Rivals of Ixalan: Modern Impact

Normally, spoiler season has me excited. I enjoy the roll-out of a new set of cards, little by little, allowing my inner brewer to start piecing together synergies with the hope of finding something unique, fun, and competitive. However, as the floodgates were opened and Rivals of Ixalan previews began to wash over me I found myself immersed in what felt like a lukewarm sea of mediocrity. This surprised me, as I tend to look for the positive in all things Magic. I was having a hard time getting excited about anything I was seeing.

My intention was to write an article showcasing what I felt were the top cards from Rivals of Ixalan for brewing in Modern. While this article is that, it ended up being something more, simply because I couldn’t find that many cards in the set that I felt showed much promise for having an impact on Modern. So, beyond my ideas for Modern brewing, I’d like to share some thoughts that I’ve had about what some of the printings in RIX represent in terms of design philosophy and also what I believe may be a signpost for Magic’s future. That said; let’s take a look at some cards.


Blazing Hope

This card may be complete garbage, but there is one Modern archetype that could potentially make use of it: Death’s Shadow. While Shadow decks have largely moved toward the Grixis color combination, some have splashed white or even played it at the exclusion of other colors. Ranger of Eos and Lingering Souls have been the primary draws to white along with the potent sideboard cards the color provides. I feel Blazing Hope could find a home as a one-of in white Shadow decks as a powerful removal spell that can hit targets which evade Fatal Push or may otherwise be immune to the deck’s typical removal suite (ie. creatures with protection from black/red). Blazing Hope is obviously at its best against larger opposing creatures, so it may suitable for the mirror. Being a one mana spell allows it to play nicely with Snapcaster Mage and the exile clause is generally desirable. All that said, it won’t surprise me if this one doesn’t end up making it into anyone’s 75, as turning the card on, even in Shadow decks, is still a legitimate hurdle to overcome.

Ravenous Chupacabra

This card is powerfully boring. If you haven’t heard Patrick Sullivan’s rant on the game design error that is Ravenous Chupacabra, it’s worth a listen. All that aside, I don’t think the card will be problematic for Modern, but I imagine it will see some play. Creature toolbox decks, likely of the Abzan variety, that feature Chord of Calling and/or Eldritch Evolution seem like the natural place for the Chupacabra to find a home. It’s also possible that this is the piece that starts to make a mono-black devotion list more realistic as well, as curving the “goat sucker” into Gray Merchant of Asphodel seems like a nice line.

Mastermind’s Acquisition

I don’t think Acquisition is likely to see much, if any, Modern play in current deck builds, but there is always the possibility that a new archetype will emerge at some point that may interested in such an effect. It’s function is definitely desirable, but the cost is likely too high for Modern. Instead, what I want to talk about is what I think this card suggests in terms of Wizard’s design philosophy.

Tutor effects are as old as the game of Magic itself. Historically, such cards have proven problematic, as the effect is powerful enough that, unless priced correctly, they risk being broken. Diabolic Tutor has been the longstanding example of a fairly priced tutor. That said, it may actually be overpriced, as the card has seldom shown up in competitive decks over the years. I believe that Mastermind’s Acquisition is Wizards acknowledging that their standard vanilla tutor is too weak. I don’t know that Acquisition is necessarily that much more powerful (the “wish” component certainly makes it more flexible), but I like the knobs that they’ve chosen to adjust. Keeping the cost the same but upping the versatility a bit seems like a move toward making spells a little more relevant in a world that has become more and more focused on creatures and combat. That’s something I can appreciate. Assuming the design doesn’t cause any problems, I could see Wizards experimenting a little bit more with tutors in the future. I think they want to avoid printing too many tutors in general, as it can create a problem if the overall density of an effect gets too high (see blue cantrips), but maybe we could get some tutor reprints. In particular, I think that Diabolic Intent and Grim Tutor could survive a Standard legal printing without causing problems and the effects would be welcomed in Modern.

World Shaper

This is a card that I’m legitimately excited to brew with. As someone who has been known to sleeve up Seismic Assault from time to time, this card gets my gears turning. In the most simple scenario, curving Assault into World Shaper and double shocking it means that you could be untapping with a sizeable mana advantage as early as turn four (with a first turn accelerant, like Birds of Paradise). I could also see playing World Shaper in an Assault deck with Treasure Hunt that runs an extremely high number of lands. Using all the drawn lands to clear the board then bringing all of those lands into play to cast/flashback a huge Devil’s Play sounds intriguing. There’s also potential for inclusion in Valakut builds, particularly those playing Prismatic Omen, as World Shaper conveniently dies to a single Valakut trigger and provides a way to return spent fetchlands to play to again trigger the Molten Pinnacle.

Merfolk Mistbinder

This card shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone looking for Modern-worthy consideration. I’ve already been testing updated versions of U/G Merfolk with Mistbinder and the card is what you want and expect. That being said, I don’t expect Merfolk to start dominating the format. The addition of yet another lord to the deck only serves to make the deck more linear in its beat down plan. The problem is that style of deck just hasn’t been well positioned in Modern for some time. Small creature strategies tend to leverage disruptive elements (see Hatebears and Death and Taxes), as you need some sort of interaction to stop the combo decks in the format. While Merfolk can certainly present a fast clock, which is enough to win games, it doesn’t seem to be aggressive enough to make up for the only minimal amount of disruption it gets to run, nor does it include reach to close out a game if combat ceases to be an option. Maybe the entire archetype needs to be rethought, possibly going bigger, ditching Aether Vial, and leveraging more three mana creatures and additional spells.

