The full previews of Rivals of Ixalan are out, and like you I was excited leading up to this set. The energy mechanic has plagued Standard for a while now, and I was really hoping the tribes would come together and give us something new to look forward to. With Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan featuring Modern I’ve mostly focused on that, but I couldn’t help thinking about a few tribal decks…
The first thing I did to build a Merfolk deck was add 4 Merfolk Branchwalker and 4 Jadelight Ranger. Jadelight Ranger seems like an awesome new Merfolk that will provide either a large body or some value. What I realized while sifting through Merfolk was that you weren’t going to win by grinding down an opponent with explore triggers and medium-sized creatures. The archetype plays at sorcery speed, so loading your deck with counterspells doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. What Merfolk can do is go wide and go big, and draw a ton of cards. That is, if your draw comes together right and you have time.
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca both provides a draw engine and a way to pump your team. This card is so important to this specific build that it might be worth playing a couple copies of Blossoming Defenses. Deeproot Waters is your other huge payoff to stay tribal and keep a high creature count. Ideally, you’ll be casting Deeproot Waters on turn 3, and adding Kumena to the battlefield later to both get the trigger and to make sure you get some value out of Kumena before it dies.
Metallic Mimic, Deeproot Elite, and of course Merfolk Mistbinder are also part of the lord package for this deck. These are the cards that will allow you to grow your tiny creatures into large threats and hopefully go wide or big enough to punch through. This isn’t the kind of deck you’re going to get to attack with a lot in the middle turns of the game. You’re mostly going to attack on empty an battlefield, and get caught in a board stall while hopefully adding to your board and making a bunch of large threats.
The 1-drops are pretty weak overall. Kumena’s Speaker is solid but both Jade Bearer and Mist-Cloaked Herald are obviously weak cards. These cards do play a role in that you want to load up your deck with 1-drop Merfolk because of both Deeproot Waters and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. Adding more Merfolk to the battlefield will allow you to draw more cards, create more Merfolk, and essentially go off.
This deck looks really fun and exciting to play, but I’d be surprised if something like this was top tier. I am hopeful and definitely excited to give it a try as it looks like a lot of fun when you get to combo off.
The sideboard is just a collection of cards to interact with the opponent on whatever axis they’re fighting you on. If they’re trying to beat you with Glorybringers and The Scarab God, you probably want some Essence Scatters to keep them in check. If they’re bringing in sweepers, bring in Negate and Spell Pierce. River’s Rebuke is expensive in a deck with few lands, but it’s strictly for a matchup like the mirror where both players are going big, the game goes long, and you need a way to punch your creatures though. Tempest Caller is also a cheaper way to do this with less utility, so maybe that’s a possibility.
When building a Pirate deck, I ended up on good ol’ Ramunap Pirates. Ramunap Red’s biggest issue was that it had really weak 1-drops after Bomat Courier. Soul-Scar Mage just didn’t fit the bill. Daring Buccaneer may be the 1-drop the deck needs, but it does require building the deck differently.
I’ve added twelve 1-drops to the deck with Rigging Runner, Fanatical Firebrand, and of course Daring Buccaneer. This should allow the deck to empty its hand early and often. One issue this deck could have is casting two spells on turn 2 occasionally because of the Sunscorched Deserts. Occasionally it will be correct to play a red 1-drop on turn 1 and then Bomat Courier on turn 2 off of the Sunscorched Desert. The power level of these 1-drops is really low, so the deck will really be leaning on Hazoret the Fervent to close out games.
Dire Fleet Daredevil looks like an awesome card for this deck. It reminds me a lot of Abbot of Keral Keep. It can be a bad-but-serviceable turn-2 play and gets better and better as the game goes on. You may say, “But Siggy, you can’t get a land with it!” but then I’d ask you when was the last time was your opponent didn’t have Attune with Aether in their graveyard. You’d smile, and that would be that. Dire Fleet Daredevil is also a Pirate that you’ll hold in your hand for an optimal time to use it, allowing you to play cheaper Daring Buccaneers later.
I’ve cut cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Ahn-Crop Crasher, and Rampaging Ferocidon for 1-drops, which reduces the average converted mana cost. This means that Hazoret will be attacking more often the turn you cast it, which is a nice plus. I’d love to include Rowdy Crew because I like the card, but Hazoret and Chandra still rule the 4-drop slot.
The sideboard is just a typical Ramunap Red sideboard. Nothing new and exciting to add, so I chose to keep it simple.
Trying to build a Pirate deck was frustrating and it’s hard to even consider this a Pirate deck. I tried to build B/R Pirates and I found that the mana was just too bad, which was discouraging. Two comes-into-play tapped dual lands in a deck that wants to curve out was bad, and using Unclaimed Territory made it so that I could no longer reliably cast removal spells. This is what I’d start with right now if I were testing some of the new Mono-Red Pirate cards, specifically Daring Buccaneers and Dire Fleet Daredevil.
B/W Vampires has the luxury of having a fastland, but again, it’s going to rely heavily on Unclaimed Territory. Forsaken Sanctuary isn’t great in a deck with so many 1-drops, but you have to work with what you have.
Vampires seems like it’s close. It’s in a color combination with no shortage of removal, it has high-powered tribal payoffs like Sanctum Seeker and Mavren, Fein Dusk Apostle, and great sideboard options like Duress. But again, the mana is just a huge issue right now with only one dual land that can be used to cast spells outside of Forsaken Sanctuary.
