Ali’s Top Ten

Rivals of Ixalan is right around the corner! In fact, you may be playing in your pre-release later tonight or maybe you’re checking this article out at your pre-release (winning!) Well, you’re going to want to know what cards out of this set will be impactful for Standard. Luckily, I’ve made a top ten list of cards I believe will impact Standard. Keep your eyes peeled for these cards, you may want to trade for some after reading this article. These are the cards that are in my top ten list, I’m a little biased toward big spells. Don’t worry, I will also list cards at the end that should see play.

You ready?

Let’s go!

10. Nezahal, Primal Tide

Nezahal, Primal Tide

Nezahal, Primal Tide is a powerful card. It’s uncounterable, it’s big, and it’s hard to kill permanently. This reminds me of Pearl Lake Ancient, but instead of having to return three lands to your hand, you can discard three cards to blink it. Nezahal also has built in ways to provide card advantage and protect itself. Whenever your opponent casts a noncreature spell, you’ll draw a card. This will give you card advantage or fuel to make sure Nezahal doesn’t die. Nezahal would be solid in a control deck or a reanimator deck. The only thing holding this Elder Dinosaur back is Torrential Gearhulk and Ravenous Chupacabra. Gearhulk doesn’t require you to tap out to put a threat on the table and Ravenous Chupacabra is one of the few ways you can try to kill Nezahal without the controller of Nezahal drawing a card to fuel its blink ability.

Nezahal may not shine right away but it is a very powerful finisher. It might sleep in the shadows of Torrential Gearhulk but when Gearhulk rotates, he will wake up.

9. Curious Obsession

Curious Obsession

This one might seem a bit odd, but Curious Obsession is my pick for 9th best card in Rivals of Ixalan. Curiosity is decent enough but it’s not quite enough on its own. Now also pumping a creature while you’re at it, and you’re getting somewhere. Pair that with Blue having access to twelve unblockable creatures and all the sudden the drawback of having to attack every turn isn’t so bad. When you put Curious Obsession on River Sneak, Mist-Cloaked Herald, or even Slither Blade you’re putting a lot of pressure on your opponent to deal with your unblockable creature as well as presenting a clock. Back this up with some Blossoming Defense, Dive Down, then put it into a nice {U}{G} Energy Pummeler Shell and you’re going places. I’m thinking about something like this.

In the Sideboard, you can play some number of Rogue Refiners, Aethersphere Harvesters, or Nissa, Steward of Elements for some lifegain or to grind even more. I’d also pack some number of Negates to combat Approach decks.

8. Azor, the Lawbringer

Azor, the Lawbringer

Speaking of powerful control finishers, we have Azor. Azor suffers the same problems as Nezahal, but he’s still a solid finisher and one of the best cards to untap with. I like Azor in Approach decks, even if he’s just in the Sideboard. People will usually keep in Abrade against {W}{U} Approach to kill Torrential Gearhulk/Regal Caracal out of the Sideboard. Your opponent will be surprised when you play Azor, and the Abrade will rot in their hand. What deck could possibly like lifegain and cards more than Approach? Azor does all that for the Approach decks and is also a solid alternate win condition.

7. Mastermind’s Acquisition

Mastermind's Acquisition

At seven we have Mastermind’s Acquisition. On the surface it appears just as a slightly better Diabolic Tutor, but it’s so much more than that. You see, Diabolic Tutor is okay for Standard. Sometimes it will see fringe play and other times it won’t see any play. So, it’s on the cusp so to speak. Mastermind’s Acquisition is a slight push and I believe it will be enough. The home for this card is going to be some sort of grindy midrange deck or as a singleton in a control deck.

This card allows you to play things like Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, Hour of Revelation, Golden Demise, Silent Gravestone, Boneyard Parley, Arguel’s Blood Fast, River’s Rebuke, Vraska, Relic Seeker, Regal Caracal, and more. All these cards can be extremely backbreaking in the right scenario, but you can’t always play them main deck because they might cost too much or they’re too narrow. Now you don’t have to, you can just have a handful of them in your sideboard to wish for. Mastermind’s Acquisition doesn’t exile itself like “wishes” of the past. So, if you have a way to return cards to your hand, say with something Wildest Dreams, you can get it back along with whatever else you want from your graveyard. I would start with a {B}{G}{X} shell that just had a lot of removal / hand disruption and jam 2-4 Mastermind’s Acquisitions. That way when the time is right, I could tutor for whatever I wanted.

6. Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Ghalta is a huge creature with an equally large mana cost. Big, Green creatures aren’t enough since you can just chump block them. Well, not with Ghalta. She has trample and will eat your face off if you try to chump block her. The best part about Ghalta? You don’t even have to play her in a ramp or a dinosaur deck. You can just play her. All she cares about is the total power of all creatures you control. You can put her out on turn four with Drover of the Mighty on turn two, turn three Ripjaw Raptor (or any dinosaur with 4+ power), then turn four summon Ghalta.

You could even play her in your Mono-Green midrange deck. Just play Scrapheap Scrounger on two, on 3-drop Rhonas the Indomitable, then turn four you got yourself a Ghalta. She could even fit into an Electrostatic Pummeler deck. Being a 12/12 with trample and then being able to fit into almost any Green midrange deck gives Ghalta a solid chance to see play in Standard.

5. Rekindling Phoenix

Rekindling Phoenix

In my opinion, this is the strongest Phoenix we’ve seen in Standard, and we’ve seen a lot of Phoenixes . . .  Phoenixi?? Phoenices!? Usually we’ve had to pay some amount of mana or do something else (Chandra’s Phoenix) to re-buy our Phoenix from the graveyard. Not with Rekindling Phoenix, you just pay the four mana and you get a Phoenix that can come back to life all on its own. It’s great at offense since your opponent will have to kill it twice for it to be gone for good. On defense, it is equally annoying since it can trade with one of your opponent’s creatures and then just return to life on your upkeep with haste to boot. The only problem with this fire bird is that it is going to fight with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hazoret the Fervent in the 4-drop slot. All three are great at attrition. Unlike those two, you can have multiple of these birds out since they aren’t legendary. Is that enough to warrant a slot in your {R}{X} deck? I think it so. Especially if Hour of Devastation picks up in popularity. Chandra and Hazoret both bite it to Hour of Devastation, but Rekindling Phoenix does not. It could even make a different deck on its own, I could see it in some sort of {R}{G} midrange deck. turn three-four Rekindling Phoenix into a Glorybringer is a lot of damage in the air and Standard doesn’t have many good fliers. The evasion to Hour of Devastation and having flying could be enough.

4. Silent Gravestone

Silent Gravestone

A welcome addition to any decks sideboard. Silent Gravestone stops The Scarab God from bringing dead creatures back to life. While it may not stop God-Pharaoh’s Gift with its static ability, it’s activated ability will. Liliana, Death’s Majesty is a card, and she’s begging to be put into a reanimator shell. We’ve gained a lot of huge creatures in this set reanimating any of them is powerful. If a deck like that takes off, Silent Gravestone will be there to control it.

3. Jadelight Ranger/Silvergill Adept/Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca/Merfolk Mistbinder/Deeproot Elite

Jadelight Ranger
Silvergill Adept
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Merfolk Mistbinder
Deeproot Elite

Okay, I’m cheating a little. I wanted to group all these Merfolk together instead of giving them their own ranking, that way I could fit more cards in my Top 10. Is that acceptable?

These creatures are excellent Merfolk that build a Merfolk deck by themselves, or at least give you a solid shell to start with. Jadelight Ranger is not like the others. While it’s fine in a Merfolk deck, it’s also great in other midrange decks, especially Winding Constrictor decks. Is Jadelight Ranger could enough to push Winding Constrictor back into the lime light? I potential turn three 6/5 Jadelight Ranger is a ton of pressure even a 4/3 that drew you a land is solid. Yea, I think it’s time to dust off your sneks!

2. Zacama, Primal Calamity

Zacama, Primal Calamity

Blessed be. I’m probably biased since I love to ramp into big spells, but Zacama is fantastic! Look at it, not seriously, LOOK AT IT.

Is it good on offense? Check!

Is it good on defense? Check!

Can it deal with opposing creatures? Check!

Does it kill pesky artifacts and enchantments? Check!

Will it stabilize your life total since you’ve been ignoring your opponent and ramping? Check!

Does it have a cute loveable dinosaur head? Check! Check! Anddddddddd Check!

Ever since Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger left us for Modern (may he never be full), we haven’t had a good spell to ramp into.

