For Ixalan, I decided to do my own set review, but unlike LSV, I recorded mine as a video. All of my notes didn’t make it into the videos, however, so I’ve recorded them here for you. I will go through every card you could consider for Constructed, and give it a rating between 1 and 10. (The videos are coming soon.)
10 is basically an insane Constructed card like Tarmogoyf or Jace, the Mind Sculptor while 1 is literally unplayable. 5 is a medium Constructed card that might see play sometimes, such as Anticipate, while 3 and 4 might see some fringe play or might be a fringe sideboard card.
There are a ton of tribal cards in Ixalan, which are harder to rate because their playability depends on whether the tribe is good enough for Constructed play. I’m going to rate them under the assumption that the tribe is good enough for Constructed, but we’ll have to see if that actually turns out to be true.
Ashes of the Abhorrent
With Shadows over Innistrad, most of the graveyard interactions disappeared. Ashes works well versus eternalize cards, but there are too few of them being played. In Mono-Red, there’s Earthshaker Khenra and possibly Repeating Barrage, but Authority of the Consuls will still be a better sideboard against them. In Modern, I believe that Rest in Peace will be better most of time.
Together with Walking Ballista, this is a combo that adds tons of counters to your team. With Winding Constrictor, you can kind of go nuts. Whether it’s worth it or not we’ll see, but I don’t think Bellowing Aegisaur will be played anywhere outside of that.
There’s a notion that Vampires will be a viable aggressive strategy, but I just don’t see it. Lots of lists contain this card, but even if you’re diluting your deck with tons of Vampires, this isn’t a good rate. Overrated.
The same thing goes for Imperial Lancer as Duskborne Skymarcher. The difference, however, is that the Dinosaur tribe is interesting on power level, but going aggressive with them seems like a trap. Even so, this isn’t a good card regardless. Pass!
Most of time, Cast Out will be better because of its flexibility, but if there’s something you want to get rid of and it’s so dangerous that you can’t win with it on your opponent’s board, say The Scarab God, Ixalan’s Binding can hold off those for the foreseeable future. The chance to get a 2-for-1 (if they have another one their hand) bumps the rating up slightly.
Kinjalli’s Caller is interesting because it’s one of the first “mana Elves” in a while. But it’s fringe, because you need a ton of Dinosaurs to ramp into. The other issue is that you want to have the option to play Drover of the Mighty on turn 2, making the mana a bit tougher by having a white 1-drop. Any non-Dinosaur that costs 3-or-more mana makes this card a whole lot weaker. But it might block creatures from Ramunap Red without dying while producing mana, so it isn’t anything to scoff at.
Legion’s Landing is actually quite powerful. A 1/1 lifelinker for 1 mana isn’t really the greatest rate, but the possibility to get another land to ramp up as well as a land that produces a 1/1 lifelinker every turn is very appealing. This card naturally goes with Anointed Procession on both sides of the card as well as the cards that help trigger it. Casting this later the turn you attack with three creatures is a strong surprise play. Even drawing another one later is essentially free, even on mana cost, given that you can transform it right away. It can even produce two tokens by activating the land before replacing it. This could see play in Modern.
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
Mavren Fein is interesting, but there’s some clauses that create a lot of problems for itself. If the creatures could be anything and not only Vampires this would be interesting. It also doesn’t trigger Legion’s Landing, which might be the best Vampire card.
Priest of the Wakening Sun
Priest of the Wakening Sun might see fringe play in a Dinosaur ramp deck as a sideboard card. The gain life is the real draw to this card and if that isn’t good in the matchup, the card becomes terrible. Just make sure you play enough big Dinosaurs and don’t have targets for small creatures so that they keep in their early interaction. If so, this card won’t be as effective.
Settle the Wreckage
It’s difficult to decipher how good Settle the Wreckage actually is. It could be anywhere between unplayable, a good 1- or 2-of, or a sideboard card. When your opponent knows about it, it gets a lot worse, but since it goes well with Glimmer of Genius, it’s harder to see coming. It exiles cards like Hazoret and takes care of haste creatures, which is not something Wrath of God can do. It also plays well with Fumigate, since if they play around it, you can Fumigate the next turn after taking less damage.
