Rotation Grief: Rivals of Ixalan (Part 1)

The Standard Rotation looms closer with every passing day. The major meta shift will come first as a consequence of four sets disappearing from Standard. Kumagoro looks at white, blue, and black in Rivals of Ixalan, which may be the last small expansion ever (if the Three-and-One Model sticks).

Rivals of Ixalan White Losses

Baffling End Skymarcher Aspirant Snubhorn Sentry

Baffling End: This little Dinosaur-themed enchantment went through a bit of an ebb and flow over the course of its Standard stay, at times eclipsed by less conditional removal, but in the end always popping back as one of white's cheapest and most reliable ways to permanently get rid of a problematic low-cost creature. Now that the hour of its departure draws near, it's still a sizeable presence in the meta, showing up in generous numbers within the sideboards of the most varied builds with access to white, whether they're Bant, Boros, Azorius, Selesnya, or monocolored. The hole it leaves behind will certainly be filled, but not too easily. Grief Factor: 8/10

Bishop of Binding: It might look laughably unplayable now that we are in the final, Sorin-fueled stretch of the Ixalan Vampires meta, but there was a brief moment when Bishop of Binding was seen as a viable option for in-tribe removal. Luckily, the clunkiness of putting your pseudo-Oblivion Ring at risk only to boost one fellow Vampire was soon painfully evident. Grief Factor: 1/10

Forerunner of the Legion: Rivals of Ixalan worked toward strengthening the tribal synergies of the four main creature subtypes we had met back in Ixalan in ways large and small. The Forerunner cycle represents one of those attempts, not entirely successful but popular with the casual crowd. Grief Factor: 2/10

Legion Conquistador: This Squadron Hawk surrogate was a relevant component of the Vampire archetype in Ixalan drafts (it showed up in the previous set as well), and had some minor impact on early, low-tier tribal builds in Constructed too. Grief Factor: 3/10

Martyr of Dusk: Self-replacing cards are intrinsic two-for-one, and this Martyr was among the most played ones, not just by Vampire decks. You take your card advantage where you can, especially if your strategy cares about sacrificial fodder. Grief Factor: 4/10

Radiant Destiny: Before the printing of Icon of Ancestry in Core Set 2020, this enchantment was the main noncreature anthem for tribal decks. The Icon, which we're lucky to take into the next Standard iteration, is very obviously the better card – it has same cost, but without color requirements, and an immediately available activation to dig for card advantage instead of marginal, late-game vigilance. But Radiant Destiny had the advantage of being printed 19 months earlier, and those are 19 months during which it made many a tribal player happy. Grief Factor: 7/10

Skymarcher Aspirant: One of the one-drops that will be missed the most by White Weenie players and Vampire enthusiasts alike. The Savannah Lions stats are still a paradigm of viability in aggro decks, and the Aspirant's knack for eventually learning to fly made her into an okay top deck in the late game. Grief Factor: 8/10

Snubhorn Sentry: The Dinosaur that comes down first, in a color that Dinosaur decks never really cared about, became a staple of White Weenie instead. It contributed to the meta dominance the archetype enjoyed for a certain period, especially around Spring 2019, when Andrea Mengucci piloted a white aggro list to first place at the PAX East Mythic Invitational. The Sentry might look like an unassuming one-drop, but it's an early blocker that grows to alarming proportions when it combines its own ascend boost with all the anthems and +1/+1 counters shenanigans that made the bulk of the list. It has issues of irrelevance when left unsupported, but it'll be hard to find a critter with the potential to do so much with so little investment. Grief Factor: 7/10

Zetalpa, Primal Dawn: Rivals of Ixalan featured a cycle of larger-than-life Legendary Dinosaurs, and they were all playable to some extent. The giant pterodon Zetalpa occasionally showed up as a finisher in control decks, putting on full display the magnificence of its five evergreen abilities. Grief Factor: 6/10

Rivals of Ixalan Blue Losses

Curious Obsession Mist-Cloaked Herald Nezahal, Primal Tide

Curious Obsession: This new take on the classic Curiosity, featuring the downside of being essentially forced to attack in exchange for a power and toughness bonus, was influential enough during 2018-2019 Standard to almost single-handedly fuel a whole archetype, Mono Blue Tempo. The number and quality of early evasive blue creatures, combined with access to low-cost countermagic and other protection tech, made swinging with a creature enchanted with this Aura the first step toward taking over the game. Without Obsession, the archetype seems like it's done for, though the archetype had already been on the decline, replaced by different flavors of tempo. Grief Factor: 10/10

Mist-Cloaked Herald: First printed in Core Set 2019, this little guy was important in Merfolk decks and other blue-based creature build, including early versions of Mono Blue Tempo. Being able to guarantee connection with the opponent's face, it's been an apt carrier of various kinds of boosting Auras and +1/+1 counters. Grief Factor: 5/10

Nezahal, Primal Tide: The set's big blue Dinosaur was beloved by a certain brand of Esper players, especially in the era before Teferi, Time Raveler, when counterspells still existed in the meta, making the Primal Tide's uncounterable nature particularly relevant in the mirror. But it was also a source of card advantage and an elusive finisher. Grief Factor: 7/10

