Monday, September 18, 2017

Ixalan - White

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!

Two questions I tried to ask myself when evaluating these cards: (1) is this format going to be slow or fast? (2) is this format going to revolve around synergies or "good stuff" cards?

Hat tip to Vishu Doshi who provided some important insights.

Brief overview:
1 uncommon team pump, only +1/+1 and untap (Rallying Roar), 2 cmc
2 combat tricks (Vampire's Zeal and Sheltering Light), both 1 cmc
3 common removal spells (Legion's Judgment, Pious Interdiction, Slash of Talons), 2 uncommon removal spells (Pious Interdiction, Ixalan's Binding)

Encampment Keeper – Immediate reaction is hard pass, but maybe this card could be OK in (1) a go-wide deck and (2) in a very slow, stalled out format. I'm not counting on it.

Kinjalli’s Caller – I like this card. Removal is a bit more expensive in this set (a lot of 3cmc and higher), so people will not want to spend a removal spell on a 1-drop (while 2cmc mana dorks sometimes get killed). This card is better than ramp in the right deck, more akin to Eye of Ugin! That said, this card fits better in an aggressive, tempo-based deck, and worse in an attrition, value-based deck.

Bishop’s Soldier – Usually we have to pay a bit more for Lifelink. 2 cmc for a 2/2 lifelink is a pretty solid rate.

Raptor Companion – Not a huge fan of this card. Format feels slow and grindy, so aggressive 2-drops are going to become useless pretty quick. Pretty nice if you can cast this for W with another 2/3-drop by using Kinjalli’s Caller, though.

Skyblade of the Legion – Ugh. A 1/3 flier for 2 cmc is not very impactful. It doesn’t block especially well, it only gets in for 1 every turn. Not sure if having Favorable Winds is enough to make me want to play this card. Also not sure if the Vampire synergies are enough either. Remember, the 1/3 flier in BFZ/Oath was only acceptable because it was Ally creature type!

Legion Conquistador – The fact that we’re paying 3 mana for a 2/2 is pretty bad. Even if we get to put 2 in our hand, we’re still paying that awful rate! The WB Vampire strategy appears to be go-wide, so this does work towards that goal. That said, it’s super slow. This card goes up in grindy format, otherwise it’s not great.

Queen’s Commission – We’re getting 2 power 2 toughness lifelink for 3 cmc instead of for 2 as in the case of Bishop's Soldier. Not great, but we're paying for the extra bodies. We need to have some Vampire or go-wide synergies to make me want to play this card. If we're able to get those (Sanctum Seeker, Anointed Deacon, Bishop of the Bloodstained), then we're going to want many copies of this card. If you're finding that WB Vampires is open in your draft, don't sleep on this card.

Territorial Hammerskull – This three drop is great. Most W dinosaur decks are probably going to have multiples of this card. Historically, we’ve had this ability on 4-drop 3/2s (Fiend Hunter, Vizier of the True), and one of the major drawbacks of those cards was that you’d want to tap down their larger creature, but the 3/2 would just end up trading off with a 2-drop 2/2, so it’d basically buy you some tempo but would trade down. This, on the other hand, will likely survive a battle with 2-drops, so at worse it trades for mana parity.

Looming Altisaur – A 1/7 vanilla creature for 4 cmc is not great, but it is a role player.  There aren't many common/uncommon creatures that will kill this guy in combat (only the Ancient Brontodon, really). But the Looming Altisaur is not going to meaningfully increase your clock, and it's not great in situations where your opponent is going wide. In those situations, your opponent can just swing into this without having their creatures die: yeah, one of their creatures will get blocked but it is unlikely that our 1/7 will kill anything. This card is better against RG dinosaur decks that want to go tall, since you're able to blank cards like Charging Monstrosaur.

Slight digression: this is one of those cards that demonstrates the value of keeping careful track of the power and toughness of the creatures that your opponent plays against you in game 1. Especially in new formats, I write every creature down, as well as the P/T (yeah, this pisses off players sometimes, so you have to find time to write; I often do it on their turn when they’re thinking). Sometimes you will find that a creature with stats like these will match up very favorably against some decks – in those situations, a card like this could win you the game! In any case, there is hardly any downside to taking the time to write down cards, especially when you are learning a new format. When I bring this up to other Magic players, I find that many like to tell me how they're able to remember all the cards their opponents played against them, as if they're too good or too smart to waste time writing cards down. I sorta doubt their claims, but in any case, it takes both time and effort to be able to recall such information, especially when you consider the fact that it's not just that we need to remember what was played against us, but we need to be able to think about it analytically. We need to organize that information (how many 2 drops? how many 1 toughness creatures? how many combat tricks?), and we need to do so quickly, because we need to be able to act within the time constraints of sideboarding. This is the easiest of edges, and almost no one does it (the only opponent I've ever had who did this was Gerry Thompson).

