The full Ixalan spoiler is finally out, and even if the final batch didn’t bring anything particularly exciting, we already plenty to think about.
The double-faced cards, and specifically the cycle of legendary enchantments, are perhaps the most intriguing cards in the new set—and some of the hardest to judge. Not only is their concept fairly new, but they are legendary permanents that flip into a different kind of legendary permanent, making the deck building experience even more challenging. While they seem playable, I’m excited to find out how good they really are.
It does seem like Wizards took every step to make sure they don’t get out of hand, though. They made each side legendary—they even printed Field of Ruin—but who knows? I’ve already heard multiple people call the blue, the white, and red ones the potential best cards in Ixalan. Let’s see if the hype is justified.
Arguel’s Blood Fast
I believe that Arguel’s Blood Fast was the first to be spoiled. The card might remind you of Greed, which was last reprinted in 7th Edition, and if my memory serves me right, didn’t see any played in Standard back then. Blood Fast is 2 mana cheaper, but also more expensive to activate. It also has the ability to flip into a land that might gain you some of the life back, and why not keep fueling a second Blood Fast?
My initial impression is that you will be hard pressed to maindeck such a card in Standard, especially if Mono-Red is still one of the top tier decks. But is it that bad against Red even if you’re playing a bunch of creatures? You might not get to draw a single card off it, but Blood Fast might enable something like a turn-5 Noxious Gearhulk and keep you out of range of their burn spells later in the game.
It could also be very powerful against control decks, backed up by something like Duress or Vraska’s Contempt for the few threats they have. Truth be told, when I started writing this article, I was planning on mentioning the card mostly as a sideboard threat against slow decks, having to compete with Sunset Pyramid or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, but I’m not so sure anymore and I could see starting at least 1 or 2 copies in some kind of Blue-Black Reanimator deck or in a White-Black or Black-Red Midrange deck. It could even find a home in Blue-Black Control if you’re desperate enough to save your Scarab Gods from potential Vraska’s Contempts or even Ixalan’s Binding.
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Growing Rites of Itlimoc was unveiled alongside Magic: The Gathering Arena and it struck me as borderline unplayable. For 3 mana, you get a worse effect than Commune with Nature or Oath of Nissa, so you really need to get value out of the flip side, at least some of the time. Having and keeping 4 creatures in play is no small task, and if that condition is met, you are probably in good shape anyways. And when you do manage to flip it, you need something to sink the mana into, meaning that you need to have enough cheap creatures to be able to flip it, as well as expensive spells to take advantage of Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun.
But the card might be a bit better than I give it credit for. You don’t necessarily need to get full value out of the Cradle part—maybe just an extra mana or two is enough to make it worth your while and some cards combine nicely with the green enchantment. Walking Ballista is a cheap creature, as well as a potential payoff card, the fabricate creatures are still around, and Sram’s Expertise could combine nicely to form the shell of a new W/G Tokens deck.
As far a Modern Elves go, I think the card is probably a bit too slow and expensive, but still worth a shot. It would obviously have been much better if it flipped as soon you had 4 creatures in play.
Search for Azcanta
Next up is Search for Azcanta. If the first two didn’t seem that great to me, the blue one definitely caught my eye. The enchantment side isn’t very powerful, even though by itself it’s already a cheaper Think Tank, which is a very good Limited card, but never saw any Constructed play.
The land side is really what it’s all about—you get to tap it, pay 3 mana, and Impulse for a noncreature, nonland card. It seems like the perfect fit for all of the control decks—a perfect 1- or 2- of that will provide you with a continuous flow of action cards in the late game (you’ll most likely be hitting over 90% of the time if you’re not playing too many creatures) while helping you out a tiny bit in the early game.
I’m guessing you’ll be able to flip Search on turn 6 or 7 if you’ve just cast it, and maybe as soon as turn 4 or 5 if you played it on turn 2. It looks great on paper, and it will most likely perform in slow matchups, but I’m still a bit skeptical about how the card will play out against aggressive strategies. If you’ve played control in Standard recently, you know that you can’t afford to have too many “bricks” in your hand against a deck like Red or Temur Energy, and usually need to curve out with removal spells and counterspells until you drop The Scarab God or a Torrential Gearhulk, so it’s unclear how many copies of Search for Azcanta you’ll be able to fit into your deck.
