We’re getting pretty deep into Ixalan spoiler season, and while Nationals results are starting to roll in, Amonkhet Standard is grinding to a halt. Let’s take this chance to look forward rather than backwards, and fire-off some spicy opinions. Those who know me are aware that I tend to have some fairly extreme opinions on everything from politics to the playability of Merfolk, so prepare yourselves.
Let’s start at the top, with the flagship Planeswalker, ya boy Jace. Three-mana planeswalkers have historically been very powerful due to their ability to come down on board before an opponent has had a chance to develop a board to contest it. This particular Jace has the unfortunate drawback —and it certainly is a drawback with a UU cost—of being a card that pretty much needs creatures to be relevant. Looting is powerful, but only relevant if you’re not only on-board already, but also able to attack on-board without losing your planeswalker on the swingback. This makes the +1 ability have an awkward tension with what you usually want to do with planeswalkers in Magic. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar got away with having an aggressive +1 by being able to end the game very quickly. This Jace … not so much.
He is, however, able to defend himself with his -2, producing a Phantasmal Bear and reducing himself to a single point of loyalty. I don’t know about you, but I expect more for 1UU. This card might have legs, but it’ll rely on an aggressive and evasive blue deck that uses this Jace’s quick ultimate to flood the board with mediocre bears.
Verdict: More Living Guildpact than Mind Sculptor.
Ugh. Why do they keep doing this to me? All I want to do is quietly sit in my corner, playing Essence Scatters backed up by eight copies of Inspiration, eventually ending the game with some archaic nonsense win condition a la Grindstone. What’s so depraved about that?
Ultimately, this card has two big things going for it: a stat line that’s above and beyond almost everything currently played outside of Temur Energy, and a bunch of words on it that make it nigh impossible to kill out of combat. That, on paper, makes this card quite powerful, definitely moreso than its atrocious counterparts, like Prowling Serpopard. Players love anti-control cards like these for some reason, but they’re typically traps in contemporary metagames where control takes a backseat to a diverse array of midrange decks. Instead of playing a guy that can’t be countered but still dies to Harnessed Lightning, you’re typically better off playing a card that also has utility in other matchups, like additional copies of Tireless Tracker. This dino, however, might skirt that trend by just straight up dominating any board while not being answered by anything other than Fumigate. Even Hour of Devastation can’t kill this one. That’s wild.
Verdict: Someone at R&D hates me.
Speaking of counterspells, here we have R&D’s latest attempt at trying to trick us into thinking we’re only playing UU for Counterspell. This one uses nostalgia to summon memories of Mana Drain, obfuscating the fact that there’s a little 3 hiding out in the mana cost. Mana Drain is, however, an absurdly powerful card, and the mana does stick around longer with this iteration. How can we abuse having a bunch of mana in Standard… maybe Ulamog? Never mind. Rotating. This can’t replace Confirm Suspicions in my heart. Next card, please.
Verdict: You can now play two Mana Drains in Commander. Or maybe this is the first? I have no idea.
Oh, now we’re playing with fire. This bad boy, clearly inspired by Miracle Gro herself, Quirion Dryad, is the kind of card that just gets me going. Deeproot Champion needs to be built around in a big way, but it looks so far like Ixalan is giving us the tools to do so. We have an instant-speed cantrip in Opt, extremely efficient disruption in Spell Pierce, and one of the most powerful Divination effects in years in Chart a Course. A powerful UG Energy shell exists already: Attune with Aether, Longtusk Cub, Rogue Refiner. Kumena’s Speaker is a 2/2 for G, and Merfolk Branchwalker fills out the curve nicely. Unsummon might not be Vapor Snag, but it’s as close as we’ll get.
This deck looks like it has all the cards needed to be powerful, efficient, and consistent. The strength of Delver-esque strategies like this lies in their ability to generate tempo through mana efficiency. When your opponent tries to play Glimmer of Genius, and you counter it with Spell Pierce for a single mana, you’re using your resources in a way that pulls you so far ahead. I love this style of Magic and sincerely hope that a Deeproot Champion deck is viable.
Verdict: I’m going to swing for lethal with this card.
Why does this have to be a sorcery? We’ve learned recently that efficient removal in the two-drop slot, like Harnessed Lightning, Abrade, and Grasp of Darkness, helps develop a fair and competitive format. Then they go and drop this one on us as the replacement for Grasp. Notice a trend across almost all playable removal in Standard? They’re always either instants, or they’re very unconditional. This is neither.
Verdict: I’m going to swing for lethal with Deeproot Champion and my opponent will have three copies of this card in their hand.
Feel like I’m missing something above, they’re likely one of these unfourtunate new options—they’re dragon fodder:
Well, that’s pretty much all the ambitious opinions I’ve come up with so far on this set. It looks pretty sweet altogether. I’m really excited for all these new aggressively-slanted blue cards and hope they’re signalling a return to blue being a more nuanced colour than passively providing card advantage tools to midrange decks and trapping people like Gabriel Nassif with unplayable control strategies.
Are there any cards you’re struggling to evaluate? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll either include them in next week’s column or give you an answer straight up!
Fournier’ column got you stoked for Ixalan Standard? Join us every Wednesday for 7 p.m. Standard and get geared up for Canadian Nationals on Oct. 14 !