Last season, powerful mythics such as Emrakul, the Promised End and Aetherworks Marvel dominated Standard, with few efficient answers to counteract them. We had no Pithing Needle, Rest in Peace, or other “hate card” to fight back. In the absence of good ways to interact with these powerful mythics, R&D was forced to issue multiple bans. These bans did make Standard more balanced, but it was sad that it had to come to that.
Given Standard’s rough year, I was glad to see a large amount of hate cards in Ixalan. By “hate card,” I broadly mean a card that is designed to fight a certain deck or range of decks. They act as safety valves on the format in case some strategy becomes dominant. As long as there are enough and sufficiently varied hate cards, strategies that aren’t fun cannot dominate Standard for a prolonged period of time. This means that the format has the ability to self-correct, allowing Standard to be dynamic without having to resort to bans.
So today I’ll go over the Ixalan hate cards that piqued my interest. The cards I am interested in are generally narrow but powerful answers, so although they could go in main decks if the metagame calls for it, they will typically reside in sideboards. I will review them for both Standard and Modern.
A Pithing Needle that allows you to look at your opponent’s hand is a nice combination of effects.
Standard: Sorcerous Spyglass is particularly good against Vehicles and planeswalkers, so it is a good sideboard card against a Mardu Vehicles deck with Heart of Kiran and Gideon of the Trials. It also takes away the most important ability of Gate to the Afterlife, which means that it can act as a sideboard card against God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. Flipping the tables, these graveyard-based decks could bring in Sorcerous Spyglass to counteract Scavenger Grounds, Crook of Condemnation, and Sentinel Totem. While there are applications against Temur Energy or R/G Pummeler (to weaken such creatures as Longtusk Cub, Whirler Virtuoso, Electrostatic Pummeler, or Bristling Hydra) or against Ramunap Red (to weaken Bomat Courier, Hazoret, Chandra, and Ramunap Ruins), I don’t think this will be worth spending a card on. After all, the creatures can still attack and trigger even if they lose their activated abilities.
Modern: It’s 1 mana more than Pithing Needle, which already doesn’t see much play. But Sorcerous Spyglass will rarely miss, and it is particularly good against fetchlands when you are on the play. You might not bring in Pithing Needle against a deck whose only nonland targets are Liliana of the Veil or Devoted Druid since there’d be a good chance they don’t have it, but if you could see what they have, you could just name a fetchland from their hand if they’re not holding the card you were boarding it in for. Likewise, if you brought in Sorcerous Spyglass against Affinity on the play, you could name Arcbound Ravager or Cranial Plating before they had a chance to use it, and with Inkmoth Nexus as a backup, you’d almost surely be able to name a key card from their hand. 2 mana may still be too much for a card that is not as impressive on the draw, but there is potential.
Ashes of the Abhorrent, Sentinel Totem, Deathgorge Scavenger
All of these cards could find a use against graveyard strategies.
Standard: The prime graveyard deck in the format is based around God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Ashes of the Abhorrent doesn’t do much against that deck, but Sentinel Totem seems powerful. It’s much more mana-efficient than Crook of Condemnation, so I expect Totem to replace Crook. Deathgorge Scavenger is the type of card that you can reasonably run in the main deck if God-Pharaoh’s Gift dominates, as it is a reasonably costed body with a relevant creature type that can provide incidental value against creatures like Earthshaker Khenra. But it is slower than a targeted hate card, and I think that Sentinel Totem is the best answer to God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks.
Modern: At first glance, Rest in Peace is more powerful than Ashes of the Abhorrent, and Tormod’s Crypt is more efficient than Sentinel Totem. But there may still be a use for Ashes of the Abhorrent because unlike Rest in Peace, it still allows you to exploit your own graveyard triggers. If you want to trigger your own Arcbound Ravager or Kitchen Finks but want to shut down an opposing Conflagrate or Past in Flames, then Ashes of the Abhorrent is worth considering. Finally, Deathgorge Scavenger is like Scavenging Ooze, but I think it’s worse because it’s far slower and not as good against Snapcaster Mage.
Tocatli Honor Guard
Standard: Tocatli Honor Guard could be a decent sideboard card against Temur Energy. It shuts down the triggers of Servant of the Conduit, Rogue Refiner, Whirler Virtuoso, and Bristling Hydra. As a result, Longtusk Cub will usually attack as a 2/2 and thus, unless they have Attune with Aether, Tocatli Honor Guard should be a good blocker for their 2-drop. Against R/G Pummeler, Tocatli Honor Guard can play a similar role. Against God-Pharaoh’s Gift, it can stop Minister of Inquiries, Champion of Wits, Trophy Mage, and Angel of Invention. Against Ramunap Red, it’s merely a vanilla 1/3 for 1W that weakens Earthshaker Khenra, but a cheap blocker is useful against them. Finally, against a Pirate deck with Kitesail Freebooter, Hostage Taker, and Dreamcaller Siren, Tocati Honor Guard may also be good enough. So it does something against most decks, and depending on the metagame you could run Tocatli Honor Guard in the main deck of a midrange strategy. You could even go deep by pairing it with Old-Growth Dryads and Exemplar of Strength, as your own detrimental triggers will be annulled as well.