I also wonder if the blue legendary enchantment is really what a control deck like blue-black is looking for. You already have a less clunky card advantage engine with Glimmer of Genius and Gearhulk, as well as what might be the best mana sink in the format in the form of The Scarab God. It’s possible that the card will be too good in certain matchups to pass up, but that you’ll pay for it against the aggro decks. I have mixed feelings about it in blue-black, but it might truly shine in the Approach of the Second Sun decks. Not only are you creatureless so that it will be virtually impossible to miss, but the ramp and the Impulse effect will be at their best with the deck’s namesake card.
If the God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck is still around, there is a small chance Search that could fit there. I know the synergy isn’t great with the land side, since you’re playing mostly creatures, but the filtering effect of the enchantment is nice, the deck won’t hate having the extra mana to hardcast Gift or eternalize a Champion of Wits, and it could be part of a solid sideboard plan against control, helping you find a steady stream of Gate to the Afterlife and counterspells.
The white one brought something new, since Legion’s Landing affects the board the turn it comes into play and drawing multiple in the first few turns of the game isn’t useless, although probably not ideal. Just like the green one, it won’t be easy to flip, the land side might not have a high enough impact to make it worth playing a 1/1 lifelink for 1. If you can flip it against a control or a midrange deck full of spot removal, you might be in business, especially if you can back it up with cards like Cast Out for their relevant threats. Westvale Abbey was hard to deal with for typical control decks and they will probably struggle with Adanto, the First Fort as well.
People seem to have really high hopes for the card, but I’m not sure that Legion’s Landing will see much play—at first, anyway. While some of the new Vampires look interesting, I don’t think the quality is high enough yet and your heavy-hitters like Vona, Butcher of Magan and Sanctum Seeker match up poorly against Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer, and offer no value if they get removed right away by a Vraska’s Contempt or a Harnessed Lightning. You could maybe try and build a Vampire deck around Dusk // Dawn and Oketra’s Monument, but once again, I don’t think you’ll be a match for what the rest of the format offers.
I’m not too sure what other deck Landing could find a home in. Maybe as a 1- or 2-of in Vehicles or maybe in Sam Black’s White-Black Token deck. Those decks, as well as most white decks, have one thing in common—they all suffer terribly from the loss of Thraben Inspector (as well as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar).
I kind of wanted to add blue for Cloudblazer and more sideboard options, but I don’t know if the deck needs or wants it, and if it’s worth hurting your mana base. If you wanted to add the gold flyer, you could go something like -1 Sacred Cat, -1 Bishop’s Soldier, -1 Crested Sunmare, -1 Aethersphere Harvester.
Vance’s Blasting Cannons
Last, but surely not least, we have Vance’s Blasting Cannons, an Outpost Siege-like card. The front part is fairly similar to the Khans mode of the Fate Reforged enchantment except that you can’t play lands you reveal, which is obviously a real negative. If you ever get to cast 3 spells in the same turn, you can opt to flip it and get a land that dishes Lightning Bolts, which is deece.
Outpost Siege was mostly a sideboard card for attrition matchups, and it will be interesting to see if Cannons has what it takes to be a main deck staple. Hazoret, the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are both premium red 4-drops and while Cannons might not be able to compete with the pair of mythics for the slots in Ramunap Red, it might be a very good option for some kind of midrange black-red deck, for instance. Its most obvious perk, like all enchantments, is that it is fairly removal-proof and can let you run away with the game if you can protect your life total long enough. As opposed to the other four, I could see a Standard deck maindeck the full 4 copies, even though you’ll probably want to run a mix of Cannons and Chandras. At the very least, Vance’s Blasting Cannons will probably show up in a lot of Temur Energy, Ramunap Red, and proactive red decks’ sideboards.
Grixis Tap Out Control
I did scribble a bunch of other deck lists while writing this, but nothing I felt worthy of sharing. They either looked terrible or were the obvious blue-black control lists minus two cards and plus two Search for Azcanta, but share your own first brews in the comments!
I can’t wait for the set to be out so that I can try all of the new cards and find out how right or wrong I am. As usual, let me know what you guys think!