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Ixalan's New Threats and Answers for Standard

Hello friends! My name is Zac Elsik and I'm quite excited to start writing for MTGGoldfish, discussing all things Magic the Gathering

Today I wanted to touch on the new upcoming Standard format where tons of cards are leaving and fun, new opportunities are being introduced. I expect Standard to change and evolve over the next several weeks while players pick up new powerful threats for their decks or they discover answers to these threats. What I want to focus on is the latter: finding answers to the big threats Ixalan brings to Standard.

New Threats

Ixalan brings with it quite a few powerful, awesome, and fun cards to try and win games of Magic. Cards such as Carnage Tyrant and Ripjaw Raptor are the most likely to see the most play early on, partly because players really want to play with dinos and partly because they are just darn good. There are other cards too which might not immediately be on people's radar, cards like Sunbird's Invocation, Vona, Butcher of Magan, or any cards from the Legendary Enchantment cycle could potentially see play, offering a realistic and consistent way to pull ahead in a game. Only time will tell, so let's dig into a handful of these.

Exhibit A: Carnage Tyrant

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Starting with the Elephant Dinosaur in the room, there is this monstrosity that everyone seems to be talking about. This is an insanely buff creature capable of single-handedly closing a game quickly against any Control deck. I think part of the hype behind this card resides in the inability to cleanly answer the question "How do I stop this thing?"  Magic's R&D team recently touched on this subject in their Balancing Standard Formats article, specifically how Carnage Tyrant was an answer to UR Control decks that featured Torrential Gearhulk and Hour of Devesation. It's clear the Tyrant was meant to be a problem for Control decks, but is there an answer to the answer?

Answer #1: Beat it in combat.

One of the big reasons Hexproof exists on creatures is to force players to interact with the card using creatures, not spells. Hence the name "Hexproof." There are a few creatures that can beat Carnage Tyrant in combat, notably another Carnage Tyrant itself. While most blue decks won't be splashing green, they can most certainly play Vizier of Many Faces. This is a clean way to stop the Tyrant from wreaking havoc. Now both players have a Tyrant in play that can't be harmed by typical removal spells, meaning the only way to get rid of either is to attack and trade them off. You can even get a second use out of the Vizier once it dies off thanks to it's Embalm ability.

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Alternatively, you can play with creatures that have Deathtouch such as Gonti, Lord of Luxury or really large 6-power creatures to trade with the Tyrant, such as The Scorpion God, Cryptic Serpent or Combustible Gearhulk. While any of these creature options theoretically work, the biggest problem with them is that they will likely just get removed immediately by your opponent's removal spells, since they've liking been holding onto that Harnessed Lightning, Abrade, or Savage Stomp with nothing to hit with it.

Answer #2: Beat it with board wipes.

While it's unlikely you'll be able to get rid of a Carnage Tyrant with the help of sacrifice effects like Doomfall, you most certainly can kill it with Fumigate or Hour of Revelation. Ixalan also includes another answer to this dinosaur in the form of Settle the Wreckage, since the only target on that card is "target player." The instant speed multi-Path to Exile might be the best bet since you can "flash it back" with the help of Torrential Gearhulk.

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Answer #3: Play a deck that wins the game first.

The most effective way to deal with Carnage Tyrant is to win the game first before the Tyrant kills you. Playing a deck such as Ramunap Red or a blue-based flying deck with Favorable Winds means that you are more likely to close out the game and win before the giant dinosaur hits the battlefield. Alternatively, you can win through some other means such as casting Approach of the Second Sun twice. Casting a 7-drop twice might seem unrealistic, however in the right deck this can be achieved by playing a lot of defensive cards such as board wipes and counterspells, allowing you to buy enough time to cast Approach, gain some life, then dig for the spell and cast it again.

Exhibit B: Ripjaw Raptor

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Ripjaw Raptor is an exciting new addition to have in Standard. The creature discourages the use of damage-based removal spells or creature combat to defeat it because doing so will net you a card or two in exchange. What is most curious is that this card is a 4/5 creature, meaning it lives through the damage from Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance as well as often get involved in board stalemates with opposing raptors.

Answer #1: Use non-damaging removal spells.

For control decks, there are a good handful of cards to get rid of the Ripjaw Raptor. Cards such as Walk the Plank, Fatal Push, Fumigate, Cast Out, and even something as simple as Aether Meltdown will do the trick. Decks that have access to black, white, and blue can take advantage of these type of removal spells and/or countermagic.

