Monday, September 18, 2017

Ixalan - Green

Ixalan Set Review: White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Multicolor & Artifacts
Ixalan Videos: White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Multicolor & Artifacts | Rares Part 1 | Rares Part 2

Please read my disclaimer before jumping into my evaluations!

Brief overview:
2 removal spells (Pounce, Savage Stomp)
2 combat tricks, but 1 is bad unless UG Merfolk (River Heralds' Boon, Crash the Ramparts)
How many ramp cards? 2 common (Blossom Dryad, New Horizons), 1 uncommon (Drover of the Mighty). NOTE, there are two pseudo-ramp cards for dinos in W and R (Otepec Huntmaster, Kinjalli's Caller). Also Ranging Raptors, and explore creatures.
How many enrage cards? 1 common (Ravenous Daggertooth), 2 uncommon (Ranging Raptors, Snapping Sailback)

Jungle Delver – Verdant Automaton wasn’t very good, so I doubt that this card will be good either. 4 mana is just too much to pay to get a counter on a creature. If the format is grindy enough, then this card goes up and might be worth consideration for the main deck, but for now, I think you would need significant counter or Merfolk synergies to put this card in your main deck.

Deeproot Warrior – Solid two drop. This is going to be hitting for 2 very often, as opponents aren’t going to want to block this that often. Raptor Companion is the only other two drop that trades with this.

Ixalli’s Diviner – 2 mana for a 1/4 ETB scry 1 or a 0/3 ETB get a random land out of your deck. I’m a fan of this card, as it helps out with smoothing out your land drops. I see myself playing this in most of my green decks, so long as they’re not hyper aggressive.

Ixalli’s Keeper – Unlike the other creatures with 8 mana activations (Encampment Keeper, Shore Keeper, Blight Keeper, and Fire Shrine Keeper), this card is a least a reasonable rate: 2/2 for 2 mana. This card reminds me Oran-Rief Invoker, though you didn’t have to sacrifice the Invoker and it pumped only itself. It’s nice to have late game mana sinks, especially for when you get flooded out. If I’m playing a typical 17 land deck, I try to have a couple of mana sinks. If you ever get to 8 mana in a stalled board state, having this creature on the board makes it hard for your opponent to block, since you can activate this guy at instant speed. Unfortunately, you have to tap this creature to activate the ability, so you’re not able to swing with it in those situations.

Blossom Dryad – Mana dorks just keep getting worse and worse. We go from Arbor Elf at 1 cmc to Naga Vitalist to 2 cmc, and now we’re up to 3 cmc. That said, at least we get a 2/2 body out of it, which, unlike the Naga Vitalist, isn’t going to always be irrelevant. Further, a lot of the best spells, such as the Charging Monstrosaur, are at 5 mana, so ramping from 3 to 5 might be more impactful than ramping from 1 to 3. Unfortunately, this guy doesn’t actually fix your mana, which would have been nice, because I expect Naya Dinosaurs is going to be an interesting archetype. On the margins, this card also has a bit of synergy with the double-faced lands, as well as New Horizons. I’m starting Ixalan off by playing a couple copies of this card. If the format turns out to be faster than I expect, I’ll probably start cutting down on it.

Ravenous Daggertooth – It’s likely that you’re only going to get one enrage trigger off this guy, after you trade him off with your opponent’s 2 or 3-drop. That’s just the fate of 3 mana 3/2s, they get themselves killed. I’ll play this card regardless, but it's closer to the side of "filler" than the side of "good."

Tishana’s Wayfinder – I like this card in the UG Merfolk archetype. It sometimes gets counters, which some Merfolk cards care about (Herald of Secret Streams, Shapers of Nature), and if you whiff on counters, you can always bounce it back to your hand with Storm Sculptor. This gets to be either a 3/3 with ETB scry 1 or a Civic Wayfinder (although the land you get is going to be randomly chosen from your deck). I’m OK to pay 3 mana for either outcome.

Grazing Whiptail – There aren’t too many creatures with Reach in this format; indeed, Atzocan Archer is the only other creature that has reach. Green decks are going to have to be ready to deal with the numerous White, Blue, and Black fliers. This guy does a good job with that, blocking all of them except the Glorifier of Dusk and the Deathless Ancient, which are both 4/4s. It also does a decent job at clogging up the ground. That said, I think dinosaur decks are going to want to be proactive, playing large 4/4s and 5/5s ahead of schedule and attacking. This doesn’t exactly do that. I’ll be looking to keep this in the sideboard for now, but I imagine there will be drafts where he’s going to be filler.

