First Pass at Rivals

I’m normally a proponent of waiting a bit before evaluating the initial spoilers of an upcoming set. The power level of a card in a specific format is contextual, and when you’re working with incomplete information there’s a lot for room for error. It’s generally better to wait until the set fleshes out a bit, so you have a clear picture of what the format might look like. But with that being said, I, like most of you, am looking toward anything that can potentially shake up the current Standard format. The ubiquity of energy has lead to a rather stale format, and we’re desperate for change. So while I would normally wait a few weeks before giving the new cards some attention, I’ll probably be refreshing the spoiler page at 11:00 every day for the next few weeks looking for new tools to brew with.

Today marked the first day of that routine as Rivals of Ixalan spoiler season has officially begun. I had low hopes that Rivals of Ixalan would offer anything of promise, but I’m feeling a bit more optimistic after seeing these first few spoilers.

A good writer would probably build some anticipation before getting to their favorite card, but I’ve never had much patience. Only twentyish cards have been spoiled as of now, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca ends up being my favorite card in the whole set. There are a lot of words on this card, so let’s break down exactly what it does.

Kumena offers inevitability. This is vastly different from the merfolk lords that we’ve grown accustomed to. Cards like Lord of Atlantis encourage you to beat down and end the game quickly, but Kumena incentivizes you to grind. This card is more Planeswalker than lord. With a Kumena in play, your game plan will often just devolve into activating it as many times as possible, accruing incremental advantage and winning easily from there.

The other reason I’m excited about this card is that it means there may be some real tribal support in this set, and that’s very important if Temur Energy is going to get knocked down a peg. The likelihood that singular cards can compete with the efficiency and versatility of the energy shell is unlikely, but some fully powered synergy based decks might stand a chance. Using Merfolk as an example, these decks are starting to look decent.


This version of the deck strongly resembles the Zombie deck from the last format. Your primary game plan is to go wide, but you can also get aggressive if you need to. A big reason why this plan is potentially viable is the reprinting of Silvergill Adept.

Silvergill Adept is the best Merfolk ever printed, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. When your deck is aiming to assemble a critical mass of creatures, having one that replaces itself with respectable stats is pretty nuts. There’s a reason Rogue Refiner is the best creature in Standard, and there’s a reason Silvergill Adept is the backbone of Merfolk. People need to start giving Striped Bears the respect they deserve.

With Kumena and Silvergill Adept in the mix, I’m actually tempted to see how far we can push the go wide theme. With the last list, getting picked apart by a timely Harnessed Lightning or two before getting run over by a Glorybringer seems like a scary and real possibility. It’s possible that sacrificing some early pressure in order to sure up the late game is a better approach.


With this version, we’re attempting to go over the top of the other midrange decks. With Growing Rites of Itlimoc and to a lesser extent, Rishkar, to generate a massive amount of mana, we can start looking toward late game bombs like Shapers of Nature and Tishana, Voice of Thunder. In theory, there should be enough redundancy in the deck to at least make it challenging to pick off what matters. So in most cases, you should be able to go fairly wide against midrange decks before easily pulling ahead on cards and eventually winning by dropping a Herald of Secret Streams.

These lists are obviously super rough, but they’re definitely something to keep an eye on as more spoilers roll out. Something like an additional way to add a bunch of mana could push this deck over the top.

Speaking of ways to generate a bunch of mana, Storm the Vault is another card that stands out to me.

I tend to be skeptical of cards like this for the most part. The payoff is great, but they rarely justify the hoops you have to jump through in order to set up. But like Growing Rites of Itlimoc in the Merfolk deck, they can do some busted things in the right place. There is one deck that I’ve had my eye on for a while that Storm the Vault slots into perfectly.


I’ve played against this deck a ton online with various forms of Energy, and my record isn’t nearly as good as might you think considering how medium this deck looks on paper. That may be in part to me constantly playing horrendously against it because I still don’t really know how the deck works, but the deck actually does seem more than reasonable. Storm the Vault should fit nicely into this deck, allowing it to quickly turn the corner after getting set up. It also mitigates how bad some of the modules are individually by allowing you still use their overcosted abilities.