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Answer #2: Bite the bullet and use damage spells.

If you plan to play GR Dinosaurs, Ramunap Red, or Temur Energy then you may be stuck with using spells that deal damage to get rid of the raptor. Cards like Harnessed Lightning and Savage Stomp can get rid of the Ripjaw Raptor

Answer #3: Fly over it.

If you play a deck that uses a bunch of ground creatures, then you'll have a hard time fighting off a 4/5 creature waiting to block anything it sees. If instead you favor a deck that takes to the winds, then you'll be able to ignore Ripjaw Raptor with your flying creatures and win the game before any value can be gained from the raptor. It’s a bit weird to suggest changing to an entirely different deck to combat the large raptor, but if the Standard meta becomes flooded these type of RG decks then it may be best to take to the skies for a while until the battles on the ground dissipate.

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Exhibit C: Legendary Enchantment Cycle

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Of these five enchantments, I expect two of them to see play because the enchantment side is strong by itself: Legion's Landing and Vance's Blasting Cannons. I expect two more to see play because the back-side Land is powerful: Growing Rites of Itlimoc and Search for Azcanta. The last enchantment Arguel's Blood Fast, however, will likely only see play in my mono-black Commander deck, so I'll leave that one alone for now.

Looking at the first two enchantments mentioned [Legion's Landing]] and Vance's Blasting Cannons, I can see both of these being a part of a deck simply because the enchantment side is offering something that the deck wants. Whether that's a creature on turn 1 or a constant flow of cards to play, both of these will function without needing to be transformed. 

Answer #1: Enchantment destruction.

Getting rid of the white enchantment doesn't serve much purpose, but getting rid of any of the other ones can be a bit trickier. Dedicated enchantment destruction spells such as Crushing Canopy, Forsake the Worldly, or Fragmentize might be your best bets. You can also utilize cards such as Cast Out or Ixalan's Binding as a universal answer that clean up the enchantment as well as anything else in an opponent's deck. The problem with these answers is that they don’t work once the enchantment transforms.

Answer #2: Land destruction.

While there's not many cards in Standard that can destroy lands, there is one such new card printed in Ixalan that I can't help but think was created for this very purpose. Field of Ruin is a clean, unconditional solution to any of the cards that transform into lands, even the weird artifact ones like Primal Amulet. One of the largests strengths Field of Ruin has over other cards is that it's a land. This means that when building your deck, you don't have to swap out other useful spells or creatures to slot in an answer to the legendary enchantments, but instead can just include the answer in your 24 lands you were going to play anyway. I expect Field of Ruin to see a lot of Standard play just like we saw Scavenger Grounds as an answer to God-Pharaoh's Gift decks.

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New Answers

Ixalan brings with it a nice assortment of cards that can be used to answer new threats from the set itself as well as existing threats from the Kaladesh and Amokhet blocks. I want to lightly touch on a few of these that I expect to see play in Standard.

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Deathgorge Scavenger - This little guy is a lot better than I initially thought. The fact that you get to exile any card from any graveyard immediately when you play it means you're going to get some value from it. Against Ramunap Red you can eat an Earthshaker Khenra or creature, even your own, to gain some life. Not only do you get the life and a blocker right away, but you also threaten to gain more life each turn by attacking with it. The dino also serves a critical role in combatting God-Pharaoh's Gift strategies, very quickly and easily consuming fuel from their graveyard. This is incredibly effective given most gift decks require at least six creatures in the graveyard to activate Gate to the Afterlife.

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Ixalan's Binding, and Settle the Wreckage - These two removal spells I'm most excited about as a control player. Ixalan's Binding plays a very similar role to Cast Out except it's possibly much better depending on your type of deck. If your deck already has plenty of instant speed answers for haste creatures, then you can rely on the binding to properly clean up problematic cards for good. If you intend to play out long games of magic, then it's highly likely you'll gain the extra value from Ixalan's Binding stopping multiple cards. Settle the Wreckage is also an amazing sweeper, similar to how Aetherize was used to combat aggressive decks in past Standard environments. While there is some worry that a knowledgeable opponent might see this coming and hold back a portion of their attack force, this is actually not that bad of a problem. Pairing this card with Torrential Gearhulk means even if they see the first one coming, they are unlikely to continue to hold off attacking to play around the second one.

