Ixalan Standard Guantlet

This is the rotation many of us have been waiting for. While Standard has not been bad, per-say, it has certainly felt stale. We get to wave a long awaited farewell to obnoxious cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and . . .  Cards that have plagued Standard for going on two years. It will feel good to not only be able to explore new cards, but also dust off some of the existing cards that were previously overshadowed.

Week one Standard formats are always the most interesting, but they can also be the most intimidating, all thanks to one question:

“What do I play?”

The power level of cards in Magic, what is good or bad, is often contextual; it varies heavily on the format they are played in. When we, as players, do not have a grasp on what exactly the format will consist of, it can be hard to attack said format properly. When you are unsure what answers you want to be playing, you generally want to be proactive.

While every deck lost a few important toys with rotation, there are still a few familiar aggressive decks that will exist in the new format:

To start with the easy and obvious upgrades, did you hear Lightning Strike is legal again? Ramunap Red already had an insane amount of reach last season and gaining four cards that deal three to the dome at instant speed is extremely powerful for this archetype. This deck will be the litmus test for the new format as it develops. If you cannot prevent yourself from getting run over by the swarms of tiny Red creatures, your deck will not be competitive.

Up next we have something a bit higher off the ground, but still capable of aggressive draws:

This is a slightly updated take on the Temur Energy deck which popped up at the end of the last season that splashed The Scarab God. This archetype is powerful and surprisingly consistent, in spite of playing four colors, thanks to the fixing power of Attune with Aether and Servant of the Conduit. The deck gets to play individually powerful cards like Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra that also work well together thanks to the energy mechanic.

Less is more when it comes to working with an existing archetype and you will note that there is only two new Ixalan cards in our main deck:

Ripjaw Raptor
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Ripjaw Raptor seems like an easy inclusion. It has reasonable stats for its mana cost and makes Red based removal like Harnessed Lightning look super awkward, while also making our opponents think twice about attacking or blocking due to its enrage ability.

Vraska, Relic Seeker might be a touch clunky, but I like having a “fun-of” like this in our main deck; especially if it can answer troublesome permanents out of our opponents deck, something we have to expect in the early weeks of a new format.

In the sideboard we have one more card from Ixalan:

Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant is easily one of the most annoying cards for control to deal with this season. Not only does it not get answered by most removal, but it is also larger than Torrential Gearhulk.

While it lost a bit more tools than Energy Aggro, I think Mardu Vehicles is likely still a fine aggressive deck post rotation:

The biggest loss from this archetype is easily Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. This means the deck will likely have a harder time running control decks over, but this shouldn’t be too big a deal since Mardu Vehicles already had a great control matchup. While a good deal of the cards here are not new, again we gain one new tool that generates much needed card advantage in this archetype:

Ruin Raider

This archetype is exceptionally well setup to benefit from the repeatable card advantage of Ruin Raider. Not only do we have a plethora of one-cost creatures to be attacking with on turn three, but Ruin Raider curves nicely after Heart of Kiran with three points of power. I think we will be seeing Ruin Raider pop up in a lot of Black aggressive shells and this continuation of Mardu Vehicles is no exception.

The sideboard has some of the “go bigger” plan that most should be accustomed to from the Mardu deck, while also including a new disruptive threat from Ixalan:

Kitesail Freebooter

It will take a bit of testing to determine if Kitesail Freebooter is better than simply playing Duress, but my gut says the upside of our Duress being able to attack is likely worth it, especially if we are curving into the before mentioned Ruin Raider.

Onto a Brew

While aggro decks are certainly the best place to start if your goal is to be hyper competitive day one, I am sure some of you out there are like me and enjoy durdling around. Drawing cards, removing threats, and eventually winning the game are everything I want to be doing in a TCG. Using the above aggro gauntlet as a baseline, my buddy Ryan sent me the core of a Grixis Control deck for Ixalan Standard:

Looking at the main deck, you will notice this looks a lot like the {U}{R} Control decks of past formats splashing in a powerful new Black card:

Vraska's Contempt

I was skeptical of Vraska’s Contempt when it was first spoiled, but the more I have played with it the more it has grown on me. At a glance, Contempt looks like an expensive Hero’s Downfall. While it is true that it costs more mana than Downfall, we are also getting more effect for the price. Exiling with Contempt is relevant against a variety of threats such as The Scarab God, Hazoret the Fervent, and various Eternalize threats.

Gaining two life should also not be overlooked. I cannot tell you the number of times my control deck comes up even one or two points of health short in a game against an aggressive deck. Gaining two, four, or even six points of life over the course of the game while playing our pieces of removal is nothing to scoff at.

Also, it is important to remember that we won’t always be paying Contempt’s entire cost. Torrential Gearhulk does not care if it is flashing back a one or four cost instant, so bring on the upside!

The other card from Ixalan in our main deck that has impressed me more and more as I play with it:

Search for Azcanta
Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin

The most important thing about Search for Azcanta, other than being Impulse on a land, is that the transformation trigger is optional. This means that if we already have an Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin in play, our Search can stay in play to provide filtering for the remainder of the game. The fact transforming into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin provides us with an additional land ahead of curve is also something worth noting. Giving us a seventh or eighth mana a turn earlier often allows us to double spell a full turn ahead of schedule.

As for non-Ixalan cards in this control shell, people have been splashing The Scarab God in other decks and it feels worthwhile to include him here as well. It provides a powerful, resilient threat, in a deck that can sometimes have trouble closing out games with just Torrential Gearhulk.

As we look to the sideboard, you will note a couple of other powerful Black cards that are a welcome addition to the deck:

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Fatal Push
Bontu's Last Reckoning

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is one of my favorite board plans in a control deck for control mirrors. Normally other control decks want to cut most if not all of their removal against another control deck. Boarding in a card like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner gives us a way to punish them for doing this, which constrains their ability to sideboard exactly how they want to.

Fatal Push is an efficient way to drag our curve down against hyper aggressive decks while also providing removal that is not damage based for killing various enrage threats. Bontu’s Last Reckoning gives us a much needed out to the control killer, Carnage Tyrant, that we mentioned above.

When talking about card selection, it is often as important to mention some of the things you are not playing just as much as the things you are playing. The three cards I have gotten the most questions about with this specific list are:


The first two cards have been omitted for similar reasons: They often require spending resources to get setup, as opposed to impacting the game. Instead of playing more cantrips to ensure we hit our land drops in the early game, we just play more lands. Because we have access to two different cycling duals, we can play a whopping 28 lands without a fear of flooding in the late game.

Disallow, while being a powerful card, is not fantastic against the more aggressive decks in the format. I expect the beginning of the format to be a more aggressive than it will be long term, so I would like to hedge by making sure my main deck counterspells are more resource efficient, e.g. Essence Scatter and Negate. Single Blue counterspells are also easier to cast consistently than those that cost two Blue.

Wrapping Up

What does your Standard gauntlet look like for testing your new brews with Ixalan? Does it include the three aggressive decks I listed here or something else? Let me know in a comment below!

—Jeff Hoogland

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