Silent Gravestone

This is one of the more interesting cards in RIX, in my opinion. At first brush, it seems like an effect we’ve seen many times before, but with further consideration, one realizes it’s something quite different. I don’t view Silent Gravestone as graveyard hate, but rather as protection. This is something that Dredge can run to protect its graveyard from the likes of Scavenging Ooze and Surgical Extraction. I appreciate this design, even if it doesn’t end up making waves, simply because it’s something different. I’m a fan of elegant designs and I think this qualifies as such.

Journey to Eternity

 

Okay, so this is actually the card that I’m most excited about in RIX. As far as applications for Modern are concerned, I see Journey as more of a role-player than a centerpiece. Both sides of this card being legendary is a legitimate limitation, but I do think the card is powerful. It could be included in the various Abzan toolbox decks as a value engine and a way to recur combo pieces that were met with untimely removal or discard. The interaction between Journey and Sakura-Tribe Elder as a ramp engine is something that was immediately realized, though I think that may ultimately prove to be a bit clunky. Perhaps there’s a new archetype variation that is looking to redefine what it means to grind in the format.  Journey to Eternity and its interaction with Kami of False Hope intrigues me. The Kami is a self-sacrificing creature that provides a fog effect. It can be used to transform Journey and then create a miserable lock against any opponent trying to beat you with honest damage (it also reminds me of the good old days, recurring Spore Frog with Genesis). Sun Titan seems like a solid include in such a build, as it can return Journey to the battlefield from the graveyard, and reanimating the Titan at a mana discount is something I’d sign up for. Ultimately, I think it’s unlikely for Journey to show up as more than a two-of, but it definitely deserves a spot on the “spice rack”.

Blood Sun

Why does this draw a card? I’d really like to know.

Anyway, it seems like a veritable certainty that this card will see play in Modern. The obvious comparison with Blood Sun is Blood Moon, but the cards are pretty different. It seems to me that the floor on Blood Sun is lower than Moon, but the ceiling might be higher. Both cards can potentially generate “oops, I win” scenarios, wherein you lock your opponent out of being able to cast spells. Blood Sun is particularly potent against decks that are heavily reliant on fetchlands; but if it comes down after the opponent has gotten two multicolor lands into play, it may well not do much. As such, I think that Blood Sun may be relegated to sideboard status, unlike Blood Moon, which remains a reasonable maindeck strategy. There has been some talk of using Blood Sun proactively with things like the Ravnica “Karoo lands” (AKA “bounce lands”), but I don’t see that panning out. While the idea of having something like Azusa, Lost But Seeking in play with Blood Sun and playing multiple two-mana lands per turn sounds appealing, the setup involved is time that could just be spent winning the game through other means.

It’s possible that Blood Sun’s primary role is going to be in Tron decks as protection against the Ghost Quarters of the world. My initial reaction to that idea was really negative, as I generally view Tron as a deck that doesn’t need any additional help, but Tron taking a turn off to cast Blood Sun may run counter to their game plan enough that it proves not to be worthwhile.

Quick aside, I actually like the idea of Tron decks in Modern, but I don’t love how consistently they can assemble turn three Tron. As such, I’m generally on the ban Ancient Stirrings team, as it seems most similar to other banned cards, like Ponder and Preordain, and the fact that it facilitates Lantern Control is another concern, as that, too, is a deck that, while I’m glad it exists, I would hate for it to become too dominant.

Okay, now it’s time to put on your tinfoil hat…

I have a theory that Blood Sun marks the beginning of a future format. The main purpose of Blood Sun seems to be to serve as a check against the powerful transform lands in Ixalan block. The role that Blood Sun may play in Standard seems completely reasonable, as the card doesn’t lock anyone out of a game, but may prevent a player from running away with one. Why is Blood Sun so much less potent in Standard than it may prove in Modern? Well, there aren’t fetchlands, Karoos, Eldrazi Temples, or Urza Lands in Standard. Those are all designs that I think are safe to assume will not be replicated in future Standard sets. Now, keep in mind that Wizards is launching Magic Arena with Ixalan as the starting point. It would seem very logical to me that, assuming Arena is a success, Wizards will want to replicate that play experience in paper and having a format that directly transfers from the digital to the physical seems like a pretty obvious idea. Since the actual launch of Arena is still quite some time off, that release may well coincide with a time when creating a new format, a la Frontier, is warranted. If that happens, I suspect Ixalan will be the starting point thereof. Personally, I don’t want that to happen because I think Magic can only support so many main tournament formats and the creation of another would likely spell the end for Modern (which seems like a bad move) given the popularity of the format currently. I think Modern is a pretty great format and the problems it may have I believe can be fixed. I’m open to many potential fixes, including changing the start point of the format to a set that more accurately reflects “modern” design philosophy. I also think that slightly more powerful Standard formats could be acceptable, allowing for the reprinting of Modern role-players in Standard sets. Anyway, this is a turning into a topic that could be an entire article in and of itself; Behold! The true power of Blood Sun!

My name is Blake Niemi. I began playing Magic in 1995 around the release of 4th Edition. I was a casual kitchen table player for a number of years and then turned to competitive play with the release of Mirrodin in 2003. While my ability to find the time for competitive play has waxed and waned over the years, I’ve continued to follow the game closely and presently find my enjoyment primarily in brewing decks for Modern.

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