Monday, September 18, 2017

Ixalan - Red

Ixalan Set Review: White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Multicolor & Artifacts
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Please read my disclaimer before jumping into my evaluations!

Brief overview:
1 common combat trick (Sure Strike), 1 uncommon team pump (Dinosaur Stampede)
2 common removal spells (Firecannon Blast, Unfriendly Fire, plus, I guess, Dual Shot), 1 uncommon removal spell (Lightning Strike)
1 uncommon sweeper-like effect (Fiery Cannonade)
How many cards with raid? 4 (Storm Fleet Pyromancer, Rigging Runner, Storm Fleet Arsonist, Firecannon Blast)
How many cards with enrage? Only 2. (Sun-Crowned Hunters, Raptor Hatchling)

Fire Shrine Keeper – This card is effective at triggering raid on t2 and maybe even t3, but it gets out-classed after that. The activated ability is actually better than some of the 1-drops in the other colors, but that still isn’t enough to make me want to play this card.

Fathom Fleet Firebrand – Solid 2-drop that has value on t4 and beyond. Most of the time, this is probably getting in for 2 damage, since you want to threaten to activate the ability, deterring your opponent from blocking with their 3-drop, and then use your available mana on your second main phase to develop the board. This might be the premier common aggressive creature in the format.

Nest Robber – When I think dinosaurs, I think 4/4, 5/5, and larger. In dinosaur decks, I want to play mana accelerants for my 1 and 2-drops. The 1 toughness might be a bit of a liability.

Tilonalli’s Knight – This card is solid if you can consistently make it a 3/3. I raised concerns about playing too many of these cards in my White Review. You don’t want to have a bunch of these “cares about dinosaur” cards and then not have any dinosaurs!

Frenzied Raptor – This card is fine and I’m sure I’ll end up playing it in a bunch of decks, but it’s nothing to get too excited about. Cards like this often trade down if you’re attacking with them.

Headstrong Brute – For what it’s worth, I usually prefer 3/3s for 3 mana over 4/2s for 3 mana. Menace is a great feature to this card. I’ll play this in any aggressive red decks, but I’m really looking to add it in my UR raid pirate deck. Casting Sure Strike on this guy is a sure way to blow out opponents when they go to double block him.

Rummaging Goblin – Rummaging is worse than looting, and, unlike Amonkhet, there aren’t many reasons to get cards into your graveyard. In an aggressive or tempo-based format, this card would be pretty horrible. I don’t think that’s what Ixalan is going to be, but I’m still keeping this guy on the bench for now. That said, it’s worth noting that Blue doesn’t have any way to persistently loot. It’s possible that designers deemed that to be too powerful for Ixalan, so we should at least keep this guy in mind as we feel out the set.

Brazen Buccaneers – 4 mana for a 3/3 haste, ETB scry 1, or a 2/2 haste ETB find a random basic land from your deck. I’m not excited about this card, but there are going to be decks that have aggressive draws, with the Nest Raptor, into the Headstrong Brute, into these Buccaneers. I’ll put this into those kinds of decks.

Thrash of Raptors – You’re not playing this card unless you have other dinosaurs in your deck, so this is going to be 4 mana for a 5/3 trample. It’s nice that it can trade up, but it’s going to trade down some of the time as well. There aren’t that many creatures with trample in this set, so this is going to be one of the better targets for Sure Strike.

Storm Fleet Pyromancer – 5 mana is an awful lot to pay for a 3/2, but dealing 2 damage is a pretty powerful effect. By turn 5, it shouldn’t be too hard to trigger raid. This card is going to have a similar play pattern as the Fathom Fleet Cutthroat, which destroys target creature that was dealt damage this turn. You’re going to be able to swing with your 2/2s into your opponents’ 4/4s, and if they block, this creature can come down and finish the 4/4 off. It’s a little bit less reliable than the Cutthroat, since they can use a trick to save their creature, but it also has the upside of being able to shoot else. Even if there isn’t something to kill, you can just fire this off and deal 2 damage to your opponent. Try to be mindful of opportunities to bluff this card!

