Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ixalan Notes

Trying something here. I'm going to write out my first thoughts on Ixalan cards, so that later, after I've had the chance to play with them, I can look back and see how wrong I was.

Few house-keeping notes: There are going to be grammatical and spelling errors. I didn't proof-read this, I didn't edit this, this is my first draft. I understand that I wrote a lot. I tried to be concise. But it's important to commit the time and energy into learning the set, and that sometimes requires in-depth discussion about individual cards and the context in which those cards exist. It would be utterly unhelpful to the reader, and to me, really, if I just assigned grades and said, "this card is good/bad!"

I'm not going to go through these cards in alphabetical order. I don't think that is a pedagogically useful tactic. Instead, I am going to sort them by common creatures, uncommon creatures, common removal, uncommon removal, and other common and uncommon spells. I think it's more useful to see the mana curves laid out, to see what you're getting for the prices you're paying.

A note on variance: We often talk about variance in terms of randomness of card draws. When evaluating the power level of cards, I like to think of variance as the potential quality of the card in the range of situations that you might encounter. For example, I might say that a card like Legion’s Judgment is a “high variance” card power-wise: sometimes it’s very good because you just happen to play an opponent with a lot of large dinosaurs; other times, it gets stuck in your hand. It’s important to realize that almost every card can be good, or even very good, in the right scenario – that’s why it’s not terribly useful to give monolithic grades for cards. There are few, if any, cards that are always good in every situation. (I mean, Pack Rat requires you to have more cards in your hand! Umezawa’s Jitte requires a creature to equip it to!)

A note on context: Of course, in order to understand the power level of a card, you need to have an understanding of the format in which it is played. A card that costs 6 or 7 mana that does not immediately impact the board and has a poor rate might appear horrible in an aggressive or tempo-based format. But that 6 or 7 mana card might accrue value over the course of several turns, which might actually be very good in an attrition or slow, stalled out format. (We’ll re-examine this when we get to Bellowing Aegisaur later!) So to give even the most rough estimate of a card's value, we need to have an understanding of the environment in which it exists.

After reading through all of the cards in this set, I’m under the impression that the format is going to be somewhat grindy, somewhat likely to result in stalled board states. The 2-drops just aren’t very powerful, and there doesn’t appear, at least at first blush, to be many strategies that would have you play 7-8 2-drops and 14-15 lands. Instead, the format seems to be synergy based (or at least it’s trying to be, with all these vampires, dinosaurs, pirates and merfolk.) We'll see if this prediction turns out to be true or not!

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