Sailor of Means: Printed in both Ixalan sets, this flavorful Pirate never exactly amounted to a wide presence in the meta, but it played well in decks that were trying to set up slow, elaborate endgames, so they could take advantage of the Sailor's stopping power and ramp factor. Of course, we're not talking about particularly competitive decks here, but they were nonetheless played, and they will miss a splashable blue three-drop with such practical talents. Grief Factor: 4/10

Silvergill Adept: This Lorwyn reprint has been an integral part of the archetype in pretty much all of the formats, so it unsurprisingly was a must-play in Standard Merfolk too, providing card advantage and a two-powered body on turn two. Grief Factor: 7/10

Warkite Marauder: Not all tempo decks ran this flying Pirate, especially in the face of Goblin Chainwhirler, but some did. She wasn't Merfolk Trickster or anything, but the ability was annoying enough. Grief Factor: 5/10

Rivals of Ixalan Black Losses

Champion of Dusk Mastermind's Acquisition Ravenous Chupacabra

Champion of Dusk: Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord just infused this somewhat clunky five-drop with new meaning, but it's already time for it to go. The way Vampire decks play now, with a one-drop followed by a two-drop followed by a Sorin activation to drop Champion of Dusk and draw three cards, basically defines "tempo." Champion of Dusk's rotation is going to be seen as the loss of a vital component of the archetype; the refueling engine that won't be easily replaced and might spell doom for Vamps. Grief Factor: 8/10

Dire Fleet Poisoner: The fact that a truly competitive Pirate deck never really materialized has contributed to the Poisoner's sore lack of play, when she was otherwise a perfectly functional flash deathtouch ambusher for two mana. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Grief Factor: 3/10

Dusk Legion Zealot: This guy has been around forever, popping up in a variety of decks, from Rakdos Aggro to Vampire Tribal to Monoblack Control, particularly when Torment of Hailfire was still in the meta. He's not a showy kind of guy, but he's a no-nonsense two-drop that cantrips and leaves a body behind, good for sacrifices, chump-blocks, or to feed to Sorin. Grief Factor: 7/10

Golden Demise: Before Ravnica Allegiance gave us Cry of the Carnarium, Golden Demise was the go-to early sweeper in black-related control. Unfortunately, Cry's exile capability proved too crucial; also, the ascend clause on Golden Demise never really… mattered. Grief Factor: 4/10

Mastermind's Acquisition: One of the coolest black cards in the meta has come to the end of its run. To be perfectly honest, it didn't come up too much in tier one decks, but it had competitive applications, beside the great joy of being able to build a wishboard for all situations without actually committing deck slots to those cards. Its cost might not have been right for the effect but combining tutor and wish in one card was just a winning design. Plus, it interacted marvelously with The Mirari Conjecture (which, of course, it could fetch from the sideboard), letting you recast the Acquisition again, for maximum value. It also had one great run in Esper Control lists for the best-of-one Mythic Invitational, in case any of you missed it. Grief Factor: 8/10

Moment of Craving: This Vampire-flavored removal has been one of the weapons of choice against Burn, able to destroy one of their small attackers while neutering the damage of another. It could be hard to repeat this combination for such a low cost and instant speed, but perhaps a meta rich in Food won't need it. Grief Factor: 8/10

Ravenous Chupacabra: The Standard we're saying goodbye to happened to contain black's best removal on legs in Magic's history. Just compare the Chupacabra to the limitations of well-known precursors like Nekrataal, Bone Shredder, and Skinrender. The Chupa is just death incarnate, no questions asked. Golgari and Sultai salute you, mighty Chupa, even if at times you faced the more “high risk, high reward” competition of Hostage Taker. Grief Factor: 10/10

Tetzimoc, Primal Death: The Angel of Death in Dinosaur form had the issue of not being very subtle – your opponent literally had to see it coming. And it was also somewhat mana intensive, even if that expenditure was in bits and pieces. Nonetheless, a large threatening body as a leftover after a board sweep is nothing to sneeze at, and that made it popular, if perhaps as a casual card more often than not. But hey, if ginormous dinosaurs aren't crowd pleasers, what is? Grief Factor: 6/10

Twilight Prophet: There are plenty of minor Vampires that saw some amount of play during the past couple of years, yet not enough to really be missed (e.g. Oathsworn Vampire, Sadistic Skymarcher). But none of them felt as wasted as Twilight Prophet, a juicy mythic rare that reads as a staple but in reality never found a home, having never lined up well with the meta at any point. It's a shame, or perhaps a sign that something in her design was lacking. Grief Factor: 5/10

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

Rotation Grief Archive

  1. M19 (white, blue and black)
  2. M19 (red, green, multicolored and colorless)
  3. Ixalan (white, blue and black)
  4. Ixalan (red, green, multicolored and colorless)

1 Comment

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Landro(11.09.2019 21:19)

The Core Set 2019 version of Mist-Cloaked Herald was actually a reprint, because Rivals was released first. The herald was also popular with merfolk decks.