One Week into Ixalan Standard


By Byron King


Magic player’s Christmas has passed  and the prerelease is over.  It’s time to look at all our new toys and cobble something together to play with.  We’ve got a weekend of Ixalan standard to pursue, with some new faces and old staples.

Ramunap Red

4 Bomat Courier
4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Earthshaker Khenra
3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
4 Hazoret the Fervent
4 Shock
4 Abrade
4 Lightning Strike
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
14 Mountain
4 Ramunap Ruins
2 Scavenger Grounds
4 Sunscorched Desert

Ramunap Red decks come prebuilt from last season, and it look exactly like we would expect.  Creativity was left to the sideboard, with a few interesting choices.  Players didn’t deviate from the stock list by more than about three cards.

With the loss of Falkenrath Gorger and Village Messenger, only Bomat Courier and Soul-Scar Mage make the cut as one drop creatures.  Rigging Runner doesn’t make the cut, as it fits awkwardly in the curve without two additional single mana creatures.

Abrade and Lightning Strike both make the cut, typically as a full set each.

The sideboard plan for Ramunap Red hasn’t changed much, transitioning into a bigger deck with additional copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and some Glorybringers.

Chandra’s Defeat did solid work as a sideboard card for the mirror.  Aethersphere Harvester looked far worse, as Abrade made it look fairly embarrassing.  Pia Nalaar looked better in that spot, providing multiple bodies and a way around blockers.

There isn’t much else to discuss with Ramunap Red.  The deck carries over well from the previous format, and it has a proven track record.  Don’t expect it to fade away anytime soon.


Temur / 4 Color Energy

4 Longtusk Cub
4 Servant of the Conduit
4 Rogue Refiner
4 Whirler Virtuoso
3 Bristling Hydra
3 Glorybringer
2 The Scarab God
4 Attune with Aether
1 Magma Spray
4 Harnessed Lightning
3 Abrade
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Confiscation Coup
4 Forest
1 Island
2 Mountain
1 Swamp
4 Aether Hub
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Rootbound Crag
2 Sheltered Thicket
2 Spirebluff Canal

The other easy port from last season, Temur and 4 Color Energy lost nothing besides lands and Tireless Tracker.  Energy has a proven track record, and it is no surprise to see it at the top tables.

The actual numbers vary quite a bit, but the energy core is all present and accounted for.  The black splash is fairly easy with Attune with Aether and Aether Hub, and The Scarab God is a proven bomb that players were already splashing.

Sideboarding is fairly easy with this deck.  Negate and Spell Pierce help matchups against control.  Magma Spray, Chandra’s Defeat, and Cartouche of Ambition are options against Ramunap Red, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Confiscation Coup help against the mirror.

I’m inclined to believe that the Energy core fit better into Sultai than Temur this weekend, but I’m not positive yet.  The few Sultai decks showed up with Temur in mind, and the opposite was not true.  It’s worth waiting a few weeks to see how the format adjusts.


Sultai Energy

4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
4 Longtusk Cub
4 Winding Constrictor
4 Rogue Refiner
2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
4 Hostage Taker
1 The Scarab God
4 Walking Balista
4 Attune with Aether
4 Blossoming Defense
4 Fatal Push
4 Forest
1 Island
2 Swamp
4 Aether Hub
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Fetid Pools

The spiritual successor of the B/G constrictor deck, Sultai Energy looked incredibly impressive over the weekend.

Hostage Taker is nuts.  It offers an impressive tempo play with the possibility of card advantage the following turn.  With Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Longtusk Cub, and Winding Constrictor all demanding removal spells, Hostage Taker’s survival rate is higher than average.  To fit in a blue splash, Attuen with Aether and the Energy package make the cut.  Rogue Refiner’s got a great rate and does a good job filling out the curve.  Lastly, Blossoming Defense adds a layer of security for the suite of powerful creatures.  The deck is filled with powerful creatures that can snowball out of control, and Blossoming Defense is a cheap way to ensure that can happen.

The sideboard for Sultai contains a full set of Duress with some counter spells for control.  Deathgorge Scavenger gains some life against Ramunap Red, and it does a ton of work against God Pharaoh’s Gift decks.  Vraska, Relic Seeker does a great job of dominating the mirror match while dodging Hostage Taker.  I would expect another copy or two in the following weeks, or possibly a stretch for Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh.