Jade Guardian – 4 mana for a 3/3 Hexproof creature isn’t terrible, but it’s going to get outclassed by dinosaurs and it’s not really going to protect you from 3 powered 2 and 3-drops. The UG Merfolk archetype wants to slow the game down so it can start getting counters on its Merfolk. This is one of the best targets to put our counters from spells like River Heralds’ Boon and New Horizons. You should feel confident loading this guy up; in fact, if I was running multiple of these, I’d even consider playing One With the Wind. There is only one sacrifice effect in the format: Black does not have any “opponent sacrifices a creature” spells, White does not have any “opponent sacrifices an attacking or blocking creature” spells. There’s only the Storm Fleet Arsonist, which is a lot easier to play around at 5 cmc. If you can build your deck to support this guy, he could be an acceptable win condition.

Spike-Tailed Ceratops – Speaking of ways to slow the game down. 5 mana for a 4/4 isn’t very exciting, but if you have enough ramp (Kinjalli’s Caller and Otepec Huntmaster count!) then you might be willing to forgive his stats. However, as far as 5 mana dinosaurs go, this guy is relatively weak.

Colossal Dreadmaw – A bit of a downgrade from Rampaging Hippo (which had cycling). That card wasn’t great in Hour of Devastation, and that format wasn’t especially fast, so there’s a good chance that Colossal Dreadmaw is also going to be unexceptional as well. It will make the cut in a lot of decks, since it's a pretty good late game card (it has trample!) but often you're going to be wishing that this guy was a Burning Sun's Avatar or a Carnage Tyrant.

Ancient Brontodon – Continuing on the theme of downgrades, this feels like a bad version of Greater Sandwurm, which was 1 mana less, 2 P/T less, but couldn’t be blocked by creatures power 2 or less. The lack of that clause (and Trample) shouldn’t be underestimated! A common play pattern for massive creatures like this is that by the time you hit enough lands and cast this card, you’re far behind in life total. Even if your opponent doesn’t have a spell like Walk the Plank to remove this creature, you might not be able to “turn the corner” and attack because you need this thing to block, and your opponent can throw a chump blocker in front of it. Explore is going to help you somewhat with hitting your land drops, but 8 mana is a lot.

Kumena’s Speaker – You’re obviously only playing this creature in a UG Merfolk deck. The quality of this card depends entirely on the speed of the format: the faster the format, the better this card gets, the slower the format, the worse this card gets. There is a point at which the format might be so slow and grindy that you don’t want to waste a card on a 2/2 with no upside, even if it did only cost 1 mana.

Drover of the Mighty – Aside from the removal, this is probably one of the best green commons/uncommons in the set. For one, it plays an important role (ramp) at the 2 cmc part of your curve (whereas Blossom Dryad and New Horizons are 3 cmc). Next, it fixes your mana, and in this format, there aren’t that many cards that do that (New Horizons, Pillar of Origins, Unclaimed Territory, or, ugh, Unknown Shores). Finally, it turns itself into a 3/3 beater for 2 mana if you play any dinosaurs. And you’re likely to be playing dinosaurs in your deck, since those are some of the better cards to ramp into. That said, I’ll still probably put this guy in a UG Merfolk deck.

Merfolk Branchwalker – We saw this card in Black as the Seekers’ Squire. I sung praises about that card, and this one is even better, with a base power of 2. Not only that, but it’s a Merfolk! Curving from this card, into the Blue Kor Hookmaster (Watertrap Weaver), into Storm Sculptor is going to be a beating for your opponent.

Wildgrowth Walker – Compare this card to Lurking Chupacabra, which is the 4 cmc 2/3 that gives -2/-2 until EOT whenever a creature you control explores. Wildgrowth Walker is certainly a better rate and fits more conveniently into your curve, as you'll be able to cast it before your Explore creatures. That said, the Chupacabra is going to have a much higher ceiling than the Walker. The Chupacabra will probably pay for itself if it's able to kill even just one of your opponent's creatures, and if you're able to consistently trigger Explore, the Chupacabra will take over the game.  These two cards are going to be the main cards for the GB Explore deck. This card reminds me of Edrwal Illuminator and Graf Mole: you need to build around it to make it good, but it can get out of hand if you’re able to get a few triggers.

Atzocan Archer -- How good is Atzocan Archer? Well, what has 1 toughness? Drover of the Mighty, Emissary of Sunrise, Rummaging Goblin, Shipwreck Looter, Siren Lookout, Siren Stormtamer, Dire Fleet Hoarder, Wily Goblin, Rigging Runner, Raptor Companion, Nest Robber, Adanto Vanguard, Duskborne Skymarcher. That’s enough to make me want to play this card. The best part about this card, however, is that you can use it to trigger your own enrage creatures. Usually, fight spells say, “fight a creature you don’t control” but those words are conspicuously missing from Atzocan Archer. Just make sure your Archer doesn’t die!

