I felt like it took forever to finally release the full spoiler of Ixalan. I had been eagerly awaiting seeing the complete card list to see if any of the tribal synergies panned out into something special. At first glance, the tribal decks all look like they may be short on pieces that will hopefully bet filled in Rivals of Ixalan. I could be wrong—I haven’t had the opportunity to put any of these tribes to the test yet—but my hopes aren’t too high.
Ixalan is a medium power level set, but looks weak in the wake of the past two years of Standard, where we had several bannings before the format felt balanced. But the set does have a pretty flat power level, which is a breath of fresh air for Standard.
After checking out the spoilers, this is my list of Top 10 cards in Ixalan for Standard. My methodology was a mix of how much we’ll see certain cards, combined with its overall power level.
10) Captain Lannery Storm
Lannery Storm has the ability to ramp you into 5-drops such as Glorybringer, and helps with the “artifacts matter” themes from Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. Spire of Industry, Toolcraft Exemplar, and any card with improvise will get benefits from just a single piece of Treasure sitting in play. After all of that, Lannery is also a Pirate, which can make it another important role player in an R/B Pirate Aggro deck. I expect to see a fair amount of Captain Lannery Storm in these decks, and in fact, it was the first card I preordered.
9) Spell Pierce
Spell Pierce is mostly a sideboard card, but it will have a ton of applications against control decks, or midrange decks using planeswalkers for their top end. By itself, the card makes it a wise decision to keep your top end loaded with creatures instead of expensive planeswalkers. Cards like Vraska, Relic Seeker and Pull from Tomorrow become much worse if every blue deck has access to Spell Pierce after sideboarding. It will also be effective in blue creature decks against sweepers like Hour of Devastation or Fumigate. I expect to see Pierce in most blue decks’ sideboards until it rotates out of Standard.
8) Lightning Strike
Some might be surprised to see Lightning Strike this low on the list. This was a card I saw so many people excited about, and it would likely be higher on the list if it weren’t for two other cards: Harnessed Lightning and Abrade. Lightning Strike is going to be played when direct damage to the player is important to your deck’s game plan. Decks like Ramunap Red will make great use of this card, whereas other decks will prioritize being able to remove artifacts with Abrade, and larger creatures with Harnessed Lightning. Even Cut // Ribbons competes with Lightning Strike in decks that can produce black mana.
Despite all of that, Lightning Strike is going to be one of the major reasons why Ramunap Red won’t miss a beat after rotation, which makes it one of the more important cards in the set for Ixalan Standard.
7) Ripjaw Raptor
Ripjaw Raptor is the same size and cost as Siege Rhino, with a potentially important creature type. Let’s be real, though—Ripjaw Raptor is no Siege Rhino, but it is only one color, giving it the flexibility to appear in many midrange green decks.
Ripjaw Raptor is the right size to avoid dying to Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and plays well alongside a premium green mythic rare, Rhonas the Indomitable. It will also net you a card when chump-blocked by a Whirler Virtuoso’s Thopter token or when you ping it with your own Walking Ballista. With red seeming to be one of the strongest colors in Standard moving forward, the enrage ability to draw a card will come up against all of the removal spells red has to offer, and will also punish a Ramunap Red player trying to swing smaller creatures into it for extra damage.
I think we’ll see plenty of Raptors in the future of Ixalan Standard.
Finally. Duress is probably one of my top 10 favorite cards in Magic. I truly believe this card should be an evergreen staple in Standard as a check and balance for broken noncreature-based combo or synergy decks that could exist within the format.
While I would have loved to have Duress during the reign of Aetherworks Marvel, it’s never too late. Duress will be a staple sideboard card in every black deck for its duration in Standard, and will likely work its way into some main decks at some point depending on the texture of the format. Transgress the Mind was simply too slow because of its heavier mana requirement and card selection limitations, and all we were left with was Lay Bare the Heart, which got a big downgrade now that it’s not even able to take a planeswalker.
Duress can cleanly let you play only 1 mana behind on your curve, allowing you to cast it and take an answer for your threat before you deploy it that same turn, and then hopefully win with whatever threat you land. I am so excited to dust off my Urza’s Saga copies and cast them again.
5) Vraska’s Contempt
A lot of people are lower on this card, likely because we’ve had versions of this in the past. Cast Out is similar to Vraska’s Contempt, but it does have the liability of sitting on the battlefield, making it weak to enchantment removal or other copies of Cast Out. Utter End saw play in smaller numbers as a 4-mana card that exiled any nonland permanent.