U/W Approach

4 Opt
4 Censor
3 Aether Meltdown
2 Search for Azcanta
1 Essence Scatter
2 Farm // Market
2 Supreme Will
1 Disallow
4 Cast Out
4 Glimmer of Genius
2 Settle the Wreckage
3 Fumigate
3 Approach of the Second Sun
5 Island
6 Plains
2 Desert of the Mindful
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Ipnu Rivulet
4 Irrigated Farmland

U/W Approach looks to be the premier control deck of the format.  Approach of the Second Sun offers a combo finish for a minimal number of cards, allowing tons of room for removal, counters, and card draw.

The incredible game one record is a huge draw for U/W Approach.  The deck is full of removal for all of the midrange decks in the format.  Ramunap Red is a tough matchup, but Authority of the Consuls and Regal Caracal do a good job of shoring up the sideboard games.

The mixture of Settle the Wreckage, Cast Out, and Glimmer of Genius make it difficult to play against the deck when it reaches four mana.  Overcomitting gets punished by Settle the Wreckage.  Holding back opens up the chance to Glimmer of Genius.  Splitting the difference gets wrecked by Cast Out. It is reminiscent of the squeeze that Faeries used to use with Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique.

The printing of Duress is the biggest blow against this deck.  The cheaper cost over Transgress the Mind makes it easy to fit in a proactive play along with hand disruption.  Negate is another good card, but it is a reactive card against a deck looking to prolong the game.  Spell Pierce is a great tempo play against U/W Approach, but it has to be backed up with a threat.  Otherwise, U/W Approach can easily pay the two mana.


Esper Gift

4 Minister of Inquiries
4 Seeker’s Squire
4 Champion of Wits
4 Hostage Taker
4 Angel of Invention
2 Vona, Butcher of Magan
4 Walking Ballista
3 Fatal Push
2 Chart a Course
4 Gate to the Afterlife
2 God-Pharaoh’s Gift
6 Island
3 Swamp
4 Aether Hub
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Fetid Pools
1 Glacial Fortress

Combo decks were pretty underrepresented over the course of the weekend, but God-Pharaoh’s Gift did come out to play.  Red has been dropped after losing Insolent Neonate, and black stepped up with the new offerings of Hostage Taker and Vona, Butcher of Magan.

The version that did well skipped on the Refurbish plan, likely due to the loss of Insolent Neonate.  Post board Negates and Duress don’t make that plan look particularly appealing either.

Overall, this deck is fairly close to the same beast as it was last season.  It has lost some explosiveness with the red cards, and gained a bunch of interaction with the new black options.  On a similar note, Hostage Taker is still nuts.  Unfortunately, Hostage Taker is nuts against this deck too.  It can target creatures and artifacts, so a resolved God-Pharaoh’s Gift is not safe.  Well, even less safe than it would be in a world filled with Abrade.

One parting note for this deck; God-Pharaoh’s Gift only gives Haste to a creature during the controller’s turn.  Vona, Butcher of Magan can’t be activated on the opponent’s following turn, as it loses Haste.


Grixis Control

3 The Scarab God
3 Torrential Gearhulk
4 Opt
3 Magma Spray
4 Censor
4 Harnessed Lightning
2 Essence Scatter
1 Abrade
4 Disallow
2 Sweltering Suns
4 Glimmer of Genius
7 Island
3 Mountain
4 Aether Hub
4 Canyon Slough
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Spirebluff Canal

Grixis control, unlike U/W Approach, is a traditional control deck.  Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God function as finishers, and the rest of the deck is filled with control staples.

Unlike the beginning of most formats, the Ixalan standard format was fairly easy to understand going in.  Mostly, you needed an answer to Ramunap Red, Energy decks, and U/W Approach.  This Grixis control deck is fairly well positioned against those decks, though I could imagine it struggling against Energy.  The removal suite isn’t particularly well suited to handing cards like Bristling Hydra or resolved planeswalkers.  Carnage Tyrant could be a huge headache for a deck like this.

The black splash is almost free, based on the dual lands available.  A copy of Dragonskull Summit might be necessary if any more black cards work their way into the sideboard.


G/R Dinosaurs

4 Drover of the Mighty
4 Otepec Huntmaster
4 Deathgorge Scavenger
4 Ripjaw Raptor
4 Regisaur Alpha
2 Carnage Tyrant
4 Commune with Dinosaurs
4 Abrade
4 Savage Stomp
2 Samut, the Tested
6 Forest
5 Mountain
2 Hashep Oasis
1 Ramunap Ruins
4 Rootbound Crag
2 Scavenger Grounds
4 Sheltered Thicket

I’m including Dinosaurs mostly to highlight how bad of a weekend it had.  Dinosaurs is fighting for the same sliver of the metagame that the Energy decks occupy, and the stock Dinosaur list doesn’t look like it’s coming out on top.  However, the story doesn’t end with one bad weekend.  We have had months to refine Energy into the current deck, while Dinosaurs are still a new beast.  If nothing else, acquiring the cards for this deck would be an expensive and difficult process for the first weekend.  The first round didn’t look good, but it hasn’t been quite long enough to call the deck dead.