Sandwurm Convergence? Please . . . 
Star of Extinction? Ramping into a removal spell now?
Cruel Reality? Ugh . . . 
Vraska, Relic Seeker? I mean, we don’t need to ramp into Vraska, we can just cast her.

We have one of the best ramp spells every printed in Standard in Hour of Promise. Now we finally have a solid creature to ramp into. Zacama is worth it! Sometimes you must wait until your next turn to fully abuse the card you ramped into. Not with Zacama, since we will be casting it from our hand! This will trigger the, “untap all lands you control” ability so we can use the abilities right away. Our opponent’s can respond and kill Zacama with one of the few removal spells that do so in Vraska’s Contempt, but we will still get the untap ability. That means even if they remove it we could technically play another Zacama, a Gishath, Vraska, Relic Seeker, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, or regrow our graveyard with a Wildest Dreams. Zacama is also a solid reanimation target, even if you don’t get to untap all your lands when you bring her back with Liliana, Death’s Majesty. She’s still a 9/9 with a ton of abilities.

I’m excited for Zacama; and, while it’s no Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, that’s a good thing. Zacama will be fun and exciting to play with and against. I for one am looking forward to it.

1. Ravenous Chupacabra

Ravenous Chupacabra

The best removal spell in the entire set is Ravenous Chupacabra. Unlike Nekrataal or Shriekmaw, Ravenous Chupacabra doesn’t discriminate. It will destroy any and everything. While you can’t gain card advantage out of it like you can with Hostage Taker, it’s still on the same power level as Hostage Taker, if not better. For one, you don’t have to play two colors to cast it and you don’t have to worry about protecting your Hostage Taker with Blossoming Defense, so your opponent doesn’t get their threat back. You can just jam Ravenous Chupacabra on turn four and kill whatever creature you please without having to worry about anything else. How can something so simple be so strong?

Imagine a Bloodbraid Elf that’s only one color. It’s a 2/2 instead of a 3/2 with haste. However, you always know what you’ll get with this Black Bloodbraid Elf. It will always cast Murder, you’ll never miss and hit the wrong spell.

It also happens to be absurd against all the big threats in the set. It tears apart any tribal deck. It gets around Azor, the Lawbringer’s “can’t cast instant or sorcery clause.” You won’t draw a card off Nezahal, Primal Tide. And worst of all? Somehow this thing kills your three headed Elder Dinosaur all by itself. That’s right, it doesn’t trade with Zacama it just kills it.
RIP Zacama, we already knew ye.

That’s powerful, and it gets my vote for best card in the set for Standard.

That’s my top ten list. I know I like big creatures with flashy abilities, so I can be biased. Here are some other cards that aren’t on my personal top ten here but are good enough for Standard.

Angrath, the Flame-Chained
Huatli, Radiant Champion

Angrath, the Flame-Chained and Huatli, Radiant Champion (to a lesser extent.) Angrath, the Flame-Chained is like Liliana Vess. In fact, I think it’s overall better than Liliana Vess, and if we have a {B}{R}{X} midrange deck, I would expect to see some number of Angrath.

Tilonalli's Summoner

Tilonalli’s Summoner is an excellent way to turn on the City’s Blessing quickly; and, if nothing else, could be a house out of sideboards of control decks. Think Dragonmaster Outcast.

Shake the Foundation will 100% see play in sideboards. A Pyroclasm that cantrips is powerful, and it’s instant speed to boot. It’s even fine main deck as an Enrage enabler for your dinosaurs.

Dusk Legion Zealot

Dusk Legion Zealot is a Black Elvish Visionary and that’s good enough, even if you do lose one life.

Crashing Tide

Crashing Tide does require you to play Merfolk, but Repulse is a powerful spell. It may end up costing too much; and, if that’s the case, Merfolk might just play Unsummon.

Moment of Craving
Golden Demise

Moment of Craving and Golden Demise are solid Sideboard cards.

Last but not least, if we get a dinosaur deck, expect Reckless Rage to blow you out sometimes when it enrages a Ripjaw Raptor, or a Ranging Raptors.

Rivals of Ixalan looks like a fun set, the B&R announcement is on Monday and I’m sure Wizards will ban some cards out of energy to revitalize Standard. Until then, enjoy your weekend and your pre-release. If you enjoyed this article, you’ll want to join me next week for my entire Rivals of Ixalan Set Review!

As always, thanks for reading!

Ali Aintrazi
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