Ranging Raptors – Rampant Growth as a triggered ability on a creature is very powerful, so your opponents are going to be loath to block this creature or attack into it. Remember, we’ve actually been paying 3 mana to have this effect (Beneath the Sands), so getting it on a 2/3 creature, and having it be potentially repeatable, has the possibility of being broken. At the very least, this makes me want to play Rile, to have a bit more control over when this ability is triggered. In any case, you’re putting this in all of your decks.

Vineshaper Mystic – Another solid target for Storm Sculptor to bounce, I’m in! 3 power and 5 toughness is a pretty great rate for a 3 drop, especially when it’s spread across multiple creatures, but you need to be very careful about playing enough Merfolk to support this card. You definitely don’t want to be in a situation where you don’t have at least one other Merfolk on the board, since at that point, this card is inefficient. Ideally, you want to put both counters on other Merfolk, since this is a ripe target to bounce. Still, even if you play this into an empty board, it's still a 2/4 for 3 mana, which is a fine rate.

Snapping Sailback – This should be included as a conditional removal spell. 5 mana for a 4/4 flash creature is just fine, but this is going to be a 5/5 a significant portion of the time, since it’ll be eating something when it gets flashed in. Be careful about running into this card! This is one of the best green uncommons.

Thundering Spineback – While this card isn’t huge as a 5/5, it does take over the game if you have enough dinosaurs in play to benefit from the anthem. Even if you don’t, it starts spitting out 4/4 trample dinosaur tokens. This card is obviously great, but you’re going to want some ramp to get to 7 mana to cast this thing.

Pounce – Prey Upon, but 1 mana more and instant speed. Prey Upon was a card that was somewhat controversial in Aether Revolt insofar as some people thought it was great and others thought it was bad. As always, it depends on context. In Ixalan, I think you’ll be happy with Pounce if you put it in a deck with a bunch of reasonably sized dinosaurs. If you’re leaning heavily on Pounce as your removal spell or if you have multiple copies of it, then I’m more interested in playing the green dinosaurs such as Grazing Whiptail (3/4), Spike-Tailed Ceratops (4/4), and Colossal Dreadmaw (6/6) than I am the red dinosaurs which have less toughness (Frenzied Raptor 4/2 and Thrash of Raptors 5/3). The fact that this has instant speed makes it less likely that you’re going to get blown out by your opponent’s instant speed. That said, don’t get cute, if your opponent is tapped out and has cards in their hand, you will often want to main-phase Pounce! Finally, you’re going to have to work to make this good if you want to put it in your UG Merfolk deck.

River Heralds’ Boon – Fortunately the Merfolk deck, no one else is going to want this card. Unfortunately for the Merfolk deck, it’s not terribly interested in this card either. We saw similar effects at this mana cost in Shadows over Innistrad (Might Beyond Reason) and Battle for Zendikar (Infuse with the Elements). Both of those cards were not very good. Granted, this card does spread the counters over two creatures, which might make it a bit better than its predecessors. I’d have to be heavily committed to Merfolk to play this card, and even then, I’d be looking to replace this card with something else. (And no, you can’t target the same creature with this card. If a card asks for two targets, you need to find two different targets.)

Crash the Ramparts – Giant Growth keeps getting worse. We just had Gift of Strength at 2 cmc, and it was just fine, nothing exciting. The fact that this gives your creature trample is a pretty nice improvement, but at 3 mana, in the early game, you’re not going to be able to cast this spell and cast another creature on the same turn (and in the early game, what you really want to be doing is developing the board). In those situations where you’re using it as a pseudo-removal spell, it’s not great. It’s conditional: you have to hope your opponent blocks the way you want them to and doesn’t have a removal spell for your creature. However, typical combat tricks are tempo-neutral in that you don’t get to push any damage through (whereas for an unconditional removal spell, you would shoot the blocker during your main phase and then attack for damage); with this spell, you’ll at least be able to push through a few points of damage. And of course, there are going to be situations where you get to lethal unsuspecting opponents who are trying to chump block you.

Savage Stomp – This is probably in contention with Snapping Sailback for the best Green common/uncommon in the set. Sure, it’s not Clear Shot, and yeah, it’s not instant speed, but the upside of being able to cast this for 1 mana a significant portion of the time cannot be understated. You get to make one of your dinosaurs bigger (like jeez, it costs 4 mana to make a Merfolk bigger!), it’s going to kill a creature, and you’re almost surely going to be able to cast another creature that turn. That’s a massive tempo gain for team dinosaurs.