No. Just no.
Tocatli Honor Guard
This might see play in older formats where the effect is detrimental. It could work in Collected Company decks in Modern, but be sure to play a version where you don’t have your own enters-the-battlefield triggers, such as Eternal Witness, Kitchen Finks or Thalia’s Lieutenant. This might even see fringe play in Death and Taxes.
Wakening Sun’s Avatar
8 mana is a hefty price to pay for any card, but if you’re playing a creature matchup where your opponent doesn’t have Dinosaurs and where you’re ramping as well as playing Dinosaurs of your own, this might be a decent top-end for a finisher.
Chart a Course
Not completley sold on this one. The power level is low and the stats aren’t great. Even as a 2/1 unblockable without paying for the ability plus the triggered ability, Daring Saboteur wouldn’t impress me.
Deeproot Waters is the Merfolk Oketra’s Monument. Sure, it doesn’t decrease the cost of the cards, but hexproof is a big deal. Since putting counters on creatures is Merfolk’s new thing, hexproof enhances the value quite a bit. What it comes down to is whether Merfolk is good enough and whether you can have enough card advantage and creatures triggering this multiple times.
Herald of Secret Streams
A fringe Merfolk option, but important against a ton of decks to be able to race them. This heavily depends on how good Merfolk is and how good it is to put counters on them.
Jace, Cunning Castaway
I believe Jace is a fantasic card. It’s a 3-mana planeswalker than can gain an advantage immediately and that has the possibility to get out of hand quickly with its ultimate. Unanswered for just a couple of turns, possibly with help of Skyship Plunderer, Jace, Cunning Castaway can be fantastic. Whether Jace is good or not will mostly come down how much early pressure from creatures there are in the format.
Kopala, Warden of Waves
A natural part of any Merfolk deck. Forcing your opponent to use their turn to deal with any Merfolk is a pretty good tempo play. This might even see play in Modern Merfolk as a replacement for Kira, Great Glass-Spinner.
Lookout’s Dispersal is the real deal. If Pirates is a thing, whether you play mono-Pirates or just a few, Lookout’s Dispersal is the best payoff for the archetype. Mana Leak had its way with Standard previously and we might see that again.
Opt is fantastic. It might be the best card in the set and it’s a common! Having Opt creates velocity, helping you find the early key spells or interaction that you need. The reason why it might see more play in Modern than Standard is because interaction in Modern is very cheap, but slightly conditional. It’s more about finding the right ones, so paying an extra mana is less of a problem. Modern is also full of powerful sideboard cards that almost win on their own, and having cheap ways to dig for them is huge. The only reason to play fewer Opts in Modern is because Serum Visions and Thought Scour exist, and you can’t fill your deck with too much air.
Just like every Merfolk in this set, this one depends on how good the tribe is, but also on how good Deeproot Waters is. The key to making River Sneak good is to have a lot of Merfolk coming into play every turn. It also works well with the +1/+1 counter theme.
Search for Azcanta
Search for Azcanta is a very interesting card. It wins attrition battles on its own when flipped and even before that it’s a fine card, fixing your draws. The only real drawback is that it’s legendary, and that it needs time to actually get the real advantage you’re looking for. If the format is too fast for the card, it should still see sideboard play. And who knows? Maybe this is good enough for Modern, at least as a sideboard card.
Siren Stormtamer kind of knits it all together in a Pirate deck. It makes Lookout’s Dispersal into a Mana Leak for turn 2, turns on raid, and protects important Pirates, such as Hostage Taker or Kitesail Freebooter.
Spell Pierce is, as it always has been, great. It will see Standard play especially in tempo decks, but mostly in the sideboard.
Spell Swindle is kind of awesome. It’s basically a Mana Drain where you can pick and choose when to use the mana, but for 5 mana. For a 5-mana coutnerspell to be good, it has to have some amazing effect, and the combination with Marionette Master for a kill out of nowhere might just do it.
