Air Elemental are examples of generically powerful uncommons that can accomplish this goal.
Green provides more fat and Crash the Ramparts, which is a powerful pump spell, though more expensive than we’re used to paying. If the Merfolk angle isn’t firing on all cylinders, there are plenty of ways to play a slower game plan. Colossal Dreadmaw, Spike-Tailed Ceratops, and Thundering Spineback are a few examples of top end that pack a wallop. One downside is that the latter two can just be chump-blocked, but that’s where Crash the Ramparts comes in. If you’re feeling a bit more all-in you can just send the Dinos to the sky with One With the Wind. Spectral Flight ended up being quite good at times in Innistrad, and you can create some pretty scary Invisible Stalker flashbacks if you manage to put One With the Wind on Jade Guardian. Wheeeee hexprooooof! (Or ughhhh if you’re the opponent.)
G/B – Explore
One of the really strange things about this set is that two of the 2-color pairs aren’t part of the set’s color combination identity. G/B is the first of those, and U/W is the other. Neither have a gold uncommon and what’s unclear is how bad these color combinations will be. You don’t gain access to powerful multicolor cards or the majority of the set’s themes, but you still get decent cards in each color and from the looks of things, G/B looks totally playable. Time will tell.
About a week ago I incorrectly predicted that G/B would get an explore-based gold uncommon. But G/B still looks like it has a loosely connected explore theme, and you can bet that I’m going to try my best to build a great Lurking Chupacabra deck. Wildgrowth Walker and the Chupacabra are both quite powerful, and good reasons to stretch your deck to support them. Neither are particularly good in an average deck though, so you’ll really need to make sure you have enough actual cards with explore on them. That shouldn’t be too hard, because you aren’t burdened by tribal commitments like other color combinations. This lets G/B shift its focus to something entirely different and I’m hoping that this archetype is a cool midrange deck that uses these uncommon build-arounds, plus big spells that utilize the extra lands you’ll get from exploring.
W/B – Vampires
While G/B is a loosely defined archetype, W/B is about as forced as an archetype gets. Look at the creature type line. Is it a Vampire? Great! Draft it. Pirate? Eh, maybe a different deck. Anointed Deacon and Bishop of the Bloodstained are both the type of archetype cards that demand a critical mass of Vampires, but I think the tribe will consistently deliver on this promise. Deacon is especially going to overperform in my estimation because you can make attacks you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Combine that with the many lifelinking Vampires and you’ve got quite the common. Just imagine curving Call to the Feast into the Deacon. That’s a slow start, but a 10-point life swing on turn 5!
I had concerns with U/G that the Merfolk theme wasn’t deep enough for consistency, but that isn’t the case with W/B. There are 16 Vampires/Vampire generating commons and uncommons in color, which ensures that you’ll always be able drink your opponent’s blood. What do you do with all that extra life? Use it for great abilities! Glorifier of Dusk is a good example of this and plays a nice Air Elemental/Bitterbow Sharpshooters impersonation depending on how much life you want to pay. What’s cool is that I can easily think up board states where I want to use either one of the abilities, neither ability, or both. That means this is a very simple card with important strategic depth, or in other words, a fantastic card under New World Order.
W/R – Dinosaurs
W/R is the most aggressive of the three Naya Dinosaur 2-color pairs. The deck wants Dinosaurs to turn on its powerful Dino dependent starts, which usually involve Tilonalli’s Knight. But the white and red cards here are also just good Magic cards. You can have a very dense Dinosaur theme or a light one. Ultimately, what’s important is attacking early and often. One of the real payoffs for this go wide theme is Dinosaur Stampede, which obviously gets better the more Dinos you have, but is still a totally fine Trumpet Blast when you only have a handful in your deck.
Let’s take a look at Charging Monstrosaur for another example of W/R’s plan of brutal efficiency. The card is clearly Dinosaur themed, because it’s a giant monster turning sideways, but from a game play perspective it won’t always matter that it’s a Dino, especially in W/R. I think going deep on cards like Kinjalli’s Caller is a mistake here unless you have a lot of Dinos because you’ll have a 0/3 do-nothing sometimes, which is a total disaster in a W/R aggressive deck. Choose wisely how deep you want to go on Dinos from Draft to Draft, and we’ll see if my assessment of W/G or R/G Dinos is different next week.
U/R – Pirates
We once again have a straightforward tribal based archetype, and its level of synergy lands in between W/R’s Dino deficiency and W/B’s Vampire empire. Pirate’s Cutlass and Lightning-Rig Crew both care about Pirates but your deck can easily be composed of half Pirates and half other creature types and be totally playable. Raid is the predominant force here and that means Pirate-matters subthemes are secondary to a good curve. Siren Stormtamer’s Pirate-y nature is as important to its status as a 1/1 flyer for 1 mana. Imagine curving the Stormtamer into Storm Fleet Aerialist into Pirate’s Cutlass. You’ve dealt 6 damage by turn 3 and have 5 evasive power in the air! Pirate’s Cutlass is much better in the blue Pirate decks (so not R/B) because it will end up on a flyer much more often, but is a pretty reasonable card any time you have enough Pirates (my guess would be around 7-8 minimum—you really want the ETB trigger).
Normally these evasive style decks are interested in ground blockers and rely on evasive, incremental damage and possibly a key tempo spell to win a tight race. But this set is full of huge ground creatures, so I’m not sure if otherwise fantastic blockers like Sailor of Means will be as good as they look at first glance. On the other hand, Vampires and Pirates are both somewhat small, so the reality might be that they are sometimes great and sometimes horrible.
Additionally, high-toughness creatures are actually decent in raid-based decks because they can attack without fear of dying. Pirate decks present a polarized synergy because you are especially punished when you have an empty board. You can’t trigger raid and many Pirates care about a Pirate friend to battle with. If you prioritize curve, everything should work itself out.
Today we got a glimpse of all 4 tribes, plus the non-tribal G/B deck. I’m personally most excited for Dinosaurs in their various flavors because 1) Dinosaurs are just awesome, and 2) they’re the tribe I’m least sure about. There seem to be a lot of different directions you can go with them, and Dinos range from cheap to very expensive, so it might take more work to really craft the perfect Dino deck. That challenge is exciting to me. Next week I’ll cover the allied colors and touch on 3-color possibilities. Until then, happy prerelease!