In all likelihood, Dinosaurs should probably move into a third color for some better interaction.  Negate or Duress would be welcome additions against control.  Carnage Tyrant doesn’t quite get the job done alone against a control deck using Settle the Wreckage.


Grixis Improvise

3 Contraband Kingpin
2 Pia Nalaar
4 Maverick Thopterist
1 The Scarab God
4 Herald of Anguish
4 Fatal Push
4 Renegade Map
4 Prophetic Prism
3 Cogworker’s Puzzleknot
1 Servo Schematic
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
4 Metallic Rebuke
1 Aethersphere Harvester
3 Tezzeret the Schemer
1 Island
1 Mountain
3 Swamp
1 Dragonskull Summit
3 Drowned Catacomb
3 Fetid Pools
4 Spire of Industry
4 Spirebluff Canal
1 Inventor’s Fair

I’ve got no idea how this deck won the Classic.  Sorcerous Spyglass is the only new non-land card in the deck, and this wasn’t a deck making waves before.  The deck seems incredibly underpowered unless you find Herald of Anguish every single game.

I honestly can’t elaborate on this deck anymore.  I haven’t seen it play out, and I don’t know anything about how the games go.  If you decide to pick this deck up, I wish you the best of luck.


Mono Black Aggro

4 Dread Wanderer
4 Night Market Lookout
3 Vicious Conquistador
4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
3 Gifted Aetherborn
2 Kitesail Freebooter
4 Ruin Raider
4 Fatal Push
4 Walk the Plank
1 Key to the City
2 Aethersphere Harvester
14 Swamp
3 Aether Hub
4 Ifnir Deadlands

Mono Black aggro looks to have a bad case of being a worse something else.  Ramunap Red has a better selection of cards and the ability to transform for sideboard games.  Mono Black aggro has Ruin Raider.  It doesn’t look like the card advantage from Ruin Raider will be enough to carry this deck.  It doesn’t help that everyone was prepared for Ramunap Red with cheap removal, which is actually better against this deck.


SCG Dallas Notes without decklists

Marionette Master

The combination of Marionette Master and Treasure tokens spawned a few brews for Dallas.  If nothing else, Spell Swindle into Marionette Master should come close to lethal damage.  Nothing seems to have come of it however, as only a single Grixis Marionette Master deck made it into day two of the Open.  Nobody did well enough to get a decklist posted.  Tezzeret the Schemer has been showing up in these brews along with the Grixis Improvise deck that won the Classic.  This might be a brew that needs another set before it hits a critical mass of Treasure generators.


The Scarab God

The Scarab God had a great weekend, appearing in most control decks and almost every list with Attue with Aether.  This isn’t really news, since Energy decks have been splashing it for months already.  If the format continues to revolve around midrange decks, expect The Scarab God and Glorybringer to continue dominating games.


Primal Amulet

A few brews involving Primal Amulet showed up, including the first feature match of the Open.  These are classic Grixis control decks that use Primal Amulet and Torrent of Hellfire or the back half of Cut // Ribbons to finish the game.  I expect the high concentration of Abrade kept this deck in check.  If that wasn’t enough, I’m not sure it’s even better than U/W Approach as a control/combo deck.


Growing Rites of Itlimoc

I didn’t see a single copy of Growing Rites of Itliamoc at any point over the weekend.  If you feel like you need this card, try to wait a few weeks for the price to drop to something reasonable.


Ixalan Cards in General

Overall, I wouldn’t go too deep on buying Ixalan cards.  There are a bunch of sweet, flavorful cards, but the overall power level seems a little low.  There will be plenty of sweet things to try, but the raw power of the format looks like it comes from Kaladesh and Amonkhet.  That’s not super surprising, as tribal themes need a critical mass of cards, and we only have one of the two Ixalan sets.  But, if you aren’t actively brewing with cards, I’d wait a few weeks for prices to drop.


Deathgorge Scavenger

I didn’t actually check, but I’m confidant that Deathgorge Scavenger beat out Carnage Tyrant as the most played Dinosaur at SCG Dallas. It serves as both disruption and a threat against graveyard decks, while gaining a respectable amount of life against Ramunap Red. If you plan on playing green, you should probably have a set of these.


Best of luck in the new format!  I’ll be professing my devotion to Hazoret for the foreseeable future, unless the allure of Hostage Taker steals me away.

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