All dumb mechanics aside, this is another card I’m interested in trying to make work. Ascend is quite difficult to turn on, so for the most part these cards should be evaluated at face value and ascend is just upside. Secrets of the Golden City passes that test as Divination is an unexciting but playable card, and a 3-mana draw three is quite nice. There are a ton of different directions you can go here, but I suspect a traditional control shell is probably the best. While a control deck won’t be the best at powering up Ascend, any deck playing this card needs to also be fine playing divination, and I don’t know how many non-control decks want Divination, especially while Chart a Course is legal.


This deck eschews The Scarab God plan and functions more as a traditional control deck. While I generally try to avoid plans like this, I don’t think many decks are getting caught without answers to The Scarab God at this point. I’ve made a few concessions to Secrets of the Golden City by incorporating a slight treasure theme to turn on Ascend faster. Spell Swindle and Treasure Map are reasonable enough cards on their own, so I’m not too upset to have to include them in the deck. The Treasures also help turn on Ascend for Vona’s Hunger. I’m not entirely sold on Vona’s Hunger, as a 3 mana edict with no upside in the early game isn’t too exciting and the ascend cost is only decent as well, but I can imagine enough scenarios where the card is fine that it’s at least worth testing.

The last new addition to the deck is Tetzimoc, Primal Death. I honestly don’t know what to think of this card. It seems like a powerful and unique effect at first glance, though. Having to use the ability during your turn is a bit awkward in this deck, but it’s still potentially a sweeper that dodges Negate and leaves a 6/6. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t have to be at sorcery speed, so you can respond to things like Bristling Hydra activations as long as it’s your turn.

Awakened Amalgamation - 4
Artifact Creature — Golem

Awakened Amalgamation’s power and toughness are equal to the number of lands you control with different names.

The design is really simple, but I’m a fan of this card. Printing a colorless, reasonably sized, reasonably costed beater is an interesting move. You would never play this in a Green deck where you could just play Bristling Hydra or Ripjaw Raptor instead, but it could be a cute sideboard option for a three-color control deck or something similar to that. I’m also curious if it would ever be correct to modify your mana base in order to have access to larger Awakened Amalgamations. My initial impression is no, but if the cost is low enough I could see it being worth it. That this is even a consideration is a testament to the interesting design of the card. I won’t be surprised if this card never makes an impact in the format, especially while Abrade is legal, but it’s one to keep in mind. It really opens up the color pie, and it can provide decks an angle they didn’t have access to before.

Is this a better God-Pharaoh’s Gift target than Angel of Invention? Almost certainly not. It’s worse to reanimate and significantly more difficult to hardcast, but if the deck wants more than four premium targets, this is the next best one. The {W}{U}Gift deck is one of the only archetypes in Standard I haven’t played extensively, so I’m far from an authority on it, but I could see this popping up in small numbers. This also seems like it could end up being a cycle, and I’d be interested in seeing if any of them have what it takes to unseat Angel of Invention as the premium Gift target.

Also Elder Dinosaurs? Form of the Dinosaur? I don’t know if there’s anyone that plays this game that cares less about flavor than myself, but this just lazy. They should probably be putting more effort into distinguishing dinosaurs from Dragons, not just embracing the fact that they’re basically the same thing. Otherwise, what’s the point of making a dinosaur type in the first place?

That was a lot more than I was expecting for just a single day of spoilers. I’m happy to see Wizards is continuing to push synergy driven cards rather than just individually busted cards. Unfortunately, that means there’s more than a good chance we will all be casting Attune with Aether for a few more months, but it also means we’re in store for some great Magic after the next rotation. And who knows, maybe when all the pieces fall into place we’ll have some decks that can go toe to toe with energy. I’ll be keeping a close on the spoilers trying to put those pieces together before SCG Dallas, hopefully I can keep my streak going.


Rivals of Ixalan is Now Available for Preorder!

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