Rivals of Ixalan is finally here. Unfortunately for me, I started the new year by getting sick and I’ve yet to nurse myself back to health. So I skipped the prerelease and instead spent time in the comfort of my own home writing this article. As with the majority of the Magic professional community, I’ve been disappointed with Ixalan Limited. Hopefully, Rivals can breathe some new life into the format. Lately WotC made some good multiple sets draft formats—both Hour of Devastation and Aether Revolt improved their respective formats, in my opinion.
As for Standard, the bannings swept away the two top decks in the format, so there is some room now for Rivals to make an impact on the format. Today, I’m going to go over the cycles in Rivals of Ixalan and their implications for both Limited and Constructed.
The Elder Dinosaurs
I’m going to start with the most powerful cycle of them all—the primal cycle. 5 Elder Dinosaurs, one for each color. They are these big, old, legendary creatures. Flavor-wise, I approve.
Play-wise, they look a bit too strong for Limited. Tetzimoc seems especially overpowered. Every turn you have a spare black mana, you can just point at one of your opponent’s creatures and then on turn 6 tap all of your lands and you remove their board. At least the activation is only sorcery speed, which means that you can’t kill the creature they played on turn 6 (or you have to wait an extra turn).
Etali is kind of similar—it costs 6, has a solid power/toughness ratio, and has a very powerful attack ability. Basically you slam it, wait a turn, attack to get big advantage, and if you get the 2nd attack with it the game should be over.
Zetalpa and Nezahal are similar to each other. They are more expensive than the previous two but more powerful. Zetalpa especially ends games quickly, so be very cautious when playing with or against it. 5 combat abilities is no joke and it’s quite easy to miss one. Ghalta is harder to evaluate. In some games, you will curve out and cast it on turn 5, which will be unbeatable. In others, you will draw it with an empty board and shed a tear. Overall, the reward outweighs the risk and I’d be inclined to first pick it in my first Draft.
For Constructed, Ghalta might have the most potential. I think you can regularly cast it on turn 4 and a 12/12 is no joke. Especially against decks that have no answer to it. It will most likely be best buddies with Rhonas and is definitely one of the most exciting cards to build around in the set. Nezahal has some potential in blue control as a sideboard card for the mirror. It reminds me of Pearl Lake Ancient, a.k.a. Ivan’s Floch favorite card. Pearl Lake used to be a nice finisher back in the day and this might be similar. The other three don’t seem that great to me. Zetalpa could be nice in God-Pharaoh’s Gift, but I’m not sure if it’s a better option than Angel of Invention. It most likely isn’t.
The Legendary Transform Lands
It’s a set of multicolor enchantments based on the old Ravnica guilds. Each of them flip into a land with some sweet abilities using the guild’s mana symbols. Unless you attended the Brazilian prelease —then I’m extremely jealous of you.
For Limited, I think they are all reasonably powerful except for Storm the Vault. While Tolarian Academy is no doubt a great card, I think it’s a bit worse in Limited unless you have some great mana sinks. For example, it could go well with Deadeye Plunderers from Ixalan. Both Journey to Eternity and Profane Procession are weak the turn you play them, but are potent long-game threats. It might be a bit tricky to flip Journey, but if you do, it starts pumping out a lot of value. Hadana’s Climb has the potential to be the strongest of the bunch. You can put a +1/+1 on a creature every turn and then if you’re ready for the final push you just flip it, pump your creature, and fly over for victory. It goes well with the overall strategy of Merfolk too. Path of Mettle is a tricky card to evaluate because it’s very situational. You will have games where you will kill a creature when you play it, then flip it and burn them out. On the other hand, you can have games where you will either have problems casting it (X/1 creatures on your side) or problems with flipping it. Overall, I don’t think these cards are high picks in the first pack as they are multicolor, but I’d be interested in picking them up once I’m already in the two colors.
In Constructed, the only two I see having potential are Storm the Vault and Journey to Eternity. Like I said, Tolarian Academy is no joke, being banned in Legacy and all. On the other hand, this is a 4-mana Tolarian Academy that you can’t use on the turn it comes into play. Still, the effect is very powerful, so it might find its way into some obscure combo deck. As for Journey to Eternity, I like it in combination with Sakura-Tribe Elder. Maybe there is some sort of a Nic Fit deck in Modern that could potentially run this as a win condition. I’m still a bit skeptical and both cards probably won’t see any play, but it might be worth trying them out.
The first cycle are the reveal cards. When you cast the spell, you can reveal a card that’s part of the tribe. If you don’t reveal, you have to pay some extra mana to play the spell.
First off, a great new Merfolk card: Silvergill Adept. So what do we have here? 2/1 for 2 —not bad. Comes into play, draw a card—pretty nice. Costs 5 if you don’t reveal a Merfolk. As someone who has cast this card around 2,000 times, I can confirm that it’s great. For those of you who don’t know, this a reprint of possibly the best Merfolk ever made. It’s the key component of the Modern Merfolk deck and I’m excited for its implications in Standard. With the Modern PT coming soon I have to keep all my tech under wraps, but I’m eager to try it out. Hopefully, Merfolk will be great again and I’ll win the PT.
Silvergill is obviously great in Draft and it’s going to be one of the best uncommons. It’s going to be great in Standard too, but I don’t think that there is a Merfolk deck yet. We will probably have to wait for the rotation for this card to shine, but I’m glad it got reprinted.
Moving on, Daring Buccaneer also seems strong to me. It’s very similar to Goldmeadow Stalwart, but a different tribe. This is a very powerful 1-drop, but like with Merfolk, I don’t think the Pirate deck is there yet. It has gotten some strong options with Rivals, so it should be great after the rotation. For Limited, Buccaneer shares a similar fate to all other 1-drops. It’s great when you can cast it on turn 1, but medium when you cast it later. Still, it’s almost an auto-include in every Pirate deck, but not sure yet how high you want to pick it.
Thunderherd Migration continues with the theme of these cards. It could be good in Dinosaur ramp decks, but I don’t see it being great before the rotation. The problem with Rampant Growth spells is that you need to have something truly excellent to ramp into. Since Primeval Titan, Wizards has been quite careful about printing cards that are worth ramping into. Zacama, Primal Calamity may be it, but 9 mana is so much. In Limited, the Rampant Growth effect has been pretty underwhelming and is good in only very specific decks and Draft formats. My gut feeling is that this card will be quite bad in Limited.
Sadistic Skymarcher doesn’t have a bright future in any Constructed format, but it is going to be decent in Limited. It’s no Vampire Nighthawk, but 2/2 flying, lifelink for 3 are okay numbers in Limited. Paying the extra mana is going to make it worse from time to time, but I think that it will still find its way into Vampire decks most of the time.
It’s the Forerunner cycle and I don’t think that any of these cards are going to see play in Constructed. They search up a card of their tribe, put it on top of your library, and then have some synergistic effect with that tribe.
All of these creatures have medium stats. Forerunner of the Heralds is likely the strongest on its own. It can grow to 4/3 the turn after you play it, which are reasonable stats for a 4-mana cost creature. The others are a bit weak on their own and overall, the power level of these cards depends on the rest of your deck. Their value goes up with every busted mythic rare you can search up with it. I’d suggest not overloading on them though as they’re just too weak on their own. I don’t expect these to be high picks, so you should be able to get them comfortably late in the Draft.
That’s it for me today. I’m excited to dive into some Drafts with Rivals of Ixalan later this week. Hopefully, this new set improves the format and we’re going to have an enjoyable PT. What about you? What do you think about the new cards? Did you enjoy the Rival of Ixalan prerelease? Let me know in the comments!