Arguel’s Blood Fast
This might be okay as a sideboard card against control, but Duress will already take up a lot of those slots as it is. If there’s some kind of sacrifice deck with tons of life gain, it might want this, but most of those cards disappeared with the rotation. This will probably not see play.
For decks that don’t have the option for Negate or Spell Pierce, Bloodcrazed Paladin may serve as a way to combat wrath effects, which most likely leaves it as a sideboard card. Much like Arguel’s Blood Fast, it might be interesting in a sacrifice-themed Aristocrats deck, but it seems like a bit too much setup to be worth it.
Deadeye Tracker might’ve been an interesting sideboard card or main deck card in earlier Standard formats, but with Shadows over Innistrad block rotating, Standard doesn’t have as much going on in the graveyard as it used to, leaving poor Deadeye Tracker without a job.
Dire Fleet Ravager
Dire Fleet Ravager works best in a deck that looks to burn your opponent out, say R/B, with cards like Cut // Ribbons, Unlicensed Disintegration and Ramunap Ruins. But when you’re already R/B, it might be hard to compete with Glorybringer. If you’re looking to play it in U/B, say to take advantage of its creature type, it has to compete with the Scarab God. Neither of these cards are cards you want to start a power struggle with. The fact that it dies to a Glorybringer attack also worries me. Dire Fleet Ravager is powerful, but its competition might be its downfall.
Duress is a fantastic card. It’s been widely played ever since its first printing and in every single format as one of the best sideboard cards black has ever had. The fact that it’s a sideboard card gives it a bit less rating, but you will see a lot of this card in Standard.
Fathom Fleet Captain
Fathom Fleet Captain will only be interesting if it’s possible to build an aggressive Pirates deck with tons of 1-drops. I’m skeptical whether that’s possible, since both good 1-drops are in red and blue, meaning that it might be too tough on the mana. Without a 1-drop Pirate, Fathom Fleet Captain won’t be active until turn 4, which is a bit slow, and then the menace tends to get worse.
In comparison to Tidehollow Sculler, not being able to take any card is a huge deal. But flying trumps an extra power because you don’t want to trade with Sculler, often making it unable to attack or block. Another upside is that it’s a Pirate and a good way to turn on raid. The information you get also plays well with counterspells.
Ruin Raider, as a poor man’s Dark Confidant, is definitely real. Together with early evasive creatures, or in a low curve aggro deck, it gives you card advantage the turn you play it, and enables you to snowball. If Ramunap Red wasn’t such a big deal at the moment, Ruin Raider would have an even higher score.
Black finally having a way to exile creatures and deal with planeswalkers at instant speed is huge. You won’t be seeing too many of these in the main deck because of their hefty cost, but dealing with Chandra, Torch of Defiance or the Scarab God isn’t something black has been very good. To top it off, it’s great with Torrential Gearhulk.
Walk the Plank
Walk the Plank is a fantastic removal spell and will replace Grasp of Darkness nicely. Sure, it doesn’t kill Hazoret, Heart of Kiran, or Glorybringer at instant speed, but it does deal with large creatures, something that might be more important with the introduction of Dinosaurs.
Burning Sun’s Avatar
This Dinosaur means business, and it’s the perfect top-end for a midrange deck. Being able to deal damage to a creature as well as a planeswalker the same turn can lead to some big swings while leaving a huge body! The only thing keeping it from being a 7 is its hefty triple-red mana cost.
Captain Lannery Storm
Captain Lannery Storm is fantastic. It’s an aggressive, well costed creature that you can haste in for 3 damage on turn 3. If that’s not enough, it snowballs, creating more Treasures and synergies with revolt and artifact-matters cards.
Lightning Strike is a card I have fond memories of. It’s led me both to a Pro Tour win and a second-place finish elsewhere with its functional reprint Searing Spear. Lightning Strike is exactly what a red aggressive deck or an aggro-control deck is looking for. Instant speed and efficient.
