Ixalan Spoiler Wrap-Up and Looking Ahead

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We’re back! Today, we’re looking at the rest of the spoiled cards for Ixalan, to see what could make an impact in Modern. Like I discussed last week, I’m choosing to approach these spoilers from the mindset of the best-case scenario, imagining what would have to happen to make them see play. As is often the case, most of the cards we look at never make it into Modern, but approaching spoilers in this way will get us prepared and help us keep an eye out for favorable conditions that could help some of these cards along.

There are only a few spoilers left to cover in the context of Modern, so I'll follow those up with a recap of SCG Louisville and my thoughts on the current state of the format. Enough talk, let’s get to it!

Finishing the Spoilers

Perilous Voyage

As a brief aside, I started getting into competitive Magic around Zendikar time, even though I was still relatively green. I remember my dad pulling a Verdant Catacombs as a rare, getting disappointed, and neither of us understanding why you’d want to pay life to get a land when Evolving Wilds does it for free.

But enough of that; I bring up Zendikar because Perilous Voyage is the latest in a lineage of Unsummon effects, dating back to Into the Roil, one of my first favorite cards. A couple years ago, when the card pool looked very different, Into the Roil was a card that popped up in Modern control sideboards. It wasn’t great, but it was there. Does Perilous Voyage improve enough on the formula that it could see play?

One thing to keep in mind is that scry is actually really, really good, especially in Modern. Since I’m reminiscing, I remember the Theros scrylands being underwhelming at first, and we quickly learned how powerful that effect could be when we got it effectively for free in our mana base. Paying two mana to bounce a permanent isn’t knocking anyone’s socks off if we’re looking at rate, especially because we can't get ahead on mana (by bouncing a four-mana thing or whatever) without missing the scry.

It’s possible that the extra utility of scrying makes up for it, but the answer to this question revolves around context, as most things in Modern do. How aggressive is the format? Is Tarmogoyf seeing widespread play, or are people flooding the board with one-drops? What about problematic permanents? Is there even a control deck that wants this?

These are the questions we need to answer to determine whether Perilous Voyage passes the "environment test" that grants entry into the playable-tier of cards in Modern. Currently, the answer is definitely no, but in a grindy alternate reality of Modern where players are taking more turns and things like Bitterblossom need to get bounced so they can get countered, I could see it. But I’m not excited about it.

Tocatli Honor Guard

This one was spoiled a while ago, and I passed over it (perhaps wisely). But we’re getting thin, so I’m going to talk about it here. Torpor Orb on a creature took a while for them to print, and now that it has, I wonder if we want it anymore. When Amulet Bloom and Splinter Twin were running around, this guy would have been nice to have. Now his main targets are basically Eldrazi Tron and Breach decks.

Still, stopping Thought-Knot Seer and Primeval Titan is pretty good, as well as hitting Snapcaster Mage (though we weren't targeting him specifically). It will be interesting to see if Hatebears wants this guy, as it hurts our own deck as well, but giving up Flickerwisp and Tidehollow Sculler to turn off the cards that really hurt us seems like a fine tradeoff to make. Plus, don’t forget there’s value in sequencing to get those effects before we shut them down.

Elves has Elvish Visionary, Dwynen's Elite, Shaman of the Pack… There’s actually a fair number of incidental value we can stop by playing this, and if there’s ever a deck that doesn’t feel embarrassed to play a 1/3, it's Hatebears. Don’t forget, Counters Company is still kicking around too.

Assessing Ixalan as a Whole

And…that’s about it as far as spoilers go. A few other possibilities were mentioned in the comments of last week's article, but I’m less excited about those cards. Star of Exctinction on Boros Reckoner to do 20 is far from great; not only do we need to resolve the spell, we need Reckoner to stay alive in a format full of removal and get to seven mana. Why not just play Scapeshift?

No, for the most part, I don't expect any of the Dinosaur tribal cards to make an impact, and the mechanics in Ixalan aren’t too Modern-friendly either. Treasures actually could have some use in Modern, but it would need to be something that generates a repeated effect at a low enough cost that it can help us power out our hand before we can do it naturally on turn five. It’s difficult to make a card that does that without having it also dominate Standard. Raid is tough to put on a card cheaper than CMC 3 and have it be playable, but not busted, but explore is wordy enough that some use could be made of it. Unfortunately, I didn't see any card using the mechanic that was pushed enough.