Sun-Crowned Hunters – 6 mana is too much to pay for a 5/4. I’d be more willing to play this card in my deck if I have enough enrage cards to justify playing either Dual Shot or Rile. Even if you don’t have those cards, at the very worst, enrage makes this creature hard to block. If your opponent chump blocks it, it’s still going to deal 3 damage. Notably, if your opponents put enough blockers in front of this thing to kill it, Sure Strike isn’t going to get you an enrage trigger.

Rigging Runner – Good ol’ 1 drop with raid. To be sure, this little guy is not good at enabling raid, since a 1/1 first strike will get outclassed as early as t2. Instead, this guy is meant to be played on t3 or t4, when you’re able to trigger raid and then cast two creatures.

Otepec Huntmaster – This is one of my favorite Red cards in the set. If your deck is full of dinosaurs, this card is going to be closer to an Eye of Ugin than a mana-dork. We saw how powerful the haste ability was with Bloodlust Inciter in Amonkhet. Otepec Huntmaster is going to make every Red dinosaur deck, though I wouldn’t play this card as a splash. I’m excited about dinosaurs, so I’ll probably be taking this card fairly early, at least at the start of Ixalan.

Raptor Hatchling – This card basically says, “when this creature dies, put a 3/3 token into play.” It’s not especially aggressive. For most of the time, it might be difficult to keep this creature alive and trigger enrage (though keep Emergent Growth, Blinding Fog, Crash the Ramparts, Vampire’s Zeal and Dive Down in mind). In any case, I’m happy to pay 2 mana for this card. It’s also worth noting that you’ll probably be able to easily trigger Raid with this creature: a lot of the time, your opponents are going to prefer taking 1 damage over giving you a 3/3, especially when they might get blown out with a combat trick as well.

Wily Goblin – This is the only Red card that generates a treasure token. I wish this was a 2/2, so we’d have a relevant body on the board, but the ramp will probably be enough to justify putting this in your red decks. Given the mana restrictions, I probably want to be playing at least 8 Mountains in my deck. This card is not very good if it gets stuck in your hand or drawn later in the game: you really want to play this on t2.

Lightning-Rig Crew – This card is going to be a worse Thermo-Alchemist. The additional 2 toughness is not worth the additional 1 cmc. Further, you could pair Thermo-Alchemist with cheap instants or sorceries, especially spells that cantrip or were cheap enough to two-spell. For the Lightning-Rig Crew, you’re probably only going to be casting 1 pirate per turn. Then again, your deck should probably have at least 8 or 9 pirates, so it shouldn’t be that hard to trigger the untap ability. As I have stated over and over, I think this format is going to be fairly slow, so this card is going to help you win stalled out board states. I’ll be playing it in my Pirate decks.

Bonded Horncrest – The removal in this set seems pretty weak, so it’s not unreasonable to think that boards are going to be allowed to develop. I like pairing cards like this (can’t attack or block alone) with combat tricks, so if you’re in a situation where you have to swing with a weaker creature that might die to your opponent’s creatures, you can use a combat trick to keep it alive.

Charging Monstrosaur – This card is absurd. It’s probably on a similar power level to Amonkhet’s Crocodile of the Crossing. That card was often cast on t3, putting the counter on the Naga Vitalist that helped cast it. Similarly, this guy is going to be cast on t4 pretty often, with 2 common green ramp spells at 3cmc (New Horizons and Blossom Dryad), and 2 dino dorks in W (Kinjalli’s Caller) and R (Otepec Huntmaster). Be prepared to beat this card!

Storm Fleet Arsonist – This card is obviously powerful, but I would keep in mind that your opponents are going to be able to sacrifice treasure artifacts and lands. This card is a good reason to play Siren’s Ruse in your deck.

Dual Shot – How many creatures have 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. This card also helps you trigger enrage on your own creatures. My impression is that I need some enrage creatures in my deck to include this card in the main deck, but I’ll certainly be quick to add this card from the sideboard if my opponent has enough 1 toughness creatures.