Paladin of the Bloodstained – This is a “low” variance card in the sense that it’s never great but it’s never really horrible either. How aggressively we want to draft this card will depend entirely on the WB Vampire archetype.

Pterodon Knight – I will note that we have now seen 2 creatures that care about dinosaurs but aren’t actually dinosaurs (and there is an uncommon, Imperial Lancer, as well). Just be careful about putting too many of these cards into your deck: you don’t want opening hands that have Kinjalli’s Caller and Pterodon Knight in it but no dinosaur! This card is fine if you have enough dinosaurs; don't play it otherwise.

Shining Aerosaur – In most formats, a 3/4 flying for 5cmc is not very good. That said, I don't think there is going to be that much flying in this format, and that it’s going to be slow and grindy. Under those assumptions, this card is a pretty good way of pushing through damage.

Sunrise Seeker – I expect that you’re going to want to see a non-land on top of your deck more often than drawing a land when you play this card: you will already have 5 lands in play, and it’s more likely that a 4/4 vigilance and a scry is more useful than a 3/3 and a land in hand.

Duskbourne Skymarcher – A vampire pay-off card. This card reminds me of Anointer of Champions, but it's worse, since it costs mana to activate. Further, the ability is limited to attacking Vampires, which isn't always part of the Vampire game-plan (instead, the Vampire plan might be to go-wide and blow your opponents out with Deathless Ancient or Bishop of the Bloodstained). If you’re the only vampire drafter at the table, no one else is going to fight you for this card. I wouldn’t draft this early, as I'm skeptical about the power level of the vampire synergies, but if I do find myself in that archetype, I would like to see one or two of these come late.

Imperial Lancer – Ugh, not really interested at all in this card. If I’m playing the dinosaur deck, why would I want a 2/1 when I could have DINOSAURS.

Adanto Vanguard – Solid card. How good depends on how aggressive/tempo-based/attrition the format turns out to be. I will say, I could see situations where people use the ability too aggressively, when they should just let this creature trade off with another creature or die to a removal spell. Late in the game, when your opponent has set up defenses, this is just a 1/1.

Emissary of Sunrise – Not really any synergy with vampires or dinosaurs, but a very solid card, likely to make most decks. Think of Explore this way: for a slight majority of the time, this card is a 3/2 first strike with ETB scry, and for the other part of the time, it is a 2/1 First Strike ETB search your library for a land and put it into your hand. For 3 cmc, that’s a great outcome for the cost.

Inspiring Cleric – What’s up with this lifegain? There are no cards that really care about lifegain (except, maybe, the WB mythic rare!) There are no Serene Steward type cards in this format. Still, I’d probably play this card for the rate in most decks anyways.

Imperial Aerosaur – This is one of my favorite white cards in the set. 3/3 flying for 4cmc is a fine rate, but the fact that we get to jump a creature and give it a bump in PT is very significant in tempo/racing situations.

Steadfast Armasaur – At first glance, a 2/3 vigilance for 4 cmc is pretty underwhelming, but it’s important to realize that this creature is actually kind of like a 5/3. While it just eats creatures that have toughness of 3 or less, for bigger creatures, say, a 2/5, you can activate the ability after Declare Blockers and then deal combat damage for a total of 5. Of course, you end up paying more mana for it, so it’s more like a 6cmc 5/3. Regardless, this card is still making all of my decks.

Glorifier of Dusk – Well, here’s one use for that lifegain, you can build your own Serra Angel. I’m not thrilled about this card, if only because I remember the glory days of Serra Angel (Revised, not 2013!) Having to pay 4 life to deal 4 is pretty underwhelming, and if you just give it flying, then you’re potentially leaving yourself exposed to getting hit on the crack back. Like the last few cards though, this is probably making all of my white decks.

Bellowing Aegisaur – My first reaction to this card was that a 6 cmc, 3/5 card that does not immediately impact the board is not going to cut it. However, if we believe the format is going to be slow (which I do), then this card jumps up in our estimation. If your opponent does not have an answer to it (either with removal or with fliers) then it is going to stall ground immediately, and will likely take over the game eventually. (Note: this is the only white creature with Enrage). (Fun tip: fight this creature with your Atzocan Archer! Neither will die and your Archer will get bigger!)

Slash of Talons – I think this is actually better than Gideon’s Reproach or Impeccable Timing in the context of a tempo-based gain. In a situation where both players are racing, trading damage, it is much easier to hold up 1 mana to kill their 2 or 3 drop and still be able to cast a creature to improve your clock. Returning to the concept of variance, this card is very good in those situations, while also just being a dead card in other situations (like when you’re getting pounded by dinosaurs with enrage – if you thought blocking and losing a creature and then using another spell to kill off a dinosaur is bad, imagine if they’re getting value off enrage triggers both times it was damaged!). Given my belief about this set being somewhat grindy, I think it’s more likely that this card is going to be in the sideboard.