Otepec Huntmaster is going to be good in a midrange Dinosaur deck with a maximum top-end of 6. Not aggro and not ramp. Most of the creatures in the aggro version are going to be too cheap to care about the cost reduction, and the ramp ones either already have haste or enters-the-battlefield triggers. If something like R/G midrange Dinosaurs is viable, the Huntmaster might see some play.
Rampaging Ferocidon is quite a good card, but it has some issues. First, it’s a 3-drop that doesn’t impact the board and dies to all of the 2-mana removal spells. Second, it gets overshadowed by Captain Lannery Storm and Ahn-Crop Crasher. The only place for it is one where you have tons of Dinosaur interactions, such as Savage Stomp, but not in the other aggressive red decks.
Repeating Barrage, while a bit overcosted for Standard, might prove to be a fine card against control decks. What I’m worried about is that the ability won’t come into play too often. It works well with haste creatures, but that’s an added cost to the original 5 to bring it back. The deck already has incidental burn in Ramunap Ruins, which might prove to be enough on its own.
Rigging Runner isn’t anything too impressive, but will serve well as a replacement for Falkenrath Gorger in Ramunap Red. Playing this means that you want to play as many 1-drops as possible to be able to go 1-drop and then double 1-drop with Rigging Runner as one of them. The one thing that makes it slightly worse is that it’s not a good turn-1 play.
While Rowdy Crew is card advantage and a fine creature when you hit the right cards, the downside is just too much for me. I believe this card will be a trap, and the options for 4-mana spells are already quite tight with Hazoret and Chandra, Torch of Defiance still around.
Sunbird’s Invocation is mostly a combo with Approach of the Second Sun, where it can win on the spot if you cast the first one and find another in the top 7 cards. It might also see fringe play as a sideboard card, just like Primeval Bounty did back in the midrange mirror as a permanent, hard-to-remove card that can destroy pretty much everything else.
Vance’s Blasting Cannons
Vance’s Blasting Cannons actually competes with Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The upside for the Blasting Cannon is that it can’t be attacked, meaning that on some boards, it will be superior to Chandra. The transformed version should easily close out the game quickly, much like Chandra’s ultimate. This seems like a fantastic card for Ramunap Red or U/R Prowess.
Carnage Tyrant is the new best tool for green decks against control. It single-handedly knocks U/R control our of the metagame, as it is unable to deal with the Tyrant. What’s nice about the card is that it has fantastic stats even as a main-deck card. The fact that it’s a Dinosaur is a cherry on the top.
Commune with Dinosaurs
Commune with Natu—no, I mean Ancient Stir—no, sorry, Commune with Dinosaurs is what keeps the deck together. It fixes your mana, fills your curve early, and finds the big bombs later. It’s not quite Ancient Stirrings because colorless cards are a whole lot more versatile than Dinosaurs, but in the Dinosaur deck, it will be just as good.
Deathgorge Scavenger plays fantastically with mana dorks. A turn-2 mana dork has a huge target on its head. Then Deathgorge Scavanger can come and get its trigger right away. But not getting counters, only +1/+1, diminishes the power of the Scavenger and makes it a whole lot less appealing. Another issue is that it has to attack to gain life, meaning that in the matchups where the life gain matters, you would rather block.
Deeproot Champion is interesting, but its abilities work toward different goals. +1/+1 counters is a theme for Merfolk, and that means you usually want to play a ton of other Merfolk. But when you’re playing a ton of other Merfolk, you can’t play too many noncreature spells to trigger it. I think that if you find Deeproot Champion in a shell, it will most likely be in a shell with tons of other spells, like the old Grow deck, together with cards like Cryptic Serpent or Enigma Drake.
Drover of the Mighty
Drover of the Mighty will be a part of every Dinosaur deck. For the aggro deck it’s fantastic because the 3/3 stats for 2 mana is already great without the mana ability. For the ramp deck, it of course ramps and fixes your mana.
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Growing Rites of Itlimoc can be powerful in the right shell, but the issue is finding it. It’s possible that the best place for it is in a token creature value deck where you have creatures such as Whirler Virtuoso and Pia Nalaar to flip it. Then you need mana sinks to use the mana, which might come from cards like Rhonas the Indomitable or Walking Ballista. Outside of Standard, you might see it in Modern Elves.