So, as a quick recap, the spoiled cards from Ixalan I think have the greatest chance of making it into Modern are Opt, Kopala, Warden of Waves, Growing Rites of Itlimoc, and Tocatli Honor Guard. Of these, potentially Tocatli Honor Guard might provide a minor bump in Hatebears’s value against the field, but Growing Rites of Itlimoc has the most potential for making a larger shift.

It will be interesting to see what Elves as a top tier deck would do to the format. Can Grixis Death’s Shadow afford to drop low in life, only to die to Shaman of the Pack? Can Affinity keep up? How much removal is enough? I’m curious to see what kind of changes that brings about—but first we have to see the card in action to determine if it makes the cut, and then we need to figure out if Rites changes Elves’s position in the grand scheme.

And the Rest...

So, for the rest of my time this week, I wanted to give a little mini-synopsis of my thoughts on the format moving into October, and give some nuggets from the Modern Open in Louisville. This is definitely drifting into "grab bag" territory, but I wasn’t expecting Ixalan spoilers to dry up as quickly as they did. In a way this worked out for the best, as I’ve wanted to get out a few tidbits about the format for a little while but haven’t wanted to tack them on to my more opinionated pieces.

SCG Louisville

I didn’t watch the event, and haven’t heard much buzz about it, but how about Harlon Firer and Brandon Dalloway dominating with almost the same list? And Jeskai Queller, to top it off! Different sideboards (which I prefer, as Modern is very much a format that rewards sideboarding to the player, and not the deck), and only a two-card difference between the two maindecks, sends a clear message: Louisville was their world, and everyone else is just living in it.

Grixis Death’s Shadow remains at the top of the pile on MTGGoldish, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the results of Louisville. I haven’t been following the ins and outs of the format religiously, but I have noticed tell-tale signs of settling. The established decks have been kept relatively in place for a few months at this point, and the format (and player lists) contain few surprises, which lets abominations like Clay Spicklemire’s Five-Color Death’s Shadow do work. When all of the enemies are known, you can build just about anything to attack not individual decks, but format weaknesses.

Clearly, that’s what Jeskai Queller—essentially a glorified burn deck—is doing here, as Geist of Saint Traft backed up by tons of removal and Spell Queller to cover bases and keep applying pressure shows. When Modern gets into a rut like it has been recently, oftentimes just playing something rogue that asks the right questions can be enough to bump other decks out of their lane. I liken it to walking down the street in a foggy state of mind. If you aren't vigilant, you won't be able to react to the car driving by and hitting the puddle next to you at 40 miles an hour, and that's what Geist of Saint Traft does to this current format. I imagine most players over the weekend just blinked dumbly as it came down, knowing that they had nothing in their 75 that could deal with it.

The big question moving forward, of course, is whether Geist of Saint Traft will inspire some changes in decklists that cause ripple effects resulting in format shifts. The card’s weaknesses are well-known at this point—so do the format zombies shift a few cards around and put it back in its place, or will it cause some movement in the market share at the top tier? There’s no way to know until we see it, so the best thing we can do now is try and imagine what a format that's conscious of Geist of Saint Traft might look like, and how can we position ourselves properly to beat it. Looking to you, Kitchen Finks

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Holmes

5 thoughts on “Ixalan Spoiler Wrap-Up and Looking Ahead

  1. Id say opt, search for ancatenza and the new ghost quarter are the most interesting. The land side of ancatenza alone is extremely strong and the condition to flip it isnt very difficult in a format full of t2 tasigur/anglers if you want it rushed. I suspect itll be better being slow rolled in control though rather than trying to flip it quickly.

    The dino thrun might be played in one of the green ramp decks that board into fatties. Thrun himself is too small now with smashers shadows and anglers everywhere.

  2. I think perilious voyage is a better echoing truth in storm. Sure, you cant bounce your baral, but you dont usually use it for that. Most of the time you use it to bounce a Rest in piece or a grafdiggers Cage or Something similar and in both cases you geht to scry 2, which is really nice in storm, i could see it even as a one off Mainboard in Liss like Corey burkhardts, instead of repeal or truths.

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