Legion’s Judgment – This card is obviously great in a lot of situations and obviously horrible in a lot of other situations. The question we should ask ourselves is, should we be main-decking this card? Let’s look at the number of creatures with power 4 or greater at common and uncommon in Ixalan:
W: Only 1 uncommon creature with power 4 or greater (Glorifier of Dusk)
U: Only 1 uncommon creature (Air Elemental)
B: 2 uncommon creatures (Wanted Scoundrels, Deathless Ancient). Also Anointed Deacon.
R: 3 common creatures (Frenzied Raptor, Thrash of Raptors, Sun-Crowned Hunters), 3 uncommon creatures (Bonded Horncrest, Charging Monstrosaur, Storm Fleet Arsonist)
G: 3 common creatures (Spike-Tailed Ceratops, Colossal Dreadmaw, Ancient Brontodon), 2 uncommon creatures (Snapping Sailback, Thundering Spineback)
A: 2 uncommon vehicles (Dusk Legion Dreadnought, Sleek Schooner)
Given these numbers, it's close. But the above list doesn't include any rares, and it might be smarter to err on the side of inclusion, since everyone is going to want to play their splashy dinosaur bombs, and there are still going to be at least a couple of targets in the Blue or White decks. To be sure, I'm always putting this card in the main of my Sealed deck. Often times, the question of inclusion is going to depend on other factors, such as the number of other removal spells available to you. If your draft didn't go especially well and you only have 2 other removal spells, then yeah, you should include this card. But if your removal is elite and abundant, you could consider benching this card.

Pious Interdiction – 4 cmc Pacifism. Like I said, removal appears to be slightly more expensive in this set. Fortunately, there aren’t too many ways to deal with this spell, at least certainly not in the main deck (except, perhaps, for Perilous Voyage, but really, who would cast Disperse on a Pacifism?), though W and G have access to sideboard answers to enchantments. I would want a couple of these in my main decks, except for the most hyper aggressive decks which probably don't exist in this format.

Ixalan’s Binding – Another 4 cmc removal spell, though quite a bit better than Pacifism: Oblivion Ring with Nevermore to boot! Obviously a great card, probably similar in power level to Cast Away (albeit without Flash). The second clause of the card is really more icing than substance (avoid the temptation to cast this on a Legion Conquistador! It’s just a 2/2! Save this spell for something more scary!)

Bright Reprisal – Second Thoughts was a solid card, and so is this. Sorry for repeating myself, but I think this is a slow format, and cards that 2-for-1 your opponent are going to help you win the attrition war. I'll probably not play this in hyper aggressive decks, but I'm putting it in almost every other deck. And if you're playing something like UB and you have lots of treasure pirates and not enough removal, you could consider splashing this card.

Demystify – What are we hitting? At common/uncommon, it's going to be Pious Interdiction, Ixalan's Binding, One With the Wind, Mark of the Vampire, Swashbuckling. Keep this card in mind when you're sideboarding.

Vampire’s Zeal – We’re about to finish up with White and so far we’ve only seen two card that care about Vampires. This card reminds me of Lithomancer’s Focus, which was pretty solid in the right situation. I could see a Vampire deck that loads up on this card to help push through damage. Not that into it for other decks. Remember, in a pinch, you can use this with Legion's Judgment.

Ritual of Rejuvenation – Nope. Please don’t play this card. This is bad in your opening hand (you want to impact the board in the early game), and this is bad when you draw it in the mid game or late game (how about we play cards that kill our opponents or kill the creatures that are killing us?) Just nope.

Sheltering Light – I’m not really excited about Gods’ Willing in this set (the Heroic mechanic was significant for the value of that card). This card doesn’t help you trade up, so, at best, it saves a creature that would have otherwise traded at parity. I might bring this in if my opponent's deck was stacked with the right kind of removal and I had creatures that I really wanted to protect.

Rallying Roar – Wow, this is a pretty sad team pump compare to what we have had in the past! Oketra’s Name at least had upside with Zombies and cost 2cmc. Is the untap worth it? The thing is, +1/+1 doesn’t do that much to make your creatures bigger, so even if you use this as a pseudo-removal spell (to untap your creatures and block), it’s not really that much of a blow-out. However, you gotta play with the tools you got – so far we have seen zero reasons to want to go-wide with WB Vampires, so you might just end up putting this in your deck if that’s your plan. It’s not a very exciting plan.

Quick recap: White doesn’t look very strong. Expensive removal, creatures are not priced very well, there aren’t many synergies, not many pay-offs.

White cards to draft early: Ixalan’s Binding, Pious Interdiction, Imperial Aerosaur.

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