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Sorcerous Spyglass and Vraska's Contempt - I'm grouping these two together because they are both solid answers to planeswalkers and vehicles. In the past we had Never // Return and Ruinous Path, but neither of these could properly answer a vehicle, nor could end step kill a planeswalker like Hero's Downfall. With Vraska's Contempt you get the upside of stopping both of those problematic threats, as well as gods like Hazoret the Fervent and Rhonas the Indomitable. The Sorcerous Spyglass card also serves an extra role in stopping four out of the five Legendary Enchantments when they transform into lands. This is one card that I've been looking forwarding to having in Standard for some time because, as a Control player, vehicles have been a real pain to stop.

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Spell Pierce and Duress - These two cards serve a similar role in allowing aggressive or midrange decks to better fight against Control decks or Combo strategies. What's important to remember about these cards is that they only cost a single mana. Aggressive decks will be able to develop board presence and pressure while also having an answer to removal, counterspells, or powerful threats like Gate to the Afterlife or Approach of the Second Sun. Duress is one card I expect to see a lot of play.

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Field of Ruin - Finally there's this awesome land. It's not the most powerful answer to the threats we'll likely see in Standard but it does server a very important role. The fact that your deck doesn't have to give up any spells or creatures in the deck construction process to have access to this effect is what makes Field of Ruin strong in my eyes. You can simply slot this card into your deck replacing only a couple of lands to gain access to the ability to fight off cards like Hostile Desert, Ramunap Ruins, Scavenger Grounds or any of the double-faced lands from Ixalan. I expect this card to see play in most Control decks in the early weeks of Standard, potentially seeing more play depending on how many of the Ixalan lands end up making an appearance.

Old Threats

Lastly I want to discuss some oldies but goodies that I expect will continue to shape Standard decks for the near future.

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Hazoret the Fervent - The red god has definitely earned her spot as the best of the five from the original Amonkhet set. With the lack of Grasp of Darkness in Standard, I expect her to continue leading red decks and potentially other aggressive decks to victory. It's possible white-based Control decks or Midrange decks will be your best solution against Hazoret because of access to Cast Out, Ixalan's Binding, and Settle the Wreckage.

The Scarab God - Similar to Hazoret, this blue-black god will remain a core finisher decks like Temur Energy or blue-based control decks. The Scarab God is equally as hard to answer and presents a very quick clock if left alone. This was the card I was most excited to play after Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, mostly because at how good this card is at taking over a game. Once it hits play, it's very difficult to get rid of and if you don't then it will slowly build up a board of Zombies that will overwhelm anything.

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God-Pharaoh's Gift - While this deck will definitely still exist in Standard, I expect it to see less play than normal. The deck gains a very powerful tool in Hostage Taker but may have a more difficult time setting up the combo than before. Not only is there Abrade, but Ixalan introduces Deadeye Tracker and Deathgorge Scavenger to clean out graveyards. There's also Ixalan's Binding that can virtually exile all of the Gate to the Afterlifes because it prevents future ones from being cast.

Torrential Gearhulk - The blue gearhulk will continue to be the backbone of many blue-based control decks in Standard. The card was designed to be a solid finisher and it has definitely served it's purpose well so far. I expect Torrential Gearhulk to see more play thanks to the additions of Vraska's Contempt and Settle the Wreckage.

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Approach of the Second Sun - We only just started seeing Approach decks pop up in the past few months, but I firmly believe they are here to stay. UW Approach will keep most of the same cards as before rotation. The deck is likely to have great matchups especially if we predict RG Dinos and other heavy creature decks to be popular. Fumigate is probably the most important card alongside Approach of the Second Sun as it buys you plenty of time and answers most problematic threats. The other deck I anticipate seeing the sun get played in is a ramp deck that takes advantage of Sunbird's Invocation. Sunbird's Invocation not only lets you cast ramp or board wipe spells into more ramp or action spells, but it also is a two / three card combo with Approach of the Second Sun. If you cast your first Approach with the red enchantment in play, then the sunbird's trigger will resolve first letting you potentially find a second Approach in the top seven cards of your deck. Casting the second Approach finishes before your first Approach resolves, thus letting you win the game because all of the conditions on the first Approach were met.

Well that's all I've got for now. Feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions on what you think will make an impact in Ixalan Standard, whether it’s a card that answers another, or it’s the card that needs answering. You can also reach me on Twitter @UTDZac.

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