Picture yourself sailing the open seas, on constant watch out for pirates. You see an incoming ship and, hoping it won't notice you, turn hard and head straight for that island to your port side. Breathing a sigh of relief, you pull into a hidden cove with a treetop canopy and bring the ship to a stop. Just as your heart rate slows down a bit and you start to relax, giant red-hued dinosaurs jump from the treeline onto the ship and start ripping apart your crew.
The giant beasts chase you and your crew around the ship. Some former friends of yours try to flee into the forest island but you hear their screams in the distance. You manage to avoid being eaten for a while, but just when you think it’s safe to come out, the biggest dinosaur of them all clasps your leg with his enormous sharp teeth. Between screams before you pass out you notice a dark ship pulling into the bay behind behind you. It was a trap all along, and the pirates will most likely loot your ship full of corpses once dinner is finished.
I don't know about you, but that sounds like an amazing setting to me. I know a lot of players aren’t too excited about pirates and dinosaurs, but I’m super pumped! I think both of those things sound amazing and neither has been explored much at all in the Magic universe. Unexplored concepts are mysterious and appealing to me.
Let’s figure out what pirates and dinosaurs will look like together with some Ixalan spoilers!
Jace, Cunning Castaway
I don’t know if the story is posted yet about why Jace has found his way to Ixalan, but the actual card itself has been spoiled. This is a completely new design for Jace and it’s fresh and cool.
Let’s start with the fact that we get another three-mana version of Jace. That’s always a great starting point—the majority of top-tier planeswalkers have cost three or four mana, so checking off this box is a big step in the right direction. It’s not like we need another broken Jace in any format, but let’s see exactly what this iteration has in store for us.
His +1 seems to indicate that blue might be aggressive again in Standard and that’s exciting to me. Generally I’m not a blue mage, unless there's a sweet blue aggro deck in the format like Mono-Blue Devotion. Being able to draw an extra card per turn is obviously powerful, but draw-one-discard-one is almost as good. We could use this to fill our graveyard for some purpose or just to find more gas to press an advantage.
Next up we have a -2 the likes of which has never seen print on a Jace card. This blue planeswalker has always been the mess-with-your-head walker. We’ve had lots of card-draw abilities too, but never a -2 like this that actually makes a guy! I know I’m amped up about a blue planeswalker that makes creatures, but everyone out there might not be reading this with the same excitement.
Consider a sequence like this though. Play Jace and make your 2/2. The drawback of the Illusion getting targeted is basically negligible because nearly any spell that targets will kill a 2/2. So you have your 2/2 and follow up the next two turns with your Merfolk Looter effect as well as whatever else your plan is for your deck. Then the following turn you can make another 2/2. So, every third turn, we get to make a 2/2. Not the best rate by far, but remember this is a blue card. Not every planeswalker can be as amazing as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar at making tokens.
If making guys and drawing cards wasn’t enough for you, you can also make duplicate copies of Jace. If you plus Jace twice, your third activation can be to ultimate and copy him. Again, not the best ultimate by a long shot, but that seems like a great line of play and one I’m excited to build around.
Financially, I think even though he has the name Jace, which makes him automatically appealing, players will underestimate him and what he can do. I think he looks well suited if there are some blue creatures aggressively costed to come down before him. He’s double blue so we’d rather have blue creatures than try to splash him in another main-colored deck.
If Jace, Cunning Castaway ends up being cheaply priced, I think he could bump up after he finds a new strategy to support in Standard. Maybe we could have aggro blue Pirates, or Merfolk again. If so, Jace would pair well with those creatures. Basically, if he’s undervalued, he is a good buy. If his preorder price is $20+ like planeswalkers normally are, wait until he bottoms out to pick him up.
I hope we get some more lower cost dinosaurs like Ripjaw Raptor. Although it was way too strong for Standard, something along the lines of Thragtusk to make a solid midrange deck would also be awesome for dinosaurs. Most likely, though, we will have some epic, gigantic monsters with crazy abilities coming for this tribe.
As far as Ripjaw Raptor himself, we have a decently costed four-mana 4/5 that no one wants to block or kill with direct-damage spells. He seems alright, but like a card that would get cut for something else with a bit more bang-for-your-buck. I suspect this guy won't make the cut over other four-drops, but we'll have to see. I like what Wizards is going for with this guy though, and I hope there are more like him that are even better.
This card is sweet. It seems obvious that Pirates would be searching for their buried treasure, but wow, this is a cool way to do it. Treasures are reminiscent of Clues, but will have a very different play pattern.
Treasure Map // Treasure Cove, besides being filled with flavor, also lets you scry every turn. Then once you’ve done a few times, you get three Lotus Petals for free! In addition, Treasure Map // Treasure Cove flips and gives you two great abilities. You can either just use your map for additional mana or start sacrificing your Treasures to draw an extra card per turn. Both of those routes seem great.
Will the three turns of scrying be worth the investment though? That’s the uncertain part. The flavor is there, the payoff is there, will the payment be too much though?
Okay, I know it seems obvious in retrospect, but did you actually expect ships to be Vehicles? I know I did not. I assumed all the jokes about dinosaurs piloting vehicles were directed at Heart of Kiran. Did everyone know about pirate ships being Vehicles beside me?
Anyway, I think making ships vehicles is a cool way to do it. This particular one, Sleek Schooner, won't be breaking Standard anytime soon, but it seems great in Limited. You get a 4/3 for three mana that basically any creature can pilot.
I’m excited to see what other ships will be in this set. I expect some legendary ships to be coming our way and those could be pretty cool. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship was the flavorful mythic Vehicle from Kaladesh, and that one saw significant Standard play. I'll be on the lookout for any similarly pushed legendary ships in Ixalan.
Dire Fleet Captain
Dire Fleet Captain is evidence to me that we will have rival pirate gangs. How cool is that?! I know not everyone is into this set, but man, Pirates from multiple color combinations fighting against each other sounds like a blast to me.
Red-black seems to be the Orc clan of Pirates. Rakdos has sported some of the most aggressive decks we’ve seen and Dire Fleet Captain seems to continue that tradition. The most common line of play would be to cast a one-mana Pirate turn one and then follow up with this captain. Then on turn three you are attacking with presumably five power of guys. That’s a pretty good start to an archetype.
With Deadeye Plunderers we also have a blue-black clan of Pirates that seems more dedicated to finding and utilizing Treasure. These plunderers seem more like Limited gold than Constructed staples, but still cool nonetheless.
You know who else is a Pirate? Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. That could be financially huge in the coming weeks.
We know there are going to be red pirates based on Dire Fleet Captain, and Kari has seen play in Ramunap Red decks. I think that's a recipe for this bulk rare to turn into something real. Pick up a play set or two because they are ridiculously cheap right now and could definitely spike soon.
There is so much awesome stuff going on in this new tribal world of Ixalan, and I'll have much more to discuss next week. If you’re interested, TCGplayer has a pretty extensive list of cards up for presale, so check those out over there. Thanks for reading and click on back over next week for some more previews!
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!