If Merfolk is a viable deck, I’d start with 4 of these. A 2/2 for 1 is just a good rate. It’s not Kird Ape, but then again it’s a Merfolk. It could even see play in Modern Merfolk if the deck wants to go a lot more aggressive with more 1-drops.
I could see Merfolk Branchwalker as a value creature to try to hit your land drops, similar to what Thraben Inspector did for the ramp deck, but I think that’s a bad place for it. Whenever you don’t hit a land off the explore, a 3/2 vanilla isn’t what you’re looking for in such a deck, even if it effectively scrys 1. But in Merfolk this card is great. It’s a fine 3/2 body and an important part of it being a 3/2 is that it has a counter on it, which works well with Merfolk synergies. Additionally, when you hit a land with it, it’s basically a Silvergill Adept, which is excellent.
Ranging Raptors is one of my favorite cards from the set and I wrote an entire deck guide about the card. This is the best and most efficient way to make the ramp Dinosaur deck tick and it works wonders with Savage Stomp especially, but also Magma Spray.
Ripjaw Raptor on its own is a fantastically costed card, a huge body that turns into a 2-for-1 or more. If not dealt with, its ability is even better than trample since you get to draw a card every time it gets chumped. It works well with Savage Stomp, cycles your removal, and survives both Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer.
Savage Stomp is what Dinosaurs’ Lookout’s Dispersal looks like. While a bit conditional, dealing with almost anything for 1 mana while growing your creature is a fantastic rate. It even triggers the enrage of both Ripjaw Raptor and Ranging Raptors. A must-include in a Dinosaur deck.
Shapers’ Sanctuary might see some fringe sideboard play, even in older formats where there’s more spot removal and fewer wrath effects. Dealing with this, for example in U/W/R Control in Modern, will be a nightmare.
Verdant Sun’s Avatar
Verdant Sun’s Avatar isn’t a fantastic card on its own, but as a role-player, hitting it off Gishath, Sun’s Avatar’s ability will help you close out the game immediately with the life you gain. Verdant Sun’s Avatar will only see play if Gishath turns out to be as good as it looks in Standard.
Vineshaper Mystic is pretty close to Rishkar, Peema Renegade. In the Merfolk deck, it might even be better, since it’s a Merfolk itself and isn’t legendary. But it doesn’t have quite the relevant mana producing ability that comes with Rishkar, Peema Renegade.
Admiral Beckett Brass
I wish this card was great, but I fear that Beckett Brass is a trap. To have three or more Pirates attacking for 1 turn is hard enough as it is, especially on turn 4. Beckett Brass is also all of the 3 Pirate colors, meaning that it will take a toll on your mana base to play her and I believe the Pirate deck won’t have many Pirates in it, making Admiral Becket Brass less effective.
Dire Fleet Captain
Dire Fleet Captain is only 2 colors but if I’m playing Pirates, I would want to play with most of the blue cards either way, making this a 3-colored card. This means that Dire Fleet Captain has the same issue as Admiral Beckett Brass and I’m not sure the payoff is worth it.
Gishath, Sun’s Avatar
If Ranging Raptors was the way to ramp in your Dinosaur deck, this is the reason to ramp at all. Gishath, Sun’s Avatar is a huge swing, most of the time completely taking over the board in one attack. Blocking this will be complicated for your opponent because they will have to figure what, for example, chumping 3 damage is worth against the odds of how many Dinosaurs are in those three cards. Worst-case scenario, Gishath dies to a removal spell or gets countered, but if not, it’s going to trade against a lot of resources or completely take over the game.
Hostage Taker is interesting and powerful. It’s similar to Sower of Temptation that saw some level of play, but it doesn’t give you the same tempo, given that you don’t get the creature right away. But if you don’t kill it, you may never get your card back. Whether Hostage Taker is a main deck or sideboard card depends on how creature-heavy Standard becomes.
