Innovating and Updating

I’ve been having a much harder time building new decks this time around than I usual do. One reason for this is that for the past two years my strategy for building decks in new Standard formats was to start with four copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and then fill out the rest. And the other, more serious, reason can be attributed to the subtle power level of many of the cards in Ixalan. Aside from some of the pirates and dinosaurs, nothing is blatantly pushed. Instead we’re seeing a nice mix of unique build-around cards and roleplayers, and I find it quite refreshing.

The most interesting part of the process so far has been finding a balance between the new cards and the old cards. It’s apparent that Wizards has tweaked their design philosophy a bit with Ixalan by attempting to spread out the set’s power among more than just a select few cards. And while I’m a big fan of this, I am worried that many of cards in Ixalan won’t be able to compete with the best cards from Kaladesh and Amonkhet. Decks like Mono-Red, Temur Energy, Mardu Vehicles, and {B}{G} Constrictor will all likely exist in some capacity, so breaking into the format is a challenging task. So as much as would like to spend the next few months casting Siren Stormtamer into Kitesail Freebooter, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But with that being said, I’m optimistic that finding a balance is possible.

U/B Pirates — Ixalan Standard | Andrew Jessup

My take on {U}{B} Pirates is a good example of this. Rather than going all-in on Pirate synergies, I’m much more interested in using Jace, Cunning Castaway as an engine with proven all-stars; Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Heart of Kiran.

I think Jace is being a bit underappreciated by most people at this point in time. It’s certainly not insane by any means, but it is solid in the right list. This deck certainly has a high number individually weak cards, so attempting to one-for-one your opponent is a losing proposition. But by using Jace to pitch excess lands, generate additional bodies, and in conjunction with graveyard synergies, out carding your opponents should be a common occurrence. I also anticipate Jace’s ultimate to be very relevant as well. Jace threatens to ultimate as early as turn five, and while it’s not game winning, beating two Planeswalkers has never been an easy feat.

In addition to Jace and the recursive threats, Chart a Course is the card that makes this deck function. This is another card that appears to be a bit of a sleeper, but is poised to be a vital role player in the months to come. The stipulation is rather easy to meet, so I expect this to be a 2-mana draw two most of the time, and when you don’t have an attack you still have fodder to pitch.

The last card I want to touch on out of this list is Hostage Taker. If the texture of Standard remains the same, this is a pretty heavy favorite to be the best card in the set. It offers both tempo and card advantage stapled to reasonable body. I expect this card to be a premier player in the format with the potential to be format warping.

It’s possible that this shell is still a bit too weak, and we should be incorporating some of the more powerful cards into a more proven archetype.

Similar to the {B}{G} Energy decks we’re familiar with, this deck aims to get under opponents and snowball its advantage from there. This deck is pretty much ideal to leverage what Hostage Taker offers. It’s perfect for removing blockers to push through your Longtsuk Cubs and Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, and the deck was already interested in playing Blossoming Defense which pairs quite nicely with Hostage Taker.

Chart a Course is also a solid way to keep the gas flowing in this deck as well. While the downside of being Catalog is much worse in this deck than in the pirates deck, the entire deck is built around continuously pushing damage, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find a spot to get in there.

I like a lot of what this deck is doing, but I’m interested in seeing how far the tempo aspect of it can be pushed.

U/G Tempo — Ixalan Standard | Andrew Jessup

This is certainly the roughest list I’ve posted so far, but there’s a lot to work with. Like the Sultai deck, you’re aiming to get ahead early continuously push your advantage, but this deck is much more all-in on that plan. It’s a quintessential protect the queen strategy with Longtusk Cub and Deeproot Champion serving as the key pieces. An early Cub or Champion threatens to quickly take over the game, and Blossoming Defense, Siren Stormtamer, and Spell Pierce serve as mana efficient ways to protect them.

Siren Stormtamer might be favorite card in the set, but realistically it’s probably only decent at best. This is the type of card I would’ve played at every possible point a few years ago, but have since resigned to playing mostly good cards. But with that being said, this is the perfect Siren Stormtamer deck. It’s a cheap early play that you can chip in for damage with, it protects your larger threats, and it’s an enabler for Chart a Course. If it turns out that casting Siren Stormtamer is a good thing in this format, I’ll be happy to sleeve them up at every opportunity.