Emergent Growth – This card is like a bad sacrifice effect. Your opponent will be able to choose which creature to block with, so you’re going to kill their worst creature, just as if you had Edicted them. You do have some degree of control over this, though, since some of your opponents’ creatures are going to be tapped down sometimes. That said, there aren’t many creature abilities that require tapping, and your opponent isn’t going to be attacking you with their weaker creatures (the creatures you don’t want to kill). For example, if your opponent is killing you with a Charging Monstrosaur, that’s the creature you want to kill, but that thing is going to be tapped (it already attacked you), and so it’s not going to be a viable kill target for Emergent Growth. This card gets marginally better if you cast it on a creature with trample, but, really, this card is like a 4 mana version of Kaladesh’s Larger than Life or Elemental Uprising from Oath of the Gatewatch, both of which were bad Magic cards.

Commune with Dinosaurs – This is a neat card, harkening back to Ancient Stirrings. If I have enough dinosaurs to guarantee that I hit with this, and if I have some of the stronger dinosaurs that I want to draw (maybe Carnage Tyrant? Or the mythic guy?) then I’ll play this card. I’m not sure I would play it just so I could draw into my single copy of Charging Monstrosaur though. I’d just rather play another creature or removal spell.

Blinding Fog – Fogs and Ranger’s Guile effects don’t have an esteemed history in Limited, but this card combines the both aspects. We’ve seen what happens when a card has flexibility (Destructive Tampering). So besides being a Fog, you can use this card as a counter spell against a removal spell. Unfortunately, though, the added functionality of this fog and the cute maneuvers you can perform with it still isn’t really enough to make me want to play it. I'd be happy to be proven wrong, as I prefer playing with cards that have multiple modes.

Crushing Canopy – Sideboard card, and you’re probably bringing it in to kill their fliers. There aren’t really enough enchantments in this set for me to use the second clause. I doubt I’d even bring this in against the rare legendary enchantments (except maybe the Outpost Siege? I’m not sure), though I would bring it in if my opponent is relying on an enchantment like Revel in Riches or Navigator’s Ruin to win the game. Check out my review of Demystify to see a full list of enchantments in the format.

New Horizons – Gift of Paradise, Weirding Wood, we’ve seen this card before. Of the three mana ramp spells, I am reminded most of Map the Wastes (Rampant Growth and Bolster 1) in Fate Reforged. That card was mediocre, just like 3 mana ramp spells that followed it. I’d be more interested in playing this card if I had a lot of cards to ramp into (maybe multiple copies of Charging Monstrosaur?) or if I needed the mana fixing for strong splash cards. It might be worth noting that the +1/+1 counter could be fairly significant: Map the Wastes wasn’t great because you didn’t have a choice about which creature to bolster, it always bolstered your weakest creatures, often making your Ainok Guide into a 2/2 or your Archers’ Parapet into a 1/6. New Horizons gives you a choice. In a situation where you’re ramping, your immediate concern is not dying to a beatdown plan. New Horizons lets you put the counter on a creature that would best hold off your opponent’s attacking creatures. Maybe you stick it on your 2/3 Seekers’ Squire, making it into a 3/4, or maybe your Skyblade of the Legion, making it into a 2/4. Even though you missed out on developing the board on t3, maybe your t2 drops can hold the fort down.

Verdant Rebirth – This is a quirky card. It’s not a great tempo play, since you need to hold up mana to use it at the right time, and sometimes you can be blown out (e.g., in the classic combat scenario where your creature is going to die from combat damage, you go to pump it, and your opponent kills it with an instant speed removal spell). You’re not getting great value out of this card if you cast this on a creature you chump blocked with. The best-case scenarios are when you use this as a pseudo-counter spell for your opponent’s removal spell, or if cast it on a creature that trades off with one of your opponent’s creatures. In those situations, you will have effectively 1-for-0ed them, since you get to cantrip with this. It’s even better when you’re able to use this on creatures with ETB triggers, such as Explore. If the format is fast and unforgiving, this card will not be very good. If the format is slow and attrition-based, then this card could be an all-star.

Slice in Twain – Keep it in the sideboard. You’re probably going to leave it there too.

Quick recap: I’m always the most enthusiastic about playing Green whenever a new set breaks. You get ramp, you get big creatures. The game plan is always straightforward. Ixalan is no different.

Green cards to draft early: Drover of the Mighty, Ranging Raptors, Snapping Sailback, Pounce, Savage Stomp

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