Huatli, Warrior Poet
Huatli, Warrior Poet is in a weird spot. If you +2 it, it might not give you any value and you can’t protect her. If you make a Dinosaur, it could easily die to a Lightning Strike, or even worse, a Glorybringer. Not a huge fan.
Raging Swordtooth might see some play in Standard. The way it interacts with Ripjaw Raptor and Ranging Raptors is great and does curve well with them. Additionally, it has a decent chance of pinging down some Ramunap Red creatures, smaller Pirates, or Thopter tokens from Whirler Virtuoso, which isn’t something to scoff at!
Regisaur Alpha might be the best creature from Ixalan in a vacuum. It runs a tight race together with Carnage Tyrant and Ripjaw Raptor. Look at that—they are all Dinosaurs, making the first ability of the Alpha even better! Regisaur Alpha is on Glorybringer level and with that—there’s not much more I need to say.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge fan of Sky Terror because I think it might be difficult to build a good, aggressive Dinosaur deck. I also don’t think you can play Dinosaurs without playing green, meaning this is almost a 3-color card if you’re not looking to jam it into a red-white aggro deck.
Tishana, Voice of Thunder
Tishana, Voice of Thunder looks like a Commander card, but it does work quite well with Growing Rites of Itlimoc. Based on the mana and the deck design, you should have quite a few creatures out when Tishana hits the battlefield. This might be better than it looks!
Vona, Butcher of Magan
Vona, Butcher of Magan is a trap. While insane in Limited, it doesn’t protect itself or impact the board immediately. 4 toughness for 5 mana is an awkward spot in Standard with Glorybringers and Chandra, Torch of Defiance roaming around. Blood Baron of Vizkopa was at least quite hard to kill!
Vraska, Relic Seeker
I’m a bit more hopeful for Vraska, Relic Seeker. It doesn’t make a huge impact on the board once cast, the power level is similar to Sorin, Grim Nemesis, and it will most likely be played in similar shells. But with the board on parity, she threatens to ultimate rather quickly and it’s difficult to actually race her since she gains loyalty so quickly. If you manage to ultimate, I think you are about 90% to win the game, making Vraska more interesting.
I think Dowsing Dagger might be one of the most missed cards in the set. The key to playing Dowsing Dagger is to only play creatures with flying, making the Plants useless. Once you flip this on turn 3, it’s also really nice that you can play another spell, hold up a counterspell, etc. U/B Pirates with The Scarab God seems like a good place to start.
Fell Flagship is ideal for an aggressive Pirate deck, because it gives you a reason to play underpowered Pirates instead of other aggressive creatures.
Pillar of Origins
I think Pillar of Origins is a trap. In a Dinosaur ramp deck, you’d rather play regular good mana dorks for 2 mana since this is something you would want to have to dodge removal. The problem with that is that you are going to play into removal anyway, and the upside of having a 3/3 in Drover of the Mighty is much higher.
Maybe you’ll see this card in weird prison decks such as Lantern Control, where information and locking down certain cards is paramount. But I don’t think you’ll see it in Standard.
This is a fantastic way to win a control mirror from the sideboard, but nothing more. Too slow for any other matchup.
We’ve seen them them many times before, and these checklands are a whole lotter better than the battlelands that rotate out. Most decks that don’t run tons of fastlands and Aether Hub will run 4, and even those decks will run a few.
This is one of the few ways to make an aggressive tribal deck’s mana base work, but I’m skeptical. I believe this won’t be enough to fix the proactive version’s mana and power level regardless. But it’s a fine card, and you might see a few copies in the slower, theme-heavy versions.
As a few final words, if there’s a detail I definitely like with the Ixalan Constructed cards, it’s that it’s the rares that are pushed and not the mythic rares, similar to how it once was when cards like Empyrial Archangel and Godsire were mythic. They were big, splashy mythics and the rares were the pushed Constructed cards such as Ranger of Eos or Broodmate Dragon. This makes Standard a lot more attainable and when the mythics were the Constructed cards, they tended to get a bit too out of control and powerful, a nod toward a more healthy Standard format. There are tons of new, interesting deck ideas and things to do with Ixalan. All factors considered, I’m excited to play it myself!