As much as I enjoy talking about the fringe aspects of Magic—perspective, identity, opportunity—I can’t ignore a new set on the horizon. Ixalan is here, bringing along Pirates, Dinosaurs, treasure, and things that turn into land. I don’t know what’s happening, which means I’ve been out of the loop for too long. That being said, let’s dive into spoilers, the old school way. No twist, no fresh take. Just cards, what I think about them, and where they could possibly fit in Modern. As is the case with classic spoiler discussion, let’s suspend reason (slightly) and imagine best-case scenarios. Rather than what is most likely to happen, I want to focus on what it would take to see these cards make an impact in Modern. It’s hype time.
As of this writing (Tuesday evening, September 12) there are 148 of 279 cards spoiled. With the prerelease in two weeks, we should know all the cards by the time my next article goes live, but it’s possible a few might slip between the cracks. Still, I expect most cards that could make an impact to fall within the 90% window I can cover. This has been a public service announcement.
Jace, Cunning Castaway
It isn’t better than Jace Beleren (my favorite planeswalker of all time) and Baby Jace doesn’t see play—but for a minute, what would a deck that plays this look like? Naturally, blue decks with creatures that deal damage makes me wish it created Merfolk Illusion tokens, but alas.
I’m annoyed that we don’t even get card advantage as a reward for hitting with a creature, and instead get filtering as our payoff. How many hoops do we have to jump through to get "draw a card" on a cheap blue planeswalker? This guy definitely won’t see play, but Doubling Season plus [tippy title="Jace, Cunning Castaway"][/tippy] to make infinite Jace’s is something fun at least.
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Next up we have the first of several double-faced transform lands. This one transforms into [tippy title="Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun"][/tippy].
A slower Gaea's Cradle that (probably) replaces itself to give Elves a ton of mana on turn—three?—is interesting, in the sense that it helps their nut draws and provides an extra few ways to generate a bunch of mana for Ezuri outside of Elvish Archdruid. Growing Rites could get powered out and flipped on turn two by a turn-one Llanowar Elves, followed by turn-two Heritage Druid into two Elves into Rites. This gives us four mana on our end step to Collected Company on turn two, which feels real nice for sure.
This has to be more interesting than Lead the Stampede. But I worry that moving away from Lead towards something that helps our velocity at the cost of our consistency is the wrong move when we’re already worried about Thoughtseize taking away our payoff, and removal spells keeping our board thin. Still, I’m interested to see what Rites can do.
Search for Azcanta
Aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!! They put Azure Mage on a land! Those idiots, they’ve doomed us all!
I’ll admit, I’m super excited about [tippy title="Search for Azcanta"][/tippy] in grindy blue decks, even though I know that the lategame isn’t blue’s problem. Tons of leftover mana isn’t common in Modern unless things are going very badly for our opponent or we drew horribly, in which case we’re probably dead regardless. In addition, a two-mana thing that has the potential to draw us a card for three mana the next turn (and every turn after that) is the very definition of slow.
We are never using [tippy title="Search for Azcanta"][/tippy] the way we imagine, by drawing into that gas to save us against Affinity beating us down. Where it might shine is in the midrange and control matchups, where a million options to tech against the grindy decks already exist. I think the card will be fun, but this is the answer to a question blue currently isn’t asking in Modern.
Kopala, Warden of Waves
Essentially a Kira, Great Glass-Spinner-lite effect on a Merfolk. So, awesome. We can play this alongside Kira or instead of it—I’m sure the Merfolk players will gladly tell you which is better, but regardless, this card ramps up the power of the archetype just a bit, which might be all it needs.
Vapor Snag is still good last time I checked, and while Fatal Push definitely hurt the archetype, its pedigree is proven at this point. As much as I usually hate seeing Merfolk (as I’m often playing Blue), I do miss having it around the metagame, and Kopala making the cut should definitely help it out.
Various Merfolk Stuff
[tippy title="River Sneak"][/tippy] doesn’t make it in a crowded two-drop class, but I applaud it for trying. Two lords, Phantasmal Image, Harbinger of the Tides, and Silvergill Adept are for the most part unbeatable at this point. [tippy title="Deeproot Waters"][/tippy] is slow, but it rewards us for filling our deck with a ton of the same effect. Twenty-sixish ways to generate "free" value is fine, and at worst, those tokens can chump as we’re racing. At best, they get pumped to 2/2s or 3/3s and we look like geniuses.
Ashes of the Abhorrent
[tippy title="Ashes of the Abhorrent"][/tippy] does most of what we want, while also gaining us a little bit of value along the way? I’m not impressed. The matchups we lose to graveyard decks comes when they answer our answer or power through somehow, and I don’t think 3-5 life at best will save us in those situations. Rest in Peace is just way more impactful, exiling everything forever so that even when they find their answer, they're starting from ground zero.
I'll defer to Jordan on this one. If you haven't had a chance to read his take on cantrips and how Opt will fit into Modern, I suggest taking a look.
Finally, there's [tippy title="Thaumatic Compass"][/tippy], which transforms into [tippy title="Spires of Orazca"][/tippy]. So, it draws lands, and when we have seven lands, it turns into Maze of Ith. Obviously we want the Maze before seven lands, but I could see this card in those grindy Tron decks that don’t exist anymore thanks to Eldrazi and RG Breach taking away their market share.
Only seeing half the set, I’m excited for the level of card quality I’ve seen so far, but, as is often the case, no clear standouts for Modern have popped up yet. The card I think is most likely to make an impact is [tippy title="Growing Rites of Itlimoc"][/tippy], and the card I think is most likely to see play is [tippy title="Kopala, Warden of Waves"][/tippy].
Looking at the state of Modern over the past few weeks, no major changes or shakeups are necessary, as the format continues to stay diverse and relatively fair. This is a good thing, but for the most part unrelated, as set releases rarely line up with a troubled Modern as a potential solution to fix anything. Still, Ixalan looks to have interesting mechanics and unique effects, and I would love to see a transform card make its way into a popular Modern deck at the very least.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week for Part 2 of Ixalan spoilers!