Welcome back to another week of Ixalan previews! Last week, we talked about two of the new mechanics in the set, Explore and Treasure, and their potential contributions to Ixalan’s limited environment. This time, let’s wrap up and examine the rest of the set’s mechanics.
I want to talk about vehicles briefly for the sake of completeness, even though we were just playing with them a few months back. Since they’re back so soon, vehicles may be on their way to becoming evergreen the way equip did over a decade ago. For now, though, they’re considered a returning mechanic. Most of the vehicles we’ve seen so far are pretty straightforward, and I’d imagine that the mechanic will play out pretty much the same way it did during Kaladesh block. I will say that I expect the power level of vehicles to be somewhat lower this time around, for two reasons.
For one, they’re not as important to Ixalan’s identity as they were to Kaladesh’s, and for another, Wizards R&D has likely gotten better at developing them since the first batch. Consequently, I wouldn’t hold out for a format defining card like Renegade Freighter. However, there still may be some vehicles worth including in your deck. If you’re planning to play a few vehicles, look out for cards that make small incidental tokens. They’re great at paying low crew costs and helping your slightly-too-small creatures get behind the wheel of larger ships.
Raid is the most aggressive of Ixalan’s mechanics. We’ve seen Raid once before in Khans of Tarkir, and honestly I’m super excited to have it back. It’s a solid limited mechanic that’s innocuous on the surface but plays really well when you get your hands on it.
What makes Raid tick? Obviously the decks that want Raid are going to be decks that are doing a lot of attacking, since getting rewarded for doing something you were already going to do is really good. A low-curve aggro deck is the perfect strategy to slot your Raid cards into.
Often, though, aggressive decks run into board stalls against midrange decks that try to stem the bleeding. For example, you might be trying to attack with a 2/2 to trigger Raid for a card in your hand, but then your opponent plays a 2/3 and suddenly things get incredibly awkward. Do you attack blindly and basically throw your 2/2 away just so you can get the trigger? Do you play your unimpressive vanilla creature without the bonus? Or do you just pass and hope things get better later? Decisions like this are incredibly depressing to have to make. But luckily, if you built your deck correctly, you won’t have to.
Meet Disowned Ancestor. This innocuous common from Khans of Tarkir looks like it’s all about the grind, but actually, it was one of the better Raid enablers in that set. Why? Because you could play it on turn 1, attack without fear for the next several turns thanks to its big butt, and then play your Mardu Skullhunter or whatever else for full value. Plus, later in the game, Disowned Ancestor has another ability that makes it more valuable than the average one drop.
I’m keeping an eye out this spoiler season for cards that function similarly to Disowned Ancestor, especially in red, blue, and black, as those are the colors with Raid this time around. A few good candidates have already been spoiled.
Storm Fleet Aerialist and Siren Stormcaller are prime examples of the technology we’re looking for. Cheap creatures that don’t die easily in combat (this time due to evasion rather than high toughness) and have extra utility to justify the card slot. Meanwhile, Kitesail Freebooter is interesting in that it can either enable Raid or reap the benefits provided by other enablers.
While Raptor Hatchling is dinosaur themed, it’s also very good at helping your raiding pirates! To elaborate, you won’t mind throwing your Hatchling into blockers that can just eat it, and chances are your opponents won’t want to block it anyway for fear that you’ll end up with a 3/3. Look out for more sneaky Raid enablers as the rest of the commons and uncommons are spoiled.
One last point that I want to make about Raid is that while there are a ton of reasons to build a streamlined, synergistic Raid deck, you shouldn’t be afraid to put some Raid cards in a less synergy-focused deck. We brought this up with the Revolt mechanic last year. Most Limited decks attack at some point, so you’ll often get the Raid trigger even if you don’t build around it. However, it is important in these situations to make sure that the fail case of the card is good enough that you’d consider playing it even if it didn’t have the Raid text. This also applies to Enrage, which we’ll talk about next.
Enrage is a very cool mechanic and I am excited to see it in the set. When it comes to mechanics like Enrage where you get benefits from a unique trigger, there are usually a few ways to build around them. The first way is to take on a strategy where the trigger happens to be something your deck is already doing. That way, you get extra benefits basically for free. With regard to Enrage specifically, this could mean we want to be aggressive. Aggressive decks, especially in Limited, work by pressuring the opponent’s life total to the point where their game plan is to not lose rather than to win. When you’re attacking, not losing means blocking, and blocking means your attackers are getting hit. With Enrage, your attackers getting hit means you’re getting some benefit.
But Enrage is a unique mechanic, so this could also mean we want to be very controlling. Control decks want to not lose until they’ve landed a threat that takes over the game by itself. Not losing means either your opponents aren’t attacking you, or you’re blocking. What better way is there to synergize with this than to discourage your opponent from attacking you with a blocking trigger? When you drop Ripjaw Raptor on turn 4, for example, your opponent is going to think twice before letting you draw a free card just by blocking. If they attack you anyway, you’re put at a huge advantage.
A natural consequence of the duality of Enrage is that there will be some midrange decks that want the flexibility of being able to attack or stay back and block, so the mechanic will be a natural fit for them to. So what gives? How are we supposed to know which decks to put which Enrage cards into? The answer depends on the creatures’ bodies and also on their effects. For example, disregarding Raid, Raptor Hatchling doesn’t do enough damage to be much use on offense. But it is a pretty strong deterrent against a deck that’s trying to beat down with 2/2s. On the other hand, Sun-Crowned Hunters is going to be much more useful in an aggressive deck where three points of life are more meaningful for your opponents than they would be if you were more controlling.
The second way to build around Enrage is to go really deep on the synergies. Your goal is to make the game less about combat and more about how many triggers you can get. The key to this strategy is to look for specific ways to deal damage to your creatures. Normally, you would have to point removal at your own creatures to make that happen, but luckily, Ixalan makes this goal much more painless. Raging Swordtooth is an uncommon that’s great on its own, even better in a deck with some Enrage creatures, and absolutely perfect in dedicated Enrage deck. If there’s a pinger in the set, or a card like Marrow Shards, those cards will also have the built in ability to bring out the rage in your dinos.
Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/spellsnare_
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spellsnare