My Top 8 Cards from Rivals of Ixalan

Ryan Normandin
January 12, 2018
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Spoiler season is over, and we now have the full list of RIX cards. We have powerhouses like Zacama, Primal Calamity alongside mechanically bizarre cards like Path of Mettle (Muraganda vanilla-world foreshadowing?!). The eight cards I discuss here are not necessarily the ones I predict to be the most powerful or impactful (though some are), but the eight that I am the most excited about. Let’s jump in! 

  1. Rekindling Phoenix

 

 

This card is great on so many axes. First, the flavor is fantastic. Without any flavor text, the design successfully communicates a story. The phoenix dies, leaves behind ashes, and then it grows back from those. From Melvin’s perspective, this is a beautiful card.

 Looking at its power level, this is my pick for best RIX card in Standard. The card was initially preselling at $6, and is now up to $12 in paper and $15 online. This is a card that either trades with Glorybringer or forces it to exert while you get to hit back twice each exert-cycle, a losing proposition for your opponent. It’s incredibly hard to kill outside black and white four-mana exile effects, which at least won’t be a tempo loss for you. Curving this into a Glorybringer seems like a difficult sequence to beat. Because multiple archetypes (midrange, aggro, Big Red) will each want up to four copies of this card, I expect this to be one of the most expensive and most-played cards in the set.

  1. Nezahal, Primal Tide

 

            I play a lot of control. Granted, I haven’t been able to in this last Standard format because Temur Energy is just so blatantly better than everything else, but I’ve enjoyed Esper Control, Esper Dragons, and Seasons Past in Standard and Grixis, Esper, and UW in Modern. While many of my fellow control mages hate mirrors, I love them. All games go long, there are a bazillion decision points regarding what to fight over, when to deploy a threat, and when to make them have it. One important element of the mirror is figuring out what sideboard cards can give you an edge. Nezahal is my control mirror dream.

            While some have talked about Nezahal as a win condition in the mainboard, I’m skeptical. If you’re not playing against a spell-heavy deck, protecting it comes at a very real cost. Unlike The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk, it doesn’t accrue meaningful card advantage – except in the control mirror – nor does it win the game on the spot like Approach. It’s an awkward card that is outdone by other win conditions.

            In the mirror, however, Nezahal becomes a lot better. The lack of flash is disappointing, but it also makes it more interesting to play. You ideally want to be ahead on land and ahead on cards in hand when you deploy Nezahal, and if you do, your opponent is going to be hard-pressed to answer this. Nezahal basically can’t be killed; it can’t be countered, spot-removal’ed, or board wiped away. Every time your opponent casts a draw spell, it benefits you as well, wiping away one of the key advantages you can build in the mirror. Additionally, lifting a cap on hand size means you no longer have to discard live cards on end step because your control opponent hasn’t done anything. Nezahal is a card I’m very excited to jam in control mirrors this upcoming Standard season!

  1. Azor, the Lawbringer

 

Another flavor home-run. Many remember (un)fondly the days of Sphinx’s Revelation, and Azor has a Sphinx’s Revelation stapled onto him every turn. As the creator of the Azorius guild, it’s a great design that he can repeatedly cast the guild’s signature, most powerful spell. (Just missing a Supreme Verdict ability as well!) However, it’s important to keep in mind the differences. Sphinx’s Revelation was great because you could cast it at the end of your opponent’s turn. Azor forces you to tap out on your own – and that’s if it sticks. Azor can be countered and removed on the turn that he comes down. All of this together doesn’t much produce the feeling of a control finisher in the current format.

            However, Azor is another card that I like out of the sideboard, but this time against midrange decks. As midrange decks tend to cut removal post-board, you are more likely to stick an Azor, and if you do, it’s going to be actively difficult to lose. We see this strategy already, as the different versions of Approach bring in Regal Caracal, The Locust God, or The Scarab God, and Azor has the ability to end the game more quickly and draw more cards (the most important metric!) than any of these options.

  1. Ghalta, Primal Hunger

 

It’s very rare for me to have a monogreen card on my Top 8 list, but Ghalta is the exception. The reason is that Ghalta is actually very hard to kill and comes down early with little effort. If you play a Servant of the Conduit into a Bristling Hydra, you can play Ghalta on Turn 4. Rogue Refiner Turn 3 into Whirler, make a Thopter Turn 4 leads to a Turn 5 Ghalta. Ghalta is the first creature to make Harnessed Lightning not look like a monored Terminate. To answer Ghalta cleanly, you need to be in one of the Esper colors. And even if you are, you need an answer immediately; if Ghalta hits once, that’s usually going to be enough to lock up the game. I’m very excited to play this in Temur mirrors over the weekend before the deck presumably eats a ban Monday.