I initially built this deck with Fatal Pushes main deck, saw I only had 12 or 13 sources of black, and thought that it might be better to just build it like Merfolk, leaning on synergies and lord effects.
Legion’s Landing is one of the best 1-drops in the format, and you get a few other acceptable 1-drops in Vicious Conquistador and Skymarcher Aspirant. Duskborne Skymarcher is interesting and may be better than I think, so it’s possible that you want to fully load up on the evasive 1- drop instead of playing something like Vicious Conquistador, or over something else higher on the curve.
As for the lack of removal, I think that it’s highly possible you should just be maindecking a couple of Bishop of Binding. The deck already has a bunch of lightning rods for removal, so it’s much more likely that Bishop of Binding will not be as big a liability as it feels like it could be as a 4-mana 1/1. If it survives a turn or two after casting, it may be enough to take over a game. It is an especially weak card, unfortunately.
The sideboard is a bunch of wish list cards that I hope I can cast when I need to, but as I’ve been saying, I’m not confident that these mana bases can support spells. Gideon is to swap for Radiant Destiny against decks with sweepers, as you’ll be left with a threat at least instead of a card buffing your non-existent creatures.
Profane Procession seems interesting against high-curve midrange range decks. If you can slip it in on an empty board it becomes really difficult for them to keep slamming Glorybringers into open mana. It may be too expensive, but it’s a card I want to try.
This archetype has access to good cards, but the big issue is a very shaky mana base.
Here is what I came up with for a R/G Midrange Dinosaur deck list. This deck has much better mana than the other 2-color tribal decks because it doesn’t need to rely on Unclaimed Territory at all. Thunderherd Migration and Commune with Dinosaurs allow you to play a heavy-green mana base to find red sources and help with consistency. This deck only has Commune with Dinosaurs as a turn-1 play, so it actually doesn’t mind playing its first land tapped and then playing smoothly from there. A deck like this will also be prone to flooding like a typical ramp deck, so cycling lands are excellent later with the left over mana.
In addition to Thunderherd Migration, you get Drover of the Mighty as a high upside mana creature that can both smooth your mana and becomes an actual threat as a 3/3 when you no longer need it for mana. Otepec Huntmaster brings a little more redundancy to your ramp, and provides haste to creatures like Carnage Tyrant and Ripjaw Raptor, and Regisaur Alpha itself. The reason I don’t want a full 4 is that a lot of your creatures actually have haste or may end up gaining it from Regisaur Alpha. It’s possible that it’s just great and you should cut a land for another, I’m pretty conservative with 22 lands with Commune with Dinosaurs, and more ramp and mana producers.
This deck has access to some pretty efficient removal in Savage Stomp and Reckless Rage, and gets to benefit from triggering enrage with both of these 1-mana removal spells, which is why I included Ranging Raptors—you can play it turn 3 with a mana up fairly often and use one of these spells to kill a creature and get another land, giving you a huge tempo advantage for your fatties to follow up the turn after.
Ripjaw Raptor, Charging Monstrosaur, Carnage Tyrant, and of course Regisaur Alpha are your premier threats. Burning Sun’s Avatar is solid against creature decks, it’s probably the next big threat I’d add if it turns out that I want one less land or mana creature in this deck.
If the mana works well enough, I’d consider adding white to include some of the higher-end white Dinos like Trapjaw Tyrant or Gishath, Sun’s Avatar. Trapjaw Tyrant is awesome with the enrage-friendly removal spells. Wakening Sun’s Avatar is also a thought, but requires you to go down a heavy-white path, which is certainly possible with how good the mana is in this deck. You have options like Gift of Paradise if you need them as well. That’s a much different deck, though.
What I also like about Dinosaurs is that you get some built-in Dino sideboard cards you can dig up with Commune. Playing against tokens? You can find Rampaging Ferocidon or even Raging Swordtooth. God-Pharaoh’s Gift? Thrashing Brontodon and Deathgorge Scavenger are at your disposal. This also means that your synergy cards will remain at full functionality after sideboarding. You don’t have to worry about taking out Ranging Raptors for Deathgorge Scavenger and your Savage Stomps getting worse.
Dinosaurs has a bunch of different directions it could go, and to me it’s the most interesting tribe in Ixalan block. Pirates is also a 3-color tribe, but doesn’t have access to a card like Commune with Dinosaurs to make it fluid and consistent like Dinosaurs can be.
These rough drafts are not perfect, but I figured out when building them why Standard may be in some trouble. Looking at the tribal decks, the power level is low in comparison to other current Standard decks and the mana isn’t nearly as good. I’m limiting myself to not only a specific tribe to play a lot of these cards, but I’m also limiting myself in spells I can play, because the dual lands either don’t match what the tribe wants to be doing, or because Unclaimed Territory is essential to curving out efficiently with these decks. It also makes it more difficult to cast any noncreature spells.
You can point to energy and see how perfect the mana is. You can go digging for off-color spells whenever you’d like. Want Vraska, Relic Seeker and The Scarab God? Sure. Meanwhile I’m having difficulty putting Fatal Push in my 2-color black decks. Sure, that’s a problem, but even with a major banning of an energy card, traditional Ramunap Red, Torrential Gearhulk decks, and Anointed Procession decks will dominate Standard. My expectations for Standard to change before rotation are pretty low. I do think these tribal decks will be a lot of fun, and hopefully after additional sets or rotation, these types of decks will also be competitive.
What tribal deck are you most interested in trying? Do you think tribal decks will be able to compete with Energy or other decks in Standard?