This is an evaluation of the current Magic the Gathering expansion, Ixalan from a casual kitchen table perspective. I certainly do not expect these articles to shape the evaluation of current sets though I do feel it may address a large audience usually left out of coverage. The gap between a casual and more competitive audience is wide and sometimes impossible to frame. The idea of casual versus competitive is different depending on definition and people asked. For this we are going to assume casual means a small playgroup, with a budget of under 100$ and with the sole intention of exploring a new set’s flavor and mechanics with sporting competition. It falls a little under the level of local tournaments but above the desire to just open booster packs. We’ll call our playgroup casual-adept.
Another reason for dropping down in terms of “current” magic is that you have the problem of “Standard.” The problem with talking about the standard format is that it includes the most two recent sets and is continually rotating depending on the release schedule. When discussing “Standard,” one is talking about a specific meta which is played at Friday Night Magic events (FNMs) and also at local and national tournament level. The decks which are strong in our kitchen table league are weak and even non existent in the landscape of standard. This is because Ixalan has barley made a dent in shaping the current Standard environment. This is mostly due to the lack of certain elements in the newest expansion combined with strong elements from previous sets, most notably Kaladesh. The world of Kitchen Table Magic is much different, set at a more casual pace, and filled with more dinosaurs and pirates.
Our casual-adept group has been having relaxed tournaments as well as playtest sessions in order to fully explore Ixalan in a low stakes yet challenging way. Below are some descriptions and thoughts related to the decks our playgroup made. They are certainly not indicative of anything other than would a block format would eventually shake out. We are at the whims of one block and these are the decks which developed out of the primordial ooze. Beyond this point is me just talking in magic speak with little regard for explaining.
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! This Grixis build can be UB or RB pirates depending on what you splash but it is most certainly a black base with the most valuable cards being KITESAIL FREEBOOTER and FATHOM FLEET CAPTAIN. FREEBOOTER’s Duress ability doesn’t hit all of the time but it allows one to see the opponent’s gameplan and puts an annoying flyer in the air. I have found that just being able to see an opponents hand is worth it since they get super upset. HOSTAGE TAKER is arguably one of the more valuable cards in the blue splash gameplan and as long as you dont pull them from RUIN RAIDER’S ability, you are golden. The red splash is mostly for LIGHTNING STRIKE but also having DIRE FLEET CAPTAIN for extra damage closes out games on an empty board. The removal in here is strange with VRASKA’s CONTEMPT being too expensive and WALK THE PLANK being situational. DEADEYE TRACKER is stronger in other formats but with an Ixlanly card pool with almost no discard spells, DEADEYE’s explore ability rarely hits. Overall, this is a fun, fast, deck which works as long as the sailing is smooth and you hit a curve and close out the game before the opponent has a chance to put down obstacles. Menace really makes this deck hum since the creature heavy meta allows you to outpace their blockers and win with smaller creatures as long as you are matching their speed in terms of board building. ADMIRAL BECKETT BRASS seems like a logical choice for this deck and may put in as a 1 or two copy just for the hilarious flavor and possibility of buffing creatures and stealing shit.
Out of all of the tribes present, Dinosaurs have the most support mostly because they are underrepresented compared to merfolk and vampires but also since they allow Wizards to play out their childlike dreams. With some decent ramp like OTEPEC HUNTERMASTER and DROVER OF THE MIGHTY, getting to 4/5/6/7 costed dinos is not that difficult. Dinoramp works in RG as well as Naya specifically for KINJALLI’s SUNWING acting as a BLIND OBEDIENCE for blockers. a white splash also has the possibly of hitting your opponent with a GISAETH which is almost unrecoverable. Even outside of the big Timmy creatures that swing for a billion, the reasonable package of RIPJAW RAPTOR, REGISAUR ALPHA, HAUTLI WARRIOR POET, and CARNAGE TYRANT is enough to establish board presence and make any deck shiver in their timbers. The downside is the removal being relagated to fight cards like SAVAGE STOMP and POUNCE but with the enrage mechanic on RIPJAW, fighting your creatures seems like something you want to do. Out of all of the builds, this idea is emerging in Standard” and by emerging, I mean it is the fringe of fringe where in casual, it is one of the top tier ideas.
The UB Merfolk build is the deck that I though would be most successful but turns out to be troublesome and mostly under matched. My original idea was to use DEEP ROOT CHAMPION as a tempo style deck similar to a DELVER style plan with spells like OPT and PERILOUS VOYAGE and CHART A COURSE making CHAMPION a threat. Combined with HERALD OF THE SECRET STREAMS making it unblockable, it is a pretty easy dream to be hatched. The reality is that is sucks and has never worked Our meta has a much more grindy Merfolk strategy which works more consistently with DEEP ROOT WATERS as a hexproof dude factory and VINeSHAPER MYSTIC being a kick in the dick if dropped on a developing board. Even with blue support with reasonable removal and card this deck feels not aggressive enough with the style of sit back and protect one threat being out of the question. the reprint of SILVERGILL ADEPT in Rivals is going to make the possibility of a MERFOLK aggro deck a possibility even if a shadow of what it looks like in Modern.
This is one of the most annoying decks in the format and thankfully Vampire do not have the support from the set to make it a threat. Vamplink is similar to the draft archetype centered around lifelink and tokens which seeks to pump out 1/1 lifelink tokens becoming a problem given that any sort of small aggro deck cant race an opponent over 25-30 life. SANCTUM SEEKER makes this even more of an annoying combined with BW’s love for killing things. Vampires also have a few flyers which make up high a lot messier to try and focus on. the problem with this deck is that it has no central cards with BLOODCRAZED PALADIN being too situational and some of the stronger cards being legendary and unable to double up effects. SANCTUM SEEKER is the best card in this deck if going for a full aggro gameplan. This combined with MAVERIN FEIN makes the possiblity of annoying vampires so much more real.
Out of the 4 tribes of Ixalan, this deck was one that didn’t follow the tribe buy out meaning that it is a combination of strong creatures that fly. This is a darkhorse deck built around the idea of going outside the tribes to create a control style gameplan Backed by the insurmountable FAVORABLE WINDS in a format with little to no enchantment removal this deck is supported by the mass removal card SETTLE THE WRECKAGE and the threat of alpha striking into a board with open mana. Spot removal cards like PERILOUS VOYAGE and IXLAN’s BINDING dominate aggro based decks leaving underdogs like SIREN SOTRMCALLER a utility creature turned threat given enough FAVORABLE WINDS on the board. This is a deck that relies on resilience to your opennents opening threats and patience to wait for them to slow down while your 1/1 flyers turn into 4/4s.