Modern: Hushwing Gryff never saw much play even in a Chord of Calling deck because 3 mana was a lot for the effect. 2 mana is more appealing, but for the current metagame it still feels like a fringe option at best. I wouldn’t board this in if you could only stop Primeval Titan or Snapcaster Mage—it just doesn’t do enough if you’re only weakening four cards in your opponent’s deck. You could consider it against a deck that aims to get infinite life from Kitchen Finks—that’s where Torpor Orb shined—but usually they rely on Devoted Druid nowadays. Perhaps the best use may be against Eldrazi & Taxes, but it’s still not very exciting. I haven’t included Torpor Orb in my Affinity sideboard for a while because there aren’t many decks in the format that rely on creature triggers.
Spell Pierce and Duress
These are exciting reprints that can function as a check and balance for combo decks.
Standard: We used to pay 2 mana for these effects in the form of Lay Bare the Heart and Negate. They are still legal and slightly more reliable (despite Lay Bare the Heart now unable to snag a planeswalker) but I like the 50% discount. Spell Pierce and Duress are particularly good against expensive spells such as Fumigate or Approach of the Second Sun. In other words, against control decks that don’t swap out expensive spells for expensive creatures. Against Temur Energy or Ramunap Red, Spell Pierce won’t be very useful because you probably can’t counter Abrade from turn 4 onward. Moreover, most non-control decks only have around 10 noncreature spells, which means that Duress will often miss. So I’d view them as sideboard cards against control decks only. This is good news for mana bases with Attune with Aether or Commune with Dinosaurs, as they’ll stay “safe.”
Modern: Spell Pierce and Duress were already legal in Modern. Duress is usually deemed inferior to Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, but Spell Pierce is often played in Delver decks or sideboards.
This green card might become the bane of control players.
Standard: Carnage Tyrant cannot be answered by spot removal or countermagic, shrugs off Hour of Devastation, and beats Torrential Gearhulk in combat. It was clearly designed to keep control decks in check, particularly blue-red control, and it could even see main deck play if aggro decks aren’t popular. White-blue and blue-black control can still use Fumigate or Bontu’s Last Reckoning to deal with it, and blue-red should add Vizier of Many Faces to the board—yes, you can copy a hexproof creature—but if you catch a control opponent without the right answer, then Carnage Tyrant will quickly spell game over. Kudos to Zac Elsik for pointing out Vizier of Many Faces, by the way.
Modern: Carnage Tyrant costs a lot of mana, but it could still play a role as a 1-of in the sideboard of Summoner’s Pact decks against control decks.
And here is a way to punish your opponent from targeting your creatures.
Standard: To analyze Shapers’ Sanctuary, imagine a control opponent with 12 spot removal spells. If the game lasts until turn 7 or 8, then on average your opponent will have drawn 3 spot removal spells. In that case, Shaper’s Sanctuary is like a green Ancestral Recall. Since games after sideboard often slow down and become more grindy, that can easily be worth it. Nevertheless, I expect that Carnage Tyrant will be the anti-control card of choice for two reasons. First, most decks in Standard don’t run more than 8 targeted removal spells right now. Second, Shaper’s Sanctuary is a poor late-game topdeck. I should point out that Shaper’s Sanctuary also triggers when Earthshaker Khenra, Ahn-Crop Crasher, Glorybringer, or Walking Ballista targets your creatures. So depending on how they sideboard, it could work overtime as a sideboard card against Ramunap Red or B/G Energy.
Modern: Shaper’s Sanctuary could be considered against decks like Grixis Shadow or Jeskai Control, which often run 8 or more spot removal spells plus Snapcaster Mage and more targeted removal in the sideboard. In a creature-centric deck such as Affinity that often has to grind out opposing removal after sideboard, Shaper’s Sanctuary could provide a nice amount of value. But I wouldn’t know what to cut for it, which is an oft-seen problem in a format where sideboard cards tend to be extremely powerful.
With a reasonable body, good creature type, and multiple relevant abilities, Rampaging Ferocidon has it all.
Standard: If Anointer Priest/Crested Sunmare becomes popular, then this is the perfect hate card for your sideboard. You’ll also be happy to have it against Approach of the Second Sun, Whirler Virtuoso, and Angel of Invention. In other words, it does something relevant against most of the decks in Standard, and I can see it in the main deck of Ramunap Red. A downside is that against Fumigate, Rampaging Ferocidon will die before it can prevent the life gain. And against Abrade, Lightning Strike, or Harnessed Lightning you trade a 3-mana card for a 2 mana card.
Modern: It’s a nice effect to have access to, but it dies to Lightning Bolt for another unfavorable mana trade. Also, it doesn’t stop the Anointer Priest/Devoted Druid combo. So I don’t expect it to see much play, but it can still be boarded in against decks with Kitchen Finks and Lingering Souls if you have sideboard slots to spare.
Field of Ruin
This Wasteland variant can help answer powerful nonbasic lands.
Standard: Given that creaturelands rotated out, the most likely application is against the back side of the new double-faced cards such as Search for Azcanta or Legion’s Landing. These cards are powerful, and if you’re a control deck that aims to dominate the late game, you might need to stop activated abilities of the lands. Having a Field of Ruin or two in your mana base can accomplish that.
Modern: We already have Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge to stop Tron lands, but Field of Ruin doesn’t put you down a land, so it could be a superior option for mana-hungry decks. For instance, Jeskai Control decks that aim to activate Celestial Colonnade in the late game while keeping up Cryptic Command mana. These decks could even fix their mana via Field of Ruin.
All in all, I like having these safeguards around. Formats are more dynamic and balanced when every threat or strategy is answerable in some way. What’s more, many of these cards are excellent and creative designs. Good job R&D!