Sure Strike – This is the only combat trick that Red gets, besides Dinosaur Stampede. I generally like Brute Strike over this card because of the incidental damage from trample. There are also going to be situations where you want to cast Sure Strike on an enrage creature to keep it alive, but in those situations, you aren’t going to get the enrage trigger.

Firecannon Blast – A powerful removal spell, this is going in all of your red decks. I’ll probably play up to 3. There is a bit of an awkwardness to this card. Often, in order to be able to attack profitably, you’re going to have to remove blockers, especially if your opponent has a large dinosaur blocking your way. This spell isn’t going to do that for you, as it needs you to attack first in order to do enough damage to take out a high toughness creature.

Unfriendly Fire – It’s neat that this card goes to the face; it’s not that often that we get a red common burn spell that does that. This is going to kill practically everything except for R and G dinosaurs, the Looming Altisaur, and the 2/5 merfolk creature.

Lightning Strike – This is probably the second best uncommon in the set, right after Walk the Plank. It might even be better than Walk the Plank. You will play as many as you can find you will draft this very highly, higher than a lot of rares and even mythics.

Fiery Cannonade – Kozilek’s Return at uncommon, but without the trigger. There’s probably enough 2 toughness creatures in this format to consider inclusion in the main deck. If you’re able to put this in a pirates deck, then it becomes one-sided, which will lead to some pretty serious blowouts.

Rile – How many creatures have enrage? Red has only 2 at uncommon (Sun-Crowned Hunters, Raptor Hatchling); Green has 3, 1 at common (Ravenous Daggertooth) and 2 at uncommon (Ranging Raptors, Snapping Sailback); White has only 1. I think I’m going to want at least 6 or 7 enrage creatures (maybe fewer if they are of higher quality) to put this card in my deck, though you can just cycle it too.

Swashbuckling – Yeah, no thanks! And I hate enchantment auras that give haste: it’s likely that the creature you’re enchanting was already on the battlefield!

Hijack – It’s probably a little too cute to try to pair this with Costly Plunder. I’m only looking to play this in very aggressive decks, where it lets you set up lethal alpha strikes. I’ll bring this in from the sideboard if I’m getting into racing situations with my opponent and my opponent has large, bomby creature for me to steal.

Demolish – Nope, not going to play this, even if my opponent has some of these rare artifacts.

Makeshift Munitions – Goblin Bombardment, except it costs 1 mana to activate and you can sacrifice artifacts. If you have enough ways to generate treasure artifacts, I could get behind putting this in your deck. I’m not looking to put it in my deck otherwise, though.

Dinosaur Stampede – One of two team pumps in the format, the other being the weak Rallying Roar. This, on the other hand, is Trumpet Blast with the dinosaur upside. I’ll say, it is sort of strange that Vampires, which want to go wide, get a weak team pump in Rallying Roar, but Dinosaurs, which tend to go tall rather than wide, have this powerful team pump. I’ll certainly be playing this in my dinosaur decks. Not sure if I want it in my Pirates decks; there is a chance that I will.

Trove of Temptation – This is a strange card. I usually don’t want to pay 4 mana to get my opponent to attack me, which is usually what they should be trying to do anyways! If you’re behind on the board, it’s pretty disastrous to play a 4 mana spell that doesn’t immediately impact the board. In a way, this is basically a 4 cmc mana dork. Sure, you could let the treasure tokens accumulate, but if you’re not using the treasure tokens, you’re not getting any advantage out of this card. To be sure, there are strategies that use treasure tokens (see: Makeshift Munitions, Revel in Riches), but those strategies require you to set up defenses to save you from your opponent’s beatdown plan, and Trove of Temptation doesn’t do anything in that regard. This is a card that you’re going to have to be creative with in order to really maximize its effectiveness.

Quick recap: Red has some of the best uncommons in the set with Lightning Strike and Charging Monstrosaur. I think RG dinosaurs is going to be a powerful archetype. I do think there are going to be some trap cards that you need to be cautious with, such as Rile, Makeshift Munitions and Trove of Temptation.

Red cards to draft early: Lightning Strike, Charging Monstrosaur, Otepec Huntmaster.

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