  1. Profane Procession

 

Maybe this article should’ve been called, “Top 8 Control Cards.” Nah, I put a big green dinosaur on the list, we’re good!

Profane Procession is slooooooow. Very slow. But it’s a card that is very hard to fight against. When Esper Control drops this on Turn 8, all of a sudden your opponent has to deal with the fact that you have three on-board removal spells over the next couple of turns – in addition to sweepers, counterspells, and removal in hand (because you’ve always got it all).

Procession also does something great – after killing stuff, it produces win conditions for you. This card, over the long game, is at least a 7-for-1 (because of the land it flips into). I’ve always been a sucker for value, especially of the slow, grindy variety, so sign me up for this engine!

  1. Journey to Eternity

 

I love value. It’s why I usually play control. But every once in a while, a BG deck comes along that offers me even more value than my Grixis, Esper, and Jeskai deities. Abzan Constellation. Sultai Whip. BG Rites. Journey to Eternity is a grindy, grindy value engine. It’s time might be now, and it might not, but before this card rotates, it will have a deck built around it. It’s happiest in a shell where you can sacrifice the enchanted creature immediately to both transform Journey and, obviously, provide more value immediately.

But I’m also happy to throw this in Sultai Reanimator alongside The Scarab God, Liliana, Death’s Majesty, and Noxious Gearhulk. The only thing missing is a good card for sacrificing the creatures that you bring back – find that piece, and you have an incredible value engine. This is a card that is begging to be built-around and broken, and the power level is high enough that it just might get there in Standard.

  1. Zetalpa, Primal Dawn

 

Talk about keyword soup! Zetalpa kind of just doesn’t die. And it also makes sure that you don’t die while it kills your opponent for you. Eight mana is a lot, so how can we avoid paying that? God-Pharaoh’s Gift! I predict that this card will be a 2-of in GPG lists going for. The toughness is largely irrelevant unless you’re playing against another Zetalpa, and GPG brings it back with the same power on Turn 4. Angel of Invention ups this even more (as if it needed it). Zetalpa is a great pseudo-Angel of Invention #5-6, as GPG struggles when it can’t find Angel – 4/4 Sacred Cats just don’t pack the same punch.

Once again, it looks like exile removal is going to continue to be important, as we need ways to deal with Zetalpa, Ghalta, and Rekindling Pheonix. So keep those Cast Outs, Ixalan’s Bindings, and Vraska’s Contempts handy!

  1. Tilonalli’s Summoner

 

Unsurprisingly, where my friends see an aggro card, I see a control finisher. When UR Control was the premier control deck in Standard, it brought in Dragonmaster Outcast for the mirror. It’s fantastic because of its cost; it comes down, you protect it for a turn or two, and you’ll easily win the game. Summoner does the same thing. Because it’s coming down when you have eight to ten lands on board, one activation will be more than enough to trigger the City’s Blessing. And then it’s a Secure the Wastes on a stick every turn. This is another card that I love for control mirrors if we see a resurgence of URx Control decks.

Honorable Mention: Azor’s Gateway

 

Just like the fun old Azorius Control days of Sphinx’s Revelation and Elixir of Immortality, this card opens the hilariously fun possibility of flipping into Sanctum of the Sun, running out of cards in your deck, and then casting Sanguine Sacrament.

Every turn. For the rest of game. This has the ability to gain you the largest non-infinite amount of life in Magic, including Soul Sisters and Abzan Tokens. Allow me to demonstrate.

Suppose we are late-game with control. All lands in our deck are on the battlefield (26 lands + Sanctum + Azcanta).

 

Life = 5 : Cast for X = 30. New Life = 65.

Life = 65: Cast for X = 90. New Life = 245

Life = 245: Cast for X = 270. New Life = 785

 

This is a recursive equation that looks like this:

 

 

It grows… er… pretty quickly. Basically just do this until your opponent concedes or, if they’re masochists, until they have no cards left in their deck and you have well over a billion life.

And those are my Top 8+1 cards! What cards from RIX are you most excited about? Share in the comments!

 

 Ryan is a grinder from Boston with SCG & GP Top 8’s and a PT Day 2. His fragile self-esteem is built on approval from others, so be sure to tell him what you think of his articles on Twitter @RyanNormandin and in his Twitch chat at twitch.tv/norm_the_ryno.

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