Why do I think Vraska’s Contempt will be better? Well for one, we have a glaring hole in black’s removal suite at the moment. Grasp of Darkness left black mages without a cheap way to kill Hazoret the Fervent, and while Vraska’s Contempt is more expensive, life gain will go a long way. I expect to see an uptick in Gods played in Ixalan Standard, especially with the rise of The Scarab God, and Vraska’s Contempt gives you a clean way to answer them.
The number one reason why I think Vraska’s Contempt will have a big impact on Standard though is that it’s got a new best friend in Torrential Gearhulk. Torrential Gearhulk hasn’t had a Hero’s-Downfall-type effect in Standard alongside it, unless you count To the Slaughter, which I don’t. The first cast of Vraska’s Contempt may be overpriced, but once you consider that you can flash it back with Gearhulk, the additional life and utility really starts to matter. Contempt’s biggest flaw is that some midrange decks may not need to play at instant speed, and opt for the cheaper and more flexible Never // Return. I still think you will be seeing a lot of these alongside Torrential Gearhulk as Standard takes shape.
4) Search for Azcanta
This is the first card of the transform cycle on my list. The front of Search for Azcanta as a 2-mana enchantment is lackluster. It provides you with the ability to scry in your upkeep by giving you the option of milling your top card. The card itself, however, heavily incentivizes you to mill the card in order to flip the Search to Azcanta into an extra land that can Impulse every turn or give you an extra land a turn earlier.
The flip side, Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, is a finisher in and of itself. The snowball effect of using a land to find additional spells will make it easy to eliminate all of your opponent’s resources and leave you able to win with basically any threat. This is a 2-mana, one-card investment that generates a huge amount of inevitability on its own. I think Search of Azcanta will see a ton of play in control decks and even midrange decks that have enough noncreature spells to power the land’s activated ability.
3) Legion’s Landing
Another transform card takes the number 3 spot. Legion’s Landing is similar to Kytheon, Hero of Akros. You get a 1/1 lifelink Vampire token, which can attack with two other creatures to create an additional land as early as turn 3. Cast Legion’s Landing on turn 1, follow it up with two more 1-drops or a single Servo Exhibition, and you can then swing in and have 4 mana available on turn 3.
Legion’s Landing creates exciting deck building choices, and I think the decks it does end up in will be powerful enough to compete.
2) Regisaur Alpha
This was a tricky one for me to evaluate. I don’t know if putting Regisaur Alpha at number two is fair because it actually might not see much play at all, competing with cards like Verdurous Gearhulk and Glorybringer in its colors. One thing is for sure though—this Dinosaur is pushed.
7 power for 5 mana spread out across two bodies, three of which have haste. This card lines up against spot removal well, and the second copy is even better than the first as all of the Dinos will be able to attack immediately. I feel like this card was intended to be one of the best cards, if not the best card, in the set. And in a world where Glorybringer didn’t exist, I’d be a lot more excited to see it.
If a Dinosaur deck becomes viable, Regisaur Alpha will be the centerpiece of that deck, and if not, I think you will still see splashes of Regisaur Alpha outside of Dinosaur decks as just an efficient 5-drop option.
1) Carnage Tyrant
Carnage Tyrant, in my opinion, is king of the Dinosaurs. I’m excited to cast it, but not too excited to play against it. Nearly impossible to interact with, Carnage Tyrant will give control decks and other midrange decks fits. Hexproof is one of the most annoying abilities to play against, and the fact that it’s uncounterable makes it that much worse.
I suspect you’ll see a lot of it in sideboards, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the main deck of Dinosaur decks filled with cards like Otepec Huntmaster and Drover of the Mighty, along with its number two, Regisaur Alpha.
Carnage Tyrant’s existence forces control players to play an answer to the card in their 75. In fact, before seeing the Tyrant, I was pretty excited about the prospects of U/R Control losing basically nothing but Wandering Fumarole, but its existence almost makes that deck unplayable.
Carnage Tyrant is my favorite card, and my pick for most powerful card in Ixalan.
It was pretty difficult to pick 10 cards for this set as my top 10. I had a bunch of other cards on the list: Hostage Taker, Vance’s Blasting Cannons, Walk the Plank, Ruin Raider, and Ixalan’s Binding. All of these are cards I find interesting and that I think will see a fair amount of play in Standard.
What card isn’t on this list that you think should be? Let me know in the comments below!