I’m not quite as high on Opt in Standard as other people seem to be, but it’s still great, and I expect it will see a large amount of play. Opt is flexible and provides card selection at an incredibly efficient rate, but the cost of including Opt in your deck can vary greatly. Cheap cantrips are at their best when other cheap spells are at their best, which is why Opt is obviously perfect for this deck. Opt is at its worst when you want to be curving out, as casting it can mean slowing yourself down an entire turn. But as long as there is a Blue deck interested in playing spells, Opt should see a hefty amount of Standard play.

Deeproot Champion is the newest variation of Quirion Dryad and possibly the best version of it we’ve seen. Without the drawback of not triggering off Green spells, we can utilize Attune with Aether and Blossoming Defense in addition to the Blue spells. There’s no denying Deeproot Champion is an objectively powerful card, but it’s all about context. The slower the format is, the better Deeproot Champion is. If everyone is casting The Scarab God and dinosaurs, this is a deck worth looking into. If everyone is casting Toolcraft Exemplar and Hazoret the Fervent, you might have to put this one on the shelf for a bit. It’s possible that some amalgamation of this deck and the Sultai deck is where you want to be. If you can get the mana to work, Winding Constrictor combos quite nicely with Deeproot Champion.

As I mentioned earlier, I expect this format will be a hostile environment for emerging archetypes, but I’m interested in exploring some archetypes that weren’t quite there in the last format to see if they’re getting any tools to put them over the top.

{W}{U} Approach picked up a lot of steam in the back half of the last format, but poor matchups against Temur Energy and Ramunap Red kept it from being one of the best decks. The only card it loses that really hurts is Blessed Alliance, but it picks up two huge new tools in Opt and Settle the Wreckage.

Opt should do some pretty heavy lifting in improving the consistency of this deck. {W}{U} Approach is looking to do the same thing in every matchup; don’t die and then cast Approach. From there, you pick up your game plan of not dying until you can cast Approach again. Opt lets you dig for Settles and Fumigates in the early game, and it can speed up your clock after casting Approach.

If this archetype becomes a prominent player in the new format, it will be off the back of Settle the Wreckage. Settle answers several problems the deck previously suffered from. It’s a clean answer to Hazoret, Heart of Kiran, and haste creatures, and you can use it on their turn to bait out a counter and follow up with a Fumigate. There is a downside to casting a Settle, but one that the {W}{U} Approach deck can ignore for the most part. With Approach, the deck can invalidate the opponent’s resources, so giving your opponent access to more mana is hardly a problem for the deck.

Lightning Strike
Thraben Inspector is a big loss, but I imagine this deck will still exist in some capacity. Toolcraft Exemplar, Heart of Kiran, and Unlicensed Disintegration are still disgustingly good Magic cards. Without a solid top end, the deck needs to lean up a bit and take a more aggressive approach. This means going back to Inventor’s Apprentice and Toolcraft Exemplar, and eschewing Walking Ballista. Glorybringer is another possible option, but it was already falling out of favor, and I predict the new format will be equally hostile toward it. With that being said, it’s still an extremely powerful card and a good sideboard option at the very least.

The other large change is to the mana base. Without Thraben Inspector, Spire of Industry is too inconsistent. If you’re relying on it to fix your mana, it likely won't be online until turn three, which is a huge problem when you’re trying to cast Veteran Motorist. In order to compensate for this, you have to move into a more traditional {W}{R} deck splashing for Unlicensed Disintegration.

Gideon of the Trials isn’t nearly as good as its predecessor, but it still attacks and crews Heart of Kiran, so its inclusion is justifiable. It also has the upside of being much better against Mono-Red than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was.

The only new inclusion to the deck, Lightning Strike, is solid but not insane. The additional reach to supplement Unlicensed Disintegration goes a long a way in helping this iteration of the deck, but it's not an irreplaceable effect. The real reason Mardu may be better positioned now than it was previously is the fact that Unlicensed Disintegration may have gotten even better. With the introduction of these massive enrage dinosaurs to the format, Red removal may be the worst it’s been in a long time. If this ends up being the case, Mardu may become the premier aggro deck in the format.

A little less than half the set is spoiled at the time of me writing this, and around this time I’m normally hoping we still see some sweet new cards in the back half. With this set, I’m just hoping the cards we haven’t seen follow the same pattern regarding design philosophy as the ones we have seen. I really like how this format is shaping up, and I think we’re in store for a solid